The Sumerians, a non‐Semitic people who perhaps came from the east (see Gen. 11: 2 ) in about 3300 BCE, flourished in the lower Tigris‐Euphrates valley from Nippur to Ur and Eridu. They were responsible for one of the early forms of writing (see ‘Writing Systems’). Before the end of the 4th millennium a type of picture‐writing which was later to develop into the wedge‐shaped (cuneiform) script appears on clay tablets found at Erech. At Erech, too, was one of the earliest ziggurats, an artificial mountain on which the god was believed to dwell. A Sumerian list of long‐lived kings before the flood suggests that kingship appeared first at Eridu. The same list places the first dynasty after the flood at Kish, the second at Erech, and the third at Ur. Sumerian culture flourished through the first half of the 3rd millennium and beyond. A high point of the material culture is illustrated by objects found in the royal tombs at Ur. One of the kings of Lagash, Urukagina, instituted social reforms and tax revisions. Lugal‐zaggisi, who conquered Lagash and ruled as king of Erech and Ur, claimed to have gained control of the whole area from the Lower Sea (the Persian Gulf) to the Upper Sea (the Mediterranean). He was defeated by Sargon of Akkad, who established an Akkadian dynasty and whose power extended to Syria, southern Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean Sea. In about the 23rd century BCE, Akkadian domination was brought to an end by the barbarian Gutians from the Zagros Mountains. But towards the end of the 3rd millennium there was a revival of Sumerian power and culture. Gudea ruled at Lagash, and Ur‐Nammu, who made the earliest known code of laws, established the 3rd Dynasty of Ur. This was a time when literature and art flourished.
In the 20th century BCE Ur fell to the Elamites. Late in the same century King Lipit‐Ishtar of Isin issued a Sumerian code of laws. Perhaps contemporary in origin are the Akkadian laws of Eshnunna. In the 1st Dynasty of Babylon ruled the greatest lawgiver of them all, King Hammurabi (c.1792–1750), who was both conqueror and administrator. A contemporary of his was Zimri‐lim, king of Mari.