- When writing was first developed in Mesopotamia, it served as a means of recording unmemorable bureaucratic details and economic transactions (see ADMINISTRATION). By the Early Dynastic period, when it had become possible to write sentences, the elite could make use of texts as a means of legitimizing power. A written statement would proclaim that the gods approved of a certain king assuming rulership over a particular city, for instance, or would link a gift of such a ruler to a temple, wherein it was duly preserved.In dynastic lineages it was useful to be able to refer to the written testimonies of royal ancestors. In the words of the ancient “historiographers,” the king desired “to make a name for himself” and to leave to “future kings” proof of a life that had achieved notoriety and fame. It was temples, rather than palaces, that served as depositories for objects inscribed with at least a king’s name (see ROYAL INSCRIPTIONS). The act of founding or repairing a public building was also an opportunity to leave a written memento to this fact buried beneath the walls (see FOUNDATION DEPOSITS).At certain points of history it was deemed useful to produce lists of past rulers, if only to show some continuity from a previous dynasty (see ASSYRIAN KING LIST, BABYLONIAN KING LIST, SUMERIAN KING LIST); such lists still form the basis of modern periodization, although there are problems. The scribes compiling these lists were mainly concerned to show the duration of dynasties, and the list format precludes any regard for synchronicities or co-regencies. In Sumer and Babylonia it was customary to name years after an important event that occurred in each of the regnal years of a king (see YEAR NAMES). They therefore furnished some historiographic material, although particular conventions restricted the range of references that were made; the Babylonian kings, for in stance, preferred to record endowments to temples and the appointment of officials. The Assyrian kings left inscriptions that detailed their military campaigns (see ANNALS); often couched as an annual report to the great gods of Assyria, they record the imperial expansion and countless battles fought by the king and his armies. The occupation of Babylonia by the Assyrians also gave rise to rival historical accounts of particularly traumatic events, such as the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib (see BABYLONIAN CHRONICLES).It was the recording of astral phenomena, such as solar eclipses, within such broadly historiographic writing that allowed modern chronologies to anchor the ancient records within an absolute framework of time, albeit with considerable gaps and many uncertainties.
Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. EdwART. 2012.
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