20120208-WingedGeniusAssistant 2.jpg
Winged Genius Assistant
Few people in Mesopotamia could read or write. Schooling was provided at temples or academies or at the homes of priests and bureaucrats. Students studied languages, arithmetic, accounting and Sumerian literature. Textbooks were cuneiform tablets.

Most students were future scribes who were taught to write on cuneiform tablets at academies and temple schools. A series of benches excavated at Mari are believed to be from an ancient classroom. Many lessons consisted of teachers writing on one side of a tablet and students writing on the other side or students copying books. Many tablets that have come down to us today are student copies of early chapters (most didn’t get very far because few later chapters exist).

Many tablets are left half completed. Other have mistakes that have been rubbed out or have disapproving tick marks added by teachers. There are indications of unsteady hand, lack of patience, and trouble learning. Scribes that passed the examinations at the scribe academy were given the title "The one who knows the tablets." Some tablets also featured aimless doodling in what seems to be a manifestation of daydreaming.

Katy Blanchard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology told the New York Times in a Babylonian classroom, “there would be a bucket in the middle of the room” where students would toss their practice tablets for recycling. Those reusable tablets, she said, were “like the original Etch A Sketch.” [Source: Jennifer A. Kingson, New York Times November 14, 2016]

A selection from a paternal essay went: "Why do you idle about? Go to school, stand before your 'school-father,' recite your assignment, open your schoolbag, write your tablet, let your 'big brother' write your new tablet for you. After you have finished your assignment and reported to your monitor, come to me."

It continued: "Don't stand about in the public square or wander about the boulevard. When walking on the street, don't look all around...Go to school, it will be of benefit to you...I, night and day am I tortured because of you. Night and day you waste in pleasures.”

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site; British Museum ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia ; Louvre ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago ; Iraq Museum Database ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Lessons in Sumerian Math

math exam: calculating the area of a sqare, knowing one said

As well as providing a medium for the first writing, cuneiform clay tablet were the first recording medium to be used in education. Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times: Many of the 13 tablets at a 2010 exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, part of New York University, were “exercises of students learning to be scribes. Their plight was not to be envied. They were mastering mathematics based on texts in Sumerian, a language that even at the time was long since dead. The students spoke Akkadian, a Semitic language unrelated to Sumerian. But both languages were written in cuneiform, meaning wedge-shaped, after the shape of the marks made by punching a reed into clay. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, November 22, 2010 ^=^]

“They include two celebrated tablets, known as YBC 7289 and Plimpton 322, that have played central roles in the reconstruction of Babylonian math. YBC 7289 is a small clay disc containing a rough sketch of a square and its diagonals. Across one of the diagonals is scrawled 1,24,51,10 — a sexagesimal number that corresponds to the decimal number 1.41421296. Yes, you recognized it at once — the square root of 2. In fact it’s an approximation, a very good one, to the true value, 1.41421356.^=^

“Below is its reciprocal, the answer to the problem, that of calculating the diagonal of a square whose sides are 0.5 units. This bears on the issue of whether the Babylonians had discovered Pythagoras’s theorem some 1,300 years before Pythagoras did. No tablet bears the well-known algebraic equation, that the squares of the two smaller sides of a right-angled triangle equal the square of the hypotenuse. But Plimpton 322 contains columns of numbers that seem to have been used in calculating Pythagorean triples, sets of numbers that correspond to the sides and hypotenuse of a right triangle, like 3, 4 and 5. ^=^

“Plimpton 322 is thought to have been written in Larsa, just north of Ur, some 60 years before the city was captured by Hammurabi the lawgiver in 1762 B.C. Other tablets bear lists of practical problems, like calculating the width of a canal, given information about its other dimensions, the cost of digging it and a worker’s daily wage. With some tablets the answers are stated without any explanation, giving the impression that they were for show, a possession designed to make the owner seem an academic.” ^=^

Infrastructure and Communications

writing cuneiform

First settlers organized into self-sufficient communities that cooperated with irrigation. Later organized labor built walls, temples, dwellings.

The Babylonians had a postal system. The Assyrians developed a more sophisticated one so that correspondence could be efficiently delivered throughout their vast empire.

The Assyrians built the first aqueducts and paved roads. Aqueducts provided water for lavish gardens that covered the size of football fields. Their extensive system of roads allowed them to dispatch their armies and supplies quickly to the far corners of their empire. See History

Roads in Mesopotamia

Satellite imagery had been used to map ancient roads throughout Mesopotamia, including a network or roads between Nineveh and Tell Brak, an ancient site near Aleppo, Syria. Some of the roads were more than 400 feet wide. The images show where the road were. Shallow depressions were left by heavy animal traffic when they were used. This harden the surface and caused the roadway to sink, leaving behind troughs that retained moisture and helped plants grow. The satellite images picked up the subtle changes in growth.

Mesopotamia was where some of the first great trade routes were established. "Control of the Euphrates," an Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae told National Geographic, "meant control over the strategic traffic in metals from Anatolia and in wood from the Syrian forests near the Mediterranean, both natural resources essential to Mesopotamian economic life."

The only goods available in abundance in Mesopotamia were mud, clay, reeds, palm, fish, and grain. To obtain other goods Mesopotamians needed to trade. Mesopotamians developed large scale trade. Ships brought in goods from distant lands. Labor and grain were exported. Metals were brought in overland routes and paid for with wool and grains. Goods were moved in jars and clay pots. Seals identified who they belonged to.

Babylonian map

The Sumerians established trade links with cultures in Anatolia, Syria, Persia and the Indus Valley. Similarities between pottery in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley indicate that trade probably occurred between the two regions. During the reign of the pharaoh Pepi I (2332 to 2283 B.C.) Egypt traded with Mesopotamian cities as far north as Ebla in Syria near the border of present-day Turkey.

The Sumerians traded for gold and silver from Indus Valley, Egypt, Nubia and Turkey; ivory from Africa and the Indus Valley; agate, carnelian, wood from Iran; obsidian and copper from Turkey; diorite, silver and copper from Oman and coast of Arabian Sea; carved beads from the Indus valley; translucent stone from Oran and Turkmenistan; seashell from the Gulf of Oman. Raw blocks of lapis lazuli are thought to have been brought from Afghanistan by donkey and on foot. Tin may have come from as far away as Malaysia but most likely came from Turkey or Europe.

Many goods that traveled through the Persian Gulf went through the island of Bahrain. There was an early Bronze Age trade network between Mesopotamia, Dilmun (Bahrain), Elam (southwestern Iran), Bactria (Afghanistan) and the Indus Valley. Ivory combs, carnelian belts and beads were carried by ship to Dilmun in Bahrain where buyers from Ur snapped them up the Euphrates and carried them to Mesopotamia.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws on Builders

The Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) is credited with producing the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest surviving set of laws. Recognized for putting eye for an eye justice into writing and remarkable for its depth and judiciousness, it consists of 282 case laws with legal procedures and penalties. Many of the laws had been around before the code was etched in the eight-foot-highin black diorite stone that bears them. Hammurabi codified them into a fixed and standardized set of laws. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

228. If a builder build a house for some one and complete it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

229 If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

230. If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.

231. If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.

232. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.

233. If a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.

First Wheels and Wheeled Vehicles

Assyrian cart
The wheel, some scholars have theorized, was first used to make pottery and then was adapted for wagons and chariots. The potter’s wheel was invented in Mesopotamia in 4000 B.C. Some scholars have speculated that the wheel on carts were developed by placing a potters wheel on its side. Other say: first there were sleds, then rollers and finally wheels. Logs and other rollers were widely used in the ancient world to move heavy objects. It is believed that 6000-year-old megaliths that weighed many tons were moved by placing them on smooth logs and pulling them by teams of laborers.

Early wheeled vehicles were wagons and sleds with a wheel attached to each side. The wheel was most likely invented before around 3000 B.C.---the approximate age of the oldest wheel specimens---as most early wheels were probably shaped from wood, which rots, and there isn't any evidence of them today. The evidence we do have consists of impressions left behind in ancient tombs, images on pottery and ancient models of wheeled carts fashioned from pottery.◂

Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the mid 4th millennium B.C., near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia, the Northern Caucasus and Central Europe. The question of who invented the first wheeled vehicles is far from resolved. The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle---a wagon with four wheels and two axles---is on the Bronocice pot, clay pot dated to between 3500 and 3350 B.C. excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland. Some sources say the oldest images of the wheel originate from the Mesopotamian city of Ur A bas-relief from the Sumerian city of Ur---dated to 2500 B.C.---shows four onagers (donkeylike animals) pulling a cart for a king. and were supposed to date sometime from 4000 BC. [Partly from Wikipedia]

