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Oldest Stories

Oldest Stories

By James Bleckley
This show is focused on the history and myth of the Cradle of Civilization, bronze age Mesopotamia, beginning with the dawn of writing. The show will cover the full history of Mesopotamia, from Gilgamesh to Nabonidas, a span of some 2500 years, with myths of heroes and gods, and tales of daily life peppered throughout. New episodes every Wednesday. Online at I hang at a discord at
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Currently playing episode

Hammurabi's Rebels and Oracles

Oldest Stories

Days of Quiet Prosperity
In a sense, not much happens in this episode. Covering a bit over a century, the borders of Babylon are going to remain more or less stable for most of this episode, and the people are going to enjoy a century of generalized quiet prosperity. Covering the later successors of Hammurabi, Abi-Eshuh, Ammi-Ditana, Ammi-Saduqa, and Samsu-Ditana, we will see scientific and legal advances, good government, and also the quite sudden and total destruction of Babylon, both city and empire. Online at
October 21, 2020
Soldier of Babylon, Ubarum
Ubarum was just a man living in a small village in north Babylonia, one among possibly a few million. He was a soldier by trade, but also managed a little bit of side business and by the end of his life became comfortably middle class. Today we will not be telling the story of gods or kings, but the life of this simple man as best as can be understood from a collection of business receipts and legal documents found together in what archaeologists call the Ubarum Archive. It is only one part of his life, but it is still a perspective we don't see too often. Online at
October 14, 2020
Poem of the Righteous Sufferer
The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer, or Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi, is one of the oldest works of theodicy in history, and part of a long running philosophical tradition in Mesopotamian society. Marduk, clad in splendor and robed in dread brings first suffering and then relief on a man for seemingly no reason, and in this tale we will see both the events that occurred to him and his attempts to make sense of it all. Online at
October 7, 2020
Theogony of Dunnu and The Education of Scribes
Incest and Patricide are the highlights of today's tale, sometimes also called the Dynasty of Dunnum or the Harab Myth. The ancient Mesopotamian religious tradition was far from unified, and from an obscure town survives a creation story that has powerful resonances all the way to ancient Greece. And while we are on the topic, this is a good chance to look at the men who wrote all these strange and wonderful stories and histories that the show has been depending on. How did they come to be educated, and what were their lives like? Online at
September 30, 2020
The New Order
Finally, we have finished with Hammurabi, and it is time for his successor Samsu-Iluna to take over. At first, things are much the same as they were under his father, but the appearance of a strange new enemy with superior weaponry and tactics throws the empire into chaos. Samsu-Iluna is faced with the largest rebellion in three hundred years, and will do quite respectably for himself. The geopolitical order in general, however, will be shattered utterly. Kassites, Sealand, a weakened Yamhad, and horsies! Yay! are all in store for us today. Online at
September 23, 2020
Hammurabi's Code of Laws
The entire code of Hammurabi, start to finish. This is the show's fiftieth episode, and will run quite long as something of a special edition. I am going to go through the entire law code of Hammurabi, start to finish, with commentary and extensive quotes. Not kidding, this is going to be seriously long, fair warning here. I did say I wasn't going to do this because it would be long and boring, but here I am doing it anyway. It is definitely long, but hopefully I have kept the boredom to a minimum. Feel free to skip over this episode if you are not interested in this sort of thing or if it gets dull halfway through. Online at
September 16, 2020
Hammurabi's Death and Legacy
The final decade of Hammurabi's life would be peaceful and prosperous, and was in many ways the foundation of the rest of the Old Babylonian Empire. We have actual letters from Hammurabi himself as he micromanages his administrators, establishes the Ilkum system, and handles the complaints of common citizens, that are quite revealing of his character and ambitions. This will also be the episode where we lay Hammurabi to rest, but once he is in the ground we follow the path of his legacy throughout the centuries, both in ancient Mesopotamia and his rediscovery in the modern era. Online at
September 9, 2020
Hammurabi's Women and Slaves
Thus far this show has largely ignored over half of the population, though in my defense, the ancient scribes on whom we rely upon for so much of our information also tended to neglect them as well. But today we will do what we can to rectify the situation and give you as complete a view of Babylonian society as I know how. This means that we will look in depth at the conditions and societal practices of Babylonian slavery and Babylonian women, how they lived and what sort of restrictions kept them in their place. Online at
September 2, 2020
The Slaying of Illuyanka
Bonus episode! Dragon slaying myths are about as old as myth itself, but one of the oldest is the tale of the Hittite Storm God's battle against Illuyanka the Serpent. Today's special episode is produced as part of a collaboration with the Mythology Multiverse discord channel's stable of creative and talented youtubers and podcasters. All of them are great, check them out below:
August 30, 2020
Hammurabi's Rebels and Oracles
Hammurabi's final conquests are almost perfunctory, but his responses to the subsequent rebellions is anything but. Much of the episode however is concerned with the practice of religion in old Babylon and how it intertwined with everything from the daily lives of commoners to matters of state policy. Where did the superstitions of divination come from, what did they look like, and how did the average Babylonian understand his own religion? Online at
August 26, 2020
Hammurabi's Northern Conquests and Agricultural Power
Hammurabi's power rises as the cities of the north begin to grow suspicious of his ambitions, and then have those suspicions proven correct when he goes to war with them. But amid all the devastation of war, we have a chance to look at the beating heart of the Mesopotamian economy, agriculture, and what it tells us about why Babylon was able to become so dominant. Online at
August 19, 2020
Hammurabi's Medicine and Justice
Hammurabi conquers Larsa in another lightning campaign displaying his strategic and diplomatic cunning. But once it is conquered, he needs to bring this massive new territory into his growing empire. This will give us an occasion to look at what exactly justice looked like in an Amorite city. We will also have an opportunity to discuss Middle Bronze Age medicine and what kind of surgical practices were known in Babylon. Online at
August 12, 2020
Hammurabi's Military and Elamite War
Today we follow the course of the Great Elamite War, the turning point in Babylon's history when it will beat the odds and establish itself as the region's great power for the next thousand years. The story itself is full of action and twists, but we will take some time also to look at how warfare has evolved and systematized as we emerge fully out of the previous transitional period fully into the Amorite age of warfare. Online at
August 5, 2020
Hammurabi's Siegecraft and Diplomacy
We have actual letters from Hammurabi that show off the diplomacy and statecraft for which the king was celebrated, and in the chaotic years leading up to the Great Elamite War, he will have many opportunities to employ all his many skills to manage the balance of power without violence. But when violence comes, it means cities will be put to siege, so the second half of the episode examines what we know about middle bronze age siegecraft. In both war and peace we will see the calculating intelligence of the men of Mesopotamia on full display. Online at
July 29, 2020
Hammurabi's Kingdom and Character
What was Hammurabi like, and what did the kingdom of Babylon look like in the earliest days? Today, we are going to look at the man himself, Hammurabi, and what he did when he inherited the kingdom from his father. There will be some legal drama, including a trial by water, as well as diplomatic jockeying and a bit of low level warfare. If you are new to the show, this is a great place to start, since this is something of a turning point in Mesopotamian history, and Hammurabi's Babylon is one of the best places to learn about not just exciting military campaigns, but also the daily life, culture, and world view of the people of the Middle Bronze Age. Online, with maps, at
July 22, 2020
Shamshi-Adad and the Upper Mesopotamian Empire
From a refugee in Babylon to the king of the largest empire Mesopotamia has seen since the fall of Ur, and the first Assyrian empire at that, Shamshi-Adad's life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. This week we watch as he builds up his northern empire and begins to develop and handle it in a distinctively empire-like way. The fact that it wouldn't survive his death is almost beside the point. A map is available today at
July 15, 2020
Barbarian Kingdoms and Biblical Patriarchs
The Amorites swept through Syria and held the region in a dark age longer than any other part of Mesopotamia. But when the dust finally does settle, we will see a number of nations ruled by barbarians, but behaving in quite civilized fashions. Today we will look at the establishment of Yamhad, Qatna, and Mari as well as the early kings of Assyria, getting a feel for the new players that will be with us for the next few hundred years. In the second half of the show, we enter briefly into the Age of Biblical Patriarchs and events of the Book of Genesis, though this is more of an interesting tangent than a major part of the historical narrative at this point. Online at
July 8, 2020
The Merchants and Families of Assyria
We know very little about the kings of early Assyria, so our introduction to the north will be bottom up by necessity. We know about merchants and farmers and pastoralists and slaves, men and women who worked the land and built the nation. It is a welcome break from the endless listing of "King did this" that makes up so much of the rest of history. In this period, old Assyria is primarily a commercial power, not a military one. Instead of conquests, we will see colonies, and instead of soldiers, we will see caravans. Online at
July 1, 2020
Rim-Sin the Pretty Good
Today we see the near collapse of Larsa, and its sudden and unexpected rescue by an Amorite from Elam. After the failure of Nur-Adad's line, Kudur-Mabuk sweeps in from the desert to revitalize the city, and gives birth to the first great conqueror in 250 years, Rim-Sin, who despite his ultimate failure still deserves the title of Rim-Sin the Pretty Good. Online at
June 24, 2020
Petty Kings
