Sunday, December 20, 2009


Hittite relief of the Goddess KuBuba

Sometimes history throws you a loop that is tantalizing but also annoying in its brevity and lack of detail such is the story or should I say lack of Story concerning Kug-Bau (alternative spelling Ku-baba), queen of Kish c. 2400 B.C.E. She is the only Queen mentioned in the Sumerian King List and has such she stands out very much in the list.1

Kish was one of the most important city states of ancient Babylonia / Sumer. In fact the first non-legendary dynasty to be listed in the Sumerian King list is in fact the first dynasty of Kish. In fact when a ruler of one of the many city states of Babylonia / Sumer was claiming some sort of domination over all of Babylonia / Sumer he would frequently title himself “King of Kish“ and try to be crowned there. If the Sumerian King List is anything to go by the rulers of Kish were very frequently the most powerful city state in Babylonia / Sumer, through out this time period.2

Map of Ancient Sumer

One of the most consistent aspects about Kingship in the Mesopotamian world is that it was a very masculine activity. Queens could of course weld considerable power but Queen’s regnant seem to have been very rare indeed.

So just how did this even happen? We do not know! However we do have two sources. The first is the Sumerian King List, which exists in c. 17 versions and in very fragmentary condition,3 which says:

Then Mari was {defeated} {(ms. TL has instead:) destroyed} and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Kug-Bau, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kiš, became king; she ruled for 100 years. 1 king; she ruled for 100 years. Then Kiš was {defeated} {(ms. TL has instead:) destroyed} and the kingship was taken to Akšak.

{Then Akšak was defeated} {(ms. S has instead:) Then the reign of Akšak was abolished} and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Puzur-Suen, the son of Kug-Bau, became king; he ruled for 25 years.4

Another translation of the above passages is:

Then Mari was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Ku-Baba, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kiš, became king; she ruled for 100 years. One queen ruled for 100 years.

Then Akšak was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Puzur-Sin, son of Ku-Baba, became king; he ruled for 25 years.5

First is must be mentioned that the Sumerian King List is a very problematic document. Only a few of the Kings mentioned in the list have yielded contemporary documents indicating that they existed and some of them like Dumuzi a fertility god seem to be clearly mythological.6

Then it must be realized that the Kings listed are in a chronological order. The first author of the King list who was copied by his successors seems to have assumed that each dynasties in the list ruled over the whole land of Sumer and Akkad. This is almost certainly wrong. It appears that the dynasties recorded were in many respects contemporary with each other. The phrasing that such and such a city was defeated / destroyed and Kingship carried off seems to be nothing more than a stock phrase meaning very little in real terms.7

We have for example in the Sumerian King List itself the following absurdity. We have listed as the son and successor of Puzur-Sin a man named Ur-Zababa, followed by 5 more kings reigning a total of 66 years. Following that Kingship is taken to Uruk whose King reigns for 25 years before Sargon the great takes Kingship to Akkade. Thus a total of 91 years separates Ur-Zababa from the Kingship of Sargon the Great who reigned, supposedly for 56 years.8 The problem is that Sargon the great is describe in the Sumerian King List as “the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa”!9 Also stories describe Ur-Zababa and Sargon as contemporaries.10

Finally the length’s given to the reigns of the Kings in the list are frequently absurd. For example 28,800 years, 1,200 years, and 900 years, and Kug-Bau is given a reign of 100 years and her grandson Ur-Zababa a reign of 400 years.11 Despite the above the Sumerian King List is considered to be fairly accurate as a list of Kings in various city states and their order.12

The first rendition of the Sumerian King List may have been during the reign of Narum-Sin, grandson of Sargon the Great and subsequently rewritten and added to until the end of the dynasty of Isin in the 18th century C.E.13

The other document is the so called Chronicle of the Esaglia (also called the Weidler Chronicle). It purports to list lessons learned by Kings in the past and especially warn of dire consequences for ignoring the cult of Marduk. It dates sometime after 1100 B.C.E.14

The passage goes follows:

38' In the reign of Puzur-Nirah, king of Akšak, the freshwater fishermen of Esagila
39' were catching fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk;
40' the officers of the king took away the fish.
41' The fisherman was fishing when 7 (or 8) days had passed [...]
42' in the house of Kubaba,[3] the tavern-keeper [...] they brought to Esagila.
42a' At that time BROKEN[4] anew for Esagila [...]
43' Kubaba gave bread to the fisherman and gave water, she made him offer the fish to Esagila.
44' Marduk, the king, the prince of the Apsû,[5] favored her and said: "Let it be so!"
45' He entrusted to Kubaba, the tavern-keeper, sovereignty over the whole world.15

