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MESILIM OF KISH

(2500 BC)

 

THE EARLIEST SETTLEMENTS IN SUMER; THE DAWN OF HISTORY AND THE RISE OF LAGASH

IN their origin the great cities of Babylonia were little more than collections of rude huts constructed at first of reeds cut in the marshes, and gradually giving place to rather more substantial buildings of clay and sundried brick. From the very beginning it would appear that the shrine of the local god played an important part in the foundation and subsequent development of each centre of population. Of the prehistoric period in Babylonia we know little, but it may be assumed that, already at the time of the Sumerian immigration, rude settlements had been formed around the cult-centres of local gods. This, at any rate, was the character of each town or city of the Sumerians themselves during the earliest periods to which we can trace back their history. At Fara, the most primitive Sumerian site that has yet been examined, we find the god Shuruppak giving his own name to the city around his shrine, and Ningirsu of Lagash dominates and directs his people from the first. Other city-gods, who afterwards became powerful deities in the Babylonian pantheon, are already in existence, and have acquired in varying degrees their later characters. Enki of Eridu is already the god of the deep, the shrine of Enzu or Nannar in the city of Ur is a centre of the moon-cult, Babbar of Larsa appears already as a sun-god and the dispenser of law and justice, while the most powerful Sumerian goddess, Ninni or Nana of Erech, already has her shrine and worshippers in the city of her choice.

By what steps the city-gods acquired their later characters it is impossible now to say, but we may assume that the process was a gradual one. In the earlier stages of its history the character of the local god, like that of his city, must have been far more simple and primitive than it appears to us as seen in the light of its later development. The authority of each god did not extend beyond the limits of his own people's territory. Each city was content to do battle on his behalf, and the defeat of one was synonymous with the downfall of the other. With the gradual amalgamation of the cities into larger states, the god of the predominant city would naturally take precedence over those of the conquered or dependent towns, and to the subsequent process of adjustment we may probably trace the relationships between the different deities and the growth of a pantheon. That Enki should have been the god of the deep from the beginning is natural enough in view of Eridu's position on an expanse of water connected with the Persian Gulf. But how it came about that Ur was the centre of a moon-cult, or that Sippar in the north and Larsa in the south were peculiarly associated with the worship of the sun, are questions which cannot as yet be answered, though it is probable that future excavations on their sites may throw some light upon the subject.

In the case of one city excavation has already enabled us to trace the gradual growth of its temple and the surrounding habitations during a considerable portion of their history. The city of Nippur stands in a peculiar relation to others in Sumer and Akkad, as being the central shrine in the two countries and the seat of Enlil, the chief of the gods. Niffer, or Nuffar, is the name by which the mounds marking its site are still known. They have been long deserted, and, like the sites of many other ancient cities in Babylonia and Assyria, no modern town or village is built upon them or in their immediate neighbourhood. The nearest small town is Suk el-Afej, about four miles to the south, lying on the eastern edge of the Afej marshes, which begin to the south of Niffer and stretch away to the west. The nearest large town is Diwaniya, on the left bank of the Euphrates twenty miles to the south-west.

In the summer the marshes in the neighbourhood of the mounds consist of pools of water connected by channels through the reed-beds, but in the spring, when the snows have melted in the Taurus and the mountains of Kurdistan, the flood-water converts the marshes into a vast lagoon, and all that meets the eye are isolated date-palms and a few small hamlets built on rising knolls above the water-level.

Although, during the floods, Niffer is at times nearly isolated, the water never approaches within a considerable distance of the actual mounds. This is not due to any natural configuration of the soil, but to the fact that around the inner city, the site of which is marked by the mounds, there was built an outer ring of habitations at a time when the enclosed town of the earlier periods became too small to contain the growing population. The American excavations, which have been conducted on the site between the years 1889 and 1900, have shown that the earliest area of habitation was far more restricted than the mounds which cover the inner city.

 

Early Babylonian plan of the temple of Enlil at Nippur and its enclosure,drawn upon a clay tablet dating from the first half of the second millennium b.c. The labels on the plan are translated from notes on the original. [Cf. Fisher, " Excavations at Nippur," I., pi. 1.]

 

The excavations on the site of Nippur and its temple have illustrated the gradual increase in the size of a Sumerian city, and the manner in which the temple of the city-god retained its position as the central and most important building. The diggings, however, have thrown little light upon the form the temple assumed during periods anterior to the Dynasty of Ur. In fact, we do not yet know the form or arrangement of an early Sumerian temple; for on early sites such as Fara, Surghul, and Bismaya, the remains of no important building were uncovered, while the scanty remains of Ningirsu's temple at Tello date from the comparatively late period of Ur-Bau and Gudea. On the latter site, however, a number of earlier constructions have been discovered, and, although they are not of a purely religious character, they may well have been employed in connection with the temple service. Apart from private dwellings, they are the only buildings of the early Sumerians that have as yet been recovered, and they forcibly illustrate the primitive character of the cities of this time.

The earliest written records of the Sumerians which we possess, apart from those engraved upon stone and of a purely votive character, concern the sale and donation of land, and they prove that certain customs were already in vogue with regard to the transfer of property, which we meet with again in later historical periods. A few such tablets of rounded form and fashioned of unburnt clay were found at Lagash on Tell K, and slightly below the level of Ur-Nina's building; they may thus be assigned to a period anterior to his reign. Others of the same rounded form, but of baked clay, have been found at Shuruppak. It is a significant fact that several of these documents, after describing the amount of land sold and recording the principal price that was paid for it, enumerate a number of supplementary presents made by the buyer to the seller and his associates. The presents consist of oxen, oil, wool and cloth, and precisely similar gifts are recorded on the Obelisk of Manishtusu. It would thus appear that even in this early period the system of land tenure was already firmly established, which prevailed in both Sumer and Akkad under the earlier historical rulers.

