Sargon’s letter to Ashur
Artifact: Clay tablet
Period: Neo-Assyrian (ca. 911-612 BC)
Current location: Louvre Museum, Paris (AO 5372)
Text genre, language: Royal inscription; Akkadian
“Description: This large, well-preserved tablet presents an account of Sargon II’s eighth campaign, against Urartu, in the form of a letter addressed to the god Ashur. The letter offers a long, detailed, and dramatic account of a Neo-Assyrian campaign, describing the hazards and hardships of his army’s march, its success in battle, and its taking of booty. Perhaps because a god could be expected to be especially interested in such a detail, the destruction of the Urartian cult centre Musasir is given particular prominence. Despite the similarity to Neo-Assyrian royal annals, the text operates within the frame of a letter and all that that entails; it even opens with the ordinary greetings and exhortations, wishing that all will go well with the god.
The text demonstrates one of the underlying assumptions of Neo-Assyrian expansionism: that it was for the pleasure and the benefit of the Assyrian gods, watched over by them and reported on to them.
The letter was addressed not only to the god but also to the people of Assur and the city itself. It is usually presumed, after an influential suggestion by Oppenheim (1960: 143), that the letter was read aloud as an element of a public victory ceremony, although there is no external evidence of such a practice. Although fragments of letters to gods by Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal have also been found, this is the only complete example of the genre. (Eva Miller, University of Oxford)”