Ancient History & Civilisation



The mass-movements of Indo-European population which took place in south-eastern Europe during the thirteenth century B.C escapes analysis and can only be deduced from the profound repercussions they had upon Greece and Western Asia. It was probably the arrival in the Balkans of prolific and pugnacious tribes, the Illyrians, which thrust out the Thraco-Phrygians into Anatolia, where they overthrew the Hittite kingdom shortly after 1200 B.C., and drove the Dorians, Aeolians and Ionians into the Hellenic peninsula, the Aegean islands and the western districts of Asia Minor, where they destroyed the Mycenaean (or Achaean) empire (Trojan war, c. 1200 B.C.). Dislodged by this double current of invaders, the inhabitants of the Aegean shores and isles, the ‘Peoples of the Sea’ as the Egyptians called them,1 fled southward along the coasts of Asia Minor and Syria and arrived, threatening, at the gate of Egypt. Ramesses III defeated them both at sea and on land (1174 B.C.), but some of the warriors went into the Pharaoh's service, while others settled on the maritime fringe of Canaan. Among the latter were the Peleset, or Philistines, who eventually gave to the whole country its name, Palestine. At about the same time another less known but equally important ethnic movement started somewhere around the Caspian Sea. The Indo-European-speaking peoples which we call ‘Iranians’ entered Iran from the north, following approximately the same route as the earlier Indo-Aryan emigrants. The Parthava (Parthians) and theHaraiva remained on the borders of Turkestan and Afghanistan, while the Madai (Medes), Parsua (Persians) and Zikirtu marched farther west and occupied the plateau from Lake Urmiah to Isfahan, rapidly gaining control over the poorly equipped indigenous population.2

This cascade of migrations, involving as they did the Mediterranean and the central parts of Anatolia and Iran, left Iraq unaffected. But it coincided with a period of increased activity among the nomadic Semites who roamed the Syrian desert: Sutû, Ahlamû and, above all, the vast confederation of Aramaean tribes. The vacuum created in Syria by the collapse of the Hittite empire and the relative weakness of Assyria and Babylonia encouraged the Aramaeans to invade the Syrian hinterland, to cross the Euphrates and to penetrate deeper and deeper into Mesopotamia, settling as they advanced and forming, throughout the Fertile Crescent, a network of kingdoms, large or small, which enclosed Assur and Babylon in an ever-narrowing circle and nearly submerged them. Simultaneously, other Semites, the Israelites, coming from the Sinai desert and taking advantage of the confusion which reigned in Canaan after Egypt had withdrawn from Asia, conquered a large band of territory on either side of the Jordan and made it their homeland. Up to a point the progress of the Aramaeans in Iraq can be followed through the Assyrian royal inscriptions, and the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, through the biblical narrative; but the rest of the Near East is plunged in profound darkness between 1200 and 1000 B.C. The Hittite archives from Boghazkoy come abruptly to an end in about 1190 B.C., and there is just enough information from Egypt for us to perceive the decadence of that great country under the last Ramessides and its separation into two rival kingdoms at the dawn of the eleventh century. When the light again comes in about B.C., the political geography of Western Asia has profoundly changed: Aramaean principalities flourish from the Lebanon to the Zagros; the remnants of the ‘Peoples of the Sea‘, Philistines and Zakkalas, share Canaan with the Israelites; along the Lebanese coast the ‘Phoenicians’ enter a period of great prosperity, while the extreme north of Syria and the Taurus massif are the seats of several ‘Neo-Hittite’ kingdoms; Egypt is divided and weak; the kings who ascend the throne of Babylon in quick succession have little real power but in Assyria a line of energetic princes is busy loosening the Aramaean grip and rebuilding an Empire; and behind the Zagros the Medes and Persians are firmly established though not yet ready to play their historical role. These are the peoples which the Assyrians are going to meet, fight and conquer in their great movement of expansion during the first millennium B.C., and with which the reader should now become acquainted.

