ASSYRIA i. The Kingdom of Assyria and its Relations with Iran



i. The Kingdom of Assyria and its Relations with Iran

Sources. Assyrian sources of the second millennium B.C. contain little information on Iran, but texts belonging to the 9th-7th centuries B.C. provide valuable data on the expeditions of Assyrian kings to Iranian territory. These texts are of several types: (1) “Messages to the Deity”—detailed accounts of expeditions, based on authentic notes taken by royal secretaries and addressed to the temple of the god Aššur. An excellent example is the description of Sargon II’s expedition against Urartu in 714 B.C. Only a few such accounts survive. (2) Annals and year-by-year descriptions of royal campaigns based on abridgements of the original accounts. (3) Summary inscriptions with summaries of royal victories presented in geographical rather than chronological order. (4) Display inscriptions containing brief summaries in arbitrary order. (5) Lists of eponyms (limmu) which provide a basis for chronology and sometimes contain information on an expedition of a particular year, e.g., its direction and the principal and most distant adversary. For the years not covered by annals, this is the only source of information on campaigns carried into Iranian ierritory. (6) Invocations by Assyrian kings addressed to oracles of the gods requesting replies to various questions. (7) Stelae of Assyrian kings recording some campaign. Two such stelae have been found in northwestern Iran dating to the times of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II. (8) Correspondence from the royal archives with reports and summaries of Assyrian spies.

Political history. Assyria was an ancient kingdom situated on the middle course of the Tigris and occupying the northeastern part of what is modern Iraq. In the northeast, Assyria skirted the spurs of the Zagros mountains; in the southeast, it was separated from its neighbors by the Lesser Zāb, and to the west stretched the desert. The most ancient population of Assyria was (at least partly) of Subarian-Hurrian origin. As early as the fifth millennium B.C. the main occupation of the population was agriculture, above all the cultivation of barley and emmer.

The capital and vital center of the kingdom was the city of Aššur, whose oldest archeological strata go back to the middle of the third millennium. At about that time the Assyrians first appeared, a Semitic people who, like the Babylonians, spoke Akkadian. Toward the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the Assyrians became the predominant population in northern Mesopotamia; their economic growth at this time was chiefly due to the important caravan routes that traversed the country. Aššur became a great commercial center and founded trading settlements, the best known of which were those in Asia Minor.

Under the king Šamši-Adad I in the late 19th-early 18th centuries, Assyria became a powerful state and conducted an active policy of conquest. Soon after, however, the Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750) subjugated Assyria. In the eighteenth century Assyria also lost the monopoly of caravan trade. Toward the middle of the second millennium B.C. hegemony in northern Mesopotamia was gained by the Mitanni, an eastern neighbor of Assyria. About 1360 B.C. the Hittite king Suppiluliumaš vanquished the Mitanni, to whom Assyria was at the time subjected, and the Assyrian king Aššur-uballiṭ I seized part of the Mitanni territory and also brought Babylonia into subjection.

In the 14th-13th centuries the Assyrians conquered the whole of northern Mesopotamia. At the end of the twelfth century under Tiglath-pileser I, the Assyrians waged war in Babylonia, Syria, and Phoenicia, but toward the end of his reign their power began to decline, owing to the infiltration into northern Mesopotamia of Aramaic tribes inhabiting the Syrian desert west of the Euphrates. From the middle of the eleventh century till the middle of the tenth, the Assyrians struggled unsuccessfully against the repeated incursions of these tribes, who sacked and destroyed the Mesopotamian cities. Late in the tenth century the Assyrians recovered their domination over northern Mesopotamia.

Clashes and struggles with the aristocracy opposed to the strengthening of the royal power and the centralization of the state led the Assyrian kings at the beginning of the ninth century to transfer their residence from Aššur, the stronghold of the aristocracy, to Kaḷḫu (modern Nimrud), and in the 8th-7th centuries to Dūr-Šarrukīn (Khorsabad) and to Nineveh (Kuyuncuk). In the early ninth century the Assyrians began making incursions into Babylonia, Syria, and Urartu as well as on to Iranian territory. From that time the history of Assyria is definitely linked with the history of Iran.

Early Assyrian campaigns in Iranian territory. From the third to the beginning of the first millennium B.C. there lived in Iran, on the territory stretching from Lake Urmia to the headwaters of the Diyala (Dīāla) river, a Qutian-Lullubian population (to the west the Lullubians, to the east the Qutians), while the southeastern regions of the headwaters of the Diyala and of the Karḵa were inhabited by the Kassites. The regions north and west of Lake Urmia seem to have been occupied by the Hiurrians. At the end of the second millennium B.C. an Iranian-speaking people also began to appear on the territory of the future Media whose role increased in the 9th-8th centuries, although the autochtonous local population still continued to occupy important parts of the Iranian plateau.

In the second millennium Assyrian kings seldom undertook expeditions in the direction of Iran, and did so only for the sake of spoils and not for conquest of land. For instance, Adad-nirari I, who ruled Assyria in 1307-1275 B.C., styles himself conqueror of the Kassites and of the Qutians (see Records of the Ancient Near East, ed. A. K. Grayson, I, p. 58, no. 1). In the tenth century the Assyrian kings resumed their expeditions to the east, again for spoil. The beginning of this expansion occurred in the time of Aššur-dan II (ca. 935-912 B.C.). But his conquests of foothills and mountain regions close to Assyria proper were insignificant. In the ninth century there existed in northwestern Iran many small independent principalities, too disconnected to oppose the mighty Assyrian army. At the approach of the Assyrians the inhabitants usually fled into the mountains, taking their livestock with them.

