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Kudurru of Meli-Shipak commemorating a gift of land to his son Marduk-apla-iddina

© 2007 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Near Eastern Antiquities

Pouysségur Patrick

Kudurrus (small steles recording royal gifts of land) first appeared during the Babylonian Kassite Dynasty. This example records a gift of land made by King Melishipak to his son Marduk-Apal-Iddina. Such gifts were placed under the protection of the great deities of the Babylonian pantheon. Their emblems were carved on the kudurru to protect it from desecration.

The Babylonian Kassite Dynasty

After the fall of the first Babylonian Dynasty following the golden age of Hammurabi's reign, the kingdom gradually recovered under the foreign Kassite Dynasty. The Kassites rapidly adopted the Babylonian language, customs, and traditions. They introduced the use of small stone steles known as kudurrus - a tradition maintained by later dynasties until the 7th century BC.

What is a kudurru?

Kudurrus were stone steles that were sculpted and carved with inscriptions recording gifts of land made by Babylonian rulers to members of their family or to high-ranking civil or religious dignitaries. On this example, the text, which covers one whole side of the stone, records a major gift of land from the Kassite king, Melishipak, to his son, Marduk-Apal-Iddina, the future "shepherd of his country." The ownership of the land came with a number of franchises.
Kudurrus were probably placed in temples, where they would be visible to both worshippers and gods. Three such kudurrus have been found during archaeological excavations of temples. This particular kudurru, however, was found along with several others in the Iranian city of Susa, where it was taken several decades after the end of Melishipak's reign by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte, whose victorious campaign in Babylonia led to the fall of the Kassite Dynasty.
Kudurru inscriptions are usually in two parts. The first describes the nature of the gift and the clauses attached to it. This is followed by an imprecation calling down a divine curse on anyone who opposed the gift. The gift was thus not only recorded and displayed for all to see, but also placed under divine protection. The emblem of each god invoked is represented on the stele.

The divine order of the world

This kudurru is remarkable in that in recording the royal gift, it represents the entire pantheon of gods who preserve the order of the world. The artist has used a formula that was later to be developed on other kudurrus, representing the symbols associated with each deity in hierarchical rows.
At the top of the stele are the astral deities, as if in the vault of the heavens. The crescent of Sin, the moon god, and the star set with the rays of Shamash, the sun god, flank the goddess Ishtar, represented by the planet Venus. They are accompanied by the sovereign gods who preserve the equilibrium of the world. The crowns with six rows of horns placed on the altars are the emblems of Anu, the sky god, and Enlil, the air god. They are followed by the ram's head and the goatfish representing Ea, the god of fresh water, and the symbol of Ninhursag, the earth goddess.
On the row immediately underneath are the warrior gods, whose victories in battle protect the order of the world - Nergal, represented by a weapon mounted on a dragon's back; Zababa, shown by a weapon with the head of a bird of prey; and Ninurta, depicted by a weapon with the head of a lion. Just beneath them is the figure of Marduk, the demiurge and protector of Babylonia, represented by a pointed spade and a horned dragon. He is accompanied by Nabu, the god of scribes, represented by a tablet and calamus, and Gula, goddess of medicine, astride her dog.
The gods of earthly fertility are shown on the lowest level - the bolt of lightning and the bull of Adad, the god of storms; the lamp of Nushku, god of fire; the plow of Ningirsu, originally the god of farming; and the birds of Shuqamuna and Shumalia, the divine couple of the Kassite pantheon. On the ground, ready to strike, are the snake and the scorpion, representing the Chtonian deities of the underworld.
The spatial ordering in rows represents the hierarchy of the deities and presents the Babylonian pantheon as a symbolic microcosm. The layout reflects both the divine ordering of the cosmos and the hierarchy of the pantheon.


Morgan Jacques de, Mémoires I, Leroux, 1900, p. 172, pl. XVI-3.
Scheil, Victor, Mémoires II, 1900, p. 99, pl. XXI à XXIII.

Technical description

  • Kudurru of Meli-Shipak commemorating a gift of land to his son Marduk-apla-iddina

    Kassite period, 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 22

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, 2nd and 1st millennia BC
    Room 227

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