Reforms of Urukagina
Greek political experience was so rich and
varied that it has been said with
pardonable exaggeration that the Greeks "invented politics," that of
greatest Political achievement of the Greeks was democracy, which never
developed in Mesopotamia or elsewhere in the ancient Near East. But before the
Greeks attained democracy they had experienced three other Major types of government, which they called Monarchy, Oligarchy,
and tyranny. These three constitutional forms did develop in
Greeks called their earliest form of government monarchy because of the
prominent part played by the war leader, as
shown in the Homeric epics. But because the power of this early monarch
was greatly limited -his actions
had to be approved by an aristocratic council of nobles and, in moments of crisis
such as war, by a popular
assembly of all arms-bearing men
-modern scholars prefer the term
"primitive monarchy," or even "primitive democracy." Primitive monarchy was followed by oligarchy
("rule of the few") when the council of nobles succeeded in
eliminating both the king and the
popular assembly. In time, discontent with the oppressive rule of the oligarchs
caused the common people, both peasantry and
rising middle class, to
support the rise of usurping despots
called "tyrants," a non-Greek word meaning "boss" or 49
chief" that was borrowed from the Orient.
primitive monarchy was also the
earliest form of government in
ye who are raised with the sons of
the king, 0 ye who press
the donkey's thigh...
not submit to the house of
is also evidence that the nobles
of Uruk- ultimately resorted to the use of
force, severely wounded Gilgamesh, and drove him into temporary
was the last of the Sumerian primitive monarchs whose exploits were
celebrated in epics. Thereafter,
for more than a century,
priest-dominated aristocratic councils
ruled the Sumerian city-states through weak and compliant magistrates
called ensi-gar, "governors installed (by a superior)." But from roughly 2550 B.C.,
when true historical sources first become relatively abundant, to about 2350
B.C., when Sargon of Akkad conquered
inscriptions, selections from which follow, begin with a description
of the abuses which "since time immemorial," or so it seemed,
had been undermining the original "divinely decreed way of life." It is Urukagina's view that all the leading elements in society -priests, administrators, powerful men, and even the ensi
("governor") and his family -were guilty of acting each
"for his own benefit." Particularly noteworthy among the many
resulting abuses - partly because the
same evil inspired Hesiod's demand
for social justice at a parallel moment in Greek history and partly because Urukagina seems to have taken greatest pride
in eradicating it - was the seizure of the property and even the persons
of debtors by temple officials working in collusion with corrupt judges
(mashkim).-3 Of special interest,
also, is Urukagina's use of a
contract theory of government to justify both his usurpation of power and his reforms: he made a "covenant" with Ningirsu,
patron god of Lagash, and he carried
out Ningirsu's instructions.
PRACTICES OF FORMER DAYS"
time immemorial, since the seed corn (first) sprouted forth, the head boatman
had the boats in charge for his own benefit, the head shepherd had the asses in
charge for his own benefit, the head shepherd had the sheep in charge for his
own benefit; the head fisherman had the fishing places in charge for his own
benefit. The incantation-priest measured out the barley rent (to his own
[temple] oxen of the gods plowed the gardens of the ensi;
the gardens and the cucumber fields of the ensi were in the best fields
of the gods; the asses and oxen of the priests were taken away (by the ensi). ne
barley rations [income] of the priests were administered by the men of the
In the garden of a humble person a priest could cut a tree or carry away its fruit. When a dead man was placed in the tomb, it was necessary to deliver in his name seven jars of beer and 420 loaves of bread. ne uh-mush priest received one-half gur [about fourteen gallons] of barley, one garment, one turban, and one bed. ne priest's assistant received one-fourth gur of barley...
workingman was forced to beg for his bread; the youth was forced to work in the a-zar-la.
The houses of the ensi, the
fields of the ensi, the houses
of the Enziís wife, the fields of the Enziís wife, the houses of the
Enziís children, the fields of the Enziís children - all were joined
together side by side. Everywhere from border to border there were the
priest-judges [mash- kim] ....Such were the practices of former days.
FREED THE INHABITANTS OF LARASH"
the god Ningirsu, the warrior of the god Enlil, granted the lugal-ship of
removed the head boatman in charge of the boats. He removed the head shepherd in
charge of the asses and sheep. He removed the head fisher- man from the fishing
places. He removed the bead of the storehouse from his responsibility of
measuring out the barley ration to the incantation-priests.... He removed the
palace official in charge of collecting the il-tax from the priests.
houses of the ensi and the fields of the ensi were restored to the god Ningirsu.
The houses of the ensi's wife and the fields of the ensi's wife were restored to
the goddess Bau. The houses of the ensi's children and the fields of the ensi's
children were restored to the god Shulshaggana.
from border to border no one spoke further of priest-judges (mashkim).
a dead man was placed in the tomb, (only) three jars of beer and eighty loaves
of bread were delivered in his name. The uh-mush priest received one bed and one
turban. The priest's assistant received one-eighth gur of barley....
youth was not required to work in the a-zar-la;
the workingman was not forced to beg for his bread. The priest no longer
invaded the garden of a humble person.
(also) decreed: If a good ass is born to a client and his overseer says to
him, "I will buy if from you," then if be wishes to sell it he will
say, "Pay me what pleases me"; but if he does not wish to sell, the
overseer must not force him. If the house of a powerful man is next to the house
of a client, and if the powerful man says to him, "I wish to buy it,"
then if he wishes to sell he will say, "Pay me in silver as much as suits
me," or "Reimburse me with an equivalent amount of barley"; but
if he does not wish to sell, the powerful man must not force him.
[Urukagina] freed the inhabitants of
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