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Beautiful face typical of those at 'Ain Dara: rounded nose, almond-shaped eyes, and slightly smiling lips. Perhaps a goddess or a priestess. Around her head she wears a circlet decorated with rosettes, in Mesopotamia a symbol of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar. Originally found in many pieces, restored. Basalt. 22".
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 34.

Shaushka and 'Ain Dara: A Goddess and Her Temple

What an unexpected delight! I have just discovered a really important ancient Near Eastern goddess I had never heard of before. At the urging of University of Toronto's Prof. D. Frayne, I had begun doing research towards writing an article about a stunning temple at 'Ain Dara, in northern Syria. Since, from its sculpture, its excavator thought it had been dedicated to the Babylonian war and love goddess Ishtar, I assumed that I would be dealing with her. However, only a little investigation suddenly presented me with the name of Shaushka, who turned out to be a widely disseminated deity often identified with Ishtar.[1]

Ishtar, the Babylonian equivalent of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, was one of the seven great deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon and "the most important female deity of ancient Mesopotamia at all periods" (Black and Green 2003 (1992): 108). Her particular animal was the lion, and she was associated with predatory and other birds. In Phoenician art, she was also connected to sphinxes (Assaf in Meyers 1997: I, 35). Inanna/Ishtar contributed much of her personality, characteristics, and areas of power to Canaanite, Phoenician, and Carthaginian Astarte, who was the Biblical Ashtoreth, and also to the Syrian goddess, Atargatis. All of the latter were worshiped well into Greco-Roman times. Inanna/Ishtar was also very much present in the northern deity Shaushka.

Shaushka, Shawushka, or Sausga was originally a goddess of the Hurrians, "an ethnic group" which made its presence felt in the Ancient Near East during the third to the first millennium BCE. For a time in the fifteenth century BCE, the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni was a force to be reckoned with throughout the region. Eventually the Hurrians were subdued by the Hittites[2] and the Assyrians (Bienkowski and Millard 2000: 150), but not before their religion had had an enormous influence in northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Indeed, texts regularly describe Shaushka as "of Nineveh," and we know that she was worshiped at that important Mesopotamian city for around 1,500 years (Beckman 1988: 8). Her cult was also celebrated at northern sites such as Nuzi, Alalakh, and Ugarit. Her cult center was a place called Samukha, possibly in the northern Euphrates area. Her name, from a Hurrian root, probably started as a title, "The Great One" (Beckman 1998: 2, note 14).

The goddess achieved real prominence as patron of the Hittite king Hattushilis II (1420-1400 BCE) and, later, as personal protector of Hattushilis III (1275-1245 BCE). The latter's wife Pudukhepa is credited with active involvement in both diplomatic and religious matters, in the course of which she promoted the adoption of Hurrian deities into the Hittite pantheon and, when possible, their identification with Hittite ones (Leick 1999: 132).

Mythically, Shaushka was the daughter of the sky god Anu or the moon god Sin. In a number of texts the storm god Teshub was her brother, in some her husband.[3] She was usually accompanied by two female attendants, the musicians Ninatta and Kulitta. The fact that Shaushka and Ishtar both were deities of war and love/sexuality brought them together. In imagery they strode forward, both fierce and determined warriors, and carried weapons of war.


Stela of the warrior goddess Ishtar standing on and controlling a lion. She bears weapons and wears a cylindrical crown topped with one of her symbols, a rosette. From Tel Barsib northeast of 'Ain Dara. Dated to the eighth century BCE.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 28.

The goddess Shaushka on a stela from the storm-god temple at Aleppo, Syria. She wears a long skirt, a cylindrical crown, and a multi-stringed necklace. She carries an axe in her right hand and, in the left, an object which has variously been explained as a weapon, a mirror, or a spindle/distaff. On her shoulders are what might be quivers. Dated to early in the first millennium BCE.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Gonnella, Khayyata, and Kohlmeyer 2005: 102.

