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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

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Assyrian, Uncategorized

 

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Feasting in Mesopotamia

Standard of Ur Banquet scene. (Source)

The Greek historian Herodotus said that when the city of Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BC, what King Cyrus and his armies found behind its walls were Babylonians feasting. The Bible says the same about the event, which served to peg the very name of that great city to excessive luxury.

I started with the fall of Babylon, but luxurious feasts and banquets had been a part of Mesopotamian culture from the time of the Sumerians, the ones who started it all.

Why they feasted

We feast today to celebrate all things happy, from weddings to religious holidays. Mesopotamians were no different.

The famous Standard of Ur (pictured above) contains a rather detailed Sumerian banquet scene in which servants bring food and drink to seated figures, one of them higher and larger than the rest, with musicians performing. There are also cattle being led in to be prepared for the feast, which we know is a celebration of a war victory, thanks to an accompanying war scene. (Source)

The amount of detail in the Standard of Ur and other art depicting a feast or a banquet tells us of the significance of these rituals that continued to be important through the centuries.

Another depiction of a feast is found on Assyrian relief from King Ashurbanipal’s palace that dates back to the 6th Century BC. The detail of the “Garden Party” relief is incredibly intricate. It shows King Ashurbanipal (668 – 627 BC) reclining on a chaise-longue with his wife seated next to him as servants bring food and drink and play music, all in celebration of his victory against the Elamite kingdom.

The relief known as “Garden Party,” found at Ashurbanipal’s North Palace at Khorsabad.  (Source)

What makes this feast depiction so special is not only its intricate detailing, but that it also serves as a medium for gloating. Ashurbanipal’s ruthlessness is something that is echoed in most all of his depictions, and in this relief it is manifested in hanging of the defeated Elamite king Teumman’s head hanging from a nearby tree (far left tree, right in Ashurbanipal’s line of sight).

There were other occasions for celebratory feasting by kings in Ancient Mesopotamia, besides war victories and gloating. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883 – 859 BC) held a huge banquet to celebrate the inauguration of his new palace in 879 BC.

But kings weren’t the only ones who feasted. So did ordinary people. For example, Assyrians, presumably the concerned merchants, celebrated the arrival of new trade goods by having feasts in their homes. (Source).

What was on the menu?

When King Ashurnasirpal II celebrated his palace’s inauguration, he spared no expense in feeding his 69,574+ guests:

“1,000 oxen, 1,000 calves, 14,000 sheep, 1,000 lambs, 500 deers, 500 gazelles, 1,000 large birds, 500 geese, 500 cranes, 1,000 mesukku-birds, 1,000 qaribu-birds, 10,000 pigeons, 10,000 turtle doves, 10,000 smaller birds, 10,000 fish, 10,000 akbiru (a small rodent), 10,000 eggs, 10,000 containers of beer, 10,000 goatskins of wine, 10,000 jars of a hot condiment, 1,000 boxes of fresh vegetables, and large quantities of honey, pistachios, roasted grain, pomegranates, dates, cheeses, olives, and all kinds of spices.” (Source)

The guests at this banquet (which was boasted about in an inscription put on a stele) were local as well as foreign dignitaries and workers. The gods were also considered guests at such extravagant banquets, and that meant part of the food was designated for the gods. For the goddess Ishtar alone Ashurnasirpal II designated some 200 heads of cattle.

To drink, Mesopotamians served beer and wine at their feasts. They also performed toasts in honor of their host.

What an Assyrian toast might’ve looked like. (Source)

Here is a description of a scene in which nobles offer a toast to their king:

…the nobles sat at tables of four. In front of them was placed a dish of food as they toasted the king, raising a rhythm (cornucopia-shaped drinking cup) with a base in the shape of a lion´s head.” (Source

Finally, are you wondering just how flavorful a Mesopotamian feast might be? At History Tastes Like This, a blog about recipes from olden times, an attempt at a Mesopotamian Beef Stew recipe is described, and it sounds like a Mesopotamian feast would’ve made your taste buds sing. Maybe you could have yourself a different kind of feast this holiday season.

Bon Appetit!

Sources and further reading:

http://joseph_berrigan.tripod.com/ancientbabylon/id19.html

http://mesopotamia.mrdonn.org/commerce.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_garden_party_relief.aspx

http://chloemiriam.hubpages.com/hub/standard-of-ur

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

http://historytastes.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/ancient-grains-mesopotamia/

http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/myths/texts/life/recreation.htm

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Holidays

 

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How to be Mesopotamian this Halloween

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

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

The Assyrian Crocheter

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

Cool, no?

The Creative Babylonian

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

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

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

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

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

The Luxurious Babylonian

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

Historically accurate traditional Assyrian-Babylonian dress.

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

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

The Dancing Queen

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

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

The Literary High Priestess

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

The Goddess

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

Gown

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

 

The Sophisticated Fashionista

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

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

The Perfectionist

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

Feminine costume ideas.

Assyrian costumes for women.

More Assyrian costumes for women.

Assyrian costumes for men.

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

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

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Art, Holidays

 

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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/

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

 

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Part III: Ashurbanipal!

