Skip to content


If we have any questions about the composition of a King’s Court during the Middle Ages, we only need to pick up one of the many tomes on Camelot during the time of King Arthur. Dozens of authors have reported on this, over hundreds of years, and to many of us it is as familiar as our own modern government.

And the Babylonians of 2000 BC and later are well represented in this type of literature, since they were prolific writers themselves; the escapades of the hero Gilgamesh are fresh in the minds of most of our students.  But why have we heard very little about the earliest civilizations in the land between the rivers  – those Sumerians from 3500 BC and earlier?

Archaeologists can tell quite a bit about a culture from the goods and services that they evidenced with artifacts, [truth be told, most archaeologists are dumpster divers of a sort] but a report of what they themselves felt were the ideal requisites for the successful operation of a kingdom tells us even more about their values and desires.  I haven’t seen anything like this published previously.

I have found that the Sumerian scribes had a habit, a quirk actually, and one which perhaps led to our current ignorance about their civilization.  They believed that most intelligent people would understand that no sane person would mount a trade caravan simply to deliver one of each item on a long list.  It would not be economically feasible to deliver say, one cow, one slave, one basket of wheat, and especially not over long distances of desert lands.

And so they often added a single digit number one to the left of their lines on tablets, perhaps because the number one also indicates  “first, principal, primarily” and thus it was their way to begin a report.   But they miscalculated with our modern scholars, because it seems that whenever our ancient language translators see numbers in front of lines of text, they automatically assume it is a commercial tablet, and usually leave these un-translated. Too many texts, too few qualified translators, and not enough funding – the usual excuses.

It’s difficult to puzzle out some of the pictographic glyphs in Sumerian writing – those done in the very earliest period of their history – some few thousands of years before they came out with the classical style of cuneiform writing that we are most familiar with today.  And thus the number of qualified translators shrinks even further.

I decided to translate one of these pictographic examples, specifically the tablet denoted CDLI no. P000161.  Here are a few of the details that are furnished in the tablet entry, and a link to that tablet, if you wish to examine it:

Publication date        2015 ff.
Collection        Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, Germany
Provenience        Uruk (mod. Warka)
Excavation no.        W 17942
Period        Uruk III (ca. 3200-3000 BC)
Language        undetermined
Sub-genre        Archaic Lu2 A (witness)
Translation        no translation
[ ]

The suggestion that the “Language = undetermined and Translation = no translation” is not unusual to those who have worked with the CDLI (UCLA)  library of tablets – they have decided not to translate it and so they do not wish to be pinned down on the underlying language, but it is completely obvious that it is Sumerian.  The period of authorship alone would tell us that, since only the Sumerians and Hurrians understood the pictographic style that early, and the Hurrian version of symbol construction is noticeably different.

Well, enough with the technical details.  This tablet was authored by a scribe or scribes who were familiar with the inner courtyard of a Sumerian city-state.  For some reason he or she (a good percentage of Sumerian scribes were female) decided to make a list of all of the necessary offices and occupations of a rulers courtyard.   It’s crafted in the form of a wish-list, providing us more likely with the staff that the scribe felt was important, and not necessarily a list of personnel, but more of a “dream team”.  But I don’t believe that it is fictional in any way, and it paints a very complete picture of life in a Sumerian courtyard some 5370 years ago.

I won’t bore you with the transliteration, but I did, as usual, confirm the symbols and made minor adjustments to a very few of them, when appropriate.  Following the lines are my own comments.

——-    The Ones We Need:  (my suggested title)

1 with an understanding of the metal cultic vessel
[ used in alchemy, white magic, for potions and medicines]

1 with an understanding of the left hand (evil)
[the Bible concurs that the left had was considered impure and evil.  And so left-handed work included spells, enchantments and evil works against the enemies of the kingdom]

1 clothed in wisdom & understanding
[I like to think that this may be a philosopher or perhaps a historian, or both]

1 with forethought of the flood
[Contrary to popular reports by archaeologists and religious leaders, the Sumerians did
not wait for the gods to warn them of impending floods – they measured the rainfall and the rise in the height of the rivers and were able to warn their people in advance.]

1 with the wisdom & understanding to anoint

[One able to nominate those due for promotion or kingship.]

1  with a large chariot
[A Military leader employs the large chariot that leads the army in battle.]

1 with understanding of the branches of canals
[Canals and channels were what made the deserts of Sumer bloom for them.]

1 elder with ME
[The ME were the divine instructions or authorizations of the sky gods. This speaks of an elder who was able to be the conduit of their commandments to his people.]

1 to undo the past
[Yes, even the early Sumerians needed a problem solver. One to identify and fix errors.]

1 master of the fields
[An agricultural genius and manager of slaves and field labor.]

1 priest
[Standard, but strange. Not “a cadre of priests led by a Bishop” and not a priestly class, but one good priest was apparently all that they thought necessary.]

1 great elder (sage)
[A sage who could offer advice based upon his reading of ancient tablets.]

1 administrative official
[Probably the governmental person in charge of lands and commerce. Alternatively, this could be the tax collector or revenue official – treasurer.]

1 with bread and cream
[What would life in the court be like without a good cook?]

1 to be great and elevated
[A contender who seemed to be on an upward path to greatness.]

1 to be great in the courtyard
[And another who knew his way around the politicians.]

1 lamb  (gentle)
[One who spoke out against War?]

1 in a branch of a great profession
[Have to have a branch of professionals in any government.]

1 with the knowledge to anoint
[One familiar with protocols and procedures.]

1  chief administrator of a temple with knowledge
[Temple functions included the scribes.]

1 to do, to make, to perform
[Someone able to get things done.]

1 overseer with a crown
[Notice that they ask for an overseer with a crown, not a ruler with a crown that might stand aloof, but one that would be a part of the everyday operations.]

1 with a great crown
[And not just any crown, but one with greater lands or importance.]

1 with a base or foundation
[A traditionally conservative crowned head.]

There are six lines that are missing from this tablet.  They have been broken off or damaged to such an extent that we can no longer determine, nor even guess, at their contents.

However, based upon mentions in other tablets, I would suggest the following might have been included:

1 for Justice and Laws (very important to the Sumerians)
1 for Arts, and especially statues.
1 for Music (very important – the Sumerians invented the Lyre)
1 for Metal works and bullion
1 for Caravans, traders and weights and measures
1 astronomer would seem useful.

Your own opinions toward the missing six may differ, and perhaps by translating other tablets we may be able to fill in these missing positions.

And what have we not seen on their list?  Nothing about 1 slave-catcher, 1 jailer, 1 to sacrifice humans, 1 to manufacture propaganda, 1 to instigate trouble.

Some will feel that there is little reason to learn the truth about early humans. They would prefer to remain content with the expression of some of our historians and scholars that these were a crude and brutish group – ignorant and filthy pagans who wallow in the mud, the lot of them.  But really, does anything that you have read above suggest that?  To me their tablet suggests intelligent planning.

In another report I will provide the evidence that each of the Sumerian city-states chose to worship one principal god or goddess, and that they were not the polytheistic pagans that we have been told of.  If we called them Modified Monotheists we would probably be closest to the truth in regards to their religious preferences.

PS  In case you are wondering, yes, I did briefly consider publishing this on and thus submit it for peer review. Ditto with the CDLI website.  But their requirements that I produce a specific PDF or other restrictive format, or fill in some long form for submission, does not meet with the time constraints that I am presently facing.  And I don’t care for the attention that it might bring – I prefer to research and write.

As always I value your own thoughts or suggestions.