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Sacrificing “in the Greek Fashion”

Fred S. Naiden

Résumé

La pratique du sacrifice (non confinée aux offrandes animales) a fait l’objet de comparaisons interculturelles par les écrivains grecs, babyloniens et romains, mais ces comparaisons prennent une forme asymétrique, dans laquelle les rapports babyloniens au sujet du sacrifice grec sont parfois réprobateurs et les références romaines au sacrifice grec sont normatives, si non approbatives. L’explication de ce phénomène a moins à voir avec les différences dans les pratiques rituelles qu’avec les différences de conceptualisation. Ces différences dans la conceptualisation sont plus grandes que l’on supposerait, compte tenu des similitudes rituelles.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

  • 1 E.g., François Hartog, The Mirror of Herodotus, tr. J. Lloyd, Berkeley, 1988, p. 176–188, on Hdt. 4 (...)
  • 2 F. S. Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods: Greek Sacrifice from the Archaic through Roman Periods, O (...)

1Greek writers such as Herodotus noticed the rite of sacrifice among neighboring peoples, and recent scholars have incorporated this subject into work on Greek ethnography.1 These scholars have apparently neglected foreign reports of sacrifices performed by Greeks, and save for study of Roman sacrifices performed Graeco ritu, they have neglected foreign adaptations of Greek practice. Using Babylonian texts from the era of Alexander and the Seleucids, and more familiar Roman sources, this paper will try to open this subject of the cross-cultural aspects of Greek sacrifice. The preliminary conclusion may disappoint, but will not surprise, readers of the author’s monograph on sacrifice, Smoke Signals for the Gods. This book said there was no such thing as sacrifice, only a later, and originally Christian, way of describing some offerings as sacrifice.2 This paper will add that whether we use the term sacrifice or the term offerings, there was no such thing as Greek sacrifice, at least in the opinion of the Babylonians and Romans. There were only some Greek mannerisms in the performance of a shared rite. The Babylonians did not imitate these mannerisms. The Romans sometimes did.

  • 3 Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, Collected Essays, Froma Zeitlin (ed.), Princeton, 1991, (...)
  • 4 Babylonian sacrifice: G. Furlani, Il sacrificio nella religione dei semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, (...)
  • 5 As were palāhu and ṭand u, but nasāku specifically meant “cut” (the throat), like sphazein.
  • 6 Xanthus trilingual inscription: Henri Metzger, Pierre Demargne (éd.), Fouilles de Xanthos VI. La st (...)

2Whenever comparisons between Babylonian and Greek sacrifice began, they surely increased once Alexander the Great entered his future capital in the autumn of 331 BCE. Babylonian offerings of this era differed so much from Greek that Jean-Pierre Vernant, for one, termed them “feeding the gods,” but not “sacrifice.”3 The chief word for sacrifice, naqû, means “pour,” as though sacrifice were being likened to spendein, not thuein. To sacrifice a sheep, the most common animal victim, the worshipper “poured” it, just as he poured other common offerings, especially beer (but never wine).4 The term nasāku, to kill or slaughter, was much less common.5 This concept of sacrifice was Mesopotamian, but not generally Near Eastern. In Aramaic, the most common term for sacrifice was zbḥ or dbḥ, meaning “to slay,” which appears in the trilingual sacrificial inscription from fifth-century Xanthus.6

  • 7 Bruno Meissner, “Omina zur Erkenntnis der Eingeweide des Opfertieres”, Archiv für Orientforschung 9 (...)
  • 8 AO 6451, unless the mice were small wild pigs. For sacrifice at this shrine, see Gilbert McEwan, “D (...)

3A Babylonian sacrifice commonly began with a priest at a table put before the statue of a god, sometimes a table on wheels with incense on the side. The animal had often been slaughtered elsewhere, the practice that led Vernant to call Babylonian sacrifice “feeding.” The animal met standards of quality comparable to those found in Greece, or, for that matter, ancient Israel, but described precisely: first-class, second-class, milk-fed. In addition, the animal needed to respond vigorously to water poured over it.7 In the Hellenistic shrine of the sky-god Anu in Uruk, the god received four meals a day, or 50 sheep, 2 oxen, and 8 lambs, plus 70 birds, 6 eggs, and 3 marsh mice.8

Fig. 1: Sun-god tablet of Nabu-apla-iddina, IXth century BCE.
BM 91000. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum.

4The priest or others washed and salted the flesh, and put it in a vessel, and then the priest presented it on plates, an act called kunnu, “arrange” from kânu, “to render firm or true.” This word resembles anatithenai more than it does thuein. Then the priest sprinkled the offering with flour and cypress dust. He proceeded to present bread and other food, especially beer, and lit a censer for incense. Addressing the god, he explained the wishes of the sponsor, or sacrifiant. If the sacrifiant was present, he took him by the hand. The priest assured the god of the quality of the offerings, and invited the god to approach and accept the offering, as in Greek, and to eat, as seldom in Greek. Figure 1 shows this moment. The god Shamash is at the right. He holds a reel of cord and a measuring rod, symbols of his prerogatives. Above him, but under an awning, are the sun, the moon, and Venus. Next comes a large sun-disk that appears above an offertory table. We have now reached the center of the picture. The human figure closest to the table is that of a priest. Next comes the sacrifiant, presumably king Nabu-aplu-iddina (ca. 888-855 BCE), whom the priest leads by the hand. The king is dressed the same way as the god. The figure at the far left is unidentified.

  • 9 Sun-god tablet of Nabu-apla-idinna, IXth century BCE.

5After being presented to the god, a sacrifiant such as this would prostrate himself.9 The long and complex cuneiform text accompanying this picture tells how the king replaced a lost statue of the god. The sacrifice forms part of the unfolding relationship between god and royal protégé.

  • 10 In this rite, the bull was slain, the verb being nasāku (TU 44 cols. 1–2).

6Meanwhile, two lesser gods, Nusku and Gibil, or light and fire, caused the incense to reach divine nostrils. Babylonian sacrifice found room for a plethora of these lesser beings. Babylonians made sacrifices to the god of bricks and to divinized objects like the god’s throne and the great ziggurat of Babylon, Etemenanki, and to a sacred bull before they sacrificed this same animal in a rite that preceded tanning the bull’s hide for use in a ceremonial drum.10

  • 11 Gilbert McEwan, Priest and Temple in Hellenistic Babylonia, Wiesbaden, 1981, p. 15. Or the inspecti (...)
  • 12 Fingernail: Heinrich Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der babylonischen Religion. Die Beschwörungstaf (...)

7As in Greece, libations and incense might be used by themselves, and, as in Greece, the inspection of the liver revealed the god’s attitude towards the sacrifiant. This inspection, though, did not take place on the spot. The diviner, or bārû, examined the lungs as well as the liver while consulting omen literature in his own quarters.11 The client did not have to be present. He could be represented by the imprint of his fingernail on the tablet where his question was written. As for the remainder of the animal, the god received his portion, often the shoulder, the caul, and some roast meat. Cooking took place out of sight, just as the slaughter often did. These two acts were thus desacralized.12

8(To speak of priests is admittedly a misnomer, for no Babylonian sacrificateur was called “a doer of sacred things,” or anything similar to a Greek hiereus. One term for priest was ērib-bīti, “one entering a temple,” alluding to free access to the shrine. Such a priest appears in Figure 1. Others, including the king, lacked such access. In any event, they would not have time to attend, for ceremonies might take an entire day.) Not all sacrifices conformed to this type. A Middle-Assyrian text reports a holocaust during the New Year’s festival:

  • 13 VAT 16435, modified translation of the German version at Franz Köcher, “Ein mittelassyrisches Ritua (...)

“They si[t] Marduk on the dais of destinies, but not the [r]est of the gods. He (the priest?) scatters coals on a brazier made of clay bricks…. They cut a lamb in two before Marduk. They put the pieces on the coals. The king and the priest now scatter 1/2 qu of juniper, 1/2 qu of cedar chips, and three lamentation-bowls of maṣḫātu-flour on the lamb. All around the brazier, he (the king) pours out onto the ground one entire laḫannu-vessel of wine and one of beer.”13

  • 14 ABC 7.3.24-8.

9A qu is about a liter, and a laḫannu-vessel was made of stone or metal, not the usual clay, but this kind of flour has not been identified. Alexander, as it happens, was not in Babylon during the similar festival held there, so he could not have played the king’s part, but a deputy might. Cambyses did so for Cyrus the Great.14 Later, Seleucid crown princes would. Alexander did perform other Babylonian sacrifices, as reported in Arrian. Arrian’s “Chaldeans” are, of course, the priests of Babylon, most especially those serving as astronomers in the chief shrine of Marduk, here called “Bel”:

  • 15 Arr. An. 3.16.5: ἔνθα δὴ καὶ τοῖς Χαλδαίοις ἐνέτυχεν, καὶ ὅσα ἐδόκει Χαλδαίοις ἀμφὶ τὰ ἱερὰ τὰ ἐν Β (...)

“[Alexander entered Babylon]… and then met with the Chaldeans. In the shrines of Babylon he did everything the Chaldeans thought appropriate. In particular, he sacrificed to Bel as they instructed.”15

  • 16 Tyre: Arr. An. 2.24.6, DS 17.46.6; a second time, Plu. Alex. 29.1-2. Memphis: Arr. An. 3.1.4.

10Arrian reports that Alexander performed foreign sacrifices in only two other places, Tyre and Memphis, and only in Babylon does this writer (who says far more about Alexander and other religions than Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch do) say that Alexander followed instructions from foreigners.16 No doubt the priests kept records of all these occasions, as they had done for centuries of royal sacrifices.

  • 17 Abraham Sachs, Hermann Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylon, Vienna, 1988-19 (...)

11Although these records do not survive, many records of Seleucid royal sacrifices do. These records form part of the so-called “Astronomical Diaries,” compiled by priests who recorded not only astronomical observations but also religious and political events. For example, in 187 BCE Antiochus the Great, “the king,… went up to Esagila,” Marduk’s shrine, from near-by Borsippa. The entry skips over any verb saying what he did, and so it concludes “[He provided] cattle and sheep to Bēl, Bēltija, the great gods,…”17 Royal administrators might do as the king did, as in a diary entry from the reign of Antiochus’s son, Seleucus IV:

  • 18 AD-178 C rev. 19-21, translated as above:
    19: KU4ub U4-6 ina du-de-[e....] KÁ-SIKIL-LA luŠÀ-TAM (...)

“…the administrator of Esagila and the Babylonians provided an ox and 5 sacrifices (of sheep) to [the commander of the troops of Babylonia]. He [provided] offerings to Bēl, Bēltija, the great gods, and for the life of king Seleucus, his wife, and his sons.”18

  • 19 ABC 11 obv. 8-12, esp. 8: [ina qi-bi ša 1-en luDUMU E.[KI]

12On one occasion, an unnamed Babylonian, presumably a priest, instructed the crown prince, who proceeded to enter the temple, prostrate himself, and provide (but again the verb is missing) one sheep for an offering. This record comes from a Babylonian royal chronicle.19

13An example from 224 BCE presents a more complicated relation between Greek sacrifiant and the Babylonians. In this entry from a chronicle, the shatammu is a chief administrator:

  • 20 ABC 13b obv. 3-8, translated as above:
    3: [M]U /60\+28.KAM mSi-lu-ku LUGAL ITI BAR ITI BI UD 8.KAM 1 (...)

“[Year] 88, Seleucus (III Keraunos) king, month of Nisannu. That month, on the 8th day, a certain Babylonian, the shatammu of Esagila [provided] [for the x] of Esagila, at the command of the king in accordance with the parchment letter that the king had sent before (and) [wit]h money from the royal treasury from his own estate, 11 fat oxen, 100 fat sheep and 11 fat ducks for the food offering within Esagila, for Bēl, Bēltiya and the great gods and [f]or the service of ki[ng] Se[leu]cus and his sons.”20

14This time the king requests the sacrifice, the Babylonians perform it, and the king and his sons, along with the great gods, the Igigi, benefit from it. The gods, however, receive the benefit in the dative case, whereas the king and sons receive it in the objective genitive of the final phrase, the same distinction as observed in most Greek sacrifice, in which gods stand in one relation to the sacrifice and mortal beneficiaries stand in another. Incidentally, this phrasing shows that where sacrifices to Babylonian gods were concerned, the Seleucids did not receive ruler cult. In the eyes of the Igigi, they were mortals, the same as their subjects.

  • 21 Other Greek examples: AD -204 rev. 14-8 (king Antiochus), -171 B rev. 1-7 (commander of troops, pre (...)

15Ruler cult aside, this account describes a typical sacrifice. Emphasis falls not on killing or eating, or on the smoke-making that is thusia in the literal sense, or any action taken during the ceremony, but instead on the abasement of the royal sacrifiant and on his parting with the offering that he gives to the god. If the king restores offerings that have lapsed, that, too, deserves notice. The king’s being Greek is immaterial. In 126 BCE, a Parthian general does the same as his Seleucid predecessors.21

16When Seleucid rulers and administrators perform recognizably Greek rituals, the Babylonian observers turn critical. The first case concerns Alexander the Great, whose advance on Babylon appears in the Astronomical Diaries:

  • 22 AD -330 rev. 6-7, as translated above:
    6: ⌐ U4 ¬-11 rev.ina uruUD.KIB.NUNki ṭi-emu ša IA-l[ek-sa-an- (...)

“On the eleventh [of the month],…an order of Al [exander…]: ‘Into your houses I shall not enter’.”22

17Having given the Babylonians this and other assurances, Alexander entered:

  • 23 AD -330 rev. 7-8, as translated above:
    7: U
    4-13-KÁ[M....]
    8: [x x] ⌐ x ¬ LA KÁ
    ka-mi-i ša É-sag-gíl ù(...)

“On the thirteenth… gate, to the outer gate of Esagila and….”23

18The diarist noticed just one act of the invaders, a sacrifice and accompanying procession:

  • 24 AD -330 rev. 9-14, as translated above:
    9: [x x x] U4-14-KÁM Ia-ma-na-a-a MU-tim GU4 [....]
    10: (bl (...)

“On the fourteenth, these Ionians… a bull… short, fatty tissue….. Alexander, king of the world, came into Babylon…, [ho]rses and equipment of… and the Babylonians and the people of… a message to…”24

19The tablet now breaks off, but the interests of the writer are already clear. A priest, he wishes to know whether temples and residences are to be undisturbed. He does not notice anything else but the sacrifice of a bull. Why does he find it remarkable?

20It is, on the one hand, that familiar rite, the sacrifice of an animal. The sacrifiant is that familiar figure, the king of Babylon, styled as the king of the world. The occasion is a victory. Cyrus did something similar, and the Assyrians before him, and perhaps the Kassites before them. The god being worshipped must be thought to be Babylonian, for the Astronomical Diaries never mention Greek gods under Greek names. This god is Marduk, or, as the Old Testament says, Merodach.

21On the other hand, it is a bizarre performance. Although the text is lacunose, it leaves no room for any priest, or sacrificateur. It also leaves no room for the animal to have been killed in one place, and brought to another, where the priest, or the priest and the king, would present the victim to the god’s statue. Instead the worshippers have killed the animal on the spot, and extracted the “short, fatty tissue” that is one of the three parts of the animal commonly listed in Akkadian liturgical texts. The diarist notices it because it is being extracted on the spot, and not ahead of time. Since we do not know where this tissue came from, we cannot say what part of the animal the diarist means. He has effectively turned some Greek cut of meat into this Babylonian sacrificial item.

22Other entries in the Astronomical Diaries pick out Greek idiosyncrasies, too. For example, in 168 BCE, an entry reports,

  • 25 AD -168 A obv. 14-5, as translated above:
    14:. ....... ITU BI al-te-me um-[ma]
    15: lAn LUGAL ina URU. (...)

“That month I heard as follows: King Antiochus marched triumphantly through the cities of the land of Egypt. The politai [established] a pompē and a ritual in the manner of the Ionians.”25

23“A ritual in the manner of the Ionians”: what did this mean? It meant a pompē, something never reported in Babylonian sacrifice, which was a closeted affair.

24Did this phrase mean that the sacrifice itself differed? No source says, but one report from a royal chronicle is suggestive. Sometime during the reign of his father, Seleucus Nicator, the crown prince Antiochus performed a sacrifice at Esagila. The chronicler made a report in which the English words “in the Greek fashion,” which is the Assyriologist Bert van der Spek’s translation, stand for the same Akkadian phrase as “in the manner of the Ionians”:

  • 26 BM 32248 + 32456 + 32477 + 32543 + 76-11-17 unnumbered, as in BCHP no. 6. obv. 5-8, including trans (...)

“On top of the debris of Esagila they (!) arranged. On top of the debris Of Esagila he fell down. Oxen, an offering in the Greek fashion He made. The son of the king, his… his wagons And elephants removed the debris of Esagila.”26

  • 27 The so-called revolt: Caroline Waezeggers, “The Babylonian Revolts against Xerxes and the ‘End of t (...)