An Akkadian inscription found north of Hamadān and published by Herzfeld (The Persian Empire, pp. 238ff.) dates from the tenth or ninth century; it was composed in the name of the ruler Šilisruḫ, whose country is not named, while Abdadana is mentioned among countries inimical to Šilisruḫ. The inscription tells of the exemption of subjects from particular natural levies (see I. M. Diakonoff, “A Cuneiform Charter from Western Iran”).

Assyrian sources contain important data on a number of dominions in Iran in the 9th-7th centuries B.C., but their utilization is complicated by the fact that these geographical and political names can not, for the greater part, be located, and the farther east they were situated, the more disputed is their location. During the greatest expansion of Assyria in Iran at the end of the eighth century B.C. and in the first decades of the seventh, the sphere of Assyrian influence, according to some researchers, spread almost as far as southwestern Central Asia and the north of Afghanistan, while others assume that the easternmost territory reached by the Assyrians (in the seventh century under Assarhaddon) was the region to the northeast of Tehran and of Mt. Damāvand; however, L. D. Levine (Iran 12, pp. 118ff.) argues that no Assyrian army is reported to have crossed the Alvand range.

Political divisions and ethnic groups in western Iran. The eastern dominions mentioned in the Assyrian texts beginning from the ninth century include the following: Close to Assyria was Zamua, covering the region of modern Solaymānīya in Iraq and some neighboring Iranian territory; beyond it lay “Inner Zamua,” stretching apparently from the headwaters of the Lesser Zāb to the southern shores of Lake Urmia. Farther east lay Manna, Alabria and some other “lands.” Manna, the core of the future Mannean kingdom (seventh century), evidently occupied the regions along the middle course of the Jaḡatū up to the southeastern part of Urmia. Zibia, one of the Mannean proper strongholds, is often identified with the tepe near the village Zīvīa, containing strata of Mannean times, 42 km east of Sáqqez, the site of the discovery of the famous treasure or burial of the seventh century B.C. An Urartian inscription from Taš Tepe on the lower course of the Jaḡatū (Zarrīna-rūd) near Mīāndoāb shows that the frontiers of Manna of the late ninth century must have passed nearby.

Nearer to Assyria but not far from the center of Manna lay Alabria. South of the center of Manna lay “the country” (and later a province of Assyria) Parsua or Parsu(m)aš, known from 9th-7th century Assyrian texts, somewhere in the region of modern Sanandaǰ. Another dominion of that name is known from Assyrian texts as Parsamaš, Parsu(m)aš. This dominion was situated much farther south near the borders of Elam. The existence of this name in various regions is often explained as due to the settlement of different tribes bearing all names which correspond to the one the Persians gave to themselves (and with which at least the southern, “Elamite” dominion is definitely connected).

An important region on the ancient route from Babylon to the center of Iran near the Diyala and its left tributaries was occupied by Bīt-Ḫamban. To the east and southeast of it, near Kermānšāh and northern Luristan (Lorestān), lay the country Ellipi, and to the north of it, Kišesim, Ḫaṛḫar, Araziaš, and other “countries” situated between Parsua and Bīt-Ḫamban in the west and Media in the east. In the sixth century and later, the whole of northeastern Iran and some neighboring territories were attributed to Media. But this political and administrative nomenclature, which was to endure for a long time, came into use only after the Median conquests of the second half of the seventh century. Until then Media (Māda) was much smaller, and its western frontiers, which remained essentially unchanged from the ninth century to the middle of the seventh, passed not far from the region of Hamadān or the lands adjoining the Alvand range from the west.

Many other “countries” in northwestern Iran are known from the Assyrian texts of the 9th-8th centuries. The more extensive dominions (such as Parsua and others) were not politically unified and were subdivided into separate provinces. Thus there existed in Zamua a number of smaller dominions with separate rulers; some of these ruled larger territories than others and could claim hegemony over their neighbors, but even so such hegemony did not extend over the whole of Zamua. Other “countries” like Alabria were unified but very small in size. There were also some tiny political unities (“lands” and “cities”). Thus under the year 820 the Assyrian annals record military operations in several countries, and tribute from larger dominions (Manna and others) and from twenty-eight separately named rulers of the smallest domains west and south of Urmia and south to Parsua.

The following information on Parsua is to be found in Assyrian texts. Under the year 828 B.C. they tell of a tribute paid by its twenty-seven “kings;” under the year 834 they tell about the tribute from some of these “kings” and of the resistance of the rest, and under the year 827 they tell of the sacking of three “strongholds” and of twenty-three settlements surrounding them. In the previous year the Assyrians destroyed two such centers northwest of Parsua and twenty-two surrounding settlements. Such accounts are frequently seen in Assyrian texts. On an average a district comprised ten settlements connected with one center, rarely two or three dozen or more. Each separate political unit or dominion consisted usually of one to three such districts and only seldom of a larger number.

Assyrian terminology designating these central and district settlements is uniform and vague. Both types are usually termed ālu (“city,” but also “village” or “small settlement”), the first having the additional description as “strong, fortified,” the second being called “small settlements in their neighborhood” (i.e., of the centers). The first could be regarded as city-strongholds and fortified places intended to provide shelter for the surrounding population as well as for its property and livestock. It has also been suggested that real city-strongholds on these territories existed mainly later and even then mostly in the Mannean kingdom, and that in the early first millennium B.C. the disintegration of the primitive community organization was taking place in northwestern Iran. However, judging from recent archeological data, these processes had begun much earlier, and the sources of the late second-early first millenniums B.C. testify to the progress of various economic categories, the development of professional handicrafts which had long ago become separated from agriculture, and a clear social differentiation. In some provinces there also existed large settlements, the majority of which still await investigation. But systematic exploration in the valley of the Gadar river has brought to light the existence there in the 10th-9th centuries of large fortified settlements, and on Tepe Ḥasanlū of a city with powerful fortress walls and buildings of the temple and palace type, originating as far back as from the second millennium B.C. This material shows that at least some of the “strong cities” mentioned in Assyrian texts of the ninth century as south and southwest of Urmia were true fortress-cities.

