Cylinder seal impression. A carved stone cylinder was rolled across a wet clay tablet to form an official, individualized seal. This one shows the winged goddess Inanna standing above the sun god Utu as he rises, using a saw to cut his way through the mountains. To her left is an unidentified hunter/warrior god. To her right is Enki, the god of the Abzu (the underground water table) surrounded by water and fish. Beside him is Isimud, his two-faced minister. The writing in the background identifies the seal as belonging to Adda, a scribe. Click to enlarge.
Cylinder seal showing Enki, used to make the above seal impression. Enlarge.
Cylinder seal, and the impression it makes when rolled across wet clay. The manufacture of cylinder seals was a highly regarded art form in ancient Sumer. The engravers had to carve the hard cylinder stones using only simple tools. The images and lettering had to be carved in both spatial and photographic reverse, so that they would be raised from the surface and facing in the right direction.
Cylinder seal impression of aroyal ostrich hunting scene. This seal is from a later period. The look on the ostrich’s face is priceless. Enlarge.
A cylinder seal impression showing Enki and other gods. Enki is on the right. The gods are recognizable by their horned helmets. Note the “birdman” in the center. He is being led in a neck stock, his hands tied, to stand before the judgment of Enki. Click to enlarge. This story is also seen on another cylinder seal impression.
Inanna, the goddess of love and war, with a lion. No other image of Inanna better illustrates her dual nature. She is depicted as a goddess of love, “showing some leg”; while the lion and the weapons of battle (maces) seen rising up behind her shows that she is also the goddess of war. In all of ancient mythology, no other deity is the goddess of love and war combined. The eight-pointed star (Venus) is another symbol associated with Inanna. This image is in photographic reverse. See the complete seal impression. Also see a line-drawingof the seal by S. Beaulieu.
Although she is called the goddess of love, Inanna is really the goddess of lust. She is not associated with romance, marriage, fertility or child bearing. She is so extreme in her emotions, so psychotic in her desires, and so relentless in getting what she wants, she thus symbolizes the violence of human passion. This is why she is also represents the destruction and carnage of war.
Lid to a cosmetic box belonging to Queen Puabi showing a lion attacking a ram. Enlarge.
Engraved underside of a golden bowl, seen in Vessels: The Royal Tombs of Ur.
Copper goat head from the city of Shuruppak. The triangular mark on the goat’s head also appears on a bull’s head, a different goat statue, and on many other Sumerian works of art. The meaning of the symbol isn’t known. It’s been suggested that the triangle symbolizes divinity because the mark most often appears on animal statues found at temple sites, but it probably means the animal is “sacred” rather than being an actual deity because the Sumerians didn’t worship animal gods. I would suggest the triangle means the animal is intended for sacrifice. Throughout the ancient world, animals were sometimes “garlanded for the sacrifice” or otherwise decorated for the sacrificial ceremonies, like the aproned animalsin the victory procession on the Standard of Ur. These decorations often included an adornment for the animal’s head, as shown in a modern Greek reenactment of an animal sacrifice, and in depictions of Roman sacrificial ceremonies.
Bull-headed lyre: All the bull heads shown on this website are lyre ornamentations. This bull and the one pictured on the Home Page are from the Royal Tombs of Ur. The Sumerians often depicted bulls with a false beards. In this picture, and in the one below it, one can see the strap of the beard going across the bull’s nose.
A divine bullman associated with the sun god. Circa 2500 B.C. Click here to see a different, enlarged view.
Musician playing a bull-headed lyre. Detail from the Royal Standard of Ur.
During the burial of a king in the Royal Tombs of Ur, men and women were sacrificed to be the servants of royalty in the afterlife. They were arranged as shown, then they were given poison to drink. Enlarge.
Artist reconstruction of the ziggurat at Ur: Because of the scarcity of timber in Sumer, only the external bricks of a ziggurat were kiln-fired and therefore waterproof. The interiors of the walls were filled with clay and sun-dried bricks.
King Shulgi, son of Ur-Namma, with the royal family at the dedication of the ziggurat at Ur. They all stand with their hands folded in the prayer position, watching as the statue of Nanna, the moon god, is carried into his sanctuary at the top of the temple. Enlarge.
Sumerian ring and coil money. The silver was cut to length as needed.
Game Board from the Royal Tombs of Ur. It’s believed to be a precursor of backgammon.
A Sumerian reed house under construction. Young reed saplings were planted in the square outline of a house. When the reeds had grown to full height, they were bundled together and bent over the middle to form the roof, as shown. This kind of house is still built in Iraq today. Note the supervisor on the right. Artist: Richard Hook. Enlarge.
A reed house, as it would appear in a Sumerian village.
Stele of Naram-Sin: The Akkadian king (top) advances to victory against a tribe of hillsmen (the Lullubi tribe (Gutians) from the Zagros mountains). See a high-resolution photograph.
