15 March 2015


(For Part I, click here)

The Image of King Uthal, the merciful, noble-minded servant of God, blessed by God

King Uthal
Thus reads an Aramaic inscription on the base of the statue of a king of Hatra (left).  Alas, mercy and noble-mindedness are in very short supply in today's Iraq.  King Uthal's monument was among those smashed in the Mosul Museum last week by the thugs of ISIL/Daesh.  All that really matters to those savages is the kick that comes from unlimited violence and the thrill of destruction.  

No atrocity too far in the name of God.

We know almost nothing about King Uthal other than that he was an early Arab king who ruled Hatra.  We don't  even know the dates of his reign.  Sooner or later, of course, with proper study of this and other royal statues, archaeologists would have been able to place him in the right time frame or at least the correct chronological order.  There are all sorts of clues in the statue itself -- the cut and rich embroidery of his clothes, its belt and buckle, the trim of his beard, the conical pearl-encrusted(?) headdress, the shape of his long sword and its pommel, and last but certainly not least, the form and formula of the Aramaic inscription written in the very particular Hatrene script.  Alas, this will never happen now.  His statue is lying on the ground, broken into pieces, as you can see in the video image below (his is on the right).*

Bye-bye King Uthal, whoever you may have been. 

Islamacist Porn

A few words, if I may, about sharing Islamacist propaganda videos.  The jihadists are playing with us when they produce these  films.  The images are meant to shock and enrage while making us feel completely powerless.  These pornographic videos are NOT documentations of acts of violence, they are THE violence.**
After the Mosul incident, it has become clear that ISIS operates like a reality show. The violence is choreographed and planned precisely for the video footage to be produced - a visual spectacle of violence to be shared by us in social media. By sharing these videos, we become ISIS's media outlets who disseminate and propagate their ideology.  We are both the audience and the media for these visual spectacles of destruction....***
Simply put, we are doing exactly what they want us to do by spreading their vile videos.  Thus, please stop sharing; instead, darken your screens for them.  Having said this, why in the name of heaven (you may ask) am I violating my own injunction by reproducing a scene from their rampage through the Mosul Museum?  Because it shows one of those perverts with a hand on his crotch, which really says it all.

And now to work.

Besides the remarkable architecture of Hatra -- which we wrote about in Part I of this post -- the finds from the city include about 300 statues and reliefs, all in a very characteristic local style.  With few exceptions, the statues are somewhat larger than life-size (ca. 1.90m / 6'3") and all were carved to be seen from the front since backs and sides were left only roughly worked.  About half of the sculptures represent gods and goddesses and thus have an overtly religious character.

Of course, the division between religious and secular is largely artificial, reflecting more the way we think than how the ancients did.  The king of Hatra will have held supreme religious authority in addition to his grip over all forms of social and political power.

King Sanatruq II (r ca 205-240/1)
For example, statues of a number of kings show them carrying small figures of deities (left).  Whether this pictures them in the act of dedicating a graven image, or indicates a king's particular closeness to the god-in-hand is not clear.  But it certainly stresses the king's active role in religion.  Some kings are known to have also served as the chief priest of Shamash, the great god of the city. Even without the proof of inscriptions, it's very likely that all kings held this office.

Given Hatra's architecture, one can hardly doubt its overwhelming importance as a religious centre: the huge walled Sacred Enclosure in the heart of the city takes up about one-fifth of the total area within the circle of its defensive walls (see Part I).  Inside this sacred area were the main temples -- a complex of enormous halls covered by barrel vaults (called the Great Iwans).  These were the homes of Hatra's most important deities: Maran ('Our Lord' = Shamash, the Sun-god), Marten ('Our Lady' = Allat) and Bar-Maran ('the Son of Our Lord' = Nergal?).  Another temple in the forecourt of the sacred area was dedicated to the goddess Allat (its entrance -- with the camel mother nursing her calf, and two royal figures on guard -- is pictured above).  Besides the great temples in the centre of the city, many gods and goddesses also received cult in 14 small shrines belonging to different tribal groups scattered about the domestic quarters of the city.  Eight of these shrines were dedicated to a god who looked like Greek Herakles (one of his statues in Part I, lowest left) but worshipped as the ancestral deity of the family or tribe and who was assimilated to Nergal, the Babylonian god of the Netherworld.  When he wasn't looking vaguely Greek, this is what Nergal looked like:

Lady Allat is seated on her throne, looking on with approval. The Hatran Netherworld, though, doesn't look like a place you'd want to visit.

Kings and Queens

About 120 statues of Hatrene kings, noblemen and noblewomen also survive(d) -- and these are the sculptures I'd like to focus on today if only because we can more readily engage with humans than with Nergal and his Cerberus-dogs of death.

What can these upper-crust statues tell us about the social and religious life of the city?

High-ranking military officer
It is striking that there isn't a huge variety in the statues.  Despite the obvious differences of details and gender, the sculptors did not greatly vary pose, costumes, or attributes of the individuals they portrayed. They paid little attention to individual facial features.  These are not portraits. We can't claim to know what any of the even highest-ranked royals really looked like.

Thanks to the inscriptions, however (on 42 statues and 22 bases now missing their statues), we do have some names and dates of local rulers, names of certain officials, and the names of deities.  The inscriptions, too, are quite standardized: about a third simply say "Image of ..." followed by a personal name, and another third also tell us who was responsible for erecting the statue --  family members, or friends, or devoted subjects of a royal figure. A few texts, like that on King Uthal's statue, add some pious thoughts.

