Connect with us

Ancient

Gilgamesh: Babylonian clay tablets older than the Bible

For centuries, European students have been reading the ancient myths about Hercules and Odysseus , amazed at the exploits of the ancient heroes. Christians knew the story of the Old Testament strongman Samson, who tore lions to pieces with his bare hands. Artists wrote hundreds of canvases about these heroes, sculptors sculpted dozens of statues, but no one knew that both biblical and ancient heroes go back to the same character!

In 1849, British archaeologist Austin Henry Layard excavated the Middle East. He wanted to find evidence of the events described in the Old Testament. At that time, the Bible was believed to contain the oldest texts in the world. However, Layard’s excavations undermined this version. The stone tablets he found from the library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh turned out to be much older than the most ancient biblical texts.

The tablets were urgently copied and sent to England, where the best specialists of the British Museum took up the translation. It took many years, and the first more or less complete English version was ready only in 1870. The first to attract attention was the story of the global flood, which is very similar to the biblical one. In the tablets, the ancient immortal sage spoke of the flood to King Gilgamesh. The European scientific world has exploded, debating whether this event coincides with the biblical, and if so, whether it is possible to establish its date.

One of the tablets with the myths of Gilgamesh.
One of the tablets with the myths of Gilgamesh. Source: wikipedia.org

Scientists tried to establish the time of the reign of Gilgamesh first. According to archaeological sources, it was possible to find out that such a king really existed. He ruled the city of Uruk in the 3rd millennium BC. In one of the texts found during excavations, it was possible to read that Gilgamesh built the walls of Uruk. This made it possible to somewhat narrow down the estimated years of life of the legendary king, but to establish them more accurately than “between 2800-2500 BC. e. ” failed.

Sumerian mythology: a bunch of heroes with creepy names

For non-historians, the myths about Gilgamesh are interesting. And not only because of the exciting adventures of the ancient king, but also because of his similarity with other famous heroes of antiquity. Gilgamesh was a two-thirds god and a terrible tyrant, actively practicing the right of the first night and driving people to meaningless work. The subjects of the cruel king prayed to all the gods for deliverance from such a ruler, and the heavenly rulers, after consulting, created a wild man Enkidu, “equal to Gilgamesh”. This mighty “Mowgli” lived in absolute harmony with nature. He had to be tamed with the help of the priestesses of the goddess of love, whom the savage did not attack. The tamed savage was explained that he must defeat the king and showed the way to Uruk.

The messenger of the gods arrived in the city and immediately grappled with Gilgamesh. After a long battle, the king won, but, recognizing the strength of his opponent, he invited him to become his friend and assistant. Suddenly, Enkidu agreed. To celebrate, the king offered to go to perform the feat – to kill the terrible demon Humbaba. The new friend was somewhat surprised at this turn of events, but nevertheless agreed.

Enkidu is a Sumerian sculpture.
Enkidu is a Sumerian sculpture. Source: wikipedia.org

When Gilgamesh went to ask the blessings of his mother, the goddess Ninsun, she adopted Enkidu, making him the half-brother of the king himself. Having received their mother’s advice, Gilgamesh and Enkidu went to the forest where Humbaba lived. At the halt, the king had nightmares about rockfalls, terrible thunderstorms, wild bulls and giant fire-breathing birds. Enkidu optimistically interpreted them as predicting the coming success of the campaign.

Reaching the forest where Humbaba lived, the king was frightened when he saw a terrible giant, but Enkidu managed to restore his brother’s courage, and he rushed into battle. Even Gilgamesh’s strength was not enough to defeat the terrible demon. Then the god of justice and the sun, Shamash, watching what was happening, sent a hurricane to interfere with the huge Humbaba. When the king defeated the demon, he prayed for mercy, assuring him that he would become a loyal servant of Gilgamesh. Enkidu declared that he did not trust the demon and offered to finish him off, thereby strengthening his authority. And so they did.

The king, who returned with the head of a terrible monster, was honored as a hero. Even the goddess of love Ishtar became interested in Gilgamesh in every sense. But the king knew about her frivolity, so he immediately stopped all possible inclinations against him. The offended goddess went to her father, the supreme god Anu and begged him, sent the Heavenly Bull to Uruk, who set floods, trampled the fields and killed people. Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeated the monster, and without any divine help.

Gilgamesh fights the Heavenly Bull.  Sumerian bas-relief.
Gilgamesh fights the Heavenly Bull. Sumerian bas-relief. Source: wikipedia.org

This overflowed the cup of heavenly patience, and the gods decided to kill Enkidu, who did not fulfill their will. The poor man immediately fell ill, and when he realized that the gods were to blame for this, he cursed them for 12 whole days. When Enkidu passed away, Gilgamesh was so grief-stricken that he refused to believe in his brother’s death until the first larva fell from the corpse’s nose.

The king arranged a funeral of the highest order. The whole city and the inhabitants of the surrounding villages were invited to the feast, the king himself shaved his head as a sign of mourning and prepared untold riches from his treasury to bury with Enkidu. For the grave, they even blocked the river, dug the grave at the bottom, buried it, and then let the water again so that the king’s brother would rest at the bottom, where no one could get to him.

After the death of his brother, the king realized that more than anything in the world he was afraid of his own death. Gilgamesh’s new goal was the search for immortality. For this, he decided to go to Utnapishtim, whom the gods granted immortality. On his way, he met lions, of which he made new clothes for himself, met two scorpion people, whom he persuaded to let him pass in peace, and walked a mountain path where the sun had never been. So he got to the ever-flowering Garden of the Gods.

Gilgamesh fights with lions.  Sumerian figurine.
Gilgamesh fights with lions. Sumerian figurine. Source: en. wikipedia.org

To the wanderer’s surprise, Utnapishtim looked like an ordinary person. Gilgamesh tried to find out how he achieved immortality. The long-liver said that when the gods informed him of the flood and provided everything he needed to build the ark, he escaped with his family, workers and animals. As a reward for strictly following the instructions, when the flood ended, the gods granted him and his loved ones immortality. Gilgamesh continued to insist that there was still a secret of eternal life. Then the sage suggested that the hero try not to fall asleep for six days and seven nights: after all, sleep is a small death, but how he wants to overcome death if he cannot overcome sleep. Naturally, Gilgamesh did not cope with the test.

Before parting, the wife of Utnapishtim said that she had heard about a plant that does not give immortality, but can return youth once. Delighted, Gilgamesh set off on a new quest and even managed to find a magic flower. He did not use the plant right away, but decided to return to Uruk, study the miracle flower there and prepare an elixir of youth from it. On the way back, the king wanted to swim. While he was washing, the magic flower was eaten by a snake crawling by. She rejuvenated, shedding her skin, and crawled away. In frustrated feelings, Gilgamesh returned to his native Uruk, not knowing what to do next.

An endless story is a story whose end has not been found

This broke off the text that had been engraved on eleven stone tablets found by British archaeologists. Despite the fact that the twelfth also spoke of Gilgamesh, scholars believe that this is not a continuation of the epic, but a kind of “spin-off”: Gilgamesh again meets a living and healthy Enkidu. Together they travel to the afterlife to recover something stolen from the king. But because of the lost fragments, it is very difficult to understand which part of the story this fragment belongs to.

When the epic of Gilgamesh was translated and published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it inspired many authors of a wide variety of genres – from fantasy to historical novels. The ancient character became the hero of anime and computer games. Even in Muslim countries, this story is very popular. For example, Saddam Hussein was a great lover of stories about the great king of the ancient Mesopotamia. Probably, the mustachioed tyrant of Iraq considered himself in some way the heir of Gilgamesh – the winner of everything.

Comments

Ancient

5 historical figures who laid the foundation of our civilization

We will never know the names of the real builders of civilization, since writing appeared much later than many of the most important inventions. A simple example is booze: absolutely all people, having switched to agriculture, immediately began to grow components for the production of alcohol. 

Some loved beer, others wine, but everyone drank. Who came up with this – we do not know, but this man left an indelible mark on the appearance of our entire species. Forever and ever. We will never know the names of the first worshipers, and even the names of the first gods.

In the end, we will not be able to find out who was the first in history to decide to build a house for himself, but it was the permanent dwelling that became the prerequisite for the creation of larger associations, up to states. We can only talk about those people, information about whom came to us in the form of written sources, that is, about those who lived no later than four and a half thousand years ago. Meet: before you are five outstanding personalities who laid the first bricks of our civilization.

1. Sargon Akkadian

Sargon had a rather low social starting point. According to legend, his mother was a priestess and gave birth to a child in secret. To preserve the secret and the life of the future king, the mother let the baby in a reed basket along the Euphrates River.

