The Vision of a Unified Territory and the Development of the Tākultu Ritual in Assyrian History

The tākultu festival is earliest attested of the major state rituals and is known already from the Old Babylonian period.[[28]] In Babylonia, Sum. gišbun/Akk. tākultu seems simply to have implied a festive meal or banquet (← akālu 'to eat') as is described in Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave (ETCSL, ll. 371 and 376) when Lugalbanda prepares a meal for the gods in gratitude for his recovery.[[29]] The adoption of this festival in northern Mesopotamian tradition, by contrast, adds a strong spatial component that binds the periphery to the center. The Sargonid variants of the text invoke all the gods of Assur, the Assyrian heartland and incorporated provinces and offer sacrifices to them in order to elicit their blessings for the city of Assur, Assyria, and the Assyrian king. Because of these spatial implications, tākultu differs from bur/naptanu, which is also translated as 'meal' or 'ceremonial banquet' in CAD. A protocol (no. 33) and numerous accounts listing kinds of food to be distributed among the numerous officials and staff members of the royal court suggest that the tākultu ritual has a different purpose (SAA 7 148-157).[[30]] The tākultu ritual should also be distinguished from the qerītu, likewise a banquet festival, but one dedicated to only a single deity and capable of serving as a synonym for the akītu festival of the god Aššur, among others.[[31]]

The tākultu festival is attested as early as the period of Šamšī-Adad I (1808-1776 BCE) on a vase inscription dedicated to the god Dagan. While Šamšī-Adad I's inscription is fragmentary, it seems that the festival was part of the cult of the city of Assur already at this point. Furthermore, it was considered so important that the king deemed it worthy of mention in a dedication to another deity:

1 [dutu]-ši-d[iškur] Šamšī-Adad
2 [lugal] da-[núm]mighty king,
3 ša-ki-in d[en-líl]governor of Enlil,
4 ensi₂ da-š[ur]Steward of Aššur,
5 na-ra-am dda-g[an]Beloved of Dagan,
6 mu-uš-te-em-k[i ma]-a-timPacifier[[32]] of the land
7 bi-ri-it; i₇idignaBetween the Tigris
8 ù i₇buranun-naand the Euphrates,
9 Ru-ba [ma-r]ikiprince of Mari,
10 lugal é-ká[l-la-ti]mkiking of Ekallatum,
11 ša-ki-in š[u-ba-at-de]n-lí]lkigovernor of Shubat-Enlil,
12 tu-a-mi a-na [dd]a-gantwin vase for Dagan
13 ù ša-ku-la-at [...]and the tākultum-banquets
14 [x] x da-šur a-n[a ...] (...)Aššur
rev. na-ru-x x x [...][[33]]

The tākultu ritual is attested again in inscriptions from the Middle Assyrian period onward, beginning with the inscriptions of Adad-nīrārī I (1295-1264 BCE), that is, with the first major expansions towards the west following the end of Mitannian overlordship. Again it is potsherds found in the Aššur temple that point to its performance:

(Property) of the [temple of the god Aššur]. Of the tākultu at the beginning of the sovereignty of Adad-nērārī, overseer. (Adn. I, RIMA I A.0.76.27)
(Property) of the temple of the god Aššur. Adad-nērārī made it at his third (var. fourth) tākultu. (Adn. I, RIMA I A.0.76.28)

Similar vessel inscriptions from the reign of Adad-nērārī I's son and successor Shalmaneser I (1263-1234 BCE) were buried under the floor of the Aššur temple.[[34]] As meager as the evidence is, it seems that Šamšī-Adad I's vision of territorial dominion over Upper Mesopotamia and the subsequent expansionist ambitions of the Middle Assyrian kings from Adad-nērārī I (1295-1264 BCE) onwards correspond with a deliberate attempt to foster territorial control also by ritual means. The tākultu ritual is a major component of this cultural strategy and originates in a time when Assur retained its role as Assyria's political center.

No written evidence survives from the many centuries that follow. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the tākultu ritual was practiced continuously in the Assyrian cult throughout the Neo-Assyrian period. Only in the Sargonid period — and particularly during the reigns of Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) and his successors, when Assyria had reached its maximum territorial expansion — do written sources again attest to the celebration of the festival (nos. 38-47).[[35]] Although the term tākultu is not explicitly mentioned in the text, no. 37, copied from an older exemplar by Kiṣir-Aššur, a prominent exorcist of Ešarra under Assurbanipal, is likely to be an abbreviated version of the ritual. Several other texts survive from the reigns of Assurbanipal (nos. 40-41) and Aššur-etel-ilani (nos. 42-44) stemming from Nineveh (no. 40; 46), Aššur (no. 37 — for Assurbanipal?); no. 41 (dupl. of no. 40 for Assurbanipal); nos. 42-44 for Aššur-etel-ilani), and from Sultantepe (tākultu for Sennacherib, no. 38, and for Esarhaddon?, no. 39). The festival, consequently, must have been celebrated on several occasions during the reign of a single king, or, if celebrated solely at his coronation, may have been celebrated in numerous cities simultaneously or have warranted attention in multiple places.

