The Standard of Ur

The ancient city of Ur is probably best remembered as the city out of which God called Abram in order “to go to the place I will show you”.   The excavations at Ur in the 1920’s and 30’s by Leonard Woolley have shown Ur to be a very wealthy and advanced city that flourished in the 3rd millennium BC.

One of the most spectacular finds from the excavations was what Woolley called ‘the Standard of Ur’.   No one actually knows what it was used for but it was a richly decorated box that was intended to be viewed from all sides.  A banqueting scene covers one side of the box, and a battle scene the other; two motifs that were often combined in art sponsored by the royal court.

The Battle

The Banquet

Several of the details on the standard have been found in the course of excavations at Ur.

The Death Pits

The Sumerians have always seemed to me to be a rather peaceable civilization.  The men wore strange skirts and clearly spent too much time at the banquet table.  The statues of Sumerian deities and worshippers look quite tame with their large gazing eyes and disturbing smiles.   But there was a truly dark side to this society that was revealed when Woolley began to excavate the royal cemetery at Ur.   Rows upon rows of elaborately dressed women, and five or six armed men, lay buried in a large open pit that Woolley, who had some talent for show biz, called ‘the Great Death Pit’.  The individuals were all young, and must have been a part of the kings retinue chosen to accompany him into the after life.  Recent analysis has shown that these attendants were dispatched with a blow to the head before being placed side by side in the pit.

We take it for granted that you ‘can’t take it with you when you go’.   But the people of Ur clearly thought that you could, as did most ancient cultures.

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