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Babylon and the Ishtar Gate

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The Ishtar Gate

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed in about 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II on the north side of the city. It was part of a grand walled processional way leading into the city. The walls were finished in glazed bricks mostly in blue, with animals and deities in low relief at intervals.

The German archaeologist, Robert Koldewey led the excavation of the site from 1904 - 1914. Wanting to justify the large investment that had been provided by the German Oriental Society, another archeologist involved in the excavation, Walter Andrea used his connections with both the German intelligence and with local Iraqi tribal sheikhs to smuggle the remains out of Iraq under the nose of the Ottoman authorities. The Gate's ceramic pieces were disassembled according to a numbering system and then packed in straw in coal barrels in order to disguise them. These barrels were then transported down the Euphrates River to Shatt al-Arab, where they were loaded onto German ships and taken to Berlin.

After the end of the First World War in 1918, the smaller gate was reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum. The gate is 50 feet high, and the original foundations extended another 45 feet underground. The reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum is not a complete replica of the entire gate. The original structure was a double gate with a smaller frontal gate and a larger and more grandiose secondary posterior section. The only section on display in the Pergamon Museum is the smaller frontal segment.

Other panels from the facade of the gate are located in many other museums around the world, including various European countries and the United States.

Text above adapted from Wikipedia.

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Closeups of some of the glazed bricks on the Ishtar Gate, including bulls, lions, and the mythological mušḫuššu

It would appear that many of the bricks have had to be recreated by modern potters to complete the wall. Note the textured appearance of the bricks near the figures, and the smooth surface and clear colours of some of the rest of the bricks.

Note that these are glazed bricks, not tiles. The lack of mortar lines (which are typical in brickwork) was achieved by having the bricks slightly wedge shaped front to back on top and bottom, and on the sides. The mortar (a layer of asphalt and a layer of mud) was placed only half way towards the front for each brick.

Over every course of brick was a thin layer of asphalt, and above this an equally thin layer of mud and then another course of bricks. The joints of the course, which are from 10 to 15 mm thick, were also formed of asphalt and mud. In every fifth course a matting made of reeds, the stalks of which have been split and rendered flexible by beating, was substituted for the mud. The matting itself had rotted, but the impression left on the asphalt was still perfectly fresh and recognisable. In appearance it corresponded exactly with the ordinary matting in use in the neighbourhood today.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Text: Don Hitchcock and Koldewey (1914)
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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The mušḫuššu (formerly erroneously also read as sirrušu or sirrush) or mushkhushshu, is a creature from ancient Mesopotamian mythology. As indicated by the Babylonian name it is a 'walking serpent'. A striking feature is the scaly coat and the great tail of a serpent's body. The head with the forked tongue is purely that of a serpent, and is in fact that of the horned viper, so common in Arabia, which bears the two erect horns, of which, as in the case of the bulls, only one is visible in the purely profile attitude.

Behind lie two spiral combs similar to those so generously bestowed on the heads of the frequently represented Chinese dragon. The tail ends in a small curved sting. The legs are those of some high-stepping feline animal, probably a cheetah. The hinder feet are those of a strong raptorial bird with powerful claws and great horny scales. But the tarsal joint is not that of a bird but of a quadruped, and the metatarsals are not anchylosed (grown together into one), or only very slightly at the distal end. It is remarkable that, in spite of the scales, the animal possesses hair. Three corkscrew ringlets fall over the head near the ears, and on the neck, where a lizard's comb would be, is a long row of curls.

This conjunction of scales and hair, as well as the marked difference between the front and hinder extremities, is very characteristic of the prehistoric dinosaur. Also the small size of the head in comparison with the rest of the body, the carriage and disproportionate length of the neck, all correspond with the distinctive features of this extinct animal. The 'sirrush' is a proof of an unmistakeable self-creative genius in this ancient art, and far exceeds all other fantastic creatures in the uniformity of its physiological conceptions. If only the forelegs were not so emphatically and characteristically feline, such an animal might actually have existed.

In the Babylonian pantheon of Nebuchadnezzar's time, Marduk occupied a very prominent position. To him belonged Esagila, the principal temple of Babylon, and to him Nebuchadnezzar consecrated the Procession Street and the Ishtar Gate itself. His animal, the sirrush, frequently appears on carvings of this period, such as the seals and boundary stones.

This 'dragon of Babylon' was the far-famed animal of Babylon, and fits in admirably with the well-known story in the Apocrypha of Bel and the Dragon. One may easily surmise that the priests of Esagila kept some rep , probably an arval, which is found in this neighbourhood, and exhibited it in the semi-darkness of a temple chamber as a living sirrush.( I have been unable to find any reference for the arval. The closest I can find to a candidate is Saara loricata, the Mesopotamian spiny-tailed lizard, which can grow to a length of 52 cm - Don ) In this case there would be small cause for wonder that the creature did not survive the concoction of hair and bitumen administered to it by Daniel.

The narrative of the dragon (Daniel 14:23–30):

23 Now in that place there was a great dragon, which the Babylonians revered.
24 The king said to Daniel, ‘You cannot deny that this is a living god; so worship him.’
25 Daniel said, ‘I worship the Lord my God, for he is the living God.
26 But give me permission, O king, and I will kill the dragon without sword or club.’ The king said, ‘I give you permission.’
27 Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. Then Daniel said, ‘See what you have been worshipping!’


Artist: Unknown
Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)
Additional text: Wikipedia




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The bull is the sacred animal of Ramman, the weather god. A pair of walking bulls often form the base on which his statue stands, or his emblem the lightning is frequently placed on the back of a recumbent bull.

Artist: Unknown
Photo: Koldewey (1914)




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The coloured bricks of the Procession Street were one of the main reasons for organising a major expedition and excavation to Babylon.

