Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations
The illustrations on this page have been compiled from a variety of sources. They are reproduced in accord with 'fair use' provisions unless copyright is otherwise noted. If advised that copyright has been infringed I will immediately remove the particular illustration(s).
Return To Section Index Page
E: Late Mesopotamian Constellations
6: Kassite kudurru iconography as constellations?
BM 102485. Kassite kudurru (height: 14.25 inches/37 cm, greatest width: 9.25 inches/23 cm, greatest width: 5 inches/13 cm) circa 1100 BCE in the British Museum, London. (See: Babylonian Boundary-Stones and Memorial-Tablets in the British Museum by Leonard King (1912) Pages 76-79, Plates I-IV.) Kudurrus are attested from the 14th-century BCE up until the 7th-century BCE. A kudurru had to be reasonably large to contain the text of the grant and the images that accompanied it. The BM 102485 kudurru consists of a boulder of dark limestone that is tapered more toward the top than towards the base. The faces (i.e., obverse and reverse) have been slightly flattened by rubbing in order to take inscriptions and sculptures in relief. Approximately 40 kudurru from the Kassite period have survived, however, about half of these are damaged or unfinished. There is no convincing evidence that the kudurrus constitute an astronomical observational record. Kudurrus are a class of Babylonian documents, often in the form of stone monuments or smaller stone tablets, that commemorate specific economic relationships and interests, such as real estate, tax exemptions, temple offices, and personal property. The translation "boundary stone" is a misnomer as there is very little evidence that in ancient Mesopotamia kudurrus were actually used to mark property boundaries. In addition to kudurru, there are few other Babylonian names for these objects, such as naru, "stele," asumittu, "inscribed slab," and abnu, "stone." Note: BM 102485 records a land grant to a man named Gula-eresh, by Eanna-shum-idina (the governor of Sealand). The square box directly underneath the scorpion symbol represents the altar supporting the scorpion symbol of the goddess Ishara. (See: Ursula Seidl or Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie.)
The Kassites (late Bronze period Babylonia) introduced the use of small stone steles known as kudurrus, a practice that was maintained by later dynasties until the 7th-century BCE. (A few have been comprised of clay.) There are estimated to be 110 kudurrus scattered around the world, in different museums. The term "boundary-stone" originating with the early publications implies they were markers set up to indicate a boundary (in a field). One of the earliest significant Mesopotamian monuments to be brought to Europe was a kudurru (boundary-stone). It was found in 1788 south of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River by the French amateur botanist Antoine Michaux and brought by him to Paris (France) in 1800. It was named the Caillou de Michaux. (The French word 'caillou' means 'pebble.') Kudurrus were usually pillar-shaped. Some later kudurru were tablet-shaped. A kudurru is a small conical block covered with symbols and an inscription recording a grant of agricultural land. They sometimes have a conical/pointed or slightly rounded top and often have an insert base (characterised by a much rougher surface than the upper part) for fitting them onto a mud brick platform, for display. (The assyriologist Kathryn Slanski has demonstrated (2003) that these stones were called nargûs by the Babylonians. The Babylonians labelled them narû "stele.") Stone was rare and expensive in Mesopotamia and the kudurrus were intended to be a permanent and indestructible record.
Kudurrus are part of a land tenure system that dates back to the Sumerian period (almost from the beginning of cuneiform writing). (Land tenure was important to the general economy.) Some 15 Sumerian kudurrus dating to the Uruk III period (circa 3100-2900 BCE) and Early Dynastic II-III period (circa 2900-2600 BCE) are known. Early kudurrus have been recovered from Sumerian locations that include Lagash, Nippur, Adab, and Ur. All these locations were subject to Semitic influence. The ancient Sumerian period kudurrus dealt with small land purchases (and rentals?) conducted within a family group or clan. Kassite dynasty kudurrus typically represented royal grants of land or confirmed earlier grants of land made by the king after prolonged litigation. Later Kassite and post-Kassite kudurrus also dealt with gifts of land within a family group or with land sale or purchase involving both related and non-related individuals. (See the monumental work: Earliest Land Tenure Systems in the Near East: Ancient Kudurrus by Ignace Gelb, Piotr Steinkeller, and Robert Whiting Junior (1989-1991, 2 Parts: Part 1: Text, Part 2: Plates).) From the 11th-century BCE kudurrus were no longer simply concerned with royal land grants. It was in the 2nd Isin dynasty that their use was extended to include also private transfers of property. From this period directly made royal land grants declined.
The name "Kassite" is derived from the Akkadian word kassu and identifies Kassite speaking peoples, not ethnic identity. The term Kassite kudurru = Kassite period kudurru. The cultural beliefs inherent in Kassite period kudurru iconography and inscriptions is Mesopotamian/Babylonian. The nomadic Kassites were horse riders with superior mobility in a terrain where only the camel and the donkey were known. The Kassites were neither builders nor destroyers. Prior to the Kassite conquest the Assyrians had been subjects of Babylon but these ties were cut and Assyria became a nation state. Circa 1160 BCE the Elamites swept in from Susa and overthrew the Kassites.
The use of kudurrus became typical for the Kassite period.The Kassites were established in Babylonia during the period 1600-1500 BCE. The Kassites ruled Babylonia in the 16th-12th-centuries BCE. The origin of the Kassites is obscure. The original homeland of the Kassites is not known. No text in the Kassite language has been preserved. The Kassites, moving westward from Iran, captured the city of Babylon after it was sacked by the Hittites. Kassite rulers retained power in Babylonia for almost 400 years (circa 1530-1155/1160 BCE), and for longer elsewhere. The power of the last rulers of the Kassite Dynasty in Babylonia (2nd Isin dynasty, late 12th-century BCE) was weakened by decades of conflict with Assyria to the north and Elam to the west. Raids by Aramaean tribal groups living outside the Babylonian cities caused major difficulties and the kings were unable to maintain control of the country and the Kassite dynasty came to an end. The Kassites brought order, stability, peace, and prosperity to Babylonia. Kudurrus were used in (southern) Mesopotamia from at least the 14th-century BCE to the first half of the 7th-century BCE. Most were produced during circa the late Kassite period. (Overall, some 150 or 160 exemplars are known.) The Kassites introduced a system of land grants in which the King awards extensive tracts of land to a wide variety of favoured subjects. (For a discussion of the form of documentation of royal land grants, and attached symbols, in a later period see: Neo-Assyrian Royal Grants and Decrees by John Postgate (1969).) The kudurrus are almost the only artworks to survive from the period of Kassite rule. Other material for the study of Kassite period iconography includes cylinder seals and sealings, and pottery.
Source: Aspects of the early history of the Kassites and the archaeology of the Kassite Period in Iraq (c. 1600-1150 BC) by Tim Clayden (1989 (Volume 1, Pages 157-158), 2 Volumes; Unpublished PhD Thesis; Wolfson College, Oxford).
The kudurrus were a form of document. The function of the kudurru was first and foremost administrative. The frequent use of kudurrus - the classical form - was introduced under the Kassite rule and was likely connected with problems of a weak central government during the late Kassite period. Perhaps associated with this was the land owner asked the gods/goddesses for assistance to protect his property. The land and the privileges granted in connection with it were placed under the protection of the gods/goddesses. This amounted to kudurrus being inscribed with curses on any later official who tried to undo the land transaction. Officials are threatened with divine punishment if they try to upset the assignment of land that has been recorded. According to John Brinkman in his important 2006 article ("Babylonian royal land grants, memorials of financial interest, and invocation of the divine." (Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient [JESHO], Volume 49, 2006, Pages 1-47)), kudurrus were not legal documents - rather they commemorated/marked the acquisition of land (perpetual income).
The primary concern of most of the studies of kudurrus has been the interpretation of the symbols that are found on most of them.
The kudurru recording a land donation made by king Melisipak (1186-1172 BCE) to Princess Hunnubat-Nanaya is one of the few examples of integrated text and iconography. Contrary to the standard system of symbolic invocation of the powers of gods/goddesses to guarantee the charter, the pictorial element of this kudurru seems to be an illustration of the land grant itself.
A kudurru (entitlement stone) is an economic document comprising a small polished stone stele (usually about half a metre high, though they ranged between being 40 to 90 centimetres tall) recording royal land donations (and sometimes other privileges) granted by the reigning King. (Whilst the vast majority of inscribed material from Mesopotamia is preserved on clay, stone - because of its permanence - was used to create kudurru. Stone had to be imported to Babylonia.) They are inscribed with cuneiform writing and sculpted with low relief images/symbols of the gods/goddesses. The narrative part of a kudurru was a description of a legal (land) transaction. The purpose of a kudurru was to confirm the existence of a legal transaction. The artistic designs are quite striking. They were originally documents (deeds) given by the king to accompany any royal grants of land (and tax exemptions) by the King to his loyal officers (for special services). (The land grants were conferred unconditionally and for all time i.e., in perpetuity to the person and his descendents.) Whether kudurrus were established in the field is undecided. The 3 kudurrus archaeologically discovered in their original locations were all found in temples. There is only one reference to a kudurru possibly being placed in a field, but the text is ambiguous. According to several sources it was practice to use 2 documents with all royal grants of agricultural land. The original was kept in the temple (or a private document was also held by the owner as proof of his ownership?) and a copy (a public document) was (perhaps) placed as a public marker upon the donated property for the information of people in general. (A kudurru was set up in the middle of the field. The actual field kudurru was perhaps a more simple marking stone.) It was not intended to be removed. (Title deeds were placed under the protection of the gods/goddesses. The gods/goddesses depicted on the kudurru acted as guarantors of the document.) They were referred to by the Akkadian term kudurru which can mean "boundary" or "frontier." (A kudurru then, not only acted as a record of land grants but also as a boundary stone.) The area of land was usually extensive enough to feed two hundred people. Kudurrus, properly, were introduced during the Kassite Period (circa 1600-1150 BCE). Kudurru consist of decorating symbols representing gods and goddesses and an inscription in which the King detailed what area of land was given to whom. The iconography that decorates kudurrus shows little variation except for the increasing abstraction of god/goddess symbols. (Numerous Mesopotamian gods/goddesses have thermiomorphic representations i.e., have an animal form.) Amongst other information kudurrus recorded the name of the King and the year of his reign. The reason for the land grants were rarely given. (For an informed alternative view of the purpose of kudurrus see "Classification, Historiography and Monumental Authority: The Babylonian Entitlement Narus (Kudurrus)" by Kathryn Slanski (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Volume 52, 2000, Pages 95-114). For a detailed discussion of the field and/or temple placement of kudurrus see the essay: "The Kudurrus as Monuments." by Giorgio Buccellati (Cinquante-deux reflexions sur le Proche-Orient ancien offertes en hommage a Leon de Meyer (1994, Pages 283-291).
The prolific use of kudurrus appear some 2 centuries after the beginning of the rule of the Kassite Dynasty. The death of the last Kassite king was in 1155 BCE. After this date the use of kudurrus continued but was reduced considerably.
Kudurrus are found only in Southern Mesopotamia. The extant kudurrus show no signs of weathering. Also, none were found in fields. Many have been recovered from ancient Elam where they were taken as booty. At least one has been recovered from a temple. (In 1882 the kudurru of Nebuchadnezzar was found by Abd al Ahad Thoma in the Ebabbar temple of the god Shamash at Sippar. Other kudurrus in the British Museum perhaps also came from the Shamash temple.) The archaeological evidence indicates that kudurrus were usually placed in or around temples or sacred precincts. Presumably this was to give divine sanction to the economic relationships described in the inscription. It appears that eventually they were placed on the boundaries of the land involved. Some 160 kudurrus and kudurru fragments are presently known. Of these approximately 160 examples of kudurrus known, 75 percent have been dated to the period circa 1330-1050 BCE.
The somewhat free arrangement of images/symbols on kudurru is typical. However, there is an established hierarchy in which the celestial gods/goddesses with the highest rank are placed above the next highest ranking gods/goddesses. (The division into hierarchal zones also appears on cylinder seals.) It has been remarked the images/symbols often seemed to float above the baseline of the field.
The lower part of the obverse and the whole of the reverse are devoted to the text. The inscription on BM 102485 informs us the stone is a deeds parcel from Governor Eanna-shum-iddina to his subordinate Gula-eres about 1125-1100 BCE. (The kudurru is undated and does not refer to any Babylonian king by his name. However, the assignment of the date (i.e., fixing its period within a generation) is certain due to (1) the dated mention of Governor Eanna-shum-iddina on the stone tablet of Nabu-shum-iddina, and (2) also on epigraphic grounds in that the forms of several of the cuneiform signs used are identical with those used in inscriptions dating to the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar I and Enlil-nadin-aplu.) Eanna-shum-iddina was the governor of the Sealand, one of the wealthiest regions of Babylonia. (In the 15th-century BCE the Kassite rulers of Babylonia defeated the rulers of the Sealand who had controlled the coastline (coastal marshland) region of the south of Iraq. They then appointed governors to administer the region. Historically Sealand was quite isolated from the rest of Babylonia and enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy, and on at least 2 occasions independent Sealand dynasties are attested.) Amurru-bel-zeri is named as the surveyor who laid out the boundaries of the land. The two officials who completed the transfer of the five gur of corn land are also named. The end of the text also invokes curses on any person who removes, ignores, or destroys the kudurru. (The text on the kudurru invokes nine gods/goddesses to protect it. These are: (1) Anu, (2) Enlil, (3) Ea, (4) Ninmakh, (5) Sin, (6) Nabu, (7) Gula, (8) Ninib, and (9) Marduk. Apart from the god/goddess symbols kudurrus are characterised by the long drawn-out curses that appear on them.)
The upper portion of the obverse is basically devoted to engravings, in low relief, of a series of emblems. Seventeen divine symbols are depicted. Near the top of the stone the eight-pointed star of Ishtar (Venus) is accompanied by the crescent of Sin (the Moon), in the middle, and the rayed disk of Shamash (the Sun), on the right. A snake is prominently depicted down one side of the kudurru. Other symbols on the monument refer to other deities (i.e., the triangular spade to Marduk, and the wedge-shaped stylus to Nabu) and some may also have astral connotations i.e., be related to constellations (but this is not certain). It not established that constellations or constellation symbols are being depicted on kudurru. It is established that god/goddess symbols are depicted. The view that the symbols on the kudurru represent the signs of the zodiac, or in part signs of the zodiac and in part other constellations, was accepted by many early Assyriologists. However, neither the zodiac or a scheme of 12 zodiacal constellations existed as early as the Kassite Period. What is presented is symbolic representations of certain gods/goddesses. Some gods/goddesses, the Sun, Moon and Venus, are astronomical bodies and naturally their symbols are representations of these astronomical bodies. There are four classes of items represented by the symbols: (1) the seats or shrines of the gods/goddesses, (2) the weapons of the gods/goddesses, (3) the animals of the gods/goddesses, and (4) the bas-reliefs of the gods/goddesses.
Babylonian boundary-stone (kudurru) iconography of the Kassite Period (circa 1530-1155/1160 BCE) includes the following depictions:
The symbols on kudurru have no relevance to Mesopotamian astronomy. In the early period of assyriology it was common to identify these symbols as depictions of the zodiacal constellations. Further work in assyriology has changed this assumption. It is not certain they represent gods/goddesses in an astral character. It is not established that constellations or constellation symbols are being depicted and the gods/goddesses are identifiable with certain stars/constellations. It is established, however, that god/goddess symbols are depicted. The symbols on kudurru are the symbols of gods/goddesses who are invoked in the curses on anybody who breaks the terms of the land deed recorded on the monument. The symbols on Kassite kudurrus consolidated the Babylonian tradition of abstract representation of gods/goddesses. Kassite artists created and used symbols to represent gods/goddesses. In the Neo-Assyrian period abstract representation symbols were used for writing the names of kings. Interestingly, during the Kassite period, at the Išhtar temple at Warka the anthropomorphic depictions of gods/goddesses was continued.
Kudurrus contain an astral component in which iconographic symbols represent the abode of the the gods/goddesses of the highest rank. The so-called astral trinity of the kudurrus comprises the astronomical bodies the Sun, the Moon and the Star (= the planet Venus).
Recent speculations and misunderstandings about kudurru symbols interpreted as astral
The group of 3 astral gods/goddesses - Shamash (the Sun), Nanna/Sin (the Moon), and Inanna/Ištar as Ninsianna (Venus) - whose grouping in iconography (especially kudurru) gives rise to speculation. (Interestingly, all 3 of these celestial bodies are each capable of casting a shadow on the earth.) There has recently (late 2015) been an upsurge on Hastro-L for the reintroduction of an astral interpretation of kudurru iconography. The issue involves little more than "going over old ground." The arguments being presented are characterised by their simplicity and superficiality. The methodology lacks any critical structure. The case is largely one involving inference. Criticisms are usually side-stepped/ignored. The use of the premise/argument "It makes no sense that Venus, Moon and Sun are accepted as celestial symbols [on kudurru], but other symbols are not." lacks demonstrated reliability. The Middle Babylonian kudurru have some astral symbols (but not constellation symbols). Venus, the Moon, and the Sun are astronomical bodies (not constellations) and their symbols on Middle Babylonian kudurrus are representations of the gods/goddesses of these astronomical bodies: Ishtar, Sin, and Samas (not to be confused with constellations and claims for constellation symbols). Because of their position in the sky the Sun, Moon, and Venus could oversee the earth and they were patrons of both justice and divination. The Storm-god Adad was also included with the Sun, Moon, and Venus. This is particularly evident in "The prayer to the gods of the night" where the 4 are referred to as "the gods and goddesses of the country." These 4 gods/goddesses are also those who order the 4 chapters/sections of the great divination series Enūma Anu Enlil. There is an established hierarchy on kudurru in which gods/goddesses with the highest rank are placed above the next highest ranking gods/goddesses. That is why these celestial symbols are grouped together near the zenith of the kudurru. (The division into hierarchal zones also appears on cylinder seals.) (However, see Stanislaw Iwaniszewski (2003).) Assyriologists such as Ursula Seidl who have specifically studied kudurru conclude that god/goddess symbols are depicted on kudurru. The presence of the god/goddess symbols invoked the protection of the gods/goddesses depicted i.e., served as an appeal to or mark of god/goddess support. Specifically, they are the symbols of the gods/goddesses who are being invoked in bringing curses on those persons who desecrate the kudurru or break the land deed recorded on the kudurru. Though looking like a combination of "Scorpio" and "Sagittarius" both figures might readily symbolise the curses on the kudurru. The scorpion is a terrestrial agent of death. The other symbol of Išhara was the serpent or dragon (baśmu). What the scorpion and serpent have in common is the poisonous and deadly nature of both. As the scorpion (or serpent), Išhara can inflict pain. However, perhaps when the snake and the scorpion are placed on the lowest register/panel (= ready to strike?) they represent the the Chtonian gods/goddesses of the underworld.
Source: Charpin, Dominique. (2013). ""I Am the Sun of Babylon": Solar Aspects of Royal Power in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia." In: Hill, Jane. et al. (Editors). Experiencing Power, Generating Authority: Cosmos, Politics, and the Ideology of Kingship in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. (Pages 65-96; Page 81).
Source: "Kudurru." by Ursula Seidl. In: Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäeologie edited by Ernst Weidner and Wolfram von Soden, Sechster Band, 1980-1983, Columns 271-272.
What some people loosely term astronomical symbols on kudurrus need to be divided into: (1) astral bodies, (2) the claim for constellations, (3) possible astral omens, and (4) the claim for such things as symbols coding the 3 stellar paths (shrines of Anu, Enlil and Ea - representing the paths in the heavens) and astronomical movements (the path of the Sun, Moon, and Venus (ecliptic/zodiac) intersects the Milky Way right between Sagittarius and Scorpius). The origin of this type of claim seems to date at least to the 2003 article by Stanislaw Iwaniszewski. Regarding claims for constellation iconography on kudurru. Not proven is their appearance on kudurru as constellations during the Kassite period. Regarding the latter claims. The few surviving early star lists show that the 3 stellar paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea were likely established in the Old Babylonian period (early 2nd-millennium BCE). I have never seen any professional assyriologist or art historian claim that the symbolic representations of the Enlil, Anu, and Ea on kudurru are intended to represent or infer the 3 stellar paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea. If the astral symbols for Venus, Moon, and Sun, and the symbol for the snake god Nirah, were placed between the Centaur and Scorpion symbols then perhaps the claimed astronomical interpretation would be regarded as more than speculation. People who want to make these make these sorts of claims need to offer a reasonable standard of evidence or identify that they are offering speculation. Also, no explanation is offered for exactly why this sort of astronomical symbolism/'information' would be included on commercial documents.
The assertion that kudurrus - even in some instances - constitute an observation record of some sort - remains unconvincing. Most usually overlooked is the explanation they are possibly connected with astral omens. David Brown (Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology (2000, Page 253)) remarks: "The symbols could equally well reflect "astrological" concerns different from that which pertained in the sky on the occasion of the kudurru's manufacture, and/or the stylisation of the situation could be such as to make dating hopeless."
Source: Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw. (2003). "Archaeoastronomical Analysis of Assyrian and Babylonian Monuments: Methodological Issues." (Journal for the history of Astronomy, Volume 34, Part 1, February, Number 114, Pages 79-93). (See page 87).
Morton Wagman incorrectly maintains (Lost Stars (2003)) that Sagittarius appears for the first time in Mesopotamian astronomical literature in the 8th-century BCE. The constellations scorpion-archer, scorpion, twins are attested during the Kassite period from star lists. (For a discussion of problems and confusions with the various 'Twins' constellations see: The Three Stars Each by Wayne Horowitz (2014, Page 114). Two different lists of 7 'Twins' constellations are known. Lists of 7 'Twins' appears in the so-called Great Star List.)
Kudurrus lack labels (excepting those from Susa) identifying the symbols with specific gods/goddesses. (Seven kudurrus, all from Susa have explanatory labels on a few of the symbols but it is not known who or where the labels the labels were carved. As none of the kudurrus found in Babylonia bear labels identifying the gods/goddesses it seems likely that these labels were carved by the Elamites.) The kudurrus recovered from Susa had been brought as booty by Elamite invaders of Babylonia. However, numerous other types of objects have the name of the god/goddess written adjacent to the symbol. The Kassites have not left any type of testimony that symbols on kudurrus were intended to convey the astral nature of god/goddess attributes/associations. Regardless, there have been ongoing attempt to interpret the symbols as a representation of the night-sky constellations. The usual interpretation is to interpret the god/goddess symbols as legal witnesses to the land grant, since a number of gods/goddesses are invoked in the curses that constitute a section of the text. The idea that constellations are represented is the least convincing. The presence of the god/goddess symbols may have been merely to secure the protection of the gods/goddesses, since some similar memorial objects expressly implore the gods/goddesses depicted on them. This is likely connected with the fact that kudurrus - by their nature - lacked the endorsement of a royal seal. Kudurrus lack the impression of the royal seal as evidence of the king's sanction and authority. (Kudurrus - because they lacked a seal impression - were not a legal document. Sealing had fundamental importance.) The large and systematic Old Babylonian period AN=Anum series sets out a list of god/goddess names used in curses. It was well-known - and used - in the Late Kassite period.
Source: Aspects of the early history of the Kassites and the archaeology of the Kassite Period in Iraq (c. 1600-1150 BC) by Tim Clayden (1989 (Volume 1, Pages 167-168), 2 Volumes; Unpublished PhD Thesis; Wolfson College, Oxford). The goddess Išhara is identified with label on a kudurru recovered from Susa. Regarding Sb 31: No 64; Sb is the prefix number from the French excavations at Susa.
The scorpion was a common symbol during the First Dynasty of Babylon and also the Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Seleucid periods. The scorpion symbol appeared on cylinder seals and also has been found carved on a stone bowl dated to the reign of King Rimus of Akkad (circa 2200 BCE).
According to F. Wiggerman, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (1992, Page 180), the appearance of the scorpion-man dates at least to the 3rd-millennium BCE, and is associated with the sun-god. (There are several traditions of scorpion men.) A scorpion-man could be depicted as an archer in a number of hybrid (composite) combinations. The picture of a scorpion is very common on kudurrus and there sometimes occurs a what is termed a "scorpion-archer." (The later constellation Sagittarius = a centaur with bow and arrow.) There are several different depictions of a centaur archer on kudurru. A strange hybrid (composite) creature as archer appears on a kudurru (BM 80858) alongside the goddess Gula and her dog. It comprises a half man (human head and arms holding a stretched bow, a scorpion's body and tail, and bird's feet. The representation of a 2-headed centaur archer that is a half-man, half horse with wings, and 2 tails - one a scorpion tail - is both early and late. It appears at the top of a Kassite dynasty kudurru in the British Museum and also appears on a Hellenistic/Seleucid period stamp seal. The late stamp seal image is interpreted as a depiction of the zodiacal constellation Sagittarius. All of the signs of the zodiac can be recognised on stamp seal designs of the Hellenistic period. (See: Catalogue of Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum by Terence Mitchell and Ann Searight (2008 Page 218, and also see Pages 238-239).) For a recent study of Babylonian composite figures see: Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art by Constance Gane (unpublished PhD thesis, 2012).
The 'evidence/proof' offered for a range of astronomical symbols on kudurru is frequently nebulous and most usually offered by a self-informed amateur. It is in many cases only opinion. There is a modern trend towards rejection of expertise and the blurring of the important distinction between facts and opinions. Plato stated that "Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance. Simply, statements by experts in his/her field are far more likely to be true than statements from a non-expert in the field. There are good reasons why we don't let amateurs design commercial aircraft and tall 'skyscraper' buildings.
Kudurru of King Marduk-zakir-shumi (854-819 BCE) with interesting iconography (including a fox). Underneath the serpent do we have the scorpion constellation and the Pleiades or Išhara and her 7 children the Sebetti/Sibitti (the 7 benevolent demon gods)? Peter van der Veen (2008) has pointed out the '7 dots' (commonly symbolising the Pleiades) do not appear on Kassite kudurrus, but only on post-Kassite Babylonian kudurrus from year 8 of Nabu-shuma-ishkun (circa 760-746 BCE) and Shamash-shum-ukin (667-648 BCE). The 7 dots (2 horizontal rows of 3 plus 1 to the right) are an Assyrian convention of rendering the sibitti. Only later were the 7 sibitti/sebittu associated with the Pleiades.
Several views of VA 3031 dating to reign of Nabu-shuma-ishkun (circa 760-746 BCE). VA 3031 (VAS 1 36/VS 1, 36) from Borsippa is tablet shaped. The 7 dots (2 horizontal rows of 3 plus 1 to the right) are in this post-Kassite period associated with the Pleiades. (Peter van der Veen (2008) has pointed out the '7 dots' (commonly symbolising the Pleiades) do not appear on Kassite kudurrus, but only on kudurrus from year 8 of Nabu-shuma-ishkun (circa 760-746 BCE) and Shamash-shum-ukin (667-648 BCE).)
It cannot be suitably determined whether the 8-pointed star was intended for Išhtar's symbol or had vaguer astral significance. The star as symbol of the goddess Išhtar was usually 8-pointed and was associated also with the crescent of Sin and the sun-disk of Samas. But the 8-pointed star was often introduced in a sense which had no obvious connection with the goddess, and in such cases it cannot be suitably determined whether it was intended for Išhtar's symbol or had a vaguer astral significance. In addition to the symbols of a number of gods/goddesses there are also images of 3 anthropomorphic gods/goddesses depicted. The identification of these 3 gods/goddesses is deemed uncertain by some. However, Joan Westenholz has pointed out the identification of the god is readily established as Mar-biti (the Kassite god of war and the chase). She has also made the point that it can be confidently inferred that one of the goddesses is Nanaya (a goddess of war and seduction). The other goddess has been proposed as Ištar but as her symbol already appears the other goddess could be the goddess Sutitu, as she is mentioned in the text.
Regarding BM 102485 (see top illustration). That the serpent (snake) depicted starting at the top of kudurru and down one side is there to represent the Milky Way is, as far as I can see, speculation originating from Babylonian mythology. The claim that the Milky Way (= serpent/snake) intersects the ecliptic by the constellation Scorpius is easily demonstrated to be speculation. (The actual serpent on Kassite kudurrus is the magically protective MUS-SA-TUR.) The scorpion (gir.tab) appears during the Kassite period as a constellation (on astrolabes and star lists). That does not automatically mean its appearance on kudurrus = the constellation scorpion. The assertions of positional astral information include the concept that the identification of such was determined during the Kassite period. The scorpion is the symbol of the goddess Išhara (who dates at least to the 3rd-millennium BCE). The association between the scorpion and Išhara occurred during the Kassite period. (The earlier evidence is indefinite.) On a kudurru the scorpion is the symbol of the goddess Išhara (and may also be interpreted as meaning the scorpion constellation). But perhaps there is some connection with the male figure of the scorpion in Babylonian demonology. There may be another explanation. The goddess Išhara is identified with 'The Scorpion' in the Astrolabe star catalogues. See: The Three Stars Each by Wayne Horowitz (2014, Page 149) for the identification of mulGIR.TAB ('The Scorpion') as the Goddess of Heaven and Earth per Išhara as bēlet dadmē ('Lady of the World'), in Mul.Apin I ii 29.
Note: Regarding snakes in Mesopotamian uranography and on kudurrus. In Mesopotamian uranography, by the Old Babylonian period, the position of the north pole was constellated with a snake (Draco) and it can be surmised that by the Kassite period a snake constellation (Hydra) extended along part of the region of the celestial equator (and into the southern celestial hemisphere). Is there a possibility that a snake along the top of a kudurru represented the north pole region and/or a snake down the side of a kudduru represented the celestial equator region (accepting that there is no specific evidence the Mesopotamians at that time specifically identified the celestial equator)? (I have not traced the history of this idea.) No room here for the Milky Way being represented by a snake. However, see Babylonian Creation Myths by Wilfred Lambert (2013, Page 240): "The snake [Irhan] on boundary stones often surrounds the other symbols since it is the river encircling the universe." The cult of Irhan, a god of the city of Ur representing the river Euphrates (represented as a snake), remained independent until the period of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, but was later syncretised with the cult of the snake-god Nirah, a god of the city-state of Der. In 3rd-millennium BCE texts dMUS spells both Irhan and Nirah. The god Irhan/Nirah has been identified with the Euphrates. The syncretic Nirah/Irhan is both a river-god and a snake-god.
"In Old Babylonian oathtaking, the hydra (bašmu) was the symbol of Išḫara ..., but on boundary stones the scorpion represents her ... . In neither case is the reason for the attribute apparent, nor the grounds for the change. ... Astrologically the scorpion-star is identified with Išḫara, and she in turn with Tiāmat (mulgir-tab = diš-ḫa-ratam-tim." (Babylonian Creation Myths by Wilfred Lambert (2013, Pages 234 & 245.)
An interesting statement is made in: Cloudsley-Thompson, John. (1990). "Scorpions in Mythology, Folklore and History." In: Polis, Gary. (Editor). The Biology of Scorpions. (Pages 462-485). The author discusses in a popular style astral scorpions in different cultures. Where he discusses the history of astronomy he is generally unreliable. Professor John Leonard Cloudsley-Thompson (1921-2013) was a British naturalist renowned for his work on desert fauna and a pioneer in the study of desert wildlife. On page 464 of his 1990 article he writes: "A Kassite boundary stone of Melishihu found at Susa and dating from the twelfth century B.C. has two signs for the equinoxes - the vernal one being an arc with degrees, and the autumnal sign with a scorpion and the word n'ibiru, "crossing." No reference is given for this incredible statement. Unfortunately the article is cited by academics such as Victor Monserret (2012) when discussing anthropods in Mesopotamian art. The kudurru of Melishihu is black (sometimes described as grey) limestone and 65 centimetres high. It is now housed at the Louvre. The obverse is composed of 5 iconographic registers, with representations of gods, humans and animals. There are 24 symbols. The reverse is a semicircular surface-in-the-round with 3 columns of cuneiform text.
The kudurru of Melishihu (1186-1172 BCE). It is inscribed in Akkadian and dates to the early 12th-century BCE. On many of the kudurrus found at Susa (the principal city of Elam/Elamite empire) the inscriptions are effaced or otherwise damaged. However, the kudurru of Melishihu is in almost perfect condition. (This kudurru is one of a number of Mesopotamian works found in Susa. They were brought there by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte (late 12th-century BCE) as part of the spoils of his victorious campaigns in Mesopotamia.) The lengthy inscription of the Kassite king Melishihu (alternative reading is Meli-Shipak) records a land gift by Melishihu to his son Marduk-apla-iddina I. Register V has 3 symbols including a snake and a scorpion.
Enlarged view of Register V of the kudurru of king Melishihu. The claim by John Cloudsley-Thompson (1990) of "an arc with degrees" is at the underneath of the head of the 'snake' (far right above the scorpion). What is actually being depicted in this area of the kudurru is a horned head. Depicted (and frequently identified as a snake) is a horned serpent (dragon/serpent-dragon) named Mushussu, an animal attribute (sacred animal/emblematic animal/symbol) of the god Marduk. The "arc with degrees" is an illusion created by the lighting on the surface of the kudurru when the photograph was taken from the particular position. This should also be evident from the "arc" not being an arc and the "degrees" being odd-shaped (and perhaps forming part of the lower head of the serpent-dragon).
BM 90858. White limestone kudurru for Ritti-Marduk (late 12th-century BCE). The scorpion is on a separate register to the "centaur archer" and they are both on a separate register to the astral symbols for Venus, the Moon, and the Sun.
The identification of the scorpion representations on kudurrus with the goddess Išhara is enabled through accompanying inscriptions. Assured representations of Išhara as a scorpion are identified by kudurru inscriptions dating to the 12th-century BCE. Išhara appears as a scorpion together with an inscription of her name on the registers/panels of the late Kassite kudurrus of Meli-Shipak (1188-1174 BCE) and Marduk-apla-iddina I (1173-1161 BCE). An additional 45 kudurrus depict a scorpion, but with no identifying inscription. (See: Seidl (1989; Pages 156-157).) Išhara is associated with the goddess Gula. Gula is usually the wife of Ninurta. The title of Pa-bil-sag was "vicegerent [= delegated earthly representative] of the Nether World," and he was also identified as the husband of Gula.
BM 102485 (see illustration at top of page) records a land grant to a man named Gula-eresh by Eanna-shum-idina (the governor of Sealand). The square box directly underneath the scorpion symbol represents the altar supporting the scorpion symbol of the goddess Išhara. (Consult Ursula Seidl (1989) or Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie. (Dritter Band 3, 1957-1971, Pages 483-490.)
The names provide no aid to interpret what is meant. Gir.tab simply means scorpion. Pa.bil.sag as the name of the centaur cannot be interpreted because it never occurs in any other context. (The hybrid (composite) loosely described as "scorpion archer" or "scorpion-tailed bird-man" is identified as Pabilsag.) The interpretation is given that the "scorpion-tailed bird-man" drawing a bow has a feathered body - or is wearing a feather robe. It is reasonably suggested that the scorpion-man is somewhat distinct from the "scorpion-tailed bird-man" and similar. Implying that the scorpion and centaur were not distinct is a mistake. The symbol of the scorpion-archer is identified with Ninurta the fiery god of war and the south wind. Ninurta (depicted as an archer with the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion) standing on the back of a monster has also been identified with the planet Saturn. Pabilsag was identified with the god Ninurta.
Two depictions of hybrid centaur archers on Kassite period kudurrus. On the left is the so-called bird-man centaur drawing a bow, and on the right is a winged horse-man centaur drawing a bow.
A discussion of some Mesopotamian scorpion hybrids. Source: The Triumph of the Symbol: Pictorial Representations of Deities in Mesopotamia and the Biblical Image Ban by Tallay Ornan (2005, Page 123).
The triangular spade (blade; also appearing in some iconography with a long handle) of Marduk is a symbolic representation of the god (as is the horned dragon). I do not recall having seen either referred to as a representation of Jupiter. In my view it does not make sense (and doesn't constitute evidence) to suggest along the lines of: The spade symbol = Marduk; Marduk = Jupiter; the spade symbol = necessarily Jupiter. Circa the Kassite period the triangular-spade of Marduk was likely connected with agriculture. Also, the triangular spade of Marduk is depicted on a square box representing an altar. Similarly, the detective comparative approach of using Greco-Roman astral beliefs to substantiate claims for Mesopotamian beliefs only seems impressive if you already believe that on Kassite kudurru approximately 1000 years earlier the snake = Milky Way and the scorpion = constellation. This cannot be proven and also is not even indicated by what we already know. (The argument is made: According to Heraclides of Pontum, Herakles joined the gods by the gate near Scorpius. Centuries later, Macrobius wrote that the gates of the afterlife are at the intersections of the Zodiac (path of planets) and the Milky Way (Commentary on the Dream of Scipio; see: Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, translated with notes by William Harris Stahl (1990)). (Macrobius was explicit on what constituted a "gate" - the zodiacal/Milky Way crossings.) But this is a superficial coincidence at best. Also, unexplained is why Babylonian iconography is being associated with far later Roman poetry having no iconography. Associating a late Roman textual description with the speculated similarity and purpose of an early Mesopotamian graphic ought to be recognised as having the scope to be misleading.) The natural snake depicted on the side of Kassite kudurrus is taken to represent the snake god Nirah(/Irhan) a god of the city-state of Der and the minister of the god Istaran (also worshipped at Der). The reading Nirah owes to Benno Landsberger but is perhaps more likely Irhan.
Excursus 1: Vergil/Virgil placed Centaurs at the entrance of the underworld (Aeneid, Book 6 (The Entrance to Hades), Line 286), "And many other monstrous shapes of varied creatures, are stabled by the doors, Centaurs and bi-formed Scylla, and hundred-armed Briareus, and the Lernean Hydra, hissing fiercely, and the Chimaera armed with flame, Gorgons, and Harpies, and the triple bodied shade, Geryon." (Line 286 in bolden.) The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 BCE and 19 BCE. Franz Boll (Sphaera, (1903)) has shown that all the so-called "Hades-constellations" of the Sphaera Barbarica (Charon, Acheron, Acherousian Lake, kaphos, the ship of the dead) are located in Sagittarius. Vergil/Virgil (Georgics, Book 1. Line 34) has: "... where, between the Virgin and the grasping Claws [= the later constellation Libra], a space is opening (lo! for you even now the blazing Scorpion draws in his arms, and has left more than a due portion of the heaven!) – whatever you are to be (for Tartarus hopes not for you as king, and may such monstrous lust of empire never seize you, though Greece is enchanted by the Elysian fields ...." (= Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo-Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius.) (The entrance is in bolden.) But see Marcus Varro (apud Servius in Georgics, Book 1. Line 34) who identified 3 entrances: Unum ad signum Scorpionis qua Hercules ad deos isse diceretur, alteram per limitem qui est inter Leonem et Cancrum; tertiam esse inter Aquarium et Pisces. (Draft translation: "One at the sign of the scorpion, the means for Hercules to join the gods, and the other by means of the limit which is between the lion and the [sign of] Cancer; the third between the water[aquarium[ [Aquarius], and the fishes [Pisces]." (= Capricorn, Aquarius-Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer-Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius.) (The entrances are in bolden.) The complete passage: "[1.34] PANDITUR IPSE TIBI ordo est 'qua locus ipse tibi panditur'. 'tibi' autem in tuum honorem et gratiam tuam. <'ipse' autem ultro, sua sponte. IPSE TIBI hic distinguitur, ne, si dixeris 'ipse tibi iam bracchia contrahit ardens scorpios', bene optantis verba maledictum comprehendisse videantur. IAM BRACCHIA CONTRAHIT ARDENS SCORPIOS ideo Augusto merito iuxta scorpium locum adsignat, quia sidus hoc supra Romam positum creditur. Varro tamen ait se legisse Empedotimo cuidam Syracusano a quadam potestate divina mortalem aspectum detersum, eumque inter cetera tres portas vidisse tresque vias: unam ad signum scorpionis, qua Hercules ad deos isse diceretur; alteram per limitem, qui est inter leonem et cancrum; tertiam esse inter aquarium et pisces. argute itaque eam viam et sedem tribuit Augusto, forti imperatori, quam habuit deus fortis.>" (Maurus Servius Honoratus. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii carmina commentarii. edited Georgius Thilo and Hermannus Hagen. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1881).) Maurus Servius Honoratus was a late 4th-century and early 5th-century CE grammarian, with the contemporary reputation of being the most learned man of his generation in Italy; he was the author of a set of commentaries on the works of Virgil. Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BCE-27 BCE) was a Roman scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus.
