Dynasty of Isin



Isin (modern Ishan al-Bahriyat) was a city of lower Mesopotamia, which flourished during the 20th century BC. No kings of Isin are known from the Sumerian period, and the "Dynasty of Isin" refers to Amorite states in lower Mesopotamia that attained independence with the decline of the Third dynasty of Ur. The dynasty of Isin ends at ca. 1730 BC short chronology.


When the Third Dynasty of Ur slowly collapsed in at the end of the third millennium BCE, a power vacuum was left that the larger city-states scrambled to fill. The last king of the Ur Dynasty, Ibbi-Sin, had not the resources nor the organized government needed to expel the aggressive forces that were invading from Elam. One of his governmental officials, Ishbi-Erra, relocated from Ur to Isin, another city in the south of Mesopotamia, and established himself as a ruler there. Although he is not considered part of the Third Dynasty of Ur, Ishbi-Erra did make some attempts at continuing the dynasty, most likely to justify his rule.

Ishbi-Erra had ill luck expanding his kingdom, however, for other city-states in Mesopotamia rose to power also. Eshnunna and Ashur were developing as powerful centers. However, he did have some military luck in defeating the Elamites who had invaded Ur to the point of retreat. This gave the Isin dynasty control over the culturally significant cities of Ur, Uruk, and the spiritual center of Nippur.

For over 100 years, Isin flourished. Remains of large buildings projects, such as temples, have been excavated. Many royal edicts and law-codes from that period have been discovered. The centralized political structure of Ur III was basically continued, with Isin's rulers appointing governors and other local officials to carry out their will in the provinces. Lucrative trade routes to the Arab-Persian gulf remained a crucial source of income for Isin.

The exact events surrounding Isin's rapid disintigration as a kingdom are largely unknown, but some evidence can be pieced together. Documents indicate that access to water sources presented a huge problem for Isin. Isin also endured an internal coup of a sort when a royally appointed governor of the Lagash province, Gungunum, seized the town of Ur. Ur had been the main center of the Gulf trade; thus this move economically crippled Isin. Additionally, Gungunum's two successors Abisare and Sumu-el (c. 1905 and 1894) both sought to cut Isin off from its canals by rerouting them into Larsa. Somewhere in between, Nippur was also lost. Isin would never recover. Around 1860, an outsider named Enlil-bani seized the throne of Isin, ending the hereditary dynasty established by Ishbi-Erra over 150 years prior.

Although politically and economically weak, Isin maintained its independence from Larsa for at least another forty years, finally succumbing to Larsa's ruler Rim-Sin.

Kings of Isin

First Dynasty of Isin (short chronology)
Ruler Reigned Notes
Ishbi-Erra ca. 1953 – 1921 BC (short) Contemporary of Ibbi-Suen of Ur III
Shu-ilishu ca. 1920 – 1911 BC (short) Son of Ishbi-Erra
Iddin-Dagan ca. 1910 – 1890 BC (short) Son of Shu-ilishu
Ishme-Dagan ca. 1889 – 1871 BC (short) Son of Iddin-Dagan
Lipit-Eshtar ca. 1870 – 1860 BC (short) Contemporary of Gungunum of Larsa
Ur-Ninurta ca. 1859 – 1832 BC (short) Contemporary of Abisare of Larsa
Bur-Suen ca. 1831 – 1811 BC (short) Son of Ur-Ninurta
Lipit-Enlil ca. 1810 – 1806 BC (short) Son of Bur-Suen
Erra-imitti or Ura-imitti ca. 1805 – 1799 BC (short)
Enlil-bani ca. 1798 – 1775 BC (short) Contemporary of Sumu-la-El of Babylon
Zambiya ca. 1774 – 1772 BC (short) Contemporary of Sin-Iqisham of Larsa
Iter-pisha ca. 1771 – 1768 BC (short)
Ur-du-kuga ca. 1767 – 1764 BC (short)
Suen-magir ca. 1763 – 1753 BC (short)
Damiq-ilishu ca. 1752 – 1730 BC (short) Son of Suen-magir


Much of the major archaeological work at Isin was accomplished in the 1980s, by a team of German archaeologists. However, as was the case at many sites in Iraq, research was interrupted by the Gulf War (1990-1) and the Iraq War (2003 to present). Saddam Hussein treasured artifacts and sites of his national heritage, and acted to protect them as best he could. However, since his fall as a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the protection of Isin and many other sites has evaporated. Looters are destroying the site at an alarming rate, undoing the work done over the last several decades and preventing future research into the culture and history of Isin. Artifacts, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands, have already been looted and sold to Western collectors and dealers. According to Simon Jenkins, "the remains of the 2000BC cities of Isin and Shurnpak appear to have vanished: pictures show them replaced by a desert of badger holes created by an army of some 300 looters".


Ishbi-Erra continued many of the cultic practices that had flourished in the preceding Ur III period. He continued acting out the sacred marriage ritual each year. During this ritual, the king played the part of the mortal Dumuzi, and he had sex with a priestess who represented the goddess of love and war, Inanna (also known as Ishtar). This was thought to strengthen the king's relationship to the gods, which would then bring stability and prosperity on the entire country.

The Isin kings continued also the practice of appointing their daughters official priestesses of the moon god of Ur.


The literature of the period also continued in the line of the Ur III traditions when the Isin dynasty was first begun. For example, the royal hymn, a genre started in the preceding millennium, was continued. Many royal hymns written for the Isin rulers mirrored the themes, structure, and language of the Ur ones. Sometimes the hymns were written in the first person of a king's voice; other times, they were pleas of ordinary citizens meant for the ears of a king (sometimes an already dead one).

It was during this period that the Sumerian king list attained its final form, though it used many much earlier sources. The very compilation of the List seems to lead up to the Isin Dynasty itself, which would give it much legitimacy in the minds of the people because the dynasty would then be linked to earlier (albeit sometimes legendary) kings.

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