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  • Spiritual Defense - Execration Rituals in Ancient Egypt › Origins

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Ashur  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Ashur (also known as Assur ) was an Assyrian city located on a plateau above the Tigris River in Mesopotamia (today known as Qalat Sherqat, northern Iraq). The city was an important center of trade, as it lay squarely on a caravan trade route that ran through Mesopotamia to Anatolia and down through the Levant . It was founded c. 1900 BCE on the site of a pre-existing community that had been built by the Akkadians at some point during the reign of Sargon the Great (2334-2279 BCE) of Akkad . According to one interpretation of passages in the biblical Book of Genesis, Ashur was founded by a man named Ashur son of Shem, son of Noah, after the Great Flood, who then went on to found the other important Assyrian cities . A more likely account is that the city was named Ashur after the deity of that name sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE; the same god's name is the origin for ' Assyria . The biblical version of the origin of Ashur appears later in the historical record after the Assyrians had accepted Christianity and so it is thought to be a re-interpretation of their early history which was more in keeping with their new belief system. Because of the lucrative trade Ashur enjoyed with the city of Karum Kanesh in Anatolia, it flourished and became the capital of the Assyrian Empire . Even after the capital was moved to the cities of KalhuNimrud ), then Dur-Sharrukin , and finally Nineveh , Ashur continued to be an important spiritual center for the Assyrians.All of the great kings (except for Sargon II , whose body was lost in battle ) were buried at Ashur, from the earliest days of the Assyrian Empire down to the last, no matter where the capital city was located.


Archaeological excavations show that a city of some sort existed at the site as early as the 3rd millennium BCE. What precise form this city took is not known nor is its size. The oldest foundations discovered thus far are those beneath the first IshtarTemple , which probably formed the base for an earlier temple (as the Mesopotamians generally built the same sort of structure on the ruins of an earlier one). From pottery and other artifacts found in situ, it is known that Ashur was an important center of trade early in the Akkadian Empire and had been an outpost of the city of Akkad. In time, trade between Mesopotamia and Anatolia increased, and Ashur was among the most important cities in these transactions owing to its location. Merchants would send their wares via caravan into Anatolia and trade primarily at Karum Kanesh. The historian PaulKriwaczek writes:
For several generations the trading houses of Karum Kanesh flourished, and some became extremely wealthy – ancient millionaires. However not all business was kept within the family. Ashur had a sophisticated banking system and some of the capital that financed the Anatolian trade came from long-term investments made by independent speculators in return for a contractually specified proportion of the profits (214).
These profits were spent largely in the city on renovations and modifications to private homes and public buildings. Through trade, Ashur prospered and expanded, becoming the capital of Assyria by the second millennium BCE. Walls were built around the city to enhance its natural defenses, even though these defenses were quite advantageous on their own. Regarding this, the historian Gwendolyn Leick writes:
The city of Ashur was built on a rocky limestone cliff that forced the fast-flowing Tigris into a sharp curve. The main stream was also joined by a side-arm in antiquity, so that an oval-shaped island was created with a shoreline of 1.80 kilometres (1.1 miles). Rocky outcrops rose some 25 metres (82 feet) above the valley floor, with steep sides. This naturally sheltered position had strategic importance as it made the site comparatively easy to defend, besides forming a landmark with a wide view over the valley (194-195).


As the city flourished, the Assyrians expanded their territory outwards. The Assyrian king Shamashi Adad I (1813-1791 BCE) drove out the invading Amorite tribes and secured the borders of Ashur and Assyrian land against further incursions. The city grew under the reign of Shamashi Adad I and then fell to the might of Babylon under Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE).Hammurabi treated Ashur well and respected the gods and the temples but no longer permitted the city to trade with Anatolia.Babylon took over the trade route that had made Ashur wealthy, and the Assyrian city was forced to trade only with Babylon;this caused a decline in the prosperity of Ashur and it languished as a vassal state.
When Hammurabi died in 1750 BCE, the region erupted in turmoil and civil war as city-states competed with each other for control. Stability was finally achieved by the Assyrian king Adasi (1726-1691 BCE) but, by that time, the kingdom of Mitannihad grown up in western Anatolia and slowly spread through Mesopotamia, now holding Ashur as part of its territory. Ashur again languished as a vassal state until the rise of the Assyrian king Ashur-Ubalit I (1353-1318 BCE) who defeated the Mitanni and took large portions of their territory. The Kingdom of Mitanni had suffered significant losses since the days of its prime, ever since the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I (1344-1322 BCE) conquered them and replaced Mitanni rulers with Hittite officials.Ashur-Ubalit I defeated these Hittite rulers in combat but could not dislodge their hold on the region completely. The later king Adad Nirari I (1307-1275 BCE) conquered the Hittites and took the lands of the Mitanni to create the first semblance of an Assyrian empire. Ruling from Ashur, he led his victorious army throughout the region and sent the loot from his conquests back to the city. Ashur was again prosperous and began again to develop and expand. Adad Nirari I commissioned many building projects in the city and improved the walls. It is from this point on that Ashur becomes the city of note made famous as the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

