The Sumerians History; Heroes, Kings, and Ensi’s

Now that we have clarified, at least to some extent, the method and procedures by which the modem archeologist and scholar has resurrected the long dead Sumerians and reconstructed their long forgotten culture, we are ready to turn to the history of Sumer, to those political, military, and Sociological events that brought about Sumer’s rise and fall. But not quite ready! There is one disturbing aspect of the problem of reconstructing Sumerian history of which the reader must be forewarned: the tenuous, elusive, meager, and partial character of the pertinent source material. From around 4500 B.C., when the first settlements were established in Sumer, to about 1750 B.C., when the Sumerians ceased to exist as a people, is a stretch of close to three thousand years, and the reader might well ask where we get our historical information and how trustworthy it is. Let us start with the dark, negative, and unpromising side of the picture-the fact that the Sumerians themselves wrote no history in the generally accepted sense of the word, that is, in terms of unfolding processes and underlying principles.

The Sumerian academicians and men of letters possessed neither the essential intellectual tools of definition and generalization nor the evolutionary approach fundamental to historical evaluation and interpretation.

Limited by the world view current in their day and accepted as axiomatic truth-that cultural phenomena and historical events came ready-made, “full grown … full blown,” on the world scene, since they were planned and brought about by the all-powerful gods-it probably never occurred to even the most thoughtful and learned of the Sumerian sages that Sumer had once been desolate marshland with but few scattered settlements and had only gradually come to be a bustling, thriving, and complex community after many generations of struggle and toil in which human will and determination, man-laid plans and experiments, and man-made discoveries and inventions played a predominant role. Intellectually immobilized by this sterile and static attitude to the history of man, the Sumerian man of letters could at best become an archivist rather than a historian, a chronicler and analyst rather than an interpreter and expositor of historical truths.

Even the archive-chronicle type of history, however, had to be first invented by someone, somewhere, to fill some need deemed to be Significant for one reason or another. In the case of the Sumerians it came into being not as a result of an intrinsic interest in recording incidents and events for their own sake, but because of the religious conviction that the kings and rulers of the city-states, usually known as ensi’s, could ensure long lives for themselves as well as the well-being and prosperity of their subjects by building, repairing, and furnishing the temples that were presumably the dwelling places of their gods.

Before the invention of writing, these royal and princely building activities, although accompanied no doubt by impressive rites and symbolic rituals, remained unrecorded for posterity. Once the cuneiform system of writing had been developed from its earlier pictographic state, however, it must have occurred to one or another of the temple priests and scribes to put down in writing the ruler’s building activities and votive offerings and thus record them for all to see and remember unto distant days.

There and then-and to judge from our present data this thought first took root in the second quarter of the third millennium B.c.-written history may be said to have Originated. To be sure, the first building and votive inscriptions consisted of very brief dedications of little historical value. But gradually, the scribes became more confident, original, and communicative; and by the twenty-fourth century B.C., we find such relatively intricate and diversified historical accounts as the treaty between Lagash and Umma inscribed on the Stele of the Vultures, Eanna- tum’s military summaries, Entemena’s account of the perennial civil war between Lagash and Umma, the precious Urukagina records of man’s first social reforms based on a sense of freedom, equality, and justice, Lugalzaggesi’s lyric glorification and exaltation of the peace and prosperity, the happiness and security, which prevailed during his reign in Sumer.

The writing material utilized by our ancient “historians” was quite varied and diversified: stone and clay tablets, bricks, stones, and door sockets, bowls and vases, clay nails and cones, mortars and maceheads, steles and plaques, statues and statuettes of stone and metal. All in all these votive and dedicatory inscriptions add up to nearly a thousand, although unfortunately the contents of the great majority of them are only too brief and laconic. In any case, it is this group of inscriptions, contemporaneous more or less with the events that they record, that has proved to be a prime source for the political history of Sumer, partial and problematical as it is. In fact, it is not at all unlikely that the ancient Sumerian historians themselves made frequent use of these sources to help them in the preparation of their own literary and historical documents. Another basic and important contemporary historical source derives, rather unexpectedly, from economic and administrative documents and consists of what are usually known as date-formulas.

The dealings and transactions recorded in these documents had to be fixed in time for practical purposes, and from as early as about 2500 B.C., the more inventive scribes began to devise usable dating schemes. Fortunately for us, they did not choose to date them Simply by numbers of years from some generally accepted starting point, such as the beginning of a new reign or dynasty, but rather, after some experimenting, settled upon the procedure of naming the years by outstanding religious and political events. This method of dating provides us with historical information of primary value.

To identify the years dating their archives more precisely, the scribes also compiled lists of all the year-names current in a given reign or succession of reigns, and these ancient lists enable the modern scholar to arrange the events recorded in the date-formulas in their proper chronological order. Based, no doubt, to a large extent on these date-formulas and date lists, is one of the most valuable Sumerian historical documents, the so-called King List, which records the names of most of the kings of Sumer and the lengths of their reigns from what, for the Sumerians, was the beginning of history-the time in the distant past when “kingship (first) descended from heaven” -up to and including part of the Isin dynasty, which began its rule about 1950 B.C. To be sure, this unique document is actually a mixture of fact and fancy, and it is often difficult to decide when the one begins and other ends.

Its author seemed to work under the delusion that all of the dynasties he lists followed each other in strict succession, when in fact most of them, if not all, were contemporaneous to a greater or lesser extent. Moreover, he attributes reigns of legendary and incredible length to many of the rulers of the earlier dynasties, and so comes up with a total of close to a quarter of a million years for the eight kings before the Flood and a total of more than twenty-five thousand years for the first two dynasties after the Flood.

In spite of all its defects and shortcomings, however, the King List, if used with discrimination and understanding, provides us with a historical framework of inestimable value. Another highly revealing historical source consists of what might be termed «royal correspondence,” the letters that went back and forth between the rulers and their officials. These first appear as early as the twenty-fourth century B.C., but the group of letters which is of special historical Significance is that of the rulers of the Third Dynasty of Ur. These letters reveal the motives, temptations, rivalries, and intrigues which went on behind the scenes and give a lively, if at times far from enchanting, human touch to the rather curt and lifeless votive inscriptions and date-formulas. Interestingly enough, these royal letters did not come down to us in their original form, but in copies prepared by the professors and students of the Sumerian academies, or edubba’s, several centuries later-a clear indication of the value and importance attached to them even in ancient days.

A prosaic, inventory-like historiographic document that may tum out to be of extraordinary Significance for early Sumerian history and chronology is the so-called Tummal inscription, a unique compilation concerned primarily with the restoration of the Tummal, the shrine of the goddess Ninlil in Nippur, and secondarily with the building of the various sections of Enlil’s temple in the same city. Part of this text has been known for almost half a century, but its missing beginning lines have only recently become available, and it is the contents of this hitherto unknown portion of the text that has turned out to be of surprising and unexpected historical value.

There are also two highly poetic compositions which may be termed historiographic, at least to some slight extent. Both center about one of the most catastrophic events in Sumer’s history: the humiliating and disastrous invasion of the country by the ruthless and barbaric nomadic hordes from the mountains to the east. In the first, and longer, of the two, which may be entitled “The Curse of Agade,” a Sumerian poet and sage explains the catastrophe as the result of the impious and sacrilegious acts of Naram~Sin, the fourth ruler of the Dynasty of Akkad. The second poem records the glorious victory of Utuhegal, a king of Erech, over Tirigan, the last of the Gutian kings, and the happy return of the kingship to Sumer.

Nine Sumerian epic tales, ranging in length from a little over one hundred to more than six hundred lines, are now known wholly or in part, and five of these are of no little importance, especially for the very early periods of Sumerian history, for which there are practically no contemporary written documents extant. Four of the five concern the heroic figures Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, and their contents are noteworthy for the light they shed on the close interrelationship between Sumer and an other-wise unknown and still unlocated city-state in northern Iran named Aratta.

The fifth of the historiographic epic tales, “Gil-gamesh and Agga of Kish,” is of very special significance for the history of political institutions; it not only helps to illuminate the obscure period of Sumerian history in which the early struggle between the Sumerian city-states took place, but also records the convening of man’s first political assembly, a “bicameral congress,” which met over forty-five hundred years ago to decide on the agonizing question of war or peace.

One rather disappointing literary genre, from the point of view of political history, is the ‘1amentation,” a type of poetic composition which bemoaned the sorry plight of Sumer and its cities in times of misfortune and defeat. The earliest known prototype of the lamentation, which does provide us with a bit of important historical information, is found inscribed on a clay tablet from Lagash; it describes in some detail the terrible destruction Lagash suffered at the hands of its relentless enemy Umma.6 But the later, and much longer, compositions, such as “The Lamentation over Ur” and “The Lamentation over Nippur,” restrict themselves primarily to the harrowing depiction of the destruction of the Sumerian cities and the suffering of their inhabitants and pay little heed to the historical events which brought about this melancholy state of events. Finally, a modicum of historical information may be gleaned even from such literary genres as myths, hymns, and “wisdom” literature. None of these are at all historically oriented, but here and there they may disclose, unintentionally and incidentally, a bit of historical information not otherwise known. Thus, for example, it is from the royal hymns that we learn that Sumer’s most dreaded enemy, the Gutians, were still troublesome and formidable in the days of the Third Dynasty of Ur in spite of Utuhegal’s vaunted victory. Or we may learn from a myth something about Sumer’s relations with the rest of the world; or a proverb may mention the name of a ruler for one reason or another. But votive inscriptions and date-formulas, royal epistles and lists of rulers and dynasties, epic songs of victory and bitter laments of defeat-all these hardly add up to history as we like to think of it. Moreover, for approximately the first two millenniums of Sumer’s existence we have practically no written historical documents at all, .and the votive inscriptions which we have from the later periods come from only a few Sumerian sites and therefore tend to give a one-sided picture of the events they record. As for the poetic compositions, and especially the epic tales, these contain at best but a kernel of historical truth, and the modern scholar usually finds himself hopelessly frustrated in his efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff, the real from the imagined, and thus isolate the historically significant residue.

