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Category Archives: Nimrud

The First Dog People

Because this is a dog year in the Chinese zodiac, and because dogs are now helping sniff out looted artifacts from Iraq and Syria, plus I love dogs, it seems a good time to talk about how Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians–Mesopotamians–were all major dog people.

The first dog people.

Sit, Ur-Gi, Sit

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Babylonian man who’s clearly a dog person, and his dog. (Source)

It is commonly believed (and seemingly supported by tangible evidence to an amateur) that soon after the dog (ur-gi in Sumerian) was first domesticated, the dog collar was developed in Egypt. But, as with a lot of things, it is actually ancient Sumer where that took place.

Archaeological evidence from Egypt dates further back than that from Mesopotamia, but in an article at Ancient History, titled, “Dogs in Ancient Egypt,” Joshua J. Mark still writes that dog collars and leashes were of Sumerian origin:

“The dog collar and leash were most likely developed by the Sumerians earlier although evidence for both of these in Mesopotamia appears later than 3500 BCE in objects like a golden Saluki pendant from Ur dated to 3300 BCE.” (Source)

Further, in another Ancient History article, titled, “Dogs & Their Collars in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Mark reiterates the belief that Mesopotamia was where domesticated dogs in collars first appeared, even, curiously, after declaring the difficulty of saying so with certainty:

“In the same way that scholars debate the origin of the dog and its first domestication, it is difficult to say with certainty that the people of Mesopotamia were the first to invent the collar. It is probable, even quite likely, that the collar – like people’s relationship with dogs themselves – developed independently in many different regions at different times. Even so, as far as the collar’s depiction in ancient art is concerned, the earliest come from Mesopotamia.” (Source)

Well, who am I to argue? Regardless of where dogs first began donning collars and getting led on leashes, Mesopotamians domesticated dogs for practical purposes like everyone else; security for their dwellings and their herds, as well as hunting.

But as we will find out, that package came with a lot more perks, and as we know…it was pretty freakin’ great.

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This plaque found at the palace at Nineveh depicts Assyrian hunters with their hounds. (Source)

But let’s start at the beginning of this relationship.

To enter an ancient Mesopotamian city or village was to see collared dogs roaming freely, cleaning up carrion messes while guarding those human dwellings, along with the assets essential to their survival within them. They wore collars, because though they spent their days roaming free, they each had a master who cared for them and considered them the family pet.

Such an arrangement created the perfect environment in which the relationship between humans and dogs went beyond that of practicality and became one of companionship and love, the relationship all dog people have with their pooches today.

Good Dogs

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Statue of a very good Mesopotamian dog, c. 5000-1000 BCE. (Source)

Though surely there were mutts, there were three main breeds of dog we know existed in ancient Mesopotamia; the Greyhound (which includes the Saluki type), the Dane, and the Mastiff. Mark quotes historian Wolfram Von Soden, whom I attribute the last statement to, describing the types of dogs and for what practical purposes they were each best suited:

“As far as we can tell, there were only two main breeds of dog: large greyhounds which were used primarily in hunting, and very strong dogs (on the order of Danes and mastiffs), which in the ancient Orient were more than a match for the generally smaller wolves and, for that reason, were especially suitable as herd dogs.” (Source)

Further descriptions of the types of dogs found in Mesopotamia come from inscriptions such as one from the Ur III Period (2047 – 1750 BCE), describing large mastiff-like creatures coming into the city with their handlers, wearing thick collars and leashes that one can only guess were made of leather.

For a clearer picture of what the dogs of Mesopotamia looked like, here is this simple video.

They Liked Them & Put Collars on Them

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Plaque from Sippar depicting a man leading a large dog on a leash, possibly a Mastiff, dating to the Old Babylonian Period (2000 – 1600 BCE). Note the wide collar, rope tied twice around the dog’s neck. (Source)

Pretty much all depictions of dogs from Mesopotamia showed them wearing collars, all of which were wide to protect the animal’s neck. The earliest version of the collar was probably just rope that was wound around the dog’s neck multiple times (as in the image above) or a piece of sturdy cloth, which then probably evolved to the leather version I mentioned earlier.

