Adab (city)

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Adab, Udab
Male bust Louvre AO10921.jpg
Adab is located in Iraq
Shown within Iraq
Alternative nameBismya
LocationWasit Province, Iraq
Coordinates31°56′49″N 45°58′8″E / 31.94694°N 45.96889°E / 31.94694; 45.96889Coordinates: 31°56′49″N 45°58′8″E / 31.94694°N 45.96889°E / 31.94694; 45.96889
Site notes
Excavation dates1885, 1890, 1902, 1903–1904
ArchaeologistsW.H. Ward, J.P. Peters, W. Andrae, E.J. Banks
Location of Adab before the expansion of the Akkadian Empire (in green). The territory of Sumer appears in orange. Circa 2350 BCE

Adab or Udab (Sumerian: 𒌓𒉣𒆠 Adabki,[1] spelled UD.NUNKI[2]) was an ancient Sumerian city between Telloh and Nippur. It was located at the site of modern Bismaya or Bismya in the Wasit Province of Iraq.


The site consists of a number of mounds distributed over an area about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) long and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) wide, consisting of a number of low ridges, nowhere exceeding 12 metres (39 ft) in height, lying somewhat nearer to the Tigris than the Euphrates, about a day's journey to the south-east of Nippur.

Initial examinations of the site of Bismaya were by William Hayes Ward of the Wolfe Expedition in 1885 and by John Punnett Peters of the University of Pennsylvania in 1890, each spending a day there and finding one cuneiform table and a few fragments.[3] Walter Andrae visited Bismaya in 1902, found a table fragment and produced a sketch map of the site.[4]

Excavations were conducted there for a total of six months, between Christmas of 1903 and June 1905, for the University of Chicago, primarily by Dr. Edgar James Banks, with the final part of the dig being under engineer Victor S. Persons. It proved that these mounds covered the site of the ancient city of Adab (Ud-Nun), hitherto known only from the Sumerian King List and a brief mention of its name in the introduction to the Hammurabi Code. The city was divided into two parts by a canal, on an island in which stood the temple, E-mach, with a ziggurat, or stepped tower. It was evidently once a city of considerable importance, but deserted at a very early period, since the ruins found close to the surface of the mounds belong to Shulgi and Ur-Nammu, kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the latter part of the third millennium BC, based on inscribed bricks excavated at Bismaya. Immediately below these, as at Nippur, were found artifacts dating to the reign of Naram-Suen and Sargon of Akkad, c. 2300 BC. Below these there were still 10.5 metres (34 ft) of stratified remains, constituting seven-eighths of the total depth of the ruins. Besides the remains of buildings, walls and graves, Dr. Banks discovered a large number of inscribed clay tablets of a very early period, bronze and stone tablets, bronze implements and the like.[5]

Statue of Lugal-dalu, King or Governor of Adab in the 3rd millennium BC. He is not listed in the Sumerian King List. An inscription on the shoulder identifies him, and he is wearing the Kaunakes

Of the tablets, 543 went to the Oriental Institute and roughly 1100, mostly purchased from the locals rather than excavated, went to the Istanbul Museum. The latter are still unpublished.[6] Brick stamps, found by Banks during his excavation of Adab state that the Akkadian ruler Naram-Suen built a temple to Inanna at Adab, but the temple was not found during the dig, and is not known for certain to be E-shar. The two most notable discoveries were a complete statue in white marble, apparently the earliest yet found in Mesopotamia, now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, bearing the inscription, translated by Banks as "E-mach, King Da-udu, King of, Ud-Nun", now known as the statue of Lugal-dalu;[7] and a temple refuse heap, consisting of great quantities of fragments of vases in marble, alabaster, onyx, porphyry and granite, some of which were inscribed, and others engraved and inlaid with ivory and precious stones.[5]

Of the Adab tablets that ended up at the University of Chicago, sponsor of the excavations, all have been published and also made available in digital form online.[8] Banks also purchased Adab tablets locally and sold them sold piecemeal to various owners over years. A few have made their way into publication.[9]

Though the Banks expedition to Bismaya was well documented by the standards of the time and many objects photographed, no final report was ever produced due to personal disputes. Recently, the Oriental Institute has re-examined the records and objects returned to the institute by Banks and produced a report.[10]

In response to widespread looting, the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage conducted an excavation at Adab in 2001. The site has now been largely destroyed by systematic looting so further excavation is unlikely On the order of a thousand tablet from that looting, all from the Sargonic Period, have been sold to various collectors and many are being published, though missing archaeological context.[11]

From 2016 to 2019 the University of Bologna and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage conducted a program of coordinated remote sensing and surface surveys in the Qadisiyah province including at Bismaya. Results included a "Preliminary reconstruction of the urban layout and hydraulic landscape around Bismaya/Adab in the ED III and Akkadian periods ".[12][13] A previously unknown palace was discovered and the extent of looting identified. It also determined that the city was surrounded by canals.[14]

There is a Sumerian comic tale of the Three Ox-drivers from Adab.[15]

Male bust, perhaps Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk. Limestone, Early Dynastic III. From Adab (Bismaya).

Occupation history[edit]

Early Dynastic Period[edit]

Adab was occupied from at least the Early Dynastic Period. According to Sumerian text Inanna's descent to the netherworld, there was a temple of Inanna named E-shar at Adab during the reign of Dumuzid of Uruk. In another text in the same series, Dumuzid's dream, Dumuzid of Uruk is toppled from his opulence by a hungry mob composed of men from the major cities of Sumer, including Adab.

