The Sumerian King List is not surprisingly filled with the names of men: Alulim, Hadanish and Zizi. But in addition to his male monarchs, the world's first known civilization also spawned the first known female ruler: Kubaba (also Kug-Bau or Ku-Baba) who brewed and sold beer in the ancient city of Kish in Mesopotamia.
The story of powerful old women often revolves around Egypt, where Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut and Cleopatra reigned like pharaohs. But Kubaba climbed long before they were all on the throne of Sumer, probably around 2400 BC. To be clear, she was a true monarch – a queen who ruled on her own, rather than a queen consort, who is simply the monarch's wife. The King List refers to her as lugal (king), not if eresh (queen consort). She is the only woman to bear this title.
What little we know about her comes from this list, a chronicle of rulers that often blurs the line between history and legend. Enmen-lu-ana, for example, would have reigned for 43,200 years. Kubaba & # 39; s reign is more plausible, but she is still credited with an unlikely 100 years at the helm of Sumer.
Her nickname is longer than most, suggesting that ancient scribes considered her particularly remarkable. Next to her name it says "the woman's innkeeper who laid the foundations of Kish".
In the Sumerian tradition, kingship is not tied to a permanent capital. It shifts from place to place, bestowed upon one city by the gods and then, at its discretion, transferred elsewhere after a few generations. Before Kubaba, the sole member of the Third Dynasty of Kish, kingship rested in Mari for more than a century. After Kubaba it moved to Akshak. But Kish returned to prominence with Kubaba's son, Puzer-Suen, and grandson, Ur-Zababa, who served as the first two rulers in the city's fourth and last dynasty. (However, some versions of the King List do not show an intermediate Akshak Dynasty between Kubaba and her descendants.)
How Kubaba came to power
a source vaguely claims that Kubaba "seized" the throne. A more detailed account of her rise to power comes from the Weidner Chronicle, which is not real history, but is & # 39; a blatant piece of propaganda & # 39;, in the words of Canadian assyriologist Albert Kirk GraysonGrayson has written that "the whole point of the story is to illustrate that those rulers who neglected or insulted (the god) Marduk or failed to make fish offerings for the temple of Esagil had an unhappy ending."
According to the text, Kubaba feeds a fisherman and persuades him to offer his catch to Esagila. Marduk's favor in response comes as no surprise: "Let it be," said the god, entrusting "Kubaba, the innkeeper, with sovereignty over the world." That's right – her campaign costs for world domination were a loaf of bread and some water.
Coincidentally, bread and water (the ingredients of Sumerian beer) also formed the basis of her life before the monarch. It's tempting to envision Kubaba's path from humble brewer to exalted queen as a tale of rags to riches, but female innkeepers were commonplace and highly revered. Sometimes they were members of the nobility. Given that the people of Sumeria cherished beer as a gift from the gods, it may be more correct to consider her as & # 39; a successful businesswoman with divine associations & # 39 ;, writes theologian Carole R. Fontaine.
Whatever made her fit to rule, it clearly made her unique among the women of Sumeria. In an empire that lasted more than 1,000 years, she was the only queen to rule without a husband. But it appears that later generations have rejected this violation of gender roles and associate it with other supposedly abnormal mixtures of the masculine and feminine. The birth of an intersex child became the premonition "omen of Ku-Bau who ruled the country, & # 39; As a result, & # 39; the land of the king will be destroyed & # 39 ;. Like Assryiologist Rivkah Harris writes "Sitting on the throne was behavior that didn't suit a woman, just as a woman with a beard was an unnatural phenomenon."
Over time, it seems as if the human Kubaba has disappeared from memory and the divine associations have taken precedence. It was apparently deified in the following millennium, during the Hittite period, as the protector of the Syrian city of CarchemishHowever, the relationship between the deity and the historical person is unclear, especially since Baba was the name of a Sumerian god, and the prefix & # 39; ku & # 39; meant & # 39; holy & # 39 ;, according to the American archaeologist William F. Albright
However, if the goddess comes from the real queen, her legacy lasted longer than the fall of Sumer and even the Hittites. After evolving into the Greco-Roman Cybele or Cybebe, this & # 39; great mother of the gods & # 39; still a cult of worshipers for 3,000 years after her death – not bad for a barmaid.