The Great Fatted Bull
Introduction
Tablet #36
Translation
Annotations
Transliteration
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The Standard of Ur:  War
The Standard of Ur:  King
The "Standard" of Ur?
Eannatum
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
Miscellaneous
Links
Contact
Site Map
   
 



  The Standard of Ur, "war side".  Click on any of the images to enlarge them.


The “war side” of the Standard of Ur has always been regarded as a work of art, but it has never received proper credit for what it really is: an historic record. It has always been given only a cursory examination by the historians, with very little commentary as to its content, despite the fact that it's a complete, accurate, and detailed documentary of ancient warfare,  the first in world history.

There is a lot of action crowded into the three rows of the panel, but there's even more here than meets the eye.




The battle shown on war side of the Standard of Ur begins with the ending. It starts with the "aftermath of battle". The victorious king has dismounted from his chariot. He wears a long regal robe and he carries his battle standard. His generals are lined up behind him. They wear their leather armor in the Sumerian fashion, draped across one shoulder. They carry spears and battleaxes. We know that they are generals and not just common soldiers because this is the formal surrender ceremony, so the generals would of course be in attendance. In accordance to the rules of royal precedence, they stand behind the king in the order of their rank and their titles of nobility. In art as in life, the most important men are the ones standing closest to the king.

The right half of the top register shows the victorious Sumerian king inspecting the prisoners captured in battle. I suggest that the man standing in front of him is the captured enemy king, since he is the first prisoner shown and therefore the most important. He is escorted by a Sumerian soldier. A close-up of the captive king is shown below. Like the Sumerian king, he also wears a robe (see the outlines of the robe in a separate picture). They're the only two men on the standard who wear robes, so the robes are symbolic of kingship. This means that the prisoner is indeed a king and not just an anonymous soldier from the ranks. Beneath his robe the captive king wears a distinctive “angled-skirt” that is different than the fringed skirts worn by the Sumerians. He is the only prisoner who still has his clothes on, and the reason for this is to make him identifiable to the viewer as the enemy king. However, because the figure is heavily damaged, his identity has been obscured for 85 years, ever since the Standard of Ur was first discovered.

The captured enemy king (left) being escorted by a Sumerian soldier.

Given the preponderance of the evidence, there can be little doubt that this is indeed the captured enemy king. After all, who else could it be? This is exactly where one would expect to find the defeated king (or his body). It would be surprising not to find him here. Otherwise, the victory of the Sumerian king is incomplete: He has won a great victory, yet the enemy king has escaped? This would mean that the enemy king had avoided his just punishment and was free to fight again on another day.

Behind the captive king and his guard is another prisoner who is naked, bound, and bleeding. It is reasonable to assume that he is a captured enemy general since the prisoners are displayed in the order of their rank and importance (low-ranking common soldiers would not be paraded before the Sumerian king). The prisoner has a bloody wound on his body, as do most of the enemies depicted on the standard. Other prisoners of war are displayed for the king in the descending order of their rank. See a high-resolution photograph of one of the prisoners, with bleeding wounds on his face, chest, and thigh, and a rope around his neck and arms.


The prisoners and their captors. The soldier in the middle has captured two prisoners; the other soldiers have captured one apiece.

Since only the most important prisoners are displayed for the king, it's reasonable to assume that all of the captives in the upper register are high-ranking noblemen. Since all of them are naked, cinched up with ropes, and displayed in a humiliating manner, there can be little doubt as to their fate. As explained in "Standard of Ur: King", the victorious Sumerian king wasn't  the kind of man who would execute common soldiers that had been captured, because he wanted to make allies out of his former enemies. The opposing noblemen, on the other hand, might not be so lucky. Although in ancient warfare a conquering king sometimes pardoned the defeated lords who had fought against him, more often than not they were executed. They would thus be held accountable for the war and the casualties suffered by the king's army. Also, if allowed to live, the lords could lead another attack against the king. The fact that the noblemen being paraded before the victorious king are naked, bound, and cruelly displayed, without deference to their high rank, does not bode well for their immediate future. Another ominous sign is the fact that all of the soldiers still carry their carry weapons. This is not entirely necessary since the prisoners are securely tied up and they are no longer a threat. Nor would it be necessary if they were about to be pardoned by the king. So it seems unlikely that the lives of the prisoners were spared. This scene probably occurred just moments before they were put to death.



In the artistic convention of the times, the Sumerian king is drawn larger than other men to symbolize his exalted status. In fact, he actually exceeds the decorative border of the panel.

Note the "little man" beneath the horses' heads. He has been described as a slave because he is drawn so much smaller than the others. He cannot be a slave, however, because he carries a weapon, and slaves weren't allowed to have weapons. He's also been called a groom, the kind that takes care of horses. There's no direct evidence that he's a groom, except for the fact that he walks in front of the horses. Since he carries a weapon, he seems to be more than just a groom, but he doesn't seem like a regular soldier because he doesn't wear armor and a helmet. Perhaps he's merely a commoner, which would explain why he is drawn at such a reduced scale. Commoners were always drawn smaller than normal when in the presence of a king, which symbolized their lowly status. What's interesting is the fact that he is drawn so much smaller than everyone else on the top row of the panel, or anywhere else on the Standard of Ur. He's drawn smaller than the servants on the reverse side of the standard, who are also in the presence of the king. He is even smaller than the enemy, who are not only "enemy", but "defeated" and "prisoner" and therefore "slave", which in the hierarchy of things, is about as far down on the social scale as one can get. So if the "little man" is not a slave, a servant, a groom, a soldier, or a commoner, then there's really only one possiblity left. Although I have not heard it suggested before, I believe the little man is not a man at all, but just a boy. He is the royal prince, the son of the Sumerian king. He is accompanying his father on the campaign, following in his father's footsteps, as it were, thus learning how to become a warrior and a king, which has always been the royal tradition. This would explain why he carries a weapon but doesn't wear a helmet or armor. He's not really a soldier; he is too young to fight.

Introducing the royal prince. The mark on the back of his head suggests a royal diadem or perhaps a youthful haircut, like a "topknot". This mark is not seen on any of the images of the men on the Standard of Ur. Nor is the mark seen on any other Sumerian depictions of boys. In his left hand he would have carried a spear or battleaxe (now lost due to damage) like the soldiers in front of him. The weapon would be toy-like. The prince is "playing soldier", imitating the men standing with the king.

The object the prince is carrying across his shoulder is a royal scepter. It of course belongs to his father, since a royal scepter symbolizes the right to rule, and the prince is still too young to be a reigning monarch. The unexpected appearance of the royal prince, playing soldier and carrying his father's royal scepter, is part of a rather surprising and touching family vignette here on the field of carnage.

This raises the possibility that the three generals lined up behind the Sumerian king may also be his sons, arranged in descending order from oldest to youngest.



The king's chariot:  The horses wear leather armor similar to that of the soldier. Note the spotted trim on the back of the chariot.


This picture is usually interpreted as "the Sumerian soldiers march to war" because they seem to march in a measured cadence. However, a close up of the picture reveals that their spears are leveled forward. The spear point of each soldier is outlined on the cloak of the soldier in front of him. This is not the way soldiers carry their spears when on the march, it would be dangerous to the soldiers in front. Soldiers march with their spears held verticially.  The leveled spears is an attack stance. The soldiers are not marching to the battle, they are already engaged in combat, in a phalanx, on the attack.

They attack in a disciplined formation. They're identically armed and equipped with helmets,
spears, and spotted cloaks. Notice how the spots on their cloaks matches the spots on the king's chariot. The spots are the identifying ensignia of the army. The soldiers' uniforms of each city-state had different markings to make the soldiers easy to identify on the battlefield.

These are common soldiers. They do not wear the shoulder armor; the same is true for the common soldiers depicted on the Vulture Stele. I would suggest that the soldiers with the shoulder armor are the high ranking officers, meaning the nobility. In ancient armies, the ranking officers are always noblemen. As part of an elite fighting force, all of the charioteers also wear this type of armor. Chariot warfare was always the domain of the wealthy nobility, since the chariots were costly to build and the horses were expensive to maintain. The best evidence that the shoulder armor is meant only for the nobility is the fact that it's the armor worn by the Sumerian king (as will later be shown). It is also worn by King Eannatum on the Vulture Stele.


