KASSITES, a people who probably originated in the Zagros and who ruled Babylonia in the 16th-12th centuries BCE.

Their Akkadian name Kaššû originates from a Kassite form *G/Kalž- (cf. Balkan, 1954, pp. 131 f.). Middle Babylonian documents from Nuzi have the form Ku-uš-šu (-hé), i.e., with the Hurrian adjectival ending -ḫḫe (Fincke, 1993, pp. 160 f.; also > Kunšu-; cf. Balkan, 1954, p. 109). This form resembles the much later Greek name Kossaioii, Lat. Coss(a)ei, Cossiaei, etc., i.e., “Kassites” (along with he Kissía as the name of the Kassites’ country; see Weissbach, 1921, 1922; Eilers, 1957-58, p. 135; Brinkman, 1976-80, p. 471b).

The original abodes of the Kassites are not known. The commonly held opinion that they originated from the Zagros mountains east of Babylonia (see, e.g., Balkan, 1986, p. 8; Heinz, 1995, p. 167) is based on the assumption that their geographical distribution before they took over the Babylonian alluvium was the same as their distribution after the demise of the Kassite rule in Babylonia. Sassmannshausen (1999, pp. 411 f.) is of the opinion that they penetrated from the central Zagros via the lower Diyala region into northern Babylonia, notably the Sippar region during the late Old Babylonian period. The Kassites seem to be relatively new to the region, in view of the fact that they do not appear among the peoples who inhabited the central and southern Zagros according to Sargonic and Ur III sources. In addition, no Kassite anthroponyms and toponyms are recorded in these regions according to the above-mentioned early sources. Several suspected Kassite names are recorded in Ur III economic documents from southern Babylonia, but it is not known whence these individuals originally came (Zadok, 1987, p. 16; 1993, pp. 224 f.).

The documentation from Old Babylonian Susa would have strengthened the case for the Zagros as the original country of the Kassites, were it not limited, undated, and to some extent of questionable interpretation (Zadok, 1987, p. 16). There may be several Kassite names in Old Babylonian Šušarrā in the Zagros (see Eidem, 1992, p. 49b, top; Sassmannshausen, 1999, p. 412 with n. 16). The fact that the river ordeal, which in the Old Babylonian period is mainly recorded in texts from Susa, has become more common in Babylonia during the Kassite than in the preceding (Old Babylonian) period may point to an origin of the Kassites east of Babylonia, but is not conclusive evidence. There is good reason for thinking that the Kassites were once neighbors of Indo-Europeans, in view of some affinities between their pantheon and the Indo-Aryan one (see Bloomfield, 1904; Balkan, 1986, p. 8; Eilers, 1957-58, p. 136 ad sūrya-). J. A. Brinkman (1976-80, p. 465a) and W. De Smet (1990, p. 11) point out that the earliest evidence for Kassites is from northern Babylonia and west of it, viz., the Middle Euphrates and Alalah VII (see Brinkman, 1976-80, p. 466b).

The Kassite penetration into Mesopotamia. The earliest occurrence of an individual with a Kassite name in Babylonia is from Rīm-Sîn I’s 53rd year (1770 BCE). The Kassites first appear as a political factor in Babylonia in 1742 (or 1741) BCE, when they were opposed by both Samsiluna and Rīm-Sîn I’s (see Stol, 1975, pp. 44 f., 59). Thereafter, Kassite groups and individuals are recorded in northern Babylonia, especially around Sippar Yahrurum (see Zadok, 1987, pp. 17 ff.; De Smet, 1990; De Graef, 1998, pp. 5 ff.; Pientka, 1998, pp. 257 ff.; Sassmannshausen, 2000, pp. 415 f.).

A terminus post quem for the Kassites’ penetration into the Middle Euphrates region and Upper Mesopotamia in general can be deduced from the absence of Kassite names.in the rich documentation from early Old Babylonian Mari, Tuttul, Tall Lēlān, and Chaghar Bazar. This negative find, compared with the hypothetical appearance of Kassite names in the documents from Old Babylonian Susa, may strengthen the case for an eastern origin of the Kassites.