25“The debris of Esagila,” which deceived several ancient Greek writers, and deceived some modern scholars as well, need a brief explanation. The ancient Greek sources supposed that these debris dated from the time of Xerxes, who destroyed Esagila and left it in “ruins,” another translation for the same Akkadian word. About 150 years later, the Greek writers go on to say, Alexander re-established Esagila. The Greeks did not appreciate that Esagila was mostly made of unglazed mud bricks, the same as other buildings in Babylon, and needed periodic refurbishing. Paying for this work was a point of pride with kings both foreign and Babylonian. Rather than re-establish Esagila, Alexander refurbished it. So did Seleucid monarchs.27 Or, in a tradition going back to Cambyses and Cyrus, and even earlier, the crown prince oversaw this work. Dealing with, and then removing, this debris, was routine, even if the chronicler regarded the use of elephants as a noteworthy flourish.

  • 28 E.g., O 174 ob. 7-11, F. F. Thureau-Dangin, Rituels accadiens, Paris, 1921.

26When the work of reconstruction began, those responsible made a sacrifice on the roof of the temple building.28 This custom accounts for Antiochus’ being there, rather than at an altar. It also makes his performing a “Greek” sacrifice all the odder. Greeks did not perform restoration sacrifices on rooftops.

  • 29 TU 45 = AO 6472 rev. 20-24, from the fourth day of a building ritual also attested in TU 46, dated (...)

27What about the “arranging”—a vague word in the original, but the same verb, kunnu, as mentioned above—and, after that, the contretemps of the prince’s going atop the debris only to stumble and fall? Babylonian sacrificial “arranging” began with sweeping the area and sprinkling it with water. If the king in this passage is performing the same building ritual as the one preserved in a liturgical text from Seleucid Uruk, the king was then supposed to set up offering tables, and present raw and roasted meat from a sheep killed elsewhere.29 These, though, are Babylonian practices. What would “arranging” mean in a Greek context?

  • 30 For this practice, see M. I. Gruber, Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East, R (...)
  • 31 Ominous falls: CT 47 36.2, 5. Cf. schol. E. Med. 1172, attributing such falls to Pan and Hecate.

28As for “falling down,” it differs from “prostrating oneself,” an appropriate action designated by a different word, šukênu.30 To the Babylonian chronicler, falling down during a sacrifice would be ominous—perhaps a sign of sickness, perhaps of bad luck.31 Classical sources echo this idea. Plutarch reports the example of Seleucus Nicator’s rival, Antigonus Monophthalmos, falling before battle:

  • 32 Plut. Demetrius, 29.2, cited by van der Spek 2006, op. cit. (n. 27), p. 295, in the same sense: ᾽Αν (...)

“When Antigonus’ phalanx was just forming and he was leaving his tent, he stumbled and fell flat on his face. He had hurt himself badly, but he rose to his feet, and stretched out his hands towards heaven. He prayed that the gods grant him either victory or defeat after a painless death.”32

29The gods grant him neither, showing that his fall was the worst of ill omens. Antigonus, admittedly, is not sacrificing, or about to sacrifice, but this circumstance is not surprising. To my knowledge, there are no other extant examples of Greek or Babylonian rulers falling during a sacrifice, prayer, or other rite. This faux pas must have been very rare. If it was not, it was very seldom reported.

30The crown prince, in short, was about to the do wrong thing the wrong way in the wrong place, and an omen proved it. Sacrifice in the Greek fashion means sacrifice in the wrong fashionwrong when Alexander has a bull dismembered in public view, wrong when parades precede sacrifices, wrong amid uncleared debris. To do better, the Greeks would need to sacrifice in the native fashion. But why should they? In their own minds, they were sacrificing to Zeus. In the minds of the Babylonian priests, though, they were sacrificing to Marduk, and should have asked for advice, as Arrian said Alexander did. Evidently they did not. In the priests’ opinion, they were less adept than Alexander was in Arrian’s opinion. Cyrus reportedly got it right, but these “Ionians” sometimes got it wrong.

  • 33 Irving Finkel & R. J. van der Spek, Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period (BCHP), forthco (...)
  • 34 As at A. K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5, New York, (...)

31For the Babylonian astronomers and chroniclers, this kind of mistake was not momentous. In general, Greek sacrifice was not important for them, and so the phrase “Ionian manner” is rare in extant Akkadian literature.33 They did, however, notice the foreigners in their midst in a way that marked the Greco-Macedonians as outsiders, but not as aliens or monsters. The Iamanni had their own version of familiar practices, and so they were peculiar, or sometimes mistaken, but they were not, so to say, Hyperboreans or Pygmies. They might be described as Hanai, an archaic term meaning “northwesterners.”34

32This condescending attitude reflected a Babylonian topographical idea. Babylon was at the center of the world, and so the king of Babylon was the king of the world, that is, of the four quarters of the world. The Babylonians had no phrase like the Greek oikoumenē gē, “inhabited world,” or literally, “world with households in it,” and so they had no express notion of the edge of the world as a place lying outside the limits of the probable, knowable, or valuable. In Gilgamesh, the sage Utnapishtim lived at the edge of the world. Even if the edge of the world was dangerous, it was not incomprehensible. With the help of the gods, the king of Babylon could subdue it. Similarly, Marduk ruled a world he had made, whereas his Zeus ruled a world made by a cosmic process for which neither he nor any other god was responsible. Marduk had also created mankind, whereas Zeus had begotten only some noble lineages.

  • 35 Sacrifice ’Αχαϊστί: Sibylline oracle of 125 BCE, as at Heinrich Diehls, Sybillinische Blätter, Berl (...)

33If the Babylonians were hard on the Greeks, and sometimes called Greek sacrifice a mistake, the Romans were easy on them, and regarded Greek sacrifice as a prestigious option. The difference between Babylonian and Roman attitudes began with terminology. The Romans knew of both Graecus ritus and Achivus ritus. Since the Babylonians had only “Ionian manner,” the Romans took more interest in particulars. In general, they took more interest in foreign practices. They knew of an Albanus ritus, whereas Akkadian lacks any phrase for sacrifice in the Elamite or Amorite manner.35

  • 36 Ceres: Paul. Diac. De verb. signif. s.v. Graeca sacra, Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer(...)

34For the Romans, the obvious features of the Greek rite were wearing a laurel wreath, having the officiant’s head uncovered, and the exclusion of women and slaves, but not every one of these features appeared in every case. In one cult of Ceres, the Greek element was a Greek priest, and the use of the Greek language. The extent of the Greek rite was also arbitrary: one cult of Ceres, all the cults of Apollo, no cult of the Castores. Wissowa thought the first example of the Greek rite was the cult of Hercules as of the 3rd IIIrd century BCE, but the first use of the phrase is in the elder Cato.36 The development of this type of cult appears random. Terminology also varies. Sometimes the sources speak of Graeca sacra that include sacrifice but are not limited to this rite. Other times they speak of a Graecus ritus, which is always a kind of sacrifice.

35In his article on this subject, John Scheid gives several examples of the problem of specifying what was Greek in a sacrifice of this kind, for example this ritual performed at the ludi saeculares in 204 CE by Septimius Severus:

  • 37 Pighi 1965, op. cit. (n. 35), p. 155–156, as at John Scheid, “Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of (...)

“Taking up their togae praetextae and putting on their wreaths, they came from the Palatine into the Capitol. Then, after they put them down, Geta and the praetorian prefect and the rest stood by as he was purified by the hands of the 15 members of the sacred college. In his right and left hands he took a curved Coan knife and a bowl of wine. As Geta postponed the prayer, he immolated to Queen Juno a white cow according to the Greek, Achaean rite…”37

36Here the Greek rite occurs after the wreaths are removed. There is no Greek rite of immolation, as the Greeks did not use mola salsa.

  • 38 Fest. De verb signif. 268.

37Scheid asked how Greek these Greek-style rites were. Festus answered this question by saying that these rites of foreign origin, or peregrina sacra, were established eorum more, a quibus sunt accepta.38 If that is right, the Romans did not alter what they imported. Yet in fact they did. The Romans, who welcomed Greek touches, were cavalier about them, just as the Babylonians, who did not welcome Greek touches, were hostile towards them.

  • 39 Sumerian influence on Babylonian sacrifice: Jean-Jacques Glassner, «De l’invention du sacrifice à l (...)

38The Romans, though, agreed with the Babylonians about the fundamental feature of sacrifice in the Greek manner. It was the same rite as their own. It addressed some of the same gods, and it worked mostly the same way, from fundamentals like altars, animal victims, and priestly prerogatives, to incidentals like sprinkling grain at the start of the rite. In both Rome and Babylon, a local, antecedent culture was more important for sacrificial practice than the Greeks were. For Rome, this culture was Etruria, and for Babylon it was Sumer.39 The Babylonians contented themselves with catching Greek mistakes, the Romans with using Greek flourishes. Neither discerned anything fundamentally Greek in what they did or what they thought the Greeks did. Even “the Greek manner” might not be exactly that. It might be Achaean or Ionian.

39Why the difference between Roman and Babylonian attitudes? The Romans conquered the Greeks, and might be generous. The Greeks conquered the Babylonians, who might be resentful. Differences in linguistic usage may also be relevant. All three societies slaughtered animal victims, but one might call this action immolare, or “sprinkling,” another might call it thuein, or “smoking,” and another naqû or “pouring.” “Sacrifice,” if this is the word we wish to use, was whatever each culture’s rhetoric chose to make it. The common feature was the synecdoche, and the distinguishing feature was the nature of the whole of which one action is a part. Immolation was part of consecration, but thusia was part of a somewhat different act, a manifold offering. Babylonian pouring was part of an offering that was not ostensibly destructive. Besides being a type of behavior, subject to anthropological analysis, sacrifice was a cultural phenomenon. Royal sacrifices were exercises in multicultural politics, and like all such exercises, they could backfire.

40In the light of these similarities, Vernant’s distinction between “feeding” the gods in one society and “sacrificing” to them in another, is overdrawn. The two societies offered mostly the same victims in comparably various combinations of the edible and the potable. As for the presence of a monarchy in Babylonia, this political difference did not keep an elite in Babylon from controlling sacrifices thorough a temple assembly. Although the members of this assembly did not think of themselves as politai, a word reserved for Greeks, they were citizens of a sort, enjoying religious and administrative, if not political, autonomy.

  • 40 I.e., the Nestorian, Monophysite, and Three Chapters controversies, as at Aloys Grillmeier, “Gottme (...)

41Does the picture drawn in this paper hold true for later periods? Not by the time when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The variations found earlier, and the scattered comments about them, like a faint, intermittent dialogue of the deaf, all disappear, in favor of a single rite, the Eucharist, by a single king, the self-sacrificing Christ. Yet this new uniformity of practice was not the whole story. Cultural differences persisted. For example, when controversies arose in third and fourth centuries CE about the nature of the new, divine sacrificial victim, the three cultures of the Hellenistic period participated in ways that expressed distinct points of view.40 One participant was Rome, now represented by the Pope, who had one point of view; another was Greece, represented by the patriarch in Constantinople, plus the emperor, who had another point of view; and the third, which was not centralized, was the Semitic culture represented by the Greek-and Syriac-language schools of theology in the Fertile Crescent, not to mention rival schools in Egypt, all of which had distinct points of view.

