Ancient Sumerian Deities

Deity: Displays the name of the deity along with a notation of any other pantheons they belong to.

Patron City: Center of worship of the deity.
Description: A brief description of the deity’s duties.
Symbol: Symbol commonly used to denote the deity.
Relationships: Relationships with other deities.
Comments: Interesting side notes concerning the deity.
Also Known As…: Other names the deity is known by along with a notation of the pantheon(s) they belong to.

Continue reading Ancient Sumerian Deities

Hatshepsut Poetry : Speak to Me

Poetry
These poems are taken from Hatshepsut, Speak to Me by Ruth Whitman [Wayne SU Press, Detroit: 1992]

Hatshepsut, seated, as female

HATSHEPSUT:

When I was six

my father Thutmose the First

lifted me up to sit beside him

on his throne of Amen. Continue reading Hatshepsut Poetry : Speak to Me

Diffusions from Mesopotamia to Egypt Hattusas Remains of Hittite capital, Hattusas Amenhotep IV Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton) Hyksos, Hittite and Hurrian Conquests

In the mid-1700s a literate people with a Semitic language moved through Canaan, took control of some cities there, and then conquered northern Egypt. It is not known who they were, except that the Egyptians called them Hyksos (hyk khwsht), which identifies them only as foreigners. Like the Kassites, the Hyksos had horses, and they had lightweight chariots. They introduced Egyptians to the wheel and to new weapons of war. They introduced the Egyptians to new musical instruments, new techniques in making bronze and pottery, new animals, new kinds of crops, and new gods.

Meanwhile, by the year 2000, an illiterate, warlike, Indo-European people called Hittites had migrated on foot southward into Asia Minor, where they overran and conquered tribal, bronze-age farming communities. Like Sargon’s warriors, the conquering Hittites made themselves an aristocratic warrior elite living off the labors of those they had conquered. And like Sargon and others they saw their victories as willed by their gods and as proof of the righteousness of their conquests. Like others, the Hittites made deities of their dead kings, but they saw their living kings as human and expected them to obey their laws. Their neighbors considered them sexually lax. But the Hittites were less brutal than some: they disliked the mutilations of human bodies that they saw among other peoples, and they were less inclined to punish people by killing them.

From those they overran the Hittites learned how to make bronze. And sometime after the coming of the Kassites to Mesopotamia, the Hittites acquired horses and chariots. With horses and light chariots, the well trained, highly disciplined Hittites launched a new conquest of neighboring peoples in Asia Minor. A horse pulling a man on a lightweight chariot was faster than a horse carrying a man on its back, and the Hittites were able to move rapidly, sometimes under the cover of darkness, and spring surprise assaults upon their adversaries.

The Hittite king, Mursilis I, forced a loose federation of city-states into the first Hittite empire. A Hittite army crossed the Taurus Mountains into Mesopotamia, and, in 1593, they sacked Babylon, ending the dynasty that had been created there by Hammurabi. But Babylon was too distant for the Hittites to rule — 1200 miles from their capital at Hattusas — and the Hittites withdrew from Babylon.

The Hittites remained the leading power north of Egypt until 1590, when the Hittite king, Mursilis, was assassinated by his brother-in-law. More palace intrigues and murderous struggles for power followed among Hittite princes, priests, nobles, regents and ambitious widows. It was to be a recurring development elsewhere in the world, and for the Hittites it brought what it would often bring to others: a decline in power.

After the Hittite invasion of Mesopotamia, an Indo-Iranian people called Hurrians, from the Zagros Mountains, poured into Mesopotamia and overran the Assyrians. The Hurrians settled down, gradually adopted civilized ways and became dominant in such cities as Mari, on the upper Euphrates, and Nuzi, which became a thriving commercial center. Then came another wave of Kassites, who occupied Babylon and briefly overran other parts of Mesopotamia. Kassite warriors settled down, adopted Mesopotamian culture and made themselves warrior-aristocrats. A few of them became rulers of great estates from which they dominated surrounding territory. And from this elite came Babylon’s new kings.

