Information that may add to the enjoyment of reading this adventure.

Peoples, Places and Artifacts of Mesopotamia

Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses

A Timeline of Early Mesopotamia



A name given by the ancient Greeks to the land which is is today modern Iraq, and a bit of Syria and Turkey. It translates as land between the two rivers: meso (between) and potomia (river). Western civilization was born here.


These are the two great rivers of Mesopotamia. Their source is high in the Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey, and they travel over a thousand miles to empty into the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates lies to the west and the Tigris to the east. Modern Baghdad is situated on the Tigris River, where the two mighty rivers are closest together.


The Iraq National Museum is a repository of objects representing the origins of human history and civilization, in the place where it all began – Mesopotamia. It was founded in 1926 by Gertrude Bell, an Englishwoman who devoted her life’s work to the Middle East; as a linguist, a diplomat and as Iraq's first Director of Antiquities. The museum was brutally sacked during the 2003 invasion. Thousands of antiquities were plundered, damaged or destroyed. Recovery efforts continue to this day, as do the plundering and destruction of antiquities throughout the Middle East. In Eyes of Eshnunna, Compass Rose visits the Iraq National Museum during the first weeks after its destruction.


The Ubaid peoples dwelt from approximately 6500 – 3800 BCE in the marshes of southern Iraq, which they began to drain for agriculture. Due to the success of this practice, the Ubaidians became the first civilizing force of Sumer; developing trade and establishing the industries of textiles, pottery, metal, leather and stone work. Social hierarchy, urbanization and the maintenance of temples began to take shape, becoming the prototype of civilization for the next stage of the development, the Uruk Period. The mystery found in The Eyes of Eshnunna reaches all the way back to this deep past..


The marshlands of Southern Iraq are created by the annual flooding of its two great rivers. The Ma'dan (Marsh Arabs) who inhabit these marshlands, have traditionally maintained a lifestyle among the reeds, similar to the early Ubaidians themselves. Their villages are made of reeds and situated on floating reed islands. They travel in skiffs down avenues of tall reeds. They meet together in large reed houses called mudhif. The guffah, a prehistoric coracle (a tub-like boat made of reeds and skins) was commonly used until recent times. The marshlands are a bounteous but fragile wetlands ecosystem. Cited for destruction and methodically drained under the direction of Saddam Hussein, they shrank to a fraction of their original size. Many of its people were killed or displaced. The process for their recovery has been underway since 2003. The Iraqi marshlands are now a Unesco world heritage site. Compass Rose travels to the Hammar Marsh and rides in a guffah when she meets her nemesis Dak’sidi (Dark Side).


Sumer, comprising the territory from what is now Baghdad to the Persian Gulf, is characterized as the world's first civilization, lasting as a political entity from about 3800 – 2000 BCE. Sumer developed a massive irrigation system of canals which eventually led to the formation of large territorial, independent city-states. These first cities shared cultural traits; the same belief system developed from ancient myths, a social hierarchy of kingship, priests and priestesses, writing and record-keeping, literature, art forms and monumental architecture.


The Diyala Province is named for the Diyala River, a major tributary of the Tigris River, which rises in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Its bottomlands create the fertile region northeast of Baghdad. Ba'qubah, is its modern capital; Compass Rose is sent to the Ba’qubah Camp Freedom airfield in the story. The ancient Mesopotamian sites of this area are rich with archaeological evidence, among which is Eshnunna. They were comprehensively excavated and documented by the Diyala Expedition of the Oriental Institute of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania in the 1930's, during the “golden age” of archaeology. The Diyala Project is an online database of thousands of objects from these expeditions. It is accessible to the public through the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.


Compass Rose solves her mystery at Eshnunna, an ancient city-state of Sumerian culture, that became an independent dynasty c. 2026 BCE. It is located on the Diyala River about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, in the Diyala province. Eshnunna is now named Tell Asmar. It was prominent during the final stages of the Sumer dynasties, through its control of lucrative trade routes from the east. It produced a written legal code, called the Laws of Eshnunna, that predate the Code of Hammurabi. The Diyala Expedition, sponsored in the 1930's by the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, excavated deeply here, uncovering neighborhoods, manufacturing facilities, defenses, palaces, temples and most famously, the Tell Asmar hoard, a cache of twelve votive figures, one on display in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. These figures were the inspiration for The Eyes of Eshnunna.


A tell is a ruined mound of dirt hills that are the remains of ancient successive settlements, created when new structures were built upon the old. Numerous tells, with their flat tops and sloping sides, along with the decomposing walls and waterways of ancient canals, give the desert landscape of Iraq its distinctive appearance. Ancient tells are now sites of archaeological digs.


Writing seems to have first appeared in Mesopotamia, called cuneiform (cunea wedge), made by a combination of wedge-shaped marks, incised onto wet clay tablets by a reed stylus. The dried clay tablets were fired in brick kilns, becoming imperishable “books” that were stored in temple archives and palace libraries, bearing a lasting textual record of perished civilizations. It was used throughout the ancient world. Invented as a form of record-keeping and administrative documentation, cuneiform eventually recorded the world's first laws and literature; myths, hymns, prayers, incantations, lamentations, proverbs and epic poetry, which can be read, studied and enjoyed today. The gradual deciphering of cuneiform script is a marvel of human curiosity and dedicated scholarship.


A cylinder seal is a very small cylindrical stone engraved with inscriptions and detailed images of gods, goddesses, myth and royalty, used to identify people and belongings. They were rolled across wet clay to make an impression. They are usually hollow and could be worn as amulets, on a pin or a string. Cylinder seals are exquisite miniature works of art. It is possible to roll an ancient cylinder seal on wet clay today, and obtain a perfect impression of the ancient image. In Eyes of Eshnunna, the character Tiamat gives Compass Rose a necklace made of cylinder seals and bulla (see below).


