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

The Sumerians at war. This is the left half of a Sumerian battle scene by HongNian Zhang. The right half is shown at the bottom of the page.

A foundation cone of Enmetena gives a summary to the long-lasting border dispute between Umma and Lagash. They fought for possession of the the fertile fields of the Guedena (see a map of the region). This conflict lasted for many generations.

For those interested in reading the composition in its original form, without the annotations, see Enmetena Cone. Also included are pictures of the cone and the inscriptions.

The Sumerian "Hundred Years War"

Mesalim, king of Kish.

Enlil, king of all the lands, father of all the gods,
by his righteous command, for Ningirsu and Shara,
demarcated the (border) ground.
Mesalim, king of Kish, by the command of Ishtaran,
laid the measuring line upon it, and on that place he erected a stele. 

     Here mythology and history become intertwined. Enlil was the chief Sumerian god; Shara and Ningirsu were the patron gods of Umma and Lagash respectively. The story is cast in religious overtones to suggest the demarcation of the Guedena was sanctioned by the gods and the borders were therefore inviolate. This was Lagash's point of view; Umma obviously held a different opinion.

     The war between Umma and Lagash had been going on for quite some time before Mesalim was called upon to settle the dispute. As the king of Kish, Mesalim had influence over the region and his word carried considerable weight and authority. He apportioned
the land between the cities and a stele was erected at the border to announce his decision. Then a trench was dug with earthen levees on either side to separate the two territories. Nonetheless, Mesalim’s arbitration did little to resolve the problem. Apparently his decision greatly favored Lagash (the larger and more powerful of the two cities) much to Umma’s lingering resentment. The wars would continue unabated for more than a century.

  Ush, "ensi" (ruler/king) of Umma.

Ush, ruler of Umma, something greatly beyond words(?) he did.
That stele he tore out, and into the plain of Lagash he entered.
Ningirsu, the hero of Enlil,
by his (Enlil's) just command, with Umma battle he did.
By the command of Enlil, he cast (his) big battle-net upon it,
and its many tumuli he laid upon the ground in the plain.

       Ush was the first known ruler of Umma to violate the terms of the treaty. He marched across the border and destroyed Mesalim’s stele. This would happen many times during
the course of the war. Ush obviously predates Ur-Nanshe, Enmetena’s great-grandfather
and the founder of the Lagash I dynasty. The victory is credited to Ningirsu, the god of war,
and not to a specific ruler of Lagash. If Ur-Nanshe had been the victor in the battle, then
Enmetena surely would have mentioned it. An inscription (CDLI 222390) relates that
Ur-Nanshe battled with Umma (and its allied city of Ur) at some point during his reign,
but the name of the king of Umma is Pabilgaltuku, not Ush. Pabilgaltuku is probably
the son of Ush. The victory that is described above was won by ensi Lugal-sha-engur,
Ur-Nanshe’s predecessor. Lugal-sha-engur was the ensi contemporary with Mesalim,
who presented him with a ceremonial mace head for the temple of Ningirsu in the city
of Lagash. In any case, Enmetena wasn’t interested in glorifying any dynasty but his own.

       The many tumuli “laid upon the ground” were mass graves for the enemy dead, piled high to emphasize the scope of the king’s victory. Sometimes the tumuli were stacked so high that men had to climb ladders to dump the baskets of dirt on top of the bodies.

                                                          Eannatum, ruler of Lagash.

Eannatum, ruler of Lagash, uncle of Enmetena, ruler of Lagash,
with Enakale, the ruler of Umma, demarcated the (border) ground,
and its levee from the Princely Canal to the Gu'edena he extended.
Of Ningirsu's field 215 nindan he left under the control of Umma
and made it into a field with no owner.
On that levee steles he inscribed, and the stele of Mesalim he restored.
Into the plain of Umma he did not pass.
On the boundary mound of Ningirsu (named) Namnunda-kigara,
a dais of Enlil, a dais of Ninhursag, a dais of Ningirsu,
and a dais of Utu he constructed. 

      It seems as if Eannatum is concluding a treaty after the victory that’s described in the previous section, but this is not the case. That victory is credited to the gods, but Enmetena would have mentioned the fact if the victory had been won by Eannatum, who was his uncle. This section refers to Eannatum’s later victory over Umma, the one that’s depicted on the Vulture Stele (see Vulture Stele Translation). Actually, at least one other war was fought
with Umma prior to this one. Akurgal, son of Ur-Nanshe and  father of Eannatum, had lost some of the Guedena in an earlier war with Umma. The fact that Akurgal had a short reign suggests he was killed in the war, though this has not been proven. Even if true, Enmetena
would not acknowledge the fact, neither is it told on the Vulture Stele. Royal monuments never mention defeat. This was one of only two times in the history of the wars that Umma was victorious over Lagash. The other time was about 50 years later, during the reign of Enannatum II, who was the son of Enmetena and the last king of Ur-Nanshe’s dynasty.

