Warning to a Monarch

Language: Akkadian
Medium: clay tablet
Size: 15.24 cm long
9.52 cm wide
Length: 59 lines of writing
Genre: royal warning
Date: 7th cent. BCE?
Place of Discovery: Kouyunjik, Iraq (ancient Nineveh)
Excavation director: George Smith
born: 1840
died: 1876
Date of Discovery: May 1873
Current Location: British Museum
London, England
Museum description: photos and description
Inventory number: DT.1

Adapted from Smith (1875) and Lambert (1960:112-15)

1 If a king does not heed justice, his people will be thrown into chaos, and his land will be devastated.

2 If he does not heed the justice of his land, Ea, King of Destinies, 3 will change his destiny and will not cease from hostilely pursuing him.

4 If he does not heed his nobles, his life will be cut short.

5 If he does not heed his adviser, his land will rebel against him.

6 If he heeds a worthless fellow, the stability of his land will change.

7 If he heeds a trick of Ea, the great gods 8 in unison and in their just ways will not cease from persecuting him.

9 If he improperly convicts a resident of Sippar, but acquits a foreigner, Šamaš, judge of heaven and earth, 10 will set up a foreign justice in his land, where the princes and judges will not heed justice.

11 If residents of Nippur are brought to him for judgment, but he accepts a bribe and improperly convicts them, 12 Enlil, Lord of the Lands, will bring a foreign army against him 13 to slaughter his army, 14 whose prince and chief officers will roam (the) streets like fighting cocks.

15 If he takes the silver of the citizens of Babylon and adds it to his own coffers, 16 or if he hears a lawsuit involving men of Babylon but treats it frivolously, 17 Marduk, Lord of Heaven and Earth, will set his foes upon him, 18 and will give his property and wealth to his enemy.

19 If he imposes a fine on the residents of Nippur, Sippar, or Babylon, 20 or if he imprisons them, 21 the city where the fine was imposed will be completely overturned, 22 and a foreign enemy will make his way into the prison in which they placed.

23 If he mobilized the whole of Sippar, Nippur, and Babylon, 24 and imposed conscripted labor on the people, 25 exacting from them conscripted labor at the herald’s proclamation, 26 Marduk, the Sage of the Gods, the Prince, the Counselor, 27 will turn his land over to his enemy 28 so that the troops of his land will do forced labor for his enemy, 29 for Anu, Enlil, and Ea, the great gods, 30 who dwell in heaven and earth, in their assembly affirmed the freedom of those people from such obligations.

31-32 If he gives the fodder of the residents of Sippar, Nippur, and Babylon to (his own) horses, 33 the horses who eat the fodder 34 will be led away to the enemy's yoke, 35 and those men will be mobilized with the king's men when the state army is conscripted. 36 Mighty Erra, [who goes] before his army, 37 will shatter his front line and go at his enemy's side.

38 If he looses the yokes of [their] oxen 39 and puts them in other fields 40 or gives them to a foreigner, . . . will be devasted . . . of Addu.

41 If he seizes . . . stock of sheep, 42 Addu, canal supervisor of heaven and earth, 43 will extirpate his pasturing animals by hunger 44 and will amass offerings for Šamaš.

51 If he declares their treaties void, or alters their inscribed (treaty) stele, 52 sends them on a campaign, or [press-gangs] them into hard labor, 53 Nabu, Scribe of Esagil, who organizes the whole of heaven and earth, who directs everything, 54 who ordains kingship, will declare the treaties of his land void, and will decree hostility.

55 If a shepherd, or a temple supervisor, or a chief officer of the king 56 who serves as temple supervisor of Sippar, Nippur, or Babylon, 57 imposes conscripted labor on them (viz. the residents of Sippar, Nippur, or Babylon) in connection with the temples of the great gods, 58 the great gods will abandon their dwellings in their fury 59 and will not enter their shrines.


