Assyria
Part Seven
Author: Godspeed, George

Ancient World At The Beginning Of The First Millennium. 1000 B.C.

151. About the year 1000 B.C. a strange and well-nigh unaccountable
state of things confronts the student of the empires of the Mesopotamian
valley. For a scene of vigorous activity is substituted a monotonous
vacancy. Aggressive expansion yields to inertness. In place of the regal
personalities whose words proclaim their achievements in sonorous detail,
appear mere names, scattered here and there over the wider spaces of the
years, that tell nothing of import or interest concerning the progress of
the states over which these phantom rulers held feeble sway. The sources of
knowledge have slowly dried up or have been cut off by the accidents to
which historical memorials are always subject. Here and there a brick
inscribed with a king's name, or an occasional reference in later
inscriptions to some otherwise unknown rulers of the time, is all that
remains of Assyrian material. The Babylonian kings' lists and chronicles
are confused or discordant, and at a critical point, where they are
practically the only source, are quite broken away, leaving the whole
chronological structure hanging in the air. Such facts carry their own
important lesson. They speak of decay or downfall, and invite inquiry into
its causes.

152. The information directly gleaned from these scanty memorials may
be briefly stated. Three Assyrian rulers are known to belong somewhere
within the period. Ashurkirbi (?) is said by Shalmaneser II., who ruled
Assyria two centuries later, to have left a memorial of himself at the
Mediterranean, presumably in token of a western expedition, and also to have
lost to the Arameans the two cities on opposite sides of the Euphrates,
captured and probably fortified by Tiglathpileser I. to guard Assyrian
ascendancy at that point (sect. 146). On the so-called broken obelisk of
Ashurnacirpal III. are mentioned kings Irba Adad and Ashurnadinakhi II.,
who, probably in these days, built at the city of Assur. In Babylonia the
dynasty of Pashe came to an end about 1007 B.C., and was followed by three
dynasties in rapid succession. The fifth in the order of the kings' list
consisted of three kings who ruled between twenty-one and twenty-three
years, and was called the "Dynasty of the Sea." The sixth, the "Dynasty of
Bazi," also of three kings, endured for but twenty years. An Elamite
followed, reigning for six years, constituting by himself alone the seventh
dynasty. The names of the kings of the eighth dynasty are quite broken away
on the list, and apparently the sum of their regnal years also. How long
they ruled, therefore, is quite uncertain, and, when the gap closes, the
kings that begin the new series belong to the eighth century. Half a dozen
names, found in other documents, occupy the vacant space over against
Assyrian kings of the ninth century, from whom ampler information has come
down.

153. While only a broken and baffling story of the course of these
kingdoms can be drawn from such sources, it does not follow that the years
gathering about the beginning of the first millennium B.C. were not of real
significance to the history of Babylonia and Assyria. The kingdoms
themselves pass for the time into eclipse, and the centre of interest is
shifted from their capitals to the lands that hitherto have been the scene
of their aggression. In those lands, however, are to be found the causes of
the decline, and there a veritably new political world was forming in those
years, - a world in which the leaders of the Assyrian renaissance were later
to carry their arms to wider and more splendid victories.

154. It may be correct to ascribe the decline of Assyria, at least in
part, to internal exhaustion, due to the tremendous strain of the numerous
and costly campaigns of Tiglathpileser I. Vigorous citizens had been
drafted for the armies, many of whom perished on distant battlefields. The
economic resources of the land absorbed in military campaigns were by no
means compensated for by the inflowing of treasure from the conquered lands,
most of which went into the royal coffers. These losses could not but
disable the national strength. Yet the great king seems to have sought to
guard against this danger by the statesmanlike measures already described
(sect. 148), and during the reigns of his two sons some opportunity for
recuperation was afforded. The prime fact was that, coincident with this
period of internal decline, a series of mighty movements of peoples took
place in the world without, which swept away Assyria's authority over her
provincial districts, encroached upon her territory, threw Babylonia into
civil war, paralyzed all foreign trade, and afforded opportunity for the
consolidation of rival powers on the borders of both nations. The most
important of these movements was a fresh wave of Aramean migration, which
welled up in resistless volume from the Arabian peninsula. At various
periods during preceding centuries, these nomads had crossed the Euphrates,
and roamed through the middle Mesopotamian plain as far as the Tigris. At
times they were a menace to the commerce of the rivers, but usually were
held in check by the armies of the great states, driven back by systematic
campaigns, or absorbed into the settled population. But in these years they
came in overwhelming multitudes. Apparently by the mere force of numbers
they crowded back the Assyrians and Babylonians and occupied the entire
western half of the plain. They poured over into Syria as well, until
stopped by the sea and the mountains. At the first they may have moved to
and fro, fighting and plundering, and not without reason has it been held
(Tiele, BAG, pp. 167, 178) that they carried fire and sword into the heart
of Assyria itself. In course of time they yielded to the influences of
civilization, and began to settle down in the rich country of upper
Mesopotamia around the Euphrates, where their states are found a century
after. The causes of such a movement are difficult to determine. In this
case something more than the ordinary impulse to migration seems to be
required. May it not be found in the rise of the kingdoms of southern
Arabia which, whether Minean or Sabean, seem to have reached the acme of
their prosperity just before this period? Their extension toward the north
and east may have driven the Bedouin upward and precipitated the onward
movement which forced the Arameans out into Mesopotamia and Syria.

