Kubaba – the prototype of the Asian Underworld goddess

Relief of the goddess Kububa, holding a pomegranate in her right hand and a mirror in her left hand; orthostat relief from Herald's wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey Source: Wikimedia Commons

Relief of the goddess Kububa, holding a pomegranate in her right hand and a mirror in her left hand; Orthostat relief from Herald’s wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey Source: Wikimedia Commons

Kubaba was the main goddess of Hittite successor kingdoms, with shrines throughout Mesopotamia, and the tutelary goddess who protected the ancient Syrian city of Carchemish on the upper Euphrates, during the late Hurrian – Early Hittite period.

According to the Weidner or Esagila ChronicleSumerian: Kug-Bau) she reigned roughly in the Early Dynastic III period (ca. 2500-2330 BC) — she is one of very few women to have ever ruled in their own right in of Sumerian history. Most versions of the king list place her alone in her own dynasty, the 3rd Dynasty of Kish, following the defeat of Sharrumiter of Mari, but other versions combine her with the 4th dynasty, that followed the primacy of the king of Akshak.

Although shrines in honour of Kubaba spread throughout Mesopotamia and further beyond, her origins are recorded as being humble ones,  the Sumerian king list says before becoming monarch, she was a tavern-keeper. And according to the Weidner Chronicle which gives a brief account of rise of “the house of Kubaba” occurring in the reign of Puzur-Nirah of Akshak:

“In the reign of Puzur-Nirah, king of Akšak, the freshwater fishermen of Esagila were catching fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk; the officers of the king took away the fish. The fisherman was fishing when 7 (or 8) days had passed […] in the house of Kubaba, the tavern-keeper […] they brought to Esagila. At that time BROKEN[4] anew for Esagila […] Kubaba gave bread to the fisherman and gave water, she made him offer the fish to Esagila. Marduk, the king, the prince of the Apsû, favored her and said: “Let it be so!” He entrusted to Kubaba, the tavern-keeper, sovereignty over the whole world.” (lines 38-45)

In the Hurrian area she may be identified with Kebat, or Hepat, one title of the Hurrian Mother goddess Hannahannah (from Hurrian hannah, “mother”).

According to Mark Munn (Munn, Mark (2004). “Kybele as Kubaba in a Lydo-Phrygian Context”: Emory University cross-cultural conference “Hittites, Greeks and Their Neighbors in Central Anatolia” (Abstracts)), her cult later spread and her name was adapted for the main goddess of the Hittite successor-kingdoms in Anatolia, which later developed into the Phrygian matar (mother) or matar kubileya whose image with inscriptions appear in rock-cut sculptures.

The relief carvings at Museum of Anatolian Antiquities, Ankara (depicted in the photo above), show her seated, wearing a cylindrical headdress like the polos and holding a circular mirror in one hand and the poppy capsule or pomegranate in the other. She plays a minor role in Hittite texts of the Hittite empire (c. 1400–c. 1190 BC), mainly in Hurrian rituals. This Hittite representation may possibly have been the prototype of the Xiwangmu goddess who is depicted on funerary reliefs in western China, as well as on bronze mirrors of Japanese tumuli of the Kofun Period. The Xi Wangmu, being titled the goddess of the West, identified by her polo headdress, bestial companions, and with her funerary Underworld as well as mirror associations, likely diffused eastwards via the Iranian-Persian world … see also The Pomegranate in Japan on Persephone and pomegranate, and others’ associations with Hades or the Underworld.

Kubaba’s Lydian name Kuvav or Kufav was transcribed by Ionian Greeks as Kybêbê, and 8th century she was further Hellenized by Hipponax into “Kybêbê, daughter of Zeus“.The Phrygian goddess apart from the name, bears little resemblance to Kubaba, who was a sovereign deity at Sardis, known to Greeks as Kybebe. The Chinese and Japanese iconographic depictions of the western mother goddess appear closer to the Hittite depiction of Kubaba, than Greek or Phrygian models.

Source: Wikipedia entry, Kubaba

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