The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Gudea, Prince of Lagash

Gudea of Lagash Girsu

“Gudea, Prince of Lagash” depicts Gudea who was the political and religious governor of Lagash, in Southern Mesopotamia, one of the oldest Sumerian cities. The inscription is a dedication to the god Ningishzida, who was Gudea’s personal god. It lists the temples built by the Gudea, ending with the temple of Ningishzida, where the statuette stood. This statue was found during the excavations at Tello (ancient Girsu), capital of the kingdom of Lagash.

Lagash was an ancient city located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers near the modern town of Ash Shatrah, Iraq. Lagash (modern Al-Hiba) was one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East. Nearby Girsu (modern Telloh), was the religious center of the Lagash state.

This historical masterpiece was discovered in two stages. The French archaeologists E. de Sarzec found the head in 1877, then Captain Cros, discovered the body in 1903.  Many statues of Gudea both standing and seated have been discovered, however none of them were complete. Bodies were found without heads and the heads were missing bodies. Archaeologists L. Heuzey succeeded in assembling the two fragments of this statue, resulting in the first and only complete representation of Gudea. The engraved inscription on the rob identified the subject as Gudea of Lagash.

Approximately twenty-seven statues of Gudea, a ruler or “ensi” of the state of Lagash have been found in southern Mesopotamia. Gudea ruled between ca. 2144 – 2124 BC and the statues demonstrate a very sophisticated level of craftsmanship for the time.

More than 2,400 inscriptions mention his name and describe his 20-year campaign of city improvements, including new temples and irrigation canals. He was also a patron of the arts. More than 30 statues of Gudea, both seated and standing, can be found in museums across the world, including the following museums feature in “Joy of Museums”:

This statue shows Gudea wearing a royal turban with stylized curls on his head. The clean-shaven face of Gudea is calm and reassuring. His large eyebrows are represented in the conventional fish-bone style of the period. This statue of Gudea with hands clasped is a common motive with many of the Gudea statues. The hands create a distinctive pose that recurs in both seated and standing versions. It is an expression of devotion, humility or piety.

Approximate location of Ancient Lagash in modern-day Iraq

The powerful pose of the prince is underscored by the dark color of the diorite, used in most of the statues of Gudea that have been discovered. This durable stone was importing at great cost from the Gulf region.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:             Gudea, Prince of Lagash
  • Created:       C. 2120 BC
  • Period:          Neo-Sumerian
  • Findsite:       Tello (ancient Girsu)
  • Material:      Diorite
  • Discovered: 1877
  • Height:          H. 46 cm; W. 33 cm; D. 22.50 cm
  • Museum:     The Louvre

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“The first duty of government is to protect the powerless from the powerful.” Hammurabi

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Photo Credit: 1) By UnknownMarie-Lan Nguyen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons