Ancient Worlds - BBC Two 

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, king of Akkad.

Naram-Sin was the grandson of king Sargon, founder of the Akkadian Dinasty and the first to unify the whole of Mesopotamia in the late 24th century BC. The Sumerian king list states that he reigned for 36 years, between 2254 and 2218 BC.

Naram-Sin was the "King of the Four Quarters", a “living god”, the first Mesopotamian king known to have claimed divinity for himself.. This status was an innovation that is recorded in an inscription that says the deification was at the request of the citizens, possibly because of a series of military victories. Naram-Sin spent most of his years of reign fighting. He pushed back the frontiers of the empire farther than they had ever been, from Ebla in Syria to Susa in Elam, and led his army “where no other king had gone before him.” He also improved administration and increased the religious prominence of Akkad in Babylonian cities.

The large victory stele of Naram-Sin is carved in pink limestone. It celebrates the triumph of the king over a mountain people, the Lullubi. The Akkadian king led his troops over the steep slopes of the enemy territory, mercilessly crushing all resistance. The conqueror’s victory march is coupled with the personal ascension of a sovereign who could now claim equal footing with the gods. Alongside the existing inscription in primitive cuneiform, the king added another one dedicated to his own glory and in which he declares that the stele was carried off after the pillage of the city of Sippar.

The Akkadian sovereign wears a conical helmet with horns (a symbol traditionally the privilege of the gods) and is armed with a large bow and an axe.

Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Mesopotamian Clay Humbaba Demon Mask, Sippar, c. 1800-1600 BC

This type of mask was used for divination. The mask is formed of coiled intestines represented by one continuous line. Such an omen would mean ‘revolution’. A cuneiform inscription on the back of this clay mask suggests that the intestines might be found in the shape of Humbaba’s face in this mask. Humbaba (also called Huwawa in some texts) was a monster who appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh. He was guardian of the Cedar Forest (probably referring to the Lebanon in the late version of the tale) but was defeated by Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

One method for predicting the future in ancient Mesopotamia was the study of the shape and colour of the internal organs of a sacrificed animal. Experts compiled records of these signs or omens together with the events they were believed to predict. The divination expert who made the mask is named in the inscription as Warad-Marduk. It was found at Sippar, the cult center for the sun-god Shamash, who was responsible for omens.

Sippar was an ancient city on the east bank of the Euphrates river, located at the site of modern Tell Abu Habbah, Iraq.

Protective Cover for a Babylonian Sun-God Tablet  

This fired clay cover served as a protective cover for a cuneiform tablet about the sun-god, Šamaš. Found in the temple to Šamaš in Sippar, the cover originally belonged to the Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina, who reigned in the 9th century BCE. When it was rediscovered by the Neo-Babylonian king Nabopolassar, who reigned 200 years later, it was broken, so the king had it replaced but kept alongside the old, damaged one in a box. Just as we value and preserve history today, so too did the Neo-Babylonian kings of the first millennium BCE possess a strong awareness of their past and the need to preserve its relics. (Source)

Neo-Babylonian, 860-850 BCE, Sippar.

British Museum.

Babylonian Map of the World, 5th Century BC

The map is a diagrammatic labeled depiction of the known world from the perspective of Babylonia. The map is incised on a clay tablet, showing Babylon somewhat to the north of its center; the clay tablet is damaged, and also contains a section of cuneiform text. It is dated to the 5th century BC.

It was discovered at Sippar, southern Iraq, 60 miles north of Babylon on the east bank of the Euphrates River, and published in 1899.

Middle Babylonian Boundary Stone with Divine Iconography

This limestone boundary stone (Akkadian kudurru) has inscriptions and carved relief on all four sides, as well as the top.  

On the larger part of one side, several symbols are arranged into four rows that include several examples of divine iconography. In the first row from left to right: the crescent represents the moon god, Sîn; the eight-pointed star (contained within the disc) represents the goddess of love and war, Ištar, in her astral aspect; and the solar disc represents the sun god, Šamaš. Immediately below these are further symbols that sit upon shrines, including a turtle, which symbolized Ea, the god of wisdom, incantations, and magic. 

Written in Akkadian cuneiform, the inscription records the title-deed of an estate formerly belonging to an individual named Arad-Sibitti, but passed through marriage to the family of Buruša, a jewel-worker. (Source 12)

Sippar, Middle Babylonian, 954 BCE.

British Museum.

"Stone tablet of Nabu-apla-iddina, from Sippar, southern Iraq, Babylonian, around 870 BCE. On the top are 13 symbols of the gods designed to protect the legal document. Both the king, wearing the typical Babylonian royal hat and the priest whose hand is raised in salute, have labels on the obverse side to identify them. The stone tablet is a copy of a deed recording the restoration of cerntain lands by the king to a priest of the same name. ANE 90922

British Museum, London, Great Britain

The Babylonian Zodiac

This Late Babylonian tablet from Sippar lists the months and their corresponding signs of the zodiac in Akkadian cuneiform. The twelve-part zodiac has its roots in ancient Mesopotamian astrological and astronomical concepts that developed over the course of the second and first millennia BCE. In this document, the months are equated with specific signs of the zodiac (e.g., month 2 is equated with Pleiades and Taurus; month 12, with Pegasus and Pisces). Many aspects of modern culture, including such basic conventions as the division of the day into 12 hours and the hour into 60 minutes, descend from ancient Babylonian knowledge and practices. (Source)

Late Babylonian, c. 500 BCE.

British Museum.