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Document number: 743
Date: Aug 1856
Recipient: BURGESS Henry
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: PUBLISHED
Last updated: 12th April 2013

[The original has not been located. This is taken from the printed version, published as 'On the Assyrian Inscriptions. - No. IV.' Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record, v. 4 no. 7, October 1856 pp. 164-170.]

Translations of part of the Inscription on an ancient Assyrian Cylinder.

In the first number of a work called Oriental Antiquities, published by Dr. Dorow <1> at Wiesbaden in 1820, is found the representation of a cylinder of red jasper, about two inches long, engraved with the figure of a deity with four wings, who is strangling two ostriches. On the back is an inscription of seven lines, but indistinctly engraved, and therefore difficult to read with certainty.

However, on examining this inscription with attention, I was enabled to decipher the meaning of the first two lines, and as I consider the results to be very interesting, I beg to communicate them to you. The following is an enlarged copy of the writing:

Cuneiform sign FTCuneiform0743.jpg

The inscription may be thus interpreted;

" The seal of Urzana, king of the city of Muzashir."

On reading this name I felt almost sure that I had met with an account of this monarch somewhere or other in Botta's <2> numerous inscriptions which are contained in his great work on the antiquities of Nineveh; and after a short search I discovered in plate 147, last line of the plate, the passage I was looking for. We there read the name of Urzana, king of Muzashir, exactly the same as on the cylinder of red jasper. And if we refer to the commencement of the next plate, 148, we there read the following remarkable historical statement, of which I give a literal translation. These are the words of the record: -

"Urzana, king of Muzashir, had made an alliance with Ursa, king of the land of Urarda [who, it should be observed in passing, was the enemy of Sargina, king of Assyria].

"Therefore," continues the account, "at the head of my army I utterly destroyed the city of Muzashir: Urzana himself fled ignominiously to his distant strongholds. I took possession of his country; I completely stripped and plundered the city of Muzashir. His wife, his sons, his daughters, the goods, the vessels, and the whole of the treasure of his palace, with 20,160 men and their families, and the god Mazdia, and the god Bakmastu, his gods, and their immense wealth, I captured, and I distributed them as plunder. Ursa, king of Urarda, hearing of the capture of Muzashir, and of Mazdia his god."....

At this point the Assyrian text becomes obscure to me, and I am unable to follow the fortunes of the city of Muzashir any further. But before quitting it I will permit myself a conjecture.

Sargina says, "I completely stripped and plundered the city of Muzashir." It is very possible, and indeed very probably, that this identical seal of red jasper, the royal signet of king Urzana, was part of the plunder obtained on that occasion.

The date of these events was about the year 720 b.c.

With respect to the inscription itself, I must observe, that the first sign is the generic sign for stones in general. The second sign, I cannot doubt, means "a seal." The proof is to be found in plate 77 of Ker Porter's <3> travels, in which a contract is found between a great many private individuals, each of whom has affixed his seal, and to each is appended the words, "Seal of the man A, son of the man B." The word for " seal, consisting always of the same two signs, the first implying " a stone" in the cursive character, and the second implying " a seal," and identical with that found on our jasper cylinder; of which it therefore affords a strong confirmation.

The emblematic representation on the monarch's seal of the deity destroying the wicked, symbolized by two ostriches, is probably to be explained as an assertion of the truth of those statements to which the monarch set his seal.

With respect to the name of Urzana, I have to observe that according to Mr. Norris <4> (Journal of the Asiatic Society, vol. xv., p. 204), Irsanna in the Scythian language means great: an excellent name for a monarch. But although this coincidence is very curious, I am in doubt whether it is not purely accidental; for the monarch can hardly have belonged to a Scythian family , seeing that the characters of his seal are so purely Assyrian.

Before concluding these brief remarks, I must advert to an extremely interesting fact, namely, that on referring to the best modern maps I found that the city of Muzashir still exists, and, after the lapse of nearly twenty-six centuries, still retains its ancient name. The modern town or village of Mushakshir, which probably occupies its site, is situated to the west of the lake of Van, about ten miles from the lake, and distant about 170 miles in a direct line from Nineveh. It is to be hoped that some traveller will search for antiquities on this spot.

This valuable and remarkable cylinder was purchased in Constantinople by Count von Schwachheim,<5> who was during eight years Austrian Ambassador to the Porte.

I need hardly mention that the interpretation of the inscription given by Grotefend <6> at p. 40 of the original memoir which accompanies the figure of this cylinder, and was published in 1820, has not the slightest resemblance to the truth. According to him, the whole of it is a mystical prayer to some deity. However, we must excuse his errors, since at the time he wrote the materials were entirely wanting for a true interpretation.

