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Coordinates: 30°48′57.02″N 45°59′45.85″E / 30.8158389°N 45.9960694°E / 30.8158389; 45.9960694

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Eridu (URUNUN.KI 𒉣𒆠; Sumerian:eridug; from the Sumerian for "mighty place") is an ancient city in what is now Tell Abu Shahrain, in Iraq. Eridu was the earliest city in southern Mesopotamia, founded c. 5400 BCE. Located 12 km southwest of Ur, Eridu was the southernmost of a conglomeration of Sumerian cities that grew about temples, almost in sight of one another. In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was founded by the Sumerian deity Enki, later known by the Akkadians as Ea.



In the Sumerian king list, Eridu is named as the city of the first kings. The kinglist continues:

In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalngar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.

The king list gave particularly long rules to the kings who ruled before a great flood occurred, and shows how the center of power progressively moved from the south to the north of the country.

Adapa U-an, elsewhere called the first man, was a half-god, half-man culture hero, called by the title Abgallu (ab=water, gal=big, lu=man) of Eridu. He was considered to have brought civilization to the city from Dilmun (probably Bahrain), and he served Alulim.

In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was the home of the Abzu temple of the god Enki, the Sumerian counterpart of the Akkadian water-god Ea. Like all the Sumerian and Babylonian gods, Enki/Ea began as a local god, who came to share, according to the later cosmology, with Anu and Enlil, the rule of the cosmos. His kingdom was the waters that surrounded the world and lay below it (Sumerian ab=water; zu=far).

The stories of Inanna, goddess of Uruk, describe how she had to go to Eridu in order to receive the gifts of civilization. At first Enki, the god of Eridu attempted to retrieve these sources of his power, but later willingly accepted that Uruk now was the centre of the land. This seems to be a mythical reference to the transfer of power northward, mentioned above.

Babylonian texts also talk of the creation of Eridu by the god Marduk as the first city, "the holy city, the dwelling of their [the other gods] delight".

It can very well be that Eridu is linked to the Annunaki. In the court of Assyria, special physicians trained in the ancient lore of Eridu, far to the south, foretold the course of sickness from signs and portents on the patient's body, and offered the appropriate incantations and magical resources as cures.


According to the Sumerian kinglist Eridu was the first city in the world. The opening line reads,

"[nam]-lugal an-ta èd-dè-a-ba
[eri]duki nam-lugal-la"
"When kingship from heaven was lowered,
the kingship was in Eridu."

In Sumerian mythology, it was said to be one of the five cities built before the Deluge occurred. Eridu appears to be the earliest settlement in the region, founded ca. 5400 BC, close to the Persian Gulf near the mouth of the Euphrates River. Because of accumulation of silt at the shoreline over the millennia, the remains of Eridu are now some distance from the gulf at Abu Shahrain in Iraq.

In early Eridu, Enki's temple was known as E-abzu, or E-engura ("House of the subterranean waters" due to Enki's association with water), and was located at the edge of a freshwater marsh, an abzu.[1]. His consort, known by various names including Ninki, Ninhursanga, Damgulnanna, Uriash, and Damkina had a nearby temple, the E-shag-hula ("house of the sacred lady").


According to Gwendolyn Leick[2], Eridu was formed at the confluence of three separate ecosystems, supporting three distinct lifestyles, that came to an agreement about access to fresh water in a desert environment. The oldest agrarian settlement seems to have been based upon intensive subsistence irrigation agriculture derived from the Samarra culture to the north, characterised by the building of canals, and mud-brick buildings. The fisher-hunter cultures of the Arabian littoral were responsible for the extensive middens along the Arabian shoreline, and may have been the original Sumerians. They seem to have dwelt in reed huts. The third culture that contributed to the building of Eridu was the nomadic Semitic pastoralists of herds of sheep and goats living in tents in semi-desert areas. All three cultures seem implicated in the earliest levels of the city. The urban settlement was centered on an impressive temple complex built of mudbrick, within a small depression that allowed water to accumulate.

Kate Fielden reports "The earliest village settlement (c.5000 BC) had grown into a substantial city of mudbrick and reed houses by c.2900 BC, covering 8-10 ha (20-25 acres). By c.2050 BC the city had declined; there is little evidence of occupation after that date. Eighteen superimposed mudbrick temples at the site underlie the unfinished Ziggurat of Amar-Sin (c.2047–2039 BC). The finding of extensive deposits of fishbones associated with the earliest levels also shows a continuity of the Abzu cult associated later with Enki and Ea. This apparent continuity of occupation and religious observance at Eridu provide convincing evidence for the indigenous origin of Sumerian civilization.

