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Destroyer of Babylon

” … In 691 B.C. Sennacherib again struck a blow for Babylonia, but was unable to depose Mushezib-Merodach. His opportunity came, however, in 689 B.C. Elam had been crippled by raids of the men of Parsua (Persia), and was unable to co-operate with the Chaldaean king of Babylon.

Sennacherib captured the great commercial metropolis, took Mushezib-Merodach prisoner, and dispatched him to Nineveh.

Then he wreaked his vengeance on Babylon.

For several days the Assyrian soldiers looted the houses and temples, and slaughtered the inhabitants without mercy. E-sagila was robbed of its treasures, images of deities were either broken in pieces or sent to Nineveh: the statue of Bel-Merodach was dispatched to Asshur so that he might take his place among the gods who were vassals of Ashur.

“The city and its houses,” Sennacherib recorded, “from foundation to roof, I destroyed them, I demolished them, I burned them with fire; walls, gateways, sacred chapels, and the towers of earth and tiles, I laid them low and cast them into the Arakhtu.”

“So thorough was Sennacherib’s destruction of the city in 689 B.C.,” writes Mr. King, “that after several years of work, Dr. Koldewey concluded that all traces of earlier buildings had been destroyed on that occasion. More recently some remains of earlier strata have been recognized, and contract-tablets have been found which date from the period of the First Dynasty.

Moreover, a number of earlier pot-burials have been unearthed, but a careful examination of the greater part of the ruins has added little to our knowledge of this most famous city before the Neo-Babylonian period.”

[ … ]

Sennacherib’s palace was the most magnificent building of its kind ever erected by an Assyrian emperor. It was lavishly decorated, and its bas-reliefs display native art at its highest pitch of excellence.

The literary remains of the time also give indication of the growth of culture: the inscriptions are distinguished by their prose style. It is evident that men of culture and refinement were numerous in Assyria. The royal library of Kalkhi received many additions during the reign of the destroyer of Babylon.

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Like his father, Sennacherib died a violent death. According to the Babylonian Chronicle he was slain in a revolt by his son “on the twentieth day of Tebet” (680 B.C). The revolt continued from the “20th of Tebet” (early in January) until the 2nd day of Adar (the middle of February). On the 18th of Adar, Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib, was proclaimed king.

Berosus states that Sennacherib was murdered by two of his sons, but Esarhaddon was not one of the conspirators. The Biblical reference is as follows:

“Sennacherib … dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch (?Ashur) his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer (Ashur-shar-etir) his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia (Urartu). And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.”

Ashur-shar-etir appears to have been the claimant to the throne.

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 468-70.

Destruction of Sennacherib

According to Berosus, the Babylonian priestly historian, the camp of Sennacherib was visited in the night by swarms of field mice which ate up the quivers and bows and the (leather) handles of shields. Next morning the army fled.

The Biblical account of the disaster is as follows:

And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went
out, and smote the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and four score
and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning,
behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria
departed, and went and returned and dwelt at Nineveh.

A pestilence may have broken out in the camp, the infection, perhaps, having been carried by field mice. Byron’s imagination was stirred by the vision of the broken army of Assyria.

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars of the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed on the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved–and forever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent–the banners alone–
The lances uplifted–the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Asshur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

Before this disaster occurred Sennacherib had to invade Babylonia again, for the vassal king, Bel-ibni, had allied himself with the Chaldaeans and raised the standard of revolt.

The city of Babylon was besieged and captured, and its unfaithful king deported with a number of nobles to Assyria. Old Merodach Baladan was concerned in the plot and took refuge on the Elamite coast, where the Chaldaeans had formed a colony. He died soon afterwards.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 466-7.

The Assassination of Sargon

Thus “Sargon the Later” entered at length into full possession of the empire of Sargon of Akkad. In Babylonia he posed as an incarnation of his ancient namesake, and had similarly Messianic pretensions which were no doubt inspired by the Babylonian priesthood. Under him Assyria attained its highest degree of splendour.

