The Sumerian king on the Standard of Ur: "Peace side".
The king (left) has a drink and celebrates his victory with his noblemen while being attended by two servants. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
The Royal Standard of Ur is the icon of Sumerian civilization. Pictures of it appear in most of the books and websites devoted to Sumerian history. This is because the Standard of Ur represents all of Sumer, all at once. It's the Sumerians in war, the Sumerians in peace, and the Sumerians in the practice of their religion. It is the icon of the entire Sumerian civilization, yet it hasn’t received the attention it deserves from historians. It has always been regarded mostly as a work of art, as something merely decorative. Even so, it's considered somewhat crude by modern standards or when compared to the artistic works of the ancient Egyptians. That's probably because of the simple and generic style in which all the faces are drawn, with large eyes and big noses. Sumerians used this artistic convention to depict human beings, both male and female alike, throughout most of their history. Perhaps because the faces aren't meant to be recognizable portraits of individual men, there's been very little speculation about the identity of the king on the Standard of Ur.
The Sumerian king is shown on both the “war side” and “peace side” of the Standard of Ur. He's recognizable as a king only because he is drawn considerably larger than the other men, thus signifying his greater status and importance. Otherwise he's barely distinguishable from the soldiers and servants depicted on the standard. His face looks the same as all the others, with no distinctive facial features by which we can identify him. It's not known who he is, so he never had a name. It isn't known if he was a real person, who actually lived and ruled, or if he is just an artist's rendition of a Sumerian king, representative of all Sumerian kings. He has therefore always been a "generic" sort of king; not any particular king, just "the king".
Perhaps another reason there's been so little speculation about the identity of the king is the paucity of the historic record. Very little Sumerian history has survived the millennia. In fact, you can read all that remains of Sumerian history in a single afternoon. We do know there were many kings of the various city-states in the 1,500 years of Sumerian history. From the King List, a Babylonian record of the Sumerian kings, we even know some of their names. Other than that, we know little or nothing about them. Perhaps historians felt it was useless to speculate about the king because there wasn't enough historic evidence to support any claims about his identity.
PG 779: The tomb where the Standard of Ur was found. The standard is circled in red. The object next to the standard is the skull of a soldier. Click on the picture to enlarge it.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the tomb where the standard was discovered was thoroughly looted in antiquity. The tomb (designated by Leonard Woolley as PG 779, PG meaning “Private Grave”) was almost completely devoid of artifacts. The standard was found almost by itself in an empty chamber of the tomb. Thus, much of the historic context of the standard has been lost. We don’t even know who the tomb belonged to, which would be a big hint to the identity of the king on the standard. Nor do we know the date when the tomb was built. Having a precise date would considerably reduce the number of possibilities for the king’s identity. In any case, the dating of the Royal Tombs of Ur was always problematic for Leonard Woolley. The tombs were built on the irregular slope of a hillside, with no clear strata showing the sequence of construction of new tombs built on top of the old ones. As a result, Woolley couldn’t give specific dates for the individual tombs, but instead gave a range of dates. The date range given for the Royal Tombs of Ur is 2600 – 2400 B.C. These are the same dates given for the Standard of Ur and for all the other artifacts found in the royal tombs (according to the British Museum, where the standard is kept).
In summary: 1) The picture of the king on the Standard of Ur isn’t meant to be a recognizable portrait of an individual man. It's merely a generic portrait of “the king”. 2) We don’t know who was buried in the tomb where the standard was found, which would be a big hint to the king’s identity. 3) The tomb was looted in antiquity, thus destroying the archaeological context where the standard was discovered. 4) We don’t know when the tomb was built, which would pinpoint the standard’s date in Sumerian history, and 5) Even if we knew when the tomb was built, there's very little in the historic record to confirm any claims about the king’s identity.
So, given all these difficulties, how can we even begin to guess the identity of the king on the Standard of Ur?
Fortunately, the best clue to the king’s identity can be found on the standard itself.
Line of battle: the middle register of the war side of the standard, showing the infantry battle. The Sumerian soldiers are on the left, as seen in the enlargement below:
The Sumerian soldiers wear skirts with a leaf-like fringe.
This part of the battle was previously interpreted as "The enemy prisoners are led away". The "prisoners" are the ones who are naked. The soldiers on the right, carrying weapons, were originally thought to be auxiliary troops, the friends and allies of the Sumerians. They wear distinctive "angled-skirts".
The men in the angled-skirts also show up in the The Victory Procession, bearing "gifts" in bundles and backpacks for the triumphant Sumerian king. The Sumerians in the procession are wearing the traditional fringed skirts. Detail from the "peace side" of the Standard of Ur.
It was originally believed that the men in the angled-skirts were from "faraway places", the friends and allies of the Sumerians. However, as explained in The Standard of Ur: war side, the men in the angled-skirts are not the friends of the Sumerians. They are the enemy. In the battle scene, they are not auxiliary troops escorting prisoners from the battlefield; they are enemy soldiers fleeing from the Sumerians. In the Victory Procession, they are not the friends bearing gifts to the Sumerians; they are the defeated enemy, loaded like pack animals, bearing tribute to the conquering king.
The angled-skirt is the uniform of the enemy. It was originally thought that only the men who were naked were the enemy, which symbolized their inferiority to the victorious Sumerians. But it would be pointless for all of the enemy soldiers to be naked because it would be impossible to tell who they are. After all, one naked man pretty much resembles another, at least in terms of his nationality. On the standard, only those enemies who are wounded, dying, or taken prisoner are shown naked. The others are still clothed for the simple purpose of making them identifiable. A modern viewer might have some difficulty identifying the enemies by their angled-skirts, but any Sumerian viewer would know exactly who they are.
