Thursday, 29 June 2017

750-725BC in the Near East

Urartian statue
This blog post will look at the Near East from 750-725BC. Because so much is happening and each region affects the regions around it, I will try and tell a chronological story as best as I can. The source material for this period includes Greek legends, Assyrian records, later Hebrew sacred writings and contemporary Hebrew inscriptions and artefacts, Egyptian and Nubian records and occasional inscriptions from Urartu and other smaller kingdoms.

When we left off from the last blog post about the Near East, Urartu was ascendant, Kush was threatening a weakened Egypt, the smaller kingdoms in the Levant were thriving and Assyria and Babylonia were weak.

In 750 BC Urartu was at the peak of its strength, under the rule of Sarduri II, with heavily developed irrigation systems and fertile lands. The Urartian military led frequent and successful campaigns against their neighbours, taking captives, either for slaves or conscripts for their armies depending on the situation. With their strong network of well-supplied fortresses, large stocks of war horses and military predominance among their neightbours there was little reason to fear that their hegemony was about to end.

Further to the west, in Anatolia, the small kingdom of Lydia was ruled by Alyattes I, of whom we know little save the name. He was succeeded by Meles, who was succeeded by Candaules (also referred to as Myrsilus and Sadyattes), who is one of the few people to have the odd distinction of having a type of voyeurism named after him. But that is a story for the next blog post and will be dealt with there. All that can be said of Lydia at this time is that it exists and was probably subject to Phrygia. Speaking of the Phrygians, if the identification of the later Mita with Midas is correct than this would place the mythical figure of Gordias at this time.

The legend of Gordias states that the Phrygians were ordered by an oracle to crown as their new king the one who would arrive in their city in an oxcart. Gordias, who had been sent with his wife and son by supernatural guidance to the city unsuspectingly fulfilled the prophecy. Upon being hailed as king (or his son as king), he sacrificed the oxen and left the cart as a memorial in the temple, tying the cart to the temple with an elaborate knot. There was then a prophecy that whoever could undo the knot would rule all Asia. Many tried; all failed, until Alexander the Great arrived in the city many centuries later. Slashing the knot with the sword he was held to have fulfilled the prophecy.

Ruins of Gordion in Phrygia
The Phrygians interpreted the oracle to mean that this was the man whom the gods had told them would come in a wagon; so they made Midas king, and he brought an end to the civil strife, and he placed his father’s wagon on the acropolis as an offering to Zeus the King for sending the eagle.
In addition to this, there was a story about the wagon, that whoever undid the knot of the yoke of the wagon was destined to rule Asia.

Arrian: Anabasis of Alexander 2:3

This is actually one of my favourite legends but it should be noted that Gordias is entirely legendary at this point, that if he existed he probably existed much earlier and also that the entire legend is probably late and either exaggerated or outright invented by the many biographers of Alexander. But it is a good story. Either way, Phrygia existed as a powerful kingdom in Anatolia at this time period, even if they had no wagons laden with omens of destiny.

I appointed Marduk-šarra-usur to the governorship of …
One of the very few fragmentary inscriptions of Ashur-Nirari V, of whom we know so little

In Assyria, in the year 750, Ashur-Nirari V reigned. There are few records of his rule, however there are fascinating documents that are known as limmu lists. Limmu roughly corresponded to the Greek Eponym or Roman consular years, in that the Assyrians would appoint an official to take charge of the New Year ceremonies in the capital. This person’s name would then be used to describe the name of the year in Assyrian documents (although the king’s reign would also be used for chronologIn y). The limmu lists give the names of these individuals and tiny scraps of information of what the king and army were doing for that year. We can see that for the year 752 Shamshi-ilu the general was the limmu. Presuming that this was the same Shamshi-ilu who had been so influential under Adad-Nirari III this means that Shamshi-ilu must have been very old at this point (likely to have been at least 80 years old). A general who was this long-lived and powerful would have left a major power vacuum in Assyrian politics when he died and he is likely to have died shortly after this date. However, it may simply have been another official with the same name.

752: Shamshi-ilu, commander, in the land.

750: Bel-dan, chief butler, in the land.

747: Sin-shallimanni, of Rasappa, in the land.

Limmu lists showing the names of the officials who named the year, their place of command and where the army was at that time

The Limmu lists show that rather than going on campaign for the years 750 and 747 the king (and probably the army) stayed in the land and accomplished nothing. It was customary for there to be a campaign or large building project every year so this may infer weakness in the Assyrian military.

Temple at Jebel Barkal near Napata, Piye's capital
In Egypt the fractured and divided Libyan dynasties of the delta and Thebes were faced with the powerful Kushite kingdom from the south. The Kushites were led by Kashta (this may well not have been his actual name, as it seems to just mean “Kushite”). Around 747 Kashta was succeeded by his son Piye (referred to as Piankhi in older scholarly works) who continued the conquest, encroaching further north up the river Nile and cementing the hold on Thebes. Thebes was the sacred city of Amun, and the temple establishment was powerful enough to be a political force in Egypt. Piye appear to have made additions to a temple in Kush to honour Amun, at the sanctuary of Jebel Barkal. Whether this was done to weaken the temple of Thebes or as an act of devotion cannot be known. As often happened in the ancient world it might simply be that devotion and desire for personal power were identical and without contradiction.

In 747 we see Nabonassar coming to the throne of Babylon. Nabonassar is best known for the calendrical reforms that took place during his reign. Thus we can say with some confidence (or as much confidence as one can have with history) that the date of Nabonassar’s reign began in 747, on what would be for us February 26, at noon, which is a level of precision that is extremely unusual for this period of history, where chronology is so disordered.

From the reign of Nabonassar only are the Chaldeans (from whom the Greek mathematicians copy) accurately acquainted with the heavenly motions: for Nabonassar collected all the mementos of the kings prior to himself, and destroyed them, that the enumeration of the Chaldean kings might commence with him.
Fragment of Berossus Caldaeus —Syncel. Chron. 207.

