As we move into the later part of the third millennium–the Akkadian and Ur III
periods–we once again encounter a dearth of information on the overall organization
of settlements. Moreover, the high-resolution satellite imagery does not help here since
the archaeological surveys which provide the dating for unexcavated sites failed to
adequately distinguish between Ur III and later Larsa or even early Old Babylonian
settlements. However, the larger excavated sites evidence continuity of occupation
from at least Ur III through early Old Babylonian times, when many in the south were
largely abandoned and not reoccupied for more than three centuries (Stone 1977;
Armstrong and Brandt 1994). Data from excavated sites suggest that the surviving
surfaces of southern mounds have broad areas of early second millennium BC domestic
architecture and, probably, Ur III public buildings (Stone 2002). Further north, any
Ur III remains were thoroughly buried beneath the remains of their early second
millennium settlements and have remained inaccessible to archaeologists.
As the center of the Ur III state, the city of that name has the most extensive
preserved public district. Ziggurat, temples,18 priestly residence–even royal tombs–have
been excavated at Ur and dated to this period (Woolley 1974). When kingship moved
first to Larsa and later to Babylon, some of these public buildings were no longer
maintained, but the main ziggurat, temples, the priestly residence, and a probable
treasury built in Ur’s suburbs all testify to the continuity of occupation of this
important city. And it is to this time that we have extensive excavated evidence for
domestic areas–three of which have been sampled (Woolley and Mallowan 1976;
Charpin 1986; Van De Mieroop 1992). Extensive excavated remains also exist at Nippur
(McCown and Haines 1967; Stone 1977), Tell ed-Der (Gasche and Pons 1989: Plan 1),
Tell Asmar (Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967) and Ischali (Hill, Jacobsen and Delougaz,
1990). Perhaps the city whose overall organization is best understood is Mashkanshapir, where a combination of surface survey, aerial photography (Stone and
Zimansky 2004), high-resolution satellite imagery and limited excavations have
allowed the development of an overall plan of this city (Stone forthcoming). The
satellite imagery has also greatly expanded our understanding of the organization of
Tell Asmar and Ischali, as well as outlining the structure of other early second
millennium cities, towns and villages. Moreover, a number of small settlements dated
to this period have been excavated–the most complete being Haradum (KempinskiLecomte 1992) and Tell Harmal (Baqir 1946, 1959)–and many more have good highresolution satellite imagery. A comparison between these later Isin-Larsa to early Old
–– The organisation of a Sumerian town ––
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Babylonian settlements with their earlier counterparts can determine the likelihood o f
whether Akkadian and Ur III settlements were similar or different from their late Early
Dynastic counterparts. Features to be examined include the locations o f temples and
palaces, a comparison between domestic areas in different parts o f settlements and the
location o f fortification walls.
Early Dynastic settlements were characterized by the peripheral location o f major
temples, by palaces-where they existed-far distant from the temples, residential
districts which are similar across the site, fortification walls surrounding each mound
rather then the whole city in at least some cases, and high-density residence in both
large and small sites.
The separation between temple and palace first seen in the late Early Dynastic
period is also seen at Mashkan-shapir and Uruk. The peripheral location o f the main
temples, as at their Early Dynastic counterparts, can be seen at Ischali (Hill, Jacobsen
and Delougaz 1990: 4), Mashkan-shapir (Stone and Zimansky 2004; Stone forthcoming; Figure 8.6), Ur (Woolley and Mallowan 1976: pi. 116) and Larsa (Huot,
Rougeulle and Suire 1989), although, as was the case in late Early Dynastic sites, smaller
temples and shrines were broadly distributed throughout the urban fabric (Figure 8.7).
Palaces also tended to be at the edges o f sites, but distant from these temples. At
Mashkan-shapir, traces of a large building resembling other contemporary palaces in
Figure 8.6 Plan of Mashkan-shapir
0 50 100 200 300 400 500
Occupied Surface
City Wall
Width in Meters
2.7 – 5.6
5.7 – 8.5
8.6 – 14.0
The City of Mashkan-shapir
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
the organization o f rooms and courts are located in the far northeastern part o f the site,
as far away from the main temple as possible (Stone forthcoming). A similar situation
is seen at Uruk, where the Sin-kashid palace is again located near to the edge o f the
settlement (Finkbeiner 1991: Beilage 7). The exception is the so-called Nur-Adad palace
at Larsa which was located near the main temple (Margueron 1970,1971: 283-284,1982:
381-389; Parrot 1933: 177-178, 1968: 211-212), but the pattern o f square court and
throne room, sometimes with another room leading to it as at Mari (Parrot 1958) is
missing there, and though the stamped bricks identify Nur-Adad as the builder, they
do not describe the building as a palace (Frayne 1990:138-139). Since it was abandoned
before completion, we will probably never know its exact function, but the residential
part o f the Giparku at Ur-again located beside the main temple and housing the high
priestess-shares some similarities in architecture with the Nur-Adad “Palace.”
