Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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Shalmaneser I of Assyria was pursuing a determined policy of western and northern expansion. He struck boldly at the eastern Hittite States and conquered Malatia, where he secured great treasure for the god Ashur. He even founded colonies within the Hittite sphere of influence on the borders of Armenia. Shalmaneser's second campaign was conducted against the portion of ancient Mitanni which was under Hittite control. The vassal king, Sattuari, apparently a descendant of Tushratta's, endeavoured to resist the Assyrians with the aid of Hittites and Aramaeans, but his army of allies was put to flight. The victorious Shalmaneser was afterwards able to penetrate as far westward as Carchemish on the Euphrates.

Having thus secured the whole of Mitanni, the Assyrian conqueror attacked the Aramaean hordes which were keeping the territory round Haran in a continuous state of unrest, and forced them to recognize him as their overlord.

Shalmaneser thus, it would appear, gained control of northern Mesopotamia and consequently of the Babylonian caravan route to Haran. As a result Hittite prestige must have suffered decline in Babylon. For a generation the Hittites had had the Babylonian merchants at their mercy, and apparently compelled them to pay heavy duties. Winckler has found among the Boghaz Köi tablets several letters from the king of Babylon, who made complaints regarding robberies committed by Amoritic bandits, and requested that they should be punished and kept in control. Such a communication is a clear indication that he was entitled, in lieu of payment, to have an existing agreement fulfilled.

Shalmaneser found that Asshur, the ancient capital, was unsuitable for the administration of his extended empire, so he built a great city at Kalkhi (Nimrud), the Biblical Calah, which was strategically situated amidst fertile meadows on the angle of land formed by the Tigris and the Upper Zab. Thither to a new palace he transferred his brilliant Court.

He was succeeded by his son, Tukulti-Ninip I, who was the most powerful of the Assyrian monarchs of the Old Empire. He made great conquests in the north and east, extended and strengthened Assyrian influence in Mesopotamia, and penetrated into Hittite territory, bringing into subjection no fewer than forty kings, whom he compelled to pay annual tribute. It was inevitable that he should be drawn into conflict with the Babylonian king, who was plotting with the Hittites against him. One of the tablet letters found by Winckler at Boghaz Köi is of special interest in this connection. Hattusil advises the young monarch of Babylonia to "go and plunder the land of the foe". Apparently he sought to be freed from the harassing attention of the Assyrian conqueror by prevailing on his Babylonian royal friend to act as a "cat's paw".

It is uncertain whether or not Kashtiliash II of Babylonia invaded Assyria with purpose to cripple his rival. At any rate war broke out between the two countries, and Tukulti-Ninip proved irresistible in battle. He marched into Babylonia, and not only defeated Kashtiliash, but captured him and carried him off to Asshur, where he was presented in chains to the god Ashur.

The city of Babylon was captured, its wall was demolished, and many of its inhabitants were put to the sword. Tukulti-Ninip was evidently waging a war of conquest, for he pillaged E-sagila, "the temple of the high head", and removed the golden statue of the god Merodach to Assyria, where it remained for about sixteen years. He subdued the whole of Babylonia as far south as the Persian Gulf, and ruled it through viceroys.

Tukulti-Ninip, however, was not a popular emperor even in his own country. He offended national susceptibilities by showing preference for Babylonia, and founding a new city which has not been located. There he built a great palace and a temple for Ashur and his pantheon. He called the city after himself, Kar-Tukulti-Ninip[412].

Seven years after the conquest of Babylonia revolts broke out against the emperor in Assyria and Babylonia, and he was murdered in his palace, which had been besieged and captured by an army headed by his own son, Ashur-natsir-pal I, who succeeded him. The Babylonian nobles meantime drove the Assyrian garrisons from their cities, and set on the throne the Kassite prince Adad-shum-utsur.

Thus in a brief space went to pieces the old Assyrian Empire, which, at the close of Tukulti-Ninip's thirty years' reign, embraced the whole Tigro-Euphrates valley from the borders of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. An obscure century followed, during which Assyria was raided by its enemies and broken up into petty States.