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Invitation to World Literature

The Epic of Gilgamesh: Map & Timeline

The world of Gilgamesh

The world of Gilgamesh in the context of the contemporary Middle East.
© 2010 Map Resources, All rights reserved.

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.