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Sumerian King List

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Sumerian King List

The Sumerian King List is an ancient stone tablet originally recorded in the Sumerian language, listing kings of Sumer (ancient southern Iraq) from Sumerian and neighboring dynasties, their supposed reign lengths, and the locations of the kingship. Kingship was seen as handed down by the gods, and could be transferred from one city to another, reflecting perceived hegemony in the region. Throughout its Bronze Age existence, the document evolved into a political tool. Its final and single attested version, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, aimed to legitimize Isin's claims to hegemony when Isin was vying for dominance with Larsa and other neighboring city-states in southern Mesopotamia.



The list blends prehistorical, presumably mythical predynastic rulers enjoying implausibly lengthy reigns with later, more plausibly historical dynasties. Although the primal kings are historically unattested, that does not preclude their possible correspondence with historical rulers who were later mythicized. Some Assyriologists view the predynastic kings as a later fictional addition. Only one ruler listed is known to be female: Kug-Bau "the (female) tavern-keeper", who alone accounts for the Third Dynasty of Kish. The earliest listed ruler whose historicity has been archaeologically verified is Enmebaragesi of Kish, ca. 2600 BC. Reference to him and his successor, Aga of Kish, in the Epic of Gilgamesh has led to speculation that Gilgamesh himself may have been a historical king of Uruk. Three dynasties are absent from the list: the Larsa dynasty, which vied for power with the (included) Isin dynasty during the Isin-Larsa period; and the two dynasties of Lagash, which respectively preceded and ensued the Akkadian Empire, when Lagash exercised considerable influence in the region. Lagash in particular is known directly from archaeological artifacts dating from ca. 2500 BC. The list is important to the chronology of the 3rd millennium BC. However, the fact that many of the dynasties listed reigned simultaneously from varying localities makes it difficult to reproduce a strict linear chronology.


The following extant ancient sources contain the Sumerian King List or fragments:

  • Apkullu-list (W.20030,7)
  • Babyloniaca (Berossus)
  • Dynastic Chronicle (ABC 18) including copies, K 11261+ and K 12054
  • Kish Tablet (Scheil dynastic tablet)
  • UCBC 9-1819 ("California Tablet")
  • WB 62
  • WB 444 (Weld-Blundell Prism)
  • The last two sources (WB) are a part of the "Weld-Blundell collection", donated by Herbert Weld Blundell to the Ashmolean Museum. WB 62 is a small clay tablet, inscribed only on one side, unearthed from Larsa. It is the oldest dated source, at c. 2000 BC, that contains the list. WB 444, in contrast, is a unique inscribed vertical prism, dated c. 1817 BC, although some scholars prefer c. 1827 BC. The Kish Tablet or Scheil dynastic tablet is an early 2nd millennium BC tablet which came into possession of Jean-Vincent Scheil, but only contains list entries for four Sumerian cities. UCBC 9-1819 is a clay tablet housed in the collection of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of California. The tablet was inscribed during the reign of the Babylonian King Samsu-iluna, or slightly earlier, with the earliest date of 1712 BC. The Dynastic Chronicle (ABC 18) is a Babylonian king list written on six columns, beginning with entries for the antediluvian (prior to the flood) Sumerian rulers. K 11261+ is one of the copies of this chronicle, consisting of three joined Neo-Assyrian fragments discovered at the Library of Ashurbanipal. K 12054 is another of the Neo-Assyrian fragments from Uruk (c. 640 BC) but contains a variant form of the antediluvians on the list. The later Babylonian king lists and Assyrian king lists repeated the earliest portions of the list, thus preserving them well into the 3rd century BC. At this time, Berossus wrote Babyloniaca, which popularized fragments of the list in the Hellenic world. In 1960, the Apkullu-list (Tablet No. W.20030, 7) or “Uruk List of Kings and Sages” (ULKS) was discovered by German archaeologists at an ancient temple at Uruk. The list, dating to c. 165 BC, contains a series of kings, equivalent to the Sumerian antediluvians, called "Apkullu".


    Early dates are approximate, and are based on available archaeological data. For most of the pre-Akkadian rulers listed, the king list is itself the lone source of information. Beginning with Lugal-zage-si and the Third Dynasty of Uruk (which was defeated by Sargon of Akkad), a better understanding of how subsequent rulers fit into the chronology of the ancient Near East can be deduced. The short chronology is used here.

    Antediluvian rulers

    None of the following predynastic antediluvian rulers has been verified as historical by archaeological excavations, epigraphical inscriptions or otherwise. While there is no evidence they ever reigned as such, the Sumerians purported them to have lived in the mythical era before the great deluge. Some modern scholars believe the Sumerian deluge story corresponds to localized river flooding at Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq,) and various other cities as far north as Kish, as revealed by layer of riverine sediments, radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC, which interrupt the continuity of settlement. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000–2900 BC) was discovered immediately below this Shuruppak flood stratum.

    The antediluvian reigns were measured in Sumerian numerical units known as sars (units of 3,600), ners (units of 600), and sosses (units of 60).

    Dynasty of Awan

    This was a dynasty from Elam.

    Second Dynasty of Kish

    The First Dynasty of Lagash (ca. 2500 – ca. 2271 BC) is not mentioned in the King List, though it is well known from inscriptions

    The 2nd Dynasty of Lagash (before ca. 2093–2046 BC (short)) is not mentioned in the King List, though it is well known from inscriptions.

    Third Dynasty of Ur

    Independent Amorite states in lower Mesopotamia. The Dynasty of Larsa (ca. 1961–1674 BC (short)) from this period is not mentioned in the King List.

    Dynasty of Isin

    * These epithets or names are not included in all versions of the king list.


  • Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Sumerian King List. Oriental Institute, Assyriological Studies 11, University of Chicago Press, 1939
  • Rowton, M. B. The Date of the Sumerian King List, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 156–162, 1960
  • P. Steinkeller, An Ur III Manuscript of the Sumerian King List. In Literatur, Politik und Recht in Mesopotamien: Festschrift fur Claus Wilcke, ed. W. Sallaberger et al., Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 267–92, 2003
  • Young, Dwight W. The Incredible Regnal Spans of Kish I in the Sumerian King List, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 23–35, 1991
  • Hallo, William W. Beginning and End of the Sumerian King List in the Nippur Recension, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 52–57, 1963
  • Vincente, Claudine-Adrienne, "The Tall Leilan Recension of the Sumerian King List", Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 50 (1995), 234–270
  • Friberg, Jöran. "The Beginning and the End of the Sumerian King List", in A remarkable collection of Babylonian mathematical texts: Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection Cuneiform Texts I, Springer, 2007, ISBN 0-387-34543-4
  • Michalowski, Piotr. History as Charter Some Observations on the Sumerian King List, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 103, no. 1, pp. 237–248, 1983
  • Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles, Brill, 2005, ISBN 90-04-13084-5
  • J. J. Finkelstein, The Antediluvian Kings: A University of California Tablet, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 39–51, 1963
  • Albrecht Goetze, Early Kings of Kish, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 105–111, 1961
  • Thomas Jacobs, The Sumerian King List, UGent paper, GONO department
  • References

    Sumerian King List Wikipedia

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