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Category Archives: Kings

Nebuchadnezzar II, a king with issues.

With Halloween upon us, I thought I’d write about Nebuchadnezzar II, the great king of Babylon, the one known for building one of the most elusive wonders of the ancient world.

Now, unless you’ve read up on this famous king, or are familiar with the bible, you’re probably wondering what Nebuchadnezzar has to do with Halloween, so I’ll get right down to it…

King Nebuchadnezzar was a werewolf!

King Nebuchadnezzar at kind of a bad moment.

Well, he thought he was, anyway. We think. It is believed that King Nebuchadnezzar II suffered from lycanthropy, what Merriam-Webster defines as “a delusion that one has become or has assumed the characteristics of a wolf.”

Conversely, Melissa Barrett writes in her article, “Real Werewolves: Three Cases of Lycanthropy,” that “…clinical lycanthropy is often offered as a secular explanation for the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar.”

In my research to put this post together, I found all kinds of sources referring to Nebuchadnezzar as the first–and I assume only–biblical werewolf. It is through the bible that we are introduced to this part of Nebuchadnezzar’s eventful life and reign as the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, also known as the Chaldean Empire.

Putting secular explanations aside, Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and boastful king, who had the bricks used to build the walls of Babylon inscribed with the statement, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.” (Source)

Who’s he?

Born around 634 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II was the son of Nabopolassar, the liberator king of Babylonia after three centuries under Assyrian rule. King Nabopolassar left his son plenty to work with when he died around 605 BC, including political stability and wealth with which to expand and strengthen the empire he built, and Nebuchadnezzar’s ambition helped him build upon his father’s accomplishments.

Nebuchadnezzar began his journey to greatness by marrying Amytis, the daughter of the Median king Cyaxerxes, securing an alliance with his father’s allies against the Assyrians, the Medes. He then went on to defeat the Assyrians as well as the Egyptians, and became the first Babylonian king to rule Egypt. He also brought the regions of Palestine and Syria under his rule, and in turn controlled all trade routes stretching across Mesopotamia, from the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

A panoramic view of the reconstructed city of Babylon. Note the thickness of the walls.

Nebuchadnezzar II is also credited with building what the Greek historian Herodotus (484 BC-425 BC) felt should have been included in the list of Seven Wonders–the walls of Babylon, which were 56 miles long according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia (another source says 10 miles), and so thick that chariot races were performed on top of them, along with the most famous entrance, the Ishtar Gate.

The original Ishtar Gate, which you can visit at the Berlin Museum. (Source)

Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, Babylon flourished as the center of art and literacy. Mathematics and craftsmanship also flourished then, along with religious tolerance and interest in other faiths and gods. Nebuchadnezzar built schools, and built and restored temples.

Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments are undeniably impressive, including being responsible for modern-day Judaism, and he might’ve been a hopeless romantic who built the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon to help his wife deal with her homesickness, for example, but the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament focuses on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and narcissism (not to mention that pesky business of destroying the temple of Solomon and exiling the Jews), which brings us back to the Halloween aspect–to the werewolf.

A performance of Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous opera, about the biblical exile of the Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Nabucco in Italian. (Source)

Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in several parts of the Bible, but it is in the Book of Daniel that a nightmare and a curse equal something supernatural.

The author of the RevDanTheMan blog writes in the post “A Werewolf in the Bible?”:

“Upon reading the Book of Daniel, we see that Nebuchadnezzar respected the God of Daniel[,] but he did not worship Him; he was a classic narcissist who believed in many gods[,] but who ultimately truly worshiped only the one [whose] image appeared every time he looked in a mirror.”

Well, pride and narcissism are never characteristics that bring good things to their bearers, especially in the Bible, so it is these flaws that bring on what is conjectured by some scholars to be lycanthropy.

According to the biblical account, Nebuchadnezzar’s troubles begin when he has a nightmare brought onto him by God as punishment for his pride and narcissism. The nightmare features a statue made of various materials; a head of gold, a chest of silver, a midriff of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with pottery (Source).

The statue from Nebuchadnezar II’s nightmare with a head of gold, a chest of silver, midriff of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with pottery. (Source)

Nebuchadnezzar is troubled enough by this dream that he consults with magicians, sorcerers and conjurers for an interpretation, all to no avail. And this is perhaps where religious tolerance and interest in other faiths is most apparent in Nebuchadnezzar’s world, because he (eventually) asks the prophet Daniel to interpret his dream.

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. (Source)

“You shall be driven from men,” Daniel tells the troubled king, “and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field, and you will eat grass as oxen, and will be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven years will pass over you, till you know that the most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever He will.”

I feel it important to mention at this point that lycanthropy is not exclusive to the form of a wolf. Harvey Rosenstock, M.D. and Kenneth R. Vincent, Ed.D., write in their article in The American Journal of Psychiatry: “The animals in the delusioned transformation include leopards, lions, elephants, crocodiles, sharks, buffalo, eagles, and serpents.”

And so, after refusing to repent, Nebuchadnezzar is struck by the curse of what is believed to be lycanthropy for the next seven years, and it was like there was a werewolf in Babylon.

The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’, and his nails like birds’.”

And after seven long years of living like a beast, Nebuchadnezzar finally repents and recognizes Daniel’s God, after which he returns to his former greatness.

Nebuchadnezzar II’s Legacy

Nebuchadnezzar II might’ve suffered from lycanthropy, he might’ve suffered from syphilis, we don’t know. Without archaeological evidence, we cannot be sure that he even suffered from anything other than a common cold here and there. We do know that Nebuchadnezzar II, who the historian Sir Henry Rawlinson labeled “the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally, ever produced,” died an old man in 605 BC, in the city he made it his life’s mission to make one of the greatest the world would know. We might not have archaeological evidence of a werewolf in Babylon, or the legendary token of love he built for his wife, but we do have archaeological evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest achievement…Babylon.

Sources and further reading:

http://www.ancient.eu.com/Nebuchadnezzar_II/

http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/people/g/nebuchadnezzar.htm

http://www.primitivism.com/lycanthropy.htm

http://revdantheman.com/2009/07/13/a-werewolf-in-the-bible/

http://melissabarrett.hubpages.com/hub/Real-Werewolves-Three-Cases-of-Lycanthropy

http://www.ancient.eu.com/The_Seven_Wonders/

http://www.ancient.eu.com/Ishtar_Gate/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabucco

http://www.pbc.org/system/message_files/7826/4701.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabopolassar

http://books.google.com/books?id=u1By9tEjh6AC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq=nebuchadnezzar+lycanthropy&source=bl&ots=FaY3-Y2U5P&sig=sT3D2M9jXpOPZ6UeKx6Gr-qvdvE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e8ZgUpihKZTCyAG6kIDYDQ&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=nebuchadnezzar%20lycanthropy&f=false

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Babylon, Holidays, Kings

 

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Gudea, the man who loved Lagash.

