Ku-Bau: The First Woman Ruler

Post by Darci Clark

Goddess Kubaba of Carchemish

Ku-Bau (also called Kug-Bau or Ku-Baba) was the first recorded woman ruler in history. She was a former tavern-keeper, one of many occupations that were open to women in ancient Mesopotamian society. Referencing the Sumerian King List which was compiled circa 2100 B.C.E., Ku-Bau was the only ruler of the Third Dynasty of Kish. It says she “made firm the foundations of Kish” and that she reigned as king, or lugal the Sumerian word for king, in the Sumerian city-state of Kish for 100 years around 2450 B.C.E. The King List then states “Kish was defeated and the kingship was taken to Akshak”.

It’s incredible to imagine how a female former tavern-keeper could rise to the role of king and be accepted. In general, other women in Mesopotamian society would only be able to exert any political influence through their relationships to the king. There is no firm evidence of how she gained the throne of Kish, but there is speculation she may have been given her kingship by another king, Puzur-Nirah of Akshak, due to a “pious deed”.

Another theory is that Ku-Bau eventually became associated with the goddess Kubaba, the protector of the ancient Hittite city of Carchemish, although this could be just a similarity of name only.

I should note that the Sumerian King List, which is a compilation of cuneiform tablets discovered in the ancient Sumerian city of Nippur, include mythological as well as historical listings of rulers. It includes the names of eight mythological antediluvian rulers, some of which are credited with reigns of 18,000 to 36,000 years each. After the Flood, the reigns begin to seem more realistic and range from as many as 1500 years to less than ten years. These are some pretty amazing numbers but it’s not unlike the immense life spans given to the patriarchs in the Bible.

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