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Inanna. Ishtar. She’s every woman.

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E-anna, Inanna’s residence at Uruk. (Source)

When the city of Uruk was first excavated in the mid-nineteenth century, it was found to be split in half, with one section walled off. That division of the ancient city now known as Warka in modern-day Iraq, once considered the most important in ancient Mesopotamia, represented a marker between two districts: the Anu and the Eanna.

The Anu District was the older section of the two, and dedicated to the sky-god An (Anu). The Eanna District–the walled off one–was dedicated to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and eventually, war.

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Part of the facade of the temple of Inanna at Uruk. (Source)

No one knows exactly why the Eanna District was walled off, especially when one temple, the E-anna (Sumerian for “House of Heaven”), figuratively housed both Inanna and An.

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Map of the Eanna District, which was “composed of several buildings
with spaces for workshops, and was walled off from the city.” (Source)

Some, like Joshua J. Mark in his “Uruk” entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia, look at Inanna herself for a possible answer:

“…since Inanna is regularly depicted as a goddess who very much preferred things her own way, perhaps the walled district was simply to provide her with some privacy.” (Source)

Uruk was the birthplace of writing, stonework in architecture and the cylinder seal. It was also the birthplace of something hardly ever considered or discussed when looking at ancient firsts; “Uruk could also be credited as the city which first recognized the importance of the individual in the collective community,” Mark writes. (Source)

If Mark is correct, and the Eanna district was walled off simply to give Inanna her own space and privacy, then the birth of individualism under her watch is another piece of the puzzle that is this goddess, whose trials and tribulations to assert her dominance and power over everything, from gods to men, and even mountains, were the subject of many a myth and hymn.

Who’s that goddess?

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“Akkadian cylinder seal dating to c. 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki…” (Source)

With the eventual title of “Queen of Heaven and Earth,” (and you’ll see why I say eventual again, eventually) Inanna appears in the earliest god lists; she has been there since the beginning, as far back as 4000 BC, and pretty much set up the game for the Greek Aphrodite and Athena, as well as the Roman Venus.

Born in the Mesopotamian heavens, and, depending on the era in which a myth was told of which she was often a subject, Inanna’s genealogy is confusingly varied. She is sometimes presented as the daughter of An (Anu), the supreme sky god. Other times she is presented as the daughter of the water god Enki. Even the air god Enlil is presented as her father. And we’re not even done yet, because the renowned Assyriologist Samuel Noah Kramer traces Inanna’s parentage to the moon god Nanna and his consort Ningal in his book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer.

As for siblings, Inanna has a few. Kramer writes that Inanna is the sister of the sun god Utu (various other sources assert that they are twins, even), and through her myths we know that she is also the sister of the goddess of the underworld Ereshkigal, as well as the sister of the god of storms Adad.

Sex, agriculture and reed…

Inanna started out and remained a goddess of agriculture. Because of this, her symbol and cuneiform ideogram were a knot of reeds, appropriately called Inanna’s Knot.

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Inanna’s Knot. It “represents a door-post made from a bundle of reeds, the upper ends, bent into a loop to hold a cross-pole.” (Source)

The knot of reeds was a symbol of Inanna’s role as a fertility goddess, fertility being a stand-alone concept applicable to any area in which abundance is desired, mostly but not limited to the context of agriculture.

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It is believed the woman pictured on the top register of the Warka (Uruk) Vase, at the National Iraqi Museum, is Inanna. Aside from the vase being found at her temple at Uruk, the two reed bundles behind her are indicators of the female figure being Inanna. (Photo: Hirmer Verlag, Source)

The flexibility of Inanna’s fertility aspect extends to the Sacred Marriage, an annual event in which a high priestess and the king (or high priest if the king isn’t up to it) would perform a marriage and consummation ceremony between Inanna and Dumuzi. Also known as Dumuzid, Dumuzi was a god of fertility. This symbolic union was enacted to bring fertility to the land each spring, ensuring a new year of abundance in crops and herds, and on a less ostentatious scale, for human offspring as well.

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“An ancient Sumerian depiction of the marriage of Inanna and Dumuzid(Source)

As Inanna expanded her domain, so did she acquire more symbols, including the eight-pointed star, aka planet Venus, and the eight-pointed flowery rosette. I like the way Chandra Alexandre describes these two eight-centric symbols in her post titled, “The Eight-Pointed Rosette Star of Inanna,” as “…images that capture both the intensity of a star and the subtle delicacies of a flower,” which “reflect well the Goddess’ paradoxical nature.”

