Though the Ur III period is one of the best-attested periods in the whole of the ancient world, few texts dating to the reign of Ur-Nammu survive. Thus, little is known about Ur-Nammu's origins. It is widely thought that he was a military official serving in Ur while it was ruled by Utu-Hegal of Uruk. Moreover, there is some speculation that he may have been Utu-Hegal's brother, though this is not certain.
Rise of the Ur III State
In the early part of his reign, Ur-Nammu must have controlled only the area of Ur and its surroundings, including, perhaps, Eridu. There is evidence to suggest that Ur vied with Uruk over control of Lagash during the latter part of Ur-Nammu's reign.
According to the Sumerian King List, Ur-Nammu reigned for 18 years, and we have attestations for at least 16 of Ur-Nammu's year names. Most attest to major building projects such as canal work or temple construction. Few such year names mention military action against rival powers in the south such as Uruk, Lagash, and Umma. Nevertheless, it is clear that by the end of his reign, most if not all of southern Mesopotamia was under the hegemony of Ur.
Death of Ur-Nammu
- . . .
- in Sumer . . .
- the cities were destroyed in their entirety; the people were seized with panic.
- Evil came upon Ur and made the trustworthy shepherd pass away.
- It made Ur-Nammu, the trustworthy shepherd, pass away; it made the trustworthy shepherd pass away.
- . . .
Though there is little evidence to corroborate this literary composition, the fact that such a story exists at all suggests that they may be some truth to it.