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To provide context, I'm working on a project involving artwork for the Enuma Elish, and I've gotten to a sort of crown initially on my portrayal of Absu. I know that gold was available to the ancient Sumerians, but given that we're discussing five to six thousand years ago, what other materials might have been used to adorn the crown?

The most reliable reference I have is this picture of Marduk, which would presumably be sometime later. Most other depictions of Babylonian crowns have them more conical, which would be understandable from a smithing standpoint. In fact, it's a decent question as to whether they would even bother with a crown if you go back far enough; their word for "king" literally meant "the big man", so I kind of doubt that authority was linked to a dress symbol; however, the portrayal of the myth will need such a symbol for the sake of the story.

I am aware of some of the constraints of ancient Sumeria; silk wasn't a thing for at least another thousand years, and half the world away. I know that cotton was available but was almost strictly used by the wealthy class. Lord knows what they understood of gem cutting, but I doubt that it was very much. We're basically talking about the very end of pre-history.

While the Enuma Elish is basically a creation myth, and Absu seems to be very, very far from human to begin with, cultural congruity is everything. I may eventually take the story teller's "alien magic technology" route but that's a final change usually made out of pressing need, not a beginning stroke, and I would honestly prefer to avoid that outright. What would fit here? What would look right, on an actual Sumerian?

I feel that this is a better question for some actual objective historians than it would be on World Building.

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Does a crown have to be a gold or silver crown with jewels, or can it be made of other materials, so long as it represents authority?

In the latter case, it would be very hard to tell the difference between fancy hats and hatlike crowns.

Ancient Egyptian crowns came in many designs and weren't always made out of metal. In fact the materials they are made of are unkown in many cases, since there are no surviving examples and it is hard to guess the materials.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowns_of_Egypt[1]

https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/crowns/[2]

Here is a link to an image of Cyrus the Great wearning an Egyptian hemhem type crown, as well as wings.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Cyrus_the_Great[3]

Achaemenid kigns and nobles had crowns of various designs.

https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/crown-i[4]

Another ancient royal symbol was the diadem, sometimes a cloth ribbon warped around the head, and sometimes a metal object with the same shape.

The word derives from the Greek διάδημα diádēma, "band" or "fillet",1 from διαδέω diadéō, "I bind round", or "I fasten".2 The term originally referred to the embroidered white silk ribbon, ending in a knot and two fringed strips often draped over the shoulders, that surrounded the head of the king to denote his authority. Such ribbons were also used to crown victorious athletes in important sports games in antiquity. It was later applied to a metal crown, generally in a circular or "fillet" shape. For example, the crown worn by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was a diadem, as was that of a baron later (in some countries surmounted by three globes). The ancient Celts were believed to have used a thin, semioval gold plate called a mind (Old Irish) as a diadem.3 Some of the earliest examples of these types of crowns can be found in ancient Egypt, from the simple fabric type to the more elaborate metallic type, and in the Aegean world.4

A diadem is also a jewelled ornament in the shape of a half crown, worn by women and placed over the forehead (in this sense, also called tiara). In some societies, it may be a wreath worn around the head. The ancient Persians wore a high and erect royal tiara encircled with a diadem. Hera, queen of the Greek gods, wore a golden crown called the diadem.

By extension, "diadem" can be used generally for an emblem of regal power or dignity. The head regalia worn by Roman Emperors, from the time of Diocletian onwards, is described as a diadem in the original sources. It was this object that the Foederatus general Odoacer returned to Emperor Zeno (the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire) after his expulsion of the usurper Romulus Augustus from Rome in 476 AD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diadem[5]

In ancient times, people also wore wreaths.

A wreath (/riːθ/) is an assortment of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs, or various materials that is constructed to form a ring.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wreath

Ancient people wore wreaths of various plant materials, and also wore gold or silver wreaths imitating the forms of those materials.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wreath_(attire)[6]

I have seen an exhibiiton of the treasures form the Maceonian royal tombs at Vergina, including at least two golden wreaths.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vergina[7]

There are also the rare golden hats from Brozen Age Europe:

Golden hats (or gold hats) (German: Goldhüte, singular: Goldhut) are a very specific and rare type of archaeological artifact from Bronze Age Europe. So far, four such objects ("cone-shaped gold hats of the Schifferstadt type") are known. The objects are made of thin sheet gold and were attached externally to long conical and brimmed headdresses which were probably made of some organic material and served to stabilise the external gold leaf. The following golden hats are known as of 2012:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_hat[8]

In the 5th to 7th centuries AD, gold and silver crowns were used in the Kingdom of Silla in Korea:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowns_of_Silla[9]

I have seen a display of some of those crowns.