This brings us to the hint about the identity of the king on the Standard of Ur. The standard doesn't depict a generic Sumerian king in a generic battle against a generic enemy. It portrays a specific enemy; which means a specific battle, which means a specific Sumerian king. The key to identifying the king on the Standard of Ur is to identify the enemy. This is best done by identifying the people in the region who wore skirts that were short, split in front, and angled.
There are two kinds of skirts worn by the enemy on the Standard of Ur. Both kinds of skirts are shown in the battle scene and in the victory procession. The skirts are shorter than those worn by the Sumerians, with a finer fringe. Both skirts are split in front and angled up toward the middle, though one of them is more sharply angled than the other. The fact that the skirts are similar, but slightly different, suggests they were worn by kindred peoples in neighboring regions of the country.
When it was believed that the men in angled-skirts were the allies of the Sumerians, it was suggested that they were from Kish, a city in the region of Akkad, which is located northwest of Sumer. The histories of Sumer and Akkad are inextricably tied together. The relationship was sometimes symbiotic, sometimes bloody. They spoke different languages, but through the centuries developed a kind of bilingualism, using the same (Sumerian) sign system and borrowing many "loan words" between them. They shared many religious and cultural values, and they benefited from their mutual trade. At other times they were locked in bloody combat, each seeking domination and control of the other. Sometimes it was the Akkadians who were in the ascendency, sometimes it was the Sumerians.
(Note: At the time of the Standard of Ur, the region around the city of Kish was not yet known as "Akkad". It wouldn't be commonly known by this name until the time of Sargon the Great. I use the name "Akkad" because this is how it's most commonly known today. For the sake of reference, the people of this region were variously known as Kish, Akkadian, and Babylonian, at different times in their history.)
The "King of Kish" became the traditional title taken by any ruler who ruled over the regions of Sumer and Akkad. In a way, the title meant "the king of kings". The King of Kish was often an Akkadian ruler who dominated Sumer; although it was sometimes the other way around. The kingship was also "taken" to foreign lands after an invasion, for instance, by the Gutians and the Hamazi. During the course of history, the kingship was taken from Kish, and returned to Kish, many different times. Things would continue this way for more than 500 years. Under the command of Sargon the Great, the Akkadians conquered Sumer in 2350 B.C. and they would rule it for the next two centuries. After the Akkadian Empire was destroyed by invasions from neighboring Gutian tribesmen, the Sumerians regained their independence under the leadership of Utu-hengal and Ur-Namma. After the Sumerian civilization was destroyed by the Elamites in 2004 B.C., the Akkadians resurfaced as "Babylonians", and for many centuries they continued the Sumerian traditions they had adopted.
Map of Mesopotamia: showing Sumer and Akkad, and the cities of Kish, Akshak, Mari, Ur, and Lagash. The neighboring regions of Gutium and Elam are also shown. Click on the map to enlarge it.
Using the reference to Kish as a clue to the identity of the enemy on the Standard of Ur, I started looking for artifacts from Kish/Akkad that showed men wearing the angled-skirt. I was able to find many Akkadian cylinder seal impressions showing the kind of skirt that was short, split in front, and angled. The seal impressions are displayed on a separate page. One of the impressions is shown below:
Akkadian cylinder seal impression showing a battle of the gods. On the left is a pair of gods who are sword fighting; the one on the far left is a scorpion god. On the right, two gods are stabbing another god holding a trident. Circa 2340 - 2150 B.C.
The Akkadians seemed to have worn the angled-skirts throughout their entire history. They continued to wear this kind of skirt even after they became "Babylonian". It exactly matches the type of skirts that are worn by the soldiers and the civilians on the Standard of Ur. Therefore, the enemies on the Standard of Ur are Kish/Akkadian; which isn't very surprising, considering their history with the Sumerians. The people from the city of Kish are the ones in the slightIy-angled skirts. This assumption is based on the fact that this is the kind of skirt worn by the captured enemy king (seen below). I was also able to find some artifacts that show the sharply-angled skirt worn by some of the enemy soldiers. I believe these soldiers are the allies of the Kish, the people from Mari and/or Akshak, who are also Akkadian. The significance of this will later become apparent. There is also a third kind of skirt with pleats rather than fringe, so there are at least three different Akkadian allies on the Standard of Ur.
When a Sumerian king defeated the allied armies of the Kish/Akkadians, he would assume the title of "the King of Kish". Therefore, the Sumerian king on the Standard of Ur must also be the King of Kish.
So the king, heretofore anonymous, will be the only Sumerian king who 1) won a war against the Kish and their Akkadian allies, 2) who lived in the same period as the Royal Tombs, and 3) whose "standard" could be found in the city of Ur.
Below are several kings who reigned during the period of the Tombs of Ur, according to the King List (bear in mind that the King List is not complete and the chronology of the list is not very accurate, to say the least). Aso included are the names of several kings that are not on the King List, but were later identified through modern archaeological research:
Ur-Pa-bil-sag: The Wikipedia has tomb PG 779 and the Standard of Ur associated with Ur-Pabilsag, though I have not seen it so ascribed anywhere else. Ur-Pabilsag is not mentioned on the King List; but then again, not all of the known Sumerian kings are included on the list. Ur-Pabilsag was a king of Ur (in what later became known as the First Dynasty of Ur, circa 2500 – 2340 B.C.) after the kingship had been carried from Kish to Ur. However, there is no record of him being a King of Kish. Other than his name, nothing else is known about him. The only surviving artifact of his reign is a single fragment from a broken bowl bearing his inscription. It seems unlikely that a Sumerian king important enough to have also been the King of Kish would leave behind so little archaeological evidence of his reign. For this reason (and this reason alone) it seems unlikely that he is the king on the Standard of Ur. This is excepting the possibility that he died early in his reign, which would account for the lack of an extensive archaeological record.
