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Sumerian Archaeological Discoveries
11 years ago
Sumerian Cemetery Largest Ever

October 23, 2000 - AP

Iraqi archaeologists are striving to bring to light what they describe as Mesopotamia's largest "city of graves," where the Sumerians buried their dead nearly 5,000 years ago.

The scientists are stunned by the size of cemetery and say much more work needs to be done to determine what role it played in ancient times.

"We have never excavated anything like it before. It is unprecedented," said Fadhil Abdulwahid, a Baghdad University archaeologist.

Remote and desolate, the site was long the target of grave robbers who the scientists say pilfered gold ornaments, cylinder seals made of precious stones and statuettes. Ancient Iraqis usually buried their dead with their most valued possessions.

Chief archaeologist Donny Youkhanna could not say how many artifacts were stolen, nor estimate their significance, "but the damage is certainly big."

When he started excavations with 40 diggers last year he brought along armed guards.

Previously, he said, few dared to approach the ancient mound due to the large number of scorpions that lived among the graves, which prompted the locals to name it Umm al-Ajarib or "Mother of Scorpions." Shells, bowls, beads and handsome earthenware and statues dot small lanes in the cemetery situated 250 miles south of Baghdad.

Until now, experts had designated a cemetery at Eridu in southern Iraq as the largest Sumerian burial ground. Umm al-Ajarib is many times larger. The whole site is about two square miles with the cemetery occupying the largest portion, and Youkhanna said it might hold hundreds of thousands of graves. A better estimate will be available once the diggers remove debris and count the graves in a square they have targeted.

The Sumerian civilization appeared in southern Mesopotamia as early as the 5th millennium B.C. By 3000 B.C., Sumer had developed considerable power based on irrigated agriculture, fine arts and a special writing system known as cuneiform, probably the earliest ever in man's history.

Artifacts gathered from the temple so far, though significant, do not shed enough light. Among them is a stone vessel with an inscription in cuneiform, magnificent ivory cylinder seals, goblets, conical bowls and spouted jars.

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Agriculture and Hunting

The Sumerians grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, millet, wheat, turnips, dates, onions, garlic, lettuce, leeks and mustard. They also raised cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. They used oxen as their primary beasts of burden and donkeys as their primary transport animal. Sumerians hunted fish and fowl.

Sumerian agriculture depended heavily on irrigation. The irrigation was accomplished by the use of shadufs, canals, channels, dykes, weirs, and reservoirs. The canals required frequent repair and continual removal of silt. The government required individuals to work on the canals, although the rich were able to exempt themselves.

Using the canals, farmers would flood their fields and then drain the water. Next they let oxen stomp the ground and kill weeds. They then dragged the fields with pickaxes. After drying, they plowed, harrowed, raked thrice, and pulverized with a mattock.Sumerians harvested during the dry fall season in three-person teams consisting of a reaper, a binder, and a sheaf arranger. The farmers would use threshing wagons to separate the cereal heads from the stalks and then use threshing sleds to disengage the grain. They then winnowed the grain/chaff mixture.

Early in Sumerian civilization, eighty to ninety percent of those who farmed did so on land they considered theirs rather than communal property. Here, too, the Sumerians were expressing a trend that was common among others. Another individual effort was commerce, and with a growth in commerce the Sumerians had begun using money, which made individual wealth more easily measured and stored. Commerce required initiative, imagination, an ability to get along with people and luck, and, of course, some merchants were more successful than were others. Farming took stamina, strength, good health, good luck and organization. And some farmers were more successful than were other farmers.

Those farmers who failed to harvest enough to keep themselves in food and seed borrowed from those who had wealth in surplus. Those who borrowed hoped that their next harvest would give them the surplus they needed to repay their loan. But if the next harvest were also inadequate, to meet their obligations they might be forced to surrender their lands to the lender or to work for him. When Sumerians lost their land, they or their descendants might become sharecroppers: working the lands of successful landowners in exchange for giving the landowners a good portion of the crops they grew.

Accompanying divisions in wealth was a division in power, and power among the Sumerians passed to an elite. Sumerian priests who had once worked the fields alongside others, soon were separated from commoners. A corporation run by priests became the greatest landowners among the Sumerians. The priests hired the poor to work their land and claimed that land was really owned by the gods. Priests had become skilled as scribes, and in some cities they sat with the city's council of elders. These councils wielded great influence, sometimes in conflict with a city's king.

Cylinder Seal Showing God of Agriculture and Two Others Plowing

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Art and Architecture

More than 4,000 years ago the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers began to teem with life--first the Sumerian, then the Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian empires. Here too excavations have unearthed evidence of great skill and artistry.

From Sumeria have come examples of fine works in marble, diorite, hammered gold, and lapis lazuli. Of the many portraits produced in this area, some of the best are those of Gudea, ruler of Lagash.

Some of the portraits are in marble, others, such as the one in the Louvre in Paris, are cut in gray-black diorite.

Dating from about 2400 BC, they have the smooth perfection and idealized features of the classical period in Sumerian art.

Sumerian art and architecture was ornate and complex. Clay was the Sumerians' most abundant material. Stone, wood, and metal had to be imported.

Art was primarily used for religious purposes. Painting and sculpture was the main median used.

Marble Statues

The famous votive stone/ marble sculptures from Tell Asmar represent tall, bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts.

Enlarged eyes were found on many statues

The tallest figure is about 30 inches in height. He represents the god of vegetation. The next tallest represents a mother goddess-mother goddesses were common in many ancient cultures. They were worshipped in the hope that they would bring fertility to women and to crops. (Another connection to African culture.)

The next largest figures are priests. The smallest figures are worshippers - a definite hierarchy of size. This is an example of artistic iconography. We learn to read picture symbols---bodies are cylindrical and scarcely differentiated by gender, with their uplifted heads and hands clasped. This is a pose of supplication-wanting or waiting for something.

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Ur yielded much outstanding Sumerian work, e.g., a wooden harp with the head of a bull on top, showing mythological scenes in gold and mosaic inlay on the sound box (c.2650 B.C., Univ. of Penn., Philadelphia).

Sumerian techniques and motifs were widely available because of the invention of cuneiform writing before 3000 B.C.

This system of writing developed before the last centuries of the 4th millennium B.C. in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley, most likely by the Sumerians. The characters consist of arrangements of wedge-like strokes, generally on clay tablets. The history of the script is strikingly like that of the Egyptian hieroglyphic.

Among other Sumerian arts forms were the clay cylinder seals used to mark documents or property. They were highly sophisticated.



The detailed drawing above was made from tracing a photograph (from Campbell, Shepsut) of the temple vase found at Uruk/Warka, dating from approximately 3100 BCE. It is over one meter (nearly 4 feet) tall. On the upper tier is a figure of a nude man that may possibly represent the sacrificial king. He approaches the robed queen Inanna. Inanna wears a horned headdress.

The Queen of Heaven stands in front of two looped temple poles or "asherah," phallic posts, sacred to the goddess. A group of nude priests bring gifts of baskets of gifts, including, fruits to pay her homage on the lower tier. This vase is now at the Iraq Museum in Bagdad.

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"The Warka Vase, is the oldest ritual vase in carved stone discovered in ancient Sumer and can be dated to round about 3000 B.C. or probably 4th-3rd millennium B.C. It shows men entering the presence of his gods, specifically a cult goddess Innin (Inanna), represented by two bundles of reeds placed side by side symbolizing the entrance to a temple.

Inanna - Female Head from Uruk, c. 3500 - 3000 B.C., Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Inanna in the Middle East was an Earth and later a (horned) moon goddess; Canaanite derivative of Sumerian Innin, or Akkadian Ishtar of Uruk. Ereshkigal (wife of Nergal) was Inanna's (Ishtar's) elder sister.

Inanna descended from the heavens into the hell region of her sister-opposite, the Queen of Death, Ereshkigal. And she sent Ninshubur her messenger with instructions to rescue her should she not return. The seven judges (Annunaki) hung her naked on a stake.

Ninshubar tried various gods (Enlil, Nanna, Enki who assisted him with two sexless creatures to sprinkle a magical food and water on her corpse 60 times).

She was preceded by Belili, wife of Baal (Heb. Tamar, taw-mawr', from an unused root meaning to be erect, a palm tree). She ended up as Annis, the blue hag who sucked the blood of children. Inanna in Egypt became the goddess of the Dog Star, Sirius which announced the flood season of the Nile."

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Practically all Sumerian sculpture served as adornment or ritual equipment for the temples. No clearly identifiable cult statues of gods or goddesses have yet been found. Many of the extant figures in stone are votive statues, as indicated by the phrases used in the inscriptions that they often bear: "It offers prayers," or "Statue, say to my king (god). . . ."

Sumerian Statuettes, from the Temple of Abu,
Tel Asmar, c. 2700 - 2600 B.C., Iraq Museum,
Baghdad and Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

Male statues stand or sit with hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. They are often naked above the waist and wear a woolen skirt curiously woven in a pattern that suggests overlapping petals (commonly described by the Greek word kaunakes, meaning "thick cloak"). A toga-like garment sometimes covers one shoulder. Men generally wear long hair and a heavy beard, both often trimmed in corrugations and painted black. The eyes and eyebrows are emphasized with colored inlay. The female coiffure varies considerably but predominantly consists of a heavy coil arranged vertically from ear to ear and a chignon behind. A headdress of folded linen sometimes conceals the hair. Ritual nakedness is confined to priests.

It has been thought that the rarity of stone in Mesopotamia contributed to the primary stylistic distinction between Sumerian and Egyptian sculpture. The Egyptians quarried their own stone in prismatic blocks, and one can see that, even in their freestanding statues, strength of design is attained by the retention of geometric unity. By contrast, in Sumer, stone must have been imported from remote sources, often in the form of miscellaneous boulders, the amorphous character of which seems to have been retained by the statues into which they were transformed.

Beyond this general characteristic of Sumerian sculpture, two successive styles have been distinguished in the middle and late subdivisions of the Early Dynastic period. One very notable group of figures, from Tall al-Asmar, Iraq (ancient Eshnunna), dating from the first of these phases, shows a geometric simplification of forms that, to modern taste, is ingenious and aesthetically acceptable. Statues characteristic of the second phase on the other hand, though technically more competently carved, show aspirations to naturalism that are sometimes overly ambitious. In this second style, some scholars see evidence of occasional attempts at portraiture.

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Yet, in spite of minor variations, all these figures adhere to the single formula of presenting the conventional characteristics of Sumerian physiognomy. Their provenance is not confined to the Sumerian cities in the south. An important group of statues is derived from the ancient capital of Mari, on the middle Euphrates, where the population is known to have been racially different from the Sumerians. In the Mari statues there also appears to have been no deviation from the sculptural formula; they are distinguished only by technical peculiarities in the carving.

Deprived of stone, Sumerian sculptors exploited alternative materials. Fine examples of metal casting have been found, some of them suggesting knowledge of the cire perdue (lost-wax) process, and copper statues more than half life-size are known to have existed. In metalwork, however, the ingenuity of Sumerian artists is perhaps best judged from their contrivance of composite figures.

The earliest and one of the finest examples of such figures--and of Sumerian sculpture as a whole--comes from a Protoliterate level of excavation at Tall al-Warka'. It is the limestone face of a life-size statue (Iraqi Museum, Baghdad), the remainder of which must have been composed of other materials; the method of attachment is visible on the surviving face.

Devices of this sort were brought to perfection by craftsmen of the Early Dynastic period, the finest examples of whose work are to be seen among the treasures from the royal tombs at Ur: a bull's head decorating a harp, composed of wood or bitumen covered with gold and wearing a lapis lazuli beard (British Museum);

Sumerian Bull's Head, Lyre from Tomb of Paubi, c. 2600 B.C.

A rampant he-goat in gold and lapis, supported by a golden tree (University Museum, Philadelphia) -

Ram (Billy Goat) and Tree, Offering Stand from Ur (to male fertility god, Tammuz), 2600 B.C.,

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The composite headdresses of court ladies (British Museum, Iraqi Museum, and University Museum); or, more simply, the miniature figure of a wild ass, cast in electrum (a natural yellow alloy of gold and silver) and mounted on a bronze rein ring (British Museum).

The inlay and enrichment of wooden objects reaches its peak in this period, as may be seen in the so-called standard or double-sided panel from Ur (British Museum), on which elaborate scenes of peace and war are depicted in a delicate inlay of shell and semiprecious stones. The refinement of craftsmanship in metal is also apparent in the famous wig-helmet of gold (Iraqi Museum), belonging to a Sumerian prince, and in weapons, implements, and utensils.

Relief carving in stone was a medium of expression popular with the Sumerians and first appears in a rather crude form in Protoliterate times. In the final phase of the Early Dynastic period, its style became conventional. The most common form of relief sculpture was that of stone plaques, 1 foot (30 centimeters) or more square, pierced in the center for attachment to the walls of a temple, with scenes depicted in several registers (horizontal rows).