In the year 746 the Limmu lists of Assyria record that there was a revolt at Calah. This revolt was almost certainly the work of Pul. Pul, or Pulu as he was known, was a commander of the Assyrian army and had had enough of the reign of Ashur-Nirari V. If Shamshi-ilu died around 750, Marduk-sharra-usur may have replaced him as Turtanu (chief general) and this may have triggered a coup by those unhappy with the replacement. All of this is speculation but we do know that in 746 there was a rebellion and that it seems to have been successful.

746: Nergal-nasir, of Nisibin, revolt in Kalah.
Limmu list

Tiglath-Pileser III
In 745 Pulu had dethroned Ashur-nirari V and had declared himself king of Assyria, taking the throne name Tiglath-Pileser III. He kept his old name though for matters pertaining to Babylon. He claimed to be a son of Adad-Nirari III, a rather unlikely, though theoretically possible claim, and seems to have erased the records for the three kings who had preceded him, to maximise his own legitimacy.

At the beginning of my reign, in my first palû, in the fifth month after I sat in greatness on the throne of kingship, the god Aššur, my lord, encouraged me and I marched against the Aramean tribes
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

The new king faced challenges on every front and quickly went into action. His first year saw him fight the Aramean tribes that had been at the south-western edges of Assyria for centuries, thus securing his border against these foes, as well as pushing southwards into the troubled region of Babylonia on his southern border and annexing the regions adjoining Assyria. To repopulate certain regions and to punish rebellious subjects, Tiglath-Pileser III immediately began the policy of deportations, where thousands of conquered subjects were forcibly removed from their homelands and moved hundreds of kilometres away to new regions where they would be less likely to rebel. While he had attacked Babylonian territory and taken away statues of some of the gods, Nabonassar of Babylon seems to have acquiesced in this. Tiglath-Pileser never attacked Nabonassar and his attacks were directed against the tribes and clans of Arameans and Chaldeans who had taken control of the Babylonian hinterlands. The crushing of these clans actually seems to have strengthened Nabonassar in Babylon, who in turn remained at peace with Assyria.

The third year of Nabonassar king of Babylon: Tiglath-Pileser ascended the throne in Assyria. In that same year the king of Assyria went down to Akkad, plundered Rabbilu and Hamranu and abducted the gods of Šapazza.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

In 744 Tiglath-Pileser III moved to strengthen his eastern borders and led an expedition into the Iranian mountains. Here he fought against the kingdom of Namri, burning and destroying and annexing wherever he went.

In my second palû, I marched to the lands of Namri … I cut them down with the sword and carried off their booty. I placed a eunuch of mine as provincial governor over the land Parsua…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Helmet from the period of Sarduri II
In 743, with his southern, western and eastern borders secured the Assyrian monarch then turned to his main rival, Sarduri II of Urartu. Sarduri was confident enough in his strength that he had styled himself as King of the Universe, and his father had raided within 30 miles of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. A showdown between the two kings was inevitable. Strengthened by promises of aid from Urartu, the kingdom of Melid (near present day Malatya in Turkey) made an alliance with a number of other kings and awaited the Assyrian assault. The Assyrians circled around the mountains to the west in a forced march and attacked the Urartian force that had crossed the bridge over the Euphrates. The Urartians were heavily defeated and Tiglath-Pileser boasts of capturing the royal emblems of Sarduri, who had had to flee ignominiously across the bridge to safety. The balance of power had shifted back to Assyria. Tiglath-Pileser III followed up his crushing victory by wheeling to the south and attacking the strong fortress city of Arpad. The siege would last around three years, with the city finally falling in 740, during which time Tiglath-Pileser III had consolidated his empire and began to seek tribute submissions from the kings further south. The fall of Arpad would be a brutal warning to the other kings of the region of the fate that awaited those who resisted.

I marched for a distance of seven leagues, day and night, and I did not allow the troops of Assyria to rest, did not give them water to drink, and did not pitch camp nor bivouac my soldiers allowing them to recover from their weariness. I fought with them, defeated them, and took their camps away from them.
They fled to save their lives and Sarduri of the land Urarṭu rode off alone on a mare and escaped during the night. … who like a crawling creature … crawled away and vanished. He returned to his land.

Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Drawing of an Assyrian weight
In Israel, a bloody series of coups had seen Jehu’s descendants wiped out and his dynasty ended. Menahem had become king, after annihilating the city of Tiphsah that had refused to open its gates to him after he had killed the previous pretender to the throne. The dates are a little confused for the Israelite kings (mainly because they have a tendency to count their regencies oddly and also because of the high number of coups). Notwithstanding this confusion, Menahem appears to have been king when Tiglath-Pileser became interested in the region. Israel had enjoyed might and prosperity under the reign of Jeroboam II and had controlled a lot of the trade of the region, amassing large quantities of silver bullion through trade, as the kingdom had no silver mines.

Then Menahem son of Gadi went from Tirzah up to Samaria. He attacked Shallum son of Jabesh in Samaria, assassinated him and succeeded him as king. The other events of Shallum’s reign, and the conspiracy he led, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tiphsah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.
2 Kings 15:14-16

In 739 Tiglath-Pileser III moved into the Levant, attacking and conquering cities and annexing large sections of the kingdom of Hamath. The kings of the region were forced to pay tribute, with the book of Kings recording that Menahem of Israel was forced to pay around 34 metric tons of silver as tribute. Judah did not as yet pay tribute but was probably forced to contribute by the Israelite kingdom. Menahem was insecure in his kingdom and may have used this tribute to gain a promise of Assyrian support for his rule, although he died shortly after this and was succeeded by his son Pekahiah. Tiglath-Pileser stayed in the region for another year to conquer Kullani (Calneh) along the Euphrates River, while his generals attacked Urartu. The generals brought the spoils of Urartu straight to the king rather than the capital, suggesting that large amounts of treasure were needed to pay the army, which at this point was well over one hundred thousand strong.

