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Kingship in Sumerian Art

The changing relationship of the king both to his subjects and to the divinities is well represented by the Uruk Vase (Uruk era), Stele of the Vultures (Early Dynastic era), Stele of Naram-Sin (Agade/Sargonic epoch) and Stele of Ur-Nammu (Ur III dynasty). In addition to fitting into the context of developments from the 4th to 3rd milenia BC, each monument also casts light on different parts of Sumerian civilization, including fruits of the land, ideology of war, growing royal power and civic development. The monuments have certain commonalities. Firstly, they are all sculpted in stone, a fact which instantly categorizes them as luxury items. Second, they were all seemingly commissioned by the powerful city rulers, as evidenced by their focus on the king and kingship. Third, they all heavily incorporate religiosity.

While these three facts are maintained in each of the monuments, their natures differ in each era: the detail and format of the carving evolves; the ideology of who and what is an ideal ruler changes; and the role of religion adapts amidst new circumstances. The Uruk Vase, Stele of the Vultures, Stele of Naram-Sin and Stele of Ur-Nammu reflect the constancies and changes of kingship and culture in Sumer from the 4th to 3rd millennia. The timeline of the artifacts follows the growth in kingship, paralleled by not only the size of the monuments (96 cm, 1.8 m, 2 m and 3 m) but also the imagery of the king, which goes from stereotyped and baldly priestly to individualized and ideal, to a more accessible king who engages in various civic duties.


Moorey, Peter. 1999. Ancient mesopotamian materials and industries: the archaeological evidence. Ann Arbor: Eisenbrauns. (Page 23 deals with the rarity of stone)

Louvre. Stele of Naram-Sin. (accessed 11 March 2011)

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. The Case of the Missing Vase. (accessed 11 March 2011)

Lloyd, Setton. 1978. The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. (Page 157-8 for a very good description of Uruk Vase) (Page 246-9 sheds light on the stelae.)