Kings with Kassite names appeared on the middle Euphrates during the 17th century BCE. Agum the prince (? bukašum), who received envoys of the king of Halaba (very probably Aleppo) in his encampment, was perhaps a contemporary of Samsiluna (see Podany, 2002, p. 49). Kaštiliašu of Terqa was probably a contemporary of Abi-ešuh (1711-1684 BCE; see Podany, 2002, pp. 43 f.; cf. Charpin, 1995). The canal Habur-ibal-bugaš (see Balkan, 1954, p. 104) is recorded in a document from Terqa which is dated to King Hammurapih (perhaps 16th century BCE, i.e., at the beginning of the Middle Babylonian period; see Podany, 2002, pp. 58 f., 65 f.; cf. Charpin, 1995). Several individuals with Kassite names are recorded in the prism of Tunip-Teššup from Tikunani (ca. 1570 or 1560 BCE; see Zadok, 1999-2000, pp. 354 f.).

Amarna Ša-an-har-ra, Ša-an-ha-ar (from Mitanni and Alashia), Hittite Ša-an-ha-ra(-az), Egyptian Śngr, Old Testament Šnʿr < *Šamǵara (Old Babylonian gentilic Samharû), presumably a Kassite tribe, gave its name to Babylonia while it was occupied by the Kassites (see Zadok, 1984; cf. del Monte and Tischler, 1978, p. 344; Belmonte Marín, 2001, pp. 263 f. with lit.).

Richardson (2002, p. 54) points out that southern Mesopotamian refugees were absorbed in the northern cities, whereas members of non-Mesopotamian population groups, such as Kassites, Elamites, and West Semitic semi-nomads (Suteans, Ahlamites) were diverted to rural establishments, such as encampments and fortresses. Their communication with the authorities was facilitated by translators, who also acted as informers. Kassites (among others) were included in the workforces (mostly agricultural laborers): individuals defined as Kassites (Kaššû) or bearing Kassite names appear in ration lists.

Already at that time they could purchase land and acted as officials, especially in horse breeding (Heinz, 1995, p. 167). Many of them were integrated in the Babylonian social structure (De Smet, 1990, p. 10). The anonymity of most of the Kassites in late Old Babylonian sources is not greatly remedied by the new occurrences from the unpublished texts evaluated by Richardson (2002, pp. 329 f.): ERÉN Šu-qá-mu-[na(?)], Bugaš[šu?] (paternal name) seem to be the only ones which resemble names with relevance to Kassites (cf. Balkan, 1954, pp. 47, 100, 102 ff., 115 ff., 122). The Kassite (or presumably such) clans are Bimatî (including the “houses” [Éhá] of Nanaktî) and possibly the Samharî (De Graef, 1998, pp. 10 f., is cautious and allows for the alternative Ka-aš-ši-i Bi-ma-ti-i, thereby keeping Bimatî apart from the Kassites). Since they had chariots, they were not nomadic, but were fully settled in segregated rural encampments.

The foreign inhabitants of the fortresses, who were mercenaries (rather than foreign invaders) forming a garrison system, gradually controlled the countryside of northern Babylonia. This region became increasingly unsafe, especially during the reign of Samsuditana, the last ruler of the Hammurabi dynasty. They eventually detached themselves from the Babylonian state and its urban centers, probably because they were unpaid or unprovisioned. In addition, they had neither cultic nor familial ties with the northern Babylonian temple cities (see Richardson, 2002, pp. 55 f., 231, 325 ff., 336 ff.). Their direct or indirect ties to the Middle Euphrates region enhanced their communication with the Hittites who controlled parts of northern Syria, so they might have been instrumental in enabling the temporary conquest of Babylon by the Hittite king Telipinu, who put an end to Hammurabi’s dynasty in 1595 BCE and eventually gave way for the Kassite rule in Babylonia. Richardson (2002, p. 347) is of the opinion that the fortresses were forerunners of the later Kassite feudal communities.