Excursus 2: Some comments regarding connecting Jacob's ladder (i.e., Jacob's ladder dream, Genesis 28: 10-17) and similar with the Milky Way. The ladder-to-heaven motif can be found world-wide (See: F52 in Motif-index of Folk-literature by Stith Thompson (revised edition 1955-1958)). The ladder-to-heaven theme includes stairway-to-heaven, and heavenly rope. Various interpretations of the ladder-to-heaven (road to the sky) tales include: polar axis, Milky Way, world tree, as a ladder to heaven. There are traditions of a ladder (staircase) associated with a sun-god (i.e., solar ladders). Akkadian literature contains 3 explanations for ways the gates of heaven can be reached: (1) to fly like Etana (an ancient Sumerian king of the city of Kish) and the eagle, (2) to take a roadway, and (3) to climb a stairway. There is no implied association with the Milky Way. It might be argued that there is an implied association with the sun-god Shamash and his gateway(s) (gate(s) of heaven). In an Old Babylonian prayer (uttered at dawn) the sun-god Shamash opens the doors of heaven and ascends into heaven by a stairway to preside over a judicial assembly of the 7 great gods/goddesses (at dawn). Ereskigal, the goddess of the land of the dead (underworld), ascended the stairs of heaven to visit the gods/goddesses of heaven. Volk identifies that Manilius' ladder is simply a metaphor for the poets present work i.e., Astronomica. Within Christian mysticism, beginning with St. Perpetua's dream, the ladder became a common Christian symbol for the ascent to God (the transition from earthly to heavenly life). St. Perpetua was a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. It is recorded that Perpetua had multiple dreams prior to her martyrdom. Her first dream is categorised as a 'dragon-ladder-shepherd' dream. "Perpetua's first dream involves her avoiding a dragon, climbing a ladder, seeing a white-haired shepherd in an immense garden and tasting some cheese which the shepherd offers her." (Interpreting Perpetua and her Dreams by Jerrold Mitchell (unpublished PhD thesis, Episcopal Divinity School, 2001, Page 7).) Per a Christian telling: "Perpetua had a dream that seemed to foretell her fate. In it she saw a ladder going up to Heaven. At the foot of the ladder was a fierce dragon, and attached to the sides of the ladder were knives, lances, and other sharp instruments set in such a way that anyone ascending the ladder would be severely cut. In her dream she saw Saturus, her Christian teacher and fellow prisoner, calling from the top of the ladder for her to follow him up. She saw many people in white robes standing in a garden and they were led by a man with white hair dressed in shepherd's clothing. The dragon actually placed his head so she could step up on it to reach the ladder. She climbed up, and the white haired man gave her some sweet curds to eat as the people cried "Amen"." (http://www.jaysromanhistory.com/romeweb/christns/perpetua.htm) See also: Volk, Katharina. (2004, 2009). ""Heavenly Steps": Manilius 4.119–121 and Its Background." In: Boustan [sometimes mistakenly Boustant], Ra'anan. and Reed, Annette. (Editors). Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions (Pages 34-46).
Sometimes well-intended efforts establish misunderstandings. As example: The illustrations and captions in Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings by Hermann Hunger (1992) contain speculative statements. One caption (page 134) reads: "FIG 11. Sun, moon, eight-pointed star (Venus), Hydra and Scorpio depicted on a boundary stone from the time of Melisipak. The function of the astral symbols on the boundary stones is disputed, but recent research indicates that they record actual astronomical observations made at the time the stones were erected and can thus be used for establishing the absolute dates of these monuments. BM 90827." According to my understanding all the illustrations and captions in Hermann Hunger's 1992 book were included by the publisher without the knowledge of the author. Whoever wrote this caption and the others was apparently influenced by the publications of Vladimir Tuman and Ulla Koch, 1987 to 1991. Whether the constellations 'Hydra' and 'Scorpio' are being depicted cannot presently be proven. In their article "Eine neue Interpretation der Kudurru-Symbole." (Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Volume 41, 1990/1991, Pages 93-114) the authors Ulla Koch, Joachim Schaper, Susanne Fischer, and Michael Wegelin make a modern attempt to identify and date constellations. They proposed that the symbols placed on kudurrus were star maps for a given date. This has not been acknowledged as successful. Attempts to date kudurru by assuming their iconography has astral significance and then using the arrangement of their iconography to establish astronomical dates remains both speculative and unproven.
The more astute interpretation is to interpret the god/goddess symbols in connection with the purpose of the kudurrus as property documents: (1) Representing the gods/goddesses invoked as guardians of the property title. (2) As legal witnesses to the land grant, since a number of gods/goddesses are invoked in the curses that constitute a section of the text. (3) To secure the protection of the gods/goddesses, since some similar memorial objects expressly implore the gods/goddesses depicted on them. The texts themselves clearly state that the symbols served as additional protective agencies to the kudurru and the land transaction. Placed on the kudurru is the emblem of each god/goddess involved.
Daniel Potts makes the point that: Divine symbols also appear in oaths and legal texts where, in taking the oath, the oath-taker swears by the symbol of a particular god/goddess. One example given is the depiction on the Stele of Vultures. (Source: Mesopotamian Civilization: The Material foundations by Daniel Potts (1997, Page 193).) The stele known as the Stele of the Vultures is a monument from the Early Dynastic III period (2600–2350 BCE) in Mesopotamia. It was erected in 2450 BCE by this King of the city-state of Lagash to commemorate his victory over the city of Umma. The stele was originally carved out of a single slab of limestone but only seven fragments are known today. The fragments were found at Tello (ancient Girsu) in southern Iraq in the late 19th-century and are now on display in the Louvre.
Interestingly, the claim has also been made that echoes of the impact of the Akkadian empire can be found in Roman times. It has been claimed that an omen-text concerning Sargon of Akkad has been traced down to Roman poets. (See: Vladimir Schileico, "Eine Omentext Sargons von Akkad und sein Nachklang bei römischen Dichtern." Archiv für Orientforschung, Band 5[-6?], 1928-1929, Pages 214-18.) However, a dissenting opinion exists. (See: Piotr Michalowski. "Memory and Deed: The Historiography of the Political Expansion of the Akkad State." In: Mario Liverani. (Editor). Akkad, The First World Empire (1993; 86f.).)