Then Pul (Tiglath-Pileser III) king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom. Menahem exacted this money from Israel. Every wealthy person had to contribute fifty shekels of silver to be given to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.
2 Kings 15:19-20

Assyrian relief showing cavalry battle
In 737 and 736 the Assyrians moved away from the Levant and threw their armies against the Medes, who at this point were in north-western Iran. The campaign was successful, forcing the Mannean kingdom (an Iranian kingdom to the east of Urartu) to submit to the Assyrians, depriving the Urartians of allies to both the east and west. This submission was followed up by a campaign striking against Urartu itself, with Sarduri II fleeing to the safety of the fortress of Van and Tiglath-Pileser marching unopposed through the land. It seems that around the time and possibly because of the invasion, that Sarduri II either died or was deposed and Rusa I became king of Urartu in his stead.

Iranzu of the land Mannea heard about the glorious valour of the god Aššur, my lord, and all that I had accomplished again and again throughout all of the mountain regions, and the terrifying radiance of the god Aššur, my lord, overwhelmed him. … He came before me and kissed my feet.
Sarduri, I confined to the city Ṭurušpâ, his city, and inflicted a great defeat upon him before his city gates. I erected my royal image in front of the city Ṭurušpâ.

Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III

The kingdoms of Syro-Palestine had been shocked by the speed and power of the revived Assyrian armies and were unsure how to deal with the new balance of power. As Menahem and his son Pekahiah had proved so incapable of responding to the threat it seems that a rebellion took place, with Pekah setting himself up as king and presumably having a civil war take place. As part of this conflict it seems that Pekah began to raid Judah and may have set himself up as a rebel against Assyrian power in the region. Pekahiah was assassinated by Pekah, who became sole king and probably sought alliances with the other kingdoms in the region to resist the Assyrians on their return.

One of his chief officers, Pekah son of Remaliah, conspired against him. Taking fifty men of Gilead with him, he assassinated Pekahiah, along with Argob and Arieh, in the citadel of the royal palace at Samaria. So Pekah killed Pekahiah and succeeded him as king.
2 Kings 15:25

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah now had parties that either favoured following Assyria, seeking help from Egypt or maintaining independence. The problem was that there was no clear counterpart to Assyria, with the Egyptian kings divided against each other and now under the suzerainty of the Kushite Pharaoh to the south. In 735 (possibly, the dates are very unclear) Ahaz was appointed co-regent with Jotham of Judah. Ahaz followed the pro-Assyrian faction and may have been appointed as a method of appeasing that party. Shortly afterwards Jotham died and Ahaz became sole king.

Ephraim (Israel) has been like a dove, easily deceived and lacking discernment. They called to Egypt for help; they turned to Assyria for protection.
Hosea 7:11

A later cuneiform tablet showing astronomical calculations
In 734 Nabonassar died after a reign of around thirteen years having accomplished little of note, apart from his keeping his subjects safe and prosperous, passing on the kingdom peacefully to his son and having been a patron of the arts and sciences. I suppose there are worse epitaphs for a king. A peaceful transition of power in Babylon had not been had for sixty years so the work of Nabonassar was actually quite impressive. He was succeeded by his son Nabu-nadin-zeri, who leaves few records.

The fourteenth year Nabonassar fell ill and went to his destiny in his palace. For fourteen years Nabonassar ruled Babylon. Nabu-nadin-zeri, his son, ascended the throne in Babylon.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

In 734 Tiglath-Pileser III moved against the coastal cities of Philistia, pushing down towards the borders of Egypt. This did not directly threaten Jerusalem but it meant that the main army was only around 50 kilometres away. It is extremely likely that Ahaz made some form of submission to Assyria at this point but without sending large tribute. In 733, Tiglath-Pileser returned northwards to begin to attack the Arameans of Damascus and the Arabs who lived in the region. The campaign against the Arabs was tough, with their queen Samsi offering spirited resistance before suing for peace.

I set the rest of Samsi’s possessions and her tents on fire.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

This attack on the kingdom of Damascus led to an alliance between Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus. The two kings probably wanted to have Judah as part of the alliance, however Ahaz was pro-Assyrian. To force his hand and possibly trigger a coup, the two kings of Samaria and Damascus moved against Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz was quite weak in comparison to the two kings and the soldiers of Jerusalem stayed within the fortifications while their enemies besieged them. Despite pleas and prophecies from the court prophet Isaiah, who begged Ahaz to remain neutral, Ahaz sent a large tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III and proclaimed his submission to the Assyrian ruler, making Judah an Assyrian vassal state and bringing them under Assyrian protection.

Then Rezin king of Damascus and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. … Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Damascus and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”
2 Kings 16:5,7

This episode shows the desperation of all involved. It was almost suicidal for Rezin to move his armies away from Damascus while the Assyrians were nearby. They cannot have dared to risk a battle and could not have forced Jerusalem to surrender without a siege. It is hard to know what Pekah and Rezin were thinking when they made this decision to remove their armies south to try force Judah to join them. But they may have had no other options. The Biblical writers of Kings excoriate Ahaz for this decision, implying that this brought down the Assyrians to the region. In fairness to Ahaz, the Assyrians were already in the region and submission was quite a sensible policy. However, if he had waited, as Isaiah counselled, Damascus would have been attacked anyway and Rezin and Pekah would have had to retreat. Ahaz could then have submitted from a much stronger position. The messy events of this attempt to form an anti-Assyrian coalition benefited no one except the Assyrians. It is probable that similar events took place in different regions when the Assyrians attacked. In any event, Tiglath-Pileser accepted the tribute and moved against Damascus in late 733.

Assyrian troops assaulting a city (probably in Iran)
Note the siege ram and impaled prisoners
With the blood of his warriors I dyed the river… a raging torrent, red like a flower… I broke their weapons, captured their horses, his warriors, archers, shield bearers and lancers, dispersing their battle array. In order to save his life, Rahianu (Rezin) fled alone and entered the gate of his city… I impaled his foremost men alive while making the people of his land watch.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

The attack on Damascus was vicious. Damascus had been an enemy of Assyria for over a century and they were one of the last remaining major kingdoms of the hated Arameans, who had been enemies of Assyria for the previous five centuries. The last Assyrian attack on Damascus had been around seventy years previous but this time the Assyrians would not fail.

