Clay tablet; map of the world; shows the world as a disc, surrounded by a ring of water called the "Bitter River"; "Babylon" is marked as a rectangle at the right end of the Euphrates although the city actually occupied both banks of the river during most of its history; the river Euphrates flows south to a horzontal band, of which the right end is marked "marsh" and the left end is marked "outflow", thus the marshes at the head of the Gulf and either the Shatt al-Arab or where the river meets the cosmic "Bitter River"; to the right of the "marsh" is a double curving line with a broken and unintelligible inscription; small circles are used to indicate cities or districts, and two of which are identied as "Assyria" and "Der"; three other geographical areas are marked, namely Bit-Yakin, the territory of an Aramaean tribal group around the southern Euphrates, is placed above its "outflow". Habban, the homeland ofd a Kassite tribal group around Kermanshah in western Iran, is placed quite wrongly to the west of Babylon. Urartu, an independent kingdom around the modern borders of Iran, Turkey and Russia, is placed relatively correctly to the north of Assyria. Beyond the circular "Bitter River" are placed the eight outlying regions (nagu). These are each marked, na-gu-u, and beside each is written the note "6 (or 7) beru in between" (the beru is a Babylonian unit of time and linear measurement). In addition, beside the north-eastern "region" is written "Where Shamash is not seen". This reflects the fact that the sun rises in the east, crosses the heavens, sets in the west, and then returns to the east (as the Babylonians thought) through the underworld or the underworld waters, never passing through the northern (or southern) regions of the world or underworld. On the reverse of this tablet these eight "regions" are described in eight broken and largely unintelligible paragraphs, each beginning "To the first (second, etc) region to which you go (the distance is) seven beru". This, like the notes on the map, seems to indicate the distance between the different "regions" around the edge of the world. It is not clear why the map twice gives the distance as six beru while the text, so far as preserved, consistently gives seven beru. A final paragraph summarises, "In all eight "regions" of the four shores (kibrati) of the ea[rth ...], their interior no-one knows". The "four shores" (corresponding to the four quarters of the compass) is a regular Mesopotamian expression for the entire inhabited world. The word nagu, which in historical and geographical texts simply means "region", seems to have a special cosmic or mythological significance on this tablet and in the Flood story of the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 11); there, as the flood waters subsided, Ut-Napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, "looked about for the shores (kibrati), the boundaries of the sea. In each of twelve (directions) there emerged a nagu". This and the triangular shape of the nagu on the map lead to the idea that the nagu may have been imagined as mountains. The text at the beginning of the obverse of the tablet appears to be a description of the inhabitants, divine, human, animal or monstrous, of the areas beyond the earth, whether the eight "regions" or the "Bitter River" or maybe the underworld or underworld waters. Two or three lines may be missing at the beginning. "... ruined cities ... ... whom Marduk watches ... ... the ruined gods who ... in the midst of the sea ... serpent, great dragon, between Anzu, scorpion-man ... mountain-goat, gazelle, zebu, leopard, bison ... lion, wolf, stag and hyaena ... the animal which Marduk created upon the rolling sea ... Ut-Napis
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Using this image
To license images for charged-for journals and publications, and other commercial uses, please contact British Museum Images.
Contact BM images
The image will be released to you under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. You can read more about the British Museum and Creative Commons here.
Download this image
If you cannot see an image that you want on the British Museum website, you can order new photography from us.
Order new image