Scorpion-people opening and closing the gates of the sun does not prove that the scorpions were a single figure constellation. There is only 1 scorpion constellation. There were at least 2 scorpion-people guarding/opening and closing the gates of the sun god. The Babylonian scorpion constellation is a natural scorpion. (But this does not mean that it can be readily accepted that the depiction of a natural scorpion on Kassite period kudurru can be taken as a constellation. Varieties of scorpion symbols were prolific during the Kassite period, and later.) The scorpion-people - as the term implies - were composite beings = scorpion and human compositional elements. The scorpion-people were powerful servants of the sun god Utu (Samas). Also, what are we to make of scorpion-bird-people and scorpion-fish-people depicted on Kassite stamp/cylinder seals?
In the Gilgamesh epic the scorpion man and scorpion woman guarded the cosmic mountain. In a Neo-Assyrian seal scene they are also guardians of the so-called Assyrian Tree of Life. Scorpion-people were created by Tiamat as one of her weapons against Marduk. In the later Babylonian world map the scorpion-person is placed by Marduk to the area on 'top of the restless sea.'
Older publications of kudurru need to be used with caution. The astronomical interpretation of kudurru dates back to Astronomisches aus Babylon (1889) by Joseph Epping and Johann Strassmaier. The publication of Babylonian Boundary-Stones and Memorial-Tablets in the British Museum by Leonard King (1912 (accompanied by an Atlas of Plates)) was a key publication in helping to cement the mistaken idea of an early zodiac. In the Preface by Ernest Budge (E. A. Wallis Budge) and in the Introduction by Leonard King both (mistakenly) speculate that the kudurru symbols have an astral connection with zodiacal constellations. In this speculation Ernest Budge is less cautious than Leonard King. The concept of zodiacal constellations along the ecliptic did not exist as early as the Kassite period. The undoubted primary purpose of the symbols is representing the gods/goddesses invoked as guardians of the property title. Attempts to identify the symbols with a set of constellations quickly breaks down because of the varying order and number on different kudurru. Attempts at identification with various constellation positions in the sky, using the register positions of the symbols, has also been unsuccessful.
In equating the scorpion on kudurrus to the constellation Scorpius, Sara Pizzimenti (2014/2015) is in some ways maintaining previously expressed (and similar) views. Gwendolyn Leick (an anthropologist and assyriologist) maintains that the scorpion-archer on kudurru is the constellation Sagittarius or Scorpio (The Babylonian World (2009, Page 163)). (Pizzimenti, Sara. (2014). "The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurru Reliefs. Iconographical and Iconological Study of Sîn, Šamaš and Ištar Astral Representations." In: Marti, Lionel. (Editor). La famille dans le Proche-Orient ancien: réalités, symbolismes, et images. Proceedings of the 55th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Paris, 6th-9th July 2009. (Pages 151-161). (Note: A very interesting paper. Unfortunately the author places credence on outdated texts such as Ernst Weidner, HBA (1915). Currently (2014) Research Fellow in Near Eastern Archaeology, Department of Ancient World Studies, 'Sapienza' University of Rome, Italy. Education in archaeology: Università degli Studi di Roma 'La Sapienza.' PhD Near Eastern Archaeology.)
Source: Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw. (2003). "Archaeoastronomical Analysis of Assyrian and Babylonian Monuments: Methodological Issues." (Journal for the history of Astronomy, Volume 34, Part 1, February, Number 114, Pages 79-93). (See page 85).
There are additional issues. The texts which we have concerning Babylonian zodiacal iconography are few in number. It is difficult to say whether the signs of the zodiac of the Seleucid period (312-64 BCE) are derived from the god/goddess symbols inscribed on kudurrus. We do not know the constellation boundaries of the figures. How the ancient Mesopotamians viewed the configurations of the constellations and the boundaries between them is not presently known and may remain unknown.
The attempt to use kudurru symbols to draw a map of the Babylonian constellations was undertaken by the Panbabylonists. An early, fully elaborated, (but erroneous) theory of kudurru symbols as zodiacal signs was proposed by Fritz Hommel (Aufsätze und Abhandlungen, 1900, Pages 236-272, 350-372, and 434-474). The most detailed attempt was also later made by Fritz Hommel (Zu den babylonischen Grenzsteinsymbolen (1920)) who perceived in the kudurru symbols an equatorial zodiac dating to the 5th-millennium BCE. In their article "Eine neue Interpretation der Kudurru-Symbole." (Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Volume 41, 1990/1991, Pages 93-114) the authors Ulla Koch, Joachim Schaper, Susanne Fischer, and Michael Wegelin also attempt to identify and date constellations. They proposed that the symbols placed on kudurrus were star maps for a given date. This has not been acknowledged as successful. A large part of kudurrus are comprised of abstract god/goddess symbols. In kudurru imagery there is a tendency to avoid anthropomorphic representations of gods/goddesses by replacing them with symbols. Attempts to date kudurru by assuming their iconography has astral significance and then using the arrangement of their iconography to establish astronomical dates is both speculative and unproven. Over 40 symbols appear on kudurru. The arrangement of symbols do not occur in a fixed order on kudurru but vary. Each kudurru is unique. Variation exists in the number and choices of gods/goddesses that appear on kudurru.
The interpretation of scenes in ancient Mesopotamian art is deemed immensely difficult. According to Edith Porada, the late eminent authority on ancient Near East imagery, mythological, ritual, or other scenes remain unintelligible due to our inability to identify most of the principal figures and their actions. Some of the major gods/goddesses can be identified on the basis of textual descriptions. Kudurru are a genre of administrative documents (monument documents). Finding astronomical connections with the symbols - without over-interpreting - has been demonstrated to be fraught with difficulty. The exact meaning of the god/goddess symbols on kudurru remains unclear. It is now recognised that the use of acknowledged astral symbols can embody many meanings, such as the involvement of gods/goddesses in the human/terrestrial sphere.
Ursula Seidl, a present-day kudurru expert, maintains in her article "Göttersymbole und -attribute." (Reallexikon der Assyriologie (Dritter Band 3, 1957-1971, Pages 483-490)) that kudurru iconography has no astral significance. (See also her book: Die Babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs Symbole Mesopotamischer Gottheiten (1989). In this book, regarded as the standard study of kudurru iconography, she maintains her scepticism that kudurru symbols have an astral significance.) This would appear to except the 8-pointed star, the crescent, and the solar symbol. The Middle Babylonian kudurru have some astral symbols (but not constellation symbols). As example: The first register of the kudurru of Nebuchadnezzar 1 (reigned 1124-1104 BCE) show the 8-pointed star (Venus), the lunar crescent, and the solar symbol (solar disk, wavy-lined, 4-pointed sun disk). The same applies to the kudurru of Meli-Shipak II. See also kudurru BM 102485 above. More recently (2008) Peter van der Veen has pointed out the '7 dots' (commonly symbolising the Pleiades) do appear on kudurrus, but only on kudurrus from year 8 of Nabu-shuma-ishkun (circa 760-746 BCE) and Shamash-shum-ukin (667-648 BCE).
Note: On page 140 of her book, Die Babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs Symbole Mesopotamischer Gottheiten (1989), Ursula Seidl mentions a kudurru with a lion symbol that the French archaeologist and assyriologist François Thureau-Dangin identified with the constellation Leo. Some of the "sitting dogs" = lions on kudurrus have been interpreted to be depictions of the (pre-zodiacal) constellation Leo. (In Mesopotamia lions were grouped with dogs simply because their names were derived from the same Sumerian ideogram.) . In his 1907 pioneering study of kudurrus (A New Boundary Stone of Nebuchadrezzar I from Nippur), William Hinke makes the connection of Leo with the kudurru symbols. Leonard King, Babylonian Boundary-Stones and Memorial Tablets (1912, 2 Volumes) identifies the sitting dog on kudurru as as possibly the "zodiacal" Leo. These speculations get copied. In his article "Origins of Ancient Constellations: 1, The Mesopotamian Traditions." (JBAA, February 1998), John Rogers (using Hinke, (possibly) King, and also Seidl (1989)) identifies the sitting dog on kudurru as possibly the "zodiacal" Leo. There was no zodiac established in the 2nd-millennium BCE; what can only be sensibly meant is a pre-zodiacal lion (Leo). A definite mention of a Mesopotamian lion constellation first appears in Hilprecht's Nippur Text HS 245 (= HS 229) (Kassite Period 1530-1160 BCE), and the Stars of Elam, Akkad, and Amurru (Kassite Period circa 1350 BCE).