Israelites and Phoenicians

So familiar are we with the Bible that for most of us no more than a brief outline of early Hebraic history is needed here. We have already seen (p. 239) that Abraham and his family came from Ur in Sumer to Hebron in Canaan, probably about 1850 B.C., and there are good reasons for placing Joseph's migration to Egypt during the Hyksôs period (1700 – 1580 B.C.). For at least four centuries those who now called themselves ‘Israelites’ lived, multiplied and prospered in the Nile delta, until they were driven out by a Pharaoh ‘whose heart the Lord had hardened’ – more probably Ramesses II (1304 – 1237 B.C.) than his successor Mernephtah.3 A man of supreme intelligence and powerful personality, the first great religious reformer in the history of humanity, Moses united the Israelites around the cult of a unique and universal God, led their long march across the Sinai peninsula and died when they reached the threshold of the ‘Promised Land’. Joshua was their next leader, but the conquest of Canaan was in fact achieved by each of the twelve tribes fighting for its own territory under elected chiefs or ‘Judges’ and must have taken at least a hundred years. The formation of an Israelite kingdom under Saul and the victories won by David (1010 – 970 B.C.) over the Philistines, the Canaanites and the states lying east of the Jordan (Amon, Edom and Moab) consecrated the supremacy in Palestine of Abraham's progeny. Allowances being made for Oriental emphasis, the reign of Solomon was a period of considerable glory for the young nation.4 For the first time in history Palestine obeyed one ruler whose authority extended ‘from Dan (at the foot of mount Hermon) to Beersheba (on the border of Negeb)’. Jerusalem, formerly a small, unimportant town, took the rank of capital-city, and nearly 200,000 workmen – so we are told – took part in the building of its temple. The Israelite army was armed with weapons of iron and well provided with horses and chariots. From Ezion-Geber, near Akaba, Solomon's ships sailed down the Red Sea and returned from Arabia and Ethiopia loaded with gold. The King himself, though credited with proverbial wisdom, lived in a sumptuous palace among ‘seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines’. Such extravagance was more than this small and austere nation could stand financially and morally. The glorious reign ended in revolts, and after Solomon's death (931 B.C.) the kingdom was divided by plebiscite into two parts: Israel in the north, with Samaria for capital city, Judah in the south, still commanded from Jerusalem. The period of united monarchy had lasted a bare century.

To the north-west of Israel the Canaanites of Lebanon and of the Syrian coast – the ‘Phoenicians’ as the Greeks were later to call them – were among the first victims of the great turmoil of the twelfth century. The richest of their cities, Ugarit, was for ever destroyed by the Peoples of the Sea,5 while the great emporium of timber, Byblos, already ravaged by local wars during the el-Amarna period, was ruined by the decadence of its traditional client Egypt under the successors of Ramesses III. But by 1000 B.C. the situation in that area had taken a turn for the better. Because of their position at the points where the roads crossing the Lebanon mountains reach the sea, Arvad (Ruâd island), Sidunu (Sidon, modern Saida) and Sûri (Tyre, modern Sûr) had become the ports of the powerful Aramaean kingdoms of central Syria, and the southernmost of these towns, Tyre, benefited from the proximity of the Israelites, whom it supplied with timber, expert craftsmen and sailors.6 The three cities soon grew rich on this trade and formed the new political and economic centres of Phoenicia.

The Syro-Lebanese coast has always been the meeting-point of Europe and Asia. At the dawn of the first millennium B.C. two thousand years of intimate contact with the Cretans, Mycenaeans and Cypriots, on the one hand, and with all the nations of the Near East, on the other, had resulted in the development of a composite but brilliant Phoenician civilization.7 The main contribution of the Phoenicians to the cultural treasure of humanity was undoubtedly the invention of the alphabet, which was taken, in modified forms, by the Greeks throughout Europe and the Aramaeans throughout Western Asia, where it eventually superseded all previous syllabic and ideographic writing systems. The exact date and place of invention are thorny problems which need not be touched upon here, however briefly,8 but we should at least mention that of the three alphabets simultaneously in use on the Mediterranean coast during the last quarter of the second millennium – the ‘classical’ and the ‘pseudo-hieroglyphic’ alphabets of Byblos and the ‘cuneiform’ alphabet of Ras-Shamra (Ugarit) – the last named served as a support for a copious and extremely interesting literature, the discovery of which has considerably enlarged and modified our ideas on ancient Canaanite religion and mythology.9 In the domain of the arts the Phoenicians were perhaps not so creatively minded, but proved excellent pupils. Inspired by Aegean and Egyptian artists, their craftsmen were unrivalled in the Near East, at least during the first millennium B.C. They wove beautiful clothes, which they embroidered or dyed with the famous Sidonian purple, made vials of translucent glass, chiselled delicate jewels, carved exquisite ivories and were masters in wood- and metal-work. Their own country produced, besides timber, well-reputed wine and oil. All this formed a light, yet valuable cargo which the Phoenicians, sailors at heart, could now carry around the world themselves, the Dorian invasion of Greece having liberated the sea from its former masters, the Mycenaeans. Soon Tyrians, Sidonians and Arva-dites became the leaders of an astonishing movement of maritime and colonial expansion which reached its peak between the ninth and the sixth centuries B.C. with the foundation of Carthage (814 B.C.), the creation of numerous warehouses in Malta, Sicily and Spain, and the exploration of the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa.

