Wednesday, 21 February 2018

650-625BC in the Near East

Lion Hunt Relief of Ashurbanipal
As is normal for these blogs I need to highlight that the sources used are problematic. No source from the ancient world is faultless in the eyes of the historian and this period presents difficulties like any other. The main sources, as they have been for the last one hundred years that we have looked at, are the Assyrian annals and inscriptions. These are works of royal propaganda and must be treated with caution, particularly in this time period, as there appears to be a gap in the Assyrian records. The Assyrian documents are supplemented by occasional Egyptian writings, which are less well-preserved than their Assyrian counterparts. Babylonian chronicles also shed important light on the affairs of the time but suffer from being extremely laconic. Occasional other inscriptions and letters from the region help us to some extent, but Urartian inscriptions are so rare as to be almost useless, while Media and Lydian inscriptions are to my knowledge simply not known from this time period. There are some Hebrew Biblical, Talmudic and apocryphal writings that shed some minor insight on this time but these are written later (in some cases much later) and are very focused on their own perspectives. A list of some of the sources will be given at the end of the blog post.

I must reiterate that I am not a professional historian, or any other type of historian for that matter. There are certainly mistakes and errors in the sources and I may make mistakes in my interpretations of these sources. Mistakes are particularly likely to occur when dealing with years, as the Babylonian/Assyrian/Jewish years do not correspond exactly to our own. So, there is the possibility that I may have interpreted an event as happening in late 640 when it may in fact have been early 639. If the reader spots any errors such as this, please let me know in the comments and I will research it and correct it as soon as possible. Even professional historians have differing opinions on the exact ordering of events at this time, so exact precision is not likely here.

I shall begin with a brief summary of what is happening elsewhere in the world during these years.  In China, the Zhou Dynasty was fading into obscurity as the rising feudal lords began to struggle for power. King Xiang of Zhou was the nominal ruler but was so powerless that he had to be replaced on the throne by one of his dukes after he had been expelled from it. India was in the Later Vedic Period and the states such as Kuru, Panchala, Kosala and Videha were flourishing along the Ganges Plain. These states would later form what are known as the Mahajanapadas. The Greek states were continuing to develop culturally, and also continued to expel their traditional rulers in favour of popular dictatorial leaders known as tyrants, although of course not all city-states did this. There were many other developments elsewhere but they will hopefully be covered in later blogs. This should give an overview of some happenings elsewhere at least.

In the Near East itself, Ashurbanipal was king of Assyria. Ashurbanipal's kingdom was locked in a vicious struggle with the Babylonian uprising led by Ashurbanipal's brother, Shamash-shuma-ukin. The usurper Indabibi had taken control of war-torn Elam. Elam had assisted the Babylonian uprising and been devastated by the Assyrians while various factions fought each other for control of the ever-weaker Elamite throne. The kingdom of Urartu was relatively stable under the control of Rusa II. Lydia, in the west, was ruled by Gyges, who had previously sworn allegiance to the Assyrians but who was now in revolt and facing the Cimmerian steppe tribes. Egypt was led by Pharaoh Psammetichus I (or Psamtik I) who had manoeuvred the Assyrians out of his country. The now-insignificant and diminished kingdom of Judah was ruled by Manasseh, who was excoriated by later Hebrew writers for his apostasy against the God of Israel.

Elamite Ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil
As discussed in the previous post, in 650BC Bel-Harran, the governor of Tyre, was the Assyrian Limmu for the year. Ashurbanipal had launched an expedition against the Arabs of Kedar and also had the Moabite king attack as well. The expedition against the Arabs seems to have been successful, although fighting against them continued sporadically for the next three years, and with the Arabs neutralised and the Elamites under Indabibi no longer supporting the Babylonians, the Assyrian army moved to besiege the city of Babylon itself.

The eighteenth year: On the eleventh day of the month Du'ûzu the enemy invested Babylon.
The Babylonian Shamash-shuma-ukin Chronicle


In 649 Ahu-ilaya, governor of Carchemish, was the Assyrian limmu for the year. Ahu-ilaya is the last limmu who is known for certain. We have the names of limmus from other years but the order is not sure. I will continue to give the dates but will follow the ordering given by Parpola, so other sources may not concur exactly with the ordering I have followed.

The Assyrian siege of Babylon continued. Nabu-bel-shumate, the Chaldean governor who had previously served the Assyrians and had joined the revolt now seems to have fled to Elam with a number of high-ranking Assyrian captives. These captives were handed over to Indabibi, king of Elam, as a type of insurance policy, while Nabu-bel-shumate and his troops seem to have been free to roam as they pleased. This would have been a breach of protocol in the eyes of the Assyrians, as Nabu-bel-shumate was a high ranking fugitive.

In 648 Belshunu was Limmu and Babylon had fallen. The Babylonian sources are nearly silent at this juncture, apart from noting that the religious festivals did not take place that year, which was true but rather an understatement of what was happening. The city seems to have fallen to starvation rather than assault. Babylon was well-fortified but it was a large city and to have fed the population would have required vast resources, stockpiled over years. As for Shamash-shuma-ukin, the elder brother who had rebelled against the king of Assyria, he seems to have gone into his palace as the city was falling, set the palace ablaze and committed suicide, rather than face the tortures of captivity and the humiliation of being captured alive by the forces of his brother.

