Ancient City Shaduppum in 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. Shaduppum was an ancient city that was part of the kingdom of Eshnunna in the Diyala River area. Its modern name is Tell Harmal and it is located in Baghdad Governorate, Iraq. Shaduppum was an important administrative and religious center that produced many clay tablets with texts on law, mathematics, literature and mythology.

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. Shaduppum was founded in the late third millennium BCE, during the days of Sargon of Akkad, but it rose to prominence in the second millennium BCE, when it served as a treasury and an accounting hub for Babylonia. The name Shaduppum means “the accountant’s office” or “the treasury” in Akkadian.

Shaduppum was a fortified city with seven temples, one of which was dedicated to Nisaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing and record-keeping, and her consort Haia. The entrance to this temple was guarded by two roaring terra-cotta lions that are now on display at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

Nisaba was the Mesopotamian goddess of writing and grain. She is one of the oldest Sumerian deities attested in writing, and remained prominent through many periods of Mesopotamian history. She was commonly worshiped by scribes, and numerous Sumerian texts end with the doxology “praise to Nisaba” as a result.

During the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 2000-1600 BCE) her status declined, particularly during the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE) when goddesses lost prestige across Mesopotamia in favor of male deities. Nisaba was replaced by Nabu around this time when Hammurabi elevated Marduk to the position of king of the gods and Nabu as his son.

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.

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. 

Shaduppum was not only a place of bureaucracy and commerce, but also a place of learning and culture. Among the nearly 3,000 tablets that were unearthed at Shaduppum, there were some that contained remarkable texts that shed light on the intellectual and literary achievements of the ancient Mesopotamians.

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.

For example, there was a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest written work of literature, dating back to the 18th century BCE. There were also two tablets that contained The Laws of Eshnunna, a set of legal codes that were older and more progressive than the famous Code of Hammurabi. The Laws of Eshnunna were issued by Bilalama, the ruler of Eshnunna, around 1930 BCE, and they introduced a monetary system of fines instead of physical punishments for most crimes.


The Laws of Eshnunna are a collection of legal codes that were issued by the rulers of the ancient Mesopotamian city-state of Eshnunna in the 18th century BCE. They are among the oldest surviving legal documents in the world, and they reveal important aspects of the social, economic, and political life of the people of Eshnunna.

The Laws of Eshnunna consist of two sets of laws: the Laws of Bilalama, issued by King Bilalama around 1770 BCE, and the Laws of Dadusha, issued by King Dadusha around 1740 BCE. The Laws of Bilalama contain 42 provisions, while the Laws of Dadusha contain 60 provisions. The laws cover various topics, such as contracts, property rights, inheritance, family law, personal injury, homicide, theft, and slavery.

The laws also reflect the hierarchical structure of Eshnunna’s society, which was divided into three classes: awilum (free citizens), mushkenum (dependent citizens), and wardum (slaves). The laws prescribed different penalties and compensations for each class, depending on the nature and severity of the offense.

The Laws of Eshnunna are significant for several reasons. First, they provide a glimpse into the legal system and culture of one of the earliest urban civilizations in history. Second, they show some similarities and differences with other ancient legal codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Ur-Nammu. Third, they demonstrate the influence of Eshnunna’s law on later legal traditions, especially in the fields of contract law and tort law.

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.


Another fascinating discovery from Shaduppam is a collection of mathematical tablets that demonstrate the advanced level of mathematical knowledge and skills among the ancient Mesopotamians. The tablets contain problems and solutions on topics such as geometry, algebra, fractions, square roots and quadratic equations. Some of the problems are similar to those found in Euclidean geometry, which was developed centuries later by the Greeks. The mathematical tablets from Shaduppam show that the ancient Mesopotamians used a sexagesimal (base-60) system of notation, which is still used today for measuring time and angles.

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. 

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. 


A third remarkable find from Shaduppam is a pair of tablets with fragments of the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest and most famous literary works in the world. The epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a legendary king of Uruk who goes on a quest for immortality after losing his friend Enkidu. The epic explores themes such as friendship, mortality, heroism and wisdom. The tablets from Shaduppam belong to the Old Babylonian version of the epic, which is considered to be the most complete and coherent among the various versions that have survived. The tablets from Shaduppam contain parts of two episodes: the fight between Gilgamesh and Enkidu against Humbaba, the guardian of the Cedar Forest; and the encounter between Gilgamesh and Siduri, the tavern-keeper who advises him to enjoy life.

Shaduppum was a city that had a lot to offer to anyone who wanted to explore the rich and diverse aspects of ancient Mesopotamian civilization. Unfortunately, Shaduppum declined and may have been abandoned after it was conquered by Hammurabi in the 18th century BCE.

Today, Shaduppum is mostly forgotten by the public, but its legacy lives on in the tablets that preserve its history, culture and wisdom. Shaduppam deserves more attention and protection as a valuable heritage site for humanity.

11 thoughts on “Ancient City Shaduppum in Mesopotamia

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    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

  2. Pingback: Laws of Eshnunna | Oldest Written Laws – Indrosphere

  3. Pingback: Laws of Eshnunna: Oldest Written Laws – Indrosphere

Please add a comment if you enjoyed this post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s