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The Ur Brick

This sun-dried mud brick, which bears a stamped cuneiform inscription naming Shulgi, King of Ur from 2094 - 2047 BC, was recently given to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Mrs Pat Caesar. It was discovered by Mrs Caesar and her nephew, Mr Paul Morrison in March this year, while they were clearing out a wardrobe in Mrs Caesar’s Cambridge house.

Accompanying the brick were yellowing slips of paper stating that the brick came from ‘a partition-wall in the vaults of the Royal Tombs discovered at Ur in November - December 1930’. The brick was given to a relation of Mrs Caesar’s, in the 1930s, by a member of Sir Leonard Woolley’s Ur expedition.

The inscription is written in the script known as ‘cuneiform’, an early form of writing invented by the Sumerians before 3,000 BC. Cuneiform means ‘wedge-shaped’, and it can be seen that the ends of the strokes open out into wedges. The four lines may be translated as follows:

‘Shulgi, strong man, King of Ur, King of Sumer [and Akkad.]’

Shulgi was an important ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur. He was one of the most energetic builders of the period and many bricks bearing the same and similar stamps have been found both in the tomb complex of the third dynasty kings and in other contemporary structures, including the Ziggurat.

The site of Ur, which lies about 10 miles west of the Euphrates in southern Iraq, was continuously inhabited from about 5,000 - 300 BC. Although ‘Ur of the Chaldees’ is famous as the home of the Old Testament prophet Abraham, there is no actual evidence that the biblical Ur is this one, which was known in antiquity as Urim.

The Fitzwilliam Museum already has one stamped brick from Ur bearing the name of an earlier Third Dynasty King and is delighted to have been given this second example. Both bricks are on display in the Western Asiatic gallery, Case 3.

Acquisition Date: 2004