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Sumerian Values and Morals in Ancient times


In the epic of Gilgamesh, there was a sense of morality that sprung from every aspect of the story. Throughout the story, emotional portraits of various schema were developed and unraveled all within Gilgamesh's travels, although some emotional aspects were developed through others frame of reference. The development of the character Gilgamesh as both a king and as a friend to individuals he meets along his way are very valued on a moral and spiritual level to a varying degree. It is important to note that this story is one of the oldest Ancient stories to date, but it still shows a cultural flourishing and explains our ancestors development in the old world.

To start, the Babylonians were the descendants of the Sumerian culture, the Code of Laws the forefront and the design that was built around the Epic of Gilgamesh. From the political conclave that was to be known as the great Babylon and the older Uruk was the cultural block that cemented the various cultures that lay among the fertile Mesopotamian Rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris. The code of laws must be pointed out before the conversation of cultural influence can be enacted, as seen by the Code of Hammurabi. The following is a list of laws taken from the code, dating back to 1750 B.C.E, and represent the core of the Mesopotamian culture:

Law #2) If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

Law #5) If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgment. (EAWC)

These two laws take into account the accused and how the legal system works in a small context. It shows a legality of estate and property, but allows one to follow a democratic system of “Innocent until proven Guilty” status. Also, the factor explaining how a judge can be found to blame just as much as a civilian. This provides a strong impact on the community and culture, thus allowing all sides of the system to have fair trial. From just these two laws alone, we find that the law is followed very extensively, and seem to carry a moralistic feature about the legal system, freedom of speech. In modern day countries in the area such as Iraq and surrounding cultures, freedom of speech is a much oppressed expression, the dictators and constant war corrupting this facet of society. A depiction of Sumerian law has been etched into history through the form of stone tablets showing a visual of their system, as seen below:


There were also various gender roles that were presented both within the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Code of Hammurabi, depicting a flourishing culture wherein both males and females could sleep among themselves, whether in opposite or same-sex attraction. This of course was deemed illegal only if the courts found a violation within the rules and regulations, which in actuality same-sex relationships were more widespread and normalized both in and out of the Royal courts.

The following law from the Code of Hammurabi explains the notion, and shows enforcement by a court of law,

“If a slave gives the bride-price to a free youth and takes him to dwell in his household as spouse, no-one shall make him surrender him…”

(Yale Pg. 24)

This shows a legal system that was very detailed, as it explains the defining details of allowing a transaction to take place, thus solidifying the dowry for a spouse, whether male or female. It also makes a decision as to prevent anyone from taking any kind of illegal action against the couple by stating that no one can prevent this kind of marriage from occurring. As we continue, it is also important to note that there was also a depiction of same-sex marriage in other cultures, such as Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep that are Egyptian yet close to the same time period as Mesopotamian culture. In their tomb, it was found that:


A) They were twins with a large family unit of opposite-sex relationships

B) The part on being twins is not credible, as the picture shows quite an erotic moment between the two men.

C) This picture shows the credibility that these kinds of acts were not displayed as harmful to a society in which equal rights were highly honored.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, the man Enkidu was to be Gilgamesh’s companion and lover during his adventures. The following two dreams are in theory the embrace and embody the culture at the time:

Dream #1)

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“Mother, I had a dream last night:

There were stars of heaven around me,

Like the force of heaven, something kept falling upon me!

I tried to carry it but it was too strong for me,

I tried to move it but I could not budge it.

The whole of Uruk was standing by it...

I fell in love with it, like a woman I caressed it,

I carried it off and laid it down before you,

Then you were making it my partner...”

(Pg. 41)

Dream # 2)

“Mother, I had a second dream,

An axe was thrown down in a street of ramparted Uruk,

They were crowding around it,

The whole of Uruk was standing by it,

The people formed a crowd around it,

T throng was jostling towards it.

I carried it off and laid it down before you,

I fell in love with it, like a woman I caressed it,

Then you were making it my partner.”

