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


This is a statue (AO 33) in the Louvre Museum. It is labeled simply as the "head of a man".
The statue was found in the city of Girsu and it's dated in the period of Gudea. For reasons
that I will later explain, I suggest this is actually a portrait of Lugal-agrigzi, a scribe, and the son of Gudea.

You have to admit, he's not much to look at. With his rheumy eyes, rubbery lips, and his
recessive chin, Lugal-agrigzi is a very homely man.


This is Ur-Ningirsu, Lugal-agrigzi's handsome older brother. Ur-Ningirsu succeeded Gudea
as the ruler of Lagash.


In contrast to Lugal-agrigzi, Ur-Ningirsu is much better looking and he wears an expression
of supreme self confidence.  

[click on any image to enlarge it in a separate window]


Part of Lugal-agrigzi's unfortunate looks is his weak and recessive chin. Viewed in profile,
he barely has a chin at all.


Gudea, the father of Lugal-agrigzi. One of Gudea's distinctive facial features is his chin. It is very strong and prominent when viewed from the front ...


... but his chin is slightly weak when viewed from the side. Gudea also has a slight overbite.


I believe this is another son of Gudea and a brother of Lugal-agrigzi. Notice the weak chin
and the overbite. He is nonetheless a handsome man. His chin is nowhere near as weak, recessive, and "disfiguring" as the chin of Lugal-agrigzi.

Lugal-agrigzi was definitely the ugly ducking in the family.

There is only one artifact associated with Lugal-agrigzi. It is a ceremonial mace head with the inscription: "(For) Gudea, the ruler of Lagash, (from) Lugal-agrigzi, the scribe, his son."

That’s the sum total of everything we know about Lugal-agrigzi.

When I first learned of this, I thought, “A scribe?  He’s just a scribe?”  Lugal-agrigzi was a
royal prince. It seems there were other more important jobs that he could do. He could be a sukkal-mah, which is the equivalent of a cabinet minister. He could be a general in the army. He could also be a treasurer, a government official, a diplomat, or a high priest. These are
the jobs most befitting for a royal prince. Lugal-agrigzi’s name can actually be interpreted as
“the king’s faithful superintendent”, meaning a high official, and yet he is merely a scribe?

Many sons of the nobility were taught to read and write so they could become the sukkal-mahs, the ambassadors, and the high priests of the kingdom. Some noblemen became scribes in order to manage their family’s correspondence and their business transactions.
So it wasn’t unusual for a nobleman to be a scribe; but Lugal-agrigzi wasn’t just a nobleman,
he was a royal prince. He was a member of the kingdom’s ruling family.

I thought it odd that Gudea didn't place his trusted son in a high-powered job where he could do the most good for the kingdom and for the family. Yes, a scribe is important, but this job could easily be delegated to a low-ranking family relative. It could even be assigned to a
paid professional. I suggest that if there were any royal scribes, it's because they had married into the royal family rather than being born into it. A king had better uses for his own sons. Gudea had many scribes, but not so many royal sons. There were other more essential jobs that Lugal-agrigzi could do, so why did he become a scribe?  There has to be a reason.

Ur-Ningirsu and Lugal-agrigzi are the only two sons of Gudea that we know about, but there may have been others. There are many statues from Girsu that are probably Gudea’s sons and his grandsons. Some of these statues are shown below:

In The Face of Ur-Ningirsu, I causally mentioned that one of these statues is probably
Lugal-agrigzi. That was two years ago, but I didn’t give the remark a second thought
because none of the statues are labeled, so there was no way to know for certain which one
was Lugal-agrigzi. Then again, perhaps none of them were, so I didn't even hazard a guess.

A few days ago I was sitting at my computer. I was bored, very bored. I was idly scrolling through my website, just spacing out, to tell the truth. Then I saw this picture of the statues. Needless to say, I had seen the picture many times before. This time I thought, “Okay, if one of the statues is indeed Lugal-agrigzi, then which one is it?” I had nothing else better to do,
so I decided I would try to figure it out. This would be my new project.

It didn’t take long. I took another close look at the picture and I immediately knew exactly
which one is Lugal-agrigzi. He's the one right there, in the middle of the second row.

When I identified the statues Gudea and Ur-Namma, there were many statues of them 
that I could use to compare their facial features. With Ur-Ningirsu, there is only one statue,
but one was enough. With Lugal-agrigzi, there are none. There are no known images of
Lugal-agrigzi, so my identification of this statue is somewhat speculative, based on the
limited evidence available.

The face of Lugal-agrigzi


This is a realistic portrait of Lugal-agrigzi. The shape of the nose, the way the lips fit with the recessive chin, the contours of the face, the shape of the head – they are all done precisely. Two stylistic elements were also added. The joined eyebrows are generally considered to be
symbolic of beauty (I have often repeated this on my website, but now I'm not so sure). The eyebrows are more prominent than on most other statues, suggesting that Lugal-agrigzi had bushy eyebrows, which would only add to his unfortunate looks.

The thick eyelids is another artistic device often used by the artists of Lagash to emphasize the eyes and to give the face a certain demeanor.

