Reflection and navel of the world (1)

Professor Stefan Maul, University of Heidelberg

Text translated by Thomas Lampert, Ph.D., Berlin, Germany

Translators' note: There are a number of diacritical marks throughout the text (in the Sumerian and Akkadian words.) As the HTML format does not support these diacritical characters, they have been marked as follows:
1. '*' (an asterisk) after a consonant (a,e,i,u) means that there should be a straight line over that consonant
2. '_' (an underscore) following an 's' means the 's' should have a small "V" shape over it
3. '_' (an underscore) following an 'h' means that the 'h' should have a little crescent or "U" shape beneath it.
Diacritical marks appear in plain text and italics, with capital letters and small, and in the body of the text as well as in the footnotes.


If one compares Akkadian concepts designating "past" and "future" with their respective German or English counterparts, one immediately makes an astonishing discovery.2 The etymology of Akkadian concepts for "earlier" [pa*n, pa*na, pa *na *nu(m); pa*ni, pa*nu(m)] or for "earlier time," the "past" [pa *na *tu; pa*ni*tu(m), pa*nu*] indicates that these concepts are derived from the Akkadian pa*num or "front," in the plural pa *n u* or "face."3 The Sumerian corrolary to Akkadian concepts of the past (such as pa *na, pa *na *nu, pa *ni *tu etc. and marh_ru(m)) is formed through the word "i g i ," which means "eye" and also "face," and thus "front" in the figurative sense.4 The same is true of Akkadian concepts designating the "future": the words (w)arka, (w)arka*nu(m), (w)arki , meaning "later" or "afterwards," (w)arku(m), meaning "future," and (w)arki*tu(m), meaning "later," "later time," or the "future," are derived from (w)arkatu(m), meaning "back, behind." The corresponding Sumerian concepts (e g e r , m u r g u, b a r ) also mean "rear" and "backside." Without addressing in any more depth here a problem which is of great importance in understanding Mesopotamian culture -- its conceptual particularity -- it is clear that from the perspective of a Babylonian, the past lay before him or "faced him," while the future (warki*tum) was conceived as lying behind him. In our own modern conceptual world, the opposite seems to be self-evident: we look into the future, while the past lies behind us. Continuing with this line of thought, we might say that while we proceed along a temporal axis "headed towards the future," the Mesopotamians, although they also moved on a temporal axis in the direction of the future, did so with their gaze directed towards the past. The Mesopotamians proceeded, so to speak, "with their backs forward," that is, facing backwards into the future. Without wanting to overburden this image, one could say that the aftention of Mesopotamian culture was directed towards the past and thus ultimately towards the origins of all existence.

The interest of Mesopotamian culture in its own past was, in fact, omnipresent: Babylonian and Mesopotamian kings legitimated themselves not only through the fact that they came from ancient ruling families, but emphasized that they came "from the eternal seed,"5 from "the precious seed dating from the time before the flood,"6 from "families of primeval times."7 According to myths as well, the gods created "the king" directly following the creation of humans so that he could guide humans correctly.8 The duty of a king consisted of protecting the world as it has been ordered by the gods during creation and of restoring it to that condition. Thus in Mesopotamia, reforms were fundamentally understood as the re-establishment of an original order which had, in the course of time, become brittle or fragile. The ideal image of society and the state, the utopia of Mesopotamians, was always located in primeval history, rather than in the future.

Even the inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian kings in the last pre-Christian millennium were written in an artificial language, one which was itself based on the ancient Akkadian language of the beginning of the second millennium BC and which in the first millennium BC was understood as classical. The official inscriptions of the neo- Babylon ian kings of the 6th century BC were, in addition to this, often written in ancient cuneiform figures which had been used in everyday life more than 1500 years earlier.9 Scribes of the first millennium BC compiled -- like modern Assyriologists -- paleographic character-lists10, and completed facsimiles of clay tablets, which were so well done that occasionally modern Assyriologists have been fooled about the true age of these documents.11 Assurbanipal, the highly learned neo-Assyrian king, boasted that he was capable of deciphering inscriptions "from before the Flood."12 Sumerian, which is probably the oldest language of the Mesopotamian cultures and is not related to any known language, was viewed around the birth of Christ -- 2000 years after it had ceased to exist as a spoken language -- as a sacred language in which one spoke to the Gods.13 in the final pre-Christian centuries, Sumerian texts which had already been written in the 3rd Millennium BC were still essential elements of polytheistic cults.14

