THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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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.1 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 789 concession on the part of the Assyrians to the traditions of the south, for which they always manifested a profound respect. Even during the period that the Assyrian monarchs exercised complete sway over the south, they rested their claims to the control of Babylonia on the approval of Marduk, and they or their representatives never failed to perform the ceremony of “taking the hand” of Marduk, which was the formal method of assuming the throne in Babylonia. Apart from this concession, it is Assur who pre-eminently presides over the fortunes of Assyria.2 In his name, and with his approval as indicated by favourable omens, the Assyrian armies march to battle. His symbol is carried into the thick of the fray, so that the god is actually present to grant assistance in the crisis, and the victory is with becoming humility invariably ascribed by the kings “to the help of Assur.” With the fall of Assyria the rule of Assur also comes to an end, whereas it is significant that the cult of the gods of Babylonia—more particularly of Marduk—survives for several centuries the loss of political independence through Cyrus’ capture of Babylonia in 539 B.C. The name of Assur’s temple at Assur, represented by the mounds of Kaleh Sherghat, was known as E-khar-sag-gal-kur-kurra, i.e. “House of the great mountain of the lands.” Its exact site has been determined by excavations conducted at Kaleh Sherghat since 1903 by the German Oriental Society. The name indicates the existence of the same conception regarding sacred edifices in Assyria as in Babylonia, where we find such names as E-Kur (“mountain house”) for the temple of Bel (q.v.) at Nippur, and E-Saggila (“lofty house”) for Marduk’s (q.v.) temple at Babylon and that of Ea (q.v.) at Eridu, and in view of the general dependence of Assyrian religious beliefs as of Assyrian culture in general, there is little reason to doubt that the name of Assur’s temple represents a direct adaptation of such a name as E-Kur, further embellished by epithets intended to emphasize the supreme control of the god to whom the edifice was dedicated. The foundation of the edifice can be traced back to Uspia (Ushpia), c. 2000 B.C., and may turn out to be even older. Besides the chief temple, the capital contained temples and chapels to Anu, Adad, Ishtar, Marduk, Gula, Sin, Shamash, so that we are to assume the existence of a sacred precinct in Assur precisely as in the religious centres of the south. On the removal of the seat of residence of the Assyrian kings to Calah (c. 1300 B.C.), and then in the 8th century to Nineveh, the centre of the Assur cult was likewise transferred, though the sanctity of the old seat at Assur continued to be recognized. At Nineveh, which remained the capital till the fall of the Assyrian empire in 606 B.C., Assur had as his rival Ishtar, who was the real patron deity of the place, but a reconciliation was brought about by making Ishtar the consort of the chief god. The combination was, however, of an artificial character, and the consciousness that Ishtar was in reality an independent goddess never entirely died out. She too, like Assur, was viewed as a war deity, and to such an extent was this the case that at times it would appear that she, rather than Assur, presided over the fortunes of the Assyrian armies.

(M. Ja.)

1 See Prince, Journ. Bibl. Lit., xxii. 35.

2 As essentially a national god, he is almost identical in character with the early Yahweh of Israel. See Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, Religion of Ancient Babylonia, p. 129.


Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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