  Enakale, ruler of Umma.

    Enakale was the new ruler of Umma with whom Eannatum demarcated the new borders. Presumably the previous ruler was killed in the war with Eannatum. A damaged portion of the inscriptions on the Vulture Stele suggests the king of Umma was killed during the battle. “They shall raise a hand against him, and in the heart of Umma they shall kill him. Usurdu, by name [. . .]”. Usurdu is probably the name of the king of Umma, and "they" are possibly Eannatum's soldiers. This might have been Eannatum’s revenge for the death of his father. Another indication that Usurdu is the name of the king of Umma is the fact that Enmetena uses similar language at the end of this foundation cone. He declares a malediction against any future king, any other "Man of Umma", who dares to transgress upon Lagash's territory: "In the middle of his city may they kill him!"

     On the lower register of The Vulture Stele, Eannatum uses his spear to strike an enemy in the face, who is drawn larger than the other men to indicate his greater importance. This is probably the king of Umma, and thus is symbolized his death, whether or not Eannatum personally killed him in battle. Enkale then succeeded the dead king of Umma, but only with Eannatum's approval.

     Eannatum built large daises on his side of the border to show that the treaty had the blessing of the gods and to demonstrate his permanent ownership of the land. He set up
new steles and restored the stele of Mesalim, which will later be destroyed (again)
in yet another war with Umma. Eannatum decreed that part of the Guedena will be
“a field with no owner”, a kind of No Man’s Land. Enakale had to swear, “by the life of Enlil,
king of heaven and earth, the fields of Ningirsu I shall exploit as an interest-bearing loan”,
meaning that Umma could farm the fields for the payment of rent (a share of the crops).
Eannatum probably thought he was being quite generous, considering the fact that Umma
had lost the war, and that Enakale was lucky to have what he could get. On the other hand, Enakale certainly found it galling to pay rent for land that he considered to be rightfully
his own. Eannatum himself would simply shrug off the matter, “The ruler of Umma,
when has he ever been appeased?” 

Of the barley of Nanshe and the barley of Ningirsu,
one grain-heap measure (5184 hl.)
the Man of Umma consumed as an interest-bearing loan.
The share of the yield was imposed,

and 144,000 large grain-heap measures it had become.

     The narrative has moved forward to the prelude of another war. Eannatum and Enakale have both died. The "Man of Umma" is now Ur-luma, the son of Enakale. He owes a
payment for the grain that his city has consumed, grain that was grown in the “field with
no owner” that is actually controlled by Lagash. Interest for the “loan” has accrued, payable
as a “share of the yield”. The amount of interest due is difficult to ascertain because of the
different units of measure named in the translation, but it is obviously very high.

The stage has been set. The war will continue for another generation.

  Ur-luma, ruler of Umma.

Because he was unable to repay that barley,
Ur-luma, ruler of Umma,
the levee of the boundary territory of Ningirsu
and the levee of the boundary territory of Nanshe
he removed with water.
To its steles he set fire, and he tore them out.
The daises of the gods, which on the Namnunda-kigara (mound)
had been constructed, he demolished.
He hired foreign countries,
and over the levee of the boundary territory of Ningirsu he crossed. 

     This is actually Ur-luma’s second attack on the border; the previous attack is mentioned in the section below. He destroyed the daises of the gods that Eannatum had built to show Lagash’s ownership of the land. The border steles were once again destroyed, this time with fire. The steles were made of limestone, so it's difficult to imagine how they were burned, but here's how it probably happened: Wood was stacked around the steles and set ablaze. If the fire became super hot, the steles would burst into flame (limestone will actually burn if it's heated hot enough). Alternatively, the fire heated the steles until they were red hot, then they were suddenly doused with cold water to shatter them. The steles were also uprooted, just for good measure. The levees of the boundary trench were washed away with water, effectively erasing the border. This also made it easier for Ur-luma’s army to pass over them. The army now included foreigners that Ur-luma hired as mercenaries. The "foreigners" were probably Kish/Akkadians, the Sumerians' northern neighbors. Enmetena would be outraged that foreigners were hired to meddle in a Sumerian "domestic dispute".

                                                        Enannatum, ruler of Lagash.