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Inanna was known as the Morning and Evening Star. The eight-pointed star of Ishtar (Inanna), aka planet Venus. The eight points represent “the movements of the planet,” aka the morning star, and it is why the city of Babylon had eight gates. (Source)

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Lapis lazuli was imported into ancient Mesopotamia from Afghanistan, and was prized more than any other precious stone. (Source)

Lions were also a symbol associated with Inanna in relation to her war aspect. Other associations include lapis lazuli, as Inanna wore a necklace made of the precious stone that identified her as a harlot in one myth. Because Inanna represents both feminine and masculine aspects as a goddess of love and war, it is believed that the colors associated with her, “red and carnelian, and the cooler blue and lapis lazuli,” are meant to highlight those aspects.

Love is a battlefield…

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Google “Inanna” or “Ishtar” and this image of the Burney Relief, aka “Queen of the Night,” will pop up. The thing is, it’s in dispute which deity is actually pictured here. The wings, nudity, horned headdress and lions under the figure’s feet make for a strong argument that the “Queen of the Night” is a depiction of Inanna/Ishtar. Further, the bottom of the relief depicts a mountaintop, which is another indicator it might be Inanna, as her home is on a mountaintop “to the east of Mesopotamia.” (Source)

The Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses entry for Inana/Ištar begins with a very fitting introduction to the goddess that emphasizes further Inanna’s paradoxical nature:

“Inana/Ištar is by far the most complex of all Mesopotamian deities, displaying contradictory, even paradoxical traits.” (Source)

With appearances peppered throughout ancient Mesopotamian literature and myth, including in the Epic of Gilgamesh, we really get a feel for the above-mentioned complexity and how it is manifested.

Let’s go back to the Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses entry and zoom in on what those “paradoxical traits” actually are, complete with links:

“In Sumerian poetry, [Inanna] is sometimes portrayed as a coy young girl under patriarchal authority (though at other times as an ambitious goddess seeking to expand her influence, e.g., in the partly fragmentary myth Inana and Enki, and in the myth Inana’s Descent to the Nether World). Her marriage to Dumuzi is arranged without her knowledge, either by her parents or by her brother Utu. Even when given independent agency, she is mindful of boundaries: rather than lying to her mother and sleeping with Dumuzi, she convinces him to propose to her in the proper fashion. These actions are in stark contrast with the portrayal of Inana/Ištar as a femme fatale in the Epic of Gilgameš.” (Source)

I think it helps one work through this paradox to think of Inanna’s love aspect as an umbrella term that covers all the other stuff she is known for, like sex, passion, sensuality, and prostitution, all of which are ultimately tied to fertility as that stand-alone concept I talked about.

Further, this treatment of the concept of fertility helps to explain why Inanna, who would become the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian Ishtar, was never portrayed as a mother goddess. Dr. Jeremy Black explains this combo best while erasing the mother goddess image that usually comes to mind when we talk about a fertility goddess:

“One aspect of [Inanna’s personality] is that of a goddess of love and sexual behaviour, but especially connected with extra-marital sex and – in a way which has not been fully researched – with prostitution.” (Source)

So, Inanna’s sensuality and sexuality are pretty prominent and very much entwined with her agricultural side–that connection is never broken and is almost always alluded to. Oftentimes, even, Inanna’s sexuality is a vehicle for that ever-present connection to be manifested.

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‘Original Sumerian tablet of the Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzid. “Inanna prefers the farmer” terracotta tablet. Here, in this myth, Enkimdu (god of farming) and Dumuzi (god of food and vegetation) tried to win the hand of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Sumerian language. From Nippur (modern Nuffar, Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, Iraq). 1st half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul’ (Source)

For example, in the myth of The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, there is a romantic exchange in which Inanna playfully asks Dumuzi: “Who will plow my vulva?” (Dumuzi says he will, in case you’re worried.)

We’re talking about sex and sensuality here, but the agricultural reference couldn’t be any clearer, right?

Now take for another example the myth of Inanna and the God of Wisdom; our subject is about to go on a, uh, non-sexual mission, one that will alter the Mesopotamian way of life altogether forever. After she puts on her crown and heads out, she stands under an apple tree, and, as Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein notes, ‘”she displays and exults in her “wondrous vulva.”‘

Finkelstein explains the reason for the seemingly out-of-the-blue reference to female genitalia here:

“This description, so straightforward in terms of showing her female power, demonstrates immediately that Inanna has moved into a new phase of her development—she is showing herself as ready to be both queen and sexual woman. Also, in ancient cultures, the vulva was seen as the source of all life; the world itself was sometimes pictured as having emerged from the female birthing canal. And the vulva, as vessel, was sometimes viewed as a container, a boat, an ark, etc.” (Source)

And Inanna’s vulva makes appearances all over the place, including in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Inanna’s sexuality and passion are on full display. In that story, she seduces and propositions the eponymous hero to be her lover, like so: “…stretch out your hand to me, and touch our vulva.”

