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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 219

It is not quite certain whether Sammu-rammat was the wife of Shamshi-Adad VII or of his son, Adad-nirari IV. Before the former monarch reduced Babylonia to the status of an Assyrian province, he had signed a treaty of peace with its king, and it is suggested that it was confirmed by a matrimonial alliance. This treaty was repudiated by King Bau-akh-iddina, who was transported with his palace treasures to Assyria.

As Sammu-rammat was evidently a royal princess of Babylonia, it seems probable that her marriage was arranged with purpose to legitimatize the succession of the Assyrian overlords to the Babylonian throne. The principle of "mother right" was ever popular in those countries where the worship of the Great Mother was perpetuated if not in official at any rate in domestic religion. Not a few Egyptian Pharaohs reigned as husbands or as sons of royal ladies. Succession by the female line was also observed among the Hittites. When Hattusil II gave his daughter in marriage to Putakhi, king of the Amorites, he inserted a clause in the treaty of alliance "to the effect that the sovereignty over the Amorite should belong to the son and descendants of his daughter for evermore".[464]

As queen or queen-mother, Sammu-rammat occupied as prominent a position in Assyria as did Queen Tiy of Egypt during the lifetime of her husband, Amenhotep III, and the early part of the reign of her son, Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton). The Tell-el-Amarna letters testify to Tiy's influence in the Egyptian "Foreign Office", and we know that at home she was joint ruler with her husband and took part with him in public ceremonials. During their reign a temple was erected to the mother goddess Mut, and beside it was formed a great lake on which sailed the "barque of Aton" in connection with mysterious religious ceremonials. After Akhenaton's religious revolt was inaugurated, the worship of Mut was discontinued and Tiy went into retirement. In Akhenaton's time the vulture symbol of the goddess Mut did not appear above the sculptured figures of royalty.

What connection the god Aton had with Mut during the period of the Tiy regime remains obscure. There is no evidence that Aton was first exalted as the son of the Great Mother goddess, although this is not improbable.

Queen Sammu-rammat of Assyria, like Tiy of Egypt, is associated with social and religious innovations. She was the first, and, indeed, the only Assyrian royal lady, to be referred to on equal terms with her royal husband in official inscriptions. In a dedication to the god Nebo, that deity is reputed to be the protector of "the life of Adad-nirari, king of the land of Ashur, his lord, and the life of Sammu-rammat, she of the palace, his lady".[465]

During the reign of Adad-nirari IV the Assyrian Court radiated Babylonian culture and traditions. The king not only recorded his descent from the first Shalmaneser, but also claimed to be a descendant of Bel-kap-kapu, an earlier, but, to us, unknown, Babylonian monarch than "Sulili", i.e. Sumu-la-ilu, the great-great-grandfather of Hammurabi. Bel-kap-kapu was reputed to have been an overlord of Assyria.

Apparently Adad-nirari desired to be regarded as the legitimate heir to the thrones of Assyria and Babylonia. His claim upon the latter country must have had a substantial basis. It is not too much to assume that he was a son of a princess of its ancient royal family. Sammurammat may therefore have been his mother. She could have been called his "wife" in the mythological sense, the king having become "husband of his mother". If such was the case, the royal pair probably posed as the high priest and high priestess of the ancient goddess cult--the incarnations of the Great Mother and the son who displaced his sire.

The worship of the Great Mother was the popular religion of the indigenous peoples of western Asia, including parts of Asia Minor, Egypt, and southern and western Europe. It appears to have been closely associated with agricultural rites practised among representative communities of the Mediterranean race. In Babylonia and Assyria the peoples of the goddess cult fused with the peoples of the god cult, but the prominence maintained by Ishtar, who absorbed many of the old mother deities, testifies to the persistence of immemorial habits of thought and antique religious ceremonials among the descendants of the earliest settlers in the Tigro-Euphrates valley. Merodach's spouse Zerpanitum was not a shadowy deity but a goddess who exercised as much influence as her divine husband. As Aruru she took part with him in the creation of mankind. In Asia Minor the mother goddess was overshadowed by the father god during the period of Hatti predominance, but her worship was revived after the early people along the coast and in the agricultural valleys were freed from the yoke of the father-god worshippers.

