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The Autobiography of Adad-guppi Fessler, Heidi


The Adad-guppi inscription is a rare pseudo-autobiography of a woman with political and religious power in the ancient Near East. Two copies of the inscription were discovered: one poorly preserved text excavated in 1907 at the archaeological site of Harran in southern Turkey, and another more complete copy discovered in 1958 as a part of the pavement steps to the Great Mosque at Harran. The text, written in Neo-Babylonian Cuneiform dating to the sixth century BCE, celebrates Adad-guppi’s devotion to the gods, her service to the royal court and her role as queen mother to her son Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. The monument stood in the ancient city of Harran in the moon god temple, named the Ehulhul, which was newly rebuilt by Nabonidus following its destruction during the Assyrian and Babylonian battle for power in the late seventh century BCE. Although the inscription is written as a first-person account by Adad-guppi, the emphasis on Nabonidus’s right to kingship and the details of Adad-guppi’s funeral support that it was created by someone in the royal court following Adad-guppi’s death. The nature of the text is apologetic, seeking to justify the kingship of Adad-guppi’s son Nabonidus, who ascended the throne despite his questionable royal lineage. According to the inscription, Adad-guppi was born in the reign of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (649 BCE) and died during reign of her son Nabonidus (547 BCE). This would make her an astonishing 104 years old, which is about 70 years past life expectancy during that time. While it is not mentioned in this text, other sources tell us that her husband was a court servant named Nabu-balastu-iqi. Following the fall of Assyria in 609 BCE, Adad-guppi served in the Neo-Babylonian royal court and became queen mother during the tumultuous reign of Nabonidus. The inscription claims that Adad-guppi and Nabonidus respectfully served Babylonian kings Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, and Neriglissar and made gracious funerary offerings upon each of their deaths because their close kin did not perform the necessary rites for their deceased relatives. The assertion that those with familial claim to the throne did not exhibit piety to gods or kings is in contrast to Nabonidus’s devoutness that eventually rewarded him with kingship over Babylon’s irreverent legitimate heirs. Historical sources describe how Nabonidus usurped the throne from Babylonian king Labashi-Marduk in 556 BCE just a month into his reign. By his and his mother’s own accounts, Nabonidus was not the next in line for the throne, but the inscription stresses that their devotion to the moon god landed him the position. Nabonidus was strong enough to maintain his position as ruler for sixteen years until 539 BCE when the Achaemined Persians annexed the Babylonian empire. The text notably favors the moon god Sin calling him the “king of the gods,” which is a departure from the exultation of Marduk, the traditional Babylonian chief deity. While the heartland of the Babylonian empire was in lower Mesopotamia, this text focuses on the city of Harran and the Ehulhul. It was not unlike Nabonidus to favor a city outside of Babylon as he did by living in Tayma, an oasis in the Saudi Arabian desert, for ten years during his reign. The destruction of Harran is framed as a consequence of Sin leaving the city in anger, and Adad-guppi’s pious pleading was meant to entice Sin back to his residence in Harran just as it had secured her son’s kingship. Because of Adad-guppi’s devotion to the gods, she did not suffer any ailments that often come with old age, stating that her eyesight, limbs, appetite, and heart remained in good condition, and she witnessed four generations of her descendants. Of these descendants, we are aware of Nabonidus, king of Babylon, and his two children, Belshazzar the crown prince, and Ennigaldi, high priestess of the moon god at the temple in Ur. The destruction of the Ehulhul in Harran appears to be of great concern to Adad-guppi, and the gods respond to her pleas with a promise that the temple and city would be restored to a beauty surpassing their former glory. Nabonidus apparently carried out reconstruction but did not complete the temple until after Adad-guppi’s death. The fragmentary end of the inscription details Adad-guppi’s burial and funerary procession, including particulars about being interred with garments and a mantel of gold and precious stones. Nabonidus slaughtered a sheep as part of the ritual for his deceased mother and ordered people throughout the empire to mourn for seven days, casting their clothes and cutting their hair. Mourners were then anointed with fine perfume and rejoiced as they went back to their homes. The inscription asserts that piety in one’s worldly life will keep one’s descendants safe and privileged, and Adad-guppi and her son Nabonidus were exemplars of such piety.

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