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The Babylonian and Persian Sacaea1

  • S. Langdon

According to Strabo, xi, 8, 4, the Sakai, a Sythian tribe, built a temple to the Persian deities Anaitis, Omanus, and Onadatus, and celebrated yearly the festival τ⋯ Σάκαια, which the people who inhabited Zêla celebrated even in his own day. The passage affords evidence for the celebration of a festival at Zêla in Pontus as late as the beginning of our era. For some reason Zêla, far removed from the old home of these Persian deities, had long been the seat of these Persian cults, from which fact alone it had any importance at all. Anaitis, or the old Persian Anâhita, “the undefiled,” was a river goddess, and probably identical with the Elamitic goddess Nahunti. This old Iranian deity, Anâhita, was also a goddess of love and beauty, the Venus or Artemis of Persian religion, and consequently an identification with the Babylonian Ishtar, “queen of heaven,” was at once made, as soon as the cults of Babylonia became known to the Persians in the sixth century, and perhaps even earlier. But Strabo, who obviously believed that this Persian festival was connected with the Sacae or Sythians both historically and philologically, gives another explanation of its origin. Cyrus, he says, was defeated by the Sacae and devised this ruse to overcome them. He hastily retreated, leaving behind his camp and all his equipment.

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page 65 note 2 Var. τ Σκα.

page 65 note 3 Moulton, Early Religious Poetry of Persia, 129.

page 65 note 4 Anaitis.

page 66 note 1 Strabo, xi, 8, 5.

page 66 note 2 ορτν Σκαια, var. σακαν.

page 66 note 3 Zimmern, Zum Babylonischen Neujahrfest 2, p. 10, n. 4, suggests that this is the Babylonian word sukallu, a vizier or minister, derived from the Sumerian sukkal. Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, 68, connects it with the word Šaknu “ governor ”, construct šakan, šakin, Hebrew sāgān, Aramaic signā. Sayce's suggestion is apparently the correct one, although it is not mentioned by Zimmern.

page 66 note 4 τν Σακν εορτ, var. τν Σακκν. These variants all point to an original ορτ σακα and to a Babylonian original isinni sakkûti “ feast of the fools ”, or isinni sakkûti “ day of the fools ”, or isinni sakki “ feast of the fool ”.

page 67 note 1 See my Tammuz and Ishtar, 26. “ Tammuz ” is now known to have been the name of a prehistoric Sumerian ruler of Erech, identified with the older Abu, the dying god of Sumerian religion.

page 67 note 2 See for this word my Neubabylonische Königsinschriften, 372. The original Sumerian word zag-mu occurs early (Thureau-Dangin, SAK., 80, v, 1; 84, iii, 5; 72, viii, 11), and seems to be pre-Sargonic (Genouillac, Tablettes Sumériennes Archaïques, p. xvii).

page 67 note 3 See my Archives of Drehem, p. 12, n. 2, and p. 15; Landsberger, Der kultische Kalender, 34 (second New Year at Nippur); Thureau-Dangin, Rituels Accadiens, 86–99 (second New Year at Erech, month Tešrit, seventh month).

page 68 note 1 Tammuz and Ishtar, p. 169. On the akitu of Ishtar at Erech, see Thureau-Dangin, Rituels Accadiens, 111–18.

page 69 note 1 See ibid., p. 87.

page 69 note 2 Thureau-Dangin, Rituels Accadiens, 129–48.

page 69 note 3 The texts of this important ritual were excavated at Assur and translated by Zimmern, Zum Babylonischen Neujahrfest 2, 14–21. I have recently recovered two more fragments in the British Museum, and a new edition of the entire ritual is given in my Babylonian Epic of Creation.

page 70 note 1 Meissner in his article “ Die Entstehung des Purimfestes ”: ZDMG., vol. 1, 296 ff., first connected this passage with the sacaea carnival.

page 71 note 1 Winckler, Forschungen, ii, 353, adduces a Sabean inscription to prove that the king of the saturnalia-sacaea carnival held his office during five days at the end of the year as interrex, the real king abdicating at the end of 360 days or twelve lunar months; the bogus king held office during the remaining five days of the solar year.

1 Paper read at the Centenary of the Sociéte Asiatique, Paris, July, 1922.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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