Since this is the kind of armor worn by the "guards" escorting the prisoners during the surrender ceremonies, it means the guards are actually Sumerian noblemen. This supports the concept that the prisoners are also high-ranking noblemen and not just common soldiers. The Sumerian noblemen wouldn't stoop to performing guard duty for mere common prisoners. In ancient warfare, the opposing lords of the nobility often sought out each other to engage in individual combat. Ever conscious of their rank, they preferred to fight against each other. Therefore, in the formal surrender ceremony depicted on the Standard of Ur, the soldiers displaying the prisoners are not just "guards", they are Sumerian noblemen. They are proudly presenting to their king the enemy noblemen that they have personally captured in battle.


The Sumerian soldiers in combat:


The attack terminates in a brief, sharp battle, where the Sumerian soldiers make short work  of their enemies. One soldier takes an enemy prisoner while another soldier dispatches a fallen enemy with his spear. On the right, a Sumerian soldier disrobes a subdued prisoner. This was a common practice in the ancient world. A newly captured prisoner was first stripped of his clothes. It was meant to humilate the prisoner and to demonstrate that he had no rights and no status, at all. The nakedness of the prisoners on the Standard of Ur symbolizes their newly degraded condition and their inferiority to the victorious Sumerians.


The scene has always been described as "the enemy prisoners are led away". This seems a likely explanation since some of the men (the prisoners) are naked, and some of the men (the guards) are clothed and carrying weapons. I would suggest that the scene represents something else entirely. Notice the "angled-skirts" that the men are wearing. The Sumerians are never shown wearing this kind of skirt. None of the men wear cloaks, armor, or helmets. It was believed that the men were from "faraway places" (though from where is not specified). In this case, they could be "auxiliary troops" fighting for the Sumerian army. If it's true that they are indeed the allies, fighting and dying on behalf of the Sumerians, and they're the ones escorting the prisoners, why aren't they shown in the surrender ceremony when the prisoners are presented to the king?  Notice how the man on the far right has bleeding wounds on his head and chest. Other soldiers behind him also have bleeding wounds. If they are really the allied soldiers, they're the only ones of the victorious army to be wounded in the battle; not a single Sumerian soldier has a scratch on him. Does this suggest that the allied soldiers are somehow inferior fighters compared to the Sumerians?  Is it really the artist's intent to be so needlessly insulting to the Sumerian allies?  Also, there are already depictions of the enemy being taken prisoner in this register, and the prisoners are displayed again in the top register, so there is no reason to belabor the point by showing yet another scene of the prisoners being escorted from the battlefield. 

Besides, prisoners are always led back behind the lines where they can be guarded. They are never led forward of the battle line, deeper into their own territory.



Battle lineEnlarge.

There are two other very important points that need to be considered: First of all, if these men are the auxiliary troops of the Sumerians, why are they not seen in action against the enemy? It is only the Sumerian soldiers who are seen fighting the battle, killing the enemy soldiers or taking them as prisoners. Is it really the sole duty of the auxiliary troops to merely "escort" the prisoners from the field after the battle has been won by the Sumerians? Secondly, if they are auxiliary troops, why are they seen at the front of the battle line, ahead of the Sumerians? Pictorally, it seems as if they have already fought their battle and taken their prisoners, and they're calmly strolling off the battlefield, while the Sumerians are behind them, still engaged  in combat, still taking prisoners, and still involved in some kind of "mopping up" operation. Why would any Sumerian artist portray the Sumerian soldiers in such a subordinate role?

There's another explanation for the scene above that makes more sense. These men are not the "allies" of the Sumerians; they are the enemy, running away from the battlefield. The ones who are naked are the ones who have been wounded. (Not just the prisoners, but most of the dead and wounded enemies are shown naked, like those who are being trampled beneath the charging chariots (see below) even though they haven't been taken as prisoners.) These soldiers have already lost the battle, so it's inevitable that they be shown in full retreat. It's what one would expect to see in this portion of the panel. Rather than the battle scene being truncated by an unnecessary depiction of the prisoners being escorted from the field, my interpretation makes the battle scene complete: The Sumerian soldiers attack the enemy. They defeat the enemy in battle. The enemy runs away.


