Sumerian king list

The Sumerian King List still puzzles historians after more than a century of research

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Out of the many incredible artefacts that have been recovered from sites in Iraq where flourishing Sumerian cities once stood, few have been more intriguing that the Sumerian King List, an ancient manuscript originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) from Sumerian and neighbouring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of "official" kingship. What makes this artefact so unique is the fact that the list blends apparently mythical pre-dynastic rulers with historical rulers who are known to have existed. 

The first fragment of this rare and unique text, a 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet, was found in the early 1900s by German-American scholar Hermann Hilprecht at the site of ancient Nippur and published in 1906.  Since Hilprecht’s discovery, at least 18 other exemplars of the king’s list have been found, most of them dating from the second half of the Isin dynasty (c. 2017-1794 BCE.).  No two of these documents are identical. However, there is enough common material in all versions of the list to make it clear that they are derived from a single, "ideal" account of Sumerian history.

Sumerian king listAmong all the examples of the Sumerian King List, the Weld-Blundell prism in the Ashmolean Museum cuneiform collection in Oxford represents the most extensive version as well as the most complete copy of the King List. The 8-inch-high prism contains four sides with two columns on each side. It is believed that it originally had a wooden spindle going through its centre so that it could be rotated and read on all four sides. It lists rulers from the antediluvian (“before the flood”) dynasties to the fourteenth ruler of the Isin dynasty (ca. 1763–1753 BC).

The list is of immense value because it reflects very old traditions while at the same time providing an important chronological framework relating to the different periods of kingship in Sumeria, and even demonstrates remarkable parallels to accounts in Genesis.

The ancient civilisation of Sumer

Sumer (sometimes called Sumeria), is the site of the earliest known civilization, located in the southernmost part of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, in the area that later became Babylonia and is now southern Iraq from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.

By the 3rd millennium BC, Sumer was the site of at least twelve separate city states: KishErechUr,SipparAkshak, Larak, NippurAdabUmmaLagashBad-tibira, and Larsa. Each of these states comprised a walled city and its surrounding villages and land, and each worshiped its own deity, whose temple was the central structure of the city. Political power originally belonged to the citizens, but, as rivalry between the various city-states increased, each adopted the institution of kingship

The Sumerian King List, records that eight kings reigned before a great flood. After the Flood, various city-states and their dynasties of kings temporarily gained power over the others. 

Sumer’s mythical past

The Sumerian King List begins with the very origin of kingship, which is seen as a divine institution: “the kingship had descended from heaven”.  The rulers in the earliest dynasties are represented as reigning fantastically long periods:

After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alaljar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years.

Some of the rulers mentioned in the early list, such as Etana, Lugal-banda and Gilgamesh, are mythical or legendary figures whose heroic feats are subjects of a series of Sumerian and Babylonian narrative compositions.

The early list names eight kings with a total of 241,200 years from the time when kingship “descended from heaven” to the time when "the Flood" swept over the land and once more "the kingship was lowered from heaven" after the Flood.

Interpretation of long reigns

The amazingly long tenure of the early kings has provoked many attempts at interpretation. At one extreme is the complete dismissal of the astronomically large figures as “completely artificial” and the view that they are unworthy of serious consideration.  At the other extreme, is the belief that the numbers have a basis in reality and that the early kings were indeed gods who were capable of living much longer than humans.

In between the two extremes is the hypothesis that the figures represent relative power, triumph or importance.  For example, in ancient Egypt, the phrase “he died aged 110” referred to someone who lived life to the full and who offered an important contribution to society.  In the same way, the extremely long periods of reign of the early kings may represent how incredibly important they were perceived as being in the eyes of the people. This doesn’t explain, however, why the periods of tenure later switched to realistic time periods.

Related to this perspective is the belief that although the early kings are historically unattested, this does not preclude their possible correspondence with historical rulers who were later mythicised.

Finally, some scholars have sought to explain the figures through a mathematical investigation and interpretation (e.g. Harrison, 1993).

