Assyria
Part Four
Author: Godspeed, George

Early Conflicts Of Babylonia And Assyria. 1500-1150 B.C.

113. The half millennium (2000-1500 B.C.), that saw the decline of Old
Babylonia, its conquest by the Kassites and the beginnings of the kingdom of
Assyria, had been also a period of transition in the rest of the ancient
oriental world. In Egypt the quiet, isolated development of native life and
forces which had gone on unhindered for two thousand years and had produced
so remarkable a civilization, was broken into by the invasion of the Hyksos,
Semitic nomads from Arabia, who held the primacy of power for three hundred
years and introduced new elements and influences into the historical
process. In the region lying between the Euphrates and the Nile, which in
the absence of a common name may be called Syria, where Babylonian
civilization, sustained from time to time by Babylonian armies, had taken
deep root, similar changes, though less clearly attested by definite
historical memorials, seem to have taken place. The Hyksos movement into
Egypt could not but have been attended with disturbances in southern Syria,
reflected perhaps in the patriarchal traditions of the Hebrews. In the
north, peoples from the mountains that rim the upper plateau began to
descend and occupy the regions to the east and west of the head-waters of
the Euphrates, thus threatening the security of the highways of trade, and,
consequently, Babylonian authority on the Mediterranean.

114. Had the Babylonian kingdom been unhampered, it might have met and
overcome these adverse influences in its western provinces and continued its
hegemony over the peoples of Syria. But to the inner confusion caused by
the presence of foreign rulers was added the antagonism of a young and
vigorous rival, the Assyrian kingdom on the upper Tigris. Through the
absorption of both powers in the complications that ensued, any vigorous
movement toward the west was impossible. It was from another and quite
unexpected quarter that the political situation was to be transformed. In
Egypt by the beginning of the sixteenth century a desperate struggle of the
native element against the ruling Hyksos began, resulting, as the century
drew to a close, in the expulsion of the foreigners. Under the fresh
impulses aroused by this victorious struggle the nation entered an entirely
new path of conquest. The Pharaohs of the New Empire went forth to win
Syria.

115. The fifteenth century B.C., therefore, marks a turning-point in
the history of Western Asia. The nations that had hitherto wrought out
largely by themselves their contributions to civilization and progress came
into direct political relation one with another in that middle zone between
the Euphrates and the Nile, which was henceforth to be the battle-ground of
their armies and the reward of their victories. From that time forth the
politics of the kings was to be a world-politics; the balance of power was
to be a burning question; international diplomacy came into being. The
three great powers were Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Lesser kingdoms
appeared as Egypt advanced into the East, - Mitanni in northwestern
Mesopotamia, whose people used the cuneiform script to express a language
which cannot yet be understood, Alasia in north-western Syria, and the
Hittites just rounding into form in the highlands of northeastern Syria and
destined to play so brilliant a part, if at present a puzzling one, in the
history of the coming centuries. At first, Egypt carried all before her.
Under the successive Pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty, her armies passed
victoriously up and down along the eastern Mediterranean and even crossed
the Euphrates. All Syria became an Egyptian province, paying tribute to the
empire of the Nile. Egyptian civilization was dominant throughout the whole
region.

116. The effect of this Egyptian predominance in Syria upon the
kingdoms of the Tigro-Euphrates valley was significant. The Egyptians
obtained the monopoly of the trade of its new provinces, and the eastern
kingdoms were cut off. They were crowded back as Egypt pressed forward. It
is not improbable that Assyria's northern movement (sect. 112) was by this
pressure forced to the east, and therefore the centre of Assyrian power
shifted to the other side of the Tigris over against the eastern mountains.
The image of Ishtar, goddess of Nineveh, had fallen during this time into
the hands of the king of Mitanni, who sent it to Egypt (Winckler, Tel-el-
Amarna Letters, 20). The pent up forces of the two peoples declined and
exhausted themselves in reviving and pursuing with greater intensity and
persistence the struggle for local supremacy. Assyria was numbered by
Thutmose III. of Egypt (1480-1427 B.C.) among his tributaries for two years,
although this may have been little more than a vainglorious boast, arising
out of the endeavor of the Assyrian king to obtain the Egyptian alliance by
means of gifts. That Egypt was courted by both Babylonian and Assyrian
rulers is testified to by the archives of Amenhotep IV., as preserved in the
Tel-el-Amarna letters, which contain communications from kings of both
nations to the Pharaohs, intimating that these negotiations had been going
on for half a century. The Pharaohs, having won their provinces in Syria by
force of arms, were willing to maintain possession by alliances with
bordering peoples whom they regarded as inferior, even while treating with
them on the conventional terms imposed by the diplomacy of the time. Thus
they exchanged princesses with Mitanni, Babylon, and Assyria, and made
presents of gold, the receipt of which the kings of these lands acknowledged
by asking for more. Their deferential attitude toward Egypt, however, goes
somewhat beyond what must have been the diplomatic courtesy of the time, and
shows how Egypt stood as arbiter and head among them. A perfect
illustration of the situation is given in the following paragraph from a
letter of the king of Babylon to Amenhotep IV. of Egypt:

In the the time of Kurigalzu, my father, the Canaanites as a body sent
to him as follows: "Against the frontier of the land, let us march, and
invade it. Let us make an alliance with thee." Then my father sent them
this (reply), as follows: "Cease (trying) to form an alliance with me. If
you cherish hostility against the king of Egypt, my brother, and bind
yourselves together (with an oath), as for me, shall I not come and plunder
you? - for he is in alliance with me." My father, for the sake of thy
father, did not heed them. Now, (as to) the Assyrians, my own subjects, did
I not send thee (word) concerning their matters? Why has (an embassy)
entered thy country? If thou lovest me, let them have no good fortune. Let
them secure no (advantage) whatever (ABL, p. 221).

While Egypt must needs be on friendly terms with the Mesopotamian states in
order to keep them from interfering in Syria, it was with each one of them
a vital matter to gain her exclusive alliance, or prevent any other of them
from securing it.

117. In these conditions of world-politics, the complications between
the rival states in Mesopotamia, as already remarked, were increased and
intensified. The problem of a boundary line, a frequent source of trouble
between nations, occasioned recurring difficulties. Kara-indash for Babylon
and Ashur-bel-ni-sheshu for Assyria settled it (about 1450) by a treaty
(Synchr. Hist., col. I. 1-4). The same procedure was followed about half a
century later by the Babylonian Burnaburyas I. (?) and the Assyrian Puzur-
ashur (Ibid., col. I. 5-7). Of Kadashman Bel (Kallima Sin), who reigned at
Babylon in the interval, four letters to Amenhotep III. of Egypt are
preserved in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, together with one from the Pharaoh
to him, but beyond the mention of exchanging daughters as wives they contain
no historical facts of importance. Kurigalzu I. (about 1380 B.C.), the son
and successor of Burnaburyas (I.?), is mentioned in the same collecton of
documents as on good terms with Egypt, but no record remains of his
relations with Assyria, where Ashur-nadin-akhi ruled. The same is true of
the latter's son, Ashur-uballit and the Babylonian Burnaburyas II. (about
1350 B.C.), son of Kurigalzu I., who refers to his rival in the boastful
terms already quoted (sect. 116), which, however, must be interpreted as the
language of diplomacy. His six letters to the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. are,
otherwise, historically barren. Ashuruballit, "the vassal," succeeded in
marrying his daughter Muballitat-sirua to the Babylonian king's son,
Karakhardash, who followed his father upon the throne (about 1325 B.C.).
The two kings also renewed the boundary treaty of their fathers (RP, 2 ser.
V. p. 107, and Winckler, Alt. Or. Forsch. I., ii. pp. 115 f.). Here the
first stage of the rivalry may be said to close. From a position of
insignificance the Assyrian kingdom had been raised, by a series of able
rulers, to an equality with Babylonia, and the achievement was consummated
by the union of the royal houses.