Quite the far cry from someone whose marriage is arranged without her knowledge, huh? But here’s the thing: though this goddess is, shall we say, generally mercurial, there is a big picture to be seen through her myths, a cycle that explains how in one instance she’s having a marriage arranged without her knowledge and in the next asking a man to touch her vulva.

This idea of a cycle is introduced by Diane Wolkstein in her introduction to Samuel Noah Kramer’s book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer:

‘Here, then, is the Cycle of Inanna. In ‘The Huluppu-Tree;’ she [is presented] to us as a young woman in search of her womanhood. In “Inanna and the God of Wisdom,” she achieves her queenship. In “The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi,” she chooses the shepherd Dumuzi to be her lover, her husband, and the King of Sumer. In “The Descent of Inanna,” Inanna leaves for the under- world and is allowed to return from the Great Below only on the condition that she choose a substitute. In the last section of the cycle, the “Seven Hymns to Inanna,” Inanna is greeted and loved in her many aspects…

…the texts formed one story: the life story of the goddess, from her adolescence to her completed womanhood and “godship.”‘ (Source)

Inanna is a character, a heroine in a series, sometimes even an anti-heroine, fleshed out and having a literary arc.

What’s love got to do with it?

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It is believed the Lady of Uruk (or Mask of Warka) might depict Inanna’s face. If so, that’s quite the death stare, and one Gilgamesh and Dumuzi might have gotten before horrible things befell them. (Source)

So, we’ve established Inanna is a hypersexual being, to say the least, but we also need to put it out there that she was quite passionate for better and worse.

When her amorous proposition to Gilgamesh is rejected with not just a simple no but also a list of her past lovers and how she wronged each one, Inanna’s passion comes into play for the worse. I mean, that rejection enrages her to the point where she lashes out so hard, she causes the death of her brother-in-law, the Bull of Heaven, which eventually also leads to the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s companion. Conversely, in her exchange with Dumuzi, we see love and passion with a dousing of sensuality: better (as long as we ignore Dumuzi’s fate at Inanna’s hand in a later myth, anyway).

The Gilgamesh example supports Mark’s description of at least part of Inanna’s persona (and will come full circle in a bit):

“…a brash, independent young woman; impulsive and yet calculating, kind and careless with others’ feelings or property or even their lives.” (Source)

Now just as important as what Inanna is, is what she is not.

We’ve established she’s not a mother goddess, but also, even as the bride in the Sacred Marriage, and even as a wife to Dumuzi, Inanna is never the model of a wife and neither is her marriage exemplary. In fact, Inanna’s description in The Mesopotamian Pantheon entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia states that she is often depicted as unmarried.

Mark quotes Dr. Black further on this subject in his Inanna entry:

“Inanna is not a goddess of marriage… The so-called Sacred Marriage in which she participates carries no overtones of moral implication for human marriages.” (Source)

Dr. Black goes on: 

“Inanna is always depicted as a young woman, never as mother or faithful wife, who is fully aware of her feminine power and confronts life boldly without fear of how she will be perceived by others, especially by men.” (Source)

Through numerous Sumerian texts we see what Dr. Black means when he also describes Inanna as, “violent and lusting after power.” Two myths in particular, Inanna and the God of Wisdom and Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld, demonstrate Inanna’s hunger for power in every area of her existence, and how far she’s willing to go to obtain it, regardless of what or whom is standing in her way.

In Inanna and the God of Wisdom, our subject sets her sights on the Me, a set of divine decrees that Kramer describes as the “basis of the culture pattern of Sumerian civilization.”

To possess the Me is to possess power, so Inanna sets out from Uruk to Eridu, the home of Enki (the god of wisdom who is sometimes presented as her father, remember), who happens to be the guardian of the Me. After a lavish dinner and some drinking with his guest, a drunk Enki all but hands over the decrees to Inanna who absconds with them back to Uruk. Through this act she has essentially unseated Enki as the god of the most important city in Mesopotamia, thereby raising her status in the Mesopotamian pantheon while simultaneously replacing Eridu with Uruk as the most prominent city in all of Sumer. The myth is symbolic of the shift from one way of life to another in Mesopotamian culture; Mark writes in his Uruk entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia that Uruk was “the embodiment of the new way of life – the city,”; Eridu represented the old, rural way of life.