Shaushka and her musician attendants Ninatta and Kulitta. From the famous open-air Hittite site of Yazilikaya. It is not clear whether the protrusions from her shoulders are quivers or possibly wings. Shaushka appears twice at the site, once in the procession of the goddesses (#56) and again in the procession of the gods (#38). Her ambiguous sex is the obvious explanation. The carvings have been dated to between about 1227 and 1209 BCE.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after illustration on

Texts describe Shaushka as similar to Ishtar, as an ambiguous goddess who supervised married love and harmonious relationships but, unpredictably, could turn love into a dangerous endeavor. According to Hittite texts she was of ambiguous sex also and given to wearing the clothes of both sexes. In addition, she could alter a person's sex. One ritual credited her with the ability to deprive men of "manliness and vitality," to replace their bows and arrows with distaffs and spindles, and to dress them in women's clothes. From women she could take away motherhood and love (Hutter in van der Toorn et al. 1999: 758-759). Nonetheless, one of her areas of competence was healing, especially in sexual matters. In magical incantations she was asked to remove curses and fight the plague (Beckman 1998: 6). Like most healing deities, she could both cure and cause disease or death.

This was the goddess who might have inhabited the beautiful but now ruined temple of 'Ain Dara (see temple plan), which has been dated to the period about 1300 to 740 BCE.

Frieze of lions and sphinxes, two of which flank the entry way into the portico of 'Ain Dara temple. The sphinx has the body of a bull, the chest feathers and wings of an eagle, and a human female head. The faces of the lions have been damaged.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 25.

Rows of bird (eagle?) claws, the damaged remains of huge stelas that lined the back of the antechamber of the temple. Basalt.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 32.

The head of a female sphinx wearing a Hathor-style coiffure. See my Matrifocus article for Lammas 2006 (Vol. 5-4). Her face is typical for the 'Ain Dara temple and might represent its goddess. Basalt.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 25.

Damaged stela of the goddess Shaushka/Ishtar. She takes to pose of a warrior deity and carries a staff or spear in her left hand and, possibly, an axe in her right. There seems to be a quiver on her shoulder. She wears a split or diaphanous robe, and her pubic triangle is very prominent. Her shoes, turned up at the toe, are typical of the mountain areas of Anatolia and north Syria. Basalt.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 32.

Perched on top of a huge tell[4] in Syria, about 42 miles northwest of Aleppo (see map), the temple[5] looks out over the fertile valley of the Afrin river. Very close to the mound is the spring from which it takes its name. After excavating the temple from 1980 to 1985, Syrian archaeologist Ali Abou Assaf concluded, mainly from the decorative sculpture, that the temple had been dedicated to Ishtar, but it seems much more likely to me that the mistress of 'Ain Dara was the Great One, Shaushka.

No wonder, though, that the excavator thought the temple to be Ishtar's. Her sacred animal, the lion, abounds among the copious sculptures. Both Ishtar and Shaushka were "lion ladies." Sphinxes, which in Phoenician times became closely connected to Ishtar and thus probably to Shaushka, are very much in evidence there. Another notable feature of the damaged sculpture is what looks like rows of bird claws. Traditionally birds accompany love and war goddesses — doves for love and predatory birds for war. Aside from the lions, sphinxes, and bird claws, there is stronger evidence that the temple deity was an Ishtar-type of goddess.[6] An almost complete stela, found in rubble near the entrance of the temple (Assaf 1993: 169), depicts a goddess who I think is Shaushka. Striding forward in what looks like a split skirt, she bears weapons in both hands and has what might be a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder. Her prominent vulvic triangle signals her other self of love and sexuality.[7]

Another personage depicted on the walls is a mountain god, who appears flanked by mythic animals. Certainly there were many mountain-range and peak deities in the surrounding mountainous area. Some scholars have speculated that the 'Ain Dara mountain god was the spouse of the goddess. In support of this suggestion, in the temple of the storm god at Aleppo, not far from 'Ain Dara, the stela of Shaushka stands next to that of a mountain god as if they were spouses (Gonnella, Khayyata, and Kohlmeyer 2005: 101-102). At 'Ain Dara there are several images of this Atlas-like figure, a fact which indicates that he was probably revered at the temple, perhaps as the goddess's spouse.

