1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eridu
ERIDU, one of the oldest religious centres of the Sumerians, described in the ancient Babylonian records as the “city of the deep.” The special god of this city was Ea (q.v.), god of the sea and of wisdom, and the prominence given to this god in the incantation literature of Babylonia and Assyria suggests not only that many of our magical texts are to be traced ultimately to the temple of Ea at Eridu, but that this side of the Babylonian religion had its origin in that place. Certain of the most ancient Babylonian myths, especially that of Adapa, may also be traced back to the shrine of Ea at Eridu. But while of the first importance in matters of religion, there is no evidence in Babylonian literature of any special political importance attaching to Eridu, and certainly at no time within our knowledge did it exercise hegemony in Babylonia. The site of Eridu was discovered by J. E. Taylor in 1854, in a ruin then called by the natives Abu-Shahrein, a few miles south-south-west of Moghair, ancient Ur, nearly in the centre of the dry bed of an inland sea, a deep valley, 15 m. at its broadest, covered for the most part with a nitrous incrustation, separated from the alluvial plain about Moghair by a low, pebbly, sandstone range, called the Hazem, but open toward the north to the Euphrates and stretching southward to the Khanega wadi below Suk-esh-Sheiukh. In the rainy season this valley becomes a sea, flooded by the discharge of the Khanega; in summer the Arabs dig holes here which supply them with brackish water. The ruins, in which Taylor conducted brief excavations, consist of a platform of fine sand enclosed by a sandstone wall, 20 ft. high, the corners toward the cardinal points, on the N.W. part of which was a pyramidal tower of two stages, constructed of sun-dried brick, cased with a wall of kiln-burned brick, the whole still standing to a height of about 70 ft. above the platform. The summit of the first stage was reached by a staircase on the S.E. side, 15 ft. wide and 70 ft. long, constructed of polished marble slabs, fastened with copper bolts, flanked at the foot by two curious columns. An inclined road led up to the second stage on the N.W. side. Pieces of polished alabaster and marble, with small pieces of pure gold and gold-headed copper nails, found on and about the top of the second stage, indicated that a small but richly adorned sacred chamber, apparently plated within or without in gold, formerly crowned the top of this structure. Around the whole tower was a pavement of inscribed baked bricks, resting on a layer of clay 2 ft. thick. On the S.E. part of the terrace were the remains of several edifices, containing suites of rooms. Inscriptions on the bricks identified the site as that of Eridu. Since Taylor’s time the place has not been visited by any explorer, owing to the unsafe condition of the neighbourhood; but T. K. Loftus (1854) and J. P. Peters (1890) both report having seen it from the summit of Moghair. The latter states that the Arabs at that time called the ruin Nowawis, and apparently no longer knew the name Abu-Shahrein. Through an error, in many recent maps and Assyriological publications Eridu is described as located in the alluvial plain, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. It was, in fact, an island city in an estuary of the Persian Gulf, stretching up into the Arabian plateau. Originally “on the shore of the sea,” as the old records aver, it is now about 120 m. from the head of the Persian Gulf. Calculating from the present rate of deposit of alluvium at the head of that gulf, Eridu should have been founded as early as the seventh millennium B.C. It is mentioned in historical inscriptions from the earliest times onward, as late as the 6th century B.C. From the evidence of Taylor’s excavations, it would seem that the site was abandoned about the close of the Babylonian period.
See J. E. Taylor, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xv. (1855); F. Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? (1881); J. P. Peters, Nippur (1897); M. Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898); H. V. Hilprecht, Excavations in Assyria and Babylonia (1904); L. W. King, A History of Sumer and Akkad (1910). (J. P. Pe.)