Assyrian soldiers besieging a city
At that time, the people of the land Akkad who had sided with Shamash-shuma-ukin and plotted evil deeds, hunger took hold of them. They ate the flesh of their sons and their daughters on account of their hunger; they gnawed on leather straps. The deities … who march before me and kill my foes, consigned Shamash-shuma-ukin, my hostile brother who had started a fight against me, to a raging fire and destroyed his life.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


The high-ranking survivors of Babylon were taken to Nineveh where they were executed at the spot where Sennacherib had been murdered. Perhaps this was some type of ritual justifying the extermination policy that Sennacherib had taken against Babylon. Ashurbanipal did not actually destroy the city this time however, but had the streets cleared of the starved corpses and placed the city under direct military rule. At some point over the next year a new king was installed in Babylon called Kandalanu. We know absolutely nothing about Kandalanu and he may not actually have existed as a separate person, being perhaps another name for Ashurbanipal. However, if he was an actual person, his only function was ritual and he must have been closely watched.

Around this time Ashurbanipal sent envoys to Indabibi of Elam to force him to extradite the rebel Nabu-bel-shumate. Nabu-bel-shumate was not only a powerful Chaldean chief of the Bit-Yakin tribe who had previously defeated Assyrian armies and taken important prisoners. He was also the grandson of Merodach-Baladan II, the archenemy of Sargon and Sennacherib. Ashurbanipal could not allow a rebel with such a family legacy of revolt to remain at large. Indabibi seems to have tried to make some concessions but the coming of the envoys to Elam struck fear into the hearts of the Elamites who guessed that the Assyrian armies would follow the envoys.

Indabibi, the king of the land Elam, released them (the Assyrian captives taken by Nabu-bel-shumate) from prison. So that they would intercede with me, say good things about him…
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 648 (Inscription 3)


In 647 Nabu-nadin-ahhe was Limmu in Assyria. Indabibi, the usurper king of Elam, was overthrown by his people and murdered. Humban-Haltash III claimed the throne, as did a number of other claimants, including Indattu-Inshushinak IV, Umhuluma, Humban-Hapua and Humban-Nikash III. It is fair to say that Elam as a united entity had ceased to exist at this point. The Assyrians treated Humban-Haltash III as the king and reiterated their demands for the extradition of Nabu-bel-shumate while they continued to crush the remnants of the rebellion that lingered after the fall of Babylon.

As for Humban-Haltash III, the king of the land Elam, he heard about the entry of my troops, who had entered inside the land Elam; he abandoned the city Madaktu, a royal city of his, and then fled and fled to the mountains
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


The Assyrian army marched on Elam, bringing with them the exiled king Tammaritu II to install as a puppet king after their conquest. The Elamite defence, insofar as one was mounted at all, seems to have focused on a fortress city called Bit-Imbi, which was immediately besieged and rapidly taken. Once Bit-Imbi had fallen and its governor dispatched in chains to Assyria, Humban-Haltash of Elam seems to have just fled to the mountains. The other claimants to the throne also seem to have fled their respective power bases. Tammaritu II was reinstalled on the Elamite throne as a reluctant puppet ruler. Strangely Tammaritu appears to have rebelled almost immediately, or at least behaved in a manner that the Assyrians found unacceptable. He was deposed from the throne and taken in exile to Nineveh once more. Meanwhile the Assyrians abandoned all pretence of ruling by proxy and went on a rampage of destruction within Elam.

Assyrian soldiers in Elam
They removed him (Tammaritu II) from his royal throne and made him return and bow down at my feet for a second time. On account of these words, with the fury that my heart had because the unfaithful Tammaritu had sinned against me, through the mighty victories of the great gods, my lords, I marched about triumphantly inside the land Elam in its entirety.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


The Assyrian army does not seem to have paused in their attack, nor returned to winter quarters at any point. At this stage they had conquered enough of Elam to winter in captured fortress cities, should they have wished. The Assyrians now advanced on the two most glittering prizes, Madaktu and most especially, Susa. Madaktu was a royal city of the Neo-Elamite rulers, possibly the modern site of Tepe Patak, about 40 kilometres west of Susa.  Humban-Haltash may have fled once more to the city of Dur-Undasi (probably modern Chogha Zanbil). Madaktu fell, and its loot and captives were dispatched to Assyria.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: "See, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might. I will bring against Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; I will scatter them to the four winds, and there will not be a nation where Elam's exiles do not go. I will shatter Elam before their foes, before those who want to kill them; I will bring disaster on them, even my fierce anger," declares the Lord. "I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them. I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials," declares the Lord. "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in days to come," declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 49:35-39, written around 580 at the earliest, and possibly here referring to a different attack on Elam


Now the Assyrians moved on to Susa. Susa had been the largest city of Elam for well over a thousand years and was far more ancient than that. It had seldom even been besieged by Mesopotamian monarchs and it contained the accumulated wealth of at least a thousand years of power. A huge ziggurat towered over the city. The graves of the Elamite kings, the cult statues of the Elamite gods and the captured statues of the gods of other nations all lay within Susa. The forces of Ashurbanipal were merciless and looted the city. But they went beyond looting. They tore up the ziggurat, destroyed the sacred groves, stole all the statues of the Elamite gods, broke open the tombs of the dead kings, deported the people, sowed salt on the fields and gathered earth from the conquered cities to be trod underfoot by the residents of Nineveh.