In the above scene, some of the men are wounded and some of them are not. Some of the men still have their weapons while others have thrown theirs away in panic. One wounded enemy soldier casts a horrified glance back at what is happening to his comrades while all the others face in the opposite direction, looking to escape. In the middle, an enemy soldier escorts a wounded comrade away from the battlefield. Behind them a soldier clutches at a chest wound with one hand and with his other hand he tries to cover his nakedness. He is followed by another soldier with a sword. This is the only soldier besides the Sumerian king who carries a sword, which suggests that he is a high-ranking officer, probably a general.  Click here to enlarge the scene.

Retreating enemy soldier, with head and chest wounds. On the Standard of Ur, bleeding wounds are drawn with a few wavy lines.

The reason why some of the enemy soldiers are clothed is because it would have been pointless to depict all of the enemy soldiers naked. Otherwise, how could the viewer know who they are? All naked men pretty much look alike. Since all the faces on the Standard of Ur are drawn the same, the best way to identify the enemy is by his clothing. The angled-skirt is the uniform of the enemy. A modern viewer might not be able to identify the enemy by his distinctive angled-skirt, but a Sumerian certainly could.

This brings us back to the captured enemy king. Take another look at the picture below. Despite the damage on of the figure, it is clear that the skirt he wears beneath his robe
is unlike the Sumerian "fringed skirt" worn by the soldier standing next to him. It is the same "angled-skirt" worn by the enemy soldiers running away from the battlefield. When this figure was new, it would have been obvious to any Sumerian viewer that this is the captured king whose troops were defeated on the battlefield.


The captured enemy king (left) is escorted by a Sumerian soldier.



The final proof that the angled-skirt is the uniform of the enemy is seen in the picture above. Note how the fringe on the skirt taken from the prisoner matches that of the enemy soldiers and the captured king shown above. 

Note:  It has never been pointed out before, but notice the position of the prisoner’s hand, tucked inside his right armpit. This isn't just the way he fell. The same gesture is also performed by the servant in the presence of the king (on the Peace side of the standard) and by a member of the religious procession. It is also seen in many other Sumerian works of art" of the standard shows a procession where people bring forth the abundance of the Land; sheep, cattle, goats, fish, etc. The scene depicts part of a religious ceremony,
led by a man with his hands held in the "prayer position". It is a thanksgiving celebration to mark the victory of the king.peace side



The victory procession. The man on the top right has his hands folded in prayer. Note the gesture of obedience by the man on the bottom right.

The people bring forth their goods voluntarily, and all the men depicted are Sumerian, except for the last two. Second from the left on the bottom row is a man with curly hair. He looks different than the Sumerians, who have clean-shaven heads. He wears a different kind of belt and he wears a shorter skirt, since it cannot be seen hanging beneath the ram he is herding. He has always been described as the man who represents the people from "faraway places" who are the friends and allies of the Sumerians.




Now look at the bottom register. There you will see many men who wear the distinctive
angled-skirt. These are the defeated enemy. The goods they carry are not voluntary contributions, but tribute; which is only to be expected. They lost the battle on the "war side" of the Standard of Ur, so it's inevitable that they be seen on the "flip side" of the standard carrying tribute to the victors. The fact that many men in the procession are burdened like pack animals carrying many kinds of goods, demonstrates to the Sumerian people that the king protects them from their enemies and he provides them with tribute from the hostile foreign lands. A display of the defeated enemy bearing tribute to the conquering king was a common motif in the ancient world.

Only the defeated enemies in the procession carry a burden. None of the Sumerians carry a load, not even the donkeys carry a burden.


This brings us back to the man who is supposed to represent the people from faraway places who are the friends and allies of the Sumerians. He too is a defeated enemy. His curly hair and "double belt" matches the appearance of many of the men bearing tribute. His angled-skirt is hidden behind the ram he is herding.




