EARLY SUMERIAN
(3000-2334 & 2250 BC)

DBA I/1

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History begins with the Sumerians, or so it is said. According to archaeologists, they came from the mountains of Elam or the Armenian plains, and settled (circa 5000 BC) in the swampy lands where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers formed a delta at the head of the Persian Gulf circa 5000 BC. They drained the swamps, channeled the floods, invented the wheel, tilled the fertile soil, and founded settlements which grew into the prosperous city-states of Eridu, Kish, Mari, Nippur, Lagash, Umma, Ur, and Uruk circa 3000 BC. Eridu is often associated with the location of the biblical Garden of Eden.

The Early Summerian DBA list begins properly in 3000 BC, which is presumably the period when Gilgamesh rose to preeminence as King of Uruk. This was referred to as the Dynastic Period, with each of the independent city-states ruled by Priest-Kings, such as King Mis-anni-padda of Ur (c. 2500 B.C.). The end of the Dynastic Period is marked by a massive flood, which is often associated with the biblical story of Noah's Ark.

Here are some of the famous kings of Sumer and incidents of their reigns as recorded in ancient cuneiform tablets:

  • 2800: Etana of Kish united Sumerian city-states Kish, Uruk, Ur, Sippar, Akshak Larak, Nippur, Adab, Umma, Lagash, Bad-tibira, Larsa after "Great Flood"
  • 2630-2600: Men-barage-si: King of Kish (Kishi), disarmed Elam
  • 2600: Gilgamesh: King of Uruk, "built the walls", Epic of Gilgamesh
  • 2494-2465: Ur-Nanshe: King of Lagash, border fights with Umma
  • 2480-2461: Mes-Ane-pada: King of Ur (and Kish?) united Sumer
  • 2466-2455: Akurgal, King of Lagash, son of Ur-Nanshe, lost ground to Umma
  • 2454-2425-2405: Eannatum - Enannatum, Kings of Lagash, sons of Akurgal
  • 2421-2410-2401: Elulu - Balulu, Kings of Ur
  • 2404-2375: Entemena, King of Lagash, dug irrigation canal to Tigris river.
  • 2400-2391: Shagkush-anna: King of Ur, "Priest King of Sumer, King of Nation"
  • 2400-2391: Gish-Shag-ki-dug, King of Umma
  • 2380-2361: Lugal-kinishe-dudu, King of Umma and overlord of Ur & Uruk made a treaty with Lagash
  • 2351-2340: Uru-inim-gina (Uru-Ka-gina), King of Lagash famous for legal reforms.
  • 2340-2316: Lugal-zage-si: King of Umma, sacked Lagash, known as "King of the Countries"

Around 2330 BC (2334 BC per Barker), Sargon of Agade (Akkad), a Semitic king from the north, invaded Sumer and made it part of his expanding empire.  This closes the Early Sumerian list, except for the Great Revolt of 2250, in which Lugal-Anne of Ur, Ipkhur-Kishi of Kish and the Zagros Highlanders with their allies, rose in rebellion and were defeated in turn in nine epic battles fought with Naram-Suen of Akkad.

Enemies

The Sumerian city-states fought amongst themselves, as well as against the Guti and other tribes of the Zagros Highlands (I/4ab), Susa and Elam (I/5ab), the Bedouin (I/6a) and early Syrians (I/9).  After 2500 BC, the list of enemies expands to include the Akkadians (I/11)

Composition

The Early Sumerian list encompasses four chronological sublists, broken down as follows:

I/1a - Early Sumerian (3000-2800 BC)
1x 3Bd (Gen) Sumerian CnC with household retainers and nobles with sickle swords and axes of bronze..
8x 4Bw Household & militia archers.
3x 2Ps Levies (settled and/or nomadic) with slings, javelins and/or bows.
I/1b - Early Sumerian (2799-2500 BC)
1x HCh (Gen) Sumerian CnC with retainers/nobles on four wheeled battlecars drawn by donkey/onager hybrids.
6x 4Pk Well-organized spear phalanxes formed from household troops and city-state militias.
2x 4Pk or 4Bd More spearmen or Kish household axemen (4Bd).
3x 2Ps Levies (settled and/or nomadic) with slings, javelins and/or bows.
I/1c - Early Sumerian (2500-2334 BC)
1x 4Pk or HCh (Gen) Sumerian CnC with retainers/nobles either dismounted with his spear phalanx or mounted on four wheeled battlecars drawn by donkey/onager hybrids.
1x HCh Battle cars.
6x 4Pk Well-organized spear phalanxes formed from household troops and city-state militias.
1x 4Pk or 3Bd More spearmen or Kish axemen.
1x 3Ax or 2Ps Martu mercenaries (3Ax) in service of Umma or Apishal, otherwise levies (2Ps).
2x 2Ps Levies (settled and/or nomadic) with slings, javelins and/or bows.
II/1d - Sumerian Revolt (2250 BC)
1x 4Pk or HCh (Gen) Sumerian CnC with retainers/nobles either dismounted with his spear phalanx or mounted on four wheeled battlecars drawn by donkey/onager hybrids.
1x HCh Battle cards
4x 4Pk Well-organized spear phalanxes formed from household troops and city-state militias.
1x 4Pk or 3Bd More spearmen or Kish axemen.
2x 7Hd Levies and emergency reserves.
1x 3Ax or 2Ps Martu or Zagros Highland mercenaries  (3Ax) in service of Umma or Apishal, otherwise levies (2Ps).
2x 2Ps Levies (settled and/or nomadic) with slings, javelins and/or bows.

One disappointment is that the DBA 2 lists no longer support the Sumerian Straddle-Cars (LCh), which Barker suggests were used as couriers and scouts, but apparently not in battle formation.

Tactics

The Early Syrians are an arable army with moderate aggression. The bow-heavy A sublist fights enemies who are also mostly bow or auxilia, so expect a shootfest.  The BCD sublists give you some hard-hitting heavy chariots, a pike block, a Blade or two, and some bad going foot.  Not a bad combination if you know how to use your pike effectively.  Against Auxilia heavy foes such as the Zagros Highlanders and Bedouin, terrain will become an enemy if you allow your opponent to control the battle.

A Sumerian army pitted against itself is a true command challenge, with both armies equipped with the same hard-charging chariots and slow, but irresistible pikes. Do you hold your battle carts in reserve until the pike phalanx can come to grips, or do you release your impetuous heavy chariots in hopes of procuring a quick victory. Will your opponent do the same?

Camps and BUAs

One ambitous camp/BUA project would be construction of a ziggurat, which is composed of pyramid-like terraces constructed in three or more levels of mud bricks. The top level was presumably a temple.

A section of city walls or a city gate make another suitable camp or BUA subject.

A simple camp such as a shepherd with a small herd of sheep or goats, a couple of battle cars parked next to a camp fire, or a procession of priests carrying a golden god idol are other possibilities.

Miniatures

Chariot, Essex and Falcon Figures feature popular ranges of 15mm Sumerian/Akkadians. Castaway Arts and Newline designs offers Sumerian/Akkadians in 25/28mm.  HaT has a new 1/72 plastic Sumerian range.  Irregular offers Sumerians in 6mm. Steve Barber Models offers a 10mm Sumerian range.

Other Resources

DBA Sumerian army galleries by Reinhold Sabel and Andy Gorman feature new 1/72 HaT figures.

Wikipedia on the Sumerians.

For general history, Samuel Noah Kramer's The The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Phoenix Books (University of Chicago Press, 1971) is a standard reference.

I also liked George Roux' Ancient Iraq, (Penquin, 1973), which does a nice job of outlining the history of that region from Sumer and Akkad to the rise of Babylon and the Assyrians until the arrival of Alexander and the Hellenistic Greeks.

Osprey's Ancient Armies of the Middle East (Men-at-Arms 109) by Terrence Wise, with illustrations by Angus McBride, covers the Sumerians and Akkadians, although in an abbreviated fashion.

Sumerians are covered in "Armies of the Ancient Near East 3,000BC to 539BC" by Nigel Stillman and Nigel Tallis (Wargames Research Group, 1984), which is difficult to find now at any reasonable price.


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Last Updated: 25 August 2006

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.