Akkadian Empire: World's First Author

Many years ago, in an extraordinary and remarkable piece of luck, the name of the world’s first known author was discovered on the back of a 4,000-year-old white alabaster disk.


Alabaster disk discovered in Sumeria
Courtesy the Penn Museum | Object No. B16665

The disk, which resembles the moon and is 10 inches (25cm) across, was uncovered in a temple in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur by archaeologist Leonard Woolley in 1927.


It's decorated with a relief depicting four figures facing an altar. They appear to be participating in a sacred rite. One of the figures - a woman who wears a headdress and a layered gown - is larger than the others and seems to be in charge of the proceedings. An inscription identifies her as Enheduanna, priestess of the moon god Nanna, servant of the goddess Inanna, and daughter of Sargon, king of the world.


When the disk was unearthed, Assyriologists - scholars who specialize in ancient Mesopotamia - were already familiar with the historical figure of Enheduanna as the author of Sumerian songs and hymns dating to the Akkadian Empire (ca. 2350 - 2150 B.C.).


Now, remarkably, they had a face to put to a once-famous name that was only then beginning to emerge from four millennia of obscurity. “It’s incredible,” says Yale University Assyriologist Benjamin Foster. “She’s the only author in the entirety of Sumerian literature whose name we actually know, and the only author in the entire 2,500-year span of Mesopotamian history of whom we have a contemporary illustration.”

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