By Henri Frankfort, extracted from his classical work "Kingship and the Gods – a study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the integration of Society and Nature, 1978, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. Preface by Samuel Noah Kramer © All rights reserved to author. Text reproduced here for aid in studies and research only.



In historical times, the Mesopotamian, no more than the Egyptian, could not conceive of an ordered society without a king. Yet he did not regard kingship as an essential part of the order of creation. According to Egyptian views, the universe was the outcome of one single creative process, and the activity of the creator had found its natural sequel in the absolute rule, which S/He exercised over the world S/He had brought forth. Human society under Pharaoh formed part of the cosmic order and repeated its pattern. In fact, Ra, the creator, headed the lists of the kings of Egypt as the first ruler of the land who had been succeeded by other gods until Horus, perpetually reincarnated in successive Pharaohs, had assumed the legacy of Osiris.

In Mesopotamia the theological aspect of kingship was less impressive; the monarchy was not regarded as the natural system within which cosmic and social forces were effective. Kingship had gained universal acceptance as a social institution, but nature did not appear to conform to a simple scheme of forces co-ordinated by the will of a ruler .

It is true that true that Anu and Enlil were habitually styled "King of the Gods" and that words derived from their names (anutu, enlilutu) denoted kingship. Yet it is peculiar that there should have been two kings, Anu, the aloof heaven, personifying the majesty of kingship, and Enlil, the violent stormwind as Anu´s executive power .The matter becomes clearer when we observe that the texts usually describe the gods, not under the absolute authority of these kings, but rather following their guidance. The gods made decisions after general discussion and Anu and Enlil derived their exceptional positions from the fact that they were the leaders of the assembly.

The title "king" has a less strict meaning in Mesopotamia than it has in Egypt. We have seen that a "governor" of Lagash might be called "king" by his subjects. In the same way, city-gods like Ningirsu of Lagash, who never appear as "kings" among the gods, are constantly called so by their Iiegemen upon earth. Neither among the gods nor among men did the title "king" denote the summit of a rigid hierarchical pyramid which was acknowledged as the only possible structure of society, for the memory of a kingless period in the past was never lost.


The Babylonian myth of beginnings knew neither single origin nor single authority. The primevaI chaos contained two elements, sweet water and salt water, the male Apsu and the female Tiamat. This couple brought forth a multitude of gods whose Iiveliness disturbed the inertia congeniaI to Chaos. So Chaos rose to destroy its progeny. In this conflict the older gods proved inadequate, and a young deity was chosen king. After his victory he created the world as we know it.

The violence and confusion depicted in this myth are poles apart from the serene splendor of the Egyptian creator rising from the primevaI ocean on the first morning to shape the world he was to rule.

Lishtar´s Note: The South Mesopotamian Model of Creation, or the Eridu Creation Myth, which probably had not yet been known by Professor Frankfort at the time he wrote "Kingship and the Gods", does not involve struggle for power, once Nammu, the Primeval Waters was the Mother of All and Womb of Abundance, who gave birth to Ki (Earth) and Anu (Sky), the first couple whose offspring became the Great Gods and Goddesses of Mesopotamia, the Hosts of Heaven and Earth.

In the Babylonian epic we are dealing with, the actual creation of the world occurs not at the beginning, but at the end of the narrative. The first lines of the Babylonian Epic read :

When on high the heavens had not (yet) been named,

And below the name of firm ground had not (yet) been thought of. . . . .

And we read in the pyramid texts of the Egyptians :

When heaven had not yet come into existence,

When men had not vet come into existence,

When gods had not 'yet been born,

When death had not yet come into existence . . . . [Pyr. I 466J .

This is a negative description of creation, and by no means confined to the ancient Near East. In fact, the most obvious way of introducing an account of creation is to emphasize the absence of alI familiar phenomena.

In the Sumerian myths we find this purpose served by phrases like "the wolf did not snatch away lambs," or "eye disease did not say, 'I, Eyedisease.' Both sentences mean: this familiar phenomenon did not yet exist. Elsewhere this piling-up of negatives shows a more ambitious purpose. In the Rigveda, for instance, it constitutes an attempt to escape from the tendency toward the concrete which characterizes mythopoeic thought and to conceive the act of creation without a material substratum. Egyptian and Mesopotamian thought were never aware of bondage to the concrete, and the second similarity between the creation myths of the two countries consists precisely in an agreement about the nature of the material substratum. It was held to be water. Now the belief that the world emerged from a primeval ocean has been one of those most widely held throughout the world, among alI kinds of peoples and at alI periods. The reason is a simple one: the universe is viewed as endowed with life; and the emergence of life, whether of plants or of animaIs, is preceded by water - be it rain, the floods of rivers inundating fields, or the outflow of the amniotic liquid.

