Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia)

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For the period of the same name in Egypt, see Early Dynastic Period (Egypt)
Early Dynastic Period
Map showing the extent of the Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia)
Geographical range Mesopotamia
Period Early Bronze Age
Dates fl. c. 2900 BCE — c. 2350 BCE
Type site Tell Agrab, Tell Asmar
Major sites Tell Abu Shahrain, Tell al-Madain, Tell as-Senkereh, Tell Abu Habbah, Tell Fara
Preceded by Jemdet Nasr Period
Followed by Akkadian Period, Early Period (Assyria)

The Early Dynastic period (abbreviated ED period or ED) is an archaeological culture in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that is generally dated to 2900–2350 BCE. It was preceded by the Jemdet Nasr Period and followed by the Akkadian Period. The ED period is divided into three sub-phases termed ED I–III, with the ED III period being further subdivided into ED IIIa and ED IIIb. The period was coined in the 1930s by archaeologist Henri Frankfort during excavations in the Diyala region in Iraq. Subsequent research has led to various proposals to modify the dates, sub-divisions, and characteristics of the ED.

No inscriptions have yet been found verifying any names of kings that can be associated with the ED I. The ED I is distinguished from the ED II period by the narrow cylinder seals of the ED I period and the broader wider ED II seals engraved with banquet scenes or animal-contest scenes.[1] The ED II is when Gilgamesh, the famous king of Uruk, is believed to have reigned.[1] Texts from the ED II period are not yet understood. Later inscriptions have been found bearing some ED II names from the SKL. The ED IIIa period, also known as the Fara period, is when syllabic writing began. Accounting records and an undeciphered logographic script existed before the Fara Period, but the full flow of human speech was first recorded around 2600 BCE at the beginning of the Fara Period.[2] The ED IIIb period is also known as the Pre-Sargonic period.

History of research[edit]

The term Early Dynastic Period (ED) was coined by archaeologist Henri Frankfort, analogous to the similarly named period in Egypt.[3] The periodization was developed in the 1930s during excavations that were conducted by Frankfort on behalf of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute on the sites of Tell Khafajah, Tell Agrab, and Tell Asmar in the Diyala region in Iraq.[4] The subdivision into ED I, II, and III was primarily based on complete changes through time in the plan of the Abu Temple of Tell Asmar, which had been rebuilt multiple times on exactly the same spot.[4] Since then, the ED I–III has been widely applied to excavations elsewhere in Iraq.

During the 20th century, many archaeologists also tried to impose the scheme of ED I–III upon archaeological remains of the third millennium excavated elsewhere in Iraq and in northeastern Syria. However, accumulating evidence from sites elsewhere in Iraq has shown that the ED I–III periodization as reconstructed for the Diyala region cannot be directly applied to other regions.

Research in Syria has likewise shown that developments there were quite different from those in the Diyala or southern Iraq, rendering the traditional southern Mesopotamian chronology useless. During the 1990s and 2000s, attempts were made by various scholars to arrive at a local northern Mesopotamian chronology, resulting in the Early Jezirah (EJ) 0–V chronology that encompasses the entire third millennium BCE.[3] The use of the ED I–III chronology is now generally limited to southern Mesopotamia, with the ED II period sometimes being further restricted to the Diyala region, or discredited altogether.[3][4]

Geographical context[edit]


The ED period is preceded by the Jemdet Nasr Period and succeeded by the Akkadian Period, when for the first time in history large parts of Mesopotamia were united under a single ruler. The entire ED period is now generally dated to 2900–2350 BCE according to the Middle Chronology, or 2800–2230 BCE according to the Short Chronology.[3][5] The ED period is further divided into sub-periods ED I, ED II, ED IIIa, and ED IIIb. ED I–III are more or less contemporary with the Early Jezirah (EJ) I–III periods in northern Mesopotamia.[3] The exact dating of the ED sub-periods varies between scholars, with some abandoning the ED II altogether and using Early/Late ED instead, or by extending ED I and letting ED III begin earlier so that they follow immediately upon each other.[3][4][6][7]

Period Middle Chronology
All dates BCE
Short Chronology
All dates BCE
ED I 2900–2750/2700 2800–2600
ED II 2750/2700–2600 2600–2500
ED IIIa 2600–2500/2450 2500–2375
ED IIIb 2500/2450–2350 2375–2230

City-states in Mesopotamia[edit]

Mesopotamia was divided into about thirteen independent city-states (which were divided by canals and boundary stones) during its ED Period. According to the SKL, the first five city-states to have exercised kingship before the "Flood" were:

City-State Archaeological Site Principle Temple Complex Patron Deity
1. Eridu Tell Abu Shahrain E-Abzu Enki
2. Bad-tibira Tell al-Madain E-mush Dumuzi and Inana
3. Larsa Tell as-Senkereh E-babbar Utu
4. Sippar Tell Abu Habbah E-babbar Utu
5. Shuruppak Tell Fara E-dimgalanna Ninlil

The next seven city-states to have exercised kingship after the Flood were:

City-State Archaeological Site Principle Temple Complex Patron Deity
6. Kish Tell Uheimir and Ingharra  ? Ninhursag
7. Uruk Warka E-anna Inana and An
8. Ur Tell al-Muqayyar E-kishnugal Nanna
9. Awan 3
10. Hamazi 3
11. Adab
12. Mari 1 Tell Hariri
13. Akshak 2

1 (The location of this city-state is at an outlying archaeological site in the territory of what is today referred to as the "Syrian Arab Republic".)

2 (The exact location of this city-state is uncertain, but is probably somewhere in what is today referred to as the "Republic of Iraq".)

3 (The exact location of this city-state is uncertain, but is probably somewhere in what is today referred to as the "Islamic Republic of Iran".)

Neighboring regions[edit]


Main article: Dilmun

Dilmun or Telmun [8] was an ancient Semitic speaking country mentioned throughout the history of Mesopotamia from the 3rd millennium BC onwards. It is regarded as one of the oldest civilizations in the Middle East.[9][10] Based on textual evidence, it is located in the Persian Gulf on a trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilisation, close to the sea and to artesian springs.[11][12]

Dilmun was an important trading centre which at the height of its power controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes.[11] According to some modern theories, the Sumerians regarded Dilmun as a sacred place,[13] though this is never stated in any known ancient text. Dilmun was mentioned by the Mesopotamians as a trade partner, a source of copper, and a trade entrepôt.

The scholarly consensus is that Dilmun encompassed Bahrain, Kuwait,[14][15] Qatar and the coastal regions of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.[16] This area is certainly what is meant by references to "Dilmun" among the lands conquered by king Sargon of Akkad and his descendants.

It is often misreported that the Sumerians described Dilmun as a garden paradise in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[17] The Sumerian tale of the garden paradise of Dilmun may have been an inspiration for the Garden of Eden story.[17] However, this is entirely modern speculation since the home of Utnapishtim is never indicated as Dilmun, nor does the name appear in any Gilgamesh literature.


Main article: Magan (civilization)

Magan (also Makkan[18]) was an ancient region which was referred to in Sumerian cuneiform texts of around 2300 BC and existed to 550 BC as a source of copper and diorite for Mesopotamia.

The location of Magan is not known with certainty, but most of the archeological and geological evidence suggests that Magan was part of what is now Oman.[19] However, some archaeologists place it in the region of Yemen known as Ma'in,[20] in the south of Upper Egypt, in Nubia or the Sudan, and others as part of today's Iran or Pakistan.[21]

With the disappearance of trade from the Indus region, the copper from Magan was later replaced by copper imports from ancient Cyprus.

Trade was common between Magan and Ur before the reigns of the Gutian kings over Ur. After they were deposed, Ur-Nammu of Ur restored the roads and trade resumed between the two nations (c. 2100 BC).[22]


Each city-state was centered on a temple dedicated to the patron deity of its respective city-state and ruled over by both/either a king ("lugal") and/or a priestly governor ("énsí"). Kingship was seen as handed down by the deities, and could be transferred from one city-state to another (reflecting perceived hegemony in the region).[23] Hegemony (which came to be conferred by the Nippur priesthood) alternated among a number of competing dynasties, hailing from Sumerian city-states traditionally including: Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larsa, Sippar, Shuruppak, Kish, Uruk, Ur, Adab and Akshak, additionally; some from outside of the Tigris-Euphrates river system in Iraq such as: Hamazi, Awan (believed to have been located in present-day Iran), and Mari (which lies in present-day Syria, but which is credited on the SKL as having "exercised kingship" during the ED II period.)