A cult relief from Ashur


Adad Nirari I's son, Shalmaneser I (1274-1245 BCE), continued improvements on the city and was so prosperous that he was also able to build the city of Kalhu (also known as Nimrud, which would later become the capital). His son, Tukulti-Ninurta I(1244-1208 BCE), took renovations and building projects even further. Tukulti- Ninurta I built his own city, called Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta (Harbor of Tukulti-Ninurta) across the river from Ashur. For some time now, historians have claimed that this city was built after Tukulti-Ninurta I's sack of Babylon in c.1225 BCE because of inscriptions found at the site which seemed to support this version of history. It is now thought, based on other inscriptions and records and archeological evidence at the site, that the king began building his city early in his reign. His reasons for doing so could have been that there was little left to improve on in the city of Ashur and he wanted some impressive building project that would separate his name from that of his predecessors.
He had already renovated the Temple of Ishtar in Ashur and commissioned other projects but these were simply improving upon what the earlier kings had accomplished. As Tukulti-Ninurta I was an ambitious man with a grand vision of himself, only the construction of a completely new city bearing his name seemed to suit his purposes. Although Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta was earlier thought to have been built as the new capital to replace Ashur, this theory is no longer accepted by many historians.Records indicate that the same officials who worked in the palace at Ashur also worked across the river in Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta at the same time, suggesting that business continued as usual in the capital city. Tukulti-Ninurta I clearly favored his new city, however, since he seems to have lavished the wealth he plundered from the temples of Babylon on his new palace and other projects in Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta. The king was assassinated in his palace by his son because of his treatment of Babylon and, especially, the sack of the temples; after his death, his city was abandoned in favor of Ashur and eventually decayed and collapsed.
Ashur continued as the capital and jewel of the empire into the later reign of Tiglath Pileser I (1115-1076 BCE) who issued his famous law code from the city and lavished his wealth on improvements to the palace and walls. Like his predecessors, he campaigned with his troops throughout the region and expanded Assyrian territory significantly but, after his death, the kingdom he had built fell apart. Ashur during this time remained stable, if not especially prosperous, and the kings who followed Tiglath Pileser I were able to retain the lands surrounding the city, even though they lost regions further away.
With the rise of Adad-Nirari II (912-891 BCE), the city again enjoyed its former prosperity and the Assyrian Empire began to rise. Adad-Nirari II re-conquered the regions that had slipped from Assyrian control and expanded the empire further in every direction. Ashur was now the hub of the giant wheel of empire, and wealth regularly flowed into the capital from the military campaigns of the kings. The Assyrian policy of deporting and re-locating large segments of the population of conquered regions also impacted Ashur in that scribes and scholars were regularly sent there to work in the library, palace, or in the schools. This helped to make Ashur a center of learning and culture. When Tukulti-Ninurta I sacked Babylon, part of the loot he brought back to Ashur was books. The clay tablets upon which the stories and myths and legends of Babylon were written now filled the shelves of Ashur's library and, as they were copied by the scribes, influenced Assyrian writers and were also preserved for the future.