A third resemblance between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation stories consists in the fact that they reflect certain natural features of their respective countries. But it is a mistake to see in the contrast of physiographical conditions the basis of the difference between the myths. The Mesopotamians could have built from their material - had they been so inclined- a story as serene as that of Atum ' s appearance in Egypt. In fact, the first section of the Epic of Creation, which reflects the Mesopotamian scene, lacks precisely the destructive nihilism, the anxiety, and the violence which dominate the central and major portion of the poem. It depicts in mythical terms the curious conditions which prevail even today in the southem part of the country where civilization arose.There, in the lagoons at the head of the Persian Gulf, the waters of Euphrates and Tigris mingle with those of the sea and deposit their silt. The contrast of land and water is blurred; men, moving in boats, pitch their tents on the reeds which grow from the marsh bottom, beating them down to form a shallow mattress upon the slime. Hence Ea, the god of tje sweet waters, was originally called Enki, the Lord of Land. And so we read in the Epic of Creation that -Apsu, sweet water, and Tiamat, salt water, were intermingled in the primeval chaos. Next

Lahmu and Lahamu appeared, and they were named;

Increasing through the ages, they grew tall [I, 10-11].

The names of this, the second couple in chaos, have been interpreted as meaning "silt." At the edges of the watery waste, all round the horizon, a deposit of mud slowly mounted, forming a great double circle-the beginning of earth and sky: the earthly horizon kishar and the heavenly horizon anshar .

Anshar and Kishar (then) were formed, surpassing them;

They lived for many days, adding year unto year .

Their son was Anu, equal to his fathers [1,12-14].

With Anu we have reached the head of the Mesopotamian pantheon, but not yet creation. Before the extant universe could be said to exist, it was necessary that the solid disks formed by a continuing process of deposition out of the silt circles, Kishar and Anshar, should be separated.

This separation was the act of creation, and it was originally ascribed to Enlil, the storm-wind. Again we observe a parallel with Egypt, where Shu, the god of air, was said to have lifted the sky from the earth. But we do not know the details of this myth in Mesopotamia; in the extant version Marduk has displaced Enlil. And Marduk made the sky and the earth from the t\vo halves of Tiamat' s body. It is unlikely that the older story gave a more peaceful account of creation, for Enlil was the god of the storm, and the Mesopotamian myths impart to the gods characters which, for all their plausibility, express the nature of the peculiar element in which the god is manifest. Enlil, consequently, appears as moody, impulsive, and passionate. We must, however, discount this version of the epic and consider the one which is preserved and in which Marduk is the creator. This last term has, of course, to be taken in a somewhat restricted sense. For we have seen that all the gods and much else existed and that many events had taken place before Marduk created heaven and earth. The Mcsopotamians saw the world in perpetual flux, and even the creation of the existing universe was not an absolute beginning. Creation was but an episode in a larger story which was known as far back as the joint existence of Apsu and Tiamat.

The battles of thc gods against Chaos moved from a promising start to a crisis which forced them to subordinate themselves to a king. The first threat of Tiamat and Apsu was countered by the destruction of the lattcr when Ea "cast a spell upon the waters." (Note that the victor was not a king but a magician.) The reaction of Chaos was terrifying. Its powers gathered (using the forms of Primitive Dernocracy), and prolific Tiamat spawned a numerous brood of monsters to strengthen their ranks :

Angry, scheming, relentless day and night,

They are bent on fighting, rage and prowl like lions.

Gathered in council, they plan the attack.

Mother Hubur - creator of all forms -

Adds irresistiblc weapons, has bome monster serpents,

sharp toothed, with fang unsparing;

has filled their bodies with poison for blood.

Fierce dragons she has draped with terror,

Crowned with flame and made like gods,

So that whoever looks upon them shall perish with fear,

And they, with bodies raised will no[ tum back their breast.

