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13. Excursus on Ninus and Semiramis (§§95-100)

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13. Excursus on Ninus and Semiramis (§§95-100)

95. In order to place Ninus in a chronological framework, the date of Sardanapalus [Gk. Sardanapalos] must be established first. Sardanapalus reigned 67 years before the first Olympiad (Abydenus in the Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle, Chronicorum lib. I cap. XII, ed. Migne PG XIX, col. 132, the same figure appearing in the Excerpta Barbari, 37b, from Castor), that is 843 BC. His reign in the traditional account lasted 20 years and terminated, therefore, in 824 BC. This date, along with the form of his name, identifies him clearly as the Assyrian king Asshur-da’’in-apla, who held the throne of Assyria, supposedly as an usurper, for four years at the end of the reign of Shalmaneser III, from 827 to 824 BC. The weak and insignificant predecessors of Sardanapalus in the traditional account, of whom very little is recorded even in legend, may have been the obscure antecedents of the non-royal Asshur-da’’in-apla. Alternatively, he was the legitimate heir of Shalmaneser III, and his ancestry was traced by his ousters, who wished to defame him, from a collateral branch of the royal house. Asshur-da’’in-apla was removed from power by Shamshi-Adad V, the husband of Queen Sammuramat, with the help of foreign forces. Ctesias’ account, having an Iranian bias, highlights the contribution of these foreign forces and represents the Mede Arbaces and the Babylonian Belesus as the ousters of Sardanapalus. Belesus can only be Marduk-balassu-iqbi, the ruler of Babylon in the days of Shamshi-Adad V. (Belesus is a Greek transcription of the element balassu. It is an abbreviated form, omitting the initial divine name, Marduk, and the final element, -iqbi, similar to those from the same era preserved by Polyhistor and Abydenus, §295, below, >>.) Ctesias’ account, in fact, ignores the whole of the Neo-Assyrian empire which rose shortly after this period under Tiglath-pileser III and concentrates instead on the historically insignificant Median royal line, beginning with Arbaces and ending with the famous Astyages. The Neo-Assyrian kings are referred to as kings of the Chaldaean race ruling from Nineveh in the Chronicle of Michael of Syria (ed. Chabot, tom. I, p. 78 [margin]): “After the death of Sardanapalus and the destruction of the empire of the Assyrians of Nineveh, a second empire [viz. the Neo-Assyrian empire] arose at Nineveh: that of the race of the Chaldaeans, to which belonged Pul, Tiglath-Pileser [III], Shalmaneser, Sennacherib and those of their successors of whom the Divine Scriptures make mention; and another ruled over the Assyrians of Babylonia; it was also of Chaldaean origin [viz. the Neo-Babylonian empire]; it began with Nabunasar, and continued till Nabupalasar and Nebuchadnezzar.”

96. Castor’s account similarly brings the old Assyrian empire to an end in this era, but not with Sardanapalus. The last king in his account is another Ninus, and he is the immediate successor of Sardanapalus. (According to the summary of Castor’s scheme in the Excerpta Barbari, 37b, 67 years intervened between “these kings,” thirty-nine of them from Belus to the last king Ninus, and the first Olympiad, rather than 67 years between the reign of Sardanapalus and the first Olympiad as in Abydenus.) This version of the king-list, with a Ninus at both the beginning and the end of the old Assyrian royal line, was adopted by Eusebius in his Chronicle as well as in the Excerpta Barbari.

97. The sum 1300 years, more or less, between the earlier and later Ninus was obtained by dead reckoning of the intervening reigns, since the individual regnal figures in Castor, as preserved by Eusebius and Syncellus, yield a result on this order. It suited those who adhered to the Septuagint’s longer chronology to treat the reigns of the Assyrian kings as strictly successive, but, like Berossus and Manetho, Ctesias seems actually to have included surplus or overlapping reigns. (On the false chronology of the Septuagint see §626.21.1, below, >>.) Traditional synchronisms between the Assyrian kings and other royal lines provide a check on the figures, and the result is a chronology which accords perfectly with that of the Hebrew Scriptures. (For the following synchronistic analysis consult the chart at §286.1, below, >>.) According to Clement of Alexandria (Stromata lib. I. cap. XXI., s. 102), the 32nd year of Ctesias’ 8th king, Belochus (“Belouchos”), which was the 402nd year of the Assyrian Empire, coincided with the Exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt (historically 1446 BC, viz. 480 years before the construction of the First Temple), in the era of the Egyptian Amosis (= Misphragmouthosis, i.e. Thutmosis III c. 1499-1446 BC), and in the era of the Argive Inachus, the beginning of whose reign was approximately 400 years before the Trojan War (the latter dated 1183 BC by Eratosthenes). (For the chronology of the Exodus see §412ff., below, >>.) This confirms the Armenian tradition that Ctesias’ 8th king Belochus was a contemporary of the Armenian king Pharhnag c. 1531-1478 BC, and that his predecessor Ninus (Castor’s earlier Ninus) reigned c. 1800-1750 BC, a mere 1000 years, more or less, not 1300 years, before Sardanapalus. This agrees with the reckoning of Cephalion (as observed by Moses of Khorene, History of the Armenians, lib. I cap. XVIII, §990, below, >>), who counted 1013 years in total between the beginning of the Assyrian empire and the coronation of Sardanapalus, and questioned the alternative opinion that 1000 years passed between Semiramis, the wife of Ninus, and Mithraeus (the latter dated c. 1250 BC). (Cephalion in the Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle, Chronicorum lib. I cap. XV. 2-3, ed. Migne PG XIX col. 137f.) Velleius Paterculus (Hist. I. cap. 6) similarly allowed 1070 (MLXX) years for the duration of the Assyrian empire from Ninus (Castor’s earlier Ninus) till Sardanapalus was overthrown by Arbaces the Mede. The 9th century AD author of the Ekloge Historion in Codex. Paris. 854 (ed. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca, vol ii, Oxford 1839, p. 175) likewise dated Ctesias’ Ninus to the era of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt (which terminated according to the Biblical chronology in 1782 BC). Therefore, the Ninus of the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, viz. Nimrod, Ham’s grandson, who flourished in the immediate post-diluvian period, preceded Ctesias’ Ninus, Castor’s earlier Ninus, by several hundred years. We will call Nimrod, accordingly, Ninus A. This is the same person referred to earlier as Nimrod A or Ninus A. He truly was the builder of Nineveh, whose foundation was in the Jemdet Nasr period c. 2300 BC (Biblical chronology and uncalibrated radiocarbon dates), and which long predated Castor’s earlier Ninus. We shall call Castor’s earlier Ninus, therefore, Ninus I, and his later Ninus, at the end of the Empire, Ninus II. Syncellus (§252, below, >>) preserved a list of kings who reigned 489 years between Nimrod (identified with Berossus’ Euechoios, Enmerkar), and Castor’s earlier Ninus (Ninus I). That would date Nimrod-Euechoios-Ninus A to c. 2300-2250 BC (489 years preceding c. 1800-1750 BC [the floruit of Ninus I]), i.e. to the Jemdet Nasr or the beginning of the Early Dynastic period. This was the era of the Shinar Tower and of the foundation of Nineveh, viz. the historical era of Nimrod-Enmerkar. It accords perfectly with the traditional Armenian dating of Nimrod, called Bel the Titan, the ancestor of Ninus I, to c. 2300 BC. Bel the Titan was followed by a series of kings, synchronized with native Armenian kings, who reigned between him and Ninus I, and their names were derived from Abydenus (in the Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle, Chronicorum lib. I cap. XII, ed. Migne PG XIX, col. 132), a reliable witness of native Mesopotamian traditions. Cephalion seems to have been in agreement with Abydenus on this point (Moses of Khorene, History of the Armenians, lib. I cap. V, §912, below, >>).

