Cuneiform Tablets of the UBC Special Collections Division

By Nicholas Kraus


 

Ziggarat_of_Ur_001

What is known today as the Third Dynasty of Ur, or the Ur III period, began in Mesopotamia around 2100 BCE and lasted until 2000 BCE. The founder, Ur-Namma king of the city of Ur in southern Iraq, was the first of his line to begin a conquest of the region, uniting the cities of Mesopotamia into a cohesive kingdom. That kingdom was acutely administrated by the highly centralized state government, which left behind tens of thousands of economic and administrative documents. The empire quickly expanded and encompassed many cities in Mesopotamia, stretching from the Persian Gulf to central Iraq, and from the Arabian Desert to the Zagros Mountains. Structurally it was organized into a set of central core provinces and a peripheral zone of provinces and client kingdoms. Each city or province was overseen by a governor, who ensured that taxes and tribute were paid appropriately to the state. Those taxes were then collected at various revenue points or outposts, from which they could be redistributed as needed throughout the empire.

All of the texts below, which date to the Ur III period, are administrative documents from the state administration. The texts are records of the receipt of animals and agricultural products from state officials. Some of the texts include specific names of people and fields from where the goods originated (e.g. Text A), while others are simply a record of the receipt of those goods (e.g. Text E). On most tablets a small stone cylinder, called a Cylinder Seal, depicting a decorative scene (and sometimes writing), was rolled out onto the clay tablet as a signature for a party involved in a transaction. A cylinder seal was unique to an individual or sometimes an office or profession, and acted as a unique identifying mark for legal purposes. All of the tablets below were sealed, but additionally sometimes the name of the sealer is written explicitly on the tablet (e.g. Tablet B).

783px-Ur_IIIThe two cities involved in the texts are Umma (modern Djohka) and Puzrish-Dagan (modern Drehem). The city of Umma is one of the oldest cities in southern Mesopotamia and came under the rule of the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur very early in the expansion of Ur’s dominion. Umma, like other large cities at the time, maintained a local elite that was incorporated into and superseded by the state administration. To keep peace and order the king would appoint either his own governor or a local member of the elite, to oversee the administration of a city. Cities like Umma were responsible for paying taxes and tribute to the state, usually in the form of animals and agricultural products.

Puzrish-Dagan, unlike Umma, was a small town created by the state administration for the purpose of collecting taxes from the provinces and client kingdoms. From the collection sites that existed throughout the empire the state could then redistribute the goods to nearby cities as it saw fit.

While the Third Dynasty of Ur was rather short-lived, during its lifetime southern Mesopotamia experienced an economic and population boom, as well as a dramatic increase in urban density. Eventually, however, the empire collapsed due to internal political strife, raiding tribes along the borders of the empire, and strained agricultural production. But the documents left behind offer a glimpse into one of the earliest – and perhaps best-recorded – periods of state administration in world history.


The following transliterations, translations, and notes are based on the original publication of these texts in: Peters, C. A. and Frayne, D. R., 1990, “Cuneiform Texts at the University of British Columbia,” Annual Review of the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Project vol. 8, 49-62. The Ancient Artifacts Collection at UBC has more images of each tablet.

Tablet A

Origin: Umma (Djokha)

Date: month 1 to 2, year 34 of the reign of Shulgi

Dimensions: 3.3 x 3.3 x 1.6 cm

Tablet A - obverse

Tablet A – obverse

Transliteration

  1. 9 (gur) 3 (bán) še gur lugal
  2. é-šu-tum an-dùl-ta
  3. 14 (gur) 2 (bán) gur
  4. kun-i7-da ù a- ⸢šà⸣ gišma-nu-ta
  5. 4 (gur) 4 (bán) gur aša5 ur-gu-ta
  6. ugula KA-dInanna(?)
  7. ki ìr-ta
  8. lugal-gú-en-e
  9. šu ba-ti
  10. iti sig4-gišì-šub-ba gá-gar-ta
  11. iti še-sag-ku5-šè
  12. mu ús-sa si-mu-ru-
  13. umki ba-hul mu ús-sa-bi-ta
  14. mu an-ša-anki ba-hul-šè

