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  • 8/12/2019 Postgate J. N., The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur


    The Land of Assur and the Yoke of AssurAuthor(s): J. N. PostgateSource: World Archaeology, Vol. 23, No. 3, Archaeology of Empires (Feb., 1992), pp. 247-263Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/124761Accessed: 01/02/2010 15:47

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  • 8/12/2019 Postgate J. N., The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur


    T h e a n d o s s u r a n d th y o k e o

    s s u r

    J. N. Postgate

    The Assyrian state had its origins early in the second millennium, as the smallself-governing merchant city of Assur, became a territorial power in the fourteenth tothirteenth centuries BC, and survived until 605 BC, by which time it had created an empirewhich set the pattern for its successors: Babylon, Persia and Macedon. Both as aphenomenon in its own right, and as the originator of the Near Eastern style of empire,Assyria demands to be included in any study of empires. For reasons of simplicity andspace our attention will be concentrated on the western frontier, but much of what isdescribed could be illustrated equally from the northern or eastern sectors.

    The historical framework

    For our purposes, Assyria's territorial history can be divided into four phases: the creationand original expansion in the period 1400-1200 BC, a long recession of varying intensityfrom 1200 to 900 BC, the progressive re-establishment of the earlier borders from about900 to 745 BC, and then the final phase of expansion far beyond these borders into Egyptand Iran, 745 to 605 BC (see Table I and Figs 1-2). The form Assyrian control took varied:it did not emerge in a vacuum, and in each case it depended not only on the character of thecentral Assyrian government itself, but also on the political and social order in the landsabsorbed. Both inside and outside Assyria the current realities were also tempered, andpolicies affected, by perceptions of precedents. It is therefore necessary to give an outlineof these phases before examining the principles and practice of empire.

    Phase I saw the transformation of the single city-state of Assur, under the domination, ifnot the direct rule, of the Mitannian kings, to a territorial state known as 'the Land ofAssur', whose kings claimed equality with the Pharaoh and the Great King of the Hittites.From the land annexed by Assur in the fourteenth century, encompassing the cities ofNineveh, Kalhu, Kilizu and Arbil, the three thirteenth-century kings (Adad-nirari,Shalmaneser and Tukulti-Ninurta) swallowed up the remnants of the Mitannian kingdom

    in the Habur district, and so extended their direct administration to the Euphrates, whichformed an acknowledged frontier with Hittite territory.

    World Archaeology Volume 23 No. 3 Archaeology of Empires?CRoutledge 1992 0043-8243/92/2303/247 $3.00/i

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    248 J. N. Postgate

    Table I Chronological chart.

    King's name Regnal dates

    Assur-rabi IAssur-nadin-ahheEnlil-nasir 11 1432-1427Assur-nirari 11 1426-1420Assur-bel-nisesu 1419-1411Assur-rim-nisesu 1410-1403

    Phase I Assur-nadin-ahhe 11 1402-1393Phase Eriba-Adad 1392-1366

    Assur-uballit 1 1365-1330Enlil-nirari 1329-1320Arik-den-ili 1319-1308Adad-nirari 1 1307-1275Shalmaneser 1 1274-1245Tukulti-Ninurta 1 1244-1208Assur-nadin-apli 1207-1204Assur-nirari 111 1203-1198Enlil-kudurri-usur 1197-1193Ninurta-apil-Ekur 1192-1180Assur-dan 1 1179-1134Ninurta-tukulti-MAsurMutakkil-NuskuAsur-res-isi 1 1133-1116Tiglath-Pileser 1 1115-1077

    Phase 2 < Aarid-apil-Ekur 1076-1075Assur-bel-kala 1074-1057Eriba-Adad 11 1056-1055Samsi-Adad IV 1054-1051Assurnasirpal 1 1050-1032Shalmaneser 11 1031-1020Assur-nirari V 1019-1014Assur-rabi 11 1013-973Assur-res-isi 11 972-968Tiglath-Pileser 11 967-935Assur-dan l 934-912Adad-nirari l 911-891Tukulti-Ninurta 11 890-884Assurnasirpal I 883-859Shalmaneser III 858-824

    P Samsi-Adad V 823-811Adad-nirari 111 810-783Shalmaneser IV 782-773Assur-dan III 772-755Assur-nirari V 754-745Tiglath-Pileser III 744-727Shalmaneser V 726-722Sargon l 721-705Sennacherib 704-681

    Phase 4 Esarhaddon 680-669Assurbanipal 668-627Assur-etel-ilani 626-624?Sin-s'umu-lisirSin-sar-iskun -612Assur-uballit 11 611-609

  • 8/12/2019 Postgate J. N., The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur


  • 8/12/2019 Postgate J. N., The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur



    LIIIajor ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 1", I ,I .

    . ~~~~

    [E) provincial apitals site airly ertain)[3]1prov-incial capitals (location uncertain)

    [3~] thersitesEn-ock reliefs

    Figure 2 The Assyrian Empire n the first millennium BC, to show archaeological vidence forextent of empire after Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Archaeology, p. 188).

    off the mainly Aramaean states which now confronted the Assyrian kings, beginning veryclose to home with Assur-dan and Adad-nirari (934-912 and 911-891), and culminatingwith Shalmaneser's persistent series of campaigns into Syria and Anatolia, in territory stillreferred to as Hittite (the 'Land of Hatti').