The subjects usually seem to be commemorative of specific events, such as feasts or building activities, but representation is highly standardized, so that almost identical plaques have been found at sites as much as 500 miles (800 kilometers) apart. Fragments of more ambitious commemorative stele have also been recovered; the Stele of Vultures (Louvre Museum) from Telloh, Iraq (ancient Lagash), is one example. Although it commemorates a military victory, it has a religious content. The most important figure is that of a patron deity, emphasized by its size, rather than that of the king. The formal massing of figures suggests the beginnings of mastery in design, and a formula has been devised for multiplying identical figures, such as chariot horses.

In a somewhat different category are the cylinder seals so widely utilized at this time. Used for the same purposes as the more familiar stamp seal and likewise engraved in negative (intaglio), the cylinder-shaped seal was rolled over wet clay on which it left an impression in relief. Delicately carved with miniature designs on a variety of stones or shell, cylinder seals rank as one of the higher forms of Sumerian art.

Prominent among their subjects is the complicated imagery of Sumerian mythology and religious ritual. Still only partially understood, their skillful adaptation to linear designs can at least be easily appreciated. Some of the finest cylinder seals date from the Protoliterate period (see photograph). After a slight deterioration in the first Early Dynastic period, when brocade patterns or files of running animals were preferred (see photograph), mythical scenes returned. Conflicts are depicted between wild beasts and protecting demigods or hybrid figures, associated by some scholars with the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. The monotony of animated motifs is occasionally relieved by the introduction of an inscription.

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Votive Statues, from the Temple of Abu, Tell Asmar,c.2500 BC, limestone, shell, and gypsum


The beginnings of monumental architecture in Mesopotamia are usually considered to have been contemporary with the founding of the Sumerian cities and the invention of writing, in about 3100 BC. Conscious attempts at architectural design during this so-called Protoliterate period (c. 3400-c. 2900 BC) are recognizable in the construction of religious buildings. There is, however, one temple, at Abu Shahrayn (ancient Eridu), that is no more than a final rebuilding of a shrine the original foundation of which dates back to the beginning of the 4th millennium; the continuity of design has been thought by some to confirm the presence of the Sumerians throughout the temple's history.

Already, in the Ubaid period (c. 5200-c.3500 BC), this temple anticipated most of the architectural characteristics of the typical Protoliterate Sumerian platform temple. It is built of mud brick on a raised plinth (platform base) of the same material, and its walls are ornamented on their outside surfaces with alternating buttresses (supports) and recesses. Tripartite in form, its long central sanctuary is flanked on two sides by subsidiary chambers, provided with an altar at one end and a freestanding offering table at the other.

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Typical temples of the Protoliterate period--both the platform type and the type built at ground level--are, however, much more elaborate both in planning and ornament. Interior wall ornament often consists of a patterned mosaic of Terra cotta cones sunk into the wall, their exposed ends dipped in bright colors or sheathed in bronze. An open hall at the Sumerian city of Uruk (biblical Erech; modern Tall al-Warka', Iraq) contains freestanding and attached brick columns that have been brilliantly decorated in this way. Alternatively, the internal-wall faces of a platform temple could be ornamented with mural paintings depicting mythical scenes, such as at 'Uqair.

The two forms of temple - the platform variety and that built at ground level - persisted throughout the early dynasties of Sumerian history (c. 2900-c. 2400 BC). It is known that two of the platform temples originally stood within walled enclosures, oval in shape and containing, in addition to the temple, accommodation for priests. But the raised shrines themselves are lost, and their appearance can be judged only from facade ornaments discovered at Tall al-'Ubayd. These devices, which were intended to relieve the monotony of sun-dried brick or mud plaster, include a huge copper-sheathed lintel, with animal figures modeled partly in the round; wooden columns sheathed in a patterned mosaic of colored stone or shell; and bands of copper-sheathed bulls and lions, modeled in relief but with projecting heads. The planning of ground-level temples continued to elaborate on a single theme: a rectangular sanctuary, entered on the cross axis, with altar, offering table, and pedestals for votive statuary (statues used for vicarious worship or intercession).

Considerably less is known about palaces or other secular buildings at this time. Circular brick columns and austerely simplified facades have been found at Kish (modern Tall al-Uhaimer, Iraq). Flat roofs, supported on palm trunks, must be assumed, although some knowledge of corbelled vaulting (a technique of spanning an opening like an arch by having successive cones of masonry project farther inward as they rise on each side off the gap)--and even of dome construction--is suggested by tombs at Ur, where a little stone was available.

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The Sumerian temple was a small brick house that the god was supposed to visit periodically. It was ornamented so as to recall the reed houses built by the earliest Sumerians in the valley. This house, however, was set on a brick platform, which became larger and taller as time progressed until the platform at Ur (built around 2100 BC) was 150 by 200 feet (45 by 60 meters) and 75 feet (23 meters) high. These Mesopotamian temple platforms are called ziggurats, a word derived from the Assyrian ziqquratu, meaning "high." They were symbols in themselves; the ziggurat at Ur was planted with trees to make it represent a mountain. There the god visited Earth, and the priests climbed to its top to worship.

Most cities were simple in structure, the ziggurat was one of the world's first great architectural structures.

White Temple and Ziggurat, Uruk (Warka), 3200 -3000 B.C.

This temple was erected at Warka or Uruk (Sumer), probably about 300 B.C.It stood on a brick terrace, formed by the construction of successive buildings on the site (the Ziggurat). The top was reached by a staircase. The temple measured 22 x 17 meters (73 x 57 feet). Access to the temple was through three doors, the main located at its southern side.

Sumerian Artifacts - British Museum
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Background and History


term "Sumerian" is an exonym (a name given by another group of people), first applied by the Akkadians. The Sumerians described themselves as "the black-headed people" (sag-gi-ga) and called their land ki-en-gir, "place of the civilized lords". The Akkadian word Shumer possibly represents this name in dialect.

The Sumerians, with a language, culture, and, perhaps, appearance different from their Semitic neighbors and successors were at one time believed to have been invaders, but the archaeological record shows cultural continuity from the time of the early Ubaid period (5200-4500 BC C-14, 6090-5429 calBC) settlements in southern Mesopotamia.

The challenge for any population attempting to dwell in Iraq's arid southern floodplain was to master the Tigris and Euphrates river waters for year-round agriculture and drinking water. In fact, the Sumerian language is replete with terms for canals, dikes, and reservoirs, indicating that Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north after perfecting irrigation agriculture there.

The Ubaid pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via 'Choga Mami Transitional' ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (5700-4900 BC C-14, 6640-5816 calBC) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris river and its tributaries.

The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli/Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where 8 levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery with affinities to Samarran ware.

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Sumerian speakers spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a social organization and a technology that enabled them, through their control of the water, to survive and prosper in a difficult environment where, other than a possible indigenous hunter-gatherer population in the marshlands at the head of the Arabo-Persian Gulf and seasonal pastoralists, they had no competition.

A distinctive style of painted pottery spread throughout Mesopotamia in the Ubaid period, when the ancient Sumerian cult-center of Eridu was gradually surpassed in size by the nearby city of Uruk. The archaeological transition from the Ubaid period to the Uruk period is marked by a gradual shift from painted pottery domestically-produced on a slow wheel, to a great variety of unpainted pottery mass-produced by specialists on a fast wheel.

The date of this transition, from Ubaid 4 to Early Uruk, is in dispute, but calibrated radiocarbon dates from Tell Awayli would place it as early as 4500 BC.By the time of the Uruk period (4500-3100 BC calibrated), the volume of trade goods being inexpensively transported along the canals and rivers of southern Mesopotamia facilitated the rise of many large temple-centered cities where centralized administrations could afford to employ specialized workers. It is fairly certain that it was during the Uruk period that Sumerian cities began to make use of slave labor, and there is ample evidence for captured slaves as workers in the earliest texts.

Artifacts, and even colonies of this Uruk civilization have been found over a wide area - from the Mediterranean sea in the west, to the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, and as far east as Central Iran.

The Uruk period civilization, exported by Sumerian traders and colonists, had a stimulating and influential effect on surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies.

The cities of Sumer could not maintain remote, long-distance colonies purely by military force; the domestic horse did not appear in Sumer until the Ur III period - one thousand years after the Uruk period ended. The end of the Uruk period coincided with a dry period from 3200-2900 BC that marked the end of a long wetter, warmer climate period from ca. 9,000 to 5,000 years B.P. called the Holocene climatic optimum.

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When the historical record opens, the Sumerians seem to be limited to southern Mesopotamia, although very early rulers such as Lugal-Anne-Mundu are indeed recorded as expanding to neighboring areas as far as the Mediterranean, Taurus and Zagros, and not long after legendary figures like Enmerkar and Gilgamesh, who are associated in mythology with the historical transfer of culture from Eridu to Uruk, were supposed to have reigned.

The term 'Sumerian' applies to speakers of the Sumerian language. The Sumerian language is generally regarded as a language isolate in linguistics because it belongs to no known language family; Akkadian belongs to the Afro-Asiatic languages.


In the earliest known period Sumer was divided into several independent city-states, whose limits were defined by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priest or king, who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.Some of the major cities included Eridu, Kish, Lagash, Uruk, Ur, and Nippur. As these cities developed, they sought to assert primacy over each other, falling into a millennium of almost incessant warfare over water rights, trade routes, and tribute from nomadic tribes.

The Sumerian king list contains a traditional list of the early dynasties, much of it probably mythical. The first name on the list whose existence is authenticated through archaeological evidence, is that of Enmebaragesi of Kish, whose name is also mentioned in the Gilgamesh epics. This has led some to suggest that Gilgamesh really was a historical king of Uruk.

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The Sumerian king list is an ancient text in the Sumerian language listing kings of Sumer from Sumerian and foreign dynasties. The later Babylonian king list and Assyrian king list were similar. There are also slight similarities between the antediluvian portion of the list and the two sets of Genealogies of Adam in the Torah.

The list records the location of the "official" kingship and the rulers, with the lengths of their rule. The kingship was believed to be handed down by the gods, and could be passed from one city to another by military conquest. The list mentions only one female ruler: Kug-Baba, the tavern-keeper, who alone accounts for the third dynasty of Kish.

The list peculiarly blends from ante-diluvian, probably mythological kings with exceptionally long reigns, into more plausibly historical dynasties. It cannot be ruled out that most of the earliest names in the list correspond to historical rulers who later became legendary figures.The first name on the list whose existence has been authenticated through recent archaeological discoveries, is that of Enmebaragesi of Kish, whose name is also mentioned in the Gilgamesh epics. This has led some to suggest that Gilgamesh himself was a historical king of Uruk, and not just a legendary one. Conversely, Dumuzi is one of the spellings of the name of the god of nature, Tammuz, whose most present epithet was the shepherd.

Conspicuously absent from this list are the priest-rulers of Lagash, who are known directly from inscriptions from ca. the 25th century BC. Another early ruler in the list who is clearly historical is Lugal-Zage-Si of Uruk of the 23rd century BC, who conquered Lagash, and who was in turn conquered by Sargon of Akkad.

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The list is central, for lack of a more accurate source, to the chronology of the 3rd millennium BC. However, the presence in the list of dynasties which plausibly reigned simultaneously, but in different cities, makes it impossible to trust the addition of the figures to produce a strict chronology. Taking this into account, many regnal dates have been revised in recent years, and are generally placed much later nowadays than the regnal dates given in older publications, sometimes by an entire millennium.

Some have proposed re-reading the units given in more realistic numbers, such as taking the figures, given in sars (units of 3600) for the antediluvians, as instead being either decades or simply years. Uncertainty, especially as to the duration of the Gutian period, also makes dates for events predating the Third dynasty of Ur (ca. 21st century BC) with any accuracy practically impossible (see also Shulgi, Ur-Nammu).

Some of the earliest known inscriptions containing the list date from the early 3rd millennium BC; for example, the Weld-Blundell Prism is dated to 2170 BC.

The later Babylonian and Assyrian king lists that were based on it still preserved the earliest portions of the list well into the 3rd century BC, when Berossus popularised the list in the Hellenic world.

Over the large period of time involved, the names inevitably became corrupted, and Berossus' Greek version of the list, ironically one of the earliest to be known to modern academics, exhibits particularly odd transcriptions of the names. 

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The List

The dynasty of Lagash is well known through important monuments, and one of the first empires in recorded history was that of Eannatum of Lagash, who annexed practically all of Sumer, including Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Larsa, and reduced to tribute the city-state of Umma, arch-rival of Lagash. In addition, his realm extended to parts of Elam and along the Persian Gulf.

Lugal-Zage-Si, the priest-king of Umma, overthrew the primacy of the Lagash dynasty, took Uruk, making it his capital, and claimed an empire extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. He is the last ethnically Sumerian king before the arrival of the Semitic named king, Sargon of Akkad.

Under Sargon, the Semitic Akkadian language came to the fore in inscriptions, although Sumerian did not disappear completely. The Sumerian language still appears on dedicatory statues and official seals of Sargon and his heirs. Thorkild Jacobsen has argued that there is little break in historical continuity between the pre and post Sargon periods, and that too much emphasis has been placed on the perception of a "Semitic vs. Sumerian" conflict (see Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture by T. Jacobsen). However, it is certain that Akkadian was also briefly imposed on neighboring parts of Elam that were conquered by Sargon.

