Sippar (Abu Habbah)

A city in northern Babylonia (ancient Sumeria), near the Euphrates River in present-day Iraq. Sippar was located 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of where Baghdad stands today, north of the ancient city of Babylon. A great deal has been learned about Mesopotamian civilizations as a result of excavations at Sippar; where, in 1882, thousands of inscribed clay tablets were found, dating to the Old Babylonian and New-Babylonian Periods.

Sippar was an important religious and economic centre as far back as the Early Dynastic Period. Sargon of Akkad made Sippar one of his capitals. Excavations have revealed the great religious enclosure which he dedicated to the sun god Shamah (Sumerian "utu"; Akkadian "Šamaš"). Unfortunately, the archaeological evidence from Old Babylonian Sippar is obscured by the ruins and construction from later periods.

In the Neo-Babylonian period (particularly the late 7th century B.C.), we see a marked increase in reconstruction and new buildings at Sippar. Nabopolassar rebuilt the temple of Shamash and dug a canal linking the city to the Euphrates River. During the Neo-Babylonian and early Achaemenid period the temples in Babylonia prospered economically. These institutions owned land and herds in the countryside, and an elementary manufacturing industry in the cities.

Substantial parts of the large archives of two such institutions are available for study: the Eanna archive from Uruk and the Ebabbar archive from Sippar. The organization supplying the Ebabbar temple, dedicated to the sun god, covered two areas: on the one hand the countryside, where most of the commodities were produced, and on the other hand the inner city, where most of the commodities were processed. The "inner city" was the designation for the complex of buildings in Sippar which belonged to the Ebabbar temple: the shrines of the gods, the storehouses, the workshops and the accomodation for the sacrificial animals.

Nabonidus, in his Record 5, says that Istar worship in Akkad was superceded in this period by that of Anunit, another personification of "the brilliant goddess," whose shrine was in Sippar. It's important here to note that Sippar was in fact divided into two distinct cities. The first, under the protection of Shamah, being distinct from the second, under that of Anunit. It is widely believed that this proved the proximity of Sippar to Akkad. In fact, it has been suggested that Akkad was situated opposite Anunit-Sippar, on the west bank of the Euphrates, and that this area was the oldest part of Shamash-Sippar.

From the Sippar area, lapis was exported all the way to Egypt; this was the source of all Egypt's lapis, according to the Egyptians themselves. No other source was known to the ancient world. The Egyptians loved lapis lazuli; they used it in their jewelry and artwork literally since the beginning of history, buying it at a town known to them as Tefrer. Tefrer has been identified by Egyptologists as the ancient city of Sippar in Mesopotamia; the lapis sold at Sippar came from Bactria, which is to say, the mines in Afghanistan. It would have been shipped down the Indus and on to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and then brought upriver to Sippar. The 'boats' on which it traveled might have been the ancient Mesopotamian wooden barges which were buoyed up by dozens of inflated goatskins. The other routes from Bactria are all overland, in which case the lapis shipments would have traveled via donkey-back, over mountains and across deserts.

"Advice to a Prince"

Tablets found in Assurbanipal's libraries at Nineveh make extensive mention of Sippar. Unfortunately, no duplicates of these texts have been found in Babylon, itself. The aim of the text is clearly to protect the rights of the citizens of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon from taxation, forced labour and misappropriation of their property. The picture that emerges from the anonymous king in the text is of a very weak king vainly trying to become great. The loose style of the piece suggests one of the kings of Babylon between 1000 and 700 B.C.

See for some great photos of Sippar

See also The Haunted City, a poem by A.C. Crispin and Andre Norton.


  • H. Gasche, L. Paepe; The Surrounding Wall of Abu Habbah (Sippar) in Relation to that of Tell ed-Der and to the Regional Fluviatile System
  • Richard Hess, David Tsumura; "I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood": Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11; Eisenbrauns, 1994.
  • Tikva Frymer-Kensky; In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth; Fawcet-Columbine, New York, 1992.
  • Lambert, W. G.; Babylonian Wisdom Literature. From the Oxford University Press edition published in 1963, reprinted in 1996 by Eisenbrauns.
  • Leiden; The Neo-Babylonian Ebabbar Temple at Sippar: its Administration and its Prosopography.; Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1997.
  • C.B.F. Walker, D. Collon; Hormuzd Rassam's Excavations for the British Museum at Sippar in 1881-1882.
  • The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.
  • The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001.

{Kings of Sumeria}