Assyria
Part Three
Author: Godspeed, George

 

Kassite Conquest Of Babylonia And The Appearance Of Assyria. 2000-1500 BC

102. With the last king of the dynasty of Khammurabi (about 2098 B.C.)
a period of darkness falls upon the history of the land between the rivers.
A new dynasty of the Babylonian kings' list begins with a certain Anmanu,
and continues with ten other kings whose names are anything but suggestive
of Babylonian origin. The regnal years of the eleven reach the respectable
number of three hundred and sixty-eight. The problem of their origin is
complicated with that of deciphering the word (Uru-azagga?) descriptive of
them in the kings' list. Some think that it points to a quarter of the city
of Babylon. Others, reading it Uru-ku, see in it the name of the ancient
city of Uruk. The length of the reigns of the several kings is above the
average, and suggests peace and prosperity under their rule. It is
certainly strange in that case that no memorials of them have as yet been
discovered, - a fact that lends some plausibility to the theory maintained
by Hommel that this dynasty was contemporaneous with that of Khammurabi and
never attained significance.

103. The third dynasty, as recorded on the kings' list, consists of
thirty-six kings, who reigned five hundred seventy-six years and nine months
(about 1717-1140 B.C.). About these kings information, while quite
extensive, is yet so fragmentary as to render exact and organized
presentation of their history exceedingly difficult. The kings' list is
badly broken in the middle of the dynasty, so that only the first six and
the last eleven or twelve of the names are intact, leaving thirteen or
fourteen to be otherwise supplied and the order of succession to be
determined from imperfect and inconclusive data. Only one royal inscription
of some length exists, that of a certain Agum-kakrime who does not appear on
the dynastic list. The tablets found at Nippur by the University of
Pennsylvania's expedition have added several names to the list and thrown
new light upon the history of the dynasty. The fragments of the so-called
"Synchronistic History" (sect. 30) cover, in part, the relations of the
Babylonian and Assyrian kings of this age, and the recently discovered royal
Egyptian archives known as the Tel-el-Amarna tablets contain letters from
and to several of them. From these materials it is possible to obtain the
names of all but three or four of the missing thirteen or fourteen kings,
and to reach something like a general knowledge of the whole period and some
details of single reigns and epochs. Yet it is evident that the absence of
some royal names not only makes the order of succession in the dark period
uncertain, but throws its chronology into disorder. Nor is the material
sufficient to remove the whole age from the region of indefiniteness as to
the aims and achievements of the dynasty, or to make possible a grouping
into epochs of development which may be above criticism. With these
considerations in mind it is possible roughly to divide the period into four
epochs: first, the beginnings of Kassite rule; second, the appearance of
Assyria as a possible rival of Kassite Babylonia; third, the culmination of
the dynasty and the struggle with Assyria; fourth, the decline and
disappearance of the Kassites.

104. Merely a glance at the names in the dynastic list is evidence that
a majority of them are of a non-Babylonian character. The royal
inscriptions prove beyond doubt that the dynasty as a whole was foreign, and
its domination the result of invasion by a people called Kashhus, or, to use
a more conventional name, the Kassites. They belonged to the eastern
mountains, occupying the high valleys from the borders of Elam northward,
living partly from the scanty products of the soil and partly by plundering
travellers and making descents upon the western plain. The few fragments of
their language which survive are not sufficient to indicate its affinity
either to the Elamite or the Median, and at present all that can be said is
that they formed a greater or lesser division of that congeries of mountain
peoples which, without unity or common name and language, surged back and
forth over the mountain wall stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Persian
gulf. Their home seems to have been in the vicinity of those few mountain
passes which lead from the valley up to the table-land. Hence they were
brought into closer relations with the trade and commerce which from time
immemorial had used these passes, and thereby they were early made aware of
the civilization and wealth of Babylonia.

105. Whether driven by the impulse to conquest, begotten of a growing
knowledge of Babylonian weakness, or by the pressure of peoples behind and
about them, the Kassites appear at an early day to have figured in the
annals of the Babylonian kingdom. In the ninth year of Samsuiluna, of the
first dynasty, they were invading the land. This doubtless isolated
invasion was repeated in the following years until by the beginning of the
seventeenth century B.C., they seem to have gained the upper hand in
Babylonia. Their earlier field of operations seems to have been in the
south, near the mouth of the rivers. Here was Karduniash, the home of the
Kassites in Babylonia, a name subsequently extended over all the land. It
is not improbable that a Kassite tribe settled here in the last days of the
second dynasty, and, assimilated to the civilization of the land, was later
reinforced by larger bands of the same people displaced from the original
home of the Kassites by pressure from behind, and that the combined forces
found it easy to overspread and gain possession of the whole country. Such
a supposition is in harmony with the evident predilection of the Kassites
for southern Babylonia, as well as with their maintenance of authority over
the regions in which they originally had their home. It also explains how,
very soon after they came to power, they were hardly to be distinguished
from the Semitic Babylonians over whom they ruled. They employed the royal
titles, worshipped at the ancient shrines, served the native gods, and wrote
their inscriptions in the Babylonian language.

106. Of the six kings whose names appear first on the dynastic list
nothing of historical importance is known. The gap that ensues in that
list, covering thirteen or fourteen names, is filled up from sources to
which reference has already been made. Agumkakrime (sect. 103), whose
inscription of three hundred and thirty-eight lines is the most important
Kassite document as yet discovered, probably stands near the early kings, is
perhaps the seventh in order (about 1600 B.C.). This inscription, preserved
in an Assyrian copy, was originally deposited in the temple at Babylon, and
describes the royal achievements on behalf of the god Marduk and his divine
spouse Zarpanit. The king first proclaims his own glory by reciting his
genealogy, his relation to the gods and his royal titles:

I am Agumkakrime, the son of Tashshigurumash; the illustrious
descendant of god Shuqamuna; called by Anu and Bel, Ea and Marduk, Sin and
Shamash; the powerful hero of Ishtar, the warrior among the goddesses.

I am a king of wisdom and prudence; a king who grants hearing and
pardon; the son of Tashshigurumash; the descendant of Abirumash, the crafty
warrior; the first son among the numerous family of the great Agum; an
illustrious, royal scion who holds the reins of the nation (and is) a mighty
shepherd. . . .

I am king of the country of Kashshu and of the Akkadians; king of the
wide country of Babylon, who settles the numerous people in Ashnunak; the
King of Padan and Alman; the King of Gutium, a foolish nation; (a king) who
makes obedient to him the four regions, and has always been a favorite of
the great gods (I. 1-42).

107. Agumkakrime found, on taking the throne, that the images of Marduk
and Zarpanit, chief deities of the city, had been removed from the temple to
the land of Khani, a region not yet definitely located, but presumably in
northern Mesopotamia, and possibly on the head-waters of the Euphrates.
This removal took place probably in connection with an invasion of peoples
from that distant region, who were subsequently driven out; and it sheds
light on the weakened and disordered condition of the land at the time of
the appearance of the Kassites. These images were recovered by the king,
either through an embassy or by force of arms. The inscription is
indefinite on the point, but the wealth of the king as intimated in the
latter part of the inscription would suggest that he was at least able to
compel the surrender of them. On being recovered they were replaced in
their temple, which was renovated and splendidly furnished for their
reception. Gold and precious stones and woods were employed in lavish
profusion for the adornment of the persons of the divine pair and the
decoration of their abode. Their priesthoods were revived, the service re-
established, and endowments provided for the temple.

108. In the countries enumerated by Agumkakrime as under his sway no
mention is made of a people who were soon to exercise a commanding influence
upon the history of the Kassite dynasty. The people of Assyria, however,
although, even before that time, having a local habitation and rulers, the
names of some of whom have come down in tradition, could harldy have been
independent of a king who claimed authority over the land of the Kassites
and the Guti, Padan, and Alman, - districts which lie in the region of the
middle and upper Tigris, or on the slopes of the eastern mountains
(Delitzsch, Paradies, p. 205). According to the report of the Synchronistic
History, about a century and a half later Assyria was capable of treating
with Babylonia on equal terms, but, even if the opening passages of that
document (some eleven lines) had been preserved, they would hardly have
indicated such relations at a much earlier date. The sudden rise of
Assyria, therefore, is reasonably explained as connected with the greater
movement which made the Kassites supreme in Babylonia.

