RSS

Search results for ‘hammurabi’

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: , , , , , , , ,

The Lives of Scribes in Ancient Mesopotamia

Scribes. Scribing with their reed styli. (Source)

Before writing

Around 3500 B.C., just before the birth of writing, Sumerians had already been maintaining a civilization for thousands of years, complete with farming, temples, and all kinds of commerce, all of which required record keeping.

But how do you keep records without writing? Well, not very practically. Before writing, Sumerians had a system to record their business transactions; it involved tokens made out of clay and a clay bubble to hold the tokens, which they baked into the bubble, rendering the tokens, well, completely pointless. The owner of the token-stuffed bulla (Latin for “bubble”) would’ve made impressions of the tokens on the outside before baking them in, of course, but, you know, that made the tokens even more pointless. (Source)

Not practical. A clay bulla and the tokens inside it. (Source)

Luckily, someone in 3500 B.C. decided there was a better way to keep records, one that was quicker, more convenient, and undoubtedly one that was easier to file than a bunch of clay balls!

Pictographs. Cuneiform went through a series of innovations that turned it into cool-looking, abstract symbols. (Source)

And so writing was born, bringing with it the demand for those who could do it.

Who could?

In 2000 B.C., scribes were some of the most educated people in the world. Along with reading and writing cuneiform, scribes eventually evolved to have chops in math or science or business or literature.

If you could read and write in ancient Mesopotamia, you had a good life, and chances were pretty high you were born into that good life. In fact, some 70% of the scribes we know by name were the sons of society’s elite, including royalty. (Source)

This isn’t to say status was the requirement to become a scribe, but rather the usual source of the requirement: money.

The son of a merchant had as much a chance at becoming a scribe as the son of a king. Even more socially progressive, it eventually became that the daughter of a king, had as much chance of becoming a scribe as her male counterpart. (It is only appropriate, since Sumerians credited the goddess Nisaba with the invention of writing!)

How could they?

A day at school. An illustration of boys studying to be scribes, the future elite of society. (Source)

Along with money, becoming a scribe took time and hard work.

It’s important to keep in mind that cuneiform was very difficult, even for those who used it practically.

“The scribe did not so much read a line of text as translate it,” wrote Jerald Starr on his website. A scribe had to learn business, math, science, and literature in order for his/her basic literacy skills to even matter. In other words, scribes had to know the context of what they were reading in order to read it, pretty much on a jargon level. The reason for this is because cuneiform, a script used to record more than one language, was a phonetic one—one syllable could make up any number of words, with any number of definitions, depending on whether you were writing in Sumerian or some other Mesopotamian language. (Source)

Boys were sent to an e-dubba, a tablet house where they would spend years learning to read and write the cuneiform script and the subjects they would write about. When they graduated, they became dubsars, tablet writers.

That schooling was no cakewalk for the student, nor was it for his parents. Aside from what I am going to take the liberty of calling tuition, a future scribe’s father also had to factor in the expense of keeping his son’s schoolmaster happy, who expected to be wined and dined in order to go a little easy on a pupil. The son, in the meantime, had to climb up a hierarchy within an e-dubba. You can read more about what these tablet houses were like here and here.

Of course, writing didn’t include women as soon as it was invented. It took a few years for women to show up in records as scribes. According to Radner and Robson, the earliest record of a woman scribe dates to the Akkad period (ca. 2350 – 2150 B.C.). (Source)

Although Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson wrote in their book, The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, “The profession of scribe is much better attested for men than for women,” there are things we do know about how women scribes came to be. In her book Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat wrote that women scribes were the daughters of the elite, some the daughters of scribes. Nemet-Nejat also points out that there were women scribes who were slaves: “Slaves with scribal skills were sometimes given to princesses as part of their dowries.” (Source)

As far as how those women scribes got their chops, priestesses were taught at the temples they served, while those not taking the religious path were taught at home.

What did scribes write?

Sumerian King List. A scribe was first and foremost a recorder of history. (Source)

For the first thousand years or so after writing was invented, everything written down was of an administrative nature. “Most people will therefore be disappointed to learn that writing was invented for the simple purpose of conducting business transactions, to record the exchange of merchandise,” wrote Starr.

Even after Sumerians branched out to recording more subjective subjects, 97% of what they recorded were things like receipts, ledgers, inventories, contracts, nothing inherently interesting or telling about the human condition. They were practical people, those Sumerians.

This brings us to what scribes could do with their skills, subjectively or not.

“…It’s unlikely that any scribe ever went hungry for lack of paying work,” wrote Starr.

