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Monthly Archives: February 2012

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

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Babylon, Kings

 

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We’re on Pinterest!

You can now find All Mesopotamia on Pinterest!

We’ve already started a nice collection of pins across 11 category boards, ranging from Architecture, to Assyrian, to Sumerian, to Books Worth Reading.

Enjoy exploring and pinning!

http://pinterest.com/allmesopotamia/

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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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Some Mesopotamian romance for Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of year when love is on everyone’s mind and I thought I’d throw together a little something of the romance variety.

First, I thought I’d remind you that the world’s first love poem ever written down was Sumerian, and dates back to 2025 BC.

“This inscription, dating from the 8th century BC and belonging to the Ancient Babylonian Era, is described as the world’s oldest known love poem. According to the Sumerian belief, it was a sacred duty for the king to marry every year a priestess instead of Inanna, the goddess of fertility and sexual love, in order to make the soil and women fertile. This poem was most probably written by a bride chosen for Shu-Sin in order to be sung at the New Year festival and it was sung at banquets and festivals accompanied by music and dance.” (Source)

I introduced this poem back in October, and thought it perfect to revisit for Valentine’s Day. I’ve also added a  new link for you to read about it further. It is just lovely.

So forget all that violent history of Valentine’s Day madness from Ancient Rome being posted all over the internet and go back to a simpler time, when a ritual between a king and the goddess of love conjures up nothing but images of romance.

https://allmesopotamia.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/the-first-love-poem-is-sumerian/

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Music, Sumerian, Tablets, Writing

 

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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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