Relation to Genesis

Some scholars (e.g. Wood, 2003) have drawn attention to the fact that there are remarkable similarities between the Sumerian King List and accounts in Genesis.  For example, Genesis tells the story of ‘the great flood’ and Noah’s efforts to save all the species of animals on Earth from destruction.  Likewise, in the Sumerian King List, there is discussion of a great deluge: “the flood swept over the earth.”

The Sumerian King List provides a list of eight kings (some versions have 10) who reigned for long periods of time before the flood, ranging from 18,600 to 43,200 years.  This is similar to Genesis 5, where the generations from Creation to the Flood are recorded. Interestingly, between Adam and Noah there are eight generations, just as there are eight kings between the beginning of kingship and the flood in the Sumerian King List.

After the flood, the King List records kings who ruled for much shorter periods of time. Thus, the Sumerian King List not only documents a great flood early in man’s history, but it also reflects the same pattern of decreasing longevity as found in the Bible - men had extremely long life spans before the flood and much shorter life spans following the flood (Wood, 2003).

The Sumerian King List truly is a perplexing mystery. Why would the Sumerians combine mythical rulers with actual historical rulers in one document? Why are there so many similarities with Genesis? Why were ancient kings described as ruling for thousands of years? These are just some of the questions that still remain unanswered after more than a century of research.

By April Holloway

References

The Sumerian King List – University of Oxford

Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Sumerian King List – by Bryant G. Wood

The Sumerian king list: translation - The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature

The Sumerian King List - by L.C. Geerts

Reinvestigating the Antediluvian Sumerian King List – by R. K. Harrison

The Sumerian King List – by Thorkild Jacobsen (The Oriental Institute of the University of California)

Comments

angieblackmon's picture

is it possible that at least for the mythical rulers, that the people lived under the guidance of this person for a long amount of time, then under another and another...while the actual rulers changed more frequently. I'm trying to think of a good example to use...okay this might not be the best example but in America, we have the democratic and republican parties, we could have elections resulting in one party winning several elections in a row, but under different presidents....like President Grant took office in March 4, 1869 and we had 4 consecutive republican presidents ending with President Arthur finishing his term March 4, 1885...so in that 16 years, we had 4 different presidents but all from the same republican party...so could these Kings have done something similiar??? or am I completely out in left field? Just a thought...

love, light and blessings

AB

I don't think that that is left field. Possibly they were family dynasties???

The life-spans listed for long-lived patriarchs in the bible line up remarkably well with Egyptian dynasties. The Egyptian stories make clear they are family names and not long-lived individuals.

It seems to defy coincidence but, to be fair, you have to accept the adjustments of dates for Egyptian regencies (where, say, a ruler did not officially reign until of a certain age so a 'regent' would belong to that ruler's reign or not, depending on who recorded it.)

What seems the best answer to me: Late Israeli retelling of Egyptian tales, replacing names with Israelite names (probably already famous individuals or mythic characters.)

Recall that, I think, in one of Joseph Cambell's Masks of God books. I'd like to see a 3 part comparison. Egypt/Summer/Biblical patriarchs (dynasties.) in a chart. Earlier Egyptian dynasties seem made up and may be stolen from earlier Sumerian lists.

Did the Kings believe in reincarnation? If so maybe their children were considered the living incarnation of the residing king.In essence the child would continue the kingship without interruption in this way the king lives on until there is no heir.

