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The Ancient Middle Eastern Capital City--
Reflection and Navel of the World

Professor Stefan Maul, University of Heidelberg


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1. [Translator's note] This article was published in German as "Die altorientalische Hauptstadt -- Abbild und Nabel der Welt," in Die Orientalische Stadt: kontinuitat. Wandel. Bruch. 1 Internationale Colloquium der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft. 9.-1 0. Mai 1996 in Halle/Saale. Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag (1997), p.109-124. "1. ©1997, SDV Druckerei und Verlag."

2. The following interpretation of Akkadian and Sumerian temporal concepts is drawn from Claus Wilcke (see C. Wilcke, "Zum Geschichtsbewuétsein im Alten Mesopotamien," H. Müller-Karpe (ed.) Archäologie und Geschichtsbewußtsein, München (1982), p. 31-52.

3. The same is true of the word mah_rû(m), meaning "earlier". Mah_rû(m) is derived from mah_rûm which means "front" in the spacial or topographical sense.

4. Or more precisely, "that which faces the observer."

5. See CAD Z, p.95f. ze*ru 4b.

6. See G. Frame, RlMB 2, p.25, Nebuchadnezzar I B. 2.4.8., line 8: ze*ru nasru s_a la*m abu*bi.

7. Asarhaddon designated himself and the Assyrian royal dynasty as ze*r s_arru*ti kisitti sall, "Seed of the kingdom, family tree of eternity" (see R. Borger, Asarhaddon, p.32, Brs. A., line i7 (translated there as "regal seed, ancient nobility"]).

8. See W. R. Mayer, "A Myth of the Creation of Humans and Kings," OrNS 56 (1987), p.55-68.

9. H_ammurabi of Babylon had the text of his famous legal stele (discovered in Susa) written in a style which reflected the paleographic developments of the final third of the second pre- Christian millennium, while still using the archaic textual orientation which had already fallen into disuse during his own life-time (writing in horizontal columns, from top to bottom and continuously from left to right.)

10. See the impressive example offered by J. A. Black, CTN 4, Nr. 229 + K 5520 (further literature: CTN 4, p.33.) In these paleographic character lists, the new Assyrian character forms were placed opposite the "archaic" character forms, which (at least according to the neo-Assyrian scribes) formed the beginning of the development of written language in Mesopotamia. The table CNT 4 Nr. 235 shows that the neo-Assyrian scholars studied not only these ancient characters but themselves wrote texts in which they used the "archaic" characters (see I. L. Finkel, N.A.B.U. 1997/1, p.1.) E. von Weiher names SpTU IV Nr. 212 and Nr. 216 as examples of character lists (Sb) from late Babylonian times in which the character forms at the end of the 3. millennium BC are placed opposite their respective contemporary characters. -- For the paleographic character lists of scribes from the 1st millennium BC, see P. T. Daniels, "What do the "Paleographic" Tablets Tell Us of Mesopotamian Scribes' Knowledge of the History of Script," Mar sipri 5/1 (1992), p.1-4.

11. This is also true of the tablets which were published by W. von Soden entitled "Ein spät- altbabylonisches paru*m-Preislied für Is_tar" in OrNS 60 (1991), p.339-343 and Tab. CVI (new edition by V. A. Hurowitz, in Z. Zevit, S. Gitin, M. Sokoloff (ed.), Solving Riddles and Untying Knots. Biblical. Epigraphic. and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield, Winona Lake (1995), p. 543-558.) Although the text should undoubtedly be designated as ancient Babylonian, the tablet -- itself was written in ancient Babylonian style -- was completed in neo-Babylonian times. The production of a new Assyrian copy of a text from the era of H_ammurabi in Babylon, is the subject of the letter ABL Nr. 225 (= S. Parola, SAA X, Nr. 155.) See also P.-A. Beaulieu, "Antiquarianism and the Concern for the Past in the Neo-Babylonian Period," BCSMS 28 (1994), p.37-42.

