A. T. (Albert Ten Eyck) Olmstead.

Western Asia in the days of Sargon of Assyria online

. (page 16 of 18)
Online LibraryA. T. (Albert Ten Eyck) OlmsteadWestern Asia in the days of Sargon of Assyria → online text (page 16 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


new army could be better organized and better directed than
the old. The unit seems to have been the fifty, that is, of
fifty groups, each consisting of a spearman and bowman,

*Note the letter K. 4286 of the time of Sennacherib with its data
as to the composition of the Assyrian army and the discussion in Johns,
Deeds, II. 170 if. For the "camp of Sargon," cf. Botta, Ninive, pi.
146 and Place, pi. 40.

" Note that the Itu'ai, at first a tribe, later became a sort of military
caste. Compare also K. 341 = J. 364 of 679 where we have a rab
kigir official over the Gimirai.

In the business documents, the seller of a slave or serf quite
regularly guarantees the buyer against loss caused by requisition for
service, not only from the civil but from the military officials, cf. Johns,
Deeds, II. 49.

^D. 114.



THE CULTURE LIFE 1 63

and to this a few chariots and cavalry were attached, the
whole being under a captain of fifty. These groups again
were under a higher officer, generally the governor of the
region they were operating in. In addition, there seems to
have been a royal body guard, its members generally As-
syrians, composed of chariots, foot and cavalry. Individual
members seem to have held important commissions and even
commanded other troops in war. A good intelligence de-
partment existed and intelligence officers, scouts, and spies
are mentioned in the letters. Siege engines were much
used, as the reliefs show. The leaders understood something
of tactics, and those who follow up their expeditions on the
map cannot deny a certain knowledge of strategy. There
seem to have been general plans for the campaigns, which
were often carried on along an extended frontier, where
cooperation of the operating bodies was needed.^

At the head of the government was the king. In theory,
his will seems to have been absolute, though tempered in
practice by a goodly number of revolts. There is no proof
that there was any council regularly constituted to advise
him, but there are indications that the nobles had much
influence and were not afraid to speak their mind on oc-
casion. Around the king was a large circle of high officials
at the head of whom was the tartan, corresponding to the
wazir of modern Turkey. For the earlier part of the reign
this was Ashur icka danin,^ a man probably as old as Sargon
himself, since he was eponym in 720. He was assisted by a

* Johns, Deeds, II. 91 ff. The scattered information in the letters
regarding the army is of the greatest value but is uncollected. The
royal inscriptions tell us of campaigns but give little in regard to real
fnilitary questions. The best discussion of the army as a whole is
in Billerbeck and Jeremias' study of the fall of Nineveh, Beitr. z. Assyr.,
III.

So K. 998, quoted Johns, Deeds, II. 69. He was eponym in 720.



164 WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

second and perhaps a third tartan. How important his
personality was we cannot tell, for in his earlier period
Sargon would have been active enough to carry on his own
affairs, while from 710 at least Sennacherib was in charge
of Assyria proper, and was in direct control of the opera-
tions against Haldia.^*' Another official whose influence
must have been great was Tab gil esharra, who occupied the
post of governor of Ashur, the mother city of Assyria and
the especial favorite of Sargon for the greater part of his
reign.^^ Still another was Ashur bani, governor of Kalhu,
where the king for a good portion of his time held his
court.^2

The cities of Assyria, then, had their governors, but seem
to have had, at least so far as the citizens were concerned, a
position superior to that of the ordinary provincials. The
same was true of the culture nations of Mesopotamia and
Babylon, which, however often they revolted, were never
made actual provinces, but were rather united in a sort of
personal union where the only bond, at least in theory, was
the fact that they had a common ruler. Although this theory
did not represent the true state of affairs, yet it had a
considerable influence on it. Mesopotamia was gradually
becoming more and more a part of Assyria, and it would
appear that Shalmaneser had attempted to make the trans-
formation complete by taking away the ancient rights of
Harran, the capital, perhaps by taking away all rights to a
separate government. Sargon came to the throne as a re-
sult of a reaction, and his first care was to restore the lost
rights to Harran, and he regularly employed throughout his

^o Cf. last chapter.

"Tab gil esharra, as governor of Ashur, was eponym in 716. He is
still there in K. 507, probably of 709 or 710.

^^ Ashur bani was eponym 713. He was still governor of Kalhu the
next year, K. 351 = J. 6^().



THE CULTURE LIFE 1 65

reign the title " King of the World," which was the ancient
title of the kings of Mesopotamia.

But, while Mesopotamia was thus being Assyrianized, it
was different in Babylonia which, even yet, was so fre-
quently its own ruler that it had not forgotten what freedom
meant. The whole country had forgotten largely its old
rivalries and now rallied around Babylon. It could never
forget that it was older and more civilized than Assyria,
and this natural prejudice Sargon, as a believer in the good
old times, and perhaps also as an astute statesman, respected.
He !' seized the hands of Bel " with due ceremony and thus
became their own personal ruler. Unlike the other As-
syrian kings who ruled Babylon thus, there was no need of
a change of name, for what name more suggestively Baby-
lonian, smacking of the olden time, could be found than
Sargon? Such stress, indeed, was laid in Babylonia on
the fact of his being the " second " Sargon that his name as
a king of that country only came down to Greek times as
Arkeanos, "the Second." Thus, so long as Sargon ruled
Assyria, Babylonia was safe, for he had the support of the
priestly faction, and that was dominant. But when Sen-
nacherib, himself devoted rather to the military party in
Assyria, came to the throne the priestly party in Babylonia
had no choice but to take the less of two evils and, with
their own military party, once more invoke the aid of Mero-
dach Baladan.^^

^^Winckler in his various publications, has worked out the actual
facts behind the various royal titles. The best bibliography is to be
found in Muss-Arnolt's Lexicon under the various titles. While I do
not see how the correctness of his general conclusions can be denied,
it seems to me that he has not always seen that, while absence of a
local title presumably implies that the locality in question was not
in that king's possession, the presence of it merely indicates that such
control was claimed, with or without adequate basis, as the case might be.



1 66 WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

Outside the culture states thus protected by the Assy-
rians were the barbarians. Some of them had long ago been
conquered and had been incorporated into the provincial
system. Others were under control of " allied kings," who
for a time were supported by the Assyrians until at length
the usual family troubles marking a new accession should
force intervention and annexation. In the preceding pages
we have seen something of the manner this provincial sys-
tem worked. We have noted the way each governor in
turn gave his name to the year and have seen that he was
often the conductor of a war or able to show in other ways
his independence on the frontier. The number of these
governors was nearly sixty, a sufficient proof of the smallness
of their province. In this, no doubt, we see a wise attempt
to limit the amount of danger likely to result from revolt, a
policy in considerable contrast to that of the Persians. Nor
was this the only check. The constant letters showed a
highly centralized government. With a royal post and
trained couriers the results would probably not be far differ-
ent from that centralization which the telegraph gives the
Turkish Sultan, for, like him, the Assyrian king in his
letters deals with the minutest details. Rarely do we have
the letters sent by the king, but how frequent these must
have been we see from the constant phrase, "As to what
you sent about." But the more distant governors, such as
those of Que or Samaria, must have had far more oppor-
tunity to show independent ability or to plan revolt. To
the Assyrian monarch as to the Sultan today, the main
function of a government was the. levying of taxes, and the
provinces must have groaned under the burden. To what
extent the home land was freed we do not know. It would
appear that about this time a definite budget was first made
out, for from this period we have lists of tribute due from



THE CULTURE LIFE 1 6/

the various provinces as well as an account of the various
objects for which the sums were to be appropriated.^* While
the general lines of provincial administration are now fairly
known, a thorough study of the system is still needed.^^

" See the tribute lists published by Sayce, Records of the Past^ XL
144. Arpad is assessed at 30 talents, Carchemish at 100, Que at 30,
Megiddo at 15, and Mannuguate at the same. The amount paid by
Cimirra, Hatarakka, Cubud, Samalla, is lost.

" The best sketch of the provincial system is to be found in Maspero,
Empires, 193 if. What is needed is a study of the system as a whole
in connection with a history of the provinces somewhat along the line
of Mommsen's Provinces of the Roman Empire. In an elaborate work
such as that of Maspero, so much detail in regard to frontiers is given
that the main lines of Assyrian development are obscured, while much
of the effect of this detail is lost by not being brought into connection
with other pieces of detail belonging to the same region. The studies
of Billerbeck and Streck, for example, have shown how valuable for
topography is such a course, while the preceding chapters may be taken
r.3 an example of what can be done in this way even for a single reign.
It is necessary for our proper understanding of the system that we
know how far it was based on those of the Babylonians or even
Egyptians, while even more important is the question as to how far it
influenced that of the Persian Empire and the other neighboring govern-
ments. Through Persia, the Assyrian system influenced Rome and
thus the mediaeval and modern world, for Persia to the Greek political
writers represented the imperial idea, Persia set the fashion for the
Hellenistic world powers, while Rome, already an unconscious debtor
to the first Persian empire, consciously imitated the second in the
movement which changed the one supreme " general " of the time of
Augustus to the more than half oriental " despot " of that of Diocletian.
While we know the location of most of these centers of government,
we do not know their boundaries or extent nor have we any definite
idea of the exact functions of the governors. Was provincial control
divided as in Persian times? A list of the governors, based naturally
on that of Johns, Deeds, II. , should be made and then all the data
in places where they are mentioned tested to see if it can be utilized
for the history of the provinces. The history of these in general end
with the wars needed to conquer them and their organization. In
many cases already we know much of their later history from hints
here and there in letters and documents. I intended to list those
occurring in the reign of Sargon but hold my notes until they are more



1 68 WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

From the earliest times Babylonia had law codes and an
elaborate legal machinery, caused by its great trading inter-
ests as well as by a primitive factory system operated by
slave labor. Assyria was less of a trading nation, although
there must have been some traders, and commercial motives
can be traced at times in the campaigns of the reign. As a
rule, the main commercial interest of such an expedition
must have been the booty, and such an attitude must have
had as evil an effect on the development of the real resources
of the country as the influx of the easily won American gold
had on Spain. The preceding period of break-up seems to
have left Assyrian industry in a bad way, and we hear of
decaying villages and of agricultural apparatus out of com-
mission, even the canals, so absolutely essential for the wel-
fare of the country, being no longer fit to be used. All this,
so Sargon boasts, he changed. The villages he rebuilt, the
canals he opened, the waters he stored, were a real blessing
to the country, as was the bringing of new sections under
cultivation. But he clearly did not understand the real
issues. The decline of an agricultural population was no
doubt due to the same causes which operated in the later
Roman republic. With this came finally a rise in prices,
aided, no doubt, by the large amount of precious metals

complete. An important question which has long troubled me is to
just what extent there was a real difference between the government
of Assyria, of the personally united countries, and of the outer ring
of provinces. I fear the real difference has been exaggerated, though
I have followed the current view fully in the text. Sargon restored
the right of direct government by the crown to the city of Ashur, and
there was change enough to cause the governor of that city to complain,
yet it certainly had a governor who was eponym in 716 (see above).
Babylon certainly was highly favored yet in 709 or a little later. While
Sargon was still in Babylon, we find its governor mentioned, D. 140.
Perhaps then after all, see chap. II. n. 27, we have no right to assume
that the governor we find in Harran in 685 was a recent infliction, a
result of an anti-hierarchical party.



THE CULTURE LIFE 1 69

brought in by the successful wars. Sargon naturally felt
this to be due to conspiracy on the part of the Aramaean
traders in whose hands was now the greater part of the
trade of the empire. One of his proudest boasts is the way
he made a tariff so that the necessities of life might be
accessible to all, wine for the sick, incense for the joy of
the heart, oil for wounds, while sesame was the same price
as grain.^

The immense number of business documents from Baby-
lonia have given a very vivid picture of the social life there.
Unfortunately, we are practically without examples of ordi-
nary Assyrian trading documents, although this is made
partially good by the large number of such documents com-
ing from the court itself. Preceding pages have shown how
these occasionally throw a gleam of light on the history and
especially on the great personages who played a part at
court. Here, again, the number actually coming from this
reign is small, a considerable contrast to the letters. So far
as we can see, we have the same conditions as in later reigns.
The references to the eponyms or to other governors are
often of value, while the lists of witnesses ranging from high
officials to slaves give an insight into the composition of the
social system.^'^

"C. 34 if.

