Building Activities at Aššur, Part 1

The Akītu-House  

Like Nineveh, Aššur (mod. Qalʿat Širqāt), [48] Assyria's traditional religious capital, received a great deal of attention from Sennacherib. The construction of a new akītu-house outside the western city wall and the reorientation and reconstruction of the central sanctuary and main courtyard of the Aššur temple Ešarra were the two most important projects, both of which took place after the destruction of Babylon in 689. A new processional way was constructed to link the two buildings. Sennacherib renovated sections of the Old Palace (including the Step Gate) and possibly also the Sîn-Šamaš temple and the city wall, as well as its gates. In addition, he built houses for at least two of his sons, a temple (or sanctuary) for the god Zababa, and a royal tomb. The remains of those buildings, as well as bricks and stone blocks discovered during the 1903–14 German excavations led by W. Andrae, provide evidence for Sennacherib's building activities at Aššur.

The Aššur Temple

After sacking and destroying Babylon in late 689 (Sennacherib's 16th regnal year), Sennacherib remodeled and rebuilt the central sanctuary of the Aššur temple Ešarra ("House of the Universe"), together with its cella (Eḫursaggalkurkurra; "House of the Great Mountain of the Lands") and šuḫūru-house (Eḫursaggula; "House, Big Mountain"), in an attempt to replicate the Esagil complex at Babylon. Sennacherib had a new, multi-room complex, the so-called "Ostanbau," added onto the existing structure.[49] A new entrance to the main cult rooms was built.[50] The king states that the proper orientation of the entrance to Aššur's cella (Rooms o+p) had been disregarded by his predecessors so he created a new entrance. The old south-facing entrance was replaced by a new east-facing entrance, which he named the "Royal Gate" (bāb šarrūti).[51] Along with the changes made to that temple, which the king states were divinely approved through extispicy, Sennacherib had a new akītu-house constructed outside the western wall of the city; moreover, he instituted numerous theological reforms.[52]

In connection with the reorientation of the principal entrance to Aššur's cella, Sennacherib rebuilt the bīt-šuḫūri (possibly Room q) and widened and decorated its gate, which he named the "Gate of the Path of the Enlil-Stars" (bāb ḫarrān šūt Enlil). That ornately decorated gate — which had metal statues of four bull-shaped son-of-Šamaš figures as well as a fish-man, a bronze carp-man, a lion-man, and a scorpion-man — probably provided the bīt-šuḫūri access to a large courtyard (the courtyard of the "Ostanbau").[53] Sennacherib constructed a new paved courtyard, which he called the "Courtyard of the Row of Pedestals for the Igīgū Gods" (kisal sidir manzāz Igīgī).[54] Inner and outer gates were placed in the southeast, northeast, and southwest walls; the northwest wall, which formed part of the existing structure of the temple, also had inner and outer gates (the "Royal Gate" and the "Gate of the Path of the Enlil-Stars"). The inner and outer gates in the southeast wall (those facing east, towards the Tigris River) were probably the "Gate of the Entrance of the Igīgū Gods" (bāb nēreb Igīgī) and the "Gate of the Firmament" (bāb burūmē); those in the southwest wall (those facing south) were likely the "Gate of the Abundance of the Land" (bāb ḫiṣib māti) and the "Kamsū-Igīgū Gate" (bāb kamsū Igīgī); and those in the northeast wall (those facing north) were probably the "Gate of the Dais of Destinies" (bāb parak šīmāte) and the "Gate of the Wagon Star" (bāb ereqqi).[55] Doors of cedar were hung in these gateways; their door posts rested upon door sockets made from kašurrû-stone (a type of basalt). In the southwest corner of the newly-built courtyard, Sennacherib placed a large, elaborately sculpted stone water basin; a well was dug nearby. Sennacherib states that he also had a portable bronze brazier installed in this courtyard.

The forecourt, as indicated by archaeological evidence, was raised and repaved; bricks of his father Sargon II were reused in this project.

Two pieces of metal plating attest to Sennacherib having objects that were plated with bronze in the temple. One of the pieces may have adorned the Dais of Destinies (parak šīmāte); in addition to being inscribed, that bronze plating may have also depicted the Tablet of Destinies, the god Aššur, and Sennacherib (text no. 193).[56] A tablet copy of a dedicatory inscription (text no. 159) attests to the king having a kettledrum made for the god Aššur; this text would have been written on the metal plating of the drum. There were presumably other objects made for Assyria's principal deity at this time, but the written and archaeological evidence for this are lacking. It is known from two tablets inscribed during the reign of Ashurbanipal that Sennacherib dedicated Marduk's bed and throne to Aššur after he had had them removed from the Esagil temple at Babylon; Sennacherib had dedicatory inscriptions written on the metal plating of those objects (text nos. 161–162). [57]

