Be(come) Awake, Alert, Vigilant: The Verb “Ḫarādu” in the Neo-Assyrian Empire

by Poppy Tushingham

This contribution to the blog series “Vigipedia” concerns the Akkadian verb ḫarādu, which may be defined as ‘to be(come) awake’ but also as ‘to be(come) alert, vigilant’, and its derived adjective ḫardu and abstract noun ḫarduttu. At the same time, this entry also aims to encourage people to contribute expressions and references to this or related concepts (vigilance, surveillance, attention, etc.) from other languages and cultures to the blog.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for some 300 years between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. Its heartland was located in what is now northern Iraq and, at its greatest extent, it controlled much of the Middle East. The administration of the empire was carried out primarily in the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, a Semitic language. Akkadian was recorded using the cuneiform script, a writing system that used wedge-shaped characters to represent words and syllables. Many of these ancient texts, inscribed on clay tablets or stone objects, have survived until the present day.

Artist’s impression of a hall in an Assyrian palace from The Monuments of Nineveh by Sir Austen Henry Layard, 1853, Source: The British Museum.

1. Semantic range (lexicographic)

The semantic range of the Akkadian verb ḫarādu is fairly broad, and, depending on context, may be translated as – so the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary – ‘to wake up, to be alert, to keep watch’1. These definitions pertain to the Grundstamm (G-stem) or ‘basic stem’ of the verb. As is typical in the Semitic languages, of which Akkadian is one, other derived stems of the verb are attested. In the case of ḫarādu, the verb is also used in the D-stem, the infinitive of which has a doubled middle radical, ḫurrudu, and in the N-stem, whose infinitive has a prefixed n, naḫrudu. The D-stem is often factitive in meaning, while the N-stem is often passive in meaning. This holds true for ḫarādu, with the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary defining the D-stem ḫurrudu as ‘to put on the alert’ and the N-stem naḫrudu as ‘to be alerted’.

As the Akkadian language is still not perfectly understood by modern scholars, slight differences in the proposed translations of particular terms is not unusual. As such, it is worth comparing the entries of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary with those of Wolfram von Soden’s Akkadisches Handwörterbuch. This dictionary has: ḫarādu ‘wachen, bewachen’ [to watch, guard]; ḫurrudu ‘als Wache einsetzen’ [to deploy as guard], and naḫrudu ‘sich wach halten’ [to keep oneself awake]2. The verb is also attested in the Gt and Dt-stems; these verbal forms have an infixed t and respectively give reciprocal meaning to the G-stem and passive meaning to the D-stem. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary also links the verb to the Neo-Assyrian ḫarāṭu, “to observe”.

Artist’s impression of Assyrian palaces from The Monuments of Nineveh by Sir Austen Henry Layard, 1853. Source: The British Museum.

The Akkadisches Handwörterbuch lists the adjective ḫardu as derived from ḫarādu, translating it as ‘wachsam’ [vigilant]3. In contrast, the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary does not link the two terms, stating that the meaning of ḫardu is uncertain4. The dictionaries also differ somewhat in their translations of the abstract noun ḫarduttu: it is translated in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary as ‘alertness’ and in the Akkadisches Handwörterbuch as ‘Überwachung’ [surveillance] (normalized there as ḫardū(t)tu)5.

In the Akkadisches Handwörterbuch, Wolfram von Soden postulates a connection between ḫarādu and the noun ḫurādu, which he thus translates as ‘Wachmann, Wachsoldat’ [guard]. Such an etymological link between the two words would be interesting, as, while ḫarādu, ḫardu and ḫarduttu are attested only in the Neo-Assyrian period, ḫurādu was in use also in earlier periods. It is attested in Middle Babylonian and Middle Assyrian Akkadian, as well as in El-Amarna and Baghozky. The term is also attested as a loan word in Urartian, the language of Assyria’s northern neighbour and rival, Urarṭu. The state’s political and religious centre of which was located in the region of Lake Van6. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, meanwhile, does not associate the terms ḫarādu and ḫurādu, instead stating that ḫurādu has ‘foreign origins’ and thus defines it more skeptically as ‘a type of soldier’. It has been suggested that ḫurādu is a loanword from the Hurrian language, which is related to Urartian and was spoken in eastern Anatolia, northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia from the late third millennium BCE until at least the late second millennium BCE7.