118. The son of this union, Kadashman-kharbe, succeeded his father on
the Babylonian throne while his grandfather, Ashuruballit, still ruled in
Assyria. To him, apparently, a Babylonian chronicle fragment ascribes the
clearing of the Euphrates road from the raids of the Bedouin Suti, and the
building of fortresses and planting of colonies in Syria (RP, 2 ser. V., and
Winckler, AOF, l. c.). But it is not improbable that, if done by him, it
was in connection with his grandfather, who, in his letter to the Pharaoh
Amenhotep IV., expressly mentions the Suti as infesting the roads to the
west, evidently the trade routes of the upper Mesopotamian valley (Winckler,
Tel-el-Amarna Letters, pp. 30 f.). This close relation to Assyria was not
pleasing to the Kassite nobles, who rebelled against their king, killed him,
and set a certain Suzigas, or Nazibugas, upon the throne. But the aged
Ashuruballit hastened to avenge his grandson, marched into Babylonia, and
put the usurper to death. In his stead he placed on the throne the son of
Kadashman-kharbe as Kurigalzu II., who, called the "young" one, was
evidently still a child. With this agrees the probable reading of the years
of his reign as fifty-five upon the kings' list. He must at first have
reigned under the tutelage of Ashuruballit, who, however, could not have
lived long after his great-grandson's accession. The Assyrian throne was
taken by his son Bel-nirari, who was followed by his son Pudi-ilu.
Kurigalzu outlived both these kings, and saw Pudi-ilu's son, Adad-nirari I.,
succeed his father. The Babylonian king seems not to have altered his
friendly attitude toward Assyria during the reigns of the first two kings.
He waged a brilliantly successful war with the Elamites, captured their king
Khurba-tila with his own hands, sacked Susa, his capital, and brought back
great spoil. At Nippur he offered to the goddess of the shrine an agate
tablet which, after having been given to Ishtar of Uruk in honor of Dungi of
Ur more than a thousand years before, had been carried away to Elam in the
Elamite invasion of the third millennium and was now returned to its
Babylonian home. In his last years the king came into conflict with
Adadnirari I. of Assyria. Was it owing to the ambition of a young and
vigorous ruler who hoped to get the better of his aged rival? Or was it the
Babylonian's growing distrust of the power of Assyria, which, under one of
the kings of his time, Belnirari, had attacked and overthrown the Kassites
in their ancestral home to the east of the Tigris? Whatever was the
occasion, the two armies met, and the Assyrian was completely defeated (RP,
2 ser. V. pp. 109 ff., cf. IV. p. 28; Winckler, AOF, p. 122). A
readjustment of boundaries followed. Kurigalzu II. was an industrious
builder. Whether the citadel of Dur Kurigalzu, which lay as a bulwark on
the northern border of the Babylonian plain, was built by him or his
predecessor, the first of the name, is uncertain. The same confusion
attaches to most of the Kurigalzu inscriptions, though the probabilities are
in favor of ascribing the majority of them to Kurigalzu II. The temples at
Ur and Nippur were rebuilt by him as well as that of Agade. A statement of
the Babylonian chronicle suggests that he was the first Kassite king who
favored Babylon and its god Marduk. He gives himself in his inscriptions,
among other titles, that of "Viceroy of the god Bel" and may well be that
Kurigalzu whom a later ruler, in claiming descent from him, proudly calls
the "incomparable king" (sharru la sanaan).

119. The period of peace with the Kassite rulers of Babylonia had been
improved by the Assyrian kings in extending their boundaries toward the
north and east. An inscription of Adadnirari I. (KB, I. 4 ff.) ascribes the
beginning of this forward movement to his great-grandfather, Ashuruballit,
who conquered the Subari on the upper Tigris. Belnirari and Pudi-ilu
campaigned in the east and southeast in the well-watered region between the
river and the mountains, where dwelt the Kuti, the Suti, the Kassi, and
other peoples of the mountain moutain and the steppe, down to the borders of
Elam. Adadnirari I. continued the advance by subduing the Lulumi in the
east, but his defeat by Kurigalzu II. cost him the southern conquests of his
predecessors, as the boundary-line established after the battle (Syn. Hist.,
col. I. 21-23) and the silence of his own inscription indicate. However, he
strengthened Assyria's hold on the other peoples by planting cities among
them. When Kurigalzu II. was succeeded in Babylonia by his son nazi-
maruttash, the Assyrian king tried the fortune of battle with him, and this
time apparently with greater success, although the new boundaries agreed
upon seem very little different from those in the time of Kurigalzu II.
(Syn. Hist., col. I. 24-31).

120. Under Adadnirari's son, Shalmaneser I. (about 1300?), Assyria
began to push westward. The decades that had passed since the
correspondence between the Amenhoteps of Egypt and the kings of Assyria and
Babylonia had witnessed a great change in the political relations of Egypt
and Syria. A people which in the fifteenth century was just appearing in
northern Syria, the Khatti (Hittites), had pushed down and overspread the
land to the borders of Palestine. The eighteenth Egyptian dynasty had
disappeared, and the nineteenth, which had succeeded, found the Khatti
invincible. Ramses II., the fourth Pharaoh of that dynasty, made a treaty
of peace with them, wherein he renounced all Egyptian provinces north of
Palestine. With the pressure thus removed from northern Mesopotamia,
Assyria was free to move in this the natural direction of her expansion. It
was a turning-point in the world's history when this nation set its face
toward the west. Shalmaneser followed up the Tigris, crossed its upper
waters, planted Assyrian outposts among the tribes, and marched along the
southern spurs of the mountains to the head-waters of the Euphrates. The
chief peoples conquered by him were the Arami, by whom are to be understood
the Arameans of western Mesopotamia, and the Mucri, concerning whose
position little is known unless they are the people of that name living in
northern Syria. In this case Shalmaneser was the first Assyrian king to
carry the Assyrian arms across the Euphrates. The large additions to
Assyria's territory on all sides thus made probably lay at the bottom of
Shalmaneser's transfer of the seat of his administration from the ancient
city of Assur to Kalkhi (Calah), forty miles to the north, and on the
eastern side of the Tigris just above the point where the upper Zab empties
into the great river. The strategic advantages of the site are obvious, -
the protection offered by the Zab and the Tigris, the more central location
and the greater accessibility from all parts of the now much enlarged state.
Here the king built his city, which testified to the sagacity of its founder
by remaining one of the great centres of Assyrian life down to the end of
the empire. The title of Shar Kishshate, "king of the world," which he and
his father Adadnirari were the first Assyrian kings to claim, is a testimony
both of their greatness and of the consciousness of national enlargement
which their work produced.

121. Of the Kassite kings who held Babylonia during these years little
is known beyond their names and regnal years (sect. 103). An uncertain
passage on the broken Ashur-nacir-pal (?) obelisk seems to refer to a
hostile meeting between Kadashman-burias and Shalmaneser I. of Assyria
(Hommel, GBA, p. 437). A much more important contest was that between
Shalmaneser's son, Tukulti Ninib (about 1250) and the Kassite rulers. From
fragments of a Babylonian chronicle (RP, 2 ser. V. p. 111), it is clear that
the Assyrian king entered Babylonia, and for seven years held the throne
against all comers, defeating and overthrowing, it is probable, four
Babylonian kings who successively sought to maintain their rights against
him. At last, owing perhaps to the dissatisfaction felt in Assyria at the
king's evident preference for governing his kingdom from Babylonia, Tukulti
Ninib was himself murdered by a conspiracy headed by his own son
Ashurnacirpal. Here the second stage of the struggle may be said to
terminate. It had been accompanied by a remarkable development of Assyria
which brought the state, though hardly yet of age, to a position of power
that culminated in the humiliation and temporary subjection of her rival
under Assyrian rule. During the reign of Tukulti Ninib Assyria was the
mistress of the entire Tigro-Euphrates valley from the mountains to the
Persian gulf.

122. During these evil years Babylonia had suffered from Elamite
inroads (RP, 2 ser. V. pp. 111 f.) as well as borne the yoke of the
Assyrian. But the murder of Tukulti Ninib gave the opportunity for a new
and successful rebellion which placed Adad-shumucur (Adad-nadin-akhi) upon
the throne. He ruled, according to the kings' list, for thirty years.
Under him and his successors, Mili-shikhu and Marduk-baliddin I. (about 1150
B.C.), a sudden and splendid uplift was given to Babylonia's fortunes. If
the hints contained in the fragmentary sources are correctly understood, it
appears that, toward the close of the reign of Adadshumucur, he was attacked
by the Assyrian king Bel-kudur-ucur. The battle resulted in a victory for
the Babylonians, but both kings were killed. The Assyrian general, Ninib-
apal-ekur, possibly a son of the king, withdrew his forces, and, pressed
hard by Milishikhu, the son and successor of the Babylonian king, shut
himself up in the city of Assur, apparently his capital rather than Kalkhi,
where he was able to beat off the enemy. He succeeded to the Assyrian
throne, but with the loss of Assyrian prestige and authority in the
Mesopotamian valley. For twenty-eight years, during the reigns of
Milishikhu and his son Mardukbaliddin, Babylonia was supreme. The latter
king assumed the title borne by Shalmaneser I. of Assyria, "King of the
World," which implied, if Winckler's understanding of the title is to be
accepted (sect. 54), authority over northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris
and Euphrates. Be that as it may, this brilliant outburst of Kassite
Babylonia was transient. Zamama-shum-iddin, the successor of
Mardukbaliddin, was attacked and worsted by Ashurdan of Assyria, son of
Ninib-apal-ekur. Within three years his successor, Bel-shum-iddin, was
dethroned, and the Kassite dynasty of Babylonia came to an end after nearly
six centuries of power (about 1140 B.C.).

 

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six  Part Seven  Part Eight  Part Nine  Part Ten  Part Eleven  Part Twelve  Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen   Part Fifteen   Part Sixteen

Main Page

World History Project