And it’s easy to see why the sky was the limit for a man who graduated from a tablet house. If he came from a family of merchants, he kept records for the business; if he worked in a temple, he recorded offerings for the gods. Heck, e-dubbas needed teachers, and given that e-dubbas were focused on producing bureaucratic officials, the king, whether literate or not, needed a scribe. The king’s court was like Google, where the best minds wanted to end up.

Code of Hammurabi stele. This was some commission for one special scribe. (Source)

A scribe didn’t even have to be a full-time scribe to reap the benefits of his skills. He could set up shop in the middle of the town square and write letters for his illiterate neighbors and never go hungry like most people did in the ancient world.

In the Old Babylonian City of Sippar women recorded the transactions of members of the cloister, the city’s financial institution. What we might consider HR records from Sippar (and Mari too) show that a good number of those women were slaves. Women scribes are also known to have written songs and lullabies for the royalty, along with laments. According to Nemet-Nejat, royal women of the Ur III Dynasty (2114-2004 B.C.) wrote songs to praise their kings.

Their Bylines

A tablet bearing the world’s oldest love poem that depicts the sacred marriage between Inana and Dumuzi. Could a woman’s hand have written this tablet? (Source)

As I mentioned in the last section, only some scribes got to let themselves be known directly through their work to anyone other than their employer. I also mentioned there were female slave scribes whose social status gave them less pay than their colleagues.

Obviously, there was a hierarchy within the elite. The son of a merchant has as much chance to become a dubsar as the son of a king, sure, but once those two are out in the real world, their social differences surely resurface. Moreover, without a signature, it gets hard to know anything about the scribe, even their gender.

Nemet-Nejat wrote that we see signatures on some tablets as early as 2600 B.C. Now, perhaps due to the verbal storytelling tradition, literary works, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, were set to stone anonymously, but that did not mean the one who set it to stone couldn’t be held accountable for mistakes–a list of scribes who wrote and edited well-known works was found at Nineveh.

For scribes who got to sign their names, as their heads inflated with importance, they took to including their lineage, traveling back as far as their earliest ancestors (helping us determine their social status thousands of years later!). Some took their title up a notch, adding “astrologer” to scribe, for example, or were probably asked to make it clear they were a “junior scribe.” Some just showed up in their own narrative, but they were very special (I will talk more about this in the next section). (Source)

The most profound examples, I feel, which demonstrate just how big a gap there is between a royal/noble scribe versus anyone else, lies in one of the products of scribes: the seal. Loftier scribes made seals, autograph stamps, if you will. Seals were cylinders made of stone, carved with impressions pertaining to their owner, often bearing divine scenes that tell a lot about his/her social status. It is through these scenes we get an idea of just how revered a literate royal or noble was.

The seal of Arad-Nanna, a scribe of very high status. (Source)

On the cylinder seal of Arad-Nanna, a high official and possibly of royal blood, we see him having audience with the king, with a goddess in tow. According to Starr, the difference in body language of Arad-Nanna and the goddess accompanying him is one of great significance. “Arad-Nanna doesn’t hold his hands in the ‘reverence’ position,” Starr points out. “The scene is almost relaxed and familiar, as between two near-equals. This suggests he is a member of the royal family. The goddess who accompanies Arad-Nanna is not a minor goddess … The multiple horns on her helmet indicates that she is a major goddess. Significantly, she has her hands held up in reverence to the king, whereas Arad-Nanna does not.” (Source)

Even goddesses took the backseat to scribes of noble or royal birth, and it is clear that it was those individuals whom the king employed in his courts to be his officials and recorders of his feats.

As for knowing the gender of the writer, often the only thing we have to go on to tell us a woman is the author of something is the presence of a feminine touch in the writing. Starr sensed that in a tablet he translated recently. Radner and Robson also wrote about how the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods were seasoned with Sumerian writings about the goddess Inana and the god Dumuzi being in love, leading scholar Jerrold Cooper to believe that the authors of some of those compositions were women, simply because of “feminine sensibility and a female approach to sexuality.” (Source)

And this brings us to an important distinction, a case of semantics.

When a scribe is an author

Tablet #36. A mystery, far from administrative. (Source)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “Author” as “a person who starts or creates something (such as a plan or idea).” Nemet-Nejat wrote that when a work is by a single author, it shows “uniqueness in language, subject matter, and artistic development.” Ultimately, the two sources agree that an author is more than just a recorder. (Source)

On his blog, Starr has written about Tablet #36. It is a tablet that embodies all of what Nemet-Nejat (indirectly) says makes it the work of a unique author. Tablet #36 was a mystery until Starr translated it and found it was an encoded political satire, a work written by one, no ordinary scribe: “…the language of [Tablet #36] is too sophisticated to have been written by someone who was only casually acquainted with the complexities of narrative cuneiform writing,” Starr wrote. “There can be little doubt that the story of [Tablet #36] was written by a full-time ‘wordsmith.'” You can read about this tablet, the content of which Starr titled “The Great Fatted Bull,” along with Starr’s musings about its enigmatic author here.

