Reform Edict of Urukagina

(2350 BCE)

The societal reforms of Urukagina (ca. 2350 BCE), Sumerian king of Lagash, were preserved over the millennia on six inscriptions found on five ceremonial clay nails and an oval clay plaque. (The Sumerians often wrote their documents on all types of objects, including ceremonial maces and statues and other items not normally considered media for writing.) The reforms were written in Sumerian, the world's earliest written language. There are at least three versions of the Reform Edict of Urukagina, which constituted a covenant between the monarch and Ningirsu, the patron deity of the Sumerian kingdom of Lagash-Girsu, ensuring that the socially disenfranchised (such as widows and orphans) would not be abused by those in power. The composite reform texts begin with a description of building activities and canal excavations performed by the crown. It appears that each edition of the Reform Edict was written for a slightly different occasion—the renaming of a canal, the...