Observations on the ancient Assyrian Geography.

The geography of the Assyrian inscriptions is a subject of immense extent, and I wish to advert at present only to one point connected with it, viz., the argument for truthfulness derived from undesigned coincidence.

If what we read at the beginning of an ancient inscriptions agrees with what we find stated at the end of the same, this is no more than might be expected, and the argument in favour of its authenticity thence derivable is not a strong one. But it is quite otherwise when the inscriptions which are compared together differ in age and country and in the nature of the subjects treated of. Any coincidences which can be pointed out between such inscriptions, especially if relating to obscure places or individuals, tend to impress on the mind an opinion of the truth of those statements, since they are found to stand the test of such a comparison. Such undesigned coincidences are numerous in the Assyrian inscriptions, but I will confine myself at present to a notice of two instances as a specimen where geographical facts brought together from remote quarters are found to coincide.

In one of the Khorsabad inscriptions we read that Sargina, king of Assyria, fought a battle with the two sons of the king of Illipi, and defeated them in the neighbourhood of their strong city of Marupishta. One of the brothers fled to the court of the king of Susa, and obtained his protection; but the other, whose name was Ispabara, came repentant to the presence of Sargina, who pardoned him and placed him on the throne of Illipi.

Such is the statement in Sargina's inscriptions. Now, if we examine the annals of his son and successor Sennacherib, contained in Bellino's<7> cylinder in the British Museum, which is an entirely independent document, we find that in the second year of Sennacherib, Ispabara was still on the throne of Illipi. He rose in rebellion in that year. Sennacherib advanced against him, and captured and destroyed the identical city of Marupishta mentioned in the former document.

Here is a close agreement between independent authorities. But the historical account on the cylinder adds some very remarkable words: for it says, if I translate correctly, "I destroyed Marupishta, the metropolis of his kingdom, or his royal residence, a city which was situated on the banks of a lake." Upon considering this passage, it occurred to me that pssibly Marupishta might be identical with the modern city of Maru, or Merve, and accordingly I turned with some curiosity to a map of Persia in order to see whether Maru was situated on the borders of a lake. I found in the map attached to Rees's Cyclopędia<8> that it was in fact situated on the banks of the lake of Babacamber. The map in Malcolm's History of Persia,<9> probably a better authority, calls it the lake of Balacander. This coincidence appears to me very remarkable. I do not give it as certain, but as deserving of further inquiry. The chief difficulty is the distance from Nineveh; but it is less distant than Chorasmia and Sogdiana, which are named on the Behistun monument as subdued by Darius. If we could establish the identity, it would enable us to fix the position of the great country of Illipi so often mentioned in the inscriptions. Maru, or Merve, is certainly a very ancient city. Antiochus, the successor of Alexander, build there a city called after his own name, Antiocheia ad Margum: it was the capital of Margiana, and in earlier times that district was well known to Darius, who calls it Marguva in Assyrian, and Margush in Persian, in the Behistun inscriptions.

I will now mention another geographical coincidence of great interest between two independent inscriptions. In the British Museum are two hexagons inscribed with the annals of Esarhaddon, both of which are published in the British Museum series of plates. One of them is pretty legible; the other in a miserable state, if we may judge from the published copy of it, but nevertheless legible in some parts. On the hexagon No. 1, I read the following remarkable statement, namely, that upon one occasion Esarhaddon collected together in his palace no less than twenty-two kings of the sea coast of the Mediterranean and of the islands in that sea, and reviewed them or inspected them, as I render the phrase employed. In modern language we should say, he held a brilliant court, and they were there admitted to his presence. This was indeed to shew himself, in Scripture phrase, "the great king, the king of Assyria."

After this there follows a statement of great interest, an account of the presents which these Syrians, Ph œnicians, and Greek islanders brought with them; namely, first of all, precious woods of many kinds from Mount Lebanon and the mountainous regions of Serar, which is named in the Song of Solomon and elsewhere; after these follow apparently the presents of the Greek Islanders, among which are particularly mentioned certain " false deities" or idols of marble and of many other rare and curious kinds of stone, which the inscription says they brought with them "from the cities in the land of their birth."

Esarhaddon says, "I brought them back with me to Nineveh, to be the splendid ornaments of my palace."

As the Ęgina marbles must belong nearly to this period, I think the Greeks may very well have presented to Esarhaddon images of their deities, worthy of his capital and of his palace.

Such is the account in hexagon No. 1.

Twenty-two kings are said to have assembled, but no names are given.