Neo-Assyrian Empire


The king Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 BCE) moved the capital from Ashur to Kalhu, but this had no effect on the prosperity or importance of Ashur. Kalhu was renovated following Ashurnasirpal II's successful campaigns, and he most likely made it his capital for the same reason Tukulti-Ninurta I built his city: to elevate his name above his predecessors. The historian Marc Van De Mieroop writes, “The kings must have had a motivation for the building of these vast cities, but when we look at their records no reason for the work is declared. Ashurnasirpal's justification for the work on Kalhu is merely a statement that the city built by his predecessor Shalmaneser had become dilapidated” (55). There is also no reason stated for making Kalhu the new capital, and this move seems particularly strange when one considers the natural defenses of Ashur and the strength of its walls.
One suggested theory is that Ashurnasirpal II wanted a virgin city whose populace had no cohesive identity. Ashur, by this time, was a very prestigious city and its citizens prided themselves on their city and being Ashurians. It has therefore been proposed that Ashurnasirpal II moved the capital in order to create a royal power base with a less proud, and therefore more easily managed, population. A stele found in the ruins of Kalhu describes the inauguration festival of the new capital at which Ashurnasirpal II fed 69,574 men and women from his kingdom for ten days. Other inscriptions in the city tell of how Ashurnasirpal II referred to Kalhu as “my royal dwelling and for my lordly pleasure for all time” and how he planted saplings of 41 types of trees around the new city and dug massive canals and irrigation ditches (Van De Mieroop, 68). All of this was done to elevate the new capital city above Ashur, and yet there is no evidence of any decline in Ashur's status throughout the next 150 years in which Kalhu was the capital.
Ashur was successfully defended during the civil wars which marked the reign of Shamshi Adad (824-811 BCE) and was renovated under the kings who followed him. Tiglath Pileser III (745-727 BCE further enriched the city and strengthened the walls and his successors would do likewise. Sennacherib (705-681 BCE) brought the spoils of his sack of Babylon back to Ashur even though, by that time, Nineveh was the capital city and the site of his palace “without rival”. He clearly poured this wealth into the gardens, parks, and the palace at Nineveh but continued to honor the ancient city of his ancestors. The kings who followed him, Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE) and Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE), also honored the city with gifts and building projects. When Ashurbanipal died, the regions of the Assyrian Empire rose in revolt and the empire began to break apart. Ashurbanipal's successors could do nothing to stop the rapid decline and the empire fell. The city of Ashur was destroyed in 612 BCE by the combined forces of the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians, along with the other great Assyrian cities such as Nineveh. The city lay in ruin but was re-populated and partially re-built at some point. Ashur continued as a settlement up through the 14th century CE but would never again be as prosperous as it had been during its golden age.

Ashurbanipal  › Who was

Definition and Origins

Author: Joshua J. Mark

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Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE, also known as Assurbanipal) was the last of the great kings of Assyria . His name means "the god Ashur is creator of an heir" and he was the son of King Esarhaddon of the Neo-Assyrian Empire . In the Hebrew Tanakh (the Christian Old Testament) he is called As(e)nappar or Osnapper (Ezra 4:10), while the Greeks knew him as Sardanapolos and the Romans as Sardanapulus. He achieved the greatest territorial expansion of the Assyrian Empire which included Babylonia , Persia , Syria , and Egypt (although Egypt was lost as a result of a revolt under the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus I). Ashurbanipal was a popular king who ruled his citizens fairly but was marked for his cruelty toward those whom he defeated (the best known example being a relief depicting the defeated king with a dog chain through his jaw, being forced to live in a kennel after capture). He is best known for his vast library at Nineveh , which he himself considered his greatest achievement. Under Ashurbanipal's reign, the country of Elam (which had long been an unconquerable enemy of Assyria) was destroyed and Urartu, another long-time adversary, was dominated. Toward the end of his reign, however, the empire had grown too large and too difficult to properly defend. The Assyrian Empire was already crumbling toward the end of his reign and, with his death, fell apart completely.