Like ruined cities washed over by the Deluge I destroyed 591 cities of 16 districts of the land of Damascus
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Damascus was assaulted for forty-five days. The armies of Samaria and Damascus had apparently been broken and Rezin only had his bodyguards to defend the city as they watched the Aramean nobles being impaled by the Assyrians in front of the city. Damascus fell in 732 and Rezin was executed. Tiglath-Pileser III remained in the region for some months to receive the homage of the kings and chieftains of the region and to destroy the majority of the cities of Israel, forcing deportations of much of the populace and army, and only sparing the capital Samaria. In Israel, Pekah was dethroned and murdered by his people for his failed attempt to stand against Assyria. Hoshea was appointed as king of Israel by the Assyrians and made submission, along with every king south of Damascus to the borders of Egypt.

Mitinti of Ashkelon neglected the oath of loyalty, sworn to the great gods, and revolted against me. He saw the defeat of Rahianu (Rezin), and became afraid…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

A king of Sam'al
Some off the kings who submitted seem to have done so willingly. A stela was set up by Barrakib, son of Panamuwa, king of Sam’al, recording how his father had “run at the chariot wheel of his lord, Tiglath-Pileser” and had fought and died at Damascus with the Assyrians. Sam’al had a history of submitting to the Assyrians. While other states tried to form coalitions against the Assyrians, the smaller states that were bullied into joining these coalitions would try to claim protection. For the rulers of Sam’al and Judah it was better to submit to a powerful ruler that was far away than to submit to a nearby enemy who had not the strength to protect them. Barrakib spoke of the monument set up for his father’s grave in Damascus and Ahaz copied altars from there to be used in Jerusalem. Neither the kingdom of Judah nor the kingdom of Sam’al were particularly important at the time but their surviving records are a good example of the smaller kingdoms currying favour with Assyria.

He ran at the wheel of his lord, Tiglath-pileser (III), king of Assyria, in campaigns from the east to the west and from the north to the south, over the four quarters of the earth. The population of the east he brought to the west; and the population of the west he brought to the east.
Inscription of Barrakib, king of Sam’al, commemorating his father Panamuwa who had submitted to Assyria

Assyrian soldiers, one archer, one shieldbearer
It is interesting that only the Assyrian record of Judah’s submission to Tiglath-Pileser III gives Ahaz’s true name (Jehoahaz, meaning “Jehovah has held”). The Biblical writers were so disgusted with his submission to Assyria that they dropped the name of the god from Jehoahaz’s name, leaving only Ahaz, by which he is known to posterity. In a reverse irony, the imperious conqueror of the Israelites is best known by an Israelite corruption of his name. Tiglath-Pileser’s real name was closer to Tukulti-apil-Esarra but, he is recorded as Tiglath-Pileser in the Bible. Thus he is renamed in death by the records of the peoples he had trampled underfoot in life.

…Sanīpu of the land Bīt-Ammon, Salāmānu of the land Moab, ...[... of ..., ... of ..., Mi]tinti of the land Ashkelon, Jehoahaz of the land Judah, Qauš-malaka of the land Edom,…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III giving a list of the kings who submitted to him. This is only a small section of the list.

The taking of Damascus had far reaching effects. Damascus survived as a city but would not again be the capital of a state until AD 661. Most importantly however, the Arameans had been deported to various parts of the empire and their language was now spoken in all corners of the empire, more so even than Assyrian. Tiglath-Pileser allowed Aramaic to be used as a language of administration and commerce within his borders, making it the lingua franca of the Middle East (this took about fifty years to happen however). When the Persians took over the region, they too used Aramaic and it would spread even further, affecting the development of the Kharosthi script in India and being the language spoken by the disciples of Jesus over seven hundred years after Tiglath-Pileser. The taking of Damascus may have also allowed items from the treasury of Hazael to be looted by the Greeks and be taken to various shrines in Greece, suggesting that Tiglath-Pileser may have had Greek mercenaries in his army. The Greeks were trading with (and occasionally raiding) the coastal region north of Lebanon, which they named “Syroi”; their way of saying “Assyrian”. The very name of the region bears the hallmarks of the Assyrian conquest of the region to this day in the name of the country; Syria.

Ruins of the city of Nimrud
In Babylon, in the year 732, Nabu-nadin-zeri was deposed by Nabu-suma-ukin, whose usurpation of the throne only lasted for one month and two days before he too was overthrown by Nabu-mukin-zeri. As there had been peace between Nabonassar and Assyria, the destruction of his short-lived dynasty was a matter of grave concern to Tiglath-Pileser III. A vicious war broke out in the chaos of Babylonia, with the Assyrians playing off the various factions against each other. There were a large number of Aramean tribesmen who still lived in Babylonia, a number of powerful Chaldean tribes in the south of the region that occasionally acted together but were not organised, there were the native Akkadians/Babylonians of the city and countryside who disliked the Chaldean and Aramean tribes and the sacred cities of the south, such as Uruk and Nippur, that had large temples and substantial treasuries that could support any of the factions. Nabu-mukin-zeri was a Chaldean and Tiglath-Pileser III withdrew his forces from the west to step into the competing maelstrom of Babylonian politics.

Nabû-šuma-ukin, a district officer and leader of the rebellion, ascended the throne. For one month and two days, Nabû-šuma-ukin ruled Babylon. Nabû-mukin-zeri, the Amukanite, removed him from the throne and seized the throne for himself.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

Ring from the graves of the Assyrian Queens
Tiglath-Pileser III may have been growing old at this point and it appears that he did not accompany his army on campaign to Babylon. However, his generals sent him reports of the war. The army reached the gates of Babylon. Standing in front of the Marduk gate, they ignored the representatives of the Chaldeans and instead spoke to the Babylonians who were with them, offering them amnesty and privileges if they surrendered the city. Nabu-mukin-zeri had fled to the south but the people of Babylon would not surrender the city. They apparently were afraid of the Chaldeans and distrustful of the two Assyrian commanders, Shamash-bunaya and Nabu-nammir. However, even if Babylon did not surrender it seems to have remained neutral in the war. The Assyrian commanders moved south, using improvised boats to navigate the rivers, canals and marshes of the southern Mesopotamian plain, while their armies were supplied by hundreds of boats that were sent down the Tigris and Euphrates from Assyria.

