Kish (Sumer)

Kish (Sumerian: Kiš; transliteration: Kiški; cuneiform: 𒆧𒆠;[1] Akkadian: kiššatu,[2] modern Tell al-Uhaymir) is an important archaeological site in Babil Governorate (Iraq). It was occupied from the Ubaid to Hellenistic periods.[3][4]

Image: 300 pixels
Ruins of Kish at time of excavation
LocationTell al-Uhaymir, Babil Governorate, Iraq
Coordinates32°32′25″N 44°36′17″E / 32.54028°N 44.60472°E / 32.54028; 44.60472Coordinates: 32°32′25″N 44°36′17″E / 32.54028°N 44.60472°E / 32.54028; 44.60472
FoundedUbaid period
PeriodsUbaid to Hellenistic


The ancient cities of Sumer.

Kish was occupied from the Ubaid period (c.5300-4300 BC), gaining prominence as one of the pre-eminent powers in the region during the Early Dynastic Period when it reached its maximum extent of 230 hectares.[5][6]

Early historyEdit

The Sumerian king list states that Kish was the first city to have kings following the deluge,[7] beginning with Ĝushur. Ĝushur's successor is called Kullassina-bel, but this is actually a sentence in Akkadian meaning "All of them were lord". Thus, some scholars have suggested that this may have been intended to signify the absence of a central authority in Kish for a time. The names of the next nine kings of Kish preceding Etana are Nanĝišlišma, En-tarah-ana, Babum, Puannum, Kalibum, Kalumum, Zuqaqip, Aba, Mašda, and Arwium. These names are all Akkadian words for animals, e.g. Zuqaqip "scorpion". The East Semitic nature of these and other early names associated with Kish reveals that its population had a strong Semitic (Akkadian speaking) component from the dawn of recorded history.[8] Ignace Gelb identified Kish as the center of the earliest East Semitic culture which he calls the Kish civilization.[9] After the twelve kings a massive flood devastated Mesopotamia. According to the Sumerians, after the flood Ishtar gave the kingship to Etana.[10] Ancient Sumerian sources describe Etana as 'the shepherd who ascended to Heaven and made firm all the lands'.[10] This implies that the historical Etana stabilized the kingdom by bringing peace and order to the area after the Flood.[10] Etana is also sometimes credited with the founding of Kish.

The twenty-first king of Kish on the list, Enmebaragesi, who is said to have captured the weapons of Elam, is the first name confirmed by archaeological finds from his reign. He is also known through other literary references, in which he and his son Aga of Kish are portrayed as contemporary rivals of Dumuzid, the Fisherman, and Gilgamesh, early rulers of Uruk.

Some early kings of Kish are known through archaeology, but are not named on the King list. These include Utug or Uhub, said to have defeated Hamazi in the earliest days, and Mesilim, who built temples in Adab and Lagash, where he seems to have exercised some control.

Mesannepada, Lugal Kish-ki (𒈩𒀭𒉌𒅆𒊒𒁕 𒈗 𒆧𒆠), "Mesannepada, King of Kish", on a seal impression found in the Royal Cemetery at Ur.[11][12] The last column of characters, is thought to mean "his wife..." (𒁮𒉡𒍼, dam-nu-gig).[11]

After its early supremacy, Kish declined economically and militarily, but retained a strong political and symbolic significance. Just as with Nippur to the south, control of Kish was a prime element in legitimizing dominance over the north of Mesopotamia (Subartu). Because of the city's symbolic value, strong rulers later claimed the traditional title "King of Kish", even if they were from Akkad, Ur, Assyria, Isin, Larsa or Babylon. One of the earliest to adopt this title upon subjecting Kish to his empire was King Mesannepada of Ur.[13]

Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Akkadian Empire, came from the area near Kish, called Azupiranu. He would later declare himself the king of Kish, as an attempt to signify his connection to the religiously important area. In Akkadian times the city's patron deity was Zababa (or Zamama), along with his wife, the goddess Inanna.