There are different theories regarding the meaning of the title "lugal" during the ED Period. Some scholars believe that a ruler of an individual city-state was usually referred to as the "énsí" of that city-state, additionally; the ruler of a confederacy or dominion composed of multiple city-states (perhaps even the whole of Sumer) may have been referred to as the "lugal". A lugal during this time has been assumed to have been, "normally a young man of outstanding qualities from a rich landowning family." Renowned scholar Thorkild Jacobsen theorized that a "lugal" was originally an elected war leader, as opposed to the likewise elected "en" (who dealt with internal issues.) The functions of such a lugal would include: military defense against enemies, arbitration in border disputes, along with certain ceremonial and cultic activities. Once the lugal died, the eldest son of the lugal would become the successor.[24][25] Among the earliest rulers whose inscriptions refer to them as "lugals" are: both Enmebaragesi and Mesilim of Kish, additionally; Meskalamdug, Mesannepada, and several of Mesannepada's successors at Ur.

Jacobsen used Sumerian epics, myths, and historical records to identify what he referred to as a primitive democracy. Jacobsen described a government in which ultimate power rested with the mass of free male citizens, however; he added, "the various functions of government are as yet little specialised [and] the power structure is loose." Kings such as Gilgamesh of the First Dynasty of Uruk did not appear to hold the autocratic power that later Mesopotamian rulers wielded. Rather, major city-states functioned with both councils of elders and “young men” (likely free men bearing arms) that possessed the final political authority, and had to be consulted on all major issues such as war.[26][27] Although pioneering in nature, the work has invoked little serious discussion and gained little outright acceptance. Scholars criticized the use of the word "democracy" in this context since the same evidence can also be interpreted convincingly to demonstrate a power struggle between primitive monarchs and noble classes (a struggle in which the common people function more like pawns rather than any kind of sovereign authority.)[28] Jacobsen conceded that the vagueness of the evidence prohibits the separation between the Mesopotamian democracy from a primitive oligarchy.[29]


Further information: lugal

"Lugal" (Sumerian: 𒈗, as a Sumerogram is a ligature of two signs: "𒃲" meaning "big" or "great" while "𒇽" means "man"; a Sumerian language title translated into the English language as either "king" or "ruler") was one of the three titles that a ruler of a Sumerian city-state could bear (alongside both: "EN" and "énsí", the exact difference being a subject of debate.) The sign for "lugal" eventually became the predominant logograph for "king" in general. In the Sumerian language, "lugal" could have been used to mean either "owner" (such as the owner of a boat or a field) or "head" (such as the head of a unit or a family.)[24] The cuneiform sign for "lugal" serves as a determinative in cuneiform texts, indicating that the following word would be the name of the king.

There are different theories regarding the meaning of the title "lugal" during the ED Period of Mesopotamia. Some scholars believe that a ruler of an individual city-state was usually referred to as the "énsí" of that city-state, additionally; the ruler of a confederacy or dominion composed of multiple city-states (perhaps even the whole of Sumer) may have been referred to as the "lugal". A lugal during this time has been assumed to have been, "normally a young man of outstanding qualities from a rich landowning family." Jacobsen theorized that a "lugal" was originally an elected war leader, as opposed to the likewise elected "en" (who dealt with internal issues.) The functions of such a lugal would include: military defense against enemies, arbitration in border disputes, along with certain ceremonial and cultic activities. Once the lugal died, the eldest son of the lugal would become the successor.[24][25] Among the earliest rulers whose inscriptions refer to them as "lugals" are: both Enmebaragesi and Mesilim of Kish, additionally; Meskalamdug, Mesannepada, and several of Mesannepada's successors at Ur.


Further information: ensí

"Ensí" (Sumerian: B464ellst.pngC+B-Babylonia-CuneiformImage16.PNGB181ellst.png; meaning "Lord of the Plowland")[30] is a Sumerian language title designating the ruler or prince of a city-state. The énsí was considered a representative of a city-state's patron deity.[31] Ensí may have originally been a designation of the ruler restricted to the city-states of Lagash and Umma,[32] however; in later periods the title presupposed subordinance to a lugal. Although an énsí may have normally been seen as subordinate to a lugal, nevertheless; some rulers of the Second Dynasty of Lagash were satisfied with the title “énsí”. Interestingly, the énsís of the city-state Lagash would sometimes refer to their city's patron deity (Ningirsu) as their “lugal”.


Further information: EN (cuneiform)

"EN" (Sumerian: 𒂗; Sumerian cuneiform for "lord" or "priest") seems to have originally been used to designate a high priest or priestess of a Sumerian city-state's patron deity[33] — a position that entailed political power as well. It may also have been the original title of the ruler of Uruk. All of the above is connected to the possibly priestly or sacral character of both of the titles "énsí" and especially "en" (the latter term continued to designate priests in subsequent times.) Other scholars consider ensi, en and lugal to have merely been three local designations for the sovereign, accepted respectively in the city-states: Lagash, Uruk and Ur (although the various terms may have expressed different aspects of the Mesopotamian concept of kingship.)


Further information: Cuneiform law

"Cuneiform law" refers to any of the legal codes that were written using the Sumerian cuneiform script, then developed and used throughout the ancient near east among the Sumerian people. Although they were written in several different city-states, the early laws had a number of formulae in common. Most of the early laws contained both an epilogue and a prologue (which usually: explained the purpose of composing the laws, invoked divine authority, and commanded the reader to abide by them.) The early laws were always imposed or "enacted" in the name of a ruler (be it a prince or king) and showed no sign of being the result of legislative bodies. While many of the early codes were only partially known, nevertheless; they painted a fairly clear picture that enabled us to learn what issues pertaining to rules were considered significant by the societies that they governed during the ED Period.

Unlike modern codes, cuneiform law provided no universal formulae for general areas of law. Rather, laws typically consisted of specific "if..." and "then..." cases that were meant to act as examples or precedents. Punishments for crimes varied from code to code, but not all prescribed vengeance. Some called only for fines in certain instances. These cases were sometimes arranged in a seemingly random order (although this may had been due to an inability to properly interpret these cases today as they might had been during the time that they were in force.) Sumerian cuneiform law is generally classified separately from later ancient near eastern law, but has been viewed as the predecessor of: Assyrian law, Babylonian law, and Jewish law. The communities of the Ancient Near East that made use of cuneiform law were generally all in contact with one another, and developed similar cultures.

Code of Urukagina[edit]

Further information: Code of Urukagina

The énsi Urukagina of the city-state of Lagash is best known for his reforms to combat corruption (the "Code of Urukagina" is sometimes cited as the earliest known example of a legal code in recorded history.) The Code of Urukagina has also been widely hailed as the first recorded example of government reform, seeking to achieve a higher level of freedom and equality.[34] Although the actual "Code of Urukagina" text has yet to be discovered, much of its content may be surmised from other references to it that have been found. In the Code of Urukagina: Urukagina exempted widows and orphans from taxes, compelled the city to pay funeral expenses (including the ritual food and drink libations for the journey of the dead into the lower world), and decreed that the rich had to use silver when purchasing from the poor, and if the poor does not wish to sell, the powerful man (the rich man or the priest) cannot force him to do so.[35] The Code of Urukagina: limited the power of both the priesthood and large property owners, took measures against usury, burdensome controls, hunger, theft, murder, and seizure (of people's property and persons); as Urukagina stated: "The widow and the orphan were no longer at the mercy of the powerful man."

Despite these apparent attempts to curb the excesses of the elite class, it seems elite or royal women enjoyed even greater influence and prestige in Urukagina's reign than previously. Urukagina greatly expanded the royal "Household of Women" from about 50 persons to about 1,500 persons, then renamed it to "Household of Goddess Bau", gave it ownership of vast amounts of land confiscated from the former priesthood, and placed it under the supervision of Urukagina's wife (Shasha, or Shagshag.)[36] During the second year of Urukagina's reign, his wife presided over the lavish funeral of his predecessor's queen (Baranamtarra, who had been an important personage in her own right.)

