Image of Ziggurat at Ur


Ur (𒌶𒆠) was founded around 3800 BCE, during the Ubaid period. It was considered a city-state from the 26th century BCE, with Mesannepada its first recorded king.

Map of the city of Ur
Image of lapis lazuli stone


Ur was initially founded where the Euphrates rivers runs out into the Persian Gulf. Ur had access to trade with Mesopotamia via the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and via the Dilmun (Bahrain) and Magan (Oman/UAE) and indirectly with the Harappan/Indus Valley civilisation. We have found substantial quantities of gold, silver and precious stones (lapis lazuli and carnelian) in Ur, all of these metals/stones did not exist locally and needed to be traded. Some of the goods traded with the Persian Gulf were re-exported towards nothern Mesopotamia.

Sumeria had millions of sheep and a large agricultural surplus, due to all the irrigation canals. The area was very poor in stone, metals and wood, and these all had to be imported from far away. The largest trading areas for Sumeria was the Persian Gulf (particularly todays Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Pakistan and India), Anatolia (Turkey) and the Zagros Mountains area in Iran. For the trade with the Persian Gulf, typically Sumerians traded with Magan (Oman/UAE) and Dilmun (Bahrain) and they again traded further away. The Ur trade seems to have been driven mainly by institutional actors (like the temples).

Image of the Sumerian moon god Nanna or Sin/Suen


Ur was home to the moon god Nanna (or Sin/Suen in Akkadian language). The city name of Ur is derived from the god's name. UNUGKI, literally "the abode (UNUG) of Nanna".

Image of Richard Wolley at the Royal Cemetery of Ur

Royal Cemetery of Ur

At the Royal Cemetery, we have found more than 2,000 graves, most of which can be dated to the Early Dynastic period (2600-2450 BCE). The British archaeologist Charles Woolley, who excavated the tombs in the 1920s and 1930s, designated 16 of those as "royal tombs". These tombs had a stone-built chamber with multiple rooms, where the principal royal burial was placed. Some of themm had servants or retainers who were killed and buried alongside the main person buried.

The most spectacular royal graves in the Royal Cemetery of Ur were Private Grave 800, belonging to a richly adorned queen identified as Puabi or Pu-abum, Private Grave 1054, with an unidentified female, Private Grave 789, called the King's Grave, and Private Grave 1237, the Great Death Pit. The Private Grave 789 had been the target of grave robbers, but its death pit contained the bodies of 63 servants or retainers. Private Grave 1237 held 74 servants or retainers (many of them were elaborately dressed women arranged around a set of musical instruments).

It is currently believed (Baadsgaard and colleagues) that these servants or retainers were killed by blunt force trauma, possibly as ritual sacrifices. After they were killed, an attempt was made to preserve the bodies, using a combination of heat treatment and the application of mercury; and then the bodies were dressed in their finery and laid in rows in the pits.

Seal with image of the Ur king Ur-Nammu


Kings of Ur.

See a complete list of Ur kings.

Ziggurat of Ur


Ur was a very impressive and large city, located next to the Euprhates river, and surrounded by a city wall 8m tall and 25m wide (same height as the Chinese Wall, but about 4 times wider). The main temple to Nanna was a ziggurat approximately 30m tall on a base of approximately 65 m x 45 m.

Buildings in Ur used all the basic forms of architecture (the column, the vault, the dome and the arch. In addition, the construction of the main ziggurat showed a sophisticated understanding of entasis, with all walls sloped and curved to give the viewer a better sense of proportion when looking at the large structure.

Tell el-Muqayyar, the former site of Ur, today

Ur today

The ancient city of Ur is today located in Iraq, at Tell el-Muqayyar.

The current site of Ur is Tell el-Muqayyar or Tall al-Muqayyar (Arabic: تل المقير‎) in south Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate, about 16 km west of the present bed of the Euphrates River. The current site is about one square kilometre, dominated by the remains of the Ziggurat of Ur (much of this ziggurat has been rebuilt in the last 50 years).

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