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Standard of Ur

The Standard of Ur is a hollow box and its original function is unknown. It was found in grave PG 779, a large royal grave with several tomb chambers which had been thoroughly robbed in antiquity. It was named at the time of excavation by Leonard Woolley because it was found near the shoulder of a man as if it were being carried on a pole like a battle standard.

The standard is decorated on all four sides with mosaic scenes made with incised shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli inlay, which were originally set in bitumen on a wooden frame. Each side is divided into three registers. The end panels show fanciful scenes, they were the most damaged and their restoration is uncertain. The two long side shows a scene of war and a scene of peace and prosperity. These two scenes also address two aspects of Sumerian kingship -- the ruler as a warrior and as a mediator between his people and the gods.

It was found crushed by the weight of soil and stones and the wooden structure had completely decayed. The arrangements were ingeniously preserved by Woolley by applying wax.

Peace/Banquet Scene

This side of the Standard presents a completely different theme from the scene of battle on the other side.

Standard of Ur, Peace Scene. ~2500 BC (Early Dynastic III). From grave PG 779, Ur. British Museum, ME 121201. Image © L M Clancy.

In the top register a banquet with religious overtones is shown. Banquet scenes, often shown on cylinder seals of this period, were associated with religious rituals. The king is distinguished by being the largest figure in the scene and by his fleece skirt. Sitting with the king are six men who all hold cups in their right hands. On the left, three standing attendants administer to the banquet participants, while on the right a lyre is played by a musician. Next to him with long hair and clasped hands is a vocalist of some sort.

The middle register shows the abundance of the land. Bald Sumerians wearing fringed skirts lead bulls and goats and carry fish. On the left, a man standing behind a bull has hair, a beard, a different belt and skirt. It seems he is leading the people from the bottom register, who carry produce and backpacks. Their appearance indicates that they may be northerners.

War Scene