This interest in the past, however, manifested itself not only in the use of language and writing, but was evident in material culture as well. Astonishing for the modern reader are the not infrequent descriptions in neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions of extensive archeological excavations in ancient, often dilapidated temple districts, which were undertaken on behalf of the king in order to uncover the remains of the foundations of ancient, in part long forgotten cultic institutions.15 The goal of such excavations was to restore these temples to their original condition, without deviating "an eyelash"16 from the ancient, original plan.17

Our initial presumption regarding Akkadian temporal concepts -- that the attention of Mesopotamian culture was directed towards the past and thus ultimately towards the origins of existence -_ is confirmed in royal architectural inscriptions, which often emphasized the intention of recreating conditions from "the days of eternity."18 The concept frequently used here (ki-bi-s_e gi4 = ana as_ri*s_u turru), which dictionaries translate correctly, if somewhat imprecisely, as "to recreate" or "to restore" suggests this as well. Translated literally, the term means "to lead (something) back to its allotted place." Implicit in this is the Mesopotamian notion that all things in the cosmos -- and this was by no means limited to natural objects -- had a secure, inalterable place given to them by the gods during creation.

A glance at Mesopotamia's numerous myths -- many which have received little attention in evaluating the cultural self~understanding of Mesopotamia -- readily illustrates that in fact all cultural achievements, be they in architecture, writing, goldsmithing or carpentry, etc., were regarded as revelations from the God Ea, who was thought to have given them to humans at the beginning of time. Berossos, a Marduk- priest from the 3rd century BC who sought in his Babyloniaka19 (written in Greek) to bring the history and culture of ancient Babylon closer to the Hellenic world, also regarded this self-understanding as essential to Babylonian culture. According to Berossos, in the first year of the world -- that is, immediately after the creation of the heavens, the earth, and human beings -- a fish-shaped being named Oannes 20 stepped out of the Persian Gulf and "(taught) humans writing and the various other arts, the building of cities and the founding of temples... whatever was useful for domestic life in this world was passed on to humans by him (that is, the "animal" Oannes); and since that time, no other forms have been invented by anyone else."21 According to this idea, the founding of a Babylonian temple goes back to primeval divine inspiration.22 An only recently discovered myth from the early 2nd millennium BC indicates that Berossos had not misunderstood Babylonian culture, nor referred only to a perspective typical of later times. This myth23 describes the primeval history of Eanna, the highest temple in Uruk. Although it had been restored hundreds of times, this (really existing, visible) temple was, according to the text, regarded as originally not the work of humans, but rather of An, the God of the heavens, who was forced by his daughter Inanna-Is_tar to give up his heavenly palace and to settle on earth so that his temple there could serve as the Goddess' earthly residence.24

This primeval quality, however, was not only claimed for the social order, cultural achievements and temples, but also for entire cities. This is best illustrated by Babylon. Enu*ma elis_ 25, the so-called epic of world-creation, describes how Marduk, after defeating the elemental forces of chaos, creates the world. Marduk, who through his "skillfulness" 26 creates humans, is chosen by the gods to be their king, and they erect for him as a residence and a shrine Babylon, along with Esagil and all the other shrines, which themselves become part of the act of creation -- indeed, according to text, represent the completion of it. Esagil is, according to the Enu*ma elis_, not only Marduk's residence, but the home of all Gods, whom Marduk had promised to take care of.

According to the Enu*ma elis_, the location and form of Marduk's temple was not chosen arbitrarily. The gods built their king's residence at the place from which all life ultimately originated and upon which Marduk himself was born and humans were created. They erected the shrine itself on the apsu_, on which Ea -- already in the pre- world -- had built his residence27, on the location which Marduk came from and which, in the actual historical temple complex of Esagil, had been the residence of the Ea realiter. Esagil was regarded as the reflection of Ea's palace in the apsu_, as well as the reflection of An's heavenly palace, which was thought to be located over Esagil.28 Each of the three cosmic domains - the heavens, the surface of the earth and the earth itself - was, according to this idea, ruled by a palace of the gods. Together, all three palaces formed a vertical axis, at the center of which lay Babylon and the temple of Marduk. Esagil is explicitly characterized as the support and connection of the apsu_ -- the earthly horizon -- with the heavens. The shrine Esagil and the city Babylon are thus situated at the middle of the vertical cosmic axis, and connect the heavens to the earthly- contemporary world. They are (according to the Enu*ma elis_) the place where Marduk, in creating the world from the corpse of Tiamat, the dragon-shaped primeval mother, fastened her tail to the world-axis D u r - m a h , in order to wedge her lower abdomen onto the heavens and thereby lend eternal permanence to his work of creation.29 For the visitor of ancient Babylon, this axis mundi took visible form in the seven stepped temple tower bearing the name É - t e m e n - a n - k i , "House Foundations of Heaven and Earth".

