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.