Alongside this myth explaining Uruk’s rise as the work of the gods, it also showcases Inanna’s hunger for power, this time for the good of the whole. Further, it showcases her manipulative side.

Next, Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World, told in poem form, begins with the following:

“From the great heaven she set her mind on the great below. My mistress abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld. Inana [sic] abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld.” (Source)

In this myth, the goddess is not satisfied with just heaven and earth as her realms of power, so she sets her sights on her older sister Ereshkigal’s domain. Inanna descends to the underworld under the pretense of a sister attending the funeral of her brother-in-law and is met with a lot less hospitality than she was at Eridu. She is, after all, responsible for her brother-in-law’s death at this point, for it was her rage at Gilgamesh’s rejection that led to her summoning the Bull of Heaven, Ereshkigal’s husband.

Ereshkigal is understandably angry with her sister. She kills Inanna and keeps her in the underworld, from whence no one ever returns. And this is awkward, because it is with the help of Enki, the one from whom Inanna stole the Me, that she is able to go back to the land of the living, but only if someone takes her place in the underworld…them’s the rules, as they say.

Driving further the idea that her marriage is far from exemplary (and really making the title of this section come to life), Inanna chooses Dumuzi, her husband (I told you his accepting Inanna’s invitation to plow her vulva would not end well), to replace her in the underworld after finding he is not too torn up about her death.

This myth is telling of just how little thought Inanna gives to how her actions affect others; she attends her brother-in-law’s funeral for whose death she is responsible in an attempt to extend her domain by taking over her sister’s–a widow in mourning–only to use her husband as her replacement in the underworld.

And here you thought your sister was the worst for stealing your favorite sweater!

Roxanne…

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Inanna, goddess of sex. (Source)

Prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia is misunderstood by our modern standards. It’s okay, though, because even the ancient Greeks couldn’t wrap their minds around prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia. In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-425/413 BC) famously visited Babylon and recorded a prostitution practice that pretty much forever tainted the image of the city as a place of excess, and loose morals and women.

Before I go any further, let me say that although there is one other source (Strabo, a Roman whose writings are some 500 years after Herodotus) that backs up this particular Herodotus description, as a general rule it seems scholars either include a disclaimer that he is not a reliable source, or they ignore him altogether. Consider this a disclaimer in which I ask you to take what Herodotus witnessed with the proverbial grain of salt…

Now, it’s important to note that the oldest profession in the world, as we know it to this day, did exist in ancient Mesopotamia – it existed alongside a “sacred version,” known as “Sacred Prostitution.” It is described in this entry at History on the Net as “a religious act of devotion to the goddess rather than as sex per se.”

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Herodotus being all misinterpret-y. (Source)

Let’s now look at what Herodotus wrote:

“Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus [Mylitta], and there consort with a stranger…. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground…. The silver coin maybe of any size….

The woman goes with the first man who throws her money, and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift however great will prevail with her.” (Source)

Sounds like a woman’s status is elevated rather than lost by the act Herodotus described here, therefore, it’s Sacred Prostitution he witnessed and not prostitution-prostitution.

The History on the Net article further explains this practice:

“Sacred prostitution involved temple priestesses of Inanna/Ishtar having ritual sex with male visitors to the temple, again releasing the divine fertile energy.” (Source)

Further, in an article from Ancient Origins titled “The Secret Life of an Ancient Concubine,” Joanna Gillan writes that men belonging to the elite ranks of some Mesopotamian societies, including Babylonia, took up concubines and visited them as prostitutes, helping them fulfill a religious duty. “…men would visit these women as prostitutes, which society not only condoned, but considered an honourable fulfilment of religious duty…,” writes Gillan, pointing out that these women were priestesses with high ranks in society of their own.

So, I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like Herodotus maybe should’ve taken a chill pill.

QUEEN!

Throughout the land, men served alongside women at Inanna’s temples. They served her as priests, servants and sacred prostitutes. Mark writes in his Inanna entry that the reason both genders were employed at Inanna’s temples may have been “to ensure the fertility of the earth and the continued prosperity of the communities.”