The Akītu-House

As part of his post-689 reforms, Sennacherib had a new akītu-house constructed outside the western wall of the city in an attempt to replicate the cultic topography of Babylon.[58] An inscription written on a stone tablet suggests that the original New Year's temple had been situated outside the city, but had long been forgotten and that the akītu-ceremonies were being performed inside Aššur. The structure of the akītu-house of the steppe, whose Sumerian ceremonial name is Eabbaugga ("House Where Tiāmat Is Put To Death"), was built entirely from (inscribed) stone blocks.[59] The planning of the temple proved difficult: The original ground plan was abandoned and replaced by a newer one with a moderately different plan.[60] The people of Dilmun are reported to have taken part in the destruction of Babylon and to have helped Sennacherib place dirt from that city in the Assyrian akītu-house. Karib-il, the king of Saba, gave Sennacherib a substantial audience gift consisting of metal, small stone cylinder-shaped beads, and aromatics that were to be deposited in the foundations of the akītu-house. The temple itself was surrounded by lush, well-irrigated gardens and fruit orchards; the species of plants and trees are not known. In the main entrance of the temple, Sennacherib had an ornate bronze door cast using a new bronze casting technique. That elaborate work of art depicted an epic battle, representing a scene from the Assyrian version of Enūma eliš.[61] Aššur was shown raising his bow and riding in a chariot with the god Amurru. At least twenty-five other gods and goddesses are depicted with him, some on foot and some in chariots.

In connection with the construction of that temple, Sennacherib may have created and/or renovated images/statues of the various gods and goddesses who participated in the akītu-festival. This work is not recorded in extant texts, but the king regularly calls himself "the one who fashioned the image(s)" (ēpiš ṣalam) of various gods. Although the epithet could refer to the images of the deities depicted on the bronze gate of the akītu-house, it could also refer to images/statues of deities participating in the akītu-festival.[62] Finally, in order to connect the new akītu-house to the renovated Aššur temple, a new stone processional way between them was constructed.


48 See also Andrae, WEA2 pp. 19–84; Frahm, Sanherib p. 276; Frahm, PNA 3/1 pp. 1122–1123 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3.c.2'; Frahm, RLA 12/1–2 (2009) pp. 19–20 §6.2; and Grayson, CAH23/2 pp. 116–117.

49 Text nos. 166, 169–170, 190–198, and 209. See Börker-Klähn, ZA 70 (1980) pp. 258–273; van Driel, Aššur pp. 1–50; Haller, Heiligtümer pp. 52–73; Frahm, Sanherib pp. 163–173 and 276; Frahm, PNA 3/1 p. 1122 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3.c.2'.a'; Galter, Orientalia NS 53 (1984) pp. 433–441; Huxley, Iraq 62 (2000) pp. 109–137; Pongratz-Leisten, Ina Šulmi Īrub pp. 60–64; and Schwenzner, AfO 7 (1931–32) pp. 239–251, AfO 8 (1932–33) pp. 34–45 and 113–123, and AfO 9 (1933–34) pp. 41–48. For a plan showing the find spots of Sennacherib's inscriptions, see Frahm, Sanherib p. 172.

50 For information on what remains of the "Ostanbau," see Haller, Heiligtümer pp. 69–73. The work appears to have been carried out in two stages.

51 The old south-facing entrance is presumed to have been the entrance that led to the ante-cella (Room m) from the southwest. The new east-facing entrance, which Sennacherib named the "Royal Gate" (bāb šarrūti), is oriented to the southeast and it may have been the entranceway between the cella (Rooms o+p) and Room q (so Frahm, Sanherib p. 172) or the entranceway leading from Room q to the courtyard of the "Ostanbau" (Börker-Klähn, ZA 70 [1980] pp. 260–261 [with fig. 2] gate a). According to H. Galter (Orientalia NS 53 [1984] pp. 440–441), the "Royal Gate" was the entranceway between the cella (Rooms o+p) and the ante-cella (Room m). For a discussion of the problems with the Akkadian terms used in text no. 166 to indicate the orientation of the gates, along with references to previous literature, see Frahm, Sanherib p. 170.

52 For information about his religious reforms, see in particular Frahm, Sanherib p. 20 and 282–288; and Vera Chamaza, Omnipotenz, pp. 111–167 §2.3.

53 So Frahm, Sanherib p. 172. J. Börker-Klähn (ZA 70 [1980] pp. 261–262 [with fig. 2] gate a'), however, suggests that the "Gate of the Path of the Enlil-Stars" (bāb ḫarrān šūt Enlil) provided access between Room q and Aššur's cella (Rooms o+p). H. Galter (Orientalia NS 53 [1984] pp. 440–441) suggests that that entranceway was between Room m and the main courtyard (Haupthof). For a reconstruction of the ornate gateway created by Sennacherib, see Börker-Klähn, ZA 70 (1980) p. 273 fig. 4. For a study of the apotropaic figures, see Huxley, Iraq 62 (2000) pp. 109–137.

