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Temple of Ishtar at Assur

a Pleiades place resource

Creators: Zachary Rosalinsky Copyright © The Contributors. Sharing and remixing permitted under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (cc-by).
Last modified Jun 04, 2022 09:50 AM History
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From the late Early Dynastic period (ED III, ca. 2500/2400 BC) until 614 BC, there was a temple in the city of Assur dedicated to Ištar, a goddess who was revered in that important northern-Mesopotamian city in a few different forms. Several building phases (designated “Temples H–A,” from earliest to latest) were excavated by W. Andrae between 1905 and 1914. Periodically the location and orientation of the Ištar temple changed, especially during the reigns of the Middle Assyrian kings Tukultī-Ninurta I (1243–1207 BC) and Aššur-rēša-iši I (1132–1115 BC). The earliest and latest textual records for the existence of the temple date respectively to the time of Ititi, a local ruler of Assur during the Old Akkadian Period, and the reign of Sîn-šarra-iškun (626–612 BC), the penultimate king of Assyria.

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Archaeologically, from the Early Dynastic period (ED III; ca. 2500–2400 BC) to the destruction of Assyria’s religious capital in 614 BC, there is a long sequence of construction for the various incarnations of the Ištar temple at Assur. Following W. Andrae, most scholars generally distinguished between the “archaic” building phases (Early Dynastic Period to early Middle Assyrian Period [ca. 2500–2400 BC to ca. 1244 BC]) and the “later” temples (ca. 1243–614). From earliest to latest, these are designated as “Temple H,” “Temple G,” “Temple GF,” “Temple E,” “Temple D,” the “Ištar temple of Tukultī-Ninurta I,” and the “Ištar Temple of Aššur-rēša-iši I.” “Temple H” was founded on virgin soil. 

Work on these temples is first attested in Assyrian royal inscriptions composed at the very beginning of the second millennium BC, starting with Ilu-šūma (ca. 1960). Textual evidence records that the following Assyrian kings sponsored construction on a temple of Ištar at Assur: Ilu-šūma (ca. 1960), Puzur-Aššur III (ca. 1540), Aššur-uballiṭ I (1353–1318 BC), Adad-nārārī I (1295–1264 BC), Shalmaneser I (1263–1234 BC), Tukultī-Ninurta I (1233–1197 BC), Aššur-rēša-iši I (1132–1115 BC), Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076 BC), Shalmaneser III (858–824 BC), Šamšī-Adad V (823–811 BC) and Adad-nārārī III (810–783 BC).

The location of the temple was significantly changed during the reigns of the Middle Assyrian kings Tukultī-Ninurta I and Aššur-rēša-iši I. According to an Akkadian inscription written on a huge stone block and several metal tablets, Tukultī-Ninurta I recorded the folloeing: “At that time the temple of the Assyrian Ištar, my mistress, which Ilu-šumma, my forefather, vice-regent of Aššur, a king who preceded me, had previously built — 720 years had passed (and) that temple had become dilapidated and old. At that time, at the beginning of my sovereignty, the goddess Ištar, my mistress, requested of me another temple which would be holier than her (present) shrine, and the old temple, the dwelling of the goddess Ištar, my mistress, which previously (was) her only one, (which) alone was designated as the abode of the goddess Ištar and before which no room of the šaḫuru had been built, I cleared away its debris down to the bottom of the foundation pit. I rebuilt Eme, ‘Temple of Cultic Rubrics,’ her joyful dwelling, the shrine, her voluptuous dais, (and) the awesome sanctuary; I made them (lit. “which were”) more outstanding than before and made (the temple) as beautiful as a heavenly dwelling. I completed (it) from top to bottom (and) deposited my monumental inscriptions” (Tukultī-Ninurta I 11 lines 15–57 and 82–86). Tukultī-Ninurta I’s claim of having built the Ištar temple is supported in the archaeological record. That Middle Assyrian king not only moved the building south and east of its then-current incarnation (“Temple D”), but also rotated its orientation 90° clockwise. 

In the time of Aššur-rēša-iši I, approximately one century later, the Ištar-Aššurītu temple was moved again. That Middle Assyrian king constructed the new building east of the sites of the earlier, “archaic” temples (“Temples “H–D”). Unlike Tukultī-Ninurta I, Aššur-rēša-iši did not record in his inscriptions that he had had the temple of Ištar building in a new location. That holy building generally remained the principal place of worship for the Assyrian Ištar at Assur until 614 BC, when the city was destroyed by the Medes.

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Zachary Rosalinsky, Gabriel Mckee, Jamie Novotny, and Tom Elliott, 'Temple of Ishtar at Assur: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2022 <> [accessed: 30 January 2023]

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