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Tiglath-Pileser III

 

Look at this bas-relief found at a palace in Nimrud…

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…it depicts the humiliation of one man by another.

Some sources identify the prostrate figure as Hanunu, a king who ruled Gaza in the 8th Century BCE. Others simply identify him as a captured enemy.

Either way, the one thing everyone agrees on is that the foot placed upon his neck belongs to Tiglath-Pileser III (745 – 727 BCE), an Assyrian king who laid the groundwork for modern imperialism and began a long line of Assyria’s greatest kings.

Whooooooo Was He/Who-Who Who-Who?

Tiglath-Pileser III is the first king we’re covering at All Mesopotamia that has been mentioned on the Assyrian King List (as well as the first Assyrian king to be mentioned in the bible). Though his reign is nowhere near being the first to occur within the traditional (and disputed) timeline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (934 – 610 BCE or 912 – 612 BCE), some scholars believe this era began with Tiglath-Pileser III’s ascent to the throne in 745 BCE.

Being the third ruler in Assyria to carry the name Tiglath-Pileser—which is the Hebraic form of the Akkadian Tukulti-apil-Ešarra, which translates to “my trust/support is in the son of Esharra,” which refers to Ninurta, the god of war and hunting—you’d think he was related to at least one of the other two Tiglath-Pilesers. But he wasn’t. The first and second Tiglath-Pilesers ruled during what scholars have labeled the Middle-Assyrian period; one was during the 11th Century BCE, the other in the 10th Century BCE, respectively.

The gap grows wider and the direct relation is completely taken off the table when we remember that the third Tiglath-Pileser’s reign was in the 8th Century BCE.

Nonetheless, there is blood in this story.

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Tiglath Pileser III shown in his chariot in this panel from his palace at Nimrud. (Source)

Of course, it’s not uncommon for unrelated kings to share a name, especially when the name is a nod to a deity (and truth be told, Tiglath-Pileser III never linked himself to his first two namesakes), but what makes TPIII’s choice so interesting is the inherent murkiness of his origins. (I will call him TPIII throughout the rest of this post.)

Though he presented himself as the son of Adad-nirari III (811 – 783 BCE), scholars question the truth of this relation, because there are three other guys between Adad-nirari III and TPIII on the Assyrian King List. Also, two of those guys are the actual sons of Adad-nirari III, with his grandson ruling in the gap between their reigns.

Oh, and another thing: in 1892, a stele was discovered that showed TPIII’s name imprinted over one of those three guys’ names. Add to that the scantiness of information about anyone mentioned here, including Adad-nirari III, and you’ve got yourself a fishy situation in some very murky (and bloody) waters.

The Assyrian Shady

So, how did such a shady character become one of the most powerful kings of Assyria?

Let’s start with the name Pulu.

Pulu (or Pul as he appears in the bible) was the governor of Kalhu (Nimrud), the capital of a stagnant and waning Assyrian empire, one that was dealing with regional rulers with too much power, serving (or not) under ineffectual kings who were hardly maintaining what their long-gone predecessors had built.

Meanwhile, Assyria’s army, known the ancient world over as the greatest, also began to lose its luster when in 754 BCE it met its match in the kingdom of Urartu‘s army…and lost.

This loss was a significant disaster for Assyria; it grew an already-existing fissure in the empire as its vassal states and allies began to undermine Assyria and look to Urartu as an alternative power to whom they would pledge allegiance. This shift in loyalties also affected Assyria’s coffers, which had been regularly filled with tributes from those very vassal states and allies now looking for other ways to “invest,” if you will. The ripple effect of this loss was long-lasting and reached as far as Babylonia in the south, where in 749 BCE forces were dispatched to protect Assyrian interests.

Needless to say, things just weren’t going well for Assyria during this time, and poor Ashur-nirari V (754 – 745 BCE) had not been king for long before he had to bear the brunt of a half century’s worth of failure and unrest. All this led to civil war, which broke out in 746 BCE and saw the royal family slaughtered, giving way to Tiglath-Pileser III, new king and former governor of Kalhu, aka Pulu.

Really, Machiavelli would’ve given Pulu a nod of approval for slaughtering his way to the top, and, more importantly, setting things up so that the same thing wouldn’t happen to him. Because as we will see, Pulu had a lot of work to do, and he wanted (and apparently needed) it done right.

First Things First

Since it takes one to know one, TPIII’s first order as king was to take power back from regional rulers.