In 2003---at a site in the Ljubljana marshes, Slovenia, 20 kilometers southeast of Ljubljana--- Slovenian scientists claimed they found the world’s oldest wheel and axle. Dated with radiocarbon method by experts in Vienna to be between 5,100 and 5,350 years old the found in the remains of a pile-dwelling settlement, the wheel has a radius of 70 centimeters and is five centimeters thick. It is made of ash and oak. Surprisingly technologically advanced, it was made of two ashen panels of the same tree. The axle, whose age could not be precisely established, is about as old as the wheel. It is 120 centimeters long and made of oak. [Source: Slovenia News]

The wheel and axle were found near a wooden canoe. Both the wheel and the axle had been scorched, probably to protect them against pests. Slovenian experts surmise that the wheel they found belonged to a single-axle cart. The aperture for the axle on the wheel is square, which means the wheel and the axle rotated together and, considering the rough ground, the cart probably had only one axle. We can only guess what the cart itself was like. The Ljubljana marshes are a perfect place for old objects to be preserved. There have been many finds uncovered in this area. Apart from the wooden wheel, axle and canoe, there have been innumerable objects found which are up to 6,500 years old.

A wheel dated to 3000 B.C., was found near Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Wheels with similar dates have been found in Germany and Switzerland. One very old wheel was a wooden disc discovered at an archeological sight near Zurich. The wheel now can be seen in the Zurich museum.

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The invention of the wheel paved the way for more advanced technology such as pulleys, gears, cogs and screws. A flint point or stick spun with a bow was another important advancement. It could be used to make fire and employed as a drill.

Horses, Onagers and Mesopotamian Transportation

Wheel on carts and potter’s wheels appeared around the same time, 4000 to 3500 B.C. (See First Villages). Some scholars have speculated that the wheels on carts was developed by placing a potters wheel on its side.

The Sumerians had no camels or horses. They did have sheep, goats and oxen which could be used as beasts of burden. Wheeled vehicles were used as carts. Most were pulled by oxen, onagers (donkeylike animals) or donkeys. A bas-relief from the Sumerian city of Ur (2500 B.C.) shows four onagers pulling a cart for a king.

Donkeys and onagers were the main beasts of burden. Goods were moved overland by donkey caravans. Donkeys and onagers later were replaced by horses who are less stubborn, faster, and have a lower threshold of pain (donkey's often do not move even when furiously whipped). The Assyrians and Egyptians used horses and chariots. The Hittites and the Hykos were the first people in the Middle East to use chariots. Chariots came before mounted riders.

The first Mesopotamian boats were used to travel on rivers. Later most sophisticated vessels with sails were developed. The Mesopotamians invented the sail. Seafaring voyages may have taken place as early as 3500 B.C. Mesopotamians traveled across the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea between Persia and India.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws on Shipbuilders and Sailors

234. If a shipbuilder build a boat of sixty gur for a man, he shall pay him a fee of two shekels in money.

235. If a shipbuilder build a boat for some one, and do not make it tight, if during that same year that boat is sent away and suffers injury, the shipbuilder shall take the boat apart and put it together tight at his own expense. The tight boat he shall give to the boat owner.

236. If a man rent his boat to a sailor, and the sailor is careless, and the boat is wrecked or goes aground, the sailor shall give the owner of the boat another boat as compensation.

237. If a man hire a sailor and his boat, and provide it with corn, clothing, oil and dates, and other things of the kind needed for fitting it: if the sailor is careless, the boat is wrecked, and its contents ruined, then the sailor shall compensate for the boat which was wrecked and all in it that he ruined.

238. If a sailor wreck any one's ship, but saves it, he shall pay the half of its value in money.

239. If a man hire a sailor, he shall pay him six gur of corn per year.

240. If a merchantman run against a ferryboat, and wreck it, the master of the ship that was wrecked shall seek justice before God; the master of the merchantman, which wrecked the ferryboat, must compensate the owner for the boat and all that he ruined.

