Queen Kubaba, Ruler of Ancient Mesopotamia l Fantastic Women Series

Relief of the goddess Kubaba, holding a pomegranate in her right hand; orthostat relief from Herald’s wall, Carchemish; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Commons
Relief of the goddess Kubaba, holding a pomegranate in her right hand; orthostat relief from Herald’s wall, Carchemish; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Commons
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Queen Kubaba was a legendary Mesopotamian queen according to the Sumerian King List, who ruled over the Kingdom of Kish. Legend has it that her rule lasted over 100 years before the rise of the dynasty of Akshak (a city of ancient Sumer, situated on the northern boundary of Akkad).

Queens from the ancient world are few and far between. We know of the ones from Egypt, like Hatsepshut and Cleopatra but there are few others. However, there is also the Mesopotamian region (present day Iraq, and parts of Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Syria), the cradle of some of the world’s earliest civilizations and the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC. This is the region, which gave rise to the most important developments in human history, such as the invention of the wheel, the start of agriculture with the planting of the first cereal crops, development of writing, mathematics, and astronomy.

After early starts in Jarmo (red dot, circa 7500 BC), the civilization of Mesopotamia in the 7th–5th millennium BC was centered around the Hassuna culture in the north, the Halaf culture in the northwest, the Samarra culture in central Mesopotamia and the Ubaid culture in the southeast, which later expanded to encompass the whole region.

After early starts in Jarmo (red dot, circa 7500 BC), the civilization of Mesopotamia in the 7th–5th millennium BC was centered around the Hassuna culture in the north, the Halaf culture in the northwest, the Samarra culture in central Mesopotamia and the Ubaid culture in the southeast, which later expanded to encompass the whole region. Photo: Commons

This region was one of the first ancient civilisations, home to historically important cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Nineveh, Assur and Babylon. Some major territorial states such as the city of Eridu, the Akkadian kingdoms, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and the various Assyrian empires, all started from this region.

And Queen Kubaba ruled one of the city states – Kish –  in this region, or so says the Sumerian King List. This is an ancient Sumerian text that was likely created and redacted to legitimize the claims to power of various city-states and kingdoms in southern Mesopotamia during the late third and early second millennium BC.  The Sumerian King List repetitively lists Sumerian cities, the kings that ruled there, and the lengths of their reigns.

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Perhaps Queen Kubaba was the first woman to be ruler in ancient Mesopotamia. Her name was written in cuneiform (the cursive script invented in this region in around 3500 BC), in the Sumerian King List where she is refered to as Lugal (king) instead of Eresh (queen consort). The only woman to bear this title, so,at least in the King List she is considered as a true monarch.

The Sumerian King List Weld-Blundell Prism with transcription by Stephen Herbert Langdon (1876-1937)

The Sumerian King List Weld-Blundell Prism with transcription by Stephen Herbert Langdon (1876-1937). Photo: Commons

Kubaba probably rose to power around 2400 BC, well before the famous Egyptian queens. The King List names several kings’ names but all of these are males and Kubaba is the only female mentioned –  a queen regnant recorded as also being divine, who ruled in the early days of the third dynasty of Kish (2500–2330 BC), an ancient city-state of Sumer in Mesopotamia. A much later legend from a derivative of the King List says that Kubaba was granted kingship by the God Marduk after she delivered an offering of fish to his temple Esagil. Such accounts were probably written to show that kings who properly worshipped Marduk were rewarded, while those who neglected to do so were rendered powerless

The list describes her as an innkeeper and credits her with “strengthening the foundation of Kish”. After her 100 year long reign, a temporary transfer of power took place from Kish to Akshak before it was regained by Puzur-Suen, her son. He was succeeded by her grandson Ur-Zababa (a legendary opponent of historical Sargon of Akkad).

Iraq. Kish. (Tel-Uhaimir). Ruins of Kish at time of excavation. Photo: Commons Iraq. Kish. (Tel-Uhaimir). Ruins of Kish at time of excavation. Photo: Commons

Iraq. Kish. (Tel-Uhaimir). Photo: Commons

The List says that she ruled following the Great Flood after Sharrumiter of Mari was defeated. Some historians consider her part of the Fourth dynasty of Kish.

Her profession as an innkeeper is also worth mentioning. Female innkeepers had a significant role in Sumerian life and mythology because beer had paramount importance in Sumerian culture and religion. Inns and taverns were often run by women, making it perhaps one of the few areas where women could excerise power and independence in ancient Sumer. Siduri, the innkeeper in the Underworld is mentioned in the famous epic poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

More details Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood. Known as the "Flood Tablet" From the Library of Ashurbanipal, 7th century BC.

More details
Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood. Known as the “Flood Tablet” From the Library of Ashurbanipal, 7th century BC. Photo: Commons

Later references to Kubaba are also known from texts focused on omens meant to establish her and other rulers as paradigmatic models of kingship. Other omens preserve a tradition according to which Kubaba was a warrior. This indicates that over time the human Kubaba is replaced by the divine Goddess Kubaba, although the link between the Queen and the Goddess is not clear.

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Due to the extremely sparse data and the fact that she could not have ruled for a century, Kubaba’s background is treated as mythical, and has been compared to other unusual stories of kings in the same composition.

However, she is mentioned as lugal in the Sumerian King List, could have ruled some 4,500 years ago, and for that she is definitely worth being considered a Fantastic Woman.

 

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I am a Chartered Environmentalist from the Royal Society for the Environment, UK and co-owner of DoLocal Digital Marketing Agency Ltd, with a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, an MBA in Finance, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. I am passionate about science, history and environment and love to create content on these topics.

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