Iron, Ethnic Mixing, Morality and Rubbish

More than a century after the Hyksos invaded Egypt, protracted struggles between the Egyptians and Hyksos resulted in a new pharaoh, Ahmose, uniting Egypt and driving the Hyksos across the Red Sea. Egypt’s elite was wounded in pride by what had been the Hyksos conquest, and Ahmose’s successor, Thutmose I, pursed the Hyksos through Canaan and into Syria, with the Egyptians supporting themselves by booty as they went. The Egyptians believed they were on a holy crusade and that they were protected by their gods. Thutmose expanded Egypt’s empire southward into Nubia, and he boasted that he had made Egypt superior to every other land.

Egypt’s advance in Syria was halted by the Hurrians, and in the mid-1400s, Egypt allied itself with the Hittites while it continued to clash with the Hurrians. Egypt gained wealth from booty, but it failed to push the Hurrians out of Syria. Eventually the Egyptian, Thutmose III, negotiated peace with the Hurrians. And two successive Hurrian kings married their daughters to the Egyptian kings Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III.

It was now the Hurrians who weakened themselves with internal conflict, and the Hittites — who had regained their strength — warred with the Hurrians and further weakened them, and this helped Assyrians in northeastern Mesopotamia free themselves from Hurrian domination. Having experienced oppression under the Hurrians, the Assyrians were motivated to build a great military machine, led by their horse-breeding and landed nobility. The Assyrian king, Ashur the Great (who ruled from 1365 to 1330), married his daughter to a Babylonian, and he invaded Babylon after Kassite nobles there murdered his grandchild. Ashur’s successors continued Assyria’s war against the Babylonians and the Hurrians, and by around 1300 the Assyrians controlled all of Mesopotamia.

During the mid-1300s, the pharaoh Amenhotep IV (also known as Akhenaton, or Akhenaten) tried to force his subjects to worship the god Aton, whom he believed was the god of the universe. Egypt, meanwhile, had withdrawn from Syria and Canaan. After 1300 BCE, the pharaoh Ramses I and his son Seti I revived Egyptian imperialism. Seti went with his army into Canaan and re-established Egypt’s imperial administration there. Then he clashed with the Hittites over control of Syria. During the reign of Seti’s son and successor, Ramses II, the Hittites pushed south and retook the city of Kadesh, seventy-five miles north of Damascus. Ramses II tried to retake Kadesh but failed, and a war between Ramses and the Hittites dragged on until the 21st year of Ramses’ reign, when the Hittites saw a growing danger from other enemies. Then Ramses and the Hittites signed a treaty they called an “everlasting peace.” Egypt was to control lands as far north as Lebanon, and the Hittites were to control lands north of there. The Hittites gave Ramses a Hittite bride, and Ramses returned to Egypt, where he portrayed his exploits in Syria as a great victory — for he was supposed to be divine and incapable of failure. To celebrate his victory and create symbols of his glory, Ramses ordered the creation of great buildings and monuments across Egypt. [note]

When warring against the Hittites, Ramses II, it is written, used the torture of prisoners to try to learn Hittite positions.

More Invasions

While the Egyptians had been reestablishing their empire, tribal peoples from Central Asia had been moving westward with their herds, running from droughts. They pushed on other tribal peoples, and around 1200 BCE these tribal peoples pushed into Asia Minor. Around this time, the Hittites suffered from a plague that greatly reduced their population and made them vulnerable to attack. The Hittite capital, Hattusas, was overrun and was burned to the ground, and the Hittite empire collapsed. The heart of Hittite territory became occupied by an illiterate people called Phrygians, while people in Cilicia and Syria held onto their Hittite culture and identity. Migrants overran the island of Cyprus and other copper producing areas. The invasions disrupted trade in West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region, and bronze production declined. People sought a substitute for bronze and started producing more iron, which required a higher temperature and a greater sophistication in smelting.