In addition to such changes, two of Urukagina's other surviving decrees (first published and translated by Samuel Kramer in 1964) have attracted controversy in recent decades:

  1. Urukagina seems to had abolished the former custom of polyandry in his country, on pain of the woman taking multiple husbands being stoned with rocks upon which her crime was written.[37]
  2. In a statute where it was written: "If a woman says [text illegible...] to a man, her mouth is crushed with burnt bricks."

No comparable laws from Urukagina addressing penalties for adultery by men have survived. The discovery of these fragments has led some modern critics to assert that they provide: "The first written evidence of the degradation of women."[38]

Praise Poem of Urukagina[edit]

Some insight into the Sumerian people's values can be gained from poetry written to praise kings. The following extracts are taken from the "Praise Poem of Urukagina" and describe Urukagina as having been a social reformer (getting rid of gross abuses of power that had taken hold in the city-state of Lagash):

  1. "Since time immemorial, since life began, in those days, the head boatman appropriated boats, the livestock official appropriated asses, the livestock official appropriated sheep, and the fisheries inspector appropriated... The shepherds of wool sheep paid a duty in silver on account of white sheep, and the surveyor, chief lamentation-singer, supervisor, brewer and foremen paid a duty in silver on account of young lambs... These were the conventions of former times!"
  2. "When Ningirsu, warrior of Enlil, granted the kingship of Lagash to Urukagina, selecting him from among the myriad people, he replaced the customs of former times, carrying out the command that Ningirsu, his master, had given him."
  3. "He removed the head boatman from control over the boats, he removed the livestock official from control over asses and sheep, he removed the fisheries inspector from control..."
  4. "He removed the silo supervisor from control over the grain taxes of the guda-priests, he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the paying of duties in silver on account of white sheep and young lambs, and he removed the bureaucrat responsible for the delivery of duties by the temple administrators to the palace."
  5. "The... administrators no longer plunder the orchards of the poor. When a high quality ass is born to a shublugal, and his foreman says to him, 'I want to buy it from you'; whether he lets him buy it from him and says to him 'Pay me the price I want!' or whether he does not let him buy it from him, the foreman must not strike at him in anger."
  6. "When the house of an aristocrat adjoins the house of a shublugal, and the aristocrat says to him, 'I want to buy it from you'; whether he lets him buy it from him, having said to him, 'Pay me the price I want! My house is a large container—fill it with barley for me!' or whether he does not let him buy it from him, that aristocrat must not strike at him in anger."
  7. "He cleared and cancelled obligations for those indentured families, citizens of Lagash living as debtors because of grain taxes, barley payments, theft or murder."
  8. "Urukagina solemnly promised Ningirsu that he would never subjugate the waif and the widow to the powerful."[39]

Reform Document[edit]

The following extracts are taken from the "Reform Document":

  1. "From the border territory of Ningirsu to the sea, no person shall serve as officers."
  2. "For a corpse being brought to the grave, his beer shall be 3 jugs and his bread 80 loaves. 1 bed and 1 lead goat shall the undertaker take away, and 3 ban of barley shall the person(s) take away."
  3. "When to the reeds of Enki a person has been brought, his beer will be 4 jugs, and his bread 420 loaves. 1 barig of barley shall the undertaker take away, and 3 ban of barley shall the persons of... take away. 1 woman’s headband, and 1 sila of princely fragrance shall the eresh-dingir priestess take away. 420 loaves of bread that have sat are the bread duty, 40 loaves of hot bread are for eating, and 10 loaves of hot bread are the bread of the table. 5 loaves of bread are for the persons of the levy, 2 mud vessels and 1 sadug vessel of beer are for the lamentation singers of Girsu. 490 loaves of bread, 2 mud vessels and 1 sadug vessel of beer are for the lamentation singers of Lagash. 406 of bread, 2 mud vessels, and 1 sadug vessel of beer are for the other lamentation singers. 250 loaves of bread and 1 mud vessel of beer are for the old wailing women. 180 loaves of bread and one mud vessel of beer are for the men of Nigin."
  4. "The blind one who stands in..., his bread for eating is 1 loaf, 5 loaves of bread are his at midnight, 1 loaf is his bread at midday, and 6 loaves are his bread in the evening."
  5. "60 loaves of bread, 1 mud vessel of beer, and 3 ban of barley are for the person who is to perform as the sagbur priest."


Further information: Imports to Ur

The Sumerian people used slaves, although they were not a major part of the economy. Slave women worked as: pressers, weavers, millers, and porters.

Sumerian bill of sale of a male slave and a building in the city-state of Shuruppak, dated to c. 2600 BCE.

Imports to Ur were being exported from many parts of the world. Discoveries of goods from far-away locations such as: obsidian from Anatolia, lapis lazuli from Badakhshan, beads from the Dilmun civilization, and seals inscribed with the script from the Indus Valley civilization suggest a remarkably wide-ranging network of ancient trade centered on the Persian Gulf. Metals of all types had to be imported. Both Sumerian masons and jewelers knew and made use of: gold, silver, lapiz lazuli,[40] chlorite, ivory, iron, and carnelian. The Epic of Gilgamesh referred to trade with far lands for goods (such as Lebanon cedar wood, which was scarce in Mesopotamia.) The finding of resin in the tomb of Queen Puabi at Ur, indicates that resin was traded from as far away as Mozambique. Sumerian potters decorated pots with cedar oil paints. The potters used a bow drill to produce the fire needed for baking the pottery.

Imports to the city-state of Ur reflected the cultural and trade connections of the Sumerian city. During the ED III Period, Ur was importing elite goods from geographically distant places. These objects included: precious metals (such as: gold, sliver) and semi-precious stones (such as: lapis lazuli and carnelian.) These objects were all the more impressive considering the distance from which they traveled to reach Mesopotamia (and the city-state of Ur, specifically.) Mesopotamia was very well-suited for the agricultural production of plants and animals, however; was lacking in: metals, minerals and stones.

The combination of these means of transportation allowed access to a vast trading network connecting distant places. Most of the gold known from archaeological contexts during the ED Period of Mesopotamia is concentrated at the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Textual evidence indicates that gold was reserved for prestige and religious functions. It was gathered in: royal treasuries and temples, and used for the adornment of the elites as well as for the elites' funerary offerings (such as: at the graves of the Royal Cemetery of Ur.) Gold was used for: personal ornaments, weapons, tools, sheet-metal cylinder seals, fluted bowls, goblets, imitation cockle shells, and sculptures.

Silver was mainly used for uncoined currency, however; it was also used for objects (which is the state in which silver is found at the Royal Cemetery of Ur.) Silver was used for objects including: belts, vessels, hair ornaments, pins, weapons, cockle shells, and sculptures. There are very few literary references to sources for silver. It is also difficult to identify the actual origin of the silver and the mines from those areas in which the majority of trade occurred. Because silver was used as currency it is even more difficult to pinpoint an area of origination due to its vast circulation.

Lapis lazuli is the best-known and well-documented gemstone at the city-state of Ur and in Mesopotamia in general. In the Royal Cemetery of Ur, lapis lazuli was discovered to have been used for: jewelry, plaques, gaming boards, lyres, ostrich-egg vessels, and also used for parts of a larger sculptural group referred to as the “Ram in a Thicket”. Some of the larger objects included: a spouted cup, a dagger-hilt, and a whetstone. Because of its prestige and value, lapiz lazuli played a special role in cult practices and the term "lapis-like" is a commonly-occurring metaphor for unusual wealth and as an attribute used to described both deities and heroes. It has commonly been found associated alongside gold.

During the ED Period, chlorite stone artifacts were very popular (and thus traded very widely.) Chlorite stone artifacts included: disc beads, ornaments, and stone vases. These carved dark stone vessels have been found in ancient archaeological sites across all of Mesopotamia. They rarely exceeded twenty-five centimeters in height, and may have been filled with precious oils. They often carried both human and animal motifs inlaid with semi-precious stones.