The Neo-Hittites

Proceeding northward along the Mediterranean shore we reach in the extreme north of Syria the realm of the people called ‘Hieroglyphic Hittites’ or, more simply, ‘Neo-Hittites’.10 These terms require some explanation. We know that the Hittites who had Hattusas (Boghazköy) for capital-city used a cuneiform script borrowed from Mesopotamia to write on clay tablets their Indo-European language. But at the same time another kind of script was used in Asia Minor to write on rock or stone official or religious inscriptions. This script consisted of drawings or hieroglyphs bearing no relation to the archaic Sumerian pictograms nor to the Egyptian or Cretan hieroglyphs. Many such inscriptions also appear in various sites of the Taurus mountains and of northern Syria in association with monuments which can be dated from the first centuries of the first millennium B.C., i.e. after the fall of the Hittite empire. The decipherment of hieroglyphic Hittite by various scholars – confirmed and completed by the discovery in 1947 of bilingual Phoenician-Hittite inscriptions at Kara Tepe, in Cilicia11 – has shown that the language of these inscriptions was a dialectal variety of Luwian, the Luwians being one of the more or less closely related Indo-European-speaking peoples which entered Asia Minor at the beginning of the second millennium. It looks, therefore, as though in the great reshuffling of population which took place in the twelfth century the Luwians, who originally occupied the south-western part of Asia Minor, had moved, or been pushed, southward and eastward and had established themselves in the southern provinces of the former Hittite empire, provinces which had been spared by the Phrygians and by-passed by the Peoples of the sea. But this, of course, is highly conjectural. Moreover, it should be emphasized that there was no break in the transmission of Hittite culture in those regions, and that the term ‘Neo-Hittite’ is no more than a convenient appellation. The Hittite influence brought into Syria by Suppiluliumas and his predecessors outlived them by nearly five hundred years.

From the tenth century onwards a compact mosaic of Neo-Hittite kingdoms covered the territory comprised between the Taurus range and the Orontes river, forming what the Assyrians called Hatti or Great Hatti – (the province of Antioch is still called ‘Hatay’ by the Turks). Starting from the north, we find in the heart of the Taurus mountains about twelve city-states forming the confederation of Tabal (the Tubal of the Bible) and along the Upper Euphrates, the kingdom of Kummanu with Milid (modern Malatiya) for capital-city. Then come Kummuhu, the classical Commagene, and Gurgum around the town of Marqasi (Marash). Farther west the rich plain of Cilicia is occupied by the Danuna-folk, who obey the King of Ataniya (Adana) and hold sway over the surrounding highlanders. To the north of Aleppo lie Ya'diya (capital Sam'al, modern Zencirli) in the Amanus moutains, and Karkemish and Til-Barsip (Tell Ahmar), which command the passage of the Euphrates. Aleppo itself, so often taken and lost by the Mitannians and the Hittites, had lost much of its importance to Arpad, while Alalah, in the ‘Amuq plain (Hattina), was governed first from ‘Azaz, then from the as yet unidentified city of Kunalua. Finally, hieroglyphic inscriptions found at Hama testify to periodical occupation of the city by the Neo-Hittites.