Esarhaddon had conquered Egypt in 671 BCE but the Egyptians had revolted soon after and driven many of the Assyrian governors from their posts. In 669 BCE Esarhaddon mobilized his troops and marched back to put down the revolt but died before he reached the Egyptian border. Prior to leaving on campaign, however, he had fortunately decided to set his affairs in order. When his father, Sennacherib , had been assassinated, Esarhaddon had been forced to fight a six-week war with his brother's factions to secure the crown. He did not want to see this same thing happen with his own heir.
Esarhaddon's eldest son and heir, Sin-iddina-apla, had died in 672 BCE and Esarhaddon now chose his second son, Ashurbanipal, as his successor. He forced his vassal states to swear loyalty in advance to Ashurbanipal in order to avoid any revolts over the future succession. At about this same time, Esarhaddon's mother Zakutu issued the Loyalty Treaty of Naqia-Zakutu which compelled the Assyrian court and those territories under Assyrian rule, to accept and support the reign of Ashurbanipal. In order to avoid the kind of conflict he had gone through with his brothers, Esarhaddon also provided for his youngest son, Shamash -shum-ukin, by decreeing he should be king of Babylon .
Ashurbanipal succeeded Esarhaddon in 668 BCE and ordered a great coronation festival for his brother's ascension to the throne of Babylon. In his inscriptions he writes how Shamash-shum-ukin was welcomed to Babylon “amidst rejoicing” as the statue of the great god Marduk (taken from Babylon in 689 BCE by Sennacherib, who sacked the city ) was returned to the people. He elevated Babylon to its former status as a great city and refers to Shamash-shum-ukin as “my favorite brother”.Once he saw that Babylon and the southern territories of his empire were secure, he led his armies south toward Egypt to finish what his father had begun.
Esarhaddon had conquered the Pharaoh Tirhakah but had not killed him. Tirhakah's family had been brought back as captives to Nineveh and remained there but he and his extended family had fled south to Nubia. When Ashurbanipal invaded Egypt in c. 667 BCE he drove his army south as far as Thebes , sacking every rebel city in his path. The only ruler spared was the king who had remained loyal to Assyria, King Necho of the city of Sais. Necho's son, Psammetichus, had been brought back to Nineveh by Esarhaddon for re-education in Assyrian ways and beliefs and now was returned to his father to rule with him.Ashurbanipal divided the territories of Egypt between these two kings and then, in the belief that Egypt was secure, returned to Assyria to deal with problems with Elam. Tirhakah's nephew in Nubia, however, a young man named Tatanami, recognized Egypt's vulnerability under the new rule of the joint kings and decided to seize the opportunity.

Lion-hunting Scene, King Ashurbanipal

Tatanami marched on Egypt and took each city on his route with minimal effort. At the capital of Memphis he engaged with the Egyptian-Assyrian forces under the command of King Necho. Although Psammetichus was able to successfully repel the Nubian army, Necho was killed in the battle . The Egyptians preferred the rule of the Nubians over that of the Assyrians, however, and Psammetichus was driven into hiding. In 666 BCE, word of the rebellion had reached Nineveh and Ashurbanipal returned at the head of his troops and again crushed the rebels. Their stronghold at Thebes was sacked and Tatanami abandoned his campaign and fled back to Nubia. Ashurbanipal then made Psammetichus full Pharaoh of Egypt, equipped him with Assyrian garrisons stationed at strategic points, and then again returned to Assyria in 665 BCE. Between 665 and 657 BCE he put down a rebellion in Tyre , fought the Elamites, led his army through Anatolia to re- conquer the people of Tabal, and subdued the kingdom of Urartu which had again risen to threaten Assyrian interests. While he was engaged in these campaigns, Egypt was slowly slipping from his grasp.


Psammetichus was not content to rule as an Assyrian puppet and so began to assert his independence by making deals with various Egyptian governors and courting the favor of Gyges, the king of Lydia in Anatolia. In 653 BCE, with the help of the Lydians, Psammetichus drove the Assyrian troops out of Egypt and established his new capital at the city of Sais. Although news of this revolt was brought to Ashurbanipal's attention, there is no record that he returned to Egypt to do anything about it.Elam, Assyria's old enemy, was causing problems closer to home and Ashurbanipal considered that a priority.
By the year 653 BCE, Shamash-shum-ukin had also grown tired of being Ashurbanipal's puppet king. Inscriptions from Babylon indicate that Ashurbanipal had been dictating his brother's decrees and managing his affairs. Other inscriptions indicate that Shamash-shum-ukin sent secret enjoys to the king of Elam asking for support in throwing off the Assyrian yoke.Ashurbanipal, it seems, knew nothing of his brother's schemes and was only aware that the armies of Elam were mobilizing for an assault on Babylon and, taking the offensive, he marched his army to Elam and attacked.
He defeated the Elamites and sacked their cities . According to his inscription, he killed the Elamite king Teumann and his son with his own sword: “With the encouragement of Assur , I killed them; I cut off their heads in front of each other.” He then brought the heads back to Nineveh where he hung them in his garden as decoration. Since Ashurbanipal did not know his brother had invited the Elamites to Babylon, Shamash-shum-ukin continued with his rule and Ashurbanipal continued to dictate it. Even if he had known his brother was complicit in the Elamite invasion, he would have had no time to deal with the problem.A coalition of Medes, Persians, and Cimmerians marched on Nineveh in the same year and brought their forces within reach of the walls. Ashurbanipal called upon his Scythian allies, known for their skill as cavalry, and defeated the coalition, killing the king of the Medes, Phraortes.
Shamash-shum-ukin was no more pleased than he had been before at being his brother's puppet, however, and in 652 BCE openly rebelled. He took Assyrian villages and outposts and claimed them in the name of Babylon. When Ashurbanipal responded by marching his army to the region, Shamash-shum-ukin retreated behind the walls of Babylon where he was besieged by the Assyrian forces for the next four years. Inscriptions from the time relate what the defenders of Babylon endured behind the walls: “They ate the flesh of their sons and daughters because of starvation.” When the city fell, those who had survived so long were cut down by the Assyrian soldiers and, Ashurbanipal writes, “The rest of those living I destroyed…and their carved-up bodies I fed to dogs, to pigs, to wolves, to eagles, to birds of the heavens, to fishes of the deep.” Shamash-shum-ukin set himself on fire in his palace in order to escape capture. Ashurbanipal then set an Assyrian government official named Kandalu on the throne of Babylon.


At the same time Babylon fell in 648/647 BCE, Elam erupted in civil war. The king of Elam had died and now different factions fought for the throne. Ashurbanipal saw an opportunity to finally defeat his old enemy and drove his army again into Elam. The historian Susan Wise Bauer writes, “Elamite cities burned. The temples and palaces of Susa were robbed. For no better reason than vengeance, Ashurbanipal ordered the royal tombs opened and the bones of the kings bundled off into captivity” (414). When he sacked and destroyed the city of Susa in 647 BCE, he left behind a tablet which recorded his triumph over the Elamites:
Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold , goods and wealth were amassed... I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt.
Anyone with even the slightest claim to the throne was captured and brought back to Nineveh as a slave. In keeping with Assyrian policy, Ashurbanipal then re-located enormous numbers of the population throughout the region and left the cities empty and the fields barren. Bauer writes, “Ashurbanipal did not rebuild after the wrecking of the country. He installed no governors, he resettled none of the devastated cities, he made no attempt to make this new province of Assyria anything more than a wasteland. Elam lay open and undefended” (414). This would later prove to have been a mistake as the Persians slowly took over the territory which had once been Elam and proceeded to re-build and fortify the cities. In time, they would help topple the Assyrian Empire.

Ashurbanipal as High Priest


Following the destruction of Elam, however, the very idea that the empire would not last forever would have been considered absurd. There was no rival or near-rival to the might of the Assyrian Empire at that time. The Assyrian's ancient enemies of Urartu and Elam were both defeated and, even though Egypt had broken free, it had still been stamped with Assyrian culture.The other territories of the empire which had rebelled had been dealt with severely and brought back in line. Ashurbanipal was a great patron of the arts and now turned his attention to these pursuits. He established his famous library of over 30,000 clay tablets at Nineveh. Among the works found in the Library of Ashurbanipal were the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian Epic of Creation) and the great epic tale of Gilgamesh , the oldest adventure story extant. It was among the tablets of Nineveh that the original Mesopotamian story of the Great Flood, which pre-dates the story in the Bible , was found in the 19th century CE and the library's discovery has since been considered one of the greatest and most important archaeological finds in history.Ashurbanipal claimed to be able to read cuneiform script in both Akkadian and Sumerian and his collection of writings was vast. According to the historian Paul Kriwaczek, "Ashurbanipal went further than mere ability to read and claimed complete mastery of all the scribal arts" (250). In his own words, Ashurbanipal claimed:
I, Ashurbanipal, within the palace, understood the wisdom of Nabu [the god of learning]. All the art of writing of every kind. I made myself the master of them all. I read the cunning tablets of Sumer and the dark Akkadian language which is difficult to rightly use; I took my pleasure in reading stones inscribed before the flood. The best of the scribal art, such works as none of the kings who went before me had ever learnt, remedies from the top of the head to the toenails, non-canonical selections, clever teachings, whatever pertains to the medical mastery of [the gods] Ninurta and Gala, I wrote on tablets, checked and collated, and deposited within my palace for perusing and reading.
Kriwaczek further notes that this is no idle boast of the king as there is actual proof that Ashurbanipal could compose in cuneiform and cites tablets which are signed by the author as "Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria". In collecting his famous library he wrote to cities and centres of learning all across Mesopotamia instructing them to send him copies of every written work ever set down in the entire region. "He was concerned not just to amass as large a collection as possible, but to ensure that he had copies of every important work in the Mesopotamian canon. In the letter [to the governor of Borsippa] he goes on to list prayers, incantations, and other texts, identified, as was usual in ancient times, by their first words" (Kriwaczek, 251). The immense size and scope of his library at Nineveh is testimony to how successful he was in collecting the works he requested from his subjects. Bauer writes:
As far as Ashurbanipal was concerned, his library was the abiding accomplishment of his reign: “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, on whom the gods have bestowed intelligence, who has acquired penetrating acumen for the most recondite details of scholarly erudition (none of my predecessors having any comprehension of such matters), I have placed these tablets for the future in the library at Nineveh for my life and for the well-being of my soul, to sustain the foundations of my royal name.” Esarhaddon might have managed to keep Egypt, but Ashurbanipal's realm of the mind would last forever (410-411).


