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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

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Art, Women

 

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How to be Mesopotamian this Halloween

We’re barely halfway through with September, but Halloween is just around the corner, especially if you want it to be a special one crowned with an unforgettably original costume.

So, for the Ancient Mesopotamian at heart, we’ve gathered the best costume ideas to help make this Halloween as Mesopotamian as can be!

The Assyrian Crocheter

Let’s begin with this crocheted Assyrian Helmet and Beard. This can be a part of a whole costume, or just a standalone piece that will surely turn heads this Halloween. You can either download the free crochet pattern, or just buy the ready piece from Etsy.

Cool, no?

The Creative Babylonian

Next, we have four choices for the specifically Babylonian at heart, especially those looking for a Halloween challenge. Unfortunately, there are no instructions for how to make these, they’re just pictures you’ll have to scroll down a page a bit to see at the source, but if you are a creative type, these are ideas. There is nothing like making your own costume from scratch!

“The costume of the late Babylonian monarch, Marduk-Nadin-Akhe (ca. 1050 B.C.).”

“A Babylonian dress common since the third dynasty of Ur (ca. 2050-1950 B.C.).”

“A dress of a goddess of the old Babylonian period (ca. 1950-1530 B.C.).”

“A Babylonian dress (2nd. Millenium B.C.).”

The Luxurious Babylonian

If you’re not that creative a type, and find the above pictures intimidating, but still want to wear that Babylonian heart on your sleeve, it’s okay. You can order a custom-made, traditional and historically accurate Assyrian-Babylonian dress from this site! Here is a photo of one such custom creation:

Historically accurate traditional Assyrian-Babylonian dress.

Here is how awesome you’ll look from head to toe:

Be the Ashurbanipal of the party! (Don’t hurt any cats, though. That’s not cool.)

The Dancing Queen

Take Back Halloween is a great website that offers tips on dressing like some of the most important historical figures, including Queen Puabi. It provides suggestions and instructions to help you recreate Puabi’s look using everyday clothes and accessories. Be the dancing queen at this year’s Halloween party!

Who wouldn’t want to make an entrance as this blinged out lady of high society?

The Literary High Priestess

Another fantastic and elegant lady you can channel this Halloween, courtesy of the wonderful Take Back Halloween website, is Enheduanna, the world’s first-known author, and a high priestess.

The Goddess

Want to be worshiped at next Hallow’s Eve? Go as Semiramis, or Shammuramat. Kind of an elusive figure, portrayed as a goddess and queen in some texts, a whore in others, but one thing’s for sure–you’ll look elegant and hot in a flowing goddess robe put together on Polyvore.

Gown

Make an elegant goddess’s entrance. (Rest of suggestions on Polyvore.com)

 

The Sophisticated Fashionista

You can simply evoke a Sumerian look with your creative fashionista self!

The Sumerian look. You’ll look like you stepped right out of 600 BC “Vogue”.

The Perfectionist

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Here are some vintage posters with drawings of traditional Mesopotamian wear and accessories. Sometimes if you want something done right, you just gotta do it yourself!

Feminine costume ideas.

Assyrian costumes for women.

More Assyrian costumes for women.

Assyrian costumes for men.

Assyrian hats and accessories. (Go to link for more)

So, we hope we’ve provided you with good info to get you started on your Mesopotamian Halloween costume. We’d love to see what you end up doing, so let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @allmesopotamia. Happy Halloween!

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Art, Holidays

 

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What do you know about Ur?

What do you know about the ancient city of Ur?

Entrance to a tomb in the Royal Tombs of Ur. (Source)

Maybe you know that it is where the best-preserved zigurrat, which is one of the most famous historical monuments in the world, stands. Maybe you know that it is mentioned in the Bible several times as Ur of Chaldee. Maybe you know that it is the birthplace of Abraham.

There is a lot more, less common knowledge about the city that was once a capital of a great Mesopotamian civilization–the ancient civilization of Sumeria.

Actually, Ur is a word that means City in both the Sumerian and Akkadian languages. Ur’s prominence was between the 4th and 1st half of the 3rd millenium BC, during which it was ruled by three dynasties. It was also the hub of worship of the moon god, Nanna, for which the zigurrat was dedicated.

Today, Ur is an archaeological site marked by the same 70-foot zigurrat and Royal Tombs. The Royal Tombs are comparable only to the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamen in their wealth of a most comprehensive collection of artifacts that paint one of the clearest pictures of an ancient civilization ever unearthed.

You can view pictures of jewelry, weapons, statuettes and other artifacts unearthed from the Royal Tombs at Ur here, with some great commentary and explanations from that website’s incredibly knowledgeable source.

If you live near, or are going to be in the area of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, you can see a number of these artifacts in person. Information available here.

The Ziggurat of Ur. (Source)

It’s hard to imagine that the above structure once stood on the banks of a flowing, almost gushing, river, but that very detail was what made Ur flourish. Though the river has long changed its course, Ur’s location along the Euphrates River in antiquity gave it access to the sea, bringing the city endless wealth.

A renaissance of Sumerian art and literature took place during the third dynasty, under the reign of Ur-Nammu, who is credited with writing the first law in history.

More details about the three dynasties and other information about Ur can be found here.

Below is a list of all the links I used to put this piece together. I hope you will visit them all, as they contain some great pictures and incredibly fascinating information I did not include in this piece.

Sources:

http://www.atlastours.net/iraq/ur.html

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.islamic-architecture.info/WA-IQ/MFD05-02.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.islamic-architecture.info/WA-IQ/WA-IQ-027.htm&h=405&w=976&sz=41&tbnid=JVWfT3ewr7ljEM:&tbnh=50&tbnw=120&zoom=1&usg=__JWsaGgBniYzn8u0Q_8H96hD4Ui8=&docid=mOtYD-JlojuBuM&sa=X&ei=KHkDUZHNA-PVyQHliYHICA&ved=0CEYQ9QEwAw&dur=8759

http://www.penn.museum/long-term-exhibits/iraq-s-ancient-past.html

http://sumerianshakespeare.com/509245/index.html

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Akkadian, Art, Sumerian

 

A more colorful way to learn

When I took my first ancient history class in high school here in the States, I was very disappointed to find that there was very little covered of Mesopotamia, if anything at all. The same thing happened when I took Western Civilization in college.

In fact, to this day, I know more about Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome than I do about Mesopotamia, and that is sad, but that is the reality of what parts of history the general masses are most exposed to, or even to which they are drawn.

Well, although what I’m about to show you is more of a bible study aid, it can be used as a tool to make Mesopotamian history as fun as ancient Egyptian or Greek or Roman history to anyone, especially those who are very visual and artistic, and if you’re homeschooling your child, you have a chance to give them a one-up on other kids by exploring Mesopotamian history.

Check out this Mesopotamia scrapbook kit:

Available through Heart of Wisdom Homeschool Store. (http://homeschool.corecommerce.com/Mesopotamia-Scrapbook-Kit.html)

You can also just make your own art to pay homage to the cradle of civilization!

Source: http://homeschool.corecommerce.com/Mesopotamia-Scrapbook-Kit.html

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Art

 

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