The word “freedom” was first written down in Sumer. “Amagi” was the first known word that signified what has come to be of foremost importance to every living human being.
It’s first known use is in the reforms of UruKaGina, a king of Lagash in the 24th century BCE. He reformed the priesthood and bureaucracy and made human rights a guarantee from the king. Almost entirely unknown to the world today, he was the first great reformer known to mankind. Unfortunately, his regime was not to last, and he as well as his city was defeated by Lugalzagesi, the king of neighboring Umma.
The conical tablet below records this momentous occasion, the first written record of the word “Freedom”.
This Sumerian document comes from the archives of UruKaGina, a new man who was brought to power by the people after the overthrow of the Ur Nanshe dynasty. From his advent, he undertook a policy of reforms aimed at restoring the previous order compromised by the abuses of the powerful and the rich, the palace and the temples mainly. The character and scope of these reforms may have been anticlerical but also a desire to relieve the oppressed. They resulted in a reduction of taxes levied by the priests.
“We respected the goods of the temple, and from one end of the country to the other (…) there was no longer a collector. UruKaGina had established the freedom of the citizens of Lagash. He also rid the city of loan sharks, thieves, and criminals. If the son of a poor man set up a pond to fish, no one would steal his fish from him now.”
These reforms failed to restore his power to Lagash. UruKaGina was defeated by Lugalzagesi, king of Umma, a lifelong rival, and Lagash did not recover.