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A couple of Gala priests, employees of the temple of Inanna. (Source)

This seems a good point at which to talk about the priests involved in the cult of Inanna/Ishtar, known as gala priests. Gala priests sang lamentations and had homosexual intercourse. In an article titled “Evidence for Trans Lives in Sumer” at NOTCHES, Cheryl Morgan explains that, “A gala is a temple employee whose job it is to sing lamentations…They appear to have spoken a Sumerian dialect called Emesal which was possibly reserved for women.”

But wait, there’s more. In an article at Hornet, titled, “How a Sumerian Goddess Turned Gender on Its Head,” R.S. Benedict writes about the most progressive aspect of Inanna; that based on fragmentary texts, the cult of Inanna performed a ritual involving a gender transformation ceremony. Benedict writes, “…it looks pretty clear that the goddess Inanna oversaw a ceremony referred to as the head-overturning, by which a man was transformed into a woman, and a woman transformed into a man.”

Keep in mind that all of what we’ve discussed so far is the feminine side of Inanna, a goddess often labeled androgynous, though not without controversy, and I recommend you give Cheryl Morgan’s article a read, as she thoroughly puts into perspective how complicated the subject of gender and gender transformation around Inanna and in ancient Mesopotamia truly are, and in how many ways the information we have can be interpreted and misinterpreted.

Nonetheless, let’s now talk about Inanna’s masculine aspect…

She is the warrior…

In his book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, Samuel Noah Kramer writes about a movement in the third millennium BC that helped fuse an established Sumerian pantheon with an Akkadian one:

“During the third millennium B.C., there were periodic attempts to unify the various city-states in Sumer and Akkad; and with the increasing political centralization came a concurrent movement to bring together the many local gods and goddesses into one pantheon.” (Source)

With the help of his daughter Enheduanna (2285-2250 BC) (who would become the world’s first-named author and high priestess of the temple of Inanna at Ur and Uruk), Sargon of Akkad (c. 2234-2279) was able to create such a pantheon. Through her poetry, Enheduanna reinforced Inanna’s image as the feminine goddess that she already was, and gave her her masculine side.

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Enheduanna, high priestess of Inanna and world’s first-named author. (Source)

Joshua J. Mark writes in his Enheduanna entry that the poetess basically took “a local Sumerian deity associated with fertility and vegetation,” and merged her with the “much more violent, volatile and universal Akkadian goddess Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven.”

So it was through Enheduanna’s writings that Inanna acquired her masculine war aspect, the title, “Queen of Heaven,” and the name Ishtar. As a result of these additions, cults dedicated to Inanna grew in popularity, and she herself grew in importance within the new Sumero-Akkadian pantheon.

And the war thing really stuck; one cited source I found mentions that battle itself came to often be known as the “Dance of Inanna.”‘

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“Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands in front of her paying obeisance, c. 2334-2154 BC.” (Source)

Through Enheduanna’s poem Inanna and Ebih, in which the frustrated goddess destroys a mountain against the advice of An, we get our first description of Inanna as an all-out warrior, complete with a shield and weapon:

“Goddess of the fearsome divine powers, clad in terror, riding on the great divine powers, Inana, made complete by the strength of the holy ankar weapon, drenched in blood, rushing around in great battles, with shield resting on the ground (?), covered in storm and flood, great lady Inana, knowing well how to plan conflicts, you destroy mighty lands with arrow and strength and overpower lands.” (Source)

Though she continued to be depicted naked when representing her feminine persona as an agricultural goddess of love and fertility, Inanna donned a suit of armor to represent her masculine aspect of war (see above). To complete the ensemble, she carried a weapon in one hand, and a bow and quiver of arrows slung across her shoulder that pointed out from behind her like rays (of death!). She rode into battle standing atop lions, sometimes sporting a beard to emphasize this masculine side.

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North of the famous Ishtar gate was the processional way, which was decorated with striding lions, and eight-pointed flower rosettes, both symbols of the goddess of love and war, representing both her masculine and feminine aspects, respectively. (Source)

Invoked by kings on the battlefield and off, the new goddess of war became their protector. Writing that Sargon of Akkad claimed Inanna as his “divine protector,” Mark also points to Gwendolyn Leick’s writing on how Inanna helped a king on and off the battlefield: “Sargon of Akkad claimed her support in battle and politics.”

Later, Sargon of Akkad’s grandson Naram-Sin (c. 2254-2218 BC) would also follow suit and invoke her in his inscriptions, referring to her as the “warlike Ištar.” (Source)

I can’t help but credit this important function as protector and advisor to kings as at least half the reason for Inanna’s survival beyond the shift away from goddess worship in Mesopotamian religion.