Excavations at Zencirli, Sakçe-Gözü, Karkemish, Tell Tayanat and, more recently, Kara Tepe (ancient Azitawandas) have shed considerable light on the art and architecture of the Neo-Hittites and enable us to understand the resistance encountered by the Assyrians when they tried to overthrow these small but very strong kingdoms. The towns, roughly circular in plan, were protected by a double, massive wall: an outer wall around the lower town and an inner wall around the acropolis. The royal palace, in the centre of the city, often had its entrance preceded by a portico of wooden columns resting on stone bases sculptured with crouching lions and sphinxes. Its plan was usually of the type called by the Assyrians bit hilâni: a series of oblong rooms, one behind the other, the long sides of which ran parallel with the front of the building. The avenue leading to the acropolis as well as the façade of the palace were decorated with sculptured slabs of basalt or limestone lining the lower part of the walls. The subjects most commonly represented on these ‘orthostats’ are hunting scenes, royal banquets and marching soldiers, frequently intermingled with hieroglyphic inscriptions. The sculptures are too often crude and unskilled, though not devoid of movement and life, and some indeed attain a high standard of barbaric beauty. Most archaeologists agree that we meet here with a provincial version of Hittite art tempered with Assyrian, Egyptian and even Aegean influences.

The Neo-Hittite kingdoms flourished from the tenth to the eighth centuries B.C. and their full history will be revealed when all the hieroglyphic Hittite inscriptions are accurately translated and published. Between 745 and 708 B.C. they fell one by one into Assyrian hands12 and disappeared as independent states, but long before that date some of them had already yielded to their immediate neighbours, the Aramaeans.

The Aramaeans

As usual in such matters, the problem of Aramaean origin is a very difficult one.13 The Aramaean language, or Aramaic, belongs, like Canaanite and Hebrew, to the north-western group of Semitic dialects, but on many points shows strong affinities with Arabic, which might perhaps suggest that the Aramaeans originated or had lived in Arabia. On the other hand, there are several reasons to believe that their homeland was the Syrian desert and the Fertile Crescent, and it must be recalled that the memory of a close, though unspecified, ethnic relationship between Aramaeans and Hebrews has been preserved in the Bible, where Jacob (Israel) himself is once qualified as a ‘wandering Aramaean’.14 At what period the Aramaeans made their first appearance in cuneiform inscriptions is another debatable point. In texts of the Akkadian, Ur III and Old Babylonian periods occasional mention is made of a city Arami and of individuals by the name of Aramu, but since this may be no more than a phonetic resemblance, two dates only must be considered: the fourteenth or the twelfth century, depending upon the acceptance of some kind of relationship between the Aramaeans and the Ahlamû. The Ahlamû are first mentioned in a mutilated letter from el-Amarna alluding to the King of Babylon; during the same period their presence is attested in Assyria, at Nippur and even at Dilmun (Bahrain), and we have seen (p. 263) that Shalmaneser I defeated the Hurrians and their Hittite and Ahlamû allies in Jazirah. In the following century they cut the road from Babylon to Hattusas, and Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244 – 1208 B.C.) claims that he conquered Mari, Hana and Rapiqum on the Euphrates and ‘the mountains of the Ahlamû’.15 We are thus confronted with a confederation of troublesome tribes active in the Syrian desert, along the Euphrates and about the Persian Gulf, at least from the fourteenth century B.C. But an inscription of Tiglathpileser I (1115-1077 B.C.) refers for the first time to the ‘Ahlamû-Aramaeans’ (Ahlamé Armaia),16 and from then on the Ahlamû rapidly disappear from Assyrian annals to be replaced by the Aramaeans (Aramû, Arimi). In the text just quoted the word Armaia is ‘gentilic’ (adjective), and the expression could be translated ‘(Those of) the Ahlamû (who are) Aramaean‘, in which case we might be entitled to consider the Aramaeans as an important and in time dominant faction of the Ahlamû tribes. It is possible, however, that the two peoples had nothing in common, but operated in the same area and were regarded by the sedentary Mesopotamians as one and the same detestable desert folk.