The temple Esagil was regarded as the center of the world on the horizontal, earthly level as well. According to the Enu*ma elis_, all gods, wherever they were worshipped, regarded Esagil, the house of their savior and upon which they had sworn eternal loyalty, as their actual cultic location. And, in fact, all of these gods were worshipped in Esagil, although admittedly under the premise put by the poet of the Enu*ma elis_ into the mouths of the gods: "even if humans remain divided about (honoring) the different gods, for us only he (i.e. Marduk) is our god, regardless of what name we might call him."30

The Babylonian contemporary, however, regarded the grounds of the Marduk- temple not merely as the petrified image of the world-order created by the gods. In the temple itself, present time and mythical time mixed together. Here contemporaries could marvel at the trophies and relics of the primeval battle of the gods, which following Marduk's victory had led to the creation of the contemporary world.

Before his own shrine was erected, Marduk had placed "images" of Tiamat's 11 monsters, which he had overpowered in his victorious battle against her, at the "Gate of apsu_." These sculptures, which were made by Marduk himself before the creation of humans, were visible in the historical building of Esagil31 and were intended, according to the Enu*ma elis_, "as a sign that one never forgets,"32 which was supposed to recall the primeval battle of the gods. The weapons with which Marduk had defeated his opponents in this battle, the tablet of fate which he took from the defeated Kingu, as well as many other objects and locations which had played an important role in the transition to the contemporary world created by Marduk were all visible in historical Babylon. The is also true of the locations where the gods had met in order to send Marduk into battle against Tiamat, and where they had come together in order to name him king.

A pedestal lined with clay bricks in the vestibule and which the Babylonians called parak s_i*ma*ti, "socle of fate," was particularly sacred.33 Like most of the cultic arrangements in Mesopotamian temples, this "socle of fate" bore a Sumerian name, d u 6 - k ù . This meant literally "pure" or "sacred hill."34 The "sacred hill" is well-known to us from the oldest Mesopotamian mythical representations. In it, primeval representations of the genesis of the world come together. The "sacred hill," one believed, arose at the beginning of the world from pre-temporal primeval water, in which salt water and fresh water had not yet been separated, and from this hill the nucleus of all things arose. The idea of a primeval hill probably arose from fundamental experiences of Mesopotamian life. At the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where salt water and fresh water still mix today, the new, fertile land of the Mesopotamian alluvial plane arises. In the still unordered world, this primeval hill was though to be the origin of all ordered existence and thus the nucleus or the navel of the world. In the walled pedestal at the vestibule of the temple, understood as the mythical primeval hill, the pre-world -- the primeval beginning of all existence and all time -- pushed itself, so to speak, out into the present of the Babylonians.

In the rituals of the new-year's celebration -- the most significant public rituals in Babylon -- which took place at the beginning of Spring in Babylon, the parak s_i*ma*ti assumed particular significance. Every year during the new-years celebration, Marduk's battle against the forces of chaos, the triumphal victory of the gods and the ordering act of creation, was re-enacted. As described in the myth Enu*ma elis_, the Babylonian gods assembled every year for this occasion. Their cultic images traveled in celebratory processions from Babylonian cities to this event. These (cultic images of the) Gods were assembled on the pedestal called the "sacred hill" in order to give up their power to Marduk, king of the gods, so that he could (as described in the myth) go into battle against those forces, embodied by Marduk's opponent Tiamat, which threatened the continued existence of the world.

The Babylonians understood the celebratory procession from the "cultic socle of fate" to the new-year's celebration house located outside the city, along with the events in the new-year's celebration house itself, as ritual re-enactments of Marduk's departure and battle against -- as well as victory over -- Ti mat, as described in the Enu*ma elis_. On the way to the new-year's celebration house, Marduk was accompanied by the "gods of heaven and earth" and by the Babylonian king. Marduk's triumphal return described in the myth, following which the gods elevated him at their assembly to their king, accords with the return of the cultic image of Marduk to Esagil in the ritual of the new-year's celebration. This celebratory procession found its ritual highpoint and finale in a renewed assembly of the images of the gods on the "cultic socle of fate" (parak s_i*ma*ti) -- a clear analogy to the assembly of the gods in the myth.