Sumerian King List[edit]

Main article: Sumerian King List

None of the following pre-dynastic antediluvian rulers have been verified as historical via archaeological excavations, epigraphical inscriptions, or otherwise. While there is no evidence they ever reigned as such, the Sumerians purported them to have lived in the mythical era before the "Flood". The antediluvian reigns were measured in Sumerian numerical units known as "sars" (units of 3600), "ners" (units of 600), and "sosses" (units of 60.) Early dates are approximate, and are based on available archaeological data; for most pre-Sargonic rulers listed, the "Sumerian King List" (SKL) is itself the lone source of information. The SKL is an ancient manuscript originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer from both Sumerian and neighboring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of kingship. Throughout its Bronze Age existence, the document evolved into a political tool. Its final and single attested version, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, aimed to legitimize Isin's claims to hegemony when Isin was vying for dominance with Larsa and other neighboring city-states in Lower Mesopotamia.[23][41]

An image of the most well-known extant copy of the Sumerian King List.

The SKL blends prehistorical, presumably mythical pre-dynastic rulers enjoying implausibly lengthy reigns with later, more plausibly historical dynasties. Although the primal kings are historically unattested, this does not preclude their possible correspondence with historical rulers who were later mythicized. Some Assyriologists view the predynastic kings as a later fictional addition.[23][42] Only one ruler listed is known to be female: Kug-Bau, “the (female) tavern-keeper,” who alone accounts for the Third Dynasty of Kish. The earliest listed ruler whose historicity has been archaeologically verified is Enmebaragesi of Kish, c. 2600 BCE.

Reference to both Enmebaragesi of Kish and his successor (Aga of Kish) in the Epic of Gilgamesh has led to speculation that Gilgamesh himself may have been a historical king of Uruk. Three dynasties are absent from the list: the Larsa dynasty, which vied for power with the (included) Isin dynasty during the Isin-Larsa period; and the two dynasties of Lagash, which respectively preceded and ensued the Akkadian Empire, when Lagash exercised considerable influence in the region. Lagash in particular is known directly from archaeological artifacts dating from c. 2500 BCE. The SKL is important to the Bronze Age chronology of the ancient near east. However, the fact that many of the dynasties listed reigned simultaneously from varying localities makes it difficult to reproduce a strict linear chronology.[23]

The following extant ancient sources contain the SKL (or fragments): the Apkullu-list, Babyloniaca, Dynastic Chronicle,[43] Scheil dynastic tablet, California Tablet, WB 62, and Weld-Blundell Prism.[44] The last two sources (WB 62 and Weld-Blundell Prism) are a part of the “Weld-Blundell collection” donated by Herbert Weld Blundell to the Ashmolean Museum. WB 62 is a small clay tablet, inscribed only on the obverse, unearthed from Larsa. It is the oldest dated source (c. 2000 BCE) containing the list.[45] WB 444 in contrast is a unique inscribed vertical prism,[23][46][47][48] dated c. 1817 BCE, although some scholars prefer c. 1827 BCE.[49]

Antediluvian rulers[edit]

The mythological antediluvian section of the SKL has the following entry:

After the kingship descended from Heaven, the kingship was in Eridu. In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.[50][51]

William H. Shea suggests that Alulim was a contemporary of the Biblical figure Adam (whose name and character may have been derived from "Adapa" of ancient Mesopotamian religion.[52] In a chart of antediluvian generations in both Babylonian and Biblical traditions, professor William Wolfgang Hallo associated Alulim with Adapa. The earliest known use of the name "Adam" as a genuine name in historicity is "Adamu".[53] The "Assyrian King List" stated that Tudiya (the earliest named Assyrian king) was succeeded by Adamu.[54] The Assyriologist Georges Roux stated that Tudiya would have lived c. 2450 BCE — c. 2400 BCE.

The SKL has the following entries for Alulim's succesors:

Alalngar ruled for 36,000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64,800 years. Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. In Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-ana ruled for 43,200 years. En-men-gal-ana ruled for 28,800 years.

Dumuzid, the Shepherd is the subject of a series of epic poems in Sumerian literature and the SKL has the following entry for him:

Dumuzid, the shepherd, ruled for 36,000 years.

However, in these tablets he is associated not with Bad-tibira but with Uruk, where a namesake ("Dumuzid, the Fisherman") was king sometime after the Flood (in between Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh.) Following Dumuzid (the Shepherd), the SKL has these entries:

3 kings; they ruled for 108,000 years. Then Bad-tibira fell and the kingship was taken to Larak. In Larak, En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 28,800 years. 1 king; he ruled for 28,800 years. Then Larak fell and the kingship was taken to Sippar. In Sippar, En-men-dur-ana became king; he ruled for 21,000 years. 1 king; he ruled for 21,000 years. Then Sippar fell and the kingship was taken to Shuruppak. In Shuruppak, Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 18,600 years. 1 king; he ruled for 18,600 years. In 5 cities 8 kings; they ruled for 241,200 years.

En-men-dur-ana's name means: "Chief of the Powers of Dur-an-ki" while "Dur-an-ki" (in turn) means: "The Meeting-Place of Heaven and Earth" (literally: "Bond of Above and Below".)[55] A myth written in a Semitic language tells of En-men-dur-ana being taken to heaven by the gods Shamash and Adad, and taught the secrets of heaven and of earth.

The Flood[edit]

Further information: Sumerian flood myth and flood myth

The SKL has the following entry for the Flood:

Then the Flood swept over.

The SKL relied on the flood myth motif to divide its history into "pre-Flood" (antediluvian) and "post-Flood" (postdiluvian) periods. The pre-Flood kings had enormous lifespans, whereas post-Flood lifespans were much reduced. The Sumerian flood myth found in the Deluge tablet was the "Epic of Ziusudra". Ziusudra (recorded on the SKL versions: "WB-62" and "WB-67", also on ancient literature such as the: "Epic of Ziusudra” and "Eridu Genesis") reigned as both king and gudug priest for 10 "sars" (periods of 3,600 years), although; this was probably a copy error for 10 years. In this version, Ziusudra inherited from his father (father is named: Shuruppak, who ruled for 10 sars) the kingship of their home city (the city is likewise named: Shuruppak.)

The tale of Ziusudra is known from a single fragmentary tablet written in the Sumerian language (dated to c. 1700 BCE, and published in 1914 CE by Arno Poebel.) The tablet stated that the deities had decided to send a Flood to destroy mankind. The deity Enki then warned Ziusudra to build an ark. A terrible storm raged for seven days: "the huge boat had been tossed about on the great waters." Once the Flood was over, Ziusudra was given "breath eternal" by the deities An and Enlil.

Atra-Hasis was the protagonist of an epic poem, the "Epic of Atra-Hasis". A few general histories can be attributed to the Mesopotamian Atra-Hasis by ancient sources; these should generally be considered mythology but they do give an insight into the possible origins of the character. The "Epic of Gilgamesh" labeled Atra-Hasis as the son of Ubara-Tutu (king of Shuruppak) on Tablet XI, "Gilgamesh spoke to Utnapishtim (Atrahasis), the Faraway… O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu."[56] The "Instructions of Shuruppak" instead labeled Atra-Hasis (under the name "Ziusudra") as the son of the eponymous "Shuruppak" (who was himself labeled as the son of "Ubara-Tutu".)[56] At this point we are left with two possible fathers for Atra-Hasis: Ubara-Tutu and Shuruppak.

Ziusudra being a king from Shuruppak is supported by the Gilgamesh XI Tablet making reference to “Utnapishtim” (the Akkadian language translation of the Sumerian name "Ziusudra") with the epithet "man of Shuruppak" at line 23. On the eleventh tablet of the Babylonian "Epic of Gilgamesh", Utnapishtim was described as having been the wise king of the Sumerian city-state of Shuruppak (Utnapishtim, along with his unnamed wife, survived the Flood after having built the giant ship "The Preserver of Life".) Overcome with the death of his friend Enkidu, the hero of the epic (Gilgamesh) set out on a series of journeys to search for his ancestor (Utnapishtim) who lived at the mouth of the rivers. Utnapishtim counseled Gilgamesh to abandon his search for immortality but told him about a plant that could make him young again. Gilgamesh obtained the plant from the bottom of the sea in Dilmun, however; a serpent stole it, and Gilgamesh returned home to the city-state of Uruk having abandoned hope for both immortality and renewed youth.

