and Scene Concepts
and Literature of Sumer
of the Inanna Troupe
of Gods Appearing in the Play
History & Geographical Description of Sumer
Myth: Creativity and the Dual Nature of the Divine Mother
During the 4th millennium BC the city of Uruk was dedicated to
the fertility goddess Inanna and the shepherd god, Dumuzi. Uruk
(Erech) lay in what is now, Southern Iraq, where the sweet waters
of the Tigris & Euphrates (the primordial father/creator god)
meet the salt marshes and the salt water of the Persian Gulf (the
primordial mother/creator god).
For two thousand
years previous (6000BC), the climate had been warm and humid and
the stone age people (Ubaid People) settled as the glaciers of
the last Ice Age retreated (1).
The temperatures of that region began to steadily cool and the
air was becoming drier. People slowly entered the fertile land
Over the years, immigrants from the dry lands of the steppes in
Northern Iraq, settled in the fertile Euphrates valley of the
South. Attracted by irrigation agriculture they built new villages
on the river banks and clustered on ancient settlements which
were the homes of the great gods upon whom prosperity depended.
As the populations increased in size their ingenuity was challenged.
They invented the plough and the sled for dragging grain. They
designed chariots (2)
and sails for ships so they could speedily deliver goods to other
communities. Surplus food accumulated and was redistributed or
used in trade for metals in Anatolia (Turkey). Spices, precious
stones came from India and gold came from the deserts of Egypt.
For their own part, they quarried obsidian, borrowed the idea
of the potters’ wheel and started casting copper alloys
which began the era of industrial production.
When the glaciers retreated they left behind inland lakes and
rivers and sometimes, seas. The topography of Iraq shows the land
to have a long passage of eroded terrain running down the middle
of the country forming large gully or depression. To the west
of the depression lies desert and to the east of the depression
lie the steppes (plains) and mountain ranges. For images of Paleolithic
art please refer to the Picture File on this site.
2. Chariots had the axle attached to the wheels
so the whole unit moved. Also, the chariots were drawn by onagers,
wild asses. They were larger and stronger than donkeys, were pale
in color with a large dark stripe down their backs.
Palm groves were developed, fields and orchards were cultivated
and in between lay patches of steppe and desert. Villages disappeared
and the inhabitants clustered to make towns and cities. The authority
of chiefs and priests expanded as the digging and maintenance
of canals and equable distribution of water required more administration.
Regardless of the ambitious irrigation projects, fertile land
became more scarce. Those who owned more fertile land became more
powerful and wealthy. Technical expertise grew, architecture and
artistic accomplishment flourished, writing (3)
was invented to record transactions and finally, after 6000 years
of relative peace, there arose armed conflict. Marauding hordes
descended from the mountains (4).
Cities became fortified and well defined territories populated
by priests, scribes, architects, artists, overseers, merchants,
factory workers, soldiers, peasants, religious rulers, or war
leaders. Sumer had become urbanized.
3. Writing evolved from pictographic style to phonetic
style when scribes realized that the picture that named one thing
sounded like the name of another. So they invented a symbol that
conveyed the sound.
word for “mountain” is “kur”. The literal
meaning is “foreign land”. Marauding hordes would
descend from the mountains to pillage etc. “Kur” is
also the name of the monster that lies curled in the space between
the Underworld and the primordial ocean. The Kur is terrifying
but is also the protector, a buffer between chaos and organized
experience of life in the Aboveworld. Also, the door to the Underworld
existed in the Lapis lazuli mountain. Inanna enters the Underworld
through this portal.
1⁄2 square mile city of Uruk (modern day Warka) was a coalition
of two cities: Kullaba dedictated to An, the sky god and E-anna,
the main dwelling place of Inanna, the fertility goddess and Queen
of Heaven and Earth. In the center of E-anna stand the remains
of a temple tower or ziggurat built in the 2nd millennium not
unlike the Maya temples of the Yucatan and Central America. Underneath
the remains seven previous temples have been unearthed dating
back to approximately 5000 BC. (See floor plans and picture of
ealiest temples in Picture File). Excavations show one of the
unearthed temples was divided into a pair. One side dedicated
to Inanna and the other side dedicated to Dumuzi, her lover-fertility
These temples were immense in size including tall columns approximately
ten feet in diameter, courtyard decorated in colorful mosaics
in geometrical patterns. (See Picture File for temple features).
In later centuries pink wash covered the inner walls representing
the glaring sunlight. In addition there were brilliantly colored
frescoes. The final temple rose 15 meters above ground, had a
top or a staging area which contained the sanctuary where the
priests of the sky god officiated.
Houses were built of carefully arranged oblong baked mud bricks
consisting of three buildings containing 2-4 spacious rooms each
looking onto a courtyard. (See picture file for more images)
produced cylinder seals (cylinders were engraved with a scene
that was rolled onto hot wax, wet clay etc.) or stamps to identify
a particular owner of baskets or jar stoppers. Just as today’s
miniature art of postage stamps signify what our civilization
is concerned about, the ancient Sumerian stamp seals and cylinder
seals give us clues to the concerns of the Sumerians.
The cylinder seal was made of semi-precious stone 1 1⁄2
to 5” long and anywhere from 1⁄2 to 1” thick.
They were pierced lengthwise with a hole so they could be worn
on a string around the neck. The surface, when rolled on clay
etc., of course, could be repeated. Scenes depicted massacres
of prisoners, cattle walking in herds, gathered in pens or attacked
by lions or mysterious ceremonies conducted by priests.
Image A. The
sun-god rising from the mountain. In the center Utu, the sun-god,
rises from the mountain, with rays from his shoulders and a saw
in his hand. To the right of Utu is Enki, the god of water and
wisdom, who is accompanied by his two-faced minister, Isimud.
To the left of Utu is a vegetation goddess, and next to her a
hunter (ea. 2200 B.C.). (British Museum.)
Image B. The
water-god in his sea house (Abzu) (ea. 2200 B.C.). On the extreme
right is Enki, the water-god, enthroned in his sea house. To the
left is Utu, the sun-god, with his rays and saw. The middle deity
is unidentified. (British Museum.)
journey (ea. 2200 B.C.).
An unidentified deity holding a plow is traveling in a boat whose
stern ends in a snake and whose prow ends in the body of a god
propelling the boat. (Iraq Museum.)
Art objects found in Uruk show a fully developed civilization.
Vases of alabaster, silver and hammered gold engraved with scenes
and names of their owners. Also found were game boards constructed
of shell, bone, lapis lazuli and red limestone hollowed out to
contain the game pieces, a bull’s head hammered of gold
and bearded lapis lazuli, a wood sedan chair decorated with mosaic
inlay and a gold lions’ heads. (See picture file under “Objects”
for more images.)
The thoughtful work of the Sumerians radiated over the entire
Near-East influencing other oriental cultures. It is deduced that
Egypt borrowed heavily from Sumerian culture. For example, cylinder
seals and their designs of zoomorphic renderings were adopted.
The design for the royal tombs and possibly the early Sumerian
pictographs influenced Egypts hieroglyphic language. Syrian architecture
in the 3rd millennium had a strong Sumerian flavor. The Sumerian
palace library held Sumerian and Semitic texts in cuneiform writing.
Sumerian cylinder seals have been found in Iran, Turkey, Lebanon
and Palestine. It is puzzling, however, that 300 kilometers north
of Sumer, in the upper Tigris Valley, there is little or no evidence
of the Sumerian culture. The inhabitants fought with maces and
slings, made pottery by hand and ignored writing. It appears the
Sumerians thought their northern neighbors to be foreign and culturally
Pure Sumerian culture
ended in 1595 BC when the northerners (Hittites, Kassites) invaded
and governed. The Sumerians never willingly bowed under their
dominance. Interestingly, the conquerors piously collected old
Sumerian texts, artwork and ceremonial activities implicitly showing
honor and appreciation to this ancient civilization.
No one knows where the Sumerians came from. What can be deduced
is that three original language groups settled in Southern Iraq:
the Sumer, the Semites and a small group of unknown origin. All
shared the same way of life, institutions, artistic traditions
and religious beliefs. Each spoke a different dialect. Scientific
examination of grave sites show that the Sumer speaking people
may have originated in today’s Armenia and Mediterranean
regions. However, their language was not related to the Greeks,
Hittites, or Indo-Aryans and is not related to any other language.
Their myths and legends reflect rivers, marshes, reeds, tamarisks,
and palm trees typical of Southern Iraq indicating they had always
lived there. If this is true, then the people of Sumer were directly
related to the Neolithic farmers in the region before 8000 BC.
Please see the Bilbliography for sources of information and images.
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