From the Shuruppak tablets we also learn the names of a number of early rulers or officials of that city, in whose reigns or periods of office the documents were drawn up. Among the names recovered are those of Ur-Ninpa, Kanizi and Mash-Shuruppak, but they are given no titles on the tablets, and it is impossible to say whether their office preceded that of the patesi, or whether they were magistrates of the city who were subordinate to a ruler of higher rank. Another of these early deeds of sale is inscribed, not upon a tablet, but on the body of a black stone statuette that has been found at Tello. From the text we learn that the buyer of the property was a certain Lupad, and the figure is evidently intended to represent him. Although it was found on the site of Lagash, and the text records a purchase of land in that city, it is remarkable that Lupad is described as a high official of the neighbouring city of Umma, which was the principal rival of Lagash during the greater part of its history. The archaic character of the sculpture, and the early form of writing upon it, suggest a date not much later than that of Ur-Nina, so that we must suppose the transaction took place at a period when one of the two rival cities acknowledged the suzerainty of the other. Unlike other Sumerian figures that have been recovered, Lupad's head has a slight ridge over the brow and below the cheek-bones. This has been explained by Heuzey as representing short hair and beard, but it more probably indicates the limits of those portions of the head and face that were shaved. Thus Lupad presents no exception to the general Sumerian method of treating the hair.

 

Figure of Lupad, a high official of the city of Umma, inscribed with a text recording a purchase of land in Lagash (Shirpurla); from Tello.[In the Louvre; cf. Comptes rendus,1907, p. 518.]

Statue of Esar, King
of Adab, preserved in
the Imperial Ottoman
Museum at Constantinople
; from Bismaya.

In order to assign a date to such figures as that of Lupad, it is necessary, in the absence of other evidence, to be guided entirely by the style of the sculpture and the character of the writing. Several such figures of archaic Sumerian type have been recovered, and three of them represent kings who ruled in different cities at this early period. The finest of these is a standing figure of Esar, King of Adab, which was found in the course of the American excavations at Bismaya, and is now preserved in the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Constantinople. Its discoverers claimed that it was the earliest example of Sumerian sculpture known, but it may be roughly placed at about the time of Ur-Nina's dynasty. A second king is represented by two fragments of a statuette from Tello, inscribed in archaic characters with a dedicatory text of E-abzu, King of Urama, while the third is a seated figure of a king of the northern city or district of Maer, or Mari, and is preserved in the British Museum. The same uncertainty applies to the date of Ur-Enlil, a patesi of Nippur, whose name is mentioned on one of the fragments of votive vases from that city which were found together on the south-east side of the temple-tower. As in the case of Esar, King of Adab, we can only assign these rulers approximately to the period of the earlier rulers of Lagash.

It is in the city of Lagash that our knowledge of Sumerian history may be said to begin. The excavation of the site has yielded an abundance of material from which it is possible to arrange her rulers for long periods in chronological order, and to reconstruct the part they played in conflicts between the early city-states. It is true that some of her earlier kings and patesis remain little more than names to us, but with the accession of Ur-Nina we enter a period in which our knowledge of events is continuous, so far at least as the fortunes of the city were concerned. With the growth of her power it is also possible to trace in some detail the relations she maintained with other great cities in the land.

At the earliest period of which we have any historical records it would appear that the city of Kish exercised a suzerainty over Sumer. Here there ruled at this time a king named Mesilim, to whom Lagash, and probably other great cities in the south, owed allegiance. During his reign a certain Lugal-shag-engur was patesi of Lagash, and we have definite record that he acknowledged Mesilim's supremacy. For a votive mace-head of colossal size has been found at Tello, which bears an inscription stating that it was dedicated to Ningirsu by Mesilim, who had restored his great temple at Lagash during the time that Lugal-shag-engur was patesi of that city. The text, the brevity of which is characteristic of these early votive inscriptions, consists of but a few words, and reads : "Mesilim, King of Kish, the builder of the temple of Ningirsu, deposited this mace-head (for) Ningirsu (at the time when) Lugal-shag-engur (was) patesi of Lagash". In spite of its brevity the importance of the inscription is considerable, since it furnishes a synchronism between two early rulers of Sumer and the North.

The weapon itself, upon which it is engraved, is also noteworthy. As may be inferred from its colossal size the mace was never intended for actual use in battle, but was sculptured by Mesilim's orders with the special object of being dedicated in the temple of the god. It is decorated with rudely-carved figures of lions, which run around it and form a single composition in relief. The lions are six in number, and are represented as pursuing and attacking one another. Each has seized the hind-leg and the back of the one which precedes it; they thus form an endless chain around the object, and are a most effective form of decoration. Unlike the majority of mace-heads, that of Mesilim is not perforated from top to bottom. The hole for receiving the handle of the weapon, though deep, is not continued to the top of the stone, which is carved in low relief with a representation of a lion-headed eagle with wings outspread and claws extended. Looked at from above, this fantastic animal appears as an isolated figure, but it is not to be separated from the lions running round the side of the mace-head. In fact, we may see in the whole composition a development of the symbol which formed the arms of the city of Lagash, and was the peculiar emblem of the city-god Ningirsu. In the latter, the lion-headed eagle grasps two lions by the back, and in Mesilim's sacred mace we have the same motive of a lion-headed eagle above lions. It was, indeed, a peculiarly appropriate votive offering for an overlord of Lagash to make. As suzerain of Lagash, Mesilim had repaired the temple of Ningirsu, the city-god; the colossal mace-head, wrought with a design taken from the emblem of the city and its god, was thus a fitting object for his inscription. By depositing it in Ningirsu's temple, he not only sought to secure the favour of the local god by his piety, but he left in his city a permanent record of his own dominion.

