Urukagina (reigned ca.
2380 BC–2360 BC, short
chronology), alternately rendered as
Uruinimgina or Irikagina, was a
ruler (énsi) of the city-state Lagash in Mesopotamia.
He is best known for his
reforms to combat corruption, which are sometimes cited as the
first example of a legal code
in recorded history
. Although the actual text
has not been discovered yet, much of its content may be surmised
from other references to it that have been found. In it, he
exempted widows and orphans from taxes; compelled the city to pay
funeral expenses (including the ritual food and drink libations
for the journey of the dead into the
lower world); and decreed that the rich must use silver when
purchasing from the poor, and if the poor does not wish to sell,
the powerful man (the rich man or the priest) cannot force him to
Urukagina's code is perhaps the first recorded example of
government reform, seeking to achieve a higher level of freedom
. It limited the power of
and large property
owners and took measures against
usury, burdensome controls, hunger, theft, murder, and seizure (of
people's property and persons); as he states, "The widow and the
orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful man". He is also
said to have abolished the former custom of polyandry
in his country, on pain of the woman
taking multiple husbands being stoned with rocks upon which her
crime is written.
participated in several conflicts, notably a losing border conflict
reign, Uruk fell under the leadership of Lugal-Zage-Si, énsi of Umma, who
ultimately annexed most of the territory of Lagash and established
the first reliably documented kingdom to encompass all of
The destruction of Lagash was described in a lament
(possibly the earliest recorded example of what would become a
prolific Sumerian literary genre), which stressed that "the men of
Umma ... committed a sin against Ningirsu. ... Offence there was
none in Urukagina, king
of Girsu, but as for
of Umma, may his
make him carry his sin upon
his neck" (alternatively - "may she carry his sin upon her neck").
Lugal-Zage-Si himself was soon defeated and his kingdom was annexed
by Sargon of Akkad
Praise poem of Urukagina
Some insight into Sumerian values can be gained from praise poems
written for kings. While the kings may not always live up to this
praise they show the type of achievements that they wished to be
remembered by. Extracts below praise Urukagina who appears as a
social reformer, getting rid of gross abuses of power that had
taken hold in Lagash.
1. Since time immemorial, since life began, in those days, the head
boatman appropriated boats, the livestock official appropriated
asses, the livestock official appropriated sheep, and the fisheries
inspector appropriated.... The shepherds of wool sheep paid a duty
in silver on account of white sheep, and the surveyor, chief
lamentation-singer, supervisor, brewer and foremen paid a duty in
silver on account of young lambs. . . These were the conventions of
2. When Ningirsu, warrior of Enlil, granted the kingship of Lagash
to Urukagina, selecting him from among the myriad people, he
replaced the customs of former times, carrying out the command that
Ningirsu, his master, had given him.
3. He removed the head boatman from control over the boats, he
removed the livestock official from control over asses and sheep,
he removed the fisheries inspector from control....
4. He removed the silo supervisor from control over the grain taxes
of the guda-priests, he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the
paying of duties in silver on account of white sheep and young
lambs, and he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the delivery
of duties by the temple administrators to the palace.
5. The... administrators no longer plunder the orchards of the
poor. When a high quality ass is born to a shublugal, and his
foreman says to him, "I want to buy it from you"; whether he lets
him buy it from him and says to him "Pay me the price I want!," or
whether he does not let him buy it from him, the foreman must not
strike at him in anger.
6. When the house of an aristocrat adjoins the house of a
shublugal, and the aristocrat says to him, "I want to buy it from
you"; whether he lets him buy it from him, having said to him, "Pay
me the price I want! My house is a large container—fill it with
barley for me!," or whether he does not let him buy it from him,
that aristocrat must not strike at him in anger.
7. He cleared and cancelled obligations for those indentured
families, citizens of Lagash living as debtors because of grain
taxes, barley payments, theft or murder.
8. Urukagina solemnly promised Ningirsu that he would never
subjugate the waif and the widow to the powerful.
- The Powers p. 40 by Walter Wink,