INCREASE OF ASSYRIAN POWER OVER BABYLONIA
AFTER the dynasty of Isin had ceased to rule in Babylonia, brought to an end we know not how, there arose a dynasty known to the Babylonian historiographers and chronologists as the dynasty of the Sea Lands. The territory known as the Sea Lands was alluvial land at the estuaries of the Tigris and the Euphrates upon the Persian Gulf. This fertile country, already beginning to show its growing power, was destined at a later period to exercise a great influence upon the history of Babylonia. The dynasty of the Sea Lands numbered only three kings, who reigned together but twenty-one years and five months, or, as the Babylonian Chronicle has it, twenty-three years. This variation in the time given by the two chief Babylonian authorities is instructive in its showing that the Babylonians themselves did not preserve so accurate a memory of this time as of the earlier and later periods.
The first king of the dynasty was Sibar Shipak (about 1074-1057 BC), of whose reign we know only that it ended disastrously, for he was slain and buried in the palace of Sargon.
The next king was Ea-Mukin Zer (about 1057 BC), who reigned but five months according to the King List, or three months according to the Chronicle. Of his reign, also, we have no further knowledge.
The last king was Kasshu Nadin Akhe, son of Sippai, who reigned but three years (about 10561054 BC) (Chronicle, six years), whose works are likewise unknown to us.
All of these kings, according to the statement of a later monarch, had labored upon the rebuilding of the Temple of the Sun at Sippar.
Immediately after this dynasty there follows another of three kings, called the dynasty of the house of Bazi, of which we know only the names of the rulers and the somewhat doubtful number of years which they reigned. These kings are :
Eulbar Shakin Shum, seventeen years (Chronicle, fifteen) (about 1053-1037 BC).
Ninib kudur Usur, three years (Chronicle, two) (1036-1034 BC).
Silanim Shukamuna, three months (about 1033 BC).
After this dynasty comes another with only one king, whose name is unknown. He is called an Elamite, reigned six years, and was buried in the palace of Sargon (about 1032-1027 BC). In his seizing of the throne we are reminded of the former Elamite movements under Eri Aku.
With these three dynasties we have passed over a period of history in Babylonia of perhaps forty-six years. Our lack of knowledge of the period is of course partly due to absence of original documents, but it is also probably due to the fact that there was little to tell. We have lighted upon degenerate days. The real Babylonian stock had exhausted its vigor, and was now intermixed with Kassite and other foreign blood—a mixture which would later prove stronger than the pure blood which had preceded it, for mixed races have generally been superior to those of pure blood. But there was hardly time yet for a display of its real force. Besides this Babylonia had suffered from invasions from Assyria, from Elam, and from the Sea Lands, at the head of the Persian Gulf. It was not surprising that a period not only of peace but of stagnation had come.
The most noteworthy fact in these forty-six years is the arising from the far south of the so-called dynasty of the Sea Lands. The names of these three kings are chiefly Kassite, and that would seem to imply that the Kassites had also overrun this land as well as the more central parts of Babylonia. However that may be, this is the country which is also called the land of the Kaldi, or, in the later form, the land of Chaldea. This is the period of the growth and development of new states on all sides, as we shall see in the survey to follow, and it is the first appearance of the Chaldeans in Babylonian history. Their subsequent history shows that they were Semites, though perhaps, as above stated, of somewhat mixed blood. It is not known when they first entered the laud by the sea, from which they had now invaded Babylonia. It has been suggested that their power in Babylonia was attained not by conquest, but by a slow progress of emigration. The view is plausible, perhaps even probable, for they seem to have become kings in a period of profound peace, but there is no sure evidence.
