This ancient clay tablet from Babylonia is inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform and dates to the 20th-17th centuries BC. It mentions King Sargon’s daughter Enhedu'anna as the author of a hymn to the goddess Inanna. The tablet has lines written first by the teacher in the first column, with 2 students repeating the hymn in columns 2 and 3.
Enhedu’anna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BC), founder of the first documented empire in Asia. Enhedu’anna emerges as a genuine creative talent, a poetess as well as a princess, a priestess and a prophetess. She is, in fact, the first named, non-legendary author in history. As such she has found her way into contemporary anthologies, especially of women’s literature.
Detail of a striding lion made from polychrome glazed bricks, one of dozens that decorated the walls of the Processional Street and the royal palaces of Babylon. The relief dates back to the era of king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (605-562 BCE). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.
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.
The revised reconstruction of Tablet V yields text that is nearly twenty lines longer than previously known.
The obverse (columns i-ii) duplicates the Neo-Assyrian fragments which means the Epic tablet can be placed in order and used to fill in the gaps between them. It also shows the recension on Tablet V was in Babylonia, as well as Assyria and that “izzizūma inappatū qišta” is the same phrase that other tablets being with.
The reverse (columns v-vi) duplicates parts of the reverse (columns iv-vi) of the late Babylonian tablet excavated at Uruk that begins with the inscription “Humbāba pâšu īpušma iqabbi izakkara ana Gilgāmeš”.
The most interesting piece of information provided by this new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest:
The aftermath of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s slaying of Humbaba is now better preserved.
The passages are consistent with other versions and confirm what was already known. For example, Enkidu had spent some time with Humbaba in his youth.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu saw ‘monkeys’ as part of the exotic and noisy fauna of the Cedar Forest; this was not mentioned in other versions of the Epic.
Humbaba emerges, not as a barbarian ogre, and but as a foreign ruler entertained with exotic music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest’s guardian, Humbaba.
Head of a Winged Protective Spirit from Room B at the Northwest Palace of Nimrud, the Assyrian Capital. The alabaster wall relief dates back to the era of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE). Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
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.
To the place where those who enter do not depart, to the road whose journey does not end, to the house where those who enter are deprived of light, where dust is their sustenance, clay their food…
Written in Akkadian, this tablet from the famed library of Ashurbanipal, the last Neo-Assyrian king, tells the mythological story of the goddess Ishtar’s descent to the underworld. Upon her arrival, she finds its first gate shut and threatens to break it down until the gatekeeper, acting on the orders of Queen of the Underworld, lets her through. At each of the seven gates of the Underworld, she must shed a layer of clothing or jewelry, leaving her powerless upon her arrival before the Queen. Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility (…and war), was thus trapped in the underworld, and her absence left the world above in suffering and chaos. Eventually, by the agency of gods greater than the Queen of the Underworld, Ishtar is released and her apparel restored to her, and order is restored to the world. (Source)
The work is a beautiful piece of Akkadian poetry with roots in the much earlier Sumerian myth of the Descent of Inanna, the Sumerian name for the goddess of love and fertility.
To hear a recording of the poem in Akkadian alongside one English translation, see here.
“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
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.
A very rare set, made of gold and sedimentary stone beads.
Sumer (map) was the site of the earliest known civilization, located in the southernmost part of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, in the area that later became Babylonia and is now southern Iraq from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.
If a woman hates her husband and has said to him, “You are not my husband”, they will throw her in the river.
Written in cuneiform, this clay tablet records a series of legal terms, phrases, formulae, and some precepts, translated from Sumerian into Akkadian. Scribes may have used this work when learning to draft everyday legal documents, such as contracts and trial records. Although this copy comes from the library of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, the original on which this would have been based probably dates to the second millennium BCE. Such a text may have served to help scribes draft formulaic legal documents and to promote their understanding of Sumerian, a long-dead language by this period of Mesopotamian history. (Source)
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