Shamash - The Babylonian sun-god

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 11, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends!

    I have seen that this tetradrachm of Macrinus from Seleukis and Piera has often been shown in this Forum. Here I want to talk about the Babylonian sun-god Shamash.

    The coin:
    Syria, Seleukia and Pieria, Emesa, Macrinus, AD 217-218
    AE - Billon-tetradrachm,, 13.17g
    obv. AVT K M OΠ CE(?) - MAKPINOC C-E-B
    laureate bust r.
    Eagle with opened wings, stg. frontal, head l., holding wreath in beak; between his legs bust of Shamash, draped (and cuirassed), radiate, r.
    below beak H (for officina)
    ref. Prieur 987; Bellinger 199
    about VF

    Shamash is the common name of the sun-god in Babylonia and Assyria. The Semitic name signifies something like 'bright, shiny'. The ancient Sumerians has called him Utu. The moon-god Sin (Nannar) was the son of the god Enlil. The sun-god Shamash in turn was the son of Sin. In the early morning he raised from the mountains in the East, rays emanating from his shoulders, went in his chariot dragged by fiery mules over the sky to the West, where he in the evening entered through the gates of West the Underworld. These gates opened to the Mt. Mashu (Gilgamesh, tabl.IX) and were guarded by scorpion-men, half scorpion, half man. Like the sun disperses the darkness and sees all, so Shamash brings evil and injustice to light. Shamash was the god of justice. He punished the bad and rewards the good.

    Both in early and in late inscriptions Shamash is designated as the 'offspring of Sin (Nannar)', i.e. of the moon-god, and since, in an enumeration of the Babylonian pantheon. Shamash so to say belongs to a second generation of gods, or even to a third one (Aren't that similarities to the Greek gods?). Sin generally takes precedence of Shamash, it is in relationship, presumably, to the moon-god that the sun-god appears as the dependent power. Such a supposition would accord with the prominence acquired by the moon in the calendar and in astrological calculations, as well as with the fact that the moon-cult belongs to the nomadic and therefore earlier stage of civilization, whereas the sun-god rises to full importance only after the agricultural stage has been reached. The two chief centres of sun-worship in Babylonia were Sippara (Sippar), represented by the mounds at Abu Habba, and Larsa, represented by the modern Senkerah. At both places the chief sanctuary bore the name E-barra, meaning 'the shining house' - a direct allusion to the brilliancy of the sun-god. Of the two temples, that at Sippara was the more famous, but temples to Shamash were erected in all large centres - as Babylon, Ur, Nippur and Niniveh.

    The attribute most commonly associated with Shamash is justice. Hammurabi attributes to Shamash the inspiration that led him to gather the existing laws and legal procedures into a code, and in the design accompanying the code the king represents himself in an attitude of adoration before Shamash as the embodiment of the idea of justice. Several centuries before Hammurabi, Ur-Engur, king of Ur (c. 2600 BC) declared that he rendered decisions 'according to the just laws of Shamash'. It was a logical consequence of this conception of the sun-god that he was regarded also as the one who released the sufferer from the grasp of the demons. The sick man, therefore, appeals to Shamash as the god who can be depended upon to help those who are suffering unjustly. This aspect of the sun-god is vividly brought out in the hymns addressed to him, which are, therefore, among the finest productions in the entire realm of Babylonian literature. In the library of king Assurbanipal (668-633 BC) fragments of hymns were found were Shamash is celebrated as universal god, as god of earth and Underworld and Saviour.

    It is evident from our material that the Shamash cults at Sippara and Larsa so overshadowed local sun-deities elsewhere as to lead to an absorption of the minor deities by the predominating one. In the systematized Babylonian pantheon these minor sun-gods become attendants of Shamash. Such are Bunene, spoken of as his chariot driver, whose consort is Atgimakh, Kettu ("justice") and Mesharu ("right"), who are introduced as servitors of Shamash. Other sun-deities, as Ninib and Nergal, in earlier times the patron deities of important centres, retained their independent existence as certain phases of the sun, Ninib becoming the sun-god of the morning and of the spring time, and Nergal the sun-god of the noon and of the summer solstice, while Shamash was viewed as the sun-god in general.

    Together with Sin and Ishtar, Shamash forms a second triad by the side of Anu, Bel and Ea. The three powers, Sin, Shamash and Ishtar, symbolized the three great forces of nature, the sun, the moon and the life-giving force of the earth. At times, instead of Ishtar, we find Hadad, the storm-god, associated with Sin and Shamash, and it may be that these two sets of triads represent the doctrines of two different schools of theological thought in Babylonia which were subsequently harmonized by the recognition of a group consisting of all four deities.

    The consort of Shamash was known as Aya. She, however, is rarely mentioned in the inscriptions except in combination with Shamash.

    Like mentioned above the Babylonian king Hammurabi (1728-1686 BC) should have got his famous code of law, the Codex Hammurabi, which is suggested as oldest written code of law, from the sun-god Shamash. At top of the stele where the cuneiform texts are engraved we see Shamash throning and handing over the Codex to king Hammurabi.

    In the Epic of Gilgamesh, whose last version was written c.1200 BC on twelve tablets, Shamash plays an important role as personal god of Gilgamesh and as victorious fighter. It was Shamash who challenged Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, to defeat Chumbaba, the guardian of the cedar woods in Lebanon. Gilgamesh together with his consort Enkidu promised to extinguish from earth all evil. In the evening before they left Uruk they sacrificed cool water to Shamash (tabl. III). When fighting against Chumbaba Shamash helped them by arousing twelfe havy gales against the monster. Later, as thanks for defeating the heaven's bull who was send by Ishtar against them, Enkidu and Gilgamesh sacrificed to Shamash again (Epic of Gilgamesh, tabl. VI).

    In later times we find Shamash as part of individual names too, so in Shamash-shum-ukin, who was king of Babylon in 668-548 BC. But that phenomena we know already from Mithras. When in the Holy Bible in the Book of Kings is the talk of horses and a chariot which was set by the kings of Juda before the temple of Jerusalem in honour of the sun, which then were removed by Josia (7th century BC), then the horses and the chariot of Shamash is meant (Bellinger, 427).

    We find Shamash in the Judaism too. Here it is a kind of helper-candle which is used during Chanukah to set fire to the Mitzvah candles. Theses were sacred and should not be violated by such profane acts like lighting candles. The Shamash was not allowed to be exstinguished during the festivities.

    I have added the following pics:

    (1) a pic from the top of Hammurabi's stele showing the scene where Shamash, seated l., handed over to king Hammurabi, stg. r., the text of the Codex Hammurabi.
    Stele des Hammurabi.jpg

    (2) a pic of the tablet of Shamash from the 9th century BC, found in Sippar/Southern Iraque, today in the British Museum. This tablet reports a fascinating story: The restauration of the image and the temple of the sun-god. The cuneiform text describes how the Temple of Shamash at Sippar had fallen into decay and the image of the god had been destroyed. During the reign of Nabu-apla-iddina, however, a terracotta model of the statue was found on the far side of the Euphrates and the king ordered a new image be constructed of gold and lapis lazuli. The text then confirms and extends the privileges of the temple.
    The tablet was discovered some 250 years later by King Nabopolassar (625-605 BC), who placed it for safe keeping, together with a record of his own name, in the pottery box. The clay impressions of the carved panel were placed as protection over the face of the stone. The original one placed by Nabu-apla-iddina was broken when the stone tablet was recovered by Nabopolassar. He replaced it with a new one while keeping the original safely in the box with the tablet.
    At top of the tablet we see Shamash seated on the right, holding emblems of his authority, a staff and ring, and the king with two attendants on the left. In the center, on an altar, is a large 4-point sun image, with additional small wavy rays between the points, an old symbol for Shamash himself.
    Tafel des Shamash.jpg

    - Wikipedia
    - The Epic of Gilgamesh
    - The Codex Hammurabi
    - Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 (online)
    - (Das shwarze Netz)

    I was asked how you can realize that it is Shamash below the eagle? Could it be only the bust of Sol? And was Shamash relevant at all at the time of Macrinus? After all hundreds and thousands year are laying between!
    Answer: Shamash later was the sun god of the Arabs, especially of those setteled in Hatra. We have found coins from Hatra (coinarchives!) from the time of the Severans with the legend 'Hatra of Shamash', meaning 'enclosed court of Shamash' (H.J.W.Drijvers, Monotheismus und Polytheimus in der haträischen Religion, Proceedings of the XIIth International Congress of the Assoc. for the History of Religion, 1970).

    Naturally Sol and Shamash are related. Both are sun gods. May be that this is the reason why these coins are issued in Emesa, center of the sun cult.

    The descriptions I have from Coinarchives, CNG, Gorny&Mosch, which refer to Bellinger and Prieux. Against Sol speaks the fact that the bust of Shamash is draped and cuirassed.

    2nd coin:
    Mesopotamia, Hatra, begin - middle of 2nd century AD
    AE 23
    obv. HTR DSMS ( = Hatra of Damash, name of the city in Aramaic)
    Bust of the Sun God Shamash, draped, radiate, r.
    rev. big turned up SC, on which eagle with open wings is sitting frontally, head l., all within laurel wreath.
    ref. SNG Copenhagen 232; Slocum series 1, Walker type A
    about VF, thick green Patina

    This coin is said to be struck after the useless siege by Trajan in AD 117. This is shown by the eagle who as winner sits on the inverted SC as symbol of the defeated Rome. Then it is not an error of the die-cutter as guessed still by Walker AD 1968. The victory over the Romans the Hatrans owened especially to the Hatran Fire. This was a burning mixture of bitumen and sulfur which was poured over the enimies who tried to climb the walls.

    Excursion: The Nomad City of Hatra
    At the border of the steppe and between the empires at that time, the Parthian Empire of the Arsakids and the Roman Empire, in the 1st century AD emerged an urban centre borne by nomadic tribes: Hatra. This city developed in the 2nd century AD to a complex with strong walls and a central temple area. One of its main gods was the old Babylonian sun god Shamash. The composition of this city (called the round too) became the model for other cities, f.e. Bagdad. The importance and strength of Hatra became clear by repeated useless attempts of Roman emperors, so Trajan AD 117 and Severus AD 198 to conquer this city. In the Sixties of the 2nd century the ruler of hatras took the title King of the Arabs. Whose meaning is discussed by scientists.

    Probably in AD 240 the Sassanid king Ardaschir I (or Shapur I) captured Hatra, which now was an ally of the Romans, and already some years before was useless besieged by Ardaschir I, who let it destroy totally. According to the legend he earned his victory to the betrayal of the daughter of the king of Hatra who revealed him the secret of the talisman under whose protection Hatra has stood. In the Koran Hatra is one of those cities which once were big and mighty and now after their destruction served as instruction for the believers.

    In 1985 Hatra was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Iraq war it was heavily damaged, a fact which could be seen as arrempt to take off the cultural identity of the Iraqis. But this we know from the WWII or the war on the Balkans too. In 2003 workings have started in Hatra under the direction of the Deutsche-Orient-Gesellschaft. Initially the reasons for building such a city are discussed under the background of the oeconomical and political interactions of Nomads, resident population and the state. Then the relations between the city, the King of the Arabs and the big powers, especially the Arsakids Empire, stand in the centre of inquiries. Thereby the role of Hatra is described as dimorph, as link between Nomads and state.

    Sadly this beautiful ancient place seems to be destroyed by the horrible IS.

    - Der Kleine Pauly
    - Sonnengottdarstellungen in Hatra und Südarabien im Vergleich, Universität Wien,
    Institut für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, Mitteilungsblatt 36/2008, S.18
    - (nice pics!)

    Further literature
    - Michael Sonmer, Hatra, von Zabern 2003

    Best regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2019
    TIF, PeteB, Ajax and 10 others like this.
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  3. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

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