It must be recognized, in this connection, that an official religion was not always a full reflection of popular beliefs. In all the great civilizations of antiquity it was invariably a compromise between the beliefs of the military aristocracy and the masses of mingled peoples over whom they held sway. Temple worship had therefore a political aspect; it was intended, among other things, to strengthen the position of the ruling classes. But ancient deities could still be worshipped, and were worshipped, in homes and fields, in groves and on mountain tops, as the case might be. Jeremiah has testified to the persistence of the folk practices in connection with the worship of the mother goddess among the inhabitants of Palestine. Sacrificial fires were lit and cakes were baked and offered to the "Queen of Heaven" in the streets of Jerusalem and other cities. In Babylonia and Egypt domestic religious practices were never completely supplanted by temple ceremonies in which rulers took a prominent part. It was always possible, therefore, for usurpers to make popular appeal by reviving ancient and persistent forms of worship. As we have seen, Jehu of Israel, after stamping out Phoenician Baal worship, secured a strong following by giving official recognition to the cult of the golden calf.

It is not possible to set forth in detail, or with intimate knowledge, the various innovations which Sammu-rammat introduced, or with which she was credited, during the reigns of Adad-nirari IV (810-782 B.C.) and his father. No discovery has been made of documents like the Tell-el-Amarna "letters", which would shed light on the social and political life of this interesting period. But evidence is not awanting that Assyria was being suffused with Babylonian culture. Royal inscriptions record the triumphs of the army, but suppress the details of barbarities such as those which sully the annals of Ashur-natsir-pal, who had boys and girls burned on pyres and the heroes of small nations flayed alive. An ethical tendency becomes apparent in the exaltation of the Babylonian Shamash as an abstract deity who loved law and order, inspired the king with wisdom and ordained the destinies of mankind. He is invoked on equal terms with Ashur.

The prominence given to Nebo, the god of Borsippa, during the reign of Adad-nirari IV is highly significant. He appears in his later character as a god of culture and wisdom, the patron of scribes and artists, and the wise counsellor of the deities. He symbolized the intellectual life of the southern kingdom, which was more closely associated with religious ethics than that of war-loving Assyria.

A great temple was erected to Nebo at Kalkhi, and four statues of him were placed within it, two of which are now in the British Museum. On one of these was cut the inscription, from which we have quoted, lauding the exalted and wise deity and invoking him to protect Adad-nirari and the lady of the palace, Sammu-rammat, and closing with the exhortation, "Whoso cometh in after time, let him trust in Nebo and trust in no other god".

The priests of Ashur in the city of Asshur must have been as deeply stirred by this religious revolt at Kalkhi as were the priests of Amon when Akhenaton turned his back on Thebes and the national god to worship Aton in his new capital at Tell-el-Amarna.

It would appear that this sudden stream of Babylonian culture had begun to flow into Assyria as early as the reign of Shalmaneser III, and it may be that it was on account of that monarch's pro-Babylonian tendencies that his nobles and priests revolted against him. Shalmaneser established at Kalkhi a royal library which was stocked with the literature of the southern kingdom. During the reign of Adad-nirari IV this collection was greatly increased, and subsequent additions were made to it by his successors, and especially Ashur-nirari IV, the last monarch of the Middle Empire. The inscriptions of Shamshi-Adad, son of Shalmaneser III, have literary qualities which distinguish them from those of his predecessors, and may be accounted for by the influence exercised by Babylonian scholars who migrated northward.

To the reign of Adad-nirari belongs also that important compilation the "Synchronistic History of Assyria and Babylonia", which deals with the relations of the two kingdoms and refers to contemporary events and rulers.


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