Such texts help to elucidate details concerning other provinces or dominions contained in the laconic accounts of the ninth-century expeditions. Thus under the year 843 it is stated that the spoils of the stronghold-city of Alabria captured by the Assyrians included a golden gate, numerous treasures of the palace, and women of the king’s harem. Known as a small political entity till the late eighth century B.C., Alabria had already in the ninth century the character of an organized state. Undoubtedly neighboring Manna was no less socially developed in the same period. At that time Zirta (Izirtu) is already named as its “royal city,” and it remained the capital of the Mannean kingdom even in the 8th-7th centuries. Gilzanu (to the west of Urmia) and Ellipi were definitely also such state formations.

An important supplement to the annals are the renderings of episodes from military expeditions, especially the series of sculptured reliefs picturing strongholds in various regions of Iran dating from the second half of the eighth century. Each of these strongholds has its particular features, but all of them represent very powerful fortified constructions. Side by side with important local centers such as Ḫaṛḫar (already in the ninth century one of the main political entities near Media) and Kišesim (known from the eighth century; judging from the sculpture, a strong fortress surrounded by several rows of walls), the reliefs also represent strongholds which, according to the annals, were the centers of small districts or dominions on the borders of Media (Sirgis, etc.) and in the western provinces (such as Ginguhtu mentioned already in the year 820 among the smallest dominions bordering on Parsua).

The information given by Assyrian texts of the ninth century as well as by Urartian inscriptions of the first half of the eighth century, including numerical data on the number of local warriors killed and of captives, and of the amount of spoils, points to the considerable size of the population of single dominions and of districts with a central stronghold (up to 15-20 thousand or more to each such district), and also to important material resources in such small communities and in the western provinces of Iran as a whole. Besides captives, there is often the mention of huge quantities of large and small livestock and of draft and riding horses. The latter were important for the Assyrian army; horses were also the main kind of tribute from a number of Iranian dominions which were at the time preeminent centers of horse breeding in Western Asia (see Asb). From the Iranian provinces the Assyrians exported a large quantity of metals (bronze, copper, gold, silver, etc.) mainly in the form of fashioned objects often artistically produced and of high value (sometimes mentioned even in very brief versions of the annals), other manufactured goods such as linen and woolen fabrics (mentioned only in detailed accounts), and valuable minerals. Thus, after the expedition of the year 740 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III imposed on the lands between Parsua and Media a tribute of nine tons of lapis lazuli and fifteen tons of bronze artifacts. Archeological material of the late second millennium and the first centuries of the first millennium shows the broad development and high standard of Iranian handicrafts of those days and fully confirms Assyrian accounts of the artifacts exported from Iran.

The large settlements that existed during that period and the rich material from the excavations at Ḥasanlū show that settlements of the urban type were centers of handicraft production and of a sedentary agricultural and cattle-breeding economy. The brief versions of the Assyrian annals do not mention the agricultural produce of lands that had been devastated or laid under tribute. But more detailed information of the second half of the eighth century points to an intensive development and the flourishing of agriculture in various regions of northwestern Iran. Some early references indicate the part played by agriculture, horticulture, and viticulture (e.g., a tribute in wine), and ninth-century texts also testify to the existence of many sedentary settlements and of their centers, with a developed agriculture on their outskirts.

Such settlements formed part of the political units mentioned by Assyrian texts, large numbers of which existed at that time in western Iran and which were already partly shaping into states. Some of these can be also defined as city-states composed of an agricultural district with a main center and sometimes with one or two additional large inhabited places or strongholds. There is little to show any tendency toward broader political organization before the Assyrian conquests in Iran, and later results were achieved mainly on the basis of territorial links or by the strengthening of single dominions or rulers at the expense of neighbors, not through cohesion within the frame of old ethno-tribal collectives, which evidently had no real importance at that time. Single large dominions in Iran mentioned in Assyrian texts could coincide with ancient tribal territories and bear old ethnic names (such as Zamua, Lullume), but usually they were not politically unified and consisted of several or many “countries” and state formations.

An obstacle to the emergence of large political formations seems to have been the great diversity of race and language at that time characteristic for Iran as a whole and for a number of single dominions. Six to eight different linguistic groups are attested in western Iran, but in reality there must have been many more. Assyrian annals do not usually define the ethnic affiliation of the population of these regions and only give the names of the “countries” and provinces, although these may not coincide with the name of more important ethnic groups. Many proper names and toponyms are known from provinces to the east of Assyria, but their linguistic relationships can be safely established only for some names belonging to the best-known languages. No such data exists for the greater number of languages of ancient Iran. In the provinces of Iranian Kurdistan and near Urmia, there continued to exist, besides the Lullubians, ethnic groups of Qutian descent and here and there also a Hurrian-speaking population. (The Manneans are often counted among them, but the Mannean onomastic material apparently can not be explained from Hurrian.) In Iranian Azerbaijan there may have existed languages akin to the Eastern-Caucasian (Nah-Dagestan). In the west of Luristan in the late eighth century B.C. the Assyrians clashed with the Kassites; the Kassite linguistic element has been noted in the 9th-8th centuries in the northwestern border lands of Iran, in Alabria and in districts near the road from Babylonia to western Media. These lands were an object of colonization from Babylonia during the Kassite period, and groups of the population, Babylonian in language and culture, still subsisted there in the 9th-8th centuries, while some local cities were centers of the cult of Babylonian gods. Near the northern frontiers of Luristan and southwest of Media, names, mainly toponyms akin to Elamite, have been noted, and though there were no Elamites there at the time, there may have existed population groups speaking languages related to Elamite. Assyrian sources from the ninth century on include an Iranian-speaking population in northwestern Iran and its western borderlands in addition to the longer-established ethnic and linguistic groups.