Starr points out that the author of Tablet #36 was most probably not a full-time scribe, just someone who could write and had the luxury of thinking for himself, along with the time to create a code for his dangerous thoughts. This guy was a completely different animal from, say, Arad-Nanna, who was too drunk on rubbing elbows with the king to criticize him.

Enheduanna. An author. (Source)

Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad and the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature, was also a different animal. She wrote poems and laments that included a personal dimension, something I mentioned earlier was reserved for a special few allowed to include themselves in the human experience, and a rare occurrence in much of the ancient world’s writings. Enheduanna was no run-of-the-mill scribe who only wrote generic praise-filled songs to the king, no. She wrote about her expulsion during her brother’s reign, a criticism that wouldn’t have let her writing career span some forty years, as she wouldn’t have been left to live it.

Radner and Robson wrote that being an author in a world of scribes was a feat for a king, and certainly one for a woman of high birth:

“The essential point is that in antiquity unusual men, such as rulers, or a woman such as Enheduana, exceptional because of her high birth and religious duties, could equally be regarded as authors.” (Source)

Contemporaries of their own legacy

It is safe to say that the first scribes were contemporaries of their own lasting legacy, and the status they enjoyed was appropriate, whether they recorded sheep sales or wrote in code…

“Without scribes, letters would not have been written or read, royal monuments would not have been carved with cuneiform, and stories would have been told and then forgotten.” (Source)

Imagine what a world this would’ve been without scribes.

Sources and further reading:

The Sumerian invention of writing http://sumerianshakespeare.com/30301.html

Nisaba http://www.goddessschool.com/projects/artesia/fpl1nisaba.html

Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Women scribes) https://books.google.com/books?id=lbmXsaTGNKUC&pg=PA150&lpg=PA150&dq=women+mesopotamia+scribes&source=bl&ots=dt2I9mGPqk&sig=qJ_MkVscUVs9hUvb_D28fKDB87I&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WGBJVes0hKOwBfDYgdAB&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=women%20mesopotamia%20scribes&f=false

Priests and priestesses in Ancient Mesopotamia http://www.fofweb.com/History/HistRefMain.asp?iPin=MESP0664&SID=2&DatabaseName=Ancient+and+Medieval+History+Online&InputText=%22priests+and+priestesses+in+ancient+Mesopotamia%22&SearchStyle=&dTitle=priests+and+priestesses+in+ancient+Mesopotamia&TabRecordType=All+Records&BioCountPass=0&SubCountPass=1&DocCountPass=0&ImgCountPass=0&MapCountPass=0&FedCountPass=&MedCountPass=0&NewsCountPass=0&RecPosition=1&AmericanData=&WomenData=&AFHCData=&IndianData=&WorldData=&AncientData=Set&GovernmentData=

Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Scribe signatures) https://books.google.com/books?id=lbmXsaTGNKUC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=how+scribes+signed+their+names+on+mesopotamian+tablets&source=bl&ots=dt2L3mNWpq&sig=6LCEsL7O0Y56BNxD8KiYP0D-CPk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Zx1uVcPFIIanyQS68YP4Cg&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=how%20scribes%20signed%20their%20names%20on%20mesopotamian%20tablets&f=false

Scribal social ranking in Sumerian Society http://sumerianshakespeare.com/34101/68901.html

Family life in Ancient Sumeria http://stravaganzastravaganza.blogspot.com/2011/12/sumerian-family-life.html

Women As Scribes Throughout History http://exploringfeminisms.com/2011/06/27/women-as-scribes-throughout-history-originally-written-fall-of-2010/

An introduction to the princess wife http://sumerianshakespeare.com/533701/index.html

The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture https://books.google.com/books?id=i4jBn3cThwgC&pg=PA99&lpg=PA99&dq=sippar+records+of+women+scribes&source=bl&ots=jpjBY4p0pZ&sig=Hbeu85_RO6zV86PKQYti3cy90bY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=neeJVc2MFsHasQXR7YL4Cg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=sippar%20records%20of%20women%20scribes&f=false

Tablet #36 https://allmesopotamia.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/tablet-36-by-sumerian-shakespeare/

Tablet #36 (Sumerian Shakespeare) http://sumerianshakespeare.com/6801.html

The Scribe http://sumerianshakespeare.com/34101/index.html

Writing Page http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/writing/home_set.html

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shaduppum, A City Full of Surprises.