He recorded proudly not only his great conquests but also his works of public utility: he restored ancient cities, irrigated vast tracts of country, fostered trade, and promoted the industries. Like the pious Pharaohs of Egypt he boasted that he fed the hungry and protected the weak against the strong.

” … Sargon found time during his strenuous career as a conqueror to lay out and build a new city, called Dur-Sharrukin, “the burgh of Sargon,” to the north of Nineveh. It was completed before he undertook the Babylonian campaign. The new palace was occupied in 708 B.C. Previous to that period he had resided principally at Kalkhi, in the restored palace of Ashur-natsir-pal III.

He was a worshipper of many gods. Although he claimed to have restored the supremacy of Ashur “which had come to an end,” he not only adored Ashur but also revived the ancient triad of Anu, Bel, and Ea, and fostered the growth of the immemorial “mother-cult” of Ishtar.

Before he died he appointed one of his sons, Sennacherib, viceroy of the northern portion of the empire. He was either assassinated at a military review or in some frontier war. As much is suggested by the following entry in an eponym list.

Eponymy of Upahhir-belu, prefect of the city of Amedu …

According to the oracle of the Kulummite(s)…. A soldier

(entered) the camp of the king of Assyria (and killed him?), month

Ab, day 12th, Sennacherib (sat on the throne).

The fact that Sennacherib lamented his father’s sins suggests that the old king had in some manner offended the priesthood. Perhaps, like some of the Middle Empire monarchs, he succumbed to the influence of Babylon during the closing years of his life.

It is stated that “he was not buried in his house,” which suggests that the customary religious rites were denied him, and that his lost soul was supposed to be a wanderer which had to eat offal and drink impure water like the ghost of a pauper or a criminal.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 462-4.

The Ten Lost Tribes

” … Shalmaneser died before Samaria was captured, and may have been assassinated. The next Assyrian monarch, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.), was not related to either of his two predecessors. He is referred to by Isaiah, and is the Arkeanos of Ptolemy. He was the Assyrian monarch who deported the “Lost Ten Tribes.”

“In the ninth year of Hoshea” (and the first of Sargon) “the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”

In all, according to Sargon’s record, “27,290 people dwelling in the midst of it (Samaria) I carried off.”

They (the Israelites) left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven (the stars), and served Baal.

And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof….

And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth (Cuthah) made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharites burnt their children in fire to Adram-melech and Anam-melech, the gods of Sepharvaim.

A number of the new settlers were slain by lions, and the king of Assyria ordered that a Samaritan priest should be sent to “teach them the manner of the God of the land.” This man was evidently an orthodox Hebrew, for he taught them “how they should fear the Lord…. So they feared the Lord,” but also “served their own gods … their graven images.”

There is no evidence to suggest that the “Ten Lost Tribes,” “regarding whom so many nonsensical theories have been formed,” were not ultimately absorbed by the peoples among whom they settled between Mesopotamia and the Median Highlands.

The various sections must have soon lost touch with one another. They were not united like the Jews (the people of Judah), who were transported to Babylonia a century and a half later, by a common religious bond, for although a few remained faithful to Abraham’s God, the majority of the Israelites worshipped either the Baal or the Queen of Heaven.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 455-6.

The Enduring, Syncretic Cult of the Great Mother

” … Tashmit, whose name signifies “Obedience,” according to Jastrow, or “Hearing,” according to Sayce, carried the prayers of worshippers to Nebo, her spouse.

As Isis interceded with Osiris, she interceded with Nebo, on behalf of mankind. But this did not signify that she was the least influential of the divine pair. A goddess played many parts: she was at once mother, daughter, and wife of the god; the servant of one god or the “mighty queen of all the gods.”

The Great Mother was, as has been indicated, regarded as the eternal and un-decaying one; the gods passed away, son succeeding father; she alone remained. Thus, too, did Semiramis survive in the popular memory, as the queen-goddess of widespread legends, after kings and gods had been forgotten.