Why do scholars insist on assuming that the earlier parts of the scrolls are mythical? The first thing the ancients say, is that the gods descended from heaven. Heaven would be the skies, and we know, the skies eventually become space. In an age where man has gone into space, why is it so hard to believe, that the gods were entities from outer space? That, even in times which are ancient history to us, entities from another world, could not have space travel with technology that is still far ahead of ours? We imagine all kinds of advanced technologies, warp drives, star gates, etc. and yet, we can not believe entities that have existed far longer than the human race, could not have developed what we can imagine, or something even better? What is there in natural law, that would prevent such entities from having longer lives, particularly if they come from a different world? What is there in science, particularly genetic science, that would prevent such entities from creating a hybrid race on Earth, combining their DNA with hominids native to Earth? These king lists, and even passages from the Bible, confirm that there were entities that lived much longer lives, in the days of our early civilizations. Around the times when human kings took over ruling from the gods, lives became increasingly shorter. Could this be because of the combination of the hybrids lives being shorter to begin with, and a lack of interbreeding with the alien entities, because they returned to the stars? We always have choices. In this case, we can choose between the disbelief of scholars, that the gods were myths, or we can choose to believe that our ancestors knew the gods had descended from heaven, because the gods told them what happened, created us, ruled us, then used us to labor for them in their gold mines, then left, when they had enough of the gold they came for.

Way to think outside the confined limited mentality.

Thank you.

Thank you for this insightful thought.

You're welcome.

Completely agree with this. This is exactly how I bid my argument!

As to Sirwilhelm's comment on February 8, 2014, I disagree. His whole theory is not supported by substantial evidence. Show me the scientific proof of alien DNA in the gene pool the same way a geneticist can show me the presence of the Neanderthal DNA. I disagree with the forced choice you posit at the end of your comment. Much can be discerned by the tools of modern science and the scientific method.

I feel a little sad when folks rush to "Aliens!" to explain anything they do not understand in human history. There are so many other explanations, whether its an incomplete understanding of the linguistics shift over 2,000+ years, variations in explaining the passage of distant time, all sorts of explorable methods to figure out this mystery and instead, we get "Aliens!" To me, that is as valid as yelling "Unicorns!" or "Angels!" - it is a way to say "I came up with an answer that cannot be tested in any way." You can use that to explain why your car won't start or what caused an earthquake. I'd rather say we haven't figured it out yet, but we will continue to use our tools, our minds, and our understanding of our *human* ancestors to unravel the mystery. But if Aliens and Unicorns works for you, have at it. Just try to grasp that its a lame answer.

O negative Blood type

I agree with your take on this. I consider Sitchin's work to be on the money for the most part!

As do I. We should not be so close minded to think that we are "it" when it comes to beings in this vast universe. We are a relatively new species in an ancient world. Our ancient history is but a blink of the eye in the existence of the universe.

Thomas David Hensley

As do I. We should not be so close minded to think that we are "it" when it comes to beings in this vast universe. We are a relatively new species in an ancient world. Our ancient history is but a blink of the eye in the existence of the universe.

Thomas David Hensley

I couldn't have said it better myself, It's obviously possible from what we can know today but it feels like everyone just want to dismiss this. If one would change the word (and meaning) "God" with, let's say "People from above, (meaning rather older than us)" it would still fit pretty good into Ancient History and in a way even to science, how old Universe is and the possibility that beings out there have lived for far longer then Humans.

This possibility should be taken seriously, as any other theories.

It is interesting that you missed the fact that Abraham's father, Terah, was from Ur (Genesis 11:27) which was one of the Sumerian kingdoms.

What difference does that make, when Abraham, himself, was from Ur?

He came from Ur of the Chaldeans (Ur Kasdim, in the Hebrew text), which is in the area between Syria and Iraq. Not the southern Ur of the Sumerians (Shemer in the Hebrew).

This article says the Biblical Ur was in Sumeria, and Abraham was from there. Take up your dispute with those scholars, if you like, I believe Abraham was from the Ur of Sumeria.

The ethnic "Chaldeans" did not take power in Babylon until Neboplazzer, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, in the 6th century B.C. Consequently, most scholars are in agreement that Ur "of the Chaldeans" is a later addition to the Hebrew text as all scholars are in agreement that Abraham came out of "Ur," what you claim "the southern Ur of the Sumerians (Shemer in the Hebrew)."

It is interesting that you missed the fact that Abraham's father, Terah, was from Ur (Genesis 11:27) which was one of the Sumerian kingdoms.

Totally in line with my thoughts :-) .. beginning- spirit of God ...later more about self .. hence erratic -Quicker periods.

