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Diorite statue of Gudea from Girsu, around 2120 BC BC, today in the Louvre

Gudea (also Gudea von Lagaš ) was a city prince ( Ensi ) of the Sumerian state of Lagaš , who, according to current research, probably around 2141 BC. Until approx. 2122 BC Ruled. Other dates go from the year 2122 BC. BC to 2102 BC BC or 2080 BC Until 2060 BC Chr. From.

Gudea, who is sometimes referred to as the priest-prince or priest-king in recent literature, was the third and most important ensi of the second dynasty of Lagaš during the Gutean rule in Sumer and Akkad . He is the most famous Sumerian personality and one of the most famous people in the history of Mesopotamia thanks to several traditional statues, which were mainly made of diorite , as well as various inscriptions on cylinders and cones - here above all architectural anthems .

The situation in Sumer before Gudea

The situation of southern Mesopotamia, later Babylonia , at the time of Gudea “Sumer and Akkad”, was at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. BC unstable and marked by armed conflicts.

After several hundred years of mostly armed conflict between the state of Lagaš and the city-state of Umma over the border between the two areas and the use of water and pasture land, the Ensi Ummas, Lugal-Zagesi , was able to manage around 2280 BC. BC (more recent literature mentions a time around 2425 BC) decide the conflict in Umma's favor. His victory was so extensive that he was able to at least partially destroy Girsu and Lagaš.

About 75 years after these catastrophic events for Lagaš, the traditional way of life of the Sumerians was severely affected. A phase of foreign rule followed. First the aggressive neighbors of the Sumerians, the Akkadians , had sovereignty over Sumer for about 150 years, then the Guteans from the Zagros Mountains in the neighboring Iranian highlands for about 100 years . Although these had ended the rule of the Akkadians, they in turn exercised supremacy over Sumer in the following period. Cities like Ur and Uruk were forced to submit to the Guteans.

Lagaš, however, seems to have retained a certain independence, even if the Guteans at least nominally exercised supremacy over Lagaš. Even under Gudea's predecessor Ur-Baba , Lagaš was able to expand his influence over large areas of Sumer and push back the influence of the Guteans and the Sumerian city-states .

Nevertheless, like Gudea later, Ur-Baba seems to have had a good relationship with the Guteans. The balance of power in Sumer was unresolved after a long epoch of wars, many cities were devastated and the infrastructure largely destroyed. In this precarious situation, the restorer Gudea came to power.

Gudea's origin and legitimation

Name and title of Gudea on the shoulder of statue A in Sumerian cuneiform, to be read in columns from right to left ("Gudea / Ensi / von Lagasch")

Nothing is known about Gudea's origins. He succeeded Ur-Baba on the throne of Lagaš, the father of his first wife, Ninalla . In inscriptions he describes himself as the "one who has no mother, who has no father". However, it is likely to be a religious-political statement with the purpose of elevating his personal protective goddess Nansche to his mother and thus bringing himself into a god-like position. After his death, three scribes who lived during the reigns of Šu-Sin and Amar-Sin , posthumously referred to Gudea on inscriptions as the “God of Lagaš”. In contrast, there is no evidence of deification during Gudea's lifetime. During his reign, the god determinative dingir is missing in contemporary documents .

It is unclear whether he had a second monogamous relationship with his second wife, Geme-šulpae, or whether he had several women at the same time, only one of whom acted as the "ruling" queen, as was customary in the subsequent Ur-III period . Gudea presented himself as the “shepherd” called by the city god Ningirsu for the land of Sumer: “ ... right (moderate) shepherd who was called into the interior based on the constant word (his city god) Ningirsu ... “Gudea is also the first tangible ruler in history who can be portrayed as“ rightful ”and“ wise ”, a tradition that has been maintained until modern times. For unexplained reasons, the second dynasty of Lagaš - and thus also Gudea - is not immortalized on the Sumerian royal list , although it was obviously of far greater importance than many other dynasties listed there.