Assyrian soldiers sacking Susa, with the city aflame
I conquered the city Susa, a great cult centre, the residence of their gods, a place of their secret lore. … I opened up their treasuries, inside which silver, gold, possessions, and property had been stored —which the former kings of the land Elam down to the kings of this time had collected and deposited — and wherein no other enemy apart from me had laid his hands, … The ziggurat of the city Susa, which had been constructed with baked bricks coloured with lapis lazuli, I destroyed it; I stripped off its horns, which were cast with shiny copper. … As for the deities Inshushinak — the god of their secret lore who lives in seclusion and whose divine acts have never been seen by anyone … I carried off to Assyria those gods and goddesses together with their jewellery, … As for their secret groves, into which no outsider has ever gazed or set foot within their borders, my battle troops entered inside them, saw their secrets, and burned them with fire. … I destroyed and demolished the tombs of their earlier and later kings … I prevented their ghosts from sleeping … I devastated the districts of the land Elam and scattered salt over them. … I allowed beasts of the steppe to dwell in the cities as if on a meadow.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


Humban-Haltash III seems to have made an attempt to stop the Assyrians on the banks of the Idide River (possibly the Diz River in modern Khuzestan). The Elamites held a strong position on the river crossing but, according the annals of Ashurbanipal, a divinely inspired dream prophesied that his troops would be able to cross. The Assyrians made the river crossing and defeated Humban-Haltash III, who had to flee to the mountains once more.

Elamite prisoners being transported by boat
My troops saw the Idide River, a raging torrent and were afraid to cross it. During the night, the goddess Ishtar who resides in the city Arbela showed a dream to my troops and said the following to them, saying: "I myself will go before Ashurbanipal, the king that my hands created." My troops trusted this dream and they safely crossed the Idide River.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


In all of this destruction Ashurbanipal still found time for some religiously inspired archaeology. He found an ancient statue of a goddess from Uruk that had been plundered by the Elamites over a millennia before. He worked out how long it had been since the Elamites had captured the statue and decided to return it to its original temple in Uruk.

The goddess Nanāya, who 1,635 years ago became angry and went to live in the land Elam, a place not befitting her, now, at that time when she — and the gods, her fathers — nominated me to rule over the lands, she entrusted me with the return of her divinity, saying: "Ashurbanipal will bring me out of the evil land Elam and make me enter Eanna again." … I made her enter into Uruk and made her dwell on her eternal dais in Eḫiliana, which she loves
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


As 647 ended and 646 began, the looting of Elam began to end and the Assyrian army was withdrawn. Nabu-shar-ahheshu of Samaria was the Limmu for the year 646. The Elamite deportees were scattered throughout the Assyrian empire but like later refugees, they seem to have had some prophecies of return and future greatness of their land. The, considerably later, Hebrew book of Ezra suggests that some of the Elamites were deported to Samaria, where they joined the previous deportees of the Assyrian kings and the remainder of the northern Israelite kingdom to later form the Samaritan ethnic group. Humban-Haltash III of Elam still held some form of authority in Elam and returned to the ruined royal city of Madaktu, where the Assyrian annals gloatingly record that he wept on seeing the destruction of his city.

Elamite ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil
He entered the city Madaktu, which I had destroyed …. He sat down in mourning …
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


To the east of Babylonia the Elamites had been dealt with, but a simultaneous war had been continued against in the west against the Arabs during this time. A king of the Kedarites by the name of Iauta or Uaite had been an ally of Shamash-shuma-ukin but had been defeated in 650, along with his allies further in the west, by the King of Moab. Iauta had fled to the king of the Nabayyate tribe, but had been refused asylum. This Nabayyate tribe may or may not be identifiable with the later Nabateans but were probably a different group.

Iauta surrendered and came to Nineveh where he was imprisoned. His troops in Babylonia were defeated with the rest of the Babylonian rebels and their leader, Abiyate, was installed as king of the Kedarites by Ashurbanipal. The narrative is confused by the fact that there seem to have been several leaders of the Kedarite Arabs who were also called Iauta. The rebel king was placed with a neck collar about his neck and made to stay in a kennel with a bear and a dog to guard one of the gates of Nineveh. Iauta may have been released later to be reinstalled in his position as king. The record here is confusing but suffice it to say that the Assyrian records indicate a series of campaigns against the Arabs from 650-647 that ended in successes for the Assyrians.

Tablet describing the Deluge from Nineveh
Abiyate then fled alone and grasped my feet in order to save his own life. I had mercy on him, made him swear to a treaty, an oath bound by the great gods, and then installed him as king of the land of the Arabs in place of Iauta.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


It is unclear why the Arabs were so keen to go to war with Assyria but there are some indications that the time period around 650 saw a series of sustained droughts in the region. Assyria would have been struggling to feed its increased population and armies, as their agriculture was dependant on the rain. Babylonia on the other hand, had extensive irrigation systems, and would have, in theory, had more food. The annals of Ashurbanipal mention famine among the Arabs in previous years and the lack of food across the region at this time may have driven some of the violence and wars. But this is conjectural.