Of Lugal-shag-engur we know as yet nothing beyond his name, and the fact that he was patesi of Lagash at the time of Mesilim, but the latter ruler has left a more enduring mark upon history. For a later patesi of Lagash, Entemena, when giving a historical summary of the relations which existed between his own city and the neighbouring city of Umma, begins his account with the period of Mesilim, and furnishes additional testimony to the part which this early king of Kish played in the local affairs of southern Babylonia. From Mesilim's own inscription on the mace-head, we have already seen that he interested himself in the repair of temples and in fostering the local cults of cities in the south; from Entemena's record we learn that his activities also extended to adjusting the political relations between the separate states. The proximity of Umma to Lagash brought the two cities into constant rivalry, and, although they were separated by the Shatt el-Hai, their respective territories were not always confined to their own sides of the stream. During the reign of Mesilim the antagonism between the cities came to a head, and, in order to prevent the outbreak of hostilities, Mesilim stepped in as arbitrator, possibly at the invitation of the two disputants. The point at issue concerned the boundary-line between the territories of Lagash and Umma, and Mesilim, as arbitrator, drew up a treaty of delimitation.

The form in which the record of the treaty is cast is of peculiar interest, for it forcibly illustrates the theocratic feeling of these early peoples. It is in accordance with their point of view that the actual patesis of Lagash and Umma are not named, and the dispute is regarded as having been adjusted by the gods. The deity who presided over the conference, and at whose invitation the treaty is stated to have been made, was Enlil, "the king of the lands". Owing to his unique position among the local gods of Babylonia, his divine authority was recognized by the lesser city-gods. Thus it was at his command that Ningirsu, the god of Lagash, and the city-god of Umma fixed the boundary. It is true that Mesilim, the King of Kish, is referred to by name, but he only acted at the word of his own goddess Kadi, and his duties were confined to making a record of the treaty which the gods themselves had drawn up. We could not have a more striking instance of the manner in which the early inhabitants of Babylonia regarded the city-gods as the actual kings and rulers of their cities. The human kings and patesis were nothing more than ministers, or agents, appointed to carry out their will. Thus, when one city made war upon another, it was because their gods were at feud; the territory of the city was the property of the city-god, and, when a treaty of delimitation was proposed, it was naturally the gods themselves who arranged it and drew up its provisions.

 

THE TREATY OF MESALIM (c. 2500 B.C.)

 

By the immutable word of Enlil, king of the lands, father of the gods, Ningirsu and Shara set a boundary to their lands. Mesilim, King of Kish, at the command of his deity Kadi, set up a stele [a boundary marker] in the plantation of that field. Ush, ruler of Umma, formed a plan to seize it. That stele he broke in pieces, into the plain of Lagash he advanced. Ningirsu, the hero of Enlil, by his just command, made war upon Umma. At the command of Enlil, his great net ensnared them. He erected their burial mound on the plain in that place.

Eannatum, ruler of Lagash, brother of the father of Entemena [who put up this inscription] . . . for Enakalli, ruler of Umma, set the border to the land. He carried a canal from the great river to Guedin. He opened the field of Ningirsu on its border for 210 spans to the power of Umma. He ordered the royal field not to be seized. At the canal he inscribed a stele. He returned the stele of Mesilim to its place. He did not encroach on the plain of Mesilim. At the boundary-line of Ningirsu, as a protecting structure, he built the sanctuary of Enlil, the sanctuary of Ninkhursag . . . By harvesting, the men of Umma had eaten one storehouse-full of the grain of Nina [goddess of Oracles], the grain of Ningirsu; he caused them to bear a penalty. They brought 144,000 gur, a great storehouse full, [as repayment]. The taking of this grain was not to be repeated in the future.

Urlumma, ruler of Umma, drained the boundary canal of Ningirsu, the boundary canal of Nina; those steles he threw into the fire, he broke [them] in pieces; he destroyed the sanctuaries, the dwellings of the gods, the protecting shrines, the buildings that had been made. He was as puffed up as the mountains; he crossed over the boundary canal of Ningirsu. Enannatum, ruler of Lagash, went into battle in the field of Ugigga, the irrigated field of Ningirsu. Entemena, the beloved son of Enannatum, completely overthrew him. Urlumma fled. In the midst of Umma he killed him. He left behind 60 soldiers of his force [dead] on the bank of the canal "Meadow-recognized-as-holy-from-the-great-dagger." He left these men--their bones on the plain. He heaped up mounds for them in 5 places. Then Ili, Priest of Ininni of Esh in Girsu, he established as a vassal ruler over Umma.

Ili took the ruler of Umma into his hand. He drained the boundary canal of Ningirsu, a great protecting structure of Ningirsu, unto the bank of the Tigris above from the banks of Girsu. He took the grain of Lagash, a storehouse of 3600 gur. Entemena, ruler of Lagash declared hostilities on Ili, whom for a vassal he had set up. Ili, ruler of Umma, wickedly flooded the dyked and irrigated field; he commanded that the boundary canal of Ningirsu; the boundary canal of Nina, be ruined. . . Enlil and Ninkhursag did not permit [this to happen]. Entemena, ruler of Lagash, whose name was spoken by Ningirsu, restored their canal to its place according to the righteous word of Enlil, according to the righteous word of Nina, their canal which he had constructed from the river Tigris to the great river, the protecting structure, its foundation he had made of stone . . .

