THE BEGINNINGS OF ASSYRIA
OF the period when the first settlers of a Semitic race entered Assyria nothing is known, but all things point to their coming from Babylonia. The oldest traditions of the Semitic peoples connect the Assyrians with the Babylonians, and the earliest titles of their rulers point to dependence upon the previous civilization in the south. We are unable to trace the political and social history of Assyria to any point at all approaching the vast antiquity of Babylonia.
There is evidence, as already seen, that the city of Nineveh was in existence at least three thousand years before Christ, but of the men who built it and reigned in it we know absolutely nothing. As in Babylonia, we are confronted in the beginnings of Assyrian history only by a name here and there of some early ruler of whose deeds we have only the simplest note, if indeed we have any at all. The first Assyrian ruler bears the title of Ishakku, which seems to mean priest-prince, and implies subjection to some other ruler elsewhere. These early rulers must have been subject princes of the kings in Babylonia, for there is no evidence yet found to connect them with any other state, while their traditional connections are all with the southern kingdom. The names of several of these Ishakku have come down to us, but we are unhappily not able to arrange them in any definite order of chronological sequence. Apparently the first of them are Shamshi Adad I (1813–1791 BC) and his son Ishme Dagan. The former of these built a great temple in the city of Asshur and dedicated it to the gods Anu and Adad. We have no certain indications of the date of these rulers, but we are probably safe in the assertion that they ruled about 1830-1810 BC. After a short interval, probably, there follow two other priest-princes, whose names are Igur Kapkapu and Shamshi Adad II. The names of two other Ishakke have also come down to us, Khallu and Irishum, but their date is unknown.
These six names are all that remain of the history of the early government of Assyria. At this period, about 1800 BC, the chief city was Asshur, then and long after the residence of the ruler. There is no hint in these early texts of hegemony over other cities; though Nineveh certainly, and other cities probably, were then in existence. The population was probably small, consisting, in its ruling classes at least, of colonists from Babylonia. There may have been earlier settlers among whom the Semitic invaders found home, as there were in Babylonia when the Semites first appeared in that land, but of them we have no certainty. It is an indistinct picture which we get of these times in the temperate northern land, but it is a picture of civilized men who dwelt in cities, and built temples in which to worship their gods, and who carried on some form of government in a tributary or other subject relation to the great culture land which they had left in the south. The later Assyrian people had but faint memory of these times, and to them, as to us, they were ancient days.
At about 1700 BC the priest-prince ruling in Asshur was Bel Kapkapu, according to a statement of Adad Nirari III (811-783), a later king of Assyria, while Esarhaddon would have us believe that he was himself a direct descendant of a king, Belbani, and, though we may put no faith in such genealogical researches, perhaps greater credence may be given the other historical statement with which the name of Belbani is followed. According to the historiographers of Esarhaddon, Belbani was the first of Asshur who adopted the title of king, having received the office of king from the god Marduk himself. If there be any truth at all in these statements, we must see in Belbani the first king of Assyria, but the fact is empty of real meaning, whether true or not, for we know nothing of the king's personality or works.
After these names of shadowy personalities there comes a great silent period of above two hundred years, in which we hear no sound of any movements in Assyria, nor do we know the name of even one ruler. At the very end of this period (about 1490 BC) all western Asia was shaken to its foundations by an Egyptian invasion. Thutmosis III, freed at last from the restraint of Hatshepsowet his peace-loving sister or aunt, had swept along the Mediterranean coast to Carmel and over the spur of the hill to the plain of Esdraelon (Hatshepsowet, Thutmosis II, and Thutmosis III reigned together from about 1516 to 1449. It was in the twenty-second year that the advance began upon Syria, Thutmosis III being then sole ruler of Egypt). At Megiddo the allies met him in defense of Syria, if not of all western Asia, and were crushingly defeated. The echo of that victory resounded even in Assyria, and whoever it was who then reigned by the Tigris made haste to send a "great stone of real lapis lazuli"' and other less valuable gifts in token of his submission. It was well for Samaria that Thutmosis was satisfied with those gifts, and led no army across the Euphrates.