The multi-polar Isin-Larsa period continues this week, covering the period from the 1860s to the 1830s BCE. This week is a bit easier that the mess of last week, because we are slowly consolidating to only three major players, Isin, Larsa, and Babylon, and the first two see the coming of benevolent, peaceful kings that actually seem to care at least a little bit about the common citizens of their cities. This state of affairs won't last forever, but it is nice while it lasts. Online at
June 17, 2020
The Founding of Babylon
This week we continue to watch as Isin and Larsa fight each other and the many other rising dynasties over the chaotic period from 1905 to 1865 BCE. Only slightly notable at the time, though soon to be much, much more important, is the occupation of the tiny fishing village of Babylon by an Amorite coalition who will over these forty years give it its first king Sumu-la-el, first walls, and protector god Marduk. This forty years is an absolute mess of conquest, re-conquest, and confused chronologies, but I feel like simplifying the story wouldn't do justice to how completely insane this period was.  Online at
June 10, 2020
Middle Bronze Age Warfare
The main narrative of the Isin Larsa period is full of battles both stated and implied, but what do those battles actually look like? What sort of equipment and organization was common in this part of the middle bronze age? Honestly, quite a lot is similar from when we last looked deeply at military organization under Sargon the Great, but a number of things have changed as well, with the introduction of many Amorite battlefield innovations, so this episode will take a break from linear narrative and sketch an example battle of what it could have looked like to be a soldier in a Mesopotamian middle bronze age battle. Online at
June 3, 2020
Age of Chaos
It is time to shake things up as the line of peaceful merchant kings of Isin comes to an end thanks to two strong men, firstly Gungunum of Larsa and then Ur-Ninurta of Nippur and his revival of Sumerian Kingship. A lot of other players will start popping their head up as well, beginning properly our age of chaos. Online at
May 27, 2020
A Time of Ritual and Law
This week we look at the somewhat obscure 1900's BCE in Isin, where details will be thin on the ground, but that will just give us more time to focus on the Law code of Lipit-Ishtar and the annual ritual of the sacred marriage between Ishtar and the king. Ishtar, or Inanna's sacred marriage to the kings of Mesopotamia was a major religious rite, and Lipit-Ishtar's law code, especially in comparison with the contemporaneous law code of Eshnnuna, tell us a great deal about the daily life and values of the middle bronze age. Online at
May 20, 2020
Lay of the Land
Today we resume our history with the massive political upheaval which accompanied the collapse of the Ur III dynasty. We are entering a terribly complex period of history, and this episode we are going to do a quick survey of all the major powers of the region circa 2000 BCE. We will be looking at the Amorite kingdoms of Isin, Larsa, Mari, Ebla, and Qatna, the free Akkadian kingdom of Assyria, some of the minor cities of the period, and a brief look at the very fringes of Mesopotamia as far away as India and Egypt. Online at
May 13, 2020
First Men
The legends of Adapa, Enmeduranki, and Etana are the tales of three very early kings, though tales that don't seem to come around until the middle bronze age, and they are in a sense creation myths but most importantly they are moral stories in the broader genre of wisdom literature. They show us how the earth and heaven is ordered in the Mesopotamian world view, and they show us what is good and evil in a person's behavior, though it also seems to show us that sometimes evil doesn't really get punished all that much, if the evil person happens to be useful. Online at
May 6, 2020
The Tablet of Destinies
Ninurta the action hero god returns, this time in an adventure to recover the stolen Tablet of Destinies. In doing this, we will wrestle with Semitic concepts of godhood and destiny, as well as peek under the hood and see some of the things that would come to inspire the invention of the Jewish god. Online at
April 29, 2020
The Enuma Elish
The Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, tells the story of the creation of the world and how it was a terrible mistake immediately regretted by its parents. Said parents then attempt a late-term abortion, but the young gods, led by Ea and Marduk, fight a war. Since the universe obviously still exists, you can already guess who wins. In this tale, we learn that Marduk is awesome. Like seriously, totally awesome. Online at
April 22, 2020
The Chamorros of Saipan
Special Episode. This week is a break from normal as we discuss the Chamorro people of the Marianas islands, A four thousand year oral culture in the Pacific ocean. We will look at a few creation legends as well as the history of the islands as told through the legend of Chief Taga. Online at
April 15, 2020
The Study of Sumer and Ancient Aliens
There were some very important and talented people who have dug up the once lost civilization of Sumer and given their stories new life. Then there are the ancient aliens people. We will pay our respects to the giants of Sumerology, and examine exactly where the ancient aliens theorists go off the rails while enjoying the silliness of their earnestly held beliefs. Online at
April 8, 2020
The Oldest Debates
Today we return to Sumerian Wisdom literature and see some of the oldest philosophy ever recorded, with the debates on creation and the oldest investigation of the problem of evil in A Man and His God. We also dig into the famous proverb collections and look at one of the diatribes, literally just a man writing down swears and insults about someone else in their life.