155. Such a cause would account also for the other irruption from the
same Arabian region, which in this period brought confusion to Babylonia.
It has already been remarked (sect. 69) that Babylonian trade with southern
Arabia centred about the border city of Ur near the mouth of the rivers.
Along this open and attractive highway came a new horde that fell upon the
coast-lands and river-bottoms, and appear henceforth in Babylonian history
as the Kaldi. They pressed forward up the river, ever falling back, when
defeated, into their almost inaccessible fastnesses in the swamps of the
coast, and ever reappearing to contest the sovereignty of the land. The
kings that followed the dynasty of Pashe were called Kings of the Sea Land;
the name suggests that they may have belonged to the Kaldi. At any rate,
they felt the influence of the troubles occasioned by the Arameans to the
north, for an inscription of Nabu-abal-iddin of the ninth century, mentions
the plundering of Akkad by the Suti, and the failure of two of the kings of
the dynasty in an endeavor properly to restore the worship of the god
Shamash in Sippar (KB, III.1, p. 174). The rapid succession of dynasties in
Babylonia from about 1000 to 950 B.C. is naturally explained in view of a
series of incursions such as this inscription mentions and other facts
suggest.

156. In the northern regions, also, the scene of the victories of
Tiglathpileser, Assyrian ascendancy appears early to have been swept away.
The facts are much more obscure and indecisive, but the entrance of new
peoples on the scene seems fairly certain. Somewhere about or just before
this time, the Phrygians entered Asia Minor from Europe, and, like a wedge,
forced apart the peoples of the east and west. Vague traditions exist of a
Cilician kingdom, which rivalled that of the earlier Khatti, and united the
peoples to the north and east of the gulf of Issus as far as Armenia
(Maspero, SN, p. 668). It may be that the assaults of the Assyrian king,
coupled with the Phrygian invasion, had resulted in welding these tribes
into a semblance of unity under some powerful chieftain, before whom the
authority of Assyria speedily disappeared, and the mountain passes were
closed to her trade. Even more significant for the later history of Assyria
was the advance from the northeast to the shores of the "Upper Sea" (Lake
Van) of a new people, the Urarti, who were to exercise a predominating
influence in these regions. Their advent was followed by great confusion.
The northern tribes were pressed down to the south and southwest, and
thereby the Assyrian ascendancy in the eastern and northern mountains was
broken.

157. Behind these obstructions which effectually closed in around the
Mesopotamian kingdoms, the opportunity was given for the formation of new
nationalities, or the larger development of those already in existence.
Especially on the Mediterranean coast was the opportunity improved. Here
the warlike people known as the Philistines had established themselves as
lords in the cities on the southeast coast, where the roads run up from
Egypt into Syria, and were pressing up into the hill country behind. On
these plateaus the Hebrews had been feeling after that national organization
to which their worship of Jehovah led the way and gave the inspiration. By
the impact of Philistine aggression the nation was brought into being, and
sprang into full vigor under the genial leadership of David and the wise
statesmanship of Solomon (about 1000-930 B.C.). Higher up along the coast
the aggressive activity of the royal house of Tyre, and especially the reign
of Hirom I., so strengthened and enriched that city as henceforth to make it
the centre of the Phoenician communities, the commercial mart of the eastern
and western worlds. In the interior of Syria, city-states, like Hamath and
Khalman, Patin and Samal, grew prosperous and warred with one another and
with the encroaching Arameans. The latter, while settling down in states on
either side of the Euphrates, had pushed over into Syria as far as Zobah,
and laid the foundations of the kingdom of Damascus, the famous trading-post
and garden spot of eastern Syria. As for Egypt, she was broken by internal
conflict; and though the Pharaohs of Tanis were fairly vigorous kings, and
from time to time even ventured into southern Palestine, to check and
dominate the Philistines (Muller, Asien and Europa, p. 389), these kings
were not masters of all Egypt, and could do little to support their claims
upon the Asiatic provinces possessed by the earlier dynasties. Thus the new
states grew and older communities put on new life, under the impulse of the
fresh masses of population, now that there was freedom from the pressure of
the powers on the Tigris and the Nile. The whole face of the oriental world
was changed and the centre of gravity seemed to have moved beyond the
western bank of the Euphrates. By the middle of the tenth century the
movement was at its height, and Syria appeared to be about to take the place
of pre-eminence in the historical period that was to follow.

 

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