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Invitation to World Literature


Map & Timeline

This map shows the world of Gilgamesh: his home city-kingdom, Uruk, is just northwest of today's Iraqi city of Basra, on the Euphrates River, near the Persian Gulf and the border with today's Iran. This was the heart of the Fertile Crescent, where the first great human civilization arose around 8000 BCE. While southern Iraq is mostly desert today, in the time of Gilgamesh (around 2800 BCE), it was wetter and greener, an agricultural center fed by its two rivers.

5300 BCE
The earliest city states of Sumer are established.
2800 BCE
The real Gilgamesh becomes king.
2600 BCE
Early Sumerian literature appears and the real Gilgamesh is deified in the gods list.
2400 BCE The real Gilgamesh is worshipped in cults.
2350-2200 BCE
The advent of the Old Akkadian Empire occurs when King Sargon conquers Sumer. Akkadian emerges as the language of empire and later becomes one of the written languages of the story of Gilgamesh.
2100 BCE
The oldest known copy of a Sumerian Gilgamesh poem dates from 2100.
2050 BCE The fall of Ur occurs and spoken Sumerian dies out.
1800 BCE
The Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic is written by an unknown person between 1800-1600 BCE.
1600 BCE
Babylon is sacked by the Hittites.
1400 BCE Copies are made of the Middle Babylonian versions of Gilgamesh epic "Surpassing all other kings."
1200-1100 BCE Organizing and editing of Babylonian literature, including the Gilgamesh story takes place. Sin-liqe-unninni edits "Surpassing all other Kings" and other materials into the Akkadian-language epic "He who saw the deep."
900 BCE
The Assyrians overthrow the Hittites.
668 BCE
King Ashurbanipal takes the throne at Nineveh. Sin-liqe-unninni's version of the epic is copied for Ashurbanipal.
627 BCE
Nineveh falls following the death of King Ashurbanipal and spoken Akkadian is dying out.
500-200 BCE
Babylonian literature is copied out and preserved in libraries of temples and scholars. The last cuneiform tablets are written. Scribes use the Gilgamesh stories for practice, and archeological research has relied on these copies to help reconstruct the story of the text.
100 BCE The story of Gilgamesh is lost when the tablets it is written on are dispersed and buried in many regions of the Near East.
1840s CE
Archeologists find tablets of the Gilgamesh epic in various sites, including the ruins of Ashurbanipal's palace in Nineveh. The tablets, which the archaeologists could not read, were deposited at the British Museum in London.
Amateur Assyriologist George Smith deciphers the tablets at the British Museum relating Utnapishtim's story of the flood. Smith's work becomes front-page news, and Gilgamesh begins a new life claiming its role as the first story of World Literature.
Gilgamesh is compiled, translated, and published in many editions and languages. Continuing archeological and textual research improve the text.
© 2010 Map Resources, All rights reserved.
The world of Gilgamesh in the context of the contemporary Middle East.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
The army of a Sumerian city-state
Image of the real Gilgamesh
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Early Sumerian writing
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Sargon I
Yale University Babylonian Collection
An early Gilgamesh tablet
Stone carving of Hammurabi (left) shown with the Sun God.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Hittite soldiers.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Assyrian soldiers depicted with bows drawn.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Image of Ashurbanipal
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
The sack of Nineveh
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
A cuneiform tablet being written on
© Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS
The British Museum in the 19th century.
Image of George Smith
Early 1900s transcript of cuneiform writing.