04 April 2015

ELEGY FOR HATRA (Women: Last and Least)

(Part I, click here; Part II, click here; Part III, click here)   

As of last count, only 13 life-size statues of mortal women are known from Hatra compared to some 120 statues of men. This undoubtedly reflects (I am sorry to say) womens' lower social status in Hatrene society. It seems that, as ever, even a Queen or Princess was first and foremost a female, and thus inferior in the greater scheme of things.  Still, all is not bleak.

Location Location Location 

Not only are there far more statues of men but a great many of them were placed in the most prestigious locations: 77 male statues come from the central Sacred Area of the city where the most important gods and goddesses were worshipped in their enormous temples.  These are statues of kings, princes, and high officials.  Only one statue of a woman made that grade.

The statue of Ebū daughter of Damyōn which has erected for her [the temple of] Bar-Mārēn ['the Son of Our Lord'] the god.*

Her father's name suggests he was a Greek, Δαμίων, an ancestry which might have had  something to do with her singular honour.  On the other hand, he gives no official or cult title nor does he boast of his paternal line (as in Damyōn, son of X son of Y).  This leaves us rather at a loss.  Still, the statue of Ebū (also transcribed as Abu) is exceptionally tall: while precise measurements are lacking, she is clearly well over life-size.  Even more unusual is that her statue was erected and paid for by the temple itself -- one of only two mortals who received this honour** -- presumably in return for some great benefaction.  But what?  We have no idea.

Ebu's elaborate costume demonstrates that her family was very rich. The sleeves of her undergarment appear to be abundantly pleated (silk?) and she wears an ample full-length robe pinned by a broach at the shoulder. Other jewels include a choker around her throat, a heavy necklace, earrings, and bracelets ending in snake-heads(?).  Her pose is typical of female statues with her right hand raised palm outwards either in prayer or respect for the gods while the left slightly lifts the stuff of her outer gown.  She wears a striking and unusual headdress apparently built up of a three-level diadem covered by a raised stiff veil that runs down the back to her waist.

Ebu remains a mystery but we have more information on another grand lady.

Queens and Princesses

Meet Princess Dushfari (left), daughter of King Sanatruq II and Queen Batsimia.  Her mother was Sanatruq's chief wife.  We assume that the king had several wives because Batsimia twice records the fact that she is the mother of the Crown Prince -- a statement that would hardly be necessary if she were the sole wife of the king. 

This means, too, that Dushfari (apparently the only daughter of Batsimia) is the Number 1 Princess of Hatra at this time (238 CE).  Such high rank is in keeping with the size of the statue dedicated in Shrine V, one of the tallest from Hatra (2.10 m/6.9').  It was found along with a much smaller but otherwise almost duplicate statue of her young daughter, Simia (below right).  

Dushfari and her daughter both wear ample floor-length gowns with long, elaborately decorated unbelted chitons above.   

Dushfari's neck is adorned with four necklaces (her daughter three): a short heavy choker, a chain with hanging ornaments, and two longer chain-like metallic necklaces, one ending in a round medallion and the other in a rectangular pendant and medallion.

Such long necklaces with medallions are also pictured on some statues of enthroned goddesses, which surely must be significant.  One possibility is that the princess wears this as a 'badge of office' as priestess of the goddess Allat-Athena who was worshipped in Shrine V (see Part III).  If so, her daughter could be wearing one such chain as a  'priestess in waiting'.  Dushfari's astonishing headdress appears to be some kind of very high diadem but it is more likely that her hair was combed back and coiled high on her head (as in clearer on the simplified headdress worn by Simai) and this then topped by the ornate diadem around which was draped a decorated veil adorned with jewels.  In the middle of the diadem is an oval medallion displaying a god in relief.

