The Standard of Ur

©

  • 'Peace' panel

    'Peace' panel

  • 'War' panel

    'War' panel

 

The Standard of Ur

From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC

The Standard of Ur

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This object was found in one of the largest graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, lying in the corner of a chamber above the right shoulder of a man. Its original function is not yet understood.


Leonard Woolley, the excavator at Ur, imagined that it was carried on a pole as a standard, hence its common name. Another theory suggests that it formed the soundbox of a musical instrument.

When found, the original wooden frame for the mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli had decayed, and the two main panels had been crushed together by the weight of the soil. The bitumen acting as glue had disintegrated and the end panels were broken. As a result, the present restoration is only a best guess as to how it originally appeared.

The main panels are known as 'War' and 'Peace'. 'War' shows one of the earliest representations of a Sumerian army. Chariots, each pulled by four donkeys, trample enemies; infantry with cloaks carry spears; enemy soldiers are killed with axes, others are paraded naked and presented to the king who holds a spear.

The 'Peace' panel depicts animals, fish and other goods brought in procession to a banquet. Seated figures, wearing woollen fleeces or fringed skirts, drink to the accompaniment of a musician playing a lyre. Banquet scenes such as this are common on cylinder seals of the period, such as on the seal of the 'Queen' Pu-abi, also in the British Museum.


The city of Ur

Known today as Tell el-Muqayyar, the city of Ur was occupied from around 5,000 BC to 300 BC and was once the capital of an empire stretching across southern Mesopotamia. More about the city of Ur

 

Burial

The Royal Graves at Ur

A rubbish dump at the centre of the city of Ur became a burial site that has yielded some of the most amazing archaeological finds from Mesopotamia.

Read the article

Burial

Leonard Woolley (1881-1960)

Charles Leonard Woolley led an expedition to Ur for the British Museum and the University Museum, Philadelphia between 1922-34.

Read the article

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

Height: 21.590 cm
Length: 49.530 cm

 

ME 121201

Room 56: Mesopotamia

     

    Excavated by C.L. Woolley

    References

    C.L. Woolley and P.R.S. Moorey, Ur of the Chaldees, revised edition (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1982)

    D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

    M. Roaf, Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia (New York, 1990)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    J. Aruz, Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (New York, 2003)

    D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern Art (London, 1995)

    H. Crawford, Sumer and Sumerians (Cambridge, 2004)

    N. Postgate, Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. (London, 1994)

    N. Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilization (Cambridge, 2005)

    R. Zettler, and L. Horne, (eds.) Treasures from the Royal Tomb at Ur (Philadelphia, 1998)