Famine broke out among them (the Arabs) and they ate the flesh of their children on account of their hunger.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


Nabu-bel-shumate had managed to survive the Assyrian onslaught but the Assyrians still demanded he be handed over to them. Instead the Chaldean warrior is said to have taken his own life in a suicide pact and his body was subsequently handed over to the Assyrians. With this the hostilities against Elam seem to have ceased for a time.

Chaldean prisoners of war
He heard about the advance of my messenger who had entered into the land of Elam. He became anxious and distressed. His life was not precious to him and he wanted to die. He spoke to his own personal attendant, saying: "Cut me down with the sword." He and his personal attendant ran each other through with their iron belt-daggers.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


In 645 Shamash-da-inanni was the Assyrian limmu for the year, possibly. Around this time Gyges of Lydia died in battle against the returning Cimmerians. The date is quite difficult to determine exactly but I am recording it here as, if it was not this exact year, it was a year almost as good. This was a shock to the Lydians and the Greeks. The Cimmerians not only ravaged the Lydian kingdom, but also attacked the Greek cities on the western coast of present day Turkey. They were led by a war leader called Dugdammu, or Tugdummu, by the Assyrians and Lygdamis by the Greeks. The D and L symbols in Greek, (Δ and Λ respectively) are quite similar and a scribal error might have turned "Dygdamis" into "Lygdamis" for the classical writers.

Lydian tombs at Bin Tepe
The Cimmerians whom Gyges had trampled down through the mention of my name, attacked and flattened his entire land. Afterwards, his son, sat on his throne.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


This Dugdammu had probably been previously defeated by Gyges and now took his revenge. After plundering much of Lydia and Ionia the Cimmerians disappeared back out of the historical record for a few years and Gyges son, Ardys II became king of Lydia. Ardys II may have tried to restore relations with Assyria, as the Cimmerians were too serious a threat to be dealt with in isolation. Gyges himself was buried in a tumuli outside the city of Sardis and his descendants built mounds of their own, eventually making a huge necropolis that is one of Turkey's lesser known archaeological attractions.

He (Ardys II) sent his messenger and submitted to my royal majesty, saying: "You are the king whom the god recognizes. You cursed my father and evil befell him. Pray for me, the servant who reveres you, so that I can pull your yoke."
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


In 644 Nabu-sharru-usur was the Limmu of the Assyrians. There was further fighting in Elam and Humban-Haltash III and Pa'e, another of the many contenders for the throne, were captured by the Assyrians. The captured kings were displayed in triumph in Nineveh and along with the previously captured Tammaritu II of Elam and Iauta of the Kedarite Arabs, were made to pull the chariot of the Assyrian king through the streets. After this there are no more Elamite kings known to us for at least a decade and while there would be later kings of Elam, for now the once would-be rivals to Assyria, were utterly defeated. The destruction of their powerful rival would not necessarily help Assyria however, as the eastern provinces of the devastated land were now beginning to be taken over by an Indo-European horse tribe from the steppes. This minor tribe, led by Teispes, was known to the Assyrians as Parsumas. Their name is better known to us as the Persians.

Detail from the Lion Hunt reliefs of Ashurbanipal
I hitched them like thoroughbred horses to a processional carriage the vehicle my royal majesty, and they took hold of my yoke.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 639 (Inscription 21)


In 643 Asshur-sharru-usur was Limmu of Assyria. It is difficult to say exactly what happened at this time. Some scholars speculate that there was further fighting in Elam, which is likely enough, and that there was a campaign against Urartu, which I am unsure of, as Ashurbanipal and Rusa II of Urartu seem to have had fairly good relations throughout their reign.

In 642 Nabu-da-innani was Limmu of Assyria. In Judah, the long-lived king Manasseh died. The writers of the book of Kings had little to say about Manasseh, merely recording that he was a wicked king (meaning that he did not follow the God of Israel) and that he lived a long time. The writers of the somewhat later book of Chronicles record much the same but with an interesting twist. The book of Chronicles records that Manasseh was captured by the Assyrians and taken to Babylon as a lowly prisoner but that, once he had humbled himself before the God of Israel, he was restored to the throne of Judah. There is no evidence in the Assyrian sources that this happened, but the Assyrian sources are full of gaps at this time period.

The narrative of a king being suspected of disloyalty, being captured, sent to Assyria and subsequently restored to their throne, is quite plausible and it happens numerous times during the reign of Ashurbanipal. Necho I, Tammaritu II and possibly Iauta are all examples of this, so it is fairly plausible. If it did happen it probably happened towards the end of Manasseh's reign, as he had no chance to reverse his previous religious policies. But Chronicles also record building activity afterwards so it could not have been at the very end of the reign. I suspect that it should probably be located sometime during the revolt of Shamash-shuma-ukin, with Manasseh being secured to prevent the western kingdoms from joining in the Babylonian revolt, as his father Hezekiah had done. This explains why he would be taken to Babylon rather than Assyria, as the king was there with the army, and why he could be released once the revolt was crushed.

