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.