98. In Diodorus’ epitome of Ctesias, Ninus — Ninus I in this scheme — has a voluptuous wife Semiramis who accomplishes deeds greater even than those of her husband, including the building of the city of Babylon. According to Justinus’ epitome of Trogus Pompeius, and other chronographers, Semiramis was a contemporary of Zoroaster (called Xuartes or Oxuartes in Ctesias). Suidas (s.v. Zoroastres) dated Zoroaster 500 years before the Trojan War: reckoning from Eratosthenes’ date for the fall of Troy, that would be around 1700 BC, which agrees with the chronology of Mar Abas Catina. However, Berossus condemned this version of events as unhistorical, a Greek fantasy. (Apud Syncellus ed. Mosshammer, 236 = ed. Dindorf, 418.) He resented the “lying” assertion that a lecherous Assyrian queen was the builder of Babylon. Babylonia was Berossus’ native land, and he clearly distinguished Babylonia from Assyria, though Greeks confused the terms. Berossus placed “the Assyrian Semiramis” chronologically between the end of the second millennium BC and the first half of the eighth century BC. (For Berossus’ account go to §241ff., below, >>.) According to Polyhistor’s epitome of Berossus, as preserved in the Armenian translation of Eusebius’ Chronicle and in Syncellus, Berossus allowed: 1. a minimum of 927, and more probably of 975, years between (the chronologically anterior) Zoroaster and (the chronologically posterior) Semiramis; 2. a maximum of 526 years + x years of a single reign from the end of that period to the reign of Pul, i.e. the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, 745-727 BC, whose kingdom Berossus described correctly as having included the Chaldaeans. (The reign of Semiramis herself is not securely located in the fragments of Berossus that remain. These are found in translation at §248, below, >>. The x additional years allow for the fact that she may have reigned before or after, rather than within, this period of 526 years. A simple reading of the passage suggests Berossus dated Semiramis to the beginning of the period.) Berossus, therefore, dated Semiramis some time between around 1300 BC (= 745 + 526 + x years of a single reign) and 745 BC, and more probably around 1300 BC. Archaeology has discovered an Assyrian Queen Sammuramat, who ruled as regent for her son, Adad-nirari III, while he was a minor, from 810 to 805 BC, and lived on during his adult years on the throne (804-783 BC). This could be Berossus’ Semiramis. However, the more probable dating of Berossus’ Semiramis to c. 1300 BC suggests he actually had in mind the Assyrian queen Atossa of the traditional Assyrian king-list, the daughter of the 18th king Belochus, c. 1360 BC, who was also, according to Eusebius (Chronicorum lib. II [Canon Chronicus], Migne PG XIX col. 385) called Semiramis, and ruled 7 years with her father. (On her identity, see §343.2, below, >>.) Berossus was right when he denied his Semiramis had anything to do with the building of Babylon and gave the credit in that regard to the Chaldaean Nebuchadrezzar. Neither of these two queens, so far as we know, had anything to do with the building of Babylon. As regards the latter of them, nevertheless, it is a remarkable fact that the old Assyrian empire of Castor actually terminated with the reign of a queen bearing a name very similar to Semiramis (the historical Sammuramat), who married a king of Nineveh, Ninus II, the successor of Sardanapalus, historically Shamshi-Adad V, the successor of Asshur-da’’in-apla.

99. No Greek historian who dealt at length with the subject agreed with Berossus in his chronology. Herodotus referred to a queen called Semiramis in passing (Histories I. 184), who had levées made near Babylon, and dated her “five generations” before Nitocris, that is, before c. 600 BC, and therefore, it would appear, around 800 BC. The dating, if correct, indicates Sammuramat the wife of Shamshi-Adad V. However abbreviated genealogies, reducing the historical number of generations, were common in ancient genealogy, and there is evidence that such occurred in the case of Semiramis, the builder of Babylon. (See §294, below, >>.) Ctesias’ Semiramis was also a famous constructor of levées. (See §289, below, >>.) Therefore, Herodotus might be referring here to the earlier queen. By his own lights, Berossus had cause to ignore this Semiramis: embankments built near Babylon were reminiscent of the Greek tradition that Semiramis was the original builder of Babylon, and that he firmly denied. All other Greek accounts dated their Semiramis, and her specifically the builder of Babylon, a thousand years and more before Sardanapalus. There was, as we shall see, a Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod or Ninus A, whom we shall call Semiramis A. There was also a Semiramis, who lived around 1750 BC, and who was the builder of Babylon, the Semiramis famed in Greek legend. We shall call her Semiramis I. Then there was Atossa-Semiramis, the daughter of Belochus, c. 1300 BC, or Semiramis II. Finally, there was the Semiramis of Herodotus, if his dating is accurate, viz. Sammuramat, the wife of Shamshi-Adad V, or Semiramis III, c. 800 BC.

