Assyria PPT (2)
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The Role of the King Appointed by the gods: Assyrian kings did not think of themselves as divine, although they did think they were the only link between humans and gods. Military commander: the king was expected by the gods and the people to lead armies into battle every spring. Some kings would personally go to battle, though most remained at home to protect against some one taking their throne. Being absent from battle did not stop kings from taking credit for military victories. E.g. Sennacherib describes a battle: “I succeeded… I decimated… I speedily cut down… I cut their throats… I cut off their precious lives.” Historians suggest that Sennacherib was at home in the safety of his palace!
The Role of the King Administrator of the kingdom: Assyrian kings were responsible to the people. Their task was make the gods happy, to provide protection from invasion, be sure their people had enough food, provide access to water, build beautiful cities and gardens and temples. High priest (shangu): Assyria was a very religious society. The gods were responsible for success and failure in all areas of life; Assyrian people believed that beliefs, practices and rituals were very influential in their lives. Kings were considered to be the highest of all priests, in all temples. Kings would perform many sacrifices and other rituals. They would frequently consult omens and divinations to help see the future or consult the gods advice. Sargon II wrote a letter to the god Ashur, asking for support for a military invasion.
The Role of the King Promotor of Justice: Assyrian kings were considered as the highest judge and the ultimate legal authority in the empire. The king was to uphold the traditions and laws of Assyrian society, including the individual legal rights, especially property ownership. The king could also make proclamations and decrees, which were considered the highest authority. Even though the king was the supreme judge, he only occasionally attended legal court sessions; civil administrators filled the practical roles of judge in everyday matters. Economic overseer: Officially, the king owned all the land in the empire. Therefore he was responsible for paying for repairs etc. The king was also responsible for distributing funds to pay for administrators, military officials, religious workers etc.
Religion in Assyria Assyrians were extremely religious, superstitious and worshipped many gods and goddesses. Many of these deities were from various regions within the Assyrian culture, however, some of the deities were adopted and adapted from foreign lands conquered by the Assyrians. Assyrian policy towards religion was one of tolerance. You could worship any god or goddess you liked, so long as you worshipped Assur also, and your religion did not require you to break the law. This is where the Judeans and Israelites faced problems with Assyria - they refused to worship Ashur.
Ashur (Assur) Ashur was usually shown as a disc with wings or as a man standing on a snake/dragon. Ashur is unique, because he didn’t have very many attributes and myths of his own. The powers, myths and realms of authority of other gods/goddesses were transferred to Ashur as the priests saw the need. Ashur was the chief god who protected & ruled over all of the empire. Ashur encouraged the king to seek war. A picture of Ashur was used on official Assyrian documents.
Ishtar She was the goddess of both love and war. She was the most important goddess in the Assyrian empire. Her symbol was a star and she was often shown with her special animal, the lion. She is usually shown with bird’s feet and wings. Her worship capitals were Nineveh and Arbail. One myth of Ishtar tells of her nursing the baby god, Tammuz after he was born. When Tammuz was grown, he died, but was raised again by Ishtar.
Enlil Enlil was a god from a religion much older than the Assyrians: from the Sumerians. Enlil was the god of air & weather. He controls the destiny of humans, as well as some other gods. Enlil gave farming tools to humans and he made plants grow. Assyrians called Enlil, “Father” and “Creator”. He was usually shown as a horned cap on an alter. Enlil helped other gods to create humans, but he grew angry and impatient with them. Enlil sent a flood to destroy humans. One man and his family survived.
Ea Ea was the god of magic, wisdom, mischief, art and craft. He was a former Sumerian god, called, who was also called Enki. He lived in the huge underground ocean & protected humans from the other gods. When Enlil flooded the world, it was Ea who protected the man named, Atrahasis. Ea tells atrahasis to build a boat so he can rescue his family and other creatures from the coming flood. During the flood Atrahasis frees a swallow, a raven and a dove to test if the flood waters have receded. Upon landing, Atrahasis makes a sacrifice to the gods. Another story tells how all people spoke one language, until Ea played a trick, making many different languages, causing confusion among humans. The Philistine people, who fought with Israel, worshipped a fish god, named Dagon. He is mentioned in the Bible
Adad Adad was the son of Enlil, his mother was Ishtar (who was also his older sister!) He was the god of storms so Assyrians would worship him so that he would provide rain, though if they worshipped him incorrectly or didn’t worship him at all, he would bring destructive storms, hurricanes or floods. He is usually shown wearing a horned helmet, holding a club/axe in one hand & Lightning in the other hand. His sacred animal is the bull. It may be this god, or a similar one, that the Israelites worshipped at Mount Sinai when they made a golden calf. Canaanite people worshipped a similar god, named, Baal-Hadad.
