ERECH (ē'rĕk, Heb. ’erekh). A city of ancient Babylonia mentioned in
Archaeologists have found that this city was one of the oldest of Babylonia, founded before 4000 b.c. and continuing to flourish until after 300. One of the early dynasties of the Sumerians ruled from Erech. Culturally, it boasted the first ziggurat, or temple tower, and began the use of clay cylinder seals.
ERECH ĭr’ ĕk (אֶ֖רֶכְ, Akkad. Uruk, Sumer. Unug). The second of the cities founded by Nimrod, the others being Babel (Babylon), Accad, Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen (
The original village, Kullab, was founded by the Ubaid people c. 4,000 b.c. and the founder of Erech’s semi-mythical “First Dynasty” was Meskiaggasher. Uruk was the capital of the mythical hero-king Gilgamesh. From the time of Hammurabi it became part of Babylonia and shared its fortunes and misfortunes. There is perpetual reference to the city in Assyrian and Babylonian lit., and commercial documents to 200 b.c. attest its continued prosperity. Later in history—perhaps Assyrian times, certainly by the Parthian period—it became a sort of national necropolis.
The site of Erech was first excavated by William K. Loftus in 1850 and 1854. Later, Ger. expeditions conducted excavations in 1912-1913, 1928-1939, and 1954-1959. These revealed city walls c. six m. in circumference, encircling c. 1,100 acres; two ziggurats; and several temples from the late 4th and early 3rd millennia b.c. Also found were hundreds of pictographic tablets, seals, etc. The library found contained many documents on religious practice, some dating as late as 70 b.c. Excavations also revealed remains of canals in the immediate area of the city, while the site itself was flanked by two large streams and intersected by many canals. Poetical references imply that the city and surrounding area were regarded as once quite fertile, a contrast to the desolation of the area now.
Erech was a chief center for the cult of Anu, one of the foremost Babylonian deities. It was also a center for the worship of Ishtar.
Loftus, Travels and Researches in Chaldaea and Susiana (1857); A. Falkenstein, Archaische Texte aus Uruk (1936); H. W. Eliot, Excavations in Mesopotamia and Western Iran (1950).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
e’-rek, er’-ek (’erekh; Orech):
1. Etymology of the Name:
The second of the cities founded by Nimrod, the others being Babel, Accad and Calneh (
2. Position and Nature of the Ruins:
Its identification with Warka, on the left bank of the Euphrates, half-way between Hillah (Babylon) and Korna, is beyond a doubt. It is thought that the Euphrates must have flowed nearer to the city in ancient times, as the Gilgames legend relates that that hero and his companion Enkidu washed their hands in the stream after having killed the divine bull sent by the goddess Ishtar to destroy them. The shape of the ruin is irregular, the course of the walls of the Northeast having been seemingly determined by that of the Nile canal (Shatt-en-Nil), which flowed on that side. The extreme length of the site from North to South is over 3,000 yds., and its width about 2,800 yds. This space is very full of remains of buildings; and the foundations of the walls, with their various windings, gateways and defenses, are traceable even now.
3. Its Patron-Deities and Their Temples:
Two great deities, Ishtar and Nanaa, were worshipped in this city, the temple of the former being E-anna, "the house of heaven" (or "of Anu," in which case it is probable that the god of the heavens, Anu, was also one of the patrons of the city). The shrine dedicated to Ishtar is apparently now represented by the ruin known as Buwariyya or "reed-mats," and so called on account of the layers of matting at intervals of 4 or 5 ft. This is the great temple-tower (ziq-qurat) of the place, called E-gipar-imina, "the house of 7 enclosures." The remains are situated in a large courtyard measuring 350 ft. by 270 ft. As in the case of other Babylonian erections, the corners are directed toward the cardinal points, and its height is about 100 ft. above the desert-plain.
As Erech is mentioned with Babylon, Niffer (Calneh) and Eridu, as one of the cities created by Merodach (Nimrod), it is clear that it was classed with the oldest foundations in Babylonia. It was the city of Gilgames, the half-mythical king of the earliest period, who seems to have restored the walls and temples. Its earliest known ruler of historical times was Ensag-kus-anna, about 4,000 BC.
4. History of the City’s Temples, etc.:
The celebrated shrine of Ishtar was already in existence in the time of Lugal-zaggi-si, who came somewhat later. King Dungi (2600 BC) restored E-anna and built its great wall. This was in the time of the great Ur Dynasty, but later the city seems to have come under the dominion of the kings of Isin, Libit-Ishtar having apparently restored the sanctuary of Ishtar on E- gipara. Another great ruler of the early period was Sin-gasid, king of Erech, who was a patron of E-anna; and when he restored this shrine, he endowed it with grain, wool, oil and 1 shekel of gold. There seems also to have been a shrine to Nergal, god of war, which was restored by King Sin-gamil. About 2280 BC Kudur-Nanchunde, the Elamite king, plundered the city, and carried off the statue of the goddess Nanaa, which was only restored to its place by Assur-bani-apli, the Assyrian king, about 635 BC. Samsu-iluna seems to have surpassed his father Hammurabi (Amraphel) in the restoration of the city’s temples, and other rulers who did not forget Erech were Nebuchadrezzar and Nabonidus.
5. Literature Referring to Erech:
Many tablets have been found on the site, and give promise of interesting discoveries still to come. Having been the capital of the hero-king Gilgames, who saw the wonders of the wide world, spoke with the Babylonian Noah face to face, and almost attained immortality as a living man, it was always a place of romance. Poetical compositions concerning it exist, one of the most interesting being a lamentation possibly written after the invasion of Kudur-Nanchundi, when famine was rife in the city, blood flowed like water in E-ulbar, the house of Istar’s oracle, and the enemy heaped up fire in all the goddess’ lands as one heaps up embers.
6. The City’s Numerous Names:
The consideration in which the city was held is made plain by the geographical lists, from which it would seem that it had no less than 11 names, among them being Illab or Illag, Tir-anna, "the heavenly grove"; Ub-imina, "the 7 regions"; Uru- gipara-imina, "the city of the 7 enclosures"; and Uruk-supuri, "Erech of the folds" (the name which it always bears in the Gilgames legend), given to it either on account of its being a center where pastoral tribes gathered, or because of the flocks kept for sacrifice to its deities.
7. Tablets and Tombs of Late Date:
Besides the inscriptions of the kings already mentioned, tablets of the reigns of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadrezzar, Nabonidus, Cyrus, Darius and some of the Seleucids have been found on the site. In the ruins of the town and the country around, numerous glazed earthenware (slipper-shaped) coffins and other receptacles, used for and in connection with the burial of the dead, occur. These are mostly of the Parthian period, but they imply that the place was regarded as a necropolis, possibly owing to the sanctity attached to the site.
Schrader, KAT; Loftus, Chaldoea and Susiana, 162 ff; Fried. Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? 221 f; Zehnpfund, Babylonien in seinen wichtigsten Ruinenstatten, 48 ff.