A mountain god in the high horned crown of deity and wearing shoes with turned-up toes. His scaled skirt indicates the mountain he inhabits. He stands between two bull-men. The relief is situated in or near the inner sanctum of the temple.
Drawing © S. Beaulieu, after Monson 2000: 29.

Curiosity about a wonderful ancient temple[8] and its deity led me to discover a goddess entirely new to me: the "Queen of Nineveh" Shaushka. Such are the excitement and reward of goddess research!


  1. I have done very little work on the Hittites before this and none on the Hurrians. For Ishtar, see my articles on Inanna in MatriFocus Archives.
  2. The scholarly consensus is that the Hittites entered Anatolia around 2300 BCE. They eventually established an empire with its capital at Hattusas and became a great military power rivaling Egypt and Babylon. Their strongholds in Anatolia were conquered and destroyed around 1200 BCE, possibly by the so-called Sea Peoples ((Bienkowski and Millard 2000: 146-147).
  3. Usually the goddess Hebat was Teshub's spouse.
  4. "Tell" comes from the Arabic word for "mound" or "low hill" (Hebrew tel). A tell results from the build-up of layers of a town or city on the ruins of its predecessor. The Near East is dotted with tells, mostly unexcavated (Rosen in Meyers 1997: V, 163).
  5. John Monson argues that scholars should be interested in the 'Ain Dara temple because its size and plan are similar to that of King Solomon's temple as described in the Hebrew Bible. Further, its dates, about 1300 BCE to 740 BCE, cover the tenth century BCE, the period when Solomon had the temple built. Monson calls 'Ain Dara "a stunning parallel to Solomon's temple" (2000: 20).
  6. One scholar has argued that 'Ain Dara's dedicatee was the Syrian storm god Baal-Hadad (Monson 2000:27, footnote). One of the badly damaged stelas seems to show an enthroned deity, possibly male, which might support this argument.
  7. My instinct is that Shaushka became assimilated into later goddesses, especially Anatolian Kubaba and Cybele.
  8. Most unusual are the huge footprints carved in the stones of the entrance to the temple. No one so far has produced a satisfactory explanation of them.


  • Assaf, Ali Abou 1993. "Der Tempel von 'Ain Dara in Nordsyrien." Antike Welt 24/2: 155-171
  • Assaf, Ali Abou 1990. Der Tempel von 'Ain Dara. Mainz am Rhein, Germany: von Zabern
  • Assaf, Ali Abou 1983. "Ein Relief der kriegerischen Gottin." Damaszener Mitteilungen 1: 7-8
  • Beckman, Gary 1998. "Ishtar of Nineveh Reconsidered." Journal of Cuneiform Studies 50: 1-9
  • Bienkowski, P, and A. Millard 2000. Dictionary of the Ancient Near East. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green. 2003 (1992). Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
  • Gonnella, J., W. Khayyata, and K. Kohlmeyer 2005. Die Zitadelle von Aleppo und der Tempel des Wettergottes: Neue Forschungen und Entdecken. Münster, Germany: Rhema
  • Hoffner, Henry A., Jr. 1990. Hittite Myths. Atlanta, GA: Scholars
  • Johnston, Sarah I. 2004. Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, Harvard University Press
  • Leick, Gwendolyn 1999. Who's Who in the Ancient Near East. London: Routledge
  • Meyers, Eric M., editor 1997. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. Five volumes. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Wegner, Ilse 1981. Gestalt und Kult der Ishtar-Shawushka in Kleinasien. Kevelaer, Germany: Butzon and Bercker
  • Monson, John 2000. "The 'Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomon Parallel." Biblical Archaeologist Review 26/3: 20-35, 67
  • Pomponio, Francisco and Paolo Xella. 1997. Les dieux d'Ebla: Étude analytique des divinités éblaïtes à l'epoque des archives royals du IIIe millénaire. Münster, Germany: Ugarit-Verlag
  • van der Toorn, Karel, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, editors. 1999. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible: Second Extensively Revised Edition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill and Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

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