(Pg. 44)

In various parts of the story, it explains how Gilgamesh and Enkidu would hold hands, embrace to kiss, and depicts Enkidu as a masculine man but with hair like that of a woman. Gilgamesh’s dreams explain his future attraction, from the masculinity of the axe, in which depicts the character and physical attraction towards Enkidu. The word axe in Assyrian is hassinnu(Axe)/assinnu, or a passive homosexual under the service of Ishtar. Also, the first dream talks of a meteorite or stars, in Sumerian called kisru, yet the word kezru is very close in lingual context, meaning a curly haired male prostitute, of which Enkidu actually turns out to be in a sense. (Epistle)

In an explanation of what the citizens of Babylonian & Sumerian Culture expected from their leaders, the epic needs to be placed into context. To start from the moment the gods spoke of Gilgamesh in the heavens, they explained his disregard for his people. This conversation should be noted especially,

“You created this headstrong wild bull in ramparted Uruk,

The onslaught of his weapons has no equal.

His teammates stand forth by his game stick,

He is harrying the young men of Uruk beyond reason.

Gilgamesh leaves no son to his father!

Day and night he rampages fiercely.

This is the Shepard of ramparted Uruk,

This is the people's shepherd,

Bold, superb, accomplished, and mature!

Gilgamesh leaves no girl to her mother!”

(Pg. 39)

Through this declaration, we can see quite a few frames of reference that would have been the political culture that the Sumerians would have followed. First, the factor of his weapons having no equal, as if he followed a military might in his dictations of conquering. This would have been normal for the ancient standard of conquest. It shows a delivery but not by a form of democratic will, as the following line states that his teammates or his military alliances stand beside his war map and not theirs. A large amount of information could be found in his might against taking sons and daughters alike, either murdering or taking into slavery. It could be said that the Sumerian community wished for an enlightened despot type government, and still claimed him as “Bold, superb, accomplished, and mature...”


It was this that the observer that created the epic also explained he was a Shepard of ramparted Uruk. The rampart city in accordance to also being mature and accomplished also has allowed his city to fall apart around him. This shows a population who lived in fear of their ruler, the conversation explaining that he rampaged day and night as if he was an uncontrollable man who felt no pity for the world around him. In another conversation between Enkidu and others, a few large ideas took place here, mixed between the following:

“They set bread before him,

They set beer before him.

He looked uncertainly, then stared,

Enkidu did not know to eat bead,

Nor had he ever learned to drink beer”

(Pg. 45)

To place this into perspective, we must look at the fact that a hunter that lived off the land had never seen bread or beer, which raises a few notions. The first is that for bread to exist, a large agricultural network had to exist, especially to allow for specialized trade jobs that would allow for such a product. In terms of beer, it would be plausible that once again specialized forms of material and craftsmen had to be involved to extract wheat and barley into the beers. This would have taken quite an extensive culture formulated to hold a rather large population.

In conclusion, there is a very assorted number of moralistic values that the Sumerian & eventual Babylonian culture followed to reach the judicial equality that was presented. In efforts to find the true form of values, we must look no further than the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, and the neighboring culture of Egypt beside them. In a rather well placed culture, it would be understandable how they produced such great and magnificent structures, political pinnacles, and an overall understanding that individuals all deserve human rights, no matter the situation.

If you enjoyed this article, you can view more below:

Works Cited Web. <>.

David and Jonathan and the Epic of Gilgamesh (Part 2) by Bruce L. Gerig (David and Jonathan and the Epic of Gilgamesh (Part 2) by Bruce L. Gerig)

Norton Anthology World Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. New York & London: W. W. Norton. 38-53. Print.

"Sumer." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"Art History Lab." Brian Wildeman's Ancient Mesopotamia. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"EAWC Anthology: Hammurabi's Code of Laws." EAWC Anthology: Hammurabi's Code of Laws. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

"Tour Egypt :: Egypt Travel Guide - Tour Egypt." Egypt Travel Guide. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.


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