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Tag: Fort Shalmaneser

Kvanvig: Earthly Counterparts of the Divine Watchers

“It is important to notice that the connection between the ummanus and the apkallus was not only imagined as a line of transmission, running from antediluvian time through history. The connection was not only horizontal, but also vertical.

When the ummanus participated in the “mouth washing” ritual of the divine statue, they acted on behalf of the apkallus, as we have seen it in the Poem of Erra. This implies that the apkallus were not only great figures of wisdom in the past; they were powerful transcendent forces in the present.

The maintenance of the divine statue was a necessary prerequisite for the upholding of the power of the king and the survival of the empire. In this role the earthly ummanus are called “the images” of the apkallus belonging to the divine realm; they are the representatives of these transcendent forces on earth.

We find the same imagination of the apkallus as acting transcendent forces in rituals directed against demons. This is evident both in the ritual texts themselves and in the practice accompanying them. In the rituals the apkallus were invoked to expel the demons.

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

In the dedication of palaces and houses figurines of the apkallus were deposited in the foundation to protect the house against demonic attack. When a person became ill, representations of the apkallus were placed in the room to signify their active presence in the ritual to dispel the evil.

Their presence is even carved into an Assyrian bronze tablet, which shows the sick man lying on his bed with his hand raised toward heaven and the demon Lamaštu lurking just under his bed, the bed is surrounded not by āšipū; what these in reality represented were the apkallus.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration above, held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205.

This is the actual bronze frieze of the illustration held in the collection of the Louvre as AO 22205. The Lessing imprint covers much of the middle register where the sick man is portrayed with his arm raised to heaven. In the left corner is the lamp of Nusku, illuminating the proceedings. Puradu-fish apkallu are at both ends of the bed conducting the ritual. The creatures of the Mesopotamian pandemonium on the right half of the register have apotropaic functions, banishing the demons of evil, which were considered the cause of illness. 

Also, this side of the belief in apkallus had political consequences. When the king had protected his palaces through proper rituals and deposed the figurines of the apkallus, he could make large images of them at the entrances and in the halls to tell both demons and enemies, that his kingdom was protected from any evil.

This combination of the apkallus as messengers from the gods, revealing the insight of heaven and earth to humans in antediluvian time, and guardians of the cosmic order, the political order, and the life and health of individuals, may seem difficult to combine.

But as we have underscored many times, there is a clear interconnection. For the ummanus, insight into the divine secrets was necessary in order to fulfill their role as watchers, both communicating with the gods and using magic to fight demons. In both cases the wisdom was revealed from the gods and written down in compositions.

Those who revealed this knowledge once in antediluvian time were the apkallus; those who were ultimately, invisibly present when this knowledge was practiced were the apkallus. But of course, those who visibly and actually had this role on the earth were the ummanus. In relation to the king they should watch his life and empire as the earthly counterparts of the watchers in the divine realm.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 155-6.

Kvanvig: The Apkallus as Protective Spirits

“The apkallus are especially known from two incantation rituals: the one is Bīt Mēseri, as already stated; the other is called: šēp lemutti ina bit amēli parāsu, “to block the foot of evil into a man’s house” (KAR 298).

The two incantation series have a different scope. Bīt Mēseri prescribes the procedures to be performed when someone is ill, i.e. has come under demonic attack. Šēp Lemutti (“The Foot of Evil”) describes the procedures to be performed when a house should be protected from demonic attack. Consequently the rituals described have some common denominators, but also clear differences.

The rituals describe in great detail how figurines should be made of the seven apkallus. These figurines should then be addressed in an invocation to make them represent the apkallus themselves. In the case of Bīt Mēseri, where an ill person is concerned, the figurines should be arranged in the ill person’s room, close to his bed; in the case of Šēp Lemutti the figurines should be deposited in the foundation of the house.

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112). (From Nakamura).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112). (From Nakamura).

We are here at a point where textual and archeological evidence support one another. An abundance of such small figurines are found in boxes buried in the foundations of houses and palaces from the Neo-Assyrian and the Neo-Babylonian period.

Nakamura: "By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order."

Nakamura: “By burying figurines of powerful beings, the āšipu preserves an expressed belief in a present reality of supernatural power, mythological origin and divine order.”

Because of the detailed description of their appearance in the rituals, it is not difficult to identify the excavated figurines as the same entities described in the rituals. The excavated figurines are representations of the seven apkallus.

(Cf. F.A.M. Wiggermann, “Mischwesen A,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (RLA) 8, Berlin, 1993-7, pp. 222-25, 222, 224.)

Moreover, having identified the small figurines, it is also possible to identify many of the large reliefs that flanked the entrances to the palaces of the Neo-Assyrian kings. Here the small figurines were blown up in large scale representations of figures with the same appearance as the small figurines, corresponding to the descriptions in the rituals.

(Cf. For a detailed examination of the evidence, Dieter Kolbe, Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Characters in neu-assyrischen Palästen, EH, Reihe 38, Frankfurt am Main, 1981, III-VII, 14-30.)

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.  The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.  The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.  The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

The three types of apkallū are portrayed, with the human ummânū at far left, the Nisroc bird-apkallū type in the middle, and the antediluvian purādu-fish type at far right.
The human ummânū is attested in the Uruk List of Kings and Sages, while other references to bird-apkallū are legion, as documented in Wiggermann and other authorities.
The purādu-fish apkallū is principally attested in Berossus, though other authorities confirm them, as well.
The anthropomorphic qualities of the purādu-fish and the Nisroc apkallu remain unexplained, though the eagle is sacred to Enki / Ea.

There are three kinds of apkallus: fish-apkallus, bird-apkallus, and human apkallus. The fish-apkallu is represented as a fish-garbed figure, with a human body and a carp cloak (cf. the description in Berossos).

The bird-apkallu is represented as a griffin; he has a human body, wings and a bird’s head.

A bas relief in the Louvre.  In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.  This bas relief is in the Louvre.  Primary publicationNimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f) Collection	Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France  Museum no.	Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849  Accession no.	1903-10-10, 0002 (b) Provenience	Kalhu (mod. Nimrud) Period	Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

A bas relief in the Louvre.
In this case the bird-apkallū tends to a sacred tree. Considering the mullilu in his right hand and the banduddu in his left, (tree cone and water bucket), he is engaged in a water ritual intended to sanctify the sacred tree. This is a common motif in Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian idols.
This bas relief is in the Louvre.
Primary publication Nimrud NW Palace I-24 = RIMA 2.0.101.023, ex. 189 (f)
Collection Nimrud, Iraq (a); British Museum, London, UK (b); Louvre Museum, Paris, France (c); Nimrud, Iraq (d); Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA (e); British Museum, London, UK; Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Museum no. Nimrud fragment no. 42 (a); BM 098061 (b); AO 22198 (c); Nimrud fragment no. 43 and 45 (d); DIA 47.181 (e) (photo: DIA); AO 19849
Accession no. 1903-10-10, 0002 (b)
Provenience Kalhu (mod. Nimrud)
Period Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)

(Cf. Anthony Green, “Mischwesen B,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (RLA)  8, Berlin, 1993-7, pp. 246-64, 252; Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq 45, 1983, pp. 87-96.)

The representation of the human apkallu is more uncertain. A. Green suggests that these apkallus were imagined as genii, figures with human bodies and wings, holding a bucket in the one hand and a cone in the other.

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left. This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent. This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns. As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis. From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.  Louvre, AO 19845

Now compare this Nimrud bas relief from the Louvre: an ummânū sprinkles water with a mullilu cone in his right hand, holding his banduddu bucket in his left.
This ummânū wears bracelets with a concentric circular design, and rosettes are not apparent.
This ummânū also wears the common horned headdress of Anu, but with three stacked layers of horns.
As noted elsewhere, this headdress is surmounted by an object that resembles a partial fleur de lis.
From Nimrud, capital of king Ashurnarzipal.
Louvre, AO 19845

Figures of fish-apkallus and bird-apkallus are found in Babylonian Ur and in several of the major Assyrian cities, Nimrud, Aššur and Nineveh. They are found in royal palaces and in houses assumed to belong to the guild of the āšipū, “exorcists.”

