Who were the Umman-manda? This is a question that has vexed Assyriologists since the early days of the discipline. It is particularly vexing because the question has different answers at different times and in different places: Hurrians, Elamites, Medes, Cimmerians, Scythians — all have been cast as the Umman-manda by various peoples at various times.
With intractable questions like this, it is useful on occasion to recapitulate all the evidence that applies to the question, to integrate new evidence that has appeared since the last such recapitulation, and to see if a new synthesis of the evidence is possible. In this work, Adalı does precisely that. After collecting all the textual references to the Umman-manda, the author analyzes the writings, surveys the eytmologies proposed for the term Umman-manda over the years, and finally offers a new proposal for the etymology. He then investigates the non-literary texts that mention the Umman-manda, seeking clues to their origins and ethnic makeup, finding, as others have, that the evidence is inconclusive and sometimes even contradictory.
Turning to the literary texts as a source for the Umman-manda, the author finds more fertile ground. The principal literary source is the so-called Cuthaean Legend of Naram-Sin, a composition that deals with the third-millennium king of Agade (Akkad) Naram-Sin and his struggles against the Umman-manda. Although Naram-Sin was a third-millennium figure, the earliest preserved version of the Cuthaean Legend dates from the Old Bablylonian period. Nonetheless, the composition has a long textual history, including a Middle Babylonian version and a Hittite translation found at Hattušaš (Boğazköy), culminating in a Standard Babylonian version from Assurbanipal's library. Obviously, it was a popular story. While the history of the transmission of the text is obscured by the fragmentary nature of the earlier versions, it is clear that in the Standard Babylonian version Naram-Sins adversary in his epic struggle was known as the Umman-manda.
Leaving aside the potential historical kernel of the Cuthaean Legend because the available evidence does not speak to this issue, Adalı turns his investigation to the Umman-manda as a literary topos. By investigating the motifs and terminology used in the Cuthaean Legend and comparing them with similar usage in other literary works, the author is able to establish a leitmotif for the Umman-manda and then identify this leitmotif in the royal inscriptions of Assyrian and Babylonian kings.
As a literary topos, the Umman-manda represent a socio-cultural phenomenon with a strong theological basis: The Umman-manda are created by the gods and called forth from their homeland on the northeastern frontier of Mesopotamia by the chief god, be it Enlil, Marduk, or Aššur, for some particular work of destruction; since this destruction is divinely ordained, human beings are powerless to stop it, and in fact are enjoined against interfering; when the destruction is completed, the gods themselves will destroy the Umman-manda.
In the first millennium, the Mesopotamian ruler invokes this leitmotif by referring to an implacable horde of barbarians from the mountainous frontier as the Umman-manda. This allows the ruler to save face by claiming that his inability to halt the horde or abate the destruction they cause is divinely determined. In fact, by failing to oppose the horde of barbarians at the gate, he is complying with the divine will.
In the literary topos, the Umman-manda is the enemy of civilization; by invoking this topos, the Mesopotamian ruler calls upon his audience to endure humiliation in the face of the enemy while at the same time absolving himself of military responsibility for dealing with the menace. The chief god has called forth the Umman-manda for destruction and will himself destroy them once his purposes are fulfilled and humanity consolidates their confidence in the gods of civilization. The Umman-manda is truly the scourge of god.
While the question of who the original Umman-manda were remains a mystery, Adalıs work offers new insights and a new outlook on the significance of the Umman-manda in the first millennium, and particularly on the question of why the Umman-manda meant different things to different people at different times while, nevertheless, not all enemies were referred to as Umman-Manda. It provides a new departure point for further investigations of the Umman-manda as well as for the use of literary allusions in both Assyro-Babylonian literature and royal inscriptions.