southern extremity of Assyria proper, whose territory, soon after the first Assyrian settlement, was bounded on the N. by the Zagros mountain range in what is now Kurdistan and on the S. by the lower Zab river. The kingdom of Assyria, which was the outgrowth of the primitive settlement on the site of the city of Assur, was developed by a probably gradual process of colonization in the rich vales of the middle Tigris region, a district watered by the Tigris itself and also by several tributary streams, the chief of which was the lower Zab.
It seems quite evident that the city of Assur was originally founded by Semites from Babylonia at quite an early, but as yet undetermined date. In the prologue to the law-code of the great Babylonian monarch Khammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.), the cities of Nineveh and Assur are both mentioned as coming under that king’s beneficent influence. Assur is there called A-usar (ki), in which combination the ending -ki (“land territory”) proves that even at that early period there was a province of Assur more extensive than the city proper. It is probable that this non-Semitic form A-usar means “well watered region,” a most appropriate designation for the river settlements of Assyria. The problem as to the meaning of the name Assur is rendered all the more confusing by the fact that the city and land are also called Aššur (as well as A-usar), both by the Khammurabi records and generally in the later Assyrian literature. Furthermore, the god- and country-name Assur also occurs at a late date in Assyrian literature in the forms An-šar, An-šar (ki), which form was presumably read Assur. In the Creation tablet, the heavens personified collectively were indicated by this term An-šar, “host of heaven,” in contradistinction to the earth = Ki-šar, “host of earth.” In view of this fact, it seems highly probable that the late writing An-sar for Assur was a more or less conscious attempt on the part of the Assyrian scribes to identify the peculiarly Assyrian deity Asur (see Assur, the god, below) with the Creation deity An-sar. On the other hand, there is an epithet Ašir or Ashir (“overseer”) applied to several gods and particularly to the deity Ašur, a fact which introduced a third element of confusion into the discussion of the name Assur. It is probable then that there is a triple popular etymology in the various forms of writing the name Aššur; viz. A-usar, An-šar and the stem ašāru, all of which is quite in harmony with the methods followed by the ancient Assyro-Babylonian philologists.
ASSUR, the primitive capital of Assyria, now represented by the mounds of Kaleh Sherghat (Qal’at Shergat) on the west bank of the Tigris, nearly midway between the Upper and Lower Zab. It is still doubtful (see discussion on the name in the preceding article) whether the national god of Assyria took his name from that of the city or whether the converse was the case. It is most probable, however, that it was the city which was deified (see Sayce, Religion of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, 1902, pp. 366, 367). Sir A. H. Layard, through his assistant Hormuzd Rassam, devoted two or three days to excavating on the site, but owing to the want of pasturage and the fear of Bedouin attacks he left the spot after finding a broken clay cylinder containing the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I., and for many years no subsequent efforts were made to explore it. In 1904, however, a German expedition under Dr W. Andrae began systematic excavations, which have led to important results. The city originally grew up round the great temple of the god Assur, the foundation of which was ascribed to the High-priest Uspia. For many centuries Assur and the surrounding district, which came accordingly to be called the land of Assur (Assyria), were governed by high-priests under the suzerainty of Babylonia. With the decay of the Babylonian power the high-priests succeeded in making themselves independent kings, and Assur became the capital of an important kingdom. It was already surrounded by a wall of crude brick, which rested on stone foundations and was strengthened at certain points by courses of burnt brick. A deep moat was dug outside it by Tukulti-Inaristi or Tukulti-Masu (about 1270 B.C.), and it was further defended on the land side by a salkhu or outwork. In the 15th century B.C. it was considerably extended to the south in order to include a “new town” which had grown up there. The wall was pierced by “the gate of Assur,” “the gate of the Sun-god,” “the gate of the Tigris,” &c., and on the river side was a quay of burnt brick and limestone cemented with bitumen. The temples were in the northern part of the city, together with their lofty towers, one of which has been excavated. Besides the temple of Assur there was another great temple dedicated to Anu and Hadad, as well as the smaller sanctuaries of Bel, Ishtar, Merodach and other deities. After the rise of the kingdom, palaces were erected separate from the temples; the sites of those of Hadad-nirari I., Shalmaneser I., and Assur-nazir-pal have been discovered by the German excavators, and about a dozen more are referred to in the inscriptions. Even after the rise of Nineveh as the capital of the kingdom and the seat of the civil power, Assur continued to be the religious centre of the country, where the king was called on to reside when performing his priestly functions. The city survived the fall of Assyria, and extensive buildings as well as tombs of the Parthian age have been found upon the site.
(A. H. S.)
ASSUR, Asur, or Ashur, the chief god of Assyria, was originally the patron deity of the city of Assur on the Tigris, the ancient capital of Assyria from which as a centre the authority of the patesis (as the rulers were at first called) spread in various directions. The history of Assyria (q.v.) can now be traced back approximately to 2500 B.C., though it does not rise to political prominence until c. 2000 B.C. The name of the god is identical with that of the city, though an older form A-shir, signifying “leader,” suggests that a differentiation between the god and the city was at one time attempted. Though the origin of the form Ashur (or Assur) is not certain, it is probable that the name of the god is older than that of the city (see discussion on the name above).
The title Ashir was given to various gods in the south, as Marduk and Nebo, and there is every reason to believe that it represents a direct transfer with the intent to emphasize that Assur is the “leader” or head of the pantheon of the north. He is in fact to all intents and purposes of the north. Originally like Marduk a solar deity with the winged disk—the disk always typifying the sun—as his symbol, he becomes as Assyria develops into a military power a god of war, indicated by the attachment of the figure of a man with a bow to the winged disk. While the cult of the other great gods and goddesses of Babylonia was transferred to Assyria, the worship of Assur so overshadowed that of the rest as to give the impression of a decided tendency towards the absorption of all divine powers by the one god. Indeed, the other gods, Sin, Shamash (Samas), Adad, Ninib and Nergal, and even Ea, take on the warlike traits of Assur in the epithets and descriptions given of them in the annals and votive inscriptions of Assyrian rulers to such an extent as to make them appear like little Assurs by the side of the great one. Marduk alone retains a large measure of his independence as a
- Cf. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod, 250-251, and many other works.
- Robert Harper, Code of Hammurabi, pp. 6-7, lines 55-58.
- Thus already Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? p. 252. The element a means “water,” and in u-sar it is probable that u also means “water,” while sar is “park, district.” See Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, s.v. usar.
- The name appears as Aš-šur (ki) and Aš-šu-ur (ki). See King, Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi, iv. p. 23, obv. 27; and Nägel, Beiträge zur Assyriologie, iv. p. 404; also Cun. Texts from Bab. Tablets, vi. pl. 19, line 7.
- Meissner-Rost, Bauinschrift Sanheribs, K. 5413a; K. 1306, rev. 16.
- See on this entire subject, Morris Jastrow, Jr., Journal Amer. Orient. Soc., xxiv. pp. 282-311; also Die Religion Bab. u. Assyr., pp. 207 ff.
- On the philological methods of the ancient Babylonian priesthood, see Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, Introduction.
- See Prince, Journ. Bibl. Lit., xxii. 35.