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
Site Map

The "unknown" ruler

        During my research for “The face of Ur-Namma”, I saw many references on the Internet to “the unknown ruler”, variously ascribing it as Akkadian, Elamite (Iranian), and Sumerian. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has the statue’s origin as being “Iran or Mesopotamia”. Their comments on the statue begin with the statement:

"During the later third millennium B.C., successive territorial empires ruled Mesopotamia. The first—the Akkadian empire (2350–2150 B.C.)—was centered at Agade, a city still not located by archaeologists but probably near modern Baghdad. The Akkadian language of this empire was a Semitic language that differed greatly from Sumerian, which previously had been the predominant language of Mesopotamia. In addition to its political and economic innovations in administering a large territory, the Akkadian court produced innovative art in a powerful and naturalistic style."

        This seems to suggest that the Met curators thought the statue was of Akkadian origin.
However, after I informed the Met of my belief that 'the unknown ruler' was in fact Ur-Namma, they (curiously) inserted the following sentence into their comments:

"The headdress, however, is similar to that of later Middle Elamite small figurines found at Susa, one of gold and the other of silver. The eyes, eyebrows and nose also seem to render a related ethnic type. In the case of the copper head, the statue may have been made for an Iranian ruler."

        Which raises an interesting question: Is the “unknown ruler” Akkadian, Elamite, or Sumerian?


        Unlike the Met, I am unwilling to venture into ethnic stereotyping, but I believe that there is nothing in the facial features of the unknown ruler that definitely identifies him as being  particularly Semitic, as seen below. I will say that the rounded nose of the unknown ruler is quite unlike the later artistic depictions of the Persians (Iranians) who are usually portrayed with sharper, more angular features. Note, too, how the artistic conventions for showing the curls of the beard is the same used for all of the statues shown below:

Left to right: An unknown (high ranking) Babylonian god, probably Enlil, given the number of horns on the helmet. Ur-Ningirsu (Sumerian), the son of Gudea. Hammurabi (Babylonian) and Sargon the Great (Akkadian). The Babylonians, Akkadians, and Sumerians all used the same artistic conventions to portray gods and kings. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

       As for the eyebrows, the Met is probably referring to the fact that the unknown ruler doesn't have the “joined eyebrows” commonly seen on Sumerian and Akkadian statues. The joined eyebrows are a stylistic convention that symbolizes “beauty”. They are quite noticeable on the images of Gudea, which are very formal and stylized. The joined eyebrows are not to be seen on all of the statues of Ur-Namma, which are more natural and life-like.
The lack of joined eyebrows is one of the reasons why I believe the statue is of Ur-Namma,
who, unlike other ancient kings, chose to represent himself the way he looked in real life.
In regard to the shape of the eyes, they are distinctive only because they are heavy-lidded,
which is one of the distinguishing features of Ur-Namma. Otherwise the shape of the eyes is typical for statues of this period. (As for me, personally, I’m glad that the eyes of this statue are missing. Inlaid eyes always look artificial, even on the realistic statues of the Greeks and Romans. They always give the face a startled expression, like this statue of Augustus.)

Middle Elamite figurine: 12th century B.C.  Click on the picture to see the silver version of this statue.

        This is one of the Middle Elamite figurines mentioned in the Met's comments. There is another silver one just like it. As can be seen in the photo, the headdress on the figure is not really similar to the one worn by the unknown ruler. In any case, the Elamite statues date
from a later period. The Middle Elamite period spans the years of 1500 to 1100 B.C., which
is well beyond the date range given by the Met for the statue of the the unknown ruler
(2300-2000 B.C.). It is therefore not very useful for the purpose of making comparisons.
There aren't any known artifacts from the Old Elamite period (2700 – 1600 B.C.) that are comparable to the statue of the unknown ruler, and it's unreasonable to assume that the unknown ruler is the only example of this kind of Elamite portraiture to survive the millennia. The statue of the unknown ruler looks Sumerian or Akkadian, artistically speaking, and
there is nothing about the statue that is distinctly Elamite.

