The etymology of 'Shmagh'

July 07, 2023

Prof Dr. Qusay Mansoor Al-Turkey lu.galqusay68@gmail.co

In view of the discussions on social media about the word "shmagh", I feel it is important to familiarize Arab and international audiences with the true meaning of the word and its origin. The word originated from the languages ​​of Mesopotamia and the ancient Near East when the Akkadian language was the diplomatic lingua franca in the 14th century BC.

I will quickly clarify the correct pronunciation of the word Shmagh as it is often mispronounced: The word Shmagh in the Sumerian language consists of two syllables, = ‘Ash’+ MAḪ=‘makh’, which many think means "the head cover".

My research into ancient languages has led me to believe that the popular understanding of this word is incorrect. The first phoneme, =Ash, has several meanings in the Sumerian language. It is incorrectly taken to mean ‘cover’, but in fact it generally means ‘first one’. The syllable of the word MAḪ is inaccurately mentioned as a head – the word head in the Sumerian language is pronounced SAG not MAḪ.

After checking the specialized dictionaries, it became clear to me that the name Shmagh is a term that belongs to the Jazria languages family, which is originally from the Arabian Peninsula. The cultural cross-fertilization between the Sumerian and Akkadian languages ​​is a common and well-known thing so that many words and vocabulary overlap with each other, so it is easy to understand that this word might have been formed through a blend of these languages.

Shmagh in Sumerian

Let’s return to the interpretation of the phonemic syllables of the word Shmagh: If we accept that the word is from two Sumerian syllables, then the meaning will find a logical interpretation that is consistent with the design and purpose for which the Shmagh was made since the third millennium BC.

So, in Sumerian language, the first syllableof this word is 5 = ‘Ash’. Among several meanings, one is a spider, specifically the thread of a spiderweb and In the Akkadian language it corresponds to the word ‘ettūtu’. (4)

I found this original meaning explained under Sign No. 543, in the famous French dictionary (Labat R, Manuel D’épigraphie Akkadienne, société Nouvelle librairie orientaliste , Paris 2002). In light of this important connection, in my opinion, it is not a coincidence that the design of the Shmagh resembles that of a spiderweb, especially since the shape of the image of the spider sign in the cuneiform and its development, indicates a similar shape to a spider as it weaves its strings and the important note is that the pronunciation in Akkadian language for the name of the spider is very close to the Arabic pronunciation and meaning ‘ettūtu’ "lines"(see picture-1).

The second syllable from this Sumerian word is MAḪ =‘makh’, which means high or sublime. If the sign is preceded by the Sumerian prefix known as tug’, meaning clothes, the meaning becomes a single piece of cloth, and with sign tugGADA-MAḪ, meaning a garment with strings at the ends resembling fringes. This is exactly how the ends of the shmagh currently are. If the sign is preceded by the Sumerian prefix known as ‘lu2’, meaning man, the meaning will be major. Because of the meaning ‘high’, the syllable MAḪ picture is repeatedly recorded in archaeological records as denoting something sublime, high and proud, topped with a crest suggesting the highest. This is exactly the manner in which a Shmagh is placed on the head. (See picture-2-).

In fact, the Sumerian sign MAḪ =‘makh’ preceded by the same sign of the man "lu2MAḪ", gives us a figure that dates back to the end of the fourth millennium BC, which is a person wearing a cloak and what looks like a shmagh, which is drawn in the form of a triangle, whose reading translates to a cleric or priest. (See Figure -3-).

Shmagh in Akkadian language

Apart from the Sumerian language, the Akkadian language from the middle of the third millennium BC is one of the most important languages ​​for the people coming from the Arabian Peninsula. It can be said that the Arabic language is the daughter of the Akkadian language.

So, it follows that within the Akkadian language we can find the correct word and the corresponding meaning of the word and meaning for the Shemagh as follows:

The word "Shmagh" is a pronouncement of one word in the form of "šamaḫu", meaning supremacy and transcendence as an extraordinary stature of prestige and dignity. This meaning gives us the same word and meaning in the Akkadian ‘šummuḫu/ šammaḫu’ and in Arabic languages.

From the Old Babylonian period (the beginning of the second millennium BC), the word “našmaḫu” with the addition of the letter n, phonetically similar to the present tense form in the Arabic language, gives us the meaning of glory and life-affirming, which is the meaning very close to the word Shmagh in Arabic today. In popular understanding, wearing a Shmagh indicates the dignity, intelligence and supremacy of the one who wears a Shmagh from kings, rulers and princes to people of high public status.

As for the word eshmagh/ešmaḫu with the initial letter e, I found it corresponds to the meaning and the Arabic pronunciation in full, and in the form of the word, ešmaḫu means the glory, pride and prestige or great standing. This is the most important biblical evidence in the cuneiform writings about the Shmagh and its wording from the third and second millennium BC. It was recorded five thousand years ago.

Shmagh in physical evidence

The sculptures and statues tell us that one of the most important rulers of Mesopotamia who wore the Shmagh was a Sumerian prince of an important dynasty in the city of Lagash, whose name was Gudia (2144-2124 BC). His statues, preserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris, make it clear that he was the first to wear a Shmagh on his head as an indication of his being a prince and high priest (see picture -4-).

It is known that Prince Gudia had strong ties of friendship and trade linked him with the kingdoms of the Arabian Gulf and eastern Arabia. He brought from the kingdoms of the Arabian Gulf at the end of the third millennium BC, the black diorite stones from which he made his statues.

From the era of Prince Gudia, and perhaps in earlier eras, the rabbi or the high priest was referred to in the Mesopotamian civilization with an expression somewhat close to the word Shmagh; I found in dictionaries the word šangamaḫḫu. Because the pictorial mark of the name is a roll resembling a turban or a Shmagh wrapped on the head. (See picture-5-)

It is not strange that this civilized appearance in the folklore of fashion and clothing (shmagh) since the third millennium BC through the era of Gudia 2144-2124 BC. It was familiar to the other ancient rulers and princes of the Arabian Gulf kingdoms. It continued as a folklore and a symbol of authentic Arab glory for the kings, princes and inhabitants of the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, especially after recent theories and studies have proven that the cultural and ethnic links between the people of Mesopotamia and the Arabian Gulf, even the Arabian Peninsula, were one common human element and that the kings, rulers and princes still wear it as a symbol of leadership and supremacy.

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