12. See M. Streck, "Assurbanipal und die Ietzten assyrischen Ko~nige bis zum Untergang Niniveh's," VAB, Leipzig 1916, Volume II, p.256, Clay Tablet epigraph L4, col. I, line 18 (abni* s_a la*m abu*bi.)

13. ln the final documents of literature in cuneiform -- those of the so-called Greco-Bayloniaca Sumerian texts were still the object of transmission. For further literature on this subject, see S. M. Maul, "Neues zu den 'Graeco-Babyloniaca'", ZA 81 (1991), p.87-107.

14. See, for example, G. Reisner, "Sumerisch-babylonische Hymnen nach Thontafeln griechischer Zeit," Mittheiiungen aus den orientalischen Sammlungen 10, Berlin 1896 and further F. Thurneau-Dangin, Rituels accadiens, Paris 1921.

15. On this subject, see G. Gosens, "Les recherches historiques à l'époche néo-babylonienne," RA 42 (1948), p.149-159

16. See W. G. Lambert, "A New Source for the Reign of Nabonidus," AfO 22 (1968/9), p.5, line 24 (further evidence: AHw, p.1399a).

17. The belief in the primeval originality of buildings is reflected in the ostentatious Sumerian names as well. Thus the walls from Sippar were called bàd u4- ul du- a, "wall which was built before eternal time," and bàd u4 - ul- Ií sa4 - a "wall which was named before eternal time" (see A. R. George, BiOr 53 (1996), p.367 [Review of B. Pongratz-Leisten, Ina_s_ulmi i*rub, BaF 16, Mainz (1995).]

18. u*m sâti, see AHw 1096b and CAD S. p.118f.

19. see P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische Literatur, Leipzig 1923 (Reprint: Hildesheim 1968) and the translation: S. M. Burstein, "The Babyloniaca of Berossos," SANE 1/5/ (1978), p.143-i81 [= p.1-39).

20. On Oannes (= u4- an, u4 - dan, u4- an- na; u4-ma-da-nim, ú-da-nim) in cuneiform literature, see W. W. Hallo, JAOS 83 (1963), p.176, note 79; W. G. Lambert, JCS 16 (1972), p.74; R. Borger, JNES 33 (1974), p.183-196 and A. R. George, Babvlonian Topographical Texts (=BTT), Leuven (1992), p.269.

21. See P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische Literatur, p.253.

22. Berossos also ascribed the building of the city walls, famous in antiquity for their monumentality, to the God Marduk. Immediately after separating water from earth during the act of creation, Belos was supposed "to have fortified Babel on with a wall surrounding the city" (see P. Schnabel, Berossos, p.256.)

23. J. J. van Dijk, "Inanna raubt den 'großen Him mel'. Ein Mythos," in: S. M. Maul, tikip santakki mala bas_mu... (Fs. R. Borger), p.7ff.

24. It becomes clear at this point that in a Mesopotamian temple, mythical rooms or mythical places of action flow together with actual space, indeed the two melt inseparably into one another. The excavations undertaken by the neo-Babylonian kings (cited above) clearly had the goal of investigating, free from all historical distortions, the primeval divine blueprint of a temple, which itself was regarded as a part of the great act of world-creation, and the goal of re-constructing the temple in its most pure form and its original freshness; and as one may presume, with the intention of making their kingdom in part this original order, indeed of becoming its executor.

25. See the most recent translations by B. R. Foster, Before the Muses. An Anthology of Akkadian Literature. Bethesda Maryland (1993), Vol. I, p.351-402, and W. G. Lambert, in 0. Kaiser et al (ed.), Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, Vol. IlIM, Gütersloh (1994), p.565-602, both containing further references. (Enu*ma elis_ will be abbreviated as Ee in the rest of the essay.)

26. See Ee VI, 38.

27. See Ee I, 71.

28. See Ee V, 119-122, and in addition to this, W. G. Lambert, RIA 4 (1972-1975), p.410-412. Himmel as well as A. Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works ot Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars, Oxford (1986), p.79-82.

