The Standard of Ur

The Standard of Ur is a wonderful example of Mesopotamian artistic achievement that reveals a wealth of information about one of the world’s great ancient civilisations. This object was discovered by the archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley during excavations at ancient Ur (modern Tell al-Muqayyar), in southern Mesopotamia (south Iraq). The most spectacular discoveries at Ur were made within a cemetery of the Early Dynastic III period (c. 2600–2300 BC), that Woolley named ‘The Royal Cemetery’. Here, among hundreds of more modest burials, were sixteen graves that he distinguished as ‘Royal Tombs’ because of their construction, abundance of grave goods and evidence of elaborate burial rituals and human sacrifice. The Standard was discovered in the corner of one of the tomb chambers of a Royal Tomb (PG 779) that had been thoroughly robbed in antiquity.

It was named at the time of its discovery by Leonard Woolley who initially proposed that it may have been carried on a pole like a battle standard, but its original function is unknown. The two rectangular panels of engraved shell figures and mosaic tesserae of lapis lazuli, red limestone, and shell were originally attached to wood that did not survive being buried in a tomb for thousands of years. These two panels which are sometimes referred to as ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ were discovered lying back-to-back and crushed, with some of the pieces displaced. The shape of the wooden mount that these panels are fixed on today is based on Woolley’s suggestion that there were also two truncated triangular shaped end panels. However, the arrangement of the inlays on the end panels is speculative.
The Standard is an excellent example of Mesopotamian narrative art; the scenes illustrate a story or a sequence of events. It is almost certain that what is shown on the two main panels of the Standard are consecutive episodes of the same story – the end of a victorious battle of a king of Ur and the banquet or ritual celebrations after the battle.

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Customer Complaining Letter

A complaint letter to a merchant named Ea-nasir from a customer named Nanni. Written in cuneiform, it is considered to be the oldest known written complaint in history.

Ea-Nasir travelled to the Persian Gulf to buy copper and return to sell it in Mesopotamia. On one particular occasion, he had agreed to sell copper ingots to Nanni. Nanni sent his servant with the money to complete the transaction. The copper was sub-standard and not accepted. In response, Nanni created the cuneiform letter for delivery to Ea-nasir. Inscribed on it is a complaint to Ea-nasir about a copper ore delivery of the incorrect grade, and issues with another delivery. He also complained that his servant (who handled the transaction) had been treated rudely. He stated that, at the time of writing, he had not accepted the copper but had paid the money.

„Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.“

The tablet was acquired by the British Museum in 1953. It was originally found in the ruins of Ur. It was translated in 1967 by Leo Oppenheim and was published in his book Letters from Mesopotamia. It dates from 1750 BCE. It is 11.6 centimetres (4.6 in) high, 5 centimetres (2.0 in) wide, 2.6 centimetres (1.0 in) thick, and slightly damaged.

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