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Tag: Medes

Semiramis was Legendary, Mythical, and Real

“It was through the researches of Professor Lehmann-Haupt of Berlin that the true personal significance of Semiramis was recovered. Until the year 1910 the legends of Diodorus and others were held to have been completely disproved and Semiramis was regarded as a purely mythical figure. Old Bryant in his Antient Mythology, published at the beginning of last century, proves the legendary status of Semiramis to his own satisfaction.

He says :

“It must be confessed that the generality of historians have represented Semiramis as a woman, and they describe her as a great princess who reigned in Babylon; but there are writers who from their situation had opportunities of better intelligence, and by those she is mentioned as a deity. The Syrians, says Athenagoras, worshipped Semiramis, and adds that she was esteemed the daughter of Dercatus and the same as the Suria Dea. . .

Semiramis was said to have been born at Ascalon because Atargatus was there worshipped under the name of Dagon, and the same memorials were preserved there as at Hierapolis and Babylon. These memorials related to a history of which the dove was the principal type. It was upon the same account that she was said to have been changed to a dove because they found her always depicted and worshipped under that form. . . .

From the above I think it is plain that Semiramis was an emblem and that the name was a compound of Sama-ramas, or ramis, and it signified ‘the divine token,’ a type of providence, and as a military ensign, (for as such it was used) it may with some latitude be interpreted ‘the standard of the most High.’ It consisted of the figure of a dove, which was probably encircled with the iris, as those two emblems were often represented together. All who went under that standard, or who paid any deference to that emblem, were styled Semarim or Samorim. It was a title conferred upon all who had this device for their national insigne.”

There is much more of this sort of thing, typical of the mythic science of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is easy to see how myth became busy with the name of the Assyrian Queen, whose exploits undoubtedly aroused the enthusiasm not only of the Assyrians themselves but of the peoples surrounding them. Just as any great work in ancient Britain was ascribed to the agency of Merlin or Arthur, so such monuments as could not otherwise be accounted for were attributed to Semiramis. Western Asia is monumentally eloquent of her name, and even the Behistun inscriptions of Darius have been placed to her credit. Herodotus states that one of the gates of Babylon was called after her, and that she raised the artificial banks that confined the river Euphrates. Her fame lasted until well into the Middle Ages’, and the Armenians called the district round Lake Van, Shamiramagerd.

There is very little doubt that her fame became mingled with that of the goddess Ishtar: she possesses the same Venus-like attributes, the dove is her emblem, and her story became so inextricably intertwined with that of the Babylonian goddess that she ultimately became a variant of her. The story of Semiramis is a triumphant vindication of the manner in which by certain mythical processes a human being can attain the rank of a god or goddess, for Semiramis was originally very real indeed. A column discovered in 1909 describes her as “a woman of the palace of Samsi-rammon, King of the World, King of Assyria, King of the Four Quarters of the World.”

This dedication indicates that Semiramis, or, to give her her Assyrian title, Sammuramat, evidently possessed an immense influence over her husband, Samsi-rammon, and that perhaps as queen-mother that influence lasted for more than one reign, so that the legend that after a regency of forty-two years she delivered up the kingdom to her son, Ninyas, may have some foundation in fact. She seems to have made war against the Medes and Chaldeans. The story that on relinquishing her power she turned into a dove and disappeared may mean that her name, Sammuramat, was easily connected with the Assyrian summat, the word for “dove;” and for a person of her subsequent legendary fame the mythical connexion with Ishtar is easily accounted for.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 27-9.


” … The records of Ashur-bani-pal cease after 640 B.C., so that we are unable to follow the events of his reign during its last fourteen years. Apparently peace prevailed everywhere. The great monarch, who was a pronounced adherent of the goddess cults, appears to have given himself up to a life of indulgence and inactivity.

Under the name Sardanapalus he went down to tradition as a sensual Oriental monarch who lived in great pomp and luxury, and perished in his burning palace when the Medes revolted against him. It is evident, however, that the memory of more than one monarch contributed to the Sardanapalus legend, for Ashur-bani-pal had lain nearly twenty years in his grave before the siege of Nineveh took place.