According to Mark, though people from all rungs of the social ladder owned dogs in ancient Mesopotamia, dogs belonging to masters of the upper class wore collars that not only bore their names, but also their masters’.

The significance of the collar goes beyond its practicality, then. Mark, in the “Dogs & Their Collars in Ancient Mesopotamia” article, writes that the dog collar also served as a sort of testament to people’s inclination to spoil their pooches whom they felt were worthy of such an accessory.

Mesopotamian Belly Rubs

When looking at all there is to look at, whether art or any kind of literature featuring dogs from ancient Mesopotamia–and especially knowing their collars sometimes bore their names–it’s easy to see that the status of our best friend was high in more ways than one.

Today we have our pooches’ pictures on our phone lock screens, and that’s just scratching the surface of how we worship them. Well, Mesopotamians worshiped their dogs, too. Sometimes literally. Sometimes by having their image on the equivalent of the Mesopotamian phone lock screen – cylinder seals. Cylinder seals were used to identify individuals in writing, like a signature. Dogs making it into a person’s signature further drives home the importance of the intimate relationship people had with their dogs.

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This cylinder seal dating back to the 2nd millenium BCE, features a male worshiper with a dog. Note the collar on the dog. (Source)

Best Friends with Benefits

Dogs were first and foremost domesticated for practical purposes, but alongside the universal ones, Mesopotamians got a few extra magical ones. They equaled, and were synonymous with, protection, not just in the practical ways in which we still rely on them, but also in the spiritual and supernatural sense; they protected humans against angry gods, ghosts, evil spirits, and demons.

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The golden pendant of the saluki from Uruk, c. 3300 BCE, housed at the Louvre in Paris. (Source)

The labyrinthine pantheon Mesopotamians worshiped, and their belief that every deed done or not done counted and every action had a reaction, made them take very practical and serious measures to protect themselves from any vengeful gods, or worse, demons.

Along with incantations and prayers, physical objects were produced as a line of defense. The golden dog pendant pictured above is a protective amulet that was worn or carried by its owner. In the ruins of Nineveh, dog statuettes with inscriptions saying they are for protection were found buried beneath an entrance to the North Palace. At the city of Kalhu (Nimrud), five dog figurines made of clay, known as The Nimrud Dogs, were also found with the same kind of inscriptions identifying them and their purpose.

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Clay dog figurines found buried underneath a North Palace entryway at Nineveh. Inscriptions on their bodies include declarations such as: “Loud is his bark!” (Source)

It was during Hammurabi’s reign (c. 1792 – 1750 BCE) that the practice of creating clay or bronze figures of dogs took off in ancient Mesopotamia, not to be cute and have the likenesses of pets to decorate with, but for security. Such sacred knickknacks were buried in multiples beneath entrances to buildings, including those of palaces, as mentioned above. Rituals preceded these burials, during which incantations were recited to awaken the protective spirit of the dog in the object being buried.

Dogs and Gods

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A plaque dating back to the reign of Babylonian king Nabu-mukin-apli, 978-943 BCE, showing Gula with one of her pooches. (Source)

In her book, The Healing Goddess Gula: Towards an Understanding of Ancient Babylonian Medicine, Barbara Böck writes about Lamashtu, a demon whose “specialty is killing babies,” among other horrible things. To protect their babies from Lamashtu, Mesopotamians called on Gula and her dogs.

Gula, among other things, was the goddess of healing and dogs. She is always either depicted with a dog at her side (as shown above) or as a dog herself; it was during the Old Babylonian Period (c. 2000- 1600 BCE) that her symbol became simply the dog.

When Gula was called upon through an incantation to keep Lamashtu from snatching a baby, her dogs faced the demon and threatened her:

“We are not just any dog, we are dogs of Gula, poised to flay your face, tear your back to pieces, and lacerate your ankles.” (Source)

You’ll note that Gula is primarily the goddess of healing, though she wears a few more hats, including that of being the goddess of dogs, but what do those things have to do with each other so that they exist in one deity?

Well, dogs were the sacred companions of Gula because they were healers themselves. The saliva of dogs, which Mesopotamians observed could heal wounds, was valued as medicine.

Another part of Gula that the Mesopotamian view of dogs drew from is the fact that the goddess was also associated with the underworld and transformation, things people experience after death. Dogs in this context were the companions of the dead on their journey to the afterlife, where they might have to face demons or other unsavory characters they need protecting from.

It’s a very bittersweet thing, the heights the relationship between dogs and humans reached, especially when you take into consideration that it was children whom dogs accompanied the most on their journeys to the afterlife. (No, I’m not crying, you are.)

Going back to the part about her being the goddess of dogs, Gula protected them (along with cats…this goddess is my kind of goddess), and as Böck writes, a partially-preserved prayer to Gula makes it clear that not doing right by a dog, alive or dead, is really not okay with her:

“He has shown great disrespect which before Gula…

[He saw…] but pretended not to notice it. He saw a wounded dog but he pretended [not to notice it].

He saw [a…dog] but pretended not to notice it. The dogs [were] fighting…

[…they were wai]ling and he saw it but pretended not to notice it…

[He saw a dead dog] but did not bury it and threw it to the ground…

…the dogs were fighting but he did not remove them…” (Source)

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a deity associated with the underworld, which means it’s best to not anger her, or you might need to find another way to protect yourself from harm. And you might as well forget about a dog coming to your rescue then.

Long Before Lassie

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Saluki.

Domesticated dogs in collars and on leashes also made plenty of appearances in Mesopotamian literature. Samuel Noah Kramer, author of History Begins at Sumer, wrote that dogs are referred to in 83 proverbs and fables.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Descent of Inanna, we see that Gula was not the only deity accompanied by dogs. In the former, the goddess Inanna (Ishtar) makes her appearance accompanied by seven hunting dogs wearing collars and being led on leashes. In the latter, the god Dumuzi (Tammuz) keeps a royal retinue that includes domesticated dogs in the underworld where he resides.

These dogs are the protectors and companions of these deities, and especially in the case of Inanna, who was often called upon for protection. The dogs were that extra level of divine protection.

As Kramer notes, according to Mark, along with such elevated roles in mythology, dogs were also the subject of fables that showcased loyalty, unconditional love, and the protective nature of our best friends to impart wisdom, as fables do. In fact, some of Aesop’s fables were not his at all, but rather Sumerian ones written centuries before Aesop (c. 620 – 564 BCE) was even alive, but that’s another topic for another time. Two such fables were, Why the Dog is Subservient to Man and The Show Dog, which are summarized quite well here, but essentially highlight the attributes of dogs, such as loyalty, unconditional love, and fierce protectiveness.

The interesting aside I want to point to is that Mesopotamians had dog shows, and this is something that, according to Kramer, helps support the idea that domestication and the collar in Mesopotamia predated those things in Egypt.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

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Dog paw prints accidentally and wonderfully left in clay, from Ur, c. 2047-2030 BCE. (Source)

At Gula’s most prominent temple at Isin, where dogs considered sacred roamed and were taken care of by the priests and priestesses there, underneath the ramp leading up to the building, 30 actual dogs were found buried.

Böck writes that although the dogs might have been sacrificial, it is also possible they were just the sacred dogs of the temple whose burial was simply a way to honor them after their natural passing, as Gula liked.

Of course, I choose to believe the latter option.

I choose to believe the latter option, because I can’t imagine that even in the harsh world of antiquity, where live animals were often buried with their owners in order to accompany them to the afterlife, anyone could stomach a stand-alone sacrifice of a protector, healer, and best friend. I choose to believe that the dog has always, from day one, held a large chunk of humanity’s collective heart. I choose to believe we’re all dog people if we all knew what our ancestors figured out about the creature that is love itself.

Sources and further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saluki

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1031/dogs-in-ancient-egypt/

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1175/dogs–their-collars-in-ancient-mesopotamia/

https://archive.org/details/Kramer1956HistoryBeginsAtSumer

https://www.ancient.eu/article/215/inannas-descent-a-sumerian-tale-of-injustice/

https://www.ancient.eu/Inanna/

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/lords/lordumuzi.html

https://www.ancient.eu/Gula/

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1001/the-nimrud-dogs/

https://www.ancient.eu/article/846/cylinder-seals-in-ancient-mesopotamia—their-hist/

https://books.google.com/books?id=Tfd0AQAAQBAJ&pg=PA39&dq=he+has+shown+great+disrespect+which+before+gula&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiKkZf_-oLaAhUX92MKHedFB0YQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=he%20has%20shown%20great%20disrespect%20which%20before%20gula&f=false

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isin

http://www.ancientneareast.net/mesopotamian-religion/lamastu-lamashtu/

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2018 in Nimrud, Sumerian, Ur

 

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Dissecting Mesopotamian Jewelry

A female attendant found in the Great Death Pit at the Royal Tombs at Ur. Often mistaken for Queen Pu-abi, this attendant is one of 26 others found wearing such adornments. (Source)

There is something about ancient Mesopotamian jewelry that sets it apart from any other in antiquity. That something is more than just a distinct style or taste. Mesopotamian jewelry was a large artery in the anatomy of each civilization that rose in the land between the two rivers, and its story is one worth reading.

Jewelry wasn’t a new concept when Sumerians got their innovating hands on it around 2750 BC, but their innovations made their jewelry, produced from that point to the Assyrian period, around 1200 BC, seem like it was an entirely new invention.

In fact, scholars and jewelry makers today look to Sumerian work as the progenitor of modern jewelry.

“Sumerian jewellery fulfilled practically all the functions which were to occur during the course of history. In fact, there were more different types of jewellery than there are today.” – Guido Gregorietti, jewelry historian (Source)

Of course, jewelry served as a status symbol in Mesopotamia as it always has everywhere else, but it also played a significant role in how the Mesopotamian civilization functioned. Let’s begin the journey to understand ancient Mesopotamian jewelry.

What it was for

It goes without saying that jewelry served as a status symbol for noblemen and noblewomen, and royals, in Mesopotamia. Royals were buried with theirs, like Queen Pu-abi at the royal cemetery at Ur.

The lavish royal tombs of Ur, along with those at Nimrud, are considered the most significant finds in the study of ancient Mesopotamian jewelry, because they held a lot of it and have helped explain the types and their uses. The three tombs at Nimrud alone held some 1500 pieces of jewelry, weighing a total of 100 lbs. At Ur, some 17 tombs were excavated, and they were simply loaded with jewelry.

Now, royals weren’t the only ones acquiring jewelry in ancient Mesopotamia. For example, we know of a jewelry-loving high priestess through her own letter of complaint to a jeweler, who she had paid in advance for a necklace she never received.(Source)

Jewelry was also a fail-safe wedding gift, as well as a commodity used in dowries and inheritances of the upper classes.

It was used as a tool in diplomacy, but was also the subject of war under the heading of wealth. Some of the jewelry unearthed in Mesopotamia is loot from military campaigns, mostly during the Assyrian period.

A relief depicting the destruction of Susa. Assyrian soldiers can be seen carrying away the loot, which included silver and gold jewelry. (Source)

The most significant incident of jewelry looting was documented by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who wrote of the state in which he left the Elamite city of Susa, including what booty he took home:

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. (Source)

Jewelry was also offered to the gods at temples, and the practice of being buried with jewelry was a person’s attempt to go to the afterlife bearing gifts to the gods.

Mesopotamians adorned their statues and idols with jewelry to further clarify it as a spiritual and/or magical tool.

Bloodstone was worn by Babylonians for protection against their enemies and was also used in divination.

Mesopotamians pioneered astrology and astronomy, and they worshiped the planets, which they believed controlled their fates as individuals, as well as groups. They paired each planet with its own unique gemstone, therefore inspiring the idea of birthstone jewelry.(Source)

Wedding bands, as we know them today, in precious metal form, also got their start in Mesopotamia. They were only worn by women, and they communicated what is considered to be, well, a little less romantic message than ours, that tells of a woman’s status as someone’s property.

The specifics of who wore what

A close-up of a relief detailing Ashurbanipal, wearing hoop earrings and a royal headdress. Notice that he is wearing earrings, but the man next to him, who is wearing simple headbands, is not. Jewelry was definitely a recognizable and notable status symbol. (Source)

Mesopotamian men wore earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, pectoral ornaments and headbands, while women wore the same and more, including headdresses with foliage and flowers made from sheet gold, large crescent shaped earrings, chokers, large necklaces, belts, dress pins and rings on their fingers.(Source)

Two of Queen Pu-abi’s gold rings. She was wearing ten rings when found. Her attendants also wore similar rings. (Source)

The jewelry of an attendant from the Royal Tombs of Ur. Notice the three rosettes at the top of her headdress with gold leaves at the bottom, large hoop earrings and various bead necklaces, all signature Sumerian designs. Carnelian, lapis lazuli and gold are dominant. (Source)

An illustration that clearly shows Sargon II wearing earrings, arm bands and bracelets. The woman behind him is  wearing the same. (Source)

Beaded headbands found at the Royal Tombs at Ur, the lower one was found in a male’s grave. (Source)

From Akkadian times of the early third millennium BC, men wore bead necklaces and bracelets. In the first millennium BC, Assyrian men and women wore earrings, bracelets, and amulets. Earrings, for example, were mostly designed into hoops, crescents, grape clusters, cones, and animal and human heads.(Source)

“Sumerian work is flavoured with amazing sophistication … delicacy of touch, fluency of line, a general elegance of conception,” wrote jewelry expert Graham Hughes. “All suggest that the goldsmiths’ craft emerged almost fully fledged in early Mesopotamia.” (Source)

What it was

The materials used in Mesopotamian jewelry were the basic copper, gold, silver, and electrum, along with the not-so-basic gemstones like agate, carnelian, chalcedony, crystal, jasper, lapis lazuli (which was valued higher than any other material, even gold), onyx and sardonyx. Also used were shells and pearls.

“Queen Pu-abi’s beaded cape, belt, and jewelry. The circle on the lower left is her garter; on the lower right is her wrist cuff (bracelet).” (Source)

These materials were used to make jewelry designs featuring stars, rosettes, leaves, grapes, cones, spirals and ribbons. Cylinder seals were also used, but were made by seal makers, separate from jewelers.

How it was made

Modern jewelry experts have dubbed Sumeria the cradle of the goldsmith’s art.

A headband with detailed gold foil leaves. Sumerian goldsmiths used the lost-wax technique to draw the veins on each gold foil leaf. (Source)

These craftsmen made most gold and silver items by cutting the precious metals into thin sheets, which they shaped with hammers and other tools.(Source) They also made gold chains with the basic loop-in-loop method, which is a testament to the firm grip Sumerian goldsmiths had on working with gold wire. They also engraved, and used techniques like cloisonne, filigree, and granulation.(Source)

A Sumerian gold bead with a filigree design. (Source)

Hair ornaments with granulation and cloisonne techniques.(Source)

Also, to make solid and hollow ornaments they used the cast cold technique. To trace details like veins on gold foil leaves, and grooves on beads, the lost-wax technique was employed.(Source)

An amulet like this one, found at the Royal Tombs at Ur, is an example of what was made using the cast cold technique. (Source)