109. The people who established the kingdom of Assyria exhibit, in
language and customs and even in physical characteristics, a close likeness
to the Babylonians. They were, therefore, not only a Semitic people, but,
apparently, also of Semitic-Babylonian stock. The most natural explanation
of this fact is that they were originally a Babylonian colony. They seem,
however, to be of even purer Semitic blood than their Babylonian ancestors,
and some scholars have preferred to see in them an independent offshoot from
the original Semitic migration into the Mesopotamian valley (sect. 51). If
that be so, they must have come very early under Babylonian influence which
dominated the essential elements of their civilization and its growth down
to their latest days. The earliest centre of their organization was the
city of Assur on the west bank of the middle Tigris (lat. n. 35 degrees 30
minutes), where a line of low hills begins to run southward along the river.
Perched on the outlying northern spur of these hills, and by them sheltered
from the nomads of the steppe and protected by the broad river in front from
the raids of mountaineers of the east, the city was an outpost of Babylonian
civilization and a station on the natural road of trade with the lands of
the upper Tigris. A fertile stretch of alluvial soil in the vicinity
supplied the necessary agricultural basis of life, while, a few miles to the
north, bitumen springs furnished, as on the Euphrates, an article of
commerce and the indispensable element of building (Layard, Nineveh and its
Remains, II. chap. xii.). The god of the city was Ashur, "the good one,"
and from him the city received its name (Jastrow, Rel. of Bab. and Assyria,
p. 196).

110. The early rulers of the city of Assur were patesis (sect. 75),
viceroys of Babylonian rulers. Some of their names have come down in
tradition, as, for example, those of Ishme Dagan and his son, Shamshi Adad,
who lived according to Tiglathpileser I. about seven hundred years before
himself (that is, about 1840-1800 B.C.). Later kings of Assyria also refer
to other rulers of the early age to whom they give the royal title, but of
whom nothing further is known. The first mention of Assur is in a letter of
king Khammurabi of the first dynasty of Babylon, who seems to intimate that
the city was a part of the Babylonian Empire (King, Let. and Inscr. of H.,
III. p. 3). In the darkness that covers these beginnings, the viceroys
became independent of Babylonia and extended their authority up the Tigris
to Kalkhi, Arbela, and Nineveh, cities to be in the future centres of the
Assyrian Empire. The kingdom of Assyria took form and gathered power.

111. The physical characteristics of this region could not but shape
the activities of those who lived within its borders. It is the
northeastern corner of Mesopotamia. The mountains rise in the rear; the
Tigris and Mesopotamia are in front. The chief cities of Assyria, with the
sole exception of Assur, lie to the east of the great river and on the
narrow shelf between it and the northeastern mountain ranges. They who live
there must needs find nature less friendly to them than to their brethren of
the south. Agriculture does not richly reward their labors. They learn, by
struggling with the wild beasts of the hills and the fierce men of the
mountains, the thirst for battle and the joy of victory. And as they grow
too numerous for their borders, the prospect, barred to the east and north,
opens invitingly towards the west and southwest. Thus the Assyrian found in
his surroundings the encouragement to devote himself to war and to the chase
rather than to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture; the preparation for
military achievement on a scale hitherto unrealized.

112. It is not difficult to conceive how the Kassite conquest of
Babylonia profoundly influenced the development of Assyria. The city of
Assur, protected from the inroads of the eastern invaders by its position on
the west bank of the Tigris, became, at the same time, the refuge of those
Babylonians who fled before the conquerors as they overspread the land. The
Assyrian community was thus enabled to throw off the yoke of allegiance to
the mother country, now in possession of foreigners, and to establish itself
as an independent kingdom. Its patesis became kings, and began to cherish
ambitions of recovering the home-land from the grasp of the enemy, and of
extending their sway over the upper Tigris and beyond. It is not unlikely
that this latter endeavor was at least partially successful during the early
period of the Kassite rule. It is certainly significant that Agumkakrime
does not mention Assyria among the districts under his sway and if, as has
been remarked (sect. 108), his sphere of influence seems to include it, his
successors were soon to learn that a new power must be reckoned with, in
settling the question of supremacy on the middle Tigris.

 

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