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The Sumerian King List is an ancient text 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. This text is preserved in several recensions. The list of kings is sequential, although modern research indicates many were contemporaries, reflecting the belief that kingship was handed down by the gods and could be transferred from one city to another, asserting to a hegemony in the region.
The list blends prehistorical, presumably mythicalpredynastic 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, c. 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 c. 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 portions of it:
The two sources marked 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.
None of the following predynastic antediluvian rulers have 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 a layer of riverine sediments, radiocarbon dated to c. 2900 BC, which interrupt the continuity of settlement. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (c. 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). Attempts have been made to map these numbers into more reasonable regnal lengths.
^"Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2010-11-07. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Stephen Langdon,
Historical inscriptions, containing principally the chronological prism, W-B 444, Oxford University Press, 1923
^Bilingual Chronicle Fragments, Irving L. Finkel, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2, Apr., 1980, pp. 65-80.
^A copy of the tablet appears in Jan van Dijk and Werner R. Mayer, Texte aus dem Rès-Heiligtum in Uruk-Warka, Bagdader Mitteilungen Beiheft 2 (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1980), text no. 89 (= BaMB 2 89). For an edition of the text, see J. van Dijk, Die Inschriftenfunde, Vorläufiger Bericht über die... Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka 18 (1962), 44-52 and plate 27. "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2010-07-09. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-01-30. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)Christine Proust, "Numerical and Metrological Graphemes: From Cuneiform to Transliteration," Cuneiform Digital Library Journal, 2009, ISSN 1540-8779
^R.K. Harrison, "Reinvestigating the Antediluvian Sumerian King List," JETS, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 3-8, (Mar 1993)
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