History Of A Nation: Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna

c. 2000 BC – c. 1700 BC

I wanted to get a few city-states done at once, and Isin and Larsa looked to be up next for examination, while if I’m piling in city states I might as well shove in Eshnunna that is in a similar situation and I’ve said was too small for me to do on its own, yet was still independent. And honestly, there isn’t a lot to any of them individually, but this period directly after 2000 BC in Mesopotamia was known as the Isin-Larsa period, when Isin and Larsa as cities, had a brief period of dominance in south-eastern Sumeria. This was in the gap between the Neo-Sumerian Empire crumbling and the rise of Babylon, a bit of a power gap time when individual city-states could be the dominant force in the region, mostly under the rule of Amorites now. Assyria was being the most dominant in the north-west of Mesopotamia but them aside, these three city states probably held the most power in the rest of Mesopotamia prior to Hammurabi conquering them and making Babylon the state that would be most remembered in the ‘Middle’ period of Mesopotamia.


(of course outside of the city names, which for this map are roughly located where they are, there was not much direct influence and it was probable that Eshnunna had more power downstream on the Tigris than that map indicates)

Controlling the downstream parts of the importance Tigris and Euphrates during this period, Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna would have had economic importance during these centuries. They would have had Elam to their east, important as it was the Elamites who caused the collapse of the Ur dynasty/Ne0-Sumeria that allowed Isin to come into power, Babylon on the Euphrates south of Eshnunna, and Assyria and Mari independent and ready to come into conflict to their north, Kassite tribes out in the mountains to the north-east and the plains beyond.


Let’s start with Eshnunna, and see why I skipped over it initially, despite being a strong independent state, it was easily conquered by all of the other empires we’ve covered, Akkadians, Neo-Sumerians and this was its last vestiges of independence. It’s known basically for being occupied by the major powers of the region one after the other, we know a few names of kings who were ruling when the conquerors in the form of Hammurabi of Babylon and the Elamites showed up. Idal-pi-El II, contemporary with Zimri-Lim of Mari who we’ve talked about in their section was killed by the Elamites who finally captured Eshnunna. It was then, after another guy called Silli-Sin succeeded him, that Hammurabi came in, and annexed it into Babylon and Eshnunna as an independent state disappears from the records.

For Isin, it’s the closest we have to a direct successor for the Neo-Sumerian Empire, as the first ruler of the independent Isin was Ishbi-Erra, an official under the last of the dynasty of Ur. He drove back the Elamites and stabilised the region but with Assyria, Eshnunna and Babylon also asserting their independence, could not become a true power, but he did have the prestige from controlling Ur. For the next 100 years it was peace and successful passing of power from Ishbi-Erra to his descendants. Like with Eshnunna, it had lucrative trade routes and buildings, the second king, Shu-Ilishu retrieved an important idol of the moon god Nanna from the Elamites.  His son, Iddin-Dagan, is known because of a ritual described in one of the texts, Kiruḡu, whereby, he, the king, and a priestess playing the part of the goddess of love Inanna, have wild sex in front of a crowd of onlookers to ensure the continued success of the realm. I’m sure it was for only this reason that he did it.

Ur-Ninurta, the 6th king, was a usurper from Lipit-Ishtar before him. Lipit-Ishtar also saw the governor of the city of Larsa underneath him, Gungunum, break free and become independent. I’d say he could have used some work on his administration management. The next kings of Larsa cut Isin off from its best land, seized Ur and began to dominate trade in the region, fighting with Isin over Nippur but mostly being dominant over it. Therefore the kings of Isin were a lot weaker than they had been before and while they continued to rule, were no longer powerful enough to boast about their sexy times with priestesses. Well, they probably still did that but we know less interesting details about them. The line of kings was broken by a usurper in 1860 BC, Isin grew weaker and weaker, and eventually Rim-Sim I of Larsa defeated Damiq of Isin in 1792 BC and Isin fell underneath Larsan rule.

However Larsa had its own problems. While the kings of that city had Ur and Nippur and other important cities in the region, they could never get enough cities under their rule centred in Larsa to really establish any kind of permanent dominance and so much of their time was spent keeping Isin in check that they failed to notice Babylon getting ever more powerful behind them. Barely 5 years after Rim-Sim I had finally subdued Isin from getting in their way, Hammurabi of Babylon emerged and defeated Rim-Sim and all of Larsa in less than six months, ensuring that it would be Babylon that would go on to be remembered, and not Larsa. Last city state standing wins (a section on their own in History Of A Nation).

A few decades later a Rim-Sim II (probably named in honour of the ruler, if not a descendant of him) revolted against Babylon but was killed without much fuss. So ended Larsa.


Eshnunna was a gateway between Elam and Mesopotamian culture for the most part (with it being located on the eastern Tigris while Isin and Larsa, despite the map I’ve done, being on the Euphrates and therefore not having direct control, was very lucrative in wealth and had lots of dominance over trade routes, and that probably explained why it was getting conquered so often. We even have a piece of jewellery from Zanzibar found there. Eshnunna also has a law code similar to the more famous Babylonian code of Hammurabi, which I’ll go into detail on in Babylon’s entry. Mostly. For Eshnunna it has the laws divided into punishment differences for two different social classes, as well as five difference classes of crime, theft, seizing someone else’s land without permission, injuries, sexual offences and damage caused by your property (e.g. animals you owned). They’d mostly be paid in fines of silver with serious offences penalised by death.

Isin’s 5th ruler Lipit-Ishtar also created a law code, proceeding Hammurabi’s by a century. This included similar law codes, such beauties of civilisation as: ‘If a man’s wife has not borne him children but a harlot from the public square has borne him children, he shall provide grain, oil and clothing for that harlot. The children which the harlot has borne him shall be his heirs, and as long as his wife lives the harlot shall not live in the house with the wife.’ All rosy in the life of an adulterer.

Larsa had no law codes of its own that I can see, the rulers being more Amorite in general than the rest. It dominated trade but I can’t find anything more specific on its culture. It was however the centre of the cult of the sun god Utu so would have worshipped that god over Inanna or Nanna. I’m not sure Utu had ceremonies that were as fun.

It will be indeed straight onto Babylon next, the first part of its history at least.

See also in History Of A Nation: Iraq

SumerMariAkkadNeo-Sumeria, Old Assyria

See also in History Of A Nation: Kuwait



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