At the mouth of the Euphrates River, in modern, southern Iraq, you’ll find the ruins of the ancient city of Ur. And when I say ancient, I mean very ancient. There’s evidence to suggest that this city was occupied as early as 6500 BCE, over 8000 years ago. Ur was an important center of civil and cultural life for the Sumerians, the inventors of the first written language. In this ancient tongue we find the writings of the first author and composer of record in the history of the world, the Akkadian princess Enheduanna.
Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon the Great, the world’s first emperor. He conquered the city-states of Sumeria, including Ur, in the 24th and 23rd centuries BCE, uniting these cultures, religions and languages. Sargon set up his daughter in this important city as princess and priestess, the supreme religious leader of the empire. Her duty was to unite the empire together around two religions, the worship of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and fertility, with Sargon’s own personal deity, Ishtar, goddess of war and sexuality.
She did this by composing hymns and poems in praise of Inanna and admonishing the people to sing and worship together.
O house Kinirsha created for its Lady
Rising from the platform, a verdant mountain
O house, joyful cries erupt deep in your interior
Your princess, a storm wind astride a lion
Lifting holy song and countersong
Loud voices constantly singing
This temple hymn refers to antiphonal singing, call and response. It was probably accompanied by drum and lyre, an instrument that Enheduanna most likely played.
There is one likeness, one sculpture of this priestess/princess that exists today. Engraved on a limestone disc, we see her standing boldly, proudly in the midst of a crowd. She is wearing a ceremonial robe and a headband holding back her long, braided hair. Her words have lived on for millennia. The Sumerian language became classical study for students during the Babylonian Empire centuries later. These scribes would practice their skills by copying Enheduanna’s poetry and texts. Therefore, we have numerous copies of the hymns and poems written by the world’s first author and composer.
Learn more about Enheduanna in Lewis Holmes’ book The Mystery of Music.
Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music.