It is during the Early Dynastic period that the less dense, temple-focused sites of the
fourth millennium evolved the recognizable characteristics of the Mesopotamian city:
the institutional complexity of palace and temple and the dense urban fabric based on
courtyard houses.
–– The organisation of a Sumerian town ––
The Sumerian World, edited by Harriet Crawford, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from uoregon on 2021-03-28 11:24:05. Copyright © 2013. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
One of the richest sources of data on Sumerian settlement comes from the University
of Chicago Oriental Institute’s excavations in the Diyala Region. These include investigations at the site of Khafajah Mound A, which was Early Dynastic in date and has
satellite imagery which adds residential detail to the public architecture excavated by
the team. Other contemporary remains include part of a temple excavated at Tell Agrab
and some third millennium remains from Tell Asmar, though most of its surface is early
second millennium in date. Beyond the Diyala, two temples have been excavated at
Lagash, which also has excellent preservation of surface details based on satellite
imagery, most of which can be dated to the Early Dynastic period based on the surface
survey (Carter et al. 1990). Other sites with major public architecture include Eridu
and Kish, which together have the earliest secular public buildings known.
Abu Salabikh has been the focus of a project designed specifically to understand the
organization of this small center, with the excavators using surface scraping to recover
broad architectural plans, complemented by selective excavations. Other sites provide
less information. At Nippur Early Dynastic levels were reached in the Inanna Temple,
and at Umm al-Aqqarib a combined temple/residence was excavated but has yet to be
published. For details of small settlements we have only a few satellite images of
surveyed sites to guide us.
Urban centers
It is in the cities where we find evidence for the public buildings which represent the
institutional developments of the Sumerians: a continuation of the importance of
temples and the first palaces–evidence for the development of secular rule. Palaces were
always less common than temples, and since kingship only really developed toward
the end of the Early Dynastic period, our cities from this time period provide few
Centralizing institutions
Early Dynastic temples came in two varieties. One was temples oval–large complexes
surrounded by one or two oval walls; the other was the more standard, rectangular type
already known from the Protoliterate and even ‘Ubaid periods. The size of the oval
temples and their complexity suggest that these were the most important religious
buildings–indeed, the most important institutions–in the cities where they have been
found. Four examples exist: one recently published example at Tell Abu Sheeja, the
ancient city of Pashime (Hussein et al. 2010); one at Tell ‘Ubaid (Delougaz 1938): one
at Lagash (Hansen 1992);
11 and the best preserved example at Khafajah, ancient Tutul
(Delougaz and Jacobsen 1940). To the extent that we know, all date to the latter part
of the Early Dynastic period. Some–those at Tell ‘Ubaid and Abu Sheeja–were
superseded in later times by the more usual rectangular temples, obscuring some details
of their organization, but this was not the case for the Khafajah and Lagash examples,
though the latter did suffer from erosion.
All temples oval were located at the edge of the city (Figure 8.3).
12 This peripheral
location is also true of the large Shara Temple at Tell Agrab, though smaller examples,
such as the Abu Temple at Tell Asmar, the Sin and Nintu temples at Khafajah
–– Elizabeth C. Stone ––
The Sumerian World, edited by Harriet Crawford, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from uoregon on 2021-03-28 11:24:05. Copyright © 2013. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
The organisation o f a Sumerian town
Figure 8.3 Plans showing the locations of Oval temples at Khafajah, Pashime, Lagash, and Ubaid.
(Delougaz and Lloyd 1942) and the Inanna Temple at Nippur (Zettler 1992: 54) are
distributed more broadly.
At Lagash, the Temple Oval was dedicated to the goddess Inanna, whereas the
temple to the titular deity of the city, Ningirsu, was located more than one and half
kilometers to the north (Hansen 1970), isolated on a small island. These were but two
of five major temples known from written documents to have been built at Lagash
(Hansen 1992: 207), but it is not clear whether the second oval enclosure, located more
or less midway between the Inanna and Ningirsu temples, was one of these temples
(Hansen 1992). Unfortunately, this structure was discovered during the last season of
work at the site and there exists little published information.
