Source: Westenholz, Joan Goodnick (2000) King by Love of Inanna - an image of female empowerment? In: Nin - Journal of Gender Studies in Antiquity. Published by Styx, Netherlands and edited by J.M. Asher-Greve, A. Kuhrt, J.G. Westenholz and M. S. Whiting, Volume 1, 2000, Thematic Issue on the Goddess Inanna. © All rights reserved to author. Text reproduced here for aid in research and studies purposes only. Notes and Bibliography not included

Inanna is a multifaceted goddess whose character has been variously interpreted. This paper does not attempt to solve the many contradictory aspects of Her essence, but to delve in one aspect usually ignored in her delineation - Her relationship to the body politic of Sumer in general and to the holders of political power in particular. This relationship has received little comment. Even in books and articles devoted to the study of Inanna, the description of the development of kingship rarely mentions Her role in the corridors of power. It has also been obscured by modern prejudices and ancient modes of expression. The former category covers the spectrum from those who hold that politics and public sphere of influence are an exclusively male preserve and rarely question this assumption to those who believe that Inanna is the bestower of kingship and use this belief as evidence of matriarchy and matrilineal rights to the royal throne in ancient Mesopotamia. Ancient modes of expression use terms such a love, which in connection with Inanna speak to the modern person as synonym for "sexual love", and are used to illustrate Inanna´s sexual appetite and the way in which she uses kingship as a lure to entice males into Her arms.

Throughout the 3rd Millennium and for a few centuries thereafter, various kings of Mesopotamia describe themselves as spouses of the Goddess Inanna and Her other female divinities. Further, certain rulers claim to have been granted their right of kingship by Inanna. During the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the king of the empire is thought to have gone through three coronation ceremonies: in his royal capital of Ur, in the religious center of Enlil in Nippur and in the sacred temenos of Inanna in Uruk. The questions to be investigated in this article are what part Inanna played in the legitimation myth of kingship, and whether Inanna´s raising of the appointed candidate to kingship through her love for him is a genuine image of female empowerment - a script for female power.



From the earliest royal Inscriptions comes evidence of the theological source of kingship. The following is a votive inscription found on 22 stone vessel fragments in the courtyard of the Ekur, in which the god Enlil awarded both the "en-ship" (lordship) of Uruk and the kingship of Ur to Lugalkiginnedudu of Uruk:

"Enlil, king of all lands, for Lugalkiginnedudu - when Enlil specially specially summoned him, and combined lordship with kingship for him, he (Lugalkiginnedudu) exercised lordship in Uruk and exercised kingship in Ur. Lugalkiginnedudu, in his great joy, dedicated this for his life to Enlil, his beloved master!"

An almost identical inscription was found on scattered fragments of another stone vase in the temple of Inanna at Nippur in a secondary context in the Ur III level IV. In this inscription, it is the Goddess Inanna, and not Enlil, who combined lordship with kingship for Lugalkiginnedudu:

"For An, king of all lands, and Inanna, queen of Eanna, Lugalkiginnedudu, king of Kish - when Inanna combined lordship with kingship for Lugalkiginnedudu, he exercised lordship in Uruk and kingship in Ur. When Inanna especially summoned Lugalkiginnedudu, then Lugalkiginnedudu dedicated for his life to Inanna, his mistress"