In between collecting his library, renovating Nineveh, and running the empire, Ashurbanipal continued to lead his own military campaigns. He also oversaw renovations at Babylon. By 629 BCE, he was in ill health and left Nineveh for the city of Harran to the north. He left the empire in the hands of his son Ashur-etel-ilani but this decision was challenged by the new king's twin brother, Sin-shar-ishkun and a civil war erupted. The territories of the Assyrian Empire took advantage of this division and began to exercise more autonomy than they had been allowed previously. When Ashurbanipal died in 627 BCE the empire broke apart. As Bauer writes, “Disorder swallowed almost every part of the empire” as former vassal states declared their independence (416). Between 627 and 612 BCE the empire steadily dissolved as Medes, Persians, Babylonians, Cimmerians, Scythians and Chaldeans burned and sacked the Assyrian cities.
In 612 BCE, Ashur, Kalhu , and Nineveh were destroyed in the great conflagrations which swept the land. Ashurbanipal's library was buried beneath the burning walls of his palace and was lost to history for over 2,000 years. Their discovery, however, changed the way people in the modern day understood culture and the past. Prior to the discovery of Ashurbanipal's library, the Bible was considered the oldest book in the world and the stories it contained were thought to have no precedent.Excavations in the 19th century CE by Sir Austen Henry Layard, Hormuzd Rassam, and translations made by George Smith brought to light a world which no one up until that time was aware of. Ashurbanipal's empire fell and the territories he conquered went on to be conquered by others and then by still others, but his library endured and, as he claimed himself, turned out to be his greatest accomplishment.

Spiritual Defense - Execration Rituals in Ancient Egypt  › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

Author: Joshua J. Mark

Magic was an integral aspect of life in ancient Egypt . The world was created through the power of heka (magic) as Atum stood on the primordial mound of the ben-ben in the middle of the endless waters of chaos with the god Heka, who personified magical power. It was Heka who allowed for the gods to perform their duties through heka and, most importantly, maintained the concept of ma'at , harmony and balance in the universe.
When one became sick and consulted a doctor, the prescription and rituals used to heal involved magical spells. Magic was invoked in the hope of a woman becoming pregnant, throughout her term, and at the birth of the child when the Seven Hathors were thought to appear to divine the infant's destiny. Throughout one's life this same belief persisted, and at death, it was magical charms, rituals, and incantations which assured the soul of easy passage to eternal life in the paradise of the Field of Reeds. Magic also factored in one's afterlife through the spells provided in The Book of Coming Forth by Day , better known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead .
While many of these supernatural initiatives invoked the blessings of the gods, their primary purpose was to ward off evil spirits or to appease the gods in case one had angered them. An ancient Egyptian also had to be aware of the presence of angry ghosts and, of course, of living humans who meant them harm. To maintain one's health and safety, therefore, rituals and incantations were used which are now known as the Execration Texts.

Egyptian Execration Figure

'Execration' means to denounce or curse a person, entity, or object one finds detestable, dangerous, or offensive in some way.These texts were not only curses but specific formulae designed to ward off or destroy harmful entities before they had a chance to harm someone or, in the case of physical or mental illness, to drive the evil spirit out and banish it from returning.
Execration texts, therefore, are the earliest known form of exorcism and were used regularly. Over one thousand of these ritual texts have been excavated thus far in Egypt. The best-known execration texts in the modern day are the famous curses inscribed on tombs warning of punishment for any who entered the tomb unwelcomed or unpurified. The famous 'Curse of Tutankhamun ' also known as 'the mummy's curse', well known from Hollywood movies, is the best example of an execration text.