(From George A. Barton, "Inscription of Entemena #7" The Royal Inscriptions of Sumer and Akkad (New Haven, Conn. 1929) pp. 61, 63 & 65. The original post is at the Ancient History Sourcebook.)

 

 

THE CONE OF ENTEMENA (2450-2375 BC)

 

"For the goddess Inanna, for the god Lord EmeshEntemena, the ruler of Lagash. The temple Emesh, beloved of the people, he built it. He ordered these clay nails for it. Entemena, the man who built the Emesh, his personal god is god ShulutulEntemena, the ruler of Lagash and Lugal-kinishe-dudu, the ruler of Uruk, made a brotherhood treaty."

We could not have a more striking instance of the manner in which the early inhabitants of Babylonia regarded the city-gods as the actual kings and rulers of their cities. The human kings and patesis were nothing their more than ministers, or agents, appointed to carry out their will. Thus, when one city made war upon another, it was because their gods were at feud; the territory of the city was the property of the city-god, and, when a treaty of delimitation was proposed, it was naturally the gods themselves who arranged it and drew up its provisions.

 

We are enabled to fix approximately the period of Mesilim by this reference to him upon the cone of Entemena, but we have no such means of determining the date of another early ruler of the city of Ivish, whose name has been recovered during the American excavations on the site of Nippur. Three fragments of a vase of dark brown sandstone have been found there, engraved with an inscription of Utug, an early patesi of Kish. They are said to have been found in the strata beneath the chambers of the great temple of Enlil on the south-east side of the ziggurat, or temple-tower. It would be rash to form any theory as to the date of the vase solely from the position in which the fragments are said to have been discovered, but the extremely archaic forms of the characters of the inscription suggest that it dates from the earliest period of Babylonian history. Moreover, Utug is termed upon it patesi, not king, of Kish, suggesting that he ruled at a time when Kish had not the power and influence it enjoyed under Mesilim. The hegemony in Sumer and Akkad constantly passed from one city to another, so that it is possible that Utug should be set after Mesilim, when the power of Kish had temporarily declined. But as the characters of Utug's inscription are far more archaic than those of Mesilim, we may provisionally set him in the period before Kish attained the rank of a kingdom in place of its patesiate. But how long an interval separated Utug from Mesilim there is no means of telling.

On the assumption that Utug ruled in this early period, we may see in the fragments of his vase from Nippur, evidence of the struggles by which the city of Kish attained the position of supremacy it enjoyed under Mesilim. For Utug's vase was not carried to Nippur as spoil from Kish, but was deposited by Utug himself in the temple of Enlil, in commemoration of a victory he had achieved over the land of Khamazi. We here learn the name of one of the enemies with whom Kish had to fight in the early stages of its existence as an independent city-state, and we may conjecture that many more such battles had to be fought and won before its influence was felt beyond the boundaries of Akkad by the Sumerian cities in the south. The fact that after his victory Utug deposited the vase at Nippur as a thank-offering proves that in his time the shrine of Enlil was already regarded as the central sanctuary of Babylonia. Zamama, the god of Kish, had achieved the victory over Khamazi, but Enlil, as the supreme lord of the world, was entitled to some recognition and gratitude, and also probably to a share of the spoil. From one line of the inscription upon Utug's vase we may perhaps infer that his father's name was Bazuzu, but, as no title follows the name, he is not to be reckoned as a patesi of Kish. We may thus conclude that Utug did not succeed his father upon the throne. Whether he was a usurper or succeeded some other relative, and whether he followed up his military successes by founding at Kish a powerful dynasty to which Mesilim may have belonged, are among the questions which may perhaps be answered as the result of future excavation in Northern Babylonia.

 

Nippur, Great Temple of Enlil

 

It is probable that the early supremacy which Kish enjoyed during the reign of Mesilim continued for some time after his death. At any rate, the names of two other early rulers of that city are known, and, as they both bear the title of king, and not patesi, we may conclude that they lived during a period of the city's prosperity or expansion. The name of one of these kings, Urzage, occurs upon a broken vase of white calcite stalagmite, which was found at Nippur, approximately in the same place as the vase of the patesi Utug. The inscription upon the vase records the fact that it was dedicated by Urzage to Enlil, "king of the lands", and his consort Ninlil, "the lady of heaven and earth". The end of the text is wanting, but we may conjecture that, like his earlier predecessor Utug, the king dedicated the vase in the temple of Enlil, at Nippur, in gratitude for some victory over his enemies. We may thus see in the dedication of the vase further evidence of the continued prosperity of Kish, though it is clear that it only maintained its position among the other great cities of the land by force of arms. The name of the other early king of Kish, Lugaltarsi, is known to us from a short inscription upon a small tablet of lapis-lazuli preserved in the British Museum. The text records the building of the wall of the enclosure, or outer court, of a temple dedicated to Anu and the goddess Ninni, but, as its provenance is unknown, it is impossible to base any argument upon it with reference to the extent of the influence exerted by Kish during the reign of Lugaltarsi. Such are the few facts which have come down to us with regard to the earliest period of the supremacy of Kish. But the fortunes of the city were destined to undergo a complete change, in consequence of the increase in the power of Lagash which took place during the reign of Eannatum. Before we describe the transfer of power from the north to Sumer, it will be necessary to retrace our steps to the point where we left the history of that city, during the time that Mesilim was ruling in the north.