Gasche et al. (1998, p. 83) advocate a lower chronology, thereby narrowing the gap between the end of the Old Babylonian period and, ca. 1400 BCE, the accession of the Kassite king Kara-indaš (comparing El Amarna letter 10). They date the fall of Babylon to ca. 1499 BCE. However, P. Huber (1999-2000) rejects the astronomical evidence adduced by Gurzadyan (in Gasche et al., 1998, pp. 71 ff.) and accepts with reservations V. G. Gurzadyan’s eclipse identifications (1458 and 1451 BCE). Gasche et al. (1998, pp. 88 f.) suggest that Babylon was resettled as early as ca. 1496 BCE, i.e., just three years after its fall, if to rely upon the evidence of the texts from Tall Muḥammad (for their onomasticon, see Zadok, 1994, p. 48a; Sassmannshausen, 1999, pp. 421 f.). However, Huber (1999-2000, p. 289b) doubts the mere three-year interval.

The Character of the Kassite rule in Babylonia (the chronology follows Boese, 1982; cf. Brinkman, 1986). The first-millennium Babylonian King Lists assign the Kassite dynasty the longest rule of all the other dynasties who ruled Babylonia: 36 kings who ruled for 576 years and nine months. Its end is dated to 1150 BCE. Adding the years given by the King List to that date would place the beginning of the dynasty in the 18th century BCE, when rulers of the Hammurabi dynasty controlled Babylon. Therefore it is clear that the King List includes ancestors of the Kassite kings (cf. Van De Mieroop, 2003, pp. 163-69).

The emergence of the Kassite state took place in the 16th and 15th centuries BCE, which are almost devoid of documentation. The first Kassite dynast who ruled Babylonia was Burnaburiaš I, the tenth king of the Babylonian King List (Brinkman, 1976-80, p. 467), but the possibility that his predecessor, Agum-kakrime (Agum II), already controlled Babylon cannot be excluded (see Podany, 2002, p. 59).

During the 16th century BCE. Babylonia was divided into two kingdoms, that of the Kassites in the north and the Sealand in the south, including Uruk, Ur, and Larsa. The Sealand, which was ruled by another dynasty perhaps since the demise of Babylon’s rule in the south, was incorporated into Babylonia in ca. 1465 BCE (Brinkman, 1972, p. 274; Edens 1994, p. 210). The Kassite kings were called, by themselves and their colleagues in other Near Eastern states, “kings of the land of Kar(an)duniaš,” the latter being a term for Babylonia that may have been Kassite in origin (del Monte and Tischler, 1978, pp. 185f.; Nashef, 1982, pp. 150 f.; see Balkan, 1954, pp. 95 ff.; Cancik-Kirschbaum, 1996, no. 8, line 46; 9, 41). Some Assyrian sources call the Babylonian ruler “king of the Kassites.”

By the 14th century BCE, the Kassites controlled the whole of Babylonia, including the Diyala region. Dilmun (modern Bahrain) in the Persian Gulf was ruled by a Kassite governor. Babylonia was recognized as a great power by the other Near Eastern powers, namely, its neighbors and Egypt, according to the Amarna correspondence. Fourteen letters were exchanged between the pharaohs and two successive Kassite kings, Kadašman-Enlil I (1369-55 BCE) and Burnaburiaš II (1354-28 BCE). The correspondence is mainly concerned with diplomatic marriages. The Kassites kings pursued a policy of dynastic marriages with rulers of the other contemporary Near Eastern powers, namely, Elam (from the reign of Burnaburiaš II onwards until that of Meli-Šīhu; see van Dijk, 1986, pp. 164 f.) and Hatti. The emergence of Assyria as a world power under Aššur-uballiṭ caused Burnaburiaš II to marry Aššur-uballiṭ’s daughter as his main wife. When Burnaburiaš II died, his son Kara-hardaš succeeded him but was assassinated in a rebellion (1328 BCE). Following this event, his grandfather Aššur-uballiṭ invaded Babylonia to place Kurigalzu II (1327-03 BCE) on the throne. But Babylonia remained a world power: the Hittite king Hattušili III contacted Kadašman-Enlil II (1258-50 BCE) when the latter became king, in order to continue their good relations.