In the vicory procession, three men have the curly hair of the enemy but wear the kind of skirt usually worn by the nobility and high officials. Presumably, these are the "replacement lords" who were appointed to replace the enemy lords that were executed in the top register.



End panels of the Standard of Ur:
 
The end panels have always been described as "fanciful scenes". It seems unlikely that the artist filled the front and back of the standard with a complex and subtly nuanced tale of war and peace, and when he came to the end panels, he suddenly threw up his hands and said, "Okay, I've run out of ideas, here are some fanciful scenes to pass the time."

I suggest the end panels have a deeper meaning.


In the top register, a ram is feeding on the high branches of a tree. This image occurs on many Sumerian artifacts and it seemed to be symbolic of Sumer itself. The identity of the damaged creature on the right, with hooved feet and a tail, isn't known. It may be a "bull/man", a recurring figure in Sumerian mythology.


In the middle register, a Sumerian boy is making a ceremonial offering to the ram. Then the enemy in the angled-skirt shows up. It’s not exactly clear what he is doing with the ram. The object that he holds in his hand has been damaged, but the end of it looks like the pommel of a sword or a dagger. It seems the blade goes across the body of the ram in the same way that the spear points appear across the cloaks of the Sumerian soldiers. In the above picture, the enemy symbolically enacts the provocations that led to the war.

The sudden appearance of the enemy means that the end panels are not quite so "fanciful".
 


In the last register, the ram is missing (?) and the tree is flanked with two images of Anzud, the lion-headed eagle, attacking a man-headed bull, suggestive of “war”. It seems that the end panels, like the front and back of the standard, also represent “war” and “peace”.

See high-res photos of the top registermiddle register, and bottom register of the end panel. These high resolution photographs by Michael Greenhalgh are available from opencontext.org.

If one of the end panels means "war", then the other must mean "peace".
 

End panel from the Standard of Ur, "Peace"
In the top register are two flowering plants with the eight-pointed rosettes so symbolically important to the Sumerians. In the middle register, a ram (its horns damaged) is being stalked by a leopard. Then the ram is seen having escaped the danger.



Click on the next three chariot images to see high-resolution photographs of them.

The Sumerian war chariots attack: 


Sumerian chariot:  It has never been pointed out before, but the "spear" at the bottom of the rack is actually a mace (war club). The shaft is thicker, and the head is different than the spears pictured above it. This was less obvious in the low-resolution photos of the standard that were previously available. In modern drawings of ancient Sumerian war chariots, even those that are accurate in every other detail, the mace is never shown. Notice the rein post and rings used to separate the reins of the horses.

I kept looking at this picture and thinking, "The driver looks awfully fat to be a charioteer." 
A charioteer cannot be too overweight. A heavy driver would slow down the chariot and
tire out the horses. I thought, "Perhaps he is sitting down, which would explain why he looks so portly." But all the other drivers are standing up, like the one pictured below, and besides, chariots don't have seats. Then I realized that he is sitting on top of the railing, with his leg slung to the inside of the chariot. Perhaps he is leaning over the side to get a better look at what's happening ahead. He seems rather nonchalant going into combat sitting down, but that's because this is the last chariot in the battle line and it hasn't reached "attack speed" like the other chariots. As explained below, this telling detail adds to the realism of the chariot attack scene.

I reconstructed this chariot scene to compensate for the damage done to the figures. I also reconstructed the next two chariot scenes. Of the four chariots shown on the bottom register of the Standard of Ur, only this one is usable in its original form, even though it is also heavily damaged. This is the first time in more than 4,400 years that the chariots can be seen in something resembling their original condition. See Sumerian War Chariots for more details about the reconstruction process and for some more high-resolution pictures.



War chariot in action.  An enemy soldier is trampled beneath the horses' hooves while a Sumerian soldier prepares to finish him off with a spear.



The chariot attack begins slowly. The soldiers carry their weapons "at shoulder arms" and the driver is casually sitting down. The horses are walking. Then they break into a run. Now the driver is standing up while the soldier behind him brandishes his weapon, thus demonstrating the increasing impetus of the attack. The horses trample over the body of a fallen enemy soldier. . .


Then the horses are at a full gallop, piling up more bodies. Finally, they rear up victoriously over the vanquished enemy. Compare the dynamic realism of this chariot attack to the more stilted and formalized chariot scene of Ramses II, which was done 1,200 years later.



It has been suggested that the standard should be read in reverse order: The chariots attack, followed by the infantry attack, followed by the surrender ceremony. Note, however, that the enemies in the chariot attack scene are not in formation, they carry no weapons, and they offer no resistance. They are already defeated.

In the battle depicted on the Standard of Ur, the chariots were used to pursue and kill the defeated enemy. The enemy had already been routed by the infantry, and then the chariots were sent in to run down the fleeing soldiers.


 Enlarge.

The timeline of the Standard of Ur is somewhat confusing, so I rearranged the registers
to place the Standard of Ur in chronological order. In the top register, Sumerian soldiers
attack in a phalanx formation. There is a brief battle and the enemy soldiers begin to retreat. In the middle register, the retreat becomes a rout when the Sumerian chariots are sent in to run down the fleeing soldiers. In the bottom register, the king has dismounted from his chariot and he presides over the formal surrender ceremony.


There is one more aspect of the Standard of Ur that needs to be considered:  Where is the Sumerian king during the battle scenes? Is the king just the passive wooden figurehead in the formal surrender ceremony, aloof from the battle?

In a high-resolution photograph, the king is shown wearing a helmet and armor. He also carries a weapon across his shoulder (either a battleaxe or a sickle sword), indicating that he has been in combat.

It must be remembered this was back in the day when kings did not just reign, they ruled. They were not only administrators, they were also warriors. Back then, a king could not get the respect of his people, nor could he control his ambitious lords, unless he proved himself
to be a brave warrior and a capable general. The kings were real men, who led their soldiers
from the front. Three hundred years after the Standard of Ur was created, King Ur-Namma would die of wounds received in combat, as would many other kings, all across the world, until the early 18th century A.D. 


On his Victory Stele, King Eannatum shows himself leading his men into battle on foot and in a chariot. Would the king on the Standard of Ur do anything less?  It would be surprising not to see him engaged in heroic combat during the battle. So where is the Sumerian king in the battle scenes?

I would suggest he is the one driving the chariot, just like King Eannatum, even though he wears no royal insignia (in the top register, his only royal regaila is his robe). He is, of course, the one in the lead chariot. He's not only driving it, he is also wielding a weapon (because of damage to the figure, it's impossible to tell if the weapon is a mace or a battleaxe). The reason why the king's chariot is prominently displayed in the upper register is to show that he has used it. It’s interesting to note that the profile of the driver in the lead chariot looks most like the king's profile on the peace side of the standard. However, not too much stock can be put into this because the faces on the standard are “generic”, and not meant to be recognizable portraits of individual men. Nonetheless, it seems more than just a coincidence that the king looks most like the man in the lead chariot, which is exactly where one would expect the king to be.



The king's profile(s).  Peace side, left; and war side.



Another indication that the king is in the lead chariot can be found in a minor difference between the king's chariot and the three others:


The king's chariot:  All of the war chariots have a distinctive double-curve at the top. The king's chariot also has a peak on top of the front panel, which is best seen in an enlargement (although it is shown on the front of the chariot, the peaked panel actually represents the side of the chariot, see War Chariot Deconstructed). This peaked panel makes the king's chariot distinctive from all the others.



The front panels on the other three chariots have straight-line tops that are angled down and forward. The angle of the straight line is also seen on the top of the only undamaged decorative panel (left).


In the chariot attack scene, only the lead chariot has a front panel that has an upward angle on top that is similar to the peak on the king's chariot. This upward angle is also shown on the bottom of the weapons cluster and on the decorative panel of the chariot.



The lead chariot (partially restored). Click on the picture to see a high-resolution photograph. Click here to see it in its original condition.