The gardener caught the basket and decided to raise the child. First, Sargon became a cup-bearer at the Kish court (this is such a city – Kish), a little later he took the place of a gardener and, finally, reigned on the throne of Akkad. Such a dizzying career is explained by the patronage of the goddess Ishtar. Here we are talking about events that occurred more than four thousand years ago, and therefore it is extremely difficult to separate reality from fiction. For a long time, Sargon’s personality itself was considered mythical, but the findings of recent decades have shed little light. First, such a person really existed, and he was a king. Second, it looks like he really came from the lower strata.

In any case, no hints to the contrary have been found – on the contrary, several new texts confirm the origin. There is also a third important detail: Sargon is a pseudonym, translated as “true king.” And here a logical question arises: why would anyone call themselves that, why exactly “true”? To approve the status. That is, the bearer of this pseudonym was probably not born to the king. One way or another, Sargon united Sumer and Akkad, creating a dominant center of power throughout Mesopotamia. This center only existed for a few centuries, which is not very impressive. However, during this time the Akkadian language spread over large areas, subsequently becoming the main language of Assyria and Babylon.

2. Scorpio I

The history of Egypt is so long and confusing that scientists periodically have to change the boundaries of the study area. First, the 3,000 years, during which Egypt no doubt existed, was divided into 30 dynasties – just for convenience. The general picture was slowly building up, but new finds were made. Then they introduced the conditional “zero” dynasty, and later – and “twice zero”, or “dynasty 00”. Today, the first full-fledged ruler of Ancient Egypt is Pharaoh Scorpio I – and this is a normal name. His father, for example, was Pharaoh Bull; Pharaoh Furious Catfish and even Pharaoh Khvatala are also known.

However, in those days this title did not yet exist, but for the convenience of all the rulers of Egypt they are called pharaohs. The tomb of Scorpio was discovered only in 1988 – it appeared before archaeologists in a looted form, nevertheless, things were found that could not be stolen in any way. Thousands of years ago, a message has come down to us about the glorious conquests of Scorpio, as well as a list of the conquered cities. It was this Scorpio that the writers of The Mummy Returns had in mind – he was played by Dwayne Johnson. The public liked the character, and as a result we got a spin-off “Scorpion King”, which became an independent franchise.

3. Minos

The Minoan civilization was the first to master writing in the Mediterranean region. It is called so in honor of the first king Minos, who was born from the union of the Phoenician princess of Europe and the supreme god Zeus. Later, Europe, who already had three children, married the King of Crete Asteria.

After his death, Minos claimed the throne, arguing this with his own destiny, which he felt all his life. In addition, Minos assured everyone that, if necessary, he could appeal to the gods, and they would help. Ancient sources contain information about the existence of two kings with this name – Minos I and his grandson Minos II, but this is not reflected in mythology. Perhaps here we are talking about a false Minos or about an heir who really existed, but objectionable to the royal court.

One way or another, the Cretan king laid the foundation for a great civilization, many myths (including about the Minotaur) and, possibly, all Hellas as we know it today. In addition, it is believed that it was the death of the Minoan civilization as a result of the tsunami that hit the island that gave birth to the myth of Atlantis.

4. Huang-di

The history of China begins with the Yellow Emperor Huang-di, who descended from the sky on the moon, holding onto his mustache. Long is a Chinese dragon. It is described like this: the head of a camel, horns of a deer, the neck of a snake, carp scales. Here Huang-di descended to the ground from him and gave people many useful things like a bow and arrow, boats with oars and clothes with shoes.

Sounds like a classic myth, but there’s more to it. Under Huang-ti, the first unified state in China was created, a system of inventory control, a calendar, and soon a full-fledged writing system was invented, but the main thing was the division of land into allotments, which is much more like the motives and actions of an ordinary person. The real name of this historical character has been lost forever in the centuries; the time of his reign dates back to the third millennium BC. After a long struggle and victory over the other leaders of the tribes, Huang-di created a single state of Kunlun.

Perhaps the name Yellow Emperor was taken to facilitate the establishment of contacts with tribes in the Yellow River basin, the name of which translates as “yellow river”. One way or another, for the next thousand years, yellow will become the color of imperial clothing.

5. Puzur-Ashur I

Almost nothing is known about the origin of Puzur-Ashur I; his name means “the secret of Ashur”. Taking advantage of the moment and the weakness of the royal court of the city of Ashur, he seized power and proclaimed a new dynasty. Subsequently, by annexing several more cities, Puzur-Ashur I will create one of the most powerful states of its time – Assyria. It turned out to be a cruel state, but the times were not easy – the beginning of the two thousandth BC. They built the country as best they could – and they did.

