As stated before in our study (title of chapter: “Some Notes on the Queen’s Title”), there was usually only one MI2.E2.GAL at a time, who reigned until her death as the only MI2.E2.GAL. This custom seems to have changed during the reign of Sennacherib, who is recorded as having had two queens, Tašmetu-šarrat and Naqī’a (Svärd 2012: 91, 93). They could be consecutive MI2.E2.GAL of Sennacherib.
According to Julian Reade, they overlapped because the building inscription mentioning Tašmetu-šarrat comes from ca. 700 BC but Esarhaddon was born before 700 BC. However, this does not in fact prove the existence of two queens at the same time, but only that the king could have children with women other than the MI2.E2.GAL. It is possible that Tašmetu-šarrat was the MI2.E2.GAL until her death, after which, at some point before Sennacherib’s death, Naqī’a became the MI2.E2.GAL (Teppo 2005: 36; Svärd 2012: 93).
In many of the sources Naqī’a is referred to as the “queen mother” rather than by her name. Most occurances of “mother of the king” in Neo-Assyrian texts refer to Naqī’a (For texts see SAA 12, no.21-23 and SAA 06, 143). It seems that she did not use title MI2.E2.GAL when she expressed herself (Teppo 2005: 37; Svärd 2012: 93,94). The royal inscriptions of Esarhaddon, her son, used the title MI2.E2.GAL:
“fna-qi-'a-a MI2.E2.GAL ša2 30-PAP-MEŠ-su: Naqī’a,the wife of Sennacherib” (RINAP 4, Esarhaddon, 2009).
King Esarhaddon’s mother, Naqī’a, is certainly the best documented queen and mother of a king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Svärd 2012: 107). She was the wife of Sennacherib, daughter-in-law of Sargon, mother of Esarhaddon, grandmother of Ashurbanipal. Although her name is West Semitic, there is no certain evidence about Naqī’a’s origin. By the end of the 8th century, West Semitic names were becoming more and more common in Assyria and Babylonia, thus the fact that a name is West Semitic cannot be used to determine the bearer’s point of origin. Naqī’a’s name alone cannot tell us where she came from, nor does it indicate that she was born outside of Assyria proper. She also used the Akkadian name “Zakutu”. Johns and Waterman suggest that she was Hebrew and latter contends that she was one of the women that Hezekiah sent to Sennacherib in 701 BC.Other scholars connect Naqī’a to the Aramaean tribes living in Babylonia. There are letters written to her from Babylonia during Esarhaddon’s reign. Some scholars have taken these as indications that Naqī’a came from the area and governed it (See Melville 1999: 13-15).
Various scholars have speculated about her origins. According to Nougayrol, she was probably born in Babylonia but her family may have originated in the Haran area (A.Parrot-J.Nougayrol, “Asarhaddon et Naqī’a sur un Bronze du Louvre (AO 20185)”, Syria 33, 1956, p.158).
The facts of the life of the queen Naqī’a are few. About her family we only know that she had a sister, Abi-rami (In SAA 06, 252 was recorded that Abi-rami lent the silver in Baruri’s town in 674 BC. She must be Naqī’a’s sister). Naqī’a means “pure, clean” in Aramaic (Parpola 2004: 12, fn 31; Macgregor 2012: 72, 99; Melville 1999: 13).
Most of our information about Naqī’a dates to the reign her son, Esarhaddon. To this period belong the letters addressed to her and those in which she is mentioned. We also have the building inscription from a palace that she had built for Esarhaddon, two dedicatory inscriptions, and administrative and economic documents indicating that she was very wealthy and supported a large household staff. When her son died she imposed a loyalty oath on behalf of her grandson, Ashurbanipal, and although she may have lived longer, that is the last positive evidence we have of her (Melville 1999: 2).
Among the Neo-Assyrian royal correspondence are a number of letters addressed to the queen mother, Naqī’a. Five or six letters were addressed to her from Assyrian officials; four letters were written to her from Babylonian officials; one letter was written to her from the king (Melville 1999: 6). In the letter from king to his mother, it seems that the king agreed with his mother’s opinion about the topic at hand:
“The order of the king to the mother of the king: I am well. Good health to the mother of the king! Concerning the servant of Amos, about whom you wrote to me-just as the king’s mother commanded, in the same way I have commanded. It is fine indeed, as you said. Why does Hamunaiu go?” (For the letter see SAA 16, 2).
This is an excellent example of the influence of the king’s mother (Svärd 2012: 110).
During Sennacherib’s reign, military units (“mukīl appāte ša MI2.E2.GAL” (S.Dalley-J.N.Postgate, Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud III, The Tablets from Fourth Shalmaneser”, British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1984, p.11)) appear in the queen’s service (Svärd 2012: 107). There is a text that relates to direct military action by Naqī’a regarding the Elamite invasion of the Sealand (Svärd 2012: 103. For text see SAA 18, 85). This is the second and last example of royal women being associated with military action, after Sammu-rāmat.
Naqī’a, also played an active role in religious life (SAA 9 1, 2, 5; SAA 10, 109; For ritual texts see SAA 10, 313; SAA 13, 76, 77; For temple donations see SAA 10, 313, 348; SAA 13, 188). She seems to have taken a more active interest in them than her predecessors. Her role seems to have expanded into the cultic realm, as attested in a description of a ritual where both the king and the queen play a role (Svärd 2012: 107-108). (Fig.14 (Svärd 2012: 109)) Furthermore, a washing of the mouth (mīs pî) and opening of the mouth (pīt pî) ritual for the great gods of Assyria were performed in the front of statue or image of Naqī’a (ṣa-lam fna-qi-'a-a) (RINAP 4, Esarhaddon, 2010). This too shows her important position in religious life.
Fig.14. Bronze Relief Fragment in the Louvre Museum
Naqī’a undoubtedly had residences in the major Assyrian cities in addition to Nineveh and was extremely wealthy, possibly even wealthier than the queen. She had an extensive staff and she made numerous donations to temples and contributed horses to the palace . Nonethless, it is not clear why she provided for the temples. The contributions might have been tax payments, private donations or materials for her statues in the temples. Indeed, an image of her in gold was to be erected at Kalhu (SAA 13, no.61) and a statue of her possibly existed in Harran (SAA 13, no.188).
After Esarhaddon’s accession to the throne Naqī’a’s authority definitely grew. She built a palace for her son in Nineveh and composed an inscription commemorating it. She also made a dedication to the goddess Belet-Ninua for her own life and that of her son Esarhaddon. The other side of this tablet bears an inscription recording a dedication made by Zakutu to the goddess Mulissu.
A number of letters from scholars also refer to the state of the queen mother’s health. It is understood that her health was not good and Namburbi rituals were performed for her health.
The last evidence of Naqī’a is from the beginning of the reign of Ashurbanipal, her grandson (end of 669 BC). That is when, using her Akkadian name Zakūtu, she had the king’s family, the aristocracy and the nation of Assyria swear an oath of loyalty to her grandson : “…ina IGI MI2.za-ku-te AMA-šu2 u3 ina IGI maš-šur-DU3-A MAN KUR-aš: ….in the presence of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria and his mother , Zakūtu…”.
It is clear from the treaty itself that the queen mother was taking Esarhaddon’s place (temporarily) as Ashurbanipal’s patron and reaffirming the succession treaty of 672. She is carrying out the stipulation in the “vassal-treaties” that calls for Ashurbanipal to be helped to take the throne when his father dies.
Naqī’a has also been connected with Nitokris of Babylon, a legendary figure in later Greek histories by Lewy. After Sammu-rāmat, Naqī’a was the second queen to become a legendary figure. We do not know when Naqī’a died, but it seems likely that she did not long outlive her son.