       Some examples of Elamite art can be found on the Iran Chamber Society website.
The statue of the unknown ruler is mentioned in the article (about half way down the page).
Perhaps surprisingly, the article claims the statue is Iranian (Elamite) in origin. The article states, “The features have probably been coarsened by the disintegration of the copper.
Thus the eyelids may seem heavier now than they originally were; the nose, which seems
so thick as to suggest a feature characteristic of some individual, may again have been accidentally enlarged.” This doesn't sound very convincing. It is easy to see how the features of an artifact can be diminished because of accident or erosion, but it is difficult to imagine how they can possibly become enlarged. As previously noted, the heavy-lidded eyes and the
prominent nose are simply Ur-Namma’s distinguishing facial features. Ur-Namma made
no attempt to depict himself in an idealized manner, to make himself look "prettier"
than he really was.

       As for the possibility that the statue is Akkadian, it is a moot point. After all, Ur-Namma was the king of Sumer and Akkad.

Ur-Namma:  showing the details of his headdress. Note the heavy-lidded eyes, the rounded nose, and the angle at which the ears are bent. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Korostyshevskiy.


       As for the “headdress” mentioned by the Met, it isn’t really a headdress, at all. Notice how the headdress of the unknown ruler is not three-dimensional; it lies flat on his head.
Royal headdresses are always more grandiose. They were taller, to make the ruler seem
more imposing., and they were more “showy”. Could anyone recognize a king in a crowd
if he was wearing this kind of headdress?  This would be the most inconspicuous crown
ever worn by a ruler in the history of the world. During my research into Akkadian, Elamite, and Sumerian history, I was unable to find a royal headdress that looked even remotely like this one. That's because it isn’t really a headdress; it's a soft fabric “skullcap”, the kind worn under a crown or a helmet. A Sumerian king wore a shepherd’s hat as a crown, but there’s no reason to assume it was made of wool like a real shepherd’s hat. The crown was probably made of gold, as befitted a king, so it would require a soft lining. The diagonal lines on the headdress suggest the supporting straps beneath a crown or helmet. As mentioned in “The Face of Ur-Namma”, this statue was probably adorned with a shepherd’s crown.
This is the reason why the ears are bent down, to accommodate the crown. The statue of the unknown ruler is simply Ur-Namma without his hat.

Ur-Namma:  Notice how his ears are bent beneath his shepherd's hat. In the profile photo seen above, notice how the ears are bent at the exact angle that Ur-Namma wears his hat.

       It has always been assumed that the fringe seen beneath his hat was his hair, but it is probably a lining for his crown, since it exactly follows the brim. It was probably made of lamb's fleece, and it was part of the skullcap that was worn under his crown. It can be seen
on the images of the unknown ruler.

       There is one more aspect of this statue that needs to be addressed: To cast a life-size copper statue was a major undertaking in 2100 B.C., requiring considerable resources and technical expertise. An important statue like this one would only be made for a god or a king  (Ur‑Namma was both). It is not just a god; it's too human to be a god (a god with big ears?) and it doesn't have the horned helmet of a god. There are no Sumerian depictions of the gods, in metal, stone, or seal impressions, where a god is depicted without a horned helmet. An important life-sized metal sculpture like this one would not have been made for some two-bit Elamite chieftain (the Sumerians considered the Elamites to be uncivilized barbarians).  Nor would this statue be made for a minor king of some small city-state. Only an important king like Ur-Namma, who ruled two entire nations (Sumer and Akkad), would merit the creation of this very important statue.