The gods stood aghast. Even Anu, the embodiment of authority, was helpless:

. . . . when Anu approachcd and saw the mood of Tiamat

He could not stand before her and turned back in terror

We have now reached thc crisis of the conflict. Note that the story has so far proceeded without assigning any significancc whatsoever to the concept of kingship. Only at this point in the emergency was Marduk asked ta take charge. He accepted on the conditions which we have discussed. Consequently, the gods imparted their collective power to their elected king, and after due preparations the battle was joined:

The Lord raised up the floodstorm, his mighty weapon.

He mounted the chariot, tbe irresistible, terrifying cyclone. . . . .

For his clothing he wore armor that inspires fright;

His head was covered with frightening radiance.

The Lord set out and pressed toward her ,

Toward the place of raging Tiamat he set his face,

He held between his lips a talisman(?) of red clay;

An herb to destroy the poison he grasped in his hand.

Then they crowded around him, the gods crowded around him;

The gods, his fathers, crowded around him, the gods crowded around him!

These excited phrases introduce the description of Marduk's vjctory. His election was justified, and his kingship was made permanent while the gods intoned a magnificat proclaiming his fifty names.

Since our copy of the Epic of Creation was written in Late Assyrian times, it shows that throughout Mesopotamian history the kingship of the gods was believed to have originated, not as a natUral concomitant of an orderly society, but as the product of confusion and anxiety. This genesis of kjngship among the gods followed the pattern of its inception among men. The same rule holds good in Egypt, where the origin of kingship was made to coincide with that of the universe because personal rule had existed in Africa since time immemorial.

However, the ruler of the Mesopotamjan gods differed from the human ruler in one respect: in the ideal world of the gods the limitations of kingship were maintained. It is true that the Epic of Creation ends in a glorification of Marduk, but this is understandable, since the text was recited annually jn the Marduk temple in Babylon. Other gods, too, were hymned as mighty rulers in their own shrines by their devotees. Yet it is significant that the very phrases in which the gods proclaim their submission to Marduk (words which might mutatis mutandis have been spoken in many an early assembly of the city-states) exalt the power of his "word" or judgment in their deliberations:

Thou, O Marduk, art our champion;

We gave thee kingship, power over alI things.

Take thy seat in the counciI; may thy word prevail.

May thy weapon not yield, may it smite thy foes.

Grant breath ofIife to Iord(s) who put (their) trust in thee.

But if a god embraces eviI, shed his life.

In the Mesopotamian view the assembly of the gods remained the fons et origo of djvjne decrees. In a text dealing with the destructjon of Ur, it is said to have decided the ruin of the leading city of the land; in the "Song of Ishtar and Saltu," it is credited with having curbed Ishtar's warlike propensitjes; at every New Year's festival, at the critical turn of the seasons, it was thought to decide what would be the destiny of mankind. Two thousand years after it had been superseded by monarchy in human society, Primitive Democracy was believed to survive among the gods.


The origin of kingship among men was also bound to be a subject of speculation in Mesopotamia, and it is evident that the secular and historical explanations which we have given in the preceding chapter would have been meaningless to people who regarded human destiny as the outcome of divine decrees. The Mesopotamians asserted that in the earliest times, and again after the Flood, "kingship nad descended from heaven." This remarkable formula combines the awareness that kingship had not always existed with the fact that it represented the only known form of govemment in historical times. Moreover, the phrase indicated that the office, and not the office-holder, was of superhuman origin. The majesty of kingship, the awe and sanctity of him who symbolized the community and represented it before the gods, was acknowledged as it was in Egypt. But while the Egyptians saw Pharaoh as a god, the Mlesopotamians viewed their king as a mortal endowed with a divine burden. "Kingship descended from heaven," as if it were something tangible. In fact, another text, placing kingship in exact parallelism with the insignia of royalty , suggests that it was somehow inherent in crown, tiara, and staff :

They (the gods) had not yet set up a king for the beclouded people

No headband and crown had (yet) been fastened . . . .

No scepter had (yet) been studded with lapis lazuli . . . .

Scepter, crown, headband and staff

Were (stiII) placed before Anu in heaven

So that there was no counseling of its (i.e., kingship's) people.

(Then) kingship descended from heaven.

The first line of the quotation intimates that the people were lost, lacking alI direction, moving, as it were, in a fog, because there was no king. But the specific power of kingship éxisted from the first; it was immanent in the royal insignia, and these were in heaven, before Anu, the god who personified authority and from whom, therefore, all order ultimately emanated. When kingship had been brought down to earth, Enlil and Inanna sought "a shepherd of the people," but there "was no king in the land. Kingship (descendcd from heaven) and Enlil bethought himself (to institute a king.)" In these early texts the basic conception of kingship in .Mesopotamia is clearly expressed: Royalty was something not of human origin but added to society by the gods; the king was a mortal made to carry a superhuman charge which the gods could remove at any time, to bestow it upon another .


We do not know by what means the gods conveyed whom they had chosen for the throne. Omens, dreams, and the pragmatic proof of success were accepted at different times as indications of their choice. The texts use many different phrases instead of describing a formal ritual of divine election as is often thought. They name gods with whom the new ruler stood in a particularly close relationship, and these are described as concurring explicitly with the choice of the assembly by some gracious act. For instance, Eannatum, an Early Dynastic ruler of Lagash, called himself one "whose name was called to mind by Enlil; endowed with strength by Ningirsu; envisaged by Nanshe in (her) heart; truly and rightly suckled by Ninhursaga; named by Inanna." But on another brick of the same Eannatum these actions are divided somewhat differently among the various deities. He is a ruler "endowed with strength by Enlil; truly and rightly suckled by Ninhursaga; whose name was called to mind by Ningirsu; envisaged by Nanshe in (her) heart." Gudea calls himself:

Shepherd envisaged by Ningirsu in (his) heart; steadfastly regarded by Nanshe; ... the man described(?) by Baba; child bome by ....; endowe1.ed with dignity and the sublime scepter by Ig-alima; well provided with the breath oflife by Dunshagar; he whom Ningiszida his god has made to appear in the assembly with proudly raised head

The later texts continue to use similar expressions, but they also introduce others. The king was, as before, said to have been singled out by a god's glance: "When Shamash . . . . with radiant face had joyfully looked upon me -me, his favorite shepherd, Hammurabi. Or in a text of Shalmaneser III of. Assyria: "When the great lord Assur, in the steadfastness of his heart, had singled me out by his dazzling gaze." Or in Esarhaddon's phrase: "In the gladness of their hearts the gods, lifting their eyes to me, had chosen me to be truly and rightly king." Sometimes the king is said to have been predestined to rule, and one meets phrases which recall the Egyptian view of kingship but which sound almost like mockery when applied to rulers so harassed by fear of the gods' changing favor. Assurbanipal stated ofhimself: "Assur and Sin have pronounced (my) name for rulership since time immemorial."

And Nabonidus said that "Sin and Ningal deterrnined that he should rule when he was still in his mother's womb." Other rulers emphasize the discrepancy between their status in youth and the position which they ultimately occupied and which could, therefore, be explained only as a result of divine election. This was no doubt the purpose of the "birth legend of Sargon of Akkad," who is described as the son of a priestess, set out in a reed basket and found and brought up by a gardener. A similar tendency underlies the following verses which Assssurnasirpal II addressed to Ishtar:

I was bom amid mountains which no one knew

I did not recognize thy might and did not pray to thee.

The Assyrians did not know of thy godhead and did not pray to thee.

Bur thou, O Ishtar, fearsome mistress of the gods,

Thou didst single me out with the glance of thine eyes;

Thou didst desire to see me rule.

Thou didst rake me from among the mountains.

Thou didst call me to be a shepherd of men.

Thou didst grant me the scepter of justice....

Sargon was not of royal descent, but Assumasirpal II was the son of King Shamsi-Adad IV. We could desire no clearer proof that even in Late Assyrian times divine election and not descent was regarded as the source of the king' s authority.

The reasons which prompted the gods' choice are sometimes indicated, and they are quite surprising; they betray a concern with the welfare of the people for which the theological tenets we are considering do not provide a basis. For man was specifically created as the servant of the gods and goddesses and did not, therefore, have a claim to their sympathy. But the gods mercifully desired that their people should enjoy just rule; in other words, if the living faith of the Mesopotamians comprised a feeling of utter dependence upon the gods, it also sustained the conviction that the gods had decreed justice as the foundation of society. In the text of Assurnasirpal II, Ishtar equips the king with the "scepter of justice." Hammurabi is more explicit. He declares to be called by Anu and Marduk "to make justice appear in the larid, to destroy the evil and the sinful, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak." The same motivation appears in late texts, last of all in an inscription of the very ruler who ended the independence of Mesopotamia while modeling his kingship on Mesopotamian prototypes. Cyrus, the Persian, said: " (Marduk) reviewed the totality of the lands, and having seen them, he searched for a just king, a king after his own heart, whom he could guide by the hand. He pronounced his narne 'Cyrus of Ashan' and he signified his name for kingship over all."


