The Assyrian Queen and The Scorpion
The scorpion (Akkadian “zuqiqīpu(m)/zuqaqīpu(m)”; See Gelb 1957: 309; Sumerian “GĺR.TAB”. See CDA: 450; Chikako E.Watanebe, Animal Symbolism in Mesopotamia, A Contextual Approach, WOO, Band 1, Institut für Orientalistik, Universität Wien, Wien 2002, p.39) is found in Mesopotamian art, especially engravings, from at least the third millennium and is thought to have been “quite clearly connected with fertility” (Macgregor 2012: 77). Indeed, representations of scorpions are known from prehistoric times onwards, but not unequivocally as a religious symbol until late in the Kassite Period on kudurrus, on which the creature is labelled as a symbol of the goddess Išhara (see J. Black and A. Green's Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. 1992, 160). The creature’s association with fertility is suported by the shape of the creature's tail and in its association with Išhara, the goddess of sexual fertility and fecundity. It is also emphasised in the divine function of Sîn, and the responsibility of Adad to provide rain can also be related to the fertility of the land (Watanebe 2002: 160).
Ideologically, the Assyrian queen was the image of the Queen of Heaven, Mulissu/Ištar, and was accordingly depicted with the main attributes of the goddess, the mural crown, the mirror and the spindle. In Assyrian religion, Mulissu was the heavenly mother of the king, the holy spirit, who spoke through the prophets and pleaded for the king and all mankind in the “divine council” in heaven. As the physical mother of the future king, the queen effectively coalesced with her heavenly paragon. By the virtue of her access to the king’s bed, she also personified the goddess of marital love, Išhara. All documents of the queen were sealed with the image of scorpion, the symbol of Išhara (Parpola 2012: 619).
There are at least 65 known examples of seal impressions from Nineveh that have the image of a scorpion on them (Macgregor 2012: 74). Beside that, twelve stamp seals and two cylinder seals were found in the queens’ tombs in Nimrud (Al-Gailani Werr 2008: 155). The grave goods from the discovered queens’ tombs in the North-West Palace of Nimrud have yielded further evidence for the intimate association of the scorpion with the Assyrian queen. From Tomb II, a gold bowl with a scorpion embossed on its inner rim and an electron mirror with scorpion embossed on its handle are identified as the property of Ataliya, queen of Sargon II. A bracelet of gold with nine cornelian stone inlays, the central one of which is engraved with a scorpion, was also found in Tomb II. Finally, the finds from Tomb III include a golden stamp seal in the shape of a finger ring worn as a pendant. Around its convex base runs a cuneiform inscription identifying the seal as the property of Hamȃ, queen of Shalmaneser IV. The seal motif shows, inside a guilloche and dot border, a bare-headed woman whom we, nevertheless, should confidently identify as the queen herself. She is standing in prayer in front of the goddess Gula, who is seated on a straight-backed throne supported by a dog; behind the deity is a scorpion (Radner 2012: 691).
Another comparable seal is known from its impressions only; it shows the king and the queen approaching a god and a goddess, standing on a bull and a lion respectively, with the scorpion hovering above the scene. Its impressions survive on four inscribed box sealings from the North-West Palace at Nimrud, and the preserved dates prove that the seal was used during the reign of Sargon II in the years 719 and 716 BC. Due to its similary to Hamȃ’s seal, it would seem highly likely that this was the seal of Sargon’s queen Ataliya (Radner 2012: 691).
In addition, royal weights also were founded at Nimrud tombs. On the Ataliya’s weights included a scorpion symbol. Because of this, it could be possible that it was the astrological sign of Sargon II (Al-Rawi 2008: 130).
That the scorpion is the emblem of the Assyrian queen is now widely accepted. But why the scorpion? The female scorpion was called tārit zuqaqīpi, “she who picks up the scorpion”, the first element tārītu being a nominal form derived from the verb tarû, “to arise, to pick up” (also used in the meaning “child-nurse, nanny”). This certainly refers to the fact that the mother scorpion carries her young about on her back. Giving birth to the crown prince is arguably the queen’s most important duty, and the very active role in promoting and supporting their sons is well known for those royal women whose memory has survived the fall of Assyria: Sammu-rāmat and Naqī’a. Is the scorpion the emblem of the Assyrian queen because the female scorpion, fiercely guarding and defending her young with her poisonous tail, was seen as the ideal mother? (Radner 2012: 691, 692).