Later historyEdit

Macehead inscription of Manishtushu, ruler of the Akkadian Empire: Manishtushu Lugal Kish, "Manishtushu King of Kish"

After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, Kish became the capital of a small independent kingdom. One king, named Ashduniarim, ruled around the same time as Lipit-Ishtar of Isin. By the early part of the First Dynasty of Babylon, during the reigns of Sumu-abum and Sumu-la-El, Kish appears to have come under the rule of another city-state, possibly Kutha. Iawium, king of Kish around this time, ruled as a vassal of kings named Halium and Manana. Sumu-la-El conquered Kish and, later, subjugated Halium and Manana, bringing their territories into the expanding Babylonian Empire. The First Dynasty kings Hammurabi and Samsu-iluna undertook construction at Kish, with the former restoring the city's ziggurat and the latter building a wall around Kish. By this time, the eastern settlement at Hursagkalama had become viewed as a distinct city, and it was probably not included in the walled area.[14]

After the Old Babylonian period, however, Kish appears to have declined in importance; it is only mentioned in a few documents from the later second millennium BC. During the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, Kish is mentioned more frequently in texts. However, by this time, Kish proper (Tell al-Uhaymir) had been almost completely abandoned, and the settlement that texts from this period call "Kish" was probably Hursagkalama (Tell Ingharra).[14]

After the Achaemenid period, Kish completely disappears from the historical record; however, archaeological evidence indicates that the town remained in existence for a long time thereafter.[14] Although the site at Tell al-Uhaymir was mostly abandoned, Tell Ingharra was revived during the Parthian period, growing into a sizeable town with a large mud-brick fortress. During the Sasanian period, the site of the old city was completely abandoned in favor of a string of connected settlements spread out along both sides of the Shatt en-Nil canal. This last incarnation of Kish prospered under Sasanian and then Islamic rule, before finally abandoned during the later years of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258).[15]


Kish is located east of Babylon and 80 km (50 mi) south of Baghdad. The Kish archaeological site is an oval area roughly 8 by 3 km (5 by 2 mi), transected by the dry former bed of the Euphrates River, encompassing around 40 mounds, the largest being Uhaimir and Ingharra. The most notable mounds are:

  • Tell Ingharra – believed to be the location of Hursagkalamma, east of Kish home of a temple of Inanna.[16]
  • Tell Khazneh
  • Tell el-Bender – held Parthian material
  • Mound W – where a number of Neo-Assyrian tablets were discovered

After irregularly excavated tablets began appearing at the beginning of the twentieth century, François Thureau-Dangin identified the site as being Kish. Those tablets ended up in a variety of museums.

Because of its close proximity to Babylon the site was visited by a number of explorers and travelers in the 19th century, some involving excavation, most notably by the foreman of Hormuzd Rassam who dug there with a crew of 20 men for a number of months. None of this early work was published. A French archaeological team under Henri de Genouillac excavated at Tell Uhaimir between 1912 and 1914, finding some 1,400 Old Babylonian tablets which were distributed to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the Louvre.[17][18] Later, a joint Field Museum and University of Oxford team under Stephen Langdon excavated from 1923 to 1933, with the recovered materials split between Chicago and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

The actual excavations at Tell Uhaimir were led initially by E. MacKay and later by L. C. Watelin. Work on the faunal and flora remains was conducted by Henry Field.[26][27]

More recently, a Japanese team from the Kokushikan University led by Ken Matsumoto excavated at Tell Uhaimir in 1988, 2000, and 2001. The final season lasted only one week.[28][29][30]

In the Chicago expedition to Kish in 1923-1933, several other sections are included:

  • Tell Ingharra – Twin ziggurats and Neo-Babylonian Temple Complex.
  • Area P: Located in the Northern part of Kish which the Plano-convex Building resided
  • Mound A, which includes a palace and a cemetery
  • Tell H, identified roughly as "The Sasanian Settlement"[23]

Tell IngharraEdit

3-D reconstruction of twin ziggurats and temple complex by Charmaine Mak/04cmak26
3-D reconstruction of twin ziggurats and temple complex by Charmaine Mak/04cmak26

Located in the eastern side of the ancient Kish, Tell Ingharra was extensively explored during the Chicago excavation and provided the best known archaeological sequence in the 3rd millennium BC site.[31] In particular, the 1923 excavation concentrated heavily on mound E with its twin ziggurats, while the Neo-Babylonian temple was one of the two buildings that was properly described in a published report.[32]

