Foundation figure of Ur-Namma

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between 2112 B.C. and 2095 B.C.
MLC 2628
Curatorial Comments: 

Around one foot in height, this exquisitely modeled figure was cast in copper and likely placed beneath the foundations of a temple in Nippur, a sacred city in Southern Mesopotamia (today, south-eastern Iraq). The inscription on the man's skirt tells us that the figurine represents "Ur-Nammu, King of Ur, King of Sumer and Akkad, who rebuilt the temple of Enlil." Ur-Nammu, the first ruler of the Third Dynasty of Ur, reigned between 2112 and 2095 BC. Enlil, the god associated with wind, air, earth, and storms, was venerated as the supreme Mesopotamian deity. Assuming the attire of a priest, the king is shown with his head shaved and his torso bare, holding a basket that contains the mud to make the temple's bricks. He is represented "carrying the basket"--a lowly occupation in Mesopotamian society--for in the presence of the gods, even the king is a humble servant. (For comfort, however, the basket is supported by a cushion.) The free-standing copper sculpture was made by craftsmen in royal service to commemorate Ur-Nammu's rebuilding campaign. It was not meant to be gazed upon by human eyes, but was buried in the temple's foundation, for the delectation of the deity to whom the building was consecrated.

Translation of inscription on skirt: "Ur-Nammu, King of Ur, King of Sumer and Akkad, who rebuilt the temple of Enlil."
Pierpont Morgan acquired this sculpture before 1908, probably from the Parisian dealer in Assyrian and Babylonian antiquities, Elias Gejou.

Height includes plinth, width measured at elbows.
Probably the product of a royal workshop.
The temple of the god Enlil, at Nippur, where this figurine was found in 1905, is one of several erected or reconstructed by King Ur-Nammu, the first prince of the dynasty that ruled southern Babylonia for 108 years.


Man (probably intended to represent Ur-Nammu) nude from the waist upwards, with head and face shaved and with both arms raised to steady a basket of building materials carried on the head.