In the Bible he is referred to as “the great and noble Asnapper,” and he appears to have been the emperor who settled the Babylonian, Elamite, and other colonists “in the cities of Samaria.”

He erected at Nineveh a magnificent palace, which was decorated on a lavish scale. The sculptures are the finest productions of Assyrian art, and embrace a wide variety of subjects–battle scenes, hunting scenes, and elaborate Court and temple ceremonies. Realism is combined with a delicacy of touch and a degree of originality which raises the artistic productions of the period to the front rank among the artistic triumphs of antiquity.

Ashur-bani-pal in the palace of Nineveh.

Ashur-bani-pal boasted of the thorough education which he had received from the tutors of his illustrious father, Esarhaddon. In his palace he kept a magnificent library. It contained thousands of clay tablets on which were inscribed and translated the classics of Babylonia.

To the scholarly zeal of this cultured monarch is due the preservation of the Babylonian story of creation, the Gilgamesh and Etana legends, and other literary and religious products of remote antiquity. Most of the literary tablets in the British Museum were taken from Ashur-bani-pal’s library.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 486-7.

There Were Giants

” … But if all the nations, or even the upper classes of those nations, which bear the name, be the sons of Cush, one-third of the present human race must be the descendants of that patriarch. Indeed, before the introduction of Ionism, Epiphanius and others appear to have included all mankind under the name of Scuths. The first apostacy might have been introduced by Cush, and its followers have borne his name; which the succeeding heresy of Nimrod could not obliterate.

The Scythian nations of Touran and the North were generally addicted to the Scythic superstition; and whenever they rolled back the tide of war upon their ancient rivals; the idols temples and cities were the objects upon which they satiated their revenge.

They were esteemed excommunicated, and of the Giant race, Nephelim, Rephaim and Anakim. The Scuths of Iran were also of the Giant race, with Nimrod as their chief. Of the Titanian war there appears to be a double aspect. When the Scuths of Touran are the Giants, the war between them and the Ionim is the subject of the legend; and they are the Giants cast out into Cimmerian darkness, and buried under mountains.

The other view presents both parties conjointly before the schism, as the Nephelim, Apostates or Giants, engaged in carrying on the war against Heaven itself. And in these accounts we find more frequent allusions to the Tower and its supernatural overthrow.

The catastrophe at Babel completed the dispersion. On the division of the earth and planting of the nations, there are some very curious notices extant. But whether Nimrod and his immediate adherents survived, and retained possession of Babylon, or transferred their seat of government to Nineveh and founded the great Iranian empire, or whether that empire and city were founded by Assur and the sons of Shem, is still a subject of dispute.

We find Nimrod, however, under the well-known title of Alorus, at the head of the two Chaldæan dynasties, mentioned above: but these appear rather to refer to the antediluvian patriarchs than to the proper kings of Chaldæa.

The first dynasty of Chaldæan Kings is placed by almost all chronologists as the first Iranian dynasty, that of Nimrod under the name of Evechius, and his immediate descendants. Evexius is also placed by Polyhistor as the first Chaldæan king. The dynasty of the Arabian kings of Chaldæan is placed by Eusebius, Syncellus and others, as well as by Berossus, next in the order of succession.

They have likewise been supposed to be a Scythic nation, which broke in upon the empire from the Scythian settlements of Cashgar, and obtained possession either of the entire empire, or only of the city of Babylon, during the period of its desolation, with the plains of Shinar and the country round the head of the Persian gulf, from whence they were expelled, and discharged themselves upon Palestine as the Palli or Philistines, and upon Egypt as the Hycsos or Shepherd Kings.

Next in succession, according to Eusebius and Syncellus, or perhaps contemporary with the preceding, came the long line of the great dynasty of the Assyrian Kings, who held the empire of the world for ten or twelve centuries, till their dominion was wrested from them by the Medes in the time of Thonus Concolerus, the Sardanapalus of the Greek historians.

The different catalogues of the great Assyrian succession that are extant, will be found among the Dynasties. The overthrow of the Assyrian empire was followed by several years of universal anarchy, bloodshed and revolution. And it is ascertained, that it was during this scene of confusion that Jonah was sent upon his mission to stop its progress at Nineveh.