Shaduppum. Ain’t it a beauty?

In 1945, on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad, the ancient city of Shaduppum was discovered at Tell Harmal.

Excavations soon got underway, led by Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir, and Muhammed Ali Mustafa of the Iraqi Department of Antiquities. (Source) The excavations unearthed an Old Babylonian city with a collection of close to 3,000 tablets.

Now, with so many tablets in its hold, it’s no wonder Shaduppum’s patron god is that of writing and record-keeping, and that it was an administrative hub for Babylonia.

First Things First

Although it was established as early as the late third millenium BC, during the days of Sargon of Akkad, Shaduppum didn’t rise to prominence until the second millennium BC, when it served as a Babylonian accounting hub.The city’s name reflects this, by translating into “the treasury,” or “accountant’s office.”

Within Shaduppum’s walls, private homes, one administration building, and seven temples were unearthed, some reconstructed. Of the seven temples, a large one dedicated to Nisaba, the Sumerian goddess of writing and record-keeping, and her consort, sits just inside the city’s gates. That temple’s entrance was guarded by two roaring terra-cotta lions.

One of the terra-cotta lions at Shaduppum, on display at the Iraqi National Museum.

That Terra-cotta lion with his buddy guarding the temple of Nisaba in the city of Shaduppum. (Source)

 

Accountants aren’t all about numbers!

So, almost 3,000 tablets were unearthed at Shaduppum, but only a few weren’t of an administrative nature, and you’ll find that the nature of these non-administrative tablets is a little surprising.

I find it surprising, anyway, that a city with such a cut and dry purpose had a copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest written work of literature, in its vaults. It was some nine decades after the standard Akkadian version of the ancient poem was discovered in Ashurbanipal’s library at Nineveh, that two tablets of it were unearthed at Shaduppum.

The next surprise is actually two surprises in one.

You see, Iraqi archaeologist Taha Baqir also discovered a set of laws some two centuries older than the Code of Hammurabi at Shaduppum. The Laws of Eshnunna were written in Akkadian on two tablets, marked A and B, dating back to 1930 BC. That’s the first surprise regarding this find. The second one might make you do a double take…

The Laws of Eshnunna, Eshnunna being the city north of Ur where they originated, were promoted by that city’s ruler, Bilalama. In 1948, a year after Baqir’s discovery, Albrecht Goetze translated and published the laws, revealing that though Bilalama had some two-hundred years on Hammurabi, he was a little more progressive than the man whose laws inspired the Ten Commandments. That’s right. Unlike Hammurabi, whose punishments usually featured maiming, if not death, Bilalama implemented a monetary, fine-based penal system. But don’t get too comfortable with Bilalama’s laws, because the more serious offenses, including sexual ones, were punishable by death. That’s pretty progressive!

Shamash: These aren’t the first laws. Hammurabi: What?! Wait–. Shamash: Shhh. Now smile for the chiseler! 

Poor Hammurabi.

Stealing some Greek thunder

Hammurabi was not the only one whose thunder is stolen by tablets at Tell Harmal. The one-upping found in Shaduppum’s collection of tablets didn’t even stop at Mesopotamia’s borders, for it extended all the way to the Greek realm, delivering the two bombshells I’m going to talk about now.

Now, even if you used math class (or history) as nap time, the names Euclid and Pythagoras should sound familiar to you. And if not (it’s okay), I’ll refresh your memory: Euclid of Alexandria is the father of geometry, and Pythagoras of Samos proved that a^2+b^2=c^2 in a right-angled triangle, aka, the Pythagorean Theorem.

The tablets that steal a bit of Greek mathematician thunder. Sorry, Bros.

Though the fact still remains that Euclid and Pythagoras gave us the official real deal, complete with proof and universal mathematical truths, two tablets dating to the early second millennium BC deliver the same newsflash Hammurabi got about his laws: Kinda’ been there, kinda’ done that.

The algebraic-geometry on one tablet (the one on the left in the picture above) features work similar to Euclid’s, dealing with the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle. The other tablet features a problem with a rectangle whose length and width are calculated using what is essentially the Pythagorean Theorem.

Pythagoras: *A long, deep, deep, deep SIGH*

Sorry, Bros.

Another look at Shaduppum

So, the first round of excavations at Tell Harmal was fruitful, but a second round in 1997 turned out to be all about details. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage allowed more excavations at Tell Harmal that year, this time by a joint effort between Baghdad University and the German Archaeological Institute.