The gods might call a man to rule over a city or to rule over the land. Early rulers, as we have seen, were not concerned with "kingship over all" nor yet with kingship over the land, but with rulership over a city. An early text reflects the original division of the country among many city-states by describing how kingship, when it had been created, was assigned to several cities at once. But in historical times a much more complex situation prevailed. Rulership over the country had become an ideal which men attempted to realize even though the central government had for the time being succumbed to the centrifugal force of particularism. Often it would be impossible to know to what type of dominion the gods had called the man of their choice, for rulership over the land was always an extension of rulership over a city. Every local ruler might aspire to hegemony, and his relation with the world of the gods did not differ from that of an overlord of the whole of Mesopotamia.


Let us consider these two relationships. As one would expect, the call to rulership over a city issued from the city-god. He acted, however, in agreement with the divine assembly. A text of Gudea gives us a clear impression of the hierarchical relationship of city-ruler, city-god, and the pantheon at large. Enlil, the leader of the divine assembly, initiated the execution of his decree by instructing Ningirsu to withhold the annual rise of the Tigris at Lagash as a sign to the inhabitants that something was required of them. Ningirsu did this, and he furthermore ordered his temple Eninnu to "manifest its powers" in a manner we cannot reconstruct - perhaps by omens :

On a day when destinies were being determined in heaven and upon earth,

Lagash held her head high in pride of her great powers.

Enlil looked deliberately upon Lord Ningirsu:

"Let the proper occurrences fail to take place in our city!

Let the 'heart' fail to overflow!

Let the 'heart of Enlil' fail to overflow!

Let the 'heart' fail to overflow!

Let the high flood, filled with brilliance and awesomeness,

Let the good waters not be brought down in the 'heart of Enlil,' that is (to say) in the Tigris!"

To the house (temple) its owner (Ningirsu) called out,

And (the temple) Eninnu began manifesting its powers in heaven and on earth.

The governor-being a man of understandin - took notice.

A similar hierarchical order was acknowledged in an older inscription of Lagash in which Entemena gives the history of a boundary dispute between Lagash and the neighboring city of Umma. Enlil was said to have determined the boundary between the estates of the respective city-gods, Ningirsu and Shara. On the human plane this decision was given effect by Mesilim, the king of Kish, probably the most powerful ruler in the land at that time.

Enlil, the king of alI countries, the father of the gods, establíshed the boundary for both Ningirsu and Shara by hís unalterable command. And Mesilím, Kíng of Kísh, measured the fields and set up a stela ín that place at the command of hís god Sataran.

Ush, Governor of Umma, repeatedly transgressed the agreement. He tore out that stela and moved ít into the plain of Lagash.

The warrior of Enlil, Níngírsu, at hís (Enlil's) just command, díd battle wíth Umma.

At Enlíl's command he clapped (hís) shushkallu net down on ít(s people) and líned up theír burial mounds ín the plaín at that place.

Note that Enlil did not address himself to Mesilim directly but that the king's personal god transmitted the order. Our text goes on to relate that a later ruler of Umma had not respected the boundary; Entemena had defeated him and now represented his victory as an achievement of the god of Lagash. This obviously leaves unsolved (he thomy problem of the god of Umma ' s part in the course of events; another text frankly admits that the ruler of Umma acted "by command of his god."

Thus the conflicts between city-states were viewed as conflicts between their divine owners. The human victor could speak with a certain complacency of the justice of his cause, as Entemena did. The loser faced an insolvable moral problem ifhe was convinced ofbeing without guilt. Such was the case with Urukagina of Lagash when he was conquered by Lugalzaggesi of Umma and Erech:

The man ofUmma, after he destroyed Lagash, commíttíng a críme against Ningirsu -t he hand which he laid upon ít (Lagash) shall wither! There was no crime on the part of Urukagina, King of Girsu (ín Lagash) .

