Ancient Sumer and Its Desert Art

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Picking one period or dynasty to represent the entirety of this era was far too difficult. So I’ve decided that I will be dedicating two blog posts to Near Eastern art. Today’s blog post will be focusing on Sumerian Art (4000-2000 B.C.) and the other blog post will focus on Babylonian art.


Sumer is a region in southern Mesopotamia. It is home to some of the oldest known cities — Ur and Uruk. Sumerians were highly devout people. Most of their art work and architecture is colored by their need to satisfy their religious beliefs. Sumerians created their art from alabaster, gypsum, lapis lazuli, limestone, marble and wood. The Sumerians were highly advanced. In fact, they are credited with creating the world’s first written language: cuneiform.

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For this section, there are two pieces of art that, I believe, do a very good job of showcasing Sumerian Art: the “Standard of Ur” and the “Ziggurat of Ur.” The “Standard of Ur,” created in 2600 B.C., is a hollow wooden box with scenes of war and peace depicted on either side. Each panel is a mosaic made with shell, red limestone, lapis lazuli and bitumen. This piece of art itself is elaborately decorated with rich scenes. Each register (level) depicts the unraveling of a story (read from bottom to top) of war and then peace. It would seem that the “Standard of Ur” is a way to document their past history, what life was like in a period of war or a period of peace.

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The “Zggurat of Ur” is the best example of showcasing how religious the Sumerians were. A ziggurat is a stepped pyramid with several receding terraces. This specific ziggurat was built by King Ur-Nammu in honor of the Sin, god of the moon. It was created with mud mixed with chopped straw bricks. There are three sections to the Ziggurat. However, only the lowermost section survives today. This massive structure was at the center of the city of Ur. Like the Gothic cathedrals of Germany, this Ziggurat was built as high as the time allowed. This was because the people wanted to be as close to the heavens as humanly possible. It is believed that priests were the only ones who were allowed to use the Ziggurat for their rituals. There are only a few staircases that lead to the top for this reason.

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For feedback, suggestions, comments or questions you can contact the blogger at mmtran@asu.edu.