42For centuries, the Romans, the Greeks, and the Levantines disagreed about what they all thought was one rite, to be understood in one essential way. These disagreements were never resolved. Today they are mostly forgotten, if only because new religious disagreements, only tangentially related to ritual, have replaced them. Intellectual interest in this same rite, given the name “sacrifice,” has migrated to the West, where the French, the Germans, and the Anglo-Americans, among others, dispute its significance. We should remember that this dispute of ours is modern, and not ancient. When Alexander tried to follow the instructions of the Babylonians, he could not have assumed that there would be any dispute about the significance of what he was about to do. He would have believed the significance was obvious, and the Babylonians would have agreed with him. Sacrifice in Greece and Babylonia (and Rome) was not abstruse or abstract. There was no act of transubstantiation, no symbolism, and there was no analytical literature on sacrifice. These things form part of the armature of modernity.

Notes

1 E.g., François Hartog, The Mirror of Herodotus, tr. J. Lloyd, Berkeley, 1988, p. 176–188, on Hdt. 4.60; John Gould, “Herodotus and Religion”, in Rosaria Munson (ed.), Herodotus and the World, vol. 2, Oxford, 2013, p. 182–193, here 192, on Hdt. 1.183.

2 F. S. Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods: Greek Sacrifice from the Archaic through Roman Periods, Oxford, 2012, esp. p. 330; see also Id., “Sacrifice,” in Esther Eidinow, Julia Kindt (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek Religion, forthcoming from Oxford, 2015, ch. 7.2.

3 Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, Collected Essays, Froma Zeitlin (ed.), Princeton, 1991, ch. 14. So also William Lambert, “Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods of Ancient Mesopotamia”, in Jan Quaegebeur (ed.), Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, Leuven, 1993, p. 191–201, here p. 198.

4 Babylonian sacrifice: G. Furlani, Il sacrificio nella religione dei semiti di Babilonia e Assiria, Atti della Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei 6.4, Roma, 1931-1933, p. 103–371, here p. 323–355; Ulla Jeyes, “The Act of Extispicy in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Outline,” Assyriological Miscellanies 1, 1980, p. 13–33. “Pouring”: Lambert, op. cit. (n. 3), p. 195, Werner Mayer, Untersuchungen zur Formensprache der babylonischen Gebetsbeschwörungen, Roma, 1976, p. 151–152.

5 As were palāhu and ṭand u, but nasāku specifically meant “cut” (the throat), like sphazein.

6 Xanthus trilingual inscription: Henri Metzger, Pierre Demargne (éd.), Fouilles de Xanthos VI. La stèle trilingue du Létôon, Paris, 1979, ll. 15-6 for Aramaic sacrificial terms, l. 24 for Greek. The fundamental meaning of zbḥ/dbḥ resembles that of sphazein, not thuein. Zbḥ and sphazein compared: J. Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas, Berlin, 1995, p. 187 (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 131).

7 Bruno Meissner, “Omina zur Erkenntnis der Eingeweide des Opfertieres”, Archiv für Orientforschung 9, 1933-1934, p. 118–119, 329–330; cf. Naiden 2012, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 85–86 for Greek practice. Unlike the Greeks, the Babylonians prayed that the animal pass this test (STT 73: 110-7). All standard Assyriological assyriological abbreviations as at (syntaxe: manqué un verbe?) http://cdli.ox.ac.uk/wiki/doku.php?id=abbreviations_for_assyriology.

8 AO 6451, unless the mice were small wild pigs. For sacrifice at this shrine, see Gilbert McEwan, “Distribution of Meat in Eanna”, Iraq 45, 1983, p. 187–198.

9 Sun-god tablet of Nabu-apla-idinna, IXth century BCE.

10 In this rite, the bull was slain, the verb being nasāku (TU 44 cols. 1–2).

11 Gilbert McEwan, Priest and Temple in Hellenistic Babylonia, Wiesbaden, 1981, p. 15. Or the inspection might take place at an offering table for Shamash, as described by Jean-Jacques Glassner, “De l’invention du sacrifice à l’écriture du monde. Le repas des dieux en Mésopotamie”, in Michel Cartry, Jean-Louis Durand, Renée Koch Piettre (éd.), Architecturer l’invisible. Autels, ligatures, écritures, Turnhout, 2009, p. 41–59, here p. 53–54.

12 Fingernail: Heinrich Zimmern, Beiträge zur Kenntnis der babylonischen Religion. Die Beschwörungstafeln Surpu, Ritualtafeln für Wahrsager, Beschwörer und Sänger, Leipzig, 1901, #11. Divine portion: Frederick M. Fales, John M. Postgate, Imperial Administrative Records, I: Palace and Temple Administration, Helsinki, 1992, p. 180 (SAA 7). General view: Francis Joannès, Le découpage de la viande en Mésopotamie, Lyon, 2000, p. 333–345 (Topoi, Suppl. 2).

13 VAT 16435, modified translation of the German version at Franz Köcher, “Ein mittelassyrisches Ritualfragment zum Neujahrsfest”, ZA 50, 1952, p. 192–202, here p. 194, obv. 11-19:
11: [SAN]GA dMarduk i-na BARAG ši-[m]a-a-te u-še-eš15[u-bu]
12: [ri-iḫ-tiDINGIRmeš-ni gab-ba la-a u-še-eš15 -š[u-bu]
13: [1] ka-nu-nu ša SIG4meš DUMU.AN.KIti-i-di pi-’-it-ta
14: i-na UGUḫi i-tab-ba-ak 1 SILÁ bal-ṭa a-na tar-ṣi dMarduk
15: a-na 2-šu i-bat-tu-qu i-na UGU pi-’-it-te i-ša-ak-ku-nu
16: 1/2 QA bu-ra-še 1/2 QA e-ri-na ka-ás-ma 3dugka-la-a-te
17: ša zidma-áṣ-ḫe-te i-na UGU SILÁ LUGAL ki-mu SANGA i-sa-ra-aq 1 la-ḫa-na
18: ša GEŠTIN 1 la-ḫa-na ša KAŠ i-na bat-tu bat-te-en ša ka-nu-ni
19: a-na qa-qi-ri ú-ga-mar

14 ABC 7.3.24-8.

15 Arr. An. 3.16.5: ἔνθα δὴ καὶ τοῖς Χαλδαίοις ἐνέτυχεν, καὶ ὅσα ἐδόκει Χαλδαίοις ἀμφὶ τὰ ἱερὰ τὰ ἐν Βαβυλῶνι ἔπραξε, τά τε ἄλλα καὶ τῷ Βήλῳ καθ᾽ ἃ ἐκεῖνοι ἐξηγοῦντο ἔθυσεν.

