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

Monday, 22 May 2017

The 8th Century BC in the Near East: Part I

This post will deal with history in the Near Eastern region from the years 800-750 BC (or BCE if you prefer). Although there are many other things happening in the world during this time period, I will focus mainly on the region from Greece to Iran (west to east, and from Armenia to Sudan, north to south).

Our sources for the period are notable but meagre compared to later centuries. This post will mainly use Assyrian chronicles and inscriptions, some later Greek myths and writings that speak of this time, some Egyptian and Urartian inscriptions and the Biblical narratives of 2 Kings/2 Chronicles. All of these sources are problematic. The Greek sources are quite late, some of them over a thousand years after the events described, and should be treated with caution. The Assyrian/Babylonian accounts for this period suffered a lot of destruction from the kings who came after them and they were written as propaganda. The Egyptian sources suffered from the dynasties that came after them and, again, were propaganda. The Hebrew sources were not contemporary (they are from a few hundred years after the events described) and they are also focusing on the narrative of the God of Israel and his people. Anything outside that narrative gets excluded, regardless of how historically important it may have been. So, as always with history, we have to be careful with our sources but thankful that we have any sources at all and especially grateful when archaeology sheds additional light on the written record.

Oracle at Dodona
In Greece we begin to see the sparks of light that would eventually give rise to the Classical Greek civilisation that is so famous in antiquity and beyond. Around this time we believe that the Greeks began to write again. They used a borrowed Phoenician alphabet, changing the characters to suit their own needs. The original writing was done in majuscule (capital letters), as it was mainly inscribed on stone or written on pottery. The lower case variants only really developed a few hundred years later, when writing on scrolls came into more common use.

The Greeks had a number of different dialects (Ionian, Doric, Aeolian etc.) and there were originally a number of different Greek alphabets that differed from each other very slightly (some used the Chi symbol differently than the usage that is known today for example). It is important to note that we have no real Greek writing from the fifty years that we are mentioning but that, as we see Greek writing in the next fifty years coming into more regular usage that it must have been invented in or around this time. For the first time since the Mycenaean Linear B script was being written, the Greeks could preserve their thoughts and deeds other than in memory.

This period sees the beginning of a number of traditions that would be influential in the classical world. One of the main one is the establishment of oracles, particularly the oracle of Delphi. There is evidence that the oracle of Delphi was established around this time. There are legendary accounts of its founding from the previous centuries and more rationalist accounts written later (involving vapours rising from the earth, such as the one preserved in Diodorus Siculus, who wrote around 30BC and is quoted below). There was also an important oracle at Dodona in northern Greece. These oracles, particularly the Delphic Oracle would become very famous and would be consulted by many Greek city states before any great decision would be made.

Modern drawing of the Oracle of Delphi
It is said that in ancient times goats discovered the oracular shrine, on which account even to this day the Delphians use goats preferably when they consult the oracle. They say that the manner of its discovery was the following.
There is a chasm at this place where now is situated what is known as the "forbidden" sanctuary, and as goats had been wont to feed about this because Delphi had not as yet been settled, invariably any goat that approached the chasm and peered into it would leap about in an extraordinary fashion and utter a sound quite different from what it was formerly wont to emit. The herdsman in charge of the goats marvelled at the strange phenomenon and having approached had the same experience as the goats, for the goats began to act like beings possessed and the goatherd began to foretell future events.
After this as the report was bruited among the people of the vicinity concerning the experience of those who approached the chasm, an increasing number of persons visited the place and, as they all tested it because of its miraculous character, whosoever approached to spot became inspired. For these reasons the oracle came to be regarded as a marvel and to be considered the prophecy-giving shrine of Earth.
For some time all who wished to obtain a prophecy approached the chasm and made their prophetic replies to one another; but later, since many were leaping down into the chasm under the influence of their frenzy and all disappeared, it seemed best to the dwellers in that region, in order to eliminate the risk, to station one woman there as a single prophetess for all and to have the oracles told through her.
Diodorus Siculus 16.26.1–4 (written around 30BC)


Another tradition that would be central to Greek culture and that is still practiced in a modified form today, is the Olympic Games. These were a series of contests held at Olympia near the city of Elis (the Eleans supervised the games) as part of a religious festival honouring Zeus, held every four years. Legend states that this was instituted in the 800’s but that it was only in 776BC that they began to record the names of the victors. The victor in the race was Coroebus of Elis and is the first recorded Olympic victor (the victors received laurel wreaths rather than anything valuable). It is probable however that the games only began around this period rather than stretching into remote antiquity. It is also interesting that the first winner was from the local area, suggesting that the games were not seeing many competitors from outside the region. The next recorded winners from succeeding years tended to be from Messene, a city in the Peloponnese whose sad fate in the following decades would shape Greek history for the next centuries.

Location of the stadion race in Olympia
As a result of this, Iphitus proclaimed the truce [which had been fixed by Heracles at the summer solstice; they no longer fought against each other,] and he organised the games together with Lycurgus, who happened to be his relative because they were both descended from Heracles. On this occasion, the only contest was the stadion race; later the other contests were added in their turn.
Aristodemus of Elis relates that the victors in the athletic contests began to be registered in the 27th Olympiad after Iphitus. Before then, no-one had thought to record the athletes' names. In the 28th Olympiad Coroebus of Elis won the stadion race, and he was the first victor to be registered. This was then established as the first Olympiad, from which the Greeks calculate their dates.
Eusebius, Chronicon


As had been the case for the preceding centuries, the expanding population of Greece and the small-scale conflicts between and within the settlements led to Greeks leaving their cities to found new ones. This process, known as sending colonies (rather different from later colonisation in history) saw Greek cities being spread across both sides of the Aegean and was only to expand in later times. As we conclude looking at Greece in the year 800-750BC we see that Greece is still silent but that the seeds of the classical world are being sown. It is important to remember though, that were it not for later sources, there would be almost nothing that could be said of Greece at this time.

Further to the east, in Phrygia, in Asia Minor there is not really much that can be said, save that the Phrygian kingdom, centred on the city of Gordium, existed. We have neither legendary material nor written records of the period to shed light on this kingdom. It is worth noting that if there were no later legends and writings in Greece, we would be able to say nothing about Greece for this period either. Basically, we must be cautious about interpreting lack of evidence. Ancient Phrygia during this time period was certainly wealthier and more connected with the Near East than Greece was, and a chance find of inscriptions might open up unexplored vistas to the historian. We know that the Phrygians had their own alphabet, similarly sourced from Phoenician, and that their language was similar to Greek in certain ways. We have some later inscriptions from this century but very little from the time period that we are dealing with here. Perhaps this will change.

To the south of Egypt, in the land of Nubia, there was a period of consolidation and strengthening among the kings in Napata. The first king that we are aware of is Alara. He unified Kush, lived for a long but currently unknown length of time and was buried in one of the pyramids at the royal cemetery of El-Kurru, near Napata.

