The Story of Enheduanna

I honor of International Women’s Day, I am posting the story of Enheduanna instead of the third installment of her poem, Inanna and Ebih. While the priestess began her life with every comfort that a princess could expect, after her appointment as High Priestess she had to face many difficulties, struggles, and life-changing events that showed how a journey can completely change a person into something so much stronger than even she knew was possible. The young woman that she was when she began her journey is not what draws me to her so inexorably; it is the journey itself, and who she grew to be what gives this remarkable woman so much credibility.


Enheduanna began her life in luxury, born to the Great King Sargon of Akkad, the man who united all the city-states within Mesopotamia. She was his only daughter out of five children, but it wasn’t known if her mother was his wife, Tashlutum, or if her mother was one of the many concubines Sargon kept. Some scholars believe her mother was a Sumerian speaking woman due to Enheduanna’s graceful use of the language in all of her poems. When she was probably between twelve and fourteen years old, towards the end of her father’s long reign, Sargon followed Sumerian tradition and appointed her entu or high priestess of Nanna at Ur. This was one big turning point in Enheduanna’s life.


Here we have a young woman (a child by our own standards) having to move to a new home halfway across the country. Not only that, but she was put into the position of emulating the moon god’s wife, Nirgal, in the yearly Sacred Marriage Ritual. In this ritual, she had to shed her mortal coil and become Nirgal before laying on the sacred marriage bed and consummate the holy union with Nanna-sin. This is where it gets a little muddy. In the yearly ritual, it was the reigning king who took on the role of Nanna-sin. While some scholars speculate that it was merely an imitation of the deed, there are others who argue that the entu and the king actually did consummate the marriage. This would mean that Enheduanna did the deed with her own father, then both of her brothers who succeeded Sargon on the throne, and finally her own nephew, Naram-sin who ruled until her death. By modern standards, that’s pretty icky, right? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it too.


Moving on…


So beyond the Sacred Marriage Ritual, Enheduanna also had to coordinate the intake of offerings to Nanna-sin. She kept detailed records of every piece of grain, barrel of beer, sheep, and bread that was brought in. She also took care of Nirgal’s statue in her own temple that was on the other side of Nanna-sin’s in the ziggurat. Beyond the daily humdrum of clerical duties, she was also expected to maintain peace among the southern city-states that had often fought against Sargon to regain their independence. While her office was officially geared toward the divine, she often had to dip her hand into the secular world of politics to keep her father’s world united.


Enheduanna was the entu for forty-plus years, keeping her office through the remainder of Sargon’s rule, followed by her two brothers Rimush and Manishtushu, and finally into her nephew, Naram-sin’s reign. Throughout her brothers’ reigns, there was evidence of further rise ups and violence that the two kings had to put down, but it was Naram-sin who pulled it all together again; however, his methods were not necessarily painted in the best light…especially to Enheduanna.


Naram-sin deified himself soon after taking the throne (probably after murdering his own father to get there), becoming the God of Akkad. This wasn’t only an act of extreme ego, but one of tyranny as well (this is my opinion of the man based on what I have read). This act granted him the power over the divine world, i.e. the temples and all their wealth, but also the secular world. He was suddenly able to access all of the wealth and lands of the temples of Mesopotamia and do with it whatever he wished, instead of leaving it in the hands of the priests and priestesses who maintained it previously. This is where we see the beginnings of Enheduanna’s influence and strength.


While Enheduanna was the high priestess of Nanna, her heart was pulled to the goddess of fertility and war, Inanna. After Naram-sin claimed domain over the divine world, her world, she began writing poetry and prayers to Inanna, rising her up and giving her more and more power until she eventually reigned over the Sumerian pantheon, alongside An. This suggests that Enheduanna was not at all happy with her nephew’s actions and entered into a power-play of sorts.


It was during this time that a man by the name of Lugalanne set his sights upon our lovely entu and craved the power she wielded. It was said that he believed himself to be superior to her because he was a man and she was just a woman. He was eventually successful in usurping her, going on to beat and possibly even rape her before exiling her into the mountains. If we thought that Enheduanna was strong before, this was where she began to truly shine.


She went through a period of despair, writing a poem to Inanna to ask why she had been so disgraced when she had done everything she could to honor and exalt her goddess. She begged for forgiveness and promised to exalt her in all things. Enheduanna spent this time finding herself, learning about who she truly was as a person and as a woman, before wrangling up support in order to take back what Lugalanne had taken from her. It was through her own force of will and ability to inspire her followers that lead her to success. She deposed Lugalanne and took her rightful place as entu, High Priestess of Nanna at Ur.


Nobody is born strong. Everyone must walk a difficult and rocky path in order to find that strength within themselves, and not everyone is able to get there. We all have to take our own journey.

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