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 Shepherd Kings
The Kings of Uruk
War: Umma and Lagash
Enmetena Vase
Enmetena Tablet
Enmetena, not Urukagina
Urukagina Liberty Cones
The Man of Umma
Lugalzagesi Translation
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

A Sumerian king.  He is standing before an offering table in a temple. Across his shoulder he carries a shepherd's flail, a symbol of office. This plaque is from a later period. There are no known images of Enmetena.

Enmetena was the ensi (ruler) of the Sumerian city of Lagash. He reigned for 27 years, circa 2418 ‑ 2391 B.C. He came from a long line of distinguished kings. His father was Enannatum, his uncle was Eannatum, the king of the first Sumerian empire in history. His great-grandfather was Ur-Nanshe, the founder of the Lagash I dynasty.

En-mete-na/ ensi/ Lagash.  Detail from a door socket from a temple. It looks as if his name is spelled en-te-me-na (by which he was previously known) but as pointed out by Bendt Alster, the middle two signs are a ligature, two signs joined together and pronounced in reverse order. For example, the Sumerian word for “king”, lugal, is also a ligature. It is written as gal-lu2 (“great man”) but it is pronounced lu-gal.

Lugal. In Sumer, a king and an ensi were essentially the same.

During his reign, Lagash was still one of the major powers in Sumer. Enmetena exercised hegemony over the neighboring city-states of Uruk, Larsa, and Badtibira. He could call upon conscript laborers from these cities for his own building projects. In addition, he was also able to maintain dominance over Lagash’s rival city of Umma.

An Enmetena foundation peg. Pegs like this were buried beneath the foundations of a new temple. On it, Enmetena proclaims his "brotherhood" with the king of Uruk. This suggests that Enmetena built allliances with the neighboring city-states rather than imposing his will on them by force. It is the mark of a statesman that he can exercise authority to influence rather than to control.

Perhaps the best know artifact of Enmetena is this silver vase dedicated to the god Ningirsu.  See Enmetena Vase for an enlarged picture, plus a translation of the inscriptions.

Enmetena built a new temple to Enlil, the E-adda (Temple of the Father) and attempted to introduce the cult of Enlil to his subjects. Apparently the attempt was unsuccessful, as no evidence is found that the cult existed in later times. This is somewhat surprising because Enlil was the chief god of the Sumerians; though it's probably because his subjects were mostly devoted to Ningirsu, the god of war and the patron deity of the city,

Like all rulers of Lagash, Enmetena was a builder of great temples. He built temples for Enlil, Enki, Nanshe, Ningirsu, Dumuzid, and other gods. He also built dams and irrigation canals and planted orchards. Last but not least, he built the Brewery of Ningirsu, which would certainly make his subjects happy.

ama-gi4.  Ama = mother, gi4 = return.

Unlike many other ancient kings, Enmetena showed a genuine concern for the welfare of his citizens. He was the first Sumerian king to use the words ama-gi. The literal translation for the signs is "return to mother". It originally meant freedom from debt servitude, but it would later come to mean “freedom” in general. One of his foundation cones proclaims:

A remission of the obligations {ama-gi4} of Lagash he instituted.
He returned the mother to the child
and returned the child to the mother,
and a remission {ama-gi4} of interest-bearing barley loans he instituted …

When he states that he “returned the mother to the child and returned the child to the mother” it means he abolished the practice of indenturing mothers and children as servants until the debts of the family were paid off. The debts themselves were not abolished, only the indentured servitude. Enmetena applied the same standard of justice to the other cities under his control:

The citizens of Uruk, the citizens of Larsa, and the citizens of Badtibira,
a remission {ama-gi4} of the their obligations he instituted.

For a complete translation of this foundation tablet, see Enmetena Tablet. Although Urukagina is usually considered to be the first reformist king in history, some of the credit must also go to  Enmetena. It has been shown that Urukagina copied many of the reforms already enacted by Enmetena, more than a generation before Urukagina's "Liberty Cones".  See Enmetena, not Urukagina on this website.

Enannatum, the father of Enmetena.

Like the rulers of Lagash before him, Enmetena had to guard against the encroachments of the rival city of Umma. The two cities had been battling for generations to control the fertile fields of the Guedena. Enmetena had fought against Umma once before during the reign of
his father. He fought against Umma again after he became king in his own right. He later
had to deal with a third incursion from Umma, which apparently he resolved diplomatically
rather than resorting to war. The history of the wars with Umma is written on one of his foundation cones. For a complete translation of this story, along with some commentary,
see War: Umma and Lagash.

Enmetena was a credit to his ancestors Ur-Nanshe and Eannatum. He had a long and successful reign. Enmetena was the last strong king of Lagash. After his reign, the power and influence of Lagash began to decline and the city was eventually conquered by Umma.

Enmetena, ensi of Lagash