There are two arguments that can be made against the supposition that the king is in the lead chariot. First of all, the details of the decorative panel are not exactly the same on the chariot shown above and the king's chariot shown in the top register. This is probably a simplification on the part of the artist, since all of the front panels of the chariots in the bottom register are drawn at a smaller scale and thus their decorations are not as highly detailed. In this case,  the peak of the panel is sufficient to suggest that this is the king's chariot, and the decorations are represented more abstractly on the smaller front panels. These are not "cookie cutter" chariots. They were each individually produced and they are not exactly alike in all of their details and dimensions. But it seems a deliberate effect that the front panel of the lead chariot, the king's chariot, is different than the others. This peaked panel is also seen on King Eannatum's chariot. It's what distinguishes the king's chariot from the others.

Secondly, the king is not drawn larger than normal, like on the top registers of the War and Peace sides of the standard. This could mean that the charioteer is just a regular man and therefore not a king. Or perhaps this is because the king is already standing up in the chariot, and it would be awkward to show him as any taller. The height of the king is restricted by the decorative borders above and below him. It seems the artist of the Standard of Ur made every attempt to realistically portray the battle scenes. So perhaps he didn't feel compelled to draw the king abnormally large, as was the artistic convention of the time, because he had already done it twice on other parts of the standard, and he wanted the battle scene to look authentic. By not making the king larger than normal, the artist of the Standard of Ur thus created the first truly realistic battle scene in all of history.

If the king is shown leading the chariot attack, where is he during the infantry battle?


On the "Vulture Stele", King Eannatum leads his troops to victory on foot and in a chariot. He is also shown carrying a sickle sword.  Click on the picture to enlarge it.


It seems that the Standard of Ur uses the same format to depict the king's role in the battle. This picture shows a Sumerian "soldier" taking an enemy prisoner. The Sumerian soldier is the first one shown, in the vanguard of the battle, at the head of his troops. This indicates that he is the infantry commander. He also carries a sickle sword, just like King Eannatum. He is the only soldier on the Standard of Ur with a sickle sword, a symbol of royalty. I would therefore suggest that this is a picture of the Sumerian king. Just like Eannatum, he personally leads his troops to victory on foot and in a chariot. Further proof of this is the fact that the enemy prisoner performs the "gesture of submission and obedience" which is performed in the presence of a king.

It may be argued that this is just a general at the head of troops, and not the king himself; and the man in the lead chariot is simply the commander of the charioteers. I would suggest that if the generals are represented in the battle scenes, they would be shown following the king.  The king would always be in the lead, on foot and in a chariot. Like the Vulture Stele, the Standard of Ur is all about The King. So it seems too unlikely that the king would be so conspicuously absent from the battle scenes. It's more likely that he's been there all along. When you come to think about it, of course it's the king at the head of his troops leading his soldiers into battle. After all, who else could it be?  Of course it's the king in the lead chariot, his horses rearing up victoriously over the vanquished enemy. It cannot be anyone else.

When the above picture is expanded, we can see the skill of the artist on the Standard of Ur  in depicting realistic battle scenes:


The Sumerian king in battle:  He has just fought against an enemy soldier; wounded him, taken him prisoner, and stripped off his clothes. Brandishing a sword, he is already looking at the next man he will attack. The man is starting to run away, looking back at the king in mortal terror. It is the pivotal moment of the battle. Right here, at the point of the king's sword, is where the enemy loses the battle. Here is where the rout begins.

Ancient battles were often depicted with the opposing kings engaged in individual combat (whether or not it really happened during the battle). In portrayals of ancient warfare, a conquering king is never shown wasting his time battling a single low-ranking enemy soldier, so this no ordinary enemy private. Kings were always conscious of their rank, even in the heat of combat they preferred to fight against other high-ranking royals. The man who has been defeated by the Sumerian king has to be important enough to warrant the king's attention, and important enough that seeing him fall would panic his men, thus causing the headlong retreat. Therefore, the fallen enemy "soldier", who is gesturing surrender, is actually the enemy king. It has never been pointed out before, but notice how the Sumerian king is carrying two articles of clothing, not just one. He has the skirt of the enemy king draped over his arm and he holds the robe clutched in his hand. No other enemy soldier has two garments (the enemy's clothes will later be restored to him for the surrender ceremony, thus making him identifiable as the captured king.) Seeing their king fall would have started the rout of his men.

