Ruler of the city state Lagash, just northeast of Ur, after the collapse of the early Akkadian empire before the beginning of the Ur III period, ca. 2100 B.C. Exact dates of his reign are uncertain, though he seems to have been a contemporary of Ur-Nammu (2112-2095), king of Sumer and Akkad.

Gudea, probably the most famous of the early rulers of Lagash, instituted an aggressive program of temple construction and restoration, including that of the god Ningirsu, the Lord of Girsu, his administrative capital. Many of our current records consist of small temple inscriptions and dedications, usually running something like:

dinanna nin-kur-kur-ra nin-a-ni gù-dé-a PA.TE.SI-SHIR.BUR.LAki ur-dgá-tùm-du10-ke4 é-gír-suki-ka-ni mu-na-dù.
For Inanna, the lady of the lands, his mistress, Gudea, the ensi of Lagash, faithful servant of Gatumdu, built the temple of Girsu.
(written in old Sumerian cuneiform...see that node for information on transcription and transliteration). Exciting stuff, huh? There's hundreds of these things, on baked bricks, on door posts, on statues, etc.

In addition, excavations at Girsu uncovered several statues of Gudea (he's labeled, as most statues of the period are, by a small inscription on the upper right arm) made of diorite. There's a great one, again found at Girsu and apparently dedicated in the temple as an offering to Inanna for Gudea's health, which ends with a nice little curse:

"...(Whoever destroys this statue), may the goddess Inanna, lady of the lands, curse the head of the assembly and not make firm his established throne in its foundation, but exterminate his seed and cut short his reign."

The statues are all similar in appearance: most are made of the same diorite material, and show a usually seated Gudea wearing his robes and a distinctive cap (apparently with shaven head), looking forward and clasping his hands together at his waist.

Little is known about his politics or his successes in war, other than a minor victory over Elam. The massive building projects, using materials which were most obviously imported over great distances, and the fine craftsmanship of the statues attest to a time of prosperity.

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