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The Mesopotamian Shakespeare

World’s first author, Enheduanna.

There are very few women in ancient history who made their mark on the world with the full moral support of their fathers. Sargon the Great (of Akkad) was considered great for many reasons, but an unofficial reason I’m going to talk about in this blog post (which echoes Fathers Day, albeit belatedly) is that he might have even been a great dad to his daughter, Enheduanna.

Dubbed by scholars “Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature,” (just in time for Shakespeare outdoor events!) Enheduanna began her journey as an Akkadian princess and wound up being the world’s first named author. Some even consider her the world’s first feminist.

In her essay “Enheduanna, Daughter of King Sargon. Princess, Poet, Priestess,” Janet Roberts summarizes what Enheduanna represents perfectly:

“Enheduanna represented a strong and creative personality, an educated woman, and one who fulfilled diverse roles in a complex society, not unlike women’s aspirations today.”

An ornament

Although the 100+ clay tablets that were found bearing Enheduanna’s writings date back to the Old Babylonian period, she lived about 500 years prior to that, around 2285-2250 BC. Though some scholars question whether Enheduanna is really Sargon the Great’s biological daughter, she must’ve possessed something extra special, charisma, because Sargon ordained her as high priestess of the most important temple in Sumer at Ur. It was a political strategy to help him stabilize the empire he’d just acquired by way of a high priestess of royal blood meld Sumerian gods with those of Akkad.

It is through her ordainment that Enheduanna got her name. It translates into “High Priestess of An,” An being the sky god, or “En-Priestess,” wife of the moon god, Nannar. She was the first known holder of the title of En-Priestess, a role of great political importance held by royal daughters, a tradition which began with Enheduanna. Other translations of her name I came across all boil down to “High Priestess of the Ornament of the Sky/Heaven,” but her birth name is not known.

The Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature

The title that would strike us the most today when we talk about Enheduanna is the one given to her by William Wolfgang Hallo, a Yale scholar and professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature. After reading her works, Hallo dubbed Enheduanna “Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature.”

But unlike the elusive identity of the man we call Shakespeare, we know how and why Enheduanna was  literate, and enough so to write all she wrote. You see, it was not rare for high priestesses and royal women in Ancient Mesopotamia to be literate. (Wikipedia) What separates Enheduanna from other women of her status, however, is that she was more than just a scribe. She was an author whose status and father’s support allowed her to write in first person and include herself in her hymns and poems.

One source I found describes her writings: “Her hymns function as multi-layered incantations, interweaving political, personal, ritual, theological, historical and legal dimensions.” (Enheduanna Research Pages)

Copies of her work were made and kept in Nippur, Ur and possibly Lagash. Having been kept alongside royal inscriptions drives home the idea that Enheduanna’s writings were highly valued, even centuries after her death.

A tablet with a poem of Enheduanna’s. (Source)

Being that religious appointments in the ancient Near East were pretty much political appointments, Enheduanna’s political influence was so strong, that after her father’s death, and during her brother Rimush’s reign, a coup was attempted against her by a Sumerian rebel, Lugal-ane. This forced her into exile, and her most famous work, Nin-me-sara or “The Exaltation of Inanna,” was a hymn in which she detailed her expulsion and eventual reinstatement as High Priestess during that time. It is especially through this hymn that we have a record of some details of her life.

Perhaps Hallo dubbed Enheduanna the Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature for her writings on things that continue to be timeless subjects continually discussed in even the most modern literature-like the horrors of war she describes in “Lament to the Spirit of War.

Ahead of Her Time

Enheduanna also had a hand in systematizing theology with the Sumerian Temple Hymns, which comprised of 42 hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad. This collection is considered by scholars to be the first attempt at a systematic theology. In them, Enheduanna herself states that they are the first of their kind:

Tablets of the Sumerian Temple Hymns. (Source)

“My King, something has been created that no one has created before.” (Wikipedia)

Enheduanna remained active in her influential role as En-Priestess for over 40 years, stopping only at her death, during her nephew Narim-Sin’s reign. She continued to be an important figure posthumously, and might have even attained semi-divine status. (Wikipedia)

The Enheduanna Disk, found either in 1927 by Sir Leonard Wooley during an excavation at Ur of the temple where Enheduanna lived. It was the first artifact found that introduced Enheduanna to the modern world. The Penn Museum’s description of the disk states that it is a “Disk of white calcite; on one side is a panel wherein is carved in relief a scene of sacrifice, on the other an inscription of Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad ” (Source)

Enheduanna’s tomb may never be found, and scholars might continue to debate whether she really is the one who wrote all those hymns and poems like they do Shakespeare, but her legacy is sealed by her writings.  They echo her personal feelings about the world she lived in.

“Me who once sat triumphant, he has driven out of the sanctuary.
Like a swallow he made me fly from the window,
My life is consumed.
He stripped me of the crown appropriate for the high priesthood.
He gave me dagger and sword—‘it becomes you,’ he said to me.

It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.” (Source)

At the next Shakespeare festival, silently call the Bard “Enheduanna of English Literature.”

Sources and further reading:

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

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

http://www.angelfire.com/mi/enheduanna/index.html

http://www.penn.museum/collections/object.php?irn=293415

http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section4/tr4801.htm

http://www.transoxiana.org/0108/roberts-enheduanna.html (Janet Roberts Essay)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckP95dKpkhE (Video of excerpt from Exaltation of Inanna)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlBkzD1h6Js&feature=related (Voices in wartime video)

http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/enheduan.html (Sumerian Temple Hymns)

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/ladies/ladyenheduanna.html

http://historicity-was-already-taken.tumblr.com/post/18640619740/fierce-historical-ladies-post-enheduanna

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/lesson2.html

http://networkedblogs.com/nHLH1

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/enheduanna.html

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Akkadian, Women, Writing

 

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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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“The Mesopotamians”

Since I try to keep things fun around here, even though it doesn’t seem like it at first glance (I wrote about asphalt!), I thought I’d use a fun song to introduce a mini-series of posts that will elaborate on what this song, “The Mesopotamians” by They Might Be Giants, is about…

Actually, I should say I will be elaborating on who this song is about, because the day has come when someone gives a damn!

Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal and Gilgamesh had plenty scratched down onto the clay about them in the kingdoms where they not-so-secretly reigned, and I’ve taken it upon myself to relay all the highlights of what was written to you.

To get you started, you can find the song’s lyrics here, and a general (and very enthusiastic) analysis of those lyrics here.

Stay tuned! (And sorry about getting the song stuck in your head. That’s tough.)

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Music, Video

 

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