In any case, there can be no doubt that the Aramaeans were established in Syria as early as the eleventh century B.C. We read in the Bible that Saul, David and Solomon fought against the Aramaean kingdoms which lay across the northern frontier of Israel: Aram-Sôbah in the Beq'a, Aram-Bêt-Rehob and Aram-Ma‘akah around Mount Hermon, Geshur in the Hauran, and the state which was soon to govern them all: Damascus (Dimashqa, Dammesheq). Farther north the Aramaeans were in possession of Hama on the Orontes and were soon to become strong enough to dissociate the Neo-Hittite block. During the tenth or the ninth century they conquered Sam'al (Zencirli), the region of Aleppo which they renamed Bit-Agushi, and Til-Barsip, which became the chief town of Bît-Adini. Only the plain of Antioch (Pattina) and Karkemish remained Hittite in Syrian land. At the same time the Aramaeans invaded the steppe to the east of the Euphrates, where they settled in such numbers that the whole region became known as Aram Naharaim, ‘Aram of the Rivers’. One of their earliest kingdoms in Mesopotamia was Bit-Bahiâni, which had for capital-city the very ancient site of Tell Halaf abandoned since proto-historic times (see above, p. 55) and now called Guzana. The Aramaean progression in Mesopotamia will be described later. For the present we would simply like to draw attention to the names of the Aramaean kingdoms, usually formed with the word bît(u), ‘house’, followed by the name of an ancestor. Despite the apparent similarity with our ‘House of Hanover‘, ‘House of Windsor’ and so forth, we have here a typically tribal way of expressing land ownership: the state, the ‘kingdom’ is both the territory around the tent (or house) of the chief and all the chief's relatives forming the clan.

Whether merchants, peasants, shepherds, soldiers or bandits, the Aramaeans were originally uncouth bedouins and contributed nothing to the civilizations of the Near East. Whatever their ancestral religion, it appears from their inscriptions as well as from their own names that they worshipped Sumero-Akkadian and Canaanite gods, such as Hadad (Adad), the storm-god, El, the supreme deity of Canaan, Sin, Ishtar (whom they called ‘Attar), the Phoenician goddess ‘Anat (‘Atta) and others. Nor was there originality in the field of the arts, the Aramaeans following the traditions of the countries where they settled. The King of Damascus, for instance, employed Phoenician sculptors and ivory-carvers, and Sam‘al under its new masters retained all the features of a Neo-Hittite city. Archaeological excavations at Tell Halaf-Guzana have brought to light the palace of Kapara, an Aramaean ruler who probably lived at the beginning of the ninth century B.C.17 It was a building of the bît hilani type, decorated with orthostats perhaps cruder than the contemporary sculptures of northern Syria, and with strange-looking, almost morbid statues which, on analysis, display a mixture of Mesopotamian, Hittite and Hurrian influences, as would be expected in a region – the Khabur valley – where the three cultures converged.

Yet to these barbaric Aramaeans befell the privilege of imposing their language upon the entire Near East. They owed it partly to the sheer weight of their number and partly to the fact that they adopted, instead of the cumbersome cuneiform writing, the Phoenician alphabet slightly modified, and carried everywhere with them the simple, practical script of the future. As early as the eighth century B.C. Aramaic language and writing competed with the Akkadian language and script in Assyria, and thereafter gradually spread throughout the Orient.18 About 500 B.C., when the Achaemenian monarchs looked for a tongue which could be understood by all their subjects, they chose Aramaic, which became the lingua franca of their vast empire. At the close of the pre-Christian era Sumerian and even Hebrew were already dead languages, Akkadian was dying and Greek, introduced by the Macedonian conquerors, was mostly used for official purposes, but Aramaic – the language spoken by Jesus – reigned unchallenged as the common dialect of all the peoples of the Near East and was to remain so until the Arab invasion (seventh century A.D.). The Arabic script itself derives from a cursive form of Aramaic, as do all present and past alphabets used in Asia. Moreover, during the sixth century A.D. the Aramaic language gave birth in northern Mesopotamia to the extremely rich Syriac literature which the Nestorian missionaries carried as far as Mongolia, and Syriac has survived as the liturgic tongue of several Oriental Churches. Indeed, Aramaic dialects are still spoken in some parts of the Near East, in particular among the Christian communities of northern Iraq. Few languages in the world can claim such a long and continuous tradition.

But it is time for us to return to our subject, Iraq, which we have left at the end of the Kassite dynasty, nearly twelve hundred years before Christ.

The Dark Age of Mesopotamia

After their victory over the Kassites the Elamites did not occupy Babylonia for long, either because the conquest of vast territories in western Iran absorbed all their energy or because they already felt the presence of the newly arrived Medes and Persians as a dagger in their back. However this may be, the Elamite garrisons withdrew or were expelled, and princes native of Isin founded the Fourth Dynasty of Babylon, also called ‘Second Dynasty of Isin’.19 Soon the new kings were powerful enough to interfere in Assyrian domestic affairs, and when Elam sank into anarchy after the brilliant reign of Shilak-Inshushinak, the Babylonian Nebuchadrezzar I* (c. 1124 – 1103 B.C.) attacked that country. A first campaign met with failure – Elamite followed and I fled before him; I sat down on the bed of weeping and sighing’20 – but the defection of one of the Elamite lords, Shitti-Marduk, who fought on the Babylonian side, made the second campaign a glowing success. The account of the war, written on a kudurru granting privileges to Shitti-Marduk as a reward for his assistance, is one of the most poetic military records of antiquity.21

From Dêr, the holy city of Anu, he (the King of Babylon) made a leap of thirty double-leagues. In the month of Tammuz (July – August) he took the road. The blades of the picks burn like fire; the stones of the track blaze like furnaces; there is no water (in the wadis) and the wells are dry; stop the strongest of the horses and stagger the young heroes. Yet he goes, the elected king supported by the gods; he marches on, Nebuchadrezzar who has no rival…

The battle was fought on the banks of the River Ulaia (Karun):

At the command of Ishtar and Adad, the gods of the battle, Hulteludish, King of Elam, fled and disappeared for ever, and King Nebuchadrezzar stood up in victory: he took Elam and plundered its treasures.

Among the booty was the statue of Marduk, taken to Elam at the end of the Kassite dynasty. This gave Nebuchadrezzar an aura of glory, and perhaps enabled Marduk to reach the top of the Mesopotamian pantheon,22 but his victory had no lasting political results. Elam was not truly conquered, and Nebuchadrezzar's successors had to fight not for the possession of foreign lands but for the protection of their own kingdom against the eternal rival: Assyria.

Despite a serious crisis of succession and the temporary loss of their eastern provinces to Shilak-Inshushinak, the eleventh century as a whole was for the Assyrians an epoch of prosperity. Ashur-dân I, ‘who attained to grey hair and a ripe old age‘,23 and Ashur-rêsh-ishi, both contemporaries of the first kings of the Fourth Dynasty of Babylon, received tribute from the Sutû, kept the Ahlamû at bay, won a few battles over the Babylonians and did a considerable amount of repair work on the palace and temples of their capital-city. But at the end of the century storms gathered at the four points of the compass, which could have destroyed Assyria had it not been for the restless energy of one of the two or three great Assyrian monarchs since the days of Shamshi-Adad: Tiglathpileser I (1115 – 1077 B.C.).* To the north the Mushki – perhaps related to the Phrygians – had crossed the Taurus with twenty-thousand men and were marching down the Tigris valley in the direction of Nineveh; to the east the Zagros tribes were hostile; to the west the Aramaeans – now mentioned for the first time – were established in force along the Euphrates and had started crossing the river; and to the south Marduk-nadin-ahhê, King of Babylon, had captured Ekallatum, bringing his frontier up to the Lower Zab, thirty kilometres only from the city of Assur. Tiglathpileser first marched against the Mushki and massacred them and their allies. Then, anxious to secure his northern frontier, he went up ‘to the heights of the lofty hills and to the top of the steep mountains’ of the land of Nairi, penetrated into Armenia and set up his ‘image’ at Malazgird, far beyond Lake Van, while one of his armies chastised, the lands of Musri and Qummani at the foot of the Taurus range. The Aramaeans were forced beyond the Euphrates and pursued to their stronghold Jabal Bishri, west of Deir-ez-Zor, but the Syrian desert was swarming with this new, tough enemy:

‘Twenty-eight times,’ says the king, ‘I fought the Ahlamû-Aramaeans; (once) I even crossed the Euphrates twice in a year. I defeated them from Tadmar (Tidmur, Palmyra), which lies in the country Amurru, Anat, which lies in the country Suhu, as far as Rapiqu, which lies in Kar-Duniash (Babylonia). I brought their possessions as spoils to my town Assur.’24

