Sheikh Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim and Ur

June 28, 2016

Ur Project Blog Post June 2016

Last month I wrote about the workers of Ur, and continuing in this theme, this post will focus on the foreman, Sheikh Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim. “In the handling of the men, he [Sir Leonard Woolley] enjoyed the support of Sheikh Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim whom he had trained for the task of foreman from 1912 onwards at Carchemish” [Syria] (Mallowan, Memoires of Ur:3). Max Mallowan recounts a story where T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was working at Carchemish and became very ill with typhoid. Hamoudi nursed him back to health with a diet of sour milk. Lawrence credits Hamoudi with teaching him Arabic and initiating him into the ways of Arab life (Mallowan, Memories of Ur:3). In the foreword to the 2013 version of Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Kerry Bolton writes, “When told of the death of Lawrence, Hamoudi exclaimed: ‘It is as if I had lost a son. Tell them in England what I say. Of manhood, the man: in freedom free: a mind without equal: I can see no flaw in him.’”

In 1912, Woolley took over the excavations at Carchemish and worked with both Lawrence and Hamoudi. Excavations were interrupted by World War I, and resumed in 1919. When Woolley started excavations at Ur in 1922, he insisted that Hamoudi be his foreman. Every season Woolley brought Hamoudi from Syria to Ur to help manage the workers. The first four seasons Hamoudi was helped by another foreman, Khalil ibn Jadur, also from Syria, and beginning in season five, Hamoudi was assisted by his sons, beginning with Yahia (seasons 2-12), Ibrahim (seasons 5-10), and Alawi (seasons 8-12). “His three sons, Yahya, Ibrahim, and Alawi, as they grew up came to work for the expedition at Ur; each of them learned their father’s craft and the four together formed a team perfectly coordinated for the job” (Mallowan, Memories of Ur:3). Sadly, right before season 11 was to start, Ibrahim passed away from unknown circumstances, possibly some kind of disease. Woolley also had much to say about Hamoudi and his sons:

“During the whole time, too, Hamoudi—more formally known as Mohammed ibn Sheikh Ibrahim, my foreman at Carchemish in pre-War days, was foreman in charge of the cemetery work; of his skill in excavation, his energy, and his tact in managing men too much could not be said. He was assisted by his sons Yahia, Ibrahim, and later Alawi, all of them admirable foremen; Yahia also acted as photographer, and nearly all the field photographs reproduced in this volume were taken by him” (Woolley, Ur Excavations vol. 2 The Royal Cemetery:8).

Sheikh Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim 1926. (Leon Legrain Photo Archives)

Hamoudi and his sons were at Ur days before the rest of the expedition arrived, digging the house out from underneath the windblown sand and organizing the workers so the expedition could start excavations the day after arriving at Ur.

Hamoudi and Woolley on site 1931-2. (Woolley Field Photos 191953)
Hamoudi and Woolley on site 1931-2. (Woolley Field Photos 191953)

Mallowan says of Hamoudi:

“The men knew two things about him: that he was of good family, and that he was incorruptible; he himself taught me that in order to command it was necessary both to be loved and to be feared. He had a dynamic personality which could transmit energy to others; but he was sensitive, and when the men were tired never pushed them beyond endurance. He knew every man and his foibles; could hold up the truculent to ridicule; could humble the proud and elevate the lowly; he had no favourites. As he was a splendid mimic he could make the men laugh at will, or when necessary induce a sense of shame. With his mixture of sarcasm, invective and flattery no man could recline in peace. Hamoudi knew the value of song and for that purpose invoked a tall, lean boatman who used to make the movements of a punt-pole with his spade as he led the chorus for a chant in which our Arabs felt themselves gliding in a light skiff through the marshes by night. It was his forceful character that kept the men going from sunrise to sunset throughout the long day. Between him and Woolley there was a rare understanding, a devotion best described in Hamoudi’s words: ‘We have broken much bread together.’ ”(Mallowan, Memories of Ur:3)

As our project is wrapping up, it seems only right to make the last post about Hamoudi and how he helped Woolley to excavate the site of Ur. Without this help Woolley would not have been able to complete his work at Ur. To learn more about the people who worked at Ur, check out our site.