Third Millennium Chronology

The table below gives a summary chronology of third millennium Mesopotamia.  The intent is to show the basic periodization, rather than any details.  Most dates are approximate and all are BC(E). Period divisions are fairly arbitrary and have been conspicuously rounded.

Period  Date Events  Sources
Uruk IV 3200-3100 emergence of writing,
complex metrology
6000 tablets, mostly from Uruk.
85% administrative.
Uruk III/
Jemdet Nasr
3100-2900
Early Dynastic 
(ED) I, II
2900-2600 large-scale irrigation,
Gilgamesh
Ur 
ED III (Fara) 2600-2450 literature  multiplication table, geometrical exercises, 'division' problems.
ED III (Pre-Sargonic)  2450-2350 mix of archaic and 
cuneiform signs
Lagash
Sargonic = 
Old Akkadian
2350-2200 first empire About a dozen exercise tablets. 
Ur III  2100-2000 state control  c. 100000 tablets, about 45000 published,
mostly economic documents.

There are many problems with third millennium chronology.  Where the sources are abundant, we often have a detailed and precise relative chronology, without necessarily being able to translate this into a secure absolute chronology. That is, we know what order events happened and how long they took, but we may not be able to assign dates in our dating system.  Of course, for those periods where we have few primary sources, an absolute chronology can be even more difficult to obtain. In addition to the problems of dating, periodization in third millennium Mesopotamia is complicated by the varying terminology and concerns coming from different disciplines: there are archaeological levels and type-sites; historical periods derived from literature and political and economic documents, and linguistic periods determined by philological criteria.  The table above is intended to give only an approximate and outline periodization, sufficient for the purposes of this survey.  A good recent discussion of some of the problems in Near Eastern chronology, accompanied by many references, is in A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000-330 BC, Routledge, 1995, pp. 8-72.


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Last modified: 28 August 2003
Duncan J. Melville

Comments to dmelville@stlawu.edu