Sunday, 9 August 2015

The 10th Century BC

Carved relief from Carchemish
In two previous posts I have discussed the aftermath of the Bronze Age Collapse in Greece, Anatolia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam and the Levant. In this post I will attempt to give a brief picture of the century that followed. We must remember that for this period, as for much of antiquity, we are dealing with an era that is scant in historical sources. Even the literate civilisations of antiquity leave few records for this period. Consequently our conceptions for this period are based upon a few remnants of records made at the time and scholarly reconstructions based upon archaeology and literary texts that have unknown transmission histories. In short, we can discuss this period of Near Eastern history with some confidence, but not much. New discoveries might radically change our conceptions and we must be careful not to speak too dogmatically.

For some translations I have used the excellent site and a site that deals with biblical history and archaeology ( I have enjoyed reading both of these immensely so do check them out if you want further information. Translations of Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles are taken from

In Greece there is not much that can be said for this century. Small settlements such as the one at Lefkandi are in evidence but there are no writings or significant archaeological finds that shed much light on the period. In Anatolia, the void caused by the collapse of the Hittite kingdom seems to have been partially filled by the Phrygians. This people was possibly originally from Europe and were situated further to the west than Hattusa (the old capital of the Hittite Empire). Later, the Assyrians would record a powerful kingdom in the region called Mushki; that might have been the same as the Phrygian kingdom, however, during the tenth century there is little evidence of this people.

(This is the) temple which Yehimilk king of Byblos rebuilt. He restored all the ruins of these temples. May Ba’al-shamem and Ba’alat of Byblos and the assembly of the holy gods of Byblos prolong the days of Yehimilk and his years over Byblos. For [he is] a legitimate king and a good king before the h[oly] gods of Byblos.
Yehimilk Inscription from the city of Byblos

Statue of Baal
with thunderbolt and mace,
treading on hills and sea.
Stele is from Ugarit
in an earlier period
Moving south through Syria and the Levant we see the Neo-Hittite states of Que and Carchemish surviving in Cilicia and on the banks of the Euphrates River. Further to the south, on the Abana River, the Arameans had taken the city of Damascus, which had been fairly unimportant up to this point. A strong kingdom was founded here and other Aramean states were founded in Hamath and a host of smaller cities in what is now Syria. In modern-day Lebanon, Phoenician cities flourished, most notably Byblos, Tyre and Sidon. These had always been coastal cities with a tradition of shipbuilding but now that they were no longer part of imperial trade networks they became wealthy through trading in their own right. A resurgence of Egyptian power assisted in this. Egypt was no longer strong enough to control the region properly but wealthy enough to trade with.

History becomes a little problematic south of Phoenicia and Damascus at this period. We are in the possession of texts (the Tanakh or Old Testament of the Bible) that is purported to have been written in, or at least to describe, the region in this period. As this section of the Bible is important (and canonical) to Judaism and Christianity and of interest to Islam it is no surprise that this is a contentious and controversial source for historians. Discussions of the general historicity of the Old Testament are out of the scope of this blog. However, the broad picture given is not incompatible with the other sources for the period (even if only because these sources are largely lacking) so I will describe the picture given but with the caveat that the reader should know that these texts have been transmitted rather than directly discovered like the cuneiform records of Hammurabi for example.

Reproduction of the Gezer Calendar
It’s (two) months of harvest.
It’s (two) months of sowing.
It’s (two) months of late growth.
It’s month of cutting flax
It’s month of barley harvest.
It’s month of harvest and measuring.
It’s (two) months of pruning.
It’s month of summer (fruit).

The Gezer Calendar; a Hebrew agricultural calendar, written using Phoenician script from the 10th Century. Abiyah is probably the name of the scribe who wrote the piece.

The Israelites around the time of the 1000’sBC were a series of loosely united tribes, sharing a common language and broadly similar religious conceptions, which at times at least, were quite similar to their neighbours. Like most tribes and cities in the region they fought intermittently, both with their neighbours and among themselves. There was probably a move towards appointing rulers around the late 1000’s. It is unclear just how much this actually amounted to. The preceding period had seen leaders arise who had been given military commands but who had no lasting power. The first king of Israel does not appear to have had a fixed capital and the armies that he commanded were lightly armed tribal levies at best. The first dynasty did not last and another leader united the tribes after some conflict before briefly establishing military hegemony in the region. This was followed by a period of relative peace before the military hegemony collapsed and the tribal kingdom split apart, with the tribe of Judah forming the core of a small southern kingdom and the tribe of Ephraim forming the core of a larger northern kingdom.

The northern kingdom might have conquered the southern kingdom but around this time Egyptian power became strong enough to launch campaigns in Syro-Palestine again and around the time of the split we know that the Egyptians raided the territory of the northern kingdom. Many archaeologists question whether the united Israelite kingdom ever existed and point out that there is little evidence for much activity in the region in this period, particularly in the south. I think that the narrative given is not necessarily implausible. There are some circumstantial indications that the two kingdoms that emerge into history in the 800’sBC were once a single entity. Firstly, each kingdom of the region seems to have had its national god, even if the religious beliefs of the separate states were identical. Thus the Assyrians worshipped Ashur as their god while the Babylonians worshipped Marduk. However, there is no record of the phrase “God of Judah” in the Bible (the phrase “God of Israel” is used a lot), suggesting that the same state god might imply, at one point, that both kingdoms were part of the same state.

When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:
“What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, Israel! Look after your own house, David!”
So the Israelites went home. But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.
1 Kings 12:16-17 describing the breakup of the united Israelite Kingdom

Baal, a Canaanite god,
sometimes worshipped by the Israelites
The kinglists given for the northern kingdom of Israel show a high turnover of dynasties and kings, with two different capitals and nine dynasties out of nineteen kings (including one king who only ruled for nine days). In contrast the southern kingdom is portrayed as being rather more stable, with a single dynasty ruling from one capital with only one interruption. This would seem to indicate a greater legitimacy of kingship in the south (which would make sense if the north was a breakaway state). However, the records consistently favour the southern Kingdom of Judah so this point is of debatable merit. The main circumstantial evidence is that Jerusalem (the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah) is located very close to the border of the powerful northern kingdom. This choice of capitals makes little sense if the kingdom of Judah arose later in the shadow of the northern kingdom but does make sense if the two kingdoms were once united (as the capital is close to both Judah and Israel).

All of this is of course speculation. Until more writings are discovered it is impossible to do more than speculate. The kingdom of Hamath is known to have had close dealings with the kings of this region so if this is ever properly excavated it may well shed light on this period (it is unlikely as the city is currently a major battleground in the Syrian Civil War). In short, the transmitted sources tell us that there was a united monarchy that subsequently broke into two kingdoms; Israel in the north and Judah in the south at this time. Other historical sources do not confirm or disconfirm this. In the 800’sBC we see other sources that shed light on this region.

The Old Testament also mentions kingdoms to the east and south of Israel and Judah (Ammon, Moab and Edom). These kingdoms are also not substantiated by significant archaeological evidence at this time but later emerge in history in the next century and beyond. They are recorded as being slightly weaker than the two Israelite kingdoms and sometimes as tributary kingdoms but they are also recorded as being able to inflict defeats upon the two kingdoms when these kingdoms become weaker.

Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened.
1 Samuel 13:19-20 (referring to the time around 1050BC when the Philistines were much stronger than the Israelites)

Along the coast of the Mediterranean, to the west of Judah, five cities of the Philistines are recorded (Gath, Gaza, Askelon, Ekron and Ashdod). These cities were in a loose alliance and were powerful enemies of the Israelites. However, their hold on the Israelite kingdoms seems to have diminished during this period and whenever the Israelite kingdoms were strong they may have paid tribute. They controlled the coastal routes from Egypt towards Phoenicia while the kingdom of Judah was confined to the hill country in the interior. The Philistines are often equated with the Peleset, a tribe of Sea Peoples mentioned by Ramesses III, and they may have been invaders to the region during the time of the Bronze Age Collapse.

Most of the information about the region in this period is taken from the Old Testament and this is a contentious source. While religious factors do determine what, if any, weight is to be given to this source I also find that the various disciplines of history affect how people interpret this source. I have a background in classics, which has a substantial but limited corpus of written sources. The writings are treated with suspicion but each document is treated as having some intrinsic merit unless there is a good reason to suspect otherwise. In other words, the records are treated as hypothetically innocent until proven guilty. Those who come from other disciplines, such as archaeology, may discount later writings about a period and focus entirely on the material evidence. These differing approaches explain a lot of the disagreements about the history of the region.

Detail from the sarcophagus of Ahiram, a ruler of Byblos
I found him sitting in his upper chamber, leaning his back against a window, while the waves of the great Syrian sea beat against the [] behind him.
Then I was silent in this great hour. He answered and said to me: "On what business hast thou come hither?"
I said to him: "I have come after the timber for the great and august barge of Amon-Re, king of gods. Thy father did it, thy grandfather did it, and thou wilt also do it." So spake I to him.
He said to me: "They did it, truly. If thou give me (something) for doing it, I will do it. Indeed, my agents transacted the business; the Pharaoh, [], sent six ships, laden with the products of Egypt, and they were unloaded into their storehouses. And thou also shall bring something for me."
(King of Byblos speaking)
"As for me, I am myself neither thy servant nor am I the servant of him that sent thee. If I cry out to the Lebanon, the heavens open, and the logs lie here on the shore of the sea."
Report of Wenamun: A fictionalised account of a journey by an Egyptian official to Byblos to buy timber, where the official is treated with disdain by the Phoenician king. Despite the fictionalised narrative it can be viewed as illustrative of the diminished power of Egypt.

In Egypt the Pharaohs of the 21st Dynasty continued their tenuous rule of the country. Libyan tribes continued to infiltrate the country causing instability. However, this migration may not have been an invasion in the strictest sense. Many of the tribal chieftains acknowledged the Pharaoh and at least some of them married into the royal family. Psusennes I was succeeded by Amenemope, who was succeeded by Osorkon the Elder (who is not accorded a regnal number), who was succeeded by Siamun. If the account of the alliance between Solomon of Israel and Egypt is true it is likely that Siamun was the Pharaoh who attacked Gezer as part of this alliance. There are no sources to confirm this however. Siamun was succeeded by Psusennes II who left very little evidence of his reign. After his death around 943 BC he was succeeded by Shoshenq I.

The Bubastite Portal of Shoshenq I in Karnak
... Said his majesty to the court: " ... the evil things which they have done." Said they: "... his horses after him, while they knew (it) not. Lo ... His majesty made a great slaughter among them ... he ... ed them upon the [dyke] of the shore of Kemwer.
Karnak inscription describing the campaigns of Shoshenq I in Palestine

Shoshenq was a Libyan but he was related by marriage to the previous dynasty. He limited the power of the High Priests of Amun by making the position dependent on the Pharaoh, with appointed High Priests instead of a hereditary dynasty of priests. With Egypt now stabilised both from internal power struggles and from Libyan pressure, Shoshenq was free to concentrate on external conquests. He attacked Palestine in the first definitively recorded Egyptian expedition in over a century. This campaign is recorded on the Bubastite Portal at Karnak. Many of the place names mentioned in the inscriptions would be familiar to readers of the Old Testament with a number of towns and cities between Ezion-Geber and Megiddo being mentioned.

In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the temple of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made.
I Kings 14:23-24

Detail from the Bubastite Portal
showing the defeated peoples of Canaan
This campaign is often connected with the account of the Shishak in 1 Kings 14, however many do not accept this identification. Ancient Hebrew only really recorded consonants so the names of the kings (Shoshenq/k=Shishak) match quite neatly, however the Bubastite Portal does not mention an attack on Jerusalem, or in fact mention Jerusalem or either of the Israelite kingdoms in the description of the campaign. It is hard to know how much to read into this, as the events in 1 Kings may recount Rehoboam’s subjection to Shoshenq and huge tribute may have been a way of buying off the Pharaoh (or asking him to attack the Northern Kingdom of Israel). The Bubastite Portal appears to be both incomplete and damaged as well so it is possible that references to these events simply do not survive. The information on it appears to have been given in formulas as well, with armies of the Mitanni being mentioned despite the fact that the Mitanni Empire had vanished centuries before. In any case, despite what the first Indiana Jones movie may have implied, there is no evidence that the Ark of the Covenant was captured and taken to the city of Tanis, so there may yet be redemption for Shoshenq.

Shoshenq I was succeeded by Osorkon I who left behind little evidence of his reign. There is no evidence that he campaigned extensively in Syro-Palestine. Egypt had recovered and was once again able to exert pressure outside its borders but it was not to reach the Euphrates again until the 600’s BC.

At the time of Adad-nirari, king of Assyria, Šamaš-muddamiq, king of Karduniaš (Babylon), drew up a battle array at the foot of Mount Yalman and Adad-nirari, king of Assyria, brought about the defeat of Šamaš-muddamiq, king of Karduniaš, and conquered him.
His chariots, and teams of horses, he took away from him.
Šamaš-muddamiq, king of Karduniaš, passed away.
Nabû-šuma-iškun, son of [Šamaš-muddamiq, ascended his father's throne?]. Adad-nirari, king of Assyria, fought with Nabû-šuma-iškun king of Karduniaš, and defeated him.
Synchronistic Chronicle describing the wars between Adad-Nirari II of Assyria and Babylonian kings. The Synchronistic Chronicle is heavily biased towards the Assyrians.

In Assyria, Ashur-Rabi II held the throne. He was succeeded by Ashur-Resh-Ishi II, Tiglath-Pileser II and Ashur-Dan II. All of these monarchs are fairly unknown to history. There is little that can be said about these kings, however a high turnover of monarchs generally destabilises a state and if each of these monarchs had long (if uneventful reigns) it may have strengthened Assyria in comparison to its neighbours. Adad-Nirari II came to power around 911BC and embarked on a period of expansion that would (even after setbacks) see Assyria become the most powerful empire in the region. The Neo-Assyrian period is often dated from his reign and he campaigned to the west and south against the Arameans and Babylonians.
A Babylonian kudurru from this period

In the month Nisannu, in the seventh year, the Aramaeans were belligerent, so that the king could not come up to Babylon. Neither did Nabu come nor Bel come out. In the month Nisannu, in the eighth year of Nabu-mukin-apli, the king, the Aramaeans were belligerent, and Bab-nibiri ("Gate of the Crossing") of Kar-bel-matati they captured. Thus the king could not cross, Nabu did not come, and Bel did not come out. The king did not offer the sacrifices of the Akitu festival in Esagil.

For nine years in succession Bel did not come out nor did Nabu come.
Religious Chronicle describing festivals and rituals being disrupted by Aramean incursions during this time.

In Babylon, the Bit-Bazi Dynasty ruled for the first few decades of the tenth century before being replaced by an Elamite called Mar-biti-apla-usur, who was treated as a legitimate king but founded no dynasty. Babylonian kings followed each other but the records are very scanty (we know that they were attacked by Arameans from the west during this time). In the last decades of the tenth century Shamash-Mudammiq became king in Babylon and fought wars with Adad-Nirari II of Assyria, which the Assyrians record as great victories for Assyria (Assyrian records have a tendency to do this regardless of the results of combat). Records of Elam for this period are so scanty that even the names of the kings are barely known.

In conclusion, this has been a fairly tame post. There are no exciting trial narratives or murder mysteries. The sources are damaged, controversial and worst of all, non-existent. Not much can be said of this time. However, the broad picture shows a gradual re-stabilisation of the powers of the Middle East, with Assyria beginning to dominate Babylon and Egypt becoming formidable again. These trends would continue throughout the next centuries with the nascent kingdoms of the Levant beginning to feel the pressure of an expansionist Assyria. This will be discussed in further posts.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Early Iron Age and the Death of Kings: Part II

Lamassu from the palace of Tukulti-Ninurta I
where the king was slain
In the previous post I discussed the fate of the Mycenaean, Hittite and Egyptian kingdoms and regions following the Bronze Age Collapse up until roughly the year 1000BC. I will now try and discuss Assyria, Babylonia and Elam for the same period. Because Assyria and Babylonia in particular were so closely interlocked I will discuss them as a whole, briefly discussing Elam and also the new developments that happened during this period.

Tukulti-Ninurta returned to Babylon and brought [...] near. He destroyed the wall of Babylon and put the Babylonians to the sword. He took out the property of the Esagila and Babylon amid the booty. The statue of the great lord Marduk he removed from his dwelling-place and sent him to Assyria. He put his governors in Karduniaš (Babylonia). For seven years, Tukulti-Ninurta controlled Karduniaš.
Chronicle P

In the late 1200s BC Tukulti-Ninurta I reigned in Assyria. Capitalising on the triumphs of his predecessors over the Mitanni, he defeated the Hittites in Syria and pushed Assyrian control westwards. A dispute between the Kassite king Kashtiliash IV of Babylon and Tukulti-Ninurta I saw the Assyrians win a decisive victory over the Kassites. Tukulti-Ninurta I exploited his victory by attempting to reduce Babylon to a provincial city, tearing down walls, deporting the royal family, removing important religious items and appointing governors over the city. Babylon was viewed as a holy city and this degradation of its status may have been viewed as sacrilegious by his subjects. This was to be the first instance of a perennial problem for Assyrian kings: Once Babylon was subjected, how could it be governed?

Disputes appear to have arisen between the Assyrian king and his priests and nobles in Asshur, with the king founding a new city/fortress capital a few miles from the city of Asshur, called Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta. This would have further alienated the populace of Asshur. A rebellion in Babylon removed the Assyrian governors and the kings sons rebelled and besieged and killed Tukulti-Ninurta I in his new fortress.

After the Akkadian officers of Karduniaš (Babylon) had rebelled and put Adad-šuma-ušur on his father's throne, Aššur-nasir-apli, son of that Tukulti-Ninurta who had carried criminal designs against Babylon, and the officers of Assyria rebelled against Tukulti-Ninurta, removed him from the throne, shut him up in Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta and killed him.
Chronicle P

In Babylon, Adad-Suma-Usur had come to the throne in the later years of Tukulti-Ninurta I and restored Babylonian power in the region, while the Assyrian princes who had conspired against their father struggled for the throne. Adad-Suma-Usur was in a sufficiently strong position to write insulting letters to the king of Assyria and his viceroy, Ili-Pada (the governor of the lands of the Mitanni).

[The god Ash]ur to Aššur-nirari and Ili-Paddâ […through] slovenliness, drunkenness, and indecisiveness, things have taken a turn for the worse for you. Now there is neither sense nor reason in your heads. Since the great [gods] have driven you mad you speak […]. Your faces […..with] iniquitous and criminal counsel
Adad-šuma-usur, letter to Aššur-nirari and Ili-Paddâ

The Assyrians tried to reassert their supremacy by attacking the Babylonians and were disastrously defeated. Their defeat was so total that the Assyrian army officers mounted a coup in the field, surrendered all their prisoners from previous campaigns and handed over their king to the Babylonians, placing a son of Ili-Pada, Ninurta-apal-Ekur, on the throne, possibly at the suggestion of the Babylonians.

Adad-šuma-usur mustered his troops, attacked, and defeated him. The officers of Assyria seized Enlil-kudurri-usur, their lord, and gave him to Adad-šuma-usur,
Walker Chronicle

Kudurru of Meli-Sipak
Meli-Sipak succeeded as king of Babylon in the early 1100’s BC and formed a marriage alliance with the Elamite royal family. The Elamites were at the height of their power at this point and, while they were powerful enemies of Babylon, were also enemies of Assyria. This dynastic marriage proved to be a disaster in the long term for Babylon. However, during Meli-Sipak’s reign, there was peace between Assyria, Babylon and Elam. It was during this period that the Hittite Empire collapsed and that Egypt came under threat from the Sea Peoples but to a certain extent Mesopotamia was isolated from these disasters. They were inland and far from the Mediterranean, with substantial irrigation systems to protect them from droughts and other natural disasters (unless these irrigation systems could be disrupted by invasion).

Why I, who am a king, son of a king, seed of a king, scion of a king, who am king (?) for the lands, for the land of Babylonia and the land of [El]am, descendant of the eldest daughter of the mighty King Kurigalzu, (why) do I not sit on the throne of the land of Babylonia? I sent you a sincere proposal; you however have granted me no reply: you may climb up to heaven – [but I’ll pull you down] by your hem; you may go down to the underworld – [but I’ll pull you up] by your hair! I shall destroy your cities, dem[olish] your fortresses, stop up your (irrigation) ditches, cut down your orchards, [pull out] the rings [of the sluices] at the mouths of your (irrigation) canals…
Shutruk Nahhunte, Letter to the Kassite court

Inscription of Shutruk-Nakhunte
on the captured stele of Naram-Sin
Meli-Sipak of Babylon was succeeded by Marduk-apla-iddina I. Sometimes this name is rendered as Merodach-Baladan I, in reference to a later king of the same name whose name was recorded as Merodach-Baladan in the Old Testament. His reign in the mid-1100’s BC saw the beginning of the end for the Kassite Dynasty. Due to the marriage alliance between the Kassite and Elamite royal houses, Shutruk-Nakhunte of Elam believed that he had a claim to the throne of Babylon and invaded to enforce his claim. The invasion probably happened under the reign of the next king of Babylon, Zababa-suma-iddina (who may have usurped the throne) and was the zenith of Elamite military power. Babylon was under attack by the king of Assyria (Ashur-Dan I) at the time and the Elamite forces demolished the Babylonian opposition. The last Kassite king, Enlil-Nadin-Ahe was captured and deported and Babylon was reduced to an Elamite province during the reign of Shutruk-Nakhunte and his son, Kutir-Nakhunte.

I am Shutruk-Nahhunte, king of Elam. The god Inshushinak gave me the order...The city of Sippur I defeated...I plundered the Stele of Naram-Sin and brought it back to Elam... The Stele of Meli-Šipak I plundered from [Kassite king] Karaindash and brought back to Elam...
Shutruk Nahhunte, Royal Inscription on a captured Babylonian artefact

His crimes were greater and his grievous sins worse than all his fathers had committed … like a deluge he laid low all the peoples of Akkad, and cast in ruins Babylon and all the noblest cities of sanctity.
Nabû-kudurri-usur I? , Poetic pseudo-autobiographical text describing the king of Elam’s subjugation of Babylon

The Elamites seem to have tried to govern Babylonia as a province but a new dynasty based in Isin (referred to as the 2nd Dynasty of Isin) fought back and may have preserved southern Babylonia from the Elamite invasion. Around 1130BC one of the kings of this dynasty, Itti-Marduk-balatu may have been able to recapture the city of Babylon and begin to stabilise the country.

Mutakkil-Nusku, his brother, fought him and took him to Karduniaš (Babylon). Mutakkil-Nusku held the throne briefly, then died.
Assyrian King List

Around this time Ashur-Dan I still reigned in Assyria, however the succession of his sons proved problematic, with the crown prince being deposed shortly after coronation by his brother who usurped the throne. The usurper was unable to survive long, with a resurgent Babylonia putting pressure on Assyria. He was succeeded by his son, Ashur-resh-ishi I. At this time “Ahlamu” or Aramean tribesmen begin to attack Mesopotamia from the west, although they do not seem to have been successful.

In Babylon, Nabu-kudurri-usur I came to the throne. He is sometimes referred to as Nebuchadnezzar I, as a later king with a similar name is mentioned extensively in the Old Testament and “Nebuchadnezzar” is the Hebrew form of this name. His reign saw the height of Babylonian power for the 2nd Dynasty of Isin. In revenge for the Elamite attack on Babylon that had destroyed the Kassites, he marched on Elam and heavily defeated them. This broke the power of the Shutrukid Dynasty of Elam and would safeguard Mesopotamia from the east for many years. The statue of Marduk was returned to Babylon along with a host of other items looted by the Elamites and the royal propagandists wrote literature to enshrine the victory for future generations.

To the north, Nabu-kudurri-usur I was less successful, with the Assyrian king Ashur-resh-ishi I claiming victory in a series of sieges and battles. Assyrian power was rising again and when Enlil-nadin-apli (the son of Nabu-kudurri-usur I) succeeded to the throne he was decisively defeated by the Assyrians and a rebellion launched against him by his uncle, Marduk-nadin-ahhe.

Enlil-nadin-apli, son of Nebuchadnezzar, marched on Aššur to conquer it. Marduk-nadin-ahhe, brother of Nebuchadnezzar, and the nobles rebelled against him and Enlil-nadin-apli returned to his land, his city. They killed him with the sword.
Walker Chronicle

Tigalth-Pileser I
In the early 1000’s BC Marduk-nadin-ahhe was an able king of Babylon who had the misfortune to reign at the same time as a powerful king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser I. Tiglath-Pileser I attacked in all directions from the Assyrian heartlands, defeating the Babylonians (albeit, not decisively), pushing northwards into the mountainous regions later known as Urartu and most impressively, as far as the Mediterranean sea to the west. Despite these successes, the Aramean tribesmen were becoming a severe problem with the Assyrian king having to launch campaign after campaign against the tribes. These campaigns were deemed successful in the inscriptions and they may well have been local successes but the decentralised tribes were hard to defeat.

...the people ate one another's flesh to save their lives. Like a flood's ravaging water the Aramaean "houses" increased, plundered the crops of Assyria, conquered and took many fortified cities of Assyria. People fled toward the mountains of Habruri to save their lives. The Aramaeans took their gold, their silver, and their possessions. Marduk-nadin-ahhe, king of Karduniaš, died. Marduk-šapik-zeri entered upon his father's throne. Eighteen years of reign of Marduk-nadin-ahhe.
... all the harvest of Assyria was ruined. The Aramaean tribes increased and seized the bank of the Tigris. They plundered [...] Idu, the district of Nineveh, Kilizi. In that year, Tiglath-pileser I, king of Assyria, marched to Katmuhu.

Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser I describing campaigns against the Arameans.

Tiglath-Pileser I died around 1075BC and his sons fought among themselves over the succession, with Shamshi-Adad IV eventually taking the throne around 1055BC. During this time the Babylonians enjoyed a period of relative peace for about twenty years until the reign of Adad-apla-iddina. The disputes in Assyria suited the kings in Babylon and they seem to have assisted some of the usurpers who fought for the throne. However, the Aramean tribesmen now began to attack Babylonia as well as Assyria. Both Assyria and Babylonia had dynastic struggles and internal strife and some usurpers may have tried to enlist the help of the invaders.

The next twenty years would see the sources from the Babylonian kingdom go dark, with even some of the names of the kings being unknown. In Assyria, Ashurnasirpal I and Shalmaneser II reigned during this time and managed to hold off the Aramean incursions, barely. After Shalmaneser II there was further struggles over the succession with Ashur-Rabi II eventually taking the throne near the end of the 1000’s BC. During this time the Aramean invaders had managed to establish permanent settlements on the eastern side of the Euphrates River, eroding Assyrian control in the region.

The rulers of Babylonia were not so fortunate. Their kingdom was overrun and the 2nd Dynasty of Isin came to an end around 1020BC, with the southern part of their kingdom being taken by a new dynasty referred to as the second Sealand Dynasty. This dynasty was unstable, with the first king being recorded as dying by the sword and the entire dynasty only lasting slightly over two decades.

The warrior, resident of the Sealand, Simbar-šihu, son of Eriba-Sin, soldier of the dynasty of Damiq-ilišu, was slain with the sword. He ruled for seventeen years. He was buried in the palace of Sargon. Ea-mukin-zeri, the usurper, son of Hašmar, ruled for three months. He was buried in the swamp of Bit-Hašmar. Kaššu-nadin-ahhe, son of Sappaya, ruled for three years. In the palace of [...] he was buried. Three kings of the dynasty of the Sealand ruled for twenty-three years.
Dynastic Chronicle, describing the second Sealand Dynasty

A new dynasty arose in Babylonia around this time, known as the Bit-Bazi Dynasty (meaning the House of Bazi, being an Akkadian version of a Kassite clan name). Around the year 1000BC, Elam had virtually disappeared from history with no records at this time, although it is probable that there were kings of Elam at this time. Unfortunately Elamite inscriptions are few and the language is not well understood in comparison to Akkadian. Nearly all the records of their kings are known from their enemies who were themselves in decline at this time. Assyria and Babylon were reeling from invasions of Aramean tribes and internal dynastic struggles. While their civilisations had not collapsed like the Hittites the events of the Bronze Age Collapse had affected them. The breakdown of the empires of the west meant that the Aramean tribes could roam freely whereas previously the Hittites and Egyptians would have fought them. The cascading effect of tribal migrations devastated Mesopotamia.

In Mesopotamia the Assyrians and Babylonians had been locked in a seesaw struggle for supremacy since the late Bronze Age with the Assyrians gradually gaining the upper hand. This would set the stage for centuries of conflict between Asshur and Babylon that would continue until 612BC. During this period, chariots were gradually becoming less important on the battlefield and the use of iron became increasingly widespread, although bronze-working continued to be important.

Sarcophagus of Ahiram from Byblos
The most important development however, was the relative independence of Syro-Palestine during this period. This was an area that had previously been dominated by large empires but was now relatively free of outside influence. Egypt did not march northwards in strength past Sinai since Ramesses III and apart from Tiglath-Pileser I it seems no Assyrian king pushed as far as the Mediterranean in Syria. Tribal migrations swept through the region but nevertheless new city-states and kingdoms arose in the region. The Phoenician cities were able to thrive as were the coastal Philistine cities such as Gaza and Ashdod. It is probably at this point that the Israelite kingdom/kingdoms were established, as well as kingdoms such as Moab, Ammon and the Aramean kingdom of Damascus. However, while we know that there was a great deal of activity in the region, particularly along the coasts, it is hard to speak about it in great detail based on the written archaeological evidence.

Detail from the sarcophagus of Ahiram
Part of the reason for this is that the empires such as Egypt and Assyria did not leave good records at this time. Their scope was limited by their internal weakness so their records of events beyond their borders are poor. But the more interesting reason for our lack of knowledge stems from a new technology. At this time cuneiform was beginning to be replaced in Syro-Palestine by an alphabetic script (that probably had its origins in Egypt but which was systematised by the Phoenicians for use in Western Semitic languages). This script did not require clay tablets and could instead be written on papyrus, animal skins or linen paper, neither of which would survive for long in the climate of the region but which greatly simplified the creation and storage of records and literature. We have a few fragments of the writing from Phoenician inscriptions and pottery shards known as ostraca but most of the records of this period have simply been destroyed by time. It was an unfortunate case where an advancement of technology actually made the era a dark age for the historian.

A coffin made it [It]tobaal, son of Ahirom, king of Byblos, for Ahirom, his father, lo, thus he put him in seclusion. Now, if a king among kings and a governor among governors and a commander of an army should come up against Byblos; and when he then uncovers this coffin – (then:) may strip off the sceptre of his judiciary, may be overturned the throne of his kingdom, and peace and quiet may flee from Byblos.
An inscription from the Ahiram Sarcophagus of Ahiram, ruler of Byblos, c. 1000BC. It is the oldest known alphabetic writing in Phoenician.

The Early Iron Age and the Death of Kings: Part I

This blog post is about the aftermath of the Bronze Age Collapse. I have written fairly extensively about the Late Bronze Age in the Middle East, with articles on the period as a whole, on the Mitanni and the Pharaoh Akhenaten in particular. At some point I may write some dedicated articles on Hittite history, the Kassites, the Battle of Kadesh and other interesting topics, as there is a wealth of material on this period. But in case the reader is tired of hearing of the Late Bronze Age I’m going to try to advance the narrative in the meantime and move on to the early Iron Age, in my very slow, very haphazard, piecemeal history of the world. I will not give absolute dates, as dating in this era is not entirely agreed upon and many of the kings mentioned have multiple names. I will use the most common English names for the kings and/or call out where my usage differs.

Many of the quotations given here are taken from the very interesting site which can be found here. A lot of enjoyable reads have been posted on this site.

In the Bronze Age Collapse, the civilisations collapsed at a different rate and to a different extent. The collapse was the worst in the west, with Mycenaean Greece falling utterly. Its settlements were abandoned and its writing system forgotten. The Hittites were destroyed but a small remnant survived in Syria. Egypt, Assyria and Babylon survived but were weakened. Elam appears to have actually grown stronger. I will try to give the history of roughly 1200-1000BC, moving from west to east (in a geographically confused fashion).

A later Greek depiction of Heracles
Around 1200BC the Mycenaean cities and palaces were burned. Some time may have elapsed between the burnings but textual evidence is non-existent and carbon dating is unable to provide great precision. Eventually some of the citadels were reoccupied and may have even flourished briefly before the final abandonment. The relatively unimportant citadel of Athens appears to not have been destroyed. Possibly it was overlooked but it is more likely that they collaborated in the destruction. There is a legend that the sons of Heracles (Hercules) were expelled from the Peloponnese (where Mycenaean power was strongest) and stayed at Athens before returning generations later to attack the king of Mycenae.

If there is any truth to this legend it would suggest that the invaders may have been part of a civil war and that the inhabitants of Attica were on good terms with the invaders. However, this is to read a great deal into myth. Myth is fascinating but we do have to be cautious. There are so many (quite wonderful) Greek myths, that it is possible to make all sorts of theories and selectively use myth to create elaborate justifications for them.

Building from the Iron Age in Lefkandi
For whatever reason, Attica was spared the general destruction, as were the islands. There was a migration from the Peloponnese to the islands of Euboea and elsewhere in the Aegean. Greek speakers began to colonise the western coast of Asia Minor over the next few hundred years, ringing the Aegean with Greek speaking settlements. Many of these settlements spoke an Ionic dialect, which they shared with Attica but few places on the mainland. The Peloponnese spoke a Doric dialect of Greek with the notable exception of the highlands of Arcadia to the north. Again, people have made a great deal of this, treating the Ionic speakers as fugitives from the old Mycenaean kingdom and the Doric speakers as the descendants of the invaders but the situation is almost certainly more complicated. In history, things are always complicated.

Almost nothing of note would be created in Greece for the two hundred years under discussion. However, pottery styles changed from the Mycenaean styles to a variety of localised styles and iron weapons became widespread throughout the region. On the island of Euboea, a town now known as Lefkandi has some buildings dating from slightly after this period, with the main structure of the small settlement being a large ritual building with a major burial there. There were later burials in the vicinity and it is speculated that this was a “heroon”, meaning the tomb of a hero. Perhaps this was a community’s way of commemorating a great warrior leader who was reverenced by his community after his passing and whose remains were the focus of his community. The size of the structure compared to the settlement suggests that the towns of this time were quite isolated and were controlled by single rulers. Apart from this, there is not much that can really be said for Greece at this period. The fall had been total but the subsequent rise in centuries to come was to be dazzling.

And all of the cities of the land of Carchemish, Murmurik, Shipri, Mazuwati and Šurun – these fortified cities– I gave to my son (Piyassili).
Detail from the Suppililiuma-Shattiwazza treaty telling of the creation of the Hittite viceroy in Carchemish

Hittite relief from Carchemish
The Hittite collapse was vicious also but not quite as complete as in Mycenae. After Suppiluliuma I had captured Carchemish (a major city on the Euphrates in Syria) from the Mitanni, there had been a powerful viceroy set up in the city to rule as a deputy and representative of the royal house. The deputy was Piyassili, a son of the king Suppiluliuma and he was treated as a de facto minor king in his own right, with his descendants succeeding to his throne. When the last king of the Hittites (Suppiluliuma II) disappears from history, Talmi-Teshub was ruling in Carchemish. His son, Kuzi-Teshub, proclaimed himself as a Great King upon his succession. The main Hittite Empire was no more but many refugees must have fled to the southern cities and for a time the empire survived in a truncated form in Carchemish. Another important state, Milid, survived. Initially it was dependent on Carchemish but soon it, like other cities, became independent and became a flourishing centre in its own right. The site is known today as Arslantepe.

Hittite reliefs from Carchemish
How Hittite these kingdoms really were is subject to interpretation. The main Hittite dialect was almost extinct and nearly all the inscriptions are in Luwian, a related Indo-European language. The native inhabitants of the region spoke Semitic tongues, particularly Aramaic; the language of the new tribesmen that had moved into the region. Carchemish had no ability to hold an empire together so a group of states that are referred to as Neo-Hittite formed a loose confederation in the north of Syria. These survived and kept the Hittite legacy alive until they were crushed by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries.

Ramesses III had stemmed the worst of the assault on Egypt. The Sea Peoples had been defeated in the Battle of the Delta and even though Egyptian influence was now minimal in its old Syro-Palestinian empire, the Egyptians still controlled Sinai. However, despite Ramesses III’s claims to have saved Egypt and his magnificent temple building, unrest seems to have grown in the later years of his reign. There are records of food shortages, workers strikes and increases in the price of bread.

The stresses of this turbulent period may have fostered dissent. Possibly the dissent had nothing to do with external pressures and was simply the result of palace intrigue but for whatever reason, a conspiracy against the Pharaoh was hatched. Tiye, a wife of the Pharaoh, appears to have wanted her son Pentawer to inherit the throne. A host of accomplices who used black magic to subvert the guards’ defences attacked the king at night while he was in Thebes in Upper Egypt to celebrate the Heb Sed ritual. According to some documents the Pharaoh may have initially survived an attack by poison before expiring later. Modern analysis of the embalmed body of the Pharaoh tells a different story. Hidden under thick bandages, analysis showed that a deep cut had been made to the throat of the king; a cut that could not have been survived for more than minutes. Perhaps it was a mercy killing, perhaps a second conspiracy or perhaps our readings of the documents were simply wrong.

He arrived at the side of the harem, this other large, deep place. He began to make people of wax, inscribed, in order that they might be taken in by the inspector, Errem, [hindering] one troop and bewitching the others, that a few words might be taken in, and others brought out. Now, when he was examined concerning them, truth was found in every crime and in every evil (deed), which his heart had devised to do. There was truth therein, he had done them all, together with the other great criminals, the abomination of every god and every goddess all together. The great punishments of death were executed upon him, of which the gods have said: "Execute them upon him.
Lee Papyrus, describing the magic rituals used by the conspirators to assist in their assassination attempt

The mummy of Ramesses III
with heavy bandaging on the neck
 The conspirators were caught by the favoured heir, Ramesses IV, who allowed judges to examine and pass judgement upon the conspirators. The high ranked Prince Pentawer, who was to have become Pharaoh, was allowed to kill himself, allowing him to enter the afterlife in disgrace. The lower ranked conspirators were probably burned alive, thus denying them entry to the afterlife in any form; a terrible punishment designed to destroy in both this life and the next. The fate of Queen Tiye, the instigator of the conspiracy, is unknown.

Ramesses IV succeeded to the throne in 1155 and reigned over a diminishing kingdom. Ramesses IV was perhaps the last Pharaoh of this dynasty to have led expeditions into the Sinai Desert (Ramesses VI may have been to Megiddo but the evidence is unclear). Beyond the Sinai Egyptian power was minimal. Monuments were built on an epic scale but the priesthood of Amun (the god of Thebes who was given prominence during the New Kingdom, when many of the dynasties were based in Thebes) was becoming a force that would rival the monarchy. The priesthood controlled large tracts of land and had considerable incomes. When the monarchy was focused on the north, on Lower Egypt, then the priesthood could act autonomously in the south. During the reign of Ramesses V there were attacks by Libyan raiders and increasing fortifications were made for the temples of Thebes, showing that the state was becoming increasingly unstable. Ramesses V may have been overthrown by his brother, who reigned as Ramesses VI. Ramesses VII and Ramesses VIII are not well known but grain prices increased during their reigns.

Ramesses IV

These are the tombs and sepulchres in which the nobles, the […], the Theban women, and the people of the land rest, on the west of the city; it was found that the thieves had broken into them all, that they had pulled out their occupants from their coverings and coffins, they (the occupants) being thrown upon the ground; and that they had stolen their articles of house-furniture, which had been given them, together with the gold, the silver, and the ornaments which were in their coverings.
The Abbot Papyrus giving an investigation into the tomb robberies in the time of Ramesses IX

During the reign of Ramesses IX it was found that there had been a spate of tomb robberies in the Valley of the Kings, with many of even the royal tombs opened and plundered. The mayor of Thebes was implicated but not convicted. It was a sign that royal authority and the rule of law itself was becoming weak. The graves were supposedly protected by curses and spells and the desperation that would lead the thieves to risk disturbing the royal dead cannot have augured well for the dynasty.

Then the High Priest of Amun, Menkheperre, triumphant, went to the great god, saying: "As for any person, of whom they shall report before thee, saying, `A slayer of living people … (is he); thou shalt destroy him, thou shalt slay him." Then the great god nodded exceedingly, exceedingly.
The Banishment Stele, telling of the High Priest of Thebes punishing rebels who had attacked the temple. In ancient Egypt statues were sometimes moved by priests to show the god assenting to the verdict.

The threat of Libyan raiders was still present during the reign of Ramesses X, with workers on the royal tombs neglecting their work for fear of attack. During the reign of Ramesses XI, the last king of the Twentieth Dynasty, the effective power seems to have been in the hands of Piankh, the High Priest of Amun. The Pharaoh died leaving no successor and was buried by Smendes, who claimed the title of Pharaoh. Smendes only really ruled Lower Egypt, with his capital being based at Tanis. However, the Pharaoh made no attempt to try and wrest back control of Upper Egypt from the priests, probably recognising that his own power base was weak.

Magnificent death mask of Psusennes I
Smendes was succeeded by Amenenmisu, who is almost invisible to history before being succeeded by Psusennes I. Psusennes reigned for over thirty years and married the daughter of the High Priest of Thebes, uniting the two ruling families of Egypt. His burial goods have been discovered and are truly spectacular despite the weak state of Egypt at the time. It has been discovered how the Pharaohs of the Twenty-First Dynasty were able to bury themselves in such splendour. Previously the robbery of tombs had been done by corrupt officials and desperate guards and workmen; now it was being carried out by kings; papering over the poverty of their state by stealing from those who had reigned before them.

This blog post is rather long so I will split the narrative here and speak of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Elamite civilisations in a following post.