Louvre Museum, Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Gilgamesh and Lion, Human headed winged bull, Assyria.

The Ascension of Gilgamesh: Did the Epic Hero Actually Exist?

(Read the article on one page)

The Epic of Gilgamesh is widely recognized and frequently a required reading for world literature courses. The poem is considered a masterpiece in its own right, not just because it is the earliest piece of Western epic poetry. Written 4,000 years ago, the poem tells the story of a hero contending with gods and demons, as well as grappling with issues that still confound us today: how to deal with the grief of a deceased loved one and the purpose of existence. More recently, however, scholars have been pondering a different line of questions: did Gilgamesh really exist? How much of the epic poems about the demi-god is based on reality and how much is fiction?

If he were a real man, Gilgamesh would have lived in ancient Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in what is now Iraq. The poem itself was most likely created between 2150 and 1400 BC. Experts believe that the tale probably existed in oral form during the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100 BC) and that it was written down after the Babylonians came to power (c. 1800 BC). The events depicted in The Epic , as well as in 4 other epic poems that survived from that period, are mythic, but may have been meant to celebrate real people and events.

The king-hero Gilgamesh battling the ‘Bull of Heaven’.

The king-hero Gilgamesh battling the ‘Bull of Heaven’.  ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Hints on Gilgamesh’s Existence in the Sumerian King List

The Sumerian King List is an ancient stone tablet that lists the Kings of Sumer and was supposedly handed down from the gods. It was passed from city-state to city-state to affirm the unity of the region. Whatever the List’s origins, it ultimately became a political tool as the cities vied for hegemony within the Sumer Empire. Gilgamesh appears on the List with no special fanfare.

Stone tablet inscribed with the Sumerian King List.

Stone tablet inscribed with the Sumerian King List. ( Public Domain )

Under the ‘First Rulers of Uruk’ section, Gilgamesh is listed 5th with the epithet: “whose father was a phantom, the lord of Kulaba.” (Livius, 2017) He was said to have reigned for 126 years around the year 2600 BC. This epithet, by no means the strangest on the List, neither confirms nor denies the legendary ancestry of Gilgamesh.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III. ( Public Domain )

According to poems that pre-date The Epic , Gilgamesh’s father was Lugalbanda, a priest-king. The name Lugalbanda also appears on the Sumerian King List as the 3rd Ruler of Uruk (which would make him Gilgamesh’s grandfather, if anything) who reigned for 1,200 years and was given the epithet “the shepherd” (Livius, 2017). In the stories, Gilgamesh’s mother is the goddess Ninsun. It is this aspect of Gilgamesh’s ancestry that gives him magical abilities and super-human strength (Mark, 2010).

A fragmentary relief dedicated to Ninsun.

A fragmentary relief dedicated to Ninsun. ( Public Domain ) Ninsun was Gilgamesh’s mother in the stories.

“Known as 'Bilgames’ in Sumerian, 'Gilgamos’ in Greek, and associated closely with the figure of Dumuzi from the Sumerian poem The Descent of Inanna, Gilgamesh is widely accepted as the historical 5th king of Uruk whose influence was so profound that myths of his divine status grew up around his deeds and finally culminated in the tales found in The Epic of Gilgamesh” (Mark, 2010).

Artist’s representation of King Gilgamesh.

Artist’s representation of King Gilgamesh. ( King Gilgamesh )

Gilgamesh’s Interactions with Humans and Gods

In several of the poems’ stories, Gilgamesh comes to the assistance of humans and gods. In others, he fights them. One tale tells of a conflict between Gilgamesh of Uruk and King Aga of Kish. Aga’s name is also on the Sumerian King List, under the ‘First Dynasy of Kish’ section with the epithet “the son of En-me-barage-si” and a reign of 625 years also around the year 2,600 BC.

The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet / Library of Ashurbanipal (7th century BC).

The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet / Library of Ashurbanipal (7th century BC). ( British Museum)

The Kish section ends with the line “Then Kish was defeated and the kingship was taken to E-ana” (Livius, 2017). The Sumerian ‘E-ana’ literally translates as “House of Heaven” and refers to the temple of the great goddess Inanna in Uruk.


It is an astrological story.


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

A carnivorous dinosaur track heading up the rock face at Cretaceous Park, Bolivia.
Some ancient rock art shows the deliberate leaving of hand prints by our ancestors leaving a lasting impression of their existence. The surprising prints that are to be found on a rock face in Bolivia were a completely unintentional mark left by unwitting artists. Sometimes a fortunate sequence of events leaves a puzzling phenomenon on the earth.

Human Origins

Photo of Zecharia Sitchin (left)(CC0)Akkadian cylinder seal dating to circa 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki, three members of the Anunnaki.(right)
In a previous 2-part article (1), the authors wrote about the faulty associations of the Sumerian deities known as the Anunnaki as they are portrayed in the books, television series, and other media, which promotes Ancient Astronaut Theory (hereafter “A.A.T.”).

Ancient Technology

Roman glass (not the legendary flexible glass). Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart.
Imagine a glass you can bend and then watch it return to its original form. A glass that you drop but it doesn’t break. Stories say that an ancient Roman glassmaker had the technology to create a flexible glass, ‘vitrium flexile’, but a certain emperor decided the invention should not be.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article