Murder Most Foul

This is Abu, daughter of Gabalu, the only statue that we are sure was made to commemorate a person who was already dead.  Abu is seated on a chair placed on a high pedestal; the statue is about 1 m./3' high and the pedestal of much the same height.  It comes from Shrine IV.  A long inscription is written on the pedestal.  It begins much like all the others but adds her death notice:

(This is) the statue of Abu, daughter of Gabalū, which has erected for her Aššā, her husband, the son of Šmešṭayyeb. She died at the age of 18.*

Abu wears gowns simpler but similar to those worn by Dushfari, but they are belted under her breasts which consequently are sculpted as two whirligigs!  Her high conical headdress is made up of vertical levels decorated with large beads and topped by a wide veil that falls down her back.  From her ears hang a magnificent pair of earrings, probably of silver or gold, which contrast a bit with some strings of beads: a pearl(?) choker that looks as if it's really about to choke her, a beaded necklace, a pendant necklace, and a long chain-like necklace ending in a pointed ornament.  She raises her right hand to the gods while her left is busy pulling up the cloth of her gown and holding two flower-like objects.

Poor pale Lady Abu

The proportions of the statue are out of whack.  Her right hand is  far too large, her neck too thick, and she looks almost stunted.  What could have happened to her? 
Our Lord Maren, Our Lady Marten, the Son of Our Lord Bar-Maren, Balshamin and Atargatis, lay a curse on the one who killed Abu and on those who rejoice in the death of Abu, and against the women who filled and poured out the ... of Abu!
What's the ... missing word?  

"Poisoned cup"?  

We'll never know, but it led to the most extraordinary private drama that Hatra has ever left evidence for us to read.

Sliding down the social scale

Needless to say, all women who get statues are members of the elite but not all are from the tippy-top of the social pyramid.  Ladies' statues were found in some of the smaller temples scattered throughout the living quarters of the city.  Four came from Shrine V, including those of Princess Dushfari and her daughter, where Allat-Athena was the main recipient of cult (see Part III) although, even here, more than one divinity apparently was worshipped.  It is  unclear how many deities were worshipped in each of the smaller temples, probably reflecting the multiple guardians of those families, tribes, or clans who contributed to building and maintaining the shrine.  From the little we know, it appears that the Hatrene divine world was not particularly well organized.**  

The headless statue of Martabu, priestess of Isharbel, found in Shrine V (dated 235 AD; no picture, sorry) shows her plainly dressed with a cloth sash girdling her waist. No jewellery is mentioned. The inscription (quoted in Part III) tells us that her paternal grandfather was a priest, perhaps serving the same goddess, which hints that religious offices ran in some minor elite families.  Martabu must be the same woman who dedicated a divine statue in Shrine V which called down blessings (using the formula 'for the life of...') on herself and her boss:

Martabu has sculpted for the life of herself and for Rabta, her superior [chief priest] and for whoever worships [the goddess].* 

The sound of music

Simai daughter of Oge (left), from Shrine I, was in all likelihood also a priestess.  Her statue (damaged around her mouth; no moustaches on girls!) was erected in 235 CE by her husband, himself a priest of the goddess Atargatis.  Simai is also simply dressed, with just a pair of chokers as jewellery.  She carries a tambourine, an instrument probably connected with her religious function.  She could have been one of the religious musicians bound to her vocation by threats of death (Part III).  As for her music, remember Exodus 15.20-21:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. Miriam answered them, "Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted

I, Woman, Did This Myself

A statue of Lady Qaimi (also from Shrine V), wears similar loose clothing tied by a single sash at her waist.  Her jewellery is limited to three simple rings on her left hand (right hand  missing).  Her husband is a scribe and probably also a priest in the service of the god Bar-Maren.  Qaimi is shown holding a kithara, a kind of lyre, in her lowered left hand.  The inscription reads:
In Elul of the year 549 (= September 238 CE). The statue of Qaimi daughter of Abdsimia, the wine-seller, wife of Neshraqab, the scribe of the Bar-Maren [the Son of our Lord], which 'Isharbel the Virgin' has ordered her [to make]. And she herself has erected it for the life of herself and for the life of Neshraqab, her husband, and Absa, her brother, and for the life of all personnel of Bar-Maren, both inside and outside, and whoever is dear to them, all of them.
Her simple dress, the musical instrument, and her husband's vocation argue that Qaima is another priestess serving the goddess 'Isharbel the Virgin'. What is remarkable is that she erected her own statue.  Made -- first and foremost -- 'for the life of herself ', she obviously felt the need to justify this act of self-aggrandisement by claiming it was at the explicit orders of the goddess ('She made me do it!').  The goddess' blessing then extends to her husband, her brother, and to all of her husband's colleagues in the religious community of Bar-Maren.  The inclusion of her brother in the blessings opens a tiny window on  Hatrene women's lives: it means that she maintained close relations with the 'house' into which she was born and was not handed over unconditionally to her husband's family when marrying him. 

As a matter of some historical interest, too, this inscription also proves that the ancient Arabs drank wine -- and in sufficient quantities to propel Qaima's father, who was a wine-seller or vinter, into the local elite.   

And on that happy note in these dismal days, Weingarten ("garden of wine") brings this series of posts on Hatra to a close. 

To all my readers Happy Easter, Chag Sameach, or Whatever lifts your boat!

* Ebu's inscription H228; Abu: H30; Martabu: H31.  Translations by Melammu Project and Raman Asha

** The other, also a statue of a woman (whose name is lost), was made by the temple or religious company of Istarbel (H38): The statue of ..., daughter of Bedšā ..., which has ordered for her Iššārbēl the virgin.  Translation Raman Asha

** The deities worshipped in the central Sacred Area -- the triad of Maren ('Our Lord'), Marten ('Our Lady') and Bar-Maren ('the Son of Our Lord'), as well as the goddess Allat, and the god Shahiru (a god of dawn or a moon-god) -- also appear in inscriptions in the smaller shrines.  In contrast, the cults of the many other divinities were practiced only in the smaller shrines.  However, it is entirely possible that many of the deities known from the shrines are named manifestations of the main deities: e.g.Shamash = Maran; Nergal (mentioned in 8 shrines) = Bar-Maran?,  Herakles, in turn, may be another name for Nergal (mentioned in 9 shrines); Allat and Allat-Athena may be another facet of Marten.  Put together in this way, the four deities figure in ca. 80% of inscriptions.  See L. Dirven, 'Religious Frontiers in the Syro-Mesopotamian Desert', In Frontiers in the Roman World (Leiden, 2011), 165-66.

Sources: Shinji Fukai, 'The Artifacts of Hatra and Parthian Art', East and West, 11, No. 2/3 (1960) 135-181; Lucinda Dirven, 'Aspects of Hatrene Religion: : A Note on the Statues of Kings and Nobles from Hatra,', In (T. Kaizer, ed.) The Variety of Local Religious Life in the Near East in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods, Leiden 2008, 209-46; ead.'A Goddess with Dogs from Hatra', In Animals, Gods and Men from East to West, BAR IS 2516 (2013) 147-60;  K. Dijkstra, Life and Loyalty: A Study in the Socio-Religious Culture of Syria and Mesopotamia in the Graeco-Roman Period Based on Epigraphical Evidence (Leiden, 1995); T. Kaizer, 'Some Remarks about the Religious Life of Hatra', Topoi 10 (2000) 229-52.


Top left: Statue of Ebu d. Damyoun.  Status: Replica destroyed by ISIS (video 4 April 2015); location of original presumed to be in Baghdad.  Photo credit: U.N.E.D. Archivos Mesopotamia

2nd left:  Mosul marble statue of Princess Doshfari. Iraq Museum # 56752  Photo credit: Iraq Museum 2008 (State Board of Antiquities and Heritage) p. 29.

Right:  Mosul marble statue of Princess Doshfari and white marble statue of her daughter Simia (Iraq Museum 56753).  Photo via: Pinterest: Found on jeannepompadour.tumblr.com 

3rd left: Local yellow limestone statue of Abu, daughter of Gabalu. Iraq Museum # 56730.  Photo credit: Suppressed History Archives (8 March 2015)

4th left: Mosul marble statue of Simai, daughter of Oge.  Mosul Museum # 21.  Status: unknown.  Photo credit: S. Fukai (see sources above) p. 151, Pl. 12.


  1. For those of my readers on academia.edu, there is an excellent new discussion of the massive fortifications of Hatra with good photographs and diagrams by Enrico Foietta, available at https://www.academia.edu/11912969THE_DEFENCES_OF_HATRA_A_REVALUATION_THROUGH_THE_ARCHIVE_OF_THE_ITALIAN_EXPEDITION


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