Rise of Assyria

Assyria came on the center stage of the world history again in the middle of the 14th century BCE with the ascension of Ashur-Uballit I to the Assyrian throne (1365-1330 BCE). Akehnaten, the Egyptian Pharaoh, may have been his contemporary, as was Suppiluliuma I, a Hittite king. Suppililiuma I is known for being a great warrior who successfully challenged the Egyptian supremacy in Canaan and Syria and also known for his role in what I call the “Affair of the murdered Pharaoh and the dead prince”, more on it later.  Ashur-Uballit I  was able to throw of the yoke of Mitanni rule over Assyria. He was able to defeat the Mitannis, the Babylonians, the Hurrians and the Hittites. The successors of Ashur-Uballit I continued expansion of the Assyrian kingdom.

A year after the famed Battle of Kadesh (Ramesses the Great and the battle deserves a separate post), Shalmaneser I became the ruler of Assyria in 1274 BCE. Shalmaneser won many battles and apparently blinded 14000+ prisoners of war in one eye. Talk about War Crimes! Tukulti-Ninurtha I was the son of Shalmaneser and the last of the great Assyrian kings for almost a century. Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was again a great warrior and conquered Babylon and in the process defeated the Kassites and the Elamites. He plundered the temples in Babylon and is identified with the biblical Nimrod by some historians. Nimrod was the king in the bible, who is named as “Great Hunter In the Face of God” implying standing against God. He is also associated with the Tower of Babel. I believe the rise to infamy for Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was the disrespect that he showed in sacking the temples and the outrage that must have produced in the then existing religion. He also built a new capital city which would have led to the legend of Tower of Babel.

The biblical, Talmudic tradition also gives Nimrod the first crown ever worn by kings which seems incorrect as the Pharaohs were wearing the Pschent since before Tukulti-Ninurtha I.

 

14th Century Mesopotamia
14th Century Mesopotamia

Tukulti-Ninurtha I  proclaimed himself the king of Sumer, Akkad and also surprisingly Meluhha. Sadly history is written by the victors or in the case of ancient history, those who can write. Hence I don’t think we will ever be able to decipher the mystery of how could Tukulti-Ninurtha I I the king of Assyria could also be the king Meluhha which by most accounts was the Harappan civilization. The distance itself would have been insurmountable consisting of modern day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fact that they knew about Meluhha in those times is itself astonishing let alone conquer it. The most likely explanation is that Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was just boasting a little bit. Or that Meluhha in later periods referred to some distant place in general and not necessarily the Meluhha of Harappans. Or that our identification of Meluhha with Harappa is incorrect.

Anyways, Tukulti-Ninurtha was killed by his sons, which started the period of stagnation of the Assyrian empire which was ended by Tiglath Pileser I more than a century later.

The immortals of Harappa – Part III

End of Indus Valley Civilization:

The end of IVC was not sudden as is believed to be. Sir Mortimer Wheeler after examination of a group of skeleton contended that the bodies were the remnants of mass massacre perpetrated by invaders (Aryans?). Later analysis though showed that the people were not victims of violent crimes but sever anemia. It is now believed that economics and climate change may have resulted in the decline of the cities and the subsequent decline of the civilization. A L Basham writing during the middle of the 20th century believed in the decline due to Aryan invasion theory.

The remains of horses were found in the late Harappan period suggesting a movement of horse riding people. Later houses in the cities were further subdivided into smaller portions that indicate movement of refugees, perhaps running away from the horse riding invaders. The image of “Horse riding invaders” makes its appearance again during the 16th and 17th century in Central and South America again in the form of Conquistador. Fine tools like the shaft hole axe were found in the upper levels probably left behind by the invaders.

It is possible that the cities were already declining when the invaders came leading to migration away from the cities. Eventually the civilization collapsed and was assimilated into the invading culture. Barui people in Baluchistan still speak a language very identical to Dravidian languages lending credence to the theory that Dravidians were inhabitants of Northwest India but were later forced or moved on their own volition to the southern parts.

The immortals of Harappa – Part II

Harappan seals:

Scribe or Proto-Shiva?
Scribe or Proto-Shiva?
Seals
Seals

Harappan seals are perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the IVC. The seals were often made of steatite (Also known as soapstone as it feels soapy to touch). The seals were flat and depicted animals, humans, hybrids along with a still undeciphered script. The script was read right to left like the Arabic family of languages. The seals had a little hole in the back which was probably used to tie the seals. Probably the seal was worn as an amulet around the neck or perhaps the amulet on the arm of the Priest-King was a seal. Or perhaps the seal was used to tie the goods that was exported probably to indicate the authenticity of the origin of the goods. One interpretation is that the seals were similar to modern day logos. General length of the script was around 6 symbols while the longest that is known was 17 symbols long. This is too small to accommodate description of something. Its possible that the seals consists of names of the Harappan Apple and Microsoft and Google. Perhaps the animal on the seal indicated the specialty. Thus the one with the elephant would be the monopoly on elephant trade while the one scribe (?) could be a services company that provided accounting or other clerical support. Or perhaps they indicated the official bureaucracy. Some similarity have been found of the symbols with those found on Easter Islands which is half the world away and existed in different time periods. Did the immortal Harappans made Easter Islands their new home?