All the present-day Sumerologist can do is to analyze and interpret his fragmentary, obscure, and elusive data, and attempt to reconstruct at least a few of the outstanding political events and historical developments in accordance with his own reason, understanding, insight, and discernment-all of which necessarily leads to a more subjective and biased treatment than is desirable or perhaps even permissible. Under these circumstances, there is bound to be considerable difference of views even among the specialists in the field.

The sketch of Sumerian history here presented suffers no doubt from the author’s particular prejudices, conceits, and shortcomings; but this is the best he can do with the data available in the year 1963, and if his errors of commission as well as omission are many and dire, may the future generations and the Sumerian gods take account of the mitigating circum-stances and judge him with mercy and compassion. In telling what little he knows, or thinks he knows, about Sumerian history, he is only following the dictate of the ancient Sumerian proverb: “He who knows, why should he keep it hidden?” Sumer, or rather the land which came to be known as Sumer during the third millennium B.C., was probably first settled some-time between 4500 and 4000 B.C.-at least this was the consensus of Near Eastern archeologists until quite recently.

This figure was obtained by starting with 2500 B.C., an approximate and reasonably assured date obtained by dead reckoning with the help of written documents. To this was added from fifteen hundred to two thousand years, a time span large enough to account for the stratigraphic accumulation of all the earlier cultural remains down to virgin soil, that is, right down to the beginning of human habitation in Sumer. At that time, it was generally assumed, Sumer was a vast swampy marsh broken up here and there by low islands of alluvial land built up by the gradual deposit of silt carried by the Tigris, Euphrates, and Karun rivers. Before that, most of Sumer was presumably covered by the waters of the Persian Gulf, which extended much farther than they do today, and human habitation was therefore impossible. All this was accepted theory in archeological circles until 1952, when the two geologists Lees and Falcon published a paper which carried· revolutionary implications for the date of Sumer’s first settlement. In this study, entitled “The Geographical History of the Mesopotamian Plains,”7 they adduced geological evidence to show that Sumer had been above water long before 4500-4000 B.C., and it was not at all impossible, therefore, that man had settled there considerably earlier than had been generally assumed.

The reason traces of these earliest settlements in Sumer have not as yet been unearthed, it was argued, may be because the land has been sinking slowly at the same time that the water table has been rising. The very lowest level of cultural remains in Sumer may, therefore, now be under water and may never have been reached by archeologists, since they would have been misled by the higher water level into believing they had touched virgin soil. If that should prove to be true, Sumer’s oldest cultural remains are still buried and untapped, and the date of Sumer’s very first settlements may have to be pushed back a millennium or so. Be that as it may, it is reasonably certain that the first settlers in Sumer were not the Sumerians.

The pertinent evidence derives not from archeological or anthropological sources, which are rather ambiguous and inconclusive on this matter, but from linguistics. The name of Sumer’s two life-giving rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, or idiglat and buranun as they read in cuneiform, are not Sumerian words. Nor are the names of Sumer’s most important urban centers-Eridu, Ur, Larsa, Isin, Adab, Kullab, Lagash, Nippur, Kish-words which have a satisfactory Sumerian etymology. Both the rivers and the cities, or rather the villages which later became cities, must have been named by a people that did not speak the Sumerian language, just as, for example, such names as Mississippi, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Dakota indicate that the first inhabitants of the United States did not speak the English language.

The name of these pre-Sumerian settlers of Sumer is of course unknown. They lived long before writing was invented and left no telltale records. Nor can we identify them from the Sumerian documents of a later day, although it is barely possible that at least some of them were known in the third millennium as Subarians. But this we do know with a fair degree of certainty: they were the first important civilizing force in ancient Sumer, its first farmers, cultivators, cattle raisers, and fishermen; its first weavers, leatherworkers, carpenters, smiths, potters, and masons. Once again it was linguistic analysis that provided the proof.

In a paper published in 1944 in a journal sponsored by the University of Ankara,S Benno Landsberger, one of the keenest minds in cuneiform research, analyzed a number of culturally significant “Sumerian” words-that is, words known from Sumerian documents of the third millennium B.C. and therefore generally assumed to be Sumerian-and showed that there is good reason to believe that they are not Sumerian at all. All of these words consisted of two or more syllables-in Sumerian, the majority of roots are mono-syllabic-and in general showed the same pattern as the words for Tigris, Euphrates, and the non-Sumerian city names; Landsberger concluded that they must therefore belong to the language spoken by the same pre-Sumerian people that had named Sumer’s two rivers and most of its cities.

Among these words were those for farmer (engar), herdsman (udul), and fisherman (shuhadak), plow ( apin ) and furrow ( apsin ) , palm ( nimbar ) and date ( sulumb ), metalworker (tibira) and smith (simug), carpenter (nangar) and basketmaker (addub), weaver (ishbar) and leather-worker (ashgab), potter (pahar), mason (shidim), and perhaps even merchant (damgar), a word which has almost universally been taken to be a Semitic hallmark. It therefore follows that the basic agricultural techniques and industrial skills were first introduced in Sumer not by the Sumerians but by their nameless predecessors.

Landsberger called this people Proto-Euphrateans, a somewhat awkward name which is nevertheless both appropriate and useful from the linguistic point of view. In archeology, the Proto-Euphrateans are known as the Ubaid people, that is, the people responsible for the cultural remains first unearthed in the tell known as al-Ubaid not far from Ur and later in the very lowest levels of a number of tells throughout ancient Sumer. These remains consisted of stone implements, such as hoes, adzes, querns, pounders, and knives, and of clay artifacts, such as sickles, bricks, loom weights, spindle whorls, figurines, as well as a distinctive and characteristic type of painted pottery.

As already gathered from the linguistic evidence, therefore, the Proto-Euphrateans, or Ubaidians, were enterprising agriculturists who founded a number of villages and towns throughout the land and developed a rural economy of considerable wealth and stability. The Ubaidians, however, did not long remain the sole and dominant power in ancient Sumer. Immediately to the west of Sumer lies the Syrian desert and the Arabian peninsula, the home of the Semitic nomads from time immemorial. As the Ubaidian settlers thrived and prospered, some of these Semitic hordes began to infiltrate their settlements both as peaceful immigrants and as warlike conquerors.

To be sure, we have as yet no direct and conclusive evidence for this crucial inference. In the first place, however, it can be postulated a priori from what is known of the later history of Sumer. Again and again over the millenniums the barbaric Semitic nomads infiltrated and conquered the settled centers of Sumer, and there is no reason to assume that this did not happen in the fourth millennium B.C. as well.

Then again, even the oldest Sumerian inscriptions contain a number of Semitic loanwords, and the Sumerian pantheon contains not a few deities which are of Semitic origin-some of these borrowings may reach back to very early days. Finally, the first dynasty of Sumer whose existence can be histOrically attested at least to some extent, the so-called First Dynasty of Kish, which according to the ancients themselves followed immediately upon the subsidence of the Flood, begins with a whole group of rulers bearing Semitic names.

None of this evidence is really conclusive, but all in all it seems not unreasonable to conjecture that the Semites followed the Proto-Euphrateans into Sumer and that as a result of the cross-fertilization of their two cultures, there came into being the first relatively high civilization in Sumer, one in which the Semitic element was probably predominant. Be that as it may, it is highly probable that the Sumerians them-selves did not arrive in Sumer until sometime in the second half of the fourth millennium B.C. Just where their original home was is still quite uncertain.

To judge from a cycle of epic tales revolving about Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, the early Sumerian rulers seem to have had an unusually close and intimate relation-ship with a city-state known as Aratta, probably situated some-where in the region of the Caspian Sea. The Sumerian language is an agglutinative tongue, reminiscent to some extent of the Ural-Altaic languages, and this fact may also point to the same general area as Aratta. But wherever the Sumerians came from, and whatever type of culture they brought with them, this is certain: their arrival led to an extraordinarily fruitful fusion, both ethnic and cultural, with the native population and brought about a creative spurt fraught with no little significance for the history of civilization. In the course of the centuries that followed, Sumer reached new heights of political power and economic wealth, and witnessed some of its most significant achievements in the arts and crafts, in monumental architecture, in religious and ethical thought, and in oral myth, epic, and hymn. Above all, the Sumerians, whose language gradually became the prevailing speech of the land, devised a system of writing, developed it into an effective tool of communication, and took the first steps toward the introduction of formal education.

The first ruler of Sumer whose deeds are recorded, if only in the briefest kind of statement, is a king by the name of Etana of Kish, who may have come to the throne quite early in the third millennium B.C. In the King List he is described as “he who stabilized all the lands.” On the assumption that this statement, found in a document dated a millennium or so later than the reign of Etana, embodies a trustworthy tradition, it may be inferred that he held sway not only over Sumer, but over some of the neighboring lands as well-in short, that he may have been man’s first known empire-builder.

That Etana was a notable and out-standing figure in the early history of Sumer is shown by the purely legendary note in the very same King List that he was “a man who ascended to heaven” and by a Semitic Akkadian poem current early in the second millennium B.C. that centers about this same mythical motif. According to this legend, for which a Sumerian prototype may well turn up some future day, Etana was a pious, god-fearing king who had practiced the divine cult faithfully and assiduously, but was cursed with childlessness and thus had no one to carryon his name. His fervent desire, there-fore, was to obtain “the plant of birth,” which, however, was located in heaven far from mortal reach. In order to get to heaven, Etana procured the aid of an eagle whom he had rescued from a pit where it had been cast by a serpent whose friendship it had betrayed and whose young it had devoured. This legend was quite popular among the seal-cutters, to judge from a number of seals depicting a mortal climbing heavenward on the wings of an eagle.

