Wrap Up: AMME Seminar on Royal Death in Assyria (Helsinki, 27 March 2018)

This month’s AMME featured a joint production between the Centers of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires and Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions, with Johannes Bach (ANEE Team 1) and Shana Zaia (CSTT Team 1) presenting on the topic of “Royal Death in Assyria.”

Shana presented on the Assyrian state texts, focusing on the large corpus of royal inscriptions, which chronicle the deeds and achievements of the Assyrian king. She discussed the episodes in which the Assyrian king described publicly and brutally executing defeated enemy rulers and how these events were portrayed in texts as well as on the palace reliefs. She also highlighted the ideological, religious, and psychological impact of royal death, and how it affected the populace and king’s successors differently depending on if the king was executed, killed in battle, assassinated, or died of natural causes.

Johannes discussed two literary texts that explicitly deal with royal death. The first and unfortunately badly damaged text, the so-called “Sin of Sargon”, circles around the question which of Sargon’s (alleged) misdeeds has caused his untimely death in 705 BC. In his quest for learning the reasons behind Sargon’s demise the text’s main protagonist, Sennacherib, even introduces new methods to ensure the accuracy of extispicy. Curiously, the text continuously ascribes misdeeds of Sennacherib to Sargon, while deeds of Esarhaddon where ascribed to Sennacherib. The second text presented, the “Underworldvision of an Assyrian prince”, tells the story of Kummay and his descent to the Netherworld. Here Johannes discussed content and poetic features of the text, especially the intertextual connections between it and the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as the Babylonian “Göttertypentext”. He presented his case to read a specific part of the Underworldvision as a distinct and solid reply to (or even rebuttal of) the Gilgamesh epic’s claim regarding Death being inconceivable for mortal men, and discussed the parallels between the poetics of this particular section of the Underworldvision and modern Science Fiction.