The fictional city of Ausgrenor, after which my first novel is named, is located in southern Mesopotamia between the excavated cities of Ur and Uruk and substitutes for them both. At the time of the setting of the series of novels, 5203 years ago, alluvial deposits from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers had not yet extended the Delta as far southeast as it is today. Thus, Ausgrenor was then much closer to what we now call the Persian Gulf than are today’s ruins at Ur and Uruk.
The name Ausgrenor is constructed from three proto-Indo-European word roots to mean the City of Golden Grain. Why Indo-European? Because the Sumerian language, a language isolate, is believed by some to have been a creole language of which one component of the former pidgin language was proto-Indo-European. Or it might be a Sprachbund produced, as I imagined in my novels, by a prolonged period where an elite of Indo-European kings ruled the people they had conquered late in the Ubaid period, explaining the swift progress and militarization of the Uruk period. Enough about my fictional city, let’s look at the two cities which inspired it.
Human Sacrifices Waiting at Royal Burial in Ur. See Post #12
City of Ur. Sometimes, we lose the human touch when we study history or archaeology. We forget we are dealing with real people who lived before us, whose bodies have died, and whose souls have gone wherever it is that we personally believe souls go after death. You will recall the picture above, where the living sacrifices stand awaiting their fate. These are people who have been enticed or forced to be killed or commit suicide to accompany their queen into what she fancied as her afterlife. The picture is an artist’s conception of how the scene would have looked based upon unearthed archaeological artifacts he had seen, including the wagons, bodies, and personal effects such as helmets and jewelry unearthed in the excavations at Ur, in the positions by the walls shown in the picture. Notice the helmets on the soldiers heads, then compare the photograph of the gold helmet from Namrud shown below (which is safely stashed out of ISIS’s reach for the moment.) Imagine the soldier, probably of the Queen’s Guard, putting on that helmet. Real gold is heavy. But when you know you’re going to die shortly, you probably won’t notice its weight so much. Tension stiffens your stance. Your temples throb. You grit your teeth.
Helmet: Part of Namrud Treasures in Custody of Baghdad Museum
Perhaps you held the gold short sword shown below. It certainly wasn’t your usually assigned weapon, but the king’s treasurer gave it to you for this eternal assignment. It matters little that the gold won’t hold an edge.
Short Sword: Part of Namrud Treasures in Custody of Baghdad Museum
You had seen Queen Puabi of Ur wearing the tiara in the palace (shown on the mannequin below). We found it with her body in her burial chamber, just up the corridor from where you lay.
Queen Puabi’s Tiara and Jewelry in Custody of Baghdad Museum
Do these priceless artifacts make the reality of life 5203 years ago more real to those who see them in person? Yes they do. And that’s one of the huge advantages of viewing these treasures when they are displayed in reasonably secure museums during world tours. But, you don’t have to wait for such a tour to get started. Walk through the galleries of ancient art found in the museum nearest you. You will find such museums throughout the world. Unleash your imagination as you examine these real artifacts of real people who lived inconceivably long ago. Stretch your mind and imagine yourself in their place. There! That’s the romance of archaeology and history, one touchable and the other suggestive.
Why do this? So you can begin to appreciate the infinitely rich tapestry of man’s journey from his origins up to today. Until you lay your hands firmly on the past, you cannot expect to extrapolate forward from where you are today into an unformed future. It takes two data points to establish a trend to extrapolate forward. If one data point is not deep in the past, you have no trend to project. Perhaps that is why there are so many foolish ideas about the future in our time.
So, let’s step back to ancient Ur. Below, you see an old black and white photograph of Ur as it was viewed before the major excavations in the early 20th century.
Ziggurat of Ur and ruins early in 20th Century. Sir Leonard Woolley Expedition.
After a century of digging, the photo below gives a sense of the facts emerging from the dust. The excavated ziggurat in the background has lost some of its features, but little of its grandeur.
Ziggurat of Ur and Excavated Ruins in 21st Century. Credit.