Soon after the invasion of Thutmosis III we again learn the name of an Assyrian king, for about 1450 BC we find the Kassite king of Babylonia, Karaindash, making a treaty with the king of Assyria, whose name is given as Asshur-bel-nisheshu. This latter is the first king of Assyria of whom we may consider that we know anything. He claims a certain territory in Mesopotamia, and makes good his claim to it. Assyria now is clearly acknowledged by the king of Babylonia as an independent kingdom. The independence of the northern kingdom was probably achieved during the two hundred years preceding, through the weakness of the kingdom of Babylonia. It must be remembered that it was in this very period that Babylonia was torn with internal dissension and fell an easy prey to the Kassites. While the Kassites were busy with the establishment of their rule over the newly conquered land the time was auspicious for the firm settling of a new kingdom in Assyria.
Shortly after, though perhaps not immediately, his successor, Puzur Asshur, came to the throne (about 1420 BC). Like his predecessor, he also had dealings with the Babylonians concerning the boundary line; and beyond this fact noted by the Assyrian synchronistic tablet, we know nothing of him.
After Puzur Ashur came Asshur-na-dinakhe (it is Asshur who giveth brothers), a contemporary of Amenophis IV, the heretic king of Egypt, with whom he had correspondence. A later king also records the fact that he built, or rather perhaps restored, a palace in Asshur. His reign was an era of peace, as these two facts apparently would prove, namely, the correspondence with the far distant land of Egypt, indicating a high state of civilization, and the restoration of a palace, and not, as heretofore, a temple.
He was succeeded by his son, Asshur Uballit (Asshur has given life), about 1370 BC, and in his reign there were stirring times. His daughter, Muballitat Sherua, was married to Kara Khardash, the king of Babylon. Herein we meet for the first time, in real form, the Assyrian efforts to gain control in Babylonia. The son of this union, Kitdashman Kbarbe I, was soon upon the throne. The Babylonian people must have suspected intrigue, for they rebelled and killed the king. This was a good excuse for Assyrian intervention, for the rebels had killed the grandson of the king of Assyria. The Assyrians invaded the land, and the Babylonians were conquered, and another grandson of Asshur Uballit was placed upon the throne, under the title of Kurigalzu. This act made Babylonia at least partially subject to Assyria, but many long years must elapse before any such subjection would be really acknowledged by the proud Babylonians. They were already subject to a foreign people, the Kassites, who had indeed become Babylonians in all respects, but it would be a greater humiliation to acknowledge their own colonists, the Assyrians, a bloodthirsty people, as their masters. Asshur-Uballit also made a campaign against the Shubari, a people dwelling east of the Tigris and apparently near the borders of Elam.
Friendly relations between Assyria and Egypt were continued during his reign, and a letter of his to the Egyptian king Amenophis IV has been preserved, in which occur the following sentences: To Napkhuriya ... king of Egypt my brother: Asshur Uballit, king of Assyria, the great king thy brother. To thyself, to thy house, and to thy country let there be peace. When I saw thy ambassadors I rejoiced greatly ... A chariot ... and two white horses, ... a chariot without harness, and one seal of blue stone I have sent thee as a present. These are presents for the great king." The letter then proceeds to ask very frankly for specific and very large gifts in return, and tells very clearly of the present state of the road between Egypt and Assyria. In the reign of Asshur Uballit Assyria made a distinct advance in power and dignity, and this development continued during the reign of Asshur Uballit's son and successor, Bel Nirari (Bel-is-myhelp)—about 1380 BC. Of him two facts have come down to us, the mutual relations of which seem to be as follows: Kurigalzu II had been seated on the Babylonian throne by the Assyrians and therefore owed them much gratitude, but to assure the stability of his throne he must needs take the Babylonian rather than the Assyrian side of controversies and difficulties between the peoples. The grandson of Bel Nirari boasts concerning him that he conquered the Kassites and increased the territory of Assyria. By this he must mean not the Kassite rulers of Babylonia, but rather the people from whom they had come—that is, the inhabitants of the neighboring Elamite foothills. This conquest simply carried a little further the acquisition of territory toward the east and south which had been begun by Asshur-Uballit's conquest of Shubari. But these Assyrian conquests led to Babylonian jealousy and then to a conflict between Kurigalzu II and Bel Nirari, in which the latter was victorious, and this, in turn, brought about a rearrangement of the boundary line by which the two kings divided between them the disputed territory, though it does not appear which was the gainer.
