Lagash or Shirpurla, ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia, now located at Telloh, SE Iraq. Lagash was flourishing by c.2400 B.C., but traces of habitation go back at least to the 4th millennium B.C. After the fall of Akkad (2180 B.C.), when the rest of Mesopotamia was in a state of chaos, Lagash was able to maintain peace and prosperity under its ruler Gudea. Excavations begun on the site in 1877 revealed the beautiful sculptures of Gudea, which had been dedicated to the city's patron goddess, Ningirsu. Thousands of inscribed tablets were also found at the site.

Lagash ( is modern Tell al-Hiba, Iraq. Located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk, Lagash was one of the oldest cities of Sumer and later Babylonia. Nearby Ngirsu (modern Telloh) was the religious center of the Lagash state.

Lagash's temple was E-Ninnu, dedicated to the god Ningirsu or Ninib.


Lagash is represented by a rather low, long line of ruin mounds, now known as Tell al-Hiba in Iraq. It is positioned on the dry bed of an ancient canal, some 5 km east of the Shatt-el-Haj, and about 15 km east of the modern town of Shatra in the Dhi Qar Governorate. Ngirsu (Telloh) lies about 25 km northwest of Al-Hiba.

The E-Ninnu temple had been razed and a fortress built upon its ruins, in the Greek or Seleucid period, some of the bricks found bearing the inscription in Aramaic and Greek of a certain Hadad-nadin-akhe, king of a small Babylonian kingdom. It was beneath this fortress that numerous statues of Gudea were found, constituting one of the prizes of the Near Eastern Antiquities collection at the Louvre. These had been decapitated and otherwise mutilated, and thrown into the foundations of the new fortress. From this stratum also came various fragments of bas reliefs of high artistic excellence. The excavations in the other larger mound resulted in the discovery of the remains of buildings containing objects of all sorts in bronze and stone, dating from the earliest Sumerian period onward, and enabling the art history of the ancient Near East to be traced to a date some hundreds of years before the time of Gudea.

Apparently this mound had been occupied largely by store houses, where were stored not only grain, figs, etc., but also vessels, weapons, sculptures and every possible object connected with the use and administration of palace and temple. In a small outlying mound, de Sarzec discovered the archives of the temple — about 30,000 inscribed clay tablets containing the business records, and revealing in extraordinary detail the administration of an ancient Near Eastern temple, the character of its property, the method of farming its lands, herding its flocks, and its commercial and industrial dealings and enterprises - an ancient Near Eastern temple was a great industrial, commercial, agricultural and stock-raising establishment. Unfortunately, before these archives could be removed, the galleries containing them were rifled by looters, and large numbers of the tablets were sold to antiquity dealers, by whom they have been scattered all over Europe and America.

Political History

From inscriptions found at Telloh, it appears that Lagash was an important Sumerian city in the late 3rd millennium BC. It was at that time ruled by independent kings, Ur-Nanshe (24th century BC) and his successors, who were engaged in contests with the Elamites on the east and the kings of "Kengi" and Kish on the north.

Some of the earlier works from before the Akkadian conquest are also extremely interesting, in particular Eannatum's Stele of the Vultures and a Entemena's great silver vase ornamented with what may be called the coat of arms of Lagash: a lion-headed eagle with wings outspread, grasping a lion in each talon.

With the Semitic Akkadian conquest, Lagash lost its independence, its rulers or patesis becoming vassals of Sargon of Akkad and his successors; but it remained Sumerian, continuing to be a city of much importance and above all, a centre of artistic development. Indeed, it was in this period and under the immediately succeeding supremacy of the kings of Ur, Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, that it reached its highest artistic development. {fact}

After the collapse of Sargon's Empire under pressure from the Guti tribes, Lagash again thrived under the patesis Ur-Bau and Gudea, and had extensive commercial communications with distant realms. According to his own records, Gudea brought cedars from the Amanus and Lebanon mountains in Syria, diorite from eastern Arabia, copper and gold from central and southern Arabia and from Sinai, while his armies were engaged in battles in Elam on the east. His was especially the era of artistic development. Gudea, following Sargon, was one of the first rulers to claim divinity for himself; and we have even a fairly good idea of what Gudea looked like, since he had his numerous statues or idols depicting himself with lifelike realism, placed in temples throughout Sumer.

At the time of Gudea, the capital of Lagash was actually in Ngirsu (Telloh). The kingdom covered an area of approximately 1,600 km². It contained 17 larger cities, eight district capitals, and numerous villages (about 40 known by name).

According to one estimate, Lagash was the largest city in the world from ca. 2075 to 2030 BC.

After the time of Gudea, Lagash seems to have lost its importance; at least we know nothing more about it until the construction of the Seleucid fortress mentioned, when it seems to have become part of the Greek kingdom of Characene.

Dynasties of Lagash

These dynasties are not found on the Sumerian king list, although one extremely fragmentary supplement has been found in Sumerian, known as the The rulers of Lagash (English translation). It recounts how after the flood mankind was having difficulty growing food for itself, being dependent solely on rainwater; it further relates that techniques of irrigation and cultivation of barley were then imparted by the gods. At the end of the list is the statement "Written in the school", suggesting this was a school exercise. A few of the names from the Lagash rulers listed below may be made out, including Ur-Nanshe, "Ane-tum", En-entar-zid, Ur-Ningirsu, Ur-Bau, and Gudea.

First Dynasty of Lagash

Second Dynasty of Lagash (short chronology)


Lagash ruins were discovered in 1877 by Ernest de Sarzec, at that time French consul at Basra, who was allowed, by the Montefich chief, Nasir Pasha, the first Wali-Pasha or governor-general of Basra, to excavate at his pleasure in the territories subject to that official. At the outset on his own, and later as a representative of the French government, under a Turkish firman, de Sarzec continued excavations at this site, with various intermissions, until his death in 1901, when the work was continued under the supervision of Gaston Cros. The principal excavations were made in two larger mounds, one of them proving to be the site of the temple E-Ninnu - shrine of the patron god of Lagash, Ningirsu or Ninib.

Later French archeological expeditions were led by Henri de Genouillac (1929-31) and Andre Parrot (1931-33).

See also



  • Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, Pars Secunda: Inscriptiones Aramaicas Continens, tom. I, (Paris, 1881)
  • E. de Sarzec, Découvertes en Chaldée (1887).
  • A. Parrot, Tello, vingt campagnes des fouilles (1877-1933), (Paris 1948).
  • Donald P. Hansen, Al-Hiba, 1968-1969, a Preliminary Report, Artibus Asiae (1970).

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