Mes-kalam-dug: He is not mentioned on the King List, but he is known to be a King of Kish during the First Dynasty of Ur. Many rich artifacts bearing his name were found in PG 755, including a gold helmet and several golden bowls and daggers. However, his cylinder seal was found in a subsidiary shaft of a larger tomb, PG 1054. This led others to believe that the smaller PG 755 was not the tomb of King Meskalamdug, but it perhaps belonged to Meskalamdug's "grandson", who was buried with the legacy of his more illustrious grandfather (see a modern reconstruction of PG 755).
Mes-Ane-pada: We know from his cylinder seal that he was the King of Kish. He is the son of Meskalamdug. He is the first king of the First Dynasty of Ur mentioned on the King List, and is considered to be the founder of the dynasty. (This is somewhat confusing since his father became the King of Kish after the kingship had been taken to Ur, so it seems that the father would be considered the founder of the first Ur dynasty.) Mesanepada would be my second choice for the king on the Standard of Ur.
A-kalam-dug: The king of Ur, son of Mesanepada. The cylinder seal of Akalamdug’s wife, Ashuskidingira, was found in PG 1050, though it’s not certain if it was also his tomb because it had been looted in ancient times.
A’Ane-pada: Son of Mesanepada. A royal offering bowl lists him as the “King of Ur”, without mention of him as also being the King of Kish, which suggests that Kish was no longer ruled by the Ur dynasty.
The King List also mentions Mes-ki-aĝ-Nanna, E-lu-lu, and Ba-lu-lu as kings in the First Dynasty of Ur, but little or nothing is known of them.
The 15 Tombs of Ur that Woolley considered to be "royal". PG 1054, the tomb associated with King Meskalamdug, and PG 1050 associated with Akalamdug, are on the middle right. PG 755, the tomb of Meskalamdug's grandson, isn't shown since it is partially buried beneath PG 779 (middle) where the Standard of Ur was found. The significance of this fact will be explained later. Click on the picture to enlarge it.
Not many of the kings listed above would qualify as the king on the Standard of Ur. The king on the standard would have to be someone who actually fought the Akkadians to become the King of Kish, rather than merely inheriting the title from his father. I would like to suggest an alternative choice, although at first he would seem an unlikely candidate because he isn't originally from the city of Ur. He's from Lagash. He had many battles with the Akkadians during this period of history. He is none other than:
E-anna-tum/ Ensi/ Lagash.
Here he uses the traditional Lagash title of ensi (ruler, governor) rather than lugal, “king”. Later in his career, Eannatum would be called a king. In addition to his royal descent, “the son of ensi Akurgal”, he also claimed a divine lineage. He was the first Lagashian ruler to do so. He claimed he was suckled by the goddess Ninhursag to give him strength and he claimed to be (appropriately enough) the son of Ningirsu, the god of war. His name is a tribute to Inanna, the goddess of war; the E-anna was her most important temple. Eannatum was born for war.
Eannatum, in a war chariot, leading his men to victory. During his lifetime, he was never defeated in battle. Detail from the Vulture Stele. He is the King of War. He charges into battle wielding a sickle sword in one hand and a giant spear in the other. His chariot is equipped with maces, javelins, and a battleaxe. He is a one man juggernaut.
Eannatum is one of the best known Sumerian kings. He was the grandson of Ur-Nanshe, another famous Sumerian king, who was the founder of the First Dynasty of Lagash (interestingly enough, none of the Lagashian kings are mentioned on the King List). Eannatum conquered all of Sumer, including the cities of Umma, Nippur, Uruk, Larsa, and Ur. He also conquered the northwestern city of Akshak, and he conquered the distant city of Mari. He conquered the foreign cites of Susa and Subartu, and he repelled counter invasions from the Elamites. Most importantly, he conquered all of Akkad, and thus created the first empire known to history.
Eannatum was the “King of Kish”, the traditional title taken by any ruler who held hegemony over the regions of Sumer and Akkad. This title was sometimes claimed by kings who didn't really deserve it. They were "pretenders", as it were, who did not rule enough territories or wield enough authority to justify their claims on the title. There was no doubt, however, that Eannatum was truly the King of Kish. He ruled all of Mesopotamia, from southeastern Ur to northwestern Mari. He would remain the King of Kish for the rest of his life. After his death, the Akkadians would regain their independence, at least for a while.
The King of Kish:
The gold helmet that belonged to Meskalamdug, the King of Kish.
Sargon the Great, also the King of Kish, wearing the same kind of distinctive helmet.
This kind of helmet is made to look like the wearer's own hair, with a knotted bun in the back and a woven band on top. Since it is made of gold, it's always been assumed that the helmet was a symbol of royalty; but I would suggest that it is exclusively the traditional helmet of the King of Kish (for more information, see Helmet: the King of Kish on this website).
The king's helmet on the Standard of Ur.
Eannatum's helmet on the Vulture Stele.
Eannatum is the third known King of Kish who wears this kind of ceremonial helmet. There are no other examples of anyone wearing this helmet who was not a King of Kish.
There is one inconsistency between the Vulture Stele and the Standard of Ur. On the stele, Eannatum wears the helmet with a knotted bun in the back. On the standard, he wears a plain military helmet. The Vulture Stele represents Eannatum as the “King of Kish”, and the plain Sumerian helmet he wears on the standard shows him when he first gained this title.
The Vulture Stele of King Eannatum: so-named because the upper register shows vultures feeding on the bodies of the enemy soldiers. The stele commemorates Eannatum's victory over the Sumerian city of Umma. However, the stele was constructed at a much later date, since it also mentions Eannatum's victories over Kish, Uru, Susa, Ur, and other cities (along with his conquests of "many foreign lands") though these events occurred later in his reign. The stele was created after the end of Eannatum's reign, since it lists his entire career, but his victory over Umma occurred at the beginning of it. On the stele, Eannatum wears the ceremonial helmet of the King of Kish, although the battle with Umma occurred long before he gained this title. So technically he should be wearing a plain Sumerian helmet, like on the Standard of Ur. This is not a mistake on the part of the artist. The Vulture Stele is a major monument, about six feet tall, that was commissioned Eannatum's nephew Enmetena. For Eannatum to be portrayed with the plain Sumerian helmet that he wore during the battle with Umma would depict him as another "run of the mill" Sumerian king. The Vulture Stele shows Eannatum as he appeared at the end of his career, as the King of Kish. It shows him at the peak of his power and glory.
Now imagine a time ten to fifteen years before the Vulture Stele was made, near the middle of Eannatum's reign. He stands on a distant battlefield. He wears a plain Sumerian helmet. Heretofore, he has been just another Sumerian king. Now, on this day, in this battle, he has defeated the Kish and their allies. He has thus become the king of kings. This is the battle that is portrayed on the Standard of Ur. It shows the very day when Eannatum first became the King of Kish.
Because Eanatum, the ruler of Lagash, by Inanna was loved, together with the rulership of Lagash the kingship of Kish she gave to him.
Kish trembled before him. The king of Akshak he sent back to his land.
Kish, Akshak, and Mari . . . he defeated.
from the "Eannatum Boulder". The same lines probably also occurred in the missing and damaged portions of the Vulture Stele, as they do in many other Eannatum inscriptions. See Vulture Stele Translation.
Reasons to suggest Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur:
Eannatum’s reign, circa 2454 - 2425 B.C., is within the date range (2600 -2400 B.C.) given for the Royal Tombs of Ur, where the standard was found.
Eannatum was the King of Kish. He didn’t defeat the Akkadians just once; he also beat back two later counterattacks by the Akkadians allies. The Standard of Ur commemorates his first victory over the Akkadians, when he thus became the King of Kish.
The cities of Mari and Akshak were the Akkadian allies of the Kish in the battles against Eannatum. This is significant because because there are three different enemies on the Standard of Ur. One of the enemies represents the Kish, and the others represent the allies.
Eannatum was also the ruler of Ur, which would explain why his standard was found in one of the city’s royal tombs.
The Standard of Ur is done in the same artistic style as Eannatum's Vulture Stele. They both match the Lagash depictions of Ur-Nanshe, Eannatum's grandfather:
Plaque of Ur-Nanshe dedicating a new temple in the city of Lagash. Eannatum's father, Akurgal, is on the top row, fourth from the right.
There are other reasons to suggest that Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur:
Sumerian phalanx on the Vulture Stele.
The shape of the helmets on the Vulture Stele and the Standard of Ur are the same. They also match other helmets found in the Royal Tombs of Ur.
Note the spots on the shields of Eannatum's soldiers (above). The spots on the shields of the Vulture Stele match the spots on the soldiers' cloaks and the chariots on the Standard of Ur. These spots are the identifying insignia of the army. Every army of the Sumerian city-states had different markings to make them distinguishable from each other on the battlefield.
The king's chariot. Note the spots on the back trim of the chariot. See an enlargement.
Another indication that Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur can be found in a minor difference between the lead chariot, the king's chariot, and the other three chariots depicted in the attack scene. In The Standard of Ur: War, I used this argument to support my claim that the king is in the lead chariot, leading the charge, which no one else had suspected.
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). For comparison purposes, see an enlargement of the peak on the king's chariot shown above.
In the chariot attack scene, only the lead chariot has 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. (Note: though it is shown on the side, the "double-curve" panel actually represents the front of the chariot, which normally cannot be seen when the chariot is viewed from the side, but it's been turned toward the viewer to show its shape. The peaked panel on the "front" actually represents the side of the chariot!) This peaked panel makes the king's chariot distinctive from all the others.
On the Vulture Stele, Eannatum's chariot has the same peak on top of the front panel, like the lead chariot on the Standard of Ur. This reinforces the idea that the lead chariot on the standard is the king's chariot, and that Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur. These are the only two depictions of Sumerian war chariots that have peaked panels on the front. Like the distinctive helmet, the peaked panel on the king's chariot is meant to make him recognizable on the battlefield. Since it's shown by two different artists at two different periods in Eannatum's life, when he was a regular Sumerian king and when he was the King of Kish, it suggests that the peaked front panel of a chariot is unique only to Eannatum. It therefore isn't meant to be generic symbol of kings and royalty in general. The chariots are the same design and they're drawn in the same unusual manner, with the front panel on the side and the side panel on the front As explained in "Sumerian War Chariot Deconstructed", the above chariot also has the distinctive angled front as the chariots on the Standard of Ur.
Most importantly, the shield on the front of Eannatum's chariot on the Vulture Stele has the same crossed diagonals (which show up better in a different photograph) as the chariots on the Standard of Ur. The chariots of each of the Sumerian city-states (Ur, Uruk, Lagash, etc.) would have different shield decorations to make them recognizable on the battlefield. An example of a different shield decoration is shown on a chariot model.