Following the downfall of Akkadian Empire at the hands of barbarian Gutians, another native Sumerian ruler, Gudea of Lagash, rose to prominence, promoting artistic development and continuing the practice of the Sargonid kings' claims to divinity. Later on, the 3rd dynasty of Ur was the last great "Sumerian renaissance", but already the region was becoming more Semitic than Sumerian, with the influx of the waves of Amorites who were to found the Babylonian Empire.

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Earliest City-states

Inscriptions have been found bearing some early names from the King List. The first name on the List whose historical existence is attested archaeologically is that of Enmebaragesi of Kish, said to have conquered Elam and built the temple of Enlil in Nippur. His successor, Agga, is said to have fought with Gilgamesh of Uruk.

Another name from the King List, Mesannepada of Ur seems to have succeeded his father, Meskalamdug. Mesannepada also defeated Uruk and Kish, thereafter calling himself by the title "King of Kish".

Some of the earliest monuments from Lagash mention a certain Mesilim, king of Kish, who arbitrated a border dispute between Lugal-shag-engur, high priest of Lagash, and the high priest of a neighbouring town, Umma.

Empire of Lugal-anne-mundu of Adab

Following this period, the entire region of Mesopotamia seems to have come under the sway of a Sumerian conqueror from Adab, Lugal-anne-mundu. According to inscriptions, he ruled from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and up to the Zagros Mountains, including Elam. However, his empire fell apart with his death.

Dynasty of Lagash


At a later date, the high priests of Lagash made themselves kings, and a dynasty was founded there by Ur-Nina. In the ruins of a building, attached by him to the temple of Nina, terra cotta bas reliefs of the king and his sons have been found, as well as lions' heads in onyx, that remind one of Egyptian work and onyx plates. These were "booty" dedicated to the goddess Bau. One inscription states that ships of Dilmun (Bahrain) brought him wood as tribute from foreign lands.

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Eannatum, grandson of Ur-Nina, made himself master of the whole of the district of Sumer, together with the cities of Uruk (ruled by Enshakushanna, of the King List), Ur, Nippur, Akshak, and Larsa. He also annexed the kingdom of Kish; however, it recovered its independence after his death. Umma was made tributary - a certain amount of grain being levied upon each person in it, that had to be paid into the treasury of the goddess Nina and the god Ingurisa.

The so-called "Stele of the Vultures," now in the Louvre, was erected as a monument of the victory of Eannatum of Lagash over Enakalle of Umma. On this, various incidents in the war are represented. In one scene, the king stands in his chariot with a curved weapon in his right hand, formed of three bars of metal bound together by rings, while his kilted followers, with helmets on their heads and lances in their hands, march behind him.

Eannatum's campaigns extended beyond the confines of Sumer. He overran a part of Elam, took the city of Az on the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute as far as Mari; however many of the realms he conquered were often in revolt. During his reign, temples and palaces were repaired or erected at Lagash and elsewhere; the town of Nina --that probably gave its name to the later Niniveh-- was rebuilt, and canals and reservoirs were excavated.

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He was succeeded by his brother, En-anna-tum I. During his rule, Umma once more asserted independence under Ur-Lumma, who attacked Lagash unsuccessfully. Ur-Lumma was replaced by a priest-king, Illi, who also attacked Lagash.


His son and successor Entemena restored the prestige of Lagash. Illi of Umma was subdued, with the help of his ally Lugal-kinishe-dudu of Uruk, successor to Enshakushanna and also on the king-list. This Lugal-kinishe-dudu seems to have been the predominant figure at the time, since he also claimed to rule Kish and Ur.

A tripod of silver dedicated by Entemena to his god is now in the Louvre. A frieze of lions devouring ibexes and deer, incised with great artistic skill, runs round the neck, while the eagle crest of Lagash adorns the globular part. The vase is a proof of the high degree of excellence to which the goldsmith's art had already attained. A vase of calcite, also dedicated by Entemena, has been found at Nippur.

After Entemena, a series of weak, corrupt priest-kings is attested for Lagash. The last of these, Urukagina, was known for his judicial, social, and economic reforms, and his may well be the first legal code known to history.

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Empire of Lugal-zage-si of Umma

Urukagina was overthrown and his city Lagash captured by Lugal-Zage-Si, the high priest of Umma. Lugal-zage-si also took Uruk and Ur, and made Uruk his capital. In a long inscription that he caused to be engraved on hundreds of stone vases dedicated to En-lil of Nippur, he boasts that his kingdom extended "from the Lower Sea (Persian Gulf), along the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Upper Sea" or Mediterranean. His empire was finally overthrown by Sargon of Akkad, who founded the first Semitic Empire.

"Sumerian Renaissance" (3rd Dynasty of Ur)

Following the fall of Sargon's Empire to the Gutians, a brief "dark ages" ensued; however one prominent Sumerian ruler of this time was Gudea of Lagash. The Gutians were finally driven out by the Sumerians under Urukhegal of Uruk, who was in turn defeated by Ur-Nammu of Ur, who founded what is known as the 3rd dynasty of Ur. Although the Sumerian language ("Emegir") was again made official, the Sumerian identity was already in decline, as the population continually became more and more Semiticised.

After this dynasty was destroyed by the Elamites, a fierce rivalry developed between the city-states of Larsa, that was under more Elamite than Sumerian influence, and Isin, that was more Amorite (as the Semitic speakers had come to be called).

The Semites ended up prevailing in Mesopotamia by the time of Hammurabi of Babylon, who founded the Babylonian Empire, and the language and name of Sumer gradually passed into the realm of antiquarian scholars (although their influence on Babylonia and all subsequent cultures was indeed great). A few historians assert that some Sumerians managed preserve their identity in a sense, by forming the Magi, or hereditary priestly caste, noted among the later Medes.

Reference: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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Astronomy and Calendars

In the 6th century B.C. the scribes of Enuma Anu Enlil were a group of men at the Babylonian court who were experts in astronomy and astrology. Texts refer to this group of scribes, but we do not know exactly who they were, what they did and how they were trained. However, for hundreds of years the scribes kept accurate records of natural events on the earth and in the sky in order to predict the future.

Sumerian astronomy was primitive compared to later Babylonian standards. Babylonian clay tablets that have survived since the dawn of civilization in the Mesopotamian region - record the earliest total solar eclipse seen in Ugarit on May 3, 1375 BC.

Zodiac - Astronomers recognized and cataloged the brightest stars, outlined a rudimentary set of Zodiacal constellations, and noted the movements of the five visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), as well as the Sun and Moon amongst the stars of the Zodiac.

Sumerians also developed a rudimentary system of astrological divination for use in foreseeing the future of city-states and battles, but not for predicting personal futures.

The month began at sunset, with the first visible (thinnest) crescent of the New Moon, which is visible about 18 hours after conjunction or about 36 hours after the disappearance of the Old Moon's thinnest crescent, (under certain circumstances this can be as short as 22 to 24 hours after disappearance of the Old Moon, with a clear western horizon).

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Lunar Calendar

The lunar calendar was synchronized with the solar year (the seasons) by intercalation of a leap month every few years.

The Sumerians of Babylon were probably the first people to make a calendar. They used the phases of the moon, counting 12 lunar months as a year. To make up for the difference between this year and the year of the seasons, they inserted an extra month in the calendar about every four years.

The early Egyptians, Greeks, and Semitic peoples copied this calendar. Later the Egyptians worked out a calendar that corresponded almost exactly to the seasons.

The early Romans also used a calendar based on the moon. The year in this calendar was 355 days long. The months corresponding to March, May, July, and October each had 31 days; February had 28 days; and the rest had 29. An extra month was added about every fourth year.

The high priest regulated the calendar. On the calends, or day of the new moon, he announced to the people the times of the nones (first quarter) and ides (full moon) for that month. The word calendar is from the Latin word kalendae.

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The priests, however, performed their calendar-keeping duties poorly, and by Julius Caesar's time they had summer months coming in the spring. Caesar corrected this situation in 46 in the Julian calendar. He adopted the plan of the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes's 365-day year, with one day added every fourth, or leap year. He distributed the extra ten days among the 29-day months, making them identicalwith the months today.

In ancient Sumer there were two "seasons" in the Sumerian year - a "summer" season Emesh which began on the Vernal Equinox - and a "winter" season, Enten, which began on the Autumnal Equinox. New Year's day was an important holiday (when the sacred marriage rite was performed).

This was celebrated around the Vernal Equinox, depending on the synchronization of the lunar and solar calendars.

The new year and month would begin on the first New Moon, after the completion of the old lunar year.

The day began and ended at sunset and contained twelve hours.

It is important to note the similarity of the old Sumerian calendar and the Hebrew calendar, including the timing of the Hebrew Passover (around the same time as the Sumerian New Year), and the beginning of the Hebrew Sabbath (at sundown).

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Julius Caesar's correction of one day in four years - 1/4 day, or six hours, a year - made the calendar year longer than the year of the seasons. Thus anniversaries began coming earlier and earlier in the year. In 1582 the vernal equinox, or beginning of spring, occurred on March 11 instead of the correct date, March 21.

Pope Gregory XIII remedied this by directing that ten days be dropped from the calendar and that the day after Oct. 4, 1582, should be October 15. He also directed that three times in every 400 years the leap-year arrangement should be omitted.

The new calendar was called the Gregorian, or New Style (N.S.), calendar. It was adopted by Roman Catholic countries, but Protestant and Eastern Orthodox countries long continued to use the Old Style (O.S.), or Julian, calendar. The new calendar was not adopted in England until 1752, when it was necessary to drop 11 days. The Eastern Orthodox church accepted the New Style in 1923, when 13 days were "lost." The Chinese had adopted it in 1912.

Another reform that the Gregorian calendar affected was general adoption of January 1 as the beginning of the year. Until then some nations began it with December 25, others with January 1 or March 25 - as England did before 1752.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online

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Pre-historic man did not have a need for clocks, but as civilization evolved, that all chnaged. The historical record reveals that approximatley 5000 to 6000 years ago great civilizations in the Middle East and North Africa began to make clocks to augment their calendars. With their attendant bureaucracies, formal religions, and other burgeoning societal activities, these cultures apparently found a need to organize their time more efficiently.

A clock (from the Latin cloca - bell) is an instrument for measuring time and for measuring time intervals of less than a day - as opposed to a calendar. Those used for technical purposes, of very high accuracy, are usually called chronometers. A portable clock is called a watch. The clock in its most common modern form (in use since at least the 14th century) displays the hours, minutes and, sometimes, seconds that pass during a twelve- or twenty-four-hour period.

One of the key drivers of inventing methods of keeping track of time were the farmers needs to determine the best time to plant. Archaeologists have discovered bones with inscriptions that are believed to have been used to track lunar cycles.

The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, requiring a physical process that will proceed at a known rate and a way to gauge how long that process has run. As the seasons and the phases of the moon can be used to measure the passage of longer periods of time, shorter processes had to be used to measure off hours and minutes.

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Incense Alarm Clock

Candles and sticks of incense that burn down at approximate predictable speeds were also used as to estimate the passage of time. The image above of an ancient Chinese dragon shaped device was constructed with a sequence of bells tied to a horizontally mounted burning incense. When the burning incense burnt and broke the threads, the bells fell down at preset interval to give an alarm.


An hourglass filled with fine sand, poured through a tiny hole,

at a constant rate, indicated a predetermined passage of time.

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An hour glass is basically 2 bubbles of glass with a narrow middle; wood is used to close off the sand. The sand is measured and sealed and the hour glass is turned over and over. This type of clock was the first one to not be dependent on the weather. It's used for short periods of time such as speeches, sermons, watch duty, cooking, and at sea to calculate one's position.

To calculate the speed at sea, one would throw a piece of wood overboard tied with a knotted rope. When a knot ran through one's fingers in 1/2 a minute measured by the hour glass, it indicated that the vessel was going at the speed of 1 nautical mile an hour. The knots were very wide apart and one just counted the knots. Hence the phrase "knots an hour".

The center of the hour glass would get clogged. Course sand wore away at the center and made the opening wider. An hour glass had to be on a flat surface in order to work properly.

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Sundials were another early method for marking time.

The sundial, which measures the time of day by the direction of shadows cast by the sun, was widely known in ancient times.


The Sumerians used sundials. They divided the day into 12 parts and each part was about 2 hours long. They measured the length of shadows to determine how much time had passed. No one is really sure why the Sumerians kept track of time; maybe it was for religious purposes. Sundials were dependent on the weather; it would be useless on a cloudy day and the winter and summer shadows would not correspond with the markings. In order for the sundial to work correctly, it had to be positioned correctly.

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The Egyptians, by 2100 BC, had invented a means to divide the day into 24 hours using sundials or shadow clocks to measure the time of day. The Sundial indicates the time of day by the positioning of the shadow of some object on which the sun's rays fall. The shadow clock consists of a straight base with a raised crosspiece at one end. A scale with time divisions is inscribed on the base. The clock is set east-west and is reversed at midday.

