D. Takiltu and Argamannu in the Cuneiform Texts.

In the Assyrian inscriptions we often meet with sipatu takiltu, Tekhelet wool, and sipatur Argamannu, Argaman wool. Takiltu already occurs in the Tell-el-Amarna Letters circa 1500-1300 B.C. This, as Professor Stephen Langdon, Shillito Professor of Assyriology at Oxford University, has kindly informed me, is the earliest known mention of takiltu. In Assyrian, according to Professor Langdon, takiltu does not occur before the 8th century B.C. “The word appears in Mitanni,” so Professor Langdon states in a private communication to me, “about the same time as in Babylonia, hence we might infer that they borrowed it either from the Mitanni or the Aramaic peoples. It may, like Argamannu, eventually be a loan-word from India.1 Takiltu appears to have been brought to Babylonia by the Cassites. It occurs in the business documents of the Cassite Kings, and became current in Babylonia after the 16th century, Argamannu, or bright purple, occurs first in Assyria about the eighth century. So far as I know, it does not occur at all in Babylonia.”

In the Assyrian texts both takiltu and Argamannu only appear as objects of tribute. “There is nothing,” Professor Sayce states in reply to my query, “in the cuneiform lexicons so far as I know which throws light on their meaning, nor is there anything relating to their use in a temple.” “Neither of these words,” Professor Langdon informs me in the above-mentioned reply, “is used apart from wool.” The learned Assyriologist means, I think, that they do not occur as colour designations of any other stuffs. There are, however, two or more instances where they are preceded by another word than sipatu (wool): “Kito… subatu takiltu subatu Argamannu -… cloth of takiltu, cloth of Argamannu“;2 “a-na mu-ti i ta-kil-tav-ar-ga-man-nu.”3 Does then the occurrence of sipatu with takiltu or Argamannu imply that these fabrics were also made of other stuff than wool, for otherwise there would have been no need to indicate the nature of the material? Not at all! The force of sipatu in these connections is simply to describe the stuff as raw wool in contradiction to cloth or textile (subatu or some such word). Quite to the contrary, the fact that subatu carries with it no indication of the stuff warrants the inference that it was in all cases the same, that is, wool. But how are we to explain kitu, which means linen? The difficulty has already been discussed under other aspects in connection with Egypt. It will interest the reader to learn the view of Professor Langdon. Replying to the objection I had raised from kitu takiltu as against his assertion that “neither word occurs apart from wool,” the learned professor, writing under date of February 8th, 1914, says: “On a faussement transcrit ce passage. Il n’y a pas kitu takiltu nulle part.” There is thus, according to Professor Langdon, an end to the matter once and for all. I may add, however, that Professor Sayce, in his reply to me with regard to kitu takiltu, says nothing against the correctness of the transcription, but simply explains the grounds for the rendering of kitu by linen, suggesting, however, that perhaps it may mean cotton, for, as King has shown, cotton was anciently used in Babylonia.

A purple mantle streaked with white stripes formed part of the royal insignia in Assyria.4 Purple was also worn by Babylonian Kings.5 It does not, however, appear to have been confined to the royalty at least, not Tekhelet in Assyria. Ezekiel speaks of Assyrian governors and rulers, “attractive youths all of them, horsemen riding upon horses, clad in Tekhelet.”6 There is no mention of Argaman. Is it because that sort of purple was the peculiar privilege of the King? Daniel7 would seem to give this inference some support, at least as far as Babylonia is concerned, but I should hesitate to emphasize the point. What light, if any, is thrown upon the matter by Professor Langdon’s statement that Argamannu does not occur in Babylonia at all?

Of Sardanapal (Assur-bani-pal, 668-626 B.C ) it is related, in illustration of his effeminacy, that he wasted some of his valuable time in spinning purple wool.8

Was purple dyeing exercised in Assyria? From Ezekiel we learn that Assyrian traders supplied the Tyrian merchants with Tekhelet. “Charan and Canneh, and Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Asshur, (and) Kilmad, were the merchants. These were the merchants in ornamental wares, in cloaks of Tekhelet9 etc. The difficulty treated of in this chapter in connection with the isles of Elishah also applies here and the solution there proposed might be adopted in the present case too. But really the two instances are not exactly parallel. The Tekhelet and Argaman furnished by the Isles of Elishah are obviously described as imported for home use,10 for the embellishment of life in Tyre; whereas verses 23-24 speak of the supplying of wares to the Tyrian merchant princes for their cosmopolitan commerce. However excellent its purple might be, Tyria could not possibly supply the whole world, and there would be a number of extra-Phoenician purple factories sending their wares to Tyre, the mistress of the seas, for shipment and transport by her merchants and sailors to various trading centres. Great Britain supplies many a parallel. The same remarks apply to Aran, which is also mentioned,11 as having been in the habit of supplying Argaman among other kinds of merchandise.