Nomads called Chaldeans pushed against the Babylonians and against the Assyrians. A camel breeding Bedouin people called Aramaeans from northern Arabia marauded their way across Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans settled near what had been Sumer. The Aramaeans settled around the upper Euphrates River and in Syria and established numerous city-kingdoms. Assyria became exhausted from warring against the invaders. Its trade fell, but it held onto much of Mesopotamia and territory as far as the Caucasus Mountains. With the passing of generations, some Aramaeans maintained their nomadic ways and became the foremost traders in West Asia. Their language spread, and in the coming centuries Aramaic would be the most widely spoken language in West Asia — the language resorted to for diplomacy and business, and a language spoken by those called Hebrews.

Diffusions

Centuries of migrations into Mesopotamia had resulted in genetic and cultural blending. Sumerians had integrated with Semites. Hittite queens had Hurrian names. Kassites had integrated with the Amorites. Aramaeans assimilated and intermarried with various peoples. At least one Aramaean married Assyrian royalty, and around the year 1050 another Aramaean became king of Babylon. Cities in Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan — especially port cities — had become cosmopolitan. And in much of Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan an ethnic tolerance had developed.

The people of different areas in Mesopotamia had come to worship gods that were similar in character and sometimes in name. The goddess Ishtar was worshiped in various cities, but with different characteristics in different cities. The Sumerian god Enlil was also worshiped among various peoples in Mesopotamia. Enlil was looked upon as the force behind hurricanes and floods, and being the creator of floods he was viewed as the god of punishment. It was to Enlil that the righteous prayed in attempts to inflict punishments on those they thought to be sinners. Another god worshiped across Mesopotamian was Ea, who, as described in the Gilgamesh epic, was a god of knowing, understanding and wisdom. Mesopotamians also believed in a sun god commonly called Shamash, who was the giver of light and life. They saw Shamash as a giver of justice and as able to see wickedness and evil in people.

Morality and Rubbish in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamians continued to believe that not fearing the gods was the greatest of human errors. They believed in discovering what they had done wrong in the eyes of the gods so that they could make amends. Someone suffering from an ailment might ask himself whether he had alienated a son from his father or a father from his son, or a daughter from her mother or a mother from her daughter, or a brother from brother, or a friend from a friend. He might ask whether he had offended his father or mother, sister or brother, or a god or goddess. He might ask whether he had used false scales or had erroneously moved a boundary stone. He might consider whether he had approached his neighbor’s wife, carried off his neighbor’s clothes, told lies or whether his heart had been untrue. To avoid wrongdoing, one scribe suggested charity: responding with kindness to “an evil doer,” or providing an enemy with justice, or honoring and clothing one who begs for alms.

Meanwhile, Mesopotamians living in villages and towns faced the problem of rubbish, sewage and contaminated water. Royal families and some others among the wealthy had indoor lavatories, but most people in villages and within town walls used nearby fields or orchards as their lavatory. Most towns or cities had no rubbish collection. Refuse was often merely thrown into the streets, where pigs, dogs and rats were free to scavenge. Often corpses were buried in very shallow graves. And with rains and a waterlogged ground, sewage and refuse washed into local rivers and contaminated water supplies. The result was typhus and other epidemics, which spread and lasted for years, while people saw disease as the result of sin or the work of demon-gods or someone’s witchcraft.

In addition to appealing to the gods, Mesopotamians saw remedy to illness in sprinkling cleansing water upon the sick. Coincidences led them to believe a variety of specious remedies and things to avoid. In Babylon, the sick were left in the street so that any passerby might advise them. There and other places in Mesopotamia, priests attempted to foretell the course of a disease by examining the livers of sacrificed animals.

What and Where is Persepolis?

Persepolis is the name of an archaeological ruin, part of the Achaemenid Dynasty of the Persian Empire, established by King Darius about 515 BC. The site is one of the best known archaeological ruins in the world, and probably the most important Achaemenid capital. Persepolis is located about 50 kilometers northeast of Shiraz and is open to visitors. Continue reading What and Where is Persepolis?