The Egyptians also divided the day into 12 parts as well. They used huge granite columns called Cleopatra Needles, a trio of obelisks, to keep track of time periods. They had 12 marks on the ground that equalled 12 parts of the day. When the sun touched the top, a shadow was created and the length and position of the shadow told the Egyptians how much daylight remained. They invented a portable piece called a sundial. It contains 3 parts: a circular dial, a needle and a style (gnomon) to keep the needle in place. Cleopatra's needles were inconvient and impractical for the average person.

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The 'merkhet', the oldest known astronomical tool, was an Egyptian development of around 600�B.C. A pair of merkhets were used to establish a north-south line by lining them up with the Pole Star. They could then be used to mark off nighttime hours by determining when certain other stars crossed the meridian. The Merkhet, known as the "instrument of knowing" was a sighting tool made from the central rib of a palm leaf and was similar in function to an astrolobe. The merkhet was used for aligning the foundations of the pyramids and sun temples with the cardinal points, and was usually correct to within less than half a degree.


The Romans divided time into night and day. According to the writer Pliny, criers announced the rising/setting of the sun. In 30 B.C, they stole Cleopatra's Needle but were unable to adapt. Al-Battani realized that the gnomon (pointer) had to point towards the North Star and the length and size of the gnomon varied with the distance from the equator.

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In the quest for more year-round accuracy, sundials evolved from flat horizontal or vertical plates to more elaborate forms. One version was the hemispherical dial, a bowl-shaped depression cut into a block of stone, carrying a central vertical gnomon and scribed with sets of hour lines for different seasons. The hemicycle, said to have been invented about 300�B.C., removed the useless half of the hemisphere to give an appearance of a half-bowl cut into the edge of a squared block. By 30�B.C., Vitruvius could describe 13 different sundial styles in use in Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy.

Water Clock

Water clocks were among the earliest timekeepers that didn't depend on the observation of celestial bodies. Water clocks were used in ancient Babylon, Mesopotami, China, Korea, Egypt, Greece, India, Arabia, Muslim and civilizations.

One of the oldest water clocks was found in the tomb of Amenhotep I, buried around 1500 B.C.

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Later they were named clepsydras ('water thief') by the Greeks, who began using them about 325 B.C. These were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a small hole near the bottom.

Other Egyptian clepsydras were cylindrical or bowl-shaped containers designed to slowly fill with water coming in at a constant rate. Markings on the inside surfaces measured the passage of "hours" as the water level reached them. These clocks were used to determine hours at night, but may have been used in daylight as well. Another version consisted of a metal bowl with a hole in the bottom; when placed in a container of water the bowl would fill and sink in a certain time. These were still in use in North Africa this century. The need to track night hours lead to the invention of the water clock by 1500 BC, the Egyptians. This clock uses the steady dripping of water from a vessel to drive a mechanical device that tells the time. It was basically a bucket of water with a hole in the bottom. A water clock showed the passage of time but it didn't keep exact hours in a day. Egyptians were the people most likely to have invented them but the Greeks had the most advanced ones.

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The historian Vitruvius reported that the ancient Egyptians used a clepsydra, a time mechanism using flowing water. Herodotus had mentioned an ancient Egyptian time-keeping device that was based on mercury. By the 9th century AD a mechanical timekeeper had been developed that lacked only an escapement mechanism.

In 250 B.C, Archimedes built a more elaborate water clock; he added gears and showed the planets and moon orbiting.

In order for a water clock to work properly, someone had to keep an eye on it; to make sure that no pebbles were in the bowl to increase talking time. These clocks were never exact; each clock had its own pace. And they couldn't be used in winter.

These clocks were used for nearly 3,000 years and grew more and more sophisticated. Water clocks were designed with ringing bells, moving puppets and mechanical singing birds.

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More elaborate and impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 B.C. and 500 A.D. by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers. The added complexity was aimed at making the flow more constant by regulating the pressure, and at providing fancier displays of the passage of time. Some water clocks rang bells and gongs, others opened doors and windows to show little figures of people, or moved pointers, dials, and astrological models of the universe.

Greek astronomer, Andronikos, supervised the construction of the Tower of the Winds in Athens in the 1st century B.C. This octagonal structure showed scholars and marketplace shoppers both sundials and mechanical hour indicators. It featured a 24-hour mechanized clepsydra and indicators for the eight winds from which the tower got its name, and it displayed the seasons of the year and astrological dates and periods. The Romans also developed mechanized clepsydras, though their complexity accomplished little improvement over simpler methods for determining the passage of time.

In the Far East, mechanized astronomical/astrological clock-making developed from 200 to 1300 A.D. Third-century Chinese clepsydras drove various mechanisms that illustrated astronomical phenomena. One of the most elaborate clock towers was built by Su Sung and his associates in 1088 A.D. Su Sung's mechanism incorporated a water-driven escapement invented about 725 A.D. The Su Sung clock tower, over 30 feet tall, possessed a bronze power-driven armillary sphere for observations, an automatically rotating celestial globe, and five front panels with doors that permitted the viewing of changing mannikins which rang bells or gongs, and held tablets indicating the hour or other special times of the day.

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Early Mechanical Clocks

The first clock used gravity pulled weights which moved gears, which moved the hands of the clock. The problem with this device was someone had to constantly reset the weights.

14th century clocks show the four key elements common to all clocks in subsequent centuries, at least up to the digital age:

  • the power, supplied by a falling weight, later by a coiled spring
  • the escapement, a periodic repetitive action that allows the power to escape in small bursts rather than drain away all at once
  • the going train, a set of interlocking gear wheels that controls the speed of rotation of the wheels connected between the power supply and the indicators
  • indicators, such as dials, hands, and bells

No clocks survive from medieval Europe but various mentions in church records reveal some of the early history of the clock.

Medieval religious institutions required clocks to measure and indicate the passing of time because, for many centuries, daily prayer and work schedules had to be strictly regulated. This was done by various types of time-telling and recording devices, such as water clocks, sundials and marked candles, probably used in combination. Important times and durations were broadcast by bells, rung either by hand or by some mechanical device such as a falling weight or rotating beater.

The word 'horologia' (from the Greek hora, hour, and legein, to tell) was used to describe all these devices but the use of this word (still used in several romance languages) for all timekeepers conceals from us the true nature of the mechanisms. For example, there is a record that in 1176 Sens Cathedral installed a 'horologe' but the mechanism used is unknown.

In 1198, during a fire at the abbey of St Edmundsbury (now Bury St Edmunds) the monks 'ran to the clock' to fetch water, indicating that their water clock had a reservoir large enough to help extinguish the occasional fire.These early clocks may not have used hands or dials but �told� the time with audible signals.

This post was modified from its original form on 13 Apr, 16:31
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The word 'clock' (from the Latin word for "bell") which gradually supersedes 'horologe' suggests that it was the sound of bells which also characterized the prototype mechanical clocks that appeared during the 13th century.

Between 1280 and 1320 there is an increase in the number of references to clocks and horologes in church records, and this probably indicates that a new type of clock mechanism had been devised. Existing clock mechanisms that used water power were being adapted to take the driving power from falling weights. This power was controlled by some form of oscillating mechanism, probably derived from existing bell-ringing or alarm devices. This controlled release of power - the escapement - marks the beginning of the true mechanical clock.

These mechanical clocks were intended for two main purposes: for signalling and notification (e.g. the timing of services and public events), and for modelling the solar system. The former purpose is administrative, the latter arises naturally given the scholarly interest in astronomy, science, astrology, and how these subjects integrated with the religious philosopy of the time.

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The astrolabe was used both by astronomers and astrologers, and it was natural to apply a clockwork drive to the rotating plate to produce a working model of the solar system.

Simple clocks intended mainly for notification were installed in towers, and did not always require dials or hands. They would have announced the canonical hours or intervals between set times of prayer. Canonical hours varied in length as the times of sunrise and sunset shifted.

The more sophisticated astronomical clocks would have had moving dials or hands, and would have shown the time in various time systems, including Italian hours, canonical hours, and time as measured by astronomers at the time. Both styles of clock started acquiring extravagant features such as automata.

In 1283 a large clock was installed at Dunstable Priory; its location above the rood screen suggests that it was not a water clock.

In 1292, Canterbury Cathedral installed a 'great horloge'. Over the next 30 years there are brief mentions of clocks at a number of ecclesiastical institutions in England, Italy, and France.

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In 1322 a new clock was installed in Norwich, an expensive replacement for an earlier clock installed in 1273. This had a large (2 metre) astronomical dial with automata and bells. The costs of the installation included the full-time employment of two technicians for two years.

The first major advance in clock construction occurred in Europe during the 14th century. It was found that the speed of a falling weight could be controlled by using a oscillating horizontal bar attached to a vertical spindle with two protrusions on it which acted like escapements, (cliff like ridges). When the protrusions meshed with a tooth of a gear driven by the weight, it momentarily stopped the revolving wheel and weight. These oldest type of mechanical clocks can still be seen in France and England.

Strasbourg Cathedral
View my trip there in 2005

The Strasbourg Cathedral was the first clock tower built (1352-54) and still works today.

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As Europe grew, each town had to find a way to tell time; there was an emphasis on productivity and work.

14th Century

Near the end of the 14th century, the spring had begun to replace the weight in some clocks. This advancement allowed for clocks which could be carried. One problem with a spring clock is that the escapement mechanism must always be operated with a constant force. The problem was that as the spring unwound, it lost power. To solve this, the stackfreed was introduced. This is an extra spring that works against the motion when the watch is fully wound.

15th Century

Spring-driven clocks were developed during the 15th century, and this gave the clockmakers many new problems to solve, such as how to compensate for the changing power supplied as the spring unwound.

The first record of a minute hand on a clock is 1475, in the Almanus Manuscript of Brother Paul.

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16th Century

In 1504 the first portable time piece was invented in Nuremberg, Germany by Peter Henlein. Replacing the heavy drive weights permitted smaller (and portable) clocks and watches. Although they slowed down as the mainspring unwound, they were popular among wealthy individuals due to their size and the fact that they could be put on a shelf or table instead of hanging from the wall. These advances in design were precursors to truly accurate timekeeping.

In 1577 the minute hand was invented by Jost Burgi for Tycho Brahe; he was an astronomer who needed accurate clocks to track stars.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, clockmaking flourished, particularly in the metalworking towns of Nuremberg and Augsburg, and, in France, Blois. Some of the more basic table clocks have only one time-keeping hand, with the dial between the hour markers being divided into four equal parts making the clocks readable to the nearest 15 minutes. Other clocks were exhibitions of craftsmanship and skill, incorporating astronomical indicators and musical movements.

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The cross-beat escapement was developed in 1585 by Jobst Burgi, who also developed the remontoire. Burgi's accurate clocks helped Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler to observe astronomical events with much greater precision than before.The first record of a second hand on a clock is about 1560, on a clock now in the Fremersdorf collection.

However, this clock could not have been accurate, and the second hand was probably for indicating that the clock was working.The next development in accuracy occurred after 1657 with the invention of the pendulum clock.

17th Century

By 1656, the pendulum was incorporated into clocks, which lead to better paced and more accurate clocks. Although fairly accurate, clocks accuracy was dramatically improved by the introduction of the pendulum. Galileo had the idea to use a swinging bob to propel the motion of a time telling device earlier in the 17th century. Although Galileo Galilei, sometimes credited with inventing the pendulum, studied its motion as early as 1582, Galileo's design for a clock was not built before his death.

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Christiaan Huygens' pendulum clock was regulated by a mechanism with a "natural" period of oscillation. Huygens' pendulum clock had an error of less than 1 minute a day, the first time such accuracy had been achieved. His later refinements reduced his clock's errors to less than 10 seconds a day.

Around 1675 Huygens developed the balance wheel and spring assembly, still found in some of today's wrist watches. This improvement allowed 17th century watches to keep time to 10 minutes a day. And in London in 1671 William Clement began building clocks with the new "anchor" or "recoil" escapement, a substantial improvement over the verge because it interferes less with the motion of the pendulum.

In 1670, the English clockmaker William Clement created the anchor escapement, an improvement over Huygens' crown escapement. Within just one generation, minute hands and then second hands were added.

A major stimulus to improving the accuracy and reliability of clocks was the importance of precise time-keeping for navigation. The position of a ship at sea could be determined with reasonable accuracy if a navigator could refer to a clock that lost or gained less than about 10 seconds per day. Many European governments offered a large prize for anyone that could determine longitude accurately.

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Christiaan Huygens, however, is usually credited as the inventor. He determined the mathematical formula that related pendulum length to time (99.38 cm or 39.13 inches for the one second movement) and had the first pendulum-driven clock made.

The pendulums swinging ensures that the protrusions move the gears wheels tooth by tooth while the motion of the protrusions keeps the pendulum moving. It was improved further by the Englishmen Robert Hooke who invented the anchor or recoil escapement.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the need for accurate clocks while sailing across the oceans arose. While springs made clocks portable, they were not accurate for long periods. Hooke realized that a spring would not be affected by the ship's motion as a pendulum would, but the available mainspring devices were not accurate enough for long periods of time until 1675, when the balance wheel, a very thin spiral hairspring (separate from the mainspring) whose inner end was secured to the spindle of a rotatable balance and whose outer end was fixed to the case of the timepiece. The spring stored or released energy during the rotation of the balance. John Harrison's chronometer no. 4, was in error by only 54 seconds after a sea voyage of 156 days.

