Surpassing All Other Kings
: Mesopotamian kingship ideology in the Gilgamesh tradition and the Alexander the Great narratives

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis identifies and elucidates a common engagement with Mesopotamian kingship ideology in the Gilgamesh and the Alexander the Great narrative traditions. As both archetypal monarchs are understood to have ruled as kings in Mesopotamia, this is a much more secure context for comparison. The result of this contextualisation is that the identified parallels are better supported and more clearly understood. Although the study is rendered in comparison, the exegesis of the episodes is not strictly bound by parallels between the traditions. The primary concern is a comparable engagement with Mesopotamian kingship ideology. This enables the thesis to contribute uniquely to the study of each figure’s kingship, as well as their comparative dynamic. Mesopotamian kingship was a contest, and our two subject kings represent rivals for the pinnacle in this arena. Therefore, the identification and presentation of a king to surpass all others is argued for both in presented deeds and persevering legends.

Chapter one outlines the premise of the thesis, addresses previous comparisons made in scholarship between the subject kings, and discusses the evidence. Specifically, this is the network of narratives utilised by the study. For the Gilgamesh tradition, these are the Akkadian language manuscripts of the Gilgamesh Epic and the Sumerian Gilgamesh poems concerning the death of Gilgamesh and his campaign against Huwawa. For the Alexander tradition, the study is limited to the Alexander narratives that share a relative geographically congruence with the Gilgamesh narratives. These are the canonical Graeco-Roman Alexander narratives by Diodorus, Curtius, Plutarch, Arrian, and Justin, as well as the Pseudo-Callisthenes narratives, the Syriac Alexander Legend and the Syriac Metric Homily. Chapter two outlines the methodology. Chapter three contextualises Gilgamesh’s campaign against Humbaba in Mesopotamian kingly action. Chapter four argues for a comparative understanding of Alexander’s siege of Tyre. Chapter five then compares the death of a king in each tradition, and chapter six the subsequent mythical wanderings of our protagonist kings. Chapter seven provides the thesis’ conclusion. The overarching themes are the legitimisation of one’s kingship and the transfer of power in the Mesopotamian royal tradition.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLindsay Allen (Supervisor) & Hugh Bowden (Supervisor)

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