Divine Service in Early Lagash
By Samuel A.B. Mercer
Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol 42 (1922), 91-104

Note: The following is an example of what this article contains. I would like to point out the date in which this article was originally written, so please keep that in mind when you are attempting to read through the punctuations. Also, a few of the Sumerian words are spelled with an SH; I don’t have the option of using the correct symbol for the S. Since it is pronounced SH, though, that’s how I’m spelling it. The author mentions that it is unknown what the duties of a kalu were, but taking into consideration the date of the article, we now know that the kalu were gay or transvestite priests who sang.


The more important temples had spacious yards or forecourts, where was usually to be found a well, where, if we can judge from later use, a part of the service was performed. Each temple had its store-houses and magazines, where dates, wine, and corn were kept. From the account of Urukagina’s reform we learn indirectly of the lands, oxen, and asses which the temples possessed, and how the priests became rich and powerful.

Associated with some of the temples of important deities there was a sacred grove (tir-azag). Thus, Entemana built one for Ninharsag and also for Nina and fr Ninmah. But whether any part of the temple service was conducted there it is impossible to say.

In the temple itself were various objects the exact use of which cannot be always ascertained, although they were most likely used in connections with the services. Many of these objects were dedicated to the gods. Thus, in the temple of Ningirsu, in the time of Urukagina, was a ki-A.B, which may have been a chapel; and in the same reign a ki-KU-akkil-li-ni was dedicated to Dunsagga. …… Besides these objects that cannot be identified, there were many others that were dedicated for use or for ornamentation in the temples. Such were, an onyx bowl dedicated to Bau by Ur-Nina, the famous silver vase dedicated by Entemena to Ningirsu, a stalagmite vessel dedicated to Dun-x by Entemena; and various other vessels dedicated to such deities as Ningirsu and Nina. It was customary to dedicate war maces, and plaques as votive offerings were probably attached to the walls of shrines and temples. Votive pillars and blocks of stone were also common, and they may have been considered especially sacred because of some association with a deity or with some ceremonial act. Statues of deities were sometimes dedicated and erected in temples, where such deities were venerated. Some of the objects in the temple bore names, such as, “Ningirsu interceded in the temple of Uruk with Bau for Urukagina”, and the furnishings were adorned with gold and silver.

The king among the early Sumerians, as elsewhere, was the representative of the gods, and as such was the priest par excellence. In fact, the Sumerian king bore a title which marked him as the man of his god. He was called patesi. In Early Lagash this term was interchangeable with lugal, the word for king, for while we read of the patesi of a town or the patesi of a god we never find the phrase patesi of a king. Eannatum invariably styled himself patesi. Later it was looked upon as less kingly. Sometimes the king was called patesigal, the great patesi, to represent his office as ideal high priest.

With the multiplication of royal duties, the king was gradually obligated to delegate his priestly acts to others. This began to be so before the earliest date of which we have historical records. Then there arose an official priesthood. But always the office of priest remained a high one, and sometimes a royal person acted as an official priest.

There were many classes of priests. The commonest priestly class as the shangu. The shangu was always the servant of some deity, such as Lugalkigalla, priest of Ningirsu, Luenna, priest of Ninmarki; or of some temple, such as the high priest of Girsu. There were always palace priests. At the head of the shangu stood the shangu-mah, or high priest. He was usually a very infuential man. Thus, Dudu, high priest of Ningirsu, was called the servant of Entemena, dates referred to him, and he was represented on bas reliefs. Another priestly class was the mushlahhu. The word means serpent-driver, and points to some species of serpent worship. There was a chief serpent-priest, mashlalahgal, and he is represented on the so-called family bas relief, wearing a short dress with plain body. He must have been a very important man to have been thus pictured with the royal family. A third class of priests was the kalu, whose fees were reduced by Urukagina. And there was likewise a kalamah or chief kalu. What their particular function was is not yet clear, although they would seem to have been connected with the musical department of the temple. Other priestly classes were the shutug, or anointers, at whose head stood the shutug-nun-ne, or great shutug (pashishu); the adarakku, a kind of anointing priesthood; and the naru, a musical order.

There were also priestesses, but they were not as common as the priests. The nin-gingir priestesses were, in the Hammurapi period, cloistered nuns. Priestesses were sometimes of royal blood, if we may judge from Lidda, the daughter of Ur-Nina, who held a high rank in the temple hierarchy.

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