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.
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)
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.
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.
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”
Sumerian Electrum Hedgehog, Early 2nd Millennium BC
The symbolic meaning of the hedgehog to Sumerians is a mystery although, they may have shared the same beliefs as the Egyptians who saw the awakening of hedgehogs from hibernation as a symbol of rebirth. In several ancient Egyptian scenes from the Old Kingdom hedgehogs are shown as inhabiting the deserts; by living there, on the edge of the ordered world, they could be seen as triumphing over adversity, and hence as another symbol of continued life.
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).
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.