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The Melammu Project

The Heritage of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East


  
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Taken from: Sanna Aro and R. M. Whiting (eds.). The Heirs of Assyria. Melammu Symposia 1. Helsinki 2000, xxi.

The logo of the Melammu Project

The Name and Logo of Melammu

by Simo Parpola

The name Melammu and its logo were chosen to illustrate essential aspects of the cross-cultural processes that the Project investigates. The word melammu, which means "divine radiance, splendour, nimbus, aura," is an Akkadian loanword from Sumerian. It thus concretely attests to the transfer and continuity of a centrally important doctrinal concept from an ideological system to a later one. In Mesopotamia alone, this concept has a documented continuity of over 4500 years, from the earliest cuneiform religious and historical documents (ca. 2600 BC) till the present day. The iconography of the concept has gone a long way from the radiance surrounding Mesopotamian gods to the halos surrounding the heads of Byzantine angels and saints and the loops hovering over the heads of Christian angels, but the concept itself has survived amazingly well and spread far beyond its original home.

The spread of the concept of "divine radiance" can be traced by observing the diffusion and transformations of the relevant iconographic motif. The logo of Melammu is taken from an Achaemenid seal discovered on the northeast coast of the Black Sea and represents the goddess Anahita, mounted on a lion and surrounded by the divine radiance, appearing to a Persian king. The details of the king's and the goddess's dress and crown are Persian, but in all other respects the seal is a faithful reproduction of centuries older Assyrian seals depicting appearances of the goddess Ishtar to members of the imperial ruling class. It thus illustrates not only the adoption of the Mesopotamian concept of "divine radiance" by the Persians, but also the assimilation of an important Iranian deity to a Mesopotamian one with the concomitant adoption of a whole system of religious beliefs, cultic practices, ideological doctrines, and artistic conventions. The fact that the seal was found outside the area controlled by the Assyrian Empire and possibly carved by a Greek artist, illustrates the dynamic diffusion of these ideas (through imperial propaganda) across geographical and cultural boundaries.

The radiance emitted by the goddess symbolizes to the Project the powerful impact of Mesopotamian culture on the surrounding world and later cultures, while the king symbolizes the crucial role of imperial courts in the preservation, transformation and diffusion of this cultural heritage.

N.B.: The Melammu Logo was drawn by Rita Berg from a Greco-Persian style seal found on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea (Dominique Collon, First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East (London: British Museum Publications 1987), no. 432).


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