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.<br /> A fish's head can be seen on the Apkallu's head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.<br /> It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.<br /> Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.<br /> From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).<br /> Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)<br /> http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

This depiction of a fish-apkallū of the purādu-fish type guarded the entrance to the temple of Ninurta at Nimrud.
A fish’s head can be seen on the Apkallu’s head, and its skin hangs down over the back of his body.
It is important to recall that the so-called Seven Sages of Sumeria were apkallū of this type.
Neo-Assyrian era, 865-860 BCE.
From the Temple of Ninurta, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu; Biblical Calah), northern Mesopotamia, Iraq. (The British Museum, London).
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP (Glasg)
http://www.ancient.eu/image/2708/

(Cf. Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom 13.-6. Jh. v. Chr., MVS. München, 1977, pp. 70-85, and pictures 20-31.)

The apkallus were, as stated, not only manufactured as prophylactic figurines. It is possible to find them in numerous examples of monumental art in Assyrian palaces. The fish-apkallu is also found in Persian Persagadae, placed at the entrance to the Audience Hall.

(Cf. Trudy S. Kawami, “A Possible Source for the Sculptures of the Audience Hall, Pasargadae,” Iran 10, 1972, pp. 146-8.)

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.  Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.  In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.  As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.  Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

In this bas relief from Nimrud, human apkallū, the ummánū, kneel and tend to a sacred tree.
Both ummânū wear horned tiaras and display rosette bracelets on their wrists. Bracelets are also apparent on their upper arms.
In the lower register, bird-apkallū raise mulillu cones to sprinkle water in a gesture of exorcism and liberation of sin.
As is typical, the banduddu buckets are in their left hands.
Interestingly in this case, the bracelets of the bird-apkallū are atypical. No rosettes are apparent.

In the Assyrian palaces the apkallus are guarding the sacred tree, the king, and deities. Thus the apkallus were not only invisible present in rituals (sic); they were manufactured as figures and represented in impressive monumental art.”

Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 129-31.

Carolyn Nakamura on the Figurines

Mastering Matters: Magical Sense and Apoptropaic Figurine Worlds of Neo-Assyria

Introduction: Magical Figures from the Past

“When contemplating certain deposits unearthed during the excavations at Nimrud in the 1950s, Max Mallowan remarked, “this magical practice had an immensely long survival, as witness the nursery rhyme:

Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head,
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.” (1966:226)

Mallowan’s commentary, rather typical of his time, concerned the discovery of numerous brick boxes encasing figurines made of sun-dried clay, found buried underneath the corners, thresholds, and central spaces of room floors, possibly where a bed once stood.

Excavations during the late 1800s to mid 1900s located such deposits in residences, palaces, and temples at important political and religious capitals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, including Nimrud, Assur, Nineveh, Khorsabad and at Ur in Babylonia under Assyrian rule; they first appeared during the reign of Shalmaneser III and generally persisted up through the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun (ca. 858–612 B.C.).

One can imagine an excavator’s delight in finding such deposits, and there was apparently considerable competition and excitement surrounding their discovery and unveiling (Oates and Oates 2001:253–254).

But, locating such boxes did not always promise the discovery of figurines. Numerous “empty” brick boxes contained nothing more than a thick layer of sandy material, possibly remnants of decomposed organic matter such as wood or food.

Deposits from Ur contained offerings of animal bones, remnants of grain and a pottery sherd along with the clay figures (Woolley 1926:692). And at Assur, some of the buried boxes entombed miniature bronze weapons (Rittig 1977).