March 31, 2020
The Last Sumerian, Ibbi-Sin
Sumer is in a bad state, with enemies on all sides, and just as they are crying out for good fortune they instead receive Ibbi-Sin, a blustering fool. We will read the letters he wrote as the world collapsed around him and then part of the famous lament for Sumer and Ur. Online at
March 25, 2020
The Rebirth of Sumer
The Sumerian Renaissance, a fruitful period of literary achievement and military conquest. We are going to see the first Sumerian kings in 250 years as they revive their ancient culture and leave their mark on history. Online at
March 18, 2020
The Fall of Akkad
Today the Akkadian empire will collapse, brought low by climate change, foreign invasion, and civil war. A dark age of Gutian domination will descend upon Mesopotamia. This episode will cover the fall, the Gutian dynasty, and even a bit the cities that did survive the Gutians, mostly Lagash. Online at
March 11, 2020
Slanderous Legends of Naram-Sin
Today the fall of Akkad begins. We start with how the Mesopotamians themselves remembered the fall of their first great empire, with the Curse of Agade and the Cuthean Legend, and see that they slanderously put all the blame on the great king Naram-Sin. Still, though it is untrue, it makes for good stories and reveals a lot about the bronze age mindset. Online at
March 4, 2020
Surpassing Sargon with Naram-Sin
Who was the greatest king of the Akkadian Empire? Today I make the case for Naram-Sin, who brought the empire to the high water mark and really solidified everything his grandfather had worked to build, as well as creating his own innovations. He isn't well remembered by history, thanks to his tremendous hubris, but listen to his accomplishments and ask yourself if maybe his hubris was at least a bit justified. Online at
February 26, 2020
Sargon, the Next Generation
Sargon had two sons and both will sit on the throne. Rimush will do all the work, while Manishtushu will enjoy all the rewards. Both are fairly interesting on their own, but suffer from being the interlude between two fascinating characters, Sargon and Naram-sin, and thus are less remembered then they perhaps deserve. Online at
February 19, 2020
Sargon at war
Here is the meat of the Sargon Legend, his conquests. But he wasn't just conquering for the sake of conquest, his empire was formed from a vision which shows his very deep understanding of logistics, international trade, economies of scale. And all this, as we will see, is what makes his kingdom the world's first empire. Online at
February 12, 2020
Sargon at Peace
What did Akkadian power look like on the ground, and what did daily life look like for the average Sumerian during this period? Today I will use the occasion of the rise of the Akkadian Empire to pause and look at the human condition below that of gods and kings, since there are now enough sources to put together that we can at least sketch these things for the first time in human history. Not much story this week, just discussion of how things were. We will return to the story of the grand sweep of the empire next week. Online at
February 5, 2020
Sargon Rising
Today we look at the rise of the world's first empire, following the story of Sargon of Akkad's rise from the son of a gardener to the king of Sumer and Akkad. His rise and empire is bigger than can be fit into a single episode, but the Legend of Sargon's rise to power should be enough to whet your appetite for the coming Akkadian series. Online at
January 29, 2020
Reform and Corruption in Lagash
Last time was the rise, this time is the fall of the city of Lagash, into corruption and military defeat. Can the hero of the people, great reformer Urukagina, save his city from certain destruction? No, he can't, but he will try. The three big names today are Enmetena, Urukagina, and Lugalzagesi as witness the dramatic end of an era. Online at
January 22, 2020
Kings and Wars in Lagash
War; war never changes. Forty five hundred years ago the men of Lagash made war against the city of Umma over water rights, the very first battle for which we have recorded details. This episode begins the history of the city of Lagash and looks at the rough reality of ancient battle. Online at
January 15, 2020
Ea, Tales from Creation
The god of wisdom and crafting is the chillest of the gods, that is when he is not turning his family tree into a family telephone poll. The most generous and the most distressingly criminal of the gods, Ea has some of the most unique stories. Online at