Girl from Uruk goes to Babylon…

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“A hand of the Goddess Ishtar (Inanna). This is a decorative element of architecture which was used in temples and palaces. It is inscribed with cuneiform inscriptions and was found in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II to commemorate the new foundation of God Ninurta‘s temple at Nimrud, the Assyrian capital. Reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), Nimrud, Mesopotamia, Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq.”  Credit: Osama Shukir Mohammed Amin (Source)

I came across an article recently that delved into the evolution of religion throughout human history. In the article, published in York University’s community newspaper, Dylan Stoll acknowledges the role cuneiform played in helping us piece together the workings of ancient religion. “…cuneiform,” he writes, “…inadvertently permitted modern man to view the ancient world of the Sumerian people through a lens less muddied by the conjecture associated with a lack of written proof.”

To continue with that line of thought that Stoll introduced, cuneiform also showed us the shift in ancient Mesopotamian religion away from Sumerian goddess worship in the 2nd millennium BC.

Mark, in his Inanna entry, clarifies for us how truly ahead of their time Sumerians were when it came to women: “In Sumerian culture women were regarded as equals and even a cursory survey of their pantheon shows a number of significant female deities…” But this didn’t last long, unfortunately, as women lost their status in Mesopotamian society, particularly under the reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC), as did goddesses in the Mesopotamian pantheon.

But not Inanna/Ishtar.

“The fact that the Sumerians could conceive of such a goddess [as Inanna] speaks to their cultural value and understanding of femininity,” Mark writes. And it is precisely that very representation of femininity that I believe is the other half of what saved Inanna from a fate of obscurity. As Hammurabi minimized and eliminated goddesses to replace them with male deities, there was still a need for a representation of femininity and womanhood. It seems no amount of patriarchy can erase the importance of femininity and its power.

She is every woman…

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Just a bunch of Inannas. (Source)

Inanna survived long, far and wide, and went on to become the most recognizable and accessible goddess in the whole of the Mesopotamian pantheon, worshiped and served by both women and men. To this day, women looking to tap into their inner goddess turn to Inanna, marveling at her embodiment of womanhood, and taking cues from her in how to be unapologetically a determined woman, or just simply yourself, regardless of your gender. Never apologize for being yourself, she seems to be telling us women and men alike.

“Inanna made people want to serve her because of who she was,” Mark writes.

And who was Inanna?

Why, every woman, of course.

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Inanna. Ishtar. Every woman. (Source)

Sources & further reading:

Uruk, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruk#Eanna_district

Uruk, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/uruk/

Anu (An) https://www.ancient.eu/Anu/

Eanna, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eanna

Map of Eanna District of Uruk, Sumerian Minor Gods and Goddesses http://www.crystalinks.com/sumergods1.html

Cylinder Seals in Ancient Mesopotamia – Their History and Significance https://www.ancient.eu/article/846/cylinder-seals-in-ancient-mesopotamia—their-hist/

Enki, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/Enki/

Enlil, Wikipedia https://www.ancient.eu/Enlil/

Nanna, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/Nanna/

Ningal, Gateways to Babylon http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/ladies/ladyningal.html

Utu, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/Utu-Shamash/

Utu/Šamaš, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses https://www.ancient.eu/Utu-Shamash/

Ereshkigal, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/Ereshkigal/

Adad, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/ikur/

Knot of Inanna, Symbol Dictionary http://symboldictionary.net/?p=2991

Warka Vase, smarthistory.org https://smarthistory.org/warka-vase/

Sacred Marriage and Sacred Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia https://www.historyonthenet.com/sacred-marriage-and-sacred-prostitution-in-ancient-mesopotamia/

The Eight-Pointed Rosette Star of Inanna, Sharanya.org http://sharanya.org/mandala/the-eight-pointed-rosette-star-of-inanna/

Lapis lazuli, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapis_lazuli

Dumuzi/Tammuz, New World Encyclopedia http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tammuz

Inana and Enki, ETCSL etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi

Epic of Gilgamesh, Classical Literature http://www.ancient-literature.com/other_gilgamesh.html

Epic of Gilgamesh, Archive.org https://archive.org/stream/TheEpicofGilgamesh_201606/eog_djvu.txt

Inanna and the God of Wisdom, Course Hero https://www.coursehero.com/file/27636871/Inanna-and-the-God-of-Wisdomdocx/

Inana/Ištar (goddess), Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses  http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/inanaitar/

Inana’s descent to the Nether World: translation, ETCSL http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr141.htm