54 So Börker-Klähn, ZA 70 (1980) pp. 261–262 [with fig. 2] courtyard z; and Frahm, Sanherib p. 172.

55 So Frahm, Sanherib p. 172. J. Börker-Klähn (ZA 70 [1980] pp. 261–262 [with fig. 2] gates b, b', c, c', d, and d') proposes more or less the same arrangement, but regards the "Gate of the Firmament" (bāb burūmē), the "Kamsū-Igīgū Gate" (bāb kamsū Igīgī), and the "Gate of the Wagon Star" (bāb ereqqi) as the inner gates, and the "Gate of the Entrance of the Igīgū Gods" (bāb nēreb Igīgī), the "Gate of the Abundance of the Land" (bāb ḫiṣib māti), and the "Gate of the Dais of Destinies" (bāb parak šīmāte) as the outer gates. H. Galter (Orientalia NS 53 [1984] pp. 440–441), on the other hand, places the gates around the temple's forecourt (Vorhof). According to Galter, the "Gate of Entrance of the Igīgū Gods" was located between the main courtyard (Haupthof) and Room a; the "Gate of the Firmament" probably gave Room a access to the forecourt (Vorhof); the "Kamsū-Igīgū Gate" and the "Gate of the Abundance of the Land" were located at the very southern end of the forecourt; and the "Gate of the Wagon Star" and the "Gate of the Dais of Destinies" provided access from the forecourt to the courtyard of the "Ostanbau."

56 As suggested by E. Frahm (Sanherib p. 221), one or both of the inscriptions written on clay tablet K 6177 + K 8869 (text no. 158) may have also been written on the metal plating of the Dais of Destinies. If BM 91157 proves to be from the plating of Aššur's dais, then the drafts (or archival copies) of the texts written on K 6177 + K 8869 may have been inscribed elsewhere on that same piece of bronze. Esarhaddon (Leichty, RINAP 4 p. 136 Esarhaddon 60 lines 26'–29'a) records that he entirely rebuilt the Dais of Destinies with ešmarû-metal and had images of both him and his son Ashurbanipal depicted on its outer facing. If Esarhaddon had Aššur's dais fashioned anew, then he would have had his father's bronze plating removed. Before doing so, he probably had the inscriptions written on the earlier plating copied onto a clay tablet and archived; K 6177 + K 8869 may have been that tablet. If BM 91157 was part of the plating of the Dais of Destinies, then it appears that Esarhaddon's craftsmen did not have the bronze plating destroyed. Of course, this interpretation of the meager written evidence must remain conjectural.

57 Other cult objects taken from Esagil in 689 were probably dedicated to the god Aššur.

58 Text nos. 160, 167–168, and 171–176. See Andrae in Haller, Heiligtümer pp. 74–80; Frahm, Sanherib pp. 173–177 and 276; Frahm, PNA 3/1 p. 1122 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3.2'.b'; and Miglus, Bagh. Mitt. 24 (1993) pp. 194–199 and p. 212 figs. 1–2. For information on akītu-festivals in Assyria, see Pongratz-Leisten, RLA 9/3–4 (1999) p. 296 §3; Pongratz-Leisten, Ina Šulmi Īrub esp. pp. 108 and 115–132; Pongratz-Leisten in Parpola and Whiting, Assyria 1995 pp. 245–252; and Zgoll in Blum and Lux, Festtraditionen pp. 11–80.

59 The ceremonial name of the cella was called Edubdubabba ("House That Makes Tiāmat Tremble").

60 Compare Miglus, Bagh. Mitt. 24 (1993) p. 212 fig. 1 to fig. 2.

61 For recent studies and editions of the Assyrian version of Enūma eliš, see Kämmerer and Metzler, Weltschöpfungsepos pp. 26–33 § and pp. 355–360; and Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths pp. 5–6.

62 For information on the deities who participated in the akītu-festival at Aššur, see Pongratz-Leisten, Ina Šulmi Īrub pp. 115–132. With regard to the epithet ēpiš ṣalam DN, see, for example, text no. 172 lines 2–4, where Sennacherib calls himself "the one who fashioned image(s) of the deities Aššur, Anu, Sîn, Šamaš, Adad, Nergal, Ištar of Bīt-Kidmuri, Bēlet-ilī, and the (other) great gods"; text no. 173 lines 2–7, where he uses the epithet "the one who fashioned image(s) of the deities Aššur, Šerūa, Anu, Sîn, Šamaš, Adad, Ištar of Bīt-Kidmuri, Bēlet-ilī, Kaka, Ḫaya, Kusu, Lumḫa, Dunga, Egalkiba, and the (other) great gods"; and text no. 175 lines 2–8, where the king is called "the one who fashioned image(s) of the deities Aššur, [Mullissu], Šerūa, Sîn, Nik[kal], Šamaš, Aya, Anu, Antu, Adad, Šala, Ištar of Bīt-Kidmuri, [Bēlet]-ilī, Ḫaya, Kusu, [Lumḫa], Dunga, Egalkiba, [and the] (other) great gods."

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Building Activities at Aššur, Part 1', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

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