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.
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.
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
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.
clay tablet maker and cuneiform scribe recording a cattle sale in a Sumerian
market place about 3000 B.C. by Neville Dear.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
The Ishtar Gate, main gate of Babylon built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE). Enamelled tiles, mythical animals, lions, and gods embellish the gate which was dedicated to goddess Ishtar of Babylon, Mesopotamia (Iraq). now in Berlin
It’s a well known fact that Egyptians are credited with the domestication of cats, but did you know that the history of felines in society dates back far longer than that?
Like many things in modern culture, the presence of cats in towns can be traced back to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. It is believed that around the same time that livestock such as cattle and goats began to be domesticated– around 10,000 years ago– cats, too, were becoming prevalent amongst humans. For the same reasons that the ancient Egyptians kept our feline companions around, so did the ancient Mesopotamians. Small and crafty hunters meant that farmers’ food stores would be safe from rodents as would their homes. Of course, Egyptians were the first to keep cats as pets, but that would not have been possible without the initial cat-human bond forged by Mesopotamians.
For reasons unknown, it is ultimately rare to find artwork depicting domesticated cats in collections dating back to Mesopotamia, but their relatives are much more commonplace. While the lion seemed to be the favored cat for sculptures and reliefs, the occasional panther made its way into immortalization at the hands of talented artists of the time.
A carved banded agate cylinder seal with frieze depicting a seated bearded figure (possibly a deity) in flounced robe holding a cup towards a standing figure in a robe with herringbone pattern, a second figure in flounced robe, a third figure (worshipper) in tasseled robe, lamp with corrugated stand.
Head of a man, fragment of a relief sculpture from Room N in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II (r. 721-700 BCE) at ancient Dur-Sharrukin = present-day Khorsabad, Iraq. Now in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.
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.