Three Ox-Drivers from Adab

“Three Ox-Drivers from Adab” goes: “There were three friends, citizens of Adab, who fell into a dispute with each other, and sought justice. They deliberated the matter with many words, and went before the king. "Our king! We are ox-drivers. The ox belongs to one man, the cow belongs to one man, and the waggon belongs to one man. We became thirsty and had no water. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University,]

Babylonian model of chariot

“We said to the owner of the ox, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my ox is devoured by a lion? I will not leave my ox!". We said to the owner of the cow, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my cow went off into the desert? I will not leave my cow!". We said to the owner of the waggon, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if the load were removed from my waggon? I will not leave my waggon!". "Come on, let's all go! Come on, and let's return together!" " "First the ox, although tied with a leash , mounted the cow, and then she dropped her young, and the calf started to chew up the waggon's load. Who does this calf belong to? Who can take the calf?"

” The king did not give them an answer, but went to visit a cloistered lady. The king sought advice from the cloistered lady: "Three young men came before me and said: 'Our king, we are ox-drivers. The ox belongs to one man, the cow belongs to one man, and the waggon belongs to one man. We became thirsty and had no water. We said to the owner of the ox, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my ox is devoured by a lion? I will not leave my ox!". We said to the owner of the cow, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my cow went off into the desert? I will not leave my cow!". We said to the owner of the waggon, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if the load were removed from my waggon? I will not leave my waggon!" he said. "Come on, let's all go! Come on, and let's return together!" ' "

" 'First the ox, although tied with a leash , mounted the cow, and then she dropped her young, and the calf started to chew up the waggon's load. Who does this calf belong to? Who can take the calf?" ' [35 lines missing, The cloistered lady continues her reply to the king:) "Well now, the owner of the ox, ...... his field ....... After his ox has been eaten by a lion ......, his field ......." "The hero....... Like a mountaineer ....... A dog ...... the ox ....... A strong man ...... in his field......."

"Well now, the owner of the cow ...... his wife. After his cow has gone off into the desert ......, his wife will walk the streets ....... After the cow has dropped its young ......, the hero, walking in the rain ....... His wife ...... herself. The ox's food ration which he has turned to his ......, ...... hunger. His wife dwells with him in his house, his desired one ...... "

"Well now, the owner of the waggon, after he has abandoned his ......, and the load has been removed from his waggon, and ...... from his waggon, and after he has brought his ...... into his house, ...... will be made to leave his house. His calf that began to chew up the waggon's load will be ...... in his house. When he has approached ...... the open-armed hero, the king, having learnt about his case, will make his ...... leave his dwelling. ...... the ox, ...... has partaken of my wisdom, shall not oppose it. His load, ......, will not return ."

“When the king came out from the cloistered lady's presence, each man's heart was dissatisfied. The man who hated his wife left his wife. The man ...... his ...... abandoned his ....... With elaborate words, with elaborate words, the case of the citizens of Adab was settled. Pa-nijin-jara, their sage, the scholar, the god of Adab, was the scribe.”

See Abraham and the Ox Cart travel to Canaan

Journey of Nanna to Nippur

Thorkild Jacobsen wrote in “The Treasures of Darkness”: The “Journey of Nanna to Nippur” “myth is closely connected with the spring rite of the first fruits which were taken from Ur to Nippur, stopping over all sacred cities on the way to the temple of Enlil, the Ekur in Nippur. The meaning of this ritual act was a religious celebration and sanction of the exchange of products between the cities of the Southern marshes and the farmers in the North [Source: Jacobsen, Thorkild, The Treasures of Darkness, 1976, Yale University).

Transport of cedar
“To go to his city, to stand before his father,
Ashgirbabbar (Nanna) set his mind:
"I, the hero, to my city I would go, before my father I would stand;
I, Sin, to my city I would go, before my father I would stand,
Before my father I would stand."
(then he proceeds to load his boat with a rich assortment of trees, plants and animals. On his journey from Ur to Nippur, Nanna and his boat stop at five cities: Im, Larsa, Uruk and two cities whose names are illegible; in each of these, Nanna is met and greeted by the representative tutelary deity. Then he arrives at Nippur:) [Source: Kramer, Samuel Noah (1988) “Sumerian Mythology,” University of Pennsylvania Press, West Port, Connecticut].