The earliest known temples in Mesopotamia appear millennia before the Early
Dynastic period (Tobler 1950: pi. XI-XII; Safar, Mustafa and Lloyd 1981: 68-114), but
this is not the case with the second major Mesopotamian institution, the palace. We
only see its evolution in the Early Dynastic period, especially the latter part of it.
The earliest phase of the Temple Oval at Khafajah included a large private house
between the two oval enclosure walls. Delougaz and Jacobsen suggest that this residence
“was probably occupied by the ruler of the city in his capacity as high priest of the
temple” (Delougaz and Jacobsen 1940:140). However, it was omitted when the building
was reconstructed at the end of the Early Dynastic period and there is no good candidate
for a separate palace at Khafajah visible in either excavations or satellite imagery.
0 250 500 1,000
Temple Oval
Occupied Area
The Sumerian World, edited by Harriet Crawford, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,
Created from uoregon on 2021-03-28 11:24:05. Copyright © 2013. Taylor & Francis Group. All rights reserved.
The site of Umm al-Aqqarib was excavated by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities
between 1999 and 2002 under the direction of Donny George. There they exposed a
large forecourt which provided access to a bipartite building with a temple to the south
and what may have been a residence with a large entrance court to the north. This dates
to the middle part of the Early Dynastic period and is probably more or less
contemporary with the earlier phase of the Temple Oval at Khafajah. Although Donny
George (personal communication) described this building as a combined temple and
palace, perhaps better parallels might be with the Temple Oval at Khafajah and the
later Giparku at Ur (see below).
It is at about this time that the “Palace A” was built at Kish, located next to the temple
to Inanna at Ingharra and consisting of a pair of connected buildings, whose scale and
architecture indicate their importance but which lack the features known from temples,
or for that matter, later palaces. The slightly later planoconvex building is located on a
more distant mound and, as suggested by Moorey (1964: 92), perhaps served as a
fortified arsenal. High-resolution satellite imagery now indicates three palaces located
on the same mound as the plano-convex building: two next door to each other and one
behind. Surface scraping and soundings conducted by the Japanese expedition date
them to the very end of the Early Dynastic (Matsumoto and Uguchi 2000: 6). Unlike
Palace A, all three have clear evidence of the courtyard/throne-room pairing which will
form the core of Mesopotamian palaces until the time of Nebuchadnezzar in the first
millennium BC. These three buildings also have double exterior walls and in each case
their throne-rooms are located to the west of the courts, although their orientations
differ slightly. A street runs to the east of two of the palaces and, a quarter kilometer
further northwest, passed immediately to the east of the plano-convex Building, suggesting that the two complexes were probably contemporary.
These newly identified palaces at Kish can best be compared with the palaces
excavated at Eridu (Safar, Mustapha and Lloyd 1981: 271–304) which also date to the
same time (Figure 8.4).14 Both sites have multiple buildings with similar orientations,
double walls and the courtyard/throne-room combination familiar from all subsequent
palaces. Both are located more than a half kilometer north of the temples of their
respective cities. Satellite imagery shows that the examples from Kish are on the other
side of the river from the main temple, and a watercourse of unknown date is visible
between the Eridu palaces and the main mound. Perhaps similar are traces of a doublewalled building recovered from surface traces at the south mound Abu Salabikh, again
separated from what is thought to be the religious center by a watercourse (Postgate
1990: 106). The only other known palace that might date to the Early Dynastic period
was found at Tell Wilaya. It was located at the edge of the site, but too little of it was
excavated to tell whether it had the throne-room/courtyard combination (Madhloom
1960: Plan 2B). Its date is also a little in question since this building might in fact be
assigned to the early part of the Akkadian period (Rashid 1963: 85).
The palace complexes at Eridu and Kish represent a clear break with the past.
Although they share the double external wall with Palace A, they are the first examples
with a clear throneroom and are located a considerable distance from the religious
center. Thus they embody the practical and symbolic separation between the religious
and secular which is the hallmark of Mesopotamian rule from this time forth.

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