Again the succession to the throne passed from father to son, and Pudi Ilu (about 1360 BC) reigned in Asshur. He has left us only brief inscriptions, in which he boasts of building at the temple of Shamash, probably that at the capital city. From his son we learn that he was a warrior of no mean achievements, though our geographical knowledge is not sufficient to enable us to follow his movements closely. He is represented as overrunning the lands Turuki and Nigimkhi, and conquering the princes of the land of Gutium. Beside these conquests to the north of the city of Asshur he also extended his borders toward the southwest by the conquest of the nomad people the Sutu. From reign to reign we see the little kingdom of Asshur grow. These conquests were probably not much more than raids, nor is it likely that at so early a period a serious effort was made by the Assyrians to govern the territory overrun. It was preparatory work; the peoples round about Asshur were gradually being brought to know something of its growing power. They would soon come to regard it as a mistress and consolidation would be easy. It was in similar fashion that the empire of Babylonia had grown to its position of influence.
Pudi Ilu was succeeded by his son, Adad Nirari I (about 1345 BC), who has left us two records, the one a bronze sword inscribed with his name and titles, the other a considerable inscription, carefully dated by the eponym name, the oldest dated Assyrian inscription yet found. The latter is largely devoted to an account of the enlargement of the temple of Asshur in the capital, his wars being but slightly mentioned. In the enumeration of the lands conquered by him the countries already overrun by his predecessors are repeated—Shubari, the Kassite country, and Guti, to which he adds the land of the Lulumi. The fact that these lands needed so soon to be conquered again shows that the first conquest was little more than a raid. But this time a distinct advance was made; Adad Nirari does more than conquer. He expressly states that he rebuilt cities in this conquered territory which had been devastated by the previous conquests. Here is evidence of rule rather than of ruin, and in this incident we may find the real beginnings of the great empire of Assyria. Again there were difficulties with Babylonia, and Adad Nirari fought with Kurigalzu II and with his successor, Nazi Maruttash (about 1345 BC), both of whom he conquered, according to Assyrian accounts; though the Babylonian Chronicle would give the victory to the Babylonian king, in the first case at least. In the inscription of the bronze sword Adad Nirari calls himself king of Kishshati, a title which is found earlier in an inscription of Asshur Uballit. He does not call himself king of Asshur at all, though this title is given by him to his father and grandfather. Apparently he seems to claim for himself a greater dignity than that of ruler merely over Asshur, else would he certainly have called himself king of Asshur, as did his predecessors. But his own description gives us no means of determining the location or the bounds of the territory which he had conquered or over which he claimed rule. When his reign closed he left Assyria and its dependencies far stronger than when he took the government in his own hands.
His son, Shalmaneser I, was his worthy successor. From his own historiographers very little has come down to us—only two broken tablets, from which it is difficult to make out any connected story, but the fame of his great deeds called forth more than one mention from later kings, and these will enable us to reconstruct the main portion of his achievements. The general direction of his conquests was toward the northwest. This would seem to imply that the policy of his father had been successful, and that the territory toward the northeast and the southeast was peacefully subject to Assyria. He pushed rather into the great territory of the valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and therein established colonies as a bulwark of defense against the nomadic populations of the farther north. Still farther westward the land of Musri was also subjected. This land lay north of Syria, close to Mount Amanus, and hence very near to the great Mediterranean Sea. To reach it Shalmaneser must cross the Euphrates—the first time that Assyrian power had crossed the great river. Subsequent events show that the more westerly parts of the land which he conquered were not really added to the Assyrian state. As in the case of Shubari, so also in this, other invasions would be necessary. But this at least had been gained, the rapidly growing kingdom was firmly established as far as the Balikh, and perhaps even to the Euphrates beyond.