Kushite Tomb Painting
The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nima’re, Son of Re, Lord of the Two-Lands, Kashta, beloved of Khnum, Satis and Anukis, living forever.
The Elephantine Stela of Kashta


His son, Kashta, further strengthened the Nubian kingdom and began to encroach on Egypt to the north, establishing control over the city of Elephantine. A stela placed in this city shows that the Nubian kings at this point considered themselves fully Egyptian and had ambitions to conquer all of the land of Egypt. While Kashta may have begun the conquest it was not fulfilled during his lifetime.

Egypt at this time was a land divided among the descendants of the Libyan invaders (like Shoshenq I of the earlier dynasty). The 22nd Dynasty controlled much of Lower Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile, while the 23rd Dynasty controlled the area of Upper Egypt with their power centre near Thebes and tied in to the High Priest of Amun whose main sanctuary was at Thebes.

Shoshenq IV of the 22nd Dynasty was succeeded by Pami, in whose reign there were supposedly Apis bulls (bulls that exhibited a particular set of unusual physical characteristics and were worshipped as gods.)  Apis bulls were also recorded in the reign of his successor, Shoshenq V, although the record may be confused and the memories of the Apis bulls recorded may have been confused between the Pharaohs. As the Apis bulls were seen as a sign of divine favour, and as these kings seem to have been weak, there may have been pressure put on the priesthood to declare these omens to bolster the claims of the kings.

Egyptian Inscription
This god (Apis) joined with his father Ptah in regnal year 12, fourth month of winter, day 4 of King Aakheperre, Son of Re, Sheshonq V, given life, being born in regnal year 11 of his Majesty and resting upon his seat in the necropolis in regnal year 37, third month of inundation, day 27 of his Majesty
Stele of Pasenhor


In Upper Egypt, Shoshenq VI was overthrown by Osorkon III who was succeeded by Takelot III. Takelot III was succeeded by his brother Rudamun. The sources are quite poor for these kings and the historical record relies heavily on some inscriptions found that record the Nile levels during the reigns of these kings. In certain cases their burial places are known (albeit looted) and this gives some information. Like their counterparts in Lower Egypt, the kings of the 23rd Dynasty were descendants of the Meshwesh Libyans, who retained a number of their own customs. This left those who followed Egyptian customs feeling that the Libyans were outsiders, and the fragmented nature of their kingship was to expose the dynasty to conquest and rebellion. Ultimately, these dynasties were to be swept away by the Kushite kings of Napata to the south, who were to destroy many of the records of this time, in the name of cleansing Egypt from a foreign scourge. But the Kushite conquest of Egypt falls outside the timeframe we are looking at.

In Elam, there were presumably kings during this period but we know almost nothing about Elam at this time apart from a few fragmentary king names. However, in this era the Iranian tribes were moving into Iran, with the Medes and Persians in or around the western regions of the Urartian kingdoms (in north-western Iran). They were mentioned in some Assyrian inscriptions as powerful tribal confederations but there was as yet no hint of the full greatness that awaited them.

Fortress in Erebuni
Moving on from the land Namri I received tribute from twenty-seven kings of the land Parsua. Moving on from the land Parsua I went down to the lands Mēsu, Media (Amadāiia)...
Inscription of Shalmaneser III’s 24th regnal year detailing campaigns against the Persians and Medes

"Thanks to the greatness of the god Haldi, Argišti says: I conquered Eriahi's country, I conquered the city of Irdaniu, (reaching) as far as the country of Išqigulu"
Urartian Rock Inscription


Urartian quiver showing chariots
In Urartu, in the mountainous regions to the north of Mesopotamia, the Urartian rulers were reaching the peak of their power. This time period, where Assyria and Egypt were weak, allowed many smaller states to thrive on the peripheries. Urartu was in many ways the greatest of these states and was able to rival Assyria itself for a very brief period. King Menua, who reigned from around 810-786BC, built up extensive fortifications and canals and engaged in attacks on Urartu’s neighbours. The Assyrian Empire appears to have been weakened and a number of small buffer states between the kingdoms were now primarily controlled by Urartu.

Through the greatness of the God Ḫaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this canal. The land was uninhabited, no one was to be found here. By the grace of Ḫaldi Argishti made this canal. Argishti son of Menua, mighty King, great King, King of Bianiili, ruler of Tushpa
Urartian Inscription


Menua was succeeded by Argishti I, who reigned from around 786-764BC and is famous for building the city of Erebuni, better known today as Yerevan, which is the current capital of Armenia. He fought the Assyrians and appears to have raided within about thirty miles of the Assyrian capital Nineveh. More gallingly for the Assyrians, the Neo-Hittite city of Carchemish and other cities in present-day northern Syria seem to have been under Urartian rule, nullifying the Assyrian gains in that region that had been so bloodily fought for in the previous century.

Urartian Inscription
The same year, for the third time, I went to Eriahini, fired the cities, pillaged the countryside and exiled the population to Biaina. I built forts at Eriahini and annexed the country. The god Khaldi I glorified.
Inscription of Sarduri from Van


Argishti’s son, Sarduri II, who reigned from 764-735BC, continued the onward rush of Urartian power and this era may well be viewed as the golden age of the Urartian kingdom. In many ways, the inscriptions of Sarduri and Argishti can be read similarly to Assyrian inscriptions. They speak of themselves as universal rulers, detail the constant campaigns and building works and seem to actually control a large empire; one that seems to have reached from the Black Sea to the edge of Assyria. Only the fact that the Urartians dedicate their conquests to Khaldi rather than Ashur speaks to the difference. But Assyria had been humbled, not destroyed, and would soon revive to wreak a terrible vengeance for their humiliation.

The boundary which Adad-nārārī, king of Assyria,and Šamši-ilu, the field marshal, established...
Assyrian Inscription of a boundary stone showing the importance of Samsi-ilu.

Assyria, even at the end of its strength, was still very strong. Adad-Nirari III ruled from 811-783BC. He was under the influence of two very powerful characters: His mother, Shammuramat and one of his generals, Shamshi-ilu (or Samsi-ilu depending on the spelling; I have omitted the diacritics). Shamshi-ilu would go on to be the power behind the throne for subsequent kings and even erected monuments to himself. Hazael’s powerful kingdom of Damascus must have been seen as a threat and in 796, the year Hazael died, Adad-Nirari III attacked Damascus and received tribute from the kingdoms of the region, including Israel. While not mentioned in the Biblical texts Adad-Nirari’s intervention would have been seen as a deliverance from the rule of the Arameans of Damascus and the kingdom of Israel revives once Damascus was attacked. Babylon was also attacked by Assyria during Adad-Nirari III’s reign and we know very little of Babylon for his time.