To be sure, Etana did not stay put in heaven, for according to a recently translated funeral dirge on a tablet in the Pushkin Museum as well as to the long-known seventh tablet of the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, we find Etana residing in the nether world whither all mortals, no matter how great their achievements-except, of course, the Flood-hero Ziusudra-must finally descend. But all these legendary traditions only help to demonstrate that Etana had been a powerful and impressive figure whose life and deeds had caught the imagination of the ancient bards and poets. Etana, according to the King List, is followed by seven rulers, several of whom, to judge from their names, were Semites rather than Sumerians. The eighth was the king Enmebaraggesi, about whom we do have some historical, or at least saga-like, information from both the King List and other late Sumerian literary works.

Moreover, only very recently, a precious three-word con-temporary inscription was discovered on a small fragment of an alabaster vase by a young Sumerologist working in Baghdad, which proves beyond doubt that he was not at all a mythical king, but one of real flesh and blood.9 By the time Enmebaraggesi came to the throne of Kish, another Sumerian city-state, far to the south of Kish, had come to the fore and was challenging Kish’s supremacy; for not long after the reign of Etana, it would seem that a king by the name of Meskiaggasher, described in the King List as “the son of Utu (the Sumerian sun-god) ,” founded an ambitious and powerful dynasty in the city of Erech, which in his days was still known by the older name Eanna, “House of An (the heaven-god).”

To judge from a rather ambiguous and obscure note attached to his name in the King List, which reads, “He entered the seas (and) ascended the mountains,” he may have tried to extend his sway over the lands all around Sumer and far beyond. Be that as it may, his son Enmerkar, who, according to the King List, followed him on the throne, but who in the epic poems is given the epithet “son of Utu” -the same as that given to his father in the King List-was certainly one of the outstanding figures of early Sumer. According to the King List, he built the city of Erech; and according to the epic tales, he led a campaign against Aratta, somewhere in the neighborhood of the Caspian Sea, and subjugated it to Erech. One of Enmerkar’s heroic heralds and companions-in-arms in his struggle with Aratta was Lugalbanda, who succeeded Enmer-kar to the throne of Erech. Since he is the major protagonist of at least two epic tales, he too must have been a venerable and impressive ruler; and it is not surprising to find that by 2400 B.C., and perhaps even earlier, he had been deified by the Sumerian theologians and given a place in the Sumerian pantheon.

Unfortunately, neither the King List nor the epic tales give any in-formation about his political and military achievements, except that he accompanied Enmerkar on his Aratta campaign. Lugalbanda, according to the King List, is followed by Dumuzi, a ruler who became the major figure in a Sumerian “holy-marriage rite” and “dying-god” myth which left a deep impression on the ancient world.

In fact, the women of Jerusalem, to the horror of the prophet Ezekiel, were still lamenting his death in the sixth century B.C. (Ezekiel 8:14). One of the months of the Jewish calendar bears his name to this day, and the fasting and lamentation which mark its seventeenth day no doubt hark back to the Sumerian days of the distant past. Just why Dumuzi was singled out by the later Sumerian theologians as the protagonist of this particular rite and myth is stilI unknown. It must have been due at least in large part to the deep impression Dumuzi made during his lifetime both as man and ruler, but as yet there is no historical data whatever to corroborate this view.

Dumuzi is followed, according to the King List, by Gilgamesh, a ruler whose deeds won him such wide renown that he became the supreme hero of Sumerian myth and legend. Poems extolling Gilgamesh and his deeds were written and rewritten throughout the centuries, not only in Sumerian, but in most of the other more important languages of western Asia. Gilgamesh became the hero par excellence of the ancient world-an adventurous, brave, but tragic figure symbolizing man’s vain but endless drive for fame, glory, and immortality-to such an extent that he has sometimes been taken by modem scholars to be a legendary figure rather than a real man and ruler.

We still have no contemporary records of him, although there is some hope that the excavations now being conducted in Erech may uncover some sooner or later. In 1955, however, there came to light the initial ten lines of a long-known Tummal inscription which put an entirely new light on Gilgamesh and his times. In fact, this passage, brief as it is, helps to clarify the political situation in those early days of Sumerian history in so significant and unexpected a fashion that it is advisable to go into the matter in some detail.

According to the King List, the first three Sumerian dynasties after the Flood were those of Kish, Erech, and Ur, in that order. But from Sumerian epic and hymnal lore it had been known for some time that the last two kings of the Kish dynasty, Enmebaraggesi (of whom, as was noted earlier, we now have a contemporary inscription) and his son Agga, were contemporaries of Gilgamesh, the fifth ruler of Erech, with whom they carried on a bitter struggle for supremacy over Sumer.10 It was therefore generally accepted among cuneiformists that the First Dynasty of Kish and the First Dynasty of Erech overlapped to a large extent. As for the First Dynasty of Ur, from which we now have several con-temporary inscriptions, its founder, Mesannepadda, was taken by practically all scholars to have lived considerably later than Gilgamesh of Erech, the suggested span of time between these two rulers varying from as little as forty to as many as four hundred years. It therefore came somewhat as a shock to realize, as a result of the new evidence based on a hitherto unknown passage of no more than ten lines, that Mesannepadda was actually an older contemporary of Gilgamesh-that even Mesannepadda’s son, Meskiagnunna, was a contemporary of Gilgamesh-and that it was Mesannepadda of Ur who brought the First Dynasty of Kish to an end, not Gilgamesh or for that matter any other ruler of the First Dynasty of Erech, in spite of the statement in the King List reading, “Kish was smitten with weapons; its kingship was carried to Eanna.”

The document on which this new evidence is based is the thirty-four-line historiographic text mentioned earlier, known as the Tummal Inscription, Tummal being the name of a district in Nippur consecrated to the goddess Ninlil, which no doubt contained her most important shrine. Except for the first ten lines, the Tummal text has been known almost in its entirety since 1914, when Arno Poebel published two tablets inscribed with the com-position in his book Historical TextsY Beginning with line 11, this text runs as follows:

  1. For a second time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  2. Gilgamesh built the Numunburra of the House of Enlil.
  3. Ur-Iugal, the son of Gilgamesh,
  4. Made the Tummal pre-eminent,
  5. Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.
  6. For the third time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  7. Nanna built the “Lofty Park” of the House of Enlil.
  8. Meskiag-Nanna, the son of Nanna,
  9. Made the Tummal pre-eminent,
  10. Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.
  11. For the fourth time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  12. Ur-Nammu built the Ekur.
  13. Shulgi, the son of Ur-Nammu,
  14. Made the Tummal pre-eminent,
  15. Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.
  16. For the fifth time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  17. From the year of Amar-Sin
  18. Until (the year when) Ibbi-Sin, the king,
  19. Enamgalanna as the en of Inanna of Erech
  20. Selected,
  21. Ninlil was brought to the Tummal.
  22. According to the word of Lu-Inanna, the ashgab-gal of Enlil,
  23. Ishbi-Erra built the Ekurraigigalla,
  24. The storehouse of Enlil.

From this text, even with the initial passage missing, it was clear that its author, who lived in the time of Ishbi-Erra, the founder of the First Dynasty of Isin, intended to give a brief historical resume of the various buildings in the Enlil temple-complex at Nippur and in particular of the restorations of Ninlil’s Tummal. Moreover, the rather striking stylistic pattern utilized by the author made it possible to deduce the general character of the contents of the missing five lines immediately preceding, though not the names of the individuals involved. Thus, since the avail-able text began with the five-line passage:

For a second time, the Tummal fell into ruin, Gilgamesh built the Numunburra of the House of Enlil. Ur-Iugal, the son of Gilgamesh, Made the Tummal pre-eminent, Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.

it seemed reasonable to conclude that the preceding five-line pas-sage had read:

For the first time, the Tummal fell into ruin, X built the Y -building of the House of Enlil.

Z, the son of X, Made the Tummal pre-eminent, Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.

As for the passage at the very beginning of the document, there was no way of inferring its contents, though it seemed only common sense to guess that this should have stated who it was that built the House of Enlil and the Tummal in the first place. Fortunately, there is now no longer any need for guesses, inferences, or restorations; the entire missing ten-line passage is found on two tablets in the Hilprecht Collection of the Friedrich-Schiller University, which I first studied in the course of a ten-week stay in Jena in the autumn of 1955 and which Inez Bernhardt, the assistant curator of the Hilprecht Collection, has copied for a volume of literary texts which appeared in 1961. Both are fragmentary, but fortunately they supplement each other in such a way that not a single sign is missing from the initial ten-line passage of the document. Here is what these lines say:

  1. Enmebaraggesi, the king,
  2. In this very city (that is, Nippur) built the House of Enlil.
  3. Agga, the son of Enmebaraggesi,
  4. Made the Tummal pre-eminent,
  5. Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.
  6. For the first time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  7. Mesannepadda built the Burshushua of the House of Enlil.
  8. Meskiagnunna, the son of Mesannepadda,
  9. Made the Tummal pre-eminent,
  10. Brought Ninlil to the Tummal.

The text then goes on:

  1. For the second time, the Tummal fell into ruin,
  2. Gilgamesh, etc.

Here, then, unless we are to assume that the Tummal document is historically untrustworthy, is proof positive that Mesannepadda and even his son Meskiagnunna preceded Gilgamesh in the control of the city of Nippur. Since, however, they followed Agga, who was himself a contemporary of Gilgamesh, according to the Gilgamesh-Agga synchronism mentioned above, it is obvious that they, too, were contemporaries of Gilgamesh.