Nowruz Persian New Year

Persepolis all nations staircase.

People from across Persia bring Nowruz gifts for the king.

Nowruz is the traditional Iranian festival of spring which starts at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, commencing the start of the spring. It is considered as the start of the New Year among Iranians. The name comes from Avestan meaning “new day/daylight”. Noruz is celebrated March 20/21 each year, at the time the sun enters Aries.

Noruz has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion. Today the festival of Noruz is celebrated in Iran, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Tajikestan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The Zoroastrian Parsis of India celebrate Noruz twice, firstly in common with their Iranian brethren on the vernal equinox as Jamshedi Navroz (also referred to as the Fasli New Year) and secondly on a day in July or August, depending upon whether they follow the Kadmi or the Shahenshahi calendar. This is because the practice of intercalation in the Zoroastrian calendar was lost on their arrival in India. The Kadmi New Year always precedes the Shahenshahi New Year by 30 days. In 2005, Noruz is celebrated on August 20 (Shahenshahi).

The Baha’i Faith, a religion with its origin in Iran, celebrates this day (spelling it “Naw Ruz”) as a religious holiday marking not only the new year according to the Baha’i calendar, but the end of their Nineteen Day Fast. Persian Baha’is still observe many Iranian customs associated with it, but Bahai’s all over the world celebrate it as a festive day, according to local custom. American Baha’i communities, for example, may have a potluck dinner, along with prayers and readings from Baha’i scripture. While Naw Ruz, according to scripture, begins on the vernal equinox, Baha’is currently celebrate it on March 21, regardless of what day the equinox falls. Baha’is are required to suspend work and school in observance.

Although the Persian Calendar is very precise about the very moment of turn of the new year, Noruz itself is by definition the very first calendar day of the year, regardless of when the natural turn of the year happens. For instance, in some years, the actual natural moment of turn of the year could happen before the midnight of the first calendar day, but the calendar still starts at 00:00 hours for 24 hours, and those 24 hours constitue the Noruz. Iranians typically observe the exact moment of the turn of the year.

History of Noruz

The name of Noruz does not occur until the second century AD in any Persian records. We have reasons to believe that the celebration is much older than that date and was surely celebrated by the people and royalty during the Achaemenid times (555-330 BC). It has often been suggested that the famous Persepolis Complex, or at least the palace of Apadana and Hundred Columns Hall, were built for the specific purpose of celebrating Noruz. However, no mention of the name of Noruz exists in any Achaemenid inscription.

Our oldest records of Noruz go back to the Arsacid/Parthian times (247 BC-224 AD). There are specific references to the celebration of Noruz during the reign of Arsacid Emperor Vologases I (51-78 AD). Unfortunately, the lack of any substantial records about the reign of the Arsacids leaves us with little to explore about the details of Noruz during their times.

After the accession of Ardashir I Pabakan, the founder of the Sasanian Dynasty (224 AD), consistent data for the celebration of Noruz were recorded.

Throughout the Sasanian era (224-650 AD), Noruz was celebrated as the most prominent ritual during the year. Most royal traditions of Noruz such as yearly common audiences, cash gifts, and pardon of prisoners, were established during the Sasanian era and they persisted unchanged until the modern times.

Noruz, along with Sadeh that is celebrated in mid-winter, were the two pre-Islamic celebrations that survived in the Islamic society after 650 AD.

Other celebrations such Gahanbar and Mehragan were eventually side-lined or were only followed by the Zoroastrians who carried them as far as India. Noruz, however, was most honoured even by the early founders of Islam.

There are records of the Four Great Caliphs presiding over Noruz celebrations, and during the Abbasid era, it was adopted as the main royal holiday.

