The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The "Standard" of Ur?
Standard of Ur:  Narrative
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
Mesopotamian Prostitutes
Munus-kin, a prostitute
Six Sumerian Prostitutes
The Babylonian Woman
The Babylonian Wife
Babylonian Prostitutes
Babylonians in Bed
Temple Prostitutes
In Flagrante Delicto
Sumerian Queens
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

This bas-relief is part of a small plaque from Diqdiqqeh, a suburb of the Sumerian city of Ur.
The plaque is dated ca. 1850 – 1500 BC, during the Old Babylonian period. It is part of a collection in the British Museum. Leonard Woolley found it during the 1931 excavation of Ur.
I found it while searching the website UrOnline. The plaque was originally a full-length nude, but it was broken in half. There are many similar plaques from Diqdiqqeh. They were made
for mass production. Clay was formed in molds and then fired in a kiln. Many of the plaques are depictions of naked prostitutes.

Woolley’s drawing of the plaque, from his field notes. See the entire page.

He describes her as a "nude female figure in high relief; missing from hips down;
slightly rounded back; carefully made; round face; hair arranged in curls and ringlets;
hands clasped together below breast."

  Actual size. Height: 64mm (2.5 inches)

For the sake of reference, I call her The Babylonian Woman. I wanted to call her
The Woman of Diqdiqqeh, but I haven't the slightest idea how to pronounce "Diqdiqqeh".

I first planned to use this picture of the statue on a new page about Babylonian prostitutes.
She’s not really a prostitute, but I wanted to use this image because she is easily
the most attractive woman that is portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques.

Her face is very realistic. It looks like it was modeled from real life. Her face has the features
of an actual woman, and not just the generic features of a stereotypical female.

After I realized this was a portrait of an actual woman, it no longer seemed appropriate
to include her on the prostitute page (since she wasn't really a prostitute) so I decided
to place her somewhere else on the website.

There was only one problem.

Unfortunately, the statue is marred by damage to the woman’s breasts. It’s very unsightly,
and rather disturbing. It ruins the picture.

Normally, I would just find another picture to use, but in this case, I didn’t have a lot of choices. Many of the female faces from Diqdiqqeh are either damaged, or ugly, or both.
Not to mention… bizarre.


Many of the faces were crude to begin with, but the ravages of time has rendered them grotesque. Many of the figures are caricatures, intentionally or not.

With so little to choose from, I needed to use the picture of The Babylonian Woman.

I tried to remedy the situation by cropping the picture and making it into a “head shot”,
a portrait of her face, but then the image lost all meaning.

I also tried to post the picture “as is”, but I couldn’t get used to it. It bothered me. It just bothered me.

Damage on statues of human beings can sometimes look like wounds on their bodies.
In this case, it looked like the Babylonian woman had suffered a grievous injury, like she
had been in a terrible accident. It was painful to look at.

I decided to photographically repair the statue, for the exact same reason that I restored the face of Eannatum (several years ago).

This is king Eannatum, heroically leading his charging chariots to victory, but it looks like
he has suffered a hideous facial wound, ghastly to behold. I couldn’t bear to look at it.
It’s unsettling to see the king in this condition, so I decided to digitally repair the picture
and restore the king to his former glory. I spent hours doing it, but for me, it was worth it.
This is how Eannatum the Great is supposed to look. See the entire picture.

I also did the same thing for Sargon, Ku-Baba, and the king on the Standard of Ur.

I recently finished work on another plaque from Diqdiqqeh:

I wanted to photographically restore The Babylonian Woman to her former condition,
so people could see her the way she looked before.

I started working on the statue. The first part was the easy part. Within a minute I had
blotted out all the damage. The hard part was trying to create the contours of the breasts,
and to make them blend in with the rest of the body. This required the blending of light and shadows. I didn't have to do a complete restoration, because for some inexplicable reason, none of the 100+ nudes portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques have nipples.

The restoration took many hours of painstaking work, and I wasn't too sure if I could achieve
the desired result. Several times I wondered, “Why am I wasting my time with this?"

At last, I finally finished. This is how The Babylonian Woman is supposed to look:

Click on any of the above three images to enlarge it in a separate window. Click here to see the full-size version of the original.