The execration texts date from the Old Kingdom (c. 2613-2181 BCE) and continue through to Roman Egypt ; almost the entirety of ancient Egypt's history. The practice of ritually slaying one's enemies through some sort of ceremony, however, dates to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) as suggested by various inscriptions. A scene on the famous Narmer Palette (c. 3150 BCE) showing decapitated enemy soldiers has been interpreted by some scholars as evidence of an execration ritual in which a small number of one's enemies are depicted in defeat to denote the much larger numbers which would be destroyed through the same magic. Egyptologist David P. Silverman explains:
If the blessed dead became the recipients of cult and correspondence, less favoured spirits were widely feared for their potential destructive wrath. Medical spells frequently cite the unholy dead as the enemy afflicting the patients, the source of illness and disease. As is evident from the "Letters to the Dead", even favoured spirits might inflict injury when angered and petitioners were quick to beg for leniency and favour. Threatening to all - both pharaoh and commoner alike - the danger that these malignant spirits posed required some form of response, and a series of rituals was devised for their suppression. (144)
These rituals took the form of a written text and corresponding action which diminished the power of one's adversary while increasing one's own. An example of this is the Magical Lullaby in which a mother or caregiver would recite prescribed words to ward off evil spirits but, it is thought, also had the herbs and vegetables on hand in the room - such as garlic hanging by an entrance - to keep such spirits at bay.

Narmer Palette

Execration rituals, from the earliest to the latest, were enacted by writing the curse or incantation on a red pot and then smashing it. The color red symbolized both danger and vitality and was often used by scribes in their texts to denote a particularly menacing deity such as Set. The Magical Lullaby does not follow this pattern completely, however, as it was more of a charm of protection than an offensive attack.
These rituals seem to have been used against natural and supernatural enemies from the beginning but, during the Old Kingdom of Egypt , increasingly took on more and more significance in protecting one's self from unseen, mystical forces.The Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom contain execration spells to help the soul of the departed avoid evil spirits in the afterlife and Text 214 gives an execration ritual to ward off evil prior to purification rites. By the time of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), the ritual concerning the supernatural snake Apophis was practiced.


Apophis was the great serpent who attacked the barge of the sun god every night as it traveled through the underworld. The snake was thought to have either existed in the waters of chaos before creation or to have been born of the saliva of the goddess Neith when she first stepped out of those waters onto the ben-ben . Apophis represented the unified, undifferentiated world of chaos before order was instituted by the gods. Once creation was initiated the primordial oneness of existence was broken into duality: male and female, light and dark, day and night. The goal of Apophis was to destroy the sun god, the giver of light and life, and return everything to its original state.
Many of the most important and powerful gods, as well as the justified dead, sailed on the sun god's barge specifically to help protect him from Apophis in the underworld. Even the god Set, usually considered a force of chaotic destruction and often associated with Apophis, is seen aboard the ship driving the beast away. Each night the gods battled Apophis and were victorious - the snake was killed and cut into pieces - but throughout the next day he would regenerate and attack again that night.

Ra Travelling Through the Underworld

This story first appears in texts from the Middle Kingdom , in which Apophis is first named, but ceremonies concerning him were no doubt observed earlier and became more numerous in the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1570-1069 BCE). At this time the execration text, The Book of Overthrowing Apophis , was written down and observed regularly. Participants would make wax figures of the serpent which would then be hacked into pieces, spit on, sometimes urinated on, and burned. By participating in this ritual, the living were helping the gods in their struggle against the serpent, were associating themselves with the justified dead, and were making sure that the sun would rise again the next morning.


