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Work Unfinished kudurru

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

"Unfinished" Kudurru

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Benoit Nicolas

Beneath the rings of the serpent that lies coiled around the top of the kudurru, the principal deities of the pantheon are represented in symbolic form. Below them is a cortege of animals and deities playing musical instruments. Walls and crenellated towers surround a space left blank for an inscription that was never carved. A horned serpent, symbol of the god Marduk, is coiled round the base.

An anepigraphic kudurru

This kudurru is one of a number of Mesopotamian works found in Susa. They were brought there by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte (late 12th century BC) as part of the spoils of his victorious campaigns in Mesopotamia. Kudurrus are characteristic of the Kassite Dynasty. They are decorated with bas-relief carvings, generally consisting of divine symbols and a text recording the details of royal gifts of land or privileges granted by the king to high-ranking dignitaries or members of his family. In this case, the decoration is divided into three registers, delineated at the top and base by two huge horned serpents. The lower register, where the text was to have been carved, is empty, although the surface was carefully prepared to receive the inscription: there are four polished zones demarcated by walls. Two of these zones are carved with horizontal lines ready for the cuneiform script.

Divine symbols

The word 'kudurru' is an Akkadian term meaning a boundary stone. However, contrary to what this name suggests, kudurrus were in fact stored in temples. Although they were primarily legal documents, their iconography provides a precious record of the religious life of the rulers who commissioned them. The upper register depicts the symbols associated with the principal deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Their order reflects the accepted hierarchy of the gods. The first triad consists of the three great deities: Anu, the sky god; Enlil, the earth god; and Ea, the god of Apsu, the body of fresh water on which the earth was believed to float. The second level represented the astral deities: Sin, the moon god, and his two children Shamash, the sun god, and Ishtar, the planet Venus. Immediately below them are the deities most in favor in the 2nd millennium BC. Marduk and his animal attribute - a horned dragon named Mushussu - are given pride of place, reflecting the theological desire to establish a universal god for Babylon, the capital of Mesopotamia. The iconographic style of this stele is very close to that of the kudurrus dating from the reign of King Melishihu (1186-1172 BC). This kudurru can thus be dated to the same period.

An unusual procession

While it was usual for kudurrus to be carved with a succession of divine symbols, in this case the carvings on the middle register are most unusual. They depict a procession of eight figures, all carrying bows and wearing the horned crowns that mark them out as gods. Seven of the figures are bearded gods, playing the lute and accompanied by animals. A goddess playing the tambourine and possibly dancing follows them. Although such friezes were very popular during the Kassite period, this composition is remarkable, even unique, in that it is most unusual to find two separate representations of the gods - one symbolic, one anthropomorphic - on the same monument. The ruler who commissioned the kudurru must have had a particular reason for including the procession as well as the more conventional symbolic representation. Unfortunately, this reason remains a mystery. The procession may refer to a ritual involving the minor deities, probably the protectors of animals. The figures may also possibly be foreign deities. Whatever the truth of the matter, the long lock of hair hanging from their headdress indicates that they are marginal figures in the classical pantheon.

Bibliography

L'empire du temps : mythes et créations, catalogue d'exposition du musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000, p. 44, cat. n 14.
La cité royale de Suse : découvertes archéologiques en Iran conservées au musée du Louvre, catalogue d'exposition, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, pp. 178-180, fig. 116.
Louvre, antiquités orientales : guide du visiteur, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997.

Technical description

  • "Unfinished" Kudurru

    Kassite period, attributed to the reign of Melishipak (1186-1172 BC)

    Susa (where it had been taken as war booty in the 12th century BC)

  • Limestone

  • J. de Morgan excavations

    Sb 25

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, 2nd and 1st millennia BC
    Room 3

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