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Ancient Near East - The City-State

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


The geographical center of developments in the Uruk Period was in the extreme south of Mesopotamia, at the head of the Persian Gulf. There was little evidence of organized warfare or professional soldiers during the Uruk period, and towns were generally unwalled. This culture acquires its name from the city of Uruk, due to this site being thoroughly excavated. During this period, Uruk became the most urbanized city in the world, surpassing for the first time 50,000 inhabitants.

What constitutes a city is difficult to define, but it does have certain characteristics that differentiate it from a village. One is that a substantial number of people living in close proximity to one another have non-agricultural occupations. This requires them to be dependent on others for food and resources, while they, themselves, provide a specialized skill of service. Even more important, these specialized services are not limited to just the inhabitants of the city, but to the surrounding settlements as well. As a result, the city becomes the center for the geographical area.

The specialization of productive labor led to the need for an authority to organize the exchange of goods, as individual families were no longer self sufficient. In Mesopotamia during the Uruk Period, that authority was the religious temple. The goods were received by the god of the city and redistributed to the people.

Far surpassing other settlements at the time, Uruk's dominant size made it a regional center. Continuing a trend that started in the early Ubaid Period, temples in the Late Uruk period became the most monumental buildings in the settlements. Two temple complexes existed simultaneously at Uruk: The Eanna Precinct and the Anu-Ziggurat (the Temple Tower). These structures of the Eanna Complex were the most elaborate and were rebuilt several times. Surrounded by a perimeter wall, these enormous buildings were the main focus of the city.

Within the walls were clay cones colored white, black, and red which formed mosaics in geometrical patterns. One building contained cones made of stone, a more expensive material since stone was difficult to obtain in the region. These buildings had a cultic role in that goods were offered to the god(s). One of the major works of art for the period, the Uruk Vase, pictorially expresses the role of the Eanna Temple.


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