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Enthroned Sumerian king of Ur, with attendants. Standard of Ur, (c. 2600 BC) (Michel wal  /CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Coveted Title of King of Kish in Ancient Sumer

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According to ancient Mesopotamian tradition, Etana, founder of the first dynasty of Kish, was the very first ruler ever to have ruled as king. Not only did the kings of Kish stand tall in the history of ancient Sumer, the title ‘King of Kish’ was coveted by all great rulers in and of that land.

 Angles of the Sumerian King list. Left: Ashmolean Museum. (Public Domain) and right: The Weld-Blundell Prism, (Gts-tg /  CC BY-SA 4.0)

Angles of the Sumerian King list. Left: Ashmolean Museum. ( Public Domain ) and right: The Weld-Blundell Prism, ( Gts-tg /  CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The House of Kish

In ancient Mesopotamian tradition, the first House of Kish stands out as one of the most important dynasties ever to have ruled in that ancient land. What is especially significant about this dynasty is the title ‘ lugal’ or ‘king’ that was first used by their kings. In contrast to the title of king, which refers to a warrior-leader, the Sumerians called their rulers ‘ en’, which refers to a priestly ruler. Throughout the long history of the land of Sumer and Uri (later Akkad), the title ‘King of Kish’ was one of the most coveted titles among the rulers of the various city states.

Sumer before the deluge, or Uruk and Zdemdet Nsar periods in ancient Mesopotamia. (Public Domain)

Sumer before the deluge, or Uruk and Zdemdet Nsar periods in ancient Mesopotamia. ( Public Domain )

In the oldest known King List , called the Ur III Sumerian King List , kingship is bestowed on the House of Kish, with the various dynasties of Kish listed as the rulers of the land. In the better known Sumerian King List , in which the dynasties of all the other city states are also included, the first House of Kish is also afforded a very special position, as the first dynasty to have ruled after kingship was bestowed from heaven in the time after the deluge. The greatest of all the early rulers of Kish, remembered in later tradition as the first of all kings , was Etana. It is not easy to decide where the earliest kings of Kish fit into the history of the land, but a viable proposal is possible.

Ruins near the ziggurat of Kish at Tell al-Uhaymir, Mesopotamia, Babel Governorate, Iraq (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ruins near the ziggurat of Kish at Tell al-Uhaymir, Mesopotamia, Babel Governorate, Iraq ( Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Etana The Very First King

The first ruler recognized as ‘king’ in the Sumerian tradition, was Etana, as is referred to in The Myth of Etana . The introduction describes how kingship came down from An’s throne to be bestowed on a human being for the very first time

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 Dr Willem McLoud   is an independent South African scholar whose main interests are ancient Middle Eastern studies, Kantian philosophy and philosophy of science. Willem’s main areas of study regarding the ancient Middle East are the Sumerian, Akkadian and early Egyptian civilizations, with special focus on the Uruk and Akkadian Periods in Mesopotamian history as well as the Old Kingdom Period in Egyptian history

Top Image : Enthroned Sumerian king of Ur, with attendants. Standard of Ur, (c. 2600 BC) ( Michel wal   / CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Willem McLoud

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