Renaissance painting of Manasseh in captivity
The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.
2 Chronicles 33:10-13


At least two separate later apocryphal texts, one in Greek and one in Hebrew, were later written, purporting to be the prayers of Manasseh from this time period. When Manasseh died, it is said that he was buried in the Gardens of Uzza and not in the tombs of the kings of Judah. The burial practices of the kings of Judah are a little unclear after the reign of Ahaz. Manasseh's son Amon succeeded him on the throne in Jerusalem.

I am bowed down with many iron bands; I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments…
Prayer of Manasseh 9, Greek Apocryphal text written around 100BC


In 641 Asshur-gimilli-tere, the Rab-Saqe, meaning Chief Cupbearer, was the Limmu of Assyria. It seems that Dugdammu of the Cimmerians had turned his armies towards Assyria and that the armies of Assyria were mustered to attack him near the Cilician Gates, the pass through the mountains that would deny any invader access to the plains of northern Syria. The Greek records, from a far later date, suggest that Dugdammu died here and that the Cimmerian invaders turned back, but do not record the manner of his death. The Assyrian sources suggest that the confrontations took place on Assyrian territory but do not say where, although Mussi, the king of Tabal in Asia Minor, does side with the Cimmerians. Possibly there were multiple invasions. The record is most unclear here.

Possible depiction of Scythians/Cimmerians
from later Greek sarcophagus at Clazonmenae
Lygdamis led his followers into Lydia, passed through Ionia, took Sardis, but was slain in Cilicia. The Kimmerians and Treres frequently made similar incursions, until at last, as it is reported, these latter, together with their chief Cobus, were driven out by Madys, king of the Scythians.
Strabo Geography 1:3


The Assyrian records suggest that Dugdammu was halted but not by the Assyrians; that there were divine portents that turned back the invaders. A treaty was made and then broken by Dugdammu, who was then stricken with a disease and died shortly afterwards. The Assyrians credit the action of the gods for the death of Dugdammu but the Cimmerian threat was not finished. The Cimmerians would return to sack Sardis and terrorise Ionia one last time. The Assyrian divine intervention may possibly have been a dangerous ally. Esarhaddon had had an alliance with Bartatua, a chieftain of the Scythian horse nomads. Shortly after this date according to Greek sources, his son, Madys, managed to unite the Scythians and subdue the Medes, who at this point were possibly being led by Cyaxares. Perhaps the Assyrians called their nomadic allies to defeat the invading Cimmerians and then ascribed the victory to their gods? If so, this was a risky alliance to have. But the chronology of this time is most unclear.

Lydian tombs at Bin Tepe
By the command of their great divinity fire fell from the sky and burned him, his troops and his camp. Tugdammu became frightened and distressed and he withdrew his troops and his camp and returned back to his land. … He broke the oath … he transgressed the limits … and plotted evil deeds against the territory of Assyria. … (The god Asshur) overwhelmed him; he went into a frenzy and tried biting off his hands during a loss of all reason… His life ended in complete disintegration, saying "Woe" and "Alas" … in their own terror they cut each other down with the sword.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 639 (Inscription 21)


Around this time another war began with the Arabs of the Kedarite tribe, who had this time allied themselves with the Nabayyate. Iauta (who had either returned from captivity in Nineveh or who was another individual with the same name) was allied with the Nabayyate tribe, who had previously sided with Assyria. The Assyrians defeated the Nabayatte, marched from Azalla, which I am unsure of the location of, to near Damascus, where they defeated Iauta, before capturing the king Abiyate and then capturing the cities of Usshu and Akko on their return journey. This series of wars may have continued until around 638.

Ashurbanipal
As for Aya-ammu son of Te'ri, who had stood with Abi-Yate his brother, and did battle with my troops, I captured him alive in the thick of battle and flayed him in Nineveh, my capital city.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 640 (Inscription 11)


In 640 Mushallim-Asshur was Limmu of Assyria. Around this time Amon, king of Judah, was assassinated. It is unclear why he was assassinated, as he had only been on the throne for two years, making him around 24 when he died. The Biblical and Talmudic sources show him as a bad king who continued the policies of his father, primarily by not following the God of Israel correctly. The Talmud traditions, written centuries after the Chronicles, record Amon as being the worst king of all, in terms of the damage that he did to the servants of the God of Israel and his overall behaviour, but this is probably just a later tradition.

Assyrian soldiers
Ahaz ceased the sacrifices and sealed the Torah … Manasseh cut out the Divine Name from the Torah and broke down the altar. Amon burnt the Torah, and allowed spider webs to cover the altar through complete disuse. Ahaz permitted consanguineous relations; Manasseh violated his sister; Amon, his mother, as it is written, "For he Amon sinned very much"
Talmud Sanh. 104a, written around 200AD


Regardless of what Amon did or did not do, he was not an unpopular figure among the people and his killers were hunted down and killed. After Amon had been avenged and buried in the Garden of Uzza like his father, Amon's young son Josiah was placed upon the throne. Josiah was said to be only eight years old at this point and we know nothing about the early years of his rule. In fact, apart from the Biblical record we know nothing whatsoever of Josiah or Amon, who are both unmentioned in other sources of the time, although the reasons for this will become clear shortly.

