Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 71Urukagina's tablets sets forth, "there were tax gatherers down to the sea." They not only attended to the needs of the exchequer, but enriched themselves by sheer robbery, while the priests followed their example by doubling their fees and appropriating temple offerings to their own use. The splendid organization of Lagash was crippled by the dishonesty of those who should have been its main support.
Reforms were necessary and perhaps overdue, but, unfortunately for Lagash, Urukagina's zeal for the people's cause amounted to fanaticism. Instead of gradually readjusting the machinery of government so as to secure equality of treatment without impairing its efficiency as a defensive force in these perilous times, he inaugurated sweeping and revolutionary social changes of far-reaching character regardless of consequences. Taxes and temple fees were cut down, and the number of officials reduced to a minimum. Society was thoroughly disorganized. The army, which was recruited mainly from the leisured and official classes, went practically out of existence, so that traders and agriculturists obtained relief from taxation at the expense of their material security.
Urukagina's motives were undoubtedly above reproach, and he showed an example to all who occupied positions of trust by living an upright life and denying himself luxuries. He was disinterestedly pious, and built and restored temples, and acted as the steward of his god with desire to promote the welfare and comfort of all true worshippers. His laws were similar to those which over two centuries afterwards were codified by Hammurabi, and like that monarch he was professedly the guardian of the weak and the helper of the needy; he sought to establish justice and liberty in the kingdom. But his social Arcadia vanished like a dream because he failed to recognize that Right must be supported by Might.
In bringing about his sudden social revolution, Urukagina had at the same time unwittingly let loose the forces of disorder. Discontented and unemployed officials, and many representatives of the despoiled leisured and military classes of Lagash, no doubt sought refuge elsewhere, and fostered the spirit of revolt which ever smouldered in subject states. At any rate, Umma, remembering the oppressions of other days, was not slow to recognize that the iron hand of Lagash had become unnerved. The zealous and iconoclastic reformer had reigned but seven years when he was called upon to defend his people against the invader. He appears to have been utterly unprepared to do so. The victorious forces of Umma swept against the stately city of Lagash and shattered its power in a single day. Echoes of the great disaster which ensued rise from a pious tablet inscription left by a priest, who was convinced that the conquerors would be called to account for the sins they had committed against the great god Nin-Girsu. He lamented the butchery and robbery which had taken place. We gather from his composition that blood was shed by the raiders of Umma even in the sacred precincts of temples, that statues were shattered, that silver and precious stones were carried away, that granaries were plundered and standing crops destroyed, and that many buildings were set on fire. Amidst these horrors of savagery and vengeance, the now tragic figure of the great reformer suddenly vanishes from before our eyes. Perhaps he perished in a burning temple; perhaps he found a nameless grave with the thousands of his subjects whose bodies had lain scattered about the blood-stained streets. With Urukagina the glory of Lagash departed. Although the city was rebuilt in time, and was even made more stately than before, it never again became the metropolis of Sumeria.
The vengeful destroyer of Lagash was Lugal-zaggisi, Patesi of Umma, a masterful figure in early Sumerian history. We gather from the tablet of the unknown scribe, who regarded him as a sinner against the god Nin-Girsu, that his city goddess was named Nidaba. He appears also to have been a worshipper of Enlil of Nippur, to whose influence he credited his military successes. But Enlil was not his highest god, he was the interceder who carried the prayers of Lugal-zaggisi to the beloved father, Anu, god of the sky. No doubt Nin-Girsu represented a school of theology which was associated with unpleasant memories in Umma. The sacking and burning of the temples of Lagash suggests as much.