Ancient City Shaduppum | Mesopotamia

The brighter side of the COVID-19 lockdowns is that it gives us time to think about those things that we couldn’t do earlier due to our daily regular activities. I visited the National Museum of Iraq twice before. I took photographs and notes on various artefacts, but I couldn’t get time earlier to study and write on them. As I study and research on the relics of past during these lockdown periods, I find that there are so many stories, which I was completely unaware of.

One of such stories is about the ancient city called Shaduppum, modern name Tell Harmal. It lies in the outskirts of the Baghdad city in Iraq.

Credit: University of Chicago

Not much is known outside the Old Babylonian times, though clearly the location was occupied from at least the Akkadian period through the Old Babylonian period. Although it was established as early as the late third millenium BCE, during the days of Sargon of Akkad, Shaduppum didn’t rise to prominence until the second millennium BCE, where it seems to have been a heavily fortified  administrative station for the kingdom of Eshnunna, and its name means “the treasury.” After the collapse of Ur, Eshnunna became independent but was later conquered by Hammurabi, king of Babylonia. During the next century the city fell into decline and may have been abandoned.

Of the seven temples in the city, a large one dedicated to Nisaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing and record-keeping, and her consort, sits just inside the city’s gates. That temple’s entrance was guarded by two roaring terra-cotta lions. These terracotta lions attracted my attentions and brought me to look into the city where they were originally installed.

Terracotta Lion found at the gate of Dagan Temple at Tell Harmal (ancient Shaduppum), outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, Old Babylonian period, 2004-1595 BCE. On display at National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.

These two terracotta lions were found at the entrance to the Dagan Temple at ancient Shaduppum, in the eastern outskirt of Baghdad. Both lions were made of baked and moulded clay (with a hollow interior) and date to the Old Babylonian period, 2004-1595 BCE. They are on display at the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.

This lion was looted in 2003 and it has been retrieved and placed after restoration in the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.

The Nisaba temple was a typical Old-Babylonian one, with a short staircase made of mud-bricks and flanked by platforms, on which those lions once stood. The lions were constructed from many fragments and probably the two lions date to different periods. The gaping jaws and bristly manes would avert any evil from entering the temple. 

The site was excavated by Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage from 1945 to 1963, discovering about 2000 tablets. Stories about Creation, the flood, The epic of Gilgamesh, and other were inscribed on some of the tablets. Among the tablets from Tell Harmal are two with parts of the Laws of Eshnunna as well as some important mathematical tablets, which are not only interesting, but surprising too.


The Laws of Eshnunna are believed to be about two generations older than the Code of Hammurabi; the differences between the two codes help illuminate the development of ancient law. The Laws are written in Akkadian and consist of two tablets and promulgated by King Bilalama of Eshnunna, who reigned during the interval of the 3rd dynasty of Ur, and the rise of the Amorite dynasty of Hammurabi (circa 2000 BCE). In 1948, Albrecht Goetze of the Yale University had translated and published the laws.

The 18th century BCE clay tablet representing the Laws of Eshnunna at the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.

Unlike Hammurabi, whose punishments usually featured maiming, if not death (punishment according to the “eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth” principle), Bilalama implemented a monetary, fine-based penal system. However, the more serious offences, including sexual ones, were punishable by death.

Much of its history is as yet uncertain. Here it will suffice to note that it finally fell victim to the expansionist policies pursued with success by Hammurabi of Babylon, during the fourth decade of his reign. The date of promulgation of the the Laws of Eshnunna is uncertain, but it is at least agreed that they precede the Code of Hammurabi, though one cannot know by how much. It is then a fair guess that they were issued in the course of the 18th century BCE; thus they constitute the earliest collection known at present, of legal rules in Akkadian.

Yaron, R. (1970). The Laws of Eshnunna. Israel Law Review, 5(3), 327-336. doi:10.1017/S0021223700002569

The laws were composed in a mode that facilitated memorising. The Laws clearly show signs of social stratification, mainly focussing on two different classes: the muskenum and awilum. The muskenum were persons employed by the palace who could be given land in usufruct without receiving it as property. Awilum were the citizens who owned land in their own right and depended neither on the palace nor on the temple. The majority of these offences were penalised with pecuniary fines (an amount of silver), but some serious offences such as burglary, murder, and sexual offences were penalised with death. 

This clay tablet from ancient Shaduppum (Old-Babylonian period, 2004-1595 BCE) narrates a geometric-algebraic theory of angles and triangles, similar to to the theory of Euclid of Alexandria, the father of geometry (lived circa 300 BCE). The clay tablet is on display at the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad

The archive included administrative and mathematical texts, including what appears to be an early version of the Pythagoras theorem. It appears they were used for teaching purposes. It is clear from the text that the Babylonians had an understanding of similar triangles, and an ordered system of mathematical education. The original tablets dates from about 1900 BCE, the early Babylonian period.

These mathematical tablets were originally published in separate articles in the beginning of the 1950s and mostly contain solved problem texts. Some of the problems deal with abstract matters such as triangles and rectangles with no reference to daily life, while others are stated in explicitly empirical contexts, such as the transportation of a load of bricks, the size of a vessel, the number of men needed to build a wall and the acquisition of oil and lard. 

The algebraic-geometry on this tablet features work similar to Euclid’s. This clay tablet is on display at National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.

Writing and computation served solely in accounting, which is represented in surviving clay tablets; there is not trace whatever of interest in mathematics going beyond that. 

There remains much we don’t know about Shaduppum, that we may never know, but one thing is clear: Shaduppum was a city that had a little bit of everything that made it a Mesopotamian city worth a look.

10 thoughts on “Ancient City Shaduppum | Mesopotamia

  1. I had never heard of such a place that has immense importance in history of civilizations. I was wrong as I used to believe that the Code of Hammurabi is the first documented laws. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story on Shaduppam.

    Liked by 1 person

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