This is not a “prettified” portrait of Lugal-agrigzi, that’s for sure. No one can say the sculptor
was being too flattering to his royal subject, since it’s difficult to imagine that Lugal-agrigzi could be even more homely in real life. So it is indeed an accurate portrait of Lugal-agrigzi’s
facial features. Though realistic, it is not life-like, such as the statues of Ur-Ningirsu, Gudea, and Ur-Namma. It is also cruder than the statues of Gudea’s other sons, lacking the detail
and refinement of those statues. For instance, the sculptor didn’t bother to etch in the hair of the eyebrows. It’s as if he said, “Okay, no amount of artistry will make Lugal-agrigzi into a handsome man.”

You have to admit, it’s an unfortunate face. It's not just homely, which is bad enough,
but it is also insipid. A face like that would be a distinct disadvantage for a royal prince.

This is not the face of a general who inspires courage and confidence in his troops.
Neither is it the face of an ambassador who projects the kingdom’s power abroad.
Nor is it the face of a high priest who edifies the common people with holy rituals.

Lugal-agrigzi’s appearance made him unsuitable for high-profile public jobs. In modern parlance we would say, “He has a face for radio.” It wasn't just his appearance that made him unsuitable for these jobs, it was also his character. I suggest that Lugal-agrigzi’s face would make him shy and retiring, even in childhood. He would be very uncomfortable living in the public view, amongst the “beautiful people” of the royal court. He may have even been something of an embarrassment to his family; royals were expected to be better looking and more god-like. So by his appearance, and by his own temperament, Lugal-agrigzi was a “behind the scenes” kind of guy.

That is why he became a scribe.

Gudea and his wife Ninalla named him Lugal-agrigzi, “the king’s faithful superintendent”,
expecting him to serve in high office, but as the shy and timid boy was growing up in a household of rambunctious brothers, his parents decided he was better suited for the
scribal life. It seemed like the natural choice. After all, what else could he be?

There is something else we need to know about Lugal-agrigzi. Let's take another look at him and his brother:


The statues were made at the same time, during the period of realistic human portraiture
near the end of Gudea’s reign, so this is how they looked right before Ur-Ningirsu became
the king. Ur-Ningirsu seems to be 21 years old, give or take a few years. In the picture,
both men seem to be roughly the same age, except Lugal-agrigzi actually looks a bit older than Ur-Ningirsu. This raises the possibility that Lugal-agrigzi was in fact the eldest brother, and that Gudea passed over Lugal-agrigzi to name Ur-Ningirsu as the heir to the throne
(perhaps with Lugal-agrigzi’s grateful acquiescence). That would be a very interesting story. However, Lugal-agrigzi probably just looks older because he is not as healthy and robust as Ur-Ningirsu. Since they are about the same age, but Lugal-agrigzi is not the older brother,
it means that Lugal-agrigzi is the next-younger brother of Ur-Ningirsu. In other words,
Lugal-agrigzi is Gudea’s second son, and the heir to the throne after Ur-Ningirsu.

In all royal families, throughout all of history, the second son is always "Plan B", just in case something happened to the eldest son. Second sons were always trained for the possibility that they might someday become the king. "An heir and a spare," as they say.

This begs the question as to why Gudea's second son became a scribe rather than being
groomed for a more important job, suggesting there were very good reasons for it, such as
Lugal-agrigzi’s unfortunate appearance and his retiring disposition.

I assume that Gudea had more sons that we don't know about, but if he had only two sons,
then it's even more surprising that his second son was merely a scribe. As I said before,
there has to be a reason.

I, Lugal-agrigzi


For Lugal-agrigzi, his face was his destiny.

As a boy, Lugal-agrigzi would be teased by other children, perhaps by his own brothers.
He would be marginalized, although not intentionally (unlike Claudius of Rome, another
unsightly prince, who was deliberately hidden from public view). Lugal-agrigzi was always 
on the sidelines. He was never the center of attention like his brother Ur-Ningirsu, the heir
to the throne. Did Lugal-agrigzi secretly resent his handsome older brother? In the bustling royal household, he would grow up feeling withdrawn and insecure. Later, as a young man,
Lugal-agrigzi would feel timid around strong men and shy around beautiful women.

Young Claudius, because of his decidedly un-royal appearance, took refuge in academia.
He later became a respected scholar and historian. Young Lugal-agrigzi became a scribe
for the exact same reason.

Lugal-agrigzi seems to be rather sickly. Perhaps like Claudius he was prone to a variety of
physical ailments, but without Claudius's severe handicaps. Perhaps Lugal-agrigzi's infirmity was another reason why he didn't seek a more active career.


A Sumerian princess. This is either Lugal-agrigzi's sister or his mother. I believe it's Ninalla,
the wife of Gudea and the mother of Lugal-agrigzi..