Eannatum, the King of War:
It's been speculated on whether or not Eannatum personally led his troops into battle, or if he just depicted himself this way for propoganda purposes. On the Vulture Stele, it states that Eannatum was struck by an enemy arrow during the battle against Umma. He broke off the arrow himself, and continued the attack at the front of his men. This telling detail suggests that Eannatum personally led his troops into battle.
In the picture above, Eannatum is carrying a curved sickle sword. As explained in Weapons, the Royal Tombs of Ur, the sickle sword is a symbol of royalty. The picture below 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; indicating that he is the commander of the infantry. He also carries a sickle sword, just like King Eannatum. He's the only soldier on the Standard of Ur who has a sickle sword.
For these reasons, I identified him in The Standard of Ur: war side as not just "a soldier", but the king himself, leading his infantry into battle.
The King, on foot, leading his troops.
The King on the Standard of Ur takes an enemy prisoner. The prisoner is wounded, but he is still alive because he is performing the same ritualized gesture of obedience that is performed by a servant in the king's presence (see Note: The Standard of Ur: war side). This prisoner is actually the defeated enemy king, formally acknowledging his surrender to the Sumerian king. He has also been stripped of his clothes (this was the common treatment of prisoners in the ancient world) which symbolizes his degraded condition. The Sumerian king holds the robe of the defeated king in his hand and the skirt draped over his arm. The abject condition of the captive king is further emphasized by the fact that his fallen battle standard lies at his feet. The Sumerian king and the captive king are the only men on the standard who have robes, signifying their greater importance (the Sumerian king wears a robe and carries a standard during the formal surrender ceremony). The robe of the captive king signifies that he is the most important king among the enemies, which can only mean he is the King of Kish.
The captive King of Kish. This is the same king who was shown being captured in the picture above. His skirt and robe have been restored to him for the surrender ceremony, so the viewer can identify him as the captured king.
Like the Sumerian king, he is a specific king, not just a "generic" one. He had a name, although it isn't known. He wears the skirt of the Kish; so he's the "former King of Kish". His fate hangs in the balance. Perhaps his life will be spared in a magnanimous gesture from the Sumerian king, though it's far more likely he'll be executed. A hint to his fate would be whether or not he has a rope around his neck, like the other prisoners, but the figure is too damaged to tell. Although it's nice to speculate that he may be spared, in my opinion, his fate is a foregone conclusion. As long as he is alive he will be a potential threat to the victorious Sumerian king. He could be a rallying point for the opposition, so it would be risky to keep him alive. Besides, there cannot be two Kings of Kish, two "King of Kings".
If a king on the Standard of Ur can be identified by the standard he carries, it means there are two other kings in the battle scene. The men with standards aren't just "standard bearers", common soldiers from the rank-and-file, as is usually the case – they are kings. On the Standard of Ur, the presence of a standard is an artistic device used to identify a king, whether or not a king actually carried his own standard into battle.
The enemies retreat before the Sumerian king.
A Sumerian soldier dispatches a fallen enemy with his spear. This soldier is right behind the Sumerian king during the battle. Interestingly, he is the only person on the Standard of Ur who doesn't have both feet planted flat on the ground. He is shown kicking the enemy (which is a common practice used on cylinder seals to symbolize fighting, conflict, and war) thus demonstrating the violence of the attack – or he is stomping on something. Notice the square damaged area beneath the fallen enemy. It's just like the square damaged area seen on the soldier below. I would suggest that it is another fallen battle standard which is now missing due to damage. The Sumerian soldier is stomping on it (destroying it) as he drives his spear into the belly of the enemy king. Thus is symbolized the death of the king and the destruction of his army. I would futher suggest that this is the king of Mari, the Akkadian ally of the King of Kish. He is not a prisoner because he is not tied up and he still has his clothes on, unlike the other prisoners. This is the moment of his death.
One enemy king is dead, another captured. Only one king remains . . .
An enemy king in full retreat. His battle standard, which he proudly carried aloft on a pole going into the battle, is now carried in disgrace under his arm as he flees the battlefield. (See The "Standard" of Ur?)
I would suggest that this is Zuzu, the king of Akshak, the other Akkadian ally in the battle against Eannatum. He escaped this battle and lived to fight another day. He later led the two counterattacks of the Akkadian allies against Eannatum. The Eannatum Boulder states:
In the year that the king of Akshak rose up, Eannatum, the one nominated by Ningirsu, from the Antasura of Ningirsu Zuzu, the king of Akshak, all the way back to Akshak he smote, and he obliterated it.
Interestingly, Eannatum states he obliterated the city of Akshak, but he doesn't say he killed its king, Zuzu, even though he boasts of killing other kings. Perhaps the wily Zuzu once again got away.
Notice how the events and personages depicited on the Standard of Ur exactly match the known history of Eannatum:
The three enemy kings on the Standard of Ur correspond to the Akkadian kings that were allied against Eannatum. The most important one is the King of Kish, recognizable by his robe symbolizing his high rank. The other king is Zuzu of Akshak, who escaped and who will later lead the counterattacks against Eannatum. That leaves only the king of Mari (left) recognizable by a process of elimination since the other two kings have already been identified.
Kish, Akshak, and Mari by the Antasura of Ningirsu he defeated.
This is the specific battle, "by the Antasura (temple) of Ningirsu", that is depicted on the Standard of Ur. It was the single most important battle of Eannatum's life. This is the reason why it is immortalized on the standard.
