Elaborate hairstyles were important for both men and women in Mesopotamia. The kings began to wear a full beard and long braided hair tied in a large bun at the nape of his neck. Women continued to wear their hair long, twisting it into large buns that covered the top of the head to the base of the neck and adorning it with ribbons and pins. The wealthiest people decorated their elaborate hairstyles with beautifully made jewelry of gold and silver.

The gold helmet of Meskalamdug, Sumerian King of the First Dynasty of Ur (26th-25th century BCE), is an artefact that was discovered in one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The gold of the helmet was expertly formed to resemble the hairstyle popular for men of the time: waves around the face with a bun tied in the back. This grave was found to have belonged to an ensi (roughly translated as ruler) of Ur by the name of Meskalamdug.

Based on an inscription on a lapis lazuli bead discovered in the ancient city of Mari, located near the west bank of the Euphrates River in Northern Mesopotamia during the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age, Meskalamdug was a King of Kish, a title said to have been held by one who ruled over both Sumer and Akkad. Nevertheless, there had been two rulers by the name of Meskalamdug, one being the grandfather of the other, and it is unclear if the owner of the war helmet was the older or younger Meskalamdug.

The grave of Meskalamdug was discovered in 1924 by the renowned British archaeologist Leonard Woolley. Within the grave, Woolley discovered a skeleton that was buried with numerous grave goods. Based on analyses of the bones, the skeleton belonged to a man who was probably under 30 years of age at the time of death. The man was of a strong build and was around 1.7 m (5.5 ft.) in height.

The “King of Kish” is named for a city in Akkad. An Akkadian could be the king of Kish, but it also became the traditional title of any Sumerian king who ruled both Sumer and Akkad. In a way, the title meant “The King of Kings”. Sargon the Great, also the King of Kish, wore the same kind of distinctive helmet.

The two examples shown here belonged to Sargon and Meskalamdug. Meskalamdug was Sumerian and Sargon was Akkadian. There is more than a 150 years difference between them. The only thing the two men had in common is they were both the King of Kish. This indicates that the helmet was meant only for a King of Kish, and it wasn’t meant to symbolize other forms of royalty.

An Akkadian wore this type of helmet if he was literally the king of Kish. A Sumerian wore this helmet only if he conquered Kish and it allies to thus become the King of Kings. This kind of helmet is made to look like the wearer’s own hair, with a knotted bun in the back, and a woven band on top. Since it is made of gold, it’s always been assumed that the helmet was a symbol of royalty.

Kish was occupied from the Ubaid period (circa 5300-4300 BCE), gaining prominence as one of the pre-eminent powers in the region during the Early Dynastic Period when it reached its maximum extent of 230 hectares. According to ancient Sumerian sources, it was the seat of the first postdiluvian dynasty; most scholars believe that the dynasty was at least partly historical.

The dynasty ended when its last king, Agga, was defeated about 2660 BCE by Gilgamesh, king of the first dynasty of Uruk. Although Kish continued to be important throughout most of ancient Mesopotamian history, it was never able to regain its earlier prominence.

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