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The World of Fables and Legends - 13
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Assyria: The Marvel of Ancient Mesopotamia

Continued from Previous Page


People of Ancient Assyria in traditional clothing

The Mesopotamia is actually an ancient historical region of the West Asia located within the Tigris–Euphrates River system. Both rivers are supported by many tributaries, and the entire river system thus formed drains a vast mountainous region. The overland routes in the erstwhile Mesopotamia usually followed the Euphrates as the banks of the Tigris were frequently steep and difficult. In terms of the modern age states, it broadly corresponds with the most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, South-eastern Turkey, as well as areas along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders. The region gave world’s some of the oldest and glorious civilizations comprising of Sumerians, Assyrian and Babylonians, etc. The glory of Sumerian people has been dealt with in Part-08 of this series and this piece deals with Assyrian civilization, which has many elements of commonality with other erstwhile civilizations of the Mesopotamian region.

Assyria was basically a Mesopotamian kingdom and empire which is believed to have existed as the Assur city-state from around the 26th - 25th century BCE until it collapsed in 609 BCE. This vast span of nearly two millennia is broadly divided into the Early Period (2600–2025 BCE), Old Assyrian Empire (2025–1378 BCE), Middle Assyrian Empire (1392–934 BCE) and Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE). Assyrians were Semitic-speaking (Afroasiatic languages evolved in Middle East) people, centred around the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia, which is represented by the Northern Iraq, Northeast Syria and Southeast Turkey in the modern age. During their age, the Assyrians constituted a powerful empire for a long period as part of the greater Mesopotamian "cradle of civilization", comprising of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire and Babylonia, and so on. Assyria is believed to have reached the height of technological, scientific and cultural achievements during their time.

A Brief Civilizational History of Assyria

Some archaeological evidences such as the Shanidar Cave suggest that Assyria was earlier a site of Neanderthal culture in the prehistoric times. Prior to Assyrian civilization, apparently the region was inhabited by Jarmo and Hassuna people, respectively, in small villages or hamlets around 70th – 60th centuries BCE. These people are believed to have dwellings units built around open central courts with fine painted pottery. Remnants of certain articles and artefacts such as hand axes, sickles, grinding stones, bins, baking ovens and numerous bones of domesticated animals recovered in the area suggest that people probably had a settled agricultural life. Similarly, some female figurines have been related to worship and jar burials with food items suggest that these people had belief in the afterlife.

The Assyrian history in the region dates back to 26th – 25th century BCE which is equated with the king list records available roughly from the aforesaid period onwards. Tudiya or Tudia was the earliest known Assyrian king reflected in the Assyrian King List, and the first of the seventeen kings who are believed to have lived in tents. According to the Assyriologist Georges Roux, Tudiya probably lived in the latter half of the 25th century BCE and was succeeded by Adamu. The famous city of Assur (also spelled as Ashur) and Nineveh, and many other smaller towns and cities, existed as early as in 26th century BCE, although initially they were apparently Sumerian-ruled administrative units. Assur remained the capital of Assyrian Empires till late Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-609 BCE), the remains of city still lie on the western bank of the Tigris River at the confluence of its tributary Little Zab in the northern Iraq.

The kings of Assyria ruled the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom of Assyria from about the 26th or 25th century to 7th century BCE and, even in the modern times, only the list of kings prepared by Assyrians is followed to reckon this. Unlike Egypt and some other contemporary civilizations, the King was not treated as divine but rather a vicar and chief representative of the principal deity, Ashur, on earth. The traditional belief of Assyrian people was that Assyria represented an orderly place while all other lands outside the jurisdiction of the Assyrian king represented places of disorder and chaos. Therefore, it was a bounden duty of the king to expand his borders beyond Assyria so as to bring order in the uncivilized land. It appears that in the beginning the title akin to governor or viceroy was used for the rulers as the god Ashur was treated as the real king but the later Assyrian rulers with greater control over the Mesopotamian region, starting with Ashur-uballit-I (14th century BCE), used boastful titles such as the "King of Sumer and Akkad", "King of the Universe", or "King of the Four Corners of the World".

King Ashur-uballit-II was the last king of the Assyrian line who was defeated by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Median Empire in 609 BCE. Thereafter, Assyria never became an independent state, although the Assyrian people continued to survive as an ethnic, linguistic, religious group with their belief system despite a large-scale conversion to Christianity in early centuries in the post-Christ period, and a few lakh Assyrians are still present as a cultural minority in their homeland and elsewhere. However, during their hay days the Assyria had remained a powerful and advanced nation and a major centre of the Mesopotamian civilization and pantheon. As already mentioned, though the advent of Assyrians is reckoned with effect from 26th century BCE, their real glory lasted for three major periods namely, the Old Assyrian Empire (2025–1750 BC), the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC) and the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC).

The Old Assyrian Empire had emerged as a powerful state in the Mesopotamian region, extending its domination and colonies into the Southeast Anatolia, Northern Levant, Central Mesopotamia and North-western Persia (ancient Iran). The Middle Assyrian Empire is characteristic for Assyria emerging as the most powerful military and political force, destroying the Mitanni-Hurrian empire, largely annexing the Hittite Empire, compelling the Egyptians to withdraw from the region, conquering Babylonia and subjugating many others including the Elamites, Kassites, Phrygians, Amorites, Arameans, Phoenicians and so on. Their influence extended from Mount Ararat in the north to Dilmun (modern Bahrain) in the south, and from the Eastern Mediterranean and Antioch in the west to the Zagros (modern northern Iran) in the east.

The Assyrians reached their peak glory during the Neo-Assyrian Empire which was probably the largest during the ancient world. During this age, The Assyrian empire extended to the Transcaucasia (modern Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) in the north, encompassed Egypt, northern Nubia (modern Sudan), Libya and much of the Arabian Peninsula in the south, extended up to parts of the ancient Greece, Cyprus, Cilicia, Phoenicia, western Anatolia etc., in the west, and the East Mediterranean, parts of Persia, Media, Gutium, Parthia, Elam, Cissia and Mannea (the modern west-half of Iran) in the east. However, from 626 BCE onwards, the Empire experienced many civil wars among the rival claimants to the throne that weakened the empire considerably. Then again around 615 BCE onwards, it faced combined attacks of the alliance of adversaries comprised of the Medes, Babylonians, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians, Sagartians, and so on, which led to the ultimate fall of the Assyrian empire.

After the convincing defeat of Ashur-uballit-II in the prolonged wars, the Assyrian empire was divided mainly among the key invading forces, the Babylonians and Medes, with the latter ruling Assyria main. Henceforth, Assyrians could never be their own: The dominance of the Median empire over the Assyria was for a short period, and the Median empire itself was conquered by Cyrus in 547 BCE under the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian empire. King Cyrus shifted Assyria’s capital from Nineveh to Arbela. A large number of Assyrians contributed as soldiers in the Persian army; consequently, Cyrus II is said to have returned the sacred images and symbols to Nineveh and Assur, granted several honourable settlements to Assyrians, including resettlement to their original inhabitations. Around 482 BCE, Assyria and Babylonia were joined together as a single administrative division under the successive Persian rulers.

From the 1st century BCE onwards, the Assyrian region became a theatre of protracted Persian and Roman wars. With the dominance of Romans, Assyria became a Roman province in early second century, though their control remained unstable due to frequent wars with Parthians and Persians. With the Seleucid Greek and Roman dominance and rule in Assyria and Syria, the Assyrian people were increasingly converted to Christianity during 1-3 centuries CE under the Assyrian Church of the East tradition. However, while Latin and Greek Christian cultures were patronized and protected by the Roman and Byzantine empires respectively, Assyrian Christians were discriminated and persecuted. However, despite large influx of foreign population and dominance including Greek and Persian Parthians, the Assyrian culture continued to flourish with worship of the god Ashur as their chief deity. Though the Assyrians were continuously troubled by a host of foreign elements such as Parthians, Persians, Greeks, and Armenians from 1st century CE onwards, they still continued to exist as a geo-political entity until their Arab-Islamic conquest in mid-seventh century.