Not only does the king on the Standard of Ur fight on foot at the head of his infantry, he also leads the chariot attack:
The king, in the lead chariot (partially restored).
The Standard of Ur and the Vulture Stele use the same format to portray the king's role in the battle scenes. First he is shown on foot leading his infantry into combat. Then he is shown in a chariot, leading another attack. Although depictions of Sumerian and Akkadian battles are somewhat "formulaic", these are the only two known examples where the king is shown fighting on foot and in a chariot. This format is shown on the Vulture Stele, below right:
Line drawing of the Vulture Stele. Click on the drawing to enlarge it. Also see a magnified view of the front and back of the stele.
On the back of the stele, Eannatum leads his troops to victory on foot and in a chariot. It also depicts him conducting the funeral rites, being properly respectful of the enemy dead; who, after all, are fellow Sumerians. This conciliatory attitude toward his defeated enemies is also shown on the Standard of Ur (expained below).
See Vulture Stele Translation on this website for more information on the Vulture Stele and a complete translation of the inscriptions.
The enemy in the angled skirt shows up on the "war side" end panel of the Standard of Ur, symbolically enacting the provocations that led to the war (see Standard of Ur: war side). What's interesting is the fact that the enemy is not wearing the slightly-angled skirt of the Kish. Instead, he wears the sharply-angled skirt of the Akkadian allies from Akshak or Mari. This suggests the Kish were drawn into a war with Eannatum in support of one of their allies. In other words, it wasn't the Kish who provoked the war with Eannatum, it was the allies. For this reason, I believe the above figure is Zuzu, the king of Akshak. The war started "the year that the king of Akshak rose up", and the Kish fought in support of him. He wears the same sharply-angled skirt that he wears in the battle scene. Although the Standard of Ur places the blame for the war squarely on the allies, it's easy to suspect that Eannatum was looking for any excuse to attack the Kish. The Vulture Stele suggests that the Kish were also allied with the Sumerian city of Umma in the earlier war against Eannatum. So he had a score to settle with the King of Kish. Also, in settling this score, he would thereby become the new King of Kish, the king of kings. So any excuse would do. It was almost inevitable that Eannatum would eventually attack the Kish.
This image has sometimes been ascribed to be Eannatum, but as stated by the writing in the upper left-hand corner, it is actually his brother, Enannatum I (it's an easy mistake to make: Eannatum, as opposed to Enannatum). After the death of Eannatum, his brother succeeded him as king. Enannatum had a short and mostly unremarkable reign of 7 years, when much of the power and territories won by Eannatum were lost. Enannatum was not a King of Kish, which means the Akkadians had regained their independence. It may have been won after Eannatum's last heroic battle, when he finally overreached himself and was killed in combat. Enannatum did manage to hold on to much of Lagash's power within Sumer itself, and he defeated the rival city of Umma in yet another territorial battle.
A Sumerian King of Kish: This shell plaque, in the Louvre, has been titled "Sumerian soldier with a battleaxe". For the reasons explained in Weapons, the Royal Tombs of Ur, I beleive it's possibly King Eannatum himself. He wears the traditional armor of the Sumerians draped across his shoulder. He also carries a sickle sword. Note the helmet with the knotted bun on the back. See the original plaque.
Eannatum, the King of Peace:
In the victory procession on the Standard of Ur, some of the men have their hands held in the prayer position, like the man on the left, which is done in the presence of a god. The man on the right is performing the "gesture of obedience", which is done in the presence of a king. Both gestures are appropriate in a procession honoring Eannatum, since he is both a king and a god.
The Victory Procession on the Standard of Ur is actually one long line, but it's cut in two halves and stacked one on top of the other to fit onto the standard. I have reconfigured the victory procession into one long line, the way it would appear when it was passing by. Notice that the Sumerians lead the procession while the defeated enemies bring up the rear. Click on the picture to enlarge it.
Part of the Victory Procession of the king. It's easy to see why the men in the angled-skirts were originally believed to be the friends and allies of the Sumerians. Here they seem to be joyfully bearing gifts to celebrate the king's victory; "bringing food to the picnic", as it were. However, the meaning and importance of this scene changes dramatically when it's realized that the men in the angled-skirts are actually the defeated enemy.
In the victory procession, the defeated enemies bear tribute to the Sumerian king. They are now his subjects, but not his slaves. They are not paraded before the Sumerian people like trophies of war; naked, bound, and in neck stocks, which one would expect to see in this portion of the panel. If the enemies were foreign barbarians (the Elamites, for instance) they would have been displayed in the victory procession as slaves or bound prisoners of war, like in a thousand other victory processions throughout the ancient world. On the top register of the war side of the standard, the enemy soldiers are naked, bleeding, and degraded, with their arms cinched up behind them and ropes around their necks. On the peace side, the enemy civilians are free and unfettered. They're not displayed as miserable slaves, like spoils of war. They aren't even under guard; there are no armed soldiers in the procession. The fact that the defeated enemies are not displayed as captives confirms my theory that they are Akkadian. Sumerians and Akkadians were often at war with one another. They battled each other for hundreds of years before the Standard of Ur was created and for hundreds of years afterward; so apparently they were in no big hurry to destroy one another. They were like two neighbors who had fought often enough to start making up some rules about it. They never waged wars of extermination against each other. They never sought to crush or destroy each other, or to enslave the population. Instead, the losing side would simply become a vassal state of the winning side. The losers also had to pay tribute (taxes) to the victorious king. Through a thousand years of history these roles were reversed many times. Sometimes it was the Sumerians who were the victors, sometimes it was the Akkadians. In either case, the defeated enemy would be treated firmly but fairly, because this is how the King of Kish (Sumerian or Akkadian) would rule his subjects.
