SUMERIAN

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Extremely Rare Neo-Sumerian Palace Messenger Tablet from Iri-Sagrig, Dated 2027 BC

A clay pillow-shaped messenger tablet from an important palace archive of the Sumerian city Iri-Saĝrig, dated to 2027 BC, with cuneiform text on both sides: “1 roasted mutton, 5 sila soup Ur-šu-suen, chancellor’s assistant when he came for the ’secretary’ of Nana’s field; 3 sila soup, 2 fish Laqipum, cup bearer, royal messenger when he went for royal offerings; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Kuganum, royal messenger; /REVERSE/ 1 sila soup, 1 fish Ilianum, royal messenger when they went to Der; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Namhani, royal messenger; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Lu-šulgira, royal messenger when they came to the governor’s place; 2 sila soup, 2 fishŠugatum, royal messenger when he came to capture fugitive soldier-workers, servants of Ninhursag; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Pululu, eguary when he went for the sikum-mules; A disbursement for the month Nigenlila, 19th day.”

This text dates to the second year of King Ibbi-Sin, the last king of the Ur III. The text is particularly rare because almost all of the named messengers are followed by a description their mission: “Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place.” The tablet records rations of food and drink distributed by the government to royal messengers. According to Prof. David Owen the Iri-Saĝrig archive is probably the archive of the governor whose office was in the local palace. The king and other members of the royal family occasionally traveled to Iri-Saĝrig, perhaps on their way to or from Nippur or other towns. No town in Sumer was visited more often by the king than Iri-Saĝrig. This may explain the presence of so many royal functionaries associated with the town.

URUK PERIOD OF IRAQ

This is an excerpt from my post: THE SUMERIANS, FOREFATHERS OF CIVILIZATION IN MESOPOTAMIA.

The Uruk Period is named after the ancient city of Uruk, a large settlement that could sustain a population as high as 40,000-50,000. Where in the earlier periods the sizes of war-bands were only in the hundreds, they could now support armies of as much as 5,000 men. Although they were also supported by about 146 smaller settlements that lay within their domains, these villages and cities began to decrease as the inhabitants flocked to the larger capital cities for the safety of their walls and promise of a better life.

^ Uruk.

Artifacts manufactured in Uruk can be found throughout Mesopotamia, one of the primary items found is also believed to be the world‘s first mass produced object, a “bevel rimmed bowl”. Most believe that these cheaply made ordinary looking bowls were actually part of the early Sumerian currency system. With the increase of urbanization less city folk farmed, instead finding work within the cities where they would be paid in grain. How much grain one had in a bowl would determine how much one was paid (for you to eat from, save or trade with). 

An urban revolution had occurred; populations and the focus of agriculture now shifted over to the more fertile river valleys and irrigation increased the productivity and amount of crops which led to a population boom. With more cities lying beside channels and rivers there was an increase in trade and income as now they could more easily travel and connect with those along these waters. With the overall increase of food and income also came an increase in specialist professions; merchants, craftsmen, artisans, warlords, high priests, nobles and kings. 

^ A clay tablet maker and cuneiform scribe recording a cattle sale in a Sumerian market place about 3000 B.C. by Neville Dear.

Temples were now being built on a larger scale and were more numerous, priestly roles became more important as well. The en (“priest, lord”) was the high-priest, a title denoting sovereignty and the power to make things prosper. The en-priestess (Akkadian ‘entum’, Sumerian ‘Nin’) would live in a temple complex called a giparu (“storehouse”) which were in earlier times used as storage areas for the harvest and even cattle. En-priestesses were buried in a cemetery by the giparu, offerings were given to deceased priestesses and reverence to them extended to the point of there being a cult devoted to them. A common custom in Mesopotamia was to bury the diseased in the floors of the household, the same can be found in the giparu as the priestesses were also buried here. Sadly the city of Ur, the giparu and its cemetery were all looted by the Elamites late in Sumerian history.

The first and most famous of these en-priestesses was the daughter of Sargon the Great, Enheduanna (“En, ornament [ie. the moon] of the heavens”), who was the high-priestess of Nanna/Sin (moon god) and was renowned for being the first author in history, at least 42 hymns are attributed to her. The en-priestesses were also seen as the wife of their patron god therefore representing the godly wife; an example being that the Enheduanna, en-priestess of Ur, represented Ningal (goddess of reeds) the wife of Nanna/Sin (moon god). During the warring city-states period that followed, the title en would also grow to into a more militarized and authoritative position. This priest-king (Ensi, “lord [of the] plowland”) was seen as an intermediary between the gods and man. 