Assyrian campaigns on Iranian territory in the 9th-7th centuries B.C. The Assyrian king Adad-nirari II (911-891 B.C.) undertook an expedition from the Lesser Zāb across the dominion of Zamua (in modern Iraq) to the land Namru (or Namar), situated by the Diyala river. Tukulti-Ninurta II (890-884 B.C.) also led an expedition in the same direction. In the year 883 Aššurnaṣirpal II invaded Kirruri and other dominions to the east of Assyria. In 881 the Lullubian tribes of Zumua ceased to pay tribute to the Assyrians and resisted them. At the head of the Lullubians was the tribal chief of the Dagara province bearing the Akkadian name of Nūr-Adad. In the same year Aššurnaṣirpal II led his army into Zamua and reached its center, putting the inhabitants to the sword wherever he met with resistance, impaling prisoners, and leaving behind veritable pyramids of bodies. Nūr-Adad fled to the mountains while Aššurnaṣirpal left in power three petty kings and imposed a tribute on them, but as two of them refused to pay tribute, in 880 Aššurnaṣirpal II invaded the land once again, destroyed the places that had not paid the tribute, carried off into slavery the adult population, and burnt the children on pyres. The tribute was increased to include woolen fabrics, cattle, bronze vessels, and wine, while the craftsmen of the country were taken away for the building of the city of Kaḷḫu in Assyria. Aššurnaṣirpal II kept the local rulers in power in Zamua, leaving there an Assyrian garrison.

In 855 under Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian army entered the dominion of Nikdiara, ruler of the province Idi in Inner Zamua. Nikdiara attempted to flee across the lake in boats, but Shalmaneser pursued him and gave him battle (according to Diakonoff the lake meant here is Lake Urmia, but according to Levine it is Lake Zeribor, see Diakonoff, Istoria Midii, p. 158; Levine, Iran 12, 1974, p. 110).

In the year 843 Shalmaneser III crushed a revolt in Namar and set up as king there the ruler of the neighboring province of Bīt-Ḫamban. Inscriptions of those times contain the first mention of Manna, a large country to the west of Media. In the same year the country Parsua near Urmia is first mentioned. In 834, after having made an expedition into Parsua the Assyrians collected tribute from its 27 kinglets. During this expedition Parsua is mentioned to the west of Messi (Missi), situated to the south or southeast of Manna. Also in 834 the king of Namar whom Shalmaneser had set up ceased paying tribute to the Assyrians. The Assyrian army invaded Namar and, having crossed the mountains, entered Messi and passed on into Araziaš and Ḫaṛḫar west of Media. The Assyrian text recounting this expedition contains the first mention of the Medes under the name of “Amadaya”. Thus this was the first direct encounter between the Assyrians and the Medes. According to the annals of Shalmaneser III the Assyrians captured in the country of the Medes four strongholds, much plunder, and many prisoners, and then returned home.

In the year 828 the Assyrians made a new expedition to the east under the command of Dayān-Aššur, a general of Shalmaneser III. The Assyrians moved out of the valley of the Upper Zāb into Hubuškia; turning southeastward they invaded the territory of Manna which was at the time ruled by Udaki. The latter took refuge in the mountains while the Assyrians seized and destroyed his residence, Izirtu. Then the Assyrians moved on into Ḫarruna, ruled by Šulusunu, who declared his submission and had a tribute of harness horses imposed on him. From here the Assyrians went on to Parsua where they collected the tribute and destroyed those settlements that offered resistance. In the next year Dayān-Aššur undertook an expedition to the east which, after military operations on the territory of Urartu and neighboring regions, followed much the same route as the expedition of the previous year but included the stronghold Buštu in Parsua.

In the year 821 the Assyrian general Mutarris-Aššur led an expedition to the north and northeast. According to the inscription of king Šamši-Adad V during that expedition the Assyrians reached “the Sea of Sunset” (Schrader, Texte, p. 178). Apparently what is meant here by “sea” is Lake Van. If the Assyrian inscriptions are to be believed, the Assyrians devastated 300 settlements belonging to Šarsinu, son of Mektiara, ruler of the southwestern part of the provinces bordering on Lake Urmia. This was probably the ruler of the country Idi the center of which was situated on the Tepe Ḥasanlū and which had already been mentioned in Shalmaneser III’s inscription of 855. The inscription of Šamši-Adad V tells also of the devastation of the settlements of Ušpinu, i.e., the king of Urartu, Išpuini.

In the year 820 the Assyrians crossed the mountain Kullar (probably the northern part of the main range of the Zagros), collecting on their way the tribute from the king of the country Hubuškia, from the Manneans, the inhabitants of Parsua and others. After this Šamši-Adad V marched through the lands of the Messians at the headwaters of the Jaḡatū and entered the mountains bordering Urmia and Media. Two Gizilbundi rulers sent a tribute of horses, while a third ruler (Pirišati) decided to resist. The inhabitants of his dominion gathered in the stronghold of Uraš, but the Assyrians stormed it and took Pirišati prisoner, after which they continued into Media. Hanaṣiruka, a Median chief, fled into the snow-mountains but later decided to give battle to the Assyrians. According to the Assyrian inscription, the Medians lost 2,300 killed, and 140 horsemen captured, and 1,200 inhabited places, including the stronghold Sagbita, the residence of Hanaṣiruka, were destroyed. When the Assyrians were on their way back, Munsuarta, ruler of Araziaš, barred their way. However, the Assyrians defeated the Medes, killing 1,070 men, and drove away a large quantity of cattle. Before the return of Šamši-Adad to Assyria over the passes of Mount Kullar, twenty-eight rulers of Parsua and of other dominions bordering on Lake Urmia brought him tribute. An Assyrian inscription enumerates these rulers by name and gives the names of their dominions, most of them bear pre-Iranian names, but at least ten of them have definitely Iranian names. This campaign of 820 B.C. was undertaken by the Assyrians to prevent an alliance between the Mannean-Median tribes with Urartu, whose power had greatly increased by that time.