" All previous editions of the Assyrian business documents have
been superseded by that of Johns, Deeds and Documents. Thanks to
his abandonment of the chronological system and the study of each
group by itself, many puzzles are being solved. Thus far he has
worked up only about a third of his published material. In general,
I have been forced to confine myself to this. I have prepared for
myself a list of persons occurring in Sargon's reign but do not think it
worth publishing here. The documents dated in Sargon's reign may
be seen from the list published as an appendix to Johns, Deeds, vol.
I, where all the data bearing on the eponym list are collected. The
Louvre has a certain number of Sargon documents. Extracts from



I/O WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

Around the king was a regular official hierarchy with a
definite arrangement of precedence. Thanks to the above-
mentioned documents, we are now beginning to understand
something of their work and of their rank, but much still
is dark. Below them were the freemen, who held land by
the bow, the feudal obligation to fight the wars of their lord.
Probably there was a free proletariat as well, though there
seems no proof. By this time the number of free Assyrians
must have grown much smaller. To the free population
must also be added the foreign trader. The mass of the
population was unfree, slaves or serfs. On all the lands of
Assyria were these serfs, bound to the soil and passing to a
new owner with it. In theory, .the position of the serf might
seem an advance on that of the slave. In practice, the serfs
on the great estates which the king had granted by royal
charter to his favorite nobles, and who by the labor of their
hands made the garden of the world of the Babylonian
swamps and the Mesopotamian steppes, were probably in-
ferior socially as well as mentally to the city slaves who were
engaged in industry, often indeed under what might almost
be called factory conditions, or even in independent trade,
paying a sort of annual tax to the nominal owner. We even
find one slave owning another. In general, slavery was
mild. If the political conditions are much like those obtain-
ing near the end of the Roman empire, there is an equally
close similarity in the underlying social causes. The original
nobility, even the original free people, was dying out, for-
eigners held the trade and even important government posts.
The slaves were improving their condition, at least in the
cities, but the serfs, the representatives partly of an old free
agricultural population, perhaps more, in both cases, of the

a few are to be found in Strassmaier's Verzeichniss. There is not
enough distinctly Sargonid material to warrant an attempt at a picture.



THE CULTURE LIFE I /I

gradually rising- body of slaves on the great estates, to which
the fewer and fewer free men were dragged down by the
competition of slave labor. There is certainly a sufficient
amount of coincidence here to make the study of both agree-
ments and differences as well as of the underlying causes,
extremely interesting.^^

Whatever their attitude towards other lines of work, the
Assyrians never allowed any but themselves or their Baby-
lonian teachers to hold religious offices. With their usual
ability as copyists, they took over the whole Babylonian sys-
tem with its pantheon of gods, old and young, its demons,
its ritual and its exorcisms in the obsolete Shumerian tongue.
Yet, however carefully the Assyrians copied Babylonian
models, Assyrian religion was something as different as was
the altered political horizon to which the old star omens
were fitted. Other gods might have their cults, but the real,
the national god of Assyria, whose worship sometimes al-
most reaches monotheism, was Ashur, "the father of the
gods," the embodied nation. Sargon was brought to the
throne by the aid of the priesthood and ever honored it.
But his honor was especially given to Ashur, and this made
him a good patriot and an ardent soldier, for it was " in the
might of Ashur " that an Assyrian king went forth to battle
and each newly organized province was at once given its
images of the king and of Ashur, a curious anticipation of
the provincial worship of " Rome and Augustus." We can
better understand his partiality for Ashur, if that god was
his patron saint from whom he was named, for it has been
suggested with some plausibility that his name, which is
incomplete as it stands, was originally Ashur shar ukin.^

" This sketch is based on the data brought together in Johns, Deeds.
" Peiser, Mitth. Vorderasiat. Gesell., 1900, 2, 50, on basis of numerical
play, C. 65.