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The balance wheel, hairspring, and mainspring, together with the anchor escapement, or improved escapements, still make up the basics of even todays modern watches. Introduction of jewels as bearings have further improved on this basic system.

This improved the functioning of the gear train. Infact, this method is still used today. The greatest benefit of this method was that it allowed for very long pendulums with a swing of one second. The out growth of this invention was the walled pendulum clock where the weights and pendulum are completely enclosed in a case. Of course, most people are very familiar with these clocks with the most common being the 'Grandfather Clock'.

The reward was eventually claimed in 1761 by John Harrison, who dedicated his life to improving the accuracy of his clocks. His H5 clock is reported to have lost less than 5 seconds over 10 days.

The excitement over the pendulum clock had attracted the attention of designers resulting in a proliferation of clock forms. Notably, the longcase clock (also known as the grandfather clock) was created to house the pendulum and works. The English clockmaker William Clement is also credited with developing this form in 1670 or 1671. It was also at this time that clock cases began to be made of wood and clock faces to utilize enamel as well as hand-painted ceramics.

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18th Century

In 1721 George Graham improved the pendulum clock's accuracy to 1 second a day by compensating for changes in the pendulum's length due to temperature variations. John Harrison, a carpenter and self-taught clock-maker, refined Graham's temperature compensation techniques and added new methods of reducing friction.

By 1761 he had built a marine chronometer with a spring and balance wheel escapement that won the British government's 1714 prize (of over $2,000,000 in today's currency) offered for a means of determining longitude to within one-half degree after a voyage to the West Indies. It kept time on board a rolling ship to about one-fifth of a second a day, nearly as well as a pendulum clock could do on land, and 10 times better than required.

On November 17, 1797, Eli Terry received his first patent for a clock. Terry is known as the founder of the American clock-making industry.

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19th Century

Alexander Bain, Scottish clockmaker, patented the electric clock in 1840. The electric clock's mainspring is wound either with an electric motor or with an electro-magnet and armature. In 1841, he first patented the electromagnetic pendulum.

Over the next century refinements led in 1889 to Siegmund Riefler's clock with a nearly free pendulum, which attained an accuracy of a hundredth of a second a day and became the standard in many astronomical observatories. A true free-pendulum principle was introduced by R. J. Rudd about 1898, stimulating development of several free-pendulum clocks.

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20th Century

One of the most famous, the W. H. Shortt clock, was demonstrated in 1921. The Shortt clock almost immediately replaced Riefler's clock as a supreme timekeeper in many observatories. This clock consists of two pendulums, one a slave and the other a master. The slave pendulum gives the master pendulum the gentle pushes needed to maintain its motion, and also drives the clock's hands. This allows the master pendulum to remain free from mechanical tasks that would disturb its regularity.

Watches run by small batteries were introduced in the 1950s. The balance of such an electric watch is kept in motion electromagnetically by a coil that is energized by an electronic circuit.

The development of electronics in the twentieth century led to clocks with no clockwork parts at all. Time in these cases is measured in several ways, such as by the vibration of a tuning fork, the behavior of quartz crystals, the decay of radioactive elements or resonance of polycarbonates. Even mechanical clocks have since come to be largely powered by batteries, removing the need for winding.

11 years ago
12 Hour Clock

The 12-hour clock is a timekeeping convention in which the 24 hours of the day are divided into two periods called ante meridiem (a.m., from Latin, literally "before midday") and post meridiem (p.m., "after midday"). Each period consists of 12 hours numbered 12 (acting as a zero), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. The a.m. period runs from midnight to noon, while the p.m. period runs from noon to midnight. The most common convention is to assign 12 a.m. to midnight (at the beginning of the day) and 12 p.m. to noon, defining both half days to have a closed (inclusive) beginning and open (exclusive) end. 12 noon and 12 midnight can more clearly express these times (except that for midnight one may need to also specify whether it is the midnight at the beginning or the end of the day in question).

Berlin instruments of the old Egyptian time of day destination

The 12-hour clock originated in Egypt. However, the lengths of their hours varied seasonally, always with 12 hours from sunrise to sunset and 12 hours from sunset to sunrise, the hour beginning and ending each half-day (four hours each day) being a twilight hour. An Egyptian sundial for daylight use and an Egyptian water clock for nighttime use found in the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep I, both dating to c. 1500 BC, divided these periods into 12 hours each. The Romans also used a 12-hour clock: the day was divided into 12 equal hours (of, thus, varying length throughout the year) and the night was divided into three watches. The Romans numbered the morning hours originally in reverse. For example, "3 a.m." or "3 hours ante meridiem" meant "three hours before noon", compared to the modern meaning of "three hours after midnight".

11 years ago

Clocks in the News

Most Accurate Clock Ever: 'Crystal Of Light' Clock Science Daily - February 18, 2008

Big Ben silenced for repair work
BBC - August 12, 2007

Climate resets 'Doomsday Clock' BBC - January 17, 2007

Doomsday Clock Wikipedia

Atomic Time Lords: Atomic ticker clocks up 50 years BBC - June 2, 2005

The most accurate clock of all time New Scientist - May 18, 2005

The clock that wakes you when you are ready New Scientist - April 2005

Discovery of an early historic clock dating to 6500 years

AP - April 10, 2001

    The joint archaeological mission of the University of Dallas made huge discoveries in the area of Nabta 100 km west of Abu Simbel. The discoveries relate to prehistoric times, tools, clay vessels, and skeletons. The area of Nabta is one of the most important areas for archaeological excavation related to prehistoric times. It measures 5,000 square meters and includes the remains of stores, wells and houses. The mission also found tombs where in one of them there were 30 skeletons and some bracelets made of the teeth of animals and many clay vessels. Most important is what is thought to be the first clock. It is shaped as a circle made of stones whose diameter is 4 meters. There are 6 stones near the center and arranged in two lines extending east and west. Time is measured by this clock through the shade of the stones in the center which falls on the stones of the circle. Archaeologists found bulks of stones placed in correspondence with the positions of the stars in order to know the time of the different seasons especially the rainy ones. They also found a tomb of a cow which indicates the beginning of cow-worship identified later with the cow-goddess Hathor.
11 years ago

Babylonian Creational Myths - Enuma Elish

The Babylonian creation myth is recounted in the "Epic of Creation" also known as the Enuma Elish. The Mesopotamian "Epic of Creation" dates to the late second millennium B.C.E. Sumer

In the poem, the god Marduk (or Assur in the Assyrian versions of the poem) is created to defend the divine beings from an attack plotted by the ocean goddess Tiamat. The hero Marduk offers to save the gods only if he is appointed their supreme unquestioned leader and is allowed to remain so even after the threat passes. The gods agree to Marduk's terms. Marduk challenges Tiamat to combat and destroys her. He then rips her corpse into two halves with which he fashions the Earth and the heavens. Marduk then creates the calendar, organizes the planets, stars and regulates the moon, sun, and weather. The gods pledge their allegiance to Marduk and he creates Babylon as the terrestrial counterpart to the realm of the gods. Marduk then destroys Tiamat's husband, Kingu using his blood to create mankind so that they can do the work of the gods.

The Enuma Elish is written on seven tablets, each are between 115 and 170 lines long.

They were written no later than the reign of Nebuchadrezzar in the 12th century B.C.E. But there is also little doubt that this story was written much earlier, during the time of the Sumerians. Drawing some new light on the ancients, Henry Layard found within the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, texts that were not unlike the Genesis creation in the Bible. George Smith first published these text in 1876 under the title, The Chaldean Genesis. Akkadian text written in the old Babylonian dialect.

11 years ago

The Babylonian god finished his work within the span of 6 tablets of stone. The last and 7th stone exalted the handiwork and greatness of the diety's work. Thus the comparison must be made that the 7 days of creation found in the Bible, borrowed its theme from the Babylonians and them form the Sumerians.


The Sumerian epic places Anu, Enil and Ninurta as the heroes. The Babylonian epic stars Marduk. The Babylonian epic is the one you are about to read. Though it would be easy to say that this again is mere 'myth', what if it is not? What if one is looking here at a technical report, a report on the origins of our Solar System, our planet Earth, and the creation of makind.

The epos is written in a style which is different from every day speach at the time. It uses an extended word variation with literary words that are normally not very frequent. This is characteristic for poetry. In prose texts there is no such inclination to use alternative formulations, like in the bible in Genesis I: ''And God saw ..., and God saw ..., and God created ..., and God created ....'' with little variation.

11 years ago

The text is constructed from two-line verses (sentence units). A concept is explained in two lines, a distich (from Greek di 'two' and stichos 'verse'). The two members maintain a relation that one could call ''rhyme in an abstract sense'' on the level of meaning. The meaning content of each verse appears in two parallel formulations often separated by leaving a blanc space, the so called parallelismus membrorum. The second part either emphasize the first part in different wording thereby extending the meaning, or the second part is an opposite statement, contrasting the first part. Compare the opening verse:

When above: the heaven has not been named
Nor earth below: pronounced by name

Metre in the strict sense in which Greek and Latin literature is composed (groups of long and short syllables) was not used, but a line often has three to four (rarely five) stresses/beats. End rhyme nor alliteration occurs.

11 years ago


When in the height heaven was not named,
And the Earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being...
Ages increased,...
Then Ansar and Kisar were created, and over them....
Long were the days, then there came forth.....
Anu, their son,...
Ansar and Anu...
And the god Anu...
Nudimmud, whom his fathers, his begetters.....
Abounding in all wisdom,...'
He was exceeding strong...
He had no rival -
Thus were established and were... the great gods.
But Tiamat and Apsu were still in confusion...
They were troubled and...
In disorder...
Apru was not diminished in might...
And Tiamat roared...
She smote, and their deeds...
Their way was evil...
Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods,
Cried unto Mummu, his minister, and said unto him:
"O Mummu, thou minister that rejoicest my spirit,
Come, unto Tiamut let us go!
So they went and before Tiamat they lay down,
They consulted on a plan with regard to the gods, their sons.
Apsu opened his mouth and spake,
And unto Tiamut, the glistening one, he addressed the word:
...their way...

This post was modified from its original form on 01 May, 17:00
11 years ago
By day I can not rest, by night I can not lie down in peace. But I will destroy their way, I will... Let there be lamentation, and let us lie down again in peace." When Tiamat heard these words, She raged and cried aloud... She... grievously..., She uttered a curse, and unto Apsu she spake: "What then shall we do? Let their way be made difficult, and let us lie down again in peace." Mummu answered, and gave counsel unto Apsu, ...and hostile to the gods was the counsel Mummu gave: Come, their way is strong, but thou shalt destroy it; Then by day shalt thou have rest, by night shalt thou lie down in peace." Apsu harkened unto him and his countenance grew bright, Since he (Mummu) planned evil against the gods his sons. ... he was afraid..., His knees became weak; they gave way beneath him, Because of the evil which their first-born had planned. ... their... they altered. ... they..., Lamentation they sat in sorrow .................. Then Ea, who knoweth all that is, went up and he beheld their muttering.

[about 30 illegible lines] ... he spake: ... thy... he hath conquered and ... he weepeth and sitteth in tribulation. ... of fear, ... we shall not lie down in peace. ... Apsu is laid waste, ... and Mummu, who were taken captive, in... ... thou didst... ... let us lie down in peace. ... they will smite.... ... let us lie down in peace. ... thou shalt take vengeance for them, ... unto the tempest shalt thou...!" And Tiamat harkened unto the word of the bright god, and said: ... shalt thou entrust! let us wage war!" ... the gods in the midst of... ... for the gods did she create.

11 years ago

They banded themselves together and at the side of Tiamat they advanced; They were furious; they devised mischief without resting night and day. They prepared for battle, fuming and raging; They joined their forces and made war, Ummu-Hubur [Tiamat] who formed all things, Made in addition weapons invincible; she spawned monster-serpents, Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang; With poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies. Fierce monster-vipers she clothed with terror, With splendor she decked them, she made them of lofty stature. Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him, Their bodies reared up and none could withstand their attack. She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu, And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men, And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams; They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight. Her commands were mighty, none could resist them; After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters. Among the gods who were her sons, inasmuch as he had given her support, She exalted Kingu; in their midst she raised him to power. To march before the forces, to lead the host, To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack, To direct the battle, to control the fight, Unto him she entrusted; in costly raiment she made him sit, saying: I have uttered thy spell, in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power. The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto him. Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse, May they magnify thy name over all of them the Anunnaki." She gave him the Tablets of Destiny, on his breast she laid them, saying: Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established." Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu, Decreed the fate among the gods his sons, saying: "Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god; Whoso is exalted in the battle, let him display his might!"