Enannatum, ruler of Lagash,
in the Ugiga field, the field of Ningirsu, had (previously) fought with him,
but Enmetena, the beloved son of Enannatum, defeated him.
Ur-luma fled into the middle of Umma and was killed.
His donkeys, sixty teams,
on the bank of the Lummagirnunta (canal) were left behind,
and their personnel's bones were all left out on the plain.
Their tumuli in five places he heaped up

     While Eannatum was still alive, Ur-luma did not dare to attack him because Eannatum was too powerful and too great a warrior. On the death of Eannatum, the kingship passed to his brother Enannatum, the father of Enmetena. At the time, Enannatum had his hands full trying to quell the many rebellions in different parts of his dead brother's crumbling empire. This is when Ur-luma decided to attack.

     The first battle occurred in the Ugiga fields. An Enannatum tablet (CDLI 222496) tells us that Ur-luma “by the Hill of the Black Dog brought up his vanguard” (what a perfect place
to have a battle, “by the Hill of the Black Dog”). Ur-luma was defeated and fled the battle
with Enannatum hot on his heels. The tablet relates how Enannatum "did smite" Ur-luma all the way back to the levee of the border territory of Ningirsu. Then Ur-luma came to the Lumma‑girnunta canal, which blocked his retreat.  Ur-luma plunged into the canal
in his haste to get away. Enannatum “in the ... of the Lumma-girnunta canal went after him,
and his outer garment he put all over(?) him.” This suggests Eannatum actually grabbed
Ur-luma’s cloak before Ur-luma managed to free himself and escape. It shows how close
Ur-luma came to being captured.

     Enannatum died soon afterward. Because of the shortness of his reign (about 7 years)  it’s been speculated that Enannatum was killed in the battle just described. This, however,  seems unlikely because he is known to be alive at the very end of the battle. Of course he could have been killed in the final skirmish to capture Ur-luma, but it’s far more likely that
he later died of natural causes due to his age. By this time Enannatum was at least
50 years old, quite elderly by the standards of the ancient world. The rulership of Lagash
now passed to his son Enmetena.

     The above section also describes the second battle, with the same disastrous results for Ur-luma. Once again he had to beat a hasty retreat, this time with Enmetena in hot pursuit. Once again he was blocked by the same Lumma-girnunta canal. Once again he just barely managed to escape. He had to abandon 60 teams of chariot donkeys (with four per team, that’s 240 donkeys, a large number by Sumerian standards), plus their personnel, plus the other soldiers left behind to cover his retreat, not to mention the soldiers unlucky enough
to be stranded on the wrong side of the canal when Enmetena's army fell upon them. Some historians state that the donkeys were slaughtered, but it wasn’t the donkeys that were slaughtered, it was the soldiers. The chariot donkeys were very expensive and highly prized. They would later pull the chariots of Enmetena’s victorious army. As for the enemy soldiers, their bodies were heaped into five tumuli and left out on the plain.

     “Ur-luma fled into the middle of Umma and was killed.” Notice how Enmetena doesn’t claim that he killed Ur-luma. If he did kill Ur-luma, he surely would have bragged about it.
Instead, Ur-luma had escaped and he was in the middle of Umma when he was killed, or
assassinated, to be more precise.

Like Darius in his infamous flight from Alexander the Great 2,000 years later, Ur-luma was probably murdered by someone in his own entourage. Not only did he lose two battles,
but he disgraced himself by running away like a coward. He therefore no longer had the
respect of his soldiers and his subjects. Ur-luma thus met the same fate as many other
failed kings in the ancient world. Given the way things turned out, Ur-luma should have
done himself a favor by allowing himself to be heroically killed in battle.

                                                           Enmetna, ruler of Lagash.

At that time, Il
{as in "ill"}, who was the temple administrator of Zabalam,
from Girsu to Umma in retreat(?) he marched.
Il the rulership of Umma seized.

       It is said that Il “seized” the kingship of Umma, as if were a coup d’état. This how Enmetena saw the matter, but it's not entirely correct. Ur-luma was succeeded by
his brother E'andamu'a, who died after a brief reign and was succeeded by his son Il,
who was Ur-luma's nephew. Though it's entirely possible that Ur-luma was assassinated by
his own brother (such a thing happened more than once in the ancient world), a more likely explanation is that Ur-luma was murdered by someone else, and his brother succeeded him because Ur-luma had no sons to inherit his crown. On the other hand, perhaps Enmetena is intimating that Il killed his own father to inherit the kingship (again, such a thing happened more than once in the ancient world, calling to mind the saying by William Shakespeare, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."). This might have been Enmetena's attempt at propaganda, to portray Il in a sinister light. In any case, as will soon become apparent, Il had his own plans about the next war with Lagash. 

The levee of the boundary territory of Ningirsu,
the levee of the boundary territory of Nanshe,
and the boundary mound of Ningirsu
which was located on the of bank of the Tigris in the region of Girsu,
the Namnunda-kigara of Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag,
he removed with water.
The barley of Lagash, one grain-heap measure, he repaid.