An impact event theory suggests that a bolide hit the Indian Ocean c. 3000 BCE — c. 2800 BCE (suggested date for the impact event: 2807 BCE, based on a May 10 solar eclipse, and an analysis of flood stories),[57][58] created the 19-mile-wide undersea Burckle Crater, the Fenambosy Chevron, and generated a megatsunami that flooded coastal lands.[59] Excavations in Iraq have revealed evidence of localized flooding at the archaeological site of the ancient city-state Shuruppak and the sites of various other Sumerian city-states. A layer of riverine sediments (radiocarbon-dated to c. 2900 BCE) interrupted the continuity of settlement (extending as far north as the city-state of Kish) which took over hegemony after the Flood. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (fl. c. 3000 BCE — c. 2900 BCE) was discovered immediately below the Shuruppak flood stratum,[60] and the Jemdet Nasr Period immediately preceded the ED I Period. The city-state of Kish flourished in the ED Period soon after an archaeologically-attested river flood in Shuruppak and various other Sumerian city-states.

First Dynasty of Kish[edit]

A marble statue of a Sumerian worshiper dated to c. 2800 BCE — c. 2300 BCE, currently in the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraq.
This head of a stand was inscribed with cuneiform inscriptions and is c. 2800 BCE — c. 2300 BCE, currently also in the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraq.

After a flood occurred in Sumer, kingship is said to have resumed at Kish. The earliest Dynastic name on the list known from other legendary sources is Etana, whom it calls "the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries". He was estimated by Roux[61] to have lived approximately 3000 BC. Among the 11 kings who followed, a number of Semitic Akkadian names are recorded, suggesting that these people made up a sizable proportion of the population of this northern city. The earliest monarch on the list whose historical existence has been independently attested through archaeological inscription is En-me-barage-si of Kish (ca. 2600 BC), said to have defeated Elam and built the temple of Enlil in Nippur. Enmebaragesi's successor, Aga, is said to have fought with Gilgamesh of Uruk, the fifth king of that city. From this time, for a period Uruk seems to have had some kind of hegemony in Sumer. This illustrates a weakness of the Sumerian kinglist, as contemporaries are often placed in successive dynasties, making reconstruction difficult.

First Dynasty of Uruk[edit]

Mesh-ki-ang-gasher is listed as the first King of Uruk. He was followed by Enmerkar.[62] The epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta[63] tells of his voyage by river to Aratta, a mountainous, mineral-rich country up-river from Sumer. He was followed by Lugalbanda, also known from fragmentary legends, and then by Dumuzid, the Fisherman. The most famous monarch of this dynasty was Dumuzid's successor Gilgamesh, hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh, where he is called Lugalbanda's son. Ancient, fragmentary copies of this text have been discovered in locations as far apart as Hattusas in Anatolia, Megiddo in Israel, and Tell el Amarna in Egypt.

First Dynasty of Ur[edit]

The SKL has the following entry preceding the First Dynasty of Ur:

Then Uruk was defeated and the kingship was taken to Ur.

The First Dynasty of Ur is believed to have flourished circa 2600 BCE — circa 2500 BCE. Meskalamdug is the first archaeologically recording king of the city-state of Ur who does not appear in the SKL. His tomb (discovered by English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in the Royal Cemetery of Ur in 1924 CE) contained numerous gold artifacts including a golden helmet with an inscription of the king's name. His wife's name was queen Ninbanda. Meskalamdug was also mentioned on a seal in another tomb with the title lugal, however; because his own tomb lacked attendants, Woolley assumed that Meskalamdug was not royal.

Meskalamdug was succeeded by his son Akalamdug. Akalamdug was, in turn, succeeded by his son Mesannepada.

The SKL has the following entry for Mesannepada:

In Ur, Mesannepada became king; he ruled for 80 years.

Mesannepada is the first king of the First Dynasty of Ur listed on the SKL, and it says that he defeated Lugalkildu of Uruk. Mesannepada, and his son and successor Meskiag-nuna, are both named on the Tummal Inscription as upkeepers of the main temple in Nippur along with Gilgamesh of Uruk and his son Ur-Nungal, verifying their status as overlords of Sumer. Judging from the inscriptions, Mesannepada then assumed the title "King of Kish" to indicate his hegemony.[64] This title would be used by many kings of the preeminent dynasties for some time afterward.

Mesilim of Kish is known from inscriptions from both Lagash and Adab. Those inscriptions state that Mesilim built temples in both Lagash and Adab. Mesilim seems to have held some influence in both Lagash and Adab. He is also mentioned in some of the earliest monuments from Lagash as arbitrating a border dispute between Lugal-sha-engur of Lagash and the ensi of Umma. Mesilim's placement before, during, or after the reign of Mesannepada of Ur is uncertain, owing to the lack of other synchronous names in the inscriptions, and his absence from the SKL.

Mesannepada was the first king listed for the section of the First Dynasty of Ur on the SKL. He is listed to have ruled for eighty years, having overthrown Lugal-kitun of Uruk. Mesannepada gave gifts to the kings of Mari (and according to a lapis lazuli bead inscription found in Mari, Mesannepada's father was: Meskalamdug.) Seals from the royal cemetery at Ur have also been found bearing the names of Mesannepada and two of his predecessors (Meskalamdug and Akalamdug), along with Queen Puabi. Mesannepada (along with his son and successor Meskiag-nuna) are both named on the Tummal Inscription as upkeepers of the main temple in Nippur alongside Gilgamesh of Uruk and Gilgamesh's son Ur-Nungal, verifying their status as overlords of Sumer.

Another son of Mesannepada (A-anne-pada) is known for having a temple constructed, though he is not named on the SKL. During the 1950s CE, Edmund I. Gordon conjectured that Mesannepada and Mesilim were actually one and the same, (as their names were interchanged in certain proverbs in later Babylonian tablets) however; this has not proved conclusive. More recent scholars tend to regard Mesannepada and Mesilim as distinct, usually placing Mesilim in Kish before Mesannepada.

The SKL has the following entry for Mesannepada's successors:

Meskiag-nuna, the son of Mesannepada, became king; he ruled for 36 years. Elulu ruled for 25 years. Balulu ruled for 36 years.

First Dynasty of Awan[edit]

The SKL has the following entry preceding the First Dynasty of Awan:

Then Ur was defeated and the kingship was taken to Awan.

The First Dynasty of Awan was the first dynasty of Elam of which anything is known today. The Elamites were likely major rivals of neighboring Sumer from remotest antiquity; they were said to have been defeated by Enmebaragesi of Kish. Awan was the capital city of Elam that is believed to have fl. c. 2600 BCE — c. 2078 BCE, about the same time as Elam is also mentioned clearly.[65] According to the SKL, a dynasty from Awan exerted hegemony in Sumer at one time.

The SKL has the following entry for the First Dynasty of Awan:

In Awan... became king; he ruled for... years... ruled for... years... ruled for 36 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 356 years.

The names of the three Awan kings have not survived on the extant copies of the SKL (aside from a partial reconstruction of the name of the third king, “Ku-ul...”, which the SKL states ruled for 36 years.)[66] This information is not considered reliable, but it does suggest that Awan had political importance circa 2600 BCE. Very little of these kings' reigns is otherwise known, however; Elam seems to have kept up a heavy trade with the Sumerian city-states during this time, mainly importing foods, and exporting slaves, cattle, wool and silver (among other things.) It is also known that the Awan kings carried out incursions in Mesopotamia, where they ran up against the most powerful city-states of this period: Kish and Lagash. One such incident is recorded in a tablet addressed to Enetarzi, a minor ruler or governor of Lagash, testifying that a party of 600 Elamites had been intercepted and defeated while attempting to abscond from the port with plunder.

Second Dynasty of Kish[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the Second Dynasty of Kish:

In Kish, Susuda, the fuller, became king; he ruled for 201 years. Dadasig ruled for 81 years. Mamagal, the boatman, ruled for 360 years. Kalbum, the son of Mamagal ruled for 195 years. Tuge ruled for 360 years. Men-nuna, the son of Tuge, ruled for 180 years. …… ruled for 290 years. Lugalgnu ruled for 360 years. 8 kings; they ruled for 3195 years. Then Kish was defeated and the kingship was taken to Ḫamazi.