All the Kassite rulers up to Kaštilyaš IV inclusive bore Kassite names, the only exception being Kudur-Enlil, whose first component is not originally Akkadian but Elamite (cf. Sassmannshausen, 1999, p. 413, n. 22). After the invasion of Tukulti-Ninurta I the Kassite rulers of Babylonia bore a mixture of Akkadian and Kassite names. The rulers of the successive three post-Kassite dynasties (ca. 1150-985 BCE), viz., the second dynasty of Isin, the second dynasty of the Sealand, and the Bazi dynasty, had Akkadian, Kassite, and hybrid (Akkadian-Kassite) names.

Under the later Kassite kings political authority was weakened as peripheral provinces detached themselves from effective state control (see Brinkman, 1963, pp. 234-37; idem, 1984, pp. 11-15). The demise of the Kassite dynasty was caused mainly by external factors. Tukulti-Ninurta I, who pursued an Assyrian expansionist policy, invaded Babylonia and deposed Kaštiliaš IV (1227-20 BCE), whom he took as prisoner to Assur. After acting as king of Babylon for a year (1220 BCE), Tukulti-Ninurta I appointed a succession of puppet rulers, who controlled Babylonia for a decade. But the Kassites resumed control of Babylonia thanks to Elamite pressure and a successful Babylonian rebellion. However, Elam’s raids caused the demise of the Kassite dynasty in 1150 BCE (see Brinkman, 1968, pp. 86 ff.).

The Kassites strove to be integrated in the culture of the conquered land. Kassite rulers built temples to Babylonian deities. The only Kassite deities who had temples in Kassite Babylonia were the patron deities of the royal family, Šuqamuna and Šumaliya. Kassite traditions endured mostly in the private and familial spheres (see Heinz, 1995, p. 165). The Kassite rulers encouraged the collection, codification, and canonization of Babylonian religious-literary texts. The Kassites left no cultural impact in Babylonia. The Kassite termini surviving in Akkadian are mainly from the realms of horse breeding and chariot building.

Most of the documentation (ca. 12.000 tablets, mostly unpublished) from the Kassite period is contained in an administrative archive which was excavated in Nippur and covers the period from ca. 1360 to 1220 BCE. The archive originates, not from the temple, but from the palace of the governor (šandabakku, Sumerian ǴU.EN.NA) of Nippur (see Balkan, 1986, p. 8). The documents reveal a centralized administration under the governor of Nippur and its province. This governor seems to have enjoyed a special, apparently privileged, status among the other provincial governors (Sassmannshausen tends to compare his role to that of a chief minister of the state: “Kanzler”). Balkan (1986, pp. 9 f.) thinks that the governor of Nippur was the head of the Babylonian aristocrats, but his suggestion, namely, that in the personality of the governor of Nippur was manifested to a certain degree the personality of a second king, cannot be substantiated. The office of the governor was secular, but he could also serve as the high priest of the Enlil temple (Ekur) of Nippur. This temple was probably one of the most important institutions of Kassite Babylonia. There was an intensive connection between the ruling dynasty and the city of Nippur. However, it should be remembered that there are many fewer texts from other parts of the Kassite state. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that this may be just an accident of documentation. The governor of Nippur was in charge of an economic organization, which collected numerous agricultural deliveries and imposts from broad parts of Babylonia. The temple gave people loans, possibly in return for labor, which may have led to a situation of indebtedness.

Balkan (1968, p. 7) is of the opinion that between the king and the people there was a stratum of nobles, who mostly belonged to the royal family or the palace. Most cultic offices and lower administrative ranks were almost exclusively in the hands of Babylonians (“Akkadians”). The Kassites hardly penetrated the fields where acquaintance with the scribal art was required. They are recorded as weavers and other textile workers, but are underrepresented in most of the other handicrafts (Sassmannshausen, 2001, p. xv).