The annals of the next decades have not come down to us, but according to the list of eponyms, the Assyrians made seven expeditions against Media (in the years 809, 800, 799, 793, 792, 788 and 766) and Two against Manna (807 and 806). Later the Assyrians did not make war on Manna, which, owing to the growing expansion of Urartu, became a faithful ally of Assyria and grew to be a powerful state. According to an Assyrian inscription of about 802 B.C., the Assyrians claimed sovereignty over Ellipi, Ḫaṛḫar, Araziaš, Messi, the country of the Medes, “the whole of Gizilbundi,” Manna, Parsua, Alabria, Abdadana, as far as Andia.

From the end of the ninth century a long-drawn political crisis began in Assyria which led to an internecine war between the military party headed by the king and that of the priests and traders of Assyrian cities; as a result Assyria weakened. Urartu, Assyria’s northern neighbor and main opponent of the time took advantage of this and inflicted several defeats on Assyria and seized part of the territory of Manna and of Parsua. Assyrian attempts to regain these provinces did not, for the time being, meet with success.

The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (745-727) carried out important military and administrative reforms. In the first place a standing army fully provisioned by the state was created. A “Royal Regiment” formed the core of this army, to which cavalry was added. The Assyrian warriors were able to build fortified camps, make roads, and use metal battering rams and incendiary machines. As Assyria became the leading military state in the Near East, policy toward the conquered population was also changed. Before Tiglath-pileser the aim of the Assyrian campaigns to the east was mainly plunder, levying tribute, and carrying off into slavery part of the inhabitants, but not annexation of territory. Now the population of conquered territories was deported en masse and replaced by inhabitants of other lands. Less frequently the local population was left where it was with the obligation of a heavy tribute, and the territory annexed to the Assyrian kingdom. Also the provinces were reduced in size and the power of governors limited.

Assyria was now able to resume its policy of conquest. The expansion of the Urartians into regions earlier seized by the Assyrians was halted. According to the list of eponyms and to the annals, Tiglath-pileser III carried out two expeditions into lands to the east of Assyria. In 744 the Assyrian army made its way up the course of the Diyala, crossed the territory of Namar, and entered Bīt-Ḫamban and Parsua, which it occupied. In one place Tiglath-pileser let some of the prisoners go after their fingers had been cut off so that they could no longer fight but could still work. A fragmentary Assyrian text speaks of the capture of the village of Erinziaš in western Iran, of the flight of Ramatea, ruler of Araziaš, and of the seizure there of cattle and stores of lapis lazuli. The most important result of the campaign of 744 was that Parsua and Bīt-Ḫamban were made Assyrian provinces of the same name, with the addition of a number of smaller regions (in parlicular of Bīt-Zitti, included in Parsua). They remained part of Assyria till the very end of its existence. The formation of these provinces (at least in Parsua) seems to have been caused by the following events. In Parsua in the middle of eighth century a strong unification was achieved by Tunaka, who had seized some districts of neighboring provinces. Tunaka must have been an ally of Urartu and so drew the main attack of this expedition. In the remaining passages of the annals there is a mention of Tunaka’s chief city, Niqur, which later became the center of the Assyrian province of Parsua.

In the year 743 the Assyrians inflicted a serious defeat on the king of Urartu, Sarduri II, in northern Syria and then marched across the entire territory of Urartu. Approximately at the same time the Assyrians twice invaded the territory of Media. According to the annals of Tiglath-pileser III in 738 the Assyrians deported part of the population of northwestern Iran (the Quti and the inhabitants of Bīt-Sangibūti or Bīt-Sangi) to Syria and Phoenicia, while part of the population of these lands was brought over on to the territory of Iran.

In 737 the Assyrians crossed the territory of Media and reached the Salt Desert (Dašt-e Kavīr). Under this year Tiglath-pileser’s texts mention “the country of the powerful Medes” and the mountain Bikni (possibly the Damāvand, but equally possibly the Alvand, see Levine, Iran 12, 1974, pp. 118ff.). Levine presumes that it was precisely during this campaign that Tiglath-pileser erected his stele which was found somewhere on the territory of western Iran (see Levine, Two Neo-Assyrian Stelae, pp. 6f.). This stele (although it is in a poor state of preservation, it complements the annals) tells of the annexation of new provinces by the Assyrian kingdom and mentions the names of two rulers of the countries Manna and Ellipi. Iranzu ruled in Manna and Talta in Ellipi, and both brought gifts to Tiglath-pileser and later remained loyal to him. The stele notes that Iranzu, Talta, and the rulers of the neighboring dominions had to pay a tribute in horses, mules, camels, horned cattle, and sheep (Levine, op. cit., pp. 18, col. II, 24-30). Manna, which remained an ally of Assyria, became a large kingdom where Iranzu reigned for another twenty years (737-17). Talta, king of Ellipi, also remained loyal to Assyria until his death at the end of the reign of Sargon II.

In the year 729 Tiglath-pileser III captured Babylon, which lost its independence for a century, and he made Assyria the most powerful kingdom in the Near East, occupying the whole of western Asia with the exception of Urartu and several small outlying dominions.