After I finished, just before I closed the photo-editor on my computer. I took one final look
at the picture of The Babylonian Woman in her original condition. I had seen it for less than
a minute before I covered up the damage. Then something struck me as being rather odd.
I thought, “Why is the damage confined only to the breasts?”

The entire statue is damaged, of course, since it is more than thirty-five centuries old.
Besides being broken in half, there is cracking, pitting, and erosion across the entire
surface area.  But the damage is minor and it's evenly spread. It’s only in the breast area
that the damage is localized and severe.

I thought maybe the damage happened when the statue was buried so long ago in the
ancient past. Perhaps the breasts, being the “high spots”, were susceptible to damage 
by weight and abrasion while the statue was buried in debris for thousands of years.

Then I decided, “No, that’s not it.” I had seen a hundred of these statues. I remembered
that the face and hands are the high spots, not the breasts. Any damage done by weight
and abrasion would happen to the face and hands. It would be difficult (but not impossible)
to damage only the breasts without also damaging the face and hands.

  Profile of a similar statue.

When I looked again at the statue of The Babylonian Woman, I was shocked by what I saw.

This kind of damage isn’t done by weight or abrasion, or by cracking, pitting, and erosion.
There’s no natural cause that could result in this kind of damage. The breasts were
repeatedly struck, chipped away by a knife or a chisel. Notice the wedge-shaped profile
of the blade.

It seems that the statue of The Babylonian Woman was deliberately and sexually mutilated.

I didn’t want to believe it. I thought, “If the breasts were deliberately damaged, it seems
someone would have mentioned it.” I went looking for the original record. I thought maybe 
I had missed something in the liner notes.

When I found the original record for the statue, there was no mention of the damage done
to the breasts. Neither does the damage appear in Leonard Woolley’s drawing.

I looked again at the statue.

The patina on the damage is the same as the surrounding stone. If it were done recently,
the damage would be lighter. This means the damage was done in ancient times. This is probably when the statue was broken in half and then thrown into the trash.

The statue is terracotta, fired in a kiln. It is very hard, which is why it lasted for thousands
of years. It would take considerable force to damage this statue. The marks on the breasts indicate that they were repeatedly struck by a sharp knife.

On the other hand, the marks may indicate “pressure points”. The knife was pressed hard
against the statue, then twisted to chip away the stone.

Either way, it took a deliberate, focused effort to sexually mutilate this statue.

It’s very disturbing. One has to wonder about the man who did this. Did he hate all women,
or just one woman in particular?  

                     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *   

All this talk about damage to the breasts has distracted us from the true meaning and
importance of this statue. It’s not her breasts that are important, it’s her face, and what’s
most meaningful about this statue is the Babylonian woman herself. These are the reasons
why I wanted to include her picture in the first place.

The Babylonian woman looks at you with a calm and steady gaze.

Woolley’s description of the statue as being “carefully made” applies especially to the face.
It isn’t crude or comical like some of the other faces on the Diqdiqqeh plaques, nor is it
simply a generic portrait of "a woman", like all the other female faces in Mesopotamian art.

The round face and the plump cheeks, the rounded nose and the small mouth… Her face
is very distinctive, very individualistic. She isn't beautiful in the classic sense of the word,
but her face is pretty and appealing. She has her own look going on.

The artist clearly patterned the face on the features of a woman he knew. Perhaps she was
his wife or his girlfriend, or perhaps she was merely a woman that he found attractive.

Unlike most nudes portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques, she isn't a prostitute. She doesn’t perform the lewd gesture of “cupping the breasts” that is specific to prostitutes, she doesn’t wear a belt, and she doesn’t wear jewelry (all of this is explained on the page about Babylonian Prostitutes).

This statue is simply a nude, tastefully and artistically done. It expresses an appreciation
for the beauty of the female body, as so often seen in Greek and Roman statuary (but not
so much in the ancient Near East). This is another reason why I think the woman was personally known by the artist. He did not, for prurient reasons, create this statute to be
a prostitute. He created it to be a realistic portrait of a woman he knew (and probably loved).

Although the Babylonian woman doesn't look like any other woman in Mesopotamian art,
I suggest that somewhere in Diqdiqqeh, in the second millennium BC, there was a woman
who looked just like this:

Also see The Babylonian Wife.

January 16, 2019