Translation

  1. 9 (gur) 3 (ban) royal gur of barley
  2. from the storehouse of Andul
  3. 14 (gur) 2(ban) gur
  4. from the canal outlet and the Manu field
  5. 4 (gur) 4 (ban) gur from the field of Urgu
  6. Overseer: Ka-Inanna
  7. from Ìr
  8. Lugal-guene
  9. He received (them)
  10. From the month Sig-i-šub-ba ga-gar
  11. To the month Še-sag-kud
  12. From the second year after Simurum
  13. was destroyed
  14. to the year Anshan was destroyed

Notes

This tablet is a record of a delivery of agricultural goods. The text records the amount of goods, where each amount originated, the overseer of the production, the man who delivered the products, and the man who received those goods. Also recorded in the text is the time period when they were delivered. This text is interesting because it spans several months, not just a single day on which the goods were received.

Tablet B

Origin: Umma (Djokha)

Date: month 1 at Umma, year 45 of the reign of Shulgi

Dimensions: 5.0 x 5.4 x 2.0 cm

Tablet B - reverse

Tablet B – reverse

Transliteration

1) […]-x-šè

2) […] a-šà lá-mah

3) ugula ba-[…]

4) kišib lug[al-e-mah]-e

5) iti še-gur10-ku5

6) mu ús-sa si-mu-ru-

7) umki lu-lu-buki a-rá-

8) 9-kam ba-hul

Translation

  1. …?
  2. … the field Lamah
  3. Overseer: Ba-…
  4. Seal of Lug[al-e-mah]-e
  5. Month še-gur-ku
  6. Year after the cities Simurum
  7. (and) Lulubu were
  8. destroyed for the ninth time.

Seal on Tablet

Lugal-e-mah-e

Dub-sar

Dumu lugal-kù-ga-ni

“Lugale-mahe

Scribe

Son of Lugal-kugani”

Notes

This tablet is damaged so most of the text remains unreadable. It appears to be a receipt of goods delivered from a specific field, although there is no mention of a particular person giving or taking those goods. The text does record the name of the person who sealed the tablet, but what role that person played in the transaction can only be guessed at.

Tablet C

Origin: Puzriš-Dagan (Drehem)

Date: month 8, year 48 of the reign of Shulgi

Dimensions: 3.9 x 5.4 x 1.9 cm

Tablet C - obverse

Tablet C – obverse

Transliteration

1) 1 udu-niga []

2) 1 máš-gal-niga [x …]

3) 4 ha-bu-um 1 sila4

4) ṣe-lu-uš dda-gan

5) 1 zeh-nigax ur-nigin-gar santana

6) 1 sila4 puzur4dEN.ZU nu-bànda

7) 1 sila4(?) énsi gír-suki

8) 1 sila4(?) zabar-dab5

9) 10 gukkal(?) 1 sila4 gukkal

10) 1 [] x [] máš

11) […] na-ša6

12) 1 anše urdištaran

13) 1 mašda bu-bu

14) 2 mašda é-a-ì(!)

15) mu-[DU] na-ša6 ì-dab5

6) iti šu5-ša

17) mu ha-ar-šiki ki-maški

18) hu-mur-tiki ù ma-da-bi

19) u41a ba-[hul]

(Side)

20) u4-13kam

Translation

I) One barley-fattened sheep …,

2) one barleyfattened full-grown goat,

3) four wild animals, one lamb,

4) (from) Ṣellus-Dagan;

5) one fattened kid (from) Urnigingar, the orchard administrator;

6) one lamb (from) Puzur-Sîn, the captain; .

7) one lamb (from) the governor of the city of Girsu;

8) one lamb (from) Zabar-dab;

9) 10 fattailed sheep, one fat-tailed lamb,

10) … goat(s),

11) ... (from) Naša;

12) one ass (from) UrIštaran;

13) one gazelle (from) Bubu;

14) two gazelles (from) Ea-ilī;

15) delivered, Naša took it.

16) The month Šu-eš-ša,

17) The year Harši, Kimaš,

18) Humurti, and their lands,

19) were destroyed in one day.

(Side)

20) 13th day.