Finally, Assyria was disbanded as the geopolitical entity on Islamic conquest. Under the Arab rule, the indigenous Assyrians were treated as the second-class citizens and those who resisted Arabisation and conversion to Islam had to face severe religious, ethnic and cultural discrimination and persecution. For instance, they were excluded from specific duties and occupations reserved for Muslims, their political rights were denied, their testimony was not equal to Muslims in civil and legal matters, they were banned to carry out religious rituals and rites in Muslim ruled areas, and also forced to pay certain special tax (Jizyah). This discrimination and persecution of Assyrian minorities (mostly Christian) have continued till modern age and they have also faced some of the worst massacres at the hands of Ottomans, Kurdish and other Arab people. Notwithstanding this, a few lakhs Assyrians with their original identity, personal, family and tribal names, spoken and written vocabulary including many ancient Akkadian words and grammar, including an Assyrian calendar, have survived till date.

Sumerians had adopted a cuneiform writing as a system of pictograms around 35th century BCE, this pictorial representation was increasingly refined and simplified during the next few centuries. The Assyrians had adapted the original Sumerian script for their writings. The Assyrian architecture was influenced by Sumero-Akkadian styles but they had developed their own distinct style with palaces sporting coloured wall decorations and seal-cutting. Some Assyrian art that has been preserved till modern age mostly dates back to the Neo-Assyrian period. Such art very often depicts battle scenes or even impaling of villages with gory details. Some stone reliefs have been discovered from the ancient Assyria which depict the kings with different deities conducting religious ceremonies. Assyrian sculptural art appeared to have reached to a high level of refinement during the Neo-Assyrian period, which is illustrated with the winged bull lamassu or shedu guarding the entrance of the Assyrian king’s court. Not much is known about the precious metals and gems prevalent among Assyrians but some good pieces of jewellery were preserved in the royal tombs at Nimrud.

A Comparison of Assyrian and Sumerian Civilizations

As already mentioned earlier, the Mesopotamia was a historical region of the West Asia within the Tigris–Euphrates River system, boasting a cradle of many ancient civilizations such as Sumer, Akkad and Assyria; and in terms of the modern age states it broadly corresponds with the most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, South-eastern Turkey, as also regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders. Sumerian civilization historically evolved in the Southern Mesopotamia which is now represented by most of the Southern Iraq, and it is probably oldest in the region evolved during the Chalcolithic and early Bronze Ages between the sixth and fifth millennium BCE. As against this, Assyria is believed to have evolved much later in the northern Mesopotamia around 26th – 25th century BCE.

The two civilizations were distinct with some overlap in the geographical areas but they prospered in different periods with different languages yet nearly with same cuneiform script. Both the civilizations mark important phases in the history of the Mesopotamia. They also shared many common features, including basic socio-political structure, use of script in writing, and cultural, religious and artistic traditions. Compared to Assyrians while at full glory, Sumer was the smaller of the two kingdoms and is credited with the invention of writing. As Sumer preceded later civilizations in Mesopotamia including Assyrian, the latter appears to have adopted many pre-existing social customs and religious traditions, as can be vindicated from the ancient literature/writings of the two civilizations that have survived till date.

The Sumerians states were increasingly invaded and defeated by the other Semitic states of Afrasian origin from the northwest and were ultimately conquered by the Akkadian Empire around 2270 BCE. For the next few centuries, both the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures are believed to have co-existed but gradually the Sumer civilization declined politically with the rise of Babylonia under Hammurabi (Babylonian dynasty king) in 1800 BCE as also due to a major shift in population following the ecological reasons. Notwithstanding these developments, due to its past glory and own developed script, the Sumerian language, literature, socio-religious beliefs and myths had significant impact on Assyria and other contemporary kingdoms/states in the Mesopotamian region.

Assyrian Gods and Goddesses


Assyrian god of agriculture Nisroch and the holy tree stock illustration
Nisroch and the holy tree Relief from Ashurnasirpal II's palace at Nimrud. The Assyrian god of agriculture, in whose temple king Sennacherib was worshipping when he was assassinated by his own sons in revenge for the destruction of Babylon. ( 2 Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38 ). Josephus calls him Dagon.

Assyrian pantheon was polytheistic with the god Ashur as the chief deity and guardian of the Empire. Though they have their own gods and goddesses but broadly the pantheon had many elements of commonality with other Mesopotamian religions, including the attribute and function of some gods and goddesses. Like other Mesopotamian kingdoms, Assyrians remained pagans in worshipping several deities till early post-Christ era and then they gradually converted to the Christianity with the advent of the Syriac Christianity in the region. However, before this development, the Assyrian pantheon was basically a religious extension and cultural overlap of the past civilization in Mesopotamia and many of the Mesopotamian gods and goddesses were commonly worshipped and/or even mutually overshadowed by the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians, besides sharing their mythical traditions.

For instance, Enlil was considered as the ancient Mesopotamian god of sky and atmosphere in the supreme triad: the other two being An or Anu as the god of heaven and Enki as the god of earth and wisdom. Marduk was initially patron deity of Babylon who replaced Enlil as the chief deity in the major portion of the southern Mesopotamian lands and as main deity of the Babylonian pantheon. Similarly, Ashur replaced Anlil’s position in the northern Mesopotamia, and this religious shift continued through the period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Some Assyrian inscriptions used as Imperial propaganda even depict how the gods of the conquered lands abandoned such subjects under the rising power and influence of Assyrian god Ashur. Each Assyrian god had characteristic attributes and controlled specific functions in the Assyrian kingdom. The significance of divine connection between imperialism and deities can be observed from the fact of many Assyrian kings using the term “Ashur” as prefix in their names. Some of the more important gods and goddesses are briefly mentioned here.

Ashur


Ancient Assyrian Bas Relief. Representing King Assur Nazir Pal

Ashur was variously spelled as Ashshur, Asur or even Assuris and as the god of state and war, he was worshipped as the chief deity of the Assyrian pantheon. Originally, he was a deified form of the city of Assur, capital of the Old Assyurian Kingdom, dating back to 3rd millennium BCE. Actually, he was treated Assyrian equivalent of god Enlil of southern Mesopotamia. Originally, he did not have a family, but with the pantheon coming under the influence of South Mesopotamia, Ashur also absorbed Enlil's wife Ninlil as his consort as the Assyrian goddess Mullissu and his sons Ninurta and Zababa. The Ashur was often represented as winged Sun that included a winged disc with horns, enclosing four circles revolving round a middle circle, and rippling rays fall down from either side of the disc. In some forms, he is also depicted as a circle or wheel suspended from wings and encasing a warrior drawing bow ready to discharge an arrow. Assyrian kings aggressively proclaimed the supremacy of Ashur and many of them had included the term “Ashur” as prefix in their names.

Ishtar

Ishtar, also known as Ishhara, Iriniri or Inanna, was the most important goddess of love, protection and war. The ancient Mesopotamians including Sumer worshipped goddess Inanna, who was associated with love, beauty, sex, war, justice and political power. The same goddess is believed to have been later rechristened as Ishtar and worshipped by Assyrians, Akkadians and Babylonians. She was especially loved by the Assyrians as many of them even considered her the highest deity placing her even above the god Ashur. She was associated with the planet Venus symbolizing bodily love, and with the sun god Shamash and moon god Sin, she formed an astral triad. Her most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. Her husband was the god Dumuzid, later known as Tammuz. Ishtar was a universally popular goddess across the ancient Middle East and at various temples and worship places, she subsumed many other local goddesses.

 

Nergal

God Nergal, also known as Nirgal, Nirgali, Erra and Irra, was worshipped throughout ancient Mesopotamia (Assyria, Akkad and Babylonia) with the main seat of his worship being at Cuthah represented by the mound of Tell-Ibrahim. He was the powerful god of war, destruction and plague. In standard iconography, he was depicted as a lion and some monuments symbolize him with a mace surmounted by the head of a lion. He was said to be son of Enlil and Ninlil, and also represented certain phase of sun, especially the noontime and the summer solstice, being harsh in the Mesopotamian annual cycle. Nergal was also the deity who presided over the underworld and in that capacity, he was linked to the goddess Ereshkigal or Allatu.

Aruru

Goddess Aruru appears to be a later adopted name of the ancient Sumerian mother goddess of the mountains, principally a fertility and birth goddess, namely Ninhursag or Ninmah. Ancient Mesopotamian temple hymns describe her as the "true and great lady of heaven". In iconography, she is depicted with hair in an omega shape or with a horned head-dress and tiered skirt with bow cases on shoulders. She is also shown carrying a mace or baton with an omega motif, at times accompanied by a lion cub.

Adad and Shala

Adad, also known as Hadad, was the Assyrian god of the thunder, fire and rain. His symbols are bull, lion and thunderbolt. Parents of Adad were Sin (also Nannar) and Ningal and other famous siblings were Inanna and Utu. His wife goddess Shala was in-charge of grain and compassion. The combination of grain and compassion reflected the significance of agriculture in Mesopotamian civilizations and that an abundant harvest was due to the act of compassion from the gods. She is usually depicted carrying a double-headed mace or scimitar embellished with lion heads and occasionally she is also shown atop one or two lionesses.

Sin

Sin (also Nannar) was the moon god who was considered as the lord of wisdom. According to some sources, when the pantheon was taking shape, Sin was initially regarded as the head of the pantheon by many followers which is apparent with some references glorifying him as the "father of the gods”, "chief of the gods", or even the "creator of all things". His consort was goddess Ningal and important offspring were Samash (Utu), Adad, Inanna. He was variously depicted in iconography but his more common avatar was an old man with beard comprised of lapis lazuli and riding on the vehicle of a winged bull.

Samash

Samash or Utu was the ancient Mesopotamian sun god of Assyrians and Babylonians in-charge of justice, morality and truth. He was the twin brother of the much famous and worshipped Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar among the Assyrians and Babylonians or Inanna among Sumerians. As per popular belief of he being an enforcer of the divine justice as also helping those is distress, Samash rode through the heavens in his sun chariot to oversee all things that happened during the day. His main temples were located in the cities of Larsa and Sippar. His wife was Sherida or Aya, the goddess of beauty, fertility and sexual love. In iconography, Samash is depicted as an old man with a long beard wielding the pruning-saw as his main weapon, and his main symbol was a solar disc. Samash and Sherida had two children: the goddess Kittu, which means "Truth", and the god Misharu, meaning "Justice".

Enmesharra

As an important god of the underworld, Enmesharra was a cthtonic deity, and in ancient Mesopotamia, a prayer was recited before the foundation of a temple calling him as the "lord of the netherworld." In ancient Mesopotamian texts, he was frequently mentioned as father of Sebitti, which was a group of seven minor war gods in Neo-Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and especially Assyrian culture. In some texts, he is referred to be a god of older generation who later passed on his position to Enlil and Anu and himself went to the netherworld. As already mentioned, various Mesopotamian civilizations had many common traditions and even mix up of names of deities in various texts. For instance, in Sumerian mythology, the goddess Ereshkigal is listed as Inanna (Ishtar)'s older sister and supreme ruler of the underworld while in later texts of Babylonian/Assyrian vintage, she rules alongside other underworld deities and Nergal is described as her husband and co-ruler of the underworld.

Ishum

Ishum or Isum is relatively a minor god, the brother of Shamash and an advisor of Erra (Nergal). He has been associated with fire representing the ferocity of battle. Despite being an omen of imminent destruction, he was generally depicted as benevolent god, probably symbolizing the mute waiting before a battle or mayhem actually ensued. He is known from the Babylonian legend of Erra and Ishum, in which he primarily serves like a buffer, debating with the god Erra to stave off his onslaught and give a pause between assaults. His character and role is largely inspired from the Sumerian divinity Endursaga, as the chief herald, watchman of the silent and deserted streets, herald of the silent night and lamp for the people.

Nammu

Nammu is the goddess of sea water in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. She was a primeval goddess, who gave birth to An (Sky father), Ki (Earth mother) and first of gods representing Apsu. She is credited with the idea of creation including mankind, who wakes up Enki, asleep in the Apsu, and the process is thus galvanized.

Geshtu-E

Geshtu-E was a minor god of intelligence, variously named as Ilawela, Geshtu or Gestu in Mesopotamian cultures, who was sacrificed by the great gods for creation of the mankind. This mythical tale is recorded in the Atra-Hasis, an Akkadian Epic wherein it is mentioned that after sacrifice, his blood was used in the creation of man. An Assyrian version of Altra-Hasis too exist which was discovered in the library of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal in the nineteenth century.

Apart from the aforesaid major and minor gods and goddesses having significant role among Assyrian people, there is a long list of the lesser deities. Many divinities were straightway picked up from the Sumerian culture and adopted with little or no change in names and functions, the most primordial entities by and large remaining the same. For instance, Ninurta was the minor god of agriculture and healing in Sumer culture; later, Assyrians started worshipping him as a warrior god too. Another god Nisroch finds a mention in the Hebrew Bible as Assyrian god of agriculture with similar attributes and function, which is possibly another name given to the Assyrian god Ninurta. Some more gods and goddesses are briefly mentioned as follows: Gushkin or Banda is in the category of goldsmith and creator god; Mummu is the craftsman god and in Assyrian version of Enuma Elish, this is yet another name given to Marduk; Nin-ildu was the carpenter god; Nash was the goddess of purity of all things; Mammetun was the fate goddess and her decrees were irrevocable.

Assyrian Mythology

As has been explained earlier, among Mesopotamian civilizations, Sumer was the oldest and, therefore, it had significant impact and bearing on socio-political ethos, culture, religion, divinities and mythology of the later civilizations evolved in the region. For instance, Sumerians had first evolved cuneiform script and writing were mostly done on the clay tablets. The same tradition of script and writing on clay tablets had been adopted in the Assyrian culture too with little or no change. Many mythological tales including the creation myth too are common with minor changes in the characters and incidents. Written versions of the Assyrian myths and legends are not found in abundance and they are largely akin to Babylonian myths and legends. A few such popular tales are briefly summarized here.

1. Creation Myth

As stated earlier, Ashur, the god of state and war, was the chief deity of Assyrians who took the role of Marduk in the Assyrian creation myth. The Enuma Elish is perhaps the oldest Mesopotamian mythological text of about a thousand lines recorded on seven clay tablets in Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script. It was first published by English Assyriologist George Smith in 1876 and more research and excavations in later years led to further improvement in the text and translation. In the Assyrian version of the creation theory, the god Marduk has been named as the god Ashur. In the war of supremacy of the old and new gods, the god Ashur finally succeeds and establishes his own reign and supreme authority. The original Sumerian version of the mythical story is narrated in the Part-8 of this series in fair detail.

When all gods accepted the power and supremacy of god Ashur, he went on to create the material world including the mankind. In the original tale, the first human being was created from the blood of Quingu but in Assyrian and Babylonian version, a lesser god Geshtu-E was sacrificed by the great gods and his blood was used for creation of the mankind with the objective that henceforth human beings would serve the gods. In most mythical tales about the creation across the world, some primordial stuff of undifferentiated matter such as water, chaos, monster, or an egg, has been used. In the mythical tale of Eluma Elish, primordial goddess Tiamet or Nammu has served this purpose. The story of the sacrifice of Geshtu-E (also Ilawela) and his blood being used by god Mami to create man is narrated in the Assyrian version of Altra-hasis, an Akkadian epic recorded on clay tablets.