Kings and Princes

King Sanatruq I (r ca 128-140)
Twenty-seven life-size statues can be certainly identified as those of kings.  Most come from within the central Sacred Area but some few were found at the city's gates, too. All kings are dressed in sumptuously embroidered long-sleeved tunics with ornate Parthian trousers and elaborately worked belts. Some kings (and only kings) wear diadems or high tiaras. When not carrying mini-statues of gods -- like Sanatruq II (above left) or eagles, the iconic bird of Shamash (below left), their majesties stand with the right hand raised, palm facing outward in a gesture of benediction or prayerful worship. Their left hands either hold a palm branch or rest on a long sword.  In the ancient Near East, worshippers attending sacrifices very often carried palm branches.  In fact, they still do in many Christian churches on Palm Sunday....


Princes (at least five statues) are dressed very like their fathers, in richly embroidered garments, but appear as beardless youths and have short curly hair.  The sons of King Sanatruq I (below) are shown with daggers hanging from their belts.  The better-preserved figure, of Crown Prince Abdsamiya, has his right hand raised and holds a palm branch in his left.  He is wearing an astonishingly rich tunic embroidered with the figure of a goddess holding a staff or standard on his upper body and a rather Greek-looking god below the hips -- perhaps, in a visual pun, it is Bar-Maran, "the Son of Our Lord", just as Abdsamiya is the son of the lord-king.

Princes Nayhara and Abdsamiya

His brother Nayhara's tunic is simpler (though still gorgeous) but note, too, subtle status differences in the accessories worn by the brothers: the crown prince wears a heavier, more ornate necklace and a bigger belt. I imagine that, every time Abdsamiya walked into a room, his younger brother looked pale by comparison.  

So, we are not surprised to learn that Abdsamiya ascended to the throne after his father's death.  Ruling from ca 180-205, he was the king who twice beat off assaults on the city by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (in 193 and 197 CE), as recounted in Part I of this post.  In turn, his son Sanatruq II -- seen above, carrying the statuette of a god -- became king. He had the misfortune to fight against Ardashir, first king of the new Sasanian dynasty, who twice attacked Hatra -- in ca 230 and again ten years later.  The first time, Sanatruq II held the city safe.  The second time, it fell.  As a temple inscription reads: The Fortune of the king [is] with the gods.  Alas, his god could not help him.  He was the last king of Hatra.

King holding eagle adorned with jewellery
That was his fate in life.

His fate in the Mosul Museum was as dire.  Sanatruq's was one of the four king's statues destroyed by ISIL/Daesh in their ignorant and barbaric rampage.  Most of the 27 statues of Hatrene kings are for the moment safe in the Baghdad Museum but the losses in Mosul mean that 15% of the kings of Hatra -- along with the monuments of many of their subjects --  are gone.  Alas! 

And what about their Queens and Princesses?

That will be told in the next post.  This has become too long.

 (Part III: Goddesses and Putative Priestesses, click here)

* For the latest reports on damage to the statues in the Mosul Museum, follow Christopher Jones on his Gates of Nineveh blog (see Sources).

**According to Mosul Eye, the footage in the video published by ISIS last week was shot in July-August 2014 and NOT February 2015.  We must ask ourselves why ISIS chose this specific time to post the video.

*** Quoting Ömür Harmanşah, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago (Facebook, 27 February 2015).

Sources: Christopher Jones, Gates of Nineveh blog, Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 2: the Sculptures from Hatra ; Lucinda Dirven, “Aspects of Hatrene Religion: A Note on the Statues of Kings and Nobles from Hatra,” in The Variety of Local Religious Life in the Near East in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods (Leiden, 2008), 209-246; ead. "My Lord With His Dogs: Continuity and Change in the Cult of Nergal in Parthian Mesopotamia" in L. Greisiger, C. Rammelt & J. Tubach (eds.), Edessa in hellenistisch-romischer Zeit (Beirut 2009), 47-68; ead. "Religious Frontiers in the Syrian-Mesopotamian Desert" in Frontiers in the Roman World (Leiden, 2011) 157-173 .


Top: Life-size statue of King Uthal, 2nd century CE.  Photo credit: © ARTEHISTORIA

Upper centre: Portal of temple of Allat, in Sacred Enclosure.  Photo credit:

Middle centre:  Relief of the Sun-god (Bar-Maran?).  Photo credit: Amir Kooshanzaman blog.

Top left: Life-size statue of King Sanatruq II. Early 3rd century CE. Photo credit: Iraqi Cultural Center, Washington DC.

Centre: Relief slab picturing the god Nergal with 'Cerberus' and enthroned Allat: Istanbul Archaeological Museum). Städte in der Wüste. Petra, Palmyra und Hatra (Stuttgart 1996) pl. 188. Photo via L. Dirven, "My Lord With His Dogs: Continuity and Change in the Cult of Nergal in Parthian Mesopotamia" (see Sources) Colour Pl. 1.

Second left: Life-size statue of a military officer , (IM 58084), Iraq Museum. Photo credit:ICONMuseum © Photo Scala, Florence.

Third left: Life-size statue of King Sanatruq I. 2nd century CE. Photo credit: © Scala Archives, Florence/ Art Resourse, NY.  Via CUNY Academic Commons.

Below centre: Life-size statues of the sons of King Sanatruq I. 2nd century CE.  Photo credit: Faces of Ancient Middle East (Part 17):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CU6WJpRcF4

Below left: Detail of life-size statue of an unidentified king carrying an eagle (insignia of Shamash).  Photo credit:  Col. Mary Prophit, United States Army, 2010.  Via Gates of Nineveh blog.

1 comment:

  1. 非常に素晴らしい記事。詳細については、ありがとうございました


Blog Archive