16 Tyre: Arr. An. 2.24.6, DS 17.46.6; a second time, Plu. Alex. 29.1-2. Memphis: Arr. An. 3.1.4.

17 Abraham Sachs, Hermann Hunger, Astronomical Diaries and Related Texts from Babylon, Vienna, 1988-1996, [hereafter AD]-187 rev. 17-8 translated as above:
17: [….] x LUGAL TA
uruBar-sipki [ana] Eki KU4 [x x] É-sag-gíl E11 GU4u UDU-SISKUR ana dEN dGAŠAN-iá u DINGIRmeš GALme[š….]
18: […]⌐U4¬ BI ina KIN-SIG TA Eki ⌐anauru?¬ Se-[lu-ke-’-a] ša ana muu mu idIDI[GNA x x] LUGAL È ITU BI [….]

18 AD-178 C rev. 19-21, translated as above:
19: KU4ub U4-6 ina du-de-[e....] KÁ-SIKIL-LA luŠÀ-TAM É-sag-íl u Eki meš
20: GU 4 ù 5 SISKURmeš a-na [....GAL ERÍN KUR-UR] Iki meš ul-te-zi-zu-ú NIDBA a-na dEN dGAŠAN-iá
21: DINGIRmešGALmeš ù a-na b[ul-b ša ]ISe-lu-ku LUGAL DAM-šu ù Ameš-šu

19 ABC 11 obv. 8-12, esp. 8: [ina qi-bi ša 1-en luDUMU E.[KI]

20 ABC 13b obv. 3-8, translated as above:
3: [M]U /60\+28.KAM mSi-lu-ku LUGAL ITI BAR ITI BI UD 8.KAM 1+en DUMU E.KI ŠÀ. TAM É.SAG.GÍL
4: [..]x –BAR? šá É.SAG.GÍL ina INIM LUGAL lìb-bu-ú kušši-piš-tum šá LUGAL šá inaIGI-ma iš-šá-a
5: [K] I?? KÙ. BABBAR TA É LUGAL TA É/ rama-ni-šú \11 GU 4. HI. A ma-ru-tu 1. ME UDU. M [EŠ ]
6: [m]a-ru-tu 11 mušenUZ.TUR ma-ru-tu a-na PAD.dINNIN ina lìb-bi /É\.[S]AG.GÍL
7: a-na dEN dGAŠAN-ia u DINGIR.MEŠ GAL.MEŠ ù /a\-[n]a dul-/lu\ šá mSi-[lu]-ku LU[GAL]
8: u A.MEŠ-sú
More examples of sacrifice “for the life of the king”: Mark
Linssen, The Cults of Uruk and Babylon: The Temple Ritual Texts as Evidence for Hellenistic Cult Practices, Leiden, 2003, p. 126 with n. 792 (Cuneiform Monographs 25).

21 Other Greek examples: AD -204 rev. 14-8 (king Antiochus), -171 B rev. 1-7 (commander of troops, presumably Greek), -136 C rev. 13 (a “citizen”), -132 D rev. 13-4 (unstated), -129 A obv. 13-5 (Babylonian administrator), -129 A obv. 18-24 (governor of Babylon). Parthian: -126 A obv. 9 (Parthian general).

22 AD -330 rev. 6-7, as translated above:
6: ⌐ U4 ¬-11 rev.ina uruUD.KIB.NUNki ṭi-emu ša IA-l[ek-sa-an-dar-ri-is…]
7: [x x] a-na Émeš-ku-nu ul er-ru-ub

23 AD -330 rev. 7-8, as translated above:
7: U
4-13-KÁ[M....]
8: [x x] ⌐ x ¬ LA KÁ
ka-mi-i ša É-sag-gíl ù ⌐ lag-gíl

24 AD -330 rev. 9-14, as translated above:
9: [x x x] U4-14-KÁM Ia-ma-na-a-a MU-tim GU4 [....]
10: (blank) LUGUD-DAmeš uzu ME-ḪEme [š....]

11: [x x x] A-lek-sa-an-dar-ri-is LUGAL ŠÚ ana Eki K[U4? ….]
12: [x ANŠE? –K]UR-RA mešù ú-: ⌐nu-ut ¬
13: [x x x] u DUMUmeš Eki u UN⌐NN¬ [….]
14: […] ⌐x ¬ ši-piš-tú ana? [...]

A different view: Robartus J. van der Spek, “Darius III, Alexander the Great, and Babylonian Scholarship”, in Wouter Henkelman, Amélie Kuhrt (ed.), A Persian Perspective: Essays in Memory of Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenberg, 2003, p. 289–346, here p. 298–300 (AchHist 13).

25 AD -168 A obv. 14-5, as translated above:
14:. ....... ITU BI al-te-me um-[ma]
15: lAn LUGAL ina URU.MEŠ šá KUR Me-lu--ḫu šal--MEŠ u GIN-GIN ma[x x] pu-li-ṭl-e pu-up-pe-e u ép-še-e-tú šá GIM ú-ṣ-I-tú ia-a-man-nu ⌐x¬ [.....]
Besides AD -136 C rev. 13, as above, other possible politai: Robartus J. van der Spek, Irving Finkel (ed.), Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period, forthcoming under the auspices of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences [= BCHP], no. 14 obv. 2: Ia-’-man-na-a-a-ni MU-šú-nu p[u-li-ṭ--nu], “the Greeks, as they are called, the p[olitai],….”

