Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 189

Ashur-uballit of Assyria. As we have seen, he combined forces with his distinguished and powerful kinsman, and laid a heavy hand on the "Suti". Then he dug wells and erected a chain of fortifications, like "block-houses", so that caravans might come and go without interruption, and merchants be freed from the imposts of petty kings whose territory they had to penetrate when travelling by the Haran route.

This bold scheme, however, was foredoomed to failure. It was shown scant favour by the Babylonian Kassites. No record survives to indicate the character of the agreement between Kadashman-Kharbe and Ashur-uballit, but there can be little doubt that it involved the abandonment by Babylonia of its historic claim upon Mesopotamia, or part of it, and the recognition of an Assyrian sphere of influence in that region. It was probably on account of his pronounced pro-Assyrian tendencies that the Kassites murdered Kadashman-Kharbe, and set the pretender, known as "the son of nobody", on the throne for a brief period.

Kadashman-Kharbe's immediate successors recognized in Assyria a dangerous and unscrupulous rival, and resumed the struggle for the possession of Mesopotamia. The trade route across the Arabian desert had to be abandoned. Probably it required too great a force to keep it open. Then almost every fresh conquest achieved by Assyria involved it in war with Babylonia, which appears to have been ever waiting for a suitable opportunity to cripple its northern rival.

But Assyria was not the only power which Babylonia had to guard itself against. On its eastern frontier Elam was also panting for expansion. Its chief caravan roads ran from Susa through Assyria towards Asia Minor, and through Babylonia towards the Phoenician coast. It was probably because its commerce was hampered by the growth of Assyrian power in the north, as Servia's commerce in our own day has been hampered by Austria, that it cherished dreams of conquering Babylonia. In fact, as Kassite influence suffered decline, one of the great problems of international politics was whether Elam or Assyria would enter into possession of the ancient lands of Sumer and Akkad.

Ashur-uballit's vigorous policy of Assyrian expansion was continued, as has been shown, by his son Bel-nirari. His grandson, Arik-den-ilu, conducted several successful campaigns, and penetrated westward as far as Haran, thus crossing the Babylonian caravan road. He captured great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, which were transported to Asshur, and on one occasion carried away 250,000 prisoners.

Meanwhile Babylonia waged war with Elam. It is related that Khur-batila, King of Elam, sent a challenge to Kurigalzu III, a descendant of Kadashman-Kharbe, saying: "Come hither; I will fight with thee". The Babylonian monarch accepted the challenge, invaded the territory of his rival, and won a great victory. Deserted by his troops, the Elamite king was taken prisoner, and did not secure release until he had ceded a portion of his territory and consented to pay annual tribute to Babylonia.

Flushed with his success, the Kassite king invaded Assyria when Adad-nirari I died and his son Arik-den-ilu came to the throne. He found, however, that the Assyrians were more powerful than the Elamites, and suffered defeat. His son, Na´zi-mar-ut´tash[409], also made an unsuccessful attempt to curb the growing power of the northern Power.

These recurring conflicts were intimately associated with the Mesopotamian question. Assyria was gradually expanding westward and shattering the dreams of the Babylonian statesmen and traders who hoped to recover control of the caravan routes and restore the prestige of their nation in the west.

Like his father, Adad-nirari I of Assyria had attacked the Aramaean "Suti" who were settling about Haran. He also acquired a further portion of the ancient kingdom of Mitanni, with the result that he exercised sway over part of northern Mesopotamia. After defeating Na´zi-mar-ut´tash, he fixed the boundaries of the Assyrian and Babylonian spheres of influence much to the advantage of his own country.

At home Adad-nirari conducted a vigorous policy. He developed the resources of the city state of Asshur by constructing a great dam and quay wall, while he contributed to the prosperity of the priesthood and the growth of Assyrian culture by extending the temple of the god Ashur. Ere he died, he assumed the proud title of "Shar Kishshate", "king of the world", which was also used by his son Shalmaneser I. His reign extended over a period of thirty years and terminated about 1300 B.C.

Soon after Shalmaneser came to the throne his country suffered greatly from an earthquake, which threw down Ishtar's temple at Nineveh and Ashur's temple at Asshur. Fire broke out in the latter building and destroyed it completely.

These disasters did not dismay the young monarch. Indeed, they appear to have stimulated him to set out on a career of conquest, to secure treasure and slaves, so as to carry out the work of reconstructing the temples without delay. He became as great a builder, and as tireless a campaigner as Thothmes III of Egypt, and under his guidance Assyria became the most powerful nation in Western Asia. Ere he died his armies were so greatly dreaded that the Egyptians and Assyrians drew their long struggle for supremacy in Syria to a close, and formed an alliance for mutual protection against their common enemy.