The names of the successors of Lugal-shag-engur, Mesilim's contemporary, upon the throne of Lagash have not yet been recovered, and we do not know how long an interval separated his reign from that of Ur-Nina, the early king of Lagash, from whose time so many inscriptions and archaeological remains have been recovered at Tello. It is possible that within this period we should set another ruler of Lagash, named Badu, to whom reference appears to be made by Eannatum upon the famous Stele of the Vultures. The passage occurs in the small fragment that has been preserved of the first column of the text engraved upon the stele, the following line containing the title "King of Lagash". The context of the passage is not preserved, but it is possible that the signs which precede the title are to be taken as a proper name, and in that case they would give the name of an early ruler of the city. In favour of this view we may note that in the text upon an archaic clay tablet found below the level of Ur-Nina's building at Tello the name Badu occurs, and, although it is not there employed as that of a king or patesi, the passage may be taken as evidence of theuse of Badu as a proper name in this early age.

Assuming that Badu represents a royal name, it may be inferred from internal evidence furnished by Eannatum's inscription that he lived and reigned at some period before Ur-Nina. The introductory columns of Eannatum's text appear to give a brief historical summary concerning the relations which were maintained between Lagash and the neighbouring city of Urama in the period anterior to Eannatum's own reign. Now the second column of the text describes the attitude of Umma to Lagash in the reign of Akurgal, Ur-Nina's son and successor; it is thus a natural inference that Badu was a still earlier ruler who reigned at any rate before Ur-Nina. Whether he reigned before Lugal-shag-engur also, there are no data for deciding. It will be noted that Eannatum calls him "king" of Lagash, not "patesi", but the use of these titles by Eannatum, as applied to his predecessors, is not consistent, and, that he should describe Badu as "king", is no proof that Badu himself claimed that title. But he may have done so, and we may provisionally place him in the interval between the patesi Lugal-shag-engur and Ur-Nina, who in his numerous texts that have been recovered always claims the title of "king" in place of "patesi", a fact that suggests an increase in the power and importance of Lagash. To the same period we may probably assign Enkhegal, another early king of Lagash, whose name has been recovered on an archaic tablet of limestone.

 

It has been suggested that the title lugal, "king", did not acquire its later significance until the age of Sargon (Shar-Gani-sharri), but that it was used by earlier rulers as the equivalent of the Semitic belu, "lord". But, in view of the fact that Mesilim bore the title, it would seem that in his time it already conveyed a claim to greater authority than that inherent in the word patesi. The latter title was of a purely religious origin; when borne by a ruler it designated him as the representative of his city-god, but the title "king" was of a more secular character, and connoted a wider dominion. But it must be admitted that some inconsistencies in the use of the titles by members of Ur-Nina's dynasty seem to suggest that the distinction between them was not quite so marked as in the later periods.

 

Artistic recreation of the Lagash City

 

It is possible that Ur-Nina himself, though not a great soldier, did something to secure, or at least to maintain, the independence of his city. In any case, we know that he was the founder of his dynasty, for to neither his father Gunidu, nor to his grandfather Gursar, does he ascribe any titular rank. We may assume that he belonged to a powerful Sumerian family in Lagash, but, whether he obtained the throne by inheritance from some collateral branch, or secured it as the result of a revolt within the city, is not recorded. It is strange that in none of his numerous inscriptions does he lay claim to any conquest or achievement in the field. Most of his texts, it is true, are of a dedicatory character, but, to judge from those of other Sumerian rulers, this fact should not have prevented him from referring to them, had he any such successes to chronicle. The nearest approach to a record of a military nature is that he rebuilt the wall of Lagash. It is therefore clear that, though he may not have embarked on an aggressive policy, he did not neglect the defence of his own city. But that appears to have been the extent of his ambition : so long as the fortifications of the city were intact, and the armed men at her disposal sufficient for the defence of Lagash herself and her outlying territory, he did not seek to add to his own renown or to the city's wealth by foreign conquest. The silence of Entemena with regard to the relations of Lagash to Umma at this period is not conclusive evidence that Mesilim's treaty was still in force, or that the peace he inaugurated had remained unbroken. But Entemena's silence fully accords with that of Ur-Nina himself, and we may infer that, in spite of his claims to the royal title, he succeeded in avoiding any quarrel with his city's hereditary foe. Ur-Nina's attitude towards the city-state upon his own immediate borders may be regarded as typical of his policy as a whole. The onyx bowl which he dedicated to the goddess Bau may possibly have been part of certain booty won in battle, but his aim appears to have been to devote his energies to the improvement of his land and the adornment of his city. It is therefore natural that his inscriptions should consist of mere catalogues of the names of temples and other buildings erected during his reign, together with lists of the statues he dedicated to his gods, and of the canals he cut in order to increase the material wealth of his people.

But, while Ur-Nina's policy appears to have been mainly of a domestic character, he did not fail to maintain relations with other cities in the sphere of religious observance. That he should have continued in active communication with Nippur, as the religious centre of the whole of Babylonia, is what we might infer from the practice of the period, and we may probably trace to this fact his dedication to Enlil of one of the canals which was cut during his reign. A more striking instance of the deference paid by Ur-Nina to the god of another city may be seen in his relations to Enki, the Sumerian prototype of the god Ea. When Ur- Nina planned the rebuilding of the temple E-ninnu, he appears to have taken precautions to ensure the success of his scheme by making a direct appeal to Enki, the city-god of Eridu. On a diorite plaque that has been found at Tello he records the delivery of his prayer to Enki, that in his character of Chief Diviner he should use his pure reed, the wand of his divination, to render the work good and should pronounce a favourable oracle. The temple of Enki in the city of Eridu, near the shore of the Persian Gulf, was one of the earliest and most sacred of Sumerian shrines, and we may perhaps picture Ur-Nina as journeying thither from Lagash, in order to carry his petition in person into the presence of its mysterious god.