Below, we see an artist’s extrapolation of the artifacts into a reasonable facsimile of what the archaeologists and excavation site plan reveal having existed five millennia ago. Note the Sacred Precinct is surrounded by a moat, open-court houses fill the city to the outer walls, there is a harbor beyond but within the outer walls, and a gate from the harbor into the Euphrates. I hope you will be able to imagine other ruins like this artist’s rendition, but in your mind’s eye. Think of people climbing the multiple staircases of the ziggurat, and what they’re going to do in the temple atop that large upper platform, in the other temples and administrative offices, in the homes, and in the harbor. Imagine the sacred precinct as the center of this tightly regulated city and its culture.
Sacred Precinct of Ur Surrounded by City Within Outer Wall. Credit.
The goddess Ningal, goddess of Ur, was consort of Nanna, the patron god of Ur. The excerpt below from the Lament Upon the Destruction of Ur is worthy of your time to read, or better, to play through whatever text-to-speech engine you have available. From her lament, you’ll see that Sumerian gods warred upon and manipulated men two thousand years earlier than the similarly capricious gods of the Greek Iliad and Roman Aeneid. But, there is a germ of something in this Lament, equally evocative in the Iliad, that we also find in some of the prophets of the Bible, e.g. Jerimiah’s Lamentations over the Fall of Jerusalem. In all four of these civilizations, the gods (or God) controls everything according to their (His) purposes, and explains very little of their (His) master plans to mankind.
The Lament for Ur (Excerpt Credit)
For the gods have abandoned us
like migrating birds they have gone
Ur is destroyed, bitter is its lament
The country’s blood now fills its holes like hot bronze in a mould
Bodies dissolve like fat in the sun. Our temple is destroyed
Smoke lies on our city like a shroud.
blood flows as the river does
the lamenting of men and women
Ur is no more
(“the goddess of Ur, Ningal, tells how she suffered under her sense of coming doom.”)
When I was grieving for that day of storm,
that day of storm, destined for me, laid upon me, heavy with tears,
that day of storm, destined for me, laid upon me heavy with tears, on me, the queen.
Though I was trembling for that day of storm,
that day of storm destined for me —
I could not flee before that day’s fatality.
And of a sudden I espied no happy days within my reign, no happy days within my reign.
Though I would tremble for that night,
that night of cruel weeping destined for me,
I could not flee before that night’s fatality.
Dread of the storm’s floodlike destruction weighed on me,
and of a sudden on my couch at night, upon my couch at night no dreams were granted me.
And of a sudden on my couch oblivion, upon my couch oblivion was not granted.
Because (this) bitter anguish had been destined for my land —
as the cow to the (mired) calf — even had I come to help it on the ground,
I could not have pulled my people back out of the mire.
Because (this) bitter dolor had been destined for my city,
even if I, birdlike, had stretched my wings,
and, (like a bird), flown to my city,
yet my city would have been destroyed on its foundation,
yet Ur would have perished where it lay.
Because that day of storm had raised its hand,
and even had I screamed out loud and cried; “Turn back, O day of storm, (turn) to (thy) desert,”
the breast of that storm would not have been lifted from me.
Then verily, to the assembly, where the crowd had not yet risen,
while the Anunnaki, binding themselves (to uphold the decision), were still seated,
I dragged my feet and I stretched out my arms,
truly I shed my tears in front of An.
Truly I myself mourned in front of Enlil:
“May my city not be destroyed!” I said indeed to them.
“May Ur not be destroyed!” I said indeed to them.
“And may its people not be killed!” I said indeed to them.
But An never bent towards those words,
and Enlil never with an, “It is pleasing, so be it!” did soothe my heart.
(Behold,) they gave instruction that the city be destroyed,
(behold,) they gave instruction that Ur be destroyed,
and as its destiny decreed that its inhabitants be killed.
Enlil called the storm. The people mourn.
Winds of abundance he took from the land. The people mourn.
Bood winds he took away from Sumer. the people mourn.
Deputed evil winds. The people mourn.
Entrusted them to Kingaluda, tender of storms.
He called the storm that annihilates the land. The people mourn.
He called disastrous winds. The people mourn.
Enlil — choosing Gibil as his helper —
called the (great) hurricane of heaven. The people mourn.
The (blinding) hurricane howling across the skies — the people mourn —
the tempest unsubduable like breaks through levees,
beats down upon, devours the city’s ships,
(all these) he gathered at the base of heaven. The people mourn.
