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Tag: Middle Empire

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 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 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.

The Oldest Prayer in the World?

“Another prayer of special interest is that which forms Chapter XXXB.

This is put into the mouth of the deceased when he is standing in the Hall of Judgment watching the weighing of his heart in the Great Scales by Anubis and Thoth, in the presence of the Great Company of the gods and Osiris.

He says: “My heart, my mother. My heart, my mother. My heart whereby I came into being. Let none stand up to oppose me at my judgment. May there be no opposition to me in the presence of the Tchatchau [The chief officers of Osiris, the divine Taskmasters]. Mayest thou not be separated from me in the presence of the Keeper of the Balance. Thou art my Ka (i.e. Double, or vital power), that dwelleth in my body; the god Khnemu who knitteth together and strengthened my limbs.

Mayest thou come forth into the place of happiness whither we go. May the Shenit officers who decide the destinies of the lives of men not cause my name to stink [before Osiris]. Let it (i.e. the weighing) be satisfactory unto us, and let there be joy of heart to us at the weighing of words (i.e.  the Great Judgment). Let not that which is false be uttered against me before the Great God, the Lord of Amentet (i.e. Osiris). Verily thou shalt be great when thou risest up [having been declared] a speaker of the truth.”

In many papyri this prayer is followed by a Rubric, which orders that it is to be said over a green stone scarab set in a band of tchamu metal (i.e. silver-gold), which is to be hung by a ring from the neck of the deceased. Some Rubrics order it to be placed in the breast of a mummy, where it is to take the place of the heart, and say that it will “open the mouth” of the deceased.

A tradition which is as old as the twelfth dynasty says that the Chapter was discovered in the town of Khemenu (Hermopolis Magna) by Herutataf, the son of Khufu, in the reign of Menkaura, a king of the fourth dynasty. It was cut in hieroglyphs, inlaid with lapis-lazuli on a block of alabaster, which was set under the feet of Thoth, and was therefore believed to be a most powerful prayer.

We know that this prayer was recited by the Egyptians in the Ptolemaic Period, and thus it is clear that it was in common use for a period of nearly four thousand years. It may well be the oldest prayer in the world.

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, 1914, pp. 26-7.

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