As representatives of the gods, Sumerian kings were seen to be superior to ordinary citizens and allowed kings certain privileges and responsibilities. Even though Gilgamesh abused his role as king, these privileges and responsibilities are weaved throughout the epic. Kings were born as an extension of the gods and therefore, possessed traits similar to the gods. The description of Gilgamesh claims that the gods made him “two thirds… god and one third man.” (61). He was also given “unexampled supremacy over the people” (118). This granted certain privileges as a king. For one, Gilgamesh demanded to “be first with the bride” because this was a birth right “from the time the umbilical cord was cut.” (68). The citizens also claimed that “no son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children” (62). Along with privileges, Kings also had a duty to be a “shepherd to his people” (62). Kings built grand walls and temples as a testament to the gods, to protect the city, and to display the wealth and prestige of the king. In Uruk, Gilgamesh “built walls, a rampart, and the temple of blessed Eanna.” (61) In addition to building a magnificent city, the Sumerian king protected the city from invaders.
Many times this involved conquering others to show the king’s strength. Gilgamesh went to defeat Humbaba to “established my name stamped on bricks as my destiny decreed” (71). Later, Gilgamesh “slew the bull” (88) when Ishtar’s father sent the “Bull of Heaven” (87) to destroy Uruk in the form of “seven years of drought” (73). Gilgamesh was touted as “the most glorious of heros” (89). Even though kings were not seen as servants to the gods, the king’s role involved honoring the gods. The counselors of Uruk caution Gilgamesh to “offer cold water to Shamash and do not forget Lugulbanda” (76) to ensure his victory against Humbaba. Gilgamesh offers to make “a glorious offering of gifts and of praise to Shamash” (72) if he is victorious in the battle with Humbaba.
However, Gilgamesh tended to anger the gods more than honor them and this resulted in punishment to both Gilgamesh and his people. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed the Bull of Heaven, the gods demanded that “one of the two must die” (89). Gilgamesh was spared but Enkidu lost his life. The Epic of Gilgamesh provided a glimpse of Sumerian society and kingship. Sumerian kings enjoyed privileges but also had many responsibilities for the well-being of their people and themselves. The kings were not seen as servants but as representatives of the gods and therefore, were elevated above the common man.