Analysis o f the organization o f domestic space over broad areas o f early second
millennium sites is only possible based on excavations at Ur and, when available, from
high-resolution satellite imagery. Three different but contemporary domestic areas
were excavated at Ur. Although they differ in character-EM housing those associated
with the temple (Charpin 1986) and A H a more entrepreneurial population (Van De
Mieroop 1992) — there is no evidence from either textual or archaeological data that
there were any significant differences in either wealth or status between them, and the
architecture is similar in scale (Woolley and Mallowan 1976). High-resolution satellite
Figure 8.7 Comparative plans of third millennium Khafajah and second millennium
Ur showing the distribution of religious buildings
Fortification Wall
Religious Buildings
Secular Buildings
Occupied Area
Khafajah Ur 0 50 100 200 300 400 500
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.
imagery reveals broad expanses of housing at Tell Asmar (Figure 8.8), Mashkan-shapir
and Dahailia (Wright 1981: 339, Site 34). At Tell Asmar (ancient Eshnunna) and
Dahailia residential architecture is similar in scale in all parts of these urban sites,
although the houses at the new foundation of Dahailia are larger than those at the more
established city of Eshnunna. A similar pattern can be seen at Mashkan-shapir,
although in the northern part of the site, located close to the palace, the domestic
architecture is associated with a regular grid of broad roads, quite unlike the more
organic street pattern seen elsewhere at the site (Stone forthcoming; Figure 8.6).
Identifying specifically early second millennium city walls is not always easy, but the
overall impression is that these surrounded the entire settlement. This was the case at
Mashkan-shapir (Stone and Zimansky 2004), Der (Meyer et al. 1971: 50–51), Ischali
(Hill, Jacobsen and Delougaz 1990: 4) and Khafajah Mounds C (Hill, Jacobsen and
Delougaz 1990: 29) and D (Hill, Jacobsen and Delougaz 1990: fig. 30) and is certainly
indicated by the somewhat later Kassite map of Nippur (Gibson 1977: 36). Though this
change in the circumvallation of these cities would seem to indicate greater political
unity in the second millennium than in the third, nevertheless there continued to be
differences between the occupations and perhaps even loyalties between those
occupying different parts of the cities (Stone forthcoming).
Only two small sites dating to the later Early Dynastic period could be examined,
but there are many early second millennium examples, both excavated (Baqir 1946,
–– Elizabeth C. Stone ––
Figure 8.8 Early second millennium residential districts at Tell Asmar and
Tell Halawa (imagery courtesy of the Digital Globe Corporation)
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.
1948, 1959) and visible through satellite imagery. In spite of the very small size of
Haradum and Tell Harmal, both houses and objects at these sites do not differ from
those found at their larger cousins (Malko 2006). Indeed, a comparison between the
object classes recovered from Haradum with those from Mashkan-shapir indicated
that only difference between the two sites were the royal inscriptions found only at
Mashkan-shapir, even though the latter is some sixty-five times the size of Haradum.
Moreover, the high density of these two small Early Dynastic settlements is matched
by seven early second millennium sites seen in the high resolution satellite imagery
(Figure 8.8).
The similarities between the late Early Dynastic cities and villages and those dating
to the early second millennium BC strongly suggest that Akkadian and Ur III
settlements differed little from their immediate forebears. The only question which
remains open is when city walls were reconfigured such that they surrounded the entire
site and not just each individual mound.
Cities–settlements with populations too large for everyone to know each other and with
an institutional complex unknown earlier–were first seen in Sumer. This chapter has
attempted to chronicle the evolution in settlement organization that brought this about.
Although the word “city” conjures visions of large groups of people living together, the
Mesopotamian data suggest that it was the institution of the temple that came first, with
high-density populations developing much more gradually. The early temples at Eridu
(and perhaps also Tepe Gawra) may have served as pilgrimage centers (McCorriston
2011)–certainly as a burial center–for the surrounding population. Although Eridu itself
never gained population, as the Protoliterate proceeded the evidence suggests that
similar temples–especially but not exclusively those at Uruk–attracted ever larger
populations. The organization of these small centers suggests that the temples remained
somewhat remote, located far to the edge of the settlement in a part of town separated
from the majority of the inhabitants. Moreover, if cattle and perhaps sheep were still
housed within the settlements, population densities may not have been great.
Nevertheless, these fourth millennium BC settlements were larger, more institutionally
complex and more populous than any other settlement elsewhere in the world.
It is in the middle of the third millennium BC that we see evidence of the development of true cities–indeed at this time it appears that virtually all of the settled population were urban dwellers. These cities were walled and continued to be dominated by
temples, the most important of which retained their somewhat separate, peripheral
position within the urban framework. Moreover, the architectural details of these
structures suggest that they became more remote, more protected, as they incorporated
ever more daunting gatehouses (Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967). By this time the
urban fabric was a dense mass of houses built around courtyards located along a maze
of small streets and alleyways. No room was left within the cities for domestic animals.
It was within this environment that we witness the growth of the second major institution, the palace, the earliest manifestations of which were located as far from the
temple as possible. Written records indicate that a third institution, the assembly, must
have existed by this time (Jacobsen 1943), but this has left no architectural traces that
we can recognize.

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