Of the deities of Lagash to whose service Ur-Nina appears especially to have devoted himself, the goddess Nina, whose name he bore within his own, was one of the most favoured. For one of the chief claims to distinction that he puts forward is that he built her temple at Lagash; and although, unlike the later great builder Gudea, he gives in his inscriptions few details of his work, we may conclude that he lavished his resources upon it. He also boasts that he made a statue of Nina, which he no doubt set up within her temple, and one of his canals he dedicated to her. Her daughter Ninmar was not neglected, for he records that he built her temple also, and he erected a temple for Gatumdug, Nina's intercessor, and fashioned a statue of her. Another group of Ur-Nina's buildings was connected with the worship of Ningirsu, the city-god of Lagash, whose claims a ruler, so devoted to the interests of his own city as Ur-Nina, would naturally not have ignored.

Ur-Ningirsu

A glance at his texts will show that Ur-Nina more than once describes himself as the builder of "the House of Girsu", a title by which he refers to E-ninnu, the great temple dedicated to Ningirsu, since it stood in that quarter of the city which was named Girsu and was by far its most important building. He also built E-pa, a sanctuary closely connected with E-ninnu and the worship of Ningirsu. This temple was added to at a later date by Gudea, who installed therein his patron god, Ningishzida, and set the nuptial gifts of Bau, Ningirsu's consort, within its shrine; it is possible that Ur-Nina's onyx bowl, which was dedicated to Bau, and the fragments of other bowls found with it, mere deposited by Ur-Nina in the same temple. Of other deities in Ningirsu's entourage, whom Ur-Nina singled out for special veneration, may be mentioned Dunshagga, Ningirsu's son, and Uri-zi, the god whose duty it was to look after Ningirsu's karim. Among lesser temples, or portions of temples, which were built or restored by him was the Tirash, where on the day of the New Moon's appearance it was the custom to hold a festival in honour of Ningirsu; while another act of piety which Ur-Nina records was the making of a statue of Lugal-uru, the god from whose festival one of the Sumerian months took its name. In this connection, mention may also be made of the god Dun ..., whom Ur-Nina describes as the "God-king", since he stood in a peculiar relation to Ur-Nina and his family. He became the patron deity of the dynasty which Ur-Nina founded, and, down to the reign of Enannatum II, was the personal protector of the reigning king or patesi of Lagash.

For the construction of his temples Ur-Nina states that he fetched wood from the mountains, but unlike Gudea in a later age, he is not recorded to have brought in his craftsmen from abroad. In addition to the building of temples, Ur-Nina's other main activity appears to have centred in the cutting of canals; among these was the canal named Asukhur, on the banks of which his grandson Eannatum won a battle. That the changes he introduced into the canalization of the country were entirely successful may be inferred from the numerous storehouses and magazines, which he records he built in connection with the various temples, and by his statement that when he added to the temple of Ningirsu he stored up large quantities of grain within the temple-granaries. In fact, from the inscriptions he has left us, Ur-Nina appears as a pacific monarch devoted to the worship of his city-gods and to the welfare of his own people. His ambitions lay within his own borders, and, when he had secured his frontier, he was content to practise the arts of peace. It was doubtless due to this wise and far-seeing policy that the resources of the city were husbanded, so that under his more famous grand­son she was enabled to repel the attack of enemies and embark upon a career of foreign conquest. Ur-Nina's posthumous fame is evidence that his reign was a period of peace and prosperity for Lagash. His great-grandson Entemena boasts of being his descendant, and ascribes to him the title of King of Lagash which he did not claim either for himself or for his father Enannatum I, while even in the reign of Lugal-anda offerings continued to be made in connection with his statue in Lagash.

We are not dependent solely on what we can gather from the inscriptions themselves for a knowledge of Ur-Nina. For he has left us sculptured representations, not only of himself, but also of his sons and principal officers, from which we may form a very clear picture of the primitive conditions of life obtaining in Sumer at the time of this early ruler. The sculptures take the form of limestone plaques, roughly carved in low relief with figures of Ur-Nina surrounded by his family and his court. The plaques are oblong in shape, with the corners slightly rounded, and in the centre of each is bored a circular hole. Though they are obviously of a votive character, the exact object for which they are intended is not clear at first sight. It has been, and indeed is still, conjectured that the plaques were fixed vertically to the walls of shrines, but this explanation has been discredited by the discovery of the plaque, or rather block, of Dudu, the priest of Ningirsu during the reign of Entemena. From the shape of the latter, the reverse of which is not flat but pyramidal, and also from the inscription upon it, we gather that the object of these perforated bas-reliefs was to form horizontal supports for ceremonial mace-heads or sacred emblems, which were dedicated as votive offerings in the temples of the gods. The great value of those of Ur- Nina consists in the vivid pictures they give us of royal personages and high officials at this early period.

