Ur-Ningirsu, ensi of Lagash, circa 2120 – 2113 B.C.
Ur-Ningirsu was the son of Gudea, the ensi (ruler, governor) of Lagash. Gudea reigned during difficult and dangerous times. The Akkadian Empire, which had ruled Sumer for 200 years, had been overrun by the Gutians, nomadic tribesman from the north. The Gutians also conquered parts of Sumer. Despite the political instability of the region, Gudea managed to give his citizens twenty years of peace and prosperity. The people of Lagash also enjoyed an artistic renaissance during his reign.
The “years names” of Ur-Ningirsu’s reign:
The Sumerians did not have a single comprehensive calendar for the entire nation. Instead, each city-state had its own individual calendar based on the reign of its monarch. The years were not numbered (e.g., 2013). Rather, each year was named for an important event that occurred within it.
The year Ur-Ningirsu became governor
The year after Ur-Ningirsu became governor
Year in which the šita-abba priest was chosen by means of the omens
Year in which the lumah priest of Baba was chosen by means of the omens
Year in which the high priestess of Iškur was chosen by means of the omens
Year the throne bearer of the god Ningirsu was chosen
Year in which the city of Uruk was destroyed
The first thing noticeable about this list is the second year of Ur-Ningirsu’s reign, “the year after Ur-Ningirsu became governor”. Although it wasn’t unusual for a Sumerian year name to be titled “the year after” an important event, this suggests there were no accomplishments in Ur-Ningirsu’s second year that were worthy of mention. By contrast, Gudea’s second year was named “the year in which the canal Ningirsu-ushumgal (‘Ningirsu is a dragon’) was dug.” Ur-Namma’s second year was “the year in which Ur-Namma the king put in order the ways (of the people in the country) from below to above.” The lack of any major accomplishments in Ur-Ningirsu’s second year may be due to his youth and inexperience. He was quite young when he became a king.
The second thing noticeable about the year names is the preponderance of religious themes. Although Sumerian year names frequently mention religion, in Ur-Ningirsu’s reign there is little mention of anything else. There is no political agenda, such as “the year Ur-Namma made justice in the land” or the year that he built a defensive wall around the city of Ur. Notably absent from the year names of Ur-Ningirsu is a reference to major building projects, like the digging of a canal, the construction of a new temple, or the completion of a city wall. Also missing is any reference to war. He was named for the god of war (Ningirsu), and his statue shows humble emissaries at his feet offering him tribute, but there is no record of him being involved in wars of foreign conquest or civil wars against other Sumerian city-states. Although the year names indicate that Ur-Ningirsu was deeply religious like his father, it seems likely that Ur-Ningirsu would have added other non-religious year names (that dealt with war, politics, and justice) had he lived longer.
This leads to the third thing noticeable about the list. It is a very short list. Ur-Ningirsu reigned for only seven years. He was quite young when he died.
There is some debate about the final year name, “the year in which the city of Uruk was destroyed” (by the Gutians). Some scholars think it occurred during the reign of Gudea rather than Ur-Ningirsu. In either case, it is a significant event. Uruk was the city of Utu-hengal. His seven year reign is roughly contemporaneous with that of Ur-Ningirsu. Along with his young military governor, Ur-Namma, Utu-hengal won a major victory over the Gutians, capturing
their king Tirigan and two of his generals. This was the beginning of Sumerian independence
after two centuries of foreign domination. Even so, the Gutians continued to be a threat.
Ur-Namma fought them again after he became the king of Ur; one of his year names was
called, “the year Gutium was destroyed”. He would later die in combat in yet another battle
with the Gutians.