King Urukagina of Babylonia Biography

As we study the recovered fragments that record Urukagina's very words, we catch from them some insight into the daily life of the world around him. We learn of simpler, more homely things than temples, palaces, and savage wars.

Urukagina stands out to us as earth's first reformer. He was not the son of a preceding king, the heir of the royal house, but seems to have sprung into power in Lagash as the leader of a peasants' revolution. Think of it! A legalized aristocracy entrenched in power and oppressing the lower classes until the latter are driven to rise in successful rebellion! And this happened, not a century ago, nor two or three centuries ago, but four thousand years before the birth of Christ! Tyranny is not a modern growth.

Urukagina, once firmly in command, reorganized the entire government of the land. The system of laws, of which we catch a glimpse from this account of his reforms, is the earliest in the world concerning which we have any knowledge. These laws show that society had already become a most complex organism. Money with its accompaniment of taxes was already among the inevitable facts of life. There were hosts of regular tax-collectors, with a host of inspectors over these. There were slavery, and forced labor, and grinding oppression of the laborer. There were secret theft and open robbery, theft of sheep, of asses, of fish from private fish-ponds, and of water from artificial wells. There were rules for divorce, the principal of which was that those who sought to escape the marriage pledge must pay a substantial fee to the temple of the city's god. There was a priesthood of various ranks, among them being "diviners" who were in much request as foretellers of the future, and were heard with far greater faith than their successors of today. There were also long and carefully built canals, and it was already a kingly duty to keep these in repair.

Unhappily for Urukagina, he met the fate of most reformers. In seeking to rescue his people from suffering he plunged them into disaster. He must have alienated, possibly he exterminated, the host of aristocrats who had lived upon the taxation of the people. The loss of this upper class left the state weak; presumably they had been its chief fighting force, a sort of unorganized army supported by the peasantry. At any rate, under the reforming king, Lagash failed to uphold her previous military supremacy. Her dependent cities broke away from her. A rival monarch defeated her weakened forces in the field, stormed the city, and laid it waste with fire and sword. As we hear no more of Urukagina, he doubtless perished amid the flames of his ruined capital. Yet, as a priest of desolated Lagash wrote in puzzled lamentation: "Of sin on the part of Urukagina, none was." Evidently men had already begun to dream of good deeds as deserving repayment in worldly success; and now they heard Life's grim answer to the dream--that the gods shield not their own, that earth moves not by any practical law of poetic justice.

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Read about King Urukagina of Babylonia Biography in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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