The historical events stated and implied in the newly recovered Tummal passage should therefore probably be reconstructed as follows. In the struggle for power over Sumer as a whole, Mesannepadda, the founder of the First Dynasty of Ur, wrested the control of Nippur from Agga, the last ruler of the First Dynasty of Kish. In fact, he probably attacked Kish itself and was directly responsible for Agga’s downfall, which would explain why Mesannepadda was called ”king of Kish” rather than “king of Ur” on his own seal inscription, since the title ”king of Kish” carried time-honored prestige. But Mesannepadda must have been an old man by the time Nippur fell into his hands, and he therefore only had time to build a new building in the Enlil temple-complex, the Bur-shushua.

It was left to his son, Meskiagnunna, to restore the Tummal for Ninlil. But then Meskiagnunna’s control of Nippur was brought to an end by Gilgamesh, who, when a young man, had evidently had his own difficulties with Agga of Kish as well as his father Enmebaraggesi. By this time, however, Gilgamesh must also have been far along in years; in any case, it was not he but his son, Ur-lugal, who restored the Tummal. Since Mesannepadda, the founder of the First Dynasty of Ur, was an older contcmporary of Gilgamesh, who probably reigned some time about 2600 B.c.-he had already been deified by about 2500 B.c.-the date of his reign is about a century or so earlier than scholars had usually assigned it on the available, but far from conclusive, epigraphic evidence. This raises, however, another chronological problem which cannot be resolved for the present, but should at least be borne in mind. In the course of excavating the renowned Royal Cemetery at Ur, there was uncovered a white shell cylinder seal inscribed with the words “Meskalamdug, king” and another cylinder seal inscribed with the words “Akalamdug, king of Ur.” Neither of these rulers are mentioned in the King List, and so there is no way of knowing whether they preceded or followed Mesannepadda.

The excavator, Sir Leonard Woolley, claims that since several seal impressions bearing the name of Mesannepadda were recovered from a mass of rubbish spread over the part of the Royal Cemetery in which the Meskalamdug and Akalamdug seals were found, these two kings must be earlier in date than Mesannepadda.

This may turn out to be so; but there is considerable room for error when it comes to interpreting archeological and stratigraphic evidence, and the possibility that Mesannepadda preceded the other two rulers is not to be excluded. The bitter three-cornered struggle for supremacy by the rulers of Kish, Erech, and Ur must have seriously weakened Sumer and impaired its military might. In any case, immediately following the First Dynasty of Ur, according to the King List, the kingship of Sumer was carried off to foreign parts, to the kingdom of Awan, an Elamitic city-state not far removed from Susa. Just how and when Sumer recovered from this blow is quite uncertain. The King List records that “A wan was smitten by weapons” and that its kingship “was carried off to Kish.”

But no inscriptions from the rulers of this dynasty, the Second Dynasty of Kish, have been recovered to date; and this, together with the fact that the Second Dynasty of Kish was followed by another Elamitic dynasty, that of the kingdom of Hamazi, would seem to indicate that the Su-merians had not yet recovered their former might. The dynasty of Hamazi, according to the King List, was followed by a Second Dynasty of Erech, for which no inscriptional material has as yet been discovered. It is following this dynasty that we come upon a ruler who may well have been the savior of Sumer. His name is Lugalannemundu, a king of Adah, to whom the King List at tributes the incredibly long reign of ninety years. He has left behind him a document that indicates that he was a great conqueror and military leader who was in control of the entire Fertile Crescent, from the Mediterranean to the Zagros Mountains.

To be sure, this inscription has come down to us only in the form of a copy dating from nearly a millennium later than the events that it records. But its contents are carefully, minutely, and convincingly detailed, and ring quite genuine and trustworthy. Lugalannemundu, according to this document, is “king of the four quarters (of the universe) ,” a ruler “who made all the foreign lands pay steady tribute to him, who brought peace to (literally, ‘made lie in the pastures’) the peoples of all the lands, who built the temples of all the great gods, who restored Sumer (to its former glory), who exercised kingship over the entire world.” The text then proceeds to name thirteen ensi’s, together with the city-states over which they wielded power, who banded together in rebellion against him and whom he defeated.

It is not uninteresting to note that most of these ensi’s, even those ruling Elamite kingdoms, have Semitic names. Lugalannemundu next seized Gutium, whose people are known from later inscriptions to have been Sumer’s most dreaded enemy, and a number of other lands-but unfortunately the text is very fragmentary at this point.

The main part of the document is devoted to the building in Adab of a temple named Enamzu, dedicated to the chief deity of the city, the mother-goddess Nintu; the temple was particularly noteworthy for its seven gates and seven doors, each of which had a speCial name, such as “Lofty Gate,” “Great Gate,” “Gate of (divine) Decrees,” “Lofty Door,” “Door of Refreshing Shade,” and so on. When the temple was completed, our document con-tinues, Lugalannemundu dedicated it to the goddess with sacrifices of “seven times seven” fatted oxen and fatted sheep, and the viziers, or sukkalmah’s, of “Cedar Mountain” land, Elam, Marhashi, Gutium, Subir, Martu, Sutium, and Eanna (the old name for the kingdom of Erech) came with sacrifices to the Adab temple in order to participate in the celebration. This rather extraordinary dedicatory inscription then closes with the exhortation that the goddess Nintu should grant long life to the ensi’s of these seven lands if they continue to bring offerings and sacrifices to the Enamzu of Adab.

Lugalannemundu, it is clear from this inscription, was therefore one of the more powerful and dynamic rulers of Sumer; to judge from the list and location of lands he controlled-“Cedar Mountain” Land, Elam, Marhashi, and Gutium in the east, Subir in the north, Martu in the west, and Sutium and Eanna in the center and south-he might well call himself a ruler of the “four quarters” of the universe. As for the date of his rule, it may go back to the twenty-sixth century B.C., that is, at least a half century or so before the rulers of Sumer whose dates can be closely calculated by dead reckoning with the help of the Lagash documents, for these rulers follow each other in close succession and leave no room for so powerful and dominant a figure as Lugalannemundu. Starting with about 2500 and ending with about 2350 B.C., we have a whole series of dedicatory inscriptions which enable us to reconstruct a more or less continuous and unbroken history of Sumer-at least as far as the major figures and events are concerned.

These derive primarily from Lagash, a city-state in the southeastern part of Sumer, which, for some as yet unknown rea-son, is not mentioned in the King List, but which played a very important role in the political history of Sumer between about 2450 and 2300 B.C. To be sure, Lagash was only one of the kingdoms that constituted the land of Sumer throughout this stretch of one hundred and fifty years; there were more than half a dozen others existing alongSide each other, for example, Mari, Adab, Erech, Ur, Kish, and Akshak. But unfortunately, we know little of what actually transpired in them, since practically nothing but the names of the rulers have come down to us; only rarely is a document found that records a Significant political and military event. From Lagash, on the other hand, we have several hundred dedicatory inscriptions, and while the great majority are laconic and repetitive, there are several that are of outstanding value for the history of this period.

This means, of course, that we see the events through Lagashite eyes; but to judge from those cases which can be verified from other sources, the Lagashite historians seem to have respected the truth and recorded the facts as they actually took place, although the pious and religious character of the historical style they developed is sometimes obscure and con-fusing.

It is, then, primarily from these Lagash inscriptions that the course of historical events about to be sketched can be reconstructed. Not much later than about 2500 B.C., there came on the Sumerian scene a ruler named Mesilim, who took the title King of Kish and seemed to be in control of the entire land-his inscribed macehead was found in Lagash; several of his inscribed objects were found in Adab; and most important of all, he was the responsible arbitrator in a bitter boundary dispute between the kingdoms of Lagash and Umma. A generation or so following Mesilim’s reign, 2450 B.C. or thereabouts, a man named Ur-N anshe established himself as king of Lagash and founded a dynasty which was to endure for five generations.

We do not know where Ur-Nanshe came from or how he rose to power-there is even a bare possibility that he was originally not a Sumerian but a Semite from a land known as Tidnum, to the west of Sumer. Be that as it may, he has left behind him some fifty inscriptions on tablets, plaques, door sockets, bricks, and nails, which record primarily the building of temples, digging of canals, and fashion-ing of divine statues. IS One of the sentences occurring repeatedly in these inscriptions, however, carries political and economic implications of a rather startling character, although it is to be noted that the translation here offered is not yet fully assured.

The statement reads, “The ships of Dilmun brought him (Ur-Nanshe) wood as a tribute from foreign lands,” which implies that Ur-Nanshe was powerful enough to control a number of foreign lands beyond the Persian GulfY To date, however, there is no other evidence to verify so far-reaching a claim, and it may be advisable to let the matter rest as uncertain for the present. One of Ur-Nanshe’s sons, Akurgal, succeeded him on the throne of Lagash. Early in his reign he apparently ran into difficulties with the Ummaites, and his rule was of short duration. He was succeeded by his son Eannatum, whose military conquests made him the most powerful figure of his day, so much so that he dared assume, at least for a few brief years, the title King of Kish, which carried with it the claim to supremacy over all Sumer.

He began his reign peacefully enough with the building and rebuilding of those parts of his kingdom which must have been destroyed by the Ummaites in the days of Akurgal. But he latei embarked on a series of victorious military enterprises conducted against Elam to the east, Umma to the north, Erech and Ur to the west, not to mention several cities whose location is still unknown. The immediate causes for these wars are unknown, except in the case of Umma. For an account of this struggle we have the rather de-tailed document prepared by one of the archivists of Eannatum’s nephew Entemena, and from it we may reconstruct the back-ground and drama of the conHict between Lagash and Umma and Eannatum’s temporarily successful role in it as follows.

