Mesopotamian Monday: Inscription of Sargon II to Adad at Dur-Sharrukin



Image of the sanctuary of Adad at Kohrsabad. Image from Frankfort and Jacobsen, Kohrsabad (1936), pg. 123.

    A common way that kings honored deities within the pantheon was via prayers inscribed at temples and gates. For example, at the capital of Assyria during the reign of Sargon II, Dur-Sharrukin, archaeologists uncovered a small room within a temple building. Presumably on account of Adad’s lower position in the pantheon, his sanctuary is smaller than the main sanctuary. Within his sanctuary, archaeologists uncovered an inscribed stone on the threshold of the entrance to the temple [1].

                The inscription is brief, only 8 lines. Because the inscription is so short, I will cite the entire text here. Subsequently, I will offer some comments on the text, focusing primarily on how the text is reflective of Assyrian culture and society.

1.       O Adad, irrigator of heaven and earth, who brightens

2.       The daises, for Sargon, king of the world, king of Assyria, governor

3.       Of Babylon, king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, builder

4.       Of your throneroom (cella), bring the rains from heaven

5.       Floods from underground in good season. Garner grain and oil

6.       In his common-leas; may his subjects

7.       Lie down in safe pastures amidst plenty and abundance;

8.       Make firm the foundation of his throne; let his reign endure [2]


Transcription of the first three lines of the inscription from Frankfort and Jacobsen, Kohrsabad (1936), pg. 130.

Before discussing some aspects of the text, I will discuss a few uncommon terms. Daises references the raised platform in the temple.  The cella references the sanctuary as a house of the image of the deity, in this case Adad. Thus, within this text, Adad is responsible for brightening the dais because of his presence in the sanctuary; however, Sargon II is responsible for building the throneroom, namely the cella.

                Within this inscription, I want to highlight the progression of the narrative. After the narrator addresses Adad and clarifies that this request is for Sargon II (1-4), the narrator requests three things which fit together. First, he requests waters from heaven and springs (4-5). Naturally, well-watered farming land would result in a good crop. On account of the waters, he subsequently requests that the good rain season causes a good season for the crops (5-6). This is particularly relevant because farming and crops played a large role in Mesopotamian economy during the 1 millennium BCE and previously [3]. Therefore, a good rain season leading to a good crop production would effectively feed the population of Mesopotamia. In other words, it allows his subjects to lay down amidst plenty and abundance (6-7).

                As is evident, the narrative progression emphasizes Adad’s role as the ultimate cause for successful farming in Mesopotamia. Within this narrative development, though, I want to highlight an aspect of line 6, “in his common-leas.” Ancient Mesopotamia perceived all land as belonging to the king. This explains why the land is referenced as “his” common-leas. Moreover, the word used here is the Akkadian word tamirtu. Tamirtu has two primarily definitions: “a type of agricultural, especially irrigated, land” and “surrounding territory, environs” [4]. Because (a) irrigation canals were necessary for successful farming in Mesopotamia and (b) the context of this prayer to Adad is concerned with farming, it is likely that the nuance of tamirtu is one of arable, irrigated land [5]. Thus, it is apparent, even within prayers to deities, that a central concern of the king was ensuring that his people received adequate water and food, such that they would live in plenty and abundance.

                Returning to the logical narrative of the inscription, all this successful farming and abundant resources serves to legitimize Sargon II as a ruler of his people and representative of his people to the deities. By maintaining such legitimacy, his position as king is ensured, as is that of his son and his son’s son (line 8).               

[1] Gordon Loud, with chapters by Henri Frankfort and Thorkild Jacobsen, Kohrsabad Part I: Excavations in the Palaces and at a City Gate, OIP 38 (Chicago: 1936, University of Chicago Press), 122-125.

[2] Translation takes elements from both Loud, Khorsabad I (1936), pp. 130-131, and Benjamin Foster, Before the Muses (Maryland: CDL Press, 2005), pg. 784, in order to provide the most clarity in the translation.

[3] For a history of scholarship concerning farming in Mesopotamia and reference to relevant periods, see Herve Reculeau, “Farming in Ancient Mesopotamia and How the Oriental Institute Helped Us Understand It,” in New and Notes: The Oriental Institute’s Quarterly Newsletter 232 (Winter 2017), pp. 4-13.

[4] CAD T, tamirtu, pg. 119.

[5] This connotation of tamirtu is re-enforced by an inscription from Sennacherib dated to 703 BCE, wherein Sennacherib explicitly (a) provides land in the tamirtu for orchards and (b) cuts canals in order “to make the orchards luxurious.” See Thorkild Jacobsen and Seton Lloyd, Sennacherib’s Aqueduct at Jerwan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, OIP, 1935), pg. 33.