Gudea as builder, peace and war lord

Gudea on the fragment of a broken stele found in Girsu, now in the Louvre

In his inscriptions, Gudea refers to having only done works pleasing to the gods. In his rather long and, for the otherwise warlike time, relatively peaceful reign, Gudea excelled above all as a builder of temples (of which the E-ninnu temple, the central Ningirsu temple in Girsu , should be mentioned) Promoter of cultic service as well as promoter of trade (diorite from Magan (probably today in Oman ), cedars from the Amanos Mountains / Lebanon and plane trees from the upper Euphrates ). In general, under Gudea there was a very extensive trade network that reached as far as Dilmun (which is now probably to be found in Bahrain ). He seems to have made trade agreements with the Guteans, which ensured the passage of his caravans to the north and northwest. Gudea may even symbolically recognize the supremacy of the Guteans over his state. In practice, however, the two realms seem to have complemented rather than mastered each other.

Gudea's cylinders with temple hymns (cylinder B on the left, cylinder A on the right), today in the Louvre

The aforementioned construction program is of particular importance during Gudea's reign. In many cities he had temples restored or rebuilt. 15 temples are said to have been built in Girsu alone. He had canals renewed and funded various construction projects to rebuild the partly destroyed cities and the destroyed infrastructure. So it is not surprising that one of his nicknames - based on one of his statues - is " the architect with the plan ". The building hymns that were written for this occasion are among the most important testimonies in Sumerian literature. The best-known, 1363-line temple hymn on the two "cylinders of Gudea", which was written on the occasion of the construction of the Eninnu temple, describes how Enlil encouraged Ningirsu to have a temple built. The latter then appears to Gudea in his sleep, gives Gudea the blueprint and instructs him to build the temple. After Gudea initially had his dream interpreted as usual, he immediately began to build this temple. The festive inauguration with the blessing of the temple, Ningirsus and Gudeas by Enlil crowned Gudea's nocturnal inspiration.

Even if Gudea presented himself as a Prince of Peace, wars broke out under his reign, for example against the country of Anschan in Elam in the Iranian highlands. Today we have reports from inscriptions only about this campaign. Here, too, Gudea presents himself as pleasing to God and reports on the spoils of war that he brought to Eninnu in Ningirsu's temple . Other actions, such as the “ opening of the roads from the Upper to the Lower Sea ” - that is, the opening of trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf - could hardly be managed without armed force. The ancient cities of Nippur (the religious center of Sumer) and Uruk became dependent on Lagasch. Lagaš itself was under the sovereignty of Urs , but in fact the city was independent under Gudea. There is some evidence that Ur was under the influence of Lagaš, after all, he appointed Enanepada , one of the daughters of his predecessor and father-in-law Ur-Baba, as Entu priestess (it is likely that Ur-Baba herself did this, however would have). How great Gudea's influence was can be seen from the fact that his statues were found not only in Lagash's area, but also in Ur, Uruk, Adab and Nippur. Gudea also seems to have had a good relationship with Eridu .

In summary, it can be stated that Gudea's policy was characterized by a loose sovereignty over the Sumerian city-states without attempting to really govern the cities, as the kings of Akkad had done. That would also have contradicted Gudea's restorative attitude, as it was shaped by the restoration of the old Sumerian order - to which the city-statehood belonged. It is more likely that the supremacy of Lagaš as a trading center, for which Gudea was responsible, was the unifying bracket of Sumer. The trade relations that Lagaš maintained made the state prosperous. Only then was Gudea able to finance his promotion of science, the arts and the expansion of the infrastructure.

Gudea as a restorer of Sumerian traditions

The state of Lagasch

As in the early dynastic period, under Gudea the state of Lagaš was formed mainly by the tri-city alliance Girsu, Lagaš and Nina -Siraran. Residence and cult center was not the eponymous city of Lagaš, but the city of Girsu. The place E-Nim-MAR.KI-Gu'aba was the seaport Lagaš '. Overall, the size of the country varied again and again. According to current estimates, Gudea ruled over an area with 17 cities, around 160,000 hectares and more than 200,000 inhabitants. The centuries-old dispute between Lagaš and the city-state Umma over the course of the border between the two states, which began around 2280 BC. BC even led to the destruction of Girsu, seems to have no longer played a role at the time of Gudea.