He started by cutting up the larger, more rebellious provinces into little pieces. Over a period of seven years, TPIII had fashioned some 80 provinces through this technique. He then appointed eunuchs to govern all those provinces.

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“Two court officials – who are beardless and, therefore, possibly identifiable as eunuchs – are shown marching toward the king. The second figure motions to the line of men that stood behind him to come forward toward the king.” (Source)

Of course, appointing eunuchs would get another Machiavellian nod, as according to Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat (and basic biology), eunuchs were a great way to maintain control over who occupies a position of power without the complication of heirs, much less a pedigree that mattered.

More, More, More

As I said before, TPIII is credited by some scholars with the founding of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which some historians believe is the world’s first true empire (sorry, Sargon of Akkad). It was a period during which Assyria grew to an area stretching from Asia Minor to Egypt by 671 BCE. This, despite being a geographically vulnerable nation.

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The expansion and expanse of the Assyrian Empire–they even had Cyprus! (Source)

It was really a “domino effect” that turned a nation with vulnerable geography into the world’s first superpower, one always on the offense rather than the defense. This effect is described well by Dattatreya Mandal in a Realm of History article titled, “10 Fascinating Things You Should Know About The Ancient Assyrian State And Its Army“:

“Simply put, this terrain rich in its plump grain-lands was open to plunder from most sides, with potential risks being posed by the nomadic tribes, hill folks and even proximate competing powers. This in turn affected a reactionary measure in the Assyrian society – that led to development of an effective and well organized military system that could cope with the constant state of aggression, conflicts and raids (much like the Romans).” (Source)

TPIII took over an army that had already perfected siege warfare and had genius battlefield tactics, and even featured the world’s first separate engineer corps. This History On the Net article titled “Assyrian Empire: The Most Powerful Empire in the World,” details that perfection:

“The Assyrians were the first army to contain a separate engineer corps. Assyrians moved mobile ladders and ramps right up against heavily fortified city walls. Sappers and miners dug underneath the walls. Massive siege engines became prized Assyrian armaments.” (Source)

This was also an army that had been incorporating the psychology of fear into its strategy. In an Ancient History Encyclopedia entry, the historian Simon Anglim is quoted on this combination of Assyrian war methods and its effect on warfare as we know it:

“By these methods of siege and horror, technology and terror, the Assyrians became the unrivaled masters of the Near East for five centuries. By the time of their fall, their expertise in siege technology had spread throughout the region.” (Source)

Nonetheless, this great army had just met its match and lost.

Knowing he would just be another ineffectual leader of a doomed empire if he didn’t think outside the box, TPIII created what all scholars indisputably credit him with: the world’s first truly professional army.

You and What Ar–Never Mind

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Unstoppable. Not to mention incredible. (Source)

We have to acknowledge that TPIII’s predecessors accomplished a lot with what all armies were at the time: essentially part-time and made up of mostly farmers during their off-seasons, and mercenaries. As the Assyrian empire grew, however, so did its internal problems and need for a full-time force to protect its interests from within as well as without.

Being that he had more than a few corrected provinces to work with now, TPIII introduced a system that required each one of those provinces to designate a certain number of men to be professionally trained, full-time soldiers. In a DailyHistory.org post titled, “How did ancient Professional Armies develop?”, Mark Altaweel details this part of a multi-pronged approach to vamping up the Assyrian army:

“These army units began to have distinct ranks and be part of specialized units within the military,” Altaweel writes. “This included the chariotry, cavalry, and infantry units; specialized units also included naval units consisting of Phoenicians. Other specialized soldiers include engineering units used for siege warfare.”

The overhaul extended further, all the way to command. “In addition, the army’s command structure became more sophisticated with developed ranks, similar to modern militaries,” Altaweel writes.

TPIII also made sure to reserve high ranks for pure Assyrians rather than those absorbed through conquest; cavalry, heavy infantry, and charioteers were all native Assyrians.

This overhaul, particularly locking in individuals with nothing on their schedule but soldiering year-round, translated into a gargantuan advantage over any other army in the world at the time, all of whom, Altaweel points out, still had a shortage of men during planting and harvest seasons. I can only imagine that to be attacked by the professional Assyrian army often entailed an imminent familiarity with the element of surprise for the attacked.

In the image above, you see a small part of what a siege carried out by the Assyrian army looked like; the skill of professionally-trained men with advanced weaponry, alongside technology. It was only through that multi-faceted approach to war and siege that TPIII was able to avenge Assyria’s defeat to the kingdom of Urartu and move on to destroying its difficult ally, the city of Arpad.

Arpad‘s defeat was no easy feat–it took three years to bring that city down. This tidbit serves as a testament to the strength of Arpad, of course, but it also speaks to the otherworldly capabilities of TPIII’s relentless army.

In his “Assyrian Warfare” entry for Ancient History Encyclopedia, Joshua J. Mark puts into perspective what Arpad was up against during its three-year siege, and why its considerable strength was still not enough when facing TPIII’s new and improved army:

“Campaigns such as the long siege of Arpad could only have been carried out by a professional army such as the one Tiglath Pileser III had created and, as the historian [Peter] Dubovsky notes, this expansion of the Assyrian Empire could not have taken place without ‘the new organization of the army, improved logistics and weaponry’ and, in particular, the use of iron weapons instead of bronze.” (Source)

No other army had the resources the Assyrian war machine had: fast-made iron weapons and armor. Note, this could only happen by way of Assyria’s hegemony over iron ore-producing regions while everyone else’s weapons were still made of bronze. This is not including advanced engineering skills, unbeatable tactics and, of course, TPIII’s mind and ambition.

“Tiglath Pileser III’s brilliant successes in battle lay in his military strategies and his willingness to do whatever it required to succeed in his objectives,” Simon Anglim writes of TPIII’s recipe for success.

Everybody’s Gonna Protect Their Feet

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Shoes really make or break an outfit, and the Assyrian army boot really tied the whole professional army thing together. (Source)

For an army to fight year round, it needs to be an all-weather and all-terrain one. This cannot happen without the proper footwear. Enter my favorite and the coolest of TPIII’s innovations and inventions: the army boot.

On the significance and features of the Assyrian army boot, Mark quotes the historian Paul Kriwaczek:

“…the Assyrian military invention that was arguably one of the most influential and long-lasting of all: the army boot. In this case the boots were knee-high leather footwear, thick-soled, hobnailed and with iron plates inserted to protect the shins, which made it possible for the first time to fight on any terrain however rough or wet, mountain or marsh, and in any season, winter or summer. This was the first all-weather, all-year army.” (Source)

Further, in his book, The Great Armies of Antiquity, Richard A. Gabriel describes the specific ways in which the “jackboot” was beneficial to its wearer:

“The high boot provided excellent ankle support for troops who fought regularly in rough terrain … The boot kept foot injuries to a minimum, especially in an army with large contingents of horses and other pack animals.” (Source)

There’s not much else left to say about this accomplishment by TPIII, except it was such a great one, it wasn’t long before it became an everlasting staple of every military on earth…not to mention my personal favorite style of boot.

The Walls Come Down

With an area stretching as far as the Mediterranean, there was a lot of land full of people for TPIII to work with to make his empire not only bigger, but better.

Along with slaughter and slavery, the norms of war in antiquity, it was common practice and standard procedure in Assyria to deport defeated subjects, particularly if they had abilities and skills beneficial to the empire. This is a policy that TPIII is often credited with instituting, but it was actually first instituted by Adad-Nirari I in the 14th Century BCE. Nonetheless, he did it on such a big scale, it became a part of his legacy.

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People of Lachish Deported and Relocated. (Source)

Now, deportation did not have the same connotation it does today. Like I said, to be deported under Assyrian rule was really to be resettled by being sent to a province where the empire needed more settlers with practicable skills.

In the Ancient History Encyclopedia Tiglath Pileser III entry, Karen Radner describes such events:

“We must not imagine treks of destitute fugitives who were easy prey for famine and disease … the deportees were meant to travel as comfortably and safely as possible in order to reach their destination in good physical shape . . . the ultimate goal of the Assyrian resettlement policy was to create a homogeneous population with a shared culture and a common identity – that of ‘Assyrians’.” (Source)

To ensure deportations went smoothly and subjects arrived at their destinations in good physical shape, it took an organized effort that went well beyond just keeping these people moving toward their destination. Take this letter written by an official handling a deportation of Aramaeans ordered by TPIII:

As for the Aramaeans about whom the king my lord has written to me: ‘Prepare them for their journey!’ I shall give them their food supplies, clothes, a waterskin, a pair of shoes and oil. I do not have my donkeys yet, but once they are available, I will dispatch my convoy. (Source)

Even after the arrival of the deported subjects at their final destination, that official’s work of ensuring the welfare of his charges was still not done, as we see in another letter he wrote to TPIII:

As for the Aramaeans about whom the king my lord has said: ‘They are to have wives!’ We found numerous suitable women but their fathers refuse to give them in marriage, claiming: ‘We will not consent unless they can pay the bride price.’ Let them be paid so that the Aramaeans can get married. (Source)

Of course, destroying these peoples’ entire worlds and resettling them where they were to serve their conqueror’s needs does not a brownie point make, but considering the way war usually ended for the defeated in antiquity, well, it’s a little less horrible to be resettled and given a job and, apparently, a life partner.

Say it in Aramaic

Though Assyria had absorbed many different peoples through its expansion, there was one particular group Assyrians had done that a lot with: speakers of Aramaic.

Aramaic was a language spoken by those hailing from Aram, a group of city-states in what is modern-day Syria. They were a people Assyria had been picking fights with since the reign of the first Tiglath-Pileser in the 11th Century BCE. TPIII had resettled and assimilated so many Aramaeans as he expanded his empire, it was virtually overrun with them.

Perhaps to make things easier, what with so many people speaking it already, or perhaps because of the ease of Aramaic compared to Assyria’s Akkadian, TPIII eventually made Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic the official language of the Assyrian Empire. One can only deduce that when the Romans made Latin their lingua franca centuries later, it was TPIII’s example they were following.

He Did it His Way

Tiglath-Pileser III’s reign lasted 17 years, filled with war, conquest, innovation and invention. He had even managed in that time to crown himself king of Babylonia in 729 BCE when a revolt broke out there after the death of its Assyrian ally king Nabonassar (747 – 734 BCE).

Pretty much everything TPIII did was carried out in the same spirit as the one in the opening image of this post–a reinforcement of Assyria’s dominance and hold on the region. By the time he died in 727 BCE from natural causes, TPIII had built an invincible empire that would continue to flourish with a line of equally consequential and notable kings, including his son Sargon II (722 – 705 BCE) and the last of the great kings of Assyria, his great-great grandson Ashurbanipal (668 – 627 BCE).

Mark sums up the legacy of the third Tiglath-Pileser best in his Tiglath-Pileser III article, and perhaps helps scholars’ argument along that the Neo-Assyrian era began with this mysterious yet determined man:

“Tiglath Pileser III’s achievements laid the foundation for the future of the Assyrian Empire, which has come to be recognized as the greatest political and military entity of its time and the model on which future empires would be based.” (Source)

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Posted by on February 26, 2018 in Assyrian, Kings

 

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Ku-Baba

 

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A little too much eye makeup! (Source)

A long while ago, I wanted to write about Ku-Baba, the only woman on the Sumerian King List. I went first to my go-to source on anything Sumerian, Sumerian Shakespeare, and found that Jerald Starr, the brain behind the site, had not mentioned Ku-Baba at all. It was as if I was just imagining this rather intriguing figure.

Nonetheless, I wrote to Starr with the hope he would have some information about Ku-Baba, or at least a good source he could point me toward. His response, which was basically doubt that she existed at all, left me feeling like I was at a dead end at the time, so I abandoned the idea of writing about her.

Fast forward to today, and Starr has changed his mind. “I had to revise my opinion,” he wrote to me in a surprise email. He also included a link to a new post on his website, in which he explains in detail how he arrived at the conclusion that Ku-Baba might have existed after all.

“For a long time I doubted that Ku-Baba even existed,” he writes in the post. “I believed the reference was a sly mean-spirited joke by the scribe who wrote the King List.”

What changed Starr’s mind was an alabaster statue at the Louvre from Girsu, with a little too much eye makeup to be just your run-of-the-mill Sumerian priestess, as he had initially believed. “When I first saw the statue, I believed it was a Sumerian priestess because she seems to be wearing a circular headband,” he writes, “. . .although for a priestess I thought she was a bit heavy-handed with the makeup.”

From the eyes, Starr traveled back up to the head, where it became clear to him that it was no headband this statue was wearing–that it was a hat he’d never seen on a Sumerian woman before. “The hat on the statue most closely resembles a shepherd hat, the crown of a Sumerian king,” he writes.

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That’s no headband! (Source)

And from there, Starr writes as only he can about the minutest details to put Ku-Baba, the first woman ruler in history, back into the realm of possibility, giving me a chance to write about Ku-Baba like I had originally wanted.

The First Woman Ruler

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Ku-Baba. (Source)

Ku-Baba, Kug-Bau in Sumerian, is the only female monarch on the Sumerian King List. She ruled between 2500 BC and 2330 BC. On the list itself, she is identified as:

… the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish, became king; she ruled for 100 years.

Every source I came across in my research, including Starr, questioned how a woman who was a tavern-keeper became king. They then went on to explain that tavern keeping was one of many occupations Mesopotamian women could hold. Now, aside from Starr, said sources all described tavern keeping as a well-respected occupation, even while some mentioned that taverns in Sumer were pretty much brothels. This complicates further the rationale of a woman tavern-keeper becoming king, but in her About.com article titled, “Kubaba, A Queen Among Kings,” Carly Silver writes, “Regardless of what kind of show they were running, women often ran taverns, holding perhaps one of the only independent female positions of power in ancient Sumer.”

Silver drives home the rather high status of the tavern-keeper profession by mentioning Siduri, the female tavern-keeper Gilgamesh meets in the Underworld in his quest for immortality in the epic of his namesake. In it, the tavern-keeper gives Gilgamesh, a powerful god-king, sage advice about the nature of human life, how short it is, and how one ought to enjoy it.

“So, in what was probably a very important epic even in antiquity,” she writes, “a female tavern-keeper was seen as a guide along perilous paths and a figure worthy of veneration.”

Conversely, Starr’s description of the status of a tavern-keeper, or barmaid, is one that is very different from Silver’s. He writes, “Throughout history, a barmaid was typically considered to be a woman of loose morals, freely available to the patrons of the tavern, and little better than a common prostitute.”

So, how can this be? Several sources commend tavern keeping as a respectable occupation, almost making it sound like it was a foot in the door for Ku-Baba to become queen in her own right, while one all but ascribes it to prostitutes.

It helps that Starr does mention a distinction between a mere barmaid who slings drinks and provides patrons with her company, and someone who owns the establishment where this business takes place, a distinction other sources do not mention. Starr also classifies an owner of a tavern as “middle class,” while iterating that the employee slinging the drinks is “a commoner, and a lowly commoner at that.”

Furthermore, in order to see more clearly how tavern keeping relates to Ku-Baba’s rise to royalty, it helps to look at the picture in a different way.

According to Starr, even though there is no question Ku-Baba was a commoner, she might not have been a tavern-keeper. Starr states in his post that it was her parents who were tavern-keepers, a nugget he says her enemies distorted and used against her to tarnish her reputation and legacy. “I believe Ku-Baba was unfairly characterized as a bawd (the usual description of a female barkeeper) for propaganda reasons,” Starr writes. “I believe it was a deliberate attempt to sully her reputation. It is the kind of thing her enemies would say about her.”

Bottom line, we must let go of the idea that Ku-Baba was a tavern-keeper to get to the bottom of how she became a queen in her own right, because everything is questionable when you have an enemy, which she did, according to Starr.

And who was that enemy, you ask? Sargon of Akkad, our favorite baby in a basket here at AllMesopotamia.

Again, I point you toward Starr’s article for a more comprehensive telling of this story and presentation of the case involving Ku-Baba’s previous profession, but Sargon of Akkad usurped the throne of Kish from Ur-Zababa, Ku-Baba’s grandson, 31 years after her death, serving as background for Starr’s conclusion.

But how did Ku-Baba take the throne?

In her article titled “Ku-Bau, the First Woman Ruler,” Darci Clark writes, “In general, other women in Mesopotamian society would only be able to exert any political influence through their relationships to the king.”

Starr echoes Clark’s statement: “Sumerian queens were always the wives of kings. They never governed on their own.”

Okay, but would a king marry a commoner?

“Although it is highly unlikely that a king would marry a commoner,” Starr explains, “it is certainly within the realm of possibility.”

It’s possible Ku-Baba married a king, but there is no mention of such a thing happening in ancient texts. Nevertheless, a king was involved. According to Clark, Ku-Baba became lugal of Kish after performing an act of kindness. It seems that a king–Puzur-Nirah, king of Akshak, namely–awarded Ku-Baba her kingship for a “pious deed.”

Researching this further, I came across an article on the website History Hustle, titled “Kubaba, the Bartender Who Became the First Woman Ruler in History,” which pointed me toward the Weidner Chronicle, an interesting ancient Babylonian religious text, where the deed and its reward are described:

In the reign of Puzur-Nirah, king of Akšak . . . Kubaba gave bread to the fisherman and gave water, she made him offer the fish to Esagila. Marduk the king, the prince of Apsu, favored her and said: “Let it be so!” He entrusted to Kubaba the tavernkeeper, sovereignty over the whole world. (Lines 43-45, Weidner Chronicle)

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The city of Kish. (Source)

A Feminine Legacy

Very little is known about Ku-Baba’s reign. We do know that she made Kish strong, and that she reigned for 100 years. It is easy to conclude then that she was a successful monarch. Really, there’s no way she could have not been.