2. Nergal and Ereshkigal

Once, the gods organized a banquet in which deities from all realms were invited. However, Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld, could not leave her domain, so she nominated her son Namtar to attend the banquet of gods. When he arrived, all other gods and goddesses greeted him with due respect, except Nergal. Namtar felt insulted and when he went back, complained it to his mother. Ereshkigal was furious to take revenge on Nergal and knowing this, Enki and other gods advised Nergal to visit personally the underworld to clear the matter. On his part, Nergal took with him 14 demons and arrived at the underworld. The chief gatekeeper Neti had instructions from the underworld goddess to allow him through the seven gates by stripping him of everything until the throne room, where she planned to kill him. However, Nergal posted two demons at each gate and as soon as he reached throne room, he surprised both by knocking down Namtar and dragging Ereshkigal to the floor with an intention to kill her. While he was about to kill her, she pleaded for mercy and offered herself as his wife to share her power with him. He consented but as per prevailing rule, he had to leave underworld or six months. So, he left for the upper world with his demons only to return after six months to join Ereshkigal.

3. Enki and Ninhursag

Originally, Enki was the Sumerian god of water, wisdom, knowledge and creation, who was later accepted and became a popular god throughout the Mesopotamia due to his close association with the life of human beings. According to a legend, he blessed the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with sparkling water and fish. In the mythical legend, Ninhursag bore a daughter to Enki called Ninsar, who was also known as Lady Greenery. Then Ninsar bore a daughter Ninkurra (lady of the Pasture) through Enki. In turn, Ninkurra bore Enki a daughter named Uttu, associated with weaving, who became upset as Enki did not care for her. Then on Ninhursag's advice, Uttu buried Enki's seed in the earth, whereupon eight plants quickly grew up. Seeing the plants, Enki ate them all that made him sick in eight organs of his body. Later Ninhursag cured him by taking all the plants into her own body and giving birth to eight deities, namely Abu, Nintulla, Ninsutu, Ninkasi, Nanshe, Azimua, Ninti, and Enshag.

4. Sargon of Akkad

King Sargon appears as a legendary personality in Neo-Assyrian literature of the 7th - 8th centuries BCE. His empire included most of the Mesopotamia, parts of Levant, and ancient Hurrite and Elamite territories. While the most Assyrian kings portrayed themselves as the representative chosen by the gods to rule, he presented a much humbler image of self as an orphan raised by a kind gardener, who was blessed by the goddess Ishtar (Inanna). According to The Legend of Sargon (autobiographical text), he was born as an illegitimate son to a temple priestess of the goddess Inanna of an unknown father. Due to her position, his mother could not reveal her pregnancy or keep him as child after birth; instead, she placed him in a safe basket and let go on the Euphrates River. Later he was rescued by the man named Akki, who was the gardener of Ur-Zababa, the king of the Sumerian city of Kish. With the future turn of events, when Sagon eventually became the king, remembering his humble origin he distanced himself from elites and served as the king of common people.

Postscript

Ancient Assyria was yet another glorious Mesopotamian civilization in sync with other civilizations in the region, which ultimately lost its identity and aura at the hands of Christianity and Islam in the post-Christ era. In the ancient times, ambitious and powerful kings used to invade and conquer other kingdoms and civilizations with a view to expand own power, influence and glory. However, even the conquered people were allowed to continue with their customs, rituals and traditions. It was rather uncommon that any victor king would destroy the socio-religious culture of other people. It was largely due to this reason that many regions evolved with a hybrid culture adopting best practices of both the conqueror and conquered. But the later evolved Abrahamic neo-religions also engaged in destroying the culture and religion of the conquered territories/states with missionary zeal. It was this barbarian act and attitude that led to destruction of many glorious civilizations in the last two millennia. Assyrians lost their independence with the fall of the Neo-Assyrian empire but they started losing their identity only with the advent of Christianity. If various reports are of any clue, a few lakh Christian Assyrians now left in the West Asian countries are still facing large scale discrimination and persecution.

Continued to Next Page 

Images (c) istock.com

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13-Jun-2021
More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh
 
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