From the inscriptions of Nebukadnezar we know not only that the elevation of Marduk to king of the gods and his ordering work of creation were re-enacted on the "primeval hill," but that the Babylonian king himself participated decisively in this central event.35 Just as in the myth Marduk was elevated to king of the gods and the fate of the world was determined through Marduk's act of creation, in the new-year's celebration the ruling king was confirmed in his office and his fate for the coming year was determined by Marduk and the gods.

Before this, the king would lay down his insignia, carry out various rituals of penance and atone for his offences by being hit in the face by a priest "until the tears flowed."36 Later, he would mount the pedestal, "the cultic socle of fate." For a moment, he stood together with the godly rulers of the world upon the sacred hill, the nucleus of all being, the pole of space and time. Marduk, as king of the gods, and the earthly king, as king of humans, were bound together in this ritual, and for one moment prehistoric time and the present, the king of the gods and the earthly king appeared to flow into one another. The Babylonian king then received from the hands of the gods the signs of power, which were actually those of the gods but now were his own. This event was presumably the highpoint of the Babylonian new-year's celebration. The king could draw, to a considerable degree, his own political and theological legitimation from the ritual events enacted there. Through the ritual act on the (mythical and yet real) primeval hill, the ruling king became a part of the clear and fresh order of the primeval beginning, which represented the ideal order for Mesopotamians.

The centripetal forces of the world-axis and the primeval hill not only aided the Babylonian kingdom, but were among its essential supports. State and kingdom understood themselves -- as manifestly shown in the rituals of the new-year's celebration -- as a part of the cosmic order which had been revealed to humans in the axis mundi.

The idea that one's own city is, in the truest sense of the word, the "navel of the world" was by no means limited to Babylon. The "sacred hill (d u 6 - k ù)" was worshipped in many shrines in ancient Sumerian city-states as a sacred location.37 The place, however, which long before the rise of Babylon claimed most distinctively to have a "sacred hill" and to be the center of the world was Nippur with its Enlil-shrine Ekur, which itself bore an ostentatious name expressing this `navel character': "(the city) which produced itself."38 In Mesopotamian history of the third millennium BC, the enormous political significance of the 'cosmic crosshair Nippur', D u r - a n - k i , the "connection between heaven and earth," is clearly visible. Although Nippur itself never became a center of political power nor an outstanding economic force, the city was nonetheless frequently the bone of contention between rival city-states in the 3rd millennium. A prince who wanted to secure his supremacy in Mesopotamia had to offer proof that he was favored by En lii, the king of the gods, and that he stood in harmony with the divine order, which (as later in Babylon) had its origins and center in Nippur-Duranki. This harmony was revealed essentially through the fact that Enlil accepted the respective prince as his `gamekeeper,' or formulated differently, through the fact that the prince was able to hold Nippur under his influence.39

In the narrative of the Enu*ma elis_ -- and this is mirrored in numerous sources at the close of the 2nd millennium as well as in the 1st millennium BC, including royal inscriptions, rituals, prayers and theological texts -- we are confronted with what must have been, for the tradition-conscious Mesopotamian, an incredible break: Marduk appears in place of Enlil as the king of the gods, and Babylon in place of Nippur as the center of the world. The primeval cosmic axis had shifted from Nippur to Babylon.

Yet even if the `rise of Marduk' was complete around the end of the 2nd millennium BC,40 its basic idea had existed already around the end of the H_ammurabi's rule. The introduction of H_ammurabi's code leaves little doubt about this. There it states that Anu and Enlil pass on the "Enlil-ship (i.e. the powers which En lii embodies) over all humans"41 onto Marduk, making Babylon's name great and lending Marduk the eternal kingdom.42