Under Sargon II (721-705) the Assyrians renewed their conquests in the east. Towards the year 720 the extreme north (the territory beyond Lake Urmia) was occupied by Urartu. In the following years northwestern Iran became the main arena of the struggle between Assyria and Urartu. The king of Urartu, Rusa I, strove to bring over to his side against Assyria the rulers of the still existing small dominions, while the Assyrians were in alliance with the king of Manna. In the year 719 two cities of Manna rose against Iranzu, king of that country. Sargon swiftly quelled the rebellion. In the year 716 Rusa I captured twenty-two Mannean strongholds and induced Dayaukku, a governor of a province of Manna, to secede from Assyria. In order to put an end to the influence of Urartu and of its ally Zikirtu on the affairs of Manna, Sargon II undertook a number of expeditions, of which the most important were the sixth and the eighth.

The sixth expedition in 716 is described in the annals and more in detail on Sargon’s stele found in western Iran. About that time the Manneans ceased to obey Iranzu, who must have perished during the rebellion in Manna, as he is no longer mentioned in the texts. While Sargon was continuing his campaign, two Mannean princes overthrew Aza, son of Iranzu. Sargon immediately intervened and set upon the throne in the place of Aza, who had probably died by that time, Ullusunu, another son of Iranzu. However, Ullusunu immediately seceded and attempted to form an alliance with Rusa. Sargon captured Izirtu, the capital of Manna, and after quelling the rebellion restored the throne to Ullusunu, who surrendered.

After seizing much plunder in Manna, Sargon went to the province of Karalla situated on the headwaters of the Lesser Zāb. Aššur-leʾū, prince of Karalla, who had joined the Urartian coalition, was defeated and skinned alive. Karalla was annexed to the province of Lullume (a synonym of Zamua). Itti, the ruler of Alabria, also suffered as a supporter of Urartu and was banished to the west. He was replaced in Alabria by Bēlapaliddina, who became a loyal vassal of Assyria. During that campaign Sargon also attached a number of provinces to Parsua and seized and created a new province of Kišesim, after which he occupied Ḫaṛḫar, which became the center of another new province. Some regions of western Media were annexed to Ḫaṛḫar. Later the Assyrians created here the provinces of Kār-Kašši (or Bīt-Kāri), Saparda, and Mādāya (Media), which retained to a great extent their internal independence.

In 715 Sargon undertook another expedition to the territory of Manna. Dayaukku, the rebellious leader of the Mannean province of Missi, was captured and banished to the Syrian province of Hamath. Provinces that the Urartians had formerly taken from Manna were reincorporated into Manna.

In 714 Sargon turned against Urartu, making his famous eighth campaign, a lengthy account of which he addressed to the god Aššur. Collecting tribute from the small rulers on his path, Sargon marched to the east along the southern borderlands of the Mannean kingdom which supplied the Assyrian army with provisions stored for that purpose in Mannean strongholds. Next Sargon invaded the territory of Zikirtu (east of northeast of the centers of Manna) and utterly devastated this country and its capital Parda, as well as a dozen strongholds and eighty-four small settlements. Mitatti, the ruler of Zikirtu, who was the principal ally of Rusa, retreated with his forces to join the army of the Urartian king that was advancing to meet the Assyrians. The decisive battle took place near Mount Uauš. Rusa and Mitatti suffered a crushing defeat. The Assyrian army, plundering, burning, and destroying everything on its way, raided the Urartian possessions around Lake Urmia. The lands on the southeastern shores of Lake Urmia and in neighboring regions, seized by the Urartians during the struggles of the preceding years, were annexed or returned to Manna. The influence of Urartu in the Zagros was now removed and Assyrian supremacy established there, not to be challenged until the times of Asarhaddon (680-669 B.C.). However, as subsequent events were to show, the strengthening of Manna held a hidden danger for Assyria.

In 713 Sargon made one more expedition to the east directed mainly towards the heartland of Manna. He began by destroying Karalla, where the inhabitants had ousted the Assyrian-sponsored ruler. Then he marched against Ellipi, where five provinces had risen against Talta, the ruler set up by the Assyrians. The leader of the insurgents was apparently a certain Azuktu from Ḫubaḫna, one of the local rulers. The Assyrians took the stronghold Ḫubaḫna, as well as twenty-five settlements. The rebellion was crushed and Talta’s rule restored in Ellipi. Then the Assyrians moved eastward or northeastward into the frontier regions between Ellipi and Media, then across the provinces of “the mighty Medes.”

In 708 Sargon carried out another expedition to the east. Later even when the Assyrians penetrated deeper still into Media, the frontiers of the Assyrian kingdom were never moved beyond the limits established by Sargon. The headwaters of the Lesser Zāb and of the Diyala were occupied by the Assyrians. In the north the frontier passed along the Gizilbundi mountains (Qāflān-kūh) and to the Zanǰān-Qazvīn region. The southern frontier of that part of Media occupied by the Assyrians passed from Mount Alvand along the mountain range to the north of the Kermānšāh valley to the valleys of the tributaries of the Diyala. This territory seized by the Assyrians contained five dominions: Zamua, Parsua, Bīt-Ḫamban, Kišesim, and Ḫaṛḫar.

In 702 Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.), son of Sargon II, undertook an expedition into Ellipi, against the disobedient Aspabara (an Iranian name), son of Talta, whom the Assyrians had helped to the throne in 708. The province of Bīt-Barrūa was detached from Ellipi and annexed to the Assyrian province of Ḫaṛḫar. At the end of this campaign tribute was received from “the distant Medes” whom, according to Sennacherib’s ascertain, his ancestors had not even known.

