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Kur is a Sumerian word that expressed a broad variety of meanings. In Sumerian religion, kur is normally used as a name for the Underworld, Irkalla, which is often personified as the first dragon, the Sumerian equivalent of the Babylonian Tiamat.[1] The same word was often used to refer to the Zagros Mountains to the east of Sumer. Additionally, the word could also mean "foreign land". The cuneiform for kur was written ideographically with the cuneiform sign 𒆳, a pictograph of a mountain.[2]


As a word for "land" or "mountain"[edit]

Although the word for earth was Ki, kur came to also mean "land." Sumer itself was sometimes called kur-gal "great land." Kur-gal could also mean "great mountain" and was a metonym for both Nippur and Enlil, who was believed to rule from that city.[3] The é-kur "Mountain House" was the temple of Enlil at Nippur.

As a name for the Underworld[edit]

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing the god Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by galla demons

Kur was used as a name for the Sumerian underworld,[4]:114 which was envisioned as a dark, dreary cavern located deep below the ground,[5] where inhabitants were believed to continue "a shadowy version of life on earth".[5] It was believed to be ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal.[5][6]:184 All souls went to the same afterlife,[5] and a person's actions during life had no effect on how the person would be treated in the world to come.[5]

The souls in Kur were believed to eat nothing but dry dust[4]:58 and family members of the deceased would ritually pour libations into the dead person's grave through a clay pipe, thereby allowing the dead to drink.[4]:58 Nonetheless, funerary evidence indicates that some people believed that the goddess Inanna, Ereshkigal's younger sister, had the power to award her devotees with special favors in the afterlife.[5][7] During the Third Dynasty of Ur, it was believed that a person's treatment in the afterlife depended on how he or she was buried;[4]:58 those he had been given sumptuous burials would be treated well,[4]:58 but those who had been given poor burials would fare poorly.[4]:58

The entrance to Kur was believed to be located in the Zagros mountains in the far east.[4]:114 It had seven gates, through which a soul needed to pass.[5] The god Neti was the gatekeeper.[6]:184[4]:86 Ereshkigal's sukkal, or messenger, was the god Namtar.[4]:134[6]:184 Galla were a class of demons that were believed to reside in the underworld;[4]:85 their primary purpose appears to have been to drag unfortunate mortals back to Kur.[4]:85 They are frequently referenced in magical texts,[4]:85-86 and some texts describe them as being seven in number.[4]:85-86 Several extant poems describe the galla dragging the god Dumuzid into the underworld.[4]:86 The later Mesopotamians knew this underworld by its East Semitic name: Irkalla. During the Akkadian Period, Ereshkigal's role as the ruler of the underworld was assigned to Nergal, the god of death.[5][6]:184 The Akkadians attempted to harmonize this dual rulership of the underworld by making Nergal Ereshkigal's husband.[5]

As the name of the first dragon[edit]

In later Babylonian religion, kur is possibly an Anunnaki, brother of Ereshkigal, Inanna, Enki, and Enlil. In the Enûma Eliš and in Akkadian tablets from the first millennium BC, kur is part of the retinue of Tiamat, and seems to be a snakelike dragon. In one story, the slaying of the great serpent kur results in the flooding of the earth.[8]

A cylinder seal from the first millennium BC shows a winged, fire-spitting dragon with a nude woman between its wings pulling the chariot of the god who has subdued it. Another depicts a god riding a dragon. A third seal depicts a goddess riding on the back of a dragon.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C.: Revised Edition. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961, Philadelphia.
  2. ^ "Sumerian Mythology" by Samuel Noah Kramer, p.110
  3. ^ "Scenes from the Shadow Side", Frans Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Poetic Language, Brill, 1996, pp. 208-209
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Black, Jeremy; Green, Anthony (1992). Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. The British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-1705-6. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Choksi, M. (2014), "Ancient Mesopotamian Beliefs in the Afterlife", Ancient History Encyclopedia, ancient.eu 
  6. ^ a b c d Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea (1998), Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Daily Life, Greenwood, ISBN 978-0313294976 
  7. ^ Barret, C. E. (2007). "Was dust their food and clay their bread?: Grave goods, the Mesopotamian afterlife, and the liminal role of Inana/Ištar". Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. 7 (1): 7–65. doi:10.1163/156921207781375123. ISSN 1569-2116. 
  8. ^ http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/sum/sum08.htm "Sumerian Mythology"] by Samuel Noah Kramer, p. 112
  9. ^ http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/sum/sum08.htm "Sumerian Mythology"] by Samuel Noah Kramer, p. 114