First Dynasty of Lagash[edit]

Votive relief of Ur-Nanshe (top, creating the foundation for a shrine; bottom, presiding over its dedication.) Currently located in the Louvre Museum of France.) Dated to between c. 2550 BCE and c. 2500 BCE.
One fragment of the victory stele (Stele of Vultures) of the king Eannatum of Lagash over Umma, dated to c. 2450 BCE. Currently likewise located in the Louvre Museum of France.

The First Dynasty of Lagash (flourished circa 2500 BCE — circa 2271 BCE) is not mentioned in the SKL, though it is well known from inscriptions. One extremely fragmentary supplement has been found written with the Sumerian cuneiform script (written as “the rulers of Lagash”.) This fragmentary supplement recounts how after the Flood mankind was having difficulty growing food for itself, being dependent solely on rainwater; it further relates that techniques of irrigation and cultivation of barley were then imparted by the gods. At the end of the list is the statement: “Written in the school,” suggesting this list was written in a scribal school production. A few of the names from the Lagash rulers listed below may be made out, including: Enhengal, Lugal-sha-engur, Ur-Nanshe, Akurgal, Eannatum, En-anna-tum I, Entemena, Enanatum II, Enentarzid, Lugalanda, and Urukagina.

En-hegal is the earliest known ruler of First Dynasty of Lagash. The city-state Lagash was (during En-hegal's reign) tributary to the city-state of Uruk. En-hegal was preceded by Lugalngu of the Second Dynasty of Kish. En-hegal was then succeeded by Lugal-sha-engur (also known as “Lugal-Suggur”.) Lagash was (during Lugal-sha-engur's reign) similarly tributary to Mesilim of the city-state of Kish.

Following the hegemony of Mesannepada of Ur, Ur-Nanshe succeeded Lugal-sha-engur as the new high priest of Lagash and achieved independence, (making himself the first king of an independent Lagash during the ED III.) Ur-Nanshe was succeeded by his son Akurgal. Eannatum (grandson of Ur-Nanshe) made himself master of Sumer. Eannatum was succeeded by his brother, En-anna-tum I. During En-anna-tum I's rule, Lagash was unsuccessfully attacked by Ur-Lumma as Umma once more asserted independence.

En-anna-tum I's son and successor (Entemena) restored the prestige of Lagash after Illi of Umma's attack on Lagash. With the help of Entemena's ally in the city-state of Uruk (Lugal-kinishe-dudu), Entemena defeated Illi of Umma. Lugal-kinishe-dudu of Uruk seems to have been the prominent figure at the time, since he also claimed to rule Kish and Ur. A silver vase dedicated by Entemena to his god is now in the Louvre. A series of weak, corrupt priest-kings is attested for Lagash after Entemana's reign: En-anna-tum II, Enentarzid, and Lugalanda.

Lugalanda (also known as: Lugal-anda) was a Sumerian king of the First Dynasty of Lagash. Lugalanda was appointed as king by his father (who was the high priest of Lagash.) All documents mentioning the reign of Lugalanda described him as a wealthy and corrupt king. After nine years in power, Lugalanda was overthrown by Urukagina. Urukagina was known for his judicial, social, and economic reforms, and his reign may well be the first legal code known to have existed.

First Dynasty of Hamazi[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the First Dynasty of Hamazi:

In Hamazi, Hadanish became king; he ruled for 360 years. 1 king; he ruled for 360 years. Then Hamazi was defeated and the kingship was returned a second time to Uruk.

Hamazi's exact location is unknown, but is thought to have been located roughly between Elam and Assyria somewhere in the western Zagros Mountains (possibly near Nuzi or modern Hamadan.)

Second Dynasty of Uruk[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the Second Dynasty of Uruk:

In Uruk, Enshakushanna became king; he ruled for 60 years. Lugal-kinishee-dudu ruled for 120 years. Argandea ruled for 7 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 187 years. Then Uruk was defeated and the kingship was taken to Ur.

Enshakushanna conquered the city-states of Hamazi, Akkad, Kish, and Nippur (subsequently claiming hegemony over all of Sumer.) He adopted the Sumerian language title en ki-en-gi lugal kalam-ma,[67][68] which may be translated to "Lord of Sumer and King of All the Land" (or possibly translated to "En of the Region of Uruk and Lugal of the Region of Ur"[69]), and could correspond to the later title lugal ki-en-gi ki-uri ("King of Sumer and Akkad") that eventually came to signify kingship over Mesopotamia as a whole. He was succeeded by Lugal-kinishe-dudu of Uruk, however; the hegemony over Sumer seems to had passed briefly to Eannatum of Lagash. Lugal-kinishe-dudu was later allied with Entemena of Lagash against their principal rival: the city-state of Umma.

Second Dynasty of Ur[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the Second Dynasty of Ur:

In Ur, Nanni became king; he ruled for 54 years. Meš-ki-aĝ-Nanna, the son of Nanni, ruled for 48 years. ……, the son of ……, ruled for 2 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 120 years. Then Ur was defeated and the kingship was taken to Adab.

First Dynasty of Adab[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the First Dynasty of Adab:

In Adab, Lugal-Ane-mundu became king; he ruled for 90 years. 1 king; he ruled for 90 years. Then Adab was defeated and the kingship was taken to Mari.

Following the Second Dynasty of Ur, Mesopotamia seems to have come under the sway of a Sumerian conqueror named Lugal-Ane-mundu. According to the fragmentary inscription attributed to Lugal-Ane-Mundu, he subjected the “Four Corners of the World” (i.e., the entire Fertile Crescent region: from as west as the Mediterranean Sea to as far east as the Zagros Mountains, including Elam.)[70] His empire is said to have included the provinces of Elam, Marhashi, Gutium, Subartu, Amurru, "Sutium" (?),[71] the Cedar Mountain Land and Mountain of E-anna. According to the inscription, he: “made the people of all the lands live in peace as in a meadow.” He also mentions having confronted a coalition of thirteen rebel governors or chiefs, led by Migir-Enlil of Marhashi (all of their names are considered Semitic.)[72]

Following the death of Lugal-Ane-mundu, the SKL indicated that the “kingship” (i.e., the Nippur-based hegemony) fell to a dynasty from Mari in Upper Mesopotamia, beginning with Anbu, however; it has been suggested that more likely, only the last of these Mari kings (Sharrumiter) held the hegemony over Sumer after Lugal-Anne-Mundu.[73] With the break-up of Lugal-Anne-Mundu's empire, other prominent city-states appear to have concurrently regained their independence: Lagash, Akshak, and Umma. Arno Poebel published a preliminary translation of one of the fragments of the Lugal-Ane-Mundu Inscription in 1909 CE, although Poebel was unable to make out the king's name (which he rendered as: “Lugal[.....]ni-mungin”.)[74] Hans Gustav Güterbock published a more complete translation in 1934 CE, but quickly dismissed the account as pseudepigraphic and largely fictional. However, some more recent Sumerologists, following Samuel Kramer, have been more willing to give it credence as possibly a late copy of an actual inscription of Lugal-Anne-Mundu.[70]

First Dynasty of Mari[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the First Dynasty of Mari:

In Mari, Anbu became king; he ruled for 30 years. Anba, the son of Anbu, ruled for 17 years. Bazi, the leatherworker, ruled for 30 years. Zizi, the fuller, ruled for 20 years. Limer, the gudug priest, ruled for 30 years. Šarrum-īter ruled for 9. 6 kings; they ruled for 136 years. Then Mari was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kish.

