Agushaya (and Ishtar)


The clues to this story are in the Assyria galleries on the ground floor of the British Museum as well as up the wide, white staircase in Room 56. The narrative frieze in Room 10b is full of images showing the horrific realities of war. These include lines of prisoners in hand-cuffs, piles of severed heads, tortured bodies and families of refugees fleeing with their goods and animals. Archaeological items on display from the wars fought at the time of the Agushaya story include sling-stones, arrow-heads and burnt olive pips. The main story-clue iupstairs is an ancient clay mould for making small statues of Ishtar, the goddess of war. It’s a mirror-image in 3D.

The Agushaya story tells how Ishtar became so aggressive that Ea created from the dirt under his finger-nails a mirror image match for her. The name of this monstrous goddess was Saltu, meaning “strife”. Ishtar sent her helper Ninshubar to see Saltu and report back to her. Saltu was so terrifying that Ninshubar was reduced to stammering and stuttering. Infuriated, Ishtar asked Ea what was going on. He explained that Saltu would continue to exist until Ishtar became less aggressive. He had created Saltu to show Ishtar what she was like. Ishtar became quieter so as to be rid of Saltu and be known as Agushya. Ea initiated an annual festival of crazy dancing to remind people of the perils of excessive aggression.

The Queen of the Night plaque and coloured reconstruction