Eridu, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/eridu/

Inana and Ebih: translation (“Goddess of the Fearsome Powers”), ETCSL http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr132.htm

The Secret Life of an Ancient Concubine, Ancient Origins https://www.ancient-origins.net/human-origins-religions/secret-life-ancient-concubine-001301?fbclid=IwAR3WMr6TQRhXxVUcZk02eyKfF7cF9dDi9yovKOJyhAPh5Xg3l2G47Q7fTBM

Herodotus and Strabo on Babylonian Temple Prostitution, The Real Samizdat https://therealsamizdat.com/2015/04/07/herodotus-and-strabo-on-babylonian-temple-prostitution/

How a Sumerian Goddess Turned Gender on Its Head, Hornet https://hornet.com/stories/how-a-sumerian-goddess-turned-gender-on-its-head/

Evidence for Trans Lives in Sumer, NOTCHES http://notchesblog.com/2017/05/02/evidence-for-trans-lives-in-sumer/

The evolution and development of religion, Excalibur shttps://excal.on.ca/the-evolution-of-religion/?fbclid=IwAR2o2q1b2XO5secQUYrxDgzO63el-nUhfJwhh8z4PdjNn9MMRzJTUBcpImU

Hammurabi, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/hammurabi/

Naram-Sin, Ancient History Encyclopedia https://www.ancient.eu/Naram-Sin/

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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

kubaba-1

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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The Lives of Scribes in Ancient Mesopotamia

Scribes. Scribing with their reed styli. (Source)

Before writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who could?

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

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

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

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

How could they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did scribes write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Bylines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When a scribe is an author

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

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

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

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

Enheduanna. An author. (Source)

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

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

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

Contemporaries of their own legacy

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

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

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

Sources and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
7 Comments

Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Shaduppum, A City Full of Surprises.

Shaduppum. Ain’t it a beauty?

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

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

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

First Things First

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

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

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

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

 

Accountants aren’t all about numbers!

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

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

The next surprise is actually two surprises in one.

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

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

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

Poor Hammurabi.

Stealing some Greek thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Bros.

Another look at Shaduppum

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

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

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

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

A city of consequence

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

 

Sources and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Babylon, Uncategorized

 

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How Sumerians made sense of the universe

First there was ______, then there was ______, and the universe was created.

It’s a pretty standard and simplified formula of how humans have been trying to explain the elusive origins of our universe and its inhabitants, since the beginning of time. The most well known of such explanations to come out of our favorite place here at All Mesopotamia is the Enûma Eliš (Enuma Elish), a Babylonian creation myth. Its composition date is believed to either be as early as the 18th century BCE, or as late as the 11th century BCE, depending on whom you ask, but it is definitely one of the oldest comprehensive written creation myths.

As is common knowledge, before Babylon was even a thought, Sumerians had the run of Mesopotamia, and they did a lot of organizing while they did. This required making sense of the chaos that was the universe to the people who had to figure out even how to produce their own food.

Who am I? Where am I?

To people vulnerable to every little speck of dust the universe threw their way, our ancestors needed to make sense of what must have been a terrifying existence. Hence, the titular questions of this section that we all might ask if we woke up with pizza stuck to our face, in a strange place. For Sumerians, the universe was that strange place. It was vast and harsh, and especially where they were standing, a hot and flood-plagued spot. They needed a way to explain their surroundings, and their existence within those surroundings.

There is always something there…

Illustration of the Sumerian Creation Myth by Hanna Agosta.

Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art writes in his piece Epic of Creation (Mesopotamia): “…no single myth addressed issues of initial creation. It was simply assumed that the gods existed before the world was formed.”

Though not all Mesopotamian creation myths tell the same story, they all have one thing in common: They all begin with a universal element already in existence, like water or earth or sky, represented by corresponding primeval gods.

The Sumerian Myth webpage says: “Often, the Sumerians wrote as if their civilization (agricultural techniques, cities, classes of people) came first, and people later.” The introduction of a Sumerian story called “The Huluppu Tree,” gives a great example of this:

In the first days when everything needed was brought into being, In the first days when everything needed was properly nourished… (Source)

In another Sumerian text, it is Nammu, the sea, that is the starting point. “[Nammu is] the mother, who gave birth to heaven and earth.” (Source)

But why and how did I end up here?

All Mesopotamian creation myths share one purpose for the creation of humankind, and it’s pretty cut and dry (not to mention depressing): Humans were created by the gods to do the menial jobs they didn’t want to do themselves.