To her was ascribed all the mighty works of other days in the lands where the indigenous peoples first worshipped the Great Mother as Damkina, Nina, Bau, Ishtar, or Tashmit, because the goddess was anciently believed to be the First Cause, the creatrix, the mighty one who invested the ruling god with the powers he possessed–the god who held sway because he was her husband, as did Nergal as the husband of Eresh-ki-gal, queen of Hades.

The multiplication of well-defined goddesses was partly due to the tendency to symbolize the attributes of the Great Mother, and partly due to the development of the great “Lady” in a particular district where she reflected local phenomena and where the political influence achieved by her worshippers emphasized her greatness.

Legends regarding a famous goddess were in time attached to other goddesses, and in Aphrodite and Derceto we appear to have mother deities who absorbed the traditions of more than one local “lady” of river and plain, forest and mountain.

Semiramis, on the other hand, survived as a link between the old world and the new, between the country from which emanated the stream of ancient culture and the regions which received it. As the high priestess of the cult, she became identified with the goddess whose bird name she bore, as Gilgamesh and Etana became identified with the primitive culture-hero or patriarch of the ancient Sumerians, and Sargon became identified with Tammuz.

No doubt the fame of Semiramis was specially emphasized because of her close association, as Queen Sammu-rammat, with the religious innovations which disturbed the land of the god Ashur during the Middle Empire period.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 436-8.

The Legends of Queen Semiramis

The legends of Semiramis indicate that Sammu-rammat was associated like Queen Tiy with the revival of mother worship.

As we have said, she went down to tradition as the daughter of the fish goddess, Derceto. Pliny identified that deity with Atargatis of Hierapolis.

In Babylonia the fish goddess was Nina, a developed form of Damkina, spouse of Ea of Eridu. In the inscription on the Nebo statue, that god is referred to as the “son of Nudimmud” (Ea). Nina was the goddess who gave her name to Nineveh, and it is possible that Nebo may have been regarded as her son during the Semiramis period.

The story of Semiramis’s birth is evidently of great antiquity. It seems to survive throughout Europe in the nursery tale of the “Babes in the Wood.” A striking Indian parallel is afforded by the legend of Shakuntala, which may be first referred to for the purpose of comparative study.

Shakuntala was the daughter of the rishi, Viswamitra, and Menaka, the Apsara (celestial fairy). Menaka gave birth to her child beside the sacred river Malini.

“And she cast the new-born infant on the bank of that river and went away. And beholding the newborn infant lying in that forest destitute of human beings but abounding with lions and tigers, a number of vultures sat around to protect it from harm.”

A sage discovered the child and adopted her. “Because,” he said, “she was surrounded by Shakuntas (birds), therefore hath she been named by me Shakuntala (bird protected).”

Semiramis was similarly deserted at birth by her Celestial mother. She was protected by doves, and her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, is believed to be derived from “Summat“–“dove,” and to signify “the dove goddess loveth her.”

Simmas, the chief of royal shepherds, found the child and adopted her. She was of great beauty like Shakuntala, the maiden of “perfect symmetry,” “sweet smiles,” and “faultless features,” with whom King Dushyanta fell in love and married in Gandharva fashion.

Semiramis became the wife of Onnes, governor of Nineveh, and one of the generals of its alleged founder, King Ninus. She accompanied her husband to Bactria on a military campaign, and is said to have instructed the king how that city should be taken.

Ninus fell in love with Semiramis, and Onnes, who refused to give her up, went and hanged himself. The fair courtesan then became the wife of the king.

The story proceeds that Semiramis exercised so great an influence over the impressionable King Ninus, that she persuaded him to proclaim her Queen of Assyria for five days. She then ascended the throne decked in royal robes. On the first day she gave a great banquet, and on the second thrust Ninus into prison, or had him put to death. In this manner she secured the empire for herself. She reigned for over forty years.

Professor Frazer inclines to the view that the legend is a reminiscence of the custom of appointing a mock king and queen to whom the kingdom was yielded up for five days. Semiramis played the part of the mother goddess, and the priestly king died a violent death in the character of her divine lover.

