Feasts and festivals are celebrated in all cultures; they are defined by their reason or purpose, their rituals, and whether they are celebrated at regular intervals of time or occasioned by special events. Furthermore, there is a difference between feasts that are (1) personal and private (rites of passage such as weddings or funerals), (2) public and royal (enthronement of kings, victory celebrations), or (3) religious. Overlaps between these categories can occur in Mesopotamia, where religion permeated all aspects of daily life and there were no purely “secular” feasts.
   1. Private feasts. Sumerian poetry and myths allude to the preparations and celebrations of marriages. The groom was to ask the bride’s parents for permission to wed. He then brought wedding gifts according to his station. The bride, having bathed and adorned herself in the wedding finery, was received with music into the house of her groom’s family, where the feast was celebrated. There are also a number of reliefs from the third millennium B.C. that show people seated on low chairs and drinking beer together through a straw. Whether such scenes illustrate special occasions or daily conviviality is not clear. Coming-of-age ceremonies are not attested in Mesopotamia, and there were no age group associations.
   2. Victory celebrations and enthronement are also known from literary sources. In particular, the myths associated with the god Ninurta describe the awe-inspiring march of the victorious troops toward the main temple, where the spoils of war were dedicated to the gods. Assyrian inscriptions refer to splendid feasts for the official opening of a new palace or royal residence; Ashurnasirpal II famously invited 69,574 to the inauguration party at Kalhu. Other public festivals related to the agrarian cycle, such the preparation of the fields, or bringing in of the harvest.
   3. Alarge number of religious feasts were held in Mesopotamia (see RELIGION).
   The names of many festivals are known, as well as the expenses they incurred, but the written sources say very little about their purpose or the rituals performed since such knowledge was taken for granted. However, texts such as the Neo-Sumerian offering lists provide some information about the main religious festivals organized by the temples. Some were fixed and some were variable, and they often concerned the movement of the divine statue from one temple to another. The timing of feasts could depend on their agrarian significance (many of the journeys of divine statues coincided with important seasons) or the lunar, solar, or Venus cycle. Processions outside the temple, or between temples, accompanied by musicians and dancers, and the clergy in their specific paraphernalia, were the most visible manifestation, along with the distribution of extra food and drink allowances to the personnel and/or the citizens at large.
   The best-known festival that originated in Babylon was the New Year Festival (Akitu), which lasted 12 days. It was mainly performed in the huge temple of Marduk called Esagil. The king’s presence was of vital importance as he guaranteed the divine order decreed by the gods. He may have played an active part in the playing out of the main events of the Epic of Creation (see CREATION MYTHS), such as the battle between Marduk and Tiamat. The king had to make a negative confession (“I have not sinned, I have not been negligent of your godhead, I have not destroyed Babylon . . .”) and was struck across the face hard enough to cause tears. Another important aspect was the arrival of all the major Babylonian deities. On the ninth day began the public phase of this festival, where all the assembled gods and goddesses, led by the king holding the hand of Marduk, processed with great pomp along the Festival Way and embarked on boats to reach the Festival House that was located beyond the city walls. The New Year festival was a public holiday for all Babylonian citizens, who could watch the processions, complete with the display of war booty and prisoners, and partake of the banquets. It arose from the traditional barleyharvest celebrations of early spring, and the rituals served to confirm the divinely decreed order of the universe after the potentially dangerous liminal period between the ending of one year and the beginning of the new. The New Year festival was also celebrated in Assyria, where the god Assur played the role of Marduk.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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