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The Ancient Near East Lecture notes covering women in the ancient near East civilizations of Sumeria, Babylonia and Assyria. Details women's roles as Goddesses and Royalty, roles in religion, and women of a less elevated status.

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CLAS 370
Sheila Ager

The Ancient Near East January-11-11 12:57 PM Civilizations of Mesopotamia  The chief civilizations; Sumeria: city states often at war with one another, Babylonia and Assyria. 3rd and 2rd millennia BCE Written sources  Spoke different languages, wrote the same general way o Cuneiform: generally on clay, written with wedge shape stylus. Lots about women  Law codes: govern marriage, treatment of women, expectations, responsibilities of women. o Sumerian laws of Ur-Namma of Ur (2100 BCE). o Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1750 BCE)  Literature: o Epic of Gilgamesh: Sumerian in origin, becomes generalized near eastern epic. Can see ideas about women  Private letters and other documents o Greeks did not write letters in same way, not a lot of private documentation from classical Greece. Letters by women, about women, to women, marriage contracts  Art and artefacts o Belonging to women, art that portrays women Goddesses and Royalty January-11-11 1:46 PM  Women elevated to positions of importance, not hidden from public life  We know lots more about women at the top  People tend to think of certain qualities as being associated with female deities like sexuality and fertility and love  Innana/Ishtar (Sumerian/Babylonian, Assyrian) o Chief goddess, most important goddess o Portrayed naked o Surrounded by symbols of power: standing on two lions (power of natural world and goddess of war) o Looks part animal, has wings and bird feet o Depiction of fertile female - Venus figurines. Able to identify as a particular goddess at this point o Goddess of fertility, sexuality, love. Associated with Mesopotamian myth of the dying god. Deity that undergoes a form of death and is then resurrected. Persephone is the closest Greek example (symbolic death by inhabiting the underworld), is a myth of vegetation. Cycle of fertility and growth in natural world is embodied in deities. o Innana's Journey to Hell (Sumerian): decides she will descend to the underworld, must pass through several gates and give up a piece of clothing at each gate. By the time she gets to the ruler of the dead she is naked, and is then turned into a rotten piece of meat being hung on a wall. Ends up being rescued, resurrected, and brought back to the upper world. Important belief for people who rely on agriculture - main form of life, health and growth of natural world is important. o Ereshkigal is the ruler of the dead and Innana's sister. Female deities tend to be associated with death, women care for the dead, tend to the dead, mourn the dead. Symbolic level: extension of life cycle; female deities associated with fertility and birth, would also be associated with death. Greek: Hades and Persephone, important that he has his wife. Difficult to find portrayals of the rulers of the dead (Hades). o Lots of ancient lit on goddesses  Innana/Ishtar as Goddess of war o Presence of lion: power, mastery, ruler of beasts o Greek culture: tends to separate aspects of sexuality and fertility with war, Aphrodite and Athena. Sometimes Aphrodite is depicted in armour. o Paradox of love and savagery, suggests psychological stereotyping o Spurned by hero Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh rejects her and humiliates her by reciting past lovers and their ends. Demands Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh destroys the Bull of Heaven. Illustration of ambivalence about a deity like this and about sexuality  Royal Women o Known as a "Woman of the Palace" o Roles: produce male heirs, marriage alliances (other kingdoms and cities), emergency matrilineality (includes non royal people) o Not a lot known about individual royal women, better informed concerning Egypt. o A few examples of ruling women  Kubaba of Kish: barmaid, said to have strengthened the foundation of Kish, "became king and ruled for 100 years". Devoted to god Marduk, gave him gifts, so he chose her to become king. 2500 BCE. Difficult to establish validity, highly mythologized, over time she obtained characteristics of a goddess; possibility that she was always a goddess. !!The fact that she became king: no ruling position for women, in order to rule she must be a King. (Sumerian)  Sammu-ramat: more securely historical. Wife of Assyrian king Shamshi Adad V (824-810 BCE), mother of Adad Nirari III. May have acted as regent for her son, not historically remarkable. Inspired powerful and long lasting Greek myth of Semiramis (5th century BC); beautiful, power, and licentious. Is given a heroic life in Diodorus, child of goddess and mortal, abandoned at birth, taken in by a shepherd (classic hero story), becomes powerful ruler. (
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