This lasted for 16 years, from 1899 through 1914. Finely coloured fragments which made their appearance in great numbers were the first obvious discoveries when the original trench was dug. This was followed by the discovery of the eastern of the two parallel walls, the pavement of the Processional Roadway, and the western wall, which provided Koldewey with the necessary orientation for further excavations.

Artist: Unknown
Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)








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The upper part of the right hand panel beside the Ishtar Gate.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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Brickie's marks.

An ingenious method for completing the jig saw puzzle of the finished, glazed bricks when they came back from the kiln was devised.

The markings using a poor, somewhat blackened glaze, are on the upper face of the bricks, and consist of numerals combined with dots.

The signs which distinguish the courses are in the centre. For the volutes shown, as in the colour photograph of the right hand wall above: of the central signs that mark the courses, the top course of the upper row of volutes has one stroke, the second has two, and so on, up to seven. The seven courses of the lower row of volutes are numbered in the same way, but the groups of strokes are topped by a dot to distinguish them from those of the upper series.

The signs for the lateral arrangement are close to the vertical joints, and are rather like a DIY furniture kit, where A matches with A, B with B and so on. In this case symbols easily distinguished from one another are placed on each end of the bricks, showing the brick layer which brick butts up against the preceding brick as they are laid.

Further, in order to get a tight fit for the bricks, they were made slightly wedge shaped, which allowed the front of the bricks to meet in close alignment.

The joints between the courses were laid in mud over asphalt, which does not extend to the front of the building, but stops at a distance of half a brick, thus avoiding any blotching of the face of the wall, and eliminating the mortar line. In addition to the black outlines and the dark blue ground, the colours employed are white, light blue, yellow, and red. The red has now everywhere the appearance of green.

( this green colour can be seen in one of the inner layers outlining the arched doorway and the corners of the walls of the Ishtar Gate above - Don )

The red colour can sometimes be seen in large drops of broken glaze which show a core of brilliant red coated with a green layer, which is typically two to three millimetres thick.

Photo and adapted text: Koldewey (1914)




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The Ishtar Gate

The lower part of the right hand panel beside the Ishtar Gate.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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One of the lions from the part of the Ishtar Gate in the image above.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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The Procession Street of Babylon

Built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604 BC - 562 BC)

The Procession Street of Babylon which served as the northern entrance way into the city, and during the New Year Festival as a cultic route, ran through the Ishtar Gate leading through the inner city to the Marduk sanctuary and ending at the bridge across the Euphrates.

Only the 250 m long section running between the high walls of the palace and the fortifications was thoroughly excavated by the German archaeologist mission 1899 - 1917. Thus, the foundation plan, debris from the walls, and the pavement composed of white limestone and red breccia blocks were found.

Within this part, a 180 m long section on both walls can be proven to have been decorated on opposite sides with coloured reliefs of lions, the sacred animal of the goddess Ishtar. In the museum, only a relatively short section of the wall, 30 m long and 8 m wide, was reconstructed using the original fragments. The original width of the processional street was 20 - 24 m.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Text and source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



The bricks represented lions advancing to right or to left, according to whether they were on the eastern or western wall. Some of them were white with yellow manes, and others yellow with red manes, of which the red has now changed to green owing to decomposition.

The ground is either light or dark blue, the faces, whether seen from the left or the right, are all alike, as they have been cast in a mould. The walls were plundered for brick, but they were not so completely destroyed as to prevent the observation that they were provided with towers that projected slightly and were obviously placed at distances apart equal to their breadth.

Black and white lines in flat enamel on the edges of the towers divided the face of the two walls into panels, defining the divisions made by towers in the two long friezes of 180 metres, the plinth was decorated with rows of broad leaved rosettes.

As the lions are about two metres long, it is possible that each division contained two lions. That would give 60 lions at each side, a total of 120 which agrees well with the number of fragments found.

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These lions, at the far left hand end of the Processional Way, show the green colouration when the red glaze deteriorates.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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Glazed brick panel showing a roaring lion from the Throne Room of Nebuchadnezzar II.

King Nebuchadnezzar II commissioned major building projects in Babylon to glorify the capital of his empire. Glazed bricks in bright shades of blue, yellow and white were favoured for public monuments in order to emphasise both divine and royal power.

The Processional Way and the Ishtar Gate linked the city's outer fortifications to Nebuchadnezzar's Southern Palace. Beyond them stood the main temples and the great ziggurat tower which stretched seven storeys high. The roaring lions on the walls of the Processional Way and the Palace Throne Room represent Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 605 BC - 562 BC.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Original, card at the British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/, © Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
On loan from Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin



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Finds excavated by Robert Koldewey at Babylon between 1902 and 1914 arrived in Berlin, packed in crates. Staff spent years painstakingly joining fragments of glazed brick together to recreate Nebuchadnezzar's glorious vision.

Photo: © Vorderasiatisches Museum - SMB
Rephotography: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: poster at the British Museum, http://www.britishmuseum.org/, © Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0



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Plan of Babylon

Note that the main part of Babylon was bordered on one side by the Euphrates River, and was surrounded on the other three sides by a canal, which was primarily for defence from enemies, but would also have been useful for ferrying people and goods from one part of Babylon to another.

The water surrounding the main part of the city was crossed by several bridges, which could have been quickly destroyed if the city was threatened by enemies.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Text: Don Hitchcock



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A detailed model of the Procession Street and the inner and outer Gates of Ishtar.

Note the sixteen towers lining the Procession Street, with access and crenellated parapets to allow archers to guard the street from high vantage points if necessary.

Photo:Gryffindor
Permission: The photographer has graciously released this image into the public domain
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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This view shows the detailed layout of the towers, with access via a staircase, and a sunken section in the middle for soldiers to stand, with a broad, strong shelf on which to lay spare weapons and arrows easy to hand.