11 years ago

Tiamat made weighty her handiwork,
Evil she wrought against the gods her children.
To avenge Apsu, Tiamat planned evil,
But how she had collected her forces, the god unto Ea divulged.
Ea harkened to this thing, and
He was grievously afflicted and he sat in sorrow.
The days went by, and his anger was appeased,
And to the place of Ansar his father he took his way.
He went and, standing before Ansar, the father who begat him,
All that Tiamat had plotted he repeated unto him,
Saying, "Tiamat our mother hath conceived a hatred for us,
With all her force she rageth, full of wrath.
All the gods have turned to her,
With those, whom ye created, thev go at her side.
They are banded together and at the side of Tiamat they advance;
They are furious, they devise mischief without resting night and day.
They prepare for battle, fuming and raging;
They have joined their forces and are making war.
Ummu-Hubur, who formed all things,
Hath made in addition weapons invincible; she hath spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang.
With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror,
With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature.
Whoever beholdeth them is overcome by terror,
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,
And hurricanes and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,
And mighty tempests, and fish-men and rams;
They bear cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.
Her commands are mighty; none can resist them;
After th
11 years ago

After this fashion, huge of stature, hath she made eleven monsters.
Among the gods who are her sons, inasmuch as he hath given her support,
She hath exalted Kingu; in their midst she hath raised him to power.
To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack.
To direct the battle, to control the fight,
Unto him hath she entrusted; in costly raiment she hath made him sit, saving:.
I have uttered thy spell; in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power,
The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto thee.
Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse,
May they magnify thy name over all of them
She hath given him the Tablets of Destiny, on his breast she laid them, saying:
'Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established.'
Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu,
Decreed the fate for the gods, her sons, saying:
'Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god;
Whoso is exalted in the battle, let him display his might!'"
When Ansar heard how Tiamat was mightily in revolt,
he bit his lips, his mind was not at peace,
..., he made a bitter lamentation:
... battle,
... thou...
Mummu and Apsu thou hast smitten
But Tiamat hath exalted Kingu, and where is one who can oppose her?
... deliberation
... the ... of the gods, -Nudimmud.

This post was modified from its original form on 05 May, 16:34
11 years ago

[A gap of about a dozen lines occurs here.]

Ansar unto his son addressed the word:
"... my mighty hero,
Whose strength is great and whose onslaught can not be withstood,
Go and stand before Tiamat,
That her spirit may be appeased, that her heart may be merciful.
But if she will not harken unto thy word,
Our word shalt thou speak unto her, that she may be pacified."
He heard the word of his father Ansar
And he directed his path to her, toward her he took the way.
Ann drew nigh, he beheld the muttering of Tiamat,
But he could not withstand her, and he turned back.
... Ansar
... he spake unto him:

[A gap of over twenty lines occurs here.]

an avenger...
... valiant
... in the place of his decision
... he spake unto him:
... thy father
" Thou art my son, who maketh merciful his heart.

This post was modified from its original form on 06 May, 19:45
11 years ago

... to the battle shalt thou draw nigh,
he that shall behold thee shall have peace."
And the lord rejoiced at the word of his father,
And he drew nigh and stood before Ansar.
Ansar beheld him and his heart was filled with joy,
He kissed him on the lips and his fear departed from him.
"O my father, let not the word of thy lips be overcome,
Let me go, that I may accomplish all that is in thy heart.
O Ansar, let not the word of thy lips be overcome,
Let me go, that I may accomplish all that is in thy heart."
What man is it, who hath brought thee forth to battle?
... Tiamat, who is a woman, is armed and attacketh thee.
... rejoice and be glad;
The neck of Tiamat shalt thou swiftly trample under foot.
... rejoice and be glad;
The neck of Tiamat shalt thou swiftly trample under foot.
0 my son, who knoweth all wisdom,
Pacify Tiamat with thy pure incantation.
Speedily set out upon thy way,
For thy blood shall not be poured out; thou shalt return again."
The lord rejoiced at the word of his father,
His heart exulted, and unto his father he spake:
"O Lord of the gods, Destiny of the great gods,
If I, your avenger,
Conquer Tiamat and give you life,
Appoint an assembly, make my fate preeminent and proclaim it.
In Upsukkinaku seat yourself joyfully together,
With my word in place of you will I decree fate.
May whatsoever I do remain unaltered,
May the word of my lips never be chanced nor made of no avail."

This post was modified from its original form on 07 May, 18:48
11 years ago


Ansar opened his mouth, and Unto Gaga, his minister, spake the word. "O Gaga, thou minister that rejoicest my spirit, Unto Lahmu and Lahamu will I send thee. ... thou canst attain, ... thou shalt cause to be brought before thee. ... let the gods, all of them, Make ready for a feast, at a banquet let them sit, Let them eat bread, let them mix wine, That for Marduk, their avenger they may decree the fate. Go, Gaga, stand before them, And all that I tell thee, repeat unto them, and say: 'Ansar, vour son, hath sent me, The purpose of his heart he hath made known unto me. The purpose of his heart he hath made known unto me. He saith that Tiamat our mother hath conceived a hatred for us, With all her force she rageth, full of wrath. All the gods have turned to her, With those, whom ye created, they go at her side. They are banded together, and at the side of Tiamat they advance; They are furious, they devise mischief without resting night and day. They prepare for battle, fuming and raging; They have joined their forces and are making war. Ummu-Hubur, who formed all things, Hath made in addition weapons invincible; she hath spawned monster-serpents, Sharp of tooth and merciless of fang. With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies. Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror, With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature. Whoever beboldeth them, terror overcometh him, Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack. She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu, And hurricanes, and raging bounds, and scorpion-men, And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams; They bear merciless weapons, without fear of the fight. Her commands are miahty; none can. resist them; After this fashion, huge of stature, hath she made eleven monsters. Among the gods who are her sons, inasmuch as he hath given her support, She hath exalted Kingu; in their midst she hath raised him to power. To march before the forces, to lead the host, To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack, To direct the battle, to control the fight, Unto him hath she entrusted; in costly raiment she hath made him sit, saying: I have uttered thy spell; in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power,

11 years ago

The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto thee.
Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse,
May they magnify thy name over all of them ... the Anunnaki."
She hath given him the Tablets of Destiny, on his breast she laid them, saying:
Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established."
Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu,
Decreed the fate for the gods, her sons, saving:
Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god;
Whoso is exalted in the battle, let him display his might!"
I sent Anu, but he could not withstand her;
Nudimmud was afraid and turned back.
But Marduk hath set out, the director of the gods, your son;
To set out against Tiamat his heart hath prompted him.
He opened his mouth and spake unto me, saying: "If I, your avenger,
Conquer Tiamat and give you life,
Appoint an assembly, make my fate preeminent and proclaim it.
In Upsukkinaku seat yourself joyfully together;
With my word in place of you will I decree fate.
May whatsoever I do remain unaltered,
May the word of my lips never be changed nor made of no avail."'
Hasten, therefore, and swiftly decree for him the fate which you bestow,
That he may go and fight your strong enemy.
Gaga went, he took his way and
Humbly before Lahmu and Lahamu, the gods, his fathers,
He made obeisance, and he kissed the ground at their feet.
He humbled himself; then he stood up and spake unto them saying:
"Ansar, your son, hath sent me,
The purpose of his heart he hath made known unto me.
He saith that Tiamat our mother hath conceived a hatred for us,
With all her force she rageth, full of wrath.

This post was modified from its original form on 09 May, 17:24
11 years ago

All the gods have turned to her,
With those, whom ye created, they go at her side.
They are banded together, and at the side of Tiamat they advance;
They are furious, they devise mischief without resting night and day.
They prepare for battle, fuming and raging;
They have joined their forces and are making war.
Ummu-Hubur, who formed all things,
Hath made in addition weapons invincible; she hath spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth and merciless of fang.
With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror,
With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature.
Whoever beboldeth them, terror overcometh him,
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,
And hurricanes, and raging bounds, and scorpion-men,
And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;
They bear merciless weapons, without fear of the fight.
Her commands are miahty; none can. resist them;
After this fashion, huge of stature, hath she made eleven monsters.
Among the gods who are her sons, inasmuch as he hath given her support,
She hath exalted Kingu; in their midst she hath raised him to power.
To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack,
To direct the battle, to control the fight,
Unto him hath she entrusted; in costly raiment she hath made him sit, saying:
I have uttered thy spell; in the assembly of the gods
I have raised thee to power,
The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto thee.
Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse,
May they magnify thy name over all of them ... the Anunnaki."
She hath given him the Tablets of Destiny, on his breast she laid them, saying:
Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established."
Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu,
Decreed the fate for the gods, her sons, saving:
Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god;
Whoso is exalted in the battle, let him display his might!"
I sent Anu, but he could not withstand her;
Nudimmud was afraid and turned back.

This post was modified from its original form on 10 May, 18:02
11 years ago

But Marduk hath set out, the director of the gods, your son;
To set out against Tiamat his heart hath prompted him.
He opened his mouth and spake unto me, saying: "If I, your avenger,
Conquer Tiamat and give you life,
Appoint an assembly, make my fate preeminent and proclaim it.
In Upsukkinaku seat yourself joyfully together;
With my word in place of you will I decree fate.
May whatsoever I do remain unaltered,
May the word of my lips never be changed nor made of no avail."'
Hasten, therefore, and swiftly decree for him the fate which you bestow,
That he may go and fight your strong enemy.
Gaga went, he took his way and
Humbly before Lahmu and Lahamu, the gods, his fathers,
He made obeisance, and he kissed the ground at their feet.
He humbled himself; then he stood up and spake unto them saying:
"Ansar, your son, hath sent me,
The purpose of his heart he hath made known unto me.
He saith that Tiamat our mother hath conceived a hatred for us,
With all her force she rageth, full of wrath.
All the gods have turned to her,
With those, whom ye created, they go at her side.
They are banded together and at the side of Tiamat they advance;
They are furious, they devise mischief without resting night and day.
They prepare for battle, fuming and raging;
They have joined their forces and are making war.
Ummu-Hubur, who formed all things,
Hath made in addition weapons invincible; she hath spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth and merciless of fang.
With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror,
With splendor she hath decked them, she hath made them of lofty stature.
Whoever beboldeth them, terror overcometh him,
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,
And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,
And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;
They bear merciless weapons, without fear of the fight.
Her commands are mighty; none can resist them;

This post was modified from its original form on 11 May, 19:31
11 years ago

After this fashion, huge of stature, hath she made eleven monsters.
Among the gods who are her sons, inasmuch as he hath given her support,
She hath exalted Kingu; in their midst she hath raised him to power.
To march before the forces, to lead the host,
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack, To direct the battle, to control the fight,
Unto him hath she entrusted; in costlv raiment she hath made him sit, saving:
I have uttered thy spell; in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power,
The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto thee.
Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse,
May they magnify thy name over all of them...the Anunnaki.
She hath given him the Tablets of Destiny on his breast she laid them, saving:
Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established.'
Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu,
Decreed the fate for the gods, her sons, saying:
'Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god;
Whoso is exalted in the battle, let him display his might!'
I sent Anu, but he could not withstand her;
Nudimmud was afraid and turned back.
But Marduk hath set out, the director of the gods, your son;
To set out against Tiamat his heart hath prompted him.
He opened his mouth and spake unto me, saying:
'If I, your avenger,
Conquer Tiamat and give you life,
Appoint an assembly, make my fate preeminent and proclaim it.
In Upsukkinaku seat yourselves joyfully together;
With my word in place of you will I decree fate.
May, whatsoever I do remain unaltered,
May the word of my lips never be changed nor made of no avail.'
Hasten, therefore, and swiftly decree for him the fate which you bestow,
That he may go and fight your strong enemy!
Lahmu and Lahamu heard and cried aloud
All of the Igigi [The elder gods] wailed bitterly, saying:
What has been altered so that they should
We do not understand the deed of Tiamat!
Then did they collect and go,
The great gods, all of them, who decree fate.
They entered in before Ansar, they filled...
They kissed one another, in the assembly...;
They made ready for the feast, at the banquet they sat;
They ate bread, they mixed sesame-wine.
The sweet drink, the mead, confused their...
They were drunk with drinking, their bodies were filled.
They were wholly at ease, their spirit was exalted;
Then for Marduk, their avenger, did they decree the fate.

11 years ago


They prepared for him a lordly chamber, Before his fathers as prince he took his place. "Thou art chiefest among the great gods, Thy fate is unequaled, thy word is Anu! 0 Marduk, thou art chiefest among the great gods, Thy fate is unequaled, thy word is Anu! Henceforth not without avail shall be thy command, In thy power shall it be to exalt and to abase. Established shall be the word of thy mouth, irresistible shall be thy command, None among the gods shall transgress thy boundary. Abundance, the desire of the shrines of the gods, Shall be established in thy sanctuary, even though they lack offerings. O Marduk, thou art our avenger! We give thee sovereignty over the whole world. Sit thou down in might; be exalted in thy command. Thy weapon shall never lose its power; it shall crush thy foe. O Lord, spare the life of him that putteth his trust in thee, But as for the god who began the rebellion, pour out his life." Then set they in their midst a garment, And unto Marduk,- their first-born they spake: "May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods, To destroy and to create; speak thou the word, and thy command shall be fulfilled. Command now and let the garment vanish; And speak the word again and let the garment reappear! Then he spake with his mouth, and the garment vanished; Again he commanded it, and. the garment reappeared. When the gods, his fathers, beheld the fulfillment of his word, They rejoiced, and they did homage unto him, saying, " Marduk is king!" They bestowed upon him the scepter, and the throne, and the ring, They give him an invincible weapony which overwhelmeth the foe. Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat, And let the wind carry her blood into secret places." After the gods his fathers had decreed for the lord his fate, They caused him to set out on a path of prosperity and success. He made ready the bow, he chose his weapon, He slung a spear upon him and fastened it... He raised the club, in his right hand he grasped it, The bow and the quiver he hung at his side.

