A Recently Destroyed 7th* Century BC Assyrian Statue,  Photo c. 1850

:(  Unfortunately, by now I’m sure most of you have heard the heartbreaking news that this statue and many others at the Mosul Museum fell victim to the deplorable practice of iconoclasm by the Islamic State this week.

This photo is from the mid-19th century excavation of the colossal statues at the Nergal Gate of the ancient city of Nineveh. This statue was one of two winged bull-men (aka lamassu ) that guarded one of several entrances to Nineveh dated to the time of King Sennacherib*. Named for the Mesopotamian god Nergal, the gate was possibly used for ceremonial purposes since it is the only known gate flanked by stone sculptures of winged bull-men, which were believed to be protective deities. 

*Some news sources (e.g. BBC,  and Al Jazeera) are dating these statues to the 9th century BC whereas others say the 7th century BC (e.g. CBS,  ABC). I am not certain which is correct.

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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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The Ishtar Gate And The Animals It Holds

The Ishtar Gate is a part of the fortified walls that surrounded the ancient city of Babylon. The Ishtar Gate was actually the eighth and final gate into the city and served as the city’s main entrance. Pictured is a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate from Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. They were built by King Nebuchadnezzar in 575 BCE as part of his plan to beautify his capital city. Just like any modern-day city beautification project, the Ishtar Gate was just a part of a series of construction projects that included restoration to the Temple of Marduk and the world famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Gate stood as high as 11.5 metres in some places and was decorated all over with glazed brick tile reliefs. The mosaics that these bricks formed depicted creatures of importance to the Mesopotamian world, whether these animals were real or mythical.

Lion

The ‘striding lion’ wall relief in the ROM’s collection is just one example of the many animal mosaics that decorated this palace. On display in the ROM’s Mesopotamia Exhibition, this panel was just one of many that covered the walls of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way. The lion was of particular importance since it was the animal commonly associated with Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war.

Aurochs

Another animal that graced the walls of the Ishtar Gate was the aurochs. This is a now-extinct type of large cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa. As with the lion, the aurochs had an association with a god that made it especially significant to the Mesopotamian world. The aurochs was commonly associated with Adad, the Mesopotamian god of weather and storms, who was commonly seen riding atop a bull.

Sirrush

The third and final creature that could be found on the Ishtar Gate was the mušḫuššu (also known as sirrusu or sirrush), an animal out of Mesopotamian mythology. Just as with creatures like the gryphon or the sphinx, the sirrush was a combination of many different features rolled into one animal. It combined the scaly body of a dragon with feline front paws and eagle’s talons for hind legs. As if this wasn’t intimidating enough, the creature also had a snake’s tongue as well as a horn and crest atop its head.

Interestingly enough, when the sirrush was first seen on the Ishtar Gate in 1902 by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey, he believed it to be the portrayal of a once-real animal. This was due in part to the fact that the depiction of this creature remained consistent throughout many years of Mesopotamian art but more importantly because the sirrush was depicted alongside the aurochs and lions, two existing animals. While it was eventually correctly identified as a mythological creature, it serves as an interesting case of cryptozoological speculation. 

The Processional Way

Through the actual Ishtar Gate was the Processional Way, which was a vast corridor stretching roughly 800 metres long and walls about 15 metres high. The walls of the Processional Way were similarly adorned with glazed tile reliefs of lions, flowers and other decorative elements.

In Dedication

On the Ishtar Gate, there was a dedication plaque attributed to King Nebuchadnezzar II outlining the reasons why he built it:

Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower.

Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted.

I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings.

I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder

I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Marduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.

A Wonder Of The World

One of the coolest things I learned in reading about the Ishtar Gate is that when it was first built, it made the original list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While it was later bumped from its spot by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, it was still recognized as one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring objects in the world at its time. After the gates were replaced on the list by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, there were still some figures (notably Callimachus of Cyrene and Antipater of Sidon) who felt the Ishtar Gate deserved the recognition which had been taken away.

I just find it fascinating that thousands of years ago, in a time before social media and award shows, there were still people arguing over top 10 lists.

More information

Image credits

  1. Marco Marini, “Door n. 2” March 17, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  2. JoeLosFeliz, “Ishtar Gate (detail)” April 29, 2013 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  3. Badly Drawn DadAurochs” via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  4. Allie Caulfield, “Berlin 313 Pergamon Museum, Ischtar Tor, Detail” October 14, 2012 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Post by Chris Miller, ROMKids Studio Assistant. Last updated: September 27, 2013.

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”

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.

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).

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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

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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.

The Manistusu obelisk

"This pyramidal stele bears a long cuneiform inscription in Akkadian.
Erected by Manishtusu (2270-2255 BC), son of Sargon and third king of the
Akkadian dynasty, it is a significant document in legal history. Like
a number of other Mesopotamian monuments, including notably a statue of this same king (Sb 47), in the 12th century BC this obelisk was carried off to Susa among the spoils of war by the Elamite ruler Shutruk-Nahunte”

Read more about this artifact here

[Louvre Museum]

Image Source: CDLI wiki

Information quoted above is found on Louvre Museum website.

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.