A white alabaster statue that could either be a priest or the priest king, Gudea of Lagash. One Sumerologist believes it is the most life-like representation of the Sumerian king. (Source)

You are looking at what Jerald Starr, an American Sumerologist and friend of All Mesopotamia, believes is the first realistic, recognizable portrait of a man in all of history. Gudea, a Sumerian king who ruled the Sumerian city-state of Lagash between 2140 and 2120 BC, has been the subject of many statues, but the statue pictured above is unique.

“I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Gudea during my research in Sumerian history, so I know what he looks like,” Starr writes in an article on his website, sumerianshakespeare.com, titled The True Face of Gudea. “I took one glance at the white alabaster face and the distinctive shepherd’s hat (the crown of a Sumerian king) and I said to myself, ‘That’s not just a priest, that’s Gudea.'”

You might be looking at the face in the picture and wondering what makes this particular statue so special. To sum it up, Starr explains what sets it apart:

“There are two things noticeably different about this statue compared to the other statues of Gudea. First, at 12.5 inches high, it is life-size. The seated statues of Gudea, which show his whole body, are less than 18 inches high (they’re called “Little Gudeas”). Second, and most importantly, this statue is a realistic portrait, unlike the other statues of Gudea which are rather formal and idealized, typical of royal portraiture in the ancient world.”

Consider these diorite statues we know are Gudea:

One of many stylized “Little Gudeas”, the type of which were mostly found at temples. (Source)

And another stylized little Gudea depicting the king, not the man. (Source)

Now scroll back up and look at the tilted white alabaster face, which should appear much more alive than the other two. As Starr puts it: “This is clearly the real face behind the other more idealized statues of Gudea.”

So, you’ve now seen the man who happened to be king. Let’s get to know the man, shall we?

There’s something about Gudea

To put it simply, Gudea of Lagash was a great, humble guy.

“He was the model of piety and virtue, working tirelessly for the gods and the welfare of his people,” Starr writes in an article on his website titled, Gudea.

Gudea’s reign brought with it some revolutionary social reform that even a modern eye would conclude made life easier for, and kinder to, the common man, woman and child living in ancient Sumer. He might not have written an extensive code of laws as famous as Hammurabi’s, but keep in mind that he also took the throne nearly 350 years before Hammurabi did. You’ve got yourself a pretty progressive guy here.

The Gudea Cylinders, housed at the Louvre in Paris. They celebrate Gudea of Lagash’s accomplishments. (Source)

“He was concerned about social justice, and not just the exercise of power,” Starr writes.

In The Building of Ningirsu’s Temple, a Sumerian myth inscribed on what is known as the Gudea cylinders, Gudea’s many accomplishments are celebrated, but what catches my attention the most are those of the social justice variety. Gudea worked to help improve the way servants and slaves were treated by their masters, and aimed to protect anyone who needed to be protected:

“He provided protection for the orphan against the rich, and provided protection for the widow against the powerful. He had the daughter become the heir in the families without a son.” – Translation of Gudea Cylinders A and B (Source)

And this raises the issue of motive…

Why was Gudea so darned nice?

Gudea was a great king, because he did what great and noteworthy kings do; he built walls to successfully protect his city and its people from clear and present danger(s), he also built temples, and helped things like art and social justice thrive under his rule. That’s pretty great and nice of him, but that’s what any ruler or leader is supposed to do, if not in ancient times, then definitely in modern times. There’s nothing too fascinating about that.

What’s fascinating about Gudea was that he went against the grain of typical royalty, even when he didn’t need to. Royalty wasn’t really concerned with the common people back then, and there was no one who could make them, and yet Gudea made social reforms that benefited people who’d never even been given a thought by royalty before.

Consider that up until he took the throne, Gudea lived in a time and place where kings were not only anointed by the gods, but were also granted divine status themselves. We need only look at Gilgamesh–he was a great Sumerian god king, and an epic was written about him that seems as much myth as it is a testament to the status a king holds in the eyes of his subjects, for better or worse.

Now, add to this that Gudea was not of royal blood. In fact, very little is known about his origins, save for having been fortunate enough to marry the right woman at the right time. Her name was Ninalla, and she was royalty, the daughter of King Ur-Bau (Ur-Baba). Lack of an attached dumu (son of) to his signature further obscures Gudea’s origins. “This would suggest that his father was only a minor nobleman and not a ranking member of the high nobility,” Starr says.

So, here we have this non-royal marrying into royalty, and suddenly he is in the king pool, and there’s absolutely no resistance to his ascension to the throne. I mean, come on, not only did Ur-Bau let his daughter marry this non-royal man, but he let that non-royal man ascend the throne without hiring a hit man to stop that from happening. That’s pretty amazing.

Another amazing thing that accompanied Gudea’s ascent to the throne of Lagash is that he was now king and he could be a god king, just like all the Sumerian kings who came before him, because that was pretty much part of the package at this point: become king and get one divine status free!

But he didn’t use that card.

“Gudea did not represent himself to be a god, but only as a man who was divinely favored, so it’s significant that Gudea is shown bareheaded, without his crown, and with his hands raised in the ‘reverence position’, as was required of a mortal man when in the presence of a god,” Starr writes about the Seal of Gudea. (See below)

The Seal of Gudea shows him with his head bared, being led and followed by deities to stand before Enlil, the chief Sumerian god. Gudea is the only figure without horns, which are a symbol of divine status. (Source)

Gudea’s humility also extends to him choosing to only refer to himself in inscriptions as ensi, ruler, rather than lugal, king.

Gudea wearing his crown, a typical stylized shepherd’s hat styled for him with curled lambswool. Well played, True Shepherd. Well played.(Source)

Gudea also worked hard to keep things peaceful and he did a good job, despite ruling during a difficult and dangerous time for Sumerian city-states. Akkadian rule had just been weakened by tribesmen from the north, known as Gutians. The Gutians constantly raided Sumerian city-states, but Gudea mostly only built walls and repaired them when needed for protection, appearing rather pacifist.

Unlike Gudea’s origins, his reign was very well-documented, and we know that he led only one major military campaign. Even the goods brought to Lagash from faraway lands were not the spoils of war, but rather those of commerce and trade, handed to him out of brotherly love, even from what are otherwise enemy lands.

“Unlike other ancient kings, Gudea did not routinely boast of his military prowess,” Starr writes. “He was not the kind of king…who would portray himself marching to victory over the bodies of his enemies.”