Let that crime be on the head of Nidaba, the (personal) goddess of Lugalzaggesi, the Governor of Umma

The men of Lagash felt that the causes of the calamity which had overtaken them transcended human relationships. The conviction that rulers, as well as ordinary men, were tools in the hands of the gods allowed them, if not to explain, then at least to express their helplessness and perplexity.

When rulership over the land, as a whole had become well established, a new theological concept was introduced. For now an explanation was needed, not merely of the occasional success of individual rulers, but of the centuries of predominance which cities such as Akkad, Ur, or Babylon enjoyed. The assembly of the gods was credited with assigning temporary rule of the land to one city after another. The earliest embodiment of this view is probably the Sumerian king list, which was drawn up when the Dynasty of Akkad had definitely established rulership over the whole land. The list combined the older historical traditions of the separate city-states and expressed its new concept in an old form when it opened with the statement: "When kingship was lowered from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu," or when it summarized the First Dynasty of Ur: "four kings reigned its 177 years," or when it continued: "Ur was smitten with weapons; its kingship was carried to Awan."

But if one city profited as a result of the divine decree which gave it the leadership of the land, another city suffered eclipse; and its inhabitants were no more able to account for their misfortune than the subjects of Urukagina of Lagash had been. There was no reason why they should explain it as a result of their own shortcomings rather than of decisions which altogether transcended the sphere of man in their motivations. Yet they felt the need to account for the ineffectualness of their city-god on whom they had relied for help and whose estate was now ravaged. Conflicts between gods could be postulated to explain wars between city-states, even though man could not presume to explain how the gods could transgress a decree of Enlil. But changes in the rulership of the land could not be due to conflicts between individual gods, since these changes were approved by unanimous decision at the highest leveI in the divine assembly. Man imagined, however, that the deliberations of the asscmbly sometimes reached a dramatic tension which induced individual gods to concur with actions to which they objected at heart. A text dealing with the destruction of Ur describes how Nanna (Sin), the city-god, joined in the unanimous pronouncement of the gods: "Let it be!" When the city was in ruins, he bitterly regretted that action. But the decree could not be annulled :

Enlil ans\vered his son Sin conceming it:

The deserted city, with throbbing heart, weeps bitterly;

Sobbing thou passest the day in it.

(But), Nanna, through thy own submission thou didst accept the "Let it be!"

By the verdict, by the word (of) the assembly of the gods,

By command of Anu and Enlil . . . .

Was the kingship of U r. . , . carried away.

Since olden days when the country was founded

Have the terms of kingship been constantly changed;

As for its (Ur's) kingship, its term has now been changed for a different term.


The Mesopotamian king derived his authority from divine election, but we do not know how the choice ofthe gods was recognized. We do know that in Assyrian times the death of a king more often than not called forth several pretenders to the throne who did not even require the qualification of royal descent. The most that could be said for it was this: the gods in assigning hegemony to a particular city - to start under a king whom they chose and to last through several generations- might be credited with the intention of appointing that king's descendants to succecd him. The argument was not conclusive, and its weakness is proved by the disturbances that occurred at the beginning of almost every new reign. Once more the contrast \vith Egypt is illuminating; there the inflexible rule of an established order became operative at the death of Pharaoh and supplied the country with its next king. In Mesopotamia each succession was essentially an ad hoc solution.

The Late Assyrian kings attempted to smooth the transition from their reigns to those of their successors by an equivalent of the Egyptian institution of coregency. In Assyria, the king inquired of the gods whether they desired one of his sons to succeed him; and if they answered favorably, the heir apparent was installed. The crown prince was not allways the eldest son, and the solemn oath of allegiance sworn at his investiture did not prevent his brothers from contesting the succession at their father's death. But officially the problem of the succession was solved once a prince had been inducted in the "House of Succession" or "Palace of the Crown Prince," hence Assurbanipal adored the Ishtars, saying: "From the House ofSuccession (they) have magnified my kingship." Esarhaddon's account of his installation as cro\vn prince is characteristic:

"I was the younger brother of my adult brothers. (Yet) my father who begat me exalted me in the assembly of mv brothers at the command of Assur, Shamash, Marduk, Nebo, Ishtar of Nineveh, and Íshtar of Arbela, saying: "This one is my successor ." He questioned Shamash and Adad through oracles. They replied to him in the affirmative: "It is he who should be thy successor ." Honoring this important pronouncement, he called together the people of Assyria, great and smalI, as well as my brothers born in the paternal house. Before the gods Assur, Sin, Shamash, Nebo, Marduk, the gods of Assyria, the gods who inhabit Heaven and Earth, he made them swear to respect my primacy. In the month of Nisan, on a propitious day, according to the august wiII of the gods, I entered gladly in the House of Succession, the awesome place of royal destinies."

