The Shamash Tablet
Artifact: Stone tablet
Period: Neo-Babylonian (ca. 626-539 BC)
Current location: British Museum
Text genre, language: Akkadian
Description: This 9th century BC stone tablet (BM 91000), with a bas-relief and cuneiform captions was discovered inside an inscribed terracotta chest (BM 91004), also containing two or more clay impressions of the tablet’s relief, one with a cultic text on the back (BM 91002). The chest and impressions are probably dateable to the reign of Nabonidus, three centuries after the stone tablet. The assemblage was excavated by Hormuzd Rassam in 1881 at Abū Habbah, and proved that site’s identification with ancient Sippar.
The stone Sun-God tablet was commissioned by king Nabû-Apla-Iddina (887-855), and represents an early example of a Neo-Babylonian king’s antiquarian interests. It was styled after the Middle Babylonian Kudurru, using archaizing Middle Babylonian language, and adapting iconography originating as far back as the Ur III period or earlier(Woods, 46 ff.). Drawing on this sense of antiquity to legitimize the cultic endowments established in the text, it describes the history of established offerings amidst disruptions to order attributed to the Sutians. According to the text, after one Nabû-šuma-ušarši, a šangû priest of the Ebabbar temple found a fired clay relief of Šamaš on the banks of the Euphrates and brought it to the king, Nabû-Apla-Iddina was able to re-fasion Šamaš’s cultic statue and re-instated generous regular cultic gifts of food, drink and garments. The relief depicts three figures approaching a stool with a sun disc, on the other side of which sits Šamaš in his shrine.
The text is recognized for its importance among art historians and historiographers of the ancient Near East. For a full account see Woods: JCS 56, 2004.
(Kathryn Kelley, Oxford University)
Edition(s): Woods, C.E. 2004. "The Sun-God Tablet of Nabû-apla-iddina Revisited," JCS 56, 23 - 103.