Of course the most pertinent information would be information about ancient Mesopotamian crowns.

The royal tombs unearthed at Ur contain many treasures.

Especially the discovery of the Royal Tombs has confirmed its splendour. These tombs, which date to the Early Dynastic IIIa period (approximately in the 25th or 24th century BC), contained an immense treasure of luxury items made of precious metals and semi-precious stones imported from long distances (Ancient Iran, Afghanistan, India, Asia Minor, the Levant and the Persian Gulf).6 This wealth, unparalleled up to then, is a testimony of Ur's economic importance during the Early Bronze Age.

The tomb of Queen Puabi had at least two gold and jeweled headdresses.

Queen Puabi wore an elaborate headdress of gold leaves, gold ribbons, strands of lapis lazuli and carnelian beads, ...

...An ornate diadem of thousands of small lapis lazuli beads with gold pendants of animals and plants was on a table near her head...

https://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/exhibitions/treasures-from-the-royal-tombs-of-ur/[10]

Apparently jewelry of Neo-Assyrian queens from millennia later has also be found:

https://www.ajaonline.org/article/3574[11]

And no doubt there are many depictions of the headdresses and possible crowns of Babylonian, Assyrian, and other Mesopotamian rulers.

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  • (Typo in the first appearance of the English word "diadem"? ... A wonderful answer!) May 20 at 21:04
  • Thank you for all these wonderful resources, it never ceases to fascinate me how many of our notions of ancient Sumerian life are purely assumed and objectively unsubstantiated. I think I'll accept this answer, it's a great springboard for further research. May 21 at 4:44
  • Typo corrected.
    – MAGolding
    May 21 at 16:26
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It's pretty dubious that crowns were around. The oldest crowns go back to the Archaemid Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great, & it was only with the adoption by Constantine I of a crown as symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor, that they attained their modern sense. Annointing with oils is probably the oldest symbol of attaining special rank, & is still part of the English coronation.

See alternatively for instance sceptres, Sutton Hoo helmet, Celtic torcs, and other symbols - a torc represented wealth that could pay an army, like Vikings used 'ring breaker' as a kenning for someone noble, because they could dish out wealth. In England Edward II pawned his Great Crown in Flanders. Three crowns and other jewels were held by the Bishop of London and the Earl of Arundel as security for a loan in the 1370s.

The crown is an elaboration of a diadem or headband, which gained it's prestige in Greek culture from the link with the laurel wreaths & silk ribbons awarded sporting and playwriting champions at religious games. Such a garland or fillet came also (later) to symbolise nobility.

Nearly all jewels in the pre-medieval world would have been cut 'en cabochon', rather than faceted. Gold and silver have always been appreciated for not discolouring or oxidising, plus being highly ductile - most ancient gold work was done with beaten wires, rather than being cast. Onyx, glass, garnets, and other things now semi-precious or not precious, have been highly valued.

The Sutton Hoo helmet from 625AD,had an iron cap and neck guard, and a face mask decorated with images of animals and warriors in copper-alloy and set with garnets: "The visage contains eyebrows, a nose, and moustache, creating the image of a man joined by a dragon's head to become a soaring dragon with outstretched wings."

It was common for ordinary items, like maces, whetstones, shepherds crooks, war helms, and libation bowls like patens, to get elaborated into royal symbols and ceremonial or processional items.

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    "The oldest crowns go back to the Archaemid Persian Empire". Seems there are older crowns than that. See The 6,000-year-old Crown found in Dead Sea Cave. May 20 at 6:20
  • What about the Ancient Egyptian crowns of the Lower and Upper Kingdoms? Those can already be clearly seen in the Narmer Palette dated to around 3000 BCE
    – Boaz
    May 20 at 6:29
  • @Boaz That's a great idea; they aren't even that far apart physically. Thank you for bringing up Egyptian crowns. May 20 at 12:42
  • @CriglCragl I thank you for your referenced research, but I'm quite certain you're wrong about the length of time over which we've had crowns. They're portrayed on a lot of old artwork and etchings from the period (including my sourced one), as an example; and at its basest, a crown is a personal ornament of the head, expressing authority, so it's difficult to imagine that it couldn't be done with materials on hand, even five or six centuries ago. Nonetheless, while I don't think it's correct, your answer is very useful. My concern is with how they would be different. May 20 at 12:46
  • I think this is crown, as primary symbol of coronation and power, inherited from one ruler to the next. I was only basing it on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown#History & realise I didn't read it very thoroughly! The Sol Invictus crown, and the iron crown of Lombardy are interesting.
    – CriglCragl
    May 20 at 14:28

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