26 BM 32248 + 32456 + 32477 + 32543 + 76-11-17 unnumbered, as in BCHP no. 6. obv. 5-8, including translation:
5: ina muh-hi ni-ip-lu šá /É.SAG.GÍL\[x iš-k ] u-nu ina muh-hi ni-ip-lu
6: šá É.SAG.GÍL in-da-qut GU4./MEŠ\. H[I.A?ù] PAD. dINNIN GIM GIŠ.HUR
7: KUR Ia-a-ma-nu DÙ-uš /DUMU\ LUGAL [ERÍN.ME]Š-šú gišGIGIR.MEŠ-šú
8: (v) AM.SI.MEŠ <-šú> SAHAR.HI.A šá É.SA[G]. G[ÍL i]d-de-ku-ú

27 The so-called revolt: Caroline Waezeggers, “The Babylonian Revolts against Xerxes and the ‘End of the Archives’”, Archiv für Orientforschung 50, 2003-2044, p. 50–73. Temple refurbishment: Linssen 2003, op. cit. (n. 8), p. 100–107, Robartus J. van der Spek, “The Size and Significance of Babylonian Temples Under the Successors,” in Pierre Briant, Francis Joannès (éd.), La transition entre l’Empire achéménide et les royaumes hellénistiques, Paris, 2006, p. 261–308, here p. 264–265. Pre-sacrifice cleaning: Stefan Maul, Zukunftsbewältigung: Eine Untersuchung altorientalischen Denkens anhand der babylonisch-assyrischen Löserituale (Namburbi), Mainz-am-Rhein, 1994, p. 48 n. 7 with refs.

28 E.g., O 174 ob. 7-11, F. F. Thureau-Dangin, Rituels accadiens, Paris, 1921.

29 TU 45 = AO 6472 rev. 20-24, from the fourth day of a building ritual also attested in TU 46, dated 231 BCE.

30 For this practice, see M. I. Gruber, Aspects of Nonverbal Communication in the Ancient Near East, Roma, 1980, vol. 1, p. 182–191 (SP 12). -

31 Ominous falls: CT 47 36.2, 5. Cf. schol. E. Med. 1172, attributing such falls to Pan and Hecate.

32 Plut. Demetrius, 29.2, cited by van der Spek 2006, op. cit. (n. 27), p. 295, in the same sense: ᾽Αντίγονος δὲ παραταττομένης ἤδη τῆς φάλαγγος ἐξιὼν προσέπταισεν, ὥστε πεσεῖν ὅλος ἐπὶ στόμα καὶ διατεθῆναι χαλεπῶς· ἀναστὰς δὲ καὶ τὰς χεῖρας ἀνατείνας πρὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν ᾐτήσατο νίκην παρὰ τῶν θεῶν θάνατον ἀναίσθητον πρὸ τῆς ἥττης.

33 Irving Finkel & R. J. van der Spek, Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period (BCHP), forthcoming, but now available at http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/chronicles/chron00.html. Other than those discussed, only the routine reports at BCHP no. 11 246/5 BCE and BCHP no. 18 B 21.

34 As at A. K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5, New York, 1975, 8.112-13.

35 Sacrifice ’Αχαϊστί: Sibylline oracle of 125 BCE, as at Heinrich Diehls, Sybillinische Blätter, Berlin, 1890, p. 55. Graecus achivus ritus for ludi saeculares: Giorgio Pighi, De ludis saecularibus populi romani Quiritium, Amsterdam, 1965, p. 155 iv.6. Albanus ritus: Liv. 1.7.3.

36 Ceres: Paul. Diac. De verb. signif. s.v. Graeca sacra, Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer, München, 1912, 2nd ed., p. 272–273. Cato: fr. 77 ed. Malcovati.

37 Pighi 1965, op. cit. (n. 35), p. 155–156, as at John Scheid, “Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 97, 1995, p. 15–31, here p. 27 n. 44: “praetextis sumptis et coronis [accitis, de Palatino in Capitolium venerunt. […] Dein --- posita corona et p]raetexta, adsistentibus [[Geta Caes.]] et pr. pr. et ceteris v[v. cc., purificatus per publicos XVvirum manus --- retinens manibus]/[dextera --- et la]eva cultrum op[liq. C]otorium et pateram cum vino, retinente pr{a}ecatione [[m Geta Caes.]] immol[avit I]unoni reginae vaccam alb. Graeco Achivo rit[u” (155 f., iv, 4ff). Cf. Pighi 1965, op. cit. (n. 35), p. 154, on somewhat more Hellenic sacrifices to Jupiter on July 1 during the same ludi.

38 Fest. De verb signif. 268.

39 Sumerian influence on Babylonian sacrifice: Jean-Jacques Glassner, «De l’invention du sacrifice à l’écriture du monde. Le repas des dieux en Mésopotamie», in Michel Cartry, Jean-Louis Durand, Renée Koch Piettre (éd.), Architecturer l’invisible. Autels, ligatures, écritures, Turnhout, 2009, p. 41–59, here p. 43–44.

40 I.e., the Nestorian, Monophysite, and Three Chapters controversies, as at Aloys Grillmeier, “Gottmensch III: Patristik”, in Theodor Klauser et al. (ed.), Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, Stuttgart, 1950 –, vol. 12, p. 312–366.

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Légende Fig. 1: Sun-god tablet of Nabu-apla-iddina, IXth century BCE.BM 91000. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum.
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