The lugal (“big man”) signified the owner of something and inevitably became the term for kings. The title lugal would not become prominent until c.2700 BCE, the ensi were more important than them but in time they would become seen as their subordinates. Unlike the high-priests and high-priestesses, who would be elected, the lugal’s succession would pass onto their heirs. According to some the lugals may have initially been elected as ad hoc leaders much like the consuls of Rome and the judges (shoftim) of the bible, but generally needed for military purposes.

Like the classical Greeks, the Sumerians and Akkadians may have believed that whomever won these wars, the gods favored more so. Countless tablets show both pictorial representations and written texts which depicted gods warring when it was known that kings fought these conflicts. An example of this is when Umma and Lagash were warring the texts say that Ningirsu (patron war god of Lagash) battled against Umma and “By the command of Enlil, he cast (his) big battle-net upon it, and its many tumuli (burial mounds) he laid upon the ground in the plain.” 

There was even a king of Akkad named Naram-Sin who is depicted in artwork wearing a horned helmet only worn by the gods and was deified as the god of Agade (Akkad)”. Despite the apparent supremacy the ensis and lugals held, early Mesopotamian history shows that the council (ukkin, “council, assembly”) still held sway over most important decisions; one made up of elders (abba urru, “father/elders of the city”) and one of youths. In the poem Gilgamesh and Agga even Gilgamesh, the great legendary king of Uruk, needed their permission to go to war against Aga of Kish. The elders disapproved “Let us submit to the house of Kish, let us not smite it with weapons” but the people of the city sided with Gilgamesh.

Other city states arose, like the great cities of Kish and Ur, which surpassed Uruk in importance. This transition from the Uruk period to the First Dynasty of Ur is said by some to coincide with a wet and dry period known as the Piora Oscillation which led to massive flooding (possibly inspiring the great flood myth) and drought (leading to a scramble for resources).

If there are any errors please privately inbox me so I can update it. As always, if you’d like to read or learn about any specific historical subjects just let me know what they are and I will take note of them.

See Also:

The World’s First Female Author, Enhedu’anna

This ancient clay tablet from Babylonia is inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform and dates to the 20th-17th centuries BC. It mentions King Sargon’s daughter Enhedu'anna as the author of a hymn to the goddess Inanna. The tablet has lines written first by the teacher in the first column, with 2 students repeating the hymn in columns 2 and 3.

Enhedu’anna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BC), founder of the first documented empire in Asia. Enhedu’anna emerges as a genuine creative talent, a poetess as well as a princess, a priestess and a prophetess. She is, in fact, the first named, non-legendary author in history. As such she has found her way into contemporary anthologies, especially of women’s literature.

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Mini-Lesson: Sounds of Sumerian

After a long hiatus, my next video is up! This one is a mini-lesson, which covers the sounds of Sumerian (as close as we know!) and how they can be put together into syllables.

More main lessons are filmed and just need editing, so expect them very shortly.

THE GREAT MESOPOTAMIAN FLOOD MYTH

Below is an excerpt from my post: THE SUMERIANS, FOREFATHERS OF CIVILIZATION IN MESOPOTAMIA.

According to Sumerian, Akkadian and later Babylonian mythology the Anunnaki made the Igigu (lesser gods) dig canals and clear channels but in time they grew tired and rebelled.

“When the gods, man-like, Bore the labor, carried the load, the gods’ load was great, The toil grievous, the trouble excessive. The great Anunnaku, the Seven, Were making the Igigu undertake the toil.”

The gods sacrificed one of the rebel leaders (Geshtu-e, his name meaning “a god who had intelligence”) and to make from his remains and clay a new being to take on this labor, humans.

“Let them slaughter one god, so that all the gods may be purified by dipping. With his flesh and blood let Nintu mix clay. So let god and man be mingled together in the clay. After she had mixed the clay, she called the Anunna[ki], the great gods. The Igigu, the great gods, spat upon the clay. Mami opened her mouth and said to the great gods: “You commanded me a task and I have finished it, I have removed your toil, I have imposed your load on man.”” – Atrahasis Epic

In time humans grew too numerous and loud for the gods to handle, the ‘clamor’ prevented Enlil from sleeping. The gods decided to bring forth calamities against them in the form of drought, followed by pestilence and famine; each time man had recovered from these and multiplied once again.