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    The Land of Assur and the yoke of Assur 251

    Phase 4 The traditional Assyrian frontier in the west was the Euphrates. Although in thelate ninth and early eighth century Assyrian influence was acknowledged by states beyondthis line, there is no suggestion that the 'Land of Assur' crossed it too. The powerfulSamsi-ilu calls himself 'administrator' (and not 'governor') 'of the land of Hatti',acknowledging thereby the separate identity of the western lands he controlled. Tworecently published stelae show the Assyrian king arbitrating between local dynasts - withno visible inclination to annex their territory. This changed abruptly with the accession ofTiglath-Pileser III in 745, who conquered and annexed most of Syria and Lebanon, andinitiated a policy of expanding the frontiers of 'The Land of Assur' which ended withEsarhaddon and Assurbanipal's annexation of Egypt and Elam, and abolished theintervening local states, thus setting the scene for the succeeding empires of Babylon,Persia and Macedon.

    The forms of domination

    The Assyrian imperial order differed from those of the Mitannians and Hittites, whoincorporated a hierarchy of local dynasties into the same system as the high king's coredomain. The formal pronouncements of the Assyrian kings distinguish clearly betweenterritory directly administered and incorporated within the 'Land of Assur', and areasacknowledging Assyrian domination but retaining some form of autonomy. Theexamination of the documentary sources makes it quite clear that this distinction was not

    an empty formula, but corresponded with both practical arrangements and symbolicactions. Let us look first at 'Assyria proper', and then move to the satellites across thefrontiers.

    The Land of Assur: 'Assyria proper'

    The Land of Assur is a phrase which is first used as the Middle Assyrian state came intobeing. It includes at first the 'Assyrian triangle' in the region of Nineveh, and is extendedinto the Habur region after the conquests of the thirteenth century. Thereafter, it remainsthe term for what we would call Assyria until the end. Territories freshly added to Assyria,

    or reclaimed, are said to be 'turned into' or 'returned to the land of Assur': 'to the land ofAssur I added land, to its people I added people'. The name itself reflects the ideologicalcentrality of the city of Assur, and the city-god, henceforth also the national god, whobears the same name. This one-to-one correspondence between the god and the city isunderlined by the fact that, unlike most other major deities of the Mesopotamian scene,Assur has no other temples. His role, as the symbolic personification of the city and thenstate of Assur, is reflected in a system of offerings contributed, in a fixed rota, by thecomponent parts of the Land of Assur, i.e. by the different provinces. These are notvaluable items destined for the temple's treasury, but groceries for its daily menu. Thesystem is best attested in the reign of Tiglath-Pileser 1 (1105-1077), but there is adequate

    evidence that it was still operating in the seventh century, both within some of thetraditional central provinces and, newly imposed, in recently (and transitorily) annexedlands such as Egypt (Postgate 1980; 1985; Cogan 1974: 52).

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    252 J. N. Postgate

    For us, the significant point is that the contributors represent the constituent parts ofAssyria proper: they do not include client kingdoms or other marginally autonomousareas. This is understandable: a central shrine embodies a territory's communal identityand, provided some measure of autonomy was maintained, any state would havc its ownsymbolic centre in the shape of its traditional god, and could not serve two masters.Incorporation into Assyria meant participating in the cult of its god; it need not have meantabandoning the worship of the local deity, but it would have affected the significance ofthat cult as a political statement. The whole system stands in a tradition stretching back tothe third millennium, whereby sharing responsibility for the provision of the dailysustenance of the Enlil Temple at Nippur was both the duty and the prerogative of thosestates (and, in Ur III times, provinces) which constituted part of 'Sumer and Akkad'proper (Steinkeller 1987).

    The rota in Assyria too was shared between the provinces, and to this symbolicstatement there corresponded practical aspects of government administration. Unlike thepyramidal structure of the Hittite and Mitannian empires, the Middle Assyrian kingsgoverned through a single-tier system of provinces embracing all directly ruled Assyrianterritory. While the provincial capitals were often the traditional local centres, thegovernors were usually (if not always) 're-deployed' membcrs of the old families of Assur,rather than 're-employed' local dynasts. One family archive from thirteenth-century Assurshows how they harnessed the commercial traditions of the merchant houses, with theirexact liability accounting, to establish a bureaucratic organization for the newly acquiredterritories, in town and country (Postgate 1988). Provincial governorships were some-

    times, but not always, passed on within the family, but they were formally the king'sappointments. In practice too, administration and economic exploitation were carried outby the governors on behalf of the king. This is madc clear by the Assyrian coronation ritualin which their tenure of office was formally rcnewed cach year, and by the detailedadministrative correspondence of some of the governors.

    This system survived until the end of the empire. T here were, of course, changes:inevitably it shrank as the frontiers of Assyrian control contracted, and new provincesappear as the first millennium expansion followed; the rcapid xpansion of the state undelAssur-nasir-apli and Shalmaneser in the ninth century led for a while to very lalgeprovinces (and perhaps correspondingly powerful governors), which were redivided under

    Tiglath-Pileser III after 745. But the theory and practice remain the same: the Land ofAssur is a homogeneous territory divided into equal ranking provinces. If you arc inAssyria, you are in a province; outside Assyria, not. T hus the list of provinces contributingto the Assur T emple in the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I tells us the extent of Assyrian territor-yin the eleventh century, and when new lands were added to Assyria by ITiglath-Pileser Illin the eighth century, they were placed under a new governor, or, as he often says, 'I addedthat land to the province of x'.

    The yoke of Assur: client kingdoms

    The client kingdom (I use 'client' rather than 'vassal' on the firm insistence of Moses Finleyto avoid feudal connotations), is an entirely different phenomenon and was so perccivedby the Assyrians, as their terminology and actions make clear. First clearly attested under

  • 8/12/2019 Postgate J. N., The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur


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