Gudea's reign came at the end of the Akkadian period of Mesopotamia. The formerly powerful empire of Akkad had shrunk back to a city-state. Gudea took the opportunity and tried to renew the ancient Sumerian culture. He promoted the Sumerian language , Sumerian literature, and the rest of Sumerian culture. The temple buildings already mentioned were also part of his restoration program, which was not limited to the construction of places of worship, but also expressed itself in the promotion of the ancient Sumerian faith. Thus, under Gudea, various religious texts were codified and brought into a form in which they were to shape the Mesopotamian religion - both the Babylonians and the Assyrians - for the next almost 2000 years. All in all, Gudea's attitude can be described as very conservative. In terms of public image, too, he went other ways than the warlike Akkadian princes. This is probably how the transfiguring self-portrayal as a Prince of Peace is to be understood, although this claim did not correspond to reality. The use of the old title Ensi - although this actually fell behind a title of king or high priest - is a sign of this return to and connection to the old Sumerian traditions. Here you can also see another humble bow to the gods. However, Akkadian has also been preserved (see below).

Gudea statues

Of particular importance and notoriety are the statues depicting Gudea. Most of the statues - some in a standing, some in a seated position - depict Gudea praying . Only one statue, N , shows him holding a bottle from which fertility-giving water flows. The authenticity of this statue has often been questioned, as only gods were actually depicted in this way and because calcite was used here differently than usual. There are also stylistic differences to the other statues. However, the correct Sumerian inscription speaks for the statue's authenticity. Most of the statues were dedicated to certain gods, mostly deities who were particularly important to Lagaš, such as the state god Ningirsu or his wife, the city goddess of Lagaš and Girsu, Baba . After elaborate ceremonies, the statues were considered to be the image of the sitter in Sumerian times, who could continue to be venerated in this way even after his death and posthumous deification . The fact that Gudea's statues were offered sacrifices after his death has been proven by lists of victims found several times.

On the other hand, the statues were also placeholders as prayers on behalf of Gudea himself. On the most famous statue, the so-called “architect with the plan” - so named because the seated Gudea has a plan on his lap - can you can read the following: “ Gudea brought the diorite down from the Magan Mountains and shaped it into a stone statue. <I have brought (her) to my king's house: life be <my gift> he named her (the statue)>. He gave this to the stone statue as an order. This statue - it is neither precious metal nor lapis lazuli, neither copper nor tin nor bronze will anyone apply to this work. It's made of diorite! May it be placed at the water drinking place. Nobody can destroy them by force! Statue, your eye is that of Ningirsu. “But of all things the first of these statues that was found had its head cut off.

The water drinking place described in the text was the place in Eninnu where the rulers and dignitaries of the Lagaš state were traditionally worshiped. The statues were usually about life-size (only one statue, D , is larger). The statues, probably earlier chronologically, were made from local types of stone (alabaster, limestone, soapstone). Later statues could be made out of diorite because Gudea's commercial policy now paid off. The statues made of diorite were on average a little more voluminous than the statues made of easier-to-work stone.

In addition, the statues were a link between Sumerian tradition and Akkadian heritage. The individual traits and muscle structure were adopted from the Akkadians. The statics and blockiness of the figures, which negate the real body proportions, go back to Sumerian traditions. The proportional overemphasis on the head and the depiction of a shaven head or a head with a large headdress made of spirals (probably made of fur, sometimes called a turban ) is also striking . These elements can also be traced back to older Sumerian traditions, because typical Akkadian depictions were full head hair and a long, wavy beard. Stylistically, Gudea is otherwise shown in almost all statues in the same way, only in one statue ( M ) he does not wear Sumerian clothing, but is dressed in the tradition of the Akkadian kings.