100. The fact that Semiramis was deified, as we are informed by Lucian of Samosata in his description of the cult at Hierapolis in Syria (De Dea Syria 14, 33, 39), and identified with the Oriental Mother Goddess (Rhea; also Hera, Hekate and Nemesis in the Excerpta Barbari, see §101.17, below, >>, Artemis Despoina in the scholiast on Dionysii Periegesis) doubtless contributed to the confusion. Athenagoras (Supplicatio pro Christianis, cap. XXX): “For if detestable and god-hated men had the reputation of being gods, and the daughter of [the goddess] Derceto, Semiramis, a lascivious and blood-stained woman, was esteemed to be Dea Syria [the “Syrian Goddess” Atargatis or Derceto worshiped at Hierapolis, the consort of the god Hadad, and identified with Rhea, Hera etc.]; and if, on account of Derceto, the Syrians worship doves and Semiramis (for, a thing impossible, a woman [viz. Semiramis] was changed into a dove: the story is in Ctesias), what wonder if some should be called gods by their people on the ground of their rule and sovereignty.” As a goddess Semiramis was not bound by the same rules of time and space as a mere mortal. She could be, depending on the viewpoint of the chronographer, the wife of Ninus A, in the third millennium BC, of Ninus I 500 years later, as well as of Ninus II c. 800 BC. The deity with whom she was most commonly identified was the oriental mother goddess called “Rhea” by the Greeks. Rhea was the wife of Kronos, and Kronos, in the scheme of Mar Abas Catina (the Manethonian god-king Geb), was Nimrod. On the other hand, in the Excerpta Barbari (ut cit.) Ninus was equated with the Egyptian Serapis, and with the three Greek divinities Poseidon, Plouto and Zeus, the sons of Kronos, and Semiramis with the three Greek goddesses Nemesis, Hekate and Hera. The “Syrian Goddess” Atargatis was a form of the divinity known as the “Place of Gods,” as was equally the Egyptian Isis, which meant she combined in her person the identities of many different deities (Simplicius, Comm. in Arist. Phys. lib. IV, Corollarium De Loco, ed. Diels, 1882, p. 641). Thus Semiramis, wife of Ninus-Serapis, was Isis, who was assimilated, in turn, to a whole array of Classical goddesses, including specifically Rhea, Artemis, Nemesis, Hekate and Hera, e.g. in Apuleius, Metamorphoses, XI. 5. 2-3: “Thus the Phrygians, earliest of races call me Pessinuntia, Mother of the Gods [= Rhea] … the arrow-bearing Cretans, Dictynna Diana [= Artemis] … to others [I am] Juno [= Hera], to others … Hecate [Hekate] and Rhamnusia [Nemesis]. But the Ethiopians, who are illuminated by the first rays of the sun god as he is born every day together with the Africans and the Egyptians who excel through having the original doctrine, honor me with my distinctive rites and give me my true name of Queen Isis.” Isis was known as Baalat Gebal, that is, the “Mistress of Byblos,” Gebal/Byblos being a famous port on the coast of Canaan from which the cult was introduced into Egypt. Another name of the same goddess was Baalti or Balthi, “My Mistress” (literally “Madonna”). According to the Lexicon of Bar-Bahlul (Payne-Smith, col. 542) Balthi (“Belati”) was Aphrodite (Venus), called “Ouzi” by the Arabs, “[A]phrodite” by the Greeks, “Tmqath” by the Qoraishites, “Belati” by the Chaldaeans, “Ishtara” (Ishtar) by the Aramaeans, “Bidouk” in Persia, “Belati” and the “Queen of Heaven” by the Daranites (or Dadanites), “Belati” in Elam, “Shigal” and “Dilbath” at Babylon, “Helios” (Gk. = the “Sun,” i.e. the sun-goddess Hathor) in Egypt, “Artemis” in Asia, “Diophotios” in Ephesus (i.e. Artemis as embodied in the meteorite which fell from heaven, lit. “from Zeus,” see Acts 19. 35), and “Nahi” by the Houzites.

End of Excursus