The political background to these inscriptions is the late Early Dynastic period (first half of the Early Dynastic IIIb period) is the expansionist tendencies of the rulers of various city-states. Lugalkiginnedudu may have founded the Second Dynasty of Uruk and attempted to dominate the Southern states through outright conquest or treaty. Uruk had been a member of the postulate Hexapolis of southern sates (Uruk, Adab, Nippur, Lagash, Umma, Shuruppak) under allegiance to Kish in the previous century (Early Dynastic IIIa, also known as Fara period). Lugalkiginnedudu claimed the title "King of Kish" in his dedication to Inanna quoted above, and thus perhaps asserted his complete hegemony in the country. Was there any basis for a claim? As Aage Westenholz has suggested, the title could only be claimed if the ruler´s title was bestowed by Enlil of Nippur. Since Nippur is the only southern toponym included in the List of Geographical Names, which is said to reflect the northern territorial union, it may have a greater significance than hitherto suspected. Nippur is known as the place of coronation of the kings of Sumer, but could it originally have been the place of coronation of the northern kings alone? The first Southern king to claim the title of "King of Kish", Mesannepada of Ur (2563-2524), claims to be the husband of Inanna under one of Her sobriquets. Eannatum of Lagash, claimed it by virtue of the love of Inanna, or "Inanna, because She loved him so, gave him the kingship of Kish, in addition to the rulership of Lagash". In fact, the few southern kings who claim this title mention it in association with Inanna. Complicating this issue is the fact that Inanna was also titulary deity of Kish. It has even been suggested that the title "king of Kish" when held by the Sumerian rulers always had a close relation to the Goddess Inanna but not to the god Enlil, in contrast to the "kingship of the land" given by the god Enlil. However, there is a time gap in the use of the latter title. Only after the title "king of Kish" had fallen into disuse did Kish become a foreign area to the southern rulers, and the title was consequently altered to lugal-kalm-ma. Enshakushanna styles himself as en ki-en-gi lugal in his Inscriptions from Uruk and Nippur. Thus, it is the lordship (en-ship) of Uruk that has become the lordship of Sumer, while the kingship of Ur and the kingship of Kish have merged into the kingship of the land. Nevertheless, this speculation presupposes a uniform development of the royal titulary, which is not very probable, and the local realities may have been far more complicated than this.

The roots of the concept of "king by the love of Inanna" can be traced back to earliest development of political hierarchy. The lordship (en-ship) of Uruk is key to understanding the evolution of politics and state society in the temple-centered culture of Sumer. In the first city on the Mesopotamian alluvium, Inanna symbolized the body politic of Uruk. The mythological statement of Her hegemony is explained in the myth Inanna and Enki, in which She persuades the drunken Enki to give Her the ME´s of the universe. These ME´s are the institutions and principles of human intercourse, particularly related to Inanna. The first group of institutions are cultic offices, followed by the emblems and insignia of kingship and finally terms for kingship. Thus, Inanna was endowed with the prerogative of bestowing authoritarian power. She shared the power with Her en or lord of Kullab, and the ceremony in which the en was annually re-endowed with his political powers was the sacred marriage. Some scholars deny the practice of this ritual in the Early Dynastic period and one interpretation offered for the "king by love of Inanna" was that it was an expression of the king´s pedigree, that he was begotten by Inanna. However, most agree that the union with Inanna became one of the duties of hegemonic kingship, and that until the disappearance of Sumerian culture, the kings ruling in Sumer continued to reenact the sacred marriage, to become the en of Inanna and to be endowed by Her with the royal prerogatives, including their throne name, the mu-nam-en-na. They did not marry Her, however, because She was the most powerful Goddess in the pantheon, but because the marriage ceremony was the legitimization of their lordship.

The gradual nature of the development of political hierarchies must be taken into account here. Through the management of the supernatural affairs, the en of the god or Goddess of the city could have developed from the de facto ruler of a town into the de jure sovereign. The earliest pattern of autocracy was that of the city of Uruk, in which the en held sway over the population, but the actual authority was vested in the Goddess. It was this Uruk model of state formation, which spread during the period of the Uruk expansion, and thus predates the rise of the Nippur model by several centuries. The en was a sacrosanct leader whose religious functions outlasted its political functions. The earliest written evidence has been interpreted by Robert Englund to prove that the en was the city head at Uqair at Jemdet Nasr. The Early Dynastic period shows en´s ruling various Syrian city-states, and later in the Akkadian period en´s are said to dominate the upper lands and the lands around the Persian Gulf.

The epic cycle of the heroic tales of Uruk focuses on heroes who are entitled en-priests (lords) of Uruk and who rule by the love of Inanna. A pre-Sargonic example of the court of Uruk is found in the composition Lugalbanda and Ninsuna. Lugalbanda prostrated himself on the ground before the en... One of the later compositions, Enmerkar and Enshudesdanna, has a plot which involves a contest for supremacy with the result determining the participant in the sacred marriage rite with the Goddess Inanna, thereby assuring the religious and political supremacy of the city. The conclusion of the contest is the victory of Enmerkar:

You are the beloved lord of Inanna, you alone are exalted;

Inanna has truly chosen you for her holy lap, you are her beloved.

From the west to the east, you are their great lord; I am subordinate to you.

These tales are the strongest evidence for the rite of sacred marriage in the Early Dynastic period, but were only written down in the Ur III period. Consequently, there is a difference of opinion as to which elements in these tales are genuine survivals reflecting earlier periods.