The statues are of fundamental importance in other ways as well. The first of them (A) was excavated by Ernest de Sarzec in Girsu (as were B to K). The majority of the others were also found by Sarzec or during later robbery excavations that are said to have taken place in Girsu (M to Q robbery excavation campaign 1924). Most of these statues, some of which are now kept in the Louvre in Paris , were also excavated by the French archaeologist Léon Heuzey . Last but not least, François Thureau-Dangin used the extensive texts on it to decipher the Sumerian language and thus established Sumerology as an independent sub-discipline of ancient oriental studies . These inscriptions provided the first large text corpus with the help of which the Sumerian grammar and various words could be reconstructed.

number material Size
(in cm)
Stance origin dedicated Find it today
A. Diorite 124 - Girsu Ninhursanga / Nintu Louvre
B. Diorite 93 sitting Girsu Ningirsu Louvre
C. Diorite 140 standing Girsu Inanna Louvre
D. Diorite 153 sitting Girsu Ningirsu Louvre
E. Diorite 140 standing Girsu Baba Louvre
F. Diorite - sitting Girsu Gatumdu Louvre
G Diorite - standing Girsu Ningirsu Louvre
H Diorite 77 sitting Girsu Baba Louvre
I. Diorite 45 - Girsu Ninhursanga / Nintu Louvre
J Diorite - - Girsu Ningišzida Louvre
K Diorite 124 standing Girsu Ningirsu Louvre
L. - - - Girsu - (Kudurru)
M. alabaster 41 standing unknown Geštinanna ( Brussels , Detroit )
N not clarified 61 standing unknown Geštinanna Private collection
O Steatite? 63 standing unknown Geštinanna Copenhagen
P Diorite 44 sitting unknown Ningišzida new York
Q Diorite 30th sitting unknown Ningišzida -
R. Diorite 18.5 - unknown - Harvard (Nammaha)
S. limestone - standing Girsu - Soclet statue, Louvre
T - 124 - Nippur - Golenishev collection
U Dolerite 101 standing Tell Hammam Ninhursanga / Nintu British Museum
V Dolerite 74 standing unknown - British Museum
W. Diorite - - Girsu - -
X Diorite - - Girsu Meslamta'ea -
Y limestone - - Girsu Ningirsu -
Z Diorite - - Girsu - -
AA limestone - - Girsu - -

With two statues ( L and R ) there are doubts as to whether the person depicted is really Gudea. In addition, there is not always agreement in the literature about the number of statues found, about where they were found and where they are today. It is also reported that many of the statues made it onto the art market. If one considers the worldwide distribution of statues M to Q from the 1924 excavation campaign, one must assume that these statues are meant.

Conclusion and outlook

Probably already towards the end of Gudea's reign, or at least shortly afterwards, Sumer was united by Ur-Namma for the last time for about 100 years under the reign of the rulers of Ur (Ur-III period). These rulers, too, at least at the beginning promoted a return to the ancient Sumerian culture (called Sumerian Renaissance ). The state of Lagaš and its cities had lost their importance forever by this time. The rule of Gudea was a final highlight of the once so important Sumerian state. But the rulers of Ur also failed with their conservative, restorative policies. The wheel of time could no longer be turned back and the influences to which the Sumerians were exposed could no longer be reversed. The development, which was set in motion not least by external influences such as Akkader, Gutäer, Elamiter and Namaden, could no longer be stopped by restorative efforts. A new image of man had developed that contradicted Sumerian culture and tradition. A coalition of Elamites and Arameans destroyed the last Sumerian empire 100 years after the rule of Gudea and paved the way for a new era in Mesopotamian history: the time of the Babylonians . These adapted a large part of the Sumerian culture and religion and developed them further.

One of the most impressive examples of Sumer's lasting influence is likely to be that the Sumerian language was to be used as a scholarly language for almost 2000 years. Gudea's attempt to renew the old Sumerian culture had failed from today's perspective, despite temporary successes. However, the impulses that Gudea gave to Sumerian culture in its final phase were not least a reason for the high esteem that Sumerians would enjoy for centuries. Ultimately, both Gudea and the Eninnu temple he built found their way into the cultural memory of mankind - both and the history of the origins of Eninnu are still mentioned in the Codex Hammurapi 300 years after Gudea's death .

The Gude statues seem to have enjoyed a certain veneration even in Parthian times. In the palace of Adad-nadin-ahhe in Girsu, which dates back to the second century BC. Dated to the 4th century BC, many of the statues have been excavated and found in the representative parts of the building. So you seem to have adorned these rooms. This shows a lively interest in the Sumerian past and in Gudea even during the Parthian period.

