Foundation figure of Ur-Nammu

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Illustration

by Trustees of the British Museum
published on 09 January 2012

From Uruk, southern Iraq
Third Dynasty of Ur, about 2100-2000 BC.

The king as a temple builder with a basket of earth to make bricks.

This bronze figure represents Ur-Nammu, the ruler of Ur (about 2112-2095 BC). It was made for burial in the foundations of a temple of Uruk. It was one of the duties of a Mesopotamian king to care for the gods and restore or rebuild their temples. In the late third millennium BC, rulers in southern Mesopotamia depicted themselves carrying out this pious task. Ur-Nammu lifts up a large basket of earth for making bricks. The copper 'peg' acted as a record for posterity and to receive the god's blessing.

The cuneiform inscription around and over the king's body states that Ur-Nammu dedicated the figure to Inana (Ishtar), the patron deity of Uruk. It also records the restoration of her temple called Eanna 'the house of heaven'. Her name appears to mean 'the lady of heaven'. She was associated with the goddess Ishtar and the planet known to us as Venus.

Towards the end of the third millennium BC, southern Mesopotamia was united under the control of the city of Ur. Ur-Nammu founded the empire, which stretched into Iran. He was a prodigious builder. The most impressive monuments of his reign were ziggurats which he constructed at various cities. Although not unlike the stepped pyramids of Egypt in appearance, ziggurats were made of solid brickwork and did not have tombs inside.

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Museum/Archaeological Site Links

  • E.D. Van Buren, Foundation Offerings and Figur (Berlin, H. Schoetz & Co., 1931)
  • H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
  • J.E. Reade, Mesopotamia (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

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