The terms ḫarādu, ḫardu and ḫarduttu are written syllabically (as opposed to logographically) on clay tablets using cuneiform script.

An example of the syllabic writing of ḫarduttu: ḫar-du-ú-ti. SAA 4 139 ‘Will There Be a Rebellion against Esarhaddon?’ (obv. 22). K 11437. CDLI P336086. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

2. Usage

The terms ḫarādu, ḫardu and ḫarduttu are attested most frequently in the Neo-Assyrian state correspondence, namely in the letters received by the king. These documents are preserved in the original, written on pillow-shaped clay tablets and encased in a clay envelope. These terms are also attested in a Neo-Assyrian prophecy report, as well as an extispicy query (i.e. divination through the examination of a sheep liver). The following is a brief outline of some examples of the usage of the G-stem verb in the Neo-Assyrian state archives.

(a) to wake up

Source: SAA 10 322 , o. 7-138.

Description: In a letter from the physician Urad-Nanaya to the king (presumably Esarhaddon, r.680-669), the following report is given on the health of the crown prince, who seems to have undergone a medical procedure relating to his chest.

 šul-mu addan-niš
 a-na DUMU—LUGAL dul-lu
 ša a-na GABA* -pu-šu-u-ni
 ni-din-u-ni 5/6 KASKAL.GÍD UD-mu
 it-ta-lak iḫ-ti-ri-di
 uk-ti-il ida-te
 it-tu-šib a-ke-e 
 ta*-ri-iṣ

“The crown prince is doing very well. The treatment which we carried out and gave to the chest lasted for 1 1/2 hours; he retained consciousness and afterwards sat up (in his bed). How proper he is!”

In this example ḫarādu (iḫtiridi) appears with the D-stem verb kullu ‘to hold’ (uktiil). In SAA 10 322 the verbs are interpreted as appearing in hendiadys, with the meaning ‘he retained consciousness’. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, meanwhile, interprets this passage as he ‘woke up (and) remained (awake)’.

(b) to keep watch

Source: SAA 9 1, o ii 16’-20’9.

Description: In a prophecy of the god Bel (Marduk) to king Esarhaddon ‘by the mouth of the woman Bayâ’.

la ta-pa-làḫ m-šur—PAB—AŠ :*          
a-na-ku dEN is-si-ka
a-da-bu-bu
GIŠ.ÙR-MEŠ ša ŠÀ-bi-ka
a-ḫa-ri-di ki-i MÍ.AMA-ka 

“Fear not, Esarhaddon! I am Bel. (Even as) I speak to you, I watch over the beams of your heart.”

Source: SAA 9 1, o iii 23’-29’10.

Description: In a prophecy of the goddess Ištar of Arbela to king Esarhaddon ‘by the mouth of the woman Issar-beli-da’’ini’.

ina ma-si-ki ša KUG.GI     
ina MURUB₄ AN-e a-ḫa-ri-di       
nu-ur ša il-me-ši     
ina IGI m-šur—PAB—AŠ MAN KUR—-šur
ú-šá-na-ma-ra
ki-i a-ge-e ša SAG.DU-ia  
a-ḫa-ri-su 

I watch in a golden chamber in the midst of the heavens; I let the lamp of amber shine before Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, and I watch him like the crown of my head.”

In these examples ḫarādu is translated in SAA 9 variously as ‘I watch over’ (aḫaridi) and ‘I watch him’ (aḫarisu). The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, meanwhile, has ‘I shall watch over’. In both cases the subject of the verb is a deity. In the first instance, the verb’s direct object is the ‘beams of your (i.e. king Esarhaddon’s) heart’. In the second, the verb is intransitive. In the third instance, king Esarhaddon is the direct object, expressed using the pronoun –šu. In each case, ḫarādu expresses a protective form of watching, an alertness on behalf of another party (here king Esarhaddon). The prophecy concerns the enemies of Esarhaddon, and stresses that the gods will ensure their failure. Thus, it seems that ḫarādu is here used to refer to a state of alertness/watchfulness against a potential threat.