Dating and chronology

With the current state of research, it is not possible to give more precise information about the dating of certain events in Sumerian history. Even chronological processes cannot always be clearly reconstructed. In addition, there are several different approaches to chronology in ancient oriental studies . The previously frequently used appointment of the Gudea government before the Ur-III period does not take into account an existing annual data formula in which Gudea and Ur-Nammu report simultaneously as allies of the conflict with Anschan and Elam . Newer approaches take this annual data formula into account and start the Gudea period in parallel with the beginning of the Ur-III period. This results in the very different information on Gudea's reign mentioned at the beginning and other divergent data.


Cuneiform translations

  • Dietz-Otto Edzard : The royal inscriptions of Mesopotamia; Early periods; 3.1: Gudea and his Dynasty . University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1997, ISBN 0-8020-4187-6
  • Adam Falkenstein , Wolfram von Soden : Sumerian and Akkadian hymns and prayers , Artemis, Zurich-Stuttgart 1953, pp. 137–182 (Gudea's temple hymn) (library of the old world)
  • Edmond Sollberger, Jean-Robert Kupper: Inscriptions Royales Sumeriennes et Akkadiennes , Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris 1971, ISBN 2-204-03573-4 .
  • Rykle Borger : Akkadische Rechtsbücher In: Otto Kaiser (Hrsg.): Texts from the environment of the Old Testament , Vol. 1. , Gütersloher Verlags-Haus, Gütersloh 1984, ISBN 3-579-00063-2 , pp. 32-95.
  • Christel Butterweck u. a .: Texts from the environment of the Old Testament: Vol. 2., Religious texts. Lfg. 4. Grave, coffin, votive and building inscriptions , Gütersloher Verlag-Haus, Gütersloh 1988, ISBN 3-579-00069-1 .
  • Horst Steible : Die Neusumerischen Bau- und Weihinschrift I-II , Steiner, Stuttgart 1991 (Freiburg ancient oriental studies, vol. 9), ISBN 3-515-04250-4 .
  • E. Jan Wilson (Ed.): The Cylinders of Gudea. Transliteration, translation and index , Butzon and Bercker, Kevelaer - Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1996 (Old Orient and Old Testament, Vol. 244), ISBN 3-7666-0005-2 , ISBN 3-7887-1573-1 .


Archeology and dating

  • Andrea Becker: New Sumerian Renaissance? , in Baghdader Mitteilungen 16 (1985), pp. 229-316
  • Gudrun Golbow: On the round sculpture of Gudea von Lagasch , Profil-Verlag, Munich 1987 (Munich Near East Studies, Vol. 5), ISBN 3-89019-186-X
  • Arno Kose: The “Palais” on Tell A of Girsu - home of a Hellenistic-Parthian collector of Gudeastatuen , in Bagdhader Mitteilungen 31 (2000), pp. 377-426
  • Flemming Johansen: Statues of Gudea. Ancient and modern , Akademisk Forlag, Copenhagen 1978 (Mesopotamia 6), ISBN 87-500-1781-0 .
  • André Parrot : Tello, vingt campagnes des fouilles (1877–1933) , Albin Michel, Paris 1948
  • Horst Steible: Attempting a chronology of the statues of Gudea von Lagas , in: Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 126 (1994), pp. 81-104
  • Piotr Steinkeller : The Date of Gudea and his Dynasty , in: Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40 (1988), pp. 47-53
  • Eva Strommenger , Wolfram Nagel, Christian Eder : From Gudea to Hammurapi. Fundamentals of art and history in ancient Near East Asia. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2005, ISBN 978-3-412-14304-6


  • Adam Falkenstein : Grammar of the language of Gudea von Lagas, I Scripture and Forms, II Syntax , Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, Rome 1949/1950

Web links

Commons : Gudea  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Possibly an inscription by Gudea on a stone monument from Girsu. Reconstruction is no longer possible.
  2. a b c d e Robbery excavation.
  3. In the literature, sometimes referred to as calcite or steatite .
  4. The authenticity of the statue N is doubted. The inscription corresponds to the inscriptions on the statues M and O, which are also questionable as to their authenticity.
  5. The head comes from Nippur; the origin of the other fragments is unknown.
  6. 12 kilometers south of Joha in Umma .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on December 1, 2005 in this version .