See further: Van Buren, Elizabeth. (1939-1941). "The Seven Dots in Mesopotamian Art and their Meaning." (Archiv für Orientforschung, Band 13, Pages 277-289). Van Buren proposal: The seven dots in Mesopotamian art are thought to have perhaps originally represented bones used for casting oracles then changed to representing (or encompass representing) the seven gods, then, by Assyrian times, to have represented the Pleiades. For an informed criticism of the basic tenets of the article see Symbols of Prehistoric Mesopotamia by (the historian) Beatrice Goff (1963) Pages 122-123. The identification of the seven dots is first known with certainty in Mitannian glyptic art circa 1500 BCE (where they form a ring or rosette). During this early period they were also arranged in two rows of three headed by a seven dot. Earlier use of (seven) dots have no precise order and no uniform size. The seven dots perhaps originally represented the Sibittu, the seven unnamed gods (who may have been associated with the Pleiades). (There were actually two groups of Sibittu, the good gods and the evil demons.) The identification of the seven dots with the (seven) incantation stones/pebbles used for giving oracles by casting lots is not firmly established. At least from the Middle Assyrian Period (1400-1050 BCE) the seven dots appear in close association with clearly established astral symbols such as the solar disk and the lunar crescent. During the Assyrian Period they also became shaped like stars. This substitution of the seven dots by seven stars during the Neo-Assyrian Period (934-610 BCE) and Neo-Babylonian Period (626-539 BCE) may be an identification with the Pleiades. Only much later are they firmly identified in texts with the Pleiades. The Seleucid Period tablet (circa 3rd-century BCE) VAT 7851 has the seven dots labelled MUL.MUL (= Pleiades).
Source: Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw. (2003). "Archaeoastronomical Analysis of Assyrian and Babylonian Monuments: Methodological Issues." (Journal for the history of Astronomy, Volume 34, Part 1, February, Number 114, Pages 79-93). (See page 85).
Source: Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw. (2003). "Archaeoastronomical Analysis of Assyrian and Babylonian Monuments: Methodological Issues." (Journal for the history of Astronomy, Volume 34, Part 1, February, Number 114, Pages 79-93). (See page 80).
The numerous issues identified by Stanislaw Iwaniszewski (2003) have yet to be successfully dealt with. See: Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw. (2003). "Archaeoastronomical Analysis of Assyrian and Babylonian Monuments: Methodological Issues." (Journal for the history of Astronomy, Volume 34, Part 1, February, Number 114, Pages 79-93). Note: The article is an important critique of Vladimir Tuman's methodological approach to, and the early dating of, kudurrus. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski is Professor of Archaeology at the Postgraduate Studies Division of the National School of Anthropology and History, Mexico City (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia a Historia, Mexico; and Keeper at the State Archaeological Museum, Warsaw. He has been specializing in the Archaeology of Identity, Landscape Archaeology and Archaeoastronomy. Recently he was on his sabbatical leave at the State Archaeological Museum at Warsaw where he researched animism in celestial imagery.
Appendix 1: Symbols Depicted on BM 102485
Upper register: (1) Solar disk, (2) Crescent, (3) Eight-pointed star, (4) Horned head-dress upon a shrine, (5) Horned head-dress upon a shrine, (6) Turtle upon a shrine, (7) Twin spirals upon a shrine (the spirals curl inward and spring from a stem), (8) Wedge upon a shrine (the thicker edge of the wedge is indented, and its face is ornamented with a decorative band), (9) Spear-head upon a shrine.
Lower register: (10) Lightning-fork upon a shrine, (11) Lamp upon a shrine, (12) Yoke upon a shrine (the shrine depicted here is of a quite unusual type), (13) Scorpion upon a shrine, Dog upon a shrine, (15) Lion-headed mace upon a shrine (the portion below the head is scaled like a serpent). (The emblems on the lower register are separated from the shrines on which they rest by a plain band.)
Below the second register: (16) Sheaf of corn (the stems are continued below the horizontal band suggesting we have a sheaf or bundle).
Top of kudurru: (17) Serpent (snake) (engraved down one side of the kudurru).
Appendix 2: The Earliest Surviving Boundary-Stone
The oldest surviving boundary-stone (the Cone of Entemena) dates to the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash circa 2400 BCE. It is a national boundary-stone - a record of a treaty of delimitation. It records a line of division between respective territories.
Appendix 3: Claims for Association Between Milky Way and Labyrinths
The claim that labyrinths represent the Milky Way is simply speculation. John O’Neill in his informed (but somewhat speculative) 2-volume study of what he believed was astral symbolism, The Night of the Gods (1893-1897), has a chapter on the labyrinth in Volume 2 but does not associate it with the Milky Way. The recent revision of the detailed study, Through the Labyrinth (2000) by Hermann Kern discusses and rejects the explanations of planetary associations. For a reasonable detailed discussion of Babylonian labyrinths see: "The Babylonian Labyrinths." by Richard Shelton in Caerdro: The Journal of Mazes and Labyrinths, Volume 42, March 2014, Pages 7-29. The article includes discussion of a number of little known labyrinthine clay tablets from the Near East.
The late Iranian art expert Phyllis Ackerman in her bold essay "The Dawn of Religions" (Chapter 2 of Ancient Religions: A Symposium edited by Vergilius Ferm (1950)) frequently included interpretations of the importance of the Milky Way. (It's possibly her better speculative essay on the topic.) She does not make any associated between the Milky Way and labyrinths.
Appendix 4: Claimed Parallelism Between Mesoamerican and Mesopotamian Milky Way Myths
George Latura wrote (Hastro-L, 4-12-2015): [snip] "The Mesoamerican Milky Way crocodile god that is killed finds parallel in Mesopotamian myth where Tiamat's corpse is flung into the heavens by Marduk (Jupiter)." [snip]. No reference are provided to establish the parallelism claimed. My check of relevant scholarly references demonstrates they contradict or fail to support Latura's claims:
(1) In Mesoamerican creation mythology there is the sacrifice/killing of a crocodile/monster in order to create the earth and sky. (Palenque by Damien Marken (2007, Page 215.)
(2) Karen Bassie-Sweet (Maya Sacred Geography and the Creation Deities (2008/2014, "The Milky Way Crocodile" Pages 266-268) does mention that the god GI performed the "decaptitation" of one or more crocodiles. She does not mention Marduk or Tiamat.
(3) The diffusionist John Sorenson (Sino-Platonic Papers, Number 195, December 2009) though claiming every sort of parallelism between Mesoamerica and the Old World is silent on this "correspondence."
(4) The claim of a Mesoamerican-Mesopotamian parallel is made by Graham Hancock in his 1995 book (Page 144), Fingerprints of the Gods. He has Quetzalcoatl = Marduk, and Cipactli = Tiamat.
(5) Hancock cites (a) Pre-Hispanic Gods of Mexico by Adela Fernandez (1992, Page 59), and (b) Aztecs by Inga Glendinnen (1995, Page 177).
(6) According to Inga Clendinnen (Page 251) in the Nahuatl version of the myth 2 sky gods, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca are said to have seized the limbs of the great Earth Monster (not specifically identified with a crocodile) as she swam in the primeval waters, and wrenched her body in half, one part forming the sky and the other part forming the earth. I have not yet seen the book by Adela Fernandez.
Copyright © 2001-2016 by Gary D. Thompson
Return to top of page.
This Web Page was last updated on: Monday, January 9, 2017, 12:30 am.
This Web Page was created using Arachnophilia 4.0 and FrontPage 2003.
You can reach me here by email (but first delete the obvious attempt in the email address to foil the spammers):
Return To Site Contents Page