The best thing that Lugal-agrigzi had going for him was his family. Gudea was a kind and compassionate king, and judging by the many portraits of his sons, he was also a devoted family man. Ur-Ningirsu also looks like a kind man (perhaps too kind to be king). He would naturally be protective of Lugal-agrigzi, like older brothers usually are. If that alone were not enough, Gudea had already taught Ur-Ningirsu the first rule of Sumerian kingship: to protect those who are weak and disadvantaged (see The Shepherd Kings). I’m sure Ur-Ningirsu was devoted to Lugal-agrigzi. In return, Lugal-agrigzi adored his handsome older brother, in the same way that Claudius adored his older brother Germanicus, the handsome war hero.

It is reasonable to surmise that the love and support of Lugal-agrigzi’s family prevented him from developing the psychological problems usually associated with extreme homeliness.
The same cannot be said for poor Claudius. He had many psychological issues because
his family was basically a bunch of psychopaths.

Royal inscriptions on a statue of Gudea.

Lugal-agrigzi, the royal scribe

We know that Lugal-agrigzi was highly intelligent. He’d have to be, to become a scribe.
Cuneiform writing was very difficult and complex, and it required many years of study to
master it. We also know that Lugal-grigzi was highly educated. Not only were scribes able to read and write, they were also instructed in math, science, business, and literature, so they could write of these things intelligently. Scribes were the most highly educated men in Sumer (and in the world). Beneath Lugal-agrigzi's homely exterior there was a keen mind.

From the inscription on the ceremonial mace head we know that Lugal-agrigzi had already graduated from scribal school and he was officially a scribe while his father was still alive.
We know this because Gudea's name is not preceded by the sign diĝir, which denoted
Gudea's divinity after his death, when he was worshiped as a god. However, we don’t know
how long Lugal-agrigzi served as the royal scribe before his father’s untimely death. Gudea
died in the twentieth year of his reign. At the time, Lugal-agrigzi was a mature young man,
so he had several good years as the royal scribe before his father passed away.

Ur-Ningirsu succeeded Gudea as the new ruler of Lagash. It’s reasonable to assume that Lugal-agrigzi continued as the family scribe during the reign of his brother. After all,
Lugal-agrigzi had plenty of experience and he was already on the job. Thus, for Lugal-agrigzi, things continued much the same as they did before.

As a family scribe, Lugal-agrigzi managed his family’s correspondence. As a royal scribe,
he managed Ur-Ningirsu’s royal correspondence as well. He would also be in charge of
Ur-Ningirsu’s royal inscriptions, the kind carved on statues, monuments, and votive tablets.
He wrote the compositions according to Ur-Ningirsu’s wishes, and then later inspected them
to make sure they were carved correctly. Ur-Ningirsu also knew how to write, but Sumerian writing is a difficult and time consuming task, so naturally he left the matter to Lugal-agrigzi. After all, Ur-Ningirsu had other things to do. Lugal-agrigzi probably also supervised the numerous scribes who maintained all of the government records, so there was plenty of work to keep him busy.

Lugal-agrigzi, three-quarter view. He looks best from this angle. Here he looks very professorial, very scribal. Sometimes homely men can have their own charisma.

This must have been a happy time for Lugal-agrigzi. He was taking care of his family and
he was helping his brother manage the kingdom. Surely at this time of his life, Lugal-agrigzi
was truly content. He was working comfortably behind the scenes and doing an important job for his family. This is what he was meant to do.

It would not last for long. Ur-Ningirsu died after a short reign of only seven years. It was a crushing blow for Lugal-agrigzi. It’s not known for certain how Ur-Ningirsu died, but he was
still quite young (see a brief history of Ur-Ningirsu). In the seven years following his death
there were five different rulers of Lagash, a sure sign of political upheaval. Then Lagash fell under the suzerainty of Ur-Namma, the king of Ur, who became the king of all of Sumer. Lagash was no longer a city-state, now it was just a city, one of many in the nation of Sumer.

The death of Ur-Ningirsu was the end of Gudea's dynasty. It was also the end of Lagash's artistic renaissance, the end of its preeminence in Sumerian affairs, and the end of its independence.

We don't know what happened to Lugal-agrigzi (assuming he did not predecease Ur-Ningirsu). Hopefully his inconspicuous life saved him from the bloody mayhem that followed the death of Ur-Ningirsu, just as the inconspicuous life of Claudius saved him from the murderous world of Roman politics, which took the lives of most of his extended family, including his beloved brother Germanicus. However, there is one big difference between Lugal-agrigzi and Claudius. Lugal-agrigzi did not become a king.

He was still a young man when Ur-Ningirsu died. I like to imagine he finally retired to the quiet and peaceful life that he always craved. He would be honored and respected as a surviving son of Gudea’s dynasty, but he was no longer caught up in the hustle and bustle of the royal court. He was probably financially secure, but even if he wasn’t, he could always make a good living being a scribe. Hopefully he married a kind hearted woman who loved him for who he was, despite his looks, and not just for his social position. I'm sure he wrote praise poems for his beloved father and brother, recalling the glory days of Lagash. He lived in a house cluttered with clay tablets and he surrounded himself with beautiful mementos from his previous life (statues, artwork, and commemorative plaques). He would have a small circle of close friends, like-minded men who saw past his homeliness and his high rank. They'd sit around the table, discuss history and literature, and reminisce about the Golden Age of Gudea.

December 15, 2015