Ea was one of the high gods of Assyria and Babylonia. He was associated with creation, water, intelligence, and destiny. His sacred number was 40. He was originally the patron deity of the Sumerian city of Eridu.
Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habba, Iraq) was one of the major Mesopotamian cities, dating back to the Sumerian era. It was located on the east bank of the Euphrates River near modern Baghdad. It was a major cultic center for the god Šamaš. The first excavations of Sippar were led by Hormuzd Rassam over an eighteen month period in 1880-1881 on behalf of the British Museum. Later excavations were carried out by a Belgian team led by Jean-Vincent Scheil. More recently, the Iraqis have excavated annually since 1977, led by Walid al-Jadir with Farouk al-Rawi. Since 2000, the Iraqis were joined by teams from the German Archaeological Institute.
Šamaš was not only "the judge of heaven and earth," as described here, but also the sun-god (note Hebrew šemeš). The two chief Mesopotamian cultic centers of Šamaš were Sippar and Larsa.
Nippur (modern Nuffar, Iraq), located on the Euphrates River approximately 160km southeast of Baghdad. It was the cultic center of the Sumerian deity Enlil. Sir Austen Henry Layard briefly excavated it in 1851, and the University of Pennsylvania excavated for four seasons between 1889 and 1900, led by John P. Peters, John H. Haynes, and Herman V. Hilprecht. Nineteen seasons of excavation were organized jointly by the Oriental Institute (University of Chicao), University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the American Schools of Oriental Research
Bribe. Bribery was a constant concern for the administration of justice in the ancient Near East. See, for example, the hymn to Shamash (lines 97-100). In the Bible, laws concerning bribery appear in Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (see also Exodus 18:21-22; Deuteronomy 27:19; 1 Samuel 12:3; Isaiah 1:23).
Enlil was the "lord of the wind" and ruler of heaven and earth. His cultic center was located in Nippur.
Babylon (modern Al Hillah, Iraq) is located about 85km south of Baghdad, along the Euphrates River.
Marduk was the patron deity of Babylon. He was often referred to as Bel ("lord").
Conscripted labor was a common phenomenon in the ancient Near East. It was often organized on a rotating basis, with different cities, towns, and villages being assigned different times of the year. This labor was used by ancient monarchs on building projects, excavating canals, mining, cutting timber, and other work that required large gangs. In the Bible, see
Anu was the Mesopotamian god of the heavens and of judgment. Along with Enlil and Enki, he was part of the oldest triad of Sumerian gods.
Erra was the Mesopotamian god of pestilence and mayhem.
Addu is the Akkadian spelling for the storm god known by West Semites as Haddad. He is identified here as the canal supervior of heaven and earth.
Nabu was the Mesopotamian god of wisdom and writing. His consort was Tashmetum.
Abandon their dwellings and the parallel phrase "not enter their shrines" is indicative of the ancient Near Eastern understanding of deities being invoked to enter their temples, and the deitie's freedom to enter or leave at will.


1. What is the relationship between "act" and "consequence" in this document? What is the role of the gods in this process?
2. Read 1 Samuel 8:1-22 in the Bible. How might one draw parallels between the content of this passage and the Assyrian document?
3. What is conscripted labor? How did ancient Near Eastern monarchs use it? Compare 1 Kings 5:13-18; 9:15-22; 12:4. Consult Rainey (1970).
4. What would account for the special status of the cities of Sippar, Nippur, and Babylon within the Assyrian empire?
5. What would the purpose of this document be? Who would have written it: a prophet, a priest, a royal adviser? How would it change our understanding of this text if one or the other of these three had written it?

Bezold, Carl, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum. Vol. 4. London: British Museum Publications, 1896.
Hanson, K. C. Israel in the Time of Kings: Social Institutions and Social Conflicts. forthcoming.
Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.
Lambert, W. G. "The Babylonians and Chaldaeans." In Peoples of Old Testament Times, edited by D. J. Wiseman, 179-96. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.
Langdon, S. H. "An Early Babylonian Tablet of Warnings for the King." Journal of the American Oriental Society 28 (1907) 145-54.
Luckenbill, Daniel David. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. Vol. 2: Historical Records of Assyria from Sargon to the End. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927.
Rainey, Anson F. "Compulsory Labour Gangs in Ancient Israel." Israel Exploration Journal 20 (1970) 191-202.
Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 2nd ed. New York: Viking Penguin, 1980.
Saggs, H. W. F. "The Assyrians." In Peoples of Old Testament Times, edited by D. J. Wiseman, 156-78. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.
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Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness That Was Babylon: A Sketch of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.
Saggs, H. W. F. The Might That Was Assyria. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984.
Smith, George. Assyrian Discoveries. 1875. Reprinted with a new foreward and bibliography by K. C. Hanson. The Ancient Near East: Classic Studies. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006.

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Last Modified: 15 November 2011