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An Exhibition of Ancient Mesopotamian Art

A Gathering of the Gods - the Power of Mesopotamian Religion

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Article on Kudurru (1.12MB)
Mesopotamian Black Limestone Kudurru
Mesopotamia; Second Dynasty of Isin, 1157-1025 BC; Height 16.5 inches

The upper section of this finely polished black limestone kudurru is decorated in intricately carved raised relief with symbols and sacred animals representing a large group or "gathering" of Mesopotamian gods and goddesses. Kudurrus, sometimes referred to as "boundary markers," were actually land grant documents used by kings to reward their favored servants. These monuments were set up in temples to record royal land grants. The full force of the Mesopotamian pantheon was utilized both to witness and guarantee the land grant by carving the symbols and sacred animals of the deities on the kudurru. In the shape of a cylindrical ovoid, this particular kudurru was not inscribed, perhaps because the person who was to receive the land grant died before it could be finalized, or because the king changed his mind and decided not to make the land grant after all. Each kudurru is unique; a good deal of variation exists in the number and choice of deities which appear.


On this standing monument, the Mesopotamian pantheon is presented. The four great gods come first. Anu ("father of the gods" and god of heaven) and Enlil (god of wind, kingship and the earth), are shown as a multi-horned divine crown each on its own temple facade. Then Ea (god of water, magic and wisdom), is shown as a curved stick ending in a ram's head atop a temple facade pulled by the foreparts of a horned goat. Above the first two deities, a female headdress in the shape of an omega sign, symbolizes Ninhursag ("mother of the gods" and goddess of fertility).


The leading Babylonian god, Marduk, and his son Nabu, appear next. A triangular spade pointing up and a scribe's wedge-shaped stylus, respectively, each sits atop a temple facade pulled by the foreparts of a snake-dragon known as a Mushus. All five temple facades float on fresh, underground waters known as the Apsu or the Deep. Following these divinities, we find the mace, perhaps a local war god, the scepter with double lion heads of Ninurta (god of war), the arrow, a symbol of the star Sirius, and the two-pronged lightning bolt of Adad. This storm god is called by the similar name Haddad in the Levant. The running bird Papsukkal (minister of the gods, associated with the constellation Orion), is followed by the scorpion Ishara (goddess of oaths), the seated dog Gula (goddess of healing) and a bird on a perch, symbolizing both Shuqamuna and Shumalia (patron deities of the Kassite royal family).


The top of the kudurru, representing the heavens, is surrounded and enclosed by the body of a large snake. Nirah (the snake god) encompasses four astral deities the crescent moon of Sin (the moon god), a multi-rayed circular sun disc of Shamash (the sun god), a star inside a disc for Ishtar (the goddess of love -especially sexuality- and war) and the lamp of Nusku (the god of fire and light). Ishtar, considered the most important Mesopotamian female deity, is associated with the morning and evening star, the planet Venus.