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CITIES OF MESOPOTAMIA: MUD, GODS, AND URBANISM A. The Urban Temple: Creating the Axis Mundi 1. During the fifth through third millennia BCE, Mesopotamia, which extends from the Persian Gulf in the southeast through modern Iraq to the foothills of Armenia in the northwest, spawned a great system of cities. a. An immense effort to harness the unwieldy rivers into canals and lay out irrigation systems for the agricultural fields helped to consolidate the Mesopotamian cities. b. Clay was the most available medium of expression. c. The earliest urban settlements in Mesopotamia date from 5000 BCE in Sumer, the southern delta area. d. Agricultural towns on the slower-moving Euphrates, such as Eridu, Uruk, Nippur, Lagash, Ur, and Kish, grew into sizeable city-states with 10,000–20,000 inhabitants. e. Each city built a set of double walls and at least one towering temple as the center of its surrounding agricultural estates. i. Dikes, canals, irrigation systems. 2. Sumerian architects designed sacred enclosures, temenos , and ziggurats , temples that rose on one or more platforms to create a stepped profile. a. Axis mundi is a sacred marker indicating a local culture’s center of the world. 3. Eridu is the oldest settlement in the region. a. Eridu’s temple to Enki used: i. external buttresses ii. spur walls b. By the end of the third millennium the worshippers at the Enki Temple had incorporated many previous versions into a colossal stepped mound that took the form of a proper ziggurat. 4. Uruk’s White Temple (between 3400 and 3000 BCE) rose as the focus of the city’s religion and government. 5. The city produced many other types of temples to important cults: a. The priesthoods of the moon god, Nanna, and the goddess of the morning star, Inanna, sponsored a collection of extraordinary monuments. 6. The constant building and rebuilding of temples in Uruk came as a response to the fragility of existence in Sumer: a. Crop failures, famines, droughts.
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b. The extravagant temple-building mission of Gudea, a high priest with kingly status who commanded the city of Lagash east of Uruk, illustrated this desperate struggle for survival. i. While undertaking the rebuilding of Ningirsu’s temple, Gudea commissioned twenty stone statues of himself. c. By the end of the second millennium BCE the population of the plains dwindled through starvation and warfare. B. Kingship: The Emergence of the Palace 7. Sargon the Great seized power from the reigning king of Kish and proceeded to take control of as many as sixty-five cities. a. This transition led to the development of an enclave for the royal palace. i. Sargon built a palace at Akkad, which probably resembled those built in rival city-states, such as Ebla, near modern Aleppo, Syria. ii. This human-made acropolis, or tell , served as the site for both the royal palace and the primary temple to the city goddess, Ishtar.
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Christopher Reinemann
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