At the lapis lazuli quay, the quay of Enlil, Nanna-Sin drew up his boat,
At the white quay, the quay of Enlil,
Ashbirbabbar drew up his boat,
On the ....... of the father, his begetter, he stationed himself,
To the gatekeeper of Enlil he says:
" Open the house, gatekeeper, open the house
Open the house, O protecting genie, open the house
Open the house, thou who makest the trees come forth, open the house,
O ...... who makest the trees come forth, open the house,

“Gatekeeper, open the house, O protecting genie, open the house",
Joyfully, the gatekeeper joyfully opened the door,
The protecting genie who makes the trees come forth, joyfully
The gatekeeper joyfully opened the door
He who makes the trees come forth, joyfully
The gatekeeper joyfully opened the door,
With Sin, Enlil rejoiced.
Then Nanna feasts with Enlil and afterwards addresses his father Enlil as follows:
" In the river give me overflow,
In the field give me much grain,
In the swampland give me grass and reeds,
In the forests give me...
In the plains give me...
In the palm-grove and vineyard give me honey and wine, In the palace give me long life,

To Ur I shall go".
Enlil accedes to Nanna’s request:
He gave him, Enlil gave him,
To Ur he went,
In the river he gave him overflow,
In the field he gave him much grain,
In the swampland he gave him grass and reeds,
In the forests he gave him...
In the plain he gave him...
In the palm-grove and vineyard he gave him honey and wine,
In the palace he gave him long life.”

Energy and Mesopotamian Oil

20120208-British Museum bitumen biat model.jpg
bitumen boat model
The Mesopotamians used asphalt to as a building material 5000 years ago and were thus the first people to use petroleum. Archaeologists have found evidence that bituminous deposits were being exploited in the Near East as early as 3000 B.C. Methods for stabilizing crudes and tars so they weren't dangerous was developed at a very early time.

The first references to oil were made on cuneiform tablets in Babylonia in 2000 B.C. It was referred to as naptu , which means "that which flares up." Mesopotamians were fascinated by naphtha especially since fire created with it could not be put out with water. At that time oil came primarily from seepages.

Evidence from cuneiform tablets indicates that petroleum products were used for torches, lamps, mortars, pigments, textile finishes, magic fire tricks, medicines, and incendiary weapons. One tablet read: "If a certain place in the land naptu oozes out, that country will walk in widowhood. If the water of a river bears...oil, want will seize on the peoples." Another states: "May donkey urine be your drink, naptu your ointment." Naptu was used as a skin ointment.

Oil in Iraq may have been the “burning fiery furnace” of King Nebuchadnezzar described in The Bible. In the 5th century B.C. Herodotus described a famous spot in Persia where oil oozed from the ground. He wrote that a man with a wineskin "makes a dip with this, draws the liquid up, and then pours it over the receptacle. from there it passes into another, where it turns into three different shapes; the salt and the asphalt solidify and, while they collect on clay containers."

In the 1st century B.C., the Greek historian Diodorus wrote: "of all the marvels of Babylonia the most amazing is the mass of asphalt produced there...Uncountable numbers of people have drawn from it, as far from some vast spring, yet the supply remains intact."

In the 1st century A.D., the Greek geographer Strabo wrote: "if naphtha is brought near a flame, it catches fire, and if you smear some on the body and come near a flame, the body will catch fire. It cannot be quenched with water---it just burns harder---unless a whole lot is used, but it can be smothered and quenched with mud, vinegar, alum or birdlime."

Hittites and Oil

Harry A. Hoffner, Jr wrote in “Oil in Hittite Texts”: “Oil was one of the minimal essentials in ancient Near Eastern life. This has been noted in connection with ancient Israel, but it is also true in Hittite Anatolia. That being the case, oil is included among the elementary needs of the poor which compassionate people are enjoined to meet. Several texts whose composition goes back to the Old Hittite period mention this: to the hungry give bread, to the thirsty water, to the naked clothes, to the dried out/desiccated. The same situation is reflected in a passage from the new Hurro-Hittite bilingual, where the god Teshub is poor and must be helped by his fellow deities. They give food to the hungry god, clothes to the naked god, and oil to the hurtant- god. [Source: Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Oil in Hittite Texts,” Internet Archive, from Emory/Biblical Archaeology /=/]