The Vulture Stele of king Eannatum which shows vultures feeding on the enemy dead. Enlarge.
Another section of the Vulture Stele: Along with the Standard of Ur, this is one of the
world’s first depictions of modern soldiers and modern organized warfare. In both panels, Eannatum (on foot, and in a chariot) leads his soldiers to war. These are indeed soldiers, not just warriors, but soldiers in the modern sense of the word. Every man is “in uniform”, identically armed and equipped as supplied by the state, rather than each man bringing his own weapons to the battle, as occurs in tribal warfare. The soldiers attack in a tight disciplined formation, with many men acting as a single unit, as they advance to victory over the bodies of their enemies. This isn’t the disorganized mob of individual combatants that is typical of the more primitive forms of warfare. These soldiers are professionals.
Circa 2400 B.C. Enlarge.
The aftermath of battle: A king, wearing a shepherd’s hat and holding a shepherd’s crook, stands with his foot astride a cringing prisoner of war. The king receives the blessings of Ishtar, the goddess of war, who holds a prisoner at the end of a rope. The lower register shows the captives being “herded” into slavery. This image is sometimes mistaken to be a Sumerian king, but it is actually an Akkadian king, since he wears the short skirt that is typically worn by the people of this region. On the other hand, the stylized shepherd’s hat was worn as a crown by the Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian kings. Enlarge. A different version of the drawing shows the king with a battleaxe instead of a shepherd’s crook.
Sargon the Great, the Akkadian king who conquered Sumer in 2350 B.C. There has been some speculation that it is actually Naram-Sin, Sargon’s grandson. I would suggest, however, that it really is Sargon because of the unmistakable resemblance to the depiction of Sargon on his Victory Stele.
Decorative rein post: used to separate the reins on a chariot, as pictured above. Enlarge. The Sumerians did not have horses in the modern sense of the word. Instead they used donkeys, as seen on the post above. The donkeys were not very large; this is the reason why four of them were needed to pull a war chariot.
Royal sceptre from the Tombs of Ur; made of gold, shell, and lapis lazuli. Enlarge.
Wall mural from the Babylonian city of Mari showing the home of the gods. In the top panel is an unidentified god; possibly An, the god of heaven, or Utu, the god of the sun. On the upper right is a winged bullman.
Bottom panel: Enlil, the chief god of earth, is attended by a minor female goddess (shown wearing a horned helmet) and by two kings wearing shepherds’ hats. Wind pours out of a jar, signifying that Enlil is the god of the winds that bring life-giving rains. The first of the two kings symbolically waters The Tree of Life (it’s a rather scrawny-looking Tree of Life, in my opinion; seeUr-Namma and Enlil, below). Note the bull on the left and the celestial figure on the right. Enlarge.
Gold and lapis beads with etched carnelian. Enlarge.
Miscellaneous Sumerian jewelry: Clockwise from top left: animal figurine, gold and carnelian necklace, ear pendant, arm bands, gold frontlet, and cylinder seal with gold caps. Enlarge.
Gold and lapis lazuli triangular beads.
Modern jewelry constructed of Mesopotamian cylinder seals (2200 – 350 B.C.) given by the British explorer Henry Layard to his wife. The jewelry is very impressive when enlarged. Also see a portrait of Lady Enid Layard wearing the jewelry.
Assorted jewelry. Gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. From the city of Ur (2600 – 2500 B.C.). Enlarge.
Gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian bracelets. Enlarge.
Golden bowl. The orangish color of the bowl is due fact that the gold is alloyed with copper. Gold is not indigenous to Sumer and had to be imported. It was often alloyed with other metals to maximize the supply and to enhance the color. Enlarge.
Bottom of a fluted gold drinking cup. Click here to see the cup.
Sumerian woman at the time of Gudea (circa 2130 B.C.), possibly a member of his family. Her hands are in the prayer position. The same is true for priestess pictured above.
The statue of the Sumerian woman pictured above.
The “Uruk woman”, named for the city in which it was found. The joined eyebrows, seen on many Sumerian statues, is a symbol of beauty.
Part of a votive plaque for the goddess Ninsun. The woman pictured is a high priestess. See a close-up of her face.
Clay model of a Sumerian woman.
Golden headdress worn by Queen Pu-abi. Excavated from the Royal Tombs of Ur. Most of the best known Sumerian artifacts came from her tomb. More of these artifacts can be seen in the Royal Tombs of Ur. It’s not known for certain if she was actually a queen. She is referred to as nin, which means “lady” or “queen”. In either case, Pu-abi was obviously a woman of high status, given the wealth and abundance of her grave goods and by the number of people who were sacrificed to serve her in the afterlife.
Another headdress from the same tomb; worn by one of the women who was sacrificed to attend Queen Pu-abi in the afterlife.