Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ancient Near Eastern Art :The Ur-Nammu Stele

The Ur-nammu stele represents the rule of king Ur-nammu who was the founder of the 3rd Sumerian dynasty in southern Mesopotamia, which is believed to have been in what is now modern southern Iraq. Mesopotamia as many archeologist and historians have studied, was located around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provided a perfect fertile environment for civilizations to grow and develop, no doubt why Mesopotamia is known as the cradle of civilization.

During his life, Ur-nammu created and developed "The code of Ur-nammu" the oldest code of laws that has been discovered which is very similar to the code of Hammurabi, the difference is that this code was written about three centuries before the Hammurabi’s, in fact, it is very possible that Hammurabi could have borrowed some of the laws listed on the code of Ur-nammu and applied to his own code. The similarities are striking. The Code of Ur-nammu , just like other codes of laws developed , served as a method for the king to establish justice through his kingdom, provide the Sumerian people with the guidelines and rules they were to abide by and as well to inform them about the consequence of breaking the rules. Disobedience to one of the laws was mostly punished with having to repay money to the person affected by the violation of such law but breaking other laws such as the following, were often punished with death.

"If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male." Code of Ur-nammu

Ur-nammu was also known for creating temples or Ziggurats, stepped temples with the intention to find grace before the gods. On the Ur-Nammu stele, we see Ur-nammu at the left side of the stele humbling pouring "water" into what seems to be a plant, which stands before him and the moon god, Nannar who is seating down on a throne and wearing a more elaborated head-dress and skirt. Nannar was worshipped as the patron god of Sumeria, and though other deity was worship he was one of the most important gods to please, perhaps that is why Ur-nammu is portrayed here with him. Researchers have agreed that on this stele Nannar is giving Ur-nammu instructions for how to build temples. In many art works from Mesopotamia, we see mortal rulers interacting with deity something which might have been portrayed to make people believe that whatever their ruler demanded from them had to be done and accepted for they communicated with the gods and received guidance and approval from them

 The Stele of Ur-nammu . Mesopotamia , Ur ca 2097-2080

 Another example of a god interacting with a mortal can be seen on the Code of Hammurabi where Hammurabi stands before Shamash, in this stele Shamash hands over to Hammurabi the authority and power to rule over the people of Babylon. Perhaps people were instructed to believe that disobedience to their king, equal disobedience to the gods.

 Law Code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon1792–1750 BC