This scene by itself doesn’t prove that Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur. Perhaps other kings would impose the same kind of peace on the Akkadians, but it seems most indicative of a king like Eannatum. More than any previous Sumerian king, Eannatum (judging by the Vulture Stele and his many commemorative tablets) understood the value of propaganda. By propaganda I don't mean deliberate lies or half truths, but rather, “information put out by an organization or government [or king] to promote a policy, cause, or idea ”. As an empire builder, Eannatum wanted to be portrayed as a king who is ruthless in war and magnanimous in peace. The message of the standard is clear: Resist the king and die in war, or join the king and live in peace. I call it the Pax Eannatum.
The defeated enemies bear tribute to the conquering king, but this is only right and proper, since they're the ones who lost the war. Otherwise they are treated quite leniently. In fact, this must be the “kindest, gentlest” victory procession ever recorded. It speaks volumes that ever since the standard was discovered (85 years ago) the men were thought to be the allies of the Sumerians rather than the defeated enemy. Ironically, this had been the purpose of the scene all along, that the enemies now appear as allies. On the Standard of Ur, the defeated enemies are now like the Sumerians, they are the subjects of the great king, Eannatum, the King of Kish. It demonstrates that the king provides a just peace for all of his subjects.
I would suggest that Eannatum's conciliatory efforts were not without precedence. Above is shown the cylinder seal of Mesanepada, the founder of the First Dynasty of Ur, who predates Eannatum. He was a Sumerian who conquered the Akkadians to thus become the new King of Kish. It shows a Sumerian and an Akkadian involved in a struggle together, not against each other. One is stabbing the lion that is attacking the other. I believe it conveys the idea that the Sumerians and the Akkadians were now allies, the same message shown on the peace side of the Standard of Ur.
There's another important point that needs to be considered:
Who is buried in PG 779?
PG 779, where the standard was found, is one of the largest and most impressive tombs in the cemetery of Ur. The tomb had four burial chambers; Queen Pu-abi's tomb had only one, as did the King's Grave, PG 789. Unfortunately, the tomb was thoroughly looted in antiquity, so it's not known who is buried there. In any case, it would have to b someone who was very important. Could Eannatum or his brother have been buried in PG 779? One would expect them to be buried in their native city of Lagash, but there might have been a political or religious reason for them to be buried in Ur. After all, they were no longer just regional kings; they were kngs of all of Sumer, not just one city-state.
It's probably too much of a stretch to believe that Eannatum or his brother is buried in PG 779, but there are a couple of other possibilities. PG 779 may be the tomb of his son. It's significant that Eannatum was succeeded by his brother rather than his son. This suggests that his son did not out-live him, or was too young to assume the kingship upon the death of Eannatum. It's believed that Eannatum was killed in battle, and his sudden death would have been a time of grave crisis for his empire, necessitating the assumption of power by an older, more experienced man. Even if the son died before his father, he may have been old enough before his death to have ruled Ur as a royal governor during the many absences of his father, while Eannatum was away at war. If so, upon his death he could have been buried in Ur in an impressive tomb with the artifacts of his father's legacy, much like the previously mentioned "grandson" of King Meskalamdug.
The royal prince, in his younger days, seen on the top register of the Standard of Ur, as described in The Standard of Ur: war side. In one hand he would have held a spear or battleaxe (which is now lost due to damage) imitating the soldiers standing in front of him. Across his shoulder he carries a royal scepter. The scepter belongs to his father, since a royal scepter symbolizes the right to rule, and here the prince is still too young to be a reigning monarch.
It's my guess (based on no archaeological evidence whatsoever) that the standard belongs to the royal prince, which would explain why he so incongruously appears on the field of battle. It's also possible that the tomb was meant for another of Eannatum's relatives. Another possibility is that PG 779 is the tomb of one of Eannatum's top officials, perhaps a general or a royal governor.
The best clue to the identity of the tomb's owner is the Royal Scepter that was found there. The gold bands around the scepter were originally in the form of cylinder seal impressions, which would identify the owner. Unfortunately, these seals are no longer recognizable. Perhaps modern forensic science could be used to decipher the seals by measuring the different densities of the metals where they were impressed, in much the same way that the stamped serial numbers on a gun can be recovered even after they have been filed down. It would certainly be worth investigating.
The Royal Scepter found in the same tomb as the Standard of Ur. To whom does it belong? There are many golden seals, suggesting many different royal titles.
There is one final point that needs to be addressed: the fact that PG 779 was built on top of PG 755, the tomb of Meškalamdug's "grandson". If the majority of the Royal Tombs were meant for the kings of the First Dynasty of Ur (Meskalamdug, Mesanepada, Akalamdug, A'anepada, Ur-Pabilsag, etc) then it seems highly unlikely that PG 779 would be so brazenly built smack on top of the tomb of Meskalamdug's grandson. This suggests that the tomb was built by someone other than the native kings of Ur. Perhaps it belongs to the client king appointed by Eannatum after he overthrew (killed) the original king of Ur who had rebelled against him. Perhaps this client king was none other than Ur-Pabilsag. Who knows, perhaps Ur-Pabilsag and the royal prince were one and the same.
