- Museum number
- Object: The Map of the World
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 horizontal 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 identified 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 of 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-Napishtim, Sargon and Nur-Dagan king of
... their interior no-one knows".
In the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 10) the hero Gilgamesh goes to visit Ut-Napishtim in a land beyond the sea and beyond the Waters of Death. This suggests that the whole of this text is concerned with the inhabitants of the outer regions. The clause at the end of the text, "their interior no-one knows" also ends the descriptions of the "regions" on the reverse of the tablet.
Sargon, king of Akkad (ca 2334-2279 BC), established a short-lived empire spreading far to the north and west of the normal limits of Babylonia and became the subject of several legendary tales. One of these concerns a campaign against Nur-Dagan, king of Purush-handa (a city in central Turkey). As heroes of legend these two may well have been imagined as inhabiting a "region" with Ut-Napishtim.
The "ruined" gods are gods whose statues have become dilapidated and are in need of repair. The gods themselves were thought to have gone down to the underworld (via the Waters of Death), and the broken clause, "who ... in the midst of the sea", probably refers to this underworld abode. The reference to "ruined cities" may be to the gods of these cities.
In the Epic of Creation the serpent, great dragon, scorpion-man and bison are among the monsters created by Tiamat ("Sea") to do battle with the god Marduk. Anzu, the lion-headed bird, is the opponent of the god Ninurta in another Babylonian epic, and in other contexts is listed with Tiamat's monsters. All of these monsters may have been imagined as inhabiting the underworld or underworld waters. The Babylonian author Berossus also recounts a story of strange monsters, some half-human, being created in the primeval waters before the creation of the world and being ruled over by Tiamat. The zebu or humped bull (apsasu) is referred to in Sumerian texts of about 2000 BC; later the name seems to be applied to a mythical monster, perhaps a sphinx. The remaining animals in the list would have been known to the Babylonians in the 1st millennium BC but would probably have been regarded as wild, strange or exotic. So they would have been suitable inhabitants of the outer "regions". The sea-animal created by Marduk is perhaps a whale.
The hole at the centre of the tablet is a so-called "firing hole", deliberately made by the scribe; similar holes appear in the middle of the text above the map and at two points on the reverse.
- Production date
- 6thC BC (approx)
Height: 12.20 centimetres
Width: 8.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- A note at the end of the tablet states that it was copied from an earlier document but the inclusion of Assyria, Bit-Yakin, Habban and Urartu indicates that it was composed no earlier than the 9th century BC.
- On display (G55/dc16)
- Exhibition history
2008 13 Nov-2009 15 Mar, BM, G35, 'Babylon: Myth and Reality'
1995 7 Jul-22 Oct, London, The British Library, The Earth and the Heavens: the Art of the Mapmaker
G55/Later Mesopotamia/case 15. G89, 1992.
Map Dept, King's Library, BL, 1 Apr-5 May 1953 (recorded in WAA Transfer book).
Babylonian Room, table-case E
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number