Queen Puabi

What do we know about the woman who was given the elaborate burial known as PG 800?

The forensic examination of her remains, undertaken by London’s Natural History Museum, indicates that she was roughly 40 years old when she died. She stood just under five feet tall. Her name and title are known from the short inscription on one of three cylinder seals found on her person. The two cuneiform signs that compose her name were initially read as “Shub-ad” in Sumerian. Today, we think they should be read in Akkadian as “Pu-abi” (or, more correctly, “Pu-abum,” meaning “word of the Father”). Her title is “eresh” (sometimes mistakenly read as “nin”), and means “queen.”

In early Mesopotamia, women, even elite women, were generally described in relation to their husbands. For example, the inscription on the cylinder seal of the wife of the ruler of the city-state of Lagash (to the east of Ur) reads “Bara-namtara, wife of Lugal-anda, ruler of the city-state of Lagash.” The fact that Puabi is identified without the mention of her husband may indicate that she was queen in her own right. If so, she probably reigned prior to the time of the First Dynasty of Ur, whose first ruler is known from the Sumerian King List as Mesannepada. Inscribed artifacts from the Seal Impression Strata (SIS) layers above the royal tombs at Ur name Mesannepada, King of Kish, an honorific used by rulers claiming control over all of southern Mesopotamia.

[stextbox id="grey"]The fact that Puabi is identified without the mention of her husband may indicate that she was queen in her own right.[/stextbox]

This diverse group of objects includes items from Puabi’s dressing table, such as her cosmetics. The semicircular object with carved relief showing a lion attacking a caprid (a sheep or goat) is the lid of a poorly preserved silver box that contained kohl, a black pigment, used to highlight the eyes. The cylinder seal bears the name “Abarage,” whose identity is unknown. Woolley believed Abarage to be Puabi’s husband.

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