But perhaps the most curious finds were the figurines of “warrior” men, mythological fish- and bird-apkallū sages, human-beast hybrids, horned snakes, and other fantastical beings (Figure 2.1).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Apotropaic figurine deposit found in room S57 of Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud. Adapted from Curtis and Read (1995:112).

Generally, such deposits comprised one, two, or seven figurines standing “at attention” in boxes facing in toward the center of the room.

These deposits, not simply buried but concealed and contained, amounted to the discovery within a discovery, the revelation of an ancient secret or desire that had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Other archaeological findings, however, had already anticipated these discoveries: ancient texts preserved instructions for an apotropaic ritual involving the burial of clay and wood figurines under room floors quite in the manner described above (Gurney 1935; Smith 1926; Wiggermann 1992).

The name of one text explicitly pronounced its purpose: šēp lemutti ina bīt amēli parāsu, “to block the entry of the enemy in someone’s house” (Wiggermann 1992:1); and the first twenty lines named the “enemy” to be almost any evil imaginable, from spirits, gods, and ancestors to disease, misfortune, Fate, and Death.

The text guided a priest-exorcist through a choreography of very specific and often protracted ceremonies involving various objects, gestures, substances, and locations, leading up to the final installation of the magically protective figures entombed underground.

Notably, another related text fragment, KAR 298, specifically detailed the making, function, character, number, and placement of the figurines (Smith 1926). The archaeological evidence proved to be remarkably consistent with these texts in terms of form and details of surface treatment, and to some extent, position and grouping of the figures.

So the Neo-Assyrians themselves revealed the secret of the figurine deposits: they were magically powerful deposits that protected the individual and his house from sickness and evil. The protective figures served to “watch,” “pray,” and “bear souls away,” as it were.”

Carolyn Nakamura, “Mastering matters: magical sense and apotropaic figurine worlds of Neo-Assyria,” Archaeologies of materiality (2005): 18-19.

Green Defines Numerous Figures

“After the lahmu, the text goes on to prescribe a type whose name is lost in the break but which is to be inscribed “Go out death, come in life!” Rittig has already pointed out, on the basis of figurines from Aššur, that this is the creature called in modern literature the “bull-man.” (F.A.M. Wiggermann has suggested to me the possible Akkadian name kusarikku; … Reade, BaM 10 (1979), 40).

ND 4114. Sun-dried clay figurine of "bull-man" type discovered together with a "spearman" in a foundation box at the W. jamb of the S.E. doorway of court 18 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Plate XIVa.

ND 4114. Sun-dried clay figurine of “bull-man” type discovered together with a “spearman” in a foundation box at the W. jamb of the S.E. doorway of court 18 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Plate XIVa.

Plate XIVa shows a Burnt Palace example, with obvious taurine hindquarters, and Plate XIIId a rather different type from Fort Shalmaneser, broken but still with fairly clear bull’s legs; the latter was probably inscribed in the same fashion as the Aššur examples and as ritually prescribed.

ND 9523 (IM 65138), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIIId. Sun-dried clay figurine of "bull-man" type, discovered in a foundation box on the E. side of the N.E. courtyard, at the N. jamb of the doorway leading to room NE 21, Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Cf. D. Oates, Iraq 23 (1961), 14.

ND 9523 (IM 65138), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIIId.
Sun-dried clay figurine of “bull-man” type, discovered in a foundation box on the E. side of the N.E. courtyard, at the N. jamb of the doorway leading to room NE 21, Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Cf. D. Oates, Iraq 23 (1961), 14.

The being is apparently unknown in extant Assyrian monumental sculpture, but can be seen at Pasargadae with the fish-apkallū (Plate XIVc, placed second from the bottom for reasons of formatting), perhaps copied from an Assyrian or Babylonian original; the discovery of the fish-cloaked figure and a “bull-man” together on reliefs at Nineveh is referred to in a letter of Rassam to Rawlinson (quoted by Barnett, SNPAN, 42).

A type superficially resembling the “bull-man” but with some important iconographic distinctions and a different inscription is the figure of Plate XIIIc.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed human creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Plate XIIIc.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed human creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Plate XIIIc.

The legs end in bird talons, and on the reverse (Plate XIVb) a curving ridge, formed by pressing the wet clay between the thumb and forefinger, would appear to represent a twisting scorpion-tail.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Reverse of Plate XIIIc. This image is Plate XIVb.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Reverse of Plate XIIIc. This image is Plate XIVb.

The type would seem, therefore, to be analogous to a scorpion-tailed figure on an Assyrian relief who has the hindquarters and claws of a bird. This creature has been identified as the girtablīlu, “Scorpion-man;” but the inscription on the Nimrud figure may possibly correspond to that prescribed in the ritual for the type immediately after the bull-legged being, while for the girtablīlu no inscription is ordained. Unfortunately the Akkadian name is again lost.

After figures of snakes, whose identification is obvious enough, the ritual mentions figurines of the well-known mušhuššu, which is surely represented by the creature of Plate XIVd, regarded by the excavators as a dog.

ND 8194 (MMA 59.107.27). Sun-dried clay figurine of a mušhuššu, discovered in the same foundation box as the figure of Plate XIa. Previously published: D. Oates, Iraq 21 (1959), Mallowan, N&R II. Double-catalogued by Rittig. Plate XIVd.

ND 8194 (MMA 59.107.27). Sun-dried clay figurine of a mušhuššu, discovered in the same foundation box as the figure of Plate XIa. Previously published: D. Oates, Iraq 21 (1959), Mallowan, N&R II. Double-catalogued by Rittig. Plate XIVd.

The following prescriptions are for figures of the suhurmaššu, “Goat-fish” and kulīlu, “Fish-man,” rare types which do not occur at Nimrud, and are illustrated here by examples probably from Aššur, Plate XV. Their identities are indicated by comparison of the prescribed legends with actual inscriptions.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.  Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.
Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

A little later in the ritual appears the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” who has already been identified directly from the inscription on a bas-relief; it is the creature called in modern literature a “lion-centaur.”

After the urmahlīlu, the ritual prescribes clay figures of dogs, an actual set of which, inscribed and colored in close conformity to the prescription, was discovered by Loftus in a rectangular niche at the base of a sculptured doorway slab in the North Palace at Nineveh.

Relief at Pasargadae, in situ. Palace S. photograph by Dr. M.R. Edwards, Plate XIVc. Limestone relief at one jamb of a doorway of Palace S. at Pasargadae. Achaemenid period. Previously published: D. Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford 1978), Pl. 59.

Relief at Pasargadae, in situ. Palace S. photograph by Dr. M.R. Edwards, Plate XIVc.
Limestone relief at one jamb of a doorway of Palace S. at Pasargadae. Achaemenid period. Previously published: D. Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford 1978), Pl. 59.

Such clay dogs appear not to occur among the Nimrud figures, although seven copper or bronze examples, of differing breeds, sitting and standing, were found in the North-West Palace (Plate XIVe). These metal models have also been considered apotropaic, although there is no absolute proof, and the Nimrud examples were found out of context at the bottom of a well.

ND 3209. Copper or bronze figurine of a dog, discovered with six others down a well at the S. end of room NN of the N.W. Palace at Nimrud. Left ear chipped, and tip of tail broken in antiquity. Previously unpublished: see J.E. Curtis, Dissertation, II; Cf. also Mallowan, ILN 1952; Iraq 15 (1953); N&R I, 103. Plate XIVe.

ND 3209. Copper or bronze figurine of a dog, discovered with six others down a well at the S. end of room NN of the N.W. Palace at Nimrud. Left ear chipped, and tip of tail broken in antiquity. Previously unpublished: see J.E. Curtis, Dissertation, II; Cf. also Mallowan, ILN 1952; Iraq 15 (1953); N&R I, 103. Plate XIVe.

It does seem possible, therefore, to identify a number of the creatures of Assyrian religious art on the basis of these figurines and their rituals, and to this process the Nimrud figurines, while they do not show the same typological diversity as those from Aššur, are able to make a number of significant contributions.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 92-4.

Figurines Excavated from the Burnt Palace and Fort Shalmaneser

The most expansive text prescribing the types of figurines is the Aššur ritual KAR, no. 298. After defining the purpose of the ritual as to avert evil from the house, the text begins to prescribe the types of figures to be fashioned and buried at set locations.

BM 124573, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. Plate Xa.  This fish apkallū appears to have his right hand raised in the gesture of blessing with the mullilu cone, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand.

BM 124573, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum. Plate Xa.
This fish apkallū appears to have his right hand raised in the gesture of blessing with the mullilu cone, with the banduddu bucket in his left hand.

It begins with a long passage prescribing wooden figures of seven apkallē “Sages,” from seven Babylonian cities. No such actual figurines appear to exist, nor should we expect any if the prescription were faithfully followed, since timber figurines would have perished.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb. The figure is too worn to discern what is held in the right hand, while the left hand holds what appears to be a banduddu bucket.

A bird-apkallū of the Nisroc kind, plate IXb. The figure is too worn to discern what is held in the right hand, while the left hand holds what appears to be a banduddu bucket.

The next passage, however, prescribes apkallū figures with the faces and wings of birds. These are the bird-headed figures (Plate IXb), found appropriately in groups of seven. As well as in the Burnt Palace, a group of such figures was found in Fort Shalmaneser in a late seventh-century context; the excavator believed that the figures were redeposited ninth-century pieces, but they are rather different in style (ND 9518, figures in the round rather than flat-backed plaques) and may in fact date closer to the period suggested by their findspot.

Fish-Apkallū figure, Plate Xb. ND 4118, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie.

Fish-Apkallū figure, Plate Xb. ND 4118, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie.

A group of figures of the same type was found by George Smith in the so-called “S.E. Palace,” perhaps a part of the same building as Palace “AB;” the pieces are close in style to the Burnt Palace examples and may date to the late ninth century.

ND 4123 (IM 59291), Plate Xc, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq. Photograph: David A. Loggie.

ND 4123 (IM 59291), Plate Xc, courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq. Photograph: David A. Loggie.

The ritual goes on to prescribe a set of seven figures of the apkallē cloaked in the skin of a fish. This type is represented by septenary groups of fish-garbed human figures which vary somewhat from deposit to deposit.

The usual type from the Burnt Palace, thin and fairly flat, sometimes has a fish-head and, on the reverse, a dorsal fin (Plate Xb), but often has no very obvious fish elements, so that the pieces must be identified  from others in the same deposit or by comparison with those in other deposits.

Also from the Burnt Palace come some more obvious human-piscine figures of heavy solid clay (Plate Xc). Six examples of this subtype were found, together with a seventh, “leader” (?), figure of the same being but of a very different style: a tall but flat fish-garbed man, the scales and tail indicated on the back by incised cross-hatching and diagonal lines.

ND 7903B. Courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate Xd.

ND 7903B. Courtesy of the British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate Xd.

Over thirty figurines and metal figurine accoutrements were found not buried in boxes but loose in the fill of one of the so-called “barracks-rooms” of Fort Shalmaneser. They would seem to be remnants from disturbed deposits, but evidently reused, since the fish-cloaked figures, of incongruous styles, were nevertheless seven in number.

It is possible, therefore, that the room was a kind of sick-bay, decked out with these prophylactic images. Plate Xd shows one of the types found, rather crudely made but with the line of the fish-cloak evident enough.

It is interesting to note, in this context, that when one of the legs is exposed and set forward on figurines of this type, it is the left one, perhaps foreshadowing an Islamic custom of entering a holy place with the right foot first, but the haunts of the jinn leading with the left.

