The Golden Boats of Marduk and Nabu in Babylon

By: Leon Legrain

Originally Published in 1923

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Clay cylinder with Cuneiform inscription describing Marduk and Nabu temples
Cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar.
Museum Object Number: B9

One of the finest and for several reasons a unique document of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has been preserved in the University Museum for over 35 years but never entirely deciphered. And yet its description of the gorgeous temples of Marduk and Nabû and of their splendid furniture, especially of their state boats adorned with gold and precious stones, is of great interest and strangely like the story of the prophet.

“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was three score cubits and the breadth thereof six cubits : He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” (Book of Daniel, Chap. III, 1.)

Or like that wonderful piece of news of the father of all reporters, Herodotus. “In this temple of Babylon is another chapel down below, in which is seen a great gold statue representing a seated Jove. Close to the statue there is a great gold table; the throne and the dais are of the same metal. The whole according to the Chaldeans weighs 800 gold talents. Outside of the chapel is seen a gold altar . . . on which only suckling lambs were sacrificed. . . . There was moreover in those days within the sacred area a statue of massive gold whose height was twelve cubits. I have not seen it, and only report what the Chaldeans tell about it.”

The hollow barrel of clay of the University Museum is an original document, compiled probably shortly after 586 B.C. by order by Nebuchadnezzar, the king, with a true regard for posterity, and buried into the foundation of a temple. “The scholar shall read all my deeds which I have described in this document and he shall understand the excellence of my gods.”

It is slightly convex at the left and concave at the right end, with a small round hole at the left, large enough for a finger, and a large opening at the right end. Its height is about 26 centimeters and its diameters from left to right are 13 centimeters, 17 centimeters and 14.5 centimeters. Its surface is covered with a cuneiform inscription in three columns of 96 lines each. The history of this document since 1888 A.D. is most curious. It was bought in London on July 1, 1888, through the efforts of Mr. E.W. Clark as part of a collection of 316 pieces and entered in the catalogue of the Babylonian Section of the Museum on July 21st of the same year under the No. 9. It is one of the first pieces obtained for the Babylonian collections.

The following year the Rev. C.J. Ball, collecting all the known inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar the Great wrote in the Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archaeology—April 2, 1889—” Last autumn (?) I had an opportunity of partially collating a fine cylinder of the same class—as a stone cylinder of the British Museum: A. H. 82-7-14, 1042—but in much better preservation. It was afterwards purchased for America. I give the various readings and peculiar passage so far as I was allowed to ascertain them . . . At this point—Col. III, 35—my examination of the American cylinder was interrupted to my keen regret. I had however proceeded far enough to secure many valuable illustrations of the two cylinders dealt with in the Proceedings of May, 1888.” This was only partly true.

In 1905, Stephen Langdon in his work on the building inscriptions of the neo-Babylonian Empire, mentions the stone cylinder of the British Museum adding: “A variant was copied by Mr. Ball as far as the top of the third column when the cylinder was sold to America. . . . . However, it is evident that it is not simply a variant. . . . . The different arrangement of the material and especially the mention of a new temple at Cutha lead one to expect that the third column of this cylinder probably contains a new account.”

Langdon in 1905 had no access to the original document whose existence in the University Museum was not well known. In the Journal of the American Oriental Society in 1905 he could ask
Where is it? . . . . As this cylinder is of great importance for the study of the literary development of this period as well as for historical purpose, I propose to discuss the various and new extracts given us by Mr. Ball with the hope of finding some one who knows where the cylinder is, so that we may have a text of it at once.”

In 1912 the cylinder was happily located in the University Museum, for in the German Translation of Langdon’s work, Die Neu Babylonischen Königsinsch riften, it is quoted as the No. 20 of king Nebuchadnezzar’s inscriptions. The first part of the text was supposed parallel to No. 13—the British Museum’s cylinder—which is true for the first 15 lines. Ball’s collation was used as far as available for the main part of the text up to Col. III, 35; the rest of the text being supplied by a transcription sent by Professor A.T. Clay.
It is clear that Ball’s collation does not cover the whole text, for the number of lines of Col. I and II of the Museum cylinder in Langdon’s edition is only 69 and 57, while each column of the text has in reality 96 lines.