“Oil in Hittite texts can be from an animal or a vegetable source. Oil from plants includes olive oil, sesame oil, cypress (or juniper) oil/resin, and oil extracted from nuts. Oil from animals includes lard (i.e., oil/fat from pigs) and sheep fat. Güterbock enumerated the various oil-bearing plants known to the Hittites, which included the olive, sesame, and several plants which are probably nuts. /=/

“Sheep fat or tallow, is placed in or on a KUSkursa-, which has been interpreted as either a "hunting bag" or a "fleece," which in turn is suspended from an evergreen eya-tree as a symbol of the prosperity given by the gods. That Ì.UDU was a solid substance is also clear from the fact that it is used alongside wax to make magic figurines. The purpose of making the figurines out of wax and sheep tallow is that they will represent evil and will be destroyed in the course of the subsequent ritual. The exact manner of destroying the symbols is unclear. The verb in the ritual text is arha sallanu-, which probably means "to melt down". /=/

Hittite Uses of Oil

Near Eastern lamps

Harry A. Hoffner, Jr wrote in “Oil in Hittite Texts”: “In a prayer of King Mursili II, the king asks that the sweet cedar oil may "call" or "summon" the god Telipinu. As part of this concept that the gods were attracted or "lured" by sweet oil, the rituals sometimes mention sprinkling "paths" of sweet oil (Ì.DÙG.GA) to attract the deities: "See, I have sprinkled your paths, O Telipinu, with sweet oil. So set out, O Telipinu, on the path which has been sprinkled with sweet oil!" (KUB 17.10 ii 28-30). In another ritual, the "seer-exorcist" (LÚHAL) takes oil, honey, thick bread, and libation and goes to appease the mountain gods (KUB 30.36 ii 1-2). [Source: Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Oil in Hittite Texts,” Internet Archive, from Emory/Biblical Archaeology /=/]

“In a "wisdom" text originating in Babylonia and translated into Hittite, we read of a prostitute who wears a borrowed garment and anoints herself with oil taken as a wage. As part of a vow to a deity, a Hittite queen gave three harsiyalli-vessels (large storage vessels, pithoi) containing respectively oil, honey, and fruit (KUB 15.1 iii 14-16; de Roos 1984). In the "Song of Hedammu," another myth of the Kumarbi cycle, a fragmentary passage describing the creation and raising of the monster Hedammu seems to say: "They place him/it in oil É they place him/it in water." Perhaps this is a method for rendering him invulnerable. One is reminded of the Greek legend of Achilles' heel. /=/

“Two interesting uses of Ì.DÙG.GA are found in the funerary ritual for deceased royalty. After the deceased's body was burned on the funeral pyre, his bones were collected and placed to soak in a large silver vessel filled with fine oil (Ì.DÙG.GA). After they had soaked in the oil, the bones were removed, wrapped in a fine linen cloth, and placed on a chair or stool. There follow various rites, including animal sacrifices, and then the bones are brought to the mausoleum (called the "Stone House"). It is here that we see the second interesting use of the oil. The text reads: "In the inner room of the mausoleum they spread bedding, take the bones from the chair, and put them on the spread bedding. They place a lamp [weighing É] shekels, filled with fine oil (Ì.DÙG.GA) in front of the bones." This is a rare example of Ì.DÙG.GA used as fuel for a lamp. If it is "perfumed oil," the odor might have been considered appropriate, as would incense, in a funerary setting.

“Oil, fat, or grease may also have been used to seal the interstices of baskets to make them waterproof. In the famous story of the Queen of Kanesh who set her seventy infant sons adrift in baskets to float down the river to the Black Sea, where they were recovered by the gods and raised, the queen first prepares the baskets by "filling" them, i.e., their interstices, with oil/grease. Students of the Bible will recall the waterproofing of the basket in which the baby Moses was placed in the shallow water of the Nile according to the story in chapter one of the Book of Exodus.18 Moses' mother smeared the basket with bitumen. Oil or grease (Akkadian samnu) are used to caulk boats. Since until recently it was not known that the crucial word sa-g‡n-da could be interpreted other than a form of sakkar "dung," the passage was thought either 1) to attest the use of dung in waterproofing the baskets (a very implausible procedure), 2) a filling of the baskets with dung as a cushioning bed for the infants, or 3) as a symbolic action implying that the Queen of Kanesh was undoing a curse upon herself manifested by her ominous birth of seventy boys. None of these options seems now as plausible as the possible interpretation given above. Oil, grease, or perhaps even resin (sagn-) was used to caulk the baskets and prevent them from sinking before they could carry their human cargos down the river to their divinely intended destination. This understanding also fits the parallels in the other ancient Near Eastern stories much more closely.