Notes

This tablet records the receipt of several animals from some notable officials in the administration: Sellus-Dagan is known from other texts as the governor (ensi) of the city Simurum; Puzur-Sin the title captain (nu-banda) for Puzur-Sin indicates that he is a mid-high military official; the governor (ensi) of Girsu, a city in the central marshlands of southern Iraq; and the title Zabar-Dab is a title of a high court official. The other names are personal and may belong to important officials, especially since they occur on the same document.

Tablet D

Origin: Umma (Djokha)

Date: month 9, year 8 of the reign of Amar-Sîn

Dimensions: 4.5 x 4.8 x 2.2 cm

Tablet D - reverse

Tablet D – reverse

Transliteration

1) 4 še-gur

2) ki ka-dninildu(m)ma

3) ki ù-ma-ni-ta

4) kišib a-al-límu NIM

5) iti dli9-si4

6) mu en eriduki bahun

Translation

1) Four gur of barley

2) from(?) ka-Ninilduma

3) from Umani.

4) Seal of A’allimu, the Elamite.

5) The month Lisi.

6) The year the en priestess of Eridu was installed.

Seal

1) á-allimu

2) dumu x x eni

“A’allimu, son of …”

Notes

This tablet is particularly interesting because it is in fact an envelope. Inside the clay envelope is the tablet itself. The message of the tablet was copied onto the envelope so that it could be read without breaking open the tablet. After copying the message the parties involved would roll their seals over the surface of the envelope.

Another interesting element to this text is the mention of this man A’allimu the Elamite. Elam is located in modern day Iran, east of Mesopotamia, specifically around the southern Zagros and Farsi region of Iran. The Ur III Empire brought in goods from all around the region and this tablet is an excellent example of its wide reaching trade networks.

Tablet E

Origin: PuzrišDagan (Drehem)

Date: Month 1, year 7 of the reign of Amar-Sîn

Dimensions: 2.8 x 3.1 x 1.5 cm

Tablet E - obverse

Tablet E – obverse

Transliteration

l) 1 udu a-lum

2) 1 sila4 a-lum

3) u4-13-kam

4) ki ab-ba-ša6-ga-ta

5) x DA GIG x x x UB(?) ì-dab5

6) iti maš-dù-kú

7) mu hu-u4-ùh-nu-riki ba-bul

(Side)

8) 2

Translation

I) 1 alum’ sheep,

2) 1 ‘alum’ lamb,

3) on the 13th day, .

4) from Abbašaga·

5) took hold of it.

6) The month Maš-du-ku

7) The year the city Huhnuri was destroyed.

(Side)

8) 2 (total)

Notes

The number 2 written on the side of the tablet is a reference to the total number of animals recorded in the document. Instead of writing the date on the side (e.g. on the side of Tablet C), the total number of animals was written for easy reference without having to read the entire text.

Also of interest is the mention of the man ‘Abbašaga’ who appears in the text from the George Fuller collection, also available on the FSTS website.


Further Reading

For a general introduction to the Ur III period and its history see: Liverani 2014 and Van de Mieroop 2004 in the bibliography below.

Black, J., Cunningham, G., Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G. 2004 The Literature of Ancient Sumer, Oxford: Oxford University Press (available online at: http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk).

Dahl, J. 2007 The Ruling Family of Ur III Umma, PIHANS 108, Leiden: NINO.

Frayne, D. 1997 Ur III Period, Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Early Periods 3/2, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Liverani, M. 2014 The Ancient Near East: History, Society, and Economy, New York: Routledge, p. 155-170

Sigrist, M. 1992 Drehem, Bethesda: CDL Press. [French]

Sallaberger, W. 1999 “Ur-III Zeit,” in: W. Sallaberger and A. Westenholz, Mesopotamien Akkade-Zeit und Ur III-Zeit, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 160/3, p. 121-390. [German]

Van De Mieroop, M. 2004 A History of the Ancient Near East c. 3000-323 BC, New York: Blackwell Publishing, p. 73-84.

About Lisa Tweten

As one of the project mangers, Lisa is the heart of the project. She works with Digital Humanities to photograph the MacGregor squeeze collection.

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