The Disk of Enheduana

The Disk of Enheduana is the single surviving depiction of Enheduana, and one of the few artifacts connected to her that can be dated to the time in which she lived, the Old Akkadian period. It is therefore a crucial source of information about the historical Enheduana, since the poems may or may not be later creations.

The Disk is a limestone cylinder measuring 25 by 7 centimeters (10 by 3 inches). It was created to commemorate an altar, the Table of Heaven, that Enheduana commissioned for Inana. On one side, it carries an inscription; on the other, a horizontal band with a relief depiction of Enheduana overseeing a ritual offering on what is probably the Table of Heaven itself.

The Disk was discovered in 1927, during Leonard and Katharine Woolley’s excavations at Ur. It was found in a highly fragmentary state and was soon subjected to a rather heavy-handed restoration that is now contested by many scholars.

The inscription, which is best preserved on a copy made from the Disk (see below), reads: “Enheduana, priestess of Nanna, spouse of Nanna, daughter of Sargon, the king of the world, built an altar in the temple of Inana-Zaza at Ur and named it Altar, the Table of Heaven” (for the information can be gleaned from this sentence, see the page on the historical Enheduana).

A photograph of the Disk as it was found, published in Woolley, pl. 41. See the Penn Museum’s website for the restored version of the Disk.

The original Disk shows Enheduana in a flounced garment with a conical hat; her left eye is still clearly visible. She holds her hands in a traditional Sumerian posture of greeting and deference, with one arm bent and the other in front of her nose. She is clearly the tallest human figure in the composition: the top of her hat touches the upper edge of the band, and in the Sumerian visual tradition, this marks her out as the most important person on the relief.

She is flanked by two figures. The one in front her is clearly a priest, pouring a libation – an offering of a liquid, probably – onto the altar. To this, the restoration added another figure behind Enheduana, and a ziggurat (a stepped temple tower) on the other side of the altar. The latter is particularly suspect: it may originally have been the statue of a deity, perhaps Inana.

The Disk was found next to a statue of a later high priestess, Enanatuma, who rebuilt the ĝipar in the 19th century BCE, after it had been destroyed by an enemy raid. At the same time, the inscription was copied out, which may have required reassembling the damaged Disk.

Rhonda McHale-Moore has suggested that Enanatuma may have discovered the Disk during the restoration work on the ĝipar, and then had the Disk copied and buried next to her own statue so as to serve as a symbolic foundation for the new temple. Though the evidence for this is circumstantial, it remains an intriguing possibility.

Further reading

Winter, “Women in Public.”

McHale-Moore, “The Mystery of Enheduanna’s Disk.”

Hansen, “Art of the Akkadian Dynasty,” 128–29.

Helle, Enheduana, 113–19.