Shamash Shamash was a sun god. So he was the god of light, heat and fire. Shamash was also the god of law, truth and justice. He brought ‘light’ (symbolic of truth/justice) to ‘darkness’ (symbolic of crime, injustice). He is often shown as a sun disc or as a man rising between two mountains. Samson, (Shimshon in hebrew) a variant of the word, shemesh, (meaning sun/light/fire). Samson’s name means, Man of the Sun. There is also a village in Israel, named Beth-Shemesh, where people believe Samson killed a lion. Delilah, is a variant of the Hebrew word, Laylah, meaning “night”.
Marduk Also known as Bel-Marduk. He was the god of the city of Babylon. Became a popular god among the Assyrians. He was the god of magic and Wisdom. The son of Ea. Later in Assyria, the Marduk religion was merged with the worship of Ashur. Marduk was originally a sun god, though this became less important in his religion. Marduk is often shown with a dragon named Tiamat. Tiamat was a dragon, sometimes a sea monster; she represented chaos, destruction. Marduk defeated Tiamat in a battle & she became Marduk’s pet. Some historian think this story tells of how a chaotic nomadic life was controlled by the wisdom of agriculture. Other historians say it is a story that tells how the culture changed from being a culture controlled by women to a culture controlled by men.
Pazuzu Other spirit, demons and ghosts were also part of rituals & worship ceremonies. Often these were portrayed as a combination of humans and animals. Pazuzu was one demon that was part of many rituals. Pazuzu was usually shown as a grotesque figure, with a dog’s head, scaly skin, bird’s feet & a scorpion’s tail. Pazuzu was called, ‘King of Evil’, though this meant that he was the highest power over evil spirits, not the most evil of spirits. Amulets, figurines & statues of Pazuzu were used as a protective device against attacks by evil spirits, demons & ghosts, especially from Lamashtu. Lamashtu was known for attacking unborn and newborn babies. So pregnant women would wear an amulet of Pazuzu to protect their children.
Gula Assyrians believed that small, clay figurines had magical powers; especially if they were dried in the sun, rather than a fire. These were usually buried under the floor, in corners of rooms, buildings, city squares and even farm fields. An example of this is Gula. Gula was a spirit, sometimes a goddess, of healing and good health. When Archaeologists were working at Ashurbanipal’s palace in Nineveh, a group of five small, clay statues of dogs were discovered buried near a door. Historians suggest that this was ritual magic that Assyrians believed would prevent an sickness and disease from passing through the door. Historians also suggest that this practice of using clay figures may have replaced the ritual sacrifice of real dogs.
Lamassu These were protective deities. They were not like other gods, because they weren’t worshipped. They were shown as a matching pair of statues, usually with the body of a bull or with the body of a lion, or sometimes one of each. Both had human heads, with large beards and a pair of wings. Huge statues of the Lamassu were built on either side of palace door-ways and city gates. Poor people would place a clay tablet, with a picture of Lamassu on it, beneath the door to their house. They were believed to guard against evil spirits and evil people entering through door. Also smaller statues or pictures of Lamassu were placed facing to the North, south, east and west to provide protection in all directions.
Religious Personnel Shangu: chief-priest. He had direct contact with the king & was appointed by the king. He was the official leader of divination ceremonies & Assyrians believed he had direct contact with the gods. This gave him immense political power because he could manipulate the king! Kalu: performed rituals & prayers in the temple. Many rituals involved music, singing or chanting, so Kalu were chosen for their musical skills. They were also amongst the very few people in the empire who could read & write. Ashipu: magicians who banished evil spirits. Most of their work was outside the temple, usually in cities & the palace. As they travelled they would perform rituals & magic to scare evil away. Kings would follow their instructions very carefully. Ashipu wore red clothing and grotesque masks. Baru: performed the divination rituals. Most common forms of divination were astrology, inspection of animal entrails, patterns of birds in flight & patterns of oil poured on water. They had immense political power over the king, because they could offer interpretations of divination to meet their desires.
Religious Beliefs Other religious rituals and divinations included the interpretation of dreams & using the patterns of smoke from burning incense to predict future events. Assyrians were particularly afraid of lunar and solar eclipses. They believed that these were predicting a disaster of some kind. It was the responsibility of the priests to use rituals to discover what the disaster would be & what rituals to use to avoid the disaster. One example recorded was in 674bce. The king, Esarhaddon, was told that an eclipse was coming. The priests told the king that he was going to die. Esarhaddon was more clever than the priests - he secretly found a man that looked like him, placed this other man on the throne. Then Esarhaddon went to a farm, he wore poor farmer’s clothes and waited for the disaster to pass. His plan worked! The man who looked like the king died, Esarhaddon survived and went back to his palace to rule the kingdom! Many clay documents describe how priests would tell kings to fast until a new moon, wear certain coloured clothes or remain inside the palace until a bad omen had passed. Sennacherib demonstrated his superstition after his father died unexpectedly; he moved the capital city of the empire to Nineveh!