Anthony P. SooHoo

Title: Violence against the Enemy in Mesopotamian Myth, Ritual, and Historiography

University: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU

Supervisor: Beate Pongratz-Leisten


Evidence for violence is found in all periods of Mesopotamian history. Kingship, which was divine in origin, included the exercise of power and the legitimate use of violence. Mesopotamian violence reflects the culture’s understanding of ontology, order, and justice. Although there is scant archaeological evidence for its actual practice, the worldview that allowed it to flourish can be reconstructed from myth, ritual, and historiography.

Approaching Mesopotamian conceptions of violence through these three modes of discourse, this study explores the behavior through the lens of theory, practice, and presentation. The investigation is guided by the following questions:
• What do the myths say about violence? How is violence imagined and theorized?
• How do the war rituals promote and normalize the practice of violence?
• How and why is violence presented in the narrative(s) of the royal annals and in the visual program of the palace reliefs?

This study moves from offering a general account of Mesopotamian violence directed against the enemy “other,” conceptualized in myths about the divine warrior (i.e., Ninurta, Marduk) and the so-called war rituals, to analyzing the portrayal of a particular act as part of Neo-Assyrian royal propaganda (Ashurbanipal’s beheading of Teumman).

Keywords: Neo-Assyrian, violence, myth, Teumman, war rituals