Is nobody ready Sitchin's Earth Cronical books? It explains a lot.

I've read some of the "Earth Chronicles" books by Zecariah Sitchin. Fascinating!

As I was reading all the comments , I were wondering if anybody ever read Zachria Sithen's books ; ''The Earth Chronicles" . The Annanuki's year was plus minus 3600 earth years, a human would see them as gods ,( Ants wil also say that humans are gods because how many generations of ants wil be there in a human's one year) . Since Enki experimented to make workers to mine gold ,at first he made ones that couldn't replicate [ same as donkey and horse = mule] moving to Absu {Southern Africa} he succeeded and they could multiply . Just for interest also that the ''Cradle of Humankind '' is situated in South Africa . All the socalled gods sculptures or images had blue eyes ,all over the world,

Sitchin is a fraud - I thought everyone knew that?..http://www.sitchiniswrong.com/about/about.htm

Tsurugi's picture

The ideas Sitchin postulates in his collected works are so numerous and broad-reaching that there are sure to be mistakes, missteps, and errors. Sitchin himself said his ideas were based entirely on his translations of ancient texts, which were subject to error, misunderstanding, lack of context, poor extrapolation of missing bits from fragmented texts, etc...when reading his works it always seemed clear to me that what he was proposing was a possibility, not a certainty. He was saying "Look! It could be this way," not "It absolutely was this way."

So he certainly made mistakes, and there were errors in his translations(which parts were mistakes, and exactly where did he err, is, IMO, still up for debate).

Do those mistakes and errors mean all of his work can be considered completely worthless? Absolutely not; and anyone attempting to say so is making a rather large error of their own, i.e. the fallacy of composition.

Even more importantly, mistakes and errors do not even come close to justifying the charge of fraud. I challenge anyone who would level such a claim to try proving it, just like they would have to in a court of law. If they cannot, then they themselves are guilty of libel...a charge about equal to "fraud" in terms of what it says about character.

You want to consider all of Sitchin's ideas to be wrong, simply because he may have gotten some things wrong, well, you're entitled to your opinion, sir. I wonder if you hold yourself to the same standards, seeing as how you were obviously wrong in thinking "everyone knew" Sitchin was a fraud...?

The Bible also has people living for hundreds of years. Two documents with the same ideas? I believe it's true.

I believe that this is like America has been a Democracy since 1776 till whenever it changes to a Socialism or Communism. If it were that way. But truly it was real Kings under a real Kingdom under G.O.D. If we all got over our own greed we could do it again.

Sorry to break it to you, but our Founding Fathers found Democracy's to be amongst the worst forms of governments. This is why we instead, have a Representative Republic, otherwise known as a 'Constitutional Republic'.

A Republic focuses on the rights of the individual, rather than 'majority rules' style of a Democracy.

Sumerian civilization did not last for 432,000 years, so even if each ancient "king" is regarded as meaning a dynasty or lineage, the numbers still cannot be taken literally. I think that Harrison's theory (linked above) that each 3,600-year "shar" really corresponds to one earthly year probably makes the most sense.

I've looked over the list of pre-Flood Sumerian Kings and found that they are an exact match for the genealogical list mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The timelines even fit if given the proper measurement. A sar is not the thousands of years period as is supposed today. It is, in fact, a period of 51.426 years. A ner is approximately 8 years; and a sossa is 10 months and 3 days.

If you use an overlay method providing 30 years for the son to receive the kingship, using the above information as the time bars, and using the length of reign mentioned in the Sumerian Kings List, everything fits together, and provides an amazing account of what life was like before the flood.

It's interesting that all of the antedeluvian reigns end in 00. Perhaps there is a mistranslation or that the 0's are some sort of placeholder. If the 0's are discarded, suddenly the reigns prior to the flood come into view as being suspiciously similar to the Bible. Just a guess...

I like this guess...