Because of Shaduppum’s relatively late rise to prominence, in the spring of 1997 and autumn of 1998, the collaborative project took a closer look at the rock layers of the city, confirming different ages in the multiple building layers.

Most interestingly, stratigraphy of the city’s walls showed it was not fortified until the rise of Babylonia in the second millennium BC, suggesting that its rise to prominence was quite significant–it went from being a city so inconsequential it lacked fortification, perhaps, to a city with pronounced walls. Evidence also suggested then that the city had been destroyed by fire and destruction around the time of Hammurabi, then rebuilt.

It’s a very interesting project that you can read more about here.

A city of consequence

There remains much we don’t know about Shaduppum, that we may never know, but one thing is clear: Shaduppum was a city that had a little bit of everything that made it a Mesopotamian city worth a look.

 

Sources and Further Reading

http://www.miglus.de/Themen/Harmal/harmal.html

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

http://books.google.com/books?id=1C4NKp4zgIQC&pg=PA29&lpg=PA29&dq=tell+harmal+city+of+agade&source=bl&ots=Ss36wkEcA9&sig=sN53Fql2w0iVsHKZpsJrwvwwPpc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XS15U7bNK4iRqAb76YCQAQ&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=tell%20harmal%20city%20of%20agade&f=false

https://allmesopotamia.wordpress.com/?s=sargon+the+great

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/akka/hd_akka.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/o/old_babylonian_period.aspx

http://proteus.brown.edu/mesopotamianarchaeology/994

http://www.ezida.com/cats/lion%20t1.jpg

http://www.goddessaday.com/mesopotamian/nisaba

http://www.fofweb.com/History/HistRefMain.asp?iPin=MESP0046&SID=2&DatabaseName=Ancient+and+Medieval+History+Online&InputText=%22Nisaba%22&SearchStyle=&dTitle=Shaduppum&TabRecordType=All+Records&BioCountPass=0&SubCountPass=4&DocCountPass=0&ImgCountPass=0&MapCountPass=0&FedCountPass=&MedCountPass=0&NewsCountPass=0&RecPosition=3&AmericanData=&WomenData=&AFHCData=&IndianData=&WorldData=&AncientData=Set&GovernmentData=

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

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

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

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

http://cojs.org/cojswiki/index.php/Tell_Harmal_Mathematical_Tablets

http://www.miglus.de/Themen/Harmal/1997/1997.html

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Babylon, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 
2 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Breasts in Mesopotamia

It took me a minute, but since it’s October, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I decided to look and see what I could find about breasts in Ancient Mesopotamia, aside from the obvious fact that Mesopotamian women had them.

After some research, I’ve found that breasts were quite prominent in the land between two rivers.

A statue from Samarra, ca. 6000 BC, believed to be of a mother goddess, with exaggerated breasts being held up for prominence. (Source)

Life and Breasts

To start, the Babylonians and Assyrians concentrated on what appears to be essentially the lifeline of a newborn child by listing the beginning of the life cycle as “a child at the breast.” Notice it is not just “a child is born,” but “a child at the breast.” This speaks volumes, especially when attached to all the other things I found.

As expected, Mesopotamians associated the female form with fertility. Many statues believed to be those depicting fertility have been unearthed throughout Mesopotamia. They usually feature mother goddesses with prominent breasts held up suggestively with folded arms underneath (see above), while some statues feature only one of the breasts being held up as if it were an offering. (Source)

Akkadian female figurines, ca. 2334-2147 BC. Note the figurine on the left holding up only one breast. (Source)

Emphasis was also placed on breasts in erotic scenes, as pictured below.

Plaque depicting Sumerian lovers in an embrace. Note the woman clutching her breast suggestively. (Source)

Mythological Breasts

The prominence of breasts in Ancient Mesopotamian culture is also evident in the descriptions of the defining characteristics of mythological figures. For instance, a characteristic of Lilith, a female demon who snatches and kills children, also a bearer of disease, illness and death, is described as having no milk in her breasts and unable to bear children. Nonetheless, Lilith’s epithet was “the beautiful maiden,” and would appear in men’s erotic dreams.

Although this relief is believed to be depicting Ishtar or Ereshkigal, it was thought to depict Lilith at one time. It serves as a good example of the demoness’s characteristics including woman’s breasts, bird talons for feet, and wings. (Source)

Lamashtu is another such demon, and her breasts are a prominent part of her description. She has the head of a lion, donkey’s teeth and a hairy body, but unlike Lilith, she is portrayed nursing a pig and a dog from her bare breasts. Instead of being the subject of erotic dreams, however, Lamashtu was bringer of nightmares, and was also considered bad news to children and their mothers, so much so that amulets were used to ward off her evil, particularly during childbirth. (Source)

Lamashtu had a lion’s head, donkey’s teeth and ears, naked breasts, a hairy body, long fingers and nails, and bird talons. She clutched snakes in her hands while nursing a piglet and a puppy at her breasts. Her image was put on metal or stone plaques with incantations to ward off her evil. Amulets were worn of the demon Pazuzu, who was believed to be the only one able to keep Lamashtu away from pregnant women, as she was believed to kill unborn babies by touching their mothers’ wombs seven times, or kidnapping them once they are born. (Source)

Even so, breasts were still a source of good nourishment in mythology, and it wasn’t just for humans (or mammals). The breasts of Nissaba, the Sumerian goddess of grain, served to nourish the fields ready for planting.

Breast Feeding

Of course, breasts were also associated with child bearing, but there is a flip side. On the one hand it was a source of nourishment for babies, serving as their lifeline, for up to three years. On the other hand, a woman’s breasts were also a birth control tool.

A woman’s fertility is relatively low while she is breastfeeding, and so the concept of the wet nurse became widespread in Mesopotamia, as it helped nourish newborn babies with breast milk when their mothers were unable to provide them with it, and it also helped keep the wet nurses themselves from getting pregnant during the time they were nursing.

Hammurabi (1728-1686 BC) wrote a law covering the category of wet nursing, in which a two to three-year contract is held between a wet nurse and her employer, and gives her the right to sell the child of that employer should she not be compensated properly. Yikes! (Source)

Breast Cancer in Mesopotamia?

Ancient Mesopotamians also believed that disease came from demons that would enter a person’s body through any opening and begin attacking certain areas. Babylonians believed that each body part was attacked by a designated demon, and the demon that attacked the breasts was Alu, a night-dwelling demon, who when not attacking breasts was bent on terrifying those trying to sleep. (Source)

A final piece I gathered in putting this post together is one that I feel is especially indicative of the prominence of the breast in Mesopotamia. In the ruins of the ancient city of Nuzu, in northeast modern-day Iraq, excavations unearthed an infant buried under a private home, its remains inside a jar in the shape of a woman’s breast. (Source, page 94)

So, having said all that, I think it’s safe to say that breasts were almost revered in Mesopotamian culture. And for all the right reasons, too. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments!

Sources and further reading:

http://www.academia.edu/873588/Womens_Roles_in_Ancient_Mesopotamia, page 94

http://factsanddetails.com/world.php?itemid=1521&catid=56&subcatid=363  (under “Mesopotamian Hygiene, Perfume and Sex”)

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-d88npMh9sPo/TXDRGLhUeNI/AAAAAAAAAnw/9sGn7Xh-1XU/s1600/sumerian-love.jpg

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

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sumer_anunnaki/esp_sumer_annunaki15e.htm

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sumer_anunnaki/esp_sumer_annunaki12e.htm

http://orthocj.com/2006/06/historical-perspective-on-breast-feeding-and-nursing/

http://www.answers.com/topic/alu-demon

http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~duchan/new_history/ancient_history/mesopotamia.html

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Art, Women

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.)

 
Leave a comment

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

 

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

 
4 Comments

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

“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.)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Music, Video

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A Case for Babylon

Walls of Babylon. (Source)

Babylon is a name we hear often, in everything from biblical discussions to reggae song lyrics. Although it is the name of the ancient city on the Euphrates, according to dictionary.com, it is also “any rich and magnificent city believed to be a place of excessive luxury and wickedness.”

Most people know about Babylon being mentioned in the Bible as that place of “excessive luxury and wickedness,” but it’s not just the Bible that portrays the grand city as such. The Greek historian Herodotus does the same.

But why?

Let’s start with a tiny bit of etymology. The name Babylon is the Greek form and is derived from the Akkadian name, Babili, which translates to “Gate of God” or “Gateway of the God(s).”

Many temples were built in Babylon, including the great temple of Marduk with its associated ziggurat. The Tower of Babel, a great biblical icon, is a landmark of the ancient city, even though we only know it existed through written descriptions of it, thanks to the writings of Herodotus and its mention in the Bible.

“The Tower of Babel” by Peter Bruegel (Source)

Now, through this mental picture of a city filled with temples, a city whose name reiterates its homage to a god, I can’t help but deduce that although Babylon might have been a city of excess and luxury, it couldn’t have been all that arrogant. I will explain why I’ve come to this conclusion, and not the conclusion that the city’s inhabitants had such a good relationship with their gods, that they were convinced, to point of arrogance, that the gods would protect them and the walls that surrounded their city from any harm…

Although there was very little covered about Mesopotamia in all my history classes, there was one thing that was driven home by all my ancient history professors: the Mesopotamians feared their gods. Mesopotamians believed that their gods were vengeful beings just looking for ways to hurt their subjects. Mesopotamians believed that their gods were basically out to get them.

One professor went so far as to describe the Mesopotamian mindset as: “We’re all going to hell in a hand basket, might as well make the most of what we’ve got.”

Now, drawing from that, which might be an inaccurate historical assessment for all anyone knows, it’s hard to imagine a people so afraid, so careful to pay homage to their vengeful gods by building temples and making their city a gateway for the gods by naming it as such, that they would think a wall would make them all-around invincible.

The way I see it is if you believed your gods were that vengeful, you would see any force that poses a threat to you as a harbinger of a god’s wrath, that you would think it was all over and there was nothing to be done but sit around and wait for fate.

The way I see it is, complete and utter surrender to fate might have been what the Persian king Cyrus saw when he entered the city after laying siege to it in 539 BC, and not obliviousness to the calamity that has befallen the city and its inhabitants. Herodotus documents this siege of the city, and the Bible does the same, by saying that when the Persians entered the fallen city, they found its inhabitants going about their excessive, luxurious lives, oblivious to the magnitude of the threat of the Persian army right outside their walls.

Given that the only time my professors ever brought up Mesopotamia was when they wanted to compare and contrast other civilizations, particularly Egypt, and sometimes Greece, isn’t it possible that the Babylonians’ reaction to the fall of their city was simply misconstrued as obliviousness, when it was really just complete and utter surrender to something greater than all their grandeur and power?

Let’s think about this for a second: the Bible, though used as a wealthy source and reference for many historical accounts that are scant at best in written form anywhere else, is often questioned by scholars. Scholars believe the Bible is too steeped in moral purpose to report on things without at least some form of exaggeration in order to drive moral lessons home.

Herodotus’s writings give us less morally driven descriptions of the ancient city, mostly because along with the rituals and lifestyles of the Babylonians, he describes the city right down to the number of stories in a typical Babylonian house. Still, scholars believe that Herodotus’s writings are given to exaggeration.

J. Andrew McLaughlin writes in an essay, Herodotus and the City of Babylon, that as much as the Bible is responsible for the portrayal of Babylon as a wicked place of arrogance, Herodotus is just as responsible for Babylon’s reputation as a model of infamy. “Whether or not his accounts of some of Babylon’s morally questionable customs reflect historical reality, he is responsible (at least in part) for its reputation as a place of hubris, hedonism, and depravity,” McLaughlin writes.

McLaughlin also mentions the belief by many that Herodotus might not have even visited the ancient city in the mid 5th century BC or at all, and that his writings were all written down as they would’ve been told orally, a point which reinforces the idea that there is a degree of exaggeration to Herodotus’s description of Babylon and its inhabitants.

One example McLaughlin used in his essay to demonstrate this point is how Herodotus alludes to how fertile Mesopotamian soil is by stating that its wheat yields are in the three-hundredfold range, a number, which, according to a modern scholar referenced in the essay, Georges Roux, is higher than that of Canada’s most modern wheatfield today. (Source)

The Euphrates River bisects the city of Babylon. (Source)

As to the question of Herodotus’s credibility, some of his descriptions of the city, when cross referenced with archaeological evidence, as well as the Bible, have pointed to inaccuracies.

The discrepancies are nothing major, but as they are details that don’t make or break what we know about the city, they are definitely cause for questions that go beyond the element of exaggeration.

For instance, had Herodotus seen Babylon for himself, he might’ve noticed that the royal palace and the great ziggurat are not located on opposite sides of the Euphrates River like he says they were.

Another reason McLaughlin says Herodotus had a hand in giving Babylon such a bad rep is his description of a ritual he calls “sacred prostitution,” in which a man throws a silver coin of any value to a woman on display, forcing her to prostitute herself to him after he utters a phrase that is believed to invoke the gods, after which acts are performed in a room within the Tower of Babel for a night.

I’d like to think that much like we are given to misunderstand the rituals and views of cultures different from ours, perhaps Herodotus was just looking at the city and its people through the eyes of a Hellenistic Greek, from a place where women, at least, are held to different moral standards than those of Mesopotamia, which fueled an unintentionally harsh assessment of a different culture and painted it as an example of all that is bad.