       Here I must confess my own personal prejudice in regard to the Elamites. In 2004 B.C., about one hundred years after the death of Ur-Namma, the Elamites sacked Ur-Namma’s capital city of Ur (“Inside Ur there is death, outside it there is death. Inside it we are to be finished off by famine. Outside it we are to be finished off by Elamite weapons. In Ur the enemy oppresses us, oh, we are finished." Lament for Sumer and Ur). The Elamites thus destroyed Sumerian civilization. So I’m not wild about the Elamites. Needless to say, neither was Ur-Namma. After the sack of Ur, the last surviving king of Ur-Namma's royal dynasty, Ibbi‑Suen, was hauled away "in fetters" back to Elam. The statue of Ur-Namma doubtlessly followed Ibbi-Suen into Elamite captivity; so it would be one of history’s ultimate ironies if the Met was to persist in identifying Ur-Namma as an Elamite.

The Sumerian sign for Elam. See a tablet dated the year Ur was besieged (destroyed) by the Elamites.

      The provenance of the statue hasn’t been published. In any case, it wouldn’t matter. This statue wasn't found in its original location (it was dicovered in Azerbaijan). It was probably carried away as booty, perhaps several times, in the many wars that occurred in the region during the course of history.

       I would suggest that the statue’s unmistakable resemblance to Ur-Namma overrides the vagaries of the archaeological context in which it was discovered, along the lines of, “If it looks like a duck. . .”  Even if this statue was found in Egypt, it would still be Ur-Namma. Even if it was wearing a beanie, it would still be Ur-Namma.

Ur-Namma:  3/4 view.

       So, to summarize:

       1)  The "unknown ruler" looks like Ur-Namma, with the same heavy lidded eyes, rounded nose, large ears, and the same mouth. The chin and cheek bones also match, as does the asymmetry of the eyes. It matches in the frontal, both left and right profiles, and the 3/4 views.

       2)  It matches all of the other known statues of Ur-Namma, ones which have his name engraved on them.

       3)  The unknown ruler doesn't have any other distinguishing facial feature that shows he is someone different than Ur-Namma.

       4)  Ur-Namma's unusual combination of facial features is so unique, the unknown ruler can hardly be anyone else. If you still don’t believe that the unknown ruler is Ur-Namma, then try this experiment. Ur-Namma looks unlike anyone else in history.

       5)  Ur-Namma's reign, 2112 - 2095 B.C., falls about mid way in the date range given by the Met for the manufacture of the statue: 2300 - 2000 B.C.

       6)  The place for the manufacture of the statue is also the same given by the Met: Mesopotamia (Sumer, not Iran).

       7)  Ur-Namma chose to represent himself as he looked in real life. He and Gudea are the only known exceptions to rule that ancient kings portrayed themselves in a stylistic and idealized manner.

       8)  The ears of the unknown ruler are bent at the exact angle that Ur-Namma wears his crown.

       9)  The statue of the unknown ruler looks Sumerian (or Akkadian) artistically speaking, and it doesn't resemble any known Elamite artifact.

      10)  Ur-Namma is the only king, at that time and place, who was important enough
to merit a life-sized copper statue. He had the resources (money) necessary to commission a very expensive work of art, and he had the skilled artisans who had technical expertise that is necessary to manufacture such a difficult statue.

       I can understand why the Metropolitan Museum of Art may be reluctant to recognize that the statue is Ur-Namma, without a known provenance, but I suggest that we don't need
to have Ur-Namma's name carved into his head of this statue to know that it's Ur-Namma
(just look at all of the pictures above). I further suggest that the unknown ruler's unmistakable and undeniable resemblance to all other known images of Ur-Namma is provenance enough.

       For example: One time many years ago I turned on the TV in the middle of a program. It showed two archaeologists standing behind a statue that they had just discovered.
I took one look at the statue and said, "That's Alexander the Great". The archaeologists were droning on and on, talking about this and that, and I was about to jump out of my seat.
I was saying, "It's Alexander!  Don't you know it's Alexander?" Eventually, they got around
to identifying the statue as Alexander. They knew it was Alexander and so did I, even though
the statue didn't have his name written on it. How did we know this?  Because it looks like Alexander, and no one else. The same is true for the "unknown ruler"; it looks like
Ur-Namma, and it doesn't look like anyone else in all of history.

     Hopefully the Met will not be too conservative in its estimation of the statue, so that
it may one day get the attention it truly deserves.