Ur III Umma

1. The Documents of the Provincial Administration

Since 1911 in modern Jokha lootings brought to light the extensive archive of the provincial administration of Ur III Umma[geogr=Umma] (Sallaberger 1999a: 202-203). Umma has never been excavated officially until the salvage excavations by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, directed by Nawala A. Al-Mutawalli and Hamza Al-Harbi in 1999-2002. These excavations unearthed cuneiform documents above all from the „Main Tell“ and from the temple of the main god Šara, a huge building from the 21st century B.C. While for Umma, the documentation known so far concentrated primarily on the Ur III period (21st century B.C.), these new excavated texts date to the immediately following Early Old Babylonian period (19th c. BCE, Al-Mutawalli/Ismael/Sallaberger 2019).

The texts from Umma of the Ur III period share many aspects with the archives from the southern neighbour province of Ĝirsu/Lagas, though they also reveal many differences, as in the scale of the documentation, in the types of records used by the administration and their wording (Sallaberger 1999a: 315; Sharlach 2004: 4-5; 25; Dahl 2007: 33). These records again cover a wide range of fields of the provincial economy, including agriculture, husbandry, wool production and textile industry, and the production of foodstuffs like fruits and cereals. Like in Ĝirsu, the Umma province fostered a well-organised network of guest houses for travellers on official missions and maintained transportation and shipbuilding. The Umma documentation features particularly abundant evidence on crafts in sectors like metallurgy, leather and reed industry, and wood processing. As other provinces like Ĝirsu and Irisaĝrig, also Umma used a local calendar (Sharlach 2004: 25-27; Sallaberger 2021).

For a detailed introduction to and an analysis of the central text typologies of the written sources from Umma in the Ur III period, see Sallaberger 1999a: 202-203, 315-330 and further cited literature. Furthermore, Sharlach 2004: 23-59 and further cited literature specifically studied the role of the province in the economy of the Ur III kingdom; Dahl 2007 investigated the ruling family of the Umma province,  whereupon Pomponio 2013 revived the suggestion that dumu could both mean „son“ and sometimes a „hierarchical subordinate“; eventually Ouyang 2013 analysed the role of silver in the economy of the Umma province.

2. The Province of Umma in the Ur III Kingdom

The city of Umma (modern Jokha) was the capital of the homonymous province and the seat of the provincial administration under the responsibility of the governor. Since the year Šulgi 33, the administrative sources document at least three governors of Umma, who were all „sons“ of Urniĝar the chief livestock administrator (Sharlach 2004: 24; Dahl 2007: 45 - 74 and in particular 51; Pomponio 2013). From this year on, the ruling family of Umma controlled uninterruptedly both provincial and temple institutions holding the majority of the strategic offices in their hands (Sharlach 2004: 24; Notizia 2009b). In the provincial economy of Umma, the temples as economic units seem to have had less impact than the provincial institutions (Sharlach 2004: 24); the latter were labelled as „offices“ or „bureaus“ by Steinkeller 2003, who identified at least ten of them within the administrative apparatus of the province.

The size of the arable land in Umma comprised only less than a sixth of the land in Ĝirsu/Lagas (Sharlach 2004: 67). The agricultural territory of the Umma province was divided into three districts: Da-Umma, Apisal, Guedina and Mušbiana, whereby Da-Umma was the largest and agriculturally most productive one (Maekawa 1987b; Dahl 2007: 33-36; Dossier A.1.1.05).

As Ĝirsu/Lagas did according to the bala-obligation system, Umma supplied the Ur III kingdom with bulk commodities like barley too. This mechanism assigned each province a month (or more or none) for its bala-duty in order to provide regular revenue to the crown. The evidence on the bala roster reveals that Umma was never responsible for more than or less than one month of bala-duty (Sharlach 2004: 56-58). Umma’s payments to the crown did not consist only of barley and cereals but also included a great variety of other goods, like reeds, timber and products of the marshes, manufactured items and food as well as workforce; but never wool, although it was one of the most important products of Umma’s economy (Sharlach 2004: 29-30).