No actual jewelry shops have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, but the tools of jeweler Ilsu-Ibnisu, one of two Sumerian jewelers whose names we know from the city of Larsa, put into perspective what Sumerian jewelry makers used. His tools were found inside a jar, and included a small anvil, and bronze tweezers.(Source)

The economics

It is important to understand that although the Mesopotamian civilization was beyond rich in food production, thanks to its location on the Fertile Crescent, it was still a land of few resources. Metals and stones to make precious jewelry were especially scarce, necessitating what eventually shaped up to be an entire economy, based on the import of raw precious materials and the export of finished jewelry pieces. This would help Mesopotamians keep up with the growing exotic tastes of the upper crust of society.

A typical Mesopotamian combination was of lapis lazuli, gold and carnelian.(Source)

Early Sumerian sources tell us that gold and silver were imported from Anatolia and northern Iran, while the highly-prized lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan (Source). Carnelian came all the way from India.(Source)

Now, because most jewelry craftsmen were of the lower classes in ancient Mesopotamia, and made very little money, they did not have the means to obtain the materials they needed from as far as 1,500 miles away. Such craftsmen belonged to government-controlled guilds that acted as liaisons between them and their local royal palace.

It is clear that after the rapid growth and development of cities like Ur of Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and the Assyrian Assur and Nineveh, the wealth of aristocrats there and their demand for luxury goods increased, turning the business of jewelry into an entire trade network, a commercial enterprise that required the teaming up of the lower classes with the greatest powers in the land-the government.

Mark Schwartz, an expert featured on an Ancient Warfare Magazine podcast, “The Assyrians at War,” gives an example of how trade worked. He points to the old Assyrians living under the merchant system obtaining gold from Anatolia through the export of textiles (scrub to the 11:25 point in the podcast to hear this).

The Sumerians’ Legacy

Although when we talk about ancient Mesopotamian jewelry we are referring to jewelry produced by Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians alike, it was really the achievements of the Sumerians in jewelry making that we marvel at the most. It was they who who wrote the opening chapter for jewelry making, not only for other Mesopotamian civilizations, but also the ancient and modern worlds.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://sumerianshakespeare.com

http://www.sculpt.com/technotes/COLDCAST.htm

http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_mesopotamia.html

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Sumerian_Jewelry

http://www.birthstones.org.uk/jewelry/ancient-mesopotamian-jewelry.htm

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewellery

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Susa-destruction.jpg

http://www.enchanted.co.uk/materials.html

http://www.lsg.sch.ae/departments/history/Hili/Hilli_Website_2008/5.%20Wealth%20&%20Trade/Meso_v2_final.htm

http://www.lifescript.com/life/relationships/marriage/the_evolution_of_the_wedding_ring.aspx

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-history-jewelry-part-iv-mesopotamia-4073775.html?cat=69

http://books.google.com/books?id=lbmXsaTGNKUC&q=earrings#v=snippet&q=earrings&f=false

http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Beginnings-Of-Jewelry&id=509212

http://www.alhakaya.net/product.php?id_product=100

http://www.transoxiana.org/0110/neva-jewelry.html

http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/08/christies-nimrud-earrings-back-in-iraq.html

http://art.thewalters.org/detail/77427/pair-of-basket-shaped-hair-ornaments

http://info.goldavenue.com/info_site/in_arts/in_civ/in_civ_sumer.html

http://www.ehow.com/about_5044654_bloodstone-used-magic.html

http://www.penn.museum/blog/125th-anniversary-object-of-the-day/sumerian-copper-goat-head-object-of-the-day-18/

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Artifacts, Assyrian, Jewelry, Nimrud, Sumerian

 

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Did Mesopotamians also invent gender equality?

A woman's hand mirror with a handle in the shape of a palm found in a tomb at Nimrud. (Source)

We’ve established the fact that Mesopotamians were really into extravagant burials of their important folk.

Let’s now talk about more than just material wealth and human sacrifice in the tombs of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Let’s talk about what these tombs tell us about the status of women and the issue of gender in Ancient Mesopotamia.

