The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The "Standard" of Ur?
Standard of Ur narratives
Vulture Stele Translation
Sumerian War Chariots
War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
The Face of Lugal-agrig-zi
Ur-Namma Translation
The Face of Ur-Namma
Face of Ur-Namma, part II
I am Ur-Namma
The Face of Shulgi
Who Were the Sumerians?
Other Sumerian Kings
The Princess Wife
The Great Fatted Jackass
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

The gold helmet of King Meskalamdug. This is an electrotype copy of the helmet which is in the Baghdad Museum. See the original helmet, and a three-quarter view. Click on any image to enlarge it in a separate window.

This helmet is made to look like the wearer's own hair, with a knotted bun in the back, and a woven band on top. The holes at the bottom of the helmet were used for a cloth trim and to hold an interior lining. The Akkadian king, Sargon the Great, wears a similar helmet. The same kind of helmet is also worn by King Eannatum. This helmet was discovered in an extremely lavish burial, PG 755. Several objects in the tomb mention Meskalamdug, but the cylinder seal of Meskalamdug was found in another royal tomb; so there's some confusion as to which is really his tomb.

Meskalamdug, Sargon, and Eannatum were all "Kings of Kish". This is the tradition title held by any king who ruled both Sumer and Akkad. For this reason, I have identified this helmet
as belonging exclusively to the King of Kish, rather than merely being a symbol of royalty,
as was originally supposed (see Helmet: the King of Kish).

Gold daggers:  Several gold daggers were found in the Royal Tombs of Ur. They are obviously "ceremonial", and not intended for use in combat.

Gold dagger with scabbard.  This is a modern reproduction in the British Museum; the original dagger is in the Baghdad Museum. Length 33 cm (13 inches). The handle is made of lapis lazuli.

Another gold dagger (restored) and two copper blades.

There are multiple images of these daggers available on the Internet. A few of them are featured below.

Dagger.  See a side view of the dagger that is seldom shown.  Enlarge.


The gold daggger with scabbard:  Click on the picture for enlargement. Click here to see the photograph in high-resolution. See the details of the scabbard.

Dagger with a curved handle and a copper blade.

Gold dagger with silver handle. See modern reconstruction of the dagger.

Dagger found in tomb PG 1618.  Approximately 10.5 inches long (26.82 cm).

The Sumerians sometimes used curved "sickle swords" as seen in this detail from the Standard of Ur, where the Sumerian king captures the enemy king. Eannatum also carries a sickle sword in the top register of his Victory Stele, as does the "Sumerian soldier with a battleaxe" seen below. A sickle sword is a symbol of royalty (see The Standard of Ur: War).

Sumerian spears from the Royal Tombs of Ur:

Two copper spear points (left and right) and two harpoons. Woolley called them harpoons, but their blunt points suggest a different purpose. They were perhaps used as pole weapons. The blunt ends could be used to push against the enemy's shields, without becoming embedded in them, to push back their lines. The barbed end of the weapon could be used to hook onto the rim of an enemy's shield and pull it down, thus leaving him unprotected, to be finished off with a sword.

Copper spear point inscribed with an image of a lion. The holes in the tang of the spearhead were used for attachment to the wooden shaft with rivets. (This spear point wasn't found in the Royal Tombs of Ur, but it's representative of ceremonial weapons meant only for display.) This spear point was found in the city of Girsu.

The image of the lion is better seen with the point turned upside down. See an enlarged view. The inscription on the neck of the spear point has been damaged, and reads in part: "King ... King of Kish".

Gold (electrum) and silver spear points.  These are ceremonial weapons, probably used in the procession of the king. Neither silver or gold is hard enough to make an effecive weapon. Lengths:  34.5 and 17 cm (13.6 and 6.7 inches).

Royal spears, with bands of silver and gold.  They were found beside the soldiers in the King's Grave. Although the spears are ceremonial, they are the same kind of spears that were used in combat, with notches on the ends for use with an atlati, a lever that allows the spear to be thrown with much greater force. See an different photograph of the spears showing the detail of the notches

Copper spearhead.  The blade has a bull-leg symbol inscribed on it, like some of the bowls found in the Royal Tombs. The meaning of the symbol isn't known, The shape of the point is similar to the spearheads on the Standard of Ur (see the chariot scenes pictured below).  Length: 40 cm (15.75 inches).

Copper relief showing two lions trampling over the bodies of slain enemy soldiers. Leonard Woolley considered this to be part of a shield since it was found next to the soldiers in the King's Grave (PG 789).

Sumerian battleaxes:

This copper halberd was found near the bodies of the grooms and their oxen in the burial pit of Queen Pu-abi. It is decorated with a gold band where it was attached to the handle.

This has been labeled a "pickaxe". I would suggest that it is actually a weapon rather than a construction tool because a cylinder seal impression shows a similar weapon in a mythological battle scene. A wood handle was inserted into the vertical hollow cylinder. Copper alloy  8.5 x 3.13 inches.

An electrum adze head, a copper adze head, and a copper axe head. Electrum is a natural alloy of gold and silver. An adze is a tool used in wood construction, but it was also used as a weapon of war, as indicated by the fact that the electrum adze head was found with the soldiers. See a color view of the axe heads.