11 years ago

He set the lightning in front of him,
With burning flame he filled his body.
He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat,
The four winds he stationed so that nothing of her might escape;
The South wind and the North wind and the East wind and the West wind
He brought near to the net, the gift of his father Anu.
He created the evil wind, and the tempest, and the hurricane,
And the fourfold wind, and the sevenfold wind,
and the whirlwind, and the wind which had no equal;
He sent forth the winds which he bad created, the seven of them;
To disturb the inward parts of Tiamat, they followed after him.
Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,
He mounted the chariot, the storm unequaled for terror,
He harnessed and yoked unto it four horses,
Destructive, ferocious, overwhelming, and swift of pace;
... were their teeth, they were flecked with foam;
They were skilled in... , they had been trained to trample underfoot.
... . mighty in battle,
Left and right....
His garment was... , he was clothed with terror,
With overpowering brightness his head was crowned.
Then he set out, he took his way,
And toward the raging Tiamat he set his face.
On his lips he held ...,
... he grasped in his hand.
Then they beheld him, the gods beheld him,
The gods his fathers beheld him, the gods beheld him.
And the lord drew nigh, he gazed upon the inward parts of Tiamat,
He perceived the muttering of Kingu, her spouse.
As Marduk gazed, Kingu was troubled in his gait,
His will was destroyed and his motions ceased.

This post was modified from its original form on 15 May, 16:59
11 years ago
And the gods, his helpers, who marched by his side,
Beheld their leader's..., and their sight was troubled.
But Tiamat... , she turned not her neck,
With lips that failed not she uttered rebellious words:
"... thy coming as lord of the gods,
From their places have they gathered, in thy place are they! "
Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,
And against Tiamat, who was raging, thus he sent the word:
Thou art become great, thou hast exalted thyself on high,
And thy heart hath prompted thee to call to battle.
... their fathers...,
... their... thou hatest...
Thou hast exalted Kingu to be thy spouse,
Thou hast... him, that, even as Anu, he should issue deerees.
thou hast followed after evil,
And against the gods my fathers thou hast
contrived thy wicked plan.
Let then thy host be equipped, let thy weapons be girded on!
Stand! I and thou, let us join battle!
When Tiamat heard these words,
She was like one posessed, .she lost her reason.
Tiamat uttered wild, piercing cries,
She trembled and shook to her very foundations.
She recited an incantation, she pronounced her spell,
And the gods of the battle cried out for their weapons.
Then advanced Tiamat and Marduk, the counselor of the gods;
To the fight they came on, to the battle they drew nigh.
The lord spread out his net and caught her,
And the evil wind that was behind him he let loose in her face.
11 years ago

As Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent,
He drove in the evil wind, while as yet she had not shut her lips.
The terrible winds filled her belly,
And her courage was taken from her,
and her mouth she opened wide.
He seized the spear and burst her belly,
He severed her inward parts, he pierced her heart.
He overcame her and cut off her life;
He cast down her body and stood upon it.
When be had slain Tiamat, the leader,
Her might was broken, her host was scattered.
And the gods her helpers, who marched by her side,
Trembled, and were afraid, and turned back.
They took to flight to save their lives;
But they were surrounded, so that they could not escape.
He took them captive, he broke their weapons;
In the net they were caught and in the snare they sat down.
The ... of the world they filled with cries of grief.
They received punishment from him, they were held in bondage.
And on the eleven creatures which she had
filled with the power of striking terror,
Upon the troop of devils, who marched at her...,
He brought affliction, their strength he...;
Them and their opposition he trampled under his feet.
Moreover, Kingu, who had been exalted over them,
He conquered, and with the god Dug-ga he counted him.
He took from him the Tablets of Destiny that were not rightly his,
He sealed them with a seal and in his own breast he laid them.
Now after the hero Marduk had conquered and cast down his enemies,
And had made the arrogant foe even like
And had fullv established Ansar's triumph over the enemy
And had attained the purpose of Nudimmud,
Over the captive gods he strengthened his durance,
And unto Tiamat, whom be bad conquered, be returned.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the ... , and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-sara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-sara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bel, and Ea in their districts to inhabit.

11 years ago


He (Marduk) made the stations for the great gods; The stars, their images, as the stars of the Zodiac, he fixed. He ordained the year and into sections he divided it; For the twelve months he fixed three stars. After he had ... the days of the year ... images, He founded the station of Nibir [the planet Jupiter] to determine their bounds; That none might err or go astray, He set the station of Bel and Ea along with him. He opened great gates on both sides, He made strong the bolt on the left and on the right. In the midst thereof he fixed the zenith; The Moon-god he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him. He appointed him, a being of the night, to determine the days; Every month without ceasing with the crown he covered him, saying: "At the beginning of the month, when thou shinest upon the land, Thou commandest the horns to determine six days, And on the seventh day to divide the crown. On the fourteenth day thou shalt stand opposite, the half.... When the Sun-god on the foundation of heaven...thee, The ... thou shalt cause to ..., and thou shalt make his... ... unto the path of the Sun-god shalt thou cause to draw nigh, And on the ... day thou shalt stand opposite, and the Sun-god shall... ... to traverse her way. ... thou shalt cause to draw nigh, and thou shalt judge the right. ... to destroy..."

[Nearly fifty lines are here lost.]

The gods, his fathers, beheld the net which he had made, They beheld the bow and how its work was accomplished. They praised the work which he had done... Then Anu raised the ... in the assembly of the gods. He kissed the bow, saving, " It is...!" And thus he named the names of the bow, saving, "'Long-wood' shall be one name, and the second name shall be ..., And its third name shall be the Bow-star, in heaven shall it...!" Then he fixed a station for it... Now after the fate of... He set a throne... heaven... [The remainder of this tablet is missing.]

11 years ago
THE SIXTH TABLET When Marduk beard the word of the gods,
His heart prompted him and he devised a cunning plan.
He opened his mouth and unto Ea he spake
That which he had conceived in his heart he imparted unto him:
"My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man, that man may
I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established,
and that their shrines may be built.
But I will alter the ways of the gods, and I will change their paths;
Together shall they be oppressed and unto evil shall they....
And Ea answered him and spake the word:
"... the ... of the gods I have changed
... and one...
... shall be destroyed and men will I...
... and the gods .
... and they..."

[The rest of the text is wanting with the exception of
the last few lines of the tablet, which read as follows.]

They rejoiced...
In Upsukkinnaku they set their dwelling.
Of the heroic son, their avenger, they cried:
" We, whom he succored.... !"

They seated themselves and in the assembly they named him...,
They all cried aloud, they exalted him...

11 years ago

O Asari, [Marduk] "Bestower of planting," "Founder of sowing"
"Creator of grain and plants," "who caused the green herb to spring up!"
O Asaru-alim, [Mardk] "who is revered in the house of counsel," "who aboundeth in counsel,"
The gods paid homage, fear took hold upon them!

O Asaru-alim-nuna, [Marduk] "the mighty one," "the Light of the father who begat him,"
"Who directeth the decrees of Anu Bel, and Ea!"
He was their patron, be ordained their...;
He, whose provision is abundance, goeth forth...
Tutu [Marduk] is "He who created them anew";
Should their wants be pure, then are they satisfied;
Should he make an incantation, then are the gods appeased;
Should they attack him in anger, he withstandeth their onslaught!
Let him therefore be exalted, and in the assembly of the gods let him... ;
None among the gods can rival him!
15 Tutu [Marduk] is Zi-ukkina, "the Life of the host of the gods,"
Who established for the gods the bright heavens.
He set them on their way, and ordained their path;
Never shall his ... deeds be forgotten among men.
Tutu as Zi-azag thirdly they named, "the Bringer of Purification,"
"The God of the Favoring Breeze," "the Lord of Hearing and Mercy,"
"The Creator of Fulness and Abundance," " the Founder of Plenteousness,"
"Who increaseth all that is small."
In sore distress we felt his favoring breeze,"
Let them say, let them pay reverence, let them bow in humility before him!
Tutu as Aga-azag may mankind fourthly magnify!
"The Lord of the Pure Incantation," " the Quickener of the Dead,"

11 years ago

"Who had mercy upon the captive gods," "Who removed the yoke from upon the gods his enemies," "For their forgiveness did he create mankind," "The Merciful One, with whom it is to bestow life!" May his deeds endure, may they never be forgotten , In the mouth of mankind whom his hands have made! Tutu as Mu-azag, fifthly, his "Pure incantation" may their mouth proclaim, Who through his Pure Incantation hath destroyed all the evil ones!" Sag-zu, [Marduk] "who knoweth the heart of the gods," " who seeth through the innermost part!" "The evil-doer he hath not caused to go forth with him!" "Founder of the assembly of the gods," who ... their heart!" "Subduer of the disobedient," "...!" "Director of Righteousness," "...," " Who rebellion and...!" Tutu as Zi-si, "the ...," "Who put an end to anger," "who...!" Tutu as Suh-kur, thirdly, "the Destroyer of the foe," "Who put their plans to confusion," "Who destroyed all the wicked," "...," ... let them... !

[There is a gap here of sixty lines. But somewhere among the lost lines belong the following fragments.]

11 years ago

He named the four quarters of the world, mankind hecreated,
And upon him understanding...
"The mighty one...!"
"The Creator of the earth...!"
Zulummu... .
"The Giver of counsel and of whatsoever...!"
Mummu, " the Creator of...!"
Mulil, the heavens...,
"Who for...!"
Giskul, let...,
"Who brought the gods to naught....!"
... " the Chief of all lords,"
... supreme is his might!
Lugal-durmah, "the King of the band of the gods," " the Lord of rulers."
"Who is exalted in a royal habitation,"
"Who among the gods is gloriously supreme!
Adu-nuna, " the Counselor of Ea," who created the gods his fathers,
Unto the path of whose majesty
No god can ever attain!
... in Dul-azag be made it known,
... pure is his dwelling!
... the... of those without understanding is Lugaldul-azaga!
... supreme is his might!
... their... in the midst of Tiamat,
... of the battle!

[Here follows the better-preserved ending.]

11 years ago

... the star, which shineth in the heavens.
May he hold the Beginning and the Future, may they pay homage unto him,
Saying, "He who forced his way through the midst of Tiamat without resting,
Let his name be Nibiru, 'the Seizer of the Midst'!
For the stars of heaven he upheld the paths,
He shepherded all the gods like sheep!
He conquered Tiamat, he troubled and ended her life,"
In the future of mankind, when the days grow old,
May this be heard without ceasing; may it hold sway forever!
Since he created the realm of heaven and fashioned the firm earth,
The Lord of the World," the father Bel hath called his name.
This title, which all the Spirits of Heaven proclaimed,
Did Ea hear, and his spirit was rejoiced, and he said:
"He whose name his fathers have made glorious,
Shall be even as I, his name shall be Ea!
The binding of all my decrees shall he control,
All my commands shall he make known! "
By the name of "Fifty " did the great gods


Let them [i.e. the names of Marduk] be held in remembrances and let the first man proclaim them; Let the wise and the understanding consider them together! Let the father repeat them and teach them to his son; Let them be in the ears of the pastor and the shepherd! Let a man rejoice in Marduk, the Lord of the gods, That be may cause his land to be fruitful, and that he himself may have prosperity! His word standeth fast, his command is unaltered; The utterance of his mouth hath no god ever annulled. He gazed in his anger, he turned not his neck; When he is wroth, no god can withstand his indignation. Wide is his heart, broad is his compassion; The sinner and evil-doer in his presence... They received instruction, they spake before him, ... unto... ... of Marduk may the gods...; ... May they ... his name... ! ... they took and...


Proclaim his fifty names, they, made his path preeminent.

This post was modified from its original form on 12 Jun, 8:22
10 years ago

[Note: Strictly speaking, the text is not a creation-legend, though it gives a variant form of the
principal incident in the history of the creation according to the Enuma Elish. Here the fight with the
dragon did not precede the creation of the world, but took place after men had been created and
cities had been built.]

The cities sighed, men ...
Men uttered lamentation, they ...
For their lamentation there was none to help,
For their grief there was none to take them by the hand.
· Who was the dragon... ?
Tiamat was the dragon.....
Bel in heaven hath formed.....
Fifty kaspu [A kaspu is the space that can be covered in two hours travel, i.e. six or seven miles] in
his length, one kaspu in his height,
Six cubits is his mouth, twelve cubits his...,
Twelve cubits is the circuit of his ears...;
For the space of sixty cubits he ... a bird;
In water nine cubits deep he draggeth...."
He raiseth his tail on high...;
All the gods of heaven...
In heaven the gods bowed themselves down before the Moon-god...;
The border of the Moon-god's robe they hastily grasped:
"Who will go and slay the dragon,"
And deliver the broad land from...
And become king over... ?
" Go, Tishu, slav the dragon,
And deliver the broad land from...,
And become king over...!"
Thou hast sent me, O Lord, to... the raging creatures of the river,
But I know not the... of the Dragon!

