All in the family: the real Semiramide, Assur, Nino and Ninia
When an opera is based – more or less – on “real events”, I want to get slightly better acquainted with the facts as they have come down to us. I’m not a historian and you shouldn’t expect this to be a history lesson. It’s pretty much the fun facts a quick read on Wiki will reveal. I’m doing this because I like a bit of a backstory myself but I don’t always want to research things right then and there, so I’m grateful if someone’s written a brief synopsis.
First off, these folks are not Babylonians (they originate from the town of Babylon) but Assyrians (they originate from the town of Assur). They do fight (and win against) Baylonians, to whom they are related (ie, they are all Semitic tribes). They have the coolest BCE names ever.
Sammurāmat / Sammuramāt (811-808 BC) – Regent of Assyria, empire named after its capital city, 𐎠𐎰𐎢𐎼 (Aššur), during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BC). At the time, the Empire was the largest of its kind and the most technically advanced nation of the Ancient World (hence the Hanging Gardens1; but apparently not savvy enough regarding basement lighting 😉 ). Women weren’t held in such high regard back then for it to be a common thing to rule as Regents, but the Wiki source speculates she was possibly accepted due to “politically uncertain times”. It appears she was a real person who ruled the empire – or at least was very politically influential – until her son’s coming of age (I could not quickly find what that age was). It isn’t clear how the legend developed, or, even better, how it spread further afield.
If you’re wondering where’s her picture – of course there is no picture, she’s a woman. But there is a large rock, known as her stele. Better that than nothing.
Shamshi-Adad V aka, Nino (824-811 BC) – King of Assyria, named after the rain/storm god of the region (Adad). He is the dude who campaigned against Babylonians and defeated them.
Assur-danin-pal aka, Assur – brother of Shamshi-Adad V, with whom he engaged in a serious power struggle when it came to succeeding their father, Shalmanasser III2. After some early victories which brought to his side 27 cities (including the famous Nineveh (𒌷𒉌𒉡𒀀 – I just love cuneiforms!) which will later become capital and end in fire and brimstone), he was eventually defeated and disappeared from chronicles.
Adad-nirari III aka, Ninia/Arsace (811-783 BC) – King of Assyria, was busy rebuilding the strength of the empire by campainging left and right, building a lot of things and allowing a breathing period for Israel, as long as they paid tribute to him. Sadly, the empire returned to a few decades of weakness after his death.
So, it’s pretty accurate, after all. Assur = bad guy, Nino = struggling with pretenders, Semiramide = ambitious queen, Ninia = recovered well.
- some say the Gardens were built in Babylon but others believe they were in Nineveh. So you see how it is, even historians don’t agree on their Assyria/Babylon. Of course it does not help that the Assyrians destroyed and then rebuilt Babylon and made it the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (609-539 BC). ↩
- named after Shulmanu, god of the underworld, fertility and war. ↩