Astarte, or Ashtoreth, is the Hellenized form of the Middle Eastern goddess Ishtar, whose worship probably began in the Bronze Age. The name is associated with her worship in the ancient Levant among the Canaanites and Phoenicians. She was also celebrated in Egypt after the Levantine cults were imported there. The name Astarte is sometimes also applied to her worship in Mesopotamian cultures, particularly in the seaports of Tyre, Sidon, and Elat. Later she became assimilated with the Egyptian deities Isis and Hathor (a goddess of the sky and of women), and in the Greco-Roman world with Aphrodite, Artemis, and Juno. Astarte shared many qualities with her sister, Anath, and they may have originally been seen as a single deity. Together they are the basis for the Aramaic goddess Atargatic.
Astarte is recorded in Akkadian as As-dar-tu, the masculine form of Ishtar. The name appears in Ugaritic as Athtart or Attart, in Phoenician as Ashtart or Astart, and in Hebrew as Ashtoret. The Hebrews also referred to the plural Ashtarot or Astartes. The Etruscan Pyrgi Tablets record the name as Uni-Astre. Ashtoreth is mentioned often in the Bible and may be a deliberate conflation of the Greek name Astarte and the Hebrew work boshet, which means "shame", indicating the Hebrews' contempt for her worship. Ashtaroth, a plural form in Hebrew, became a general term for denoting goddesses and paganism.
Astarte was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, horse, spinx, dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked. She has been known as the deified morning and/or evening star. The deity is equivalent to the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Istar, taken from the third millennium BC Sumerian goddess Inanna, the first primordial goddess of the planet Venus. Inanna was also known by the Aramaic people as the god Attar, whose myth was construed in a different manner by the people of Greece to align with their own cultural myths and legends.
Astarte was worshipped in Syria and Canaan beginning in the first millennium BC and was first known to be mentioned in texts from Ugarit. She came from the same Semitic origins as the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, and a Ugaritic text specifically equates her with Ishtar. Her worship spread to Cyprus, where she may have been merged with an ancient Cypriot goddess. This merged Cypriot goddess may have been adopted into the Greek pantheon times to form Aphrodite. Some scholars argue that Astarte's character was less erotic and more warlike than Ishtar originally was, perhaps because she was influenced by the Canaanite goddess Anat, and that Ishtar, not Astarte, was the direct forerunner of the Cypriot goddess. Greeks in classical, Hellenistic, and Roman times occasionally equated Aphrodite with Astarte and many other Near Easter goddesses as part of their frequent practice of syncretizing other dieties with their own. Other major centers of Astarte's worship were the Phoenician city states of Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos. Sidonian coins often depicted her standing on the prow of a galley, leaning forward with right hand outstretched, the original figurehead for all sailing ships. In Sidon she shared a temple with Eshmun. Coins from Beirut show Poseidon, Astarte, and Eshmun were worshipped together. There were more centers of worship in Cythera, Malta, and Eryx in Sicily, from which she became known to the Romans as Venus Erycina. A bilingual inscription on the Pyrgi Tablets dating to about 500 BC found near Caere in Etruria equates Astarte with Etruscan Uni-Astre, also known as Juno. At Carthage, Astarte was worshipped alongside the goddess Tanit. The Aramean goddess Atargatis may have originally been equated with Astarte.
Astarte arrived in ancient Egypt during the 18th dynasty along with other dieties who were worshipped by northwest Semitic people. She was especially worshipped in her aspect as a warrior goddess, often paired with the goddess Anat. In Contest Between Horus and Set, these two goddesses appear as daughters of Ra and are given as allies to the god Set, here identified with the Semitic name Hadad. Astarte was also identified with the lioness warrior goddess Sekhmet, but more often identified with Isis based on the many images found of Astarte suckling a small child. In fact, a 6th century BC statue in the Cair Museum would normally be assumed to be Isis with her child Horus, but the inscription reads: "Gersaphon, son of Azor, son of Slrt, man of Lydda, for his Lady, for Astarte." Plutarch, in his work On Isis and Osiris, indicates that the King and Queen of Byblos are Melcarthus/Melqart and Astarte.
In the Phoenician pantheon Astarte appears as a daughter of Epigeius (sky) and Ge (Earth), and sister of the god Elus. Elus overthrows and banishes his father, and as a trick Epigeius sends his virgin daughter Astarte along with her sisters, Asherah and the goddess who will later be known as Ba'alat Gebal (the Lady of Byblos). The trick does not work, and all three become wives of their brother Elus. Astarte had seven daughters (the Titanides or Artemides) and two sons (Pothos/Longing and Eros/Desire) with Elus. Later, with consent of Elus, Astarte ruled over the land with Hadad and put the head of a bull on her own head to symbolize her sovereignty. While wandering through the world, Astarte takes up a meteorite and consecrates it at Tyre. In the Hebrew Bible is mention of a city called Ashteroth Karnaim in the land of Bashan east of the Jordan River. The name translates to 'Ashteroth of the Horns', with horns being symbolic of mountain peaks. Figurines of Astarte showing the goddess with two horns have been found at archaeological sites in Israel. Ashtoreth is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the principal goddess of the Sidonians or Phoenicians, representing the productive power of nature. The biblical Ashtoreth should not be confused with the goddess Asherah. However, biblical writers may have conflated some attributes and titles of the two. For instance, the title "Queen of Heaven" as mentioned in Jeremiah has been connected with both. In later Jewish mythology she became a female demon of lust.