[ … ]

The Babylonians acquired a temporary independence at the fall of the Assyrian empire, but after two or three short reigns they were subdued by Senecherib. Syria also became an independent kingdom, and prospered for a time, till again reduced under the Assyrian yoke. Persia at the same time arose, and alone maintained its independence against the growing power of the Medes and the new Assyrian dynasty, till the successes of Cyrus raised it above them all, and vested the empire of the world in the Persian race.

The Assyrian empire revived under Nabonasar, supposed to be the same with the Salmanasar of the Scriptures. Of this dynasty three several catalogues will be found, the Ecclesiastical and Astronomical canons preserved by Syncellus, and the celebrated canon of Ptolemæus, besides some other notices of the successors of Nabonasar, among the supplemental Chaldæan fragments.

The first princes of the line appear to have fixed their residence at Nineveh, and among them we may recognize the Tiglath Pileser, Senecherib, and Esar Haddon of the Scriptures. Their race appears to have terminated in Saracus, another Sardanapalus.

Nabopollasar, a successful rebel, began the last line of the Assyrian and Chaldæan monarchs. He transferred the seat of empire to Babylon, and in his reign, his celebrated son, Nebuchadnezzar, extended his conquests over the bordering kingdoms of the north and west, by the reduction of Syria, Phœnicia, Judæa, Egypt, and Arabia; an accurate account of which is transmitted by Berossus.

On the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded to the throne. Concerning him we have several very interesting fragments from Berossus, and one from Megasthenes. In these are detailed the splendor of his works at Babylon, its celebrated walls, and brazen gates; its temples, palaces, and hanging gardens.

The prophesy of Nebuchadnezzar, probably alludes to the public notification of Daniel’s interpretation of his vision.”

I.P. Cory, Ancient Fragments, 1832, Introduction.

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.

What was the Third Image?

” … In this shrine are placed the statues, one of which is Hera, the other Zeus, though they call him by another name. Both of these are golden, both are sitting; Hera is supported by lions, Zeus is sitting on bulls. The effigy of Zeus recalls Zeus in all its details—his head, his robes, his throne; nor even if you wished it could you take him for another deity. 43

Hera, however, as you look at her will recall to you a variety of forms. Speaking generally she is undoubtedly Hera, but she has something of the attributes of Athene, and of Aphrodite, and of Selene, and of Rhea, and of Artemis, and of Nemesis, and of The Fates.

In one of her hands she holds a sceptre, in the other a distaff; on her head she bears rays and a tower and she has a girdle wherewith they adorn none but Aphrodite of the sky. 44 And without she is gilt with gold, and gems of great price adorn her, some white, some sea-green, others wine-dark, others flashing like fire. Besides these there are many onyxes from Sardinia and the jacinth and emeralds, the offerings of the Egyptians and of the Indians, Ethiopians, Medes, Armenians, and Babylonians.

But the greatest wonder of all I will proceed to tell: she bears a gem on her head called a Lychnis; it takes its name from its attribute. From this stone flashes a great light in the night-time, so that the whole temple gleams brightly as by the light of myriads of candles, but in the day-time the brightness grows faint; the gem has the likeness of a bright fire. There is also another marvel in this image: if you stand over against it, it looks you in the face, and as you pass it the gaze still follows you, and if another approaching from a different quarter looks at it, he is similarly affected.

Between the two there stands another image of gold, no part of it resembling the others. This possesses no special form of its own, but recalls the characteristics of other gods. The Assyrians themselves speak of it as a symbol, but they have assigned to it no definite name. They have nothing to tell us about its origin, nor its form: some refer it to Dionysus; others to Deukalion; others to Semiramis; for its summit is crowned by a golden pigeon, 45 and this is why they allege that it is the effigy of Semiramis. It is taken down to the sea twice in every year to bring up the water of which I have spoken. 46

In the body of the temple, as you enter, there stands on the left hand side, a throne for the Sun god; but there is no image upon it, for the effigies of the Sun and Moon are not exhibited. I have learnt, however, the reasons of this practice. They say that religion does not forbid making effigies of the other deities, for the outward form of these deities is known to all; but the Sun and Moon are plain for all to see, and all men behold them. What boots it, therefore, to make effigies of those deities who offer themselves for all to gaze on?”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 70-4.

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