Ancient Sumerian Male Worshipper
This Ancient Sumerian calcite-alabaster figurine of a male worshipper was created sometime in 2300 BC. The shaven head is a sign of ritual purity, which may also identify this figure as a priest. A partly preserved inscription on the right shoulder states that he prays to Ninshubur. Ninshubur was a vassal and friend of the goddess Inanna in Sumerian mythology; her name means “Queen of the East” in ancient Sumerian. Much like Iris or Hermes in later Greek mythology, Ninshubur served as a messenger to the other gods.
Ninshubur was an essential figure in ancient Sumerian mythology, and she played an integral role in several myths involving her mistress, the goddess, Inanna. Ninshubur helped Inanna fight Enki’s demons after Inanna’s theft of the sacred me. Later, when Inanna became trapped in the Underworld, it was Ninshubur who pleaded with Enki for her mistress’s release.
This statue was created by the Sumer culture, which was one of the first civilisations in the world together with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of crops, and this surplus enabled them to settle in one place. Proto-writing in the prehistory dates back to about 3000 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC.
Sumer is the earliest known civilisation in Southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Copper and Early Bronze Ages, and one of the first civilisations in the world along with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Prehistoric proto-writing dates back before 3000 BC. Early cuneiform script emerged around 3000 BC.
Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a people who spoke the Sumerian language. They drained the marshes for agriculture, developed trade, and established industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. The Sumerian city of Eridu, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, is considered to have been one of the oldest cities. Three separate cultures may have fused: that of peasant farmers, living in mud-brick huts and practising irrigation; that of mobile, nomadic Semitic pastoralists living in black tents and following herds of sheep and goats; and that of fisherfolk, living in reed huts in the marshlands, who may all have been the ancestors of the Sumerians.
The Sumerians pioneered intensive agriculture and irrigation. Emmer wheat, barley, sheep, and cattle were foremost among the species cultivated and raised for the first time on a grand scale.
Ancient Sumerian Religion
Sumerian religion seems to have been founded upon two separate cosmogenic myths. The first saw creation as the result of a series of sacred marriages, involving the reconciliation of opposites, postulated as a coming together of male and female divine beings. These gods continued to influence the Mesopotamian mythos.
Sumerians believed in many gods in human form. There was no common set of gods; each city-state had its own patrons, temples, and priest-kings. Ziggurats, the name for the Sumerian temples, each had an individual name and consisted of a forecourt, with a central pond for purification. After a time the Sumerians began to place the temples on top of multi-layered square constructions built as a series of rising terraces, giving rise to the Ziggurat style.
Nippur, in central Mesopotamia, eventually became the primary temple city, whose priests exercised political hegemony on the other city-states. Nippur retained this status throughout the Sumerian period.
Ancient Sumerian Male Worshipper
- Title: Ancient Sumerian Male Worshipper
- Year: 2300 BC
- Culture: Sumerian
- Find site: Bismaya (Adab), Iraq
- Material: Calcite-alabaster
- Dimensions: H: 19.5 cm (7.6 in); W: 13.3 cm (5.2 in); Depth: 10 cm (3.9 in)
- Museum: Walters Art Museum
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Photo Credit: 1) Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons