ASTARTE was a Syro–Palestinian goddess widely attested throughout the Mediterranean Levant. References to her first appear in texts from Syria in the third millennium bce (at Ebla and perhaps Early Dynastic Mari), and increase in the second millennium bce (at Emar and Ugarit). Her cult was imported to Egypt in the latter half of the second millennium. From the first millennium bce on, worship of Astarte spread via the Phoenicians from their coastal cities (e.g., Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos) to Cyprus, Carthage and North Africa, Italy, Malta, Spain, and Greece. She appears in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament mostly in the role of a generic Canaanite goddess.
Astartē is the Greek form of the deity's name, but the earliest form in the third millennium, Ashtart (from Aštarta ), ultimately reflects the feminine of Semitic Ashtar/Athtar, a Venus deity. The name of the goddess Ishtar also derives from Ashtar, but hers kept the masculine form without a -t ending, and she became the popular goddess of love, war, and the planet Venus in Mesopotamia, whereas Astarte became a leading deity in western Syria. One may thus infer that Astarte was, as Ashtar and Ishtar, astralized. However, her nature and features varied in the different regions and periods in which her cult prospered, and they seem to have also included associations with love and fertility, war, maritime activities, royal patronage, and more.
In Syria and Phoenicia
In the texts from Ugarit, the name of the goddess is spelled ʿṯtrt, probably vocalized as ʿAthtart (u ). She is prominent among the gods in Ugaritic offering and ritual texts, but appears less often in mythic or literary texts, where the goddesses Asherah and Anat outshine her. She is occasionally mentioned together with Anat. For example, both have famed beauty in the Keret epic (KTU 1.14.iii.41–42); they prepare food for a feast and go hunting together in the marziḥu –banquet text (KTU 1.114.9–14, 22–23); they are paired together in the lists of deities invoked in serpent charms (KTU 1.100.20, 1.107.14); and in the Baal epic they both try to dissuade Baal from killing the sea-god Yamm's messengers (KTU 1.2.i.40–42). Scholars have often assumed that Astarte and Anat were consorts of Baal, but neither is ever explicitly identified as such at Ugarit. Astarte is called šm bʿl, "name-of-Baʿlu," at least once (as well as in a later Phoenician text); but this may merely suggest that she could be seen as a hypostasis of Baal, and not necessarily a consort. Another epithet for Astarte at Ugarit is "Astarte of the field" (ʿ ṯtrt šd), perhaps hinting at an association with animal fertility. At Mari, Astarte was perhaps the spouse of the river-god, and at Emar she had an extensive cult alongside the god Baal. Her names or epithets at Emar include "Astarte of battle," "Astarte of the city," and "Astarte of the mountain."
Astarte was a leading goddess across the Phoenician world, and her name in Phoenician (ʿštrt, pronounced ʿAshtart), occurs as a theophoric element in hundreds of first millennium bce personal names. She was the chief goddess of Sidon and was worshiped alongside Baal and Eshmun; inscriptions on the fifth-century sarcophagi of the Sidonian king Tabnit (KAI 13) and his son Eshmunazar (KAI 14) refer to two royal priests of Astarte (Tabnit's father and Tabnit), as well as a royal priestess (Tabnit's wife, queen Immi–ashtart, "My mother is Astarte"), and KAI 14 mentions several shrines devoted to her. At Tyre she was worshiped alongside Melqart and Baal-shamem, and she appears with those deities and others as a witness in the Assyrian king Esarhaddon's treaty with Tyre in the seventh century. In the Kition tariff inscription from Cyprus (KAI 37A), which lists expenditures for her temple there, Astarte is called "the holy Queen." Another standard title for her in other Phoenician or Punic texts is rbt (Lady).
In Philo of Byblos's Phoenician History (c. 100 ce, partially preserved in Eusebius's Praeparatio evangelica ), which Philo claims to be a Greek translation of a work written by a native Phoenician called Sanchuniathon, Astarte is the daughter of Ouranos along with two sisters who are sent to kill Kronos, who instead takes them as his wives. Kronos has seven daughters by Astarte, called the Titanids or Artemids, and two male children, called Desire and Love (PE 1.10.22–24). In addition, Praeparatio evangelica 1.10.31–32 states that "greatest Astarte" and Zeus Demarous (Baal Hadad) ruled "over the land with the consent of Kronos," and that Astarte wore a bull's head on her head as an emblem of kingship. As a testament to her astral features, Philo adds that Astarte found a fallen star (astera ) and consecrated it in Tyre. He concludes, "the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite."
Astarte was one of many imported Asian deities from the New Kingdom to the Late Period (Egyptian ʿsṯrt, ʿ sṯrṯ, isṯrt ). She is called nbt pt, "Lady of Heaven," in many New Kingdom texts, and she appears often in iconography depicted as a goddess of war with a shield and spear or a bow and arrow, sometimes on horseback. She is the military patron of eighteenth- and nineteenth-dynasty pharaohs Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Rameses II, and Rameses III. In the "Contendings of Horus and Seth," Astarte and Anat are presented as the daughters of Re and the wives of Seth–Baal. "Astarte and the Sea" is a paraphrase of the Canaanite myth in which Baal (Seth in the Egyptian version) with Astarte's help defeats the Sea (Yamm), who wished to exact tribute from the gods and to take Astarte as his wife.