The model is painstakingly detailed, with the parade of lions shown clearly, and faithfully coloured.

However, the modellers have the lions striding away from the Ishtar Gate, the opposite direction to that assumed by earlier researchers.

King (1919) says that the lions were represented advancing southwards towards the Ishtar Gate. He writes that 'Leading as they did to the bulls and dragons of the gateway, we can realise in some degree the effect produced upon a stranger entering the inner city of Babylon for the first time.'

Koldewey (1914) says that 'the tiles (bricks) represented lions advancing to right or to left according to whether they were on the eastern or the western wall.' If they were advancing to the right on the eastern wall, or to the left on the western wall, they would be approaching the Ishtar gate, not striding away from it.

At the same time, the display in the Pergamon Museum has the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Street (separated by another passageway) in the same direction as the model - that is, the lions are parading away from the Ishtar Gate. I find this confusing.

Photo and text: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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These decorations are from the second phase of the three phases of the building of the wall, consisting in this case of glazed bricks but with no modelling.

Even though the foundations of the Ishtar Gate were not visible in antiquity, they bore figural decoration featuring striding bulls and dragons (mushkhushshu). This was the result of work on an extension of the nearby palace of Nebuchadnezzar II which involved dumping debris on the terrain surrounding the gate, thereby raising the ground level and covering the lower courses. In this manner, successive phases of the gate's decoration were preserved for posterity already in Babylonian times.

Bulls and dragons (mushkhushshu) composed of unglazed, moulded bricks decorated the earliest, lowest courses of the walls. During the next (second) building phase, the same figures were represented in coloured glaze on flat bricks. Then the ground around the gate rose even higher. The courses of the third building phase of the gate, as in the famous 'Ishtar Gate', employed glazed, moulded bricks to depict the dragons (mushkhushshu), bulls, and lions, in colourful raised relief. Both earlier building phases document technological and artistic developments which occurred over a very short timespan.

Dimensions: Bulls, length 142 cm, height 108 cm. Dragons, length 160 cm, height 109 cm.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



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(left) Unenamelled bull from the first phase of building, the lowest courses of the walls.

(right) Unenamelled mushkhushshu or sirrush or dragon from the first phase of building, the lowest courses of the walls.

It should be noted that the mortar joints in these photos are relatively thick, and some of the mortar (asphalt and mud) has been squeezed out of the joints to project from the wall. This problem was addressed in the third phase, when the bricks were made slightly wedge shaped (top and bottom, left and right) and the asphalt and mud mortar was placed only on the 'back' half of the bricks, which meant that even if the wall settled, as it has here, the mortar would, if anything, be squeezed to the interior of the wall, and the joints became very thin or non-existent, creating a much better finish.

So in phase one, we had these modelled animals in relief, unglazed.

In phase two, we had glazed bricks, still rectangular in all respects, with no moulding, no relief.

In phase three we had the lot - wedge shaped bricks (with a rectangular face) which were a much better design, moulding of the three types of animal - lions, bulls, and dragons, and superb glazing in many colours of the moulded animals and the flat tiles surrounding them, with an overall brilliant blue background, setting off the animals perfectly.

Photo: Koldewey (1914)


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These are important images. The unenamelled bull from the photo above this pair is here shown in context. It represents the moment when phase one, of unenamelled reliefs, was replaced by phase two, of enamelled but flat bricks. Both the photo and the painting were seen as important additions, and rightly so, to a wonderful book by a dedicated researcher. The unenamelled bull is from row 9 in the diagram below, and the enamelled flat brick bull is from row 10.

Note that the poor mortar jointing in phase one was replaced by professional jointing in phase two (though still with significant thickness, as in modern brick buildings).

In phase three, for the towers of the Ishtar Gate, the jointing thickness was made as close to zero as possible by careful moulding of the bricks, and by specially designed mortaring.

This fragment, which was the highest portion of the gate preserved, is from the east side of the second doorway of the outer gate. It stands just below the final pavement level, and only the upper portion is enamelled.

However, with regard to the poor mortar jointing, King (1919) notes the following:

In the greater part of the structure that still remains in place, it is apparent that the brickwork was very roughly finished, and that the bitumen employed as mortar has been left where it has oozed out between the courses. The explanation is that the portions of the gateway which still stand are really foundations of the building, and were always intended to be buried below the pavement level. It is clear that the height of the road-way was constantly raised while the building of the gate was in progress, and there are traces of two temporary pavements, afterwards filled in when the final pavement level was reached. The visible portion of the gate above the last pavement has been entirely destroyed, but among its debris were found thousands of fragments of the same two animals, but in enamelled brick of brilliant colouring, white and yellow against a blue ground. Some of these have been laboriously pieced together in Berlin, and specimens are now exhibited in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum and in the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Constantinople.
Artist: Unknown
Photo: Koldewey (1914)
Text: Don Hitchcock
Additional text: King (1919)




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Section through the Ishtar Gate.

The succession of the rows may be schematised thus:

Procession Street of pavement of Shadu and Turminabanda stone. (see below)
Row 10. Bulls in flat enamel, the top row of those found still in situ.
Row 9. Bulls in brick relief, carefully worked.
Older road pavement of burnt brick.
Row 8. Sirrush in brick relief
Row 7. Bulls in brick relief
Traces of an older pavement (?).
Row 6. Sirrush in brick relief.
Row 5. Bulls in brick relief.
Row 4. Sirrush in brick relief.
Row 3. Bulls in brick relief.
Row 2. Sirrush in brick relief, in 1910 only above water level.
Row 1. Bulls in brick relief, in 1910 only above water level.

Note that Koldewey (1914) posits three rows above the Procession Street, numbered as rows 11 to 13, of alternating rows of Sirrush (lowest, flat enamel), then a row of enamelled relief of Bulls, and then a row of enamelled relief of Sirrush. However the Ishtar Gate as reconstructed shows five alternating rows of Bulls and Sirrush, with the lowest row being of Bulls.

Shadu stone: a fine hard limestone which may have been brought from the neighbourhood of Hit or Anah, where a similar stone is quarried, and transport by river would present little difficulty.

Turminabanda stone: white breccia, used as paving stones, and give the impression of being intended for wheel traffic, but those that are still in situ do not show the slightest traces of being used for any such purpose, they are merely polished and slippery with use. Hall (1930) suggests that it is possibly from East Anatolia.

King (1919) writes that the slabs that are still in place are polished with hard use, but, unlike the pavements of Pompeii, show no ruts or indentations such as we might have expected from the chariots of the later period. It is possible that, in view of its sacred character, the use of the road was restricted to foot passengers and beasts of burden, except when the king and his retinue passed along it through the city. And in any case, not counting chariots of war and state, there was probably very little wheeled traffic in Babylonia at any time.

Here is the original drawing

by Koldewey (1914) without the additional text in red.

Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)
Additional text: Hall (1930), King (1919)



King (1919) writes:

Before the Neo-Babylonian period the Ishtar Gate had defended the northern entrance to the city, and was probably a massive structure of unburnt brick without external decoration. But with the building of the outer city-wall, it stood in the second line of defence. And as Nebuchadnezzar extended the fortifications of the Citadel itself upon the northern side, it lost still more of its strategic importance, and from its interior position became a fit subject for the decorator's art.

The whole course of the roadway through these exterior defences he flanked with mighty walls, seven metres thick, extending from the gate northwards to the outermost wall and moat. Their great strength was dictated by the fact that, should an enemy penetrate the outer city-wall, he would have to pass between them, under the garrison's fire, to reach the citadel-gate. But these, like the gate itself, formed a secondary or interior defence, and so, like it, were elaborately decorated.

The side of each wall facing the roadway was adorned with a long frieze of lions, in low relief and brilliantly enamelled, which were represented advancing southwards towards the Ishtar Gate. The surface of each wall was broken up into panels by a series of slightly projecting towers, each panel probably containing two lions, while the plinth below the Lion Frieze was decorated with rosettes. There appear to have been sixty lions along each wall. Some were in white enamel with yellow manes, while others were in yellow and had red manes, and they stood out against a light or dark blue ground. Leading as they did to the bulls and dragons of the gateway, we can realise in some degree the effect produced upon a stranger entering the inner city of Babylon for the first time.

Such a stranger, passing within the Ishtar Gate, would have been struck with wonder at the broad Procession Street, which ran its long course straight through the city from north to south, with the great temples ranged on either hand. Its foundation of burnt brick covered with bitumen is still preserved, upon which, to the south of the gateway, rested a pavement of massive flags, the centre of fine hard limestone, the sides of red breccia veined with white.

( note that King is here talking of a red breccia on the sides, while Koldewey talks of white breccia as part of the main road surface - Don )

In inscriptions upon the edges of these paving slabs, formerly hidden by their asphalt mortar, Nebuchadnezzar boasts that he paved the street of Babylon for the procession of the great lord Marduk, to whom he prays for eternal life. The slabs that are still in place are polished with hard use, but, unlike the pavements of Pompeii, show no ruts or indentations such as we might have expected from the chariots of the later period. It is possible that, in view of its sacred character, the use of the road was restricted to foot passengers and beasts of burden, except when the king and his retinue passed along it through the city. And in any case, not counting chariots of war and state, there was probably very little wheeled traffic in Babylonia at any time.

When clear of the citadel the road descends by a gradual slope to the level of the plain, and preserving the same breadth, passes to the right of the temple dedicated to Ishtar of Akkad.

As it continues southward it is flanked at a little distance on the east by the streets of private houses, whose foundations have been uncovered in the Merkes mound;[116] and on the west side it runs close under the huge peribolos of E-temen-anki, the Tower of Babylon.

As far as the main gate of E-temen-anki its foundation is laid in burnt brick, over which was an upper paving completely formed of breccia. The inscription upon the slabs corresponds to that on the breccia paving stones opposite the citadel; but they have evidently been re-used from an earlier pavement of Sennacherib, whose name some of them bear upon the underside.

This earlier pavement of Babylon's Sacred Way must have been laid by that monarch before he reversed his conciliatory policy toward the southern kingdom. At the south-east corner of the peribolos the road turns at a right angle and running between the peribolos and E-sagila, the great temple of the city-god, passes through a gate in the river-wall built by Nabonidus, and so over the Euphrates bridge before turning southward again in the direction of Borsippa.

This branch road between the Tower of Babylon and E-sagila is undoubtedly the continuation of the procession-street. For not only was it the way of approach to Marduk's temple, but its course has been definitely traced by excavation. But there can be no doubt that the upper portion of the road, running north and south through the city, was continued in a straight line from the point where the Sacred Way branched off. This would have conducted an important stream of traffic to the main gate in the southern city-wall, passing on its way between the temples dedicated to the god Ninib and to another deity not yet identified.

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Eastern towers of the Ishtar Gate

Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)




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View of the Procession Street, east of Etemenanki, and close to the geographical centre of Babylon.

Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)




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View of the Sacred Way of Babylon, laid with the same square tiles used on the Procession Street.

King does not specify where this small excavation was done, but it may have been part of the Sacred Way on the branch road between the Tower of Babylon and E-sagila, or perhaps on the continuation of the Sacred Way on the western side of the Euphrates.

Photo: King (1919)




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Esagila (house of the main elevation), the ground level Marduk temple, is shown here to the right of the street from the bridge over the Euphrates.

Etemenanki (House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth), the approx. 92 m high step tower.

The small high temple on the tower is said to have housed a bed and table for Marduk. The model of the tower follows the reconstruction proposal by W. Andrae / G. Martiny

State at the beginning of the 6th century BC

Koldewey directed the excavation of Babylon from 1899 through 1914, using comparatively modern archaeological techniques. The site had been identified a century earlier by Claudius James Rich.

More than 200 people worked on the site daily, year round, for fifteen years.

Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)
Additional text: Wikipedia




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This view of the model of Babylon shows the interior of the peribolos, defined as a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar.

The Esagila, a 'ground level' temple dedicated to Marduk, the protector god of Babylon, is in the foreground, with the Etemenanki, the Tower of Babel, in the background.

Etemenanki was a ziggurat dedicated to Marduk. It is now in ruins, and is located about 90 kilometres south of Baghdad, Iraq.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Additional text: Wikipedia



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Model of Etemenanki, the Marduk temple in Babylon, also known as the Tower of Babel.

Babylon was destroyed in 689 BC by Sennacherib, who claims to have destroyed the Etemenanki. It took 88 years to restore the city. Work was started by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, and continued under Nabopolassar, followed by his son Nebuchadnezzar II who rebuilt the ziggurat.

The city's central feature was the temple of Marduk (Esagila), with which this Etemenanki ziggurat was associated.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Text: Wikipedia



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Another, more detailed version of Etemenanki.

The stepped tower of Babylon was dedicated to the city god Marduk. The model was made by Hans-Jörg Schmid in 1991. This building, in Akkadian called zikkurrat, might be the historical background for the biblical story of the 'Tower of Babel'.

In ancient Near Eastern thought, this stair-like structure connected heaven and earth, as the translation of the Sumerian name Etemenanki, 'House, foundation of heaven and earth' suggests.

To what extent the model represents the correct appearance of the building is debatable, as only the foundations of this building are preserved.


Catalog: VAG 01284
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Artist: Hans-Jörg Schmid, 1991.
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin




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The 'Esagila' tablet

( This gives the height of Etemenanki as 91 metres, now believed to be no more than 66 metres, see below - Don )

Copy of a neo-Babylonian document written in Uruk from an original by Borsippa, Tablet of Esagila.

Inscription: Measurements of the Esagil and the Etemenanki.

Height 181 mm, width 100 mm, thickness 24 mm.

Date of the original tablet: Neo-Babylonian (Borsippa) (604 BC - 539 BC)
Date of creation / manufacture of this copy: Seleucid: Seleucos I (around 229 BC; year 83 of the Seleucids) (305 BC - 281 BC)
Provenance: Uruk archives of Eanna

Text above: © Louvre Museum, Paris, France, https://collections.louvre.fr/
Photo: © Raphaël Chipault, Louvre Museum, Paris, France, https://collections.louvre.fr/
Source: Original, Louvre Museum, Paris, France, https://collections.louvre.fr/

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Modern scholars dispute the claim by the ancient Babylonian source (the 'Esagila' tablet) that the Etemenanki was 91 metres tall. 'The modern interpretation of the text of the Esagila tablet raises a serious technical problem: the excessive height of the first two terraces of the ziggurat and the total height of the building defy the laws of statics and compressive strength of a material such as raw earth brick.

Even allowing variation in the design of a six-level terraced structure, at that height, the compression stress on the structure would be somewhere around two to three times as much as comparable structures of the same time period. Fenollós J. et al. (2005) propose that, assuming the structure did indeed use a six-level terrace design as depicted in the Tower of Babel stele, the ziggurat was probably closer to 54 metres tall.

The temple at the top contributed another 12 metres in height, for a total height of 66 metres.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Artist: Hans-Jörg Schmid, 1991.
Text: Wikipedia




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Plan of Esagila and Etemenanki.

Photo and text: Koldewey (1914)




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Plan of the ruins of the city of Babylon

Photo: Koldewey (1914)




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Codex Hammurabi

Stele of the Law of King Hammurabi of Babylon, 1792 BC - 1750 BC.

The code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian legal text composed c. 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organised, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East. It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, purportedly by Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. The primary copy of the text is inscribed on a basalt or diorite stele 225 cm tall. The stele was discovered in 1901, at the site of Susa in present-day Iran, where it had been taken as plunder six hundred years after its creation. The text itself was copied and studied by Mesopotamian scribes for over a millennium. The stele now resides in the Louvre Museum.

The top of the stele features an image in relief of Hammurabi with Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice. Below the relief are about 4,130 lines of cuneiform text: one fifth contains a prologue and epilogue in poetic style, while the remaining four fifths contain what are generally called the laws. In the prologue, Hammurabi claims to have been granted his rule by the gods "to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak". The laws are casuistic, expressed as 'if ... then' conditional sentences. Their scope is broad, including, for example, criminal law, family law, property law, and commercial law.

Modern scholars responded to the Code with admiration, at its perceived fairness and respect for the rule of law, and at the complexity of Old Babylonian society. There was also much discussion of its influence on the Mosaic Law. Scholars quickly identified lex talionis, the "eye for an eye" principle, as underlying the two collections. Debate among Assyriologists has since centred around several aspects of the Code: its purpose, its underlying principles, its language, and its relation to earlier and later law collections.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding these issues, Hammurabi is regarded outside Assyriology as an important figure in the history of law, and the document as a true legal code. The U.S. Capitol has a relief portrait of Hammurabi alongside those of other lawgivers, and there are replicas of the stele in numerous institutions, including the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Facsimile, Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Additional text: Wikipedia
Original is in the Louvre Museum, Paris




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Votive statue dedicated by Prince Puzur-Eshtar / Puzur-Ishtar of Mari, taken as booty to Babylon.