29. See Ee V, 59ff.

30. Ee VI, 119-120.

31. A list of the images of the monsters depicted on the gates of Esagil has been preserved on the tablet BM 119282, Rs. 11ff. (see the edition by B. Pongratz-Leisten, BaF 16, p.218-220, and the relevant commentary by A. R. George in Iraq 57 [1995], p.174 and BiOr 53 [1996], Sp.[?]393; see also by A.R. George, OrNS 66 [1997], p.65-70.) Berossos reports on the images of Tiamat's monsters as well (see P. Schnabel, Berossos, p.225: "... a number of wonderous beings, of different natures and various shapes, the images of which were kept next to one another in the temple of Belos.")

32. See Ee V, 76.

33. On the location of the parak s_i*ma*ti in Babylonia, see most recently A. R. George, BiOr 53 (1996), 372ff.

34. Concerning the "sacred hill," see A. R. George, BTT 286-291; B. Pongratz-Leisten, BaF 16, p.54-65; W. Sallaberger, Kultischer Kalender, p.129; M. E. Cohen, Cultic Calendars, p.409f.; E. Fram, N.A.B.U. 1995/9, p.8f. and B. Hruska, WZKM 86 (1996) [Fs. H. Hirsch], p.161-175; for further citations, see R. Borger, ABZ p.176; W. R. Mayer, OrNS 59 (1990), p.464f, note 12; E. J.Wilson, JANES 23 (1995), p.97f.

35. See I R 54, Col. II, 54 - CoI. Ill, 3 = S. Langdon, VAB 4, p.126 (Nbk. Nr. 15); see also A. R. George, BTT, p.287

36. See the description of the ritual in F. Thureau-Dangin's Rituels accadiens, Paris 1921, p.144f.

37. See the bibliographical references in footnote 33.

38. The first line of the so-called Nippur-compendium (see A. R. George, BTT, p.146 and p.441ff) reads: Nibruki ní- bi- ta dú- a, "Nippur, (city) which produced itselt." A. R. George sees, certainly correctly, in the epithet ní- bi- ta dú- a an 'etymology' for the city name Nib(u)ru. In this toponym, scholars recognized the elements ní- bi ("oneself") and rú (= dú, "build" or "form"), and thus discovered the 'true' character of the city hidden in the (ancient) name.

39. 1n this way, the cosmic-religious and the political center of Mesopotamia were spatially separated from one another during the entire 3rd millenium up to the beginning of the 2nd millenium BC. Such a situation accords with an alliance of city-states, but much less the idea of a central empire, into which it developed in the 2nd millenium and solidified in the 1st millenium BC.

40. See W. G. Lambert, "The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar: A Turning Point in the History of Ancient Mesopotamian Religion," in: W. S. McCullough (ed.), The Seed of Wisdom: Essays in honour of T.J.Meek, Toronto 1964, p.3-13; W.G. Lambert, BSOAS 47 (1984), p.1-9; and W. Sommerfeld, Der Aufstiea Marduks. Die Stellung Marduks in der babylonischen Religion des zweiten Jahrtausends v. Chr., AOAT 213, Kevelaer/Neukirchen-Vluyn (1982).

41. KH_ I 11f.: ellilu*t kis_s_at nis_i*

42. See KH_ 1,1-26

43. Possibly the elevation of Ninurtas, which is the subject of the poetry Lugal-e and An-gim dim-ma, stood as the force behind the "raising of Marduk." However, while the kingdom of Ninurtas expresses the fact that Ninurtas moved the location of the kingdom to Nippur (see W.W. Hallo, JAOS 101 [1981], p.253-257), Marduk remained inseparably bound to his city Babylon. Babylon's cultic topography was formed only secondarily according the model Nippur.

44. On this, see A.R. George, BTT, passim. In his article "Marduk and the cult of the gods of Nippur at Babylon" OrNS 66 (1997), A.R. George has collected further examples for the "theology of equivalence" between Nippur and Babylonia.

45. See McGuire Gibson, "Patterns of Occupation in Nippur," M. deJong Ellis (ed.), Nippur at the Cenntenial, CRRA 35, Philadelphia (1992), p.33-54.

46. ln the Parthian era the Re*s_-Shrine appears in Uruk, formed according the model of Esagil, which continued the ancient tradition of "axis-temples" (see A.R. George, lrag 57, (1995), p.194.

47. See K. Tallqvist, "Der assyrische Gott," StOr V/4, Helsingforsiae 1932; W.G. Lambert, "The God Assur," Iraq 45 (1983), p.82-86.

48. See, for example, AG. George, House Most High, Winona Lake (1993), p.116, Number 678 (e'.kur2).

49. For example, S_ams_i*-Adad I. (see A.K. Grayson, RIMA I, Toronto/Buffalo/London (1987), p.52; S_ams_i*-Adad I A.O.39.2. Col. I, 4-5: sa-ki-in dEn-lil / ENSl dA-sur4.)

50. See A.R. George, ZA 80 (1990), p.157, and BTT, p.443 to 13'.

51. See A.R. George, House Most High, p.145, and BTT, p.460; and AW. Sjo"berg, TCS lii, p.119.

52. On the Tummal-celebration, see W. Sallaberger, Der Kultische Kalender 1, p.1 31ff (note the connection with du6-kù [see p.139] and the fundamental parallels between the á-ki-ti- celebration in Ur and to the new-year's celebration in Babylon and Assur in the 1st millenium!)

53. See A.R. George, House Most High, p.69, Number 90.

54. First adopted under S_ams_i*-Adad, and used again at the beginning of the middle-Assyrian era under As_s_ur-uballit I (see J.-M. Seux, Épithètes royales, p.380ff.)

55. See T. Eickhoff, "Ka*r Tukulti Ninurtas. Eine mittelassyrische KuIt- und Residenzstadt," ADOG 21, Berlin (1985), p.34f.

56. See J.A. Brinkman, Prelude to Empire, Philadelphia (1984), p.67-70; G. Frame, Babylonia 689-627 B.C., Leiden (1992), p.52-63, and A.K. Grayson, CAH2 III/2, p.108f.

57. See W. von Soden, GAG § 33d.

58. On this, see W.G. Lambert, "The Assyrian Recension of Enu*ma Elis_," H. Waetzoldt, H. Hauptmann (ed.), Assyrien im Wandel der Zeit, CRRA XXXIX, Heidelberg (1997), p.77-79.

59. See G. Frame, RlMB 2, p.207, Ashurbanipal B.6.32.6, line 7-9; be*lu rabû Marduk / s_a ina palê s_arri mah_rî ina mah_ar abi ba*ni*s_u / u*s_ibu ina qereb Baltil.

60. See W. Andrae, Das wiedererstandene Assur, 2nd edition, p.1 49ff.

61. See D.D. Luckenbill, "The Annals of Sennacherib," OlP 2, Chicago (1924), p.94, line 64.

62. See, for example, E. Frahm, "Die Bilder in Sanheribs Thronsaal," N.A.B.U. (1994/55), p.48-50.

63. See, for example, R. Borger, EAK I, p.113; B. Lion, "La circulation des animaux exotiques au Proche-Orient antique," D. Charpin, F. Joannes (ed.), La circulation des biens, CRRA XXXCIII, Paris (1992), p.357-365, B. Lion, "Jardins et zoos royaux," Les Dossiers d'Archéologie 171 (1992), p.72-79 [9 fig.j; F.M. Fales, J.N. Postgate, SAA Xl, p.21, text number 22 [480 fruit trees and 3000 grape vines apparently for the garden grounds of Dur-Sarrukin]; S. Lackenbacher, Le roi batisseur, Paris (1982), p.124-128; A. L. Oppenheimer, "On royal gardens," JNES 24 (1965), p.328-333.