Sale 14BP01 | Lot 99

Cuneiform cylinder with inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II describing the rebuilding of the temple of Shamash in Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habbah in Iraq)

Catalogue: Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs

Lot Details

Lot 99
Cuneiform cylinder with inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II describing the rebuilding of the temple of Shamash in Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habbah in Iraq)
. Babylon, Mesopotamia: Neo-Babylonian period, circa 604-562 BC. Double-tapered barrel-shaped cylinder of baked clay, 8 1/4 inches (20.8 cm) in length, tapering from 3 1/4 inches (8 cm) at center to 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) at the ends. Text in two columns, approximately 35 lines. Very light wear to the surface but with no apparent loss of legibility; a short and minor fissure, apparently created at the time of forming or firing, visible on a blank area of the cylinder, overall in sound condition.

The current example is a large cylinder in excellent preservation from Sippar, a great complex of temples, the cult site of the Akkadian sun god Shamash, and the home of his temple E-babbara. The text is in two columns, and follows text number 16 (published both in Babylonian and German) in Stephen Langdon Die neubabylonischen Konigsinschriften, Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1912 p.141 et seq. Paul-Richard Berger, in Die neubabylonischen Konigsinchriften, 1973, lists seven extant examples of this cylinder, of which five are in the British Museum, London, and two in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin. The largest of these is noted as measuring 18.5 cm in length; the current specimen is a full 20.8 cm (8 1/4 inches).

This is a remarkable written record in clay from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabu-kudurri-usur), the greatest of the later kings of Babylonia, who ruled from 604 - 562 BC. He was the second of the eleventh dynasty of Babylonian rulers (the dynasty termed Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean), which lasted until the capture of Babylon by Cyrus II of Persia. Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son and successor of the Chaldean king Nabopolassar (Nabu-apla-usur), the dynasty's founder. Nabopolassar had seized control of Babylonia from King Sinsharishkun of Assyria, in the process ejecting the Assyrian armies from Babylonia, in 616 BC.

Nebuchadnezzar himself defeated a combined force of the Egyptians (under the Pharaoh Necho) and Assyrians at Carchemish in an epic battle that consolidated his control over the region, and severely reduced the power of Egypt, which fell under his sway. That battle effectively finally extirpated the Assyrian empire, for almost two thousand years a major force in the region. He himself was an empire builder, one who waged successful campaigns against most of his neighboring states, including Phoenicia, Philistia, Judah, Ammon, Moab, and others, and in doing so acquired vast wealth and power.

Approximate Translation:

Column I.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, King of Babylon, the Wise, the Provider, Favorite of Marduk, Sakkanakku of the lands of Sumer and Akkad, who established the foundation of the lands; the Venerated Ruler whom Marduk, the Great Lord, has chosen to renew the Holy Sanctuaries and maintain the cities as his calling: into whose hands Nebo, the Victorious Son gave the scepter of prosperity to extend the lands for Man's guidance; the understanding and reverent, the maintainer of E-sagila and E-zida; the first-born Son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon am I.
When Marduk, the Great Lord, joyfully created me and called me into the Kingship with an eternal name, I thought reverently of Him and of His Divinity. But I continue humbly to worship Nebo, His legitimate Son, patron of my kingdom; I praise his glory.
I endowed E-Sagila and E-zida, their favored palaces, with gold, silver, precious jewels and tall cedars, and made them shine forth like the innermost heavens. I beautified in splendor the holy sanctuaries of the great Gods, according to the wish of their hearts. E-barra, the radiant abode of the Gods, the dwelling-place of Samas, the Judge, which had long ago fallen into disrepair in Sippar; which no previous king had built, Samas the Lord ordered me, the Ruler, His favorite, to rebuild. I found its old cornerstone, and took notice of it. Over its old cornerstone I laid its foundation. I erected E-barra as it was of yore and completed it. I caused it to shine like the bright day, I caused Samas and Ai to return in gladness and rejoicing to their exalted dwelling. At that time, since time immemorable little had been left at E-ulla, the temple of Ninkarrak in Sippar.

Column II.
The temple building was in disrepair, the outer walls had crumbled, the foundation was no longer recognizable; it was buried in the dust; it was no longer numbered among the Holy Sanctuaries of the Gods; the tithes had ceased; they had vanished from the speech of the peoples; the offerings were no longer being made.
Because I held the hem of the garment of Marduk, My Lord, and he was gracious unto me, He entrusted unto my hands the renewal of the Holy Sanctuaries, the restoring of the Edifices.
During my legitimate reign, the merciful Marduk chose to look with favor upon that temple, and Samas, the exalted Judge, ordered its renewal. They ordered me, the shepherd who worships them, to build; I found its old cornerstone and took notice of it. The name of Nikarrak, whose throne is in E-ulla, was inscriped on the image of a dog and was there plainly to be seen. Over the old cornerstone I established the foundation for Ninkarrak, my beloved Mistress, Guardian of my soul, who brings prosperity to my kinsmen; for her I rebuilt E-ulla, her temple in Sippar. Its tithes I enriched and its offerings I restored. O Ninkarrak, Exalted Mistress, look graciously upon the work of my hands. May my acts of devotion be made known to Thy lips. Grant unto me long life, many descendants, good health, and a joyful heart. Present my deeds favorably unto Samas and Marduk; speak in my behalf.


Provenance: Ellen Shaffer (later Rare Book Librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Dawson's Book Shop, Los Angeles; sold to Mr. Archie P. Johnston, 1953.


Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000
Sold for $605,000 (includes buyer's premium)

Additional Notes & Condition Report

Any condition statement is given as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Doyle New York shall have no responsibility for any error or omission. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging.

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Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000
Sold for $605,000 (includes buyer's premium)

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Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs

Wed, Apr 09, 2014 at 10am EDT
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