Most of the early kings of Assyria mention Merodach in their opening invocations, and we sometimes find an allusion in their inscriptions, which seems to imply that he was viewed as a god of great power. But he is decidedly not a favorite object of worship in Assyria until a comparatively recent period. Vul-lush III., indeed claims to have been the first to give him a prominent place in the Assyrian Pantheon; and it may be conjectured that the Babylonian expeditions of this monarch furnished the impulse which led to a modification in this respect of the Assyrian religious system. The later kings, Sargon and his successors, maintain the worship introduced by Vul-lush. Sargon habitually regards his power as conferred upon him by the combined favor of Merodach and Asshur, while Esarhaddon sculptures Merodach’s emblem, together with that of Asshur, over the images of foreign gods brought to him by a suppliant prince. No temple to Merodach, is, however, known to have existed in Assyria, even under the later kings. His name, however, was not infrequently used as an element in the appellations of Assyrians.
Among the Minor gods, Nergal is one whom the Assyrians seem to have regarded with extraordinary reverence. He was the divine ancestor from whom the monarchs loved to boast that they derived their descent—the line being traceable, according to Sargon, through three hundred and fifty generations. They symbolized him by the winged lion with a human head, or possibly sometimes by the mere natural lion; and it was to mark their confident dependence on his protection that they made his emblems so conspicuous in their palaces. Nin and Nergal—the gods of war and hunting, the occupations in which the Assyrian monarchs passed their lives—were tutelary divinities of the race, the life, and the homes of the kings, who associate the two equally in their inscriptions and their sculptures.
Nergal, though thus honored by the frequent mention of his name and erection of his emblem, did not (so far as appears) often receive the tribute of a temple. Sennacherib dedicated one to him at Tarbisi (now Sherif-khan), near Khorsabad; and he may have had another at Calah (Nimrud), of which he is said to have been one of the “resident gods.” But generally it would seem that the Assyrians were content to pay him honor in other ways without constructing special buildings devoted exclusively to his worship.
Ishtar was very generally worshipped by the Assyrian monarchs, who called her “their lady,” and sometimes in their invocations coupled her with the supreme god Asshur. She had a very ancient temple at Asshur, the primeval capital, which Tiglath-Pileser I., repaired and beautified. Asshur-izir-pal built her a second temple at Nineveh, and she had a third at Arbela, which Asshur-bani-pal states that he restored. Sargon placed under her protection, conjointly with Anu, the western gate of his city; and his son, Sennacherib, seems to have viewed Asshur and Ishtar as the special guardians of his progeny. Asshur-bani-pal, the great hunting king was a devotee of the goddess, whom he regarded as presiding over his special diversion, the chase.