Another translation of the same passage goes as follows:

During the reign of King Puzur-Nirah of Aksak, fishermen from the Esaglia caught fish on the banks of […] they caught fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk, but the king’s officers seized them. The fishermen […] Seven days having gone by, the fishermen (again) caught fish, […it] into the home of Ku-Baba, the innkeeper, […] for the large beer vat. They carried […] to the Esaglia as an offering. At this time its foun,dation. (?) BREAK, newly, for the Esaglia, […] Ku-Baba offered bread to the fishermen and offered wine to them, (but) she hurried to [deliver] the fish to the Esaglia. Marduk, the king, the ,son. Of the prince of Apsu, looked benevolently upon her and she said “Let it be so!” Ku-Baba was entrusted with the whole kingship over all the lands.16

Not is this passage late it is obviously a propaganda piece designed to help discourage Kings and that agents from taking goods and merchandise from the Temple of Marduk by claiming that those who do will be punished and those who give the temple what it is entitled to will prosper.

That being the case it does seem to be an interesting indication that even more than 1000 years after Kug-Bau’s reign she was still remembered, with a reputation for piety, and those legends about her were positive.

So what do those the above, very laconic, documents tell us about Kug-Bau? They tell us that she started out in what we call a fairly “middle class” situation. Occupations were usually hereditary among the peoples of ancient Babylonia / Sumer so her parents were probably also Innkeepers also. Since women could own and run businesses in ancient Babylonia / Sumer and Inn keeping seems to have been one of the ones with a fair number of female practitioners.17

This was certainly not the sort of occupation that would lead to becoming ruler; usually. So just what did Kug-Bau do that got her to power? The answer is we do not know. The Esaglia Chronicle would appear to indicate that perhaps Kug-Bau was helped to power in alliance with the local Priesthood, although it would not have been the Priesthood of Marduk but possibly the Priesthood of the Sumerian supreme God An / Anu, or perhaps Enlil.18

Now we know from the Sumerian King list that Kug-Bau was the founder of a dynasty, in this case the third dynasty of Kish. This would seem to indicate that Kug-Bau took power after some sort of calamity or coup seemed to necessitate the replacement of the ruling dynasty. Perhaps some sort of defeat in war? The very fact that Kug-Bau was able to take, hold on to power and establish a dynasty would seem to indicate a very high level of political skill on her part. Certainly given that in ancient Babylonia and Sumer Kingship was regarded as almost entirely outside of a women’s role; we can be assured that Kug-Bau was quite a politician.

The statement Kug-Bau, “who made firm the foundations of Kiš (Kish)”, would appear to indicate that Kug-Bau re-established Kish’s power and greatly strengthened the state, and perhaps also greatly extended Kish’s power and influence throughout Babylonia / Sumer.

The closing section is a bit bizarre. Kish is said to have been defeated and Kingship taken to Aksak for 93 years and then Kingship is restored to Kish and in the hands of Puzur-Sin the son of Kug-Bau who reigned for 25 years. Obviously that is false. Further Kug-Bau is supposed to have reigned after carrying off Kingship from Mari yet according to the Esaglia Chronicle Puzur-Nirah who according to the Sumerian King List was the third King of the dynasty of Aksak that succeeded Kug-Bau!19

It seems to be obvious that the break that the author of the Sumerian King List introduces is an error. Although rather amazingly some people call the list of names staring with Kug-Bau’s son Puzur-Sin as the fourth dynasty of Kish. This is almost certainly a mistake and what as in fact happened is that the author has broken the third dynasty of Kish into two parts.20

So it appears that in fact Kug-Bau’s reign ended simply with her death and the passing of the throne to her son.

Kug-Bau had a curious sort of afterlife, aside from showing up in legends, in that she seems to have become assimilated with a goddess Kubaba / Kububa known later on in Greco-Roman times as Cybebe or Kybebe, a Mother Earth Goddess. As Kubaba this cult spread throughout Mesopotamia, Palestine and Asia Minor; later on under the name Cybebe, / Kybebe this cult spread throughout the Roman Empire.21

It is more likely that Kug-Bau was named after a Goddess than that she inspired the cult by being deified; still it is likely that she had some influence on the cult and was to a degree assimilated to the Goddess. It is also possible that this is another example of a mythological figure, in this case a Goddess, getting into the Sumerian King List. This is rather doubtful given the circumstantial detail of her being an Innkeeper and the rather earthy statement she built up the power of Kish. It appears that Kug-Bau was indeed a real person.22

Certainly there is massive room for speculation and perhaps a few historical novels to put some flesh on the very bare bones facts we have about Kug-Bau.