Small wonder is it that a conqueror of such prowess and an organizer of such ability should deem it necessary to build a new capital worthy of so great a kingdom. The city of Asshur was old, and its location was far south, too near the old Babylonian border. A kingdom that was growing northward and westward needed a capital more nearly central in location. Shalmaneser I determined to erect his new capital at Calah, and so pitched upon a site which remained the capital of his country for centuries, and later became the southern portion of Nineveh itself. In peace as in war a man of foresight and skill, like his father, he left Assyria the greater for his living and ruling.
In the reign of his son and successor, Tukulti Ninib (about 1290 BC), the irresistible progress of the Assyrian arms reached a glorious climax. There had once more arisen trouble between the two states of Assyria and Babylonia. Perhaps it was the old and vexed boundary question, which would not down; perhaps the never-forgotten restless ambition of the Assyrians to rule at Babylon. Whatever the cause or excuse Tukulti Ninib invaded Babylonia with force sufficient to overwhelm its defenders and the imperial capital was taken. After an unexampled career of power and of civilization Babylon had fallen and the Assyrian plunderer was among her ruins. Tukulti Ninib laid low a part of the city wall, even then massive, killed some of the defenders, and plundered the temple, carrying away into Assyria the image of the great god Marduk. This was no mere raid, but a genuine conquest of the city, which was now governed from Calah. Assyrian officers were stationed both in the north and in the south of the country. Tukulti Ninib adopts the title of king of Sumer and Accad in addition to his former, titles, king of Kishshati and king of Asshur. In his person were now united the latest Assyrian title and one of the most ancient titles in the world. The old and coveted land of Sumer and Accad, the conquest of which by Hammurabi had been the very making of his empire, was now ruled from the far north. A curious evidence of the rule of Tukulti Ninib in Babylon itself was found by Sennacherib, probably during the second attack upon the city (689 BC). Tukulti Ninib had sent to Babylon a seal inscribed with his name, and this was taken to Assyria. For seven years only was this rule over Babylonia maintained. The Babylonians rebelled, drove out the Assyrian conqueror, and set up once more a Babylonian, Adad Shum Usur (about 1268-1239 BC), as king over them. When Tukulti Ninib returned to Assyria after his unsuccessful effort to maintain his authority in the south he found even his own people in rebellion under the leadership of his son. In the civil war that followed he lost his life, and the most brilliant reign in Assyrian history up to that time was closed.
Up to this point the progress of the Assyrians had been steady and rapid. The few Semitic colonists from Babylonia had so completely overwhelmed the original inhabitants of their land that the latter made no impression on Assyrian life or history, and in this alone they had achieved more than the Babylonians, after a much longer history and with greater opportunities. We have seen how the Babylonians were influenced by the Sumerian civilization and by the Sumerian people. Afterward they were first conquered by the Kassites and then so completely amalgamated with them that they ceased to be a pure Semitic race. Thus the influences of Semitism could not be perpetuated and disseminated by the Babylonians, while, on the other hand, the Assyrians suffered no intermixture. The latter had already so gained control of the fine territory which they first invaded as to be absolute masters of it. Under them the land of Assyria had become Semitic. More than this, they had gained sufficient influence by conquest over the older Arameans peoples toward the southeast, between them and the Kassites and the Babylonians, as to take from the Babylonians the Semitic leadership. Their colonies in the upper Mesopotamian valley were centers of Semitic influence and stood as a great bulwark against the non-Semitic influences on the north. By crossing the Euphrates and conquering the land of Musri they had also threatened the older Semitic civilizations in Syria and Palestine. Would they be able to wrest the power from them, as they had from the eastern Aramaeans and from the Babylonians? If this could be done, the Assyrians would hold in their hands the destinies of the Semitic race. It seemed as though they were to accomplish even this, when they were suddenly checked by the successful rebellion of the Babylonians, by civil war, and by the death of their great leader. This reverse might mean their permanent overthrow if the Babylonian people still had in their veins the courage, the dash, and the rugged independence of the desert Semite. If, however, the intermixture of Sumerian and Kassite blood, not to mention lesser strains, had weakened the Semitic powers of the Babylonians, the check to Assyria might be only temporary. It is a critical day in the history of the race. The severity of the blow to Assyria is evidenced not only by the results in Babylonia, but no less by the fragmentary character of Assyrian annals for a long time. It is, indeed, for a time difficult not only to learn the course of events in Assyria, but even the names and order of the kings. The Babylonian Chronicle mentions an Assyrian king, Tukulti Asshur Bel, in close connection with the history of Tukulti Ninib, but in words so obscure that his relation to the history is difficult to understand. It is altogether probable that he reigned as regent in Assyria during the seven years in which his father was engaged in the reducing and ruling of Babylon, but of his deeds in these years we have no knowledge.