Left: complete reassembled replica.

Right: original of the head.

Circa 1950 BC.

This replica consists of casts of the diorite head (in Berlin) and of the body and base (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul).

Complete height 193 cm

This over-lifesized statue is one of the few large sculptures preserved from the ancient Near East. The head was broken from the body in an act of vandalism in antiquity.

Though separated, both pieces fortuitously survived so that the statue is nearly complete. The head was acquired by purchase for the collection before 1899 while the body came to light during excavations at Babylon and eventually reached Istanbul. Thanks to an exchange of casts, both museums can exhibit the complete sculpture.

According to the inscriptions below the right hand and above the hem of the garment, the sculpture was made as a votive gift. The name Puzur-Eshtar, Prince of Mari, is mentioned twice, but since the figure's headgear is the horned cap of a deity, the statue cannot depict the mortal prince. The clasped hands of the figure and the text make it certain that the statue once belonged to the inventory of a temple, but where the temple stood is not known, despite the mention of Mari in the title of the prince. Like many other monuments, the statue will have been looted from its original site and carried off as booty to Babylon in antiquity.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin




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Incised drawing of a lion attacking a wild boar.

Babylon, Kassite period.

2nd half of 2nd millennium BC

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin








Because Mesopotamia lacked most raw materials, objects made of anything other than clay or pottery were highly valued, whether they were put to daily use of intended as burial equipment.

Luxury goods were prized not only on account of the materials from which they were made (e.g. gold and silver, semiprecious stones and man-made media such as glass). The function of objects (like the gaming board of rock crystal) and the craftmanship evident in design and workmanship also contributed to their value.

When it came to votive gifts for the gods (sceptres, mace heads, onyx 'eyes', cylinders of lapis lazuli) the symbolism inherent in the object was enhanced by the value of the material from which it is made.


Text above: Card, Pergamon Museum, Berlin





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Onyx sceptre or spindle from Babylon.

6th century BC

Length 389 mm, diameter 45 mm (max.)

Weight: calculated 400 gm.

Catalog: VA Bab 01625
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Onyx mace head from Babylon, 6th century BC

Height 57 mm, diameter 55 mm, weight 170 gm.

Catalog: Onyx, the Omran mound, Tell Amran ibn Ali, VA Bab 01625
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Serpentine club head with the inscription of Prince Ulaburariasch, 2nd half of the 16th century BC.

Height 63 mm, diameter 63 mm, height 72 mm, weight 330 gm.

The club head, to be mounted on a shaft, was found near the Marduk temple Esagila. It was one of the stone materials kept in baskets, including God's seals and the remains of a scepter. This context of finds from the Nebuchadnezzar period (6th century BC) could point to the remains of a temple treasure.

This interpretation is possibly supported by the inscription on the piece, according to which the founder was Ulaburariasch, a prince from the Kassite dynasty, later 'King of the Sealands'.

The knowledge of the age of this offering as well as the observance of the curse formula used here for the removal of the name should have been one reason for the storage of this magnificent weapon for a period of almost a thousand years. The admiration for the careful stone-cutting work certainly contributed to this.

Catalog: Serpentine, Babylon, VA Bab 00645
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Glass bottle from Babylon, 8th/7th century BC.

Height 87 mm, diameter 68 mm, weight 134 gm.

Catalog: Glass, VA 08449
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Miniature vessel from Babylon, 1st millennium BC.

Height 77 mm, diameter 55 mm, weight 90 gm.

Catalog: Stone, VA Bab 04432
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Miniature vessel from Babylon, 6th century BC.

Height 68 mm, diameter 60 mm, weight 100 gm.

Catalog: Glazed ceramic, Merkes, from an oval sarcophagus, VA 08452
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Objects of everyday life, Babylon.

Decorated comb, needles, spindle whorls, pins.

Ivory, bone, glass.

1st millennium B.C.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Jewellery, all from Babylon.

____________

Left: Gold bangles.

Both have a thickness of 12 mm and a diameter of 55 mm.

Circa 10th century BC.

Catalog: VA Bab 02542.01, VA Bab 02549.2

____________

Centre ring of the three rings: Gold boat-shaped earring.

1st half of the 1st millennium BC.

Height 18 mm, width 16 mm, thickness 5 mm.

Catalog: Merkes, 26 o 1, + 2.50m (grave) VA Bab 02542.01

____________

Right ring of the three rings: Gold earring with a pomegranate pendant.

1st half of the 1st millennium BC.

Height 23 mm, width 13 mm, thickness 2 mm.

Spherical pendant (ball shaped with extra small circlet)

Catalog: VA Bab 02398

____________

Small spherical pendant just above the hollow gold beads.

1st half of 1st millennium BC Chr.

Diameter 8 mm.

Catalog: Merkes, 27 n 1, + 8.00m, VA Bab 02403

____________

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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____________

Left:

Necklace made of semi-precious stones (grave goods), Babylon, 13th-12th century BC.

Period: Kassite

Length 46 cm (chain closed), diameter 1 cm (widest part)

Catalog: Merkes, Crypt 32 , quadrant 26 f 1, +1.95m, VA Bab 01377.01

____________

Centre:

Necklace of semi-precious stones with turquoise pendant (grave goods), Babylon, 13th-12th century BC.

Period: Kassite

Length 61 cm (chain closed), diameter 8 mm (widest part)

Catalog: Merkes, Crypt 32 , quadrant 26 f 1, +1.95m,VA Bab 01377.02

____________

Right:

Necklace made of semi-precious stones and gold(?) (grave goods) Babylon, 13th-12th century.