_ When H_ammurabi, king of the Mesopotamian city-state Babylon, unified all of Mesopotamia in the 18th century BC, first through skillful diplomacy and later through brutal military force, the people of Babylon sought to explain this glorious, almost unimaginable political-military rise not only through the political and military ability of their king. In their theistic world-view, the inexorable success of their king demonstrated to them, on the one hand, that he possessed the unlimited favor of the gods, who determined the fate of the world. On the other hand, the fact that the venerable cities of Mesopotamia had fallen into the hands of the Babylonian prince only meant that the gods of these cities had recognized the rule of Marduk, the god of the city of Babylon. With this, the theological superstructure for the 'axis-shift' from Nippur to Babylon was already established under H_ammurabi. Esagil -- the ancient Babylonian layers of which unfortunately could not be excavated -- may have already had the character of a 'world-axis' in the final years of H_ammurabi's rule or in those of his immediate successors. While before H_ammurabi powerful princes had fought for the supremacy of Nippur (itself politically insignificant), theologians under H_ammurabi sought to transfer the essential characteristics of Enlil, the king of the gods in Nippur, onto Marduk, the Babylonian god (see KH_ I, 1-26.)43 In addition this, the temple- landscape of Nippur was, to a certain extent, transferred to Babylon as well. If one compares the so-called topographical texts of Nippur with those of Babylon, one discovers that a significant portion of the temples, as well as many cultic socles and similar institutions have the same name in both cities.44 This is, of course, not a coincidence, but rather part of an agenda. The conception of the old "axis-temple" in Nippur is found again in the new "axis-temple" in Babylon. That this temple and the city of Babylon could assume the function of Ekur and Nippur was certainly aided greatly by the fact that during H_ammurabi's rule Nippur experienced a tremendous decline, presumably as the result of a drought. This decline probably culminated in the era of Samsuilina, at which point the city was entirely abandoned. Only in the era of the Kassites was it revived.45

_ This axis-shift away from Nippur, however, was by no means unique46 nor was it, apparently, the first of such shifts. When Assur attained great power under S_ams_i*-Adad, the local city-god, the mountain god Assur47, was worshipped in the form of Enlil. Temples and Ziggurats were consecrated to Assur as Enlil48, and the Assyrian king saw himself as the "representative of En lii" and the "governor of As_s_ur."49 Not only was Nippur's name (u r u - s _ a - u r u , in Akkadian Libbi-a*li 50) transferred to Assur, but numerous shrines of the city bore the names which the respective shrines in Nippur had borne. The temple Ninurtas -- the worship of Ninurtas being achieved through the identification of Assur with Enlil in the city of Assur -- was called É - s _ u - m e - s _ a4 , as it had been in Nippur as well. The name of the Assur-temple, É - s _ a' r - r a, was itself originally a name of the Enlil- temple in Nippur.51 Numerous chapels, gates and localities of the Assur-temple, which remained essentially unchanged from the time of S_ama_i*-Adads up to Sanherib, adopted the respective names from Ekur in Nippur. Presumably, the theology and the rites of Nippur were taken over with the names. In addition to this, the Tummal- celebration from Nippur was probably the force behind the ancient Assyrian aki*tum- celebration.52 The parallels between the cultural events in Nippur and the Assyrian new-years celebration as we know it from the 1st millennium are, in any case, unmistakable. Finally, the name of the ziggurat of Assur-Enlil demonstrates that the idea of a world-axis was attained with the identification of Assur as Enlil in the city of Assur as well. For the name of this building, É - a r at t a - k i - s _ a' r - r a, "house, mountain of the entire world" 53 emphasized the idea that the "connection between heaven and earth" was located here. The axis-shift from Nippur to Assur -- already postulated under S_ams_i*-Adad in ancient Assyrian times -- was probably a significant factor in the rapid decline of Nippur as well. The claim to rule, which could be derived from such an axis-theology (and which in Assyria was expressed in the new king's title s_ar kis_s_ati, "king of the world"54), however, never developed fully here, as Babylon under H_ammurabi brought the rise of Assyrian power to an abrupt halt.

From the middle of the 2nd millennium BC until the fall of the Assyrian empire, Babylonian and Assyria wrestled for supremacy in Mesopotamia. Their respective claims to be more original or ancient played a great ideological role in this struggle. I mention only in passing Tukulti*-Ninurtas l's attempt to shift not only his residence, but the domicile of the god Assur to the newly founded city Ka*r-Turkulti*-Ninurtas, an attempt which must ultimately be regarded as having been a failure. Following the death of the king, not only was the city given up as a residence, but the new temple to the god Assur was lost as well.55 Assur, the god of the mountain peak of Assur, and the Assyrian world-axis were apparently so integrally bound to the physical location of Assur that a transfer of the cultural location appeared to be an injustice and was never attempted again in the history of Assyria, despite the founding of various new royal residences.

