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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Temple of Ashur Water Basin

Temple of Ashur Water Basin - Pergamon Museum - Joy of Museums

Temple of Ashur Water Basin

This Water Basin from 700 BC was carved from one monolithic block but was discovered completely fragmented in one of the courtyards of the Temple of Assur. It was reconstructed using many of its original components and reliefs. It was a solid basalt tub from one of the gardens outside the Temple of Ishtar at Assur. The Water Basin was destroyed during the Fall of Assur in 614 BC when the first city and the old capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire fell to Median forces. The sack of the city that followed the fall utterly destroyed the city. Assur would never recover from the destruction. Thus this water basin lasted less than 100 years.

The Water Basin sculptures show Enki, the Sumerian god of water, who can be seen at the centre with water flowing from his chest just below his beard. Enki is surrounded by figures with fish heads and fish skin flowing down their backs. These figures are presumably priests wearing fish-shaped garments. The figures hold objects to perform their traditional acts of purification and blessing. The other relief sculptures portray the Gods and sages of Sumerian legend and religion. The inner surfaces of the basin, which served to perform cultic acts, remained unadorned and could hold about 7,000 litres of water. A repeated cuneiform inscription gives the name of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

Sennacherib

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria from 705 BCE to 681 BCE. He is remembered for his military campaigns against Babylon and Judah, and his building programs. It was under him that Assyrian art reached its peak. His building projects included the beautification of Nineveh, a canal 50 km long to bring water to the city, and the “Palace Without Rival”, which included the Hanging Gardens.

Ritual Purification

Purification rituals are prescribed by many religions to allow a person about to perform some religious act to be considered free of uncleanliness, especially before the worship of a deity. Ritual purification may also apply to objects and places.

Most of these rituals were prominently from the earliest known religious systems of the Ancient Near East. Experts point to the health benefits of these practices and the prevention of infections especially in areas where humans come in close contact with each other. Others have described a ‘dimension of purity’ that is universal in religions that seeks to move us away from disgust and to uplift us towards purity and divinity. From uncleanliness to virtue, and from deviant to moral behaviour and thoughts.

Enki

Enki is the Sumerian god of water, knowledge, crafts, and creation. He was later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was initially the patron god of the city of Eridu, but then the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites and Hittites. A large number of myths about Enki have been collected from many sites, stretching from Southern Iraq to the Levantine coast. He is mentioned in the earliest surviving cuneiform inscriptions throughout the region and was prominent from the third millennium down to Hellenistic times.

Assur

Aššur, also known as Ashur and Qal’at Sherqat, was an Akkadian city, capital of the Old Assyrian Empire (2025–1750 BC), of the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC), and for a time, of the Neo-Assyrian Empire of 911–608 BC. The remains of the city lie on the western bank of the Tigris River, in modern-day Iraq, more precisely in the Al-Shirqat District.

Occupation of the city itself continued for about 4,000 years ago, from the mid-3rd millennium BC (c. 2600 BC) to the mid-14th century AD, when the forces of Timur massacred it’s indigenous Assyrian and by then a Christian population.  Assur lies 65 km (40 mi) south of the site of Nimrud and 100 km (60 mi) south of Nineveh.

The oldest remains of the city were discovered in the foundations of the Ishtar temple, as well as at the Old Palace. Kings from the Akkadian Empire ruled the city. During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the city was ruled by Assyrian governors subject to the Sumerians. During the reign of Sargon II (722–705 BC), a new capital began to rise in Nineveh, however, the city of Ashur remained the religious centre of the empire and continued to be revered as the holy crown of the empire, due to its temple of the national god Ashur. Many kings were also buried beneath the Old Palace of Assur.

Reflections

  • This solid rock Water Basin from the Temple of Ashur only lasted 100 years.
  • The Basalt basin was used for purification purposes.
  • Was Ritual Water Purification motivated by health or spiritual reasons?

Temple of Ashur Water Basin

  • Name:                    Temple of Ashur Water Basin
  • Date:                      704-681 BC
  • Original Location:  Assur; Modern Location: Qal’at Scherqat
  • Discovered:            1840
  • Culture:                   New Assyrian
  • Material:                 Stone basalt
  • Dimensions:           Height: 117 cm; Width: 3120 cm; Depth: 3120 cm
  • Museum:                Pergamon Museum

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“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

– Aldous Huxley

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM Sources: Museum material and Wikipedia 

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