The successor of Tukulti Ninib on the throne of Assyria was his son, Asshur Nazirpal I, who had led the rebellion against him. In his reign the ruin of Assyrian fortunes which began in his father's defeat and death went rapidly on. The Babylonian king, Adad-Shum-Usur, felt himself strong enough to follow up the advantage already gained by the restoration of his family to power, and actually attacked Assyria, from which he was only with difficulty repulsed.
The next Assyrian kings were Asshur Narara and Nabu Daian (about 1250 BC), of whose reigns we know nothing, although we are able to infer from the sequel that the Assyrian power continued to wane, while the Babylonian increased. The reigns were short, and were soon succeeded by Bel Kudur Usur and Ninib Apal Esharra, in whose day the Babylonians under the leadership of Meli Shipak and Marduk Apal Iddina invaded Assyria and stripped the once powerful kingdom of all its southern and part at least of its northern and western conquered territory. Apparently all was lost that the Assyrian kings of the earlier day had won, and the end of Assyrian leadership had come, but the motive force of the Assyrians was not destroyed.
The successor of Ninib Apal Esharra was Asshur Dan (about 1210 BC), and with him begins the rehabilitation of Assyrian power. He crossed the river Zab, and invading the territory which had been for some time considered Babylonian, restored a small section of it to Assyria. We know little else of his reign, but this is sufficient to mark the turning point and explain what follows. His great-grandson, Tiglath Pileser, boasts of him that he reached a great age. In his reign the rugged virtues of the Assyrians were preparing for the reawakening which was soon to come. Of the following reign of his son, Mutakkil Nusku (about 1150 BC), we have no information, though we are probably safe in the supposition that his father's work was continued, for we find in Babylonian history, as has been seen, no evidence of any weakening of Assyria, but rather the contrary.
The gain in the Assyrian progress is shown more clearly by the reign of his son, Asshur Risk Ishi (about 1140 BC), who is introduced to us very fittingly as "the powerful king, the conqueror of hostile lands, the subduer of all the evil." The beginning of his conquests was made by a successful campaign against the Lulumi and the Kuti, who have found mention more than once before. They must have either become independent, during the period of Assyria's decline, or perhaps have been added to the restored Babylonian empire. Having thus made sure of the territory on the south and east, Asshur Risk Ishi was ready to meet the great and hereditary foe of Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar I was now king in Babylon, and, flushed with recent victory over a portion of Elam, was a dangerous antagonist. The issue between the kings seems to have been joined not in the old land of Babylonia south of Assyria, but in Mesopotamia, and the Assyrians were victorious. Of the other deeds of Asshur Rich Ishi we know nothing save that he restored again the temple of Ishtar in Calah.Asshur Rish Ishi was succeeded by his son, Tiglath Pileser I (Tukulti Pal Esharra, "My help is the son of Esharra"—that is, "My help is the god Ninib"). There was therefore no break in the succession and no new dynasty begins. Nevertheless, a new period of Assyrian history really commences with the next king. With Asshur Risk Ishi ends the first period of growth and decay and of renaissance. To his son he left a kingdom almost as great as Assyria had yet possessed. Tiglath Pileser begins to reign with the titles of king of Kishshati and king of Asshur; the only title belonging to his ancestors which he did not possess was king of Sumer and Accad. With him we enter upon a wonderful period in the career of the Assyrian people.