A king of Kish, Mesilim, appears to have ruled at Adab, based on inscriptions found at Bismaya. One king of Adab, Lugal-Anne-Mundu, appearing in the Sumerian King List, is mentioned in few contemporary inscriptions; some that are much later copies claim that he established a vast, but brief empire stretching from Elam all the way to Lebanon and the Amorite territories along the Jordan. Adab is also mentioned in some of the Ebla tablets from roughly the same era as a trading partner of Ebla in northern Syria, shortly before Ebla was destroyed by unknown forces.[16]

A marble statue was found at Bismaya inscribed with the name of another king of Adab, variously translated as Lugal-daudu, Da-udu, Lugaldalu, and Esar.[17]

Sargonic Period[edit]

Meskigal, governor of Adab under Lugalzagesi of Uruk, changed allegiance to Akkad and became governor under Sargon of Akkad. He later joined the Great Rebellion against Naram-Sin and was defeated. Various governors, including Sarru-alli and Lugal-ajagu then ruled Adab under direct Akkadian control. By the end of the Akkadian period, Adab was occupied by the Gutians, who made it their capital.[18]

Several governors of the city under Ur III are also known. While no later archaeological evidence was found at Bismaya, the excavations there were brief, and there were later epigraphic references to Adab, such as in the Code of Hammurabi.

Rulers of Adab[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Sumerian King List. Accessed 15 Dec 2010.
  2. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 1. Part 1. Prolegomena & Prehistory.
  3. ^ Peters, John P. (1897). Nippur; Or, Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates: The Narrative of the University of Pennsylvania Expedition to Babylonia in the Years 1888-1890. Putnam.
  4. ^ Andrae, Walter (1903). "Die Umgebung von Fara und Abu Hatab". Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient Gesellschaft. 16: 24–30.
  5. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainPeters, Rev. John Punnett (1911). "Bismya". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 11.
  6. ^ Yang, Chih (1989). Sargonic inscriptions from Adab. Changchun: Institute for the History of Ancient Civillizations. OCLC 299739533.
  7. ^ Banks, Edgar James (1912). Bismya or The Lost City of Adab.
  8. ^ Luckenbill, Daniel David (1930). Inscriptions from Adab (PDF). Chicago, Ill.: Univ. of Chicago Press. OCLC 260043119.
  9. ^ Widell, Magnus (2002). "A Previously Unpublished Lawsuit from Ur III Adab" (PDF). Cuneiform Digital Library Journal. 2.
  10. ^ Wilson, Karen L; Lauinger, Jacob (2012). Bismaya: recovering the lost city of Adab (PDF). Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. ISBN 978-1-885923-63-9. OCLC 797981192.
  11. ^ AL-DOORI, R.; AL - QAISI, R.; AL-SARRAF, S.; AL-ZUBAIDI., A.A (2002). "The final report of Basmaia excavations (first season)". Sumer. 51: 58–72.
  12. ^ [1]Marchetti, Nicolò, et al. "New Results on Ancient Settlement Patterns in the South-Eastern Qadisiyah Region (Iraq). the 2016-2017 Iraqi-Italian Qadis Survey Project." Al-Adab Journal 123 (2017): 45-62
  13. ^ [2]Marchetti, Nicolò, et al. "The rise of urbanized landscapes in Mesopotamia: The QADIS integrated survey results and the interpretation of multi-layered historical landscapes." Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie 109.2 (2019): 214-237
  14. ^ [3]Marchetti, Nicolò, and Federico Zaina. "Rediscovering the Heartland of Cities." NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 83 (2020): 147
  15. ^ Alster, Bendt (1991). "The Sumerian Folktale of the Three Ox-Drivers from Adab". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 43/45: 27–38. doi:10.2307/1359843. ISSN 0022-0256.
  16. ^ Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg eds, "Eblaitica: Essays on the Ebla Archives and Eblaite Language, Volume 3", Eisenbrauns, 1992 ISBN 978-0-931464-77-5
  17. ^ G.A. Barton, "The Names of Two Kings of Adab", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 33 (1913), pp. 295—296
  18. ^ [4]M. Molina, "The palace of Adab during the Sargonic period", D. Wicke (ed.), Der Palast im antiken und islamischen Orient, Colloquien der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 9, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2019, pp. 151-20

Further reading[edit]

  • Edgar James Banks, The Bismya Temple, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 29–34, Oct. 1905
  • D. D. Luckenbill, Two Inscriptions of Mesilim, King of Kish, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 219–223, Apr. 1914
  • Edgar James Banks, The Oldest Statue in the World, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 57–59, Oct. 1904
  • Yang Zhi, The Excavation of Adab, Journal of Ancient Civilizations, Vol. 3, pp. 16–19, 1988
  • D. D. Luckenbill, Old Babylonian Letters from Bismya, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 270–292, 1916
  • Caroline Nestmann Peck, "The Excavations at Bismaya", Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1949
  • Maiocchi, Massimo. Classical Sargonic tablets chiefly from Adab in the Cornell University collections/[1]. Vol. 13. CDL Press, 2009
  • Karen Wilson, "The Temple Mound at Bismaya", in Leaving No Stones Unturned: Essays on the Ancient Near East and Egypt in Honor of Donald P. Hansen, Penn State University Press, 2002 ISBN 978-1-57506-055-2

External links[edit]