Amon's officials conspired against him and assassinated the king in his palace. Then the people of the land killed all who had plotted against King Amon, and they made Josiah his son king in his place.
2 Kings 21:23:24


In 639 Mushallim-Asshur was Limmu of Assyria. In Urartu, Rusa II died and his son Sarduri III succeeded him as king. Urartu and Assyria seem to have maintained reasonable relations, with the annals of Ashurbanipal referring to Sarduri III sending envoys to maintain peaceable relations. Another king who was in communication with the Assyrians around this time was Cyrus I, ruler of the Persian tribe, who had taken up residence near the city of Anshan, in what had once been eastern Elam. The Cyrus was the ancestor of some of the later Persian kings but at this point was probably a minor component overall Median/Scythian/Umman-manda nomadic tribal grouping and like these tribes, nominally subservient to the Assyrians.

Seal of Cyrus I, king of Anshan
After the conquering weapons of the god Asshur had conquered all of the land Elam and killed its people Cyrus, the king of the land Parsumash, and Pislume, the king of the land Ḫudimiri, kings whose locations are remote and who live on the far side of the land Elam, fear of the deities Asshur, Mulllissu, and Ishtar who resides in the city Arbela, overwhelmed them and they became distressed. They sent their envoys with messages of goodwill and peace, with their substantial audience gifts, before me and they kissed my feet.
Inscription of Ashurbanipal written around 639 (Inscription 21)


In 638 Asshur-gimmilli-tere was Limmu of the Assyrians. The war against the Arabs probably drew to a close around this time. From this point the records of Ashurbanipal simply become silent. We are not sure why exactly this was the case. For the next decade we have no real knowledge of what was happening in the Assyrian Empire. The years preceding this point have had confusion surrounding them, but there has never been an exact answer for why the records stop. Perhaps there was a terrible defeat suffered by the Assyrians. But there is no real evidence for this in any of the other, admittedly poor, sources for this time. The later writings of the Greeks and Hebrews certainly do not mention this explicitly. The writings begin to occur again with Ashurbanipal's successor, Ashur-etil-ilani, in either 631 or 627, and the Assyrian empire is a mighty force to be reckoned with. Perhaps it is more of an accident of history; that only certain records have survived. I would like to think that when the fighting in Iraq ends, that more excavations might discover what happened during this time.

Drawing of the excavation of Nineveh
The most probable answer for the silence of the Assyrian annals at this time lies in previous silences. We have seen in previous posts that the Assyrian records are scant for the years preceding Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II and Esarhaddon. The one thing each of these periods has in common is that after these times there has either been a conspiracy or a usurpation. Esarhaddon's brothers murdered Sennacherib and Sargon II and Tiglath-Pileser III were possibly and almost certainly usurpers respectively. So, the silence of the last years of Ashurbanipal may suggest that his sons were making a play for the throne and that the eventual winners of the contest destroyed any records of the struggle.

In 637 Zabab-eriba was probably Limmu of Assyria. Sin-sharru-usur was the probable Limmu for 636 and Belu-lu-darri the probable Limmu of 635. In Urartu Sarduri III died and Erimena succeeded to the throne of Urartu.

Around this time the later Greek historian Herodotus records that the Egyptian Pharaoh, Psammetichus I, attacked the Philistine city of Ashdod and besieged it for twenty-nine years before capturing it. Herodotus also says that the Scythian ruler, Madys, invaded the Levant and threatened Egypt before being bought off by the cunning Psammetichus and returning from whence they came. The Scythians did not escape entirely unscathed however, as some of them looted a temple in Philistia and became "afflicted with the women's disease" as a result.

Later Scythian ornament from Iran
There, the Medes met the Scythians, who defeated them in battle, deprived them of their rule, and made themselves masters of all Asia. From there they marched against Egypt: and when they were in the part of Syria called Palestine, Psammetichus king of Egypt met them and persuaded them with gifts and prayers to come no further.
Herodotus: The Histories, 1:104-105


Herodotus is a very useful but deeply unreliable source. It is not that he is dishonest, but he often misunderstands stories or gets certain facts out of order. Madys is not known from ancient sources; either Hebrew, Egyptian or Assyrian. In fact if it were not for Herodotus and classical writers who copied him, we would know nothing of this character. Equally his description of a twenty-nine year siege, while not impossible, is rather unlikely. It is also not clear if Madys had turned on the Assyrian Empire or if he was attacking Psammetichus as a mercenary working for Assyria. Given the unreliability of the sources it is possible that these events happened anywhere from around 640-612, if they ever happened at all. I suspect that there is some truth to them but that the situation is more complicated.