1/2 WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

As he was especially interested in Harran, he naturally cared
for its patron, Sin, the moon god. A trace of this is surely
to be found in the fact that Sin is invoked in the name of
his son Sennacherib. As suzerain of Babylon, he naturally
would also pay great attention, as already seen, to Bel Mar-
duk, of Babylon, and Nabu, of Borsippa, as well as to their
consorts Zarpanit and Tashmit. These were the great gods
of the nation, but others were highly honored. The new
Dur Sharrukin was to hold, in addition to those already men-
tioned, shrines of Ea, the old water god, Shamash, the sun
god of Sippar, Adad, the thunderer, and Ninib of Kalhu, as
well as their consorts.^^ Ishtar, in Assyria rather the god-
dess of war than of love, was rather neglected by Sargon,
though one of the gates of the new city is named after her
and we hear of offerings to her.^^ We also have a hymn to
Nana which is attributed to this ruler.^^ Anu and Dagan have
a very prominent part in the invocations opening the inscrip-
tions, though just why Sargon was the " man " of these gods
and not of Sin when he freed Harran I cannot understand.^^
Other gods referred to are Damqu and Shar ilani, the
brother gods of the town where Dur Sharrukin was built,
and Shaushepi, a Mitanian goddess settled at Nineveh.^*
This religious character, as already noted, was very pleas-
ing to the priestly party, and Sargon's reputation was made
accordingly. The strongly anti-hierarchical reign of his
son Sennacherib made a sharp and favorable contrast, so
that, when once more the religious section gained control

^D. 155.

^^82-5-22, 90 (Catalogue).

^ K. 3600, Craig, Relig. Texts, I. 54-55.

^Cf. chap. II. n. 27.

^* C. 53 if. Shaushepi is thus read and equated with the Shaushbi
of the Mitanian Amarna letter by Hommel, Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch., 1894,
212. K. 434 = J. 336 refers to Sin of Dur Sharrukin.



THE CULTURE LIFE 173

under Esarhaddon, we are not surprised to find the state-
ment made in a letter to the king that there has been no
justice in the land since the days of Sargon.^^

In religion there was a certain tendency to following the
older paths, and this naturally showed itself in literature,
or at least in that branch of it which fell under priestly con-
trol. It has been assumed that, because nearly all our liter-
ary documents were found in the palace of Ashur bani pal,
the copying of all is therefore due to him. I do not see how
a certain element of truth can well be refused to this, for a
large number bear his name in the colophon. But the fact
that so large a number of the letters and business documents
found there came from the same place, and yet date earlier,
should give us pause, and this is confirmed by what few
clues we are able to discover. Sargon evidently had a
library, for we find an inscription with his " library mark," ^^
and perhaps if we had before us the texts cited in the Cata-
logue as belonging to Sargon's time we should find others.
To one scholar or patron of scholars, Nabu zuqup kini, son
of Marduk shum iqisha, whose very names, compounded
with the gods interested in all this work, show their position,
we owe much, for already some fifteen tablets can be
definitely ascribed to him, while others of the same sort from
this reign may with probability be attributed to the same
person. The most important of the old works he caused to
be copied was the " Illumination of Bel," whose connection

2" K. 122 =: H. 43 = Van Gelderen IV = Johns, Lmvs, 377- The letter
is from Akullanu. K. 304-= J. 1077, cf. Johns, Deeds, II. 107, lists
temple offerings confirmed by Sargon but taken away under Sennacherib
by Ludari the rab MU biti of Parakka and Simirra, I. 18 ff., VIII. 17.

^"This is K. 4818 which Winckler has published as part of Prism
B. I was unable to utilize it for my reconstruction of that document
and so was led to doubt its belonging there. The subject matter is
different and, so far as I can tell from Winckler's copy, the general
mechanical make up also.



1/4 WESTERN ASIA IN THE DAYS OF SARGON

with the elder Sargon we have already noted.^^ Two recen-
sions of this are known, one copied in Sargon's time, the
other in the days of Ashur bani pal. Of the former, seven
tablets have thus far been identified,^^ dating from 716 to
705. Isolated tablets from other series are known to have
been copied for him, astrological forecasts,^^ observations on
the moon,^^ star observations,^^ prayers,^^ tablets containing
directions for the cult.^^ A number of other tablets can be
placed in this reign.^'*

We have already seen the political reasons which led the
scribes of Sargon to write down the floating legends about
the elder Sargon.^^ The omen list is as dry as such works
are; the story of his birth and early life is probably the
finest piece of literature written in cuneiform, simple folk
tale though it is.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18

Online LibraryA. T. (Albert Ten Eyck) OlmsteadWestern Asia in the days of Sargon of Assyria → online text (page 16 of 18)