Female statuette, Samarra, 6000 BC
The Samarra bowl, at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin
The 52-metre (170-foot) Malwiya tower in City of Samarra has been Damaged – 2003/4
The tell Halaf and the Ubaid period
The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from the tell (mound) of al-Ubaid west of nearby Ur in southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governorate where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.
In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvium although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.
The Samarra culture (ca 5500–4800 BC), identified at the rich site of Tell Sawwan, where evidence of irrigation – including flax – establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure, is primarily known for its finely-made pottery decorated against dark-fired backgrounds with stylized figures of animals and birds and geometric designs. This widely-exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra.
The Samarran culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period. Ubaid 1, sometimes called Eridu (5300–4700 BC), a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf. This phase shows clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north.
The Ubaid 1 phase saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet. These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq.
In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period, a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 and 5500 BC, and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (ca. 5500/5400 to 5200/5000 BC) and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.
The Halaf culture is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia. The most important site for the Halaf tradition was the site of Tell Arpachiyah, now located in the suburbs of Mosul, Iraq. Dryland farming was practiced by the population. This type of farming was based on exploiting natural rainfall without the help of irrigation.
The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs. Other types of Halaf pottery are known, including unpainted, cooking ware and ware with burnished surfaces. There are many theories about why the distinctive pottery style developed.
The theory is that the pottery came about due to regional copying and that it was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites is now disputed. The polychrome painted Halaf pottery has been proposed to be a “trade pottery” – pottery produced for export – however, the predominance of locally produced painted pottery in all areas of Halaf sites including potters settlement questions that theory.
Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region. In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone. The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.
In the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period, which chronologically lies between the Halaf period and the Ubaid period, there is a gradual change from Halaf style pottery to Ubaid style pottery in North Mesopotamia.
Hassuna or Tell Hassuna is an ancient Mesopotamian site situated in what was to become ancient Assyria, and is now in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq west of the Tigris river, south of Mosul and about 35 km southwest of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.
By around 6000 BC people had moved into the foothills (piedmont) of northernmost Mesopotamia where there was enough rainfall to allow for “dry” agriculture in some places. These were the first farmers in northernmost Mesopotamia. They made Hassuna style pottery (cream slip with reddish paint in linear designs). Hassuna people lived in small villages or hamlets ranging from 2 to 8 acres (32,000 m2).
At Tell Hassuna, adobe dwellings built around open central courts with fine painted pottery replace earlier levels with crude pottery. Hand axes, sickles, grinding stones, bins, baking ovens and numerous bones of domesticated animals reflect settled agricultural life. Female figurines have been related to worship and jar burials within which food was placed related to belief in afterlife. The relationship of Hassuna pottery to that of Jericho suggests that village culture was becoming widespread.
Shulaveri-Shomu culture is a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Armenian Highlands. The culture is dated to mid-6th or early-5th millennia BC and is thought to be one of the earliest known Neolithic cultures. The Shulaveri-Shomu culture begins after the 8.2 kiloyear event which was a sudden decrease in global temperatures starting ca. 6200 BC and which lasted for about two to four centuries.
Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture and surrounding areas, which is assigned to the period of ca. 4000 – 2200 BC, and had close relation with the middle Bronze Age culture called Trialeti culture (ca. 3000 – 1500 BC). Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.
In around ca. 6000–4200 B.C the Shulaveri-Shomu and other Neolithic/Chalcolithic cultures of the Southern Caucasus use local obsidian for tools, raise animals such as cattle and pigs, and grow crops, including grapes. Many of the characteristic traits of the Shulaverian material culture (circular mudbrick architecture, pottery decorated by plastic design, anthropomorphic female figurines, obsidian industry with an emphasis on production of long prismatic blades) are believed to have their origin in the Near Eastern Neolithic (Hassuna, Halaf).
The Sumerian city of Eridu, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, was the world’s first city, where three separate cultures fused – that of peasant Ubaidian farmers, living in mud-brick huts and practicing irrigation; that of mobile nomadic Semitic pastoralists living in black tents and following herds of sheep and goats; and that of fisher folk, living in reed huts in the marshlands, who may have been the ancestors of the Sumerians.
Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation.
Whatever the ethnic origins of this group, this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.
Ubaid culture is characterized by large village settlements, characterized by multi-roomed rectangular mud-brick houses and the appearance of the first temples of public architecture in Mesopotamia, with a growth of a two tier settlement hierarchy of centralized large sites of more than 10 hectares surrounded by smaller village sites of less than 1 hectare. Domestic equipment included a distinctive fine quality buff or greenish colored pottery decorated with geometric designs in brown or black paint; tools such as sickles were often made of hard fired clay in the south. But in the north, stone and sometimes metal were used.
A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions.
Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period.
During the Ubaid Period (5000 BC.– 4000 BC), the movement towards urbanization began. “Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities”. There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.
Ubaid 3/4, sometimes called Ubaid I and Ubaid II – In the period from 4500–4000 BC saw a period of intense and rapid urbanisation with the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia replacing (after a hiatus) the Halaf culture. Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.
The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.
At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”. This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.
During the 3rd millennium BC, a close cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians (who spoke a Language Isolate) and the Semitic Akkadian speakers, which included widespread bilingualism.
The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the 3rd millennium BC as a sprachbund.
Sumer was conquered by the Semitic-speaking kings of the Akkadian Empire around 2270 BC (short chronology), but Sumerian continued as a sacred language. Native Sumerian rule re-emerged for about a century in the Third Dynasty of Ur (Sumerian Renaissance) of the 21st to 20th centuries BC, but the Akkadian language also remained in use.
The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu, ca. 5300 BC, by farmers who brought with them the Hadji Muhammed culture, which first pioneered irrigation agriculture. It appears this culture was derived from the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia.
Irrigation agriculture, which seem to have developed first at Choga Mami (4700–4600 BC.), a Samarra ware archaeological site of Southern Iraq in the Mandali region, and rapidly spread elsewhere, from the first required collective effort and centralised coordination of labour. Buildings were of wattle and daub or mud brick.
It is no longer clear which way cultural developments were flowing in the 6500 to 4500 BC. period. It is not known whether or not these were the actual Sumerians who are identified with the later Uruk culture.
Eridu remained an important religious center when it was gradually surpassed in size by the nearby city of Uruk, an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.
The story of the passing of the me (gifts of civilisation) to Inanna, goddess of Uruk and of love and war, by Enki, god of wisdom and chief god of Eridu, may reflect this shift in hegemony.
It appears that this early culture was an amalgam of three distinct cultural influences: peasant farmers, living in wattle and daub or clay brick houses and practicing irrigation agriculture; hunter-fishermen living in woven reed houses and living on floating islands in the marshes (Proto-Sumerians); and Proto-Akkadian nomadic pastoralists, living in black tents.
Uruk gave its name to the Uruk period, the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia spanning ca. 4000 – 3100 BC, succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period of Sumer proper.
Sumerian civilization took form in the Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC), continuing from the protohistoric Chalcolithic and into the Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, in the Jemdat Nasr and Early Dynastic periods. It followed the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization.
The archaeological transition from the Ubaid period to the Uruk period is marked by a gradual shift from painted pottery domestically produced on a slow wheel to a great variety of unpainted pottery mass-produced by specialists on fast wheels.
Artifacts, and even colonies of this Uruk civilization have been found over a wide area—from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and as far east as Central Iran.
By the time of the Uruk period (ca. 4100–2900 BC calibrated), the volume of trade goods transported along the canals and rivers of southern Mesopotamia facilitated the rise of many large, stratified, temple-centered cities (with populations of over 10,000 people) where centralized administrations employed specialized workers. It is fairly certain that it was during the Uruk period that Sumerian cities began to make use of slave labor captured from the hill country, and there is ample evidence for captured slaves as workers in the earliest texts.
The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age; it may also be called the Protoliterate period. It was during this period that pottery painting declined as copper started to become popular, along with cylinder seals.
The Uruk period civilization, exported by Sumerian traders and colonists (like that found at Tell Brak), had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies and cultures. The cities of Sumer could not maintain remote, long-distance colonies by military force.
The end of the Uruk period coincided with the Piora oscillation, a dry period from c. 3200–2900 BC that marked the end of a long wetter, warmer climate period from about 9,000 to 5,000 years ago, called the Holocene climatic optimum.
Uruk played a leading role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid 4th millennium BC. At its height c 2900 BC, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in 6 km2 of walled area; making it the largest city in the world at the time.
The Dynastic period begins ca. 2900 BC and includes such legendary figures as Enmerkar and Gilgamesh, who are supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens ca. 2700 BC, when the now deciphered syllabic writing started to develop from the early pictograms.
The center of Sumerian culture remained in southern Mesopotamia, even though rulers soon began expanding into neighboring areas, and neighboring Semitic groups adopted much of Sumerian culture for their own.
In myth, Uruk was founded by Enmerkar, who brought the official kingship with him, according to the Sumerian king list. He also, in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, constructs the House of Heaven (Sumerian: e-anna) for the goddess Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh builds the city wall around Uruk and is king of the city.
The character of Lugalbanda is introduced as one of Enmerkar’s war chiefs. According to the Sumerian king list, it was this Lugalbanda “the shepherd” who eventually succeeded Enmerkar to the throne of Uruk. Lugalbanda is also named as the father of Gilgamesh, a later king of Uruk, in both Sumerian and Akkadian versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
David Rohl has claimed parallels between Enmerkar, builder of Uruk, and Nimrod, ruler of biblical Erech (Uruk) and architect of the Tower of Babel in extra-biblical legends. One parallel Rohl noted is the description “Nimrod the Hunter”, and the -kar in Enmerkar also meaning “hunter”. Rohl has also suggested that Eridu near Ur is the original site of Babel, and that the incomplete ziggurat found there – by far the oldest and largest of its kind – is none other than the remnants of the Biblical tower.
In a legend related by Aelian (ca. AD 200), the king of Babylon, Euechoros or Seuechoros (also appearing in many variants as Sevekhoros, earlier Sacchoras, etc.), is said to be the grandfather of Gilgamos, who later becomes king of Babylon (i.e., Gilgamesh of Uruk). Several recent scholars have suggested that this “Seuechoros” or “Euechoros” is moreover to be identified with Enmerkar of Uruk, as well as the Euechous named by Berossus as being the first king of Chaldea and Assyria. This last name Euechous (also appearing as Evechius, and in many other variants) has long been identified with Nimrod.
Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta is a legendary Sumerian account, of preserved, early post-Sumerian copies, composed in the Neo-Sumerian period (ca. 21st century BC). It is one of a series of accounts describing the conflicts between Enmerkar, king of Unug-Kulaba (Uruk), and the unnamed king of Aratta (probably somewhere in modern Iran or Armenia).
Aside from founding Uruk, Enmerkar is said here to have had a temple built at Eridu, and is even credited with the invention of writing on clay tablets, for the purpose of threatening Aratta into submission.
In the hymn Incantation of Nudimmud furthermore seeks implore Enki to restore the disrupted linguistic unity of the inhabited regions around Uruk, listed as Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (the region around Akkad), and the Martu land.
In the legendary Sumerian account Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird it is mentioned that fifty years into Enmerkar’s reign, the Martu people had arisen in all of Sumer and Akkad, necessitating the building of a wall in the desert to protect Uruk.
The Hurrians had a reputation in metallurgy. The Sumerians borrowed their copper terminology from the Hurrian vocabulary. Copper was traded south to Mesopotamia from the highlands of Anatolia. The Khabur Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from the Anatolian highland. Not many examples of Hurrian metal work have survived, except from the later Urartu. Some small fine bronze lion figurines were discovered at Urkesh.
The land of Subartu (Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) or Subar (Sumerian Su-bir4/Subar/Šubur) is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit.
Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified.
Shupria (Shubria) or Arme-Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) was a Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. The capital was called Ubbumu. Scholars have linked the district in the area called Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia.
Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after the Hurrian king Shattuara of Mitanni was defeated by Adad-nirari I of Assyria in the early 13th century BC, he then became ruler of a reduced vassal state known as Shubria or Subartu. The name Subartu (Sumerian: Shubur) for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC).
Together with Armani-Subartu (Hurri-Mitanni), Hayasa-Azzi and other populations of the region such as the Nairi fell under Urartian (Kingdom of Ararat) rule in the 9th century BC, and their descendants, according to most scholars, later contributed to the ethnogenesis of the early Armenians.
There are various alternate theories associating the ancient Subartu with one or more modern cultures found in the region, including Armenian or Kurdish tribes. Some scholars, such as Harvard Professor Mehrdad Izady, claim to have identified Subartu with the current Kurdish tribe of Zibaris inhabiting the northern ring around Mosul up to Hakkari in Turkey.
Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.
Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves. Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.
Because it gives a Sumerian account of the “confusion of tongues”, and also involves Enmerkar constructing ziggurats at Eridu and Uruk, it has, been compared with the Tower of Babel narrative in the Book of Genesis.
Near the beginning of the account, the following background is provided: “In those days of yore, when the destinies were determined, the great princes allowed Unug Kulaba’s E-ana to lift its head high. Plenty, and carp floods and the rain which brings forth dappled barley were then increased in Unug Kulaba. Before the land of Dilmun yet existed, the E-ana of Unug Kulaba was well founded.”
The king list adds that Enmerkar brought the official kingship with him from the city of E-ana after his father Mesh-ki-ang-gasher, a Sumerian ruler and the founder of the First Dynasty of Uruk and son of Utu, had “entered the sea and disappeared.”
E-ana (“house of heaven”) was the name of the temple to Inanna at Uruk. The entry thus has Mesh-ki-ang-gasher ruling the fortress or castle around which his son would build the city of Uruk, and which was to become the main temple to its patron goddess.
E-ana was a ziggurat in Uruk built in honour of the goddess Inanna, the “lady of all the lands”–(E-ana is ‘house of ana’, or ‘Temple of Ana’). Similarly, the lord of Aratta has himself crowned in Inanna’s name, but she does not find this as pleasing as her brick temple in Uruk.
Enmerkar, thus “chosen by Inanna in her holy heart from the bright mountain”, then asks Inanna to let him subject Aratta and make the people of Aratta deliver a tribute of precious metals and gemstones, for constructing the lofty Abzu ziggurat of Enki at Eridu, as well as for embellishing her own E-ana sanctuary at Uruk. Inanna accordingly advises Enmerkar to dispatch a herald across the mountains of Susin and Anshan to the lord of Aratta, to demand his submission and his tribute.
Inanna’s name derives from Queen of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-anna). The cuneiform sign of Inanna; however, is not a ligature of the signs lady and sky. These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities.
Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The House of Heaven (Sumerian: e-anna) temple in Uruk was the greatest of these, where sacred prostitution was a common practice. In addition, according to Leick (1994) persons of asexual or hermaphroditic bodies and feminine men were particularly involved in the worship and ritual practices of Inanna’s temples.
The deity of this fourth-millennium city was probably originally An. After its dedication to Inanna the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Akitu (New Year) ceremony, at the spring Equinox.
According to Samuel Noah Kramer in The Sacred Marriage Rite, in late Sumerian history (end of the third millennium) kings established their legitimacy by taking the place of Dumuzi in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year festival. A Sacred Marriage to Inanna may have conferred legitimacy on a number of rulers of Uruk. Gilgamesh is reputed to have refused marriage to Inanna, on the grounds of her misalliance with such kings as Lugalbanda and Damuzi.
Inanna’s symbol is an eight-pointed star or a rosette. She was associated with lions – even then a symbol of power – and was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses. Her cuneiform ideogram was a hook-shaped twisted knot of reeds, representing the doorpost of the storehouse (and thus fertility and plenty).
Hannahannah (from Hittite hannas “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian mother goddess Hebat, also transcribed Kheba or Khepat, known as “the mother of all living” and Queen of the gods. Hebat is the wife of Teshub and the mother of Sarruma and Alanzu, as well mother-in-law of the daughter of the dragon Illuyanka.
The name can be transliterated in different versions – Khebat with the feminine ending -t is primarily the Syrian and Ugaritic version. In the Hurrian language Hepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. The sound /h/ in cuneiform is in the modern literature sometimes transliterated as kh. In Aramaean times she appears to have become identified with the Goddess Hawwah.
With Hebat was later assimilated the Hittite sun goddess Arinniti. A prayer of Queen Puduhepa makes this explicit: “To the Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, the mistress of the Hatti lands, the queen of Heaven and Earth. Sun-goddess of Arinna, thou art Queen of all countries! In the Hatti country thou bearest the name of the Sun-goddess of Arinna; but in the land which thou madest the cedar land thou bearest the name Hebat.”
Hebat was venerated all over the ancient Near East. Her name appears in many theophoric personal names. The Third Dynasty of Kish, as was a later king of Jerusalem mentioned in the Amarna letters was named Abdi-Heba, possibly meaning “Servant of Hebat”.
Hebat is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele (Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”), who originally was an Anatolian mother goddess.
Cybele may have evolved from an Anatolian Mother Goddess of a type found at Çatalhöyük, dated to the 6th millennium BCE. This corpulent, fertile Mother Goddess appears to be giving birth on her throne, which has two feline-headed hand rests.
Little is known of her oldest Anatolian cults, other than her association with mountains, hawks and lions. Her name, and the development of religious practices associated with her, may have been influenced by cult to the deified Sumerian queen Kubaba.
She may have been Phrygia’s state deity. She is ancient Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably the highest deity of the Phrygian State. In Phrygian art of the 8th century BCE, the cult attributes of the Phrygian mother-goddess include attendant lions, a bird of prey, and a small vase for her libations or other offerings.
The inscription matar kubileya at a Phrygian rock-cut shrine, dated to the first half of the 6th century BCE, is usually read as “Mother of the mountain”, a reading supported by ancient Classical sources, and consistent with Cybele as any of several similar tutelary goddesses, each known as “mother” and associated with specific Anatolian mountains or other localities: a goddess thus “born from stone”.
Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BCE. In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and the Corn-Mother goddess Demeter.
Some city-states, notably Athens, evoked her as a protector, but her most celebrated Greek rites and processions show her as an essentially foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following.
Uniquely in Greek religion, she had a transgender or eunuch mendicant priesthood. Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis, who was probably a Greek invention. In Greece, Cybele is associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions. In Rome, Cybele was known as Magna Mater (“Great Mother”).
Hamoukar is a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border (Al Hasakah Governorate) and Turkey. The Excavations have shown that this site houses the remains of one of the world’s oldest known cities, leading scholars to believe that cities in this part of the world emerged much earlier than previously thought.
Traditionally, the origins of urban developments in this part of the world have been sought in the riverine societies of southern Mesopotamia (in what is now southern Iraq). This is the area of ancient Sumer, where around 4000 BC many of the famous Mesopotamian cities such as Ur and Uruk emerged, giving this region the attributes of “Cradle of Civilization” and “Heartland of Cities.” Following the discoveries at Hamoukar, this definition may have to extended further up the Tigris River to include that part of northern Syria where Hamoukar is located.
This archaeological discovery suggests that civilizations advanced enough to reach the size and organizational structure that was necessary to be considered a city could have actually emerged before the advent of a written language. Previously it was believed that a system of written language was a necessary predecessor of that type of complex city.
Most importantly, archaeologists believe this apparent city was thriving as far back as 4000 BC and independently from Sumer. Until now, the oldest cities with developed seals and writing were thought to be Sumerian Uruk and Ubaid in Mesopotamia, which would be in the southern one-third of Iraq today.
The discovery at Hamoukar indicates that some of the fundamental ideas behind cities – including specialization of labor, a system of laws and government, and artistic development – may have begun earlier than was previously believed.
The fact that this discovery is such a large city is what is most exciting to archaeologists. While they have found small villages and individual pieces that date much farther back than Hamoukar, nothing can quite compare to the discovery of this size and magnitude. Discoveries have been made here that have never been seen before, including materials from Hellenistic and Islamic civilizations.
Uruk went through several phases of growth, from the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 BC) to the Late Uruk period (3500–3100 BC.). The city was formed when two smaller Ubaid settlements merged. The temple complexes at their cores became the Eanna District and the Anu District dedicated to Inanna and Anu, respectively.
The Anu District was originally called ‘Kullaba’ (Kulab or Unug-Kulaba) prior to merging with the Eanna District. Kullaba dates to the Eridu period when it was one of the oldest and most important cities of Sumer.
There are different interpretations about the purposes of the temples. However, it is generally believed they were a unifying feature of the city. It also seems clear that temples served both an important religious function and state function. The surviving temple archive of the Neo-Babylonian period documents the social function of the temple as a redistribution center.
The Eanna District was composed of several buildings with spaces for workshops, and it was walled off from the city. By contrast, the Anu District was built on a terrace with a temple at the top. It is clear Eanna was dedicated to Inanna from the earliest Uruk period throughout the history of the city. The rest of the city was composed of typical courtyard houses, grouped by profession of the occupants, in districts around Eanna and Anu.
Uruk was extremely well penetrated by a canal system that has been described as, “Venice in the desert.” This canal system flowed throughout the city connecting it with the maritime trade on the ancient Euphrates River as well as the surrounding agricultural belt.
It should be noted the original city of Uruk was sited southwest of the ancient Euphrates River, now dry. Currently, the site of Warka is northeast of the modern Euphrates river. The change in position was caused by a shift in the Euphrates at some point in history, and may have contributed to the decline of Uruk.
The city lost its prime importance around 2000 BC, in the context of the struggle of Babylonia with Elam, but it remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid and Parthian periods until it was finally abandoned shortly before or after the Islamic conquest.
The ziggurat that dominates the site today was built around 2000 BC. by Ur-Nammu, but by that time the site was already in decline. Although Babylonian and Assyrian rulers maintained the Eanna temples down into the 600 BC. or beyond, the city had lost its position. The final occupants of the site were the Parthians who built a small temple to Gareus around 100 AD.
The site of Uruk was discovered in 1849 by William Kennett Loftus who led the first excavations from 1850 to 1854. The Arabic name of Babylonia, al-ʿIrāq, is thought to be derived from the name Uruk, via Aramaic (Erech) and possibly Middle Persian (Erāq) transmission.
With the Uruk period in ancient Mesopotamia we see the very beginnings of writing and are, therefore, almost into a historical period! How exciting! I’m sure that’s how the ancient Mesopotamians felt about it.
Much as there was an “Ubaid expansion” in the previous period, there was an “Uruk expansion”: a period in the middle to late Uruk in which characteristic Uruk artifacts are found in western Iran, northern Mesopotamia, northern Syria, and parts of Anatolia. It is not clear what type of interaction this “expansion” represents.
The most prominent theory, promoted by Guillermo Algaze, is that the Uruk expansion represents a Marxist-style World System. According to this theory, the Uruk enclaves represented by the Uruk material culture were trading colonies intended to ensure access to foreign resources for Mesopotamian cities. The Uruk peoples dominated the regions they touched through economic means rather than through military or political might.
There are, as you might imagine, a number of objections to this theory. First, there is no evidence of power asymmetry between the Mesopotamian “core” and the Anatolian (for example) “periphery”: the Anatolians controlled production of Anatolian traded goods and their side of the exchange. The terms of the exchange were not set by the Mesopotamian side of things.
Second, the Marxist model suggests that long-distance trade would have fundamentally changed the societies it touched, re-forming them along the lines dictated by the needs of the “core” entity. But this has not been established, as Algaze himself concedes.
Finally, the model assumes the existence of a political entity with the level of organization and resources needed to control a far-flung region. But Mesopotamia was not unified at this period, rather it consisted of several competing city-states. Algaze suggests the existence of several “cores” controlling parts of the “periphery,’ but this is a theory for which we will probably never have enough documentation to prove its truth or falsity.
The Uruk period