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
Sargon's Other Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

Sargon holds a net full of prisoners. Using a mace, he strikes one of the prisoners who is trying to escape. (Louvre Museum, Sb 2). A similar image of the war god Ningirsu is shown on Eannatum’s Vulture Stele. Beside Sargon is the warrior god Ilaba (il-a-ba) with a mace that has a curved handle.

See a photograph of the image above. Click on any image to enlarge it in a separate window.

The bound prisoners are led away by one of Sargon’s soldiers. (Louvre, Sb 3).

The Louvre has three fragments from Sargon’s Victory Steles. The steles were discovered in the 1920’s. They were found in Susa (Iran) where they had been carried away as booty in the 12th century B.C., about a thousand years after they were constructed. The fragments are labeled Sb 1, Sb 2, and Sb 3. Fragments Sb 2 and Sb 3 are obviously from the same stele because they are carved from the same stone and the prisoners' hairstyle matches on both fragments (the hair is curly on top but short on the sides). As parts of the same monument, fragments Sb 2 and Sb 3 are displayed together in the museum.

The victory procession of Sargon. (Louvre, Sb 1).

Fragment Sb 1 is different. It has the rectangular form of an obelisk rather than the rounded shape of the other fragments. The color of the stone is different and the height of the register (row) doesn't match the height of the register on Sb 3. The fragment clearly belongs to a victory stele because of the triumphal procession and the scenes of prisoners taken in battle, and it clearly belongs to Sargon because it has his name written on it, but it doesn’t belong with the other two fragments. It is part of a completely different victory stele.

The figures wrap around two sides of the stele and continue onto a third side. The fourth side is missing due to damage. The details of the stele are best seen in these drawings by Lorenzo Nigro:

Sargon leads the victory procession.

Prisoners are bound and placed into neck stocks . . .

. . . while vultures and war dogs feed on the enemy dead.  The dogs are not just strays  that happened upon the scene. They are identifiable as war dogs because they wear collars.

In Sargon’s Victory Stele, I identified the enemies depicted on Sb 2 and Sb 3 as being Sargon’s fellow Akkadians (and not the Sumerians as had earlier been suggested) because the hairstyle matches that of the Akkadians on the Standard of Ur. Fragments Sb 2 and Sb 3 are parts of a stele that represents Sargon’s victory over Ur-Zababa, the king of Kish. Sargon had formerly been his Cupbearer. He usurped the throne of Ur-Zababa after a bloody battle. Ur‑Zabba is the one that Sargon clubs with a mace as he struggles to escape from the net.

Right: The bound prisoner on Sargon's stele (Sb 3). Left: An Akkadian on the Standard of Ur.
The hairstyles of the bound prisoner (Sb 3) and the prisoners in Sargon’s net (Sb 2) matches the hairstyle of the Akkadians depicted on the Standard of Ur. The hair is curly and full on top but short on the sides.

So the question is: Who are the enemies depicted on SB 1, “Sargon’s other Victory Stele”?

One of the difficulties in identifying an enemy on any Sargonic monument is that Sargon had a lot of enemies, so it’s a challenge to pick just one. He made plenty of enemies in his long and distinguished career as he went on to conquer all of Akkad, Sumer, and the rest of Mesopotamia. In an effort to narrow down the list, we must first consider, “Are the enemies foreign or domestic?”

Sargon doubtlessly overthrew many Akkadian city-states in his campaign to unify (conquer) all of Akkad, so it’s possible that Sb 1 represents a victory against another Akkadian king. Although this is possible, it seems unlikely. Sargon’s overthrow of Ur-Zababa was his first Akkadian victory and it was by far the most important. It would certainly warrant a monument carved in black diorite stone. Diorite was very expensive because it had to be transported across a great distance and the hard stone was very difficult and time-consuming to carve. Only the most important monuments were made of diorite; the others were made of alabaster, limestone, or some other material. Sargon’s victory over any other Akkadian king was minor in comparison to his victory against Ur-Zababa. It would hardly merit a victory stele, at all. Besides, Sargon needed the Ur-Zababa stele for propaganda purposes, to justify his actions, because he had rebelled against his rightful king. This kind of self-serving rationalization wasn’t really necessary to justify his conquest of any other Akkadian king.

Another indication that the enemies are not Akkadians is the “vulture scene” on the stele. All Mesopotamian victory monuments served as propaganda. They were meant to illustrate the dire consequences for anyone who dared to resist the king. On the stele of Naram-Sin, one soldier is pierced through the throat with an arrow while another soldier begs for mercy. On the Rimush stele, a Sumerian is grabbed by the beard and hacked with a sword. On the Standard of Ur, nude prisoners are cinched up with ropes while the bodies of their comrades are trampled beneath charging chariots. All victory monuments conveyed the same message: “This is what happens to the enemies of the king.” The vulture scene on Sb 1 is no exception, but it's far too grisly to be used for internal propaganda purposes, for “domestic consumption”, as it were, by the king’s own subjects.

It can be argued that Eannatum’s stele shows vultures feeding on the bodies of his enemies, and it represents his victory over the Sumerian city of Umma; so if Eannatum had no qualms about vultures feeding on his fellow countrymen, why should Sargon?

There are, however, a couple of major differences between the two vulture scenes. Umma
and Eannatum’s city of Lagash had been at war with each other for several generations
(see War: Umma and Lagash). There was a lot of bad blood between the two cities,
so it’s not surprising that Eannatum displays a very harsh attitude toward the Ummaites.
On the other hand, there’s no evidence that Sargon had a similar animosity toward another Akkadian city-state. The second and most important difference between the two
vulture scenes is the way in which they are presented.