In the House of Succession the crown prince was initiated in the craft of kingship. He took an active part in the government, representing the king in official celebrations, carrying out special missions, and supervising religious festivaIs. He was therefore in the best possible position to take over when the king died.

It should be emphasized that in Mesopotamia the funeral rites of a king were in no way connected with his successor's accession. The reason is that the relationship between the two had little theological significance. In Egypt kingship involved two generations,and the burial and transfiguration of Osiris were part of the celebrations at the succession of Horus. In Mesopotamia the king arranged for the funeral of his predecessor as a simple act of piety . A Late Assyrian account of a royal funera l-the only account that has come down to us- describes how the body was lying in state, decked out with the regalia and surrounded with the various objects which were to be interred with it:

(In the) tomb, place of mystery, on the Royal Esplanade, I made him goodly rest.

The sarcophagus, the groove for its cover, I sealed its opening with solid bronze.

I established its spell (against robbers and demons)

Equipment of gold and silver fitting for a tomb (and) the royal insignia which he (my father) loves I exhibited in the light of the sun.

I put all this in the tomb, with my father who begot me.

I offered sacrifice to the divine rulers, the Anunnaki, and to the gods who inhabit the earth.

The channels complain and the watercourses respond.

Of trees and fruit the face is darkened.

The orchards weep what was green. . . .

The last lines suggest that nature, too, moumed; and we know from other texts that the people gathered to bewail their late ruler. But nowhere is there any suggestion that these rites were related to the ceremonies of the accession.

The accession of the new king was formally sealed by the ritual of coronation. To view such solemnities as purely symbolical distorts the significance which they had for the ancients. For them the first contact between the new ruler and the royal insignia was but the outward sign of a union in which the unchanging powers of kingship took possession of his person and made him fit to rule. Because the insignia of kingship were charged with these powers, they were divine. The primitive awareness of a confrontation with power brings with it an imputing of personality. Consequently, the inanimate object in or through which power becomes manifest is perceived as a god. We remember that in Egypt at the coronation the throne which made a prince king became the mother-goddess Isis.The crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt were also goddesses and the "mothers" of the king. A Sumerian text similarly treats the royal insignia as goddesses, "Lady of the Crown" and "Lady of the Scepter ."

The king received the insignia in the temple of the city-god who disposed ofkingship during the period for which the assembly had decreed the ascendancy of the city in the land. While in the mythical time before "kingship descended from heaven, scepter, crown, tiara, and staff were placed before Anu in heaven," the proper place for the insignia after the introduction of kingship was the temple of the city-god/dess. The Sumerian text which describes a coronation in Erech states that the "Lady of the Scepter" and the "Lady of the Crown" stood on a "throne dais." An Assyrian text which we shall quote presently describes their supports as "seats." Such seats are commonly depicted supporting symbols of the gods, and notably the crowns of Anu and Enlil . In shape the "seats" resemble altars.

We shall now quote first the description of the coronation ritual in Erech. The ceremony took place in Eanna, the temple of Ishtar (Inanna), the mistress of Erech:

He (the ruler) entered into Eanna.

He drew near the resplendent throne dais.

He placed the bright scepter in his hand.

He drew near the throne dais of Nin-men-na ("Lady of the Crown")

He fastened the golden crown upon his head.

He drew near to the throne dais of Nin-PA ("Lady of the Scepter")

Nin-PA, fit for heaven and earth. . . . .

After she had discarded his "name (of) smallness,"

She did not call his buT-gj name

But called his "name (ot) rulership."

Though the expression " bur-gi name" remains unexplained, the translator suggests that the last phrases describe a change of the ruler's name during the coronation. This supposition has much in its favor. One of the phrases in which divine election is described claims that a god has "pronounced the name" of the chosen ruler. That formula may well mean, pregnantly, that the god proclaimed the throne name by which his favorite was henceforth to be known.