There is additional proof that this is indeed the captured enemy king. On the Standard of Ur, the presence of a battle standard is used as an artistic device identify a king. As explained in The "Standard" of Ur? and The Standard of Ur: King, the Sumerian king and the enemy kings all carry standards. The enemy king pictured above proudly carried aloft his battle standard going into the battle; now the fallen standard lies between his feet. This may be a depicition of a well-known event in the battle (long since forgotten) when the Sumerian king personally defeated his adversary in individual combat and thus won the war. The "dis-robing" of the defeated enemy king is symbolic of victory. Next, the Sumerian king will mount his chariot and run to ground the fleeing enemy soldiers.




A summary of the new interpretation of the Standard of Ur, war side: 

The man standing in front of the Sumerian king is the captured enemy king, since he is the first prisoner displayed and therefore the most important. His attire matches that of the enemy soldiers. Like the Sumerian king, he also wears a robe.

The next prisoner shown is probably a general, since the prisoners are displayed in the order of their rank and importance. All of the captives displayed in the upper register are important high ranking noblemen. It's probable that they will later be executed.

The small “man” walking in front of the king’s horses is actually a boy, the royal prince, the son of the Sumerian king. He's "playing soldier", imitating the men in front of him. He also carries his father's royal scepter.

The men standing behind the Sumerian king are his generals, since the men standing closest to the king are the most important. They may also be his sons.

The infantrymen in the spotted cloaks are common soldiers. They are not "marching" to the battle. They are already on the attack, their spears leveled, in a phalanx formation.

The soldiers with the armor draped across their shoulders are the high-ranking officers (noblemen). Since they wear the same kind of armor, the soldiers displaying the prisoners are not just "guards", they are Sumerian noblemen. They are presenting to their king the enemy noblemen that they have personally captured in battle.

In the battle, the infantry is used to rout the enemy, then chariots are used to pursue the fleeing enemy soldiers.

The men in the “angled-skirts” are not auxiliary troops escorting prisoners from the battlefield. They are the enemy, running away from the victorious Sumerians.

The men in the angled skirts are also shown in the religious procession on the “peace side” of the standard, which marks the victory of the Sumerian king. They are not the “people from faraway places” who are the friends and allies of the Sumerians, bearing gifts of thanksgiving.  They are the defeated enemy, bearing tribute to the victorious Sumerian king.

The enemy in the angled-skirt also shows up on one of the end panels of the Standard of Ur, symbolically enacting the provocations that led to the war.

The end panels, like the front and back of the standard, also represent War and Peace. They are not just "fanciful scenes". 

The prisoner taken by the Sumerian king is actually the enemy king himself, who was defeated in individual combat by the Sumerian king. The victorious king has the skirt of the enemy king draped over one arm and he holds the robe clutched in is hand. The enemy's fallen standard lies at his feet.

The gesture of holding one hand under the armpit, heretofore unexplained, is a gesture of submission and obedience. It is also a gesture of surrender, as performed by the captured enemy king. He thus formally acknowledges his defeat.

The Sumerian king carries a sickle sword, a symbol of royalty. None of the other Sumerian soldiers carry a sword. Only one of the enemy soldiers has a sword, suggesting that he is a high ranking offficer, probably a general.

The driver of the lefthand chariot in the attack scene is sitting down, which makes him seem shorter and heavier than he really is. The "spear" at the bottom of the weapons cluster is actually a mace.

The Standard of Ur is the first realistic battle scene in all of history.

The peaked front panel on the lead chariot in the attack scene indicates it's the king's chariot.

The Sumerian king is not just the stiff, formal figurehead at the top of the panel. He is shown in the battle scenes, on foot and in a chariot, engaged in heroic combat against the enemy.





The king of the Standard of Ur. The King of War. The King of Peace.
It's not known who he is.

I've got a theory.  For the possible identity of the king, see The Standard of Ur: King




December 2, 2010