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

This is a translation of an important tablet that is mistakenly thought to belong to Urukagina.
The tablet is heavily damaged and the name of the king who commissioned it is missing, but it's assumed to be Urukagina's because it has much of the same language and content as his foundation cones. I would suggest, however, that the tablet actually belongs to Enmetena, who reigned as a ruler of Lagash a generation before Urukagina. Evidence for this is the fact that the tablet tells the story of a battle with Ur-luma, the ruler of the rival city of Umma. This is the same story told on an Enmetena foundaion cone (CDLI 222532, see Enmetena Cone on this website). It uses the exact same imagery of Ur-luma's sixty teams of donkeys (that were used to pull war chariots) abandoned next to the Lumma-girnunta canal, along with the bones of their slain personnel.

This tablet is important for several reasons. First, it shows that many of the social injustices that Urukagina complains about on his foundation cones had existed earlier, during the time of Enmetena, and that Enmetena made similar efforts to correct them. The "Liberty Cones" of Urukagina are generally regarded to be the first documented effort at social reforms, but now some of the credit must go to Enmetena's earlier attempts. It also demonstrates the need for constant vigilance in battling social injustice. Even if Enmetena's corrective measures proved to be successful, over time the problems resurfaced because the root causes never go away. Second, this tablet shows Urukagina's indebtedness to Enmetena for the tone and content of his Liberty Cones. Urukagina uses many of the same specific examples found on this tablet, e.g., the seizure of the fisheries of poor people, the conscription of blind workers to dig the irrigation ditches in the fields of the officials, the taking of the best land by the ensi and his use of temple oxen to plow his fields, the high cost of religious rituals, etc. Doubtlessly many other matching examples could be found except for the fact that most of this tablet is missing due to damage. Urukagina also used some of the same phrases that are found of this tablet: "The oxen of the gods the garlic plots of the ruler did plow, and the best fields ...", and "The lustration priests measured the grain tax in Ambar." Again, more phrases would surely be found except for the heavily damaged condition of the tablet. Because of its similarity in the tone and content with the Liberty Cones, it's easy to see why this tablet was mistakenly thought to belong to Urukagina (for comparison purposes, read a complete translation of Urukagina's Liberty Cones.)

Third, and most important, the tablet is universally cited by historians as proof that Urukagina passed a decree against polyandry, the marriage of one woman to several men at the same time. As a demonstration of these erroneous citations, do an Internet search on Urkagina + polyandry and you will get hundreds of relevant hits. If you make a search on Enmetena (or Entemena, as he was formerly known) + polyandry you will get no relevant hits at all. The intention of the decree isn't exactly clear, but even so, the decree will have to be ascribed to Enmetena, not Urukagina. See Note at the end of the translation.

This translation is from the CDLI (P222610).  See the line-drawing of the tablet.

{ ... } = explanatory comments by jjs.

n lines missing
When the (amount of) silver was imposed(?) and the sheep had been bought,
the best sheep from among those sheep a person {an official} would take away.
The lustration priests measured the grain tax in Ambar,
and those priests their grain-tax (storage) houses
they would build in Ambar.
x x x
When ...,
stewards, foremen, lamentation singers, farmers, or brewers
brought in a wool sheep, and it was plucked {sheared} in the palace,
whenever the sheep was pure(?) and its wool was taken away to the palace,
five shekels of silver they would pay.
{The best wool was taken by the ruler, after the owner had paid to have the sheep sheared.}

The oxen of the gods the garlic plots of the ruler did plow,
and the best fields . . .
{The ruler took the best land for himself and used the sacred temple oxen to plow his fields.}
rest of column missing 

n lines missing
When to the irrigation channels(?) that were located in the fields
a blind worker was taken {conscripted},
the royal subordinate {official},
(no matter) how much the work(?) being performed,
drinking water he would not give him {the blind worker},
and drinking water to the donkeys he would (also) not give.

When a poor person a loan against his fish pond had made,
a person {the loaner} would take away its fish,
and that person {the owner} could (only) say Oh Utu! (a cry for justice).

When a man had divorced (his) wife,
five shekels of silver the ruler took away,
and one shekel of silver the chief minister took away.