The fish-cloaked figure is known in Mesopotamian art from the Kassite period, and despite a dearth of extant sculpture was not an uncommon figure in the Neo-Assyrian palace or temple (Plate Xa).”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 88-90.

From Anthony Green, Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures, 1983

“From Assyria and Babylonia in the first half of the first millennium BCE comes a series of small figurines in the round and relief plaques, which are usually found beneath the floors of buildings within receptacles of baked or unbaked brick or (at Nineveh) stone slabs or (so far restricted to Aššur) pottery jars; the figurines themselves are almost invariably of sun-dried clay, very occasionally, perhaps, of terracotta or metal.

(Note 1: E. Douglas Van Buren, Foundation Figurines and Offerings (Berlin, 1931) [henceforth referred to as FFO] is now outdated on this subject. For a synthesis of material mainly from published sources up to 1973, see Dessa Rittig, Assyrisch-babylonische Kleinplastik magischer Bedeutung vom. 13.-6. Fh v. Chr. (München, 1977) [henceforth Rittig]. The Nimrud corpus remains for the most part unpublished. A certain amount of new material, including Nimrud figurines, will appear in R.S. Ellis, Domestic Spirits: Apotropaic Figurines in Mesopotamian Buildings (Philadelphia, forthcoming)).

Their purpose, as texts prescribing the rituals involved attest, was to avert evil from the buildings and sickness from the inhabitants.

The British School’s Nimrud complement comprises at least 136 relevant pieces from 66 separate deposits discovered in three buildings: the Burnt Palace, the Acropolis Palace (AB) and Fort Shalmaneser, and dating possibly from the reign of Shalmaneser III (?) or, at least, Adad-nirari III down to the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 613 BCE.

In this paper I shall deal with just one, but perhaps the most important, area on which the series sheds light, namely the question of the identification of the creatures represented by the various iconographic types. It can hardly be denied that the study of apotropaic figurines is of somewhat limited importance in itself. Where it succeeds is rather in the light which it throws upon matters of more general and basic interest.

It is vital here to recognize the official nature of the ritual and practice, and the consequent position of the iconography of the figurines in the official religion of the Assyrian state. And while there are no apparent documentary sources directly concerning, for example, the subjects of the apotropaic palace reliefs, there are texts ordaining procedures for apotropaic rituals involving figurines, which often enable identifications of analogous types.

Professor Mallowan was quick to recognize the relationship between the so-called Nisroch or “Griffin-demon” common in the ninth-century palaces and in Middle and Neo-Assyrian art in general (Plate IXa), and the bird-headed human figurines of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace (Plate IXb).

A bird-apkallū, the so-called Nisroch or "Griffin-demon). Plate IXa.

A bird-apkallū, the so-called Nisroch or “Griffin-demon.” Plate IXa.

A bird-headed human figurine of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace, Plate IXb.

A bird-headed human figurine of apkallē from Phase E of the Burnt Palace, Plate IXb.

Citing this instance, J.B. Stearns (Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, AfO Behest 15 (Graz, 1961), 26, n. 44), has remarked that although there is here an isolated, rather superficial, relationship, there are no general correspondences between the figures on the reliefs and the actual or prescribed figurines, and that even in this case the connection does not aid our understanding of the monumental figures:

” . . . it is important to note that they are only one type out of many kinds of statuettes mentioned in these texts. Thus the parallel between the foundation-figures and the reliefs seems far from complete, since only the … winged, eagle-headed genie is present in the texts …

It should also be noted that among the several types of figurines excavated none except the bird-headed type seems to resemble the genies of the reliefs …

In short, the relationship between the apkallē of the typical text here adduced and the excavated figurines seems rather superficial, and the connection of either texts or the figurines with the rites depicted on the reliefs seems too tenuous to warrant basing an explanation of the reliefs upon such evidence.”

