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Strength and Beauty of the Earliest Civilization: The Royal Graves of Ur

Ur in southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) was one of the first village settlements, founded around 4000 BCE, and by 2800 BCE, it had become one of the most prosperous city-states in the region. In the 1920s, archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered some remarkable burials at Ur. The objects discovered represent enormous strength, wealth, and artistic creativity.


The Standard of Ur - The Organization of Society

The Standard of Ur is a 50cm long trapezoidal box that depicts peace and war in Sumeria. On each of its sides are scenes with humans and animals, created with inlays of lapis lazuli, red limestone and shell. The peace side shows how the city, particularly its ruler, draws upon the agricultural and natural resources of its territory. Agricultural surplus was necessary for the growth of the city-state.


On the opposite side, the Standard of Ur portrays warfare as a means of protecting the wealth of the city-state. The organized nature of the army, their equipment, and their conquest of enemies can be seen as symbols of the ruler’s power and status.


The Standard of Ur shows an organization of society, with different people performing different roles such as priests, warriors, agricultural workers, craftsmen, and musicians, all overseen by the ruler positioned at the top and shown larger than everyone else. Although the purpose of the Standard of Ur is unknown, the message it conveys is that a society’s prosperity is generated through the social organization of its people, and the protection and management of its resources.


Meskalamdug's Helmet and Queen Puabi's Finery - Royalty and Power

Gold helmet - Baghdad Museum

A beaten gold war helmet, possibly of King Meskalamdug, was discovered in one of the graves. Meskalamdug was “King of Kish”, a title said to have been held by one who ruled over both Sumer and Akkad.


The helmet was made to look like its wearer’s own hair with carefully combed lines of hair, curling locks, and a knotted bun at the back. The holes at the bottom of the helmet were used to hold an interior lining.

Surviving elements beside the royal person believed to be Queen Puabi were used to construct her lavish dress. This includes her cape, made of multiple strands of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and agate beads which weighed nearly eight pounds. Her headdress consisted of four wreaths of carnelian-tipped gold leaves, a gold support comb, and more than thirty feet of gold ribbon wrapped around her hairdo weighing about five pounds. This totals at least fourteen pounds of jewelry on her five-foot frame!


Works cited:

“The Royal Tombs of Ur Reveal Mesopotamia’s Ancient Splendor.” History, 22 May 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/history/history-magazine/article/mesopotamia-ur-royal-tombs.


The Sumerians - Oriental Institute. oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/sumerians.pdf.


“Digital Collections Highlights.” Highlights - Digital Collections - Penn Museum, www.penn.museum/collections/highlights/.

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