In the copy of the festival performed for Sennacherib (no. 38), the ritual begins with an invocation of the gods of the Aššur temple and continues with the gods of other major temples in Assur before proceeding to invoke the gods of Nineveh. Subsequently, the text returns to the gods of several temples in Libbi-āli/Assur before embracing a wider geographical scope by invoking the gods of the Eastern Tigridian region, Esagila and Babylon, and Der. The end of the ritual closes the geographical circle by returning to Assur, invoking the names of the divine judges in the Aššur temple, and finally proceeding to Nineveh, invoking the gods of the political capital and the king's political residence. This first large section listing the divinities that are to be invoked by the king or the priest is sporadically interspersed with brief requests for blessings and with ritual prescriptions. Below some examples:

[May hea]ven and earth, the manifest [gods], all the [gods] who dwell in sanctuaries accept [wit]h you, may they listen [with] you! [Bles]s the city of Assur, [bles]s the land of Aššur, [bless] Sennacherib, our [lord]! (iv 5'-16');
[The gods] who[s]e names [you in]voke in the morning and in the evening [for N]ineveh (v 14'-16'),
Give Sennacherib, our lord, [lo]ng [days, everlasti]ng y[ears], a strong weapon, a long [re]ign, and supremacy [ov]er kings! [He wh]o [gave] these to his gods — [give him lo]ng, wide [....] (rev. ii 1'-6').

Sennacherib's tākultu text ends with a section (r. v 5ff.) that is separated from the previous part by a double ruling. It differs entirely from the preceding lists in that it offers detailed ritual prescriptions for how to provide for the gods of Ištar's temple in Nineveh. The formula to be spoken by the ritual performer is similar to those spoken during the tākultu, so it is certainly possible that this is a ritual prescription for a tākultu performed exclusively in Nineveh. It is also possible that the author of the text chose to go into specific and precise detail regarding ritual performance because the ritual prescription concerned the Emašmaš, the temple of Ištar of Nineveh. Ištar of Nineveh is known to have played a central role in empowering the Assyrian ruler in his office and in mediating between the supreme god Aššur and the king through prophecy, so that the goddess and the king contributed together to securing the cosmic order. Ištar's importance to the crown prince and the king is explicitly stated only in hymns dating to the time of Assurbanipal, who claims to have known no father and mother and to have been descended from the Ištars of Nineveh and Arbela instead.[[36]] Allusions to Ištar's role as goddess prophesying on behalf of the king and as supporter of the king in his political and military activities, however, are attested as early as the Old Babylonian period.[[37]] Yet it is not until the Sargonid period that Ištar's prophecies (SAA 9) emerge as a central strategem for asserting the legitimacy of irregular succession. In the Götteradressbuch, the Akkadian rendering of the Sumerian ceremonial name of Ištar's temple in Aššur — Egišhurankia, which is 'House which carries the designs of heaven and earth' (bītu ša uṣurat šamê u erṣetim našû, no. 49:171) — clearly indicates her role in revealing the divine plan to the king. This function of Ištar was deemed so important that her cult was introduced in Babylon where her temple was given the same ceremonial name.[[38]] Interestingly, in Assurbanipal's tākultu, the section on Ištar and the gods of her temple (no. 40 v 24-vi 10) again figures right after the one concerned with Aššur; it also includes a prayer to Ištarat beseeches her to accept the offering presented to her and bless the city of Assur, Assyria, and the king. Accordingly, there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to single out Assur not only as the religious metropolis and seat of the chief god Aššur but also as Assyria's political capital as the seat of the goddess Ištar.

