"For much of the fourth millennium BC, Uruk was the largest city in the most urbanized region of the world. It had tens of thousands of inhabitants. Enormous monumental buildings like temples and palaces studded the city’s landscape. A priest-king ruled the city with the help of powerful households, nobles, and religious officials. This was the first state in the world as we understand it, a complex political entity centered on the city-state. It was also almost certainly the birthplace of writing, which emerged as an administrative tool to help keep track of the riches oozing through Uruk."

Scholars have spent much of the past century or so trying to understand something that goes by the current name of the “Uruk Phenomenon.” This was a multifaceted expansion outward from southern Mesopotamia, centered on Uruk, that stretched east and north for a considerable distance. Mesopotamian migrants poured into what’s now western Iran. Trade routes spread in every direction, bringing in highly sought-after luxury items like gold, timber, and precious stones from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Uruk and Uruk-influenced material can be found as far away as the North Caucasus Mountains, on the borders of the Eurasian steppe. It was some combination of colonization movement, proto-imperial takeover, ideological ferment, and mercantile enterprise."

It set the model for all empires to come.