At the end of the eighth century, coalitions against Assyria were formed between Babylonia, Elam, and kingdoms in Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, as well as among the Chaldeo-Aramaic tribes of the borderlands of Mesopotamia. Towards the early seventh century Manna recognized only formally the supremacy of Assyria, and somewhat later it began an aggressive struggle against it. In 694 the Elamites invaded Babylonia, seized Sippar and, having captured Sennacherib’s son, who was viceroy of Babylonia, set upon the throne the Chaldean Nergal-ušezib. A year later, in 693, Sennacherib succeeded in defeating at Nippur the combined forces of the Babylonians and Elamites. Nergal-ušezib was captured, and the Elamite army returned to its country.

In 692 the Babylonians led by Mušezib-Marduk rose against the Assyrians, having previously formed a coalition with Elam and all the tribes of the Zagros (Parsua, Anzan, Ellipi, etc.). Thus the Persians also took action with the Elamite king against Assyria. The core of the coalition consisted of Elamite and Iranian charioteers, infantry, and horsemen, whose alliance was insured by gold, silver, and precious stones from the treasury of the god Marduk in Babylon. The combined forces of the Babylonians and of their allies commanded by the Elamite king Ḫumban-nimena II and his military chief Ḫumban-untaš, met the Assyrians in a fierce battle in the region of Halule on the Tigris, not far from the modern town of Samarra. The Assyrians did not attain victory, but their opponents suffered such great losses that they were unable to take advantage of their success. In the year 689 Babylon was captured by the Assyrian army and completely destroyed, while Babylonia was annexed to Assyria as an ordinary province.

Soon after, the Assyrians were again compelled to concentrate their attention on the Median provinces which were subjected to them. The situation of Assyria was further complicated by the incursion into Assyrian possessions by Cimmerian and Scythian tribes. At the end of the eighth century the Cimmerians appeared to the northwest of Urartu. Later they invaded Asia Minor, where they devastated the Phrygian kingdom, but they then suffered defeat from the Scythians led by their king Madyas. The permanent center of the Cimmerians was situated in eastern Cappadocia, that of the Scythians in western Azerbaijan (Sakasena of the classic sources).

During the reign of Assarhaddon (680-669 B.C.) the Cimmerians began to threaten the northern frontiers of Assyria (it is however possible that Assarhaddon’s questions to the oracle of the god Šamaš about the threat coming from the Cimmerians had, in fact, the Scythians in view). In 679 the Cimmerians, led by their chief Teušpa, invaded Assyria, but the Assyrians succeeded in driving them out beyond their frontiers. An Assyrian document dated 679 B.C. mentions a Cimmerian body of men already in the service of the Assyrian king (Johus, Assyrian Deeds and Documents I, p. 364). This could mean that the relations between the Assyrians and the Cimmerians had become more peaceful.

Between 679 and 677 the Assyrians turned back an attack by “unpacified Manneans” and defeated their Scythians allies led by Išpakaia. At the same time the Assyrians carried out an expedition and seized plunder as far as the country of Patušarra northeast of Mount Bikni up to the Caspian (Patešḵᵛar of the early medieval sources; Levine rejects this identification, see Iran 12, 1974, pp. 118ff.). This was the extreme limit of Assyrian conquests in the east.

In 677 or 676 three Median chiefs arrived in Nineveh with gifts of horses and lapis lazuli, requesting Assarhaddon’s protection and alliance for the struggle against the rulers of neighboring dominions. These were Uppis from Partakka, Zanasana from Partukka, and Ramataia from Urakazabarna, all provinces of Media which have not yet been precisely localized. Assarhaddon restored their power with the help of Assyrian governors. This situation in the east became gradually more tense, and expeditions to collect tribute (mainly in horses) ended sometimes by the Assyrian detachments being attacked. Assarhaddon strove to attach to him more firmly a number of rulers of provinces from Zamua to Media, and in 672 concluded an agreement guaranteeing their loyalty and the security of their possessions.

However, in the same or in the following year an open revolt against Assyria broke out in the eastern provinces which led to the rise of an independent Media. Before the publication of the treaties of 672, this rising used to be dated around 674-672, but now it appears to have begun after the conclusion of the treaties. The history of this rising is known from Assyrian divinatory inscriptions, which are, however, not dated by years. The rising had probably spread to a number of Assyrian eastern provinces by the spring of 671. The main role in the rising belonged to the rebel rulers Kaštariti from Karkašši, Dusanni from Saparda, and Mamitiaršu from Madaya. In alliance with them were the Manneans, Cimmerians, and Scythians. Already the Assyrian strongholds in Kišesim and even further west in Bīt-Ḫamban were threatened. The Assyrians attempted to negotiate with the rebels and with the Scythian leader Partatua (the text has been preserved of an inquiry about a projected marriage of an Assyrian princess with Partatua in which he is titled “king of the Iškuza country”). The final outcome of these events is not precisely known. It is frequently assumed that Partatua finally agreed to an alliance with Assyria (other opinions are that, after the negotiations about the marriage, the Scythians remained hostile to Assyria). The Assyrians succeeded in retaining for several decades some provinces in Iran, including Kišesim and Ḫaṛḫar. But Media had already become an independent country. In a letter ca. 669 from the royal Assyrian archives, Media is mentioned with Urartu, Manna, and Hubuškia as a separate kingdom (Harper,Letters, p. 434), and in the period 669-662 Media is named with actually independent states which the Assyrians still formally counted among their possessions (Forrer, Provinzeinteilung, pp. 52ff.).

To judge from the Assyrian king’s questions to the god Šamaš during the war of 672-669, the Manneans were allies of the Scythians and of the Cimmerians, and after capturing the Assyrian stronghold of Dūr-Ellil were threatening the settlement of Šarru-iqbi, which they seized and annexed. Having occupied a number of Assyrian possessions and buffer dominions (Alabria, etc.), Manna acquired a common frontier with Assyria from Media to the region of the Great Zāb. But under Aššurbanipal, about 659, the Assyrians took partial revenge; they reached the Mannean capital Izirtu and, although they were unable to capture it, recovered the strongholds seized earlier by the Manneans. In Manna after the defeat, “the people of the land” (probably the rank and file of free men) rebelled against the king Ahšeri, “threw out his corpse and dragged it along the street; his brothers, his family, his clan they killed with their weapons.” Later Ualli, a son of Ahšeri, who had escaped the massacre, became king and turned to Aššurbanipal for help. The alliance between Manna and Assyria was consolidated after Manna’s growth in power and during the wars of Assyria with Media and Babylonia.