(c) to be alert

Source: SAA 16 105, r. 16-1811.

Description: In a letter from Ubru-Nabû, the scribe of the New Palace, to the king (Esarhaddon), he makes the following request of the king at the end of the letter.

ina UGU UD.KIB.NUN.KI LUGAL be-
li-iḫ-ḫi-ri-id
ni-ip-šaḫ 

“With regard to Sippar, may the king, my lord, be vigilant, so we can relax.”

Here the verb is found in precative (liiḫḫiriid) and is again intransitive. It is translated in SAA 16 as ‘may … be vigilant’, while the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary has “the king, my lord, should be alerted with regard to Sippar”. Thus, the king is to be alert and aware with regard to a particular location, presumably in anticipation of trouble. It is perhaps interesting that the verb pašāḫu ‘to be at rest, to become tranquil’ is used as an apparent consequence of the king’s vigilant state: if the king becomes alert regarding Sippar, then ‘we’ will be able to become tranquil.

Clay sealing from Nineveh with an impression of the imperial seal. BM 84672.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

3. Conclusions

Heather Baker and Melanie Groß note in their 2015 article, “Doing the king’s work: perceptions of service in the Assyrian royal correspondence”, that claims of good service in the royal correspondence are frequently expressed in terms of vigilance and negligence. Thus, as they state, the term ḫarādu was at times employed to stress that an individual was being ‘vigilant, attentive, assiduous, etc.’ on behalf of the king12. Nevertheless, as the cases discussed above illustrate, it was not only subordinates who could be vigilant or alert on behalf of a superior. The verb ḫarādu could be used to refer to protective gods, to describe staying awake during a medical procedure, and to depict the vigilance of a monarch on behalf of a city. These examples also show that, while Baker and Groß’s assessment is correct, in the Assyrian Empire the principle of vigilance was not unique to the crown’s subjects. The alertness of the king and his crown prince was praiseworthy and sometimes necessary, while the gods, watching over the Assyrian monarch, ensured his success. Thus, the state archives depict not only Assyria’s subjects, but also its  crown and gods as vigilant in the service of the state and its monarch.


Featured image: Courtesy of wordart.com.


Cite this article as: Poppy Tushingham, Be(come) Awake, Alert, Vigilant: The Verb “Ḫarādu” in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in: Vigilanzkulturen, 13/10/2021, https://vigilanz.hypotheses.org/1834.

  1. A. Leo Oppenheim (ed.), The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD) Vol. 6 Ḫ, 1956, Chicago, 88 s.v. ḫarādu A v. []
  2. W. von Soden, Akkadisches Handwörterbuch Bd. I, 1965, Wiesbaden, 322 s.v. ḫarādu IV. []
  3. AHw I, 325 s.v. ḫardu. See also J. Black, A. George, N. Postgate, A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, 2000, Wiesbaden, 108 322 s.v. ḫardu. []
  4. CAD 6/ Ḫ, 99 s.v. ḫardu. []
  5. AHw I, 325 s.v. ḫardū(t)tu; CAD 6/ Ḫ, 99 s.v. ḫarduttu. []
  6. AHw I, 357 s.v. ḫurādu I. []
  7. CAD 6/ Ḫ, 244-245 s.v. ḫurādu A. []
  8. G. Wilhelm, The Hurrians, 1989, Warminster, 1. []
  9. S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian scholars (State Archives of Assyria 10), 1993, Helsinki, no. 322. []
  10. S. Parpola, Assyrian prophecies (State Archives of Assyria 9), 1997, Helsinki, no. 1. []
  11. M. Luukko and G. Van Buylaere, The political correspondence of Esarhaddon (State Archives of Assyria 16), 2002, Helsinki, no. 105. []
  12. H. Baker and M. Groß, “Doing the king’s work: perceptions of service in the Assyrian royal correspondence”, in S. Procházka, L. Reinfandt, S. Tost (eds.), Official Epistolography and the Language(s) of Power. Proceedings of the First International Conference of the Research Network Imperium & Officium. Comparative Studies in Ancient Bureaucracy and Officialdom, University of Vienna, 10–12 November 2010 no. 8, 2015, Vienna, 73–90, 84. []

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