The twin ziggurats were built of small plano-convex bricks in a herringbone fashion on the summit of Tell Ingharra.[33][34] The larger one is located on the south-west side of the temple and the smaller one on the south-east side.[33] The excavation report mainly focused on the larger ziggurat while there had been only one report on the smaller one by Mackay.[33] Based on the findings from the larger ziggurat, it is suggested that the structures were built at the end of the Early Dynastic IIIa period to commemorate the city.[35] The fascination of the ziggurats was interesting to the excavators as it was the only Early Dynastic structure that was not destroyed or obscured by later reconstructions, which was why it provided valuable evidence of that time period.[34]

As for the temple complex, the findings of the temple had determined that the mound was part of the city of Hursagkalama.[36] It was used as an active religious centre until after 482 BC[33] They also had identified the builder as Nabonidus or Nebuchadnezzar II based on the bricks with inscriptions and barrel cylinder fragments reported in the temple.[36]

Area PEdit

3-D reconstruction of the Plano-convex building (North-east view) by Hmlam

This area was unearthed during the second excavation season (1923-1924) led by Mackay, which uncovered the 'Plano-convex building' (PCB).[23][37][38] But outstanding discoveries in Palace A rapidly overshadowed the contemporary excavation here, and the building remained partially uncovered.[37][38]

Revealed by its stratigraphy and pottery assemblage was the existence of three distinct architectural phases.[37][38] The earliest archaeological occupation dates back to the ED II period.[37] Above it, rested the massive ED III construction – the PCB.[38] Multiple rooms in the PCB exhibited layers of ashes and charcoals with arrowheads and copper blades, attested that the PCB suffered significant destruction twice during the late ED III period.[38] After its destruction, the PCB was abandoned.[6][37][38] Located above later floors of the PCB were scattered burials during the Akkadian period.[28][38]

The 'Plano-convex building'Edit

3-D reconstruction of the Plano-convex building (bird's eye view) by Hmlam

The Plano-convex building was a fortified construction built extensively with plano-convex bricks.[23][37][38] It displayed the socio-economic dynamics at Kish during the ED III period.[38] No characteristic linking the building to a religious construct. [32] Instead, the Plano-convex building is recognized as a public building associated with the economical production of beer, textile and oil. [38] The PCB might have also housed the administrative center powered by the elites.[38] First recognized by Margueron, scholars have divided the building into four main sectors based on the architectural layout:[38]

  • Sector A: Production area
  • Sector B: Inconclusive but arguably an administration area
  • Sector C: Unknown but exhibit a high degree of segregation
  • Sector D: Private, domestic area for housing activities

Mound AEdit

Mound A, which includes a cemetery and a palace, was discovered during 1922-1925 excavations conducted by Ernest Mackay, under the Field Museum and Oxford University.[39] Although it was earlier a part of the Ingharra mounds lying about 70 meters to the north, it is now separated by an alluvial valley. The seals and other artifacts found in the graves, dating back to a later age than the palace, show that the site was used as a cemetery even in the pre-Sargonic times.[39]

The Sumerian PalaceEdit

The palace, which was unearthed beneath the mound, had fallen into decay and was used as a burial ground during Early Dynastic III, after Sargon overthrew Kug-Bau's dynasty in 2752 B.C. It comprises three sections - the original building, the eastern wing and stairway, and the annex. The original building, which was composed of unbaked plano-convex bricks (23 x 15 x 3.50-6 cm), had extremely thick walls, while the annex, which was added later to the south of the building, had comparatively thinner walls. A 2.30 m wide passage was constructed within the outer wall of the original building to prevent invaders from entering the structure.[40]

The archaeological findings within the palace lack pottery items, the most remarkable among them was a fragment of slate and limestone inlay work, which represents the scene of a king punishing a prisoner.[40]

3-D reconstruction of Sumerian Palace (Mound A) by Pahuna/ Pahuna99
3-D reconstruction of Sumerian Palace (Mound A) by Pahuna/ Pahuna99

Tell HEdit

3-D reconstruction of Tell H, SP-2 by OceanOwll

In the 1923-1933 Expedition, Tell H became the focus of its final three seasons (1930-1933).[23] Due to personal reasons of the excavators, the Kish material in this section remained selective, mainly yielding Sasanian pottery, coins, incantation bowls and so on.[23][41] The dating of this section crossed a range of periods, with layer upon layer built on the site. Evidence shows that in the Early Dynastic III Period, there once even existed a twin city.[6] Therefore, the city occupies a relatively unsettled presence in chronology. But from the excavation, eight buildings were identified as from the Sasanian period, thus making this place primarily identified as the Sasanian Settlement. Researchers suspect that some of the buildings might function together as a complex serving different purposes, including royal residence, storage, and administration.[23]