Psammetichus I
Psammetichus ruled Egypt for fifty-three years, twenty-nine of which he spent before Azotus, a great city in Syria, besieging it until he took it. Azotus held out against a siege longer than any city of which we know.
Herodotus: The Histories, 2.157


We have seen that the Assyrians required Kamash-Halta of Moab to attack the Kedarite Arabs in or around the year 650. We have also seen how the Assyrian troops left Egypt, either directly expelled by Psammetichus or returning to Assyria to take part in the continuous campaigns in the east of the empire. I suspect that the western part of the empire, basically everything west and south of Carchemish on the Euphrates, was effectively left to govern itself, and that Psammetichus and Ashurbanipal made a tacit peace between them. The Assyrians must have been running short of soldiers and could neither garrison the regions nor afford to waste a campaigning season marching against these areas to awe the enemies into submission. This left a vacuum of power that was filled to some extent by the Egyptians. The Scythians then enter the picture, possibly as invaders but more likely barbarian allies of the Assyrians who have been turned loose in the area, as the Assyrians considered it as temporarily lost territory. This would explain why Madys would decide to plunder the area and why Psammetichus would attack Ashdod but not attempt to take all of the Levant. What we are seeing here is the behaviour of jackals in the presence of a dazed and wounded lion, warily grabbing morsels from the carcass of the lion's kill, but wary lest the lion stir once more.

In 634, Bullutu was Limmu of Assyria, with Upaqa-ana-Arbail the Limmu in 633 and Tab-sil-Sin the Limmu in 632. According to the Hebrew book of Chronicles it would seem that Josiah, who was now around sixteen years of age, began to enact religious reforms similar to those of his great-grandfather Hezekiah. However the book of Kings, which is probably older than the book of Chronicles, does not record this, so it must be treated with some caution.

Lion Hunt relief of Ashurbanipal
In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David.
2 Chronicles 34:3


In 631 Adad-Remanni was the Limmu for the Assyrians. It is possible that Ashurbanipal died this year. There are indications that his successor was dethroned in 627 and that this successor had already reigned for four years, which would suggest he had been on the throne from 631 onwards. But this is conjectural. Some of the evidence for Ashurbanipal living until 627 is actually based on much, much later kinglists preserved by Greek authors, although there is the Harran kinglist which is more contemporary with the events described. Some scholars have suspected that Ashurbanipal abdicated, either voluntarily or under compulsion, allowing his son Ashur-etil-ilani to take the throne, which would allow Ashur-etil-ilani to have a four year rule and still allow for Ashurbanipal to live until 627.

Around this time it seems that the Cimmerians returned to Lydia, no longer under the rule of their chieftain Dugdammu, but terrifying nonetheless. This time they conquered Sardis but were unable to take the fortified area on the high ground above the city. The dating for this event relies purely on Herodotus once more and should be treated as an approximate date rather than fixed.

Possible depiction of Scythians/Cimmerians
from later Greek sarcophagus at Clazonmenae
He (Ardys II) took Priene and invaded the country of Miletus; and it was while he was monarch of Sardis that the Cimmerians, driven from their homes by the nomad Scythians, came into Asia, and took Sardis, all but the acropolis.
Herodotus: The Histories, 1.15


In 630 Salmu-sharri-iqbi, the Turtanu, or general, of Commagene, was the Assyrian Limmu for the year. Nabu-sharru-usur was the Limmu for 629. In 629 Erimena, king of Urartu, died and was succeeded by his son Rusa III. In 628 there is some confusion as to who was the Limmu for the year. In this year the Hebrew book of Chronicles suggests that Josiah carried out a thorough religious reform of the land. But the book of Kings seems to imply that this was carried out four years later so it must be treated with caution. If the book of Nahum was written as a prophecy of the future rather than a paean of triumph, the book of Nahum may have been written around this time.

Lion Hunt relief of Ashurbanipal
In his (Josiah's) twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles and idols. Under his direction the altars of the Baals were torn down; he cut to pieces the incense altars that were above them, and smashed the Asherah poles and the idols. These he broke to pieces and scattered over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and so he purged Judah and Jerusalem. In the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali, and in the ruins around them, he tore down the altars and the Asherah poles and crushed the idols to powder and cut to pieces all the incense altars throughout Israel. Then he went back to Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 34:3-7


In 627 Marduk-sharru-usur, governor of Cilicia, was Limmu of Assyria. In this year the records begin to speak again. It seems that Ashurbanipal was now dead and that Kandalanu, the shadowy king of Babylon, who may be nothing more than another name for Ashurbanipal, was also dead. Ashur-etil-ilani was king of Assyria in his father's stead and may have been ruling from 631. Whether Ashur-etil-ilani was reigning for one year or four, he seems to have been killed in 627. One of the few inscriptions surviving from his reign shows that Ashur-etil-ilani had brought back the bones of Shamash-ibni, a chieftain of the Bit-Dakkuri Chaldean tribe, killed by Esarhaddon around 680. This was presumably a way of placating the Chaldeans and having them support his cause against others. In fact, practically all the inscriptions of Ashur-etil-ilani are from Babylonia and almost none from Assyria itself. Perhaps Ashur-etil-ilani never fully controlled the whole empire.

The tomb of Shamash-ibni, the Dakkurian, upon whom Ashur-etel-ilani, king of Assyria, had pity, brought from Assyria to Bit-Dakkuri, his own country, and laid to rest in a tomb inside his home of Duru-sha-Ladini
Inscription of Ashur-etil-ilani, written around 627, Inscription 6


In the same year, two other Assyrians were attempting to rule the empire. Sin-shumu-lisir tried to claim the throne for himself. Sinsharishkun, who claimed to be a son of Ashurbanipal, also tried to rule. It is possible that Sinsharishkun only rose up after Ashur-etil-ilani was dead, but also possible that at one point all three of the men who would be kings were in conflict with each other.