Charles Gates writes in his book, Ancient Cities: “For Gudea, a king best serves his city not as a warrior, but as a devoted servant of the gods.”

The Priest King

Another seemingly curious thing about Gudea’s wish and determination to be known as a peaceful ruler was his dedication to serving Ningirsu, the Sumerian god of war and the main god of Lagash. One of Gudea’s most notable accomplishments, in fact, was that he rebuilt a temple dedicated to Ningirsu, among others. Gudea was nothing if not religious, so that was one reason for his devotion.

Of what made the pious part of Gudea build the temple of Ningirsu, Gates writes: “The god Ningirsu ordered Gudea, in a dream, to rebuild his temple; the pious king duly carried out the order, and had the statue made, with an explanatory text carved on it, to commemorate the deed.”

But of what made the strategist part of Gudea build the temple of Ningirsu, Starr says Gudea was also a “tough-minded realist”, who knew where Lagash was on the map in relation to the Gutians, and that the city-state was not strong or big enough yet to fight them. He also knew he needed to build more than just a tough army.

So, temple rebuilding served two purposes, one pious, one strategic.

The rebuilding of the Ningirsu temple eventually helped Lagash and Sumer regain strength and power, because it renewed a feeling of nationalism for Sumerians that proved quite beneficial. It was a brilliant strategy that worked from inside out, and brought with it a fresh new attitude of reclaimed pride and nationalism, and an eventual Neo-Sumerian Revival that united and strengthened all the Sumerian city-states that eventually beat the Gutians and gained complete independence from the Akkadians.

“For Gudea,” Starr writes, “building and restoring the temple of the war god symbolized the re-emerging hopes of Sumerian independence, after two centuries of Akkadian domination and during the ever present danger of attack by the Gutian barbarians.”

Gudea meanwhile was able to build and strengthen his military in a peaceful climate. He produced maces, spears and axes, all in the name of Ningirsu.  (Source)

Gudea’s pride

The proud, yet humble priest king. (Source)

As I bring this post to a close, still unsure if I’ve done Gudea the man the justice he deserves, I go back to something I read on the Louvre’s website about one of the typical diorite statues of Gudea, which I think is very telling about the man:

“This stone [diorite] already had a kingly connotation in earlier periods, and it is known through a text that Gudea, anxious to ensure the durability of the work, imposed its use, importing it at great cost from the Gulf region.” – Gudea Prince of Lagash at the Louvre

Such insistence on using a type of stone with kingly connotation and lasting power might be testament to Gudea’s ego, but I don’t see it that way, not only because of all the clear humility he exercised, but especially when I remember something Starr wrote in his The True Face of Gudea article:

“It [the alabaster statue] is obviously modeled from life, with Gudea himself sitting for the portrait.” – Face of Gudea at sumerian shakespeare

The way I see the alabaster statue is that it is of a man who loved his city and his people. He never took what Lagash and its people gave him of good fortune and admiration and support for granted. He wanted future generations to know what he, a non-royal, common man, looked like, and he took the time to perhaps sit for the portrait himself like Starr suggests, so that they would know that anyone can benefit from the greatness of Lagash and Sumer.

What I see in the alabaster statue is that Gudea wasn’t proud of himself. Gudea was proud of his land that made him what he became…

The true face of Gudea. (Source)

Gudea of Lagash became a great man whose greatness will always be known.

Now that you’ve seen his true face, do you think you could recognize Gudea if you ran into him on the street? Let us know in the comments! (I personally think Phil Collins could be his living doppelganger. What do you think?)

Sources and further reading:

Gudea Cylinders http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/cylinders-gudea

Picture of Gudea Cylinders http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GudeaZylinder.jpg

Gudea entry at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudea

Ancient Cities http://www.scribd.com/doc/97236625/13/THE-NEO-SUMERIAN-REVIVAL-HISTORICAL-SUMMARY

Gudea of Lagash at the Louvre http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/gudea-prince-lagash-seated-statue-dedicated-god-ningishzida

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Kings, Sumerian, Uncategorized

 

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Part IV: Gilgamesh!

A statue of Gilgamesh overpowering a lion. It was found in Khorsabad, Iraq, at the palace of Sargon II. Now housed at the Louvre. (Source)

He’s the other guitarist with The Mesopotamians band, wearing a pointy helmet. He can’t seem to be able to keep himself together- he plays his guitar and his arm falls off, he joins Hammurabi at the microphone and his teeth start flying out of his mouth, his jaw falls off, and at one point he ends up a heap on the floor.

He is Gilgamesh! (And our last king in The Mesopotamians series of kings!)

Gilgamesh is a name steeped in myth, but there are some things sprinkled here and there that support the idea that Gilgamesh, or Izdubar as his name was erroneously translated in 1872, was an actual historical figure we can discuss, albeit briefly when not talking about the oldest story the world has ever known…

An Epic King

Most people know Gilgamesh through the Epic of Gilgamesh, which holds great importance to humanity today as the world’s oldest piece of literature. It appears to have been just as important to humanity in ancient times, too. For one thing it was written down centuries after the death of the enigma that is its hero, and was circulated in the ancient world so much, that aside from various sites across Mesopotamia (most notably in the Library of Ashurbanipal), fragments of it were also found written in non-Mesopotamian languages, in non-Mesopotamian regions.

This means that Gilgamesh was a figure known across the Ancient Near East for centuries, which leads us to asking: why was Gilgamesh so important?

Before we delve into the Epic, it’s important to know that Gilgamesh’s name appears in material other than the Epic, like the Sumerian King List, which identifies him as the fifth king of Uruk. According to the List, his reign took place between 2500 and 2800 BC (a date I have been unable to pinpoint exactly because of differing dates from different sources), and lasted for 126 years. Bilgames, as he is known in the earliest Sumerian texts, also appears on tablets that list deities, like this one. Gilgamesh also appears in Mesopotamian mythology as a demigod, and a judge of the dead. Although Gilgamesh’s parents had cult followings and temples built for their worship, nothing other than a god’s epitaph in texts has been found to prove that Gilgamesh himself was an actively worshiped deity.

Going back to the The Epic, which paints the clearest picture of this mysterious man, we are presented with Gilgamesh as the king of Uruk, the builder of its great walls and its all-powerful ruler. The Epic begins with a prologue that introduces us to Gilgamesh, part of which is:

He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions,

from exaltation to despair, had been granted a vision

into the great mystery, the secret places,

the primeval days before the Flood. (Mitchell, 69)


“Gilgamesh between two Bull-Men with Sun-Disc (Wikimedia Commons)” (Source)

The Epic’s Gilgamesh possesses incredible physical strength, thanks to his parentage and demigod status, with two-thirds god and one-third human DNA. He needs no sleep and can complete a six weeks’ journey in three days. He need only eat after covering 400 miles, and pitch a camp after 1,000.

But he is also described as an arrogant ruler, and does what he wants to those he rules, including bedding all brides on their wedding night, even before their husbands do.

The people of Uruk cry out to the heavens from such tyranny, and the gods respond by sending down Enkidu, a wild man who lives with the animals in the wilderness. He is Gilgamesh’s equal in strength and ability, he is sent down to balance Gilagamesh. After a series of fantastical and sexually explicit events involving one of the most enigmatic women represented in literature, Enkidu is tamed and brought to Uruk, where he and Gilgamesh face off and become the best of friends. Together, they take on challenges that defy vengeful gods and end with a tragic loss that sends Gilgamesh on a journey in search of immortality. Gilgamesh’s journey to the Great Deep in search of immortality brings him face to face with Utnapishtim, a figure whose description of the biblical Flood marks him as a non-biblical representation of Noah.

“This, the eleventh tablet of the Epic, describes the meeting of The Gilgamesh with Utnapishtim. Like Noah in the Hebrew Bible, Utnapishtim had been forewarned of a plan by the gods to send a great flood.” Source: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_flood_tablet.aspx

In his article titled “The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh,” for the Institute for Creation Research website, the archaeologist Frank Lorey, M.A. writes of Gilgamesh’s deeds, which are also listed in the Epic: “He was one who had great knowledge and wisdom, and preserved information of the days before the flood. Gilgamesh wrote on tablets of stone all that he had done, including building the city walls of Uruk and its temple for Eanna,” Lorey writes.

The Eternal Significance of Gilgamesh to Humanity

It is safe to say that Gilgamesh represents a most human hero, despite his supernatural credentials. What could be more human than arrogance, or love, or fear of death?

In his essay, “Storytelling, the Meaning of Life, and The Epic of Gilgamesh,” Arthur A. Brown writes, “We read stories — and reading is a kind of re-telling — not to learn what is known but to know what cannot be known, for it is ongoing and we are in the middle of it.”

To this day, Gilgamesh’s story resonates with us, not with its fantastical and ancient details, but with its profound reflection on the human condition that seems to have changed little over the centuries.

Gilgamesh’s surviving legacy, beyond the Epic or the walls he built around the city he ruled is his humanity.

Sources and further reading:

Mitchell, Stephen. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2006. (Version used for the Prologue except.)

http://homeschoolcourses.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/gilgamesh_louvre.jpg (First picture)

http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/hero-overpowering-lion (Louvre description of Gilgamesh statue)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh (Wikipedia)

http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/eng251/gilgameshstudy.htm (Study guide that talks about Epic)

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_flood_tablet.aspx (The Flood Tablet at the British Museum website)

http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/ (Translated text of the Epic of Gilgamesh tablets)

http://eawc.evansville.edu/essays/brown.htm (Storytelling, the Meaning of Life,
and The Epic of Gilgamesh
essay by Arthur A. Brown)

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/gilgamesh.html (Brief biography on Encyclopedia Mythica)

http://www.icr.org/article/noah-flood-gilgamesh/ (The Noah Flood and the Epic of Gilgamesh, by Frank Lorey, M.A., who is believes the Genesis was preserved as an oral tradition before it was handed down to Moses, who finally wrote it down, making the Genesis the influence for the Epic of Gilgamesh, and not the other way around.)

http://www.jasoncolavito.com/epic-of-gilgamesh.html (Translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh with an introduction that includes a bit of the history behind the historical aspects of the story and the tablets and translations.)

http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/geography/story/sto_set.html (Gilgamesh and the Cedar Forest interactive story.)

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/233644/Gilgamesh (Encyclopaedia Britannica entry that talks about the Epic of Gilgamesh and its hero. Gives titles of each poem in the Epic.)

http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/csgeg/background-gilgamesh-epic (Background of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which has footnotes and sources.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_King_List (Wikipedia entry about Sumerian King List.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruk (Wikipedia entry about Uruk.)

http://www.magyarsag.org/uruk13.jpg (Picture of Walls of Uruk.)

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Kings, Mythology, Tablets

 

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Part III: Ashurbanipal!

Ashurbanipal, portrayed as a priest. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Assurbanipal_als_hogepriester.jpg)

He looks the most harmless of the four Mesopotamian kings being channeled in the video and is even introduced with a kitten in his hand. He’s the drummer, with hair like Ringo Starr. He looks like a nerd and he’s downright huggable!

He’s Ashurbanipal!

And here’s another image of him with another type of kitten in his hand…

Ashurbanipal liked to, um, hunt lions, as this relief from his North Palace shows. (Source: http://s214.photobucket.com/albums/cc41/jessakalani/?action=view&current=ashurbanipalhuntinglions630.jpg&newest=1)

Ashurbanipal’s royal pedigree is one that consists of Assyria’s greatest kings- he happens to be the great grandson of Sargon II (If the Sargon portrayed in the “The Mesopotamians” video is indeed Sargon II, then Ashurbanipal is in a band with his great-grandfather!), grandson of Sennacherib, and the son of Esarhaddon, making him the last of the great kings of Assyria. He reigned from 668 BC to 627 BC.

His name means “the god Ashur is creator of an heir,” and he is mentioned in the Old Testament as Asenappar or Osnapper, and is also known to the Greeks as Sardanapolos and the Romans as Sardanapulus. We know what we know about him through his own autobiographical writings and royal correspondence. Legend has it that Ashurbanipal was the only Assyrian king who learned to read and write.

Although the decision to make Ashurbanipal look a nerd (who has a thing for cats, depending on how you look at that) corresponds with his longest-lasting achievement and legacy, it leaves much for me to fill in the blanks.

Ashurbanipal the Nerd

Despite his royal pedigree, Ashurbanipal was not even expected to become heir to the throne at all, thanks to having more eligible brothers in front of him. As a result, he was able to tackle scholarly pursuits away from his father’s court, which gave him the opportunity later to tell us in his own words that aside from learning how to read and write, he also had stuff like mathematics and oil divination under his belt.

In the online Encyclopaedia Britannica article about Ashurbanipal, Donald John Wiseman, Emeritus Professor of Assyriology at University of London, writes: “Like few Mesopotamian kings before, he mastered all scribal and priestly knowledge and was able to read Sumerian and obscure Akkadian scripts and languages.”

Wiseman also mentions that Ashurbanipal had two tutors who influenced him, one of who interested him in history and literature. This brings us to the heart of Ashurbanipal’s legacy.

Ashurbanipal built and maintained the first known systematically organized library in the ancient Middle East. (I’d like to say it’s the world’s first modern library, but the sources I’ve found hesitate to do so, and always just say “in the ancient Middle East,” while at the same time pointing out the cataloging practices exercised in Ashurbanipal’s library would not reach Europe until centuries later. Oh well.)

The Library of Ashurbanipal

In 1894, a British archaeologist named Sir Austen Henry Layard stumbled upon the ruins of Ashurbanipal’s library at Nineveh. What survived of it after 2,000 years painted a picture of a very sophisticated library system, where subjects were separated into individual rooms, with each of those rooms holding a tablet explaining what a visitor would find in that room.

The subjects etched in the approximately 30,000 clay tablets were as extensive as history and government, religion and magic, geography, science, poetry and even what we would consider today to be classified government materials.

The Flood Tablet / The Gilgamesh Tablet excavated from the Library of Ashurbanipal, housed at the British Museum. (Source)

One would find some 1,200 texts written on those tablets, including the standard Akkadian version of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian myth of creation Enuma Elish, and a nearly complete list of ancient Near-Eastern rulers. The tablets even came with accompanying citations that acted as a table of contents.

Ashurbanipal was able to build this great library of his through not only the employment of numerous scribes, but also through various military conquests that reined in lots of booty.

The Rise of Ashurbanipal

One of Ashurbanipal’s two tutors was a general, and it is through him that our young future king honed his athletic skills. He was trained in archery, hunting and horsemanship, along with soldierliness and royal decorum.

Ashurbanipal depicted riding and hunting in a relief carving from the North Palace of Nineveh, ca. 640 BC, housed at the British Museum. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Assurbanipal_op_jacht.jpg)

Ashurbanipal himself tells us that such a combination of skills, along with bravery and intelligence, helped him gain his father’s favor. He must not be lying, because despite there being another heir to the throne, Ashurbanipal was left in charge while his father was away.

Wiseman writes that Ashurbanipal was left to command the court and nobles. “No governor or prefect was appointed without consulting him,” Wiseman writes. Ashurbanipal even had authority over state building projects and his reports to his father were so stellar that he gained further favor and was left in charge of all affairs after a certain point.

Then, one day in December 669 BC, while on his way to re-invade Egypt, Ashurbanipal’s father died.

King of the Universe

King Ashurbanipal in a royal chariot, inspecting booty from a victory over Elam. (Source)

Three things helped Ashurbanipal move up the line to become king of Assyria in 668 BC:

1.) His older brother and heir to the throne had died in 672 BC, leaving his place in line up for grabs.

2.) To ensure that the throne would go to his favored son, Esarhaddon drafted a treaty with nearby chieftains who swore that should he die while his sons were minors, they would guarantee the succession of Ashurbanipal as king of Assyria, and Ashurbanipal’s half-brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, as king of Babylonia.

3.) After his father’s death, Ashurbanipal’s very influential grandmother, Zakutu, required everyone to support him, and to report all acts of treason to her and her grandson.

Ashurbanipal was crowned king of Assyria in 668 BC. He then installed his half-brother like his father wanted as king of Babylonia, but with limited powers. Ashurbanipal became known, like his fathers, as King of the Universe.

The universe that Ashurbanipal ruled consisted of what he inherited from his fathers and what he eventually acquired through conquest. It included Babylonia, Persia, Syria and Egypt.

How Ashurbanipal Dealt

Ashurbanipal expected utmost loyalty from his subjects and went after them with all his might if that loyalty ever wavered, sometimes with some disturbingly cruel methods. But as will be demonstrated in this part of his story, Ashurbanipal expected loyalty because he gave it in return.

Ashurbanipal began his reign by immediately turning his attention to Egypt and Nubia, a region that had given his father trouble, and would continue to do so for him for years to come. After multiple clashes with revolting Egyptian kings, he managed to seize control of Memphis and sack Thebes. He went home with lots of booty and kept the region under his grip by appointing local princes supported by Assyrian garrisons. Meanwhile, the Phoenician city of Tyre committed treason by supporting the independence of Egypt and Lydia, so Ashurbanipal laid siege to the city in response. He succeeded.

After quieting things down in two regions of his empire, Ashurbanipal then turned his attention to Babylonia.

For 16 years, he and his brother had ruled in their respective cities without clashing, despite the limited powers of Shamash-shum-ukin at Babylonia. Their relationship was so peaceful that texts described them as if they were twins. But in 652 BC, one thing led to another and Shamash-shum-ukin rose up against Ashurbanipal, allying himself with others under Assyrian rule, from Phoenicia to Judah to Elam to Egypt to Lydia, and even the Arab and Chaldean tribes. And this is where Ashurbanipal’s character becomes something worth discussing, because here is his brother rising against him with the help of a number of others under his rule, and despite the magnitude of such devastating treason, Ashurbanipal did not fly off the handle. Not right away.

Ashurbanipal decided to give his brother and the Babylonians a chance to make amends by asking them to pay a special tax for their treason. Shamash-shum-ukin must have really had enough of being under his younger brother’s control, so he refused to pay the tax. This sparked a war between Babylonia and the Assyrian Empire, pitting brother against brother.

Ashurbanipal was really not okay with disloyalty, but he was also very principled. “[Ashurbanipal] seemed to move in ways that avoided direct danger to his brother, and he worked more through siege warfare than through direct action,” Wiseman writes.

For three years, the war drew on, bringing with it desertion and unfulfilled promises by Shamash-shum-ukin’s allies. The Arabs deserted after facing intense famine and Elam was unable to offer help as it dealt with its own inner struggles. Psychologically speaking, all of this was too much for Shamash-shum-ukin. In 648 BC, just before Babylonia surrendered to the Assyrians, Ashurbanipal’s brother committed suicide in his burning palace.

Ashurbanipal’s campaign against Susa is depicted in this relief showing the sack of Susa in 647 BC. Flames rise from the city as Assyrian soldiers topple it with pickaxes and crowbars and carry off the spoils. (Source: http://www.crystalinks.com/susa.html)

Ashurbanipal did not destroy Babylon. Instead, he restored it and appointed a Chaldean noble as his viceroy. The capitol city of Elam was the target of Ashurbanipal’s revenge. After a war with Elam that dragged until 639 BC, its capitol city of Susa was destroyed by the Assyrians. Ashurbanipal left behind a tablet that spoke of what he did to the Elamite capitol:

“Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed… I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt.”

He then celebrated his triumph by having four kings from Elam draw his chariot in a procession.

Ashurbanipal’s Cruelty

Ashurbanipal was a nice and patient guy with his brother, but he definitely wasn’t a nice guy to his enemies (or to lions). You could argue that no one is particularly nice to their enemies, but Ashurbanipal was really really really mean to his enemies.

We’re talking excessively cruel.

We’re talking excessive cruelty. Read about this relief here.

His gloating knew no bounds. A relief found at his palace at Nineveh depicts Ashurbanipal leisurely dining al fresco with his wife and servants fanning them, while the severed head of an Elamite king hangs from a nearby tree. The worst part is that Teumann, to whom the head belonged, didn’t just die in battle, but committed suicide at the battle scene, after which Ashurbanipal had his head cut off and taken back with him to Nineveh, where Elamite ambassadors freaked out. So freaked out were these guys by Ashurbanipal, that one of them actually killed himself. That makes three suicides that Ashurbanipal was responsible for, including his brother’s suicide. The guy had some major mind power.

Ashurbanipal celebrates in his garden with his queen the victory over Elam, while his enemy’s head hangs from the last tree to the left (your left) by way of a ring piercing the deceased’s jaw. (Source)

The parading of Teumann’s head was depicted in several reliefs, each showing the head on display in various different public places, always serving as a reminder to all who dare to cross the Assyrian king and his empire.

The Last of the Great Kings of Assyria

Although Ashurbanipal did as his father did with his own sons, appointing them as co-regents before his death in 627 BC, the wars he fought during his reign weakened his empire a great deal. There is very little known about the latter part of Ashurbanipal’s reign, but although he left his sons behind to rule over a rather peaceful empire, they were no match for their father, hence Ashurbanipal being the last of the great kings of Assyria.

The Assyrian Empire fell in 609 BC, and Ashurbanipal’s library was buried by invaders, lost for some 2,000 years before it was discovered.

Ashurbanipal may have been a nerd, he may have been a ruthless and cruel man, but he always came through for those he cared about, albeit in an unconventional way. Let’s just accept his gift to humanity, his library and its contents that are a treasure trove of information for scholars of library history, as well as humanity as a whole.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashurbanipal

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/38437/Ashurbanipal

http://www.britannica.com/bps/user-profile/3240/Donald-John-Wiseman

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/a/ashurbanipal,_assyrian_king.aspx

http://web.utk.edu/~giles/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_Ashurbanipal

http://archaeotype.dalton.org/library/oldsite/seventh.html

http://www.bible-history.com/assyria_archaeology/archaeology_of_ancient_assyria_archaeological_discoveries.html

http://classics.unc.edu/courses/clar241/AssPics.html

http://i-cias.com/e.o/ashurbanipal.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/s/stela_of_ashurbanipal-1.aspx

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/stone_panel,_dying_lion.aspx

http://s214.photobucket.com/albums/cc41/jessakalani/?action=view&current=ashurbanipalhuntinglions630.jpg&newest=1

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_image.aspx?objectId=309929&partId=1&orig=%2Fresearch%2Fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&numPages=10&currentPage=1&asset_id=396940

http://www.ancientreplicas.com/ashurbanipal-feasting.html

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Assyrian, Kings

 

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Part II: Hammurabi!

As part of “The Mesopotamians” band he is the lead singer with sharply side-swept hair, one visible eye, and a ring in his lower lip. They Might Be Giants (TMBG) made him out to look part hipster, part emo, and at least to me, made his personality reminiscent of that of Ralph from The Lord of the Flies (LOF).

He is Hammurabi.

Clearly the picture above shows that Hammurabi was nothing like the lead singer of The Mesopotamians, but perhaps if Hammurabi lived today, he might just be a guy named Ralph who’s a natural leader, maybe a lawyer or a judge or a law professor, maybe even the president of a very wise nation, who leads by doing right even in the face of a not-so-right society, with hipster hair and the face of an emo accented with a lip ring. Who knows?

(I mean, I don’t even know if Hammurabi’s hairstyle in the video was just a way to camouflage his other eye, which he might have had to give for an eye? Are TMBG trying to tell us that Hammurabi was so just that he did not exempt even himself from the Lex Talionis?)

What we do know is that there’s only one Hammurabi, and he was like the new sheriff in town, or Ralph in LOF. He was really into keeping everyone civilized and under control.

He was a great military leader who transformed a small city-state into one of the greatest empires the world has ever known. He was also one heck of an administrator. It is even said that he personally oversaw navigation, irrigation, agriculture, tax collection, and the erection of many temples and other buildings in Mesopotamia, which left him super busy, I’m sure.

He even wrote about all the stuff he did in some 55 letters that were discovered, and the letters give a glimpse into what he had to deal with as the king of an eventual empire; on the side, Hammurabi had to deal with floods, making changes to the Babylonian Calendar and taking care of livestock.

Hammurabi built only the second extensive empire in Mesopotamia, and ruled it justly by first allowing the leaders of the city-states he’d conquered to continue to rule over their city-states. He in turn ruled over them with laws that were fair enough to keep his reign as the first king of the Babylonian Empire relatively peaceful.

Hammurabi was a generally peaceful guy. No blood was shed for his acquirement of the throne. Hammurabi succeeded his father to the throne of Babylon when it was still just a city-state around what scholars believe to be 1792 BC. This made him the sixth king of the city-state of Babylon, and nothing too special.

But then, around 1786 BC, Hammurabi began working, or dictating to scribes scribing over tablets that measured eight feet in height and seven feet in width, rather, on what we know today as the Code of Hammurabi. Most people have heard of this big deal thing for humanity, or know of Hammurabi through it, and it is what made Hammurabi one of the most recognized leaders of the ancient world, and the lead singer of The Mesopotamians. Not to mention pretty special.

Hammurabi’s Code

The most recognizable ancient artifact the world over has got to be the Code of Hammurabi stele on which 282 laws, or judgments, are written in Akkadian Cuneiform script. The stele has a bas relief at the top that depicts Hammurabi standing before the throne on which it is believed the sun-god Shamash (also the god of justice), or as some have speculated, even Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon, sits. It is this illustration that tells the story of how Hammurabi came to be the authority on what were dubbed the dinat mesarim or “just verdicts”.

Hammurabi’s Code dealt with every aspect of Mesopotamian life, from trade to incest, and it is where the Lex Talionis or “Law of Retaliation,” or the “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” deal first appeared. The Code of Hammurabi also introduced the idea of the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, which gave the accused and accuser the opportunity to present evidence.

Hammurabi introduces the purpose of his laws, which are really more like judgements, in this way:

“To promote the welfare of the people, I, Hammurabi, the devout, god-fearing prince, cause justice to prevail in the land by destroying the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak.”

No doubt when we look at certain offenses and the corresponding punishments, Hammurabi’s judgments may seem severe by our standards, seeing as how the punishments varied from disfigurement (he really meant eye for an eye, guys!) to just plain old death:

“If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.”

And although Hammurabi introduces his Code as a tool that stops the strong from oppressing the weak, it still maintained the social classes:

“If a man strikes the cheek of a freeman who is superior in rank to himself, he shall be beaten with 60 stripes with a whip of ox-hide in the assembly.”

(A side note) My favorite lyric in the song “The Mesopotamians” that drives home further the brand of justice, or logic, Hammurabi implemented throughout his Code is this:

This is my last stick of gum/

I’m going to cut it up so everybody else gets some/

Except for Ashurbanipal, who says my haircut makes me look like a Mohenjo-Daroan.

On the Job

Over a span of some 42 years after he took the job of king, Hammurabi did his daddy proud, as he went from being the sixth king of a mere city-state, to the king of an empire he himself established by conquering other Mesopotamian warring city-states, including Sumer, Akkad and others to the south of Babylon around 1760 BC. He did this by knowing when to move in on his opponent, and when to stand back and strengthen not only his offense, but also his defense; he spent a lot of time heightening walls and improving fortifications of his cities, and continued to do so until the very end of his reign.

As a result of his smart strategies, Hammurabi was even bring Assyria under his empire, a strong opponent he had to wait and build strength to acquire, and even northern Syria. He built and kept his empire with his military prowess first, and diplomatic justice wielding persona second.

Although his reign was relatively peaceful, Hammurabi still had to fight wars, particularly in the last 14 years of his rule. The wars ranged from acquiring more city-states to his empire, including the city of Larsa, which helped him acquire older Sumerian cities in the south. In 1763 he fought to protect his empire’s access to metal-producing areas in Iran.

An Innovator and Humanitarian

Hammurabi was also an innovator and all-around improver. He built temples, dug canals and improved the irrigation process by implementing perhaps the world’s first use of windmills.

“King Hammurabi of Babylon used wind powered scoops to irrigate Mesopotamia.” (Source)

No doubt the improvement in irrigation kept city-states happy, and mostly peaceful, considering they were fighting each other for fertile agricultural land to begin with.

Hammurabi also promoted astronomy, mathematics and literature. I’m guessing he probably also promoted literacy, and I surmise this from the fact that his code of laws was put on public display for everyone to read.

He was really a humanitarian

The Legacy of Hammurabi

When Hammurabi died an old and sick man around 1750 BC, he left his empire to his son, and for humanity an eternal legacy.

Although the dates of his reign are questioned, they do seem to coincide with biblical accounts that give him a possible place in the Bible as Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. The Ten Commandments and the justice system as a whole are also linked to Hammurabi and his Code.

Under Hammurabi’s rule, Mesopotamians enjoyed a time during which all sorts of amenities flourished, marking the Babylonian Empire as one with strong influences still seen today. When he died, no one was able to do what he did as well as he did, but it was going to be okay, because we’re still talking about him today and living by many laws he set in stone that continue to define our humanity.

Hammurabi on Supreme Court Frieze. (Source)

 

That’s a pretty great king, and a pretty great lead singer of a band like The Mesopotamians.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1hammurabi.htm

http://www.harris-greenwell.com/HGS/Hammurabi

http://www.thenagain.info/WebChron/MiddleEast/Hammurabi.html

http://www.ancient.eu.com/hammurabi/

http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/people/p/Hammurabi.htm

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07125a.htm

http://www.ivt.ntnu.no/offshore2/?page_id=266

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Babylon, Kings

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Part I: Sargon!

You saw him in the video wearing a helmet, playing bass guitar and grinning at the end with bugs crawling all over his teeth…he is Sargon!

And there were actually two Mesopotamian kings named Sargon, and I will tell you about them both, starting with…

The Akkadian One

Bronze head believed to be that of Sargon of Akkad, aka Sargon the Great. (Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/109/)

The first Sargon is known as Sargon of Akkad, Sargon the Great or Šarru-Kīn (Sharru-Kin).

The dates of his reign seem to be unclear, and most sources I found show it being from 2334 BC to 2279 BC, while others show it as being from 2270 BC to 2215 BC, and that is because different ancient texts can’t agree on the dates of his reign either. Let’s just say this Sargon existed somewhere between 2334 BC and 2215 BC.

Sargon’s beginnings are quite fascinating, and I’m not even going to talk about his daughter, the world’s first known author (I’ll tell you about her in another post soon).

Sarru-Kin is Akkadian for “True King,” and what a king Sargon became after rather humble beginnings, and nothing short of what seems like a series of miracles.

One source that tells us a little bit about the first Sargon is what’s been dubbed as The Sargon Legend, a Sumerian text purported to be his biography. It is incomplete, due to the wear and tear of time, but what it does tell us is, like I said, quite fascinating (as all legends are).

The Sargon Legend tells us that Sargon was an illegitimate baby boy, set adrift down the Euphrates River by his mother, a temple priestess, who apparently had a reed basket (lined with bitumen) and a baby and a river. Sargon’s mom did what any woman in ancient times with that combination of baby, basket and river at her disposal would do when she’s trying to keep that one night with that handsome stranger a secret; she set him adrift like Moses’s mom did, almost like she knew he’d amount to something great without her nurturing.

And whether it’s a legend or not, Sargon did amount to plenty; he became known as the greatest man who ever lived for centuries!

The Sargon Legend relays that while Baby Sargon was on his way down the river, a gardener believed to be from the kingdom of Kish named Akki picked him up and made him his own. Akki raised Sargon to become a gardener, and from gardener, Sargon went on to become cup bearer to Ur-Zababa, the somewhat neurotic king of Kish.

The Sargon Legend goes on to detail exactly how Sargon the drifting baby turned gardener turned cup bearer began his journey toward the throne. It seems that Ur-Zababa’s neurosis manifested itself in his vivid dreams, which involved his cup bearer, Sargon, overthrowing him and becoming king. This dream led Ur-Zababa to devise a plan to murder his cup bearer, but divine intervention by Inanna, the goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, which also happened to be the goddess of the temple Sargon’s mom worked at. Finding he wasn’t good at murder and that the gods favored Sargon, Ur-Zababa decided to make Sargon his messenger and sent him to Uruk with a letter addressed to Uruk’s king, Lugalzagesi. The letter contained instructions to murder its carrier, that is all. Deceitful guy, that Ur-Zababa.

Well, Lugalzagesi wasn’t any better at murder than Ur-Zababa, and Sargon was not only not murdered, but he eventually overthrew Lugalzagesi, became king of Uruk, and also gave Ur-Zababa’s paranoia some weight by overthrowing him too. It was a messy affair that included Lugalzagesi being defeated and brought to the city-state of Nippur wearing a dog collar as is described by an inscription at the city:

“Sargon, the king of Agade, the King of the Land, laid waste the city Uruk, destroyed its wall; fought with the men of Uruk, conquered them; fought with Lugalzaggesi, the king of Uruk, took him prisoner and brought him in a neck stock to [Nippur].” (Source: http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm)

Yeah, that grin in the video says a lot. Sargon the Great went from being a drifting baby, to a gardener, to the king’s cup bearer, to the king’s messenger, to a full-on king- obviously there’s no room for being nice in there.

He also founded and ruled over the Akkadian Empire, the greatest Semitic empire the world had ever known, which included all of southern Mesopotamia and parts of Syria, Anatolia and the kingdom of Elam. He made Akkadian the official language of the empire, and had it standardized and adapted for use with the Cuneiform script. He also built the first city of Babylon and is believed to have also built the capital of his empire, Agade, which has yet to be found.

The Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great, which maintained trade and diplomatic contacts with kingdoms around the Arabian Sea and elsewhere in the Near East. (Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/109/)

Now, as impressive as it was, Sargon the Great’s ascension to the throne was not met kindly. The city-states he’d taken over from Lugalzagesi, who had united a large chunk of them into one kingdom, rebelled against Sargon, forcing him to constantly showcase his military might, which he had oodles of. So great was Sargon the Great’s military might that his technique of arming a group of his infantry with bows became the Mesopotamian military tradition, and helped him quash many a rebellion, including those that rose in the latter years of his reign, some of which left him besieged in Agade. Still, his military strength helped him defeat his enemies and keep a tight first over the empire he built and maintained until his death.

When he died, possibly in 2215 BC, revolts broke out throughout Mesopotamia against the Akkadian Empire, but were quashed by his son who reigned for nine years, and then by his other son for fifteen years, followed by his grandson. After the Akkad dynasty, Mesopotamia entered a period known as the dark ages of Mesopotamia that lasted a century and a half.

Despite the resistance he faced during his reign throughout his empire, Sargon the Great still left a legacy of greatness that made him a model for Mesopotamian kings for centuries after his death.

The Assyrian One

The second Sargon is appropriately known as Sargon II and was an Assyrian king—no relation to the previous Sargon. He reigned from 721 BC to 705 BC, and also spent the whole time on the throne fighting.

During the time that Sargon II decided to add Assyrian King to his resume, he was at least 40 years old, and there was total chaos and rebellion in the land. It is unclear whether the chaos in the land was the driving force behind the violent coup he carried out against his brother for the throne, or if it was his own fault for having a violent coup in the first place, but that is the way it is when there is more than one child in the family, isn’t it? You never know who broke that broken thing.

Sargon II chose Sharru-Kenu as his throne name, which translates to “Legitimate King,” or “the king is true,” because, as he explained it, “…the great gods assigned (Sharru-Kenu) to me in order to uphold law and justice, to help the powerless prevail and to protect the weak.”

He portrayed himself as the restorer of order, despite being met with opposition and rebellion from within Assyria and from outside of it. Just a year after taking the throne, Sargon II had to deal with a revolt that included the kingdoms of Hamat, Arpad, Damascus and Israel, leaving him busy while another revolt was brewing in Babylonia to the south. The Babylonian revolt was a success and control of Babylonia was lost for a time, but he was able to get it back in 710 BC and spent three years there just collecting homage and gifts from pretty much everyone, and probably gloating like crazy.

But going back to the revolt that had its hub in Hamat, it was a demonstration of just what kind of guy Sargon II was. In 720 BC he destroyed Hamat and spared the lives of some 6,300 people from the region, dubbed them “guilty Assyrians,” and made them rebuild the city.

That grin, folks. It says a lot.

Now, where Sargon the Great had mad military skills, Sargon II had mad manipulation skills (on top of a mighty military). He also had mounting bills and no cash, so he put his manipulation skills to work.

In 717 BC Sargon II attacked the small but wealthy via-location-on-trade-route kingdom of Carchemish and accused its king of treachery. The king of Carchemish probably knew that Sargon II was not very nice, so even though he knew he was being jerked around, he also knew he was helpless against the Assyrian army, so he had no choice but to just do as Sargon II told him to do, which was to just show him the 60 tons of silver and everything else that made Carchemish especially useful to Assyria.

Now, this huge acquisition of silver was enough to help the Assyrian economy go from being bronze-based to silver-based, so you can add that to Sargon II’s list of accomplishments.

Three years later Sargon II must have run out of cash, because he went on to capture the holy city of Musasir and accused its king of treachery, too. The loot from that manipulation venture garnered more than a ton of gold, with about 10 tons of silver among other riches, mostly collected by the city’s main temple over many centuries. This allowed Sargon II to not only pay the bills, but to also build Dur-Sarruken, a vast palace that eclipsed all those that preceded it in size and quality. It was vast in size and filled with reliefs that included scenes from the conquest of Musasir, as well as the well-known winged bulls that still amaze all who stand before them.

Winged bulls at Sargon II’s palace in Khorsabad, as they were found. You can now see them at the Louvre in Paris. (Source)

Sargon II’s Palace was built in an otherwise sleepy village in 713 BC that eventually became Khorsabad, the largest city in Assyria, complete with a massive irrigation system that sustained the population presiding over an area that measured almost three square kilometers.

Plan of the city of Khorsabad and Sargon II’s Palace. (Source: http://www.arthistory.upenn.edu/spr03/422/April28/422April28.html)

Sargon II’s struggle to keep the Assyrian Empire stretching far and rebellion-free continued until his final military attempt to secure the Tabal region in 705 BC. That rebellion, like that of Babylon’s, was successful, but Sargon II was never able to reclaim it like he did Babylon, as he was killed in battle and his body was lost to the enemy.

It was a catastrophic end to the reign of a king who spent a lot of time and effort keeping something together that just did not want to be together. Sargon’s II’s legacy was one of a powerful empire plagued by unrest and bad fortune for those who ruled it, including Sargon II’s son, Sennacherib, who is believed to have been murdered by one of his own sons.

And that concludes the first part of a four-part series, and next, I will tell you about Hammurabi, the lead singer of The Mesopotamians, and a bit nicer than the two Sargons.

Sources and further reading:

http://history-world.org/sargon_the_great.htm

http://www.ancient.eu.com/Sargon_of_Akkad/

http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm

http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1sargon.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/s/sargon_ii,_king_of_assyria.aspx

http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Akkadian, Assyrian, Kings

 

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