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14-08-2015, 03:07

The Upper Mesopotamian empire

In the second half of the fourteenth century bc, Assyria, blocked by Hanigalbat to the west, had to deal with two main issues: keeping the mountain tribes at bay (Gutians, Lullubeans, Turukku); and fighting against the Kassites, in order to move the border further south and away from Ashur. The uncertain outcome of the battle of Sugagu, fought by Enlil-nirari against Kurigalzu, was followed by the battle between Arik-den-ili and Nazi-Marutash. However, only with the battle at Kar-Ishtar in Ugarsallu, fought between Adad-nirari I and Nazi-Marutash, would Assyria succeed in pushing the frontier from the Lower Zab Valley to the Diyala Valley.

With Adad-nirari I, Assyria also revived its expansion in Upper Mesopotamia. An initial campaign brought defeat to king Shattuara I, who became an Assyrian vassal. A second intervention defeated Wasashatta, Shattuara’s son, who rebelled against the Assyrians as soon as he came to the throne. The Assyrians conquered the entire territory ‘from Taite to Irrite’, namely, from the Khabur and Balikh basins to the border of Carchemish. Adad-nirari took on the title of ‘king of totality’, indicating his control over Upper Mesopotamia as a whole. He proclaimed that his conquests extended from Rapiqum in the south to Elahut, the Euphrates Valley north of Carchemish.

The Hittites were unable to provide military support to their vassal and an adequate opposition to the Assyrian army. Adad-nirari mockingly stated that Wasashatta had asked Hittite support by paying a ‘tip’, and that the Hittites had accepted the payment, but did not help him. Wasashatta had clearly ceased to pay tributes to the Assyrians in order to pay the Hittites instead. From an Assyrian, and highly idealised, perspective, payments that in the right direction were ‘gifts’ ensuring good political relations became humiliating and useless ‘tips’ when paid to the enemy. This was seen as particularly true if in times of necessity the patron proved to be powerless. It is probable that this episode happened during the reign of Urhi-Teshub, whose problems were preventing him from dealing with these troubles in Upper Mesopotamia. Be that as it may, for the first time the Assyrians managed to face the Hittites along the Euphrates.

Once Hattusili III seized the Hittite throne, he received a proposal from Adad-nirari I to establish friendly relations and even a request for permission to visit the Amanus Mountain. This request was either aimed at gaining access to its timber, or at leaving a stele on this mountain located on the edge of the known world. The Hittite king replied that the Assyrian king was by all means a great king after his conquest of Hanigalbat. However, the ‘brotherhood’ was out of the question (‘Were you and I born from one father or mother?’ asked the king sarcastically, deliberately ignoring the conventional meaning of this kinship tie), as well as the expedition to the Amanus. The latter was in fact a threatening request despite its commercial and ideological justifications.

Towards the end of Adad-nirari’s reign, it is possible that Hanigalbat momentarily slipped out of Assyrian control. This forced Adad-nirari’s son, Shalmaneser I, to conquer it again, defeating Shattuara II, who was supported (this time actively, but still in vain) by the Hittites. This time, Shalmaneser changed tactic. Instead of establishing a vassal state in Hanigalbat, the king preferred to establish direct control, putting a definite end to Hanigalbat’s independence. Initially, the local dynasty was substituted by an Assyrian functionary (the sukkallu rabu, whose title was ‘king of Hanigalbat’). Later on, the region was divided into districts ruled by Assyrians governors (saknu), who resided in newly built palaces.

The Assyrians also deported the defeated populations and attempted to place them in new agricultural territories. Having relegated the local population to the countryside, the Assyrians settled in the cities, taking over the region’s economy. The Middle Assyrian archives from the area were found at Sikannu (Tell Fekheriye), Amuda, Harbe (Tell Chuera), Giricano, and especially Dur-Katlimmu (Tell Sheikh Hamad). Their archives show that these cities were inhabited by Assyrians and run with an Assyrian administrative system. This system was implemented in the course of a few years. Perhaps, this prompt ‘Assyrianisation’ was meant to imitate the ancient commercial activities in the area. In fact, it partly maintained its role as a sort of ‘network’ of palaces linked by specific itineraries in the middle of an ethnically composite countryside. Be that as it may, the colonisation and administrative unification of the area allowed for the prompt assimilation of Upper Mesopotamia in the Assyrian kingdom.

The new westernmost border of Assyria along the Euphrates was now close to the Hittite empire. Relations between the two powers continued to be difficult, however. First, this difficulty was due to the expansionistic ambitions of the Assyrians, and the Hittite desire to reconquer Hanigalbat. Both goals were completely unrealistic at that time. Second, there were the turbulences of the smaller states located on the border between Assyria and Hatti. These states were taking advantage of their position along the border, with its usual problems with fugitives and raids from the other side of the border.

This was the case of Turira, which caused the Hittite king to complain to the Assyrian king following the practice established among great kings: either the Assyrian king intervened to keep his vassal at bay, or the Hittite king would have intervened himself, trespassing across the border as a just defence and reaction to the constant provocations. A far more serious issue was the case of Nihriya, an important centre on the Upper Euphrates. In order to gain control over it, the Assyrians and the Hittites eventually had to face each other in the battlefield. Attempts to avoid the clash had already failed, and the classic formula of being ‘friend of friends and enemy of enemies’ now showed its true artificiality. Since Nihriya is my enemy

—  said the Assyrian king — you cannot help it, thus leave and let me conquer it. Since Nihriya is my friend

—  replied the Hittite king — you cannot attack it, thus go away. However, Shalmaneser did not leave, and attacked Nihriya, defeated the Hittites, and had the opportunity to triumphantly notify the outcome of the war to the Hittite vassals.