If, however, purple dyeing was, as seems probable, confined, at least in Biblical times, to coast lands, Assyria proper would be out of place in connection with purple production, but it is possible to think of Assyrian merchants transmitting to the Tyrian firms purple dyed on the Persian gulf. The inland sea of Nejef (Bahr Nedjefk a sweet water lake, hardly furnishes purple-giving molluscs; the genera Murex and Purpura cannot live in sweet water. I have no information with regard to Janthina and Aplysia. In view, however, of the fact that lakes and rivers also harbour certain species of dye-yielding molluscs, we cannot confirm with absolute certainty that purple dyeing with mollusc pigment was never practised on the shores of the Nejef.12

Rabbi Huna, a Palestinian Agadist, renders Joshuah VII, 21, אדרת שנער by כותרא בבליא, “Babylonian purple cloak,”13 not, however, necessarily implying that Babylonia contained a purple dye house in his time. Purple wool from anywhere might, of course, be worked into cloth in Babylonia, which was famed for its textile works.14

Dr. Dedekind15 interprets the frequently occurring metaphor in the Assyrian textsof the battlefield being dyed with the enemies ‘ blood like wool as alluding to the special purple fabric termed Tyria dibapha in Pliny which resembled the colour of coagulated blood. If this be correct, then from the frequency with which the similitude occurs in such association we might perhaps infer that Argaman purple, if not actually dyed in Assyria, was at least in very common use in that country, for how else would that particular colour have so impressed the popular mind as to have given rise to a standing phrase? From Ezekiel,16 however, it seems somewhat that Tekhelet which, whatever its colour, did not resemble blood, was the more fashionable or more common purple variety in Assyria. There is, however, 1 think, no need to examine these arguments, as the inference drawn by the distinguished porphyrologist appears to the dyeing of wool with dyestuff, whether vegetable or animal not necessarily red either. When the Hebrew Psalmist laments: “O God! nations have entered into thy heritage … They have given the dead bodies of thy servants as food … They have shed their blood like water all round about Jerusalem,” he certainly makes no allusion to the colour of either blood nor water.



  1. Towards the end of this letter, however, the learned professor says with reference to my suggestion that Tekhelet may be connected with the Sanscrit Kola “The word looks Semitic and not Indian”.​
  2. Sn. Rass. line 56.
  3. Oppert, Jules, Grande inscription du palais de Khorsabad. Paris (1863).
  4. Steger, Adrian, “De Purpura Sacrae Dignitatis Insigni,” in Dedekind, Beitrag, I, p. 295.
  5. Tertullian,ibid.. I.C.; Xenophon, Phaideaia, p. VII.
  6. Ezekiel, Ch. XXXIII, v.6.
  7. Daniel, Ch. V, v.7.
  8. Justin, I, 32.
  9. Ezekiel, Ch. XXVII, v.23-24.
  10. תכלת וארגמן מאיי אלישה היה מכסך
  11. Idem, ν.16.
  12. It might be of some interest to recall the tradition associating the Phoenicians with Lake Nejef. “The Syrian nation was founded by the Phoenicians, who, being troubled with earthquake, left their native country and settled first on the banks of the Assyrian lake, and afterwards on the coast of the Mediterranean, where they built a city which they called Sidon, on account of the abundance of fish, for the Phoenicians call fish ‘sidon.'” (Justinus XVIII, III, 2). The Assyrian lake is probably the Bahr Nedjef.
  13. Yalkut Shimoni.
  14. In the Midrash Rabbah the question is advanced “What has Babylonia to do here?” R. Simeon ben Johai reported a tradition: every king and every ruler who had no dominion in Palestine would say “I am nothing worth!” As for the King of Babylonia, his viceroy had his abode in Jericho, forwarding dates to his superior and receiving from him gifts in return.” We now know, of course, that Babylonian influence prevailed in Palestine down to shortly before the Israelite conquest.
  15. Dedekind, Recherches, 109.
  16. Ezekiel, Ch. XXIII, v.6.