The negative stigma surrounding Babylon may forever live in religious texts and Bob Marley’s songs, but I think that maybe we need to look beyond what we may never understand and focus on what this great ancient city held within its walls, which is mesmerizing…

Babylon is where the Code of Hammurabi came to be, where the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built by a rather romantic king for his homesick queen and still mesmerizes us simply through description, where powerful queens like Semiramis ruled, and innovation and civilization thrived for centuries.

Panoramic view of the rebuilt ruins of Babylon. (Source)

Should you ever happen to be walking along the fertile Mesopotamian plain of today, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, you just might stumble upon the ruins of Babylon, just 55 miles (89 km) south of Baghdad. And we should all be so lucky as to be in such an amazing spot, where humans were either at their worst or their best, nobody knows for sure.

Either way, they were people who obviously loved life, and there is no wickedness in that.

References:

http://www.answers.com/topic/babylon

http://visopsys.org/andy/essays/herodotus-babylon.html

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/babylon

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Beer, beer and more beer!

I’m really beginning to think that Mesopotamians were aliens, because they seem to have invented everything under the sun, and made it look like they knew what they were doing from the get-go. Beer is no exception.

It is so that 6,000 years ago, through the need to preserve grain, Sumerians stumbled upon a process that would produce the most wonderfully-tasting, intoxicating substance that did not require much more than neglecting the baked bread of the sweetest grain, with a dab of moisture. Beer was that substance, and it became so important to the ancient Mesopotamians, that it was the national fermented drink of Babylonia.

Ninkasi, the goddess of beer. (Source)

Beer was so important to the Sumerians, that they had a goddess dedicated solely to beer. This Sumerian goddess of beer was named Ninkasi. What is believed to be the oldest written recipe in the world, found on 4,000-year-old tablets, is for beer, and is written in the form of a hymn to Ninkasi, which you can read here. (What a cool name for a beer! Heineken, move over! Ninkasi Beer is here!)

Now, the coolness doesn’t stop there, because Ninkasi isn’t the only woman associated with beer in ancient Mesopotamia. You see, Sumerians preserved grain by way of baking, and beer was really nothing more than liquid bread, and since women were the bakers, well, naturally, the business of brewing beer became a woman’s specialty…you hear that, makers of Chick Beer?!?

As simple as “liquid bread” sounds, however, and this is where the possibility that Mesopotamians were aliens becomes more likely to me, Mesopotamian beer came in white, russet, light, dark and cloudy brews.

See what I mean?

Also, honey was used as a sweetener and various aromatics were used for flavoring. You can try these experimental recipes for Sumerian beer from Micah Joel’s blog here and here.

I should mention that the beer Mesopotamians drank was rather strong, and full of bits and pieces of bread and floaties and what-not, which would sink to the bottom of the liquid, making it kind of unpleasant to gulp down the way beer is consumed today. Leave it to the Sumerians, though, to come up with a solution to that problem. Mesopotamian art depicts a jar of beer that is usually shared between figures sipping the beer through long straws, and voila! No more floaties!

A mythical scene in which the gods drink beer the Mesopotamian way, which is through long straws that act as filters for bits and pieces of bread. (Source)

There were even laws pertaining to beer in Mesopotamia. Hammurabi took the time to include a law that covers beer in his code, and he wasn’t the only one. You can read a bit more about the specifics of beer laws in Mesopotamia here.

Now, how would you like a gallon of beer every month as part of your benefits package?

Sumerian tablets show that ration lists were kept to detail the distribution of beer to palace workers based on their rank. There were also social ranks that determined who received a quart of beer, and who received a gallon of beer.

Naturally, there was a cuneiform symbol for beer, and it appears three times on an early writing tablet that dates as far back as 3100 BC and records the distribution of beer rations for palace workers. The tablet is housed at the British Museum, and like all others it is fascinating.

The symbol for beer is simply an upright jar with a pointed base, and it kind of reminds me of an upside-down version of the modern-day symbol for sobriety, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

The beer symbol appears three times in this administrative tablet that dates as far back as 3100 BC. (Source)

So, now that you’ve learned all this cool stuff about beer, I’m sure your future conversations about beer will not lack in sophistication or fascination. And if you’re not sure how to bring up the subject of the origin of beer in casual conversation, you can simply carry this cool key chain that is sure to turn heads and pique curiosities.

This key chain is a tiny replica of a tablet that bears a recipe for beer and details a huge order of beer. The tablet dates back to the mid-13th century BC. (Buy it!)

Cheers!

Sources:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/tablet,_allocation_of_beer.aspx

http://www.talariaenterprises.com/product_lists/mesopotamian_pg2.html

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Recipe, Sumerian, Tablets

 

Tags: , , , , ,