It was ascertained through the efforts of the previous scholars, that the Museum’s cylinder describes a work of Nabopolassar and of Nebuchadnezzar in Kish so far unknown. Moreover the portion of the text mentioning the temple of Ninkigal in Kutha is not found in any earlier document. The present publication of the text of the Col. I and II will provide new details on the sumptuous temples of Babylon and Borsippa and particularly on the boats decorated with gold, lapis lazuli and alabaster, and shining on the clear surface of the Euphrates like the constellations in heaven. In these state boats the gods would ride in procession during the feasts of the New Year over river and canals between Babylon and Borsippa, for the admiration of the people crowding on the shores, among whom many a captive Israelite, and likely the prophet Daniel would stand, sore at heart, and looking with abomination on these pagan splendours.
We have omitted the translation of the first 15 lines of Col. I, and the whole Col. III, for which we refer the reader to the excellent work of Dr. Langdon.

Cuneiform inscription, Column I Lines 1-35

Translation of the Text

Col. I. is “When Marduk the great lord had truly created me and given me power to be pastor of the countries and when Naha his true son, who loves my royalty had trusted into my hands the splendour of great nations, I marched with the help of their sublime power from the upper to the lower sea and I counted all these lands unto my dominion and the lord Marduk my lord delivered unto me silver, costly precious stones, huge cedar trees, a heavy tribute, magnificent presents, products of all countries, treasures of all habitations. I had them brought in Esagila and Ezida before Marduk the great lord of the gods and before Nabû his dutiful son who loves my royalty. Nabû and Marduk looked with favour on me and intrusted me solemnly with the embellishment of the city and the restoration of the temples. Esagila the awe inspiring sanctuary, the palace of heaven and earth, the house of delight; Ekua the shrine of the Enlil of the gods, Marduk; Ka-ushduglisug the gate of Zarpanit’s shrine; Ezida the abode of the god of all the kings of heaven and earth, the shrine of Nabû of the temple court I covered with shining gold and let shine like the day. I restored Etemenanki the Ziggurat of Babylon. In Borsippa I restored Ezida the righteous house beloved of Marduk for Nabû the illustrious son. I enveloped tall cedars with bronze and laid them as a cover. Magan wood, sidaru wood, strong cedar wood overspread

Cuneiform inscription, Column I Lines 35-70

Translation of the Text

with shining bronze I also placed [above]. Inside its foundation, to frame it in, I laid cedar trees and I strengthened their joins with shining bronze [clamps], The huge cedar trees, which my pure hands cut in their forest of Mount Libanon, I clothed with shining gold and I adorned with precious stones and I had them laid across by three as a roof over Emahtila the shrine of Nabû. Above these cedars I spread shining bronze as a covering. Above the bronze I placed a tahlal as a crowning fence on their top. In order that no rain, storm, or cataract of heaven should reach them I redoubled and with strong cedar wood built a [new] roof above them. As for the six rooms adjoining the shrine of Nabû. I adorned their cedar roof with bright silver. As a roof over all these rooms I laid huge cedar trees. I enveloped Magan wood with bronze and I placed it as lintels on high. I fabricated huge bulls in bronze and I clothed them with a coating of gold and adorned them with precious stones and I placed them on the threshold of the shrine gate. The threshold, the fetter, the bar, the doorwings, the lintel, the knob (?), the lock, the bolt of the shrine gate I plated with shining gold. With tiles of clear silver I made bright the passage to the shrine and the entrance of the temple. The doorwings of Magan and cedarwood I encased in clear silver and over the hollow of their span I placed lustrous alabaster and I fixed the lintel of all their doors I made the dais of Ezida shrine, the lintel and the hinges in a fabric of clear silver and placed them inside. I covered with clear silver the cedar wood of the roof of the Dara gate through which goes and comes the son of the lord of the

Cuneiform inscription, Column I Lines 70-97 and Column II lines 1-7

Translation of the Text

gods. The threshold, the fetter, the bar, the doorwings, the knob(?). the lintel, the lock, the bolt, the architrave and the SIG-LIM I plated with clear silver. I fabricated huge bulls of silver and I placed them on its threshold. This gate where through goes and comes the son of the lord of the gods Nabû, when he rides in procession into Babylon, I let shine like the day. The shrine of fate, the abode of Nabft, the brave, the illustrious son in which at Zagmuk the beginning of the year, on the 5th and on the 11th in his going to and coming from Babylon, he Nab& the victorious son takes his rest, I made in a fabric of clear silver and I placed it in front of this gate. Bulls of shining silver I planted as ornament on the threshold of the gates of Ezida. In the obedience of my faithful heart I attended to these two temples and I adorned their structure with gold, silver, precious stones, bronze, Magan and cedar wood. I made the construction of Ezida resplendent like the star writing of heaven and no king who shall walk as I do shall change the construction of this temple, which no king among the kings has ever built, while I have made it magnificent for Nabû and Marduk my lords. With rejoicing and jubilation I let Nabû and Nanâ my lords enter and settle in the abode of their heart gladness. To strengthen the defence of Ezida I restored the wall enclosing Ezida and the constructions in front of the temple court, facing Dannutim-Anna the Shrine of Sin in its middle and everything between. I am Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who takes care of the sanctuaries of Marduk and Nabû my lords.