Hittite Anointing Oil

Harry A. Hoffner, Jr wrote in “Oil in Hittite Texts”: “The toilet of the upper classes must be reflected in the treatment of the cult statues of the deities. One text tells how eight representations of the Sun goddess of Arinna-three statues and five solar disks-were bathed and then anointed with oil. In a letter of the Hittite king to his mother, he complains that he has no Ì.DÙG.GA for anointing himself. In the text of a legal deposition, a man named mdISTAR-LÚ gives testimony in which he mentions that a woman gave him oil and instructed him to anoint himself with it when he worshipped the deity.(15) In a letter from the Pharaoh to the King of Arzawa, written in Hittite, the Egyptian monarch speaks of having his servant anoint with oil the head of the woman chosen to become a wife of the king (VBoT 1 obv. 14). The Hittite king was also anointed with oil as part of the ritual of accession to the throne and the priesthood of the Sun goddess of Arinna. This custom is also reflected in the rite of the substitute king, who consequently is anointed with the "oil of kingship". Singer (1987) also quotes an Akkadian letter written by Hattusili III to the Assyrian king in which Hattusili complains that the Assyrian monarch failed to send him the traditional coronation gifts, which included ceremonial garments and fine oil for anointing (Goetze 1940:27ff.). [Source: Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Oil in Hittite Texts,” Internet Archive, from Emory/Biblical Archaeology /=/]

“An entry in a tablet catalogue describes a ritual performed by a woman physician named Azzari. On the occasion when a commander was going to lead troops into battle, the physician consecrated í.DôG.GA by pronouncing a spell over it and then used it to anoint the commander, his horses, his chariot(s), and all his weapons. In an oracle inquiry, it was determined that the deity was angry because the temple personnel had neglected or omitted to give to the deity í.GIS and í.DôG.GA.

“In the first tablet of the Kikkuli horse-training manual, trainers are described as anointing/rubbing horses with í.NUN (butter, ghee) on the fifth day, after four days of daily washing. The use of "butter" or "ghee" for this purpose seems strange. In the "Song of Ullikummi," a myth of the Kumarbi cycle, oil (Ì.DÙG.GA) is used to anoint the horns of the bulls which draw the cart of the god Teshub. Apparently the horns of male animals were also anointed with oil prior to sacrificing the animals. This practice is clearly documented in the case of goats and rams. “Similarly, in a ritual text, oil is brought to the deity so that he may lubricate his chariot with it. In a purification ritual, animal-shaped vessels16 are overturned in the river and washed, then oil is dripped into the river, and finally the washed vessels are anointed (isk-) with oil. Applying oil to the vessels after they have been washed is analogous to the practice of humans anointing themselves after bathing. In another text, oil is smeared on a door.

Burning Oil, Cooking and Oil in Daily Life

“One of the principal uses of oil in ancient times was as a fuel for lamps or torches. The texts, however, offer little evidence for this. Only recently, with the discovery of the syllabic writing of the principal Hittite word for "oil," sagn-, has it become possible to recognize that the meaning of the adjective sakuwant- frequently modifying torches (GISzuppari) is "oil-soaked" (Hoffner 1994). The construction of a Hittite torch is unclear. It might have consisted of a stick with the upper end wrapped in cloth, in which case the cloth would have been soaked in oil as fuel. [Source: Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Oil in Hittite Texts,” Internet Archive, from Emory/Biblical Archaeology /=/]

“Lamps were called (DUG)sasanna, It is possible that the wick was called lappina-. Only two passages give any indication of lamp fuel:"two measuring vessels of butter/ghee for lamps" and "They set out in front of the bones a lamp[É] of [x] shekels (filled) with fine oil." There are other references to the burning of oil. A mixture of honey and oil was burned to produce a pleasant odor for the gods which by smelling the same they could be said to eat and drink. Another ritual text also mentions burning cedar, í.NUN, honey, and other materials to produce a sweet odor. In still another passage, honey and olive oil are poured into a clay cup and a tiny chip of wood floating on the surface is ignited and burns, perhaps absorbing the oil in which it floats like a wick.”/=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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