Enheduanna Let's Take a Journey to Mesopotamia

Let us dive deep into our past, back into the Ancient Civilization of Mesopotamia approximately 4,300 years ago, 2300 b.c.e. We discover Enheduanna, the highest priestess of Ur (a Mesopotamian city) and the daughter of the Sumarian king, Sargon of Akkad. During this time, Sargon had defeated Lugalzagesi creating the first territorial empire of Mesopotamia. In building this new empire, there was tension and rebellion. In order to ease this transition Sargon appointed his daughter Enheduanna to help mend the loyalty between the joining cities. She would be dedicated to the Sumerian moon god Nanna and commit personal devotion to the Sumerian goddess Inanna (pictured above). The highest priestess position remained for the next five hundred years.

In addition to her legacy as a high priestess, Enheduanna wrote poetry and hymns. Literacy and scribing was not a common practice for women or for many within this civilization. Relics of Enheduanna’s life and literacy compositions were found throughout the preservation of the city. Her poems and literacy works can still be found throughout various literature collections all over the world. Her legacy of influence and change is a reminder of an effective political move from a single person.

We can find evidence such as this and answers to our past through the civilizations remains. For instance, The Ziggurat of Ur is a temple from this ancient civilization that has left us some clues about Enheduanna. Archaeologists have found discs of ancient priests and priestesses, hymns and poems, and other artifacts that date to be some of the oldest writings in the world. We can understand her legacy through an investigation of Mesopotamia's historical evidence.

Now and thousands of years later, we examine the clues that were left behind in the ruins of a city that stood long ago to speak to us about Enheduanna.

Below we have 6 Primary Sources to uncover...

Enheduanna's "House of Light", The Ziggurat of Ur
  • What do you think Ziggurat means?
  • Close your eyes, you walk into The Ziggurat of Ur, what could you see?
  • What would this place mean to Enheduanna?
This is a Restored Disc from the city of Ur
  • What do we mean when we say disc?
  • How would this artifact survive after thousand of years?
  • Why would Ancient civilizations create discs?
Alabaster Disc, “Disk of Enheduanna”
  • What is this disc picturing?
  • Are one of these figures Enheduanna? Why?
  • What does this disc tell us about her influence in this time?


The most popular English translations of Enheduanna’s poetry belongs to Dr. Annette Zgoll, a German researcher who translated ancient inscriptions. The famous poem contains 153 verses in total. The translation of the first verses of the ancient text say:

1. Queen of all the ME, too numerous to count, rising forth as resplendent light

2. Woman, most driven, clothed in frightening radiance, loved by An and Uras,

3. An's nugig, you are above all the great SUHkese-breastplates,

4. You, who love the right aga-crown, who is suited for the en-priest-hood,

5. empowered with all of its all seven ME --

6. my queen! You are the guardian of the great ME!

7. You have uplifted the ME, you have held the ME in your hand.

8. You have gathered the ME, you have clasped the ME to your chest.

9. Like a dragon you cast venom upon the enemy land.

10. In the regions where you thundered like Iskur, Asnan no longer exists because of you

11. Flooding waters surge down on such an enemy land

12. You are the supreme one in Heaven and Earth, you are their Inanna!

  • Who could Enheduanna be writing this poem for?
  • Why does Enheduanna keep writing ME? Think about the translation of this ancient writing. Now explain, ME.
  • Why would Enheduanna favor this specific goddess more than another?

The Exaltation of Inanna

"The Exaltation is 700 years older than the Egyptian Book of the Dead, more than 1,000 years older than the I Ching and 1,500 years older than the “Odyssey,” the “Iliad” and the Hebrew Bible"

Lines 42-59: Lady supreme over the foreign lands, who can take anything from your province? Once you have extended your province over the hills (2 mss. have instead: If you frown at the mountains), vegetation there is ruined. Their great gateways (1 ms. has instead: palaces) are set afire. Blood is poured into their rivers because of you, and their people must drink it (2 mss. have instead: could not drink). They must lead their troops captive before you, all together. They must scatter their élite regiments for you, all together. They must stand their able-bodied young men at your service, all together. Tempests have filled the dancing-places of their cities. They drive their young men before you as prisoners. Your holy command has been spoken over the city which has not declared "The foreign lands are yours!", wherever they have not declared "It is your own father's!"; and it is brought back under your feet. Responsible care is removed from its sheepfolds. Its woman no longer speaks affectionately with her husband; at dead of night she no longer takes counsel with him, and she no longer reveals to him the pure thoughts of her heart. Impetuous wild cow, great daughter of Suen, lady greater than An, who can take anything from your province?

  • What is this passage saying?
  • Think about the rise of the empire. Enheduanna's role in society. Is this connected in her writing?
  • What does this passage tell us about the civilization?
A detail from one of the recovered discs showing Enheduanna carrying out her priestly duties
  • Was this how you would expect to picture Enheduanna? What do you notice?
  • What do these details reveal? What is she doing?
  • How does this connect to her priestly duties and her role in the empire?
What do these PRIMARY SOURCES reveal about Enheduanna and Mesopotamia? How does this compare to our world today?
The Ziggurat at Ur, Today


Primary Source #1

  • Enheduanna (2012, September 11). In Notable Women. Retrieved from https://notablewomen.wordpress.com/tag/enheduanna/

Primary Source #2

  • Hafford, B. (2012, June 25). UR DIGITIZATION PROJECT: ITEM OF THE MONTH, JUNE 2012. In Penn Museum. Retrieved from https://www.penn.museum/blog/museum/ur-digitization-project-item-of-the-month-june-2012/

Primary Source #3

  • Klimczak, N. (2016, July 17). The Poetry of Gods by Enheduanna. In Ancient Origins. Retrieved from http://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/poetry-gods-enheduanna-first-known-female-writer-006294

Primary Source #4

  • Klimczak, N. (2016, July 17). A Poem to Inanna. In Ancient Origins. Retrieved from http://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/poetry-gods-enheduanna-first-known-female-writer-006294

Primary Source #5

  • "The exaltation of Inana (Inana B): translation." The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section4/tr4072.htm.
  • Kelley, P. (2015, May 5). Documents that Changed the World: The Exaltation of Inanna, 2300 BCE. In University of Washington. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/news/2015/05/05/documents-that-changed-the-world-the-exaltation-of-inanna-2300-bce/

Primary Source #6

  • Enheduanna (2012, September 11). In Notable Women. Retrieved from https://notablewomen.wordpress.com/tag/enheduanna/


  • Al-Juburi, A. (2003). Enheduanna (Poem). World Literature Today, 77(3/4), 40.
  • Derlet, M. F. J. (2013). Invisible Women of Prehistory. North Melbourne: Spinifex Press. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/lib/asulib-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1181557
  • Feldman, M.(2008). Enheduanna. In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195148909.001.0001/acref-9780195148909-e-301.
  • Meador, B. D. S., & Enheduanna. (2000). Inanna, lady of largest heart : Poems of the sumerian high priestess enheduanna. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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