“The mounds of Semiramis which were pointed out all over Western Asia were said to have been the graves of her lovers whom she buried alive…. This tradition is one of the surest indications of the identity of the mythical Semiramis with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar or Astarte.”

As we have seen, Ishtar and other mother goddesses had many lovers whom they deserted like La Belle Dame sans Merci (pp. 174-175).

As Queen of Assyria, Semiramis was said to have cut roads through mountainous districts and erected many buildings. According to one version of the legend she founded the city of Babylon. Herodotus, however, says in this connection:

“Semiramis held the throne for five generations before the later princess (Nitocris)…. She raised certain embankments, well worthy of inspection, in the plain near Babylon, to control the river (Euphrates), which, till then, used to overflow and flood the whole country round about.”

Lucian, who associates the famous queen with “mighty works in Asia,” states that she was reputed by some to be the builder of the ancient temple of Aphrodite in the Libanus, although others credited it to Cinyras, or Deukalion.

Several Median places bear her name, and according to ancient Armenian tradition she was the founder of Van, which was formerly called “Shamiramagerd.” Strabo tells that unidentified mountains in Western Asia were named after Semiramis.

Indeed, many of the great works in the Tigro-Euphrates valley, not excepting the famous inscription of Darius, were credited to the legendary queen of Babylonia and Assyria. She was the rival in tradition of the famous Sesostris of Egypt as a ruler, builder, and conqueror.

All the military expeditions of Semiramis were attended with success, except her invasion of India. She was supposed to have been defeated in the Punjab. After suffering this disaster she died, or abdicated the throne in favour of her son Ninyas.

The most archaic form of the legend appears to be that she was turned into a dove and took flight to heaven in that form. After her death she was worshipped as a dove goddess like “Our Lady of Trees and Doves” in Cyprus, whose shrine at old Paphos was founded, Herodotus says, by Phoenician colonists from Askalon.

Fish and doves were sacred to Derceto (Attar), who had a mermaid form. “I have beheld”, says Lucian, “the image of Derceto in Phoenicia. A marvellous spectacle it is. One half is a woman, but the part which extends from thighs to feet terminates with the tail of a fish.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 423-6.

The Royal Library of Kalkhi

” … The prominence given to Nebo, the god of Borsippa, during the reign of Adad-nirari IV is highly significant.

He appears in his later character as a god of culture and wisdom, the patron of scribes and artists, and the wise counsellor of the deities. He symbolized the intellectual life of the southern kingdom, which was more closely associated with religious ethics than that of war-loving Assyria.

A great temple was erected to Nebo at Kalkhi, and four statues of him were placed within it, two of which are now in the British Museum. On one of these was cut the inscription, from which we have quoted, lauding the exalted and wise deity and invoking him to protect Adad-nirari and the lady of the palace, Sammu-rammat, and closing with the exhortation, “Whoso cometh in after time, let him trust in Nebo and trust in no other god.”

The priests of Ashur in the city of Asshur must have been as deeply stirred by this religious revolt at Kalkhi as were the priests of Amon when Akhenaton turned his back on Thebes and the national god to worship Aton in his new capital at Tell-el-Amarna.

It would appear that this sudden stream of Babylonian culture had begun to flow into Assyria as early as the reign of Shalmaneser III, and it may be that it was on account of that monarch’s pro-Babylonian tendencies that his nobles and priests revolted against him.

Shalmaneser established at Kalkhi a royal library which was stocked with the literature of the southern kingdom. During the reign of Adad-nirari IV this collection was greatly increased, and subsequent additions were made to it by his successors, and especially Ashur-nirari IV, the last monarch of the Middle Empire.

The inscriptions of Shamshi-Adad, son of Shalmaneser III, have literary qualities which distinguish them from those of his predecessors, and may be accounted for by the influence exercised by Babylonian scholars who migrated northward.

To the reign of Adad-nirari belongs also that important compilation the Synchronistic History of Assyria and Babylonia, which deals with the relations of the two kingdoms and refers to contemporary events and rulers.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 422-3.

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