Lion Hunt relief of Ashurbanipal
At the beginning of my reign, after the gods Asshur, Bel, Nabu, Sin, Shamash, Ninurta, Nergal and Nusku selected me among my brethren and desired me as king, guided me like a father and a mother and killed my foes, cut down my enemies, performed good deeds for me and gladly made me sit on the royal throne of the father…
Inscription of Sinsharishkun, written around 620's, Inscription 7


In 626 Marduk-remanni was Limmu for Assyria. Sinsharishkun had stabilised the empire, defeated his Assyrian opponents, and consolidated the weakened Assyrian army under his leadership. But while the Assyrian army had been split against itself, a new threat had emerged. Nabopolassar, a Chaldean leader, had taken advantage of the chaos and decided to try and take Babylonia for himself. He launched a night attack on the city of Babylon and the troops there, who were loyal to Sinsharishkun, fled to Assyria. Around September that year, the Assyrians counterattacked and marched to their stronghold at the city of Nippur. Nabopolassar retreated before the Assyrian armies to Uruk, and after a battle forced the Assyrians to retreat. Their armies returned some months later and Nabopolassar won a victory near Babylon itself, which his armies now occupied. On the 23rd of November 626 Nabopolassar had himself proclaimed as king in Babylon, and immediately returned some of the statues of the Elamite gods from Uruk to Susa, which Ashurbanipal had looted in 647.

Babylonian demon
On the twelfth day of the month Tashritu when the army of Assyria had marched against Babylon and the Babylonians had come out of Babylon; on that day they did battle against the army of Assyria, inflicted a major defeat upon the army of Assyria, and plundered them.
Early Years of Nabopolassar (Babylonian Chronicle ABC2)


In 625 Sin-sharru-usur was Limmu of Assyria. Around this time it is probable that Cyaxares became king of the Medes and shook off the Scythian domination of the nomadic Indo-European tribes in the region. In April of 625 the chronicles record that a panic fell upon Babylon, which must have been due to the approach of the army of Sinsharishkun. The gods of Sippar and Shapazzu were withdrawn into Babylon to protect them from the invaders. On the 14th of May 625 the Assyrians captured Raqmat and looted it. I am unsure exactly where Raqmat was but it must have been close enough to Babylon to force Nabopolassar to try and retake it. On the 30th of July 625 the armies of Babylon marched to Raqmat but had to withdraw when the Assyrian army approached. Thus the period that we are looking at draws to a close.

On the ninth day of the month Abu Nabopolassar and his army marched to Raqmat. He did battle against Raqmat but did not capture the city. Instead, the army of Assyria arrived so he retreated before them and withdrew.
Early Years of Nabopolassar (Babylonian Chronicle ABC2)


This time period started with the Assyrians at the height of their power but somewhat overstretched. Their king, Ashurbanipal, was in some ways the quintessential Assyrian monarch. In some respects he was a learned and civilised man, creating possibly the first great library in the world, doing archaeology and restoring ancient temples and buildings. He ruled over the largest empire the world had ever seen. But he was also exceedingly cruel and, like the other Assyrian kings before him, caused death and devastation wherever he went. He had inherited the most powerful empire in the world from his father and conquered Thebes, Babylon and Susa; three great cities that had often defied other Assyrian kings. He seems to have been victorious in nearly every war he fought. However, it was not enough. Despite the continuous stream of victories there were always more rebellions.

Lion Hunt relief of Ashurbanipal
The Assyrian system of empire was breaking down, as there were no more easy states to conquer. States like Elam and Egypt were too large to be properly conquered without committing the army to a single region for many years. Because the Assyrian empire instilled fear and hatred in its neighbours and subject kingdoms, the army could never stay in one place for too long and it was this contradiction that Ashurbanipal was unable to resolve: How could he conquer Elam or Egypt or any similarly powerful kingdom without the rest of his empire falling apart? He also failed to solve the Babylonian question: How Assyria could rule Babylonia, which his ancestors had also failed to resolve. Finally, he failed to resolve the question of how to solve the succession issue. The empire was only held together by a strong ruler and a strong army. This meant that it was always weakest when a change of ruler occurred. But Ashurbanipal cannot be blamed too much for not solving this problem. No dictatorship or empire has ever fully resolved this.

The time period ended with Ashurbanipal dead and a struggle for supremacy among the sons and generals he left behind. Babylonia was partially under the control of the Chaldean rebellion of Nabopolassar but the Assyrians still held their strongholds of Der and Nippur. The Lydians were facing the Cimmerian steppe tribes. The Egyptians were fully independent but not entirely hostile to the Assyrians. The small kingdoms of the Levant were quietly taking advantage of the Assyrian problems to become semi-independent once more. And to the east, across the mountains in Iran, Cambyses was unifying the steppe tribes of the Medes.

Lion hunt relief of Ashurbanipal
Sources
Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Ashurbanipal, Ashur-etil-ilani, Sinsharishkun)
Elamite Campaigns of Ashurbanipal

Arab Campaigns of Ashurbanipal

Limmu Lists

Sardis Expedition

Accession of Sinsharishkun