In the days when Mesilim was king of Kish and at least the nominal suzerain of Sumer, a border dispute arose between the cities of Lagash and Umma, both of which evidently acknowledged Mesilim as their overlord. The latter proceeded to arbitrate the controversy by measuring off a boundary line between the two cities in accordance with what was given out to be an oracle of Sataran, a deity in charge of settling complaints. Moreover, he erected an inscribed stele to mark the spot and prevent future disputes. However, the decision, which was presumably accepted by both parties, seemed to favor Lagash over Umma. In any case, not long afterward Ush, an ensi of Umma, violated the terms of the decision-the time is not stated, but there are indications that this violation took place not long before Ur-Nanshe founded his dy-nasty at Lagash. Ush ripped out Mesilim’s stele to indicate that he was not bound by its terms and then crossed the border and seized the northernmost territory belonging to Lagash, known as the Guedinna.

This land remained in the hands of the Ummaites until the days of Eannatum, the grandson of Ur-Nanshe, who attacked and defeated the Ummaites and made a new border treaty with Enakalle (then the ensi of Umma). He dug a ditch in line with the new boundary which would help ensure the fertility of the Guedinna, erected there for purposes of future record the old Mesilim stele, as well as several steles of his own, and constructed a number of buildings and shrines to several of the more important Sumerian deities. Moreover, to help minimize the possible source of future conflict between Umma and Lagash, he set aside a strip of fallow land on the U mma side of the boundary ditch as a kind of no-man’s land. Finally, Eannatum, probably in an effort to alleviate the feelings of the Ummaites to some extent, since he was eager to expand his conquests in other directions, agreed to let them farm the fields lying in the Guedinna and even further south. But, he granted this only under the condition that they pay the Lagash rulers a share of the crops for the use of the land, thus assuring himself and his successors a considerable revenue.

Eannatum followed up his victories over Elam and the more southerly cities of Sumer, such as Umma, Erech, and Ur, with military triumphs over northern Sumer, which was under the control of the city of Kish and the neighboring Akshak. Kish, to be sure, seemed to have been weakened by a defeat at the hands of Enshakushanna, who described himself as “en of Sumer” and “king of the ‘Land”’; and it was Zuzu, the king of Akshak, who led an invasion of the northern forces into Lagash. Eannatum routed the invading forces and pursued them “from the Anta-surra” (the northern boundary of Lagash) to Akshak itself, in-flicting heavy losses on them.

Eannatum was now at the acme of his power; he even felt powerful enough to take the title “King of Kish” with its implied claim of suzerainty over Sumer as a whole; or as the ancient author puts it, “To Eannatum, the ensi of Lagash … Inanna (the tutelary deity of Kish), because she loved him, gave the kingship of Kish in addition to the ensi-ship of Lagash.” It was at this time, too, that he must have erected and dedicated the Stele of the Vultures commemorating his well-earned victories. It appears that a brief period of peace now followed for Sumer, and we find Eannatum taking time out to dig a new canal, which he named exultantly Lummagimdug, “Good (?)-like-Lumma,” Lumma being Eannatum’s Tidnum name, that is, presumably the name given him by the Semitic Martu people to the west of Sumer where Tidnum is known to have been located.

But before the canal was finished, before in fact he had time to line its walls with bricks, Eannatum was again at war. This time it was he who was on the defensive, just barely succeeding in holding his enemies at bay and staving off defeat. First the Elamites attacked him from the east, and though he threw them back to their homeland, he was unable to follow up his success and invade Elam itself. For by this time his old enemies from the north, Kish and Akshak, had invaded Lagash.

No sooner did he drive them back from Lagash territory than the Elamites returned with new allies, to be followed once again by the troops of Kish and Akshak, supported this time by a new enemy, the kingdom of Mari, far to the west. In pitched battles fought at the Asuhur, Lagash’s eastern boundary, and the Antasurra, its northern bound-ary, Eannatum won a decisive victory over his enemies. Once again there was a brief respite from wars, and Eannatum was in a position to renew his building activities, reinforcing the walls of the canal Lummagimdug and constructing a huge reservoir for its waters. But in spite of his victories and his proud epithet “Prostrater of all the Lands for Ningirsu,” Eannatum seems to have come to an unfortunate end, for his successor was not one of his sons but his brother Enannatum.

This points to the probability that he did not die a natural death but fell in a battle that must have been catastrophic for Lagash, a battle from which it never fully recovered. Enannatum, upon succeeding his brother to the rule of Lagash, soon found himself in serious difficulties with the Ummaites, for despite their defeat at the hands of Eannatum, it took them less than a generation to recover their confidence, if not their former strength. In any case, Ur-Lumma, the son of the unfortunate Enakalle, repudiated the bitterly rankling agreement with Lagash and refused to pay Enannatum the revenue imposed upon Umma. Moreover, he proceeded to drain the boundary ditches, rip out and put to fire both Mesilim’s and Eannatum’s steles with their irritating inscriptions, and destroy the buildings and shrines which Eannatum had constructed along the boundary ditch to warn the Ummaites that they must not trespass on Lagash territory.

He was now set to cross the border and enter the Guedinna. To further assure himself of victory, he sought and obtained the military aid of the “foreigners” to the north of Sumer. The two forces met in the Gana-ugigga of the Guedinna, not far south of the border. The Ummaites and their allies were under the command of Ur-Lumma himself, while the Lagashites were led by Entemena, since his father Enannatum must have been quite an old man at the time. The Lagashites were victorious; Ur-Lumma fled, hotly pursued by Entemena, and many of his troops were waylaid and killed. But Entemena’s victory proved to be ephemeral. Upon Ur-Lumma’s defeat and probable death, a new enemy appeared on the scene: n, the temple head of a city named Hallab, situated not far from Umma to the north. n had evidently been shrewd enough to wait it out while Entemena and Ur-Lumma were struggling for a decision.

But as soon as the battle was over, he attacked the victorious Entemena, met with initial success, and penetrated deep into Lagash territory. To be sure, he was unable to hold on to his gains south of the Umma-Lagash border; but he did succeed in making himself ensi of Umma. n now proceeded to show his contempt for the Lagash claims in almost the same manner as his predecessor, Ush. He deprived the boundary ditches of the water so essential to the irrigation of the nearby fields and farms and refused to pay all but a fraction of the revenue imposed upon Umma by the old Eannatum treaty.

And when Entemena sent envoys to him demanding an explanation for his unfriendly acts, he answered by arrogantly claiming the entire Guedinna as his territory and domain. The issue between nand Entemena, however, was not decided by war. Instead, a compromise seems to have been forced upon them by a third party, probably once again the northern non-Sumerian ruler who claimed lordship over Sumer as a whole. By and large, the decision seems to have favored Lagash, since the old Mesilim-Eannatum line was retained as the fixed boundary between Umma and Lagash. On the other hand, nothing was said about compensation by the Ummaites for the revenue they had withheld; nor do they seem to have been held responsible any longer for ensuring the water supply of the Guedinna-this task was now left to the Lagashites themselves.

Entemena was the last of the great ensi’s of the Ur-Nanshe dynasty; his son Enannatum II reigned only briefly and achieved but little, to judge from the fact that only one of his inscriptions has been recovered to date-a door socket dedicated to the res-toration of Ningirsu’s beer brewery. He was followed as ensi of Lagash by Enetarzi, who was probably a usurper; from the days of his rule we have a large number of administrative documents but no dedicatory inscriptions. However, a letter has been re-covered that is addressed to Enetarzi by Luenna, the sanga (tem-ple head) of Ninmar, reporting the defeat of a band of six hun-dred Elamites who had raided and plundered Lagash.

Enetarzi is followed as ensi of Lagash by Lugalanda, who, like his predecessor, has left us only administrative documents and no dedicatory inscriptions; we therefore know practically nothing about his reign. Lugalanda is followed in turn by Urukagina who has become renowned not for his military exploits-in fact, he may have been man’s first pacifist-but for his social and ethical reforms, the earliest in the recorded history of man. Unfortunately, his reign was brief and came to a sad end when Lugalzaggesi, an ambitious and military-minded ensi from neighboring Umma, burned, looted, and destroyed practically all the holy places of Lagash. These vicious deeds of Lugalzaggesi are carefully re-corded in a rather remarkable document written by a Lagashite scribe and theologian no doubt at the behest of Urukagina, who-there is reason to believe-survived the catastrophe. The closing passage of this document reveals a faith in the justice of the gods on the part of Urukagina which, although quite touching, may well have brought about his undoing; it reads: “Because the Ummaite destroyed the bricks (?) of Lagash, he committed a sin against the god Ningirsu; he (Ningirsu) will cut off the hands lifted (?) against him.

It is not the sin of Urukagina, the king of Girsu. May Nidaba the (personal) goddess of Lugalzaggesi, the ensi of U mma, make him (Lugalzaggesi) bear all (these) sins.” All of which leaves the impression that Urukagina had in fact offered no resistance to his aggreSSive fellow Sumerians from Umma, so confident was he in the justice of the gods and the retribution they would wreak on the evildoer-although just what good that would do the victim is not clear. In any case, Lugalzaggesi’s career, which began with the conquest of Lagash and was for a time crowned with phenomenal success, came to an ignominious end. Lugalzaggesi has left us one important inscription, the text of which was pieced together by Hermann Hilprecht more than half a century ago from hundreds of vase fragments. In it Lugalzaggesi describes himself proudly as “king of Erech (and) king of the Land,” as one who had made all the foreign lands subservient to him, so that there was nothing but peace, happiness, and prosperity throughout his realm, which extended “from the Lower Sea along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the Upper Sea.”

But, as was said earlier, all this did not long endure; after some two decades of military successes and triumphs, he was brought in a neck stock to the gate of Nippur to be reviled and spat upon by all who passed by. His conqueror was a Semite named Sargon, the founder of the powerful Dynasty of Akkad, which began, consciously or not, the Semitization of Sumer that finally brought about the end of the Sumerian people, at least as an identifiable political and ethnic entity. Sargon the Great, as he has come to be known to the modern historian, was one of the most remarkable political figures of the ancient Near East-a military leader of genius as well as an imaginative administrator and builder with a sense of the historic Significance of his deeds and achievements. His influence made itself felt in one way or another all over the ancient world from Egypt to India.

In later centuries Sargon became a legendary figure around whom the poets and bards wove sagas and wonder tales-which were in general, however, based on a kernel of truth. Fortunately, in the case of Sargon we have no need to go to these later chronicles and tales for our historical facts, since we have his own inscriptions recording his more important military conquests and achievements; for Sargon, as well as his two sons, Rimush and Manishtushu, who succeeded him, commemorated their victories by erecting in Enlil’s temple at Nippur inscribed statues of themselves and also steles depicting themselves and their prostrated enemies. To be sure, except for an occasional diorite fragment of an original, none of these statues and steles has been recovered to date; even the new Nippur excavations have proved disappointing in this respect, and it may be, of course, that they were destroyed in ancient days. But luckily for the modern histOrian, several centuries after they had been dedicated in the Enlil temple, an anonymous scholar and researcher copied all the inscriptions on the statues and steles with the care and fidelity that would do honor to any modem archeologist and epigrapher, even noting whether the copied inscriptions came from the statue itseH or from the pedestal with such phrases as ” (this is) the inscription on the statue,” or “( this is) the inscrip-tion on the pedestal,” or “the pedestal is uninscribed.”

Just why he prepared these copies is altogether unknown; perhaps the temple and its monuments were in danger of being destroyed, and his purpose was to save them for posterity. If so, he succeeded almost better than he could possibly have anticipated; for his precious tablet was recovered almost in its entirety by the old Nippur expedition, and its contents have been made available to posterity by the two scholars Arno Poebel and Leon Legrain.

Sargon, though a Semite, began his career as a high official-the cupbearer, in fact-to a Sumerian king of Kish named Ur-Zababa. It was this ruler whom the ambitious Lugalzaggesi must have de-throned and perhaps killed when he embarked on his path of conquest following his destruction of Lagash. Sargon’s first goal was to eliminate Lugalzaggesi from the political scene. To this end he made a surprise attack against Lugalzaggesfs capital, Erech, “smote it,” and destroyed its walls. The Erech defenders seem to have fled the city, and after getting strong reinforcements -fifty ensts from the provinces came to their help, according to the inSCription-took their stand against the pursuing Sargon. In a pitched battle, the latter routed the Erech forces. It was only then, it seems, that Lugalzaggesi, who must have been away from Erech on a distant campaign, came upon the scene with his army.

This time, too, Sargon was victor, so overwhelmingly that he could bring Lugalzaggesi in chains, or rather in a neck stock, to the gates of Nippur.

Following Lugalzaggesfs capture, Sargon returned to the more southerly part of Sumer where Lugalzaggesfs ensi’s still had hopes of checking his progress. He first attacked Ur in the extreme southwest, then the region of Eninmar, which stretched from the city of Lagash to the shores of the Persian GuH, where he washed his weapons, no doubt in a ritual ceremony commemorating his victories. On his way back from the sea, he attacked Umma, a Lugalzaggesi stronghold, and destroyed its walls, thus completing his conquest of southern Sumer. He now turned west and north and subjugated the lands Mari, Jarmuti, and Ibla up to the “Cedar Forest” and the “Silver Mountain,” that is, the Amanus and the Taurus ranges. We next find him campaigning east of Sumer, attacking Elam and neighboring Barahshi, and carrying off their possessions.

This brings us to the end of the Nippur copies of the inscriptions on Sargon’s statues and steles, which, however, cover only a part of his reign. To judge from the much later legends and chronicles, Sargon’s conquests continued to range far and wide; he may even have sent his armies to Egypt, Ethiopia, and India. To control so vast an empire, he stationed military garrisons at various key outposts. In Sumer itself, where rebellion was chronic, he ap-pointed fellow Semites to the higher administrative posts and garrisoned the cities with all Akkadian troops. For himself and his huge court of officials and soldiers-he boasts that “5400 men ate bread daily before him” -he built the city of Agade, not far from Kish, the city where he had begun his phenomenal career as cupbearer of the reigning Ur-Zababa. In a brief span of time Agade became the most prosperous and resplendent of the cities of the ancient world; to it gifts and tributes were brought from the four corners of Sargon’s realm, and at its quays ships docked from far-off Dilmun, Magan, and Meluhha (that is, perhaps, India, Egypt, and Ethiopia). Most of Agade’s citizens were no doubt Semites related to Sargon by ties of blood and language, and it is from the name Agade, or rather from its Biblical counter-part, Akkad (Genesis 10:10), that the word Akkadian has come to designate today the Mesopotamian Semites in general.

Sargon was followed by his son Rimush, who found his empire torn by revolts and rebellions. In bitter battles involving tens of thousands of troops, he conquered, or rather reconquered, the cities of Ur, Umma, Adab, Lagash, Der, and Kazallu, as well as the countries of Elam and Barahshi. He reigned, however, only nine years, and was followed by his “elder brother” -perhaps his twin-Manishtushu, who continued in the same military and po-litical pattern. Moreover, like his father Sargon, he carried his victorious armies to far-distant lands, or at least so it might seem from a passage in one of his inscriptions which reads: “When he (Manishtushu) had crossed the Lower Sea (that is, the Persian Gulf) in ships, thirty-two kings gathered against him, but he defeated them and smote their cities and prostrated their lords and destroyed [the whole (?) countryside (?)] as far as the silver mines.”

Manishtushu reigned fifteen years and was followed by his son Naram-Sin who raised Agade to new heights of power and glory, only to see it come to a bitter and tragic end. His military suc-cesses were numerous and prodigious: he defeated a powerful coalition of rebellious kings from Sumer and the surrounding lands; he conquered the region to the west as far as the Medi-terranean Sea and the Taurus and Amanus ranges; he extended his dominion into Armenia and erected his statue of victory near modern Dierbakir; he fought the Lullubi in the northern Zagros ranges and commemorated his victory with a magnificent stele; he turned Elam into a partially Semitized vassal-state and con-structed numerous buildings in Susa; he brought booty from Magan after defeating its king Manium, whom some scholars have identified with the renowned Menes of Egypt.

No wonder that he felt himself powerful enough to add the epithet “king of the four quarters” to his titulary and that he was presumptuous enough to have himself deified as “the god of Agade.” But then came the fatal calamity which crushed Naram-Sin and the city of Agade and threatened to engulf all of Sumer-the demoralizing and destructive invasion of the Gutians, a ruthless barbaric horde from the mountains to the east. This we learn primarily from a historiographic poem which may be entitled “The Curse of Agade: The Ekur Avenged.” It was composed by a Sumerian poet living several centuries after the Gutian catastro-phe when Agade had long been abandoned to ruin and desolation. The document is memorable not only for its vivid description of Agade before and after its faU but as one of the earliest recorded attempts to interpret a historical event in the framework of a currently held world view. In searching for the causes behind the humiliating and disastrous Gutian invasion, the author comes upon what he thinks is undoubtedly the true answer and informs us of an outrage committed by Naram-Sin, unknown as yet from any other source.

According to our author, Naram-Sin had sacked Nippur and committed all sorts of desecrating and defiling acts against Enlil’s sanctuary, and Enlil had therefore turned to the Gutians and hrought them down from their mountain abode; to de stroy Agade and avenge his beloved temple. Moreover, eight of the more important deities of the Sumerian pantheon, in order to soothe the spirit of their ruler Enlil, laid a curse upon Agade that it should remain forever desolate and uninhabited. And this, added the author at the end of his work, was indeed the case: Agade had remained desolate and uninhabited. Our historiographer begins his work with an introduction con-h’asting the glory and power of Agade that marked its rise and the ruin and desolation that engulfed it after its fall. The first several lines of the composition read: “After, with frowning fore-head, Enlil had put the people of Kish to death like the Bull of Heaven, and like a lofty ox had crushed the house of Erech into dust; after, in due time, Enlil had given to Sargon, the king of Agade, the lordship and kingship from the lands above to the lands below,” then (to paraphrase some of the more intelligible passages) did the city of Agade become prosperous and powerful under the tender and constant guidance of its tutelary deity, lnanna.

Its buildings were filled with gold, silver, copper, tin, and lapis lazuli; its old men and women gave wise counsel; its young children were full of joy; music and song resounded every-where; all the surrounding lands lived in peace and security. Naram-Sin, moreover, made its shrines glorious and raised its walls mountain-high while its gates remained open. To it came the nomadic Martu, the people who “know not grain” from the west, bringing choice oxen and sheep; to it came Meluhhaites, «the people of the black land,” bringing their exotic wares; to it came the Elamite and Subarian from the east and north carrying loads like “load-carrying asses”; to it came all the princes, chief-tains, and sheiks of the plain bringing gifts monthly and on the New Year. But then came the catastrophe; or as the author puts it: “The gates of Agade, how they lay prostrate; …. the holy lnanna leaves untouched their gifts; the Ulmash (lnanna’s temple) is fear-ridden (since) she has gone from the city, left it; like a maid who forsakes her chamber, the holy lnanna has forsaken her Agade shrine; like a warrior with raised weapons she attacked the city in fierce battle, made it tum its breast to the enemy.” And so in a very short time, “in not five days, not ten days,” lordship and kingship departed from Agade; the gods turned against her, and Agade lay desolate; Naram-Sin sulked by himself, dressed in sackcloth; his chariots and boats lay unused and neglected. How did this come to be?