By abducting the cultic image of Marduk from Esagil to the temple of Assur, and thereby introducing Babylonian cult-tradition to Assyria, Tukulti_-Ninurta attempted to break Babylon's axis-claim, as well as jhe claim to world domination tied to it. Sanherib repeated this in a drastic manner, on the one hand, by literally destroying Babylon and its temples and, on other hand, by attempting to integrate the Babylonian 'cultic-topography of primalness' into the east-annex of the Assur-Temple, and through the new bi*t aki*ti into the Assyrian cultic-topography.56 This attempt to break the other world-axis in Mesopotamia, however, could not be maintained politically and was reversed through Asarhaddon's politics of reconciliation. Ironically, it was precisely the theology of the Enu*ma elis_ which was supposed to offer Assyrians the `proof' that Assur was the primeval city. For this, Assyrian theologians exploited a linguistic peculiarity of the Akkadian language, namely the fact that in Akkadian a syllable ending with an 'n' takes up the sound of the following consonant.57 Thus they recognized their own God As_s_ur in the name of the god An-s_a*r (= the Urhimmel) = * As_s_ar, who, according to the Enu*ma elis_ was the oldest of the new gods, thus advancing their own God to the primal father of all gods, and thereby also becoming an ancestor of Marduks.58

Before the return of the Marduk-statue stolen by Sanherib, the image of Marduk was restored in the workshops of the Assur-temple. These workshops were, so to speak, real workshops, for they also represented the primeval location where the gods had been born. As with the theology of the Babylonian epic about the creation of the world, Marduk or his cultic image was understood to have come from these workshops and thus ultimately from An-sar, which for the Assyians was Assur. In the regal inscriptions which he left in Babylon, Assurbanipal insisted in pointing out that during the rule of Asarhaddon, the god Marduk (admittedly in the form of a cultic-image) had "sat before his father, his creator (thus before Assur), in the middle of Assur."59 This instrumentalization of theology would embitter many Babylonians.

Even if in neo-Assyrian times -- presumably for geo-political reasons -- the residence of the king was no longer located in Assur, the position of the city Assur was never doubted as the "axis of the world" and the domicile of the king of the gods. Even Assurnasirpal II, who had a completely new residence in Kahlu build from the ground up, was not buried there, but was, like his predecessor and his successors, buried in Assur next to his god.60 It appears that all neo-Assyrian rulers spent part of the winter months in Assur in order to carry out extensive rites which culminated in the new- year's celebration.

The new regal residences, nonetheless, also had a cosmic dimension. Sanherib said of his regal city Ninive that its plans "were drawn up before eternal time in accordance with the writing of the starry heavens."61 While the city of Assur was reserved for the vertical world-axis, in the royal residences a horizontal dimension was emphasized. The kings attempted to represent world domination and world order in their cities. The royal city presented an reflection of the ordered world, which stood against the disorderly outside, the world of the enemy. This is evident in the efforts of Assyrian kings to depict in their palaces victorious battles against peoples from all four points of the compass and of all ethnicities62, as well as their attempt to represent in their palaces the different architectural styles of the parts of the world which they controlled (and thus in their view, ordered.) For the same reason, great efforts were made to introduce foreign plants and even animals63 into the gardens of the palaces and the cities. Even the settlement of deported peoples, with was not without political and structural dangers, may have served this purpose, as well as a purely economic one. The grounds of the city thus celebrated the s_ar kibra*t erbettim, the "king of the four world regions."

The conception of Babylon as axis of the world survived long after the Assyrian's counter-effort in Assur. The idea of Babylon as axis of the world was certainly the reason that Xerxes had Esagil razed to the ground, but it was probably also the reason why Alexander intended to build it again in order to erect the center of his world-empire here -- in the old Babylonian spirit -- at the "center of the world."

© 1997, SDV Druckerei und Verlag



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. See Ee VI, 38.

27. See Ee I, 71.

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

29. See Ee V, 59ff.

30. Ee VI, 119-120.

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

32. See Ee V, 76.

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

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

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

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

37. See the bibliographical references in footnote 33.

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

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

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

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

42. See KH_ 1,1-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

57. See W. von Soden, GAG 33d.

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

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

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

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

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

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