Umma (Sumerian: 𒄑𒆵𒆠ummaKI; in modern Dhi Qar Province in Iraq, formerly also called Gishban) was an ancient city in Sumer. There is some scholarly debate about the Sumerian and Akkadian names for this site. Traditionally, Umma was identified with Tell Jokha. More recently it has been suggested that it was located at Umm al-Aqarib, less than 7 km (4.3 mi) to its northwest or was even the name of both cities. One or both were the leading city of the Early Dynastic kingdom of Gišša, with the most recent excavators putting forth that Umm al-Aqarib was prominent in EDIII but Jokha rose to preeminence later.
In the early Sumerian text Inanna's descent to the netherworld, Inanna dissuades demons from the netherworld from taking Shara, patron of Umma, who was living in squalor. They eventually take Dumuzid king of Uruk instead, who lived in palatial opulence.
Best known for its long frontier conflict with Lagash, as reported circa 2400 BC by Entemena, the city reached its zenith c. 2350 BC, under the rule of Lugal-Zage-Si who also controlled Ur and Uruk. Under the Ur III dynasty, Umma became an important provincial center. Most of the over 30,000 tablets recovered from the site are administrative and economic texts from that time. They permit an excellent insight into affairs in Umma. The Umma calendar of Shulgi (c. 21st century BC) is the immediate predecessor of the later Babylonian calendar, and indirectly of the post-exilic Hebrew calendar. Umma appears to have been abandoned after the Middle Bronze Age.
The site of Tell Jokha was visited by William Loftus in 1854 and John Punnett Peters of the University of Pennsylvania in 1885. In the early 1900s, many illegally excavated Umma tablets from the Third Dynasty of Ur began to appear on the antiquities market. From 1999 to 2002 Jokha was worked by an Iraqi team, recovering a number of tablets and bullae from the Old Babylonian period. In 2017, the Slovak Archaeological and Historical Institute began excavations at Tell Jokha.
The site of Umm al-Aqarib (located at 45.80°E longitude and 31.60°N latitude) covers about 5 square kilometers and is made up of 21 mounds the largest of which is 20 meters above the level of the plain. The location was first visited by John Punnett Peters in the 1800s. It was excavated for a total of 7 seasons in 1999–2002 and 2008–2010 by Iraqi archaeologists under difficult conditions. At Umm al-Aqarib, archaeologists uncovered levels from the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2900–2300 BC), including several monumental buildings, one of them variously identified as a temple or palace.
Vase of King Gishakidu, king of Umma, and son of Ur-Lumma. This cuneiform text gives the city of Umma's account of its long-running border dispute with Lagash. Circa 2350 BC. From Umma, Iraq. The British Museum, London
Votive plaque offered by Bara-irnun, queen of Umma, to God Šara in gratitude for sparing her life. Date circa 2370 BC.
An inscription from Umma dated c. 2130 BC. "Lugalannatum prince of Umma... built the E.GIDRU [Sceptre] Temple at Umma, buried his foundation deposit [and] regulated the orders. At that time, Si'um was king of Gutium." (Collection of the Louvre Museum.)
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, after Coalition bombing began, looters descended upon the site which is now pockmarked with hundreds of ditches and pits. The prospects for future official excavation and research were seriously compromised in the process.
In 2011, Global Heritage Network, which monitors threats to cultural heritage sites in developing nations, released aerial images comparing Umma in 2003 and 2010, showing a landscape devastated by looters' trenches during that time—approximately 1.12 square km in total. Additional images relevant to the situation at Umm al-Aqarib are included in Tucker's article on the destruction of Iraq's archaeological heritage.
B. Alster, Geštinanna as Singer and the Chorus of Uruk and Zabalam: UET 6/1 22, JCS, vol. 37, pp. 219–28, 1985
Tonia M. Sharlach, Provincial taxation and the Ur III State, Brill, 2003, ISBN90-04-13581-2
Trevor Bryce, The Routledge Handbook of The Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia: The Near East from the Early Bronze Age to the fall of the Persian Empire, Routledge, 2009
B. R. Foster, Umma in the Sargonic Period, Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 20, Hamden, 1982
Georges Contenau, Umma sous la Dynastie d'Ur, Librarie Paul Geuthner, 1916
Jacob L. Dahl, The Ruling Family of Ur III Umma: A Prosopographical Analysis of an Elite Family in Southern Iraq 4000 Years ago, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten/Netherlands Institute for the Near East (NINO), 2007, ISBN90-6258-319-9