Assyria is the first state in history (at least known to science) with a long border. That is, not just a few cities, united for a while for the sake of conducting joint hostilities, harvesting or building some kind of temple complex, but a state with uniform laws and borders. There were few laws, but the punishment for failure to comply with any of them was almost always death. Or something from the classics: cutting off the nose, ears, fingers, and so on.

However, there were also advantages: the conquered peoples were invited to become Assyrians – for this, clay tablets were even created for keeping records. It was required to take a new Assyrian name, follow the laws of the country, pay taxes and worship the god Ashur. At the same time, the old personality seemed to cease to exist, and for many, this option became a good alternative. For example, it was a quick way to write off all accumulated debts or even change social status.

Continue Reading

Ancient

The flood during the Sumerian civilization

“And behold, I will bring a flood of water on the earth, to destroy all flesh, in which there is the spirit of life, under heaven; everything on earth will lose its life. But with you I will establish my covenant, and you will enter the ark, you, and your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you … ”.

This is how the epic story of Noah began in the Old Testament – a righteous man chosen by God to build a huge ship and save all kinds of living creatures. However, the myth of the great flood that destroyed sinners was not an invention of the ancient Jews.

"Winter.  Global flood".  Nicolas Poussin.
“Winter. Global flood”. Nicolas Poussin. Source: wikipedia.org

The Sumerian civilization is rightfully considered one of the most mysterious in world history. For several thousand years the cities of Lagash, Ur, Uruk (there are hundreds of names) were economic and cultural centers between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Permeated by a system of irrigation canals, the river valley was a granary for a large population.

Map of Ancient Sumer.
Map of Ancient Sumer. Source: medium.com

The winter months were accompanied by heavy rains and overflow of rivers. This is evidenced by the names of the tenth (December-January) and eleventh (January-February) months according to the Babylonian calendar – “drowning” and “beaten by the wind.” Agricultural cycles played a huge role in the life of Sumerian society.

However, the word “flood” could be used not only in relation to natural disasters. For example, the ancient Sumerian texts call the punishment of the king of the Akkadian dynasty Naram-Suena, the son of Sargon the Ancient, “flood”. The god of air and storms Enlil sent punishment to the ruler of the state for his unrighteousness.

The punishment itself had many stages, the most difficult was the plundering of the capital of the country of Nippur by the tribe of Kutii. Laments for Nippur became the mainstay of urban winter rituals. In them, the punishment of the gods is called “flood”, although, apparently, there was no talk of a water disaster.

Image of Naram-Suena on a stele from the city of Susa.
Image of Naram-Suena on a stele from the city of Susa. Source: wikipedia.org

In 1872, 32-year-old British engraver and Assyrologist George Smith, among the artifacts from the Ashurbanipal library, found a fragment of a clay tablet with a description of the legend of the Flood.

The find created a furor in European society – there were rolls over with the famous Old Testament legend about the righteous man Noah, who built the ark and survived a natural disaster. The following year, Smith was able to go on an expedition to Nineveh to find the missing fragments of the epic.

The trip was sponsored by Edwin Arnold, publisher of The Daily Telegraph. The search was crowned with success, and already in 1875 Smith published the results of his search in Assyrian Discoveries: An Account of Explorations and Discoveries on the Site of Nineveh, During 1873 to 1874.

George Smith.
George Smith

The legend said about the anger of the gods against people for their unrighteousness, the already mentioned Enlil again initiated the punishment. It rained for many days and nights. However, there was one survivor – the king of the city of Shuruppak Ziusudra, warned by the god of wisdom Ea about the approaching dark times.

Utnapishtim
Utnapishtim Source: Ziusudra) and the god Enki (Ea)

Indeed, in the 1930s, an expedition from the University of Pennsylvania led by archaeologist Erich Schmidt discovered a cultural layer in Shuruppak, consisting of deposits of clay and silt, which indicated flooding. The flood, dating back to the 5th and 4th millennia BC, also caused damage to the larger cities of Sumer – Uru, Uruk and Kish.

Ziusudra, who ruled in Shuruppak, according to legend, for several tens of thousands of years, built a huge ship to save his family, property and living creatures that lived on Earth:

“Everything that I had› I loaded there:

I put all the silver on the ship;

And he brought all the gold;

And I drove all the creatures of God there.

As well as family and relatives.

And from the fields and from the steppe

I brought all the insects there;

And he brought all the artisans to the ship. “

Noah's Ark.
Noah’s Ark. Source: ulltable.com

The cataclysm lasted 6 days, after which the water began to subside, and the ship ended up on the top of Mount Nisir – this is how Ararat was called in ancient times. The gods bestowed immortality on Ziusudra, and the human race again descended from him. The tradition is strikingly similar to the story of Noah. This allowed scholars to assert that the Semitic biblical legends were based on Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian myths.