Do they look alike?
Do they look alike?

Religion:

The Harappan civilization does not show a presence of religious buildings. Even burial rituals appear to be rare. No elaborate icons or religious carvings have been found. Burials consisted of items of daily use compared to the elaborate pyramids that the Egyptians were building at around the same time. Perhaps the Harappans did not believe in an after life. Like the later Indians, Pipal tree was probably held sacred. A seal depicts a Goddess on the Pipal tree being worshipped by a horned man and what appears to be priestess. Bull appears on many seals as also a man in a yogic position which some historians believe to be “Proto-Shiva”. He was perhaps a fertility God. Terracotta female figurine with red color applied on the “maang” were also found. Small statues of “Mother Goddess” have been found perhaps indicating a fertility cult of worship. Some seals showed swastikas too. All these elements were later absorbed by the following civilizations.

Technology :

The blades of IVC were flat without the midrib which made them liable to be easily bent. The Sumerians already had much better blades. Why the Harappans did not import them will like so many other questions remain unanswered. Toys with movable heads, small toy carts, beads were also found. The domestic fowl or the chicken was first domesticated in the IVC. Cotton, Rice and perhaps the water buffalo were also first domesticated in IVC. The Pottery in Indus Valley mostly contained black designs of animals and plants and abstract shapes on red background.

Dancing Girl:

The Dancing Girl
The Dancing Girl

 

One of the most amazing piece of art found in the IVC is that of the “dancing girl”. The bronze statue is almost 4500 years old. She is naked with one arm completely filled with bangles which reminds me of similar bangles used by modern day Banjara.

Banjara Woman
Banjara Woman

She is very thin with what is believed to be a provocative (?) posture. It is generally believed that she belonged to a class of temple dancers or prostitute. But it begs the question of why anyone would make a costly (?) statue of a prostitute? Was it a gift from a lover appreciating her beauty? Who was she? Was she a famous princess or a famous priestess? What did she do in her life? Was she just an imagination of the metal worker or was she based on some real person? Who was she?

The mortals of Meluhha

Sumer, which meant “The land of the civilized lord” or “The native land” was an ancient civilization that existed in southern Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, the cradle of civilization. It existed from before 26th century BCE till the rise of the Akkadian empire in the 23rd century BCE. Sumerian cuneiform writings are the oldest example of deciphered writing in history. The Sumerians are credited with the invention of wheel too, initially in the form of potter’s wheel. Sumerians used base 10 and 6 numerals and were aware of the astronomy. They developed the first legal and administrative systems and first true city states. They were the first to invent military formations. They left behind them thousands of cuneiform clay tablets with details of their business deals, letters, hymns etc. These tablets provide a deep insight into their culture.

These tablets tells about three important trade centers that the Sumerians traded with; Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha. Magan is now believed to be Egypt, Dilmun to be Oman, Bahrain or Arabian peninsula. Meluhha is what interests us. It is now believed that Meluhha referred to the Harappan Civilization. The word for sesame (Tila in Hindi and Marathi) in Malayalam and Tamil is Ellu. The Sumerians imported sesame oil from Meluhha and the word for it in their language was Ellu too. The Aryan (Sanskrit) word Mleccha referring to barbarians or non-Vedic people may also have its origin from the word Meluhha. It is believed that the word was actually Melukka which got distorted to Meluhha in the cuneiform. It is also believed that the word has similar origins to Melakam or Melai-y-akam from ancient Tamil which meant “house to the west” or “storeyed house, upper storey”.

These discoveries adds credence to the claim that the Harappans were Dravidians who had later moved to the southern parts of India due to the Aryan invasion and were later assimilated, not completely though, into the Aryan culture. Some commentators (http://www.harappa.com/arrow/meluhha_and_agastya_2009.pdf) even equate the Tamil tradition of Sage Agastya as the progenitor of Tamil with Melakkam (High House), Akatt-u people (the one with the jar) and were the jar-born priests like Agastya.

All references of Meluhha in the Sumerian texts stops about 1700 BCE, the time of the decline and end of Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). The reference to Meluhha is again observed around 650 BCE implying Meluhha to be somewhere in Egypt. This could just be a reference to a land of legend like the way we use El-Dorado or Atlantis.

There is a monograph written by Romila Thapar on the subject of identification of Meluhha “Thapar, Romila 1975. A possible identification of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan.” Unfortunately it costs 34$ to buy the paper from Jstor. It is cheaper to buy the collection of Romila’s paper than to just buy one paper. http://www.flipkart.com/culture-pasts-thapar-romila-eassays-book-0195664876

I believe that knowledge should be open, free and easily accessible. The authors should be compensated for their efforts but for those who can’t afford it, it should be made available free or at reasonable cost.

I have touched on the controversial Aryan Invasion theory in this blog. A lot has been written on the topic. I will try to take a deeper look at the question and may avoid writing on it to prevent bringing any untoward attention to the blog.