There is a radical change of the administrative terminology. Many Old Babylonian terms for functionaries do not continue. There are fewer female functionaries and professionals. The administration was directed from the palaces of various cities. Radical changes took place in the military organization as well (see Sassmannshausen, 2001, p. 181). The state sector, namely, the royal family, bureaucrats, priests, artisans, and attached labor (dependents and slaves of the palaces and temples), seems to have been the dominant one in the economy of Kassite Babylonia.

The private sector, i.e., free families and clans living in urban and rural settlements and represented in community assemblies, included private artisans. They acted along with palatial and temple ones (see Edens, 1994, pp. 211 f.). Slavery was common, but not the dominant factor of the workforce. In addition to their original members and dependents, both sectors absorbed prisoners of war, fugitive foreigners. and debt slaves, thereby containing internal inequalities of wealth and legal status (slave-free continuum: see Brinkman, 1982). Both sectors were based on the redistributive principle characteristic of Mesopotamian household organization (see Edens, 1994, p. 211). The dependents employed in these sectors received rations, the quantities of which were determined according to the recipient’s rank in the hierarchy. Agriculture was in the hands of many dutiable landowners and their agricultural workers as well as tenants. The landed property was only partially in the hands of Kassites. The Kassite and post-Kassite kings granted land to temples, members of the royal family, and functionaries. Temples were granted whole villages with the tillers, who stood in dependency and an exploitation relationship (see Oelsner, 1982a, 1982b). These grants were recorded on stone stelae (sing. kudurru).

K. Balkan (1986, pp. 7 f.) maintains that (1) the real owner of the country was the king, who granted land, and at least at the beginning of the Kassite period there was no land tenure outside of crown grant; (2) persons holding landed property had to perform certain duties to the king; exemption was possible only by royal decree.

In most of the pertinent filiations the father has a Kassite, and the son a Babylonian, name. There are very few filiations with the father bearing a Babylonian name. Several Kassite tribes and clans bore Akkadian and atypical names (Sassmannshausen, 2001, pp. 144 ff.). As semi-nomads the Kassites were organized in family and tribal units. They continued to refer to such units after they had taken control over cities. However, tribal organization was not strange to the Babylonian society itself also in the Middle Babylonian period (see Sassmannshausen, 2001, p. 181).

Kassites played a central role in the military. They are well represented among the great landowners. On the other hand, they are not underrepresented in the ration lists, which points to their presence in the lower echelons of the society. All the mayors have Babylonian names. Sassmannshausen (2001, p. 137) infers that they were subjected to Kassite inspectors. On the whole, it cannot be proven that the Kassites living in Babylonia had an essentially different social organization from that of the Babylonians (Sassmannshausen, 2001, p. 150).

Although both the level of urbanization and of the rural population in Babylonia was lower than that in the early second millennium BCE (cf. Edens 1994, p. 213), the Kassite rulers reconstructed old cities in various parts of the country. Their main project was the foundation of a new capital, named Dūr-Kurigalzu “Kurigalzu’s fortress” (this type of place name is common in second- and early first-millennium Babylonia, where the initial component precedes a Kassite anthroponym (e.g., Agum and Burra-sah, Nashef, 1982, pp. 88 f.). This capital, which was located in the far north of Babylonia, included a big palace and a temple with a high tower of the ziggurat type. The city was built by Kurigalzu I (probably in the first quarter of the 15th century BCE). This proves that the early Kassite state was able to assign large resources for huge projects.

Kassites are recorded in Nuzi during the 15th century BCE (see Brinkman, 1976-80, pp. 469 f.; Dosch and Deller, 1981), as well as in Middle Assyrian documents (see Brinkman, 1976-80, p. 470; cf. Cancik-Kirschbaum, 1996, no. 2, line 18; 10, 11.31.34).