This, however, did not end the story of the Sumerian righteous man. The last time, but under a different name, he appears in the epic about Gilgamesh – the heroic ruler of the city of Uruk. Utnapishtim (this is how Ziusudra was called in the Akkadian epic) tells the king how he achieved immortality. However, no plaque was found that would tell about the end of the conversation between the two powerful heroes.

Gilgamesh.
Gilgamesh. Source: tainy.net

It is possible that the motives of the Sumerian, and then the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian culture penetrated into the Jewish culture as a result of the famous Babylonian captivity of 598-582. BC. The former captives who returned after the conquest of the capital of the state of the X Chaldean dynasty by the Persian king Cyrus the Great and absorbed the mythological layer of the ancient civilization, apparently recorded the Old Testament legends in the Torah. 

Many stories reflected in the Bible are somehow connected with the Babylonian traditions, which, in turn, are inextricably linked with the Sumerian culture.

Continue Reading

Ancient

A settlement was found in Iceland, which is mentioned in fairy tales

In 2013, archaeologists studied the Icelandic sea bay of Arnarfjordur, on the territory of which, during the Middle Ages, the Vikings supposedly lived. In the course of scientific work, scientists discovered a pile of ash, which clearly remained after the complete combustion of the ancient house. 

Due to lack of funding, the excavation had to be postponed until 2017, but, in the end, the researchers managed to find the remains of a 10th century farm settlement. At the moment, it is known that it consists of a hut, a 23-meter earthen house, three small houses, a workshop and a cowshed. 

The furnaces installed in the buildings were larger than usual, so scientists believe that thousands of years ago the inhabitants of these places were actively engaged in blacksmithing. The most interesting fact is that the life of the people of this region was told in one of the medieval sagas, which bordered on fairy tales.

Kraken – one of the monsters of Scandinavian legends

Viking houses

An unusual place was described in the Ancient Origins edition. In the excavated houses, archaeologists managed to find the remains of large furnaces with cracked stones. Based on the finds, the researchers put forward the theory that the Vikings who lived in the Arnarfjordur Bay were engaged in the extraction of iron and the manufacture of various tools. 

Unfortunately, the remains of these tools have not yet been found by archaeologists. In the future, they plan to use flying drones to find land plots, under which the remains of thousand-year-old Viking buildings and tools made by them may also be hidden. Everything that they manage to find will help to study the historical sagas, which talk about the life of the Scandinavian peoples in the period from 930 to 1030.

Excavation in Arnarfjordur Bay

The first inhabitants of Iceland

One of these sagas is Landamabok, written in the XII century. It is considered the oldest written source ever discovered, detailing the early days of Iceland. This historical work will give a list of the first inhabitants of Iceland: there are about 3,000 names and about 1,400 place names. According to Landnamabok, one of the first settlers of a place called Svinadalur was a certain Eyvindur Audkula. 

In 1300 AD, the ruler of these lands was Bjarnason Auðkýlingur. The places described in this saga have many similarities with the aforementioned Arnarfjordur Bay. Most likely, this work tells about local residents.

Frame from the series “Vikings”

Scandinavian monsters

But if this work tells about real people and events, then where does the fairy tale? The fact is that the historical work also deals with sea monsters that were seen in Icelandic waters. It is noteworthy that not only the people who first settled in Iceland in 874 AD believed in mythical creatures. 

Our contemporaries allegedly see them from time to time. According to Ancient Origins, about 4,000 sightings of sea and lake monsters have been recorded in Iceland over the past hundred years. Moreover, about 180 monsters were met in the Arnarfjordur Bay.

The Nekki is another Scandinavian scum. Something between a mermaid and a mermaid

Rumor has it that some people have been able to see huge monsters like the Loch Ness monster, whose existence has recently been again talked about. Most likely, all of these messages are used to attract the attention of tourists. In the Icelandic village of Bildudalur, which is just located on the coast of Arnarfjordur, in early 2010, even the Sea Monster Museum was opened. 

All the exhibits presented in this institution tell about monsters from Scandinavian legends. In addition to viewing the exhibits, visitors can also listen to stories from fishermen. In general, Iceland is famous for its mystical component and tourists can learn a lot about magic, monsters and other evil spirits.

The excavations in Arnarfjordur Bay should ultimately help historians to separate fiction from real facts in historical documents. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

DO NOT MISS

Trending