3-D reconstruction of Tell H, SP-3 by OceanOwll

The most prominent finding is the stucco decoration in the first two buildings, while the 1923-1933 team also figured out the floor plan and architectural structure of others. It was partly through these stucco decorations that researchers identified the royal resident to be Bahram V (420-438 AD)—Sasanian kings had their distinctive crowns separately, and the unique crown pattern on stucco served as evidence to support this argument.[23] In Kish, which once functioned as a transfer station between Ctesiphon and Hira, Bahram V built palaces for summer entertainment, which explains why one of the buildings has a huge water tank in the middle, probably functioning to cool down the court in summers.[23] Around Bahram V’s palaces, a group of Sasanian people also took residence and developed a system of settlement and commercial activities.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
  2. ^ Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (EPSD)
  3. ^ "Kish | ancient city, Iraq". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  4. ^ wparkinson (2011-01-11). "The Kish Collection". Field Museum. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  5. ^ Weiss, Harvey, and Mcguire Gibson. “Kish, Akkad and Agade.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 95, no. 3, 1975, p. 434., doi:10.2307/599355.
  6. ^ a b c [1] J. Ur, Kish and the Spatial Organization of Cities in Third-Millennium BC Southern Iraq, pp. 227-239 in Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 71, Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2021 ISBN 978-1-61491-063-3
  7. ^ Hall, John Whitney, ed. (2005) [1988]. "The Ancient Near East". History of the World: Earliest Times to the Present Day. John Grayson Kirk. 455 Somerset Avenue, North Dighton, MA 02764, USA: World Publications Group. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-57215-421-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  8. ^ Cambridge Ancient History, p. 100
  9. ^ Donald P. Hansen, Erica Ehrenberg (2002). Leaving No Stones Unturned: Essays on the Ancient Near East and Egypt in Honor of Donald P. Hansen. p. 133. ISBN 9781575060552.
  10. ^ a b c "Kingdoms of Mesopotamia - Kish / Kic". Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  11. ^ a b Hall, H. R. (Harry Reginald); Woolley, Leonard; Legrain, Leon (1900). Ur excavations. Trustees of the Two Museums by the aid of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. p. 312.
  12. ^ Image of a Mesanepada seal in: Legrain, Léon (1936). UR EXCAVATIONS VOLUME III ARCHAIC SEAL-IMPRESSIONS (PDF). THE TRUSTEES OF THE TWO MUSEUMS BY THE AID OF A GRANT FROM THE CARNEGIE CORPORATION OF NEW YORK. p. 44 seal 518 for description, Plate 30, seal 518 for image.
  13. ^ Albrecht Goetze, "Early Kings of Kish", Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 105–111, 1961
  14. ^ a b c Gibson, The City and Area of Kish, pp. 2-5
  15. ^ Gibson, The City and Area of Kish, pp. 59-60
  16. ^ Inanna's Descent to the Underworld translation at ETCSL
  17. ^ Henri de Genouillac, Premières recherches archéologiques à Kich : mission d'Henri de Genouillac 1911-1912 : rapport sur les travaux et inventaires, fac-similés, dessins, photographies et plans. Tome premier, Paris : Libr. ancienne Edouard Champion, 5, quai Malaquais, 1924
  18. ^ Henri de Genouillac, Fouilles françaises d'El-Akhymer, Champion, 1924–25
  19. ^ Stephen Langdon, Excavations at Kish I (1923–1924), 1924
  20. ^ Stephen Langdon and L. C. Watelin, Excavations at Kish III (1925–1927), 1930
  21. ^ Stephen Langdon and L. C. Watelin, Excavations at Kish IV (1925–1930), 1934
  22. ^ Henry Field, The Field Museum-Oxford University expedition to Kish, Mesopotamia, 1923–1929, Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History, 1929
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i P. R. S. Moorey, Kish excavations, 1923–1933 : with a microfiche catalogue of the objects in Oxford excavated by the Oxford-Field Museum, Chicago, Expedition to Kish in Iraq, Clarendon Press, 1978, ISBN 0-19-813191-7
  24. ^ S. Langdon and D. B. Harden, Excavations at Kish and Barghuthiat 1933, Iraq, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 113–136, 1934
  25. ^ S. D. Ross, 'The excavations at Kish. With special reference to the conclusions reached in 1928–29', in Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, vol. 17, iss. 3, pp. 291–300, 1930
  26. ^ Henry Field, Ancient Wheat and Barley from Kish Mesopotamia, American Anthropologist, New Series, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 303-309, 1932
  27. ^ L. H. Dudley Buxton and D. Talbot Rice, Report on the Human Remains Found at Kish, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 61, pp. 57–119, 1931
  28. ^ a b K. Matsumoto, Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Kish/Hursagkalama 1988–1989, al-Rāfidān 12, pp. 261-307, 1991
  29. ^ K. Matsumoto and H. Oguchi, Excavations at Kish, 2000, al-Rāfidān, vol. 23, pp. 1–16, 2002
  30. ^ K. Matsumoto and H. Oguchi, News from Kish: The 2001 Japanese Work, al-Rafidan, vol. 25, pp. 1–8, 2004
  31. ^ Zaina, Federico (April 2016). "Tell Ingharra-East Kish in the 3rd Millennium BC: Urban Development Architecture and Functional Analysis". Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. 1: 431.
  32. ^ a b Moorey, P.R.S. (1979). Kish Excavations 1923-1933: With a Microfiche Catalogue of the Objects in Oxford Excavated by the Oxford Field Museum, Chicago Expedition to Kish in Iraq, 1923-1933. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 81–83. ISBN 0-19-813191-7.
  33. ^ a b c d Moorey, P.R.S. (1979). Kish Excavations 1923-1933: With a Microfiche Catalogue of the Objects in Oxford Excavated by the Oxford Field Museum, Chicago Expedition to Kish in Iraq, 1923-1933. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-19-813191-7.
  34. ^ a b Moorey, P.R.S. (1979). Kish Excavations 1923-1933: With a Microfiche Catalogue of the Objects in Oxford Excavated by the Oxford Field Museum, Chicago Expedition to Kish in Iraq, 1923-1933. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-19-813191-7.
  35. ^ Zaina, Federico (April 2016). "Tell Ingharra-East Kish in the 3rd Millennium BC: Urban Development Architecture and Functional Analysis". Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. 1: 438.
  36. ^ a b Moorey, P.R.S. (1979). Kish Excavations 1923-1933: With a Microfiche Catalogue of the Objects in Oxford Excavated by the Oxford Field Museum, Chicago Expedition to Kish in Iraq, 1923-1933. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-19-813191-7.
  37. ^ a b c d e f Moorey, P. R. S. (1964). "The "Plano-Convex Building" at Kish and Early Mesopotamian Palaces". Iraq. 26 (2): 83–98. doi:10.2307/4199767. JSTOR 4199767. S2CID 163950652.
  38. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Zaina, F. (2015). "Craft, administration and power in Early Dynastic Mesopotamian public buildings. Recovering the Plano-convex building at Kish, Iraq". Paléorient. 41: 177–197. doi:10.3406/paleo.2015.5661.
  39. ^ a b Mackay, Ernest (1925). "Report on the excavation of the 'A' Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia: Part I". Anthropology, Memoirs. 1 (1): 1–63. ISSN 2169-0618. JSTOR 41575604.
  40. ^ a b Mackay, Ernest (1929). "A Sumerian Palace and the 'A' Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia: Part II". Anthropology, Memoirs. 1 (2): 67–215. ISSN 2169-0618. JSTOR 41575601.
  41. ^ Langdon, S. and Harden D. B. (1934). "Excavations at Kish and Barghuthiat 1933". Iraq. 1 (2): 113–136. doi:10.2307/4241567. ISSN 0021-0889. JSTOR 4241567. S2CID 131511161.
  42. ^ MacKay, Ernest (1925). "Sumerian Connexions with Ancient India". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (4): 698–699. JSTOR 25220818.


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  • Federico Zaina, Radiocarbon date from Early Dynastic Kish and the stratigraphy and chronology of the YWN Sounding at Tell Ingharr, Iraq, vol. 77(1), pp. 225–234, 2015
  • Zaina, F., Craft, Administration and Power in Early Dynastic Mesopotamian Public Buildings. Recovering the Plano-convex Building at Kish, Iraq, Paléorient, vol. 41, p. 177–197, 2015
  • Zaina, Federico (April 2016). "Tell Ingharra-East Kish in the 3rd Millennium BC: Urban Development Architecture and Functional Analysis": 431–445. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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External linksEdit