In 653-648 the vassal king Šamaš-šum-ukin rose in Babylonia against Assyria. This rebellion was supported by Elam, the country of Gutium (probably Mann), Meluḫḫa (apparently Egypt), Syrian states, and Arab tribes. After putting down this rebellion, Assyria waged war against Elam and, having devastated the country, seized Susa in 643, putting an end to the independence of Elam.

According to the inscriptions of Aššurbanipal after the defeat of Elam, Kuraš, king of Parsumaš, i.e., Cyrus I, the ruler of a group of Iranian tribes under the Achaemenids, sent to Nineveh as a hostage his eldest son Arukku with gifts. After the defeat of Elam its influence on the Persians waned, and for some time the Persians recognized the sovereignty of Assyria. But towards 630 B.C. the Assyrian kingdom began to break up and its various centers started to struggle with each other.

In 627 Kandalanu, the Assyrian viceroy in Babylonia, died, and in 626 the Chaldean chief of Babylonia, Nabopolassar, rebelled. At first he refrained from attempts to seize large cities and was able to consolidate his power only in the north of Babylonia, while the center and the southern part of the country remained faithfully to Assyria. Nabopolassar restored the traditional alliance of Chaldean tribes with Elam. In 623 B.C. rebellious Babylonians captured the Assyrian stronghold Dēr, and in 616 the Assyrians were compelled to abandon Uruk. A year later Nippur also fell. In the same year Babylonian warriors made their way up the Euphrates to the river Khabur and later drove back the Assyrians to the mouth of the river Balih. Most of Babylonia was now in the hands of Nabopolassar. During this period Manna alone remained a faithful ally of Assyria. In 616 in the battle at Qablinu (apparently on the middle course of the Euphrates), the Assyrian and Mannean forces were crushed by the Babylonians. Nabopolassar’s successes alarmed the Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus I, who feared too great a strengthening of Babylonia. Therefore in 616 B.C. he sent an army to Mesopotamia to aid the Assyrians, but it did not prove effective.

In 615 B.C. the Babylonians laid siege to the Assyrian capital, Aššur, but could not take it and retreated with great losses. Soon, however, a crushing blow fell on Assyria from the east. In 615 the Medes, led by their king Cyaxares, seized the Assyrian province of Arrapha, after which they marched towards Nineveh and surrounded the city. They were unable to take Nineveh but in 614 besieged and took Aššur, killing its inhabitants. Nabopolassar arrived with his army after the battle when the city lay in ruins. The Medes and the Babylonians concluded an alliance strengthened by the marriage of Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar to a Median princess.

The fall of Aššur shook the Assyrian kingdom to its foundations, but while the victors were busy sharing the spoils the Assyrians were able to gather their forces. In 613 B.C. the Assyrian army led by their king Sin-šar-iškun continued military operations in the valley of the Euphrates and even succeeded in defeating the Babylonians. Soon after however, the coalition of Medes and Babylonians laid siege to Nineveh. Three months later, in August, 612, after an artificially engineered flooding and desperate storming, Nineveh fell, mainly under the blows of the Median warriors. The city was plundered and destroyed. The Assyrian king Sin-šar-iškun was apparently killed, but part of the Assyrian army managed to fight its way to Harran in northern Mesopotamia where, under the command of Aššur-uballiṭ II, it carried on the war on the frontiers of Urartu, which seems to have been Assyria’s ally at the time. In the meantime the Medes returned home with the lion’s share of the spoils, leaving the Babylonians to finish the war with the Assyrians.

The Egyptian pharaoh Necho II sent help to the Assyrian army that had entrenched itself in Harran. Then Nabopolassar seems to have turned for help to the Medes. According to the Babylonian chronicle, in November, 610 the army of the Umman-manda marched against the Assyrians who were in Harran. According to a Babylonian letter (Contenau, Contrats et lettres, p. 99), these Umman-manda were Medes. This letter, sent by the crown prince Nebuchadnezzar, says that “the king has gone to Harran; with him went large forces of Medes.” Harran was taken by the Medes and the Babylonians in the same year. In 605 the joint armies of the Egyptians and Assyrians were crushingly defeated at Carchemish in Syria. This was the end of Assyria. As a result of the fall of the Assyrian power, the Medes took possession of the original territory of Assyria (northern Mesopotamia), while to the lot of the Babylonians fell all the remaining provinces of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. Only four great powers remained now in the entire Near East: Media, Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt.

Cultural links between Assyria and Iran. We have very little direct evidence of cultural links between Iran and Assyria, and this problem has not yet been studied. It can be assumed that the Assyrians borrowed from the Iranian tribes cavalry formations, which they used in their army. Assyrian representational art exercised a considerable influence on Achaemenid art by way of Median palace art, about which we again know very little. The Assyrian administrative system seems also to have influenced Achaemenid administration (introduction of a state post, methods of governing provinces, etc.). This influence must also have come via Media. It can also be assumed that under the influence of Assyria the cuneiform script was adopted in Media for administrative purposes.



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(M. Dandamayev and È. Grantovskiĭ)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: July 7, 2016

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 806-815

Cite this entry:

M. Dandamayev and È. Grantovskiĭ, “ASSYRIA i. The Kingdom of Assyria and its Relations with Iran,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, II/8, pp. 806-815, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).