The SKL recorded a dynasty of six kings between the two Sumerian dynasties of the city-states Adab and Kish centered at the capital city of the First Mariote Kingdom, Mari. Archaeologist Georges Dossin noted that the name of city-state "Mari" was spelled identically to the name of an ancient storm deity of Upper Mesopotamia who was considered the patron deity of the city-state[75] and thus Dossin concluded that the city was named after the deity.[76] Mari is not considered a small settlement that later grew,[77] however; it was instead a planned city that was built by the Sumerians during the ED I c. 2900 BCE (as a method of controlling the trade routes connecting Sumer to the Levant along the Euphrates river's waterways.) The city of Mari was built about one to two kilometers away from the Euphrates river to protect the city against flooding, and the city was also connected to the river with an artificial canal that was between seven and ten kilometers long (the canal's length depends on which old meander it used to be attached with, which is hard to identify today.) Mari is difficult to excavate as it is buried deep under later layers of habitation, however; a defensive system has already been unearthed at the present-day archaeological site of Mari which includes: a circular embankment (the circular embankment defended the city against floods), an outer embankment which had a height of eight to ten meters (the outer embankment was strengthened by defensive towers), a circular 6.7-meter-thick inner rampart (the inner rampart defended the city against its enemies), and an area 300 meters long filled with gardens and craftsmen quarters (the garden-filled area separated the outer embankment from the inner rampart.)

The site of Mari was abandoned at the end of the ED II (c. 2550 BCE) for reasons unknown. Around the beginning of the ED III (c. 2500 BCE), the site was revived and subsequently repopulated to be transformed into the capital city of a prosperous political center and great power of Mesopotamia: Second Mariote Kingdom. The kings of the Second Mariote Kingdom held the title of "lugal". An important source of information for the Second Mariote Kingdom is the letter of king Enna-Dagan (dated to c. 2350 BCE) which was sent to Irkab-Damu of Ebla (in the letter the Mariote king mentioned his predecessors and their military achievements.) However, the reading of this letter is still problematic and many interpretations have been presented by scholars.

Third Dynasty of Kish[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the Third Dynasty of Kish:

In Kish, Kubaba, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish, became king; she ruled for 100 years. 1 king; she ruled for 100 years. Then Kish was defeated and the kingship was taken to Akshak.

Kubaba of the Third Dynasty of Kish is the only queen on the SKL (the SKL stated that she reigned for 100 years.) The SKL adds that she had been a tavern keeper following the defeat of Sharrumiter of the First Dynasty of Mari. Most versions of the SKL placed her alone in the Third Dynasty of Kish. However, other versions combined the Third Dynasty of Kish with the Fourth Dynasty of Kish. The Third Dynasty of Kish was preceded by the First Dynasty of Akshak (which was then succeeded by the Fourth Dynasty of Kish.)

The Weidner Chronicle (also known as: the Esagila Chronicle) is a religious text written in ancient Babylonia and also referred to Kubaba as "Kugbaba".[78] In fact, it is not a chronicle but a piece of propaganda in the form of a letter, although it contains after line thirty-one a part that resembles a chronicle. The presumed author (the author was possibly King Damiq-ilisu of Isin) wrote to King Apil-Sin of Babylon about the blessings that the gods bestowed upon earlier rulers who sacrificed to the supreme god Marduk in the Esagila shrine of Babylon. Most of the kings named on the Weidner Chronicle fl. c. 3000 BCE — c. 2000 BCE (when Babylon and the shrine probably did not exist.) It contains a brief account of rise of: "the House of Kubaba" occurring during the reign of Puzur-Nirah of the First Dynasty Akshak:

In the reign of Puzur-Nirah, king of Akšak, the freshwater fishermen of Esagila were catching fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk; the officers of the king took away the fish. The fisherman was fishing when 7 (or 8) days had passed [...] in the house of Kubaba, the tavern-keeper [...] they brought to Esagila. At that time BROKEN[4] anew for Esagila [...] Kubaba gave bread to the fisherman and gave water, she made him offer the fish to Esagila. Marduk, the king, the prince of the Apsû, favored her and said: "Let it be so!" He entrusted to Kubaba, the tavern-keeper, sovereignty over the whole world. (lines 38-45)

First Dynasty of Akshak[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the First Dynasty of Akshak:

In Akshak, Unzi became king; he ruled for 30 years. Undalulu ruled for 6 years. Urur ruled for 6 years. Puzur-Niraḫ ruled for 20 years. Išu-Il ruled for 24 years. Šu-Suen, the son of Išu-Il, ruled for 7 years. 6 kings; they ruled for 99 years. Then Akšak was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kish.

King Enshakushanna (he adopted the Sumerian title en ki-en-gi lugal kalam-ma,[67][68] which may be translated as "Lord of Sumer and King of all the Land", or possibly as "En of the Region of Uruk and Lugal of the Region of Ur",[69] and could correspond to the later title lugal ki-en-gi ki-uri "King of Sumer and Akkad" that eventually came to signify kingship over Mesopotamia as a whole) of the Second Dynasty of Uruk is recorded as having plundered the city-state Akshak. King Eannatum of the First Dynasty of Lagash became embroiled in a war against the city-state of Akshak, where one inscription has Eannatum claim that he had King Zuzu of Akshak smitten after Akshak was captured. King Puzur-Nirah of the First Dynasty of Akshak is mentioned in the Weidner Chronicle as having reigned when Queen Kubaba of the Third Dynasty of Kish was appointed overlordship over Sumer. King Lugal-zage-si of the Third Dynasty of Uruk defeated Akshak c. 2350 BCE.

Fourth Dynasty of Kish[edit]

The SKL has the following entry for the Fourth Dynasty of Kish:

In Kish, Puzur-Suen, the son of Kubaba, became king; he ruled for 25 years. Ur-Zababa, the son of Puzur-Suen, ruled for 4 years. 131 are the years of the dynasty of Kubaba. Zimudar ruled for 30 years. Usi-watar, the son of Zimudar, ruled for 6 years. Eštar-muti ruled for 17 years. Išme-Šamaš ruled for 11 years. Šu-ilīšu ruled for 15 years. Nanniya, the jeweller, 3 years. 8 kings; they ruled for 586 years. Then Kish was defeated and the kingship was returned a third time to Uruk.

Ur-Zababa's mother is unknown.[79][80] It is known that King Lugal-zage-si of the Third Dynasty of Uruk destroyed Kish toward the end of his reign, before he was himself deposed by Sargon the Great of the Akkadian Empire. It is often assumed that Sargon also played a role in Ur-Zababa's downfall, but the relevant texts are too fragmentary to be explicit. Ur-Zababa's successors in Kish as named on the SKL (beginning with Zimudar) seem to have been vassals of Sargon the Great, and there is no evidence that they ever exercised hegemony in Sumer.[81]

Third Dynasty of Uruk[edit]

A map detailing the empire of the King Lugal-zage-si of the Third Dynasty of Uruk at its maximum extent.

The SKL has the following entry for the Third Dynasty of Uruk:

In Uruk, Lugal-zage-si became king; he ruled for 25 years. 1 king; he ruled for 25 years. Then Uruk was defeated and the kingship was taken to Akkad.

King Urukagina of the First Dynasty of Lagash (fl. c. 2359 BCE — c. 2335 BCE short chronology timeline of the ancient near east) was overthrown and his city Lagash captured by Lugal-zage-si (lugal-zag-ge4-si = LUGAL.ZAG.GI4.SI 𒈗𒍠𒄄𒋛; frequently spelled Lugalzaggesi, sometimes Lugalzagesi or "Lugal-Zaggisi"), the high priest of Umma. Lugal-zage-si began his career as énsi of Umma, from where he conquered several of the Sumerian city-states including: Kish (where he overthrew Ur-Zababa), Lagash (where he overthrew Urukagina), Ur, Nippur, Larsa, Uruk, where Lugal-zage-si established the capital city of his empire. In a long inscription that Lugal-zage-si of Uruk made engraved on hundreds of stone vases dedicated to the deity Enlil of the city-state Nippur, he boasted that his kingdom extended: “from the Lower Sea, along the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Upper Sea" (or, “from the Persian Gulf, along the Tigris river and Euphrates river, to the Mediterranean Sea.”)[82] Although his incursion to the Mediterranean Sea was (in the eyes of some modern scholars) not much more than “a successful raiding party” the inscription: “marks the first time that a Sumerian prince claimed to have reached what was, for them, the western edge of the world.” Sargon of the Akkadian Empire captured Lugal-zage-si after destroying the walls of Uruk, then led Lugal-zage-si in a neck-stock to Enlil's temple in Nippur (according to later Babylonian versions of Sargon's inscriptions.)