I mentioned in the last post (which has undergone a slight change since I posted it) that the most interesting aspect of the most lavish tombs found in Mesopotamia is that they were the tombs of women who ranked high in their societies.

Queen Pu’abi seems to have been a big deal with her headdress, her 26 attendants and all-around lavish burial fit for a queen, and although nobody knows for sure whether she was indeed a queen or just a high priestess, her extravagant burial serves not only as an indication of her own importance, but that elite women, at least, had the same privileges as men of the elite.

To prove this point further, one need only move about 500 miles north, away from Ur, to the city of Nimrud. Formerly known as Kalhu, the capital of the Assyrian Empire for over 150 years, is where the Royal Tombs of Nimrud were unearthed.

The tombs at Nimrud, along with Queen Pu’abi’s tomb at Ur, further illustrate the fact that social status mattered more than gender in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Although there is limited information about the tombs at Nimrud, the information I found differed from one source to another, making it difficult to put together a comprehensive introduction to this archaeological site. One source states there were three tombs found at Nimrud, while another says there were four. Other details were also murky or just plain scarce. I am going by the source that seems the most recent and detailed.

The tomb of Yaba, according to the source of this picture, which would make it also the tomb of Atalia. (Source)

According to a paper written by Amy R. Gansell, Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, the Royal Tombs of Nimrud consisted of four tombs discovered in April 1989 by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities and Heritage. The tombs were located in the Northwest Palace of Nimrud. They contained several bodies and a lot of material wealth, including jewelry, vessels, ornaments and seals, most of which date back to the 8th century BC.

Inscriptions were also found within the Queens’ Tombs, as the tombs were called, which listed the details of those buried inside; high-ranking males or eunuch courtiers, children, and elite palace women.

Of the four tombs, Tomb II was the only one left undisturbed by looters over the centuries, and so it became a window into the lives of women of a certain class in Mesopotamia, particularly in Assyrian society.

Inside Tomb II, which dates to c. 750-625 BC, the bodies of two women were found stacked on top of each other inside a sarcophagus. They were surrounded by jewelry, more than they could wear at once.

A necklace found in the tombs at Nimrud. (Source)

Gansell writes that the women must have died when they were between 30 and 40 years old, and that the women were identified in cuneiform texts as Atalia, the wife and queen of Assyrian King Sargon II, and Yaba, the wife and queen of Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III.

Other sources listed the names of three queens, each married to a different king, but according to Gansell’s paper, there were only two queens, one of who has two names.

Gansell explains that Yaba is also Banitu, Banitu being the Assyrian translation of Yaba.

Now, these women were the wives of kings, which alone made them important, but based on what was found buried with them in the tombs at Nimrud, it seems these women were important in their own right.

Tomb II contained what Gansell believes are offerings or gifts from mourners along with dowries and the women’s personal assets. Gansell also mentions that the locations of the tombs under the part of the palace where the women may have resided, were supplied with pipes through which sustenance could be sent down to the deceased, making them important enough to keep their memory alive by way of sending offerings of food and such into the afterlife.

A tablet that mentions curses against anyone disturbing a tomb at Nimrud. (Source)

Gansell also writes in her paper that “women managed lucrative estates, lent capital, and commissioned large architectural projects,” in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Tablets mentioning curses that told of doom for anyone who disturbs the tombs at Nimrud were also found.

There are many findings that prove the Mesopotamian obliviousness to gender, and reliance on social status in the distribution of privilege, but the tombs of the likes of Atalia and Yaba, and even Queen Pu’abi, just further provide tangible evidence that the women buried with such extravagance were important during their lives, and their importance would not and did not fade after their deaths.

Sources:

http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/44/14051928/1405192844-31.pdf

http://aina.org/aol/nimrud/

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-11-13/local/me-963_1_royal-tomb

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Assyrian, Nimrud, Tombs, Women

 

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