I have made some attempt to associate Eannatum specifically with PG 779, though it isn't really necessary. It's enough that Eannatum was the king of Ur. It wouldn't be at all surprising that some of his artifacts might be found in the city's royal tombs. It must be remembered that Eannatum was the Alexander of his day, widely admired by friends and enemies alike as a great king and conqueror. Eannatum made Sumerians the masters of greatest empire they had ever known. The standard's tale of a glorious Sumerian victory over the Akkadians would be a source of pride for all Sumerians. He would be regarded as a Sumerian hero, transcendent of the regional interests of any particular city-state. He also controlled all the revenue of both Sumer and Akkad, along with the tribute from foreign countries, so he had plenty of money to spend on artistic works that glorified his reign (like all empire builders, Eannatum was aware of the importance of his "image"). During the thirty years of his reign, artistic works depicting Eannatum would have been rather commonplace; so his artifacts could easily show up in any tomb, in any city of Sumer. It seems more than a coincidence that so many of Eannatum's artifacts have survived the millennia, more than those of all his contemporaries combined. This probably because he had a lot more "artifacts" to begin with, due to his propaganda efforts to promote his agenda.
Besides, it isn't necessary that the king buried in the tomb also be the one depicted on the Standard of Ur. Eannatum could easily be the king on the standard, regardless of who was buried in the tomb where it was discovered. Eannatum was of such a great stature that his standard could be found even in the tomb of another king. It's quite probable that Eannatum's many client-kings, or high officials working under his authority, carried his standard along with their own. At one time there were probably many "Standards of Ur".
Summary of the possibilities that Eannatum is the king on the Standard of Ur:
The reign of Eannatum, 2454 - 2425 B.C., falls within the date range that's given for the Royal Tombs of Ur, 2600 - 2400 B.C. The fact that PG 779 was built on top of the tomb of Meskalamdug's "grandson", favors the later date (2400 B.C.) which coincides with the dates of Eannatum's reign.
Besides being the king of Lagash, Eannatum was also the king of Ur, which would explain why his standard was found in one the Royal Tombs.
Eannatum was the King of Kish. He defeated the Akkadians not just once, but three times. The Kish/Akkadians are the enemies on the standard. The battle shows the Sumerian king defeating the Kish and their Akkadian allies to thus assume the title of "The King of Kish", the king of kings. The Kish wear the short, slightly-angled skirt that is split in front. The allies, the people of Mari and/or Akshak, are the ones wearing the sharply-angled skirts. This is important because the standard shows allied enemies, not just one.
The three enemy kings depicted on the standard match the three known Akkadian kings who were allied against Eannatum. The kings are denoted by their standards.
Zuzu, the king of Akshak, is the enemy depicted on the "War" end panel of the standard, symbolically enacting the provocations that led to the war. The Kish were drawn into the war in support of Zuzu, in the year he rose up in rebellion. On the standard, Zuzu is shown fleeing from the battle with his standard under his arm. He will later lead the counterattacks against Eannatum.
The standard depicts the same battle, "via the Antasura of Ningirsu", that is described on the Eannatum Boulder, and probably on the damaged portions of the Vulture Stele as well.
The shape of the helmets on the Vulture Stele and the Standard of Ur are the same. They also match the helmets found in the Royal Tombs of Ur.
The spots on the shields of Eannatum's army on the Vulture Stele match the spots on the soldiers' cloaks and chariots on the Standard of Ur. The armies of the Sumerian city-states would have different markings to make them identifiable on the battlefield.
The peaked panel on the lead chariot on the standard matches Eannatum's chariot on the Vulture Stele. The design of the chariots on the standard and the stele are the same, with the crossed diagonals on the shield and the same distinctive angled front. They are also drawn in the same artistic manner, with the front panel on the side and the side panel on the front.
The Standard of Ur is done in the same artistic style as Eannatum's Vulture Stele, and the depictions of Ur-Nanshe, Eannatum's grandfather.
The formats on the Standard of Ur and the Vulture Stele are the same, showing the king leading his men into combat on foot and in a chariot. These are the only two known examples of this particular format.
Both the standard and the stele show the king being conciliatory to his defeated enemies.
The lenient treatment of the defeated enemies portrayed in the victory procession confirms that they are Akkadian, and not foreign barbarians. This lenient treatment of the enemy also corresponds to Eannatum's known attempts to create a coalition of states.
The kings on the stele and the standard carry sickle swords, a symbol of royalty.
Although it's unlikely that Eannatum or his brother was buried in PG 779, the tomb may have been meant for one of his relatives or high officials. Even so, the standard need not be related to the person buried in PG 779. Eannatum could still be the king on the Standard of Ur, regardless of the tomb where it was found. Eannatum was a Sumerian hero, with a long and successful career. His artifacts could easily be found in any Sumerian tomb of this period.
The hands folded in prayer, and the "gesture of obedience" performed by some of the men in the victory procession is entirely appropriate for Eannatum, who is both a king and a god.
Eannatum is the king who best fits both the War and Peace sides of the Standard of Ur.
When writing The Standard of Ur: war side, I noticed that I was drawing many parallels between the Standard of Ur and the Vulture Stele (the sickle swords, the peaked panels, the helmets, and the king leading his troops on foot and in a chariot). This is what first led me to suspect that Eannatum might be the king on the standard. Although at first he doesn't seem to be the most likely candidate, there is overwhelming evidence to indicate that Eannatum is actually the king on the Standard of Ur because the events on the standard match so perfectly with the known history of Eannatum. As previously mentioned, Mesanepada would be my second choice for the king on the Standard of Ur, and one would expect to find his grave in the same vicinity as the other kings of Ur. If this indeed true, it means that the history of Mesanepada and Eannatum were closely paralleled, and many of the same events occurred in the reigns of both kings. This is not entirely implausible, so in the the meantime, I will leave it to the reader to make up his own mind about it.