Our author’s version is that Naram-Sin, during the seven years in which his rule was firmly estab-lished, had acted contrary to Enlil’s word: he had permitted his soldiers to attack and ravage the Ekur and its groves; he had demolished the buildings of the Ekur with copper axes and hatchets, so that “the house lay prostrate like a dead youth”-indeed, “all the lands lay prostrate.” Moreover, at the gate called “Gate of No Grain-Cutting,” he cut grain; “the ‘Gate of Peace’ he demolished with a pickax”; he desecrated the holy vessels and cut down the Ekur’s groves; he ground up its gold, silver, and copper vessels into dust; and he loaded up all the possessions of the destroyed Nippur on boats docked right by Enlil’s sanctuary and carried them off to Agade. But no sooner had he done these things than “counsel left Agade” and “the good sense of Agade turned to folly.” Then “Enlil, the raging flood which has no rival, because of his beloved house which has been attacked, what destruction wrought”; he lifted his eyes to the mountains and brought down the Gutians, “a people which brooks no controls”; “it covered the earth like the locust,” so that none could escape its power. Communication, whether by land or sea, became impossible throughout Sumer. ”

The herald could not proceed on his journey; the sea-rider could not sail his boat …. ; brigands dwelt on the roads; the doors of the gates of the land turned to clay; all the surrounding lands were planning evil in their city walls.” As a result, dire famine came upon Sumer. “The great fields and meadows produced no grain; the fisheries produced no fish; and the watered gardens produced neither honey nor wine.” Because of the famine, prices were inflated to such an extent that one lamb brought only half a sila of oil, or half a sila of grain, or half a mina of wool.

With misery, want, death, and desolation thus threatening to overwhelm practically all “mankind fashioned by Enlil,” eight of the more important deities of the Sumerian pantheon-namely, Sin, Enki, Inanna, Ninurta, Ishkur, Utu, Nusku, and Nidaba-decided that it was high time to soothe Enlil’s rage. In a prayer to Enlil they vowed that Agade, the city which destroyed Nippur,

The surroundings of Nippur today
The surroundings of Nippur today-sand dunes and desolation. (Joint Nippur Expedition of the Oriental Institute and the American Schools for Oriental Research.)

Ziggurat at Eridu, the city of Enki
The ziggurat at Eridu, the city of Enki (partly excavated). The remains of the temple can be seen at the foot of the ziggurat. (Photograph, Iraq Museum. )

Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash
Ur-Nanshe, king of Lagash, with his children and courtiers (limestone
plaque) . In the upper register, he is carrying a dirt-filled basket for building
a temple; in the lower, he is celebrating its completion. (Louvre.)

Head of Ur-Nammu
Head of Ur-Nammu (left), enlarged from a copper
statuette that was among the contents of the foundation
box of Ur-Nammu from the Inanna temple
at Nippur. (Joint Nippur Expedition of the Oriental
Institute and the American Schools for Oriental Research.)

Gudea, ensi of Lagash (diorite).
Gudea, ensi of Lagash (diorite). (University Museum.)

would itself be destroyed like Nippur. And so these eight deities “turn their faces to the city, pronounce (a curse of) destruction upon Agade” :

City, you who dared assault the Ekur, who [defied] Enlil, Agade, you who dared assault the Ekur, who [defied] Enlil, May your groves be heaped up like dust, …. May your clay (bricks) return to their abyss, May they become clay (bricks) cursed by Enki, May your trees return to their forests, May they become trees cursed by Ninildu. Your slaughtered oxen-may you slaughter your wives instead, Your butchered sheep-may you butcher your children instead, Your poor-may they be forced to drown their precious (?) children, …. ,

Agade, may your palace built with joyful heart, be turned into a depressing ruin …. ,

Over the places where your rites and rituals were conducted, May the fox (who haunts) the ruined mounds, glide his tail …. ,

May your canalboat towpaths grow nothing but weeds, May your chariot roads grow nothing but the “wailing plant,” Moreover, on your canalboat towpaths and landings, May no human being walk because of the wild goats, vennin ( ?), snakes, and mountain scorpions,

May your plains where grew the heart-soothing plants, Grow nothing but the “reed of tears,” Agade, instead of your sweet-Howing water, may bitter water How,

Who says “I would dwell in that city” will not find a good dwelling place,

Who says “I would lie down in Agade” will not find a good sleeping place.

And, our historian concludes, that is exactly what happened:

Its canalboat towpaths grew nothing but weeds, Its chariot roads grew nothing but the “wailing plant,” Moreover, on its canalboat towpaths and landings, No human being walks because of the wild goats, vermin (?), snakes, and mountain scorpions,

The plains where grew the heart-soothing plants, grew nothing but the “reed of tears,”

Agade, instead of its sweet-flowing water, there flowed bitter water, Who said “1 would dwell in that city” found not a good dwelling place, Who said “I would lie down in Agade” found not a good sleeping place.

The defeat of Naram-Sin at the hands of the Gutians brought political confusion and anarchy to Sumer, although Naram-Sin’s son, Sharkalisharri, appears to have tried to undo some of the mischief wrought by his father, to judge from several of his dedicatory inscriptions in which he describes himself as “the builder of the Ekur, the house of Enlil.” But if so, he was too late; he saw his dominion reduced to the city of Agade and its immediate environs. He bears only the title ”king of Agade” and no longer dares use his father’s proud epithet ”king of the four quarters.” To be sure, in his date-formulas, he claims victories over the Gutians, Elamites, and Amorites, but these were prob-ably defensive battles fought to stave off the enemy from the gates of Agade. All the indications are that it was the Gutian rulers who were the dominant political element throughout the seven or eight decades following the death of Naram-Sin; they seem to have been in a position to appoint and remove the rulers of the Sumerian cities almost at will. And for one reason or an-other-probably because they found the ensi’s of Lagash pliant and co-operative-the Gutians seemed to favor Lagash, which for almost half a century became the dominant city in southern Sumer, controlling at times Ur, Umma, and perhaps even Erech. In any case, toward the end of the “Gutian period” we find a dynasty of ensi’s in Lagash which carried on the political and religious policies of the great reformer Urukagina, giving “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” in order to better serve the gods.

The founder of this new Lagash dynasty of ensts was Ur-Bau, who has left us several dedicatory inscriptions recording the building of numerous temples in Lagash. He was also in control of Uri at least he was influential enough to have his daughter installed as high priestess of Nanna, Ur’s tutelary deity. Ur-Bau had three sons-in-law, Gudea, Urgar, and Namhani (also written Nammahni), each of whom became ensi of Lagash. Gudea’s rather immobile face and expressionless features have become familiar to the modem student from the numerous statues of him that have been recovered.

Some of these carry long inscriptions recording his religiOUS activities in connection with the building and rebuilding of Lagash’s more important temples. From them we learn that, in spite of Gutian domination, Gudea had trade contacts with practically the entire “civilized” world of those days. He obtained gold from Anatolia and Egypt, silver from the Taurus range, cedars from the Amanus, copper from the Zagros, diorite from Egypt, carnelian from Ethiopia, and timber from Dilmun. Nor did he seem to find any difficulty in obtaining craftsmen from Susa and Elam for the decoration of his temple. Guclea’s two clay-cylinders unearthed at Lagash more than seventy-five years ago are inscribed with the longest known Sumerian literary work, close to fourteen hundred lines of a narrative composition, ritual-istic and hymnal, commemorating his rebuilding of Lagash’s main temple, the Eninnu. Gudea even reports one important military victory-that over the state Anshan, Elam’s neighbor to the south. He also speaks of fashioning a number of cui tic and symbolic weapons such as the sharur and maces with fifty heads. This may indicate considerable military activity on his part, although per-haps only as a vassal of the Gutians. Gudea, like his father-in-law Ur-Bau, also controlled the city of Ur, where three of his inscrip-tions have been unearthed. Gudea was followed by his son, Ur-Ningirsu, and his grandson, U gme, who between them ruled less than a decade. They were succeeded, perhaps, by Urgar, another of Ur-Bau’s sons-in-law, whose rule, however, was ephemeral. There then followed the third of Ur-Bau’s sons-in-law, Namhani, who was probably ensi of Umma as well as of Lagash.

That Namhani co-operated with the Gutians, and might thus be termed a traitor to Sumer, is quite cer-tain, for he dates one of his inscriptions to the days when “Yarla-gan was king of Gutium.” But by this time a savior had arisen in Sumer, Utuhegal of Erech, who succeeded in breaking the Gutian yoke and in bringing back the kingship to Sumer. This is told in a histOriographic type of narrative poem composed either in Utuhegal’s own day or not long thereafter. Beginning with a bitter denunciation of the Gutians, “the snake (and) scorpion of the mountain,” for their vicious attacks on Sumer, it describes vividly Utuhegal’s victorious campaign against the Gutian king Tirigan, who was taken prisoner and brought fettered and blindfolded be-fore Utuhegal to “set his foot upon his neck.” But in spite of his resounding victory, Utuhegal did not long hold power over Sumer; the indications are that after some seven years of rule, the throne was usurped by Ur-Nammu, one of his more ambitious governors, who succeeded in founding the last important Sumerian dynasty, commonly known as the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur-Nammu, who reigned for sixteen years, proved to be a capable military leader, a great builder, and an outstanding administrator; he promulgated the first law code in man’s recorded history.

Ur-Nammu began his reign by attacking and killing Namhani. a son-in-law of Ur-Bau of Lagash, who had evidently been encroaching on Ur’s territory. no doubt with the help of his Gutian overlords. Having made himself master of Ur and Lagash. he then proceeded to establish his authority throughout Sumer; his inscriptions have been found in Erech, Nippur. Adab, and Larsa as well as in Ur. He may even have succeeded in extending his control over some of the lands bordering Sumer, to judge from one of his date-formulae in which he boasts that “he made straight the highways from (the lands) below to (the lands) above.” Ur-Nammu, to judge from the statement that “he had been abandoned in the battlefield like a crushed vessel,” probably died in battle with the Gutians, who, in spite of Utuhegal’s vaunted victory, continued to trouble Sumer throughout the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur. He was succeeded by his son, Shulgi, who ruled forty-eight years and ushered in a period of relative peace and prosperity for Sumer. Shulgi extended his rule over Elam and Anshan to the east and also over the nomadic peoples of the Zagros ranges. He was even in control of Ashur and Irbil in Subarian territory to the far north of Sumer. That he had considerable trouble in pacifying and subjugating the Subarians, however, is shown by a letter which one of his high officials, Aradmu by name, dispatched to him from somewhere in Subir.