It was probably in the course of these campaigns that Tiglath-pileser ‘conquered’ Syria and reached the Phoenician coast, where he received tribute from Arvad, Byblos and Sidon. Finally, came the victorious war against Babylon:

‘I marched against Kar-Duniash… I captured the palaces of Babylon belonging to Marduk-nadin-ahhê, King of Kar-Duniash. I burned them with fire. The possessions of his palace I carried off. The second time, I drew up a line of battle chariots against Marduk-nadin-ahhê, King of Kar-Duniash, and I smote him.’25

To these military exploits, the King of Assyria added hunting activities, and he was out for big game: four wild bulls ‘which were mighty and of monstrous size’ killed in the country of Mitanni, ten ‘mighty bull elephants in the country of Harran and in district of the River Khabur‘, 120 lions slain on foot, 800 lions laid low from the royal chariot and even a narwhal ‘which they call sea-horse’ killed in Mediterranean waters near Arvad.

The murder of Tiglathpileser, however, put an end to this glorious period. The mounting tide of Aramaean invasion, the desperate efforts made by the Assyrians to dam it up, the irremediable decadence of Babylon, Sumer and Akkad wide open to the Sutû and the Aramaeans, foreign wars, civil wars, floods, famine, such is the pitiful picture offered by Iraq during the tenth and ninth centuries B.C. If ever there was a time of ‘troubles and disorders’,26 of confusion and hardship, a dark age rendered even darker by the paucity of our sources, it was the 166 years which elapsed between the death of Tiglathpileser I (1077 B.C.) and the advent of Adad-nirâri II (911 B.C.).

Through the fragmentary annals of the Assyrian kings we can follow in broad outline the Aramaean progression in northern Mesopotamia. Under Ashur-bêl-kala (1074 – 1057 B.C.) they were still on the right bank of the Euphrates, but fifty years later they had crossed the river and advanced as far as the Khabur. A few decades later, during the reign of Tiglathpileser II (967 – 935 B.C.), we find them around Nisibin, half-way between the Khabur and the Tigris. Ashur-dân II (934 – 912 B.C.) tried to push them back and claimed great success, but it appears clearly from the annals of Adad-nirâri II and of his successors (see next chapter) that at the dawn of the ninth century the Aramaeans had settled en masse all over the steppe of Jazirah: there were Aramaean kingdoms on the Euphrates (Bit-Adini) and on the Khabur (Bit-Bahiâni, Bît-Hadipé), and powerful Aramaean tribes occupied the mountain Tûr ‘Abdîn, north of Nisibin, and the banks of the Tigris. Caught between the nomads and the highlanders, Assyria was threatened with asphyxia.

In Babylonia the situation was even worse, as shown by the ancient chronicles.27 Under the reign of Nebuchadrezzar's fourth successor, Adad-apal-iddina (i..1067 – 1046 B.C.), the Sûtu plundered and ruined one of the greatest sanctuaries of Akkad: the temple of Shamash in Sippar – an event which probably gave rise to the great Babylonian poem of war and destruction known as the Erra epic.28 Between 1024 and 978 B.C. Babylon had seven kings divided between three dynasties. The first of these dynasties (Babylon V) was founded by a Kassite born in the Sea-Land; the second (Bit-Bazi), probably by an Aramaean; the third, by a soldier, also born in the Sea-Land but bearing an Elamite name. Under Nabû-mukin-apli (977 – 942 B.C.), the first King of Babylon VIII, all kinds of bad omens were observed and ‘the Aramaeans became hostile’. They cut off the capital-city from its suburbs, with the result that for several years in succession the New Year Festival (which required the free movement of divine statues to and from Babylon) could not be celebrated: ‘Bêl (Marduk) went not forth and Nabû went not (from Barsippa to Babylon)’.29 The following monarchs are hardly more to us than mere names on a list, but in all probability it was during this obscure period that a number of Aramaean tribes known from later Assyrian inscriptions – the Litaû, Puqudû, Gambulû – settled between the lower Tigris and the – frontier of Elam, and that the Kaldû (Chaldeans) invaded the land of Sumer.30 No one could have then imagined that three hundred years later the Kaldû would give Babylon one of its greatest monarchs, the second Nebuchadrezzar. But in that short interval the Assyrian empire had grown, reached its peak and collapsed.

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