“The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull. The God grew restless at their racket, Enlil had to listen to their noise. He addressed the great gods, 'The noise of mankind has become too much, I am losing sleep over their racket. Give the order that surrupu-disease shall break out.”

Despite Enki’s (Babylonian Ea) arguing the gods decide to send a great flood that would kill off mankind. Enki warns his human servant to dismantle his house, build a boat from its remains and fill it with two of every animal.

^ Christ stilleth the Tempest by John Martin, 1852.

“Like a wild ass screaming the winds howled, the darkness was total, there was no sun. As for Nintu the Great Mistress, her lips became encrusted with rime. The great gods, the Anunna[ki], stayed parched and famished. The goddess watched and wept.”

After the flood Nintu and the other gods wept in grief and regret for the annihilation of man as they “clog the river like dragonflies”. Note that it says river and not the world, hinting towards it being a local flood and not a global one but much later this tale was added to the Epic of Gilgamesh which replaces the sentence with “Like the spawn of fishes, they fill the sea”. The gods, without sacrifices from man grew hungry and thirsty but Enki’s servant survived the flood and offered the gods a sacrifice from which they feasted. 

^ The Deluge by Francis Danby.

Nonetheless Enlil was angered at Enki for deceiving them but Enki brought them the proposal that they can create new humans that will not only live shortened lives but will be less fertile, become victims of miscarriage (now only two-thirds of births will be successful), priestesses will remain celibate virgins and the pasittu (she-demon) that would ‘snatch babies from their mother’s lap’. Enki’s servant is separated from these new men and placed within a paradise alongside his wife to live eternally.

If there are any errors please privately inbox me so I can update it. As always, if you’d like to read or learn about any specific historical subjects just let me know what they are and I will take note of them.

See Also:

Neo-Sumerian Messenger Tablet, 2028 BC

A clay pillow-shaped messenger tablet from an important palace archive of the Sumerian city Iri-Saĝrig, dated to 2028 BC, with cuneiform text on both sides: “120 quarts of barleyfor Namhani, a royal messenger; 120 quarts for Dadatabum; 120 quarts for Ur-diĝira; 120 quarts for Puzur-Sin; 120 quarts for Iti-Sin; 120 quarts for Zuzaya; 120 quarts for Utul-Mama; 120 quarts for Ur-Šulpa’e; 120 quarts for Nabi-Sin; 120 quarts for Ahu-țab; 120 quarts for Ahu-baqar; 120 quarts for Igi-anakezu; 120 quarts for Lu-gula; Total: 13 royal messengers, 120 quarts for each; their barley 1,560 quarts; barley salary of royal messengers when they were stationed to surveythe farmers’ field; (the rations) were receivedIlum-asu, the scribe, was responsible; withdrawal in the month of kir11-si-ak; Year when Ibbi-Sin (became) king.”

This text dates to the first year of King Ibbi-Sin, the last king of the Ur III. The text is important because it records huge quantities of barley (total 1560 quarts is equal to 1384 l) distributed by the government to royal messengers. The barley was meant to be rations or salaries in return for their service. According to prof. David Owen the Iri-Saĝrig archive is probably the archive of governor whose office was in the local palace. The king and other members of the royal family occasionally traveled to Iri-Saĝrig, perhaps on their way to or from Nippur or other towns. No town in Sumer was visited more often by the king than Iri-Saĝrig. This may explain the presence of so many royal functionaries associated with the town.

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I saw this exercise completed in Latin (found here) and decided to try it in Sumerian! Note that some items have multiple vocabulary words; I’ve tried to go with the most basic/most common.*

A — su “body”

1 mush(me) “face” // 2 ka(g) “mouth” // 3 sun “chin” // 4 gu “neck” // 5 murgu “shoulders” // 6-7 “arm” // 8-9 ashkud “elbow, forearm” // 10 aur “armpit” // 11 shagsud “back (of torso)” // 12 gaba “chest” // 13 endur “navel, umbilical cord” // 14 shag “belly, gut” // 15 kibid “butt” // 16 ib “waist, hip” or sabad “loins, midsection” // 17-18 paphal “leg, thigh” // 19 dub “knee” // 20 ningus “shin”