The ideology of kingship changed and altered over the centuries, keeping pace with changing religious thought. Relations changed among gods and goddesses, among men and women, and between divinities and humans In the Early Dynastic period, Enlil´s position rises at the cost of that of Inanna of Uruk. The legitimation of kingship of Kish is in the hands of originally Semitc Illil, turned Sumerian Enlil of Nippur. Although Enlil is the beloved high king of several of the southern rulers, He is not credited with giving them their kingship until the above inscription of Lugalkiginnedudu of Uruk. His brother by treaty, Entemena, ruler of Lagash, is also credited with raising the profile of Enlil and Nippur in the city of Lagash. The theocratic evidence of the late arrival of Enlil can be seen in the abnormalities in his cult and worship. The earliest lexical traditions testify to the primacy of the cult of Inanna. The godlists, which have yet no Uruk forerunners, reflect the Uruk view of the divine world. The lists containing cultic functionaries include only those of Nanna-Sin, Utu, Inanna, Enki/Ea and/or Nanshe or Nisaba. It has been said that Lugalzagesi´s rise to overlordship, based on the absolute dominion of Enlil of Nippur, rang the knell of the southern temple-centered city-state political system.

In the succeeding Akkadian period, the ideology favors Inanna over Enlil; however, this is not Inanna of Uruk, but Ashtar of Akkade. Sumerian hymns to Inanna composed by Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkade, mention Inanna´s ownership of the insignia of kingship:

To give the crown, the throne and the scepter of kingship (Akkadian to the king), is yours, Inanna (Inninshagura, line 142)

A curse formula of Naram-Sin contains the phrases "May he hold no scepter for Enlil, may he not seize kingship for Ashtar". Note the rise of the great kings´s devotion to Enlil, in particular that of the Akkadian kings and especially Shar-kali-sharri, who rebuilt the Ekur in Nippur.

In the Sumerian King List, a doctrine of power is presented, providing legitimacy to the power-holders. The King List projects the idea of successive cities exercising hegemony over a unified Mesopotamia back to the time of the Flood. It has been shown that the earliest king who could have been the instigator and the first beneficiary of this hegemonic narrative would have been Utu-hegal of Uruk, intent on justifying his new political order. It is interesting to note that this text says that kingship came down from heaven, without specifying any divine actor in the new order. Even in the Nippur recension, the King List began with the First Dynasty of Kish; its first edition ended with the first king of the Fourth Dynasty of Uruk and its second edition closed with a summary of the eleven cities which shared the kingship until the end of the First Dynasty of Isin. C. Wilcke has shown that the argument of the King List is that the Kings of Ur are the legitimate heirs to the kingship inherited by the brother in Uruk. Outside the King List, Enlil is credited with being the power behind the throne in the literary traditions beginning with the Curse of Agade, which begins with Enlil destroying both Kish and Uruk. To be considered fully legitimate, therefore, the kings of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur had three coronation ceremonies: one in Nippur, one in Ur and one in Uruk.

The theocracy centered on Enlil in Nippur had taken firm root by the beginning of the second millennium. However, traces of Inanna´s bestowal of kingship continue. The transition is found in one Ur-Ninurta hymn in which Inanna favors Ur-Ninurta of Isin for the kingship, takes him by the hand and leads him into Ekur, where the gods are in council. She proposes his name to An and Enlil in a nominating speech. An and Enlil give their verdict appointing Ur-Ninurta king, and all of the assembled gods confirm this decision by their assenting votes. This becomes the second millennium paradigm in the Akkadian royal hymns - hymns directed to Inanna to obtain a blessing on the king. She petitions An to pronounce the desired blessing. For example, the Akkadian hymn to Ishtar for blessing on Ammiditana relates how She asks this bon of Her spouse An.

Once Enlil has become the executive leader of the Sumerian pantheon, all political power becomes concentrated on him and only through him can other gods partake of political power. Thus, the hymn Ishme-Dagan K praises the bestowing of powers on the goddess Inanna by Enlil and his spouse Ninlil. Inanna is relegated to a subordinate position, though Her powers still include the dominion over the four quarters. Enlil and Ninlil present Inanna with Her own palace in Nippur and with Her husband Ishme-Dagan.

In the Akkadian tradition, the attribution of the insignia of kingship to Inanna continues despite Enlil´s supremacy:

When kingship came down from heaven
... Ishtar sought a king (myth of Etana)
The royal scepter, the throne the tiara,
Are given to her, all of them are her due (hymn of Agushaya)
Ishtar giver of the scepter, the throne and the term of office to all kings, O Lady of the Lands, take heed of me! (Namburbi 180:17).