The importance of the tākultu for the state cult is further apparent from the fact that surviving colophons reveal that copies of the ritual were written both by Esarhaddon's and Assurbanipal's chief astrologer Issar-šumu-ereš[[39]] and by Kiṣir­Aššur, the chief exorcist of Ešarra under Assurbanipal. Issar-šumu-ereš was involved in the most important cultic affairs and in other highly sensitive issues like the ritual of the substitute king and the return of the Marduk statue to Babylon. [[40]] Beyond his profession as exorcist, the content of Kiṣir-Aššur's library bespeaks the literary erudition of its owner and his responsibility in organizing the cultic affairs of the Aššur temple. Both Issar-šumu-ereš and Kiṣir-Aššur would have been well familiar with the conditions of the Aššur temple, and yet the tākultu text for Assurbanipal written by Issar-šumu-ereš and the Götteradressbuch (no. 49) written by his contemporary colleague Kiṣir-Aššur differ in their presentation of the divinities residing in it. Kiṣir-Aššur's Götteradressbuch provides precise information regarding the location of particular divinities' pedestals; in contrast, Issar-šumu-ereš's tākultu for Assurbanipal (no. 40) represents a sophisticated and elaborate scheme of divine agency focusing on Aššur's action in concordance with the other gods (discussed below).

Götteradressbuch (no. 49)tākultu for Assurbanipal (no. 40)tākultu for Sennacherib (no. 38)
Lord Tiara
Aššur of Reading

window of Tašmetu
Sîn, Šamaš
Šulpaamaša, Šulpaguna, three gods of the temple
Conquerors, Weapon, Axe
image of Tiglath-Pileser
(total of gods in the cella)
Aššur-Adad before Aššur-dugul
dto. before Aššur-Conqueror
Sîn, Adad, Šamaš
Ištar, Queen of Heaven of Kar-Tukultī-Ninurta, Šerua
Great Gods
Tašmetu, Nusku
Ninurta, Kakka and Nusku
(in the right and left-hand side rooms of the portico)
7 Sons-of-Truth
Kippat-mati, Kippat-mati-image


Mullissu, dto. of Reading
Enlil, Dagan
Judges of the Dais, Mišaru
Belet-ili, another Belet-ili
Šakkan (all in 'Pantry')
Enlil, Dagan
Aššur-Lahmus, Ea-Kittu
Sîn, Šamaš, Aššur-Conqueror
Ea, Kittu and Mišaru
Ninurta (and) Aššur
Mullissu images
Enpis, Aššur-Cherub, Lahmus
Haya and Kusu
Kittu and Tišpak (courtyard)
Ugurtu (in Ea-šarru cella)
Rivers (and) Usumû
Ninurta of the storehouse
(all gatekeepers of Ešarra)
Elaborate Door
Images of the cities
Deposed Gods
lions, wild bulls, Anzû-birds
Ea-šarru (and) Damkina
The gods of Subartu
[DN], Allatu, Nergal
gatekeeper of Šarhat gate
Siriš in the brewery
Total of gods in the house of Aššur
mountains and rivers
Aššur-Judges, Maliku, Sons-of-Truth

28 Frankena 1954; Pongratz-Leisten 2007b.

29 See references in CAD T, 90-91 s.v. tākultu; add S. Dalley, Babylonian Tablets from the First Sealand Dynasty in the Schøyen Collection (Bethesda, 2009) no. 75 ll. 9-10.

30 See SAA 7 148-157.

31 See Luckenbill Senn, 143:9, 136:25. For further examples see CAD Q, 240-41, s.v. qerītu.

32 See AHw. 643 s.v. mekû; Šamšī-Adad I uses the same epithet in his inscription on stone tablets from the Aššur temple, see RIMA I A.0.39.1:5-6.

33 D. Charpin, "Inscriptions votives d'époque assyrienne," MARI 3 (1984) 41-81, 50-51.

34 RIMA I, A.0.77.25-27.

35 Porter 1997: 233 with fn. 38.

36 Livingstone, SAA 3 3:10 and 13: bīnūt Emašmaš; ul īdi abī u ummī ina burkī dIštarātīya arbâ anāku. See also the Dialogue between Nabû and Assurbanipal (SAA 3 13).

37 ARM 26 192:16; see also Durand's comments on the meaning of têrtum as message in the context of prophecy, ARM 26, 379f.

38 George 1992, 60-61, Tintir I iv 32.

39 Issar-šumu-ereš, son of Adad-šumu-uṣur, chief exorcist of Esarhaddon, belonged to a family of astrologers and exorcists whose genealogy can be traced back to Gabbi-ilani-ereš, chief scholar to King Ashurnasirpal II, see Parpola, LAS II (1983), p. XIX chart 3.

40 Parpola 1993, nos. 1-38.

Beate Pongratz-Leisten

Beate Pongratz-Leisten, 'The Vision of a Unified Territory and the Development of the Tākultu Ritual in Assyrian History', Assyrian Royal Rituals and Cultic Texts, SAA 20. Original publication: Winona Laka, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2017; online contents: SAAo/SAA20 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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