Eridu was abandoned for long periods, before it was finally deserted and allowed to fall into ruin in the 6th century BCE. The encroachment of neighbouring sand dunes, and the rise of a saline water table, set early limits to its agricultural base so in its later Neo-Babylonian development, Eridu was rebuilt as a purely temple site, in honour of its earliest history.


E-abzu temple of Eridu

The site at Tell abu Shahrain, near Basra, was initially excavated by J. E. Taylor in 1855, R. Campbell Thompson in 1918, and H.R. Hall in 1919. [3] [4] [5] [6] Excavation there resumed from 1946 to 1949 under Fuad Safar and Seton Lloyd of the Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities and Heritage. [7] [8] These archaeological investigations showed that, according to Oppenheim, "eventually the entire south lapsed into stagnation, abandoning the political initiative to the rulers of the northern cities," and the city was abandoned in 600 BC.

One recent school of thought, following David Rohl, has conjectured that Eridu, to the south of Ur, was the original Babel and site of the Tower of Babel, rather than the later city of Babylon, for a variety of reasons: [9]

  • The ziggurat ruins of Eridu are far larger and older than any others, and seem to best match the Biblical description of the unfinished Tower of Babel.
  • One name of Eridu in cuneiform logograms was pronounced "NUN.KI" ("the Mighty Place") in Sumerian, but much later the same "NUN.KI" was understood to mean the city of Babylon.
  • The much later Greek version of the King-list by Berosus (c. 200 BC) reads "Babylon" in place of "Eridu" in the earlier versions, as the name of the oldest city where "the kingship was lowered from Heaven".
  • Rohl et al. further equate Biblical Nimrod, said to have built Erech (Uruk) and Babel, with the name Enmerkar (-KAR meaning "hunter") of the king-list and other legends, who is said to have built temples both in his capital of Uruk and in Eridu.

Note that other cities in the ancient Near East were also named as "Babylon" at some point in history, including Nineveh. [10]

See also


  1. ^ Green (1975), pages 180–182
  2. ^ Leick, Gwendolyn (2001), "Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City" (Allen Lane)
  3. ^ J. E. Taylor, Notes on Abu Shahrein and Tell el Lahm, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 15, pp. 404-415, 1855
  4. ^ R. Campbell Thompson, The British Museum excavations at Abu Shahrain in Mesopotamia in 1918, Archaeologia, vol. 70, pp. 101-144, 1920
  5. ^ H. R. Hall, The Excavations of 1919 at Ur, el-'Obeid, and Eridu, and the History of Early Babylonia ,Man, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 25, pp. 1-7, 1925
  6. ^ H. R. Hall, Ur and Eridu: The British Museum Excavations of 1919, Journal of Egyyptian Archaeology, vol. 9, no. 3/4, pp. 177-195, 1923
  7. ^ Seton Lloyd, Abu Shahrein: A Memorandum, Iraq 36, pp. 129-38, 1974
  8. ^ Fuad Safar, M. A. Mustafa and Seton Lloyd, Eridu, Republic of Iraq, Ministry of Culture and Information, State Organization of Antiquites and Heritage, 1981
  9. ^ Legends: The Genesis of Civilization (1998) and The Lost Testament (2002) by David Rohl
  10. ^ Stephanie Dalley, Babylon as a Name for Other Cities Including Nineveh, in [1] Proceedings of the 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Oriental Institute SAOC 62, pp. 25-33, 2005


  • Green, Margaret Whitney (1975). Eridu in Sumerian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago.  
  • Leick, Gwendolyn (2001). Mesopotamia: The invention of the city. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0713991984.  
  • Oppenheim, A. Leo (1998). Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a dead civilization (Rev. ed., 11th impr. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226631877.  
  • Joan Oates, Ur and Eridu: the Prehistory, Iraq, vol. 22, Ur in Retrospect: In Memory of Sir C. Leonard Woolley, pp. 32-50, 1960

External links

Its exact location is near Nasriya city northwest of Basra; the main road to this old city called al-muqair, "the bitumen-plated road", has been used in the levels of the Ziggurat between the brick.


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