We spoke many words with them, but some 10 powerful men refuse to come out and speak with us; they keep sending messages to us. We told them: “Open the city-gate, so we can enter Babylon.” They refused, saying: "If we let you enter Babylon, what can I say to the king, when the king himself comes?" They will open the gate only when the king comes, and they do not believe that the king will come.
Letter from Shamash-bunaya and Nabu-nammir to Tiglath-Pileser III

Nabu-mukin-zeri had fled south to his stronghold of Saqia, which was surrounded and besieged in 731. The other Chaldean chieftains were bought off, threatened or destroyed. The powerful Chaldean tribe of Bit-Yakin made peace with the Assyrians. Their leader is known to history as Merodach-Baladan and he will be mentioned again. Outmanoeuvred and outnumbered, Nabu-mukin-zeri was defeated, Babylon surrendered and the king of Assyria came to the conquered city to be enthroned in the sacred city of Babylon.

The third year of Nabû-mukin-zeri: Tiglath-pileser, having come down to Akkad (Babylonia), ravaged Bit-Amukanu and captured Nabû-mukin-zeri. For three years Nabû-mukin-zeri ruled Babylon. Tiglath-pileser ascended the throne in Babylon.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

Assyrian King
The Babylonian and Assyrian religions were almost identical. The main difference between them was that Assur was the main god of the Assyrian religion, while Marduk was the main god of the Babylonian religion. But they were effectively the same god. In many ways it resembled Greco-Roman paganism, where the Greeks and the Romans acknowledged and worshipped the same basic pantheon, acknowledged the validity of each other’s gods, oracles and prophets and had considerable respect for the older of the two religions. Babylon was a city sacred to Marduk and the Assyrians respected its sacred status. Thus, when Tiglath-Pileser III was crowned in Babylon he took care to observe the proper ceremonies, including the great New Year Festival (known as the Akitu). This was a twelve day ceremony where the statue of the god Marduk would be taken out from the Esagila sanctuary and lodged in the Etemenanki ziggurat to recreate the Babylonian creation myth. During this period the king would approach and be stripped of his finery and ritually humiliated before the god before rising having been imbued with the power and legitimacy of the god. For Tiglath-Pileser III to have conquered his enemies in all directions and then to have undertaken this ceremony for two years in succession must have been seen as the crowning glory of the new Assyrian world order.

730: Bel-lu-dari, of Tille, in the land.
729: Liphur-ilu, of Habruri, the king took the hands of Bel.
728: Dur-Ashur, of Tushhan,to Hi[...]; the king took the hands of Bel.

Eponym List of Assyria showing Tiglath-Pileser III observing ceremonies in Babylon

While Tiglath-Pileser was solidifying his control over Babylonia, another conquest was taking place elsewhere in the world. Piye, king of Kush, to the south of Egypt, had exercised a loose control over the Egyptian and Libyan princes to the north of Egypt.  While Thebes was under the effective control of the Kushites, the Nile Delta region was controlled by a number of tiny kingdoms that were often no more than city-states. Around the year 728, if the sources are to be believed, the kings of the Nile Delta formed a coalition to resist the Kushites. They followed a ruler of the city of Sais called Tefnakht who brought together the warring kings to attack the city of Heracleopolis. The war that followed between these kings and Piye is documented in an extraordinary stela that has been preserved so we can follow the events in great detail.

Tefnakht has seized the whole west from the back-lands to Ithtowe, coming southward with a numerous army, while the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) are united behind him, and the princes and rulers of walled towns are as dogs at his heels.
Piye Stela

The city of Hermopolis was loyal to Tefnakht so the commanders of the Kushite army in Egypt were ordered to move north past the city of Thebes, observe the rituals of Amun to strengthen the army and then attack the city of Hermopolis while Piye gathered troops in his capital of Napata. A river battle was fought with ships on the Nile north of Hermopolis where the Kushite commanders were victorious. They pushed further north, leaving Hermopolis behind to fight the rebels near Heracleopolis. They faced six rulers and a host of smaller chieftains in battle. The Kushites crossed the river early in the morning and routed their foes who fled along the river to the north and south.

They sailed down-stream upon the river, they found many ships coming up-streams bearing soldiers, sailors, and commanders, every valiant man of the Northland, equipped with weapons of war, to fight against the army of his majesty.
Piye Stela

Ruins of a temple at Thebes
Hearing of the successful yet incomplete victory of his generals, Piye himself went north. Early in the year 727 Piye celebrated the Opet festival in Thebes before sailing north to join his army in attacking Oxyrhynchus where they had slain Tefnakht’s son and taken a number of fortresses. The king and his army then turned south again to finish the siege of Hermopolis, where the people were now beginning to starve. The mobility of the Kushite armies along the river is very impressive. Piye accepted the surrender of Hermopolis after receiving deputations from its queen and mourned for the suffering of the starving horses that he saw in the royal stables when he entered the conquered city. After the fall off Hermopolis, Heracleopolis re-affirmed its loyalty and sent more tribute. The gateway to Lower Egypt was now open.

He set up for himself the camp on the southwest of Hermopolis and besieged it daily. An embankment was made, to enclose the wall; a tower was raised to elevate the archers while shooting, and the slingers while slinging stones, and slaying people among them daily.
Piye Stela

Piye moved further north, receiving the surrender of forts and cities along his route. Those who surrendered were not killed however and it seems that Piye even captured another of the sons of Tefnakht and did not put him to death. The victorious march continued until the king had reached the city of Memphis, which was strengthened by Tefnakht with 8000 troops who marched in secretly during the night, however Tefnakht himself left the city on horseback, leaving the garrison to fend for itself while he organised resistance among the cities of the Delta. Memphis was surrounded by high walls and arms of the river encompassed it on the eastern side. Some of his generals advocated a long siege however Piye decided on the element of speed and surprise, commandeering all boats available, plus his own fleet, and rushing against the river walls. The city was taken by siege and put to the sword. By the second day the looting and killing had stopped and Piye had taken full control of the city.

Then he sent forth his fleet and his army to assault the harbor of Memphis; they brought to him every ferry-boat, every cargo-boat, every transport, and the ships, as many as there were, which had moored in the harbor of Memphis, with the bow-rope fastened among its houses.
Piye Stela

The bloody siege of Memphis and the incredible speed it had been taken left the northern princes, chiefs and little kings no choice but to surrender. Osorkon of Tanis, probably the second strongest of the kings of the Delta after Tefnakht, surrendered in Heliopolis and gave tribute. The other kings followed suit shortly in the city of Athribis. While Piye organised his armies, a city in the western delta, called Mesed rose up against the Kushites, but was crushed by the Kushite armies and the forces of Pediese, a Libyan king who had submitted to Piye. After this final defeat Tefnakht finally surrendered but refused to come to meet Piye and bow down before him. Tefnakht had fled, perhaps to Crete or Cyprus, and refused to risk his life or humble his pride. The last remaining chieftains submitted to Piye, where they were humiliated by not being allowed inside the palace due to their ritual uncleanliness. Instead they had to kiss the ground at the feet of Piye outside the palace and were left outside once the surrender was complete.

Drawing of the Piye Stela showing the surrender of the rebels
Then came those kings and princes of the Northland, all the chiefs who wore the feather (meaning Libyans rather than Egyptians), every vizier, all chiefs, and every king's confidant, from the west, from the east, and from the islands in the midst, to see the beauty of his majesty.
Piye Stela

Piye had the stela written glorifying his exploits in the style of the great Egyptian warrior kings of old, like Tuthmosis III or Ramesses II. He stressed his reliance on the Egyptian gods and his ritual purity, the innovative tactics he had used, the mercy he showed to those who surrendered and the retribution he gave to those who did not, although his methods of waging war were humane by the standards of the day and almost humanitarian compared to the Assyrian methods. But most of all he stressed that this was not merely a civil war, nor an invasion from the south but that he, a true Egyptian, was finally ridding Egypt of the sway of unclean Libyan foreigners. His account has sometimes been compared to a religious crusade although that is probably overstating matters. Piye’s capital however was in Napata, in present day Sudan, so after having set the Delta in order and reconfirmed the now loyal sub-kings, he returned to Napata with all the spoils of victory. The sub-kings would not rise again against the Kushites.

Then the ships were laden with silver, gold, copper, clothing, and everything of the Northland, every product of Syria, and all sweet woods of God's Land. His majesty sailed up-stream, with glad heart
Piye Stela

Earrings from the graves of Assyrian Queens
In 727, while Piye was subjugating the northern regions of Egypt, Tiglath-Pileser III died. His son, Shalmaneser V took control of the Assyrian empire and the records of Assyria grow silent. His first name was Ululayu but he changed his name to Sulmanu-asarid, which is rendered in Hebrew as Shalmaneser. His reign is not well documented but it is possible that he married one of his father’s wives to secure legitimacy to the throne. The evidence for this is conjectural but there was an intriguing discovery of a grave site in Nimrud. It had almost miraculously survived looting and contained the bodies of several queens and substantial treasure (preserved with a curse on those who would disturb the tomb). There are many fascinating things about the discovery, including the fact that one of the queens had been “cooked” possibly as a means of preserving the body until burial. But some have suggested that Yaba, the queen of Tiglath-Pileser, and Banitu, the queen of Shalmaneser V are in fact the same person. This is all very conjectural but it is wonderful to have discovered the tombs of some of the people from this time.

…the great gods of the netherworld, the destiny of a mortal life, took Yaba, the queen, into death and she went the way of her ancestors
Inscription from the tomb of Yaba, Tigath-Pileser’s queen

Item with name of Osorkon IV
When Tiglath-Pileser III died, Hoshea of Israel seems to have tried to rebel against Assyrian power. The book of Kings records that he negotiated with an Egyptian king called So. Some people have suggested that So is the Hebrew way of saying “Sais” and is a reference to Tefnakht, king of Sais but I think it is more likely that So is a shortened corruption for Osorkon IV, king of Tanis, who had recently submitted to Piye. It is possible that So refers to a general of Piye or another unknown king of the Delta region. Hoshea stopped paying tribute while sending envoys to the mysterious king So. His negotiations with Egypt were fruitless and Shalmaneser’s armies attacked, captured Hoshea (whose fate is unknown but unlikely to have been pleasant) and began a three year siege of Samaria, the capital of what remained of the state of Israel. The siege began in the year 725 where we shall leave the account of this time period. The next twenty-five years will be dealt with in a subsequent blog post.

Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years.
2 Kings 17:3-5

At the beginning of the twenty-five year period Urartu was in the ascendant, Assyria was in decline, Babylon was unstable, Egypt was only loosely controlled by the Kushites and the kingdoms of Syria and the Levant were thriving. At the end of the period, Urartu was in retreat, Assyria was triumphant, Babylon was conquered, Egypt was firmly controlled by the Kushites and the kingdoms of Syria and the Levant were tributary, under siege or destroyed.

Crown from the graves of Assyrian queens
The vast changes of these decades were due mainly to the ruthless character of Tiglath-Pileser III. He had reorganised the Assyrian army and administration and the empire is generally referred to as the Neo-Assyrian Empire after his time. Unlike the more ephemeral Mesopotamian dynasties, the Assyrians, who had already been strong for centuries, would remain the dominant force in the Middle East for over the next century. It is hard not to have some admiration for Tiglath-Pileser. While we don’t know much about the details of his battles, the respect and terror that he inspired in his foes is unmistakable. He was probably the finest general of his era and despite facing foe after foe, year after year, it is not recorded that he was ever defeated. His strategic insight into the weaknesses of his enemies was unparalleled and he could be treated as one of the great generals of all time. His successors would be more powerful still but all of them suffered defeats. But to his enemies this pitiless monarch was the epitome of evil and the Assyrian name would become a byword of hatred, so he should not be eulogised. Some have speculated that he was no worse than other conquerors of his day but the captives impaled by his armies to terrify cities under siege would not have appreciated the point. Having summarised the quarter century and given my synopsis of Tiglath-Pileser III I shall leave the post here.