Period: Kassite

Length 35 cm

Catalog: Semi-precious stones and gold, Merkes, Crypt 32 , quadrant 26 f 1, +1.95m, VA Bab 01377.03

____________

The Kassites were people of the ancient Near East, who controlled Babylonia after the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire circa 1595 BC and until circa 1155 BC (middle chronology).

They gained control of Babylonia after the Hittite sack of the city in 1595 BC (i.e. 1531 BC per the short chronology), and established a dynasty based first in Babylon and later in Dur-Kurigalzu.
The Kassites were members of a small military aristocracy but were efficient rulers and locally popular, and their 500-year reign laid an essential groundwork for the development of subsequent Babylonian culture. The chariot and the horse, which the Kassites worshipped, first came into use in Babylonia at this time.

____________

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/
Additional text: Wikipedia




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Necklace made of gemstones (grave goods), Babylon, 1st half of the 1st millennium BC.

Length 70 cm.

Catalog: Semi-precious stones, Merkes, from a stool coffin (grave 124), quadrant 25 n 2, 424 cm, VA Bab 01487

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Necklace made of semi-precious stone, gold, Babylon.

Diameter 15 cm.

Thickness 7 mm.

Weight 30 gm.

Catalog: Semi-precious stone, gold, VA Bab 02550

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Babylonian Amulet to protect young mothers and babies from dangers and diseases associated with the demon Lamashto.

First half of the 1st millennium BC.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Babylonian Amulet to protect young mothers and babies from dangers and diseases associated with the demon Lamashto.

First half of the first millennium BC.

Limestone, height 95 mm, width 68 mm, thickness 25 mm, weight 280 gm.

Catalog: VA 06959

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/




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Old Babylonian baked clay cylinder.

The Akkadian cuneiform inscription mentions a capacity table. 18th-16th century BC.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin, http://www.smb-digital.de/
Text: Wikipedia




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Stele, or kudurru, protecting a royal land grant, from Babylon.

Found in a stela workshop, the deity symbols are partly unfinished, and there is no inscription.

Middle 12th century BC.

The kudurru is from Babylon, Merkes 26 g 2, + 3.00 m. In a room where there is also 'a quantity of of semi-precious stone pieces and shells together with finished beads of the same material ..... The room was apparently the workshop of a stone cutter'.

Yellowish grey limestone. Height 50cm, breadth 20-36 cm, thickness 9 cm.

Plate-shaped stone without inscription. Relief images on the upper rim and in four registers on one broadside.

On the upper rim are astral images.

In the uppermost register are a big cat and a jackal(?), both squatting on low smooth pedestals, and a goatfish.

In the second register is a serpent-dragon with spade, a second with stylus, a bird with head turned back, a dog and a calf with a bundle of lightning, all on low, smooth pedestals.

In the third register are a lion staff, a double lion's club, a bird on pole, a triangular standard with pennant, a bird, a smooth rectangle, all standing on small decorated plinths, and a recumbent rectangle with a 'bundle' on a smooth pedestal.

In the lowest register a bow-shooting centaur, a standing lion dragon, a stand with a lamp, a bull-man with a standard, and a lion-man. Some of the symbols have remained unfinished. There is no inscription.

Photo (left): Don Hitchcock 2015
Photo (right): Seidl (1989)
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Additional text: Seidl (1989)




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Stele protecting a royal land grant (kudurru) of Shamash-shuma-ukin.

Place of discovery unknown.

Black limestone.

Circumferential deity symbols, including an enfeoffment scene and inscription.

667 BC - 648 BC (reign of Shamash-shuma-ukin)


Shamash-shum-ukin was the son of the Neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon and his appointed successor as king of Babylon, ruling Babylonia from 668 BC to his death in 648 BC.

Despite being the eldest living son of Esarhaddon at the time, Shamash-shum-ukin was designated as the heir to Babylon in 672 BC and in his stead his younger brother Ashurbanipal was designated as the heir to Assyria. Despite documents from Esarhaddon suggesting that the two brothers were intended to have equal power, Shamash-shum-ukin only acceded to the Babylonian throne months after Ashubanipal had become king and throughout his reign could only make decisions and issue orders if these were also approved and verified by Ashurbanipal.

Shamash-shum-ukin assimilated well into Babylonia, despite being ethnically and culturally Assyrian. His royal inscriptions are far more 'quintessentially Babylonian' than those of other Assyrian rulers of southern Mesopotamia, using Babylonian imagery and rhetoric to an unprecedented extent. He participated in the Babylonian New Year's festival and is recorded as partaking in other Babylonian traditions. The Statue of Marduk, the main cult image of Babylon's patron deity Marduk, was returned to Babylon in 668 BC at Shamash-shum-ukin's coronation, having been stolen from the city by his grandfather Sennacherib twenty years prior.

After resentment and hostility had grown between the brothers for some years, Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against his younger brother in 652 BC. Despite successfully raising several allies, a coalition of enemies of Assyria, to his cause, Shamash-shum-ukin's rebellion proved disastrous. After enduring a two-year siege by Ashurbanipal of Babylon, the city fell and Shamash-shum-ukin died, though the exact circumstances of his death are unclear. After his defeat and death there is evidence of a large-scale damnatio memoriae campaign, with images of the king being mutilated, erasing his face.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Additional text: Wikipedia




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Divine symbols and their explanation.

The upper registers of these Kudurru, a type of stone document used as a boundary stone and as a record of land grants to vassals by the Kassites in ancient Babylonia between the 16th and 12th centuries BC, are remarkable.

The symbols on them represent deities, which were believed to protect the landowners.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin




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Map of Babylon

Photo: Jona Lendering
Permission: CC0 1.0 Universal




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Nebuchadnezzar II's building deed for the renovation of the temple of the city god of Marad in the form of a truncated cone, ca 620 BC.