Following the demise of the Caliphate and re-emergence of Persian dynasties such as the Samanids and Buyids, Noruz was elevated into an even more important event. The Buyids revived the ancient traditions of Sasanian times and restored many smaller celebrations that had been eliminated by the Caliphate. Even the Turkish and Mongol invaders of Iran did not attempt to abolish Noruz in favor of any other celebration. Thus, Noruz remained as the main celebration in the Persian lands by both the officials and the people.

Celebrations

During the Noruz holidays people are expected to pay house visits to one another (mostly limited to families, friends and neighbours) in the form of short house visits and the other side will also pay you a visit during the holidays before the 13th day of the spring.

Typically, on the first day of Noruz, family members gather around the table, with the Haft Seen on the table or set next to it, and await the exact moment of the arrival of the spring. At that time gifts are exchanged. Later in the day, on the very first day, the first house visits are paid to the most senior family members.

Typically, the youngers visit the elders first, and the elders return their visit later. The visits naturally have to be relatively short, otherwise one will not be able to visit everybody on their list. Every family announces in advance to their relatives and friends which days of the holidays are their reception days.

A visit generally lasts around 30 minutes, where you often run into other visiting relatives and friends who happen to be paying a visit to the same house at that time. Because of the house visits, you make sure you have a sufficient supply of pastry, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and special nuts on hand, as you typically serve your visitors with these items plus tea or syrup.

Many Iranians will throw large Noruz parties in a central location as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.

Some Noruz celebrants believe that whatever a person does on Noruz will affect the rest of the year. So, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors on Noruz, then the new year will be a good one. On the other hand, if there are fights and disagreements, the year will be a bad one. Also, many people do a significant amount of “Spring Cleaning” prior to Noruz to rid the house of last year’s dirt and germs in preparation for a good new year.

One tradition that may not be very widespread (that is, it may belong to only a few families) is to place something sweet, such as honey or candy, in a safe place outside overnight. On the first morning of the new year, the first person up brings the sweet stuff into the house as another means of attaining a good new year.

The traditional herald of the Noruz season is called Haji Pirooz, or Hadji Firuz. He symbolizes the rebirth of the Sumerian god of sacrifice, Domuzi, who was killed at the end of each year and reborn at the beginning of the New Year. Wearing black make up and a red costume, Haji Pirooz sings and dances through the streets with tambourines and trumpets spreading good cheer and the news of the coming New Year.

The thirteenth day of the New Year festival is called Sizdah Bedar (meaning “thirteen outdoors”). It often falls on or very close to April Fool’s Day, as it is celebrated in some countries. People go out in the nature in groups and spend all day outdoors in the nature in form of family picnics. It is a day of festivity in the nature, where children play and music and dancing is abundant. On this day, people throw their sabzeh away in the nature as a symbolic act of making the nature greener, and to dispose of the bad luck that the sprouts are said to have been collecting from the household.

The thirteenth day celebrations, Seezdah Bedar, stem from the belief of the ancient Persians that the twelve constellations in the Zodiac controlled the months of the year, and each ruled the earth for a thousand years. At the end of which, the sky and the earth collapsed in chaos.

Hence, Noe-Rooz lasts twelve days and the thirteenth day represents the time of chaos when families put order aside and avoid the bad luck associated with the number thirteen by going outdoors and having picnics and parties.

At the end of the celebrations on this day, the sabzeh grown for the Haft Seen spread (which has symbolically collected all the sickness and bad luck) is thrown away into running water to exorcise the demons (divs) and evil eyes from the house hold. It is also customary for young single women to tie the leaves of the sabzeh, prior to discarding it, symbolizing their wish to be married before the next year’s Seezdah Bedar. When tying the leaves, they whisper.

Archaeology Achaemenid Dynasty

The Achaemenids were the ruling dynasty of Cyrus the Great and his family over the Persian empire, from 550-330 BC, when it was conquered by Alexander the Great. Cyrus’s empire included Libya, Ethiopia, Thrace, Macedonia, Afghanistan, and the Punjab and everything in between. Continue reading Archaeology Achaemenid Dynasty