I marched from the Great Sea of the Rising Sun to the cities Resi-suri and Byblos on the shore of the Great Sea of the Setting Sun and this I exercised authority over the four quarters of the world.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Greece from 750-700

Dipylon Inscription
This blog will be looking at the latter half of the 8th Century BC (or BCE if you prefer), from the year 750-700 for Greece and the greater Greek region. This post was originally intended to be about the greater Near East for this period but there was so much happening in Greece that I decided to make an entire blog post just about this.

Whoever of all these dancers now plays most delicately, to him this ...
Dipylon Inscription
(I am) Nestor’s cup, good to drink from.
Whoever drinks from this cup, him straightaway
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.
Nestor’s Cup

Nestor's Cup
The two texts quoted above are the oldest known Greek inscriptions, both dating from around 740. Both are texts painted onto pottery and it is possible that older inscriptions again will yet be found.  This is the beginning of one of the world’s greatest literary traditions and both inscriptions point to a culture where ritual social interactions involving drinking and dancing abound. One of the texts also hints at the great epics of Homer, which according to tradition, were composed around this time. While myth and history do not always correlate, it seems that the late 700’s is a plausible time for the Iliad and the Odyssey to be written. If they were not written at this time they were written shortly thereafter.

Rage-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
Hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
Great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
Feasts for the dogs and birds,
And the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
Iliad 1:1 Fagles

These poems were descriptions of an ancient war in an age of heroes, where the gods dealt more directly with men, who were themselves closer to gods. The first poem, the Iliad, speaks of an incident during a war across the sea, when the greatest of the Greeks quarrelled whilst besieging windswept Troy on the far side of the Aegean. The second poem, the Odyssey, speaks of the quest of one of victorious Greek warriors braving perils to return to his home across the wine-dark sea. The two books are the earliest truly European literature and can still stand among the finest works of art ever produced by European civilisation.

Later depiction of Homer
It is not entirely clear if Homer actually wrote both poems and because so much of his life is legendary, he may not in fact have existed. However, both poems could conceivably have been written by one artist, and, as we shall never have full clarity, Homer is as good a name as any. While the current form of the texts was likely finalised around this time, the poems show clear features of having been recited in various forms by bards and singers. Homer, if he existed, was a skilful weaver of the multiple strands of song into completed epics, rather than a creator of tales himself. One of the characters of his stories may in fact be referenced on one of the earliest inscriptions (Nestor) so it is safe to assume that the broader tales were well known around the Greek speaking world.

Once they'd put aside desire for food and drink, old Nestor the noble charioteer began, at last: "Now's the time, now they've enjoyed their meal, to probe our guests and find out who they are. Strangers — friends, who are you? Where did you sail from, over the running sea-lanes? Out on a trading spree or roving the waves like pirates, sea-wolves raiding at will, who risk their lives to plunder other men?"
Odyssey: Book 3


Despite being so vital for European cultural history, they may not in fact have even been written in Europe. The language of the poems is a mixture of Aeolic and Ionic (two dialects of Greek), suggesting that the poems may have been written in present day Turkey, or on the islands in the Aegean rather than the mainland. This underpins the fact that the Greeks cities were becoming crowded and that, seeking a better life, or more land, or to trade, to engage in piracy, for simple love of adventure or all of the above reasons, Greeks were leaving mainland Greece and colonising the adjacent lands. The western coast of Asia Minor was full of Greek cities by this point and around the year 733, a group of Corinthian settlers founded the city of Syracuse in Sicily, which would go on to become of pivotal importance in later centuries (and still a major city today).

Later vase depiction of a scene from the Trojan War
There was a major war in Greece during this time that may have sparked a renewed interests in the wars of antiquity. This was the First Messenian War between Sparta and Messene. Sparta had supposedly undergone military and social reforms under Lycurgus in the previous century but it did not seem to have fully transformed the Spartan state. The Messenians were a powerful state to the west of the Peloponnese who had close relations with the Eleans (who organised the Olympic Games). Many of the early Olympic winners were from Messene.

…the mutual hatred of the Lacedaemonians and Messenians was aroused, and the Lacedaemonians began war, obtaining a pretext which was not only sufficient for them, eager for a quarrel as they were and resolved on war at all costs,
Pausanias: Description of Greece 4.4.4

The Messenians were Achaean Greeks (named for their dialect) while the Spartans were Dorian Greeks, who saw themselves as conquerors of the earlier Achaeans. There were tensions between the two states and sometime around 740 the two states went to war. Both sides would only have been able to field around 5000 soldiers (usually a lot less than that) and both sides would struggle to field armies throughout the year as neither side was fully militarised. Hoplite warfare had not developed fully so the armies would have fought in irregular infantry formations but many elements of the later Greek warfare were already present. Some sources suggest that the Spartans may have developed the beginnings of the phalanx in this war but these sources are later and there is no evidence that this was actually the case.

When the leaders on either side gave the signal, the Messenians charged the Lacedaemonians recklessly like men eager for death in their wrath, each one of them eager to be the first to join battle. The Lacedaemonians also advanced to meet them eagerly, but were careful not to break their ranks.
Pausanias: Description of Greece 4.8.1

The war stretched on for nearly two decades of irregular warfare, with Sparta gaining the upper hand. Both sides appealed to the Oracle of Delphi and both sides were granted relatively ambiguous advice but neither side was fully promised victory. The Messenians fortified Mt Ithome in their territory and when this finally fell to the Spartans around 720 it marked the end of the Messenian state.