Since ancient times, the laying of the foundation stone has been part of the construction of a building. Today it usually takes the form of a ceremonial act in which capsules containing evidence of the present are laid in the foundation.

The laying of foundations can be traced back to ancient Egypt, the classical Mediterranean world and the ancient Orient, as well as to the Old Testament tradition. However, they were religiously based and much more elaborate than today. In Mesopotamia, this tradition began in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC and continued well into the 1st millennium BC.

The construction as well as the frequent renovation, repair or extension of palaces, temples, city walls and gates, which in Mesopotamia were always built of mud bricks that were not very durable, were among the most important tasks. The ruler was not only the builder, but also the one who ceremonially laid the first brick.

According to the myth of the creation of the world, the gods themselves built their residences and instructed the king in dreams to build. Once the site had been determined, it was a matter of carefully purifying it ritualistically. The blood of animals, honey, milk, wine, beer and oil had to be brought into the foundation trenches as offerings. In addition, cult personnel such as exorcists, lament singers, musicians and soothsayers had to be called in.

In contrast, nothing has come down to us about master builders and architects. If a renovation was to be carried out or if the ground plan was to be changed or the building moved, the approval of the gods had to be obtained. Above all, however, the inscriptions inserted into the building by predecessors had to be recovered, read and acted upon according to the instructions contained therein.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Pergamon Museum, Berlin



The hollow truncated cone presented here, made as a body on the potter's wheel, is an outstanding example of such a foundation inscription. It was donated to the collection of the Museum of the Ancient Near East in 1890; its exact origin is therefore not certain.

But the inscription itself provides information about the place where it was found. According to the inscription, the object comes from the ancient city of Marad, a place about 70 km southeast of Babylon that can be traced back to the 3rd millennium BC. The existence of Marad has so far only been shown by such inscriptions. Here was the sanctuary of Lugal - Marada, the city god, who appears in cuneiform texts as a sword god and in his essence as a warlike underworld god. The text is written in cuneiform, that since the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC.

In this case, it is a literary work in Akkadian, the oldest verifiable north-eastern Semitic language, whose two main dialects were Babylonian and Assyrian. The writing technique is the same as on thousands of clay tablets: the characters composed of individual wedge elements were written in the moist clay with a reed pen.

The text is divided into three columns of 45 to 50 lines each and shows the calligraphic effort to adapt the different character density of the lines to the given column width. The cone was then fired.

According to the inscription, the builder was Nebuchadnezzar II (605 BC - 562 BC), King of Babylon, who had the dilapidated sanctuary of Lugal-Marada in Marad renovated, about which he reports in this document:

At that time for Lugal-Marada, my lord, his temple in the midst of Marad - his founding document, which no one had seen since far away, I searched in its foundation and looked at it.

Over the foundation deed of Naram-Sîn, the king, my ancestor, I founded his foundation [anew.] A deed of my name I made and placed in it.

According to this, the temple had existed since the 23rd century BC, When the ancient kingdom of Akkadian was ruled by King Naram-Sîn (2272-2219 B.C.). Nebuchadnezzar II took the renewal of the building as an opportunity to now, in turn, place a foundation charter in the foundation. Apart from the quoted passage, the inscription is essentially identical to other comparable charters of the king. It is a literary building report which, after the introduction and titulature of Nebuchadnezzar, mentions his vocation as preserver of the cities and renewer of the temples and reports on his work on the buildings of Babylon and Borsippa.

The end of the inscription again follows literary patterns through the use of blessings and curses: 'O Lugal - Marada, Lord of all, you hero, look kindly on the work of my hands [...] Smash the adversaries, break their weapons, destroy the entire land of the enemies, overwhelm them insects! [...] Before Marduk, king of heaven and earth, make my deeds welcome, speak in my favour!'

Text: all of the text above referring to the building deed is by Prof. Dr. Joachim Marzahn, head curator at the Museum of the Ancient Near East.

Source: https://www.museumsportal-berlin.de/pl/magazin/blickfange/ein-grundstein-aus-der-zeit-nebukadnezars/

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Clay cylinder building deed.

The Akkadian cuneiform text mentions the name of the last great Assyrian king Assurbanipal, 668-626 BC, whose elder brother Shamash-shum-ukin became king of Babylon, and also mentions one of the double walls of Babylon, Nemet-Enlil, which had a total length of eight kilometres, and was further protected by a fifty metre wide moat, connected at both ends to the Euphrates.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Additional text: Wikipedia




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Clay cylinder building deed with an inscription mentioning King Warad-Sin of Larsa. Isin-Larsa period, 1834 BC - 1823 BC, from Babylon.

At this time, from 2000 BC to 1800 BC, southern Mesopotamia was dominated by the cities of Isin and Larsa.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source and text: Pergamon Museum, Berlin









References

  1. Fenollós J. et al., 2005: Etemenanki: nuova ipotesi di ricostruzione dello ziggurat di Nabucodonosor II nella cittá di Babilonia, (PDF). ISIMU: Revista sobre Oriente Próximo y Egipto en la antigüedad: 201–216.
  2. Hall H., 1930: A Season's Work at Ur, Al-'Ubaid, Abu Shahrain-Eridu-and Elsewhere Being an Unofficial Account of the British Museum Archaeological Mission to Babylonia, 1919, ISBN 9781138817838
  3. King L., 1919: A History of Babylon, from the Foundation of the Monarchy to the Persian Conquest, History of Babylonia vol. 2
  4. Koldewey R., 1914: The excavations at Babylon, Publisher London : Macmillan and Co.
  5. Seidl U., 1989: Die babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs: Symbole mesopotamischer Gottheiten, Zurich Open Repository and Archive, University of Zurich Main Library



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