 

Plaque of Ur-Nina, King of Shirpurla with his family

 

The largest of the plaques is sculptured with two separate scenes, in each of which Ur-Nina is represented in a different attitude and with a different occupation, while around him stand his sons and ministers. In the upper scene the king is standing; he is nude down to the waist and his feet are bare, while around his loins he wears the rough woollen garment of the period, and upon his shaven head he supports a basket which he steadies with his right hand. The text engraved beside the king, in addition to giving his name and genealogy, records that he has built the temple of Ningirsu, the abzu-banda which was probably a great laver or basin intended for the temple-service, and the temple of Nina; and it has been suggested that the king is here portrayed bearing a basket of offerings to lay before his god or goddess. But the basket he carries is exactly similar to those borne by labourers for heaping earth upon the dead as represented upon the Stele of the Vultures, and baskets have always been used in the east by labourers and builders for carrying earth and other building-materials. It is therefore more probable that the king is here revealed in the character of a labourer bearing materials for the construction of the temples referred to in the text. The same explanation applies to the copper votive figures of a later period which are represented bearing baskets on their heads. In a similar spirit Gudea has left us statues of himself as an architect, holding tablet and rule; Ur-Nina represents himself in the still more humble role of a labourer engaged in the actual work of building the temple for his god.

Early Sumerian figure
of a woman, showing the
Sumerian dress and the
method of doing the hair.

Behind the king is a little figure intended for the royal cup-bearer, Anita, and facing him are five of his children. It is usually held that the first of these figures, who bears the name of Lidda and is clothed in a more elaborate dress than the other four, is intended for the king's eldest son. But in addition to the distinctive dress, this figure is further differentiated from the others by wearing long hair in place of having the head shaved. In this respect it bears some resemblance to an archaic statuette, which appears to be that of a woman;and the sign attached to Lidda's name, engraved upon the stone, is possibly that for "daughter", not "son". It is thus not unlikely that we should identify the figure with a daughter of Ur-Nina. The other figures in the row are four of the king's sons, named Akurgal, Lugal-ezen, Anikurra and Muninni-kurta. A curious point that may be noted is that the height of these figures increases as they recede from the king. Thus the first of the small figures, that of Akurgal, who succeeded Ur-Nina upon the throne, is represented as smaller than his brothers, and it has been suggested in consequence that he was not the king s eldest son, a point to which we will return later. In the scene sculptured upon the lower half of the plaque the king is represented as seated upon a throne and raising in his right hand a cup from which he appears to be pouring a libation. We may probably see in this group a picture of the king dedicating the temple after the task of building was finished. The inscription records the fact that he had brought wood from the mountains, doubtless employed in the construction of the temples, a detail which emphasises the difficulties he had overcome. The cup-bearer who stands behind the throne is in this scene, not Anita, but Sagantug, while the figure facing the king is a high official named Dudu, and to the left of Dudu are three more of the king's sons named Anunpad, Menudgid, and Addatur.

 

 

Plaque of Ur-Nina, King of Lagash (Shirpurla), sculptured with representations of himself, his cup-bearer, Anita, and four of his sons.

A smaller plaque, rather more oval in shape than the large one figured on the plaque, but like it in a perfect state of preservation, gives a similar scene, though with less elaboration of detail. According to its inscription this tablet also commemorates the building of Ningirsu's temple. Here the king carries no basket, but is represented as standing with hands clasped upon the breast, an attitude of humility and submission in the presence of his god. In other respects both the king and the smaller figures of his sons and ministers are conceived as on the larger plaque. A small figure immediately behind the king is Anita, the cup-bearer, and to the left of Anita are the king's son Akurgal and a personage bearing the name Barsagannudu. In the upper row are two other small figures named Lugal-ezen and Gula. Now from the largest plaque we know that Lugal-ezen was a son of Ur-Nina; thus the absence of such a description from Gula and Barsagannudu is not significant, and it is a fair assumption that both these, like Lugal-ezen, were sons of the king. But it is noteworthy that of the four figures the only one that is specifically described as a "son" of Ur-Nina is Akurgal.

 

Portion of a plaque of Ur-Nina, King of Lagash (Shirpurla), sculptured with representations of his sons and the high officials of his court. [in the Imperial Ottoman Museum.]

Another of Ur-Nina's plaques is not completely preserved, for the right half is wanting upon which was the figure, or possibly two figures, of the king. On the portion that has been recovered are sculptured two rows of figures, both facing the right. The first in the lower row is Anita, the cup-bearer; then comes a high official named Banar; then Akurgal, distinguished by the title of "son", and on the extreme left Namazua, the scribe. Of the four figures preserved in the upper row, the two central ones are Lugal-ezen and Muninnikurta, both of whom bear the title of "son", as on the largest of the three plaques. The reading of the names upon the figures on the right and left is uncertain, but they are probably intended for officials of the court. The one on the left of the line is of some interest, for he carries a staff upon his left shoulder from which hangs a bag. We may perhaps regard him as the royal chamberlain, who controlled the supplies of the palace; or his duty may have been to look after the provisions and accommodation for the court, should the king ever undertake a journey from one city to another.

While Ur-Nina's sons upon the smaller plaques are all roughly of the same size, we have noted that the similar figures upon the largest plaque vary slightly in height. It has been suggested that the intention of the sculptor was to indicate the difference in age between the brothers, and in consequence it has been argued that Akurgal, who succeeded Ur-Nina upon the throne of Lagash, was his fifth, and not his eldest, son. This inference has further been employed to suggest that after Ur-Nina's death there may have followed a period of weakness within the state of Lagash, due to disunion among his sons; and during the supposed struggle for the succession it is conjectured that the city may have been distracted by internal conflicts, and, in consequence, was unable to maintain her independence as a city-state, which she only succeeded in recovering in the reign of Eannatum, the son and successor of Akurgal. But a brief examination of the theory will show that there is little to be said for it, and it is probable that the slight difference in the height of the figures is fortuitous and unconnected with their respective ages. It may be admitted that a good deal depends upon the sex of Lidda, who, on the largest plaque, faces the standing figure of Ur-Nina. If this is intended for a son of the king, his richer clothing marks him out as the crown-prince; but, even so, we may suppose that Akurgal was Ur-Nina's second son, and that he succeeded to the throne in consequence of Lidda having predeceased his father. But reasons have already been adduced for believing that Lidda was a daughter, not a son, of Ur-Nina. In that case Akurgal occupies the place of honour among his brothers in standing nearest the king. He is further differentiated from them by the cup which he carries; in fact, he here appears as cup-bearer to Lidda, the office performed by Anita and Saguntug for the king.

That the crown-prince should be here represented as attending his sister may appear strange, but, in view of our imperfect knowledge of this early period, the suggestion should not be dismissed solely on that account. Indeed, the class of temple votaries, who enjoyed a high social position under the Semitic kings of the First Dynasty of Babylon, probably had its counter­part at the centres of Sumerian worship in still earlier times; and there is evidence that at the time of the First Dynasty, the order included members of the royal house. Moreover, tablets dating from the close of Ur-Nina's dynasty show the important part which women played in the social and official life of the early Sumerians. Thus it is possible that Ur-Nina's daughter held high rank or office in the temple hierarchy, and her presence on the plaque may have reference to some special ceremony, or act of dedication, in which it was her privilege to take the leading part after the king, or to be his chief assistant. In such circumstances it would not be unnatural for her eldest brother to attend her. In both the other compositions Lidda is absent, and Akurgal occupies the place of honour. In the one he stands on a line with the king immediately behind the royal cup-bearer, and he is the only royal son who is specifically labelled as such; in the other he is again on a line with the king, separated from Anita, the cup­bearer, by a high officer of state, and followed by the royal scribe. In these scenes he is clearly set in the most favoured position, and, if Lidda was not his sister but the crown-prince, it would be hard to explain the latter's absence, except on the supposition that his death had occurred before the smaller plaques were made. But the texts upon all three plaques record the building of Ningirsu's temple, and they thus appear to have been prepared for the same occasion, which gives additional weight to the suggestion that Lidda was a daughter of Ur-Nina, and that Akurgal was his eldest son.

But, whether Akurgal was Ur-Nina's eldest son or not, the evidence of at least the smaller of the two complete plaques would seem to show that he was recognized as crown-prince during the lifetime of his father, and we may infer that he was Ur-Nina's immediate successor. For an estimate of his reign we must depend on references made to him by his two sons. It has already been mentioned that the early part of the text engraved upon the Stele of the Vultures appears to have given an account of the relations between Lagash and Umma during the reigns preceding that of Eannatum, and in a badly preserved passage in the second column we find a reference to Akurgal, the son of Ur-Nina. The context is broken, but "the men of Umma" and "the city of Lagash" are mentioned almost immediately before the name of Akurgal, and it would appear that Eannatum here refers to a conflict which took place between the two cities during the former's reign. It should be noted that upon his Cone Entemena makes no mention of any war at this period, and, as in the case of Ur-Nina's reign, his silence might be interpreted as an indication of unbroken peace. But the narratives may be reconciled on the supposition either that the conflict in the reign of Akurgal was of no great importance, or that it did not concern the fertile plain of Gu-edin. It must be remembered that the text upon the Cone of Entemena was composed after the stirring times of Eannatum, Entemena's uncle, and the successes won by that monarch against Umma were naturally of far greater importance in his eyes than the lesser conflicts of his predecessors. It is true that he describes the still earlier intervention of Mesilim in the affairs of Lagash and Umma, but this is because the actual stele or boundary-stone set up by Mesilim was removed by the men of Umma in Eannatum's reign, an act which provoked the war. The story of Mesilim's intervention, which resulted in the setting up of the boundary-stone, thus forms a natural introduction to the record of Eannatum's campaign; and the fact that these two events closely follow one another in Entemena's text is not inconsistent with a less important conflict being recorded by the Stele of the Vultures as having taken place in the reign of Akurgal.

The only other evidence with regard to the achievements of Akurgal is furnished by the titles ascribed to him by his two sons. Upon the Stele of the Vultures, Eannatum describes him as "king" of Lagash, and from this passage alone it might be inferred that he was as successful as his father Ur-Nina in maintaining the independence of his city. But in other texts upon foundation-stones, bricks, and a small column, Eannatum describes him only as "patesi", as also does his other son Enannatum I. It should be noted that in the majority of his inscriptions Eannatum claims for himself the title of patesi, and at the end of one of them, in which he has enumerated a long list of his own conquests, he exclaims, "He (i.e. Eannatum) is the son of Akurgal, the patesi of Lagash, and his grandfather is Ur-Nina, the patesi of Lagash". That he should term Ur-Nina "patesi" does not accord with that ruler's own texts, but, if Eannatum himself had been merely a patesi at the beginning of his reign, and his father had also been one before him, he may well have overlooked the more ambitious title to which his grandfather had laid claim, especially as this omission would enhance the splendour of his own achievements. It is also possible that at this time the distinction between the two titles was not so strictly drawn as in the later periods, and that an alteration in them did not always mark a corresponding political change. However this may be, the subsequent conflicts of Eannatum suggest that Lagash had failed to maintain her freedom. We may assume that the North had once more interfered in the affairs of Sumer, and that Kish had put an end to the comparative independence which the city had enjoyed during Ur-Nina's reign.