In the Bible
The goddess's name occurs nine times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The singular form of the name, ʿAštōret, occurs three times. In 1 Kings 11:5, Solomon is said to worship Astarte of the Sidonians and Milcom of the Ammonites, and in verse 33, Chemosh of Moab. 2 Kings 23:13 states that Josiah defiled the high places built by Solomon for the same three deities. The singular form ʿAštōret was probably given its vowels in order to echo those of the word bōšet (shame), a word often used in the Bible in place of the name of Baal (see Hosiah 9:10 and Jeremiah 11:13, for example, or 2 Samuel 2:8 where Ishboshet [ʾîšbōšet, "man of shame"] occurs, instead of Ishbaal, [ʾîšbaʿal]). The plural form ʿAštārôt appears six times in deuteronomistic passages condemning the worship of foreign gods. Judges 10:6, 1 Samuel 7:4, and 1 Samuel 12:10 all condemn worship of "the Baals (běʿālîm ) and the Astartes" (a set expression similar to the Akkadian ilāni u ištarāti, meaning "gods and goddesses" generically); whereas it is "the foreign gods … and the Astartes" in 1 Samuel 7:3, and "the Baal (sing.) and the Astartes (pl.)" in Judges 2:13. The final instance of plural ʿAštārôt is in 1 Samuel 31:10, where perhaps the singular was originally meant. There, the armor of the fallen king Saul is taken by the Philistines to the temple of "Astartes," and his body is fastened to the wall in Beth–Shean.
Astarte's name is used as a plural abstract in an expression found in Deuteronomy 7:13; 28:4, 18, 51: ʿaštěrôt ṣōʾnekā (the increase of your flock), which occurs alongside šěgar ʾălāpêkā (the offspring of your cattle). Both phrases reflect vestiges of beliefs about fertility and the gods; Šgr is a deity at Ugarit and is paired with Ashtar in the Balaam text from Deir ʿ Alla, I.16. The so-called Queen of Heaven, whose worship is detested in Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17–19, 25, may be Astarte, although cases have also been made for other Canaanite goddesses or the Mesopotamian Ishtar. Astarte's cult in the fourth-century bce Kition tariff text likely involved offerings of cakes as did that of the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah (but that was true for Ishtar's cult as well). Astarte also appears as a place-name in the Bible–Ashtaroth or Ashtaroth–Qarnaim (Astarte of the [two] horns; see, for example, Gn. 14:5), as at Ugarit and elsewhere.
The so-called Astarte clay plaques from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages portraying naked females with emphasized sexual organs are not to be explicitly identified with the goddess Astarte. They are usually uninscribed and the associated traits might fit with any of several goddesses, or may even depict human women.
The continued pairing of Astarte with Anat throughout the Levant eventually ended in their coalescence in the form of the goddess Atargatis, worshiped in Syria in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The Greek name Atargatis (ʿtrʿth or ʾtrʿtʾ in Aramaic) is a compound of ʿAṯtar (cf. other forms of Astarte's name) and ʿAttaʾ (an aramaizing form of Anat). The De dea syria attributed to Lucian of Samosata in the second century ce describes the cult of the Syrian goddess at Hierapolis. However, Astarte probably remained a separate goddess alongside Atargatis for a while.
For editions of Ugaritic texts (KTU), see M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartín, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU) (Münster, Germany, 1995). For editions of Northwest Semitic inscriptions (KAI), see H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften (KAI), I–III (2d ed., Wiesbaden, 1966–1969).
On Astarte herself, see C. Bonnet, Astarté: Dossier documentaire et perspectives historiques (Rome, 1996); W. Heimpel, "A Catalog of Near Eastern Venus Deities," Syro–Mesopotamian Studies 4, no. 3 (1982): 59–72; J. Leclant, "Astarté à cheval d'après les représentations égyptiennes," Syria 37 (1960): 1–67; N. Wyatt, "Astarte," in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, (2d ed., edited by K. van der Toorn and others), pp. 109–114 (Leiden, 1999).
For a recent edition with commentary of De dea syria, see Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess, edited by J. L. Lightfoot (Oxford, 2003). For Philo's Phoenician history, see Philo of Byblos, The Phoenician History, edited by H. W. Attridge and R. A. Oden, Jr. (Washington, D.C., 1981).
On Astarte in the Northwest Semitic pantheon, see J. Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, pages 128–150 (Sheffield, U.K., 2000); E. Lipiński, Dieux et déesses de l'univers phénicien et punique (Louvain, 1995). On the iconography of ancient Near Eastern goddesses, see U. Winter, Frau und Göttin: Exegetische und ikonographische Studien zum weiblichen Gottesbild im Alten Israel und in dessen Umwelt (Freiburg, Germany, 1983).
Tawny L. Holm (2005)
A Canaanite goddess. In the texts of ugarit she plays the subordinate role of introducing adorers to baal. In the OT, however, she is interchanged repeatedly with Asera (Asherah), frequently associated with Baal, and is probably taken to be Baal's wife. There is no agreement as to which goddess—Asera, Anath, or Astarte—was Baal's consort. Astarte is the Greek form of the Hebrew 'aštōret (see below), often used in the plural 'aštārōt as referring to her various local manifestations. She was called Ištar in Babylonia, where her cult originated and where she was identified with the planet Venus. Venerated as the goddess of fertility and war throughout the ancient Semitic world, she began to be worshiped by the Israelites after their arrival in Palestine (Jgs 2.13; 10.6). Although Samuel opposed her cult (1 Sm 7.3–4;12.10), King solomon adopted it and erected in Jerusalem an altar in her honor, which was later destroyed by Josia (1 Kgs 11.1–13; 2 Kgs 23.13). That her cult was popular is shown by numerous statues and plaques of the "naked goddess" type found even in Israelite levels of archeological sites. The deliberate misvocalization in the Hebrew OT of original 'aštart into 'aštōret by taking the vowels from the word bōršēt (shame), indicates a later attempt to ridicule the cult.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible 162–163. t. klauser, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 1:806–810. j. b. pritchard, Palestinian Figurines in Relation to Certain Goddesses Known through Literature (Philadelphia 1943).