When a person put kohl on the head {as part of a religious ritual},
five shekels of silver the ruler took away,
one shekel of silver the chief minister took away,
and one shekel of silver the sage took away.
{Excessive fees were charged for religious rites.}

A person going along a path
a garment(?) ...
rest of column missing

n lines missing
{The following is an announcement of social reforms.}
Silver ...
the ruler, the minister, and the sage shall not take away.

When a poor man an interest-bearing loan against his fish pond
has made, no person shall take away its fish.

For stolen property indemnification of it has been abandoned;
lost property shall be hung at the main gate.

If a woman to a male has spoken ... words(?) which exceeded (her rank?),
onto the mouth (or teeth?) of that woman a baked brick shall be cast,
and that brick will be hung at the main gate.
{This seems like a harsh punishment for the crime, but the inscription is damaged
   and it may refer to a more serious crime like slander or false allegations.}

As for women of former times, two of them a male could marry. {Sic, see Note below.}
But for women of today the indemnification of it has been abandoned.

The dream interpreter, the seer,
the caster of lots(?), the carpenter who plants pegs in the ground,
of the words of the gods
... their copper arrow(s)
rest of column missing

n lines missing
{The following lines are a description of the continuing border wars 
   between Enmetena’s city of Lagash and the neighboring city of Umma.}

Because of that barley {a loan or tribute}, {Enmetena} having sent envoys to him (Ur-luma)
and “You must send here my barley!” having said to him,
Ur-luma committed an aggressive act(?) in response to it.
“The Antasura {temple} is mine! It is my border territory!” he said.
(The people of) Umma he levied,
and he (also) chose (people from) foreign countries {as mercenaries}.
In the Ugiga field, the field beloved of Ningirsu,
Ningirsu Umma's levied (troops) he annihilated.
Ur-luma, the ruler of Umma,
when he had been driven back,
in the floor(?) of the Lummagirnunta canal
he {Enmetena} confronted him.
His donkeys, sixty teams, were left behind,
and their personnel's bones were left out on the plain.
{Enmetena's foundation cone says that Ur-luma fled back to his city and was killed.}
rest of column missing

n lines missing
. . . he built for him.
A wine brewery with many large sila vessels, fitting for its owner, he built for him.
His beloved canal, Canal (of) Saman the Runner, he dug for him.
The temple of Bau he built.
For Igalima, the Temple With the Great Furious Divine Powers of Heaven and Earth, he built.
For Šulšagana, his Residence of Acclaim, he built.
For Gangir, the beloved lukur priestess of Ningirsu, her temple he built.
For Lammasaga, his (protective) blinkers, her temple he built.
For Ninmu, the butcher of Ningirsu, her temple he built.
rest of column missing

Note: As translated, the line "As for women of former times, two of them a male could marry" could be interpeted as meaning polygyny (the marriage of one man to multiple women) rather than polyandry (the marriage of one woman to multiple men). However, the correct translation of the line is, "As for women of former times, two men each could marry." The transliteration of the relevant lines are as follows:

20'. munus u4-bi-ta-ke4-ne
     As for women of former times,
21'. nita 2(asz@c)-ta
     two of them a male
22'. i3-tuku-am6
     could marry.
23'. munus u4-da-e-ne
     But for women of today
24'. za-asz2-da-bi i3-szub
     the indemnification of it has been abandoned.

According to John Alan Halloran's Sumerian Lexicon, the suffix -ta when applied to numbers denotes "each", so line 21 should read "two men each". The translation of za-asz2-da as "indemnification" is also somewhat misleading. According to the Sumerian Lexicon, a more accurate translation would be "crime", so "the crime of it (polyandry) has been abandoned". It's not exactly clear if the practice has been outlawed (because no penalty is assigned for it) or if the practice died out on its own, if indeed it was ever much of a problem.

Even if another tablet by Urukagina was found that mentioned polyandry, it would only prove that he copied it from Enmetena, just as he copied other parts of this tablet. In the meantime, the decree against polyandry must now be ascribed to Enmetena, not Urukagina.

Enmetena, ensi of Lagash

May 7, 2012