Mt Ithome: Fortified by the Messenians at the end of the war
Even then the Messenians were not inferior in courage and brave deeds, but all their generals were killed and their most notable men. After this they held out for some five months, but as the year was coming to an end deserted Ithome, the war having lasted twenty years in all, as is stated in the poems of Tyrtaeus: But in the twentieth year they left their rich tilled lands, and fled from out the lofty mountains of Ithome.
Pausanias: Description of Greece 4.13.6

This was a very unusual war for the Greeks. The Spartans had spent decades fighting the war and never wanted to repeat it. So, after the war, they enslaved and permanently conquered the city of Messene, destroying the city and reducing the population to a perpetual underclass of slaves, who were known as helots. This was the true beginning of Sparta as we know it. The warrior class was maintained by the grudging labour of the helots. In turn, because the memory of Messenia never faded, the helots were always a danger to the state. A slave rebellion was always imminent so the Spartan warrior class had to remain ever vigilant. This paranoid military arrangement forced the Spartan state to maintain a permanent warrior class and the fact that their city actually had the land of two large city-states at their disposal meant that the Spartans were the most powerful of the city states. However, because of their continual need to prevent rebellion at home, the Spartans used this power lightly, never sending their armies on campaign for long periods.

Greek pottery from the period
The Messenians themselves were treated in this way: First they exacted an oath that they would never rebel or attempt any kind of revolution. Secondly, though no fixed tribute was imposed on them, they used to bring the half of all the produce of their fields to Sparta. It was also ordained that for the funerals of the kings and other magistrates men should come from Messene with their wives in black garments, and a penalty was laid on those who disobeyed.
As to the wanton punishments which they inflicted on the Messenians, this is what is said in Tyrtaeus' poems:–
Like asses worn by their great burdens, bringing of dire necessity to their masters the half of all the fruits the corn-land bears.
Pausanias: Description of Greece 4.14.4-5

On a rather different note, with the Spartan army on campaign for long periods during the war, a number of illegitimate children were supposedly born to the Spartan women and were viewed as being outside of society. These fatherless men were sent to colonise southern Italy and founded the colony of Taras around 710. This city, afterwards known as Tarentum/Tarento would become famous in its own right in years to come.

Not many bows will be drawn,
nor will slingshots be common,
whenever battle will be joined in the plain;
instead the much-sighing work will belong to the swords,
for the warlike lords of Euboea are experienced in that manner of war.
Archilochus

Greek pottery from the period
The Messenian War was long and decisive but another war was beginning at this time. The Lelantine War was fought between Chalcis and Eretria. Both of these cities were wealthy cities on the long island of Euboea. They were barely twenty kilometres apart but these two cities, which had previously been allies, as well as some of the wealthiest cities in Greece, went to war over the plain between their cities. The war is supposed to have had gentleman’s agreements over the forbidding of cavalry and archers, to have involved cities from all over the Greek world and to have lasted for sixty years. It is strange to imagine that in this archaic period that Greece could have sustained conflict for over six decades in such a tiny field of battle. The truth may have been that that there were intermittent conflicts (that evolved into almost ritualised infantry encounters) that periodically flared up between the two states. As the states traded extensively, foreign cities would choose a side and occasionally send small contingents. As the war drags on into the next century we will discuss it in depth there but it certainly starts in the 8th Century.

Muses of Pieria who give glory through song, come hither, tell of Zeus your father and chant his praise. Through him mortal men are famed or un-famed, sung or unsung alike, as great Zeus wills. For easily he makes strong, and easily he brings the strong man low; easily he humbles the proud and raises the obscure, and easily he straightens the crooked and blasts the proud,--Zeus who thunders aloft and has his dwelling most high.
Beginning of Works and Days by Hesiod

Mt Helikon, where Hesiod was inspired by the Muses
Around the late 700’s a Greek poet by the name of Hesiod began to write. His genuine poems that come down to us are Theogony and Works and Days. Theogony is a short description of the nature of the gods of Greece and provides a rough version of a Greek creation story. Works and Days is similar to a farmer’s almanac, containing vignettes of life as the owner of a small farm in Boeotia. These short poems are not nearly as famous as the Iliad or Odyssey, but they give us the first concept of the Muses, the myth of the Titans, Prometheus, Pandora’s box and the concept of four successive ages (gold, silver, bronze and iron).

For never yet have I sailed by ship over the wide sea, but only to Euboea from Aulis where the Achaeans once stayed through much storm when they had gathered a great host from divine Hellas for Troy, the land of fair women.  Then I crossed over to Chalcis, to the games of wise Amphidamas where the sons of the great-hearted hero proclaimed and appointed prizes.  And there I boast that I gained the victory with a song and carried off a handled tripod which I dedicated to the Muses of Helicon, in the place where they first set me in the way of clear song.
Hesiod: Works and Days

Unlike Homer, Hesiod was almost certainly a real person, and he describes his life in a number of passages in his work. There is a later myth that Homer and Hesiod were in fact contemporaries and that they competed in poetry competitions against each other (supposedly the prize went to Hesiod, whose poem promoted peace rather than war). The venue of the competition was supposedly the city of Chalcis, at the funeral celebrations of Amphidamas, a noble who had fallen in the Lelantine War. Hesiod himself mentions the competition but the tradition that his opponent was Homer is a much later and probably false invention.

A gift of HDR for our lord Hazael, from the plain of Basan, a brow-band for our respectful lord
Inscription from a votive offering found in Samos

Lastly, there is some evidence that the Greeks of this era were involved as mercenaries and traders in the larger empires of the Near East. In 733/732 Damascus was taken by the Assyrians and looted. Certain items that had been looted by Hazael and dedicated in the temples of his god Hadad were taken as loot from the sack of Damascus. Some of these items were dedicated in temples in Eretria and Samos and may have been the parts of the spoil allocated to Greek mercenaries serving in the Assyrian army. It is a tempting supposition but it is of course possible that the items were looted several more times and were dedicated at the Greek temples at a later date. Either way, it is an interesting case study in the movement of people and artefacts during the Greek Archaic Period.

Item with inscription mentioning Hazael
A gift of Hadad for our lord Hazael, the year that our lord crossed the river
Inscription from the Hazael Blinkers found in Eretria