(Great) fires he lit that heralded the storm. The people mourn.
And lit on either flank of furious winds the searing heat of the desert.
Like flaming heat of noon this fire scorched.
The storm ordered by Enlil in hate, the storm which wears away the country,
covered Ur like a cloth, veiled it like a linen sheet.
On that day did the storm leave the city; that city was a ruin.
O father Nanna, that town was left a ruin. The people mourn.
On that day did the storm leave the country. The people mourn.
Its people(‘s corpses), not potsherds,
littered the approaches.
The walls were gaping;
the high gates, the roads,
were piled with dead.
In the wide streets, where feasting crowds (once) gathered, jumbled they lay.
In all the streets and roadways bodies lay.
In open fields that used to fill with dancers,
the people lay in heaps.
The country’s blood now filled its holes, like metal in a mold;
bodies dissolved — like butter left in the sun.
(Nannar, god of the Moon and spouse of Ningal, appeals to his father, Enlil)
O my father who engendered me! What has my city done to you? Why have you turned away from it?
O Enlil! What has my city done to you? Why have you turned away from it?
The ship of first fruits no longer brings first fruits to the engendering father,
no longer goes in to Enlil in Nippur with your bread and food portions!
O my father who engendered me! Fold again into your arms my city from its loneliness!
O Enlil! Fold again my Ur into your arms from its loneliness!
Fold again my (temple) Ekishnugal into your arms from its loneliness!
Let renown emerge for you in Ur! Let the people expand for you:
let the ways of Sumer, which have been destroyed,
be restored for you!
Enlil answered his son Suen (saying):
“The heart of the wasted city is weeping, reeds (for flutes) of lament grow therein,
its heart is weeping, reeds (for flutes) of lament grow therein,
its people spend the day in weeping.
O noble Nanna, be thou (concerned) about yourself, what truck have you with tears?
There is no revoking a verdict, a decree of the assembly,
a command of An and Enlil is not known ever to have been changed.
Ur was verily granted a kingship — a lasting term it was not granted.
From days of yore when the country was first settled, to where it has now proceeded,
Who ever saw a term of office completed?
Its kingship, its term of office, has been uprooted. It must worry.
(You) my Nanna, do you not worry! Leave your city!”
In the case of the Lament for Ur, there is no explanation by the Mesopotamian gods An and Enlil about why they destroyed Ur, but simply that they had previously decreed that ending before they founded Ur and were simply executing their (immutable) plan. It is that concept of an immutable plan which carries forward. Over a thousand years later, the prophet Jeremiah knew from Isaiah and other earlier prophets why God was going to punish the Kingdom of Judah, as he had punished the Kingdom of Israel a century earlier, and so was not surprised but sorrowful that his people had not responded to prior prophetic warnings with obedience, and thus received the full brunt of punishment prophesied over the century preceding Jerusalem’s destruction.
The common thread of the three polytheistic Mesopotamian , Greek, and Roman religions was that there were celestial expectations for god-approved behavior by each of these three peoples, and that national punishment was to be expected for continued disobedience. This cause-and-effect feature of these three religions is similar to that of the Old Testament of the Jews and Christians, but differs radically from the New Testament of the Christians—not regarding the cause-and-effect relationship between disobedience (dissing God) and destiny—but in the radically new thought that God loves mankind and provided Christ as the onetime forever atonement sacrifice for all man’s wrongdoing, subject to only one condition: that men individually accept Christ as such and honor Him with their lives through loving God and loving everybody else—and its corollary as explained by Jesus Christ, that loving like that fulfills every law that matters. (Matthew 22:36-40)
The issue of divine judgment relating personal (and national) behavior to eternal outcomes is present in all four religions, as it also was in the Egyptian, with the divine as judge and executioner. Thus there is a cause-and-effect cultural thread that grew over time and merged into monotheism after Christ. However, the Islamic tradition’s god delegates punishment to self-appointed Muslims to inflict his wrath upon non-believers –even infants–rather than judging, sentencing, and punishing from his throne.
We will continue with the subject of Ur, Uruk, and the Sumerian culture in our next few posts. There are important principles to be found there, with profound implications upon world history up to today.
Thanks for visiting.
R. E. J. Burke