The account which is given in hexagon No. 2 confirms this in the most curious manner. It says that Esarhaddon assembled in one place the twelve kings of the sea coast, and it proceeds to name them. The first name appears to be that of Necho, king of Egypt, written Nahaku in the inscription. To him belonged the sea coast furthest to the west. Among the other kings I can only make out the names of Edom or Idumęa, Gaza and Ashod. The rest are more or less effaced. But the first name, if really that of Necho, king of Egypt, is very important. It must be Necho I., who was the father of Psammetichus I. The time agrees very well, for Psammetichus ascended the throne in the days of Esarhaddon. If he succeeded his father, Necho I., all is right, but if it be true, as some authors assert, that Necho had been slain several years before by Sevechus the Ethiopian, there arises a chronological difficulty. Leaving this, I return to the account on the hexagon. After naming the twelve kings of the sea coast, it proceeds to name the ten kings of "the Ionians who dwell in the islands of the sea." Now you will observe that these ten added to the preceding twelve make up precisely the twenty-two kings of the former statement; and this agreement must be perfectly undesigned. In the former statement they were said to be twenty-two kings of the sea coast and islands, the numbers of each not being separated, and no names being given. On the second hexagon they are classified as twelve kings of the sea coast and ten of the islands in the sea, and the name of each king is given, which that of the country he ruled over. The two accounts essentially agree.

To revert once more to the subject treated of in the earlier part of this paper, the possible identity of the ancient Marupishta with the modern Meru, I would observe, that I have found mention in one of the inscriptions of "the country of the sun," by which I think Khorassan is indicated, as it is in modern times, and I will conclude with bringing to your recollection the words of Moore<10> in Lalla Rookh, in praise of the province, the river, and the city: -

"In that delightful Province of the Sun,

The first of Persian lands he shines upon,

Where, fairest of all streams, the Murga roves

Among Meru's bright palaces and groves."

On the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar.

At p. 424 of last volume of this Journal, I translated a portion of the prayer which the king offers up to Marduk his god - namely, the planet Mars.

"O Marduk, I have exalted thy star, and it shines brightly over thy city Babylon."

I have since found that the phrase I translated "brightly" is, in the original, kima napshati agarti, that is, "like a living carbuncle stone." Napshati, living, or vivid, is the Hebrew שפנ. The carbuncle is so called from its colour, glowing like "a live coal," to use a familiar expression. The precious stone called the agarti is frequently named in the Assyrian inscriptions, and was evidently a favourite with them. I believe it is the akaddah of the Hebrews חרּקא (in which word the D is doubled), see Gesen. Lex.,<11> who derives it from kadah, to burn, חרק. The word occurs in Is. liv. 12, and is rendered "carbuncle" both by Lowth <12> and the common translation. No comparison could be more fortunate than that of this precious stone to the ruddy light of the planet Mars.

Nebuchadnezzar's Temple.

With respect to the temple built in fifteen days, the evidence is stronger than I at first thought. The account says (see pl 418 of last volume) : -

wesharsitu risu su I commenced its beginning

wezakkir khursanish I built it completely

ina 15 tamu in 15 days

sibir su weshaklilu its roof I covered in.

Such is the translation which I would now prefer to give of it. For I find that wesharsitu is used in other passages, of laying the foundation stone of a building; and I would therefore derive it from תשר resith (the beginning), a well-known Hebrew word. I have explained in p. 421, that the causative conjugation inserts the syllable sha. Thus weshasib, I caused to dwell, from sib, to dwell. So here, wesharsit, I caused to be begun, from resit, a beginning. If this translation is correct, the king says, "I began this temple at the very foundations, and yet finished it in fifteen days."

Amended translation.

In p. 423 I have translated, "the shrines of the supreme deity daily I adored." But I now think it ought to be, "the shrines of the supreme deity I made splendid as the day," that is, as the sun, the god of day. I observe that Dr. Hincks in your Journal renders the passage in that manner, doubtless correctly.

On the Queen of the Arabians.

In your last Number I shewed that Samsi, queen of the Arabians, paid tribute to Sargina. I have since found her name in another inscription, pl. 72 of the British Museum series, line 16, as follows; "Samsi, queen of the Arabians, who worship the god Shamash," that is, the sun. These words form an interesting addition to what was known before. I think it probable that the name of the queen herself is a feminine form of this deity, the object of the national worship. We know that some of the very earliest of the Egyptian monuments were erected by sun-worshippers. When the late Pasha of Egypt destroyed a massive doorway at Karnak, there were found in the interior of it, used merely as building materials, broken slabs that had belonged to a very ancient dynasty, on which were portrayed kings worshipping the sun, each of whose rays terminates in a human hand holding the symbol of life (figured imperfectly in Nestor l'Hote's Letters from Egypt,<13> p. 93, and better elsewhere). These ancient kings may have belonged to an Arabian dynasty that once ruled over Egypt.

On the History of Egypt.

Allow me here to mention a beautiful confirmation of the truth of history which I have met with in the Assyrian annals. It was their custom, when naming different countries which were not independent, occasionally to say to whom they belonged. We read, for example, "The city Til-khumba, which belongs to the Susians." Certain cities on the shore of the Persian Gulf are said to belong to the king of Elamti, the Elamitis of the Greeks. Certain cities of Media are said to belong to the Arabians of the rising sun, - a very curious fact indeed, since these eastern Arabians were previously unknown.

But the most remarkable fact of this kind, is, that Sargina in several of his inscriptions when naming Egypt uses the following expression, - "Egypt which belongs to Ethiopia." Now it was precisely at that time that, by the consent of all historians, an Ethiopian conqueror, So, or Sabaco, subdued Egypt, and with his two successors, Sevechus and Tirhaka, held the dominion of it during many years.

On the name of Eve.

We read in Genesis iii. 20, "And Adam called her name Eve, because she was the mother of all living." Remembering this well-known passage, it was with peculiar satisfaction that I found, in reading the Assyrian inscriptions that their name for "a living creature" as Eva, plural Evam.

This is a general term, which they apply to all the animals of creation.

On referring to Gesenius's Lexicon, p. 334, I find that the Hebrew word is Hiya ה׳ח, plural Hivath, taking a Vau. It is used of all animals of earth and sea (Gesenius). But the Chaldee term is Hiva or Heva הו׳ח being exactly the same as the Assyrian in sound; and the Chaldee plural is Hivan, or Hevan (animals); Assyrian, Evam.

Now if we refer to Vanderhooght's Hebrew Bible,<14> Gen. iii. 20, we find that in his margin he alters the name of Eve into Havva. This error is due to the Masoretic <15> punctuation, and is an example of the errors into which we should fall by trusting too much to it. The authority of the Assyrian inscriptions, which are of about 720 b.c., seems conclusive in favour of the sound of Heva or Eva.

On the Assyrian term for "Night."

In a most interesting paper recently published by Dr. Hincks <16> in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, he has interpreted an inscription which appears to be an observation of the Equinox. It says, that on a certain day of the year the day and night were observed to be equal. In this inscription the word which express "night" is mushi or vushi, a term which was previously unknown.

Dr. Hincks says in his note, that the word is in the nominative case. So that the final vowel i is not a case-ending but part of the word itself. And he inclines to the opinion that it is a word of some foreign language which the Assyrians have borrowed.

All this appears to me to be verified by the remark which I have fortunately been able to make, that this word is nothing else than the Egyptian term for "night," Ushi or Oushi, and in another Egyptian dialect Eushi.a

Allow me to add another trifling conjecture which has occurred to me in reading Dr. Hincks's paper. In the Khorsabad inscriptions there is an elaborate account of the siege of a fortress which was defended by Merodach Baladan against the army of Sargina, king of Assyria. In the course of this narrative the words ashlat an occur, apparently a measure of distance which Dr. H. would render three lengths of the unit of measure called the an. I am not satisfied with the translation " three" for ashlat, and I propose to translate it " ten" for the following reason. The letters L and R are often permuted by the Assyrians; for instance, Lebanon is often written Rebanon. The term for " ten" is ashrat, now I think that in this instance the sculptor has used ashlat, being the same word with a mere difference of pronunciation.

H. F. Talbot

Lacock Abbey,

August, 1856.


1. Dr Carl F F Wilhelm Dorow (1790-1845), Orientalist.

2. Paul-Emile Botta (1805-1870), French archaeologist.

3. Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777-1842), painter, diplomat and writer.

4. Dr Edwin Norris (1795-1872).

5. Count Joseph von Schwachheim, Austrian representative in Turkey.

6. Georg Friedrich Grotefend (1775-1853), archaeologist and philologist.

7. Karl Bellino (1791-1820), German Assyriologist.

8. Rev Abraham Rees (1743-1825).

9. Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), soldier, statesman and historian.

10. Thomas Moore (1779-1852), Irish poet; Lalla Rooke was published in 1817.

11. William Gesenius (1786-1842), German Orientalist and compiler of the Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon.

12. Possibly Robert Lowth (1710-1787), Bishop of London and scholar.

13. Nestor L'Hote (1804-1842), French Egyptologist.

14. Everard Van der Hooght (1642-1716), Dutch; produced a Hebrew edition of the Bible.

15. Masoretic is the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, ie, what Van der Hooght published.

16. Rev Dr Edward Hincks (1792-1816), Irish Assyriologist.

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