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Religion in the Old Assyrian Period Nation, Trey


The Old Assyrian period refers to the earliest attested period of the city of Assur in the north of modern-day Iraq, later the cultural center of the regionally dominant Assyrian empire. In the opening centuries of the 2nd millennium, Assur was a single city-state ruled by a representative council, whose economic engine was long distance trade in tin and textiles to Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). The extreme profitability of the trade led several generations of Assyrian merchants to settle full-time in the Anatolian city of Kanesh, where they established a community referred to as the "port" with its own representative body to govern the local Assyrian community. The Old Assyrian pantheon was largely identical with that of the rest of Mesopotamia, with the exception of the chief god of the city. The city-god of Assur bore the same name as the city itself (modern scholars sometimes use "Ashur" for the god in order to distinguish the two, but the native writing was identical); for the Assyrians, Ashur was the chief god of the larger pantheon. The Ashur cult and its large temple environs were the center of polity life at Assur, which seems to have lacked a palace for most of the period. Second to the Ashur cult was that of the goddess Ishtar Assuritum, who also had a large temple complex at the city. Smaller temples of other important deities existed, and certainly myriad gods had shrines within the larger temple complexes. While naturally the Assyrian merchants did not have monumental temple complexes in their Anatolian host cities, the evidence makes clear that shrines to the many Assyrian gods were established at Kanesh and elsewhere, and some Assyrians served as priests in the "port". What we know of religion in the Old Assyrian period is heavily circumscribed by our evidence, which comes predominately from the massive textual and archaeological corpus left behind by the merchants at the site of ancient Kanesh, supplemented by some archaeological evidence from the hometown of Assur itself. Consequently, what is commonly called “Old Assyrian Religion” is above-all the lived religious experience of a group of one thousand or so individuals comprised of Assyrian merchants and their networks of relations. Furthermore, the great bulk of written evidence is from a 30-year window circa 1895-1865. Therefore, even though our window into “Old Assyrian Religion” is narrow and incomplete, it is near-unique for the ancient world in its intimacy.

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