Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Time of the Amorites: Part II

The top of the stele of the Law Code of Hammurabi
Enki has esteemed him truly in the shrine, the august place -- the king who loves purification rites and is well-suited to the pure divine powers, the king who is skilled in the precious plans, who is reverent, eloquent and deft, the shepherd, favourite of Lord Nunamnir and beloved of Mother Ninlil, ......, who delights the great prince Enki, ......, who is cherished by holy Damgalnuna: the good shepherd Hammurabi.
Praise Hymn of Hammurabi

This is the second part of the post about the Amorite rulers and the period from the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur to the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire, from 2004BC to 1595BC (Middle Chronology). Please click here for the first post.

If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and . . . on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen.
Law Code of Hammurabi: Article 23

Hammurabi is the king best known to posterity from this period. Other rulers, such as Shamshi-Adad, are not really remembered. But what has cemented Hammurabi’s legacy in contemporary thought is not the scale of his conquests but the famous law code that was discovered. This is a law code that details emphasises the role of the ruler as shepherd of the people and intermediary between the people and the gods. It would appear to be much more violent than modern legal systems but allowances must be made for the fact that societies that have no facilities for imprisonment or police forces in the strict sense of the word nearly always have harsher laws. The standard legal procedure was what is known as lex talionis, best known from the Old Testament phrase “an eye for an eye.” The law code was far from unique; there are similar codes that predate and postdate it and share many features with it. However, as it was one of the first ones to be discovered by archaeology and because, despite its harshness, it still contains concepts such as the presumption of innocence, it has grabbed the imagination.

Figure from Larsa/Isin
And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea. Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled. And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emims in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness. And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar. And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim; with Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five. And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.
Genesis 14:1-11 (King James Version translation)

The Law Code of Hammurabi stands as one of the prime exhibits of the Louvre in Paris and a bas-relief of Hammurabi adorns the US Congress buildings in recognition of his prowess as a lawmaker. Some people who are familiar with Genesis in the Old Testament may remember notes about Hammurabi in the story of Abraham. While certain scholars thought that Hammurabi might be mentioned in Genesis this is now thought to be unlikely. Shinar is the Hebrew name for the plains around Babylon and Amraphel sounds like it might possibly be a Hebrew version of Hammurabi’s name. The description of a powerful Elamite king with allies from the Mesopotamian plain is not unlike the situation of the early reign of Hammurabi but the names of the other kings and cities do not match well (no Chedorlaomer of Elam is known to history for example). Also, the five cities of the plain are usually located in the Dead Sea Valley and there is no record of Hammurabi or other Mesopotamian monarchs controlling or attacking these regions in this era. The archives of Mari and Ebla might shed more light on this but for the moment the identification has to be treated as very hypothetical at best. It is interesting however that tar pits are mentioned in the Genesis passage; considering Hammurabi’s obsession with bitumen in his disputes with Zimri-Lim.

The valiant Ninurta is your helper. In the E-kur, Nuska the august minister of Enlil, the assembly leader of all lands, is your foremost palace superintendent. Throughout your life, may you carry your neck high; in princely manner may you lift your head high! Prolong the days of his life for Samsu-iluna, of princely worth!

Venus Tablet of Ammi-saduqa
Praise Hymn of Samsu-iluna

After the death of Hammurabi his son Samsu-iluna succeeded him and the empire almost immediately began to disintegrate. A large rebellion saw the southern regions of old Sumer break away. A person named Rim-Sin, who was probably related to the Rim-Sin defeated by Hammurabi, united nearly all the old Sumerian cities in rebellion against Babylon. Samsu-iluna was victorious but at a heavy cost and he appears to have commanded his troops to be very destructive of the old cities of the south, tearing down walls and possibly killing the priests who kept the records. The records of the old Sumerian cities begin to become silent at this time. To the north and east the Elamites and the city of Asshur tried to gain independence but were fought off by Samsu-iluna who also fought off a raid by a people called the Kassites.

Abi-eshuh, son of Samsu-iluna, set out to conquer Iluma-ilu. He dammed the Tigris but did not capture Iluma-ilu.
Chronicle of the Early Kings

Samsu-iluna had held the empire together (barely) but his successor, Abi-eshuh, was unable to replicate the success. The south had broken away and a new dynasty (called the Sealand Dynasty) had arisen. Abi-eshuh appears to have tried an engineering solution to the problem, campaigning against the Sealand kings and trying to control the water flows. It is unclear what is being attempted. Did he try to use this as a way of entering cities via the water gates, as Cyrus was said to have done millennia later? Was he trying to create a reservoir that could be loosed against the enemy to drown them? It is unclear but the attempt failed.

Year 8: superior Venus vanishes E on Adar 27 and after 2 months 16 days appears W on Simanu 13
The Venus Tablet of Ammi-Saduqa

Ammi-Ditana succeeded Abi-Eshuh, reigning over a much reduced empire peacefully for a number of years. His son Ammi-Saduqa also reigned in relative peace. The main significance of Ammi-Saduqa’s reign to history is that during his reign certain observations of the planet Venus were made that can be matched against known astronomical data. Because the years of the king are known and those of his successors and predecessors are also recorded, this date should allow all of Mesopotamian history to be dated quite accurately. However, due to certain ambiguities and because astronomical planetary phenomena repeat themselves the dates may have three possible interpretations (up to 120 years apart). Most historians follow the Middle or the Low Chronology but High, Middle and Low all have their advocates and good historical rationales.

At the time of Samsuditana the Hittites marched against Akkad.
Ea-gamil, the king of the Sealand, fled to Elam. After he had gone, Ulam-Buriaš, brother of Kaštiliašu, the Kassite, mustered an army and conquered the Sealand. He was master of the land.

Hittite chariot from later Bronze Age

Chronicle of the Early Kings

Samsu-ditana was the last king of the Hammurabi’s Dynasty. An impressive raid by Mursilis I, King of the Hittites, overthrew Babylon in 1595BC (Middle Chronology). Mursilis was too far from his base in Anatolia to hold Babylon however so he retreated (being promptly assassinated upon his return). The Kassite tribes moved into the vacuum as the Amorite tribes had done previously and the later Bronze Age kings of Babylon would be Kassites.

This period of four hundred years, with the initial instability followed by the empire-building of Shamshi-Adad and Hammurabi and the empire maintained by Hammurabi’s successors saw a number of impressive building works and projects but most of these have succumbed to the ravages of time. If Abi-eshuh was even able to attempt to dam the Tigris this speaks to considerable technological prowess. But the main legacy is their obsession with writing. I find it unusual that records of ownership are given such priority in the Code of Hammurabi. As long distance trade could not have proper witnesses the clause mentioned above meant that practically every transaction required recording, a far larger task than could be handled merely by scribes. The trading class must have acquired the rudiments of reading and writing leading to very high literacy rates by ancient standards. It is in this fertile ground of a reading population that the standard text of the first recorded epic (The Epic of Gilgamesh) received its standard form.

Kassite kudurru boundary marker
The tavern-keeper spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"lf you are Gilgamesh, who killed the Guardian,
who destroyed Humbaba who lived in the Cedar Forest,
who slew lions in the mountain passes,
who grappled with the Bull that came down from heaven, and
killed him,
why are your cheeks emaciated, your expression desolate!
Why is your heart so wretched, your features so haggard!
Why is there such sadness deep within you!

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet X