Stele of the Vultures

   An ancient Sumerian stone marker, of which a large fragment was discovered at the ancient site of Lagash by French excavatorErnestdeSarzecinthe late 1800s. The monument, now on display in Paris's Louvre Museum, earned the name "Stele of the Vultures" because one section of it depicts dead soldiers being picked at by vultures. The stele was erected circa 2525 b.c. by King Eannatum of Lagash to celebrate his military victory over King Enakalle of Umma, a rival city lying about 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Lagash.
   Modern scholars attach major importance to the stele as a crucial early depiction of Sumerian and, in a more general sense, Mesopotamian warfare. The artifact shows a large group of armored foot soldiers from Lagash marching in a tightly packed formation over the bodies of their slain enemies from Umma. The men in the front rank hold up their shields, creating a protective barrier, and some of the men behind them point their spears forward through the spaces between the shields, making the unit even more formidable. Such a formation was designed either to mow down or to scare off enemy forces. Many modern scholars point out the similarities this battlefield unit bears to the phalanx formation developed by the Greeks much later, in the early centuries of the first millennium b.c. (Ironically, the Greek phalanx, as modified by Macedonia's Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great, became a major factor in the Greek conquest of Mesopotamia in the fourth century b.c., when the area was part of the Persian Empire). In a lower part of the stele, King Eannatum is seen holding a battle-ax and riding in a wheeled cart drawn by four onagers (wild asses); this was the early Sumerian version of the war chariot. In this respect, the stele contains the earliest-known depiction of the military application of the wheel. The Stele of the Vultures is also notable for having the earliest-known depiction of soldiers wearing metal helmets.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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