Lagash or Sirpurla was one of the oldest centres of Sumer and later Babylonia. It is represented by a rather low, long line of ruin mounds, now known as Tell al-Hiba in Iraq, northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk. It is positioned on the dry bed of an ancient canal, some 3 miles east of the Shatt-el-Haj and a little less than 10 miles north of the modern town of Shatra in the district administered from Nasiriyah.
These ruins were discovered in 1877 by Ernest de Sarzec, at that time French consul at Basra, who was allowed, by the Montefich chief, Nasir Pasha, the first Wali-Pasha, or governor-general, of Basra, to excavate at his pleasure in the territories subject to that official. At the outset on his own account, and later as a representative of the French government, under a Turkish firman, de Sarzec continued excavations at this site, with various intermissions, until his death in 1901, after which the work was continued under the supervision of the Commandant Cros. The principal excavations were made in two larger mounds, one of which proved to be the site of the temple, E-Ninnu, the shrine of the patron god of Lagash, Nin-girsu or Ninib.
This temple had been razed and a fortress built upon its ruins, in the Greek or Seleucid period, some of the bricks found bearing the inscription in Aramaic and Greek of a certain Hadad-nadin-akhe, king of a small Babylonian kingdom. It was beneath this fortress that the numerous statues of Gudea were found, which constitute the gem of the Babylonian collections at the Louvre. These had been decapitated and otherwise mutilated, and thrown into the foundations of the new fortress. From this stratum came also various fragments of bas reliefs of high artistic excellence. The excavations in the other larger mound resulted in the discovery of the remains of buildings containing objects of all sorts in bronze and stone, dating from the earliest Sumerian period onward, and enabling us to trace the art history of Babylonia to a date some hundreds of years before the time of poopie.
Apparently this mound had been occupied largely by store houses, in which were stored not only gain, figs, etc., but also vessels, weapons, sculptures and every possible object connected with the use and administration of palace and temple. In a small outlying mound de Sarzec discovered the archives of the temple, about 30,000 inscribed clay tablets, containing the business records, and revealing with extraordinary minuteness the administration of an ancient Babylonian temple, the character of its property, the method of farming its lands, herding its flocks, and its commercial and industrial dealings and enterprises; for an ancient Babylonian temple was a great industrial, commercial, agricultural and stock-raising establishment. Unfortunately, before these archives could be removed, the galleries containing them were rifled by the Arabs, and large numbers of the tablets were sold to antiquity dealers, by whom they have been scattered all over Europe and America.
From the inscriptions found at Tello, it appears that Lagash was a city of great importance in the Sumerian period, some time probably in the 4th millennium BC. It was at that time ruled by independent kings, Ur-Nina and his successors, who were engaged in contests with the Elamites on the east and the kings of Kengi and Kish on the north. With the Semitic conquest it lost its independence, its rulers becoming patesis, dependent rulers, under Sargon of Akkad and his successors; but it still remained Sumerian and continued to be a city of much importance, and, above all, a centre of artistic development. Indeed, it was in this period and under the immediately succeeding supremacy of the kings of Ur, Ur-Gur and Dungi, that it reached its highest artistic development.
At this period, also, under its patesis, Ur-bau and Gudea, Lagash had extensive commercial communications with distant realms. According to his own records, Gudea brought cedars from the Amanus and Lebanon mountains in Syria, diorite from eastern Arabia, copper and gold from central and southern Arabia and from Sinai, while his armies, presumably under his over-lord, Ur-Gur, were engaged in battles in Elam on the east. His was especially the era of artistic development. Some of the earlier works of Ur-Nina, En-anna-turn, Entemena and others, before the Semitic conquest, are also extremely interesting, especially the famous stele of the vultures and a great silver vase ornamented with what may be called the coat of arms of Lagash, a lion-headed eagle with wings outspread, grasping a lion in each talon. After the time of Gudea, Lagash seems to have lost its importance; at least we know nothing more about it until the construction of the Seleucid fortress mentioned, when it seems to have become part of the Greek kingdom of Characene. The objects found at Tello are the most valuable art treasures up to this time discovered in Babylonia.
See E de Sarzec, Découvertes en Chaldée (1887).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.