B — shu “hand”

21 kishibla “wrist” // 23 umbin “nail” // 24-28 shusi “finger” // 29 tibir “palm”

C — sang “head”

30 dilib or siki “hair” // 31 kinamesira “temples” // 32 sangki “forehead” // 34 ngeshtug “ear” // 35 te “cheek” // 36 kiri “nose” // 37 paang “nostril(s)” // 38 meze “jaw” // 39-40 sun “beard” // 41 eme “tongue” // 42 zu “tooth” // 43 nundum “lip”

D — igi “eye”: 44 sigigi or ugurigi “eyebrow”

E — ngiri “foot”

49 zi-in-gi “ankle”** // 50 masila “heel” // 53-55 ngirisi “toe” // 56 umbin “toenail”

F — su “guts, entrails” or ngish “organs”

57 ugu “skull”* // 58 gumur “spine” // 59-61 ngeli or meli “throat, windpipe” // 62 sa “muscle” // 63 mur “lungs” // 64 sha(g) “heart” // 65 ur “liver” // 66 tun “stomach” // 67 shaningin “intestines” // 68-69 sa “vein, artery” // 70 ellang “kidney” // 72 ellamkush “bladder”

*I don’t know of a word for: back of hand; specific fingers, including the thumb; sideburns or mustache; eyelash, eyelid, iris or pupil; arch (ugurngiri?) or ball of foot; brain; pancreas. If you do, please let me know and I’ll update this post!

**I’ve kept the dashes in zi-in-gi to make clear that the “n” and “g” are pronounced separately, as /zin.gi/ rather than /zi.ŋi/. Elsewhere, parentheses indicate the word can be pronounced either way, e.g. ka or kag “mouth”.

Sumerian insults

The Sumerians were big on putting one another down, and the language has quite a few mean insults! This post will give you some examples of useful Sumerian insults and how to use them, in case you need to tell anyone off in a dead language.

Sumerian insults I’ve found useful include uzuh “unclean person”, igibala “traitor”, and shabarra “bastard”. Less intense ones would be hara “rascal, ruffian”, lutumu “dishonest or unreliable person” or nungarra “foolish, disorderly (adj.)”. Many Sumerian insults refer to a person’s bad activities or behavior, like nibulung “pompous”, ninggu “glutton” and lunamtagga “sinner”.

My personal favorite insults in Sumerian are agaashgi “most awkward person” and sangdu nutuku “idiot”, which literally means “(one) not having a head”.

I don’t know if the Sumerians used any insults regarding specific foreign groups, but lukurra “stranger, enemy” is a pretty common negative word for anyone not Sumerian.

Make sure to know that, to insult just one person, use the subject pronoun zae and the singular verb form -men, as in Zae haramen “you are a rascal”. It’s important to use zae because otherwise it might be interpreted as (ngae) haramen “I am a rascal”, which is not what you mean. To insult several people, just take the noun and add -menzen “you (plural) are”, e.g. Haramenzen “y’all are rascal(s)”. In sentences with the verb “to be” you don’t specifically pluralize nouns (and a video on plural pronouns & verb me forms is coming soon!) Also note that if you’re using an insulting adjective, make sure to attach lu- “person” before it: Zae lunibulungmen “you are (a) pompous (person)”.

Now go forth and insult away!

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Sumerian Silver Lyre, from Ur, southern Iraq, c. 2600-2400 BC

This lyre was found in the ‘Great Death-Pit’, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women -laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another. They were all made from wood which had decayed by the time they were excavated, but two of them, of which this is one, were entirely covered in sheet silver attached by small silver nails. The plaques down the front of the sounding box are made of shell. The silver cow’s head decorating the front has inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. The edges of the sound box have a narrow border of shell and lapis lazuli inlay.

When found, the lyre lay in the soil. The metal was very brittle and the uprights were squashed flat. First it was photographed, and then covered in wax and waxed cloth to hold it together for lifting. The silver on the top and back edge of the sounding box had been destroyed. Some of the silver preserved the impression of matting on which it must have originally lain. Eleven silver tubes acted as the tuning pegs.

Such instruments were probably important parts of rituals at court and temple. There are representations of lyre players and their instruments on cylinder seals, and on the Standard of Ur being played alongside a possible singer.