On Eannatum’s stele, vultures feed on the heads and limbs of the dead soldiers, but mostly what you see are the vultures themselves, with their wings outstretched. It is all very “clean”, very abstract and symbolic.

By comparison, Sb 1 is an orgy of violence. War dogs have been added to the mix to devour the human bodies. A vulture pecks at the eyes of a dead soldier, while another carries off a severed human foot. On the left, a vulture tugs at the entrails of an eviscerated corpse. It is a regular gore-fest. Much has been made of the new realism of Akkadian art during this period of history. The new naturalism in depicting the human body can be seen in the portrait of the bound prisoners shown above (compare this portrait to the crude and simplified depictions of the Sumerians on Eannatum's Vulture Stele). The vulture scene on Sb 1, drawn realistically like the rest of the stele, would be very graphic, quite gruesome, and very disturbing.

This is inconsistent with the way the Akkadians are portrayed on the Ur-Zababa stele. The prisoners on Sb 3 are shown naked and bound, which was the custom in Mesopotamian art, but they are not brutalized and degraded. On Sb 2 the prisoners in the net are not displayed as a swirling mass of bodies like on Eannatum’s stele. They are orderly seated figures offering their hands to Sargon in a gesture of submission. It shows that Sargon is merciful to those who are willing to accept his sovereignty. This is how Sargon presented himself to his Akkadian subjects.

No king in history would present himself to his countrymen as the "king of the vultures”,
with the possible exception of Vlad the Impaler. This means that the enemies on Sb 1 are not Akkadians. This stele was meant to send a message to Sargon’s “foreign” enemies.

So now the question is: Which foreign enemies are they?

Sargon conquered all of Mesopotamia, so there are plenty of enemies to choose from. Unfortunately, all of the captives on Sb 1 are naked, so they can’t be identified by their clothing. The only way to identify them is by their hairstyle. This is how I identified the enemies on the Ur-Zababa monument.

The war captives are placed into neck stocks. (Note: The fringed sash is part of the uniform worn by Akkadian soldiers.)

A prisoner on the ground (right) has a shaven head. He doesn’t have the Akkadian hairstyle, neither does he have the wild-looking hairstyle typical of foreign barbarians. The same is true for the prisoner on the left. The circle in the middle of his chest appears to be the top of his head which is bent down as he is clamped into a neck stock. He too has a shaven head.

In the vulture scene, the head of a fallen enemy is clean-shaven. The head of another soldier on the far right (not shown, but it can been seen by clicking on the picture) is damaged and it’s drawn to a smaller scale, but it also appears to be clean-shaven. All of the enemies portrayed on SB 1 have shaven heads. That can mean only one thing:

They are Sumerians.

The Sumerians were traditionally portrayed with shaven heads (and usually beardless). It is not surprising that the enemies on Sb 1 are Sumerians because the Akkadians and the Sumerians often fought with each other. It had earlier been suggested that the Sumerians were the enemies depicted on Sb 2 and Sb 3. After I identified them as Akkadians, I stated that the battle with the Sumerians “was an important victory for Sargon, setting him on the road to empire. It would certainly warrant its own victory stele, which has been lost to the ravages of time or it's still buried somewhere waiting to be discovered.”

Apparently the "lost stele" of Sargon’s defeat of the Sumerians has already been discovered. It's been hiding in plain sight for the past 80 years.

Sargon in the the victory procession, shaded by a parasol.

Additional proof that Sb 1 depicts a victory over the Sumerians is shown in the picture above. In the victory procession, Sargon carries a mace with a curved handle. It is the same mace that is shown with the war god Ilaba on Sb 2 where Sargon holds the net full of prisoners. This mace is often referenced at the beginning of Sargon’s reign, and is usually mentioned in association with military campaigns in the South (meaning Sumer, which is south of Akkad). It is with the divine mace of Ilaba that Sargon defeated the Sumerian king Lugalzagesi and his army of fifty ensis (rulers, governors).

As stated on a tablet from the Old Babylonian period, “Sargon, king of Akkad, steward of the goddess Ishtar, king of the world, anointed priest of the god Anum, lord of the land, governor [on earth] for the god Enlil, was victorious over Uruk in battle, conquered fifty governors with the mace of the god Ilaba, as well as the city of Uruk and destroyed [Uruk’s] walls. Further, he captured Lugalzagesi, the king of Uruk, in battle and led him off to the gate of the god Enlil in a neck stock.”

Sargon uses a different mace to strike Ur-Zababa as he struggles to escape from the net. He uses the divine mace of Ilaba to defeat the Sumerians.

In light of the evidence, I would therefore suggest that Sb 1 is Sargon’s "other victory stele”, commemorating his defeat of Lugalzagesi and the Sumerian army of fifty ensis.

Sargon’s battle with Ur-Zababa and his battle with the Sumerians were the most important victories in his life. After he defeated Ur-Zabba he became a king, the king of Kish, the king
of an Akkadian city-state. After he defeated the Sumerians he became the “King of Kish”,
with a capital “K”, the traditional title given to any king who ruled all of Sumer and Akkad.
He thus became the King of Kings.

If Sargon created only two diorite victory steles in his entire life, one would show Ur-Zababa and the other would show the Sumerians. These two steles have always belonged together. They originally resided together in the same Akkadian temple. Then they were taken together as plunder, as trophies of war, to several different foreign cities. It is only fitting that they now reside together in the same museum, more than 4,000 years after they were first created.

King Sargon and his entourage, with a parade of Sumerian prisoners.

February 18, 2013