The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The Standard of Ur:  War
The Standard of Ur:  King
The "Standard" of Ur?
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
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Ur-Namma: ceremoniously carrying the first basket of clay for the building of a new temple.

     Ur-Namma was originally a military governor (or general) appointed by Utu-hengal, the king of Uruk, who was starting to gain ascendency over the Gutians after the collapse of the Akkadian Empire. Ur-Namma later became a king in his own right, the king of Ur. Several years after the death of Utu-Hengal, Ur-Namma unified the various Sumerian cities and he gained significant victories over the Gutians. He thus created an independent Sumerian state, after two centuries of foreign domination. He went on to conquer all of Akkad. Thereafter, he signed himself as "Ur-Namma, the king of Ur, the king of Sumer and Akkad". He ruled for eighteen years (circa 2112 - 2095 B.C.)  

     Historians thought Ur-Namma overthrew his "masters" att Uruk, the city of Utu-hengal, and that he even assassinated Utu-hengal to become the king. More recent studies, however, suggest that Ur-Namma was actually the younger brother of Utu-hengal, or they symbolically "became brothers", and that Utu-hengal died in a boating accident (modern reconstructions of Sumerian history are in constant flux). Another possiblity is that Ur-Namma became a king by marrying the daughter of Utu-hengal. 

It was also thought that Ur-Namma did not unify the various Sumerian city-states so much as conquer them because there is some evidence of a conflict between Ur-Namma’s city of Ur and the city of Girsu. His conquest of Sumer “need not have been particularly arduous”, and Magnus Wildell of the University of Chicago has presented evidence that the conflict has been overstated. What’s remarkable is the fact that Ur-Namma was able to forge the various Sumerian city-states into one single nation. These city-states had always prized their autonomy and independence, and had often been at war with each other. History is filled with many examples of failed attempts to form regional kingdoms into a single unified nation. Only a leader who is truly great, who is both strong and diplomatic, like Ur-Namma, can build a nation without excessive bloodshed and civil war.

     Whether Ur-Namma was a governor named by royal appointment, or the younger brother of a ruling monarch, indicates that he wasn't necessarily "born to be a king". It is said he was chosen by extispicy, the reading of divine omens in the liver of a sacrificed animal, rather than the standard rules of succession. (It's easy to suspect that he made certain "arrangements" to guarantee the omens were favorable, like some well placed bribes, a few veiled threats, and other behind-the-scene machinations.) It shows that Ur-Namma made himself into a king by his own talent and efforts. He thus became a living god, worshiped in his lifetime.

Ur-Namma commemorative tablet: dedicated to Inanna, the goddess of love and war.  "Inanna/ Lady of the E-anna temple/ His queen/ Ur-Namma/ The mighty man/ The king of Sumer and Akkad"  The inscription is continued on the back: "Her temple/ he built/ this place he restored". See the back of this Ur-Namma tablet.

      For more than two centuries, after Sumer was conquered by Sargon the Great, the Sumerians were the subjects of the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadians were the masters and the Sumerians were the vassals. Then Ur-Namma conquered the Akkadians. It was a difficult challenge for him to rule both nations after this sudden role reversal, to say the least. He alone held the two nations together, with the sheer force of his will. 

     He was a builder of roads, canals, and temples. He began construction on the famous ziggurat at Ur (pictured on these pages) which was completed by his son, Shulgi. Ur-Namma codified the laws of the land, 300 years before the famous (Babylonian) Code of Hammurabi. He ruled his kingdom with competence and justice.

The Code of Ur-Namma, the world's first known codified list of laws. See the laws of Ur-Namma.

     For his time and place he was just as great as Caesar or Alexander; seventeen centuries before Alexander and twenty centuries before Caesar.

     Ur-Namma was killed in combat, abandoned by his fleeing army, in yet another battle with the Gutians (see "I am Ur-Namma" for his complete life story) but the dynasty he created would last for almost a hundred years. It witnessed the last flowering of Sumerian civilization, which was already ancient, before it was finally destroyed so long ago in the ancient past.

Ur-Namma stele.  (heavily damaged)

Above:  Ur-Namma stands before the god Enlil, watering the Tree of Life to overflowing. Enlil presents Ur-Namma with a measuring rod and rope used for surveying, and an adze, used for building a new temple. It was originally thought that the surveying rope symbolized Enlil's dominion over all the land, and he holds a battleaxe to symbolize his right to "strike and kill"  (i.e., to administer justice) like the fasces used by the Romans, and the cobra on the front of a pharaoh's crown. I would suggest that the rope is simply used to mark out the boundries of a new temple, and the "weapon" that Enlil holds is actually an adze, which is used as a construction tool, rather than a battleaxe, which is used as a weapon of war. In other words, Enlil is giving Ur-Namma the tools needed for building a temple. The god is commonly mistaken to be Nanna, the moon god for whom the great ziggurat at Ur was built, but this seems unlikely because no Tree of Life would be associated with a moon god.   Below:  Enlil leads Ur-Namma and a worker to begin work on the temple. King Ur-Namma is shown wearing a shepherd's hat. He is also shown with a full beard, which was his usual appearance. The statue of him at the top of the page shows him as completely shaven, as part of the purification ritual for the dedication of a new temple. The fact that Ur-Namma keeps his hat on while in the presence of Enlil shows that he too is a god.

This damaged portion of the stele shows Ur-Namma in the presence of an angel (lamma, guardian spirit).

Ur-Namma foundation tablet with the same inscription as the votive tablet shown below.

See The Face of Ur-Namma.

Ur-Namma votive tablet:  These tablets were manufactured by using a stamp-press. The tablets were then sold to worshipers to raise revenue for the temple.

Line drawing of tablet.  The sign uri (Akkad) is missing from the end of third line, although it can faintly be seen on the original tablet. Ur-Namma's name is on the first line.

     I was looking through the Library of Congress cuneiform collection when I saw this tablet.
It was labelled "Not yet translated". I looked at the name and I said, "That's Ur-Nammu!!"
(I know, I know, the current pronunciation is Ur-Namma, not Ur-Nammu, so there is no need to point that out to me.)  I recognized the name because it was one of the first signs I had difficulty understanding (it doesn't look how it is spelled).  For me, it was a great moment of discovery. It's as if I had recognized a friend, in a crowd, from a distance, when I wasn't expecting him to be there. It was like seeing Ur-Namma himself, across the distance of time. These moments of original discovery are what makes the study of Sumerian so interesting.

     The Library of Congress is currently in the process of revamping their cuneiform display.
I assume a translation of the tablet will be included. But for those of you who "just can't wait", I have included my own translation of the tablet (it's a common inscription).

The numerical subscript of a sign is not pronounced. The sign that looks like an asterisk
is dingir and it's represented by "{d}". It designates divinity, and is likewise unpronounced. 


   1.   ur- {d} namma

   2.   lugal urim5 ki-ma

   3.   lugal ki-en-gi ki-uri

   4.   lu2 e2  {d} en-lil2-la2

   5.   in-du3-a


   1.   Ur-Namma

   2.   King of Ur

   3.   King of Sumer and Akkad

   4.   He who built

         the temple of Enlil

This tablet references the E-Kur temple mentioned above. Although the E-Kur was the most important temple built by Ur-Namma, he is today better known for a temple in the city of Ur:

The ziggurat at Ur in the moonlight. The temple was dedicated to Nanna, the moon god.