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Cone of Enmetena, king of Lagash

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

The text recounts the history of the borders drawn between the Sumerian states of Lagash and Umma (Lower Mesopotamia). The archivist of Enmetena (2404-2375 BC), prince of Lagash, relates the history of the contention from its beginning at the time when Mesalim, king of Kish, ruled over all Sumeria. The people of Umma did not keep the alliance treaty. Enmetena settled the difference and rebuilt the ditch.

A precious record of the history of the Lagash Dynasty

The Sumerians created and cultivated many literary genres from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC: myths and epic tales, hymns and laments, and essays and proverbs. From time to time - especially in the epics and laments - historical facts emerge. Yet there was no historical genre in the strict sense. The documents that tell us about the events of the time are votive inscriptions on statues, stelae, cones, cylinders, vases, and tablets, which recount isolated contemporary facts and messages written to attract the favor of the gods. However, some do refer to earlier events and show a feeling for historical detail. Thus the writings of the princes of the Lagash Dynasty provide information on the events of a time when the city-states, governed by a hereditary prince and a delegate of the local supreme god, fought over border problems and strove to impose their sway over the neighboring city. The most famous example is the "Stele of the Vultures," which Eanatum, Enmetena's grandfather, raised to commemorate his victory over the rival city of Umma.

The work of a true historian

The originality of Enmetena's cone lies in the fact that the king's archivist took a historian's approach to the contention between the two cities, due to a problem over a border embankment or ditch claimed by both states, telling the story from the beginning at the time (c. 2600 BC) when Mesalim, king of Kish ruled over the whole of Sumeria. The people of Umma had ignored the alliance treaty about the ditch for three generations; it was Enmetena who settled the dispute and had the ditch (or embankment) rebuilt, pleading his case before Enlil, the great god of Sumeria, to establish his right. The text ends with curses on "the man from Umma" who "would dare cross the border-embankment." The narrative is far from objective.
Excerpt from the text:
"Enlil, king of all countries and father of all gods marked out the border in firm terms [...] Mesalim, the king of Kish, measured it with the surveying chain, [and] erected a stele there [...]. In vain, Enmetena, the prince of Lagash, sent messages to Ila about this embankment; Ila, the prince of Umma, who is a land thief and a vituperator, declared: "The border-embankment ... is mine..."

Bibliography

Thureau-Dangin François, "Le cône historique d'Entemena", in Revue d'Assyriologie, 4, Leroux, 1897, pp. 37-50, pl. II.
Thureau-Dangin François, Les Inscriptions de Sumer et d'Akkad, Leroux, 1905, pp. 62-69.
Sollberger Edmond, Corpus des Inscriptions royales présargoniques de Lagash, Droz, 1956, Ent. 28, p. 37.
Sollberger Edmond, Krupper J.-R., Les Inscriptions royales sumériennes et akkadiennes, Le Cerf, LAPO 3, 1971, pp. 71-75.
Kramer S.N., L'Histoire commence à Sumer, Arthaud, 1975 (5e édition), p. 64 et suivantes.
André Béatrice (notice), Naissance de l'écriture : cunéiformes et hiéroglyphes, exposition du Grand Palais, 7 mai - 9 août 1982, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1982, p. 198, n 132.
Cooper Jerrold, Reconstructing history from ancient inscriptions : the Lagash-Umma border conflict, SANE 2/1, 1983.
Cooper Jerrold, "Medium and message : inscribed clay cones and vessels from presargonic Sumer", in Revue d'Assyriologie, 79, Leroux, 1985, pp. 97-114.

Technical description

  • Cone of Enmetena, king of Lagash

    circa 2400 BC

    Telloh (ancient Girsu), Lower Mesopotamia

  • Terra-cotta

    H. 27 cm; Diam. (base) 12.7 cm

  • Gift, 1896

    AO 3004

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Ancient Mesopotamia, from the earliest times to the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 1a

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