Love is mentioned in the earliest records as being granted to a king by a divine being. This type of relationship does not seem to have been affected by the Sex of the participants, i.e. was not sexual in nature. Ningirsu loved Eannatum, and Bau loved Uruinimgina. Entemena fashioned a statue of himself and named it "Entemena Whom Enlil loves". In the above mentioned inscription of Lugalkiginnedudu, Lugalkiginnedudu refers to Enlil as his beloved king and to Inanna as his lady, without adding "beloved".

Expression of love between the king and various goddesses reflect the favor bestowed on the king by the goddess. Lugalzagesi, king of Umma, became king of Uruk and was "en-priest intimate with Ninur". Similarly, Nanshe, the powerful mistress, had "chosen in her heart" Eannatum, ruler of Lagash.

In the Old Akkadian inscriptions, the love metaphor appears frequently. Naram-Sin, king of Akkad, was victorious in nine battles due to "the love which the goddess Ashtar showed him". The term beloved dädum is used by various kings, in particular Sharkalisharri, who calls himself the beloved son of Enlil, DUMU dädi Enlil. In the literary texts concerning the Sargonic kings, the love of Ishtar for the kings is frequently mentioned. It is interpreted as follows: " According to this line (Sargon Birth Legend 1.12) which is sadly lacking in details, Sargon apparently attracted the attention of Ishtar while pursuing his career as a gardener and became the object of Her desire..." It is interesting to note that the emphasis of this scholar is focused on the sexual appetite of Ishtar. He continues: "Note that as an inducement to love the goddess, promises of kingship are offered to Gilgamesh, who though already a king would attain even greater dominion".

The Neo-Sumerian kings were most frequently the beloved of Enlil, but also occasionally of other gods, such as Nanna. Thus, it is obvious that the love metaphor and the divine legitimation of kingship are related, though there is not always a clear one-to-one correspondence. For example, Ibbit-Lim of Ebla set up a statue for Ishtar because She loved him: Ishtar had shown him love and therefore a monument before Ishtar had been erected and placed".


The issue of Inanna´s bestowal of kingship and Her love for the king has been obfuscated by the annual renewal of kingship in the "sacred marriage" ceremony and the concomitant sobriquet "spouse of Inanna". Both general and more technical studies show a recurrent fascination with the king as the spouse of Inanna. However, they are focused (as mentioned above) on her inordinate sexuality and thus Her apparent function of bestowing fertility. On rare occasions, another voice is heard: "In the Sumerian states, the king was often presented as the spouse of a goddess; the sacred marriage between the two was ritually enacted ruing important festivals, and possibly was considered to be the source of the ruler´s power". A better summation of the situation is the following: "The very human god-kings had to find a way to associate the king closely with the gods, ideologically and psychologically, in their own and in the public´s eyes. To do this, yet another paradigm of divine human relationships was developed, the metaphor of spouse" (see Frymer-Kenky, 1992). Spouse is used of either member of a heterosexual couple. Human males are spouses of divine females and human females are spouses of divine males.

The title dam (spouse) of a god or goddess is a traditional one appearing as dam-dingir in Early Dynastic Lu E. Further, it occurs as a religious title in relation to the goddess Nanshe in an inscription of Ur-Nanshe, founder of the first Dynasty of Lagash (2494-2465). The inscription states that the gods "chose Unimim through divination to be the spouse (dam) of Nanshe". Nevertheless, it is as the spouse of Inanna that most kings wanted to be remembered. A successor to Ur-Nanshe, Eannatum of Lagash, may have called himself "beloved spouse of Inanna", as Mesannepada of Ur, who entitled himself "spouse" of the goddess Inanna in a seal inscription. The title dam has been related to the sacred marriage rite, as evidence of the marriage concept. The title probably reflects a connubial metaphor for the closeness of the religious experience between an immanent deity and a human being.

The Akkadian kings lived in the "age of Inanna", according to traditional texts, Naram-Sin is said to be mut "husband" of Inanna/Ashtar. Although there has been a recent attempt to avoid this translation, there does not seem to be any need to do so. The basis for this attempt was that there exists no evidence of the sacred marriage ritual until the reign of Sulgi, and that there should be a military title rather than a sacerdotal title in the royal inscription. Another interpretation of this title is that it is one component in the deification of Naram-Sin.