 Il, ruler of Umma.

     Il made only a token payment for the grain that he owed to Lagash. He then commenced hostilities by marching into Lagash’s territory and destroying the levees of Nanshe and Ningirsu, just as his predecessors had done. The Namnunda-kigara, the boundary mound built by Eannatum, then destroyed by Ur-luma, and restored by Enmetena, was again destroyed by washing it away with water.

When Enmetena, ruler of Lagash,
because of those levees, to Il had sent envoys,
Il, ruler of Umma, the stealer of fields, speaking hostilely,
“The levee of the boundary territory of Ningirsu and the
levee of the boundary territory of Nanshe are mine!” he declared.
“From the Antasura (temple) to the temple of Dimgalabzu
I shall remove the earth from them!” he declared.

     This seems to be an uncharacteristically mild response from Enmetena. Why did Enmetena send his envoys instead of his armies?  Il had refused to repay the grain he owed, then marched into Lagash’s territory, destroyed the boundary levees, destroyed the daises of the holy gods, and made threats to the sacred Antasura temple. All of these actions were deliberate acts of war, so why didn’t Enmetena pounce on Il?  This is what his predecessors would have done. Il, the “stealer of fields”, is allowed to get away with it?

     We can only speculate on Enmetena’s reasons for not going to war. Perhaps he had other pressing matters at home; perhaps his treasury was empty, or he had another war on another front that needed attending to. Perhaps he was merely sick of war and hoped to resolve the problem diplomatically. 

But Enlil and Ninhursag did not allow him this. {i.e., not allow Il to sieze Lagash's territory}
Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, nominated by Ningirsu,
by the just command of Enlil, the just command of Ningirsu,
and the just command of Nanshe,
that levee from the Tigris River to the Princely Canal he constructed.
The Namnunda-kigara's base he built with stones for him,
and for his master who loved him, Ningirsu,
and his mistress who loved him, Nanshe,
he restored it. 

     Notice how the Namnunda-kigara, the dais of the gods built by Eannatum and destroyed twice before, is now rebuilt with stone so it couldn’t easily be washed away with water.

     As no battle is mentioned, it seems that Enmetena was successful at resolving the situation diplomatically without resorting to weapons, though it's somewhat anticlimactic. Now we are left wondering, why did Il back down?  He had escalated the situation to the very brink of war, now he silently folds his tents and goes back home?  Again we can only speculate. When he assumed power after the ineffectual Ur-luma, Il probably made a lot of bellicose statements about “teaching Lagash a lesson”. Perhaps Enmetena made enough concessions so that Il could return home without losing face and claim a diplomatic victory. Perhaps the new king suddenly realized he needed to strengthen his home front before he attempted another battle with Lagash. One thing is for certain, however; this wasn’t the last that would be heard of Il. He was simply biding his time.

Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, given the scepter by Enlil,
given wisdom by Enki, chosen by the heart of Nanshe,
chief ruler of Ningirsu,
the man who held fast to the commands of the gods,
may his (personal) god Shul-mush{x}pa
for the life of Enmetena unto distant days
before Ningirsu and Nanshe stand (interceding) for him!

Enmetena, ensi of Lagash.

Enmetena’s foundation cone ends with an invocation to the gods and a warning to anyone
who dared trespass on his territory:

A Man of Umma
who, over the levee of the boundary territory of Ningirsu
or over the levee of the boundary territory of Nanshe
in order by violence to take fields might (in the future) cross,
whether he be a man of Umma or a man of a foreign land,
may Enlil annihilate him!
Ningirsu, when his big battle-net he has cast over him,
his great hands and great feet may he bring down (upon him) from above!
When the people in his city have raised a hand against him,
in the middle of his city may they kill him!

Enmetena was mistaken if he thought his kingdom was secure in the protection of the gods. After his death, Il would launch an attack against Enmetena’s son, Enannatum the Second, the last king of Ur-Nanshe’s dynasty, and seize control of the Guedena. It was the first time in more than a generation that Umma was victorious over Lagash. Thereafter, Umma was in the ascendency and Lagash was on the decline. The final culmination of the wars between Umma and Lagash occurred a generation later, when Lugalzagesi, another “Man of Umma”, sacked and burned the city of Lagash. The heyday of Umma would be brief, however. Soon afterward, Umma, Lagash, and the rest of Sumer was conquered by the Akkadians under Sargon the Great. Only then did the two cities stop fighting each other. It would be more than two centuries before Sumer was liberated from the Akkadians. By then, Umma and Lagash had finally learned to live in peace.