And if you didn’t feel lucky enough as a general peon, you could take delight in knowing you were also created to keep the temples stocked with food and spirits for, you guessed it, the gods. One can understand (albeit grudgingly by yours truly) why scholars often label the Mesopotamian civilization “pessimistic.” The purpose is the same, but the how is where Mesopotamian creation myths differ when it comes to the creation of humankind. Sumerians believed they were fashioned out of clay by Enki, the god of wisdom, and Ninmah, the goddess of birth. (Source)

While in Enuma Elish, humans are created from the blood of a defeated god, Kingu, the second husband of Tiamat (salt water goddess). Regardless of how they came to exist, their existence sounds like a bleak existence, doesn’t it? I believe inventing beer was one way for these poor people to cope with their lot in life, for sure, but as smart as that invention was, there was something even smarter still.

Waxing philosophical

Top bird explains your place in the universe. (Source)

Philosophy is usually associated with the Greeks, but Sumerians also spent time philosophizing. In fact, around the 3rd millennium BC, Sumerians put their philosophical thoughts about humanity’s place in the universe into writing.

The Sumerian Disputations is a series of seven debate topics, or dialogues, between various opposite entities. Though the entities are not always intellectual, their arguments reflect intellectual views of the universe. In Debate Between Bird and Fish, for example, the bird and fish try to more or less one-up each other by pointing out their strengths and, ultimately, their importance in/to the universe, all the while using human standards for measurement, in this case, which of the two pleases Culgi, the son of the chief god Enlil, the most. In this debate, the bird comes out the winner for its sweet song. Another debate is between Winter and Summer, in which Winter wins for being the provider of water, pointed out as an important element for agriculture.

What matters

Sumerians, Babylonians, and every people who questioned their existence since, after, or even before them, have explained the universe in one way or other. Today, we have TV shows and the actual Big Bang theory for those of us who want a scientific explanation for the universe, but even science doesn’t have all the answers. We might forever wonder about our ever present universe, our home, in which we have built and continue to build our purpose and destiny, and maybe that is the point of it all.

 

Sources and further reading:

http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/225/ http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/epic/hd_epic.htm http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/SumerianMyth.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_disputations http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/myths/texts/disputations/birdfish.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debate_between_Summer_and_Winter

 

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The German Connection

The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin is not the only Mesopotamian-German connection.

About the only connection between Germany and Mesopotamia that comes to my mind is the Mesopotamian collection at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. That is where you can go and be awed by the grandeur of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, among other quintessential Mesopotamian artifacts.

But the connection between ancient Mesopotamia and Germany goes back a lot farther and deeper than the products of the German archaeological expeditions of the 19th century. The connection involves the foundation of Germany’s oldest city—the city of Trier.

Legend has it that Trier, Treves in English, was settled in 2000 BC by an Assyrian prince.

Not a fan of his queen stepmother

Trebeta was the name of this Assyrian prince. He is only mentioned in the Gesta Treverorum, a collection of records collected first in the 12th century by monks of the St. Matthias Abbey in Trier. The collection includes legends, one of which happens to be the story of Trebeta.

The river Moselle in Trier. Did Trebeta choose to settle there because the river reminded him of the Tigris? Hmm.

The Gesta Treverorum tells us that Trebeta was the son of the Assyrian king Ninus, who was married to Semiramis. When Semiramis, Trebeta’s stepmother, became queen following his father’s death, Trebeta left Assyria and headed to Europe. He wandered through Europe before he settled on the banks of the Moselle river, where he and a handful colonizers built Trier.

Icon

Painting depicting Trebeta, 1559. (Source)

Information about what made Trebeta so important to the city’s identity is almost nonexistent, at least online, but it is clear that his image became an icon of Trier during the Middle Ages (see above). One explanation for his significance comes from a scholar who questioned the identity of Trebeta as an Assyrian prince, but credited the mysterious figure, nonetheless, with building settlements in other cities across Germany, including Strasbourg and Worms. Another explanation is this webpage I found that details Trebeta’s pedigree and labels him as “1st King of Treves.”

Whether legend or fact, there is a Mesopotamian-German connection that is older than ancient Rome and deeper than items excavated by German archaeologists.

Sources and further reading:

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

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

Gesta Treverorum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gesta_Treverorum

Ninus http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/415796/Ninus

Semiramis http://womenshistory.about.com/od/ancientqueens/a/semiramis.htm

First king of Treves http://fabpedigree.com/s026/f010265.htm

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Assyrian, Uncategorized

 

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