Aradmu had been commissioned by Shulgi “to keep in good condition the expedition roads to the land of Subir,” to stabilize the borders of the country, “to make known the ways of the country,” and “to counsel the wise of the assembly against (?) the foul (?) seed (?) ,” the latter term probably being a deroga-tory epithet for some unnamed Subarian leader who refused to submit to Shulgi’s authority. But Aradmu found the situation quite hopeless; the “foul seed” seemed to be rich and powerful, and he so terrified and demoralized Aradmu that the latter could only clamor for help from Shulgi. We also have Shulgi’s answer to this letter in which Shulgi suspects Aradmu of treachery and makes use of both threats and cajolery in an effort to keep Aradmu from joining up with the Subarian rebels.

Shulgi, as has been pointed out recently, may have tried to follow consciously in the footsteps of Naram-Sin, the fourth ruler of the Semitic dynasty of Akkad. Like the latter, he took the title e’king of the four quarters” and had himself deified during his lifetime. His queen was an energetic and active Semitic lady named Abisimti, who survived Shulgi and continued as dowager queen under Shulgi’s three successors, two of whom at least-Shu-Sin and Ibbi-Sin-bore Semitic names. But though Shulgi thus seems to have been Semitically oriented, he was a great lover of Sumerian literature and culture and a prime patron of the Sumerian school, the edubba (see chapter vi). In his hymns he boasts of the learning and erudition that he himself obtained in the edubba in the days of his youth, and he claims to have mas-tered its curriculum and become a skillful scribe.

Shulgi was followed by his son Amar-Sin, who ruled only nine years but succeeded in retaining control over Sumer and its provinces, including far-off Ashur to the north. His brother Shu-Sin, who succeeded him, also ruled nine years. It is in the course of his reign that we hear for the first time of a serious incursion of Sumer by a Semitic people known as the Amorites from the Syrian and Arabian desert. Shu-Sin found it necessary to build a huge fortified wall to keep these barbaric nomads at bay, although with little success. In the early years of the reign of Ibbi-Sin, the fifth and last of the Ur-Nammu dynasty, the Amorites made major inroads, and their attacks together with those of the Elamites to the east compelled Ibbi-Sin to build large walls and fortifications about his capital, Ur, as well as Sumer’s religious center, Nippur.

Ibbi-Sin succeeded in holding on as ruler of Sumer for twenty-four years. But throughout his reign his situation was insecure and even pathetic; much of the time he was confined to the city of U r itself, which often suffered hunger and famine. As a result of the incursions of the Amorites and the attacks of the Elamites, his empire tottered and crumbled, and the governors of all the more important cities of Sumer found it advisable to abandon their king and to fend for themselves. We learn of this piteous state of affairs primarily from Ibbi-Sin’s correspondence with his provincial governors, which provides a graphiC picture of the rather confused and pathetic Ibbi-Sin and of his scheming, am-bitious, and double-dealing functionaries.

The text of three letters belonging to this royal correspondence is now available. The first contains a report sent to Ibbi-Sin by Ishbi-Erra on the results of a grain-buying expedition with which Ibbi-Sin had charged him; the letter sheds considerable light on the incursions of the Amorites into western Sumer as well as on the difficulties the Elamites were making for Ibbi-Sin. Ishbi-Erra begins his report with the statement that he succeeded in buying seventy-two thousand gUT of grain at the normal price of one shekel per gUT; but having heard that the hostile Amorites had entered Sumer and “seized the great fortresses one after the other,” he had brought the grain not to Ur the capital but to Isin. If the king would now send him six hundred boats of one hundred twenty gUT each, he continues, he will deliver the grain to the various cities of Sumer; however, he should be put in charge “of the places where the boats are to be moored.” The letter closes with a plea to Ibbi-Sin not to give in to the Elamites-presumably, they were actually laying siege to Ur and its environs-for he had enough grain to satisfy the hunger of the “palace and its cities” for fifteen years. In any case, he pleads, the king must put him in charge of both Nippur and Isin.

That Ibbi-Sin had great confidence in Ishbi-Erra and actually did entrust Nippur and Isin to him we learn from his letter of reply, which although still unpublished has recently been sum-marized by Thorkild Jacobsen. Unfortunately for Ibbi-Sin, Ishbi- Erra turned out to be as disloyal as he was capable and competent; he was successful not only in defending Isin and Nippur but in usurping his master’s throne as well. This we learn, of course, not from Ishbi-Erra’s correspondence with Ibbi-Sin but from a letter written to the latter by Puzur-Numushda, a governor of the city Kazallu, and Ibbi-Sin’s reply.

According to Puzur-Numushda’s letter, Ishbi-Erra had become firmly established as the ruler of Isin, which he had turned into his royal residence; he had, moreover, subdued Nippur and ex-tended his sway all along the Tigris and Euphrates from Hamazi in the north and east to the Persian Gulf. He had taken prisoner those of Ibbi-Sin’s governors who had remained loyal and re-turned to office those who presumably had been dismissed by Ibbi-Sin because of their disloyalty. Ibbi-Sin’s pathetic impotence and pitiable vacillation are revealed in his answer to Puzur-Numushda. Although he realized full well that the latter was on the point of betraying him-he had actually failed to march to the help of Ibbi-Sin’s loyal governors although a select body of troops had been put at his disposal for that purpose-he could do nothing more than plead with him to stay loyal, with the dubious assurances that somehow Ishbi-Erra, “who is not of Sumerian seed,” would fail in his ambition to become master of Sumer and that the Elamites would be defeated, for “Enlil has stirred up the Amorites out of their land, and they will strike down the Elamites and capture Ishbi-Erra”-the very Amorites, incredibly enough, who had been plaguing Sumer from the days of Shu-Sin, Ibbi-Sin’s predecessor.

With the growth of Ishbi-Erra’s independence and power, Sumer found itself under the rule of two kings-Ibbi-Sin, whose dominion was limited to his capital, Ur, and Ishbi-Erra, who controlled most of the other cities of Sumer from his capital, Isin. In the twenty-fifth year of Ibbi-Sin’s reign, however, the Elamites finally captured Ur and carried off Ibbi-Sin a prisoner, leaving a garrison in control of the city. Several years later Ishbi-Erra attacked this garrison and drove it out of Ur, thus becoming king of all Sumer, with Isin as his capital.

Ishbi-Erra founded a dynasty in Isin which endured for over two centuries, although its later rulers were not his direct de-scendants. Theoretically. !sin laid claim to the suzerainty of all Sumer and Akkad. Actually, however, the land was breaking into a number of city-states under separate rulers, and there was no longer a centralized empire. For close to a century, it is true, Isin remained the most powerful of these states; it controlled Vr, the old imperial capital, and Nippur, which continued as Sumer’s spiritual and intellectual center throughout ‘this period. The fourth ruler of the Isin dynasty, Ishme-Dagan, boasts in the hymns of restoring Nippur to its former glory; prior to his reign, it seems to have suffered a severe attack at the hands of an enemy, perhaps the Assyrians from the north. His son and successor, Lipit-Ishtar, claimed control over the major deities of Sumer and took the proud title “king of Sumer and Akkad.” Early in his reign he promulgated a new Sumerian law code, which was the model of the renowned code of Hammurabi, although the latter is written in the Akkadian, not the Sumerian, tongue.

But in the third year of Lipit-Ishtar’s reign, an ambitious and dynamic ruler named Gungunum came to the throne of Larsa, a city southeast of Isin, and began to build up the political strength of the city with a series of military successes in the region of Elam and Anshan. Only a few years later we find this same Gungunum in control of Vr, the old imperial capital that had meant much for Isin’s prestige and power. To be sure, it was a “friendly” occupation-Vr was threatened by a new invasion of the Amorites -but from then on Isin ceased to be a significant political force, although it held on to some of its former claims for another cen-tury or more. It was finally attacked and seized by Rim-Sin, the last ruler of Larsa, who attached so much importance to this con-quest that he dated all documents throughout the last thirty years of his reign by this event.

But Rim-Sin, himself, was unable to exploit his victory. To the north, in the previously unimportant city of Babylon, an outstand-ing Semitic ruler named Hammurabi came to prominence. After some three decades of a rather troubled rule, he attacked and defeated Rim-Sin of Larsa, as well as the kings of Elam, Mari, and Eshnunna, and thus, about 1750 B.C., became the ruler of a united kingdom reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Habur River. With Hammurabi the history of Sumer comes to an end, and the history of Babylonia, a Semitic state built on a Sumerian foundation, begins.


  1. Geographical Journal, CXVIII, 24-30.
  2. Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Dergisi, 1/5, II/3, III, 2 (1943-45).
  3. D. O. Edzard in Zeitschrift fUr Assyriologie, LIII (1959), 9-26.
  4. Vol. IV, No.1, of “Publications of the Babylonian Section of the University
    Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.”
  5. In the translations cited throughout this article, two dots stand for the omission
    of a word, three dots for the omission of two words, four dots for the omission of
    three or more words. Brackets enclose doubtful restorations; parentheses enclose
    words helpful for the meaning, but not in the original text. Sumerian words are
    italicized. Where no meaning is given, it is unknown.
  6. Edmond Sollberger, “Sur la ChronolOgie des Rois d’Ur,” Archie fUr Orlent-forschung, XVII, 17-18.
  7. Joumal for Cuneiform Studies, VII, 41.

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