In following the line of Babylonian kings we have now reached another period of extreme difficulty. The native Babylonian King Lists are so badly broken that no names are legible for a long period, and but very few of the numerals which give their years of reign. It is possible, however, from the fragmentary notices of Assyrian kings, from the Synchronistic History, and from certain business documents to recover a few of the names, which will be set down in their approximate order as the story progresses. The next of the kings of Babylonia seems to have been Nabu Ukin Abli, who reigned apparently thirty-six years (about 1026-991 BC), and whose portrait, accompanied by his titles as king of Kish and king of Babylonia, is given on a curious boundary stone. This is all that is known of him or his reign.
While we have been laboriously threading our way though the weary mazes of this obscure succession of dynasties in Babylonia we have left aside a period of silence in Assyria after the reign of Tiglath Pileser I and his two sons. We have now seen that during this period there was no display of power and energy in Babylonia, but the people of Chaldea, using perhaps this very opportunity, had been able to establish themselves well in their own land, and even to attain power in Babylonia.
In the west there were movements of still greater importance among the Semitic peoples. Just as the decay of Babylonian power gave opportunity to the Chaldeans, so the decay of Assyrian power and the consequent absence of its threats against the west gave great opportunity to the peoples of Syria and Palestine. As the Assyrian power must soon meet these new foes, as well as old foes in new locations, we must survey this field of the west before we proceed further with the story of Assyria.
Several times before in this history we have met with a people known as the Aramaeans. Like the Assyrians and Babylonians, they were a Semitic people whose original homeland was Arabia, and probably northern Arabia. Whether Aramaeans began to leave Arabia before or after the Babylonians will probably never be known with certainty. As the Mesopotamian valley was so much more desirable a place of dwelling than the lands later occupied by the Aramaeans, it seems reasonable to suppose that this valley was already occupied by the Babylonians when the Aramaeans came out of Arabia and moved northward. They left settlements along the edges of the Babylonian kingdom, some of which were readily absorbed, while others remained to vex their stronger neighbors for centuries. In their migrations toward the north they seemed to follow very nearly the course of the Euphrates, though bodies of them crossed over toward the Tigris and became, as we have seen, thorny neighbors of the Assyrians during the founding of the Assyrian kingdom. At the period which we have now reached their strongest settlements were along the northern Euphrates, in the neighborhood of the river Sajur. Pitru (the biblical Pethor) and Mutkinu, which had been filled with Assyrian colonists by Tiglath Pileser, were now in the hands of the Aramaeans. It is altogether probable, also, that they had silently possessed themselves of territory farther north along the Euphrates, perhaps even as far as Amid, which Tiglathpileser had conquered, but which had to be reconquered, and from the Aramaeans, in a short time. But the greatest achievement of the Aramaeans was not in the upper Mesopotamian valley. They were in force in this valley when the Hittite empire fell to pieces, and to them came the best of what it possessed. Carchemish, at the fords of the Euphrates, had been passed by, and moving westward, they had seized Aleppo and Hamath and then, most glorious and powerful of all, Damascus fell into their hands. Here they founded their greatest kingdom, and centuries must elapse before the Assyrians would be able to break down this formidable barrier to their western progress. But these facts have another significance besides the political. The Aramaeans were essentially traders. The territory which they now possessed was the key to the trade between the east and the west. The products of Assyria and of Babylonia could not cross into Syria and thence in ships over the Mediterranean westward without passing through this Aramaean territory, and so paying tribute. The Aramaeans had become the land traders, as the Phoenicians were the sea traders. Now, the Assyrians were also a commercial people, shrewd, eager, and persevering. It could not be long before the king of Assyria would be pressed by the commercial life of Nineveh to undertake wars for the winning back from the Aramaeans of this territory so valuable in itself, and so important for the development of Assyrian commerce. However the Assyrians, who were never a maritime people, might endure the submission of their commercial ambition to the Phoenicians on the sea, it was not likely that they would yield up the highways of the land to a people less numerous and less strong than themselves. In the period of decay that followed the reign of Tiglath Pileser this new power had risen up to bar their progress. We shall see shortly how the difficulty was met.
During the same period another power, not so great, and yet destined to influence strongly the later history of Assyria and soon to excite Assyrian cupidity, had been slowly developing in the land of Palestine south of the Aramaean strongholds. When the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan into Palestine they found a number of disorganized tribes lately freed from Egyptian rule and not yet organized into a confederation sufficiently strong to resist the fresh blood which came on them suddenly from out the desert. The Hebrews in their desert sojourn had worn off the feeling of a subject population, and from the desert air had taken in at every breath the freedom which to this very day inspires the desert Arab. It was a resistless force which Joshua led in the desultory campaigns beyond the Jordan. The period of the Judges was a rude and barbaric age, but it was an age in which Israel developed some idea of national life and some power of self-government. If the conquests of Tiglath Pileser had continued many years longer, he would surely have been led to invade Palestine, and the Hebrews, without a fixed central government, without a kingly leader, without a standing army, would have fallen an easy prey to his disciplined and victorious troops. But the period of Assyrian weakness which followed his reign gave the needed breathing spell in the west, and the kingdom of Saul and David was established. Herein was established a new center of influence ready to oppose the ambition of Assyrian kings and the commercial cupidity of Assyrian traders.
The political aspect of western Asia had changed considerably in the period 1050-950 B. C. During this century we do not know anything of the life of the Assyrian people. The names of the kings Asshur Nazirpal II (about 1050 BC), Erba Adad, and Asshur Nadin Akhe belong in this period, and the last two erected buildings in the city of Asshur, the restoration of which became a care to a later king after a lapse of one hundred and fifty years. After these kings there ruled a certain Asshur Erbi, though whether he was their immediate successor or not does not appear. He has left us no accounts of his wars or of his labors. From the allusions of two later Assyrian kings we learn that it was in his reign that the Aramaeans seized Pitru (Pethor) and Mutkinu, so that his reign is another evidence of the period of weakness and decay in Assyria. But he seems, on the other hand, to have invaded the far west, for on the Phoenician coast he carved his portrait in relief upon the rocks, probably in the rocky gorge of the Nahr El Kelb, north of Beirut, a place much used for the same purpose by later Assyrian conquerors.
At about 950 BC Tiglath Pileser II began to reign in Assyria, and from his time on to the end of the Assyrian empire we possess an unbroken list of the names of the kings. He is called king of Kishshati and king of Asshur, and with his name and his titles our knowledge begins and ends. He was succeeded by his son, Asshur Dan II (about 930 BC), and he again by his son, Adad Nirari II (911-891 BC), in whose reign the old struggles between Assyria and Babylonia began again. Babylonia was now ruled by Shamash Mudammik, and these two monarchs met in battle at the foot of Mount Yalman and the Babylonian was utterly overthrown. We hear no more of him, and his life may have ended in the battle.
The struggle was renewed by his successor, Nabu Shum Ishkun, who likewise suffered defeat at the hands of Adad Nirari II, and was compelled to yield some cities to the Assyrians, after which a treaty of peace was made between the two nations. Besides these notices of the relations between the two kingdoms our only record of the times is a short inscription of Adad Nirari II, in which his genealogy only is given. His son, Tukulti Ninib II (890-885 BC), introduces us to the threshold of a new period of Assyrian conquest. He began again the campaigns in the north, which had rested since the days of Tiglath Pileser I, over whose course, in part, he marched, piercing the highlands even to the confines of Urartu (Armenia) and extending his ravages from Lake Urumiyeh on the east to the land of Kummukh on the west. At Supnat (Sebeneh-Su) he caused his relief portrait to be set up alongside of that of Tiglath Pileser, whose exploits he had been emulating.
In his reign Assyria gives plain indication that the period of decay and of weakness was past. The Babylonians had been partially humbled, and were at least not threatening. The Assyrians were therefore free to begin again to assert the right to tribute in the north and northwest. In the next reign the issue is joined, and a new period of Assyrian progress begins.