Col. II In Babylon the city of the great lord Marduk I completed the great walls Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bbl. On the threshold of their gates I placed huge bronze bulls

Cuneiform inscription, Column II Lines 5-40

Translation of the Text

and dread inspiring dragons. What no former king had done, after my father had encompassed the city by twice within moat walls of bitumen and bricks, I built a third strong wall of bitumen and bricks alongside the two others and I joined and connected it closely with the wall of my father and I laid its base on the breast of the underworld and I raised its head mountain high. With a wall of bricks, I encompassed toward the west the ramparts of Babylon. My father had built toward the East the embankments of the Arahtu canal from the Ishtar gate to the Urash gate with bitumen and bricks and he had built a quay of burnt bricks on the farther side of the Euphrates hut he had not completed it. I, his first born, the beloved of his heart, built the embankment of Arahtu with bitumen and bricks and I joined it with the embankment of my father as to reinforce it.

Col. II.20 I adorned the boat Udura on which rides the lord of the gods Marduk, its front and rear, its upper structure, its sides, its deck post and dragon with 14 talents, 12 minehs of shining gold, 750 pieces(?) of marble(?) and bright lapis lazuli and on the surface of the clear Euphrates I let him shine splendid like the stars in heaven and I filled it with jewels for the admiration of all the people. I covered the cabin of the boat of the Ganul canal, the boat of Nabû and also both sides, with 13 talents, 30 minehs of shining gold and costly precious stones and for the going and coming of the illustrious son, Nabû, who at Zagmuk the beginning of the year rides in procession into Babylon, I let it shine like the day.

Co. II.32 I restored Emah the temple of Nin-mah in Babylon, Enigpakalamma-summa the temple of Nab in Harî, Egishshirgal the temple of Sin, Eharsagella the temple of

Cuneiform inscription, Column II Lines 40-75

Translation of the Text

Ninkarrak, Enamhe the temple of Rammân, Edikudkalamma the temple of Shamash, Ekidurkush the temple of Nin-eanna within the rampart at Babylon and I raised high their heads. To strengthen the defence of Babylon, what no former king had done II did]. 4000 cubits of land on the side of the city, far off, unapproachable I encompassed with a strong wall toward the East of Babylon. I dug its moat and I reached down to the water level. I built its moat wall with bitumen and bricks and I joined and connected it closely with the wall of my father and I built on its edge a mighty wall of bitumen and bricks mountain high. For the defence of Esagila and Babylon to prevent the silting of dry banks in the bed of the Euphrates I had a great dam made of bitumen and bricks in the river. I laid its foundation in the depth of the water and I raised its head mountain high.

Col. II.53 I restored Tabisupurshu the rampart of Borsippa. I led its moat wall of bitumen and bricks around the city as a protection. I restored for Mârbiti, who shatters the arms of my enemies, his temple of Borsippa. For Ninkarrak the mistress of life, the preserver of my soul, who inhabits Etila, I restored Etila her temple in Borsippa. For Ninkarrak the exalted princess who spreads afar the renown of my royalty, who inhabits Egula, I restored Egula her temple in Borsippa. For Ninkarrak, the great lady, who keeps my soul alive, who inhabits Ezibatilla, I restored Ezibatilla her temple in Borsippa.

Col. II.75 For Nergal, the lord who ties the hands of my enemies, I adorned the gate of his temple Emeslam with clear silver. I had the lintel and the lower hinges of the door made of clear silver and I placed them inside of his shrine. To strengthen

Cuneiform inscription, Column II Lines 75-95 and Col III Lines 1-10

Translation of the Text

the defence of Emeslam I restored on its old lines the wall surrounding Emeslam and the constructions in front of the temple court. I led the moat wall of Cutha in bitumen and bricks around the city as a protection. For Ninkigal, the illustrious princess, who inhabits Eshurugal, who strikes my enemies, those who do not love me,

Col. III.1 I restored, in my own interest, Eshurugal her temple in Cutha. . . .

The rest of the Col. HI is correctly translated by St. Langdon: Die Neubabylonischen Königsinschriften, pp. 182-187.

Cite This Article

Legrain, Leon. "The Golden Boats of Marduk and Nabu in Babylon." The Museum Journal XIV, no. 4 (December, 1923): 266-281. Accessed June 17, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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