Kassites after the fall of the Kassite dynasty. Kassites held important positions in the state sector as late as Nabû-mukīn-apli’s reign (978-943 BCE). Most sukallu officials bore Kassite names as late as the period of the second Isin dynasty (see Brinkman, 1976-80, pp. 470 f.; Sassmannshausen, 1999, pp. 417 f.). Some prebendaries in Babylonian temple cities bore Kassite ancestors’ names as late as the Achaemenid period (see Zadok, 2003, p. 482, with n. 6). Unlike conquerors who preceded them, the Kassites do not seem to have been considered a foreign and intrusive element by the Babylonians in the post-Kassite period and later.

In the early 1st millennium BCE the countryside has become increasingly tribal and hostile towards the Babylonian temple cities (see Edens, 1994, pp. 210 f.). Kassites stayed in Babylonia, but their main concentration was the central Zagros northeast of Babylonia, notably in Namri and Bīt-Hamban. Both regions remained linked with the Babylonian government during the 11th and 10th century BCE, but from 850 BCE onwards they passed to the Assyrian sphere of influence (see Brinkman, 1968, pp. 247 ff., 258 f.). Nevertheless, some Babylonian cultural influence presumably persisted there. The only named ruler of Bīt-Hamban bore the Kassite anthroponym (originally title) Ianzū. Namri was named Babilū, i.e., “Babylon,” in Urartian inscriptions, according to Diakonoff and Kashkai (1979, pp. 17 f.).

Kassites are recorded in Media during the first half of the first millennium BCE (see Zadok, 2002, pp. 24 f., 33 f., 38 f., 45, 54, 57, 66 f., 68 ff., 82 ff., 92 ff.). The rulers of Allabria, Hubuškia, and Ginguhtu, regions in the direction of present-day West Azerbaijan Province, Iran, bore Kassite names (Ianzi-buriaš, Ianzū, and Ursi respectively). At least three toponyms in Mannea, another three in Gizilbunda, and one in eastern Media are explicable in Kassite terms. Five prominent individuals and several places in Inner Media had Kassite names. Several members of the ruling family of Ellipi (< Middle Babylonian Ullipi, with attenuation of the initial vowel, according to A. Fuchs apud Sassmannshausen, 2001, p. 151b) bore Kassite names. Kassite toponyms refer to three polities in western Media, viz., Nahši-marti, Bīt-Kilamzah, and Bīt-Kubatti. The last two toponyms are mentioned in Sennaherib’s 8th campaign against the Kassites and Yasubigalleans (see Edzard, 1976-80, p. 271a). Zamua, which was originally Lullubian (see LULUBI), had only one pertinent toponym, namely, Ban-ba-la, which may be the Kassite form of “Babylon.” If one judges by the onomasticon, the individuals bearing Kassite names were 7.72-5.31 percent of the general sample from Greater Media, i.e., the second group after the Iranians, whose percentage was 45.37-32.36 percent (see Zadok, 2002, pp. 112 f.).

Possible traces of Kassites in Iranian nomenclature are negligible, for instance, Kašgān, Kašakān < Kaæaka@n, i.e., possibly "land of the Kassites" in Iran (see Eilers, 1957-58, p. 135). There is not a single connected text in the Kassite language. The number of Kassite appellatives is restricted (slightly more than 60 vocables, mostly referring to colors, parts of the chariot, irrigation terms, plants, and titles). About 200 additional lexical elements can be gained by the analysis of the more numerous anthroponyms, toponyms, theonyms, and horse names used by the Kassites (see Balkan, 1954, passim; Jaritz, 1957 is to be used with caution). As is clear from this material, the Kassites spoke a language without a genetic relationship to any other known tongue (cf. Paper, 1956, p. 252). The opinion of W. Eilers (1957-58, pp. 137 f.), namely, that Kassite is related to Elamite, is unlikely. The attempt of A. Ancillotti (1981) to demonstrate that Kassite is originally an Indo-Aryan language is not convincing.




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(Ran Zadok)

Originally Published: May 31, 2013

Last Updated: July 20, 2005

This article is available in print.
Vol. XVI, Fasc. 2, pp. 113-118

Cite this entry:

Ran Zadok, "KASSITES," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kassites (accessed on 13 May 2015).