This list is a heck of a lot older than the Bible, and considering that the failing Roman Empire concocted Christianity as a control vehicle for the poor masses once the royals were split into fiefdoms, I would venture to say that they just hodge podged a bunch of stuff from different books of the day, so that anyone who doubted it's contents as questionable would be met by someone else who says" I heard of that story before, thus quaffing the objectionable. Even if the Bible were a scholarly book, the Jesus assassins at the council of Nicea would have borrowed it from earlier sources and mis-translate the hell out of it. Kind of a moot point either way.

The book of Genesis, in its current form or close to it, is a lot older than the Roman Empire.

angieblackmon's picture

^that's in interesting point. i divided the numbers by 365 because i wondered if it was possible they mistranslated "years" for "days"...64,800 would still come out to 177 years though.

love, light and blessings

AB

177 years is a bit more likely tan 64800 years but not much. I question the translation of the text altogether if this is what they are getting as a translation. Perhaps they used a number 12 based system or this text was a translation from another, earlier text and they used a different numerical system and they failed to translate it correctly. Perhaps this translation gave someone a political advantage in the past by claiming kinship with these long lived rulers. At any rate I find a 64800 year reign unbelievable and question the translation. I do under stand that people have different definitions of a year but it is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 360 days. I think the early part of the text that claims these extremely long lives is a mistranslation that supported a mystical belief that gave someone a political advantage in the "church" and or the palace or both.

The sumerians had a double hour or beru I believe it was called. Like we have 12 hours and 12 hours AM and PM. You could divide the 177 by 2 and the 64,000 becomes 87 years ... still long but not for a family dynasty.

i agree. occam's razor comes to mind.

My thought is that meanings for words change over great periods of time and due to the slow evolution of languages - as 'million' could mean 1,000 or 1,000,000 depending on when it was written. If you read hieroglyphs from the 1st Dynasty of Kemet and then try to apply the same linguistic rules to a 23rd Dynasty scroll, it would appear to be gibberish or at a minimum, severely garbled. Think of the words "bad" or "gnarly" and how they have changed over just the past 60 years. In the same way, I think that Sumerian writers in the historical period were trying to interpret earlier texts and traditions and although the numbers would have seemed out of line, they continued to accept and pass them down because their current language translated the numbers in the manner than they were accustomed. Or, aliens.

Dividing the number of years by 365 is assuming that the ancients used the Gregorian Calendar. I assure you they did not!
Look at the length of time in each king's reign: The first, 28,800--divide that by 3600, this is the length of earth-years in the Gods' planetary orbit. 28,800 divided by 3600 equals 8. Therefore, that man ruled for only eight years, whereas, the second man was on the throne for 36,000 years--(SARS, as the Gods called their years) Divide 36000 by 3600, and this man ruled for 10 years--both of which are much easier to handle or to believe (according to the "experts!")

I'd guess the numbers are astronomically large because they referring to astronomy. The early "kings" are probably metaphors for cycles of planets, comets, precessional ages, etc.

So why do the life spans decrease in line with a physical equation ie as if the life spans are getting shorter over the generations
We are a genetic spin off of the original settlement on Earth begun by Ea
No Im not a Sitchinite but he had some things right

Life spans are NOT shorter than they use to be, for the vast majority of the world (even poor areas) they are considerably longer than any time in recorded history. Aside from works of myth and fiction of course.

Tsurugi's picture

Yes of course, by labeling any ancient text that lists long life spans as "myth", you can then say that lifespans have only gotten longer.

The discussion here is centered around whether such arbitrary labeling is justified.

With each cloning of animals we have learned each time we clone. The new clones lifespan is shorter than the one before. So maybe we are all clones of the original? G. O. D. who lives forever.

The Gods were from a planet that had an orbit of 3600 of our earth years. Therefore, when they came to earth and stayed here for, say, 10 years, their bodies adapted to our shorter orbital time, which, in turn, translated to shorter life spans.

I believe it was Einstein who first ventured the opinion that if man were to live on an earth that rotated faster than the 24-hour span it does now, then his body functions would speed up, too, very effectively shortening his life.

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