January 8, 2020
The God of Action Heroes Ninurta
The mountains will crumble and cities will tremble as Ninurta comes to put down a rebellion with maximum casualties and no Geneva Convention. Then he will teach us geology. The Sumerians are a funny bunch, which is why their four thousand year old stories still have the capacity to surprise us. Online at
January 1, 2020
Enlil, Lord of Wind
He is a little bit creepy and king of the gods. He is Enlil, lord of wind, and today's episode is focused on the him as the head of the Sumerian pantheon. Online at
December 25, 2019
Instructions Manual
This week we look at the wisdom literature of Ancient Sumeria with a genre called instructions which are just that, instructions for how to live, from the ethical to the deeply practical. We will learn how to live a good life and how to farm barley, as well as other things. Online at
December 18, 2019
King Shulgi's Mailbag
Today we will look at the actual words of a man 4000 years gone as he sends letters struggling to forge an empire. Online at
December 11, 2019
Ishtar and Dumazid
This week, we follow the twists and turns of an odd love story, Ishtar and Dumazid, who despite the sometimes questionable nature of their relationship were considered the archetype of lovers in ancient Mesopotamia. Online at
December 4, 2019
Ishtar Gains Power
Today we are going to weave a few separate tales of Ishtar together to get a picture of her character and power as  the Goddess of Love and War. Apologies for the poor audio quality, my set up was flawed today, but the story is still audible. Online at
November 26, 2019
Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim, and Immortality
Today we finish the epic of Gilgamesh with the story of the mysterious hermit Utnapishtim, a tale that goes all the way back to when the earth was young. We will see labor disputes and quite a lot of geological investigation while learning three ways for a mortal to gain immortality. Online at
November 20, 2019
Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven
In the penultimate episode of the Epic of Gilgamesh, we see the height of action and adventure. Gilgamesh is going to scorn a beautiful woman, then pay dearly, fighting a mighty battle and going on a great journey. Online at
November 20, 2019
Gilgamesh Has Adventures
In today's episode we cover two side stories of Gilgamesh. First he will fight off an invasion of Uruk in Gilgamesh and Aga, and then he will aid the goddess Ishtar, become obsessed with golf, and learn about the afterlife in Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Underworld. Two very different tales, but both say a lot about Gilgamesh and ancient Sumerian society. Find us online at
November 13, 2019
Gilgamesh vs Humbaba
Here we continue the adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as they travel far from their city to battle the lord of forests, the fearsome force of nature, the Humbaba itself. This is part two of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Find us online at
November 10, 2019
Gilgamesh Tames Enkidu
Here we finally begin the Epic of Gilgamesh by recounting the opening tablet and a half, the taming of Enkidu. In this episode we have it all, tyranny, power, lust, and violence, the grand opening of the tale that more than any other has stood the test of time. This is part one of the Gilgamesh series, it will continue in future episodes. Find us online at
November 4, 2019
Lugalbanda's Adventures
In this episode, we continue the oldest still existing narrative of human warfare. Aratta has gone back on their agreement from last time and King Enmerkar finally rallies an implausibly large number of soldiers to put him down for good. Of his eight storied generals, literally the only one who even still has a name remembered by history is Lugalbanda, and in this tale we will hear a sampling of his fantastical, super-powered adventures as he dramatically fails to make it to the battle. Find us online at
October 30, 2019
Enmerkar and Aratta
In this, the first episode of the Oldest Stories podcast, we go all the way back to the very beginning with about the oldest story ever to be written on clay tablets. This is the story of the city of Uruk and it's king Enmerkar as they threaten the rival city of Aratta. Find us online at
October 28, 2019