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

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

He’s Ashurbanipal!

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

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

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

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

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

Ashurbanipal the Nerd

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

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

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

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

The Library of Ashurbanipal

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of Ashurbanipal

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

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

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

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

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

King of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Ashurbanipal Dealt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashurbanipal’s Cruelty

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

We’re talking excessively cruel.

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

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

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

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

The Last of the Great Kings of Assyria

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Assyrian, Kings

 

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Part I: Sargon!

You saw him in the video wearing a helmet, playing bass guitar and grinning at the end with bugs crawling all over his teeth…he is Sargon!

And there were actually two Mesopotamian kings named Sargon, and I will tell you about them both, starting with…

The Akkadian One

Bronze head believed to be that of Sargon of Akkad, aka Sargon the Great. (Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/109/)

The first Sargon is known as Sargon of Akkad, Sargon the Great or Šarru-Kīn (Sharru-Kin).

The dates of his reign seem to be unclear, and most sources I found show it being from 2334 BC to 2279 BC, while others show it as being from 2270 BC to 2215 BC, and that is because different ancient texts can’t agree on the dates of his reign either. Let’s just say this Sargon existed somewhere between 2334 BC and 2215 BC.

Sargon’s beginnings are quite fascinating, and I’m not even going to talk about his daughter, the world’s first known author (I’ll tell you about her in another post soon).

Sarru-Kin is Akkadian for “True King,” and what a king Sargon became after rather humble beginnings, and nothing short of what seems like a series of miracles.

One source that tells us a little bit about the first Sargon is what’s been dubbed as The Sargon Legend, a Sumerian text purported to be his biography. It is incomplete, due to the wear and tear of time, but what it does tell us is, like I said, quite fascinating (as all legends are).

The Sargon Legend tells us that Sargon was an illegitimate baby boy, set adrift down the Euphrates River by his mother, a temple priestess, who apparently had a reed basket (lined with bitumen) and a baby and a river. Sargon’s mom did what any woman in ancient times with that combination of baby, basket and river at her disposal would do when she’s trying to keep that one night with that handsome stranger a secret; she set him adrift like Moses’s mom did, almost like she knew he’d amount to something great without her nurturing.

And whether it’s a legend or not, Sargon did amount to plenty; he became known as the greatest man who ever lived for centuries!

The Sargon Legend relays that while Baby Sargon was on his way down the river, a gardener believed to be from the kingdom of Kish named Akki picked him up and made him his own. Akki raised Sargon to become a gardener, and from gardener, Sargon went on to become cup bearer to Ur-Zababa, the somewhat neurotic king of Kish.

The Sargon Legend goes on to detail exactly how Sargon the drifting baby turned gardener turned cup bearer began his journey toward the throne. It seems that Ur-Zababa’s neurosis manifested itself in his vivid dreams, which involved his cup bearer, Sargon, overthrowing him and becoming king. This dream led Ur-Zababa to devise a plan to murder his cup bearer, but divine intervention by Inanna, the goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, which also happened to be the goddess of the temple Sargon’s mom worked at. Finding he wasn’t good at murder and that the gods favored Sargon, Ur-Zababa decided to make Sargon his messenger and sent him to Uruk with a letter addressed to Uruk’s king, Lugalzagesi. The letter contained instructions to murder its carrier, that is all. Deceitful guy, that Ur-Zababa.

Well, Lugalzagesi wasn’t any better at murder than Ur-Zababa, and Sargon was not only not murdered, but he eventually overthrew Lugalzagesi, became king of Uruk, and also gave Ur-Zababa’s paranoia some weight by overthrowing him too. It was a messy affair that included Lugalzagesi being defeated and brought to the city-state of Nippur wearing a dog collar as is described by an inscription at the city:

“Sargon, the king of Agade, the King of the Land, laid waste the city Uruk, destroyed its wall; fought with the men of Uruk, conquered them; fought with Lugalzaggesi, the king of Uruk, took him prisoner and brought him in a neck stock to [Nippur].” (Source: http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm)

Yeah, that grin in the video says a lot. Sargon the Great went from being a drifting baby, to a gardener, to the king’s cup bearer, to the king’s messenger, to a full-on king- obviously there’s no room for being nice in there.

He also founded and ruled over the Akkadian Empire, the greatest Semitic empire the world had ever known, which included all of southern Mesopotamia and parts of Syria, Anatolia and the kingdom of Elam. He made Akkadian the official language of the empire, and had it standardized and adapted for use with the Cuneiform script. He also built the first city of Babylon and is believed to have also built the capital of his empire, Agade, which has yet to be found.

The Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great, which maintained trade and diplomatic contacts with kingdoms around the Arabian Sea and elsewhere in the Near East. (Source: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/109/)

Now, as impressive as it was, Sargon the Great’s ascension to the throne was not met kindly. The city-states he’d taken over from Lugalzagesi, who had united a large chunk of them into one kingdom, rebelled against Sargon, forcing him to constantly showcase his military might, which he had oodles of. So great was Sargon the Great’s military might that his technique of arming a group of his infantry with bows became the Mesopotamian military tradition, and helped him quash many a rebellion, including those that rose in the latter years of his reign, some of which left him besieged in Agade. Still, his military strength helped him defeat his enemies and keep a tight first over the empire he built and maintained until his death.