Starr writes, “Any female pretender to the throne who didn’t do an excellent job would quickly find herself in the middle of a coup d’état. She was capable enough, and respected enough, to stay in power and establish a dynasty.”

That dynasty, the 4th Dynasty of Kish, lasted for two generations, ending with the above-mentioned Ur-Zababa, son of Puzur-Suen, son of Ku-Baba. Not bad for a woman living in a man’s world, and a man’s world it was.

Carly Silver writes that Ku-Baba’s was remembered by later generations as an improper usurper. They would also refer to Ku-Baba when describing things that are not as they should be–women taking on men’s roles has never been popular. “By taking on the duties of a man – a king – Kubaba was seen to have crossed a boundary and transcended gender divisions in an improper fashion,” Silver writes.

Ku-Baba was also referenced when a lung didn’t look so good, or a child was born with both male and female genitalia. “Combining male and female genitalia in an individual would echo her reign as lugal, or king, which the ancients saw as violating the natural order of things,” Silver writes.

Nonetheless, Ku-Baba lived in people’s memories until Babylonian times, becoming a goddess. “But she was still a barmaid,” Starr explains. “She is portrayed as a kindly woman in all of the stories about her . . . Ku-Baba never lost the ‘common touch’. Queen Ku-Baba was always ‘the people’s queen’.”

Whether her legacy when she was an actual memory was a positive or negative one, today, in 2017, Ku-Baba’s legacy is that of (written) history’s first woman ruler, one who could only be slandered by a past that might have been falsified by her enemy, and one whose ascendancy to the throne was built upon kindness.

How feminine. How fitting.

P.S. Make sure you read Starr’s Ku-Baba post, as there are things and photos I did not include here that are sure to pique your interest further in this interesting lady. And while you’re at it, if you haven’t already, read our Q&A interview with Sumerian Shakespeare himself!

Sources and Further Reading:

Queen Ku-Baba – Sumerian Shakespeare  http://sumerianshakespeare.com/748301/769001.html

Sumerian King List – http://www.livius.org/sources/content/anet/266-the-sumerian-king-list/

Ku-Bau: The First Woman Ruler – Darci Clark http://semiramis-speaks.com/ku-bau-the-first-woman-ruler/

Kubaba, A Queen Among Kings – Carly Silver  http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/sumer/fl/Kubaba-A-Queen-Among-Men.htm

Kubaba, the Bartender Who Became the First woman Ruler in History http://historyhustle.com/kubaba-bartender-became-worlds-first-woman-ruler/

Weidner Chronicle http://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-19-weidner-chronicle/?

 

 

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Nebuchadnezzar II, a king with issues.

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

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

King Nebuchadnezzar was a werewolf!

King Nebuchadnezzar at kind of a bad moment.

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

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

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

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

Who’s he?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. (Source)

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

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

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

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

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

Nebuchadnezzar II’s Legacy

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Gudea, the man who loved Lagash.

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these diorite statues we know are Gudea:

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

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

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

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

There’s something about Gudea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this raises the issue of motive…

Why was Gudea so darned nice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he didn’t use that card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Priest King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gudea’s pride

The proud, yet humble priest king. (Source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The true face of Gudea. (Source)

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

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Part IV: Gilgamesh!

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

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

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

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

An Epic King

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

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

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

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

He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions,

from exaltation to despair, had been granted a vision

into the great mystery, the secret places,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eternal Significance of Gilgamesh to Humanity

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

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

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

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Part III: Ashurbanipal!

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

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

He’s Ashurbanipal!

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

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

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

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

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

Ashurbanipal the Nerd

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

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

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

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

The Library of Ashurbanipal

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of Ashurbanipal

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

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

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

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

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

King of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Ashurbanipal Dealt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashurbanipal’s Cruelty

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

We’re talking excessively cruel.

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

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

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

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

The Last of the Great Kings of Assyria

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Assyrian, Kings

 

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Part II: Hammurabi!

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

He is Hammurabi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hammurabi’s Code

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my last stick of gum/

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

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

On the Job

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

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

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

An Innovator and Humanitarian

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

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

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

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

He was really a humanitarian

The Legacy of Hammurabi

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

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

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

Hammurabi on Supreme Court Frieze. (Source)

 

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

Sources and Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Babylon, Kings

 

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