Assyrian statue
Adad-nirārî, strong king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Šamšī-Adad(V), king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Shalmaneser(III), king of the four quarters: I mustered my chariotry, troops, and armed forces and ordered the march to the land of Hatti. In one year I subdued the entire lands of Amurru and Hatti. I imposed upon them tax and tribute forever. I received 2,000 talents of silver, 1,000 talents of copper, 2,000 talents of iron, 3,000 linen garments with multi-coloured trim - the tribute of Mari, the Damascene. I received the tribute of Joash, the Samaritan, and of the people of Tyre and Sidon.
Assyrian Inscription of Adad-Nirari III

After Adad-Nirari III died, three minor kings followed. Shalmaneser IV reigned from 783-773BC. Ashur-Dan III reigned from 772-755BC and Ashur-Nirari V who reigned from 755-745BC. It is unclear why there are so few records for their reigns. Possibly Assyria had been weakened so much that they were unable to create inscriptions. Possibly their records were destroyed by a later usurper. I suspect that the truth is a combination of the two theories. Shamshi-ilu, the powerful general, continued as a power behind the throne during at least part of this time and fought campaigns against Argishti of Urartu. It is possible that the kings were weak and incompetent and that, as the Assyrian state needed strong kings to survive, that the Turtanu (highest general) would step in to stabilise the state. On one of the only remaining fragments from the reign of Ashur-Nirari V, we hear of another general, Marduk-sharra-usur, who may have been a replacement Turtanu.

However, this situation could not last. Assyria needed a king and in the year 745, a general called Pulu staged a rebellion and quickly took over the Assyrian Empire. He would become known as Tiglath-Pileser III, one of the bloodiest and yet one of the most successful monarchs in history. The period from 800-750 sees a general decline and weakness in the Assyrian Empire. Under Tiglath-Pileser and his successors this would radically change in the next fifty years, and all the other states in the region would suffer from this terrifying renaissance.

Kudurru text from Babylonia
The king of Karduniaš (Babylon), bowed down … He brought back the abducted people and granted them an income, privileges, and barley rations. The peoples of Assyria and Karduniaš were joined together. They fixed the boundary-line by mutual consent.
Synchronistic Chronicle

While Assyria grew weaker, Babylon was unable to capitalise on this weakness. The records of this era are also very poor. The Synchronistic (or Synchronic) Chronicle, written by the Assyrians but dealing with Assyrian/Babylonian relations, ends around 790. Even the names of the kings are obscure. One king is known merely as Ninurta-apla-X, as his name cannot be reconstructed from the damaged clay of the chronicle. Ninurta-apla-X was succeeded by the almost equally unknown Marduk-bel-zeri, whose deeds and regnal dates are unknown but whose name at least survives.
After these kings, a Chaldean, one of the desert tribes from the south of Babylonia, called Marduk-apla-usur came to the kingship. We know very little about him either, save that his dynasty rose and fell with him. He is significant however, as this shows the Chaldean tribes were aspiring to the rule of the city of Babylon. The Chaldeans, particularly those of the House of Yakin (Bit-Yakin tribe), would subsequently rule Babylon.

The next king of Babylon was Eriba-Marduk, one of the first rulers from the Bit-Yakin clan or tribe. He restored Babylonian temples and was seen as bringing back order. As Assyria was weak to the north, Eriba-Marduk was probably one of the most powerful kings of his day, but almost no inscriptions remain from his time.

Eriba-Marduk was succeeded by Nabu-shuma-iskun, who is known in literature, primarily because a rather harsh condemnation of his rule was compiled under his successors: The Crimes and Sacrileges of Nabu-shuma-iskun, which is exactly what it sounds like. He was not from the Bit-Yakin tribe but was a Chaldean ruler. He reigned around 761-748BC. The polemic condemning him attributes crimes such as the bringing of leek vegetables into the temple of Nabu, which sounds pretty trivial to modern ears (although it would have been ritual pollution and very serious in the eyes of the priests). But he is also described as a harsh and unsuccessful ruler who imposed heavy tribute and burned people alive. In short, Assyria was weakened but the Babylonians were divided by infighting, religious strife and tribal conflicts. There is not much more that can be said of Babylon at this point.

Year after year, he made unbearable their burden of slaughter, robbery, murder, corvée, and forced labor. In only one day, he burned alive sixteen Cutheans at Zababa's gate in the heart of Babylon.
The Crimes and Sacrileges of Nabu-shuma-iskun

Aramean ivory carving possibly depicting Hazael
Under Hazael, the kingdom of Damascus had been very powerful in the Levant, with the Arameans sacking Philistine cities on the coast and subduing the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. However, once Hazael was dead, around 796, the kingdom of Damascus weakened dramatically. It is a little difficult even to know who the kings were. The Assyrians attacked Damascus in 796 and spoke of a person called Mari hiding in the city of Damascus (which the Assyrians were unable to take) but this may have been a different name for the king. The Hebrew Book of Kings refers to the son of Hazael as Ben-Hadad and the Stele of Zakkur refers to a king of the period as Bar-Hadad but exactly what happened when Hazael died is rather unclear.

And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities, which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war. Three times did Joash beat him, and recovered the cities of Israel.
2 Kings 13:25 KJV

It does seem clear that the power of Damascus declines, with Assyria attacking and the smaller kingdoms such as Israel and Judah breaking free from the Aramean yoke. Hamath, a small but significant city-state with close ties to Israel also broke free. One of the kings of Hamath, named Zakkur, was besieged by the Arameans of Damascus but was able to survive the siege and dedicated a stele of thanks to his god, Baalshamin. 
Stele of Zakkur

And Bar-hadad son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings ... And I lifted up my hands to the Lord of Heaven, and the Lord of Heaven answered me and spoke, the Lord of Heaven to me, through seers and astrologers, and said to me the Lord of Heaven: Fear not, for I have made thee king and will stand by thee, and I will deliver thee from all these kings that have set siege against thee...
Stele of Zakkur


After the reign of Bar-Hadad (who may have directly followed Hazael, or Mari, or have been identical to Mari etc.) there is an interim period where no dates can be drawn with certainty. Towards the end of the period however, a king by the name of Rezin (in Hebrew) or Rahianu (in Assyrian) reigned in Damascus. There is not much more that can be said about Damascus at this time.
The Phoenicians are also not well documented for this period. It is not that the period is a dark age per se. Any of the sources that do exist seem to show the cultures behaving much as expected. But a surprising number of regions that are normally well-documented are silent. There are few sources from the Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite kingdoms for this period as well, with the exception of the Edomite inscription of Deir Alla, which mentions Balaam of Beor. The text is heavily damaged and all translations of it are rather problematic but it seems to speak of Balaam having a dream of impending destruction by the gods.

Deir Alla Inscription: Image from Livius.org
The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he.
The gods came to him at night. And he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance. They said to Balaam, son of Beor: "So will it be done, with naught surviving. No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard!" Balaam arose on the morrow; He summoned the heads of the assembly to him, and for two days he fasted, and wept bitterly…
Deir Alla Inscription

In Israel and Judah, the first few years of the period saw the domination of the region by the Aramean king Hazael. However, their deliverance was near at hand. After the Assyrians had attacked Damascus and Hazael had died, the northern kingdom of Israel counterattacked under king Jehoash (sometimes referred to as Joash). They were able to retake the lands they had lost and the power balance seems to have shifted to see the kingdom of Israel become the most powerful state in the Levant region. Jehoash reigned around 798-782BC but these dates are conjectural. It is rather unlikely that the kingdom of Israel could have recovered from the domination of the Arameans without external factors. The attacks on Damascus by the Assyrians must have been seen as a deliverance, even if it involved paying tribute to the Assyrian rulers. The later Assyrian weakness, combined with the memory of this assistance leads to one of the few moments in the Tanakh where the Assyrians are spoken of well. The prophet Jonah is supposed to have been active around twenty years after this incident and the story of his preaching to the Assyrians and their repentance points to a moment of brief amicability between the two cultures, united against their common enemy in Damascus.

Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof”. And Elisha said unto him, “Take bow and arrows.” And he took unto him bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, “Put thine hand upon the bow.” And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands. And he said, “Open the window eastward.” And he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot.” And he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the LORD'S deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them”.
2 Kings 13:14-17

The Judahite contemporary of Jehoash was their king Jehoash/Joash, who was murdered around 796. His son, Amaziah, took over the throne and was a competent ruler. He fought the smaller kingdoms around Judah and triumphed over Edom, before taking advantage of his strength to attack Israel and being soundly defeated by Jehoash of Israel. After his defeat he was murdered around the year 767.
Jehoash and Amaziah were succeeded by Jeroboah II and Uzziah respectively. These kings seem to have worked in alliance with each other. Egypt was extremely weak. Damascus had been curtailed and Assyria was weak. The reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah thus saw one of the last great flowerings of Israelite culture.

Jeroboam II seems to have conquered Hamath and Damascus, although it is more probable that he forced them into a tributary relationship rather than actually conquering the cities. If this was the case, Jeroboam would have led a loose coalition of states that stretched from near the Euphrates River all the way to the borders of Egypt. A great burst of literary creation took place in this milieu of restored power and the prophets Hosea, Jonah, Amos and possibly Joel all active during this time period, although they tended not to be fond of the splendour of the court.

In the southern kingdom of Judah, the king Uzziah took advantage of the new found peace with Israel to attack other states and subdued the Philistines and others to enforce tribute (he probably was paying tribute to Jeroboam II at the same time). The reigns of Jeroboam and Uzziah appear to be the high points for both Israel and Judah.

The power of Jeroboam II was of no help in preserving his dynasty, as his son Zechariah was murdered around six months into his reign by Shallum. Shallum reigned for about a month before Menahem defeated Shallum in a civil war and took over the kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel periodically had bloody dynastic takeovers but the dates of this period are rather confused and not easy to verify archaeologically.

The one major event that is verifiable archaeologically from this time is a great earthquake. The Bible records a major earthquake during this time. Archaeology shows a massive earthquake that caused significant destruction across the Levant and that carbon dating and stratigraphy gives a rough date of around 760. There are destruction layers across nearly every city in the region and geologists class the earthquake as around 7.8-8.2 on the Richter Scale, making it significantly more destructive than any earthquake that has been recorded in the region over the last century. It was destructive enough that it was still referenced in literature over two hundred years after its occurrence and left a lasting cultural memory.

Yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah
Zechariah 14:5

Artist's rendering of the ancient Marib Dam
There are two other items that occurred, or were reputed to have occurred during this period that I thought were worth mentioning. The first was one of the greatest engineering wonders of the ancient world. In the south of Arabia, in present-day Yemen, the Sabean kingdom built the Great Marib Dam. This would provide water for extensive irrigation works and was probably the largest dam anywhere in the world at this point. The irrigation it allowed gave the region such prosperity that the later Romans referred to the region as Arabia Felix, meaning Happy/Fortunate Arabia. The dam would be repaired and extended over the years but it stood in one form or another until the generation before Muhammad, finally breaking around 575 AD. Sadly, the remains of the dam have been damaged by the ongoing civil war in Yemen, but damaged or not, its memory stands as a testament to human ingenuity and skill.

...and Ahtaban in Yasran, irrigated by the sluice-ways and his palm grove of Masaman in the district of Nasqum and his house Harur in the town Gaharan and his houses and his river-side fields and his lands and his stream beds in the district of the two tribes Muhanifum and Yabran, when Ilumqah granted to him what He had promised him and when He appointed him as administrator of Marib,...
Later Inscription from the city of Marib showing the concerns of the kings of the Sabaeans with water and irrigation

The other item of note from this time is a legendary one. On the 21st of April, 753BC, legend says that in an obscure set of hills in central Italy, a man named Romulus founded a city and named it after himself. The legend and the dates may be false or obscure, but I thought that the city of Rome was worth mentioning. It is the merest fragmentary detail in this period (if there were no later sources, Rome’s founding would have passed unnoticed). But it would become one of the most crucial places on earth in later periods.

Later Roman sculpture of Romulus and Remus
Remus is said to have been the first to receive an omen: six vultures appeared to him. The augury had just been announced to Romulus when double the number appeared to him. Each was saluted as king by his own party. The one side based their claim on the priority of the appearance, the other on the number of the birds. Then followed an angry altercation; heated passions led to bloodshed; in the tumult Remus was killed. The more common report is that Remus contemptuously jumped over the newly raised walls and was forthwith killed by the enraged Romulus, who exclaimed, ‘So shall it be henceforth with everyone who leaps over my walls.’ Romulus thus became sole ruler, and the city was called after him, its founder.
Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 1:7

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Yemeni Antiquities under threat

A temple in the endangered city of Sirwah
I know that I have posted several of these in the past but just knew that the Yemeni conflict was not being discussed much in the media and wanted to raise awareness of a particularly vulnerable historical site. There is a major ancient city, Sirwah, in Yemen that is under threat of destruction in the ongoing Yemeni civil war.

The details are in the History Today post linked here.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Gilgamesh: Recent discoveries

The newly discovered fragment of the Epic
A new tablet has been discovered in Iraq that sheds new light on Humbaba, the monster slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.

The article, with images and descriptions of the find, can be found on the excellent Ancient History blog so go check it out.

Hopefully there will be translations of the new (old) material soon!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The 9th Century BC in the Near East: Part II


Kilamuwa Stele
This is the second part of a post dealing with the 9th century BC in the Near East. For the first post in the series, please click here. The previous post dealt with the events leading up to the Battle of Qarqar so I will pick up from there.

I am Kilamuwa, the son of King Haya'. King Gabar reigned over Sam'al but achieved nothing. Then came Bamah, and he achieved nothing. My own father, Haya', did nothing with his reign. My brother, Sha'il, also did nothing.
It was I, Kilamuwa...who managed to do what none of my ancestors had.
My father's kingdom was beset by powerful, predatory kings, all holding out their hands, demanding to be fed.
But I raged amongst them like a fire, burning their beards and consuming their outstretched hands. Only the Danunian kings (nearby rulers in Cilicia) overmastered me; I had to call on the King of Assyria to assist me...
I, Kilamuwa, the son of Haya', ascended my father's throne.
Under their previous kings, the [people] had howled like dogs. But I was a father, a mother and a brother to them.
Extract from the Kilamuwa Stele, written in Phoenician in Aramaic script, by a king of Sam’al, a Neo-Hittite city that previously been a member of coalitions against Assyria. Kilamuwa records requesting Assyrian assistance against his powerful immediate neighbours and the benefits that his people received from it

As often happens in imperial struggles, resistance to an empire can be weakened as various weaker factions or kingdoms in an alliance of resistance try to make a deal with the enemy. Many smaller kings were quite happy to make deals with Assyria if it meant that Assyria would punish their local enemies nearby. After the battle of Qarqar some states do seem to have gone over to the Assyrians willingly. King Kilamuwa of Sam’al rather eloquently records that his ancestors had done nothing for his kingdom whereas he had restored it. Assyrian inscriptions (some quoted above) show that his father had fought against Shalmaneser but Kilamuwa records asking the Assyrians for help. Similar defections must have happened elsewhere and contributed to isolating the powerful kingdom of Damascus.

Wall relief from Nimrud showing Assyrian soldiers
In my eighth regnal year, at the time of Marduk-zäkir-sumi (I), king of Kardunias, Marduk-bel-usate, his brother, rebelled against him. I marched out for vengeance and captured the cities Mê-turnat and Lahiru. In my ninth regnal year, in my second campaign to Babylonia, I captured the city Gannanate. To save his life Marduk-bel-usate went up to the city Halman. I pursued him and put to the sword Marduk-bel-usate together with the treacherous soldiers who were with him.
Inscription of Shalmaneser III describing assistance rendered in crushing a revolt in Babylon

Shalmaneser III was distracted from further attacks across the Euphrates by developments to the south. His ally Marduk-zakir-shumi, king of Babylon was facing a rebellion around 852. The Assyrian troops marched south and after a fairly conclusive campaign, killed the usurper (Marduk-bel-usate). The usurpers had fled into the southern marches and sought shelter from Chaldean tribes. One of the tribes mentioned (the Bit-Yakin or the House of Yakin) were to eventually take control of Babylon in the following centuries. The cooperation between Assyria and Babylon led to a period of excellent relations for decades.

Mesha Stele
I have built this sanctuary for Chemosh (national god of Moab) in Karchah, a sanctuary of salvation, for he saved me from all aggressors, and made me look upon all mine enemies with contempt. Omri was king of Israel, and oppressed Moab during many days, and Chemosh was angry with his aggressions. His son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab. In my days he said, Let us go, and I will see my desire upon him and his house, and Israel said, I shall destroy it for ever. Now Omri took the land of Madeba, and occupied it in his day, and in the days of his son, forty years. And Chemosh had mercy on it in my time. ...
...I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel fortified Jahaz, and occupied it, when he made war against me, and Chemosh drove him out before me...
Excerpts from the Mesha Stele describing Mesha's successful rebellion against Israel

After the battle of Qarqar and the death of Ahab, Mesha, a king of Moab, revolted against Ahab’s successors. The revolt happened during the time of Ahaziah of Israel but Ahaziah died before being able to counterattack. When his brother Joram succeeded to the throne it seems that he tried to retake the land of Moab and summoned his vassal states Judah and Edom to assist. The war seems to have gone successfully for Israel at first but then an odd incident is recorded. Mesha loses a battle, tries to break through enemy lines to reach the king of Edom (who was part of the alliance against him), fails, sacrifices his own son on the walls of the city and the victorious Israelites inexplicably withdraw. The Biblical narrative in Chronicles subsequently records that Jehoshaphat is attacked by a coalition of Moab, Ammon and Edom. We are fortunate enough to have a stele of Mesha preserved, which is remarkable, as no other such steles of any kings of the immediate region have survived. In his inscription he speaks of his great devotion to the national god Chemosh, in ways that are reminiscent of some of the Psalms and that, when his god looked with favour, he was able to free his country from the Israelite yoke. The battles against the Israelites are not mentioned.

Moabite warrior god
When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.
2 Kings 3:26-27

If we accept the Biblical narrative we might reconstruct the sequence of events as follows. The Edomites were not happy with the Israelite rule and may have switched sides at the crucial juncture. This would explain why Mesha is described as trying to reach them and why they later are part of the coalition against Judah. The Israelite armies are described as being short of water and other supplies and the defection of Edom would have been problematic. Child sacrifice appears to have been part of the religion of the area (this is controversial among scholars) and it would have been seen as a powerful request to a god. Mesha carrying out this ritual in full view of the armies opposing him must have been a terrifying sight. Many in Israel and Judah would have believed that other gods existed, even if they worshipped the national god of Israel, and the sacrifice may have instilled fear into them of the consequences of the provoked anger of the god of Moab and forced Judah and Israel to withdraw. The authors of the book of Kings would be unlikely to record this detail, as Jehoshaphat was a king that they considered to have been very devout. The subsequent invasion of Judah would make sense if Mesha had survived the invasion, with Edom changing sides. Mesha would have wanted revenge and his new allies would have tipped the balance of power in Moab’s favour. However, the book of Chronicles records that the Moabites and Ammonites turned on the Edomites and slaughtered them before turning on each other. This detail would make sense if they thought the Edomites were about to switch sides once again. All in all, it is a really confusing part of history, with the primary sources and later sources vaguely giving a similar picture but interspersing it with unusual details. I thought the story was interesting enough that it should be included, even if it was only a minor squabble compared to other wars of this century. It is also one of the few conflicts of the era where we have sources of any type from both sides of the conflict.

The next few years saw a definite decline of the fortunes of Israel and Judah. Judah was heavily defeated in a later war with the Edomites. More seriously, Israel had been fighting a series of wars with the Arameans of Damascus and generally suffering defeats. Shalmaneser had returned to the region to fight further wars against Hamath and Damascus, who now fought on against Assyria without the help (and with the occasional active hindrance) of Israel. Hadadezer (or Ben-Hadad) was probably murdered by his son Hazael who proved to be a very able military commander. The king of Israel attempted to capitalise on the regime change and there was a battle between Joram of Israel and Hazael of Damascus at the border city of Ramoth-Gilead. Hazael appears to have conclusively defeated the Israelites and King Jehoram of Israel was wounded; retreating to Jezreel with Ahaziah the king of Judah. This battle was around the time of an impending Assyrian invasion against Damascus.

Stylised depiction of Assyrian war camp
Then the prophet (Elisha) poured the (anointing) oil on Jehu's head and declared, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I anoint you king over the LORD's people Israel. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the LORD's servants shed by Jezebel...."
2 Kings 9:6-7

The loss of Moab and the heavy defeat at Ramoth Gilead around 841 must have angered many in the Israelite army. To add to the discontent there was considerable religious tension in Israel. The Dynasty of Omri had alienated many of the followers of the national religion. One of the prophets (Elisha) was so angered at the dynasty that it is recorded that he not only crowned an alternative king of Israel, but he also had predicted that Hazael would become king of Damascus and inflict great suffering on Israel. This was effectively treason but those who claimed to speak for the gods were feared and revered so Elisha probably had leeway to say more than most. Jehu was a commander of the chariot corps, which seems to have been disproportionately powerful in Israel. Possibly at the instigation of Elisha, Jehu launched a rebellion and came after the two kings of Israel and Judah as they were recuperating in Jezreel. Jehu killed the two kings and all of the house of Omri that he could find before moving swiftly to Samaria and killing the Queen Mother, Jezebel. In the Israelite regal tradition the Queen Mother was a powerful figure and this murder must have broken the alliance with Phoenicia.

Jehu presenting tribute and bowing low before Shalmaneser
In my eighteenth regnal year I crossed the Euphrates for the sixteenth time. Hazael of Damascus, trusting in the might of his soldiers, carried out an extensive muster of his troops. He fortified Mount Saniru, the mountain peak, which is before Mount Lebanon. I fought with him and defeated him. I put to the sword 16,000 of his fighting men and took away from him 1,121 of his chariots and 470 of his cavalry with his military camp. To save his life he ran away but I pursued him. I imprisoned him in Damascus, his royal city, and cut down his gardens. I marched to Mount Hauranu and razed, destroyed, and burned cities without number. I carried off more booty than could be counted. I marched to Mount Ba'alira'asi, which is a cape jutting out into the sea, and erected my royal statue there. At that time I received tribute from the people of Tyre and Sidon and from Jehu of the house of Omri
Inscription of Shalmaneser III describing the expedition against Damascus around 842/841

Israel was still at war with Hazael and Jehu decided to make peace and send tribute to Shalmaneser, hoping that the king of Assyria would break the power of Damascus. Shalmaneser had broken the power of Hamath and had pushed Hazael back to his capital but was unable to take Damascus. Hazael survived and would wreak a terrible vengeance on Israel. In one of Shalmaneser’s stele’s he shows the submission of Jehu, who is mistakenly referred to as being of the house of Omri. It is probably the only contemporary picture of an Israelite king and it is not very flattering.

After he left there, he came upon Jehonadab son of Recab, who was on his way to meet him. Jehu greeted him and said, "Are you in accord with me, as I am with you?" "I am," Jehonadab answered. "If so," said Jehu, "give me your hand." So he did, and Jehu helped him up into the chariot. Jehu said, "Come with me and see my zeal for the LORD."
2 Kings 10:15-16

An unusual element is revealed in the book of Kings describing the change of dynasty in Israel. A descendant of Recab is met by the king who brings him along in the royal chariot while overseeing the destruction of the remainder of the family of Ahab. The Recabites are only mentioned once elsewhere in the Bible, as a small aside in the book of Jeremiah. There we are told that the Recabites were a sect or a clan within Judaism that abstained from wine and lived in tents as a religious duty. It is interesting to note that they were involved in the coup and it is a reminder that even the Judaism of this period was not a simple unitary entity but involved a number of factions and sects.

When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed.
2 Kings 11:1-2

While Jehu had destroyed the family of Omri in Israel, Athaliah, the Queen Mother of Judah, who was a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, launched a coup in Judah, killing all the house of David that she could find before assuming power as queen for around six years (the only ruling Queen in the history of Judah or Israel and quite unusual for anywhere in the region). This effectively made Judah in revolt against Israel.

Stele of Shamshi-Adad V
In 842-841 the position of the Aramean kingdom of Damascus looked very dangerous. Their allied states against Assyria had been destroyed, defected to the Assyrians or attacked the Arameans. But Hazael, king of Damascus, had withstood the storm. For some years Shalmaneser was engaged in campaigns further north against the Urartians, burning their capital Arzashkun. Assyrian power in modern Syria was extended by Shalmaneser’s creation of a fortress city on the eastern bank of the Euphrates facing Carchemish, Kar-Shalmaneser, to control the river crossings and ensure an easy passage towards the Mediterranean. The final Assyrian assault against Damascus did not happen however. Shalmaneser was old and no longer able to lead the army on campaigns.

When Assur-dan-apla, at the time of Shalmaneser, his father, acted treacherously by inciting insurrection, uprising, and criminal acts, caused the land to rebel and prepared for battle; at that time the people of Assyria, above and below, he won over to his side, and made them take binding oaths. He caused the cities to revolt and made ready to wage battle and war. The cities Nineveh, Adia, Sibaniba, Imgur-Enlil, Iššabri, BltŠašširia, (?), Šibhiniš, Tamnuna, Kipšuna, Kurbail, Tidu, Nabulu, Kahat, Aššur, Urakka, Sallat, Huzirina, Dür-baläti, Dariga, Zaban, Lubdu, Arrapha, and Arbail, together with the cities Amedu, Tll-abnl, and Hindanu, — altogether twenty-seven towns with their fortresses which had rebelled against Shalmaneser, king of the four quarters, my father, sided with Assur-dan-apla.
Inscription of Shamshi-Adad V, successor to Shalmaneser III, describing the revolt in 824

Babylonian text from Sippar
Perhaps Shalmaneser had planned to finish the wars in Urartu before destroying Damascus but in 826 a great revolt broke out in Assyria. A son of Shalmaneser had rebelled and mobilised nearly all of the large Assyrian cities against the king and the crown prince. A bloody four year war ensued. Shalmaneser died during the course of the war but the crown prince, Shamshi-Adad V, managed to eventually quell the rebellion, coming to the throne in 824. The Babylonian king may have been called in to assist Shamshi-Adad in quelling the rebellion, as the two kingdoms were allied at the time. Shamshi-Adad’s queen was herself probably a Babylonian princess (Shammuramat). Some scholars speak as if this rebellion caused long-term damage to the Assyrian army but it was still very formidable in the years immediately after the rebellion so this is a questionable theory.

Shamshi-Adad shall not say any evil words about Marduk-rimanni [... to] the king, (viz.): "Kill, blind, or seize him", nor] shall king Marduk-zakir-shumi listen to him should he say such things.
Excerpt of a treaty between Shamshi-Adad V of Assyrian and Marduk-zakir-shumi of Babylon

I marched to the land of the Medes. They took fright in the face of the angry weapons of Assur and of my strong warfare, which have no rival, and abandoned their cities. They ascended a rugged mountain and I pursued them. I massacred 2,300 soldiers of Hanasiruka the Mede.
Excerpt of an inscription of Shamshi-Adad V describing an expedition to the east

Babylonian kudurru with the name of Marduk-zakir-shumi
Shamshi-Adad immediately tried to emulate his father and grandfather in a series of uninterrupted conquests. He attacked Urartu again and extracted tribute. He also attacked the Medes to the east in the Iranian plateau, winning some victories against them. There was a treaty between the Babylonian king, Marduk-zakir-shumi, and Shamshi-Adad but when Marduk-zakir-shumi died the decades-long alliance broke down. Marduk-balassu-iqbi came to the throne and ruled from a city called Dur-Papsukkal (a number of Babylonian dynasties had palaces away from Babylon itself).

All of the people of the land Akkad (Babylonia), who had taken fright at the flash of my violent weapons and my incontestable mighty warfare and together with the inhabitants of 447 cities had entered Dur-Papsukkal, a royal city which lay like a river meadow in the torrent of waters and was not easily accessible for my troops — that city I conquered on my march. I felled 13,000 of its soldiers with the sword, caused their blood to flow like river water in the square of their city, and piled up the corpses of their warriors in heaps.
Inscription of Shamshi-Adad V describing the Battle of Dur-Papsukkal and the invasion of Babylonia

Some have speculated that Shamshi-Adad felt that Babylon was given too much importance in the treaties between the two states, others have felt that perhaps he felt that, as the husband of a Babylonian princess, he should have inherited the throne. The origins of the war are unknown but around 814 full-scale war broke out. Shamshi-Adad led two campaigns against the Babylonian royal residence at Dur-Papsukkal and destroyed it, causing the Babylonian king to flee south and die fighting.

Kudurru of Marduk-balassu-iqbi
I confined in the city Nibu... I captured that city by tunnels, battering rams, and ladders. I captured alive Baba-aha-iddina, together with the divine standard which goes before him, his sons, his daughters,...
Inscription of Shamshi-Adad V describing the destruction of the Babylonian royal dynasty

His successor, Baba-ahha-iddina, did not even survive the year before being captured alive (and presumably executed) by the Assyrian forces, who pursued the Babylonians into the marshes of southern Babylon and intimidated the Chaldean tribes living there. The fact that his queen was (possibly) Babylonian did not dissuade Shamshi-Adad from destroying the dynasty from which she came. For the rest of this century Babylon was to have no king.

Aramu, in order to save his life, ascended a rugged mountain. I trampled his land with my vigorous virility like a wild bull and laid waste his cities. I razed, destroyed, and burned the city Arsasku together with the cities in its environs. I erected towers of heads before his gate; some heads of nobles I spread out within the piles, others I erected on stakes around the piles. Moving on from the city Arsasku I ascended Mount Eritia. I made a colossal royal statue of myself and wrote thereon the praises of Assur, my lord, and the victorious conquests which I had been achieving in the land of Urartu.
Inscription of Shalmaneser III describing his defeat of Aramu and the destruction of the capital of Urartu

In Assyria Shalmaneser III had fought a series of campaigns against King Arame (often called Aramu in Assyrian inscriptions) of Urartu and had won some major victories. The main capital Arzashkun had been captured and burned and many of the other cities in the region had been destroyed. Arame had united the Nairi tribes and appears to have founded the kingdom of Urartu as a united entity. He ruled from around 858 to 844, although these dates are not certain. Not much is known of him but he may have been the inspiration for later Armenian legends. He was succeeded by Lutipri who is quite silent in the records. Lutipri reigned from about 844 to 834 and during this period the kingdom of Urartu suffered greatly from the Assyrian attacks.

Van citadel: The new capital of Sarduri I
Sarduri son of Lutipri, great king, mighty king, king of the universe, the king of the country of Nairi, king, who has no equal...
Inscription of King Sarduri I of Urartu, located in the masonry walls of a Urartian building at the foot of the citadel of Van.

Sarduri I succeeded Lutipri and had a short reign from 834 to 828 (again these dates are roughly right but not perfect compared to the Assyrian kings). Sarduri I moved the capital north to the citadel of Tushpa, later known as Van. This city had major fortifications constructed on a rocky hilltop that would have daunted most armies that could attempt to besiege it. The new capital and the outbreak of the rebellion against Shalmaneser III in Assyria gave the Urartians breathing space and they were able to expand their kingdom. A number of inscriptions are found at Van, written by Sarduri and other monarchs, where they claim to be the king of the universe in language reminiscent of the bombastic Assyrian claims to overlordship. Sarduri’s son, Ishpuini conquered the city of Musasir, which seems to have held great ritual significance for the Urartians (and thus later became a target for the Assyrians). The location of this city is not known but it is possible that it was actually quite close to the Assyrians (in present day Iraq). Menua was the son of Ishpuini, was adopted to the position of co-ruler during his father’s lifetime and ruled alone from 810 to 786. The Urartian kingdom became very strong during this time and the Assyrian monarchs were unable to crush them.

Some have suspected that Armenian legends such as the legend of Hayk and Ara the Beautiful are remembrances of this time (citing the superficial resemblance of Aramu to Ara). However, the details of the legends do not match the records and hardly any of the names are remembered. It is likely that all that was remembered was that there was a great struggle between the inhabitants of the highlands and Mesopotamians to the south. The details of that struggle were then filled in by medieval historians like Movses Khorenatsi using imagery from Genesis and Greek legends.

A later painting of Semiramis
Boundary stone of Adad-narari, king of Assyria, son of Shamshi-Adad (V), king of Assyria, and of Shammuramat, the palace-woman of Shamshi-Adad, king of Assyria, mother of Adad-nararî, strong king, king of Assyria, daughter-in-law of Shalmaneser (III), king of the four quarters. When Uspilulume, king of the Kummuhites, caused Adad-narari, king of Assyria, and Shammuramat, the palace woman, to cross the Euphrates; ...
Excerpt from a boundary stone of Adad-Nirari referencing Shammuramat accompanying the king on campaign. The name Uspilulume is the Neo-Hittite name Suppiluliuma as written by the Assyrians.

A statue from the time of Adad-Nirari III
When Shamshi-Adad V died in 811 his son, Adad-Nirari III was very young. While he was growing up a number of officials, most notably his mother Shammuramat and an official called Samsi-ilu. Samsi-ilu was an official who ruled over the old land of the Mitanni near the Khabur River and he was sufficiently powerful that he erected stelae with his name (previously these had only been created by the Assyrian kings). Shammuramat also had her name on stelae and generally the Assyrian kingdom appears to have been weakened as provincial officials took more and more power to themselves. Shammuramat may at one point have been the effective ruler of the kingdom and accompanied her son on at least one major campaign. The idea of a woman ruling the most powerful kingdom in the world resonated long after the circumstances of her time of influence were forgotten. The Greeks remembered her as Semiramis, a lustful monarch who conquered nearly all of Asia before ultimately failing to capture India. The Armenians remembered her as a sorceress with a multitude of lovers who slew the warrior Ara the Beautiful. The stories told of Semiramis by the Greeks and Armenians are quite mythical and should not be taken seriously as history.

Nearchus alone asserts that Alexander pursued this route, not from ignorance of the difficulty of the journey, but because he heard that no one had ever hitherto passed that way with an army and emerged in safety from the desert, except Semiramis, when she fled from India. The natives said that even she emerged with only twenty men of her army; and that Cyrus, son of Cambyses, escaped with only seven of his men.' For they say that Cyrus also marched into this region for the purpose of invading India; but that he did not effect his retreat before losing the greater part of his army, from the desert and the other difficulties of this route. When Alexander received this information he was seized with a desire of excelling Cyrus and Semiramis.
Excerpt from Arrian's Anabasis describing the myths of Semiramis that were apparently believed by Alexander and his soldiers

A Gustave Doré woodcut of the death of Athaliah
After Jehu’s killing of the kings of Israel and Judah at Jezreel, Athaliah (the wife of the murdered King Joram) took power in Judah and cemented her reign by apparently slaying all the members of the ruling House of David. This is unusual, as she must have seen herself as starting a new dynasty but it is not clear who she hoped to have succeed her. Athaliah is only known from Biblical sources and appears to have fostered the Phoenician religion of the god Baal in Judah. After seven years, the High Priest of the temple of the god of Israel put forward a prince who had apparently survived the slaughter of the House of David and launched a revolution, killing Athaliah and the priest of Baal and destroying the temple of Baal. The young prince, Joash, was placed on the throne of Judah at the age of seven and the High Priest seems to have been regent. It is an unusual episode as it highlights the religious tensions that existed in Judah as well as Israel and is the only instance of a ruling Queen recorded for either Israel or Judah. Interestingly, Athaliah would have been a contemporary with Semiramis, (and possibly the mythical Dido who fled to found Carthage) making it a period where there were multiple states in the Near East with powerful women as rulers or influencers.

A possible representation of Hazael
Meanwhile, in Damascus, Hazael had not been idle. The Assyrian threat to Damascus had receded, as Shalmaneser III struggled with Urartu and rebellions and Shamshi-Adad V dealt with Babylon. When Adad-Nirari III came to the throne of Assyria he was a young child and his mother and his generals acted as regents. During this period of Assyrian weakness Hazael rebuilt the power of Damascus and launched a devastating series of campaigns against Israel. After inflicting heavy defeats upon Israel and leaving their armies broken, Hazael moved against Judah and the Philistine cities. The city of Gath was conquered by Hazael (with some archaeological evidence for a destruction layer in Gath dated to this time). Joash of Judah bought off Hazael by giving a large tribute so Jerusalem was spared. Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, had succeeded to the throne of Israel but Israel was effectively reduced to a tributary state of Damascus at this time.

An enigmatic text called the Tel Dan Stele has been discovered in the ancient city of Dan in Israel (on the north-eastern border of the old kingdom of Israel). It may or may not be genuine but if it is a forgery, it is a convincing forgery. It is the remains of a monumental victory inscription made by a powerful king of Damascus, probably between 850 and 750. These dates would suggest that it was likely written by Hazael. It has been translated in a number of different ways but one translation is given here and it is worth quoting in full.

The Tel Dan Stele
…and cut/made (a treaty)?[…] …-el my father went up against him when he was fighting at A[bel?] and my father lay down; he went to [his ancestors.] Now the king of Israel entered formerly in the land, in my father’s lan; [but] Hadad (the god of Damascus) made me myself king, and Hadad went in front of me; [and] I departed from [the] seven […] of my kingdom; and I slew seve[nty ki]ngs who harnessed thou[sands of cha]/riots and thousands of horsemen [And I killed Jo]ram son of A[hab], king of Israel, and [I] killed [[Ahazi]yahu, son of [Joram, kin]g of the House of David; and I set [their towns into ruins ? …the ci]ties of their land into de[solation?...]…other and to over[turn all their cities?... and Jehu] led over Is[rael…]siege upon[…]
Tel Dan Stele


The stone is shattered and in fragments and the meaning differs from scholar to scholar. Hazael is generally held to be the king writing the inscription. The two kings that are slain are probably the two kings that the Bible mentions as dying in Jehu’s revolt. It is a work of propaganda and must be treated as such but one interpretation could see Jehu and Hazael (two commanders of armies facing each other in battle), making peace with one another, so that each commander could overthrow their kings and rule in their stead. The fact that the Bible records both of these as having dealings with the same holy man shortly before their respective revolutions could lend some credence to this.

The walls of Tel Dan (a city conquered by Hazael in Israel)
And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he (Elisha) answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
2 Kings 8:12-13

The Tel Dan stele refers to the king of Damascus slaying the kings of Israel and Judah. If there was an understanding or temporary alliance between Jehu and Hazael, the deaths of Ahaziah and Joram could be legitimately claimed by Hazael as his doing. Alternatively it might be overblown propaganda (“I fought and defeated them; shortly afterwards they died: ergo I killed them”). But a temporary alliance makes a lot of sense. The fact that Jehu and Hazael do not seem to have fought much at the beginning of their reigns would work with this theory, although the fact that Hazael was under attack from Assyria would also explain it. This is generally speculation, which is fun but should not be taken too seriously. If there ever was an alliance between Jehu and Hazael, it did not last and in the last decades of the 9th century Hazael had forged a mighty kingdom that dominated Syro-Palestine; the high water mark of the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, while Assyria had a few decades of temporary weakness. Under the reign of Hazael, Israel cried out for a saviour. The next decades of the century to come would see their deliverance from Damascus.

Phoenician goddess figure
And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king's hands. And he said, Open the window eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the Lord's deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them”.
2 Kings 13:15-17 (KJV Translation)

This completes the account of this century. It is far longer than other posts that I have written, mainly because it is a long time period with a number of sources. Some general themes can be seen. The weakness of Egypt, the growing but not invincible strength of Assyria, the rise of Urartu as a northern rival to Assyria and the decline of Babylon as a southern rival. The other main theme is the constant political shifts between the smaller but significant kingdoms of Syro-Palestine and the ever-changing alliances and betrayals between Phoenicia, Hamath, Damascus, Israel, Judah, Ammon, Moab and Edom. I have tried to give some idea of these power plays but the nature of the sources allow for multiple interpretations and ultimately we will probably never know exactly what was in the minds of Hazael, Mesha, Jehu or Shamshi-Adad and our knowledge of the lives of ordinary people at this time is very poor. As new facts come to light, our understanding may change radically.

Hopefully this was relatively enjoyable. For the first post in this series, please click here. I will be busy in work for some time so this will be my last post for a while but I hope to resume them in a few months. In the best tradition of 9th century annalistic writing I will leave you with some speculative and most likely incorrect chronologies for these times.

Wall relief from Nimrud
Assyria
Adad-nirari II 911-891
Tukulti-Ninurta II 891-884
Ashurnasirpal II 883-859
Shalmaneser III 859–824 BC (853: Battle of Qarqar; 842-841: attack Damascus; 826: revolt;)
Shamshi-Adad V 824-811 BC
Adad-nirari III 811 - 783

Babylon
Nabu-shuma-ukin I c. 900-888
Nabu-apla-iddina c.888-855
Marduk-zâkir-šumi I c. 855 – 819 BC
Marduk-balassu-iqbi c. 819 – 813 BC
Baba-aha-iddina c. 812 BC
No king until c. 800

Egypt (22nd Dynasty ruling in Tanis)
Osorkon I 922-887
Shoshenq II c. 887-885
Takelot I c. 885-872
Osorkon II c. 872-837
Shoshenq III c.837-798

Urartu
Arame of Urartu 858-844
Lutipri 844-834
Sarduri I 834-828 (moves the capital to Tushpa/Van)
Ishpuini 828-810
Menua (810-786)

Aram (Damascus)
Tabrimmon (?)
Ben-Hadad I (?)
Hadadezer c. 880-842 (853 Battle of Qarqar)
Hazael 842–800 (possible usurper)

Tyre
Deleastartus c. 900-889
Aserymus c.888-880
Phelles c.879
Ithobaal I c.878-847 (or Ethbaal; usurper, New Dynasty: House of Ethbaal)
Baal-Eser II c. 846-841
Mattan I c.840-832
Pygmalion c.831-785 (or Pu’mayyaton)

Israel
Baasha (?) (New Dynasty: House of Baasha)
Elah (?)
Zimri ? (New Dynasty: House of Zimri)
Omri ? (New Dynasty: House of Omri)
Ahab ?-851?
Ahaziah 851?-850?
Joram ?850-842?
Jehu 841-814 (New Dynasty: House of Jehu)
Jehoahaz 814-798

Judah
Asa c.911-870
Jehoshaphat c.871-849
Jehoram c.849-842
Ahaziah c. 841
Athaliah 841-836 (usurper)
Jehoash/Joash 836-797

Moab
Mesha c.850-?