Royal battleaxe, with bands of gold. "This axe was found in one of the Royal Graves of Ur where no tomb chamber survived. Scattered on the floor of the pit were two copper axes and a gold one decorated in a similar fashion. Such weapons have often been associated with the soldiers 'guarding' the slope leading to the bottom of the pit." Excerpt from the British Museum. The length of the axe is 47 cm (18.5 inches).

Battleaxe(s). See enlarged, and single view.

Axehead of the "Syrian" type, found in the Royal Tombs of Ur. Circa 2400 - 2200 B.C. Approximately 4 inches long.  Two of these axe heads are shown mounted on the chariot seen below.

Shell plaque of a Sumerian soldier with a battleaxe. This plaque, in the Louvre, is from the city of Mari, and is dated 2500 B.C., the same time period as the Royal Tombs of Ur. It has always been ascribed to be a Sumerian "soldier", but I believe it's actually a king. The helmet is the same as those worn by King Meskalamdug (seen above) and King Eannatum, with the same knotted bun in the back, which is a symbol of royalty. This kind of helmet wasn't worn by the common Sumerian soldier (as shown on the Standard of Ur, below, and on Eannatum's victory stele). Only kings were shown wearing this kind of helmet. The common soldiers are only shown en masse, for instance, as part of a phalanx; only a king would be individually portrayed. In any case, this is no ordinary Sumerian soldier. It wouldn't be at all surprising if this was actually a depiction of King Eannatum. Although Eannatum was the king of Lagash, he also conquered Mari, where this plaque was found. He was also the King of Kish. The estimated date of the plaque matches the dates of Eannatum's reign, 2454 - 2425 B.C. It is also done in the same artistic style as other portraits of Eannatum.  See the original plaque.

King Eannatum wears the same kind of helmet, with a knotted bun in the back. He also carries a curved sickle sword, which is better seen in a separate picture.

This shell plaque is from the Royal Tombs of Ur. It is in the Baghdad Museum. Surprisingly, it is labeled simply as a "human figurine", without any mention of it being a king. It looks very similar to the plaque of Eannatum shown above. Another possibility for the identity of this figure is Mesanepada, the king of Ur who also conquered Mari during this period of history. See the Standard of Mari page on this website.

Sumerian war chariots:

A Sumerian soldier unharnesses the king's chariot from a team of horses. Detail from the Standard of Ur. The soldier carries a battleaxe; his leather armor is draped over his shoulder. The horses are caparisoned with the same kind of leather armor.

Sumerian "war wagon". It is a two-man vehicle. One soldier did the driving, the other soldier did the fighting; although the drivers sometimes fought as well (they're seen wielding weapons in the two lead chariots). Detail from the Standard of Ur.

Model of a two-wheeled Sumerian chariot, with chariot rein post and rings. The model of the chariot shows the image of a god on its interior panel. It is from a later period (Neo-Sumerian, circa 2000 B.C.). The rein post rings were used to separate the reins of a chariot, as illustrated above.

Sumerian rein post and rings. "This rein ring is one of several found in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. Leonard Woolley, the archaeologist, discovered the remains of a sledge in the 'Queen's Grave', partly decorated with a mosaic of shell, lapis lazuli and red limestone and gold heads of lions and bulls. This rein ring was found among the bones of the two oxen lying in front of the sledge. It would have originally been fixed to a wooden pole, now decayed, running from the front of the chariot or sledge between the animals. The reins were threaded through the rings to collars worn by the oxen"; excerpt from the British Museum. This rein post is made of electrum and silver.  Height: 13.5 cm (5.3 inches).

Plain rein post and rings. Found in the King's Grave (PG 789). Height: 9.6 cm (3.78 inches). Width: 10 cm (3.9 inches).

Rein post and rings with a bull figurine also found in the King's Grave.  See a rein post from an earlier period (2700 B.C.) topped with a bear figurine. See the bear and bull rein posts together in the Baghdad Museum.

Click here to see a painting of a Sumerian war chariot by Angus McBride that includes many of the artifacts seen on this page: the helmet, spear, dagger, battleaxe, and rein rings.

Limestone bas-relief of a two-wheel chariot, from a temple in the city of Ur. It's always been assumed that the Sumerians used two-wheeled chariots on the battlefield for communication and command. Apparently they were also used for combat, since this chariot is equipped with spears, javelins, and "Syrian" battleaxes. The chariot is decorated with a leopard skin. The scene is religious, since the chariot is drawn by four eagle-headed lions (griffins) rather than horses. This suggests it is the chariot of a god, possibly Ningirsu, since it's a war chariot and griffins are his symbolic animals. Note the curved central shaft of the chariot yoke that goes between the team of lions. On top of the shaft is a rein post and rings. See a labeled picture of the chariot.

Sumerian war chariot (reconstructed). Detail from the Standard of Ur. The chariot is equipped with the same kind of spears pictured above.

The "ball" that's seen in front of the horses is actually a nose ring. The Sumerians didn't use "bit bridles" in the modern sense of the word; instead they used nose rings to control the horses' movements. The nose rings are clearly visible on the pictures above. The rings are sometimes mistaken to be the decorative end of the chariot's central shaft, but the rings can also be found on other horses on the standard that are not pulling a chariot. In the above picture, the ring has been turned 90 degrees toward the viewer to show its shape. The "vertical" lines on the ring shows where the reins are attached.

The king's horses.

This concludes the tour of the Royal Tombs of Ur.

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