Conquests of Sargon of Akkad[edit]

A map detailing the Conquests of Sargon of Akkad c. 2271 BCE.

Sargon the Great of the Akkadian Empire may have played a role in Ur-Zababa's downfall. Sargon then had the army of Kish follow him to attack Uruk (leading into the "Battle of Uruk" — one of the decisive battles which allowed Sargon to subdue Sumer and bring it under his control.) The defenders seem to have fled Uruk and joined with an army led by fifty ensis of other Sumerian provinces (which were under the leadership of king Lugal-zage-si) to fight against Sargon. This Sumerian force fought two pitched battles against Sargon, as a result of which the remaining forces of Lugal-zage-si were routed.[83] Lugal-zage-si himself was captured and taken to Nippur; Sargon inscribed on the pedestal of a statue (preserved in a later tablet) that he brought Lugal-zage-si "in a dog collar to the gate of Enlil."[84]


Further information: Sumerian music
An image of two of the "Lyres of Ur": the "Queen's Lyre" and "Silver Lyre" (both currently in the British Museum of London. Dated to c. 2500 BCE.

There is considerable evidence that the Sumerian people loved music (which seems to have been an important part of religious and civic life in Sumer.) Lyres were popular in Sumer, among the best-known examples being: the "Lyres of Ur". "The Lyres of Ur" (also known as the: "Harps of Ur") are considered to be the world's oldest surviving stringed instruments. British archaeologist Leonard Woolley led a team of archaeologists to excavate the Royal Cemetery of Ur between 1922 — 1934 which led to the discovery of the instruments. They discovered pieces of three lyres and one harp in the archaeological site for the city-state of Ur (located in what was Sumer and is today Iraq.)[85][86]

The lyres are over 4,500 years old (from the ED III Period.)[87] The decorations on the lyres are fine examples of the art of Mesopotamia during the ED III Period. Woolley discovered the lyres among the bodies of ten women in the Royal Cemetery at Ur (the lyres were discovered in the year 1929.) One body was even said to be laying against the lyre with her skeletal hand placed where the strings would have been.[88] Upon this discovery, Woolley was quick to pour in a liquid plaster to recover the delicate form of the wooden frame.[89]

The lyre (referred to as either the "Golden Lyre of Ur" or "Bull's Lyre") is considered the finest, and was given to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.[90] Its reconstructed wooden body was damaged due to flooding during the second Iraqi War;[91][92] Its reconstructed wooden body was damaged due to flooding during the second Iraqi War; a replica of it is being played as part of a touring orchestra.[85] The "Golden Lyre of Ur" got its name because the whole head of the bull is made of gold. The eyes are made of inlaid mother-of-pearl and lapis lazuli. The beard is similar in appearance to both the "Great Lyre" and "Queen's Lyre".

The "Queen's Lyre" is one of two that Woolley found in the grave of the queen Pu-abi.[87] The "Queen's Lyre" is 44 inches in height and is similar in appearance to that of the "Great Lyre". The mask of the bull is gold. The eyes, hair, and beard are all made of lapis lazuli and the horns are modern. The shape of the lyre is meant to resemble a bull's body.

A noticeable difference between the "Great Lyre" and "Queens Lyre" was that the "Great Lyre" had a straight forehead where the "Queen's Lyre" curved slightly around the brow bone. The "Great Lyre" is 13 inches in height and 4.5 inches in width. The shape of the lyre is meant to resemble a bull's body. Its head, face and horns are all wrapped in gold foil. The head is garnished with lapis lazuli hair, beard, and eyes.

The "Silver Lyre" is 44 inches in height and 38 inches in width. It is one of two silver lyres discovered in "The Great Pit". Both lyres were made of wood and then covered in sheets of silvered that were attached with small silver nails. The eyes are made of lapis lazuli and the lyre was also trimmed with narrow borders of lapis lazuli. This is the only lyre that is not bearded.


Uruk, one of Sumer's largest cities, has been estimated to have had a population of 50,000-80,000 at its height;[93] given the other cities in Sumer, and the large agricultural population, a rough estimate for Sumer's population might be 0.8 million to 1.5 million. The world population at this time has been estimated at about 27 million.[94]

The Sumerians spoke a language isolate; a number of linguists believe they could detect a substrate language beneath Sumerian because names of some of Sumer's major cities are not Sumerian, revealing influences of earlier inhabitants.[95] However, the archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the early Ubaid period (5300 – 4700 BC C-14) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates.

It is speculated by some archaeologists that Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north, after perfecting irrigation agriculture there. The Ubaid period pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries. The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where eight levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware. According to this theory, farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.[citation needed]

Others have suggested a continuity of Sumerians, from the indigenous hunter-fisherfolk traditions, associated with the Arabian bifacial assemblages found on the Arabian littoral. Professor Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians may have been the people living in the Persian Gulf region before it flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.[96]

Table 1: 3100 BCE - 2300 BCE
City 3100 BCE 2800 BCE 2600 BCE 2500 BCE 2300 BCE
Adab 11,000 [97] 13,000 [97] 10,000 [97]
Akkad 36,000 [97]
Bad-tibira 16,000 [97]
Kish 40,000 [97] 25,000 [97] 10,000 [97]
Lagash 40,000 [98] 40,000 [97] 10,000 [97]
Larsa 10,000 [97]
Nagar 15,000 [97] 15,000 [97]
Nippur 13,000 [97] 20,000 [97] 10,000 [97]
Shuruppak 20,000 [97] 17,000 [97]
Umma 26,000 [97] 34,000 [97] 20,000 [97]
Ur 6,000 [97]
Uruk 40,000 [98] 50,000 [97] 80,000 [97] 80,000 [98] 50,000 [97][99]
Zabala 10,000 [97]
A clickable map of present-day "Republic of Iraq" detailing important sites that were occupied during the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamia.

See also[edit]


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  8. ^ The former is the reconstructed Sumerian pronunciation; the latter, the reconstructed Semitic.
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  15. ^ "Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States". Richard F. Nyrop. 2008. p. 11. From about 4000 to 2000 B.C. the civilization of Dilmun dominated 250 miles of the eastern coast of Arabia from present-day Kuwait to Bahrain and extended sixty miles into the interior to the oasis of Hufuf (see fig. 2). 
  16. ^ "Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula: Bahrain". M. A. Nayeem. 1990. p. 32. 
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  43. ^ translation
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  62. ^ Identified by David Rohl with Nimrod the Hunter, mentioned in the Bible as founding Erech
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  71. ^ The precise identification of "Sutium" is unresolved, but it was apparently a Semitic-speaking region somewhere west of the desert, and probably near Amurru. It is rarely heard from again after this. Cf. Carleton, Buried Empires (1939) p. 235.
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Further reading[edit]

Ascalone, Enrico. 2007. Mesopotamia: Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians (Dictionaries of Civilizations; 1). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25266-7 (paperback).
Bottéro, Jean, André Finet, Bertrand Lafont, and George Roux. 2001. Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Crawford, Harriet E. W. 2004. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frayne, Douglas. 2008. Pre-Sargonic Period: Early Periods, Volume 1 (2700-2350 BC), University of Toronto Press.
Leick, Gwendolyn. 2002. Mesopotamia: Invention of the City. London and New York: Penguin.
Lloyd, Seton. 1978. The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest. London: Thames and Hudson.
Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. 1998. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. London and Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Kramer, Samuel Noah (1963). The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-45238-7. 
Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium BC.
Roux, Georges. 1992. Ancient Iraq, 560 pages. London: Penguin (earlier printings may have different pagination: 1966, 480 pages, Pelican; 1964, 431 pages, London: Allen and Urwin).
Schomp, Virginia. Ancient Mesopotamia: The Sumerians, Babylonians, And Assyrians.
Sumer: Cities of Eden (Timelife Lost Civilizations). Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1993 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8094-9887-1).
Woolley, C. Leonard. 1929. The Sumerians. Oxford: Clarendon


External links[edit]


Coordinates: 32°00′N 45°30′E / 32.0°N 45.5°E / 32.0; 45.5