mesopotamia

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The sickle sword of Assyrian king Adad-nirari I.

Dates to ca. 1307–1275 B.C., northern Mesopotamia, 54.3 cm long, and made of bronze.

This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.).

The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections.

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Artistic reconstructions of Mesopotamia

Babylon

Gate of Ishtar, Babylon

Eridu processional boat of God Enki

Eridu

Mari from above

Palace of Mari

Ur from above

Ur harbor

Uruk, procession at Inanna temple

Uruk from above

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Literature from Mesopotamia: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 6

This Neo-Assyrian tablet preserves parts of the sixth tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this tablet, the goddess of love and war, Ishtar, attempts to seduce Gilgamesh who rejects her. When Ishtar’s father, the god Anu, sends the Bull of Heaven down to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her, Enkidu kills the creature. One of the most significant works of Akkadian literature, the story grapples with the themes of friendship, mortality, and the origins of man. (Source)

Nineveh, 7th century BCE.

British Museum.

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Sumerian Silver Lyre, from Ur, southern Iraq, c. 2600-2400 BC

This lyre was found in the ‘Great Death-Pit’, one of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. The burial in the Great Death-Pit was accompanied by seventy-four bodies - six men and sixty-eight women -laid down in rows on the floor of the pit. Three lyres were piled one on top of another. They were all made from wood which had decayed by the time they were excavated, but two of them, of which this is one, were entirely covered in sheet silver attached by small silver nails. The plaques down the front of the sounding box are made of shell. The silver cow’s head decorating the front has inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. The edges of the sound box have a narrow border of shell and lapis lazuli inlay.

When found, the lyre lay in the soil. The metal was very brittle and the uprights were squashed flat. First it was photographed, and then covered in wax and waxed cloth to hold it together for lifting. The silver on the top and back edge of the sounding box had been destroyed. Some of the silver preserved the impression of matting on which it must have originally lain. Eleven silver tubes acted as the tuning pegs.

Such instruments were probably important parts of rituals at court and temple. There are representations of lyre players and their instruments on cylinder seals, and on the Standard of Ur being played alongside a possible singer.

Weapons and tactics change, but PTSD goes back millennia

“A new study of ancient Assyrian medical texts from Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, shows that Assyrian doctors were diagnosing and treating psychological conditions related to war. One assumption ancient Assyrians made was that the gods allowed dead people’s spirits to punish living people. So warriors who experienced mental trauma were thought to be under attack by the ghosts of people they killed in battle. Today we call this mental trauma from war and other difficult experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, often shortened to PTSD.” - See more here

The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, or Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal who ruled over the Underworld, or the demoness Lilitu, known in the Bible as Lilith. The plaque probably stood in a shrine. 

Old Babylonian era, 1800-1750 BCE, from southern Iraq (place of excavation is unknown), Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).

One of the earliest examples of writing known. And it is used here to record the allocation of beer.

Late Prehistoric (3100- 3000 BCE), and probably from southern Iraq.

Beer was issued as rations for workers, and was the most popular drink in Mesopotamia. The symbol for beer appears 3 times on this particular tablet (note the depicted upright jars with pointed bases).

At this early date, the signs in their grouped boxes are usually read right to left, and top to bottom. 5 differently shaped impressions, representing numerical symbols, are a next to these pictographs. Eventually these signs will become more wedge-like and abstract: ‘cuneiform.' 

Also: look to the bottom left segment of this tablet. Here is the sign for rations, a schematic human head with a bowl tipped towards it.

The historical context, and significance, of this tablet is such an interesting topic, which deserves a far more in-depth discussion than what is given here. I would strongly recommend listening to Neil MacGregor’s episode he did on BBC Radio 4 (part of the series 'A History of the World in 100 Objects’), where he discusses this tablet in relation to the development of writing, and the world’s first cities and states.

Courtesy of & currently located at The British Museum, London: ME 140855. Photo taken by BabelStone.

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Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Uruk - “the mother of all cities”

Uruk was one of the most important cities in ancient Mesopotamia; an ancient city of Sumer -and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river.  According to the Sumerian King List, it was founded by King Enmerkar sometime around 4500 BCE.

Uruk is considered the first true city in the world. It was home to 40.000 or perhaps 50.000 people, a population density unprecedented in human history.

In myth and literature, Uruk was famous as the capital city of Gilgamesh. The great epic poem The Legend of Gilgamesh contains a proud description of his city:

Go up, pace out the walls of Uruk.
Study the foundation terrace and examine the brickwork.
Is not its masonry of kiln - fired brick?
And did not seven masters lay its foundations?
One square mile of city, one square mile of gardens,
One square mile of clay pits, a half square mile of Ishtar’s dwelling,
Three and a half square miles is the measure of Uruk

PART I

Uruk, Iraq

The Oldest Cookbooks in the World“ This tablet includes 25 recipes for stews, 21 are meat stews and 4 are vegetable stews. The recipes list the ingredients and the order in which they should be added, but does not give measures or cooking time - they were clearly meant only for experienced chefs.

YBC 4644 from the Old Babylonian Period, ca. 1750 BC”

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[Mythological Female Figures 1/?]

TIAMAT
Mesopotamian Dragon Goddess of Primordial Chaos and the Sea

In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; she later makes war upon them and is killed by the storm-god Marduk. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body.

Ummu-Hubur [Tiamat], who formed all things,
Hath made in addition weapons invincible;
she hath spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang.
With poison, instead of blood, she hath filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she hath clothed with terror,
With splendor she hath decked them; she hath made them of lofty stature.
Whoever beholdeth them is overcome by terror,
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She hath set up vipers, and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,
And hurricanes and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,
And mighty tempests, and fish-men and rams;
They bear cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Sumerian headdress, made of gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and dates to ca. 2600–2500 B.C.

Kings and nobles became increasingly powerful and independent of temple authority during the course of the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), although the success of a king’s reign was considered to depend on support from the gods. A striking measure of royal wealth was the cemetery in the city of Ur, in which sixteen royal tombs were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s by Sir Leonard Woolley. These tombs consisted of a vaulted burial chamber for the king or queen, an adjoining pit in which as many as seventy-four attendants were buried, and a ramp leading into the grave from the ground.

This delicate chaplet of gold leaves separated by lapis lazuli and carnelian beads adorned the forehead of one of the female attendants in the so-called King’s Grave. In addition, the entombed attendants wore necklaces of gold and lapis lazuli, gold hair ribbons, and silver hair rings. Since gold, silver, lapis, and carnelian are not found in Mesopotamia, the presence of these rich adornments in the royal tomb attests to the wealth of the Early Dynastic kings as well as to the existence of a complex system of trade that extended far beyond the Mesopotamian River valley. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections33.35.3.