1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Erech

ERECH (Uruk in the Babylonian inscriptions; Gr. Orchoë), the Biblical name of an ancient city of Babylonia, situated E. of the present bed of the Euphrates, on the line of the ancient Nil canal, in a region of marshes, about 140 m. S.S.E. from Bagdad. It was one of the oldest and most important cities of Babylonia, and the site of a famous temple, called E-Anna, dedicated to the worship of Nana, or Ishtar. Erech played a very important part in the political history of the country from an early time, exercising hegemony in Babylonia at a period before the time of Sargon. Later it was prominent in the national struggles of the Babylonians against Elam (2000 B.C. and earlier), in which it suffered severely; recollections of these conflicts are embodied in the Gilgamesh epic, as it has come down to us through the library of Assur-bani-pal. Erech enjoyed much distinction in the later times, as a seat of learning and of the worship of Ishtar, and Assur-bani-pal drew largely on its literary stores for his library at Nineveh, from which we derive our principal information concerning ancient Babylonian literature. The inscriptions found here show that it continued in existence through the Persian and Seleucid periods. The ruins of the ancient site, known as Warka, which are among the largest in all Babylonia, forming an irregular circle nearly 6 m. in circumference, bounded by a wall, still standing in some places to the height of 40 ft., were explored and partially excavated by W. K. Loftus in 1850 and 1854. The most conspicuous ruin, now called Abu-Berdi, “Father of Marsh Grass,” or Buwariye, “reed matting,” because of the layers of reeds between each twelve courses of unbaked brick, is the ziggurat (tower) of the ancient temple of E-Anna. It is about 100 ft. in height, and strikingly resembles in general appearance the ruins of the ziggurat of the temple of Enlil at Nippur. Second to this in size was the ruin called Wuswas, a walled quadrangle, including an area of more than seven and a half acres, within which was an edifice 246 ft. long and 174 ft. wide, elevated on an artificial platform 50 ft. in height. The south-west façade, still standing in some places to the height of 23 ft., exhibited an interesting use of half columns, and stepped recesses for purposes of decoration. In another ruin Loftus found a wall, 30 ft. long, composed entirely of small yellow terra-cotta nail-headed cones, such as have been discovered in great numbers, inscribed and uninscribed, used for votive purposes in connexion with walls at Tello and elsewhere in Babylonia. His excavations being superficial, the Babylonian inscriptions found by him, about one hundred in all, exclusive of the ancient Ur-Gur bricks from the temple, belong in general to the neo-Babylonian, Persian and Seleucid periods. The older remains are buried deep beneath the huge mass of later debris. Loftus also discovered at Erech, almost everywhere within and without the walls, great numbers of clay coffins, piled one above another, to the height of over 30 ft., forming a vast and, on the whole, well-ordered cemetery belonging to the Persian, Parthian and later occupations of Babylonia, during which period Erech, like other cities of the south, evidently became a necropolis for a large extent of country. After Loftus’s time the mounds were visited by various travellers, but no further excavations have been conducted. Work on this important part of the site is attended with very great difficulties, owing to the inaccessible position of the ruins, the unsettled character of the country, the frequent sand-storms, and above all, the immense mass of material of later periods which must be removed before a systematic excavation of the more ancient and interesting ruins could be undertaken. A curious feature of the Warka neighbourhood is the existence of conical sand-hills, rising to a considerable height, so compact as to be almost like stone. These hills extend from Warka northward as far as Tel Ede.

See W. K. Loftus, Chaldaea and Susiana (1857); J. P. Peters, Nippur (1897); E. Sachau, Am Euphrat und Tigris (1900). Cf. also Nippur and authorities there quoted.  (J. P. Pe.)