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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

Strata: Who did It?

Who is the world’s first known author?

Answer: Enheduanna

Enheduanna (c. 2285–2250 B.C.E), widely considered to be the world’s first known author, was a princess, priestess, poet, and writer. A daughter of Sargon the Great (reigned c. 2334–2284 B.C.E), Enheduanna—whose name means “ornament of heaven”—served as the high priestess of the moon god Nanna-Suen in the city of Ur.

It is unknown when Enheduanna was appointed high priestess, but she served in that position during the reigns of her father, two brothers, and great nephew. It is likely that Sargon awarded her the position as a political move—she helped to solidify his control over the restless southern Sumerian cities. Even though Sargon was the first ruler to unite northern and southern Mesopotamia and create the Akkadian Empire, that political unity did not equal cultural unity. By placing his daughter in a high position of power (priestess of an important deity), Sargon helped to ensure his family’s control over the heart of Sumerian culture—their religious expression.

Enheduanna authored several works, including two hymns to Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of love, and the cycle of temple hymns. Containing 42 hymns of varying lengths addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad, the collection was the first of its kind.

Biographical elements of Enheduanna’s life are hidden within the pieces she composed, where she often mentions writer’s block and working through the night to finish pieces. She also speaks of her political struggles, such as her rivalry with a potential usurper named Lugalanne.

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