  • Al-Mutawalli/Ismael/Sallaberger 2019 = Al-Mutawalli, Nawala; Ismael, Khalid Salim; Sallaberger, Walther (2019): Bullae from the Shara Temple. Cuneiform Texts from the Iraqi Excavations at Umma (Jokha) 2. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
  • Dahl 2007 = Dahl, Jacob L. (2007): The Ruling Family of Ur III Umma. A Prosopographical Analysis of an Elite Family in Southern Iraq 4000 Years Ago. Publications de l'Institut historique-archéologique néerlandais de Stamboul 108. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.
  • Maekawa 1987b = Maekawa, Kazuya (1987): The Management of Domain Land in Ur III Umma. A Study of BM 110116, in: Zinbun 22, 25-82.
  • Notizia 2009b = Notizia, Palmiro (2010): Review of Dahl, Jacob, The Ruling Family of Ur III Umma. A Prosopographical Analysis of an Elite Family in Southern Iraq 4000 Years Ago. Publications de l'Institut historique-archéologique néerlandais de Stamboul 108. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten., in: Bibliotheca Orientalis 67, 107-112.
  • Ouyang 2013 = Ouyang, Xiaoli (2013): Monetary Role of Silver and Its Administration in Mesopotamia During the Ur III Period (c. 2112-2004 BCE). A Case Study of the Umma Province. Biblioteca del Próximo Oriente Antiguo 11. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.
  • Pomponio 2013 = Pomponio, Francesco (2013): The Ur III Administration: Workers, Messengers, and Sons, in: Garfinkle, Steven J.; Molina, Manuel (eds.), From the 21st Century B.C. to the 21st Century A.D. Proceedings of the International Conference on Sumerian Studies Held in Madrid 22-24 July 2010. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 221-232.
  • Sallaberger 1999a = Sallaberger, Walther (1999): Ur III-Zeit, in: Mesopotamien. Akkade-Zeit und Ur III-Zeit. Annäherungen 3. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 160/3. Freiburg: University of Toronto Press, 119-390.
  • Sallaberger 2021 = Sallaberger, Walther (2021): The Emergence of Calendars in the Third Millennium BCE: Deities, Festivals, Seasons, and the Cultural Construction of Time, in: Shibata, Daisuke; Yamada, Shigeo (eds.), Calendars and Festivals in Mesopotamia in the Third and Second Millennia BC. Studia Chaburensia 9. Wiesbaden: University Press, 1-34.
  • Sharlach 2004 = Sharlach, Tonia M. (2004): Provincial Taxation and the Ur III State. Cuneiform Monographs 26. Leiden and Boston: Brill Styx.
  • Steinkeller 2003 = Steinkeller, Piotr (2003): Archival Practices at Babylonia in the Third Millennium, in: Brosius, Maria (ed.), Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions. Concepts of Record-Keeping in the Ancient World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University.
  • Steinkeller 2017 = Steinkeller, Piotr (2017): An Estimate of the Population of the City of Umma in Ur III Times, in: Heffron, Yağmur; Stone, Adam; Worthington, Martin (eds.), At the Dawn of History: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of J. N. Postgate. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 535-566.
  • Vanderroost 2008 = Vanderroost, Nicolas (2008): Distribution géographique et organisation administrative des équipes agricoles de la province d'Umma, in: Garfinkle, Steven J.; Johnson, Justin Cale (eds.), The Growth of an Early State in Mesopotamia: Studies in Ur III Administration. Proceedings of the First and Second Ur III Workshops at the 49th and 51th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, London July 10, 2003 and Chicago July 19. Biblioteca del próximo oriente antiguo 5. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 129-139.
  • Vanderroost 2012-2013 = Vanderroost, Nicolas (2012/2013): Organisation administrative du bureau de l'agriculture d'Umma à l'époque de la Troisième Dynastie d'Ur. Dissertation. Bruxelles: Université libre de Bruxelles.