While the Neo-Sumerian kings were beloved of Enlil, they could only be spouses of female deities. Inanna is thus the dam-ki-ág "beloved spouse", e.g. Amar-Sin 14:3. The term dam is again used to describe the relation of Inanna and other goddesses to the king: Annunitum is the dam of Shu-Sin.

Ishme-Dagan (1953-1935), who reigned during the First Dynasty of Isin, refers to himself in his standard inscription as the "en of Uruk... beloved spouse (dam-ki-ág) of Inanna. In an Akkadian inscription, he refers to Ishtar hirassu, his spouse. These epithets encapsulate the source of the complex power and authority: only the holder of the title of en of Uruk is the beloved spouse of Inanna, the recipient of Her kingship - king by love of Inanna.


The legitimation of kingship is thus mythologized as the bestowal of kingship by the goddess Inanna on the king through her marriage and love of him. Does this myth reflect society at any time? What is the connection between theology and gender ideology? In general, it has been stated that in her being and in her cult, Inanna/Ishtar provides an outlet for female gender expression. Nevertheless, She maintains the gender order by providing a sacred exampleand divine warrant for the gendered structure of society.

Goddesses are said to define the female in society, to be godwomen. Feminist scholars have attempted to explore the relationship between the worship of the goddess and the political and economic power of women in acneint times. In general, it is clear that women played a very active role in the economic life of Sumer and even in Babylonia and Assyria. They controlled certain administrations, and they formed a major part of the work force. Unfortunately, our understanding of the earliest evidence is hampered by our inability to determine the Sex of many persons active in the public sector as the Sumerian language does not distinguish grammatically between masculine and feminine. Thus, many of the persons assumed to be men may in fact be women and women´s roles in Sumerian society may be much more extensive than now imagined. However, the question "Were there women of such authoritarian power in ancient Sumerian society?" is not simple to answer. Certain theorists maintain that since Inanna wielded such political power, this must be evidence that women also once had such power in a matriarchal system of rule. A better understanding of the gender symmetry of Sumerian ideology would undermine such blatant assumption. A strong goddess is mated with a strong king because their union is the basis of a balanced system. The highest cultic functionary, the en, and thus the earthly representative of the deity, was always of the opposite Sex. Consequently, strong human female models are to be found outside the city of Uruk and outside the cult and worship of Inanna.

Those few legendary queens who held power in their own name are known from he Northern city of Kish. The next to last ruler of the first dynasty of Kish is Enmebaragesi, who is described in the Sumerian King List as the king who carried away the weapons of Elam as booty. There is certain recent evidence indicating that Enmebaragesi was a woman. It has been suggested that she was the en-priestess of Zababa of Kish and thus ruler of Kish, while her brother Gilgamesh was en-priest of Inanna of Uruk and thus ruler of Uruk. However, the third dynasty of Kish begins with Ku-Ba-ú, designated a female tavern keeper, the one who is said to have consolidate the foundation of Kish and become king (lugal). Another reference to a woman of Kish as the female representative of a city is to be found in an old Akkadian text from Nippur. Consequently, although a female may be a bestower of kingship, it is rare that a female holds the kingship.

It has been noted in other societies that highly positive feminine religious symbolism fails to translate into the secular gender roles. Anne Klein has shown that even the existence of a generous array of female imagery at the heart of a religious tradition does not guarantee that women will automatically achieve ecclesiastical and social roles congruent with this imagery

It has been incorrectly maintained that Inanna had a high priestess - an entu, who held the highest position of power and acted as Inanna, choosing youthful consorts (her dying son/lover) each year. One of the secrets of the cult of Inanna is the identity of Her representative in the sacred marriage: she has remained anonymous as far as our sources are concerned.

The above discussion investigates only one expression of gender theology and ideology in Sumerian thought. The strong emphasis on duality in Sumerian theology can be seen in the cross-gender of god and priest (as well as goddess and priestess - Lishtar´s addition), as well as the generations of couples of divine pairs, among other traits. It is currently impossible to determine whether the probably original sexual-balanced sphere of religious power was not reflected in political power, and whether it ever existed, and then declined because of social stresses, the development of warfare, or depleted resources in the Early Dynastic Period, or for some other and unknown reason.

This study is only part of a wider investigation into the bases of the underlying structure that directs the authority relations of males and females in symbolism and behavior.


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