A bulla is a hollow clay ball, usually bearing the owner's seal impressions across its surface, that contain a variety of small clay tokens representing the commodities being exchanged. Before writing was invented, business transactions were recorded in this way. The tokens were of simple abstract designs used to represent various commodities, such as cattle or grain, eventually leading to symbols of the written word.


Colloquial form of the word antique. It often refers to shards of clay bearing cuneiform script.


The term votive figure refers to a type of small statuettes that have been found throughout Mesopotamia in temple structures dating from the Early Dynasty period of Sumer (2900 BCE - 2350 BCE). Carved in a somewhat abstract style from limestone, alabaster and gypsum, they are thought to represent surrogate worshippers placed in a temple for perpetual adoration of the god. Some bear inscriptions, such as “Statue, say to my lord (thus)...” All have huge eyes, made of black limestone or blue lapis lazuli, and white shell, that seem to glare outward. Their poses are reverential, with hands clasped in prayer or holding a libation cup. Throughout Eyes of Eshnunna Sumerian votive figures appear as bearers of clues and revealers of secrets. The drawings are based of the votive figures of the Tel Asmar Hoard (Early Dynastiy I – II).


An eye idol is the term used for small, hauntingly abstract statuettes and anthropomorphic plaques whose heads are dominated by large hollow eyes. They may have had a devotional function. Sculpted from clay or stone, eye idols are extremely old, dating from the early Uruk Period.


Two artifacts from the extremely ancient Sumerian city of Uruk - modern day Warka. The mask is believed to be a depiction of Inanna, and is one of the earliest representations of a human face. The vase is a ritual vessel carved from alabaster. Both of these priceless artifacts were stolen from the Iraq Museum during the 2003 looting, but were, somewhat miraculously, recovered.


The “Baghdad Battery” refers to several artifacts of uncertain provenance that may or may not have functioned as a battery in antiquity. The object itself is a clay jar with a stopper made of bitumen, from which an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder is suspended inside. When filled with an electrolytic solution, such as vinegar, the jar is able to produce about 1.1 volts of electricity. Compass Rose uses the concept of the battery to help solve the Eshnunna mystery.

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The gods and goddesses of Ancient Mesopotamia had the attributes of human beings, even as they represented the primal forces of the natural world. All aspects of human life were governed by the me, a set of rules ordained for Mesopotamians by the gods. Each city was presided over by its own god, who was housed in a towering temple complex crowned by a ziggurrat, a stepped pyramid of enormous height. Priests, priestesses, and god-like kings acted in accordance with the mandates of the gods, controlling the political, economic, religious, and everyday lives of the people of early Mesopotamia.


In the ancient Sumerian pantheon, Inanna is the goddess of love and war – representing desire and power, sexual attraction and carnal pleasure, and the confusion and chaos of battle. Her symbols are the eight-pointed star or rosette, the hooked reed posts of the storehouse, and the lion. She is associated with Venus and the moon. Inanna is often mentioned in this adventure.


Dumuzi, representing the pastoral aspects of Mesopotamian life, is the god of shepherds and their flocks, chosen by Inanna to be her lover. Their relationship was problematic; she selected Dumuzi to take her place in hell. Compass Rose discovers that Elijah Best is her Dumuzi.


Inanna's sister, Ereshkigal, is the queen of hell, dwelling in the desolate land of the dead. In one myth she seduced the god of light Nergal, keeping him with her in the underworld for half the year; releasing him to the light for the other half. When Inanna paid her sister a visit, Ereshkigal commanded that she stay, and be put to death. As Compass Rose heads south towards her meeting with Dark Side, she quotes an ancient text that summons Inanna to Ereshkigal.


Ninhursag is one of the primordial goddesses of Sumer. She is a mother-goddess, a fertility goddess, the queen of the sacred mountains; hursag is the word for the stony ground of the foothills. Her appearance is powerful. She is winged, bears royal regalia and weaponry, and keeps a lion cub on leash. Compass Rose discovers images of Ninhursag in the “well of the past.”


Tishpak is the guardian of Eshnunna, its tutelary deity, believed to be a god of the storm. Compass Rose finds the seal of Tishpak on the entrance to the “well of the past” at Eshnunna.


Tiamat is a primordial goddess – of salt water. Her husband Apsu is a primordial god – of fresh water. In the Babylonian Ennuna Elish, the Epic of Creation (quoted in Part I), she is challenged and vanquished by Marduk, who sliced her in two and used the top half to create the sky. In this adventure,Tiamat is the name of an associate of Darkside.


Gilgamesh was a historical king of the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk, who over the millennia became the legendary hero of the poetic work The Epic of Gilgamesh. In this famous myth, Gilgamesh refuses the advances of the goddess Inanna, does battle with the Bull of Heaven, finds true friendship with Enkidu, loses him, and goes to hell and back looking for the secret of eternal life.

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All dates BCE

5000 – 4000 Halaf/Ubaid*

4000 – 3000 Uruk*

3200 – 3000 Jemdet Nasr*

3000 – 2750 Early Dynasty I

2750 – 2600 Early Dynasty II

2600 – 2350 Early Dynasty III

2026 BCE Eshnunna breaks away from the control of Ur

2350 – 2150 Dynasty of Akkad

2150 – 2000 3rd Dynasty of Ur

2000 – 1800 Isin-Larsa Dynasties

1800 – 1600 1st Dynasty of Babylon
*preliterate period

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