A text like The Book of Overthrowing Apophis linked one to the community, the gods, the dead, and the natural world and elevated the individual to an integral aspect of the functioning of the universe. The Magical Lullaby kept the forces of evil at bay and guaranteed the safety of one's children. Medical texts called upon more powerful supernatural forces to defeat and drive away those which were attacking a patient. There were many other kinds of texts, however, which were for one's personal use against private and public enemies. By the time of the New Kingdom , state rituals were common in which execration texts were used to empower the pharaoh. Silverman describes the process:
Although the texts and rituals described by these texts vary widely, the standard pattern of the exorcsim is clear: a 'rebellion formula' listing the names of Egypt's potential enemies is inscribed on a series of red pots or figurines, which are subsequently broken, incinerated, and buried. Although this is obviously a state ritual, there seems to have been some local input on textual choices. Most sections of the formula list the names of living rulers of lands neighboring Egypt, based on information that was surely provided by the royal chancellery. To these sections, however, is appended a list of Egyptians, all qualified as 'dead', who also pose a threat. (145)
The destruction of a person's name, image, or both was the most effective means of neutralizing their power because one was erasing them from history. Individuality and one's personal story were vitally important to the ancient Egyptians. One needed to be remembered in order to continue to exist. Food and drink offerings were an important part of the mortuary rituals for this very reason: family members would have to remember the deceased every time they brought these offerings to the tomb. In an execration ritual, one was destroying the elements of one's enemy which gave that person power and substance: their name and their likeness. State rituals were enacted to punish subversives and traitors and to lessen the power of Egypt's enemies, but individuals used the same kind of formula in their private lives.
In protecting one's self against the threat of an angry ghost , for example, one would find that ghost's tomb and deface it, erasing the name and image, and would then perform a further ritual involving a written text on a red pot which was then smashed. Execration rituals were also performed, in this same way, by nobility against political enemies. The so-called 'heretic king' Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE) was erased from history by the last king of the 18th Dynasty Horemheb (1320-1292 BCE) for his attempt at abolishing the traditional religion of Egypt and instituting his own brand of monotheism.


Another royal example of the execration ritual is the disappearance of queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) after her death.Hatshepsut was one of the most successful and effective monarchs in Egyptian history, but shortly after she died, her monuments were defaced and her name erased from inscriptions. It has been suggested that this was done by her successor and stepson Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE) who may have considered it impious for a woman to have reigned as a man. Her name would have been erased in order to prevent other women from following her example. Women had ruled Egypt prior to Hatshepsut, however, so there may have been some other reasoning at work. Thutmose III does not seem to have borne his stepmother any animosity and left her name untouched in temples and inscriptions which were out of the public eye.


Execration texts dealing with spiritual forces are by far the most numerous. People could write to their dead friends and relatives any time they wished and these messages would be delivered to the tomb with the food and drink offerings. The letters to the dead often include flattery or even threats in trying to persuade the departed soul to help with some problem, but if this did not work, one would resort to the execration ritual.
As in the case of Akhenaten, one would attempt to completely blot the person's name from history. The final purpose was nothing less than erasing an individual from existence both in this world and the next. Without a name or likeness for people to remember there was no way one could continue to live. If one found one's self afflicted by a supernatural force and could identify it as the ghost of someone one had known, one could take care of the problem by destroying the essence of one's enemy.
Además del texto escrito en el bote de color rojo, se hicieron figuritas execración. Estos son similares a la famosa muñeca vudú en el propósito. Una figura de arcilla fue hecho a semejanza de la propia adversario, su nombre fue escrito en él, y luego se fue apuñalado con un cuchillo o las uñas, escupido, orinado, roto, quemado y enterrado. Algunas de estas figuras han sido encontrados en los cementerios donde sólo se apuñalaron varias veces y luego enterrados o mostrar signos de que sus brazos y piernas cortaron antes del entierro . Siguiendo un ritual de este tipo, el participante o los participantes podían esperar un fin a sus problemas, ya que su enemigo no sólo ya no existía, pero, en la memoria de los dioses, nunca tuvieron; que fueron borrados de tiempo y la eternidad.
rituales de execración pueden parecer familiar para los lectores modernos, ya que todavía están en uso en todo el mundo. La gente se involucra regularmente en ritos similares cuando una relación romántica termina mal. Estos rituales ahora tienen muchos nombres diferentes manera formal o informal, pero todos implican la destrucción de los regalos, la propiedad, o la imagen de la persona que causó el final de la relación. La quema de fotos, cartas y recuerdos del pasado es fundamental para estos rituales que le permiten a uno dejar de lado la relación fallida y seguir adelante. Esto habría sido el mismo beneficio psicológico de los textos de execración previstas en el antiguo Egipto. Ya sea que el alma de un enemigo se borre o no realmente,la persona que promulgó el ritual creía que habían triunfado sobre su adversario y esta creencia solo habrían ido mucho más en el alivio de cualquier injusticia o daño que habían estado sufriendo.
Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

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