Urukagina, the leader of the
Sumerian city-state of Girsu/Lagash, led a popular movement that resulted in
the reform of the oppressive legal and governmental structure of Sumeria. The
oppressive conditions in the city before the reforms is described in the new
code preserved in cuneiform on tablets of the period: "From the borders
of Ningirsu to the sea, there was the tax collector." During his reign
(ca. 2350 B.C.) Urukagina implemented a sweeping set of laws that guaranteed
the rights of property owners, reformed the civil administration, and instituted
moral and social reforms. Urukagina banned both civil and ecclesiastical authorities
from seizing land and goods for payment, eliminated most of the state tax collectors,
and ended state involvement in matters such as divorce proceedings and perfume
making. He even returned land and other property his predecessors had seized
from the temple. He saw that reforms were enacted to eliminate the abuse of
the judicial process to extract money from citizens and took great pains to
ensure the public nature of legal proceedings.
In this important code is found the first written reference to the concept
of liberty (amagi or amargi, literally, "return to the
mother"), used in reference to the process of reform. The exact nature
of this term is not clear, but the idea that the reforms were to be a return
to the original social order decreed by the gods fits well with the translation.
Works about the Author
Kramer, Samuel Noah. From the Tablets of Sumer: Twenty-Five Firsts in Man's
Recorded History. Indian Hills: The Falcon's Wing Press, 1956.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.