Did Kug-Bau when she was Queen of Kish sometimes wistfully recall those times when she was a Innkeeper serving her customers another tall cold one? We will likely never know. But the story of the Innkeeper who became a Queen and founded a dynasty will continue to fascinate.

Map of Kish

1. Roux, Ancient Iraq, 3rd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1992, After p. 498, in the Chronological table the fifth page, Bertman, Stephen, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 91.

2. Bertman, p. 24, . Saggs, H. W. F., The Greatness that was Babylonia, Mentor Books, New York, 1962, pp. 60-61, Roux, pp. 138-139.

3. Glasser, Jean-Jacques, Mesopotamian Chronicles, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 2004, pp. 117-118.

4. From The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), Sumerian King List, (SKL) Here, Glasser, pp. 118-127, includes translation and transliteration of original Sumerian.

5. From Livius, Sumerian King List, (SKL) Here.

6. Saggs, pp. 55-56, Bertman, p. 50, Khurt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East c. 3000-330 B.C., v. 1, Routledge, New York, 1995, pp. 29-31, Roux, pp. 107-108, 123-125.

7. IBID, Roux, pp. 138-145.

8. ETSCL, SKL, Livius, SKL, Glasser, p. 123.

9. IBID, Glasser.

10. IBID, p. 267. See also story Sargon and Ur-Zababa, ETSCL Here.

11. IBID, pp. 121-123, see also Livius, SKL, and ETSCL, SKL.

12. Roux, pp. 123-124.

13.Glasser, p. 118.

14. IBID, pp. 263-264.

15. Livius, The Weilder Chronicle, (WC) Here.

16. Glasser, p. 267.

17. Hawkes, Jacquetta, The First Great Civilizations, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1973, pp. 104, 114-115.

18. For more about those Gods see Bertman, pp. 116, 118.

19. Glasser, pp. 123, 267, Livius, SKL, WC.

20. For an example of this see Wikipedia, Sumerian King List Here.

21. Wikipedia, Kubaba Here.

22. See Footnotes 6 & 7.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. Anonymous6:54 pm

    The Bible mentions Nimrod as building the Genesis 10:10 city of Accad/Akkad/Agade. (Genesis 10:8-10)Sumer history calls Nimrod Sargon who build Akkad and the Akkadian empire.
    Sargon was mentioned as defeating Erech's king Lugalzagesi. Perhaps Lugalzagessi was appointed to Erech a Genesis 10:10 city by Sargon/Nimrod and then Lugalzagessi rebelled and Sargon destroyed Erech and Erech's people began to build Ur for twenty years. UR's king's list post the first king as Mesannapadda and his son Annapadda built the temple of Ninhursag at UR. Sargon daughter Enheduanna was UR's first moon priestess. Annapadda according to temple tablets was UR's first moon priest. Lagash's governor Eannatum worshipped the god Ninhursag and Lagash governor Urukagina reigned after Eannatum so Erech's king Lugalzagessi didn't bring down Urukagina's government. It was the Gutium whom brought down Urukagina's government. Lagash consumers in Urukagina's reign had an abundance of silver which they used as currency. Akkadian king Sharkalishari
    was under Gutium attacks constantly and the Akkadian laborers only accepted silver as payment. The people buried at the Royal Tombs of UR lived after Mesannapadda and Annapadda for they were buried with silver artifacts and electrum and therefore committed suicide a few years after Sharkishari died as Gutium forces advanced against UR they committed suicide so and were buried with their wealth so the Gutium could not get their hands on it. Egyptian king Sahure also lived during the time of Urukagina for the Egyptians received silver from Punt and the Punites had got that silver from UR. Sahure mixed silver with African gold to produce his electrum just like found in the Royal Tombs of UR.

  2. What the fuck is this word salad?

    A few things wrong in what I can make out.

    Lugalzagesi was not appointed King by Sargon he was already a king. If anything Sargon rebelled against him.

    Sargon did not destroy Erech (Uruk and Ur was already in existence

    Sargon's daughter Enheduanna was almost certainly not the first Moon Priestess at Ur.

    The royal burials at Ur predate the Gutium invasion by several hundred years and likely predate the officially listed in the Sumerian king list first dynasty of Ur.

    I could go but this is a mess.

    Go wastes someone else's time.