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For other uses, see Gilgamesh (disambiguation).
Gilgamesh as illustrated in The Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876)
Abode Earth
Symbol Bull, Lion
Parents Lugalbanda and Ninsun

Gilgamesh (/ˈɡɪl.ɡə.mɛʃ/; Gilgameš, often given the epithet of the King, also known as Bilgamesh in the Sumerian texts)[1] was the fifth king of Uruk, modern day Iraq (Early Dynastic II, first dynasty of Uruk), placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian King List he reigned for 126 years. The Tummal Inscription is an expanded king-list based on the standard Old Babylonian copy-texts, which exist in numerous examples, from Ur and Nippur.[citation needed] In the Tummal Inscription Gilgamesh and his son Urlugal rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of Nippur.[citation needed]

Gilgamesh is the central character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from Mesopotamia that is considered the world's first truly great work of literature.[2] The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about 'Bilgamesh' (Sumerian for Gilgamesh). In the epic his father was Lugalbanda and his mother was Ninsun (whom some call Rimat Ninsun), a goddess. In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people from external threats, and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Deluge. He is usually described as two-thirds god and one third man.

Cuneiform references[edit]

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is credited with the building of the legendary walls of Uruk. An alternative version has Gilgamesh telling Urshanabi, the ferryman, that the city's walls were built by the Seven Sages. In historical times, Sargon of Akkad claimed to have destroyed these walls to prove his military power.[citation needed]

Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that at the end of his life Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed. In April 2003, a German expedition claimed to have discovered his last resting place.[3]

It is generally accepted that Gilgamesh was a historical figure, since inscriptions have been found which confirm the historical existence of other figures associated with him: such as the kings Enmebaragesi and Aga of Kish. If Gilgamesh was a historical king, he probably reigned in about the 26th century BC. Some of the Sumerian texts spell his name as Bilgamesh. Initial difficulties in reading cuneiform resulted in Gilgamesh's making his re-entrance into world culture in 1872 as "Izdubar".[4][5]

In most cuneiform texts, the name of Gilgamesh is preceded with the star-shaped "dingir" determinative ideogram for divine beings, but there is no evidence for a contemporary cult, and the Sumerian Gilgamesh myths suggest that deification was a later development (unlike the case of the Akkadian god-kings). Over the centuries there was a gradual accretion of stories about him, some probably derived from the real lives of other historical figures, in particular Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash (2144–2124 BC).[6]

Later (non-cuneiform) references[edit]

In the Qumran scroll known as Book of Giants (ca. 100 BC) the names of Gilgamesh and Humbaba appear as two of the antediluvian giants, rendered (in consonantal form) as glgmš and ḩwbbyš. This same text was later used in the Middle East by the Manichaean sects, and the Arabic form Jiljamish survives as the name of a demon according to the Egyptian cleric Al-Suyuti (ca. 1500).[7]

The name Gilgamesh appears once in Greek, as "Gilgamos" (Γίλγαμος), in Aelian, De Natura Animalium (Of the animal nature) 12.21 (ca. AD 200).[8] In Aelian's story, the King of Babylon, Seuechorus or Euechorus, determined by oracle that his grandson Gilgamos would kill him, so he threw him out of a high tower. An eagle broke his fall, and the infant was found and raised by a gardener, eventually becoming king.

Theodore Bar Konai (ca. AD 600), writing in Syriac, also mentions a king Gligmos, Gmigmos or Gamigos as last of a line of twelve kings who were contemporaneous with the patriarchs from Peleg to Abraham; this occurrence is also considered a vestige of Gilgamesh's former memory.[9][10]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George 1999, Penguin books Ltd, Harmondsworth, p. 141 ISBN 13579108642
  2. ^ The Epic of Gilgamesh by Andrew George (considered to be one of the most accurate and comprehensive translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh)
  3. ^ "Gilgamesh tomb believed found", BBC News, 29 April 2003
  4. ^ Smith, George (1872). "The Chaldean Account of the Deluge", in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Volumes 1-2, pp.213–214. Society of Biblical Archæology; London.
  5. ^ Alfred Jeremias, Izdubar-Nimrod, eine altbabylonische Heldensage (1891).
  6. ^ N.K. Sandars, introduction to The Epic of Gilgamesh (Penguin, 1972:16).
  7. ^ A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic p 60.
  8. ^ Walter Burkert: The Orientalizing Revolution; 1992, p. 33 note 32.
  9. ^ George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic p. 61
  10. ^ Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic p. 252.


  • Damrosch, David (2007). The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-8029-5. 
  • George, Andrew [1999], The Epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian, Harmondsworth: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1999 (published in Penguin Classics 2000, reprinted with minor revisions, 2003. ISBN 0-14-044919-1
  • George, Andrew, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic - Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2 volumes, 2003.
  • Gmirkin, Russell E, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus, New York, T & T Clark International, 2006.
  • Foster, Benjamin R., trans. & edit. (2001). The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-97516-9. 
  • Hammond, D. & Jablow, A. [1987], "Gilgamesh and the Sundance Kid: the Myth of Male Friendship", in Brod, H. (ed.), The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies, Boston, 1987, pp. 241–258.
  • Kovacs, Maureen Gallery, transl. with intro. (1985,1989). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press: Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-1711-7.  Glossary, Appendices, Appendix (Chapter XII=Tablet XII).
  • Jackson, Danny (1997). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. ISBN 0-86516-352-9. 
  • Mitchell, Stephen (2004). Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-6164-X. 
  • Oberhuber, K., ed. (1977). Das Gilgamesch-Epos. Darmstadt: Wege der Forschung. 
  • Parpola, Simo, with Mikko Luuko, and Kalle Fabritius (1997). The Standard Babylonian, Epic of Gilgamesh. The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. ISBN 9514577604. 
  • Pettinato, Giovanni (1992). La saga di Gilgamesh. Milan, Italy: Rusconi Libri. ISBN 978-88-18-88028-1. 

External links[edit]

Original cuneiform text[edit]

Text translations[edit]



  • Recordings of modern scholars reading extracts from the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh in the original language (http://www.speechisfire.com).
Preceded by
Aga of Kish
King of Sumer
ca. 2600 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Dumuzid, the Fisherman
Ensi of Uruk
ca. 2600 BC

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