[The rest of the Obverse and the upper part of the Reverse of the tablet are wanting.]

10 years ago


And opened his mouth and spake unto the god...
" Stir up cloud, and storm and tempest!
The seal of thy life shalt thou set before thy face,
Thou shalt grasp it, and thou shalt slay the dragon."
He stirred up cloud, and storm and tempest,
He set the seal of his life before his face,
He grasped it, and he slew the dragon.
For three years and three months, one day and one nightThe blood of the dragon flowed.

These story is metaphoric in content. Dragon = DNA


Seated along the Euphrates River, Sumer had a thriving agriculture and trade industry. Herds of sheep and goats and farms of grains and vegetables were held both by the temples and private citizens. Ships plied up and down the river and throughout the Persian Gulf, carrying pottery and various processed goods and bringing back fruits and various raw materials from across the region, including cedars from the Levant.

Sumer was one of the first literate civilizations leaving many records of business transactions, and lessons from schools. They had strong armies, which with their chariots and phalanxes held sway over their less civilized neighbors. Perhaps the most lasting cultural remnants of the Sumerians though, can be found in their religion.

The aggrandizement of the king was at times taken to an extreme, as indicated by the royal cemetery of Ur from the 26th century BC in which archaeologists found not only extraordinary wealth and precious objects but also the corpses of as many as 74 attendants.

10 years ago

As we see in the tale of Gilgamesh and other literature, the Sumerians believed in an underworld for the spirits of the dead; and some kings as gods felt they wanted their servants there also. Obviously this was a major violation of life, and this practice seemed to die out after the Early Dynastic period.

Below the king or governor society had three distinct classes: aristocratic nobles who were administrators, priests, and officers in the army rewarded with large estates; a middle class of business people, school teachers, artisans, and farmers; and the lowest being slaves, who had been captured in war or were dispossessed farmers or those sold by their families. Slavery was not stigmatized by race but was considered a misfortune out of which one could free oneself through service, usually in three years.

Some of the young women were married to the god in the temple and were not celibate; some were prostitutes, and their children were often legally adopted. Laws made clear distinctions between the three classes. Though women had some rights, they were not equal to men. Thus from the beginning of civilization the sexism of patriarchal rule in the state and families is seen in the oppression by male dominance. The Sumerians were quite bureaucratic, documenting major transactions and legal agreements of all kinds, being the first to develop a system of laws, which influenced the law codes of Eshnunna and Hammurabi.

10 years ago

How then did these social hierarchies develop? Given the limited knowledge available, our explanations are speculative and uncertain. As the pastoral peoples traded with the farmers and villagers, more complex social organizations could function more productively. The manufacturing of pottery and other products led to specialization and trading by barter, as the Sumerians had no money system except for the weighing of precious metals.

As irrigation systems became more complex, planners and managers of labor were needed. Protection of surplus goods and valuable construction was required to guard against raiding parties. Those with the ability to organize and manage more complex activities tended to give themselves privileges for their success, and eventually social inequalities grew, as those who failed lost their privileges. Religion also became a part of this system of inequality, as religious leaders placed themselves above others in their service of the deities.

Laws apparently were devised to prevent abuses and as a way to settle disputes. Cities took the step from police protection under law to the organization of retaliatory attacks by an army. The skills of hunters selected over a long period of evolution seem to have given men (more than women) a tendency to gang up and work together in violent attacks. However, when the objects of these attacks became other men and the valuables found in another city, this tendency became self-destructive for the species. The survival instincts kept it within bounds so that it has not practiced to extinction (so far), but individual leaders who could gain social rewards for initiating such adventures appeared with increasing regularity. Apparently those individuals with better methods of resolving conflicts were not able to persuade enough people all the time to avoid such brutality. Yet the history of Sumer shows that war was counter-productive for most people and eventually led to the decline and fall of their culture.

10 years ago

After the fall of the last Sumerian dynasty about 2000 BC, some Sumerian scribes wrote chronicles of their long past. Although these have been lost, lists of their kings and some accounts edited into later Babylonian chronicles have been found. These claimed that their kings go back more than 240,000 years before the flood and come forward about 30,000 years after the flood. Such figures would take us back before Atlantis to Lemuria, which seems unlikely, though as one of the few agglutinative languages Sumerian does resemble Polynesian. More than five thousand years ago their advanced architecture using vaults, arches, and domes indicated a long development.

The first dynasty after the deluge was in the Akkadian region northwest of Sumer in the city of Kish, ten miles east of what became Babylon. According to Georges Roux, twelve of the kings' names were Semitic rather than Sumerian.

Thus from its historical beginnings the Sumerian civilization was mixed with Semitic influences. The first legendary Etana was said to have ascended to heaven on the back of an eagle. The oldest historical king, Mebaragesi, ruled Kish about 2700 BC and apparently overcame the Sumerians' eastern neighbor at Elam, for he is said to have carried away their weapons as spoil.

10 years ago

The second dynasty at Uruk in Sumer itself must have overlapped with the first, because it was the legendary fifth king of that dynasty, Gilgamesh, who was attacked by the last Kish king Agga. An ancient account told the following story: Agga having besieged Uruk sent envoys to Gilgamesh with an ultimatum. Gilgamesh went to his city's elders, suggesting that they not submit but fight with weapons. However, the elders came to the opposite conclusion.

So Gilgamesh took his proposal to the "men of the city," and they agreed with him. Gilgamesh was elated and said to his servant Enkidu, "Now, then, let the (peaceful) tool be put aside for the violence of battle." Gilgamesh then asked for a volunteer to go to Agga. Birhurturre, the head man, went and withstood torture; but when the awesome Gilgamesh ascended the wall and was seen by the foes, the foreigners felt overwhelmed and abandoned the siege.

The Uruk dynasty was well known in Sumerian tradition, as Gilgamesh was preceded by Meskiaggasher, son of the sun-god Utu, Enmerkar also sun of Utu who built Uruk, the shepherd Lugalbanda, who was also considered divine, and the fisherman Dumuzi, the legendary vegetation god who married the love goddess, Inanna. Tales of Gilgamesh became very popular.

10 years ago

Mesalim, who called himself King of Kish, erected a temple to Ningirsu in Lagash, for which he arbitrated a territorial dispute with Umma and set up a stele marking the border. However, he was overthrown, as was the last king of Uruk, by the founder of the Ur dynasty, Mesannepadda, whose name meant the hero chosen by An.

He and his successor rebuilt the Tummal temple at Nippur that had fallen into ruin. The peace between Lagash and Umma was maintained for about a century as Lagash king Ur-Nanshe built temples, dug canals, and imported wood from Dilmun. Meanwhile Mesannepadda sent gifts to the distant Mari. The rulers of Ur became extraordinarily wealthy as indicated by their royal tombs in the mid-27th century. A royal standard shows four-wheeled chariots pulled by asses and rows of prisoners presented to the king.

Eventually mountain people from Khamazi occupied Kish, while the Elamites encroached on Sumer. In Lagash Ur-Nanshe's grandson, Eannatum, who also built temples and dug canals, became a warrior, fighting back against the Elamites, conquering Ur and Uruk, and taking the kingship of Kish. Closer to home was the local conflict with Umma. Claiming his god commanded it, the governor of Umma raided the disputed field of Gu-edin, removed the marker set up by Mesalim, and invaded the territory of Lagash. However, Eannatum won the battle with the help of his god Enlil and captured in a great net his enemies, who begged for life.

10 years ago

A peace treaty was agreed upon with Enakalli, the next governor of Umma, and Mesalim's stele was restored to its former place. Umma was required to pay heavy taxes in barley, and Eannatum's victory was commemorated by a stele depicting vultures tearing up the corpses of the defeated. Eannatum boasted of killing 3,600 men of Umma and had to bury twenty heaps of his own men.

Later Eannatum had to fight a coalition of forces from Kish and Mari led by the King of Akshak; though he claimed victory, his little empire was declining. Umma once again seized the disputed canal, destroyed the stele of the vultures, and defeated Eannatum. However, his nephew, Entemena, regained the canal from Umma even though they were backed by foreign kings (probably from Mari), and he assigned his own governor to control the irrigation Lagash needed. Entemena also constructed new canals, attained a "brotherhood pact" with Lugal-kinishe-dudu who had united Uruk and Ur, and for a reign of peace and prosperity was deified by a grateful people with statues for nearly a thousand years. A second Eannatum was succeeded by a high priest of the warrior god Ningirsu, and for a time peace prevailed as the people of Umma were allowed to live in Lagash with religious and civil liberties.

10 years ago

However, conditions deteriorated as they were ruled by the distant kings of Kish who appointed the local governors, and the priesthood became corrupted and greedy for land and taxes. Finally a strong leader arose named Urukagina, who threw off the allegiance to Kish, proclaimed himself king of Lagash, and instituted sweeping reforms directed against the extortion of the priesthood. A priest was no longer allowed to "come into the garden of a poor mother and take wood" nor to take fruit as tax. Burial fees were greatly reduced. Temple officials were forbidden to take the god's revenues or to use temple lands and cattle as their own. Owners could refuse to sell their houses unless they got the price they asked. Widows and orphans were protected, and artisans did not have to beg for their food. At the same time as Urukagina was reforming the temple, he was rebuilding it and other shrines in Lagash.

Unfortunately after only eight years of this rule by the world's first known reformer, the army of Umma led by its governor, Lugalzagesi, attacked Lagash possibly not resisted by Urukagina, burnt the shrines, and carried off the divine image of Ningirsu. Assuming the existence of moral justice the chronicler lamented, "The men of Umma, by the despoiling of Lagash, have committed a sin against the god Ningirsu.

10 years ago

As for Lugalzagesi, ensi of Umma, may his goddess Nidaba make him bear his mortal sin upon his head!" Lugalzagesi went on to conquer and become king of Uruk and claim all of Sumer under the god Enlil from the lower sea (Persian Gulf) including the Tigris and Euphrates all the way to the upper sea (Mediterranean). However, to do this he had to ally himself with the cupbearer of Kish, where Lugalzagesi had begun life himself as a vassal. His reign of 24 years was to mark the end of that Sumerian empire in about 2390 BC, for the name of that Akkadian cupbearer was Sargon.

Cuneiform Writing

Sumerian is the first known written language. Its script, called cuneiform, meaning "wedge-shaped". The Cuneiform script is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. Created by the Sumerians in the late 4th millennium BC, cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. Over time, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract.

Cuneiforms were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The impressions left by the stylus were wedge shaped, thus giving rise to the name cuneiform, wedge-writing.The Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, Assyrian, and Luwian languages, and inspired the Old Persian and Ugaritic national alphabets. It was widely used in Mesopotamia for about 3000 years, though the syllabic nature of the script as it was refined by the Sumerians was unintuitive to the Semitic speakers.

10 years ago


Cuneiform pictograms were drawn on clay tablets in vertical columns with a pen made from a sharpened reed stylus. Then two developments made the process quicker and easier: People began to write from left to right in horizontal rows (rotating counter-clockwise all of the pictograms 90° in the process), and a new wedge-tipped stylus was used which was pushed into the clay, producing wedge-shaped ("cuneiform") signs. By adjusting the relative position of the tablet to the stylus, the writer could use a single tool to make a variety of impressions. The word "cuneiform" comes from the Latin word cuneus, meaning "wedge".

10 years ago

Cuneiform tablets could be fired in kilns to provide a permanent record, or they could be recycled if permanence was not called for. Many of the tablets found by archaeologists were preserved because they were baked when attacking armies burned the building in which they were kept.

This fact, before Sumerian civilization was rediscovered, prompted many philologists to suspect a precursor civilization to the Babylonian.Most later adaptations of Sumerian cuneiform preserved at least some aspects of the Sumerian script. Written Akkadian included phonetic symbols from the Sumerian syllabary, together with logograms that were read as whole words.

Many signs in the script were polyvalent, having both a syllabic and logographic meaning. When the cuneiform script was adapted to writing the Hittite language, a layer of Akkadian logographic spellings was added to the script, with the result that we no longer know the pronunciations of many Hittite words conventionally written by logograms.

10 years ago

The complexity of the system bears a resemblance to classical Japanese, written in a Chinese derived script; some of these Sinograms were used as logograms, others as phonetic characters. Contemporary Japanese graphically distinguishes the logograms (kanji) from syllabary characters (kana) but otherwise retains a similar system.

The complexity of the system prompted the development of a number of simplified versions of the script. Old Persian was written in a subset of simplified cuneiform characters, that formed a simple, semi-alphabetic syllabary, using far fewer wedge strokes than Assyrian used, together with a handful of logograms for frequently occurring words like "god" and "king." The Ugaritic language was written using the Ugaritic alphabet, a standard Semitic style alphabet (an abjad) written using the cuneiform method.

The use of Aramaic became widespread under the Assyrian Empire and the Aramaean alphabet gradually replaced cuneiform. The last known cuneiform inscription, an astronomical text, was written in 75 AD.

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