But although this appears true when considering the reliefs catalogued in Stearn’s restricted study, it is not the case when the full repertoire of apotropaic figures on the reliefs and in fictile art is considered, when a number of correlations can be found.

The method of using such correlations to identify individual figure types has already been well vindicated, I believe, in Dr. Julian Reade’s reappraisal of the subject-matter of Assyrian sculpture.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 87-8.

Editorial Note on the Apkallu and the Roadmap Ahead

I am breaking the narrative stream to speak directly to the process emerging from our reading on the apkallū, the antediluvian and postdiluvian sages of ancient Mesopotamia.

If you are reading along over my shoulder, you noticed that we digressed from Martin Lang, “Mesopotamian Early History and the Flood Story,” in a post titled On the Date of the Flood.

Martin Lang wrote:

“Berossos’ own knowledge of primordial kings probably goes back to sources that were available in Hellenistic times. The Sumerian King List itself was still known in the Seleucid era, or rather versions of king lists that echo, structurally and stylistically, their ancient forerunners from the early second millennium.

In matching up the primordial kings with the seven sages, the apkallū, Berossos once again works in the vein of contemporary scholars, who demonstrably constructed lists with kings and apkallū in order to advertise their own importance, and the primordial roots of their knowledge, as Alan Lenzi has recently shown.”

I updated that post to include a link to Alan Lenzi, “The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship,” JANER 8.2, 2008, which is serialized and linked in posts below.

I also changed the link to the Sumerian King List to point to the beautiful 1939 edition by Thorkild Jacobsen generously published by the University of Chicago Press, available for free download off the web.

We then dipped into Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Francis I. Andersen, et al, eds., Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, 1985, in a post titled On the Apkallū.

This is where I drilled in hard on the apkallū, incorporating bas reliefs and figurines held at the Louvre and the British Museum. Out of numerous posts addressing the apkallū, this one is well-illustrated, and lushly hyperlinked.

Moreover, Anne Kilmer synthesized the supporting research on the apkallū at the time of writing very effectively, so if you are overwhelmed by the other articles, just read this one. It goes without saying that you should not be intimidated by this academic literature. I have made it as readable and accessible as I can.

Yes, there is a lot of it. As I excavate the academic literature on the apkallū the hard way, mining references from footnote after footnote, I get a sense of what it might be like, to be an academic Assyriologist rather than an autodidact.

I do not include everything that I find. I assess and include just those pieces which accrue gravitas in that greater academic community. If you see glaring omissions, please let me know. This note is shaping up to be an academic survey of the literature on the apkallū, and it may save others treading these same paths some time.

Fair warning: our continuing digression into the apkallu will be deep.

As I complete serialization of source texts, I will include links to the posts beneath their citation below. These sources are sorted by date, so we can track the evolution of academic thinking on the apkallū. Our digression includes excerpts from:

After we complete our deep dive into the apkallu, we will return to the Sumerian King List, then resume with Berossos. This is the roadmap ahead.

Editorial note: In some cases citations above which are not followed by links in the bulleted list are internet dry holes, no digital versions are available. In other cases, links are to Google Books editions, which often limit visible pages. Google’s intent is to sell electronic versions of the texts that they scan.

Under these circumstances, I end up rekeying entire articles, at ruinous waste of time. If you have a moment, please send a sweet nastygram to Google asking them to post free and complete eBooks as they continue their vast project to digitize the entirety of human knowledge.

In other cases, I simply have not yet reviewed the articles and posted them. If you are following this project, you see that I post updates nearly every day. Stay tuned.

My purpose in publishing Samizdat is to highlight excerpts from the great books, mining synchronicities from legends and myths. As I point out in the About page, the Deluge was an historical event for the ancient Sumerians.

I now need to update that page, incorporating the research that we have already completed on the Sumerian King List, setting up a future digression into the concept of the Great Year, which Berossos associated with traditions of a Conflagration and the Deluge.

If you wondered where we were going, I wrote this for you.

 Updated 20 November 2015, 23:39 hrs.