In Egypt, where the king was bom to the purple, the throne name, together with the rest of the titulary, could be made known throughout the country immediately upon his accession. In Mesopotamia the new name was given at the coronation when the choice of the gods became effective in the world of men. The "name of smallness" is presumably the name which the new ruler bore before his accession, and this interpretation finds support in the fact that the Sumerian word for "king,"Iugal" , means great man.

The Assyrian description of a coronation does not mention change of name; otherwise the ritual resembles those of earlier times. The king went to the temple of the god Assur, where the royal insignia rested upon "seats." (It is interesting that the Assyrian kings were crowned, not in Calah or Nineveh, the capitaIs of the empire, but in the ancient city of Assur from which the empire took its rise.) The king on his portable throne was carried to the temple on the shoulders of men, while a priest going in front beat a drum and called out: "Assur is king! Assur is king!" This phrase emphasized that the new ruler -as yet uncrowned, and hence not "king" in the fullest sense of the word- was on his way to the god who was the depositary of kingship in Assyria. The king entered the temple, kissed the ground, bumed incense, and mounted the high platform at the end of the sanctuary where the statue of the god stood. There he touched the ground with his forehead and deposited his gifts: a gold bowl with costly oil, a mina of silver, and an embroidered robe. He then arranged Assur's offering-table while priests set those of the other gods. Next followed the last preparations for the coronation.

The text is damaged here. but it seems likely that the king was anointed with the oil brought in the gold bowI. The account then continues: ' 'The crown of Assur and the weapons of Ninlil (Assur's spouse) are brought." and they were put on "seats" at the foot of the platform before the god. However, the central ceremony of thc coronation is presented in one text. The priest carried crown and scepter, still on the felt cushjons which supported them when Iying on their "seats." and brought them to the king. Then, while crowning the king, he said:

The diadem of thhy hcad-may Assur and Ninlil, the lords of thy diadem, put i[ upon [hcc for a hundred years.

Thy foot in Ekur (the Assur tcmple) and thy hands stretched towards Assur, thy god - may [hey be favored.

Before Assur, thy god, may thy priesthood and the priesthood of thy sons find favor .

With thy straight scepter make thy land wide.

May Assur grant thee quick satisfaction, justice, and peace.

After the priest had spoken, the great dignitaries present at the ceremony pronounced prayers; and, upon the return of the procession to the palace, they gathered before the throne to do homage to the king. They presented gifts, deposited their badges and other insignia of office before him, and placed themselves in an irregular fashion, avoiding the order of precedence of the ranks they had just relinquished. Ir is clear that this usage was intended to allow the new ruler to choose his advisers to his own liking; but in Assyrian practice changes in the administration must have been made in an earlier or a later phase of the new reign, for the rirual of the coronation states sjmply: "The king then says: 'Everyone resumcs hjs office.' The dignitaries take up their badges and their order of precedence."

We cannot but be struck by the simplicity and sobriety of this Assyrian ritual, especially if we remember the tone of its Egyptian counterpart..... In Mesopotamia, too, the opening of the new reign must have been an occasion of rejoicing, if only because man greets every new beginning with new hope. But for the ruler and those near him sobriety was the appropriate mood. The gods, in choosing the king, had given him small proof of their favor; but the task which he now faced was hazardous in the extreme.

The coronation, though it made him capable of ruling, did not diminish the gulf which scparatcd him from the gods. As far as his power was relative to that of his people, he remained subject to the inadequacies of man in relation to nature. Nature was the realm of the gods, and the Assyrian king stood outsidc it, a servant of its masters, while Pharaoh was himself One with the land of Egypt. In Egypt, Harshepsut could say -referrjng (O maat, the "truth" or ruling principle of cosmic order-

I have made bright Truth, which the god Ioves

I eat of its brightncss. 1 am a likeness from his limbs, once with him

But the Mesopotamian king was not conscious of such superhuman resources within him. When confronted with one of those disquieting portents so hard to interpret, he could only pray. ...

Pharaoh's acts were revelations, acclaimed by the people and inspired, admired, and supported by the other gods. But the Mesopotamian king ... in the full knowledge of the burden which royalty jmposed upon the new king, at the height of the coronation ceremony heard the priest pray soberly "May Assur grant thee quick satisfaction, justice, and peace!"




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