When he died, possibly in 2215 BC, revolts broke out throughout Mesopotamia against the Akkadian Empire, but were quashed by his son who reigned for nine years, and then by his other son for fifteen years, followed by his grandson. After the Akkad dynasty, Mesopotamia entered a period known as the dark ages of Mesopotamia that lasted a century and a half.

Despite the resistance he faced during his reign throughout his empire, Sargon the Great still left a legacy of greatness that made him a model for Mesopotamian kings for centuries after his death.

The Assyrian One

The second Sargon is appropriately known as Sargon II and was an Assyrian king—no relation to the previous Sargon. He reigned from 721 BC to 705 BC, and also spent the whole time on the throne fighting.

During the time that Sargon II decided to add Assyrian King to his resume, he was at least 40 years old, and there was total chaos and rebellion in the land. It is unclear whether the chaos in the land was the driving force behind the violent coup he carried out against his brother for the throne, or if it was his own fault for having a violent coup in the first place, but that is the way it is when there is more than one child in the family, isn’t it? You never know who broke that broken thing.

Sargon II chose Sharru-Kenu as his throne name, which translates to “Legitimate King,” or “the king is true,” because, as he explained it, “…the great gods assigned (Sharru-Kenu) to me in order to uphold law and justice, to help the powerless prevail and to protect the weak.”

He portrayed himself as the restorer of order, despite being met with opposition and rebellion from within Assyria and from outside of it. Just a year after taking the throne, Sargon II had to deal with a revolt that included the kingdoms of Hamat, Arpad, Damascus and Israel, leaving him busy while another revolt was brewing in Babylonia to the south. The Babylonian revolt was a success and control of Babylonia was lost for a time, but he was able to get it back in 710 BC and spent three years there just collecting homage and gifts from pretty much everyone, and probably gloating like crazy.

But going back to the revolt that had its hub in Hamat, it was a demonstration of just what kind of guy Sargon II was. In 720 BC he destroyed Hamat and spared the lives of some 6,300 people from the region, dubbed them “guilty Assyrians,” and made them rebuild the city.

That grin, folks. It says a lot.

Now, where Sargon the Great had mad military skills, Sargon II had mad manipulation skills (on top of a mighty military). He also had mounting bills and no cash, so he put his manipulation skills to work.

In 717 BC Sargon II attacked the small but wealthy via-location-on-trade-route kingdom of Carchemish and accused its king of treachery. The king of Carchemish probably knew that Sargon II was not very nice, so even though he knew he was being jerked around, he also knew he was helpless against the Assyrian army, so he had no choice but to just do as Sargon II told him to do, which was to just show him the 60 tons of silver and everything else that made Carchemish especially useful to Assyria.

Now, this huge acquisition of silver was enough to help the Assyrian economy go from being bronze-based to silver-based, so you can add that to Sargon II’s list of accomplishments.

Three years later Sargon II must have run out of cash, because he went on to capture the holy city of Musasir and accused its king of treachery, too. The loot from that manipulation venture garnered more than a ton of gold, with about 10 tons of silver among other riches, mostly collected by the city’s main temple over many centuries. This allowed Sargon II to not only pay the bills, but to also build Dur-Sarruken, a vast palace that eclipsed all those that preceded it in size and quality. It was vast in size and filled with reliefs that included scenes from the conquest of Musasir, as well as the well-known winged bulls that still amaze all who stand before them.

Winged bulls at Sargon II’s palace in Khorsabad, as they were found. You can now see them at the Louvre in Paris. (Source)

Sargon II’s Palace was built in an otherwise sleepy village in 713 BC that eventually became Khorsabad, the largest city in Assyria, complete with a massive irrigation system that sustained the population presiding over an area that measured almost three square kilometers.

Plan of the city of Khorsabad and Sargon II’s Palace. (Source: http://www.arthistory.upenn.edu/spr03/422/April28/422April28.html)

Sargon II’s struggle to keep the Assyrian Empire stretching far and rebellion-free continued until his final military attempt to secure the Tabal region in 705 BC. That rebellion, like that of Babylon’s, was successful, but Sargon II was never able to reclaim it like he did Babylon, as he was killed in battle and his body was lost to the enemy.

It was a catastrophic end to the reign of a king who spent a lot of time and effort keeping something together that just did not want to be together. Sargon’s II’s legacy was one of a powerful empire plagued by unrest and bad fortune for those who ruled it, including Sargon II’s son, Sennacherib, who is believed to have been murdered by one of his own sons.

And that concludes the first part of a four-part series, and next, I will tell you about Hammurabi, the lead singer of The Mesopotamians, and a bit nicer than the two Sargons.

Sources and further reading:

http://history-world.org/sargon_the_great.htm

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

http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm

http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1sargon.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/s/sargon_ii,_king_of_assyria.aspx

http://cornellia.fws1.com/Ancientworlds/sargon.htm

 
4 Comments

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

 

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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

 
6 Comments

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

 

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