The Assyrian King List

The Assyrian King List (henceforth AKL) is a list of Assyrian rulers ordered chronologically, ideally from the "dawn" of Assyrian history to the Neo-Assyrian period. Since the time of its discovery, it has been used by scholars as one of the main sources for the chronological reconstruction of Assyrian history, although the nature of its composition, as it will be seen in part here, prevents us from taking its information at face value and requires us to carefully compare it to other sources (Grayson 1980-3:101-2; Hagens 2005; Bloch 2012).


Loud/Altman, Khorsabad, Vol. II, OIP 40 (1938) pl. 57 no. 74.

The list is divided into sections, with each part of the text separated by horizontal ruling lines. Each section contains information on one or more rulers, usually with the king's filiation (the name of his father) and the length of his reign. Some entries [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html] (nos. 39, 65, 67, 79, 82, 85, and 91) record information about interruptions in the dynastic succession. As A.K. Grayson pointed out: "In periods of political confusion the list tends to adhere to the theory of a single line of descent and frequently to ignore rival claimants to the throne. The emphasis on heredity has resulted in some untrustworthy statements with regard to filiation. Occasionally, even the number of regnal years is incorrect but this is generally due to scribal error" (Grayson 1980-3:102).

As explicitly stated in the text [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Unknown eponymies], years were given on the basis of the historical sources available to the scribe(s) who composed the AKL, e.g., lists of eponyms (līmu []), an institution introduced during the reign of Erišum I [/riao/fromcolonytocitystate23341809bc/erishumi/index.html] (ca. 1974-1935). This contrasts with the first three sections, which record the names of earlier rulers as "Tent-dwellers [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Tent-dwellers]," "Forefathers [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Forefathers]," and "rulers before the establishment of the eponym system [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Unknown eponymies]," and provide no regnal years.

Dating of the Manuscripts

The AKL is known from five exemplars: three almost complete lists -- the "Nassouhi List [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/nassouhilist/index.html]," the "Khorsabad List [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/khorsabadlist/index.html]" and the "Seventh-Day Adventist (Theological) Seminary List" (SDAS List [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/sdaslist/index.html]) -- and two small fragments -- the VAT 11554 List [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/fragmentvat11554/index.html] and the BM 128059 List [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/fragmentbm128059/index.html]. As for the dates of their composition, the SDAS List is the latest copy and it dates to the time of Sargon II (722-705 BC); the Khorsabad List is slightly earlier and was inscribed in 738 BC, during the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 BC); and the Nassouhi List is much earlier, probably dating to the reign of Aššur-dān II (934-912 BC). The two fragments are too small to date with certainty, however hypotheses have been made for an early dating for both texts. A.R. Millard (1970:175-6) has suggested that BM 128059 was written roughly around the same time as the Nassouhi List. A. Poebel has argued that VAT 11554 is the oldest known list, assuming that the list ended "six or seven more reigns before" Tiglath-pileser II (966-935 BC); J.A. Brinkman (1973:314), however, has estimated a date closer to that of the Nassouhi List.

Brinkman has also suggested that the Nassouhi, VAT 11554, and BM 128059 lists are older versions of the AKL tradition than the Khorsabad List and SDAS List, and that all three texts derive from an original redactional process, which probably took place during the Middle Assyrian period, or very early in the Neo-Assyrian period. Allusions to the content of the AKL seem to appear in a Sumero-Akkadian bilingual document (BM 98496), which dates to the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 BC), about three centuries earlier than the Nassouhi List (Lambert 1976). However, B. Landsberger (1954:33-35, 109-111) has suggested that the original form (Grundstock) of the AKL was created during the period immediately after Samsī-Addu I (ca. 1808-1776 BC) took the throne; he believed that it had been composed to legitimize the authority of Samsī-Addu, who was an Amorite who seized the throne of Ashur from the well-established Puzur-Aššur family. Thus, the first two sections of the AKL ("Tent-dwellers" and "Forefathers"), together with the fourth section ("Old Assyrian rulers up to Samsī-Addu I"), were composed in an idealistic manner that gave Samsī-Addu dynastic legitimacy; this interpretation of the AKL has gained wide scholarly acceptance.1

Editorial history and main sections2

In his study "Editorial History of the Assyrian King List," S. Yamada suggests that there were three stages in the editorial process that shaped the AKL from its original composition to its final canonization: (1) the reign of Samsī-Addu I (no. 39) and possibly that of his son Išme-Dagan I (no. 40), during the 19th-18th centuries BC; (2) the period between Aššur-nārāri I (no. 60) and Enlil-nāṣir I, during the 16th-15th centuries; and (3) the period between Arik-dīn-ili (no. 75, 1317-1306 BC) and Tukulti-Ninurta I (no. 78, 1243-1207 BC). A fourth editorial phase, which took place during the reign of Tiglath-pileser I (no. 87, 1114-1076 BC), has been suggested by Landsberger (see below).

The first four sections of the AKL originally belonged to three separate traditions at the time of the first redaction (or Grundstock) of the list: "Tent-dwellers" (nos. 1-17), "Forefathers" (nos. 17-26), and the "First two chronological sections" (nos. 27-39). The next three sections include Samsī-Addu I's dynasty -- here reduced to only the reign of his son Išme-Dagān I -- the tumultuous period of the kings who were "sons of a nobody," and the rulers of the Bēlu-bāni dynasty (nos. 40-53). The rest of the list can then be divided into the period around the Mitannian hegemony (nos. 54-72) and the Middle Assyrian period (nos. 73-78, as well as up to the end of the list), when it most probably adopted its definitive, canonized form.

For further insights into the editorial work on the Grundstock, see the introduction to the Tent dwellers and Forefathers sections here [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/tentdwellersandforefathers/index.html]

Tent-dwellers [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Tent-dwellers] (nos. 1-17)

The first seventeen lines of the AKL consist of a list of entries (not chronologically arranged). The first twelve are Amorite tribal-geographical names (possibly the names of tribal leaders); these names are part of an Amorite tradition shared by the dynasties of Samsī-Addu I and Hammu-rapi, as is clear from parallels recorded in a text listing the "Genealogy of the Hammurabi Dynasty" (Finkelstein 1966:113). Rulers no. 13-15 (Abāzu, Belû, Azaraḫ), however, are attested only in this text. For nos. 16-17, Apiašal and Ušpiya, see below.

Forefathers [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Forefathers] (nos. 17-26)

The ten names included in this section are listed in reverse chronological order and they are the names of the previous heads of Samsī-Addu I's family up to Ilā-kabkabī (no. 25), Samsī-Addu's father, and Aminu (no. 26), his older brother. This section essentially functioned to provide a "pedigree" for the dynastic predecessors of Aminu [/riao/fromcolonytocitystate23341809bc/sargonicanduriiiperiods/aminu/index.html] (and therefore of Samsī-Addu). This part of the AKL was presented in a chronological order that was not strictly genealogical in its arrangement and, thus, the integration of real and fictitious filiations may reflect the actual chronological order of the succession of the men who led the Amorite tribe to which Samsī-Addu, Aminu, and their father Ilā-kabkabī belonged.

First two chronological sections [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Unknown eponymies] (nos. 27-39)

The following two sections, "rulers whose eponyms are not known" and "Old Assyrian rulers up to Samsī-Addu I," span the time from the collapse of the Ur III Empire to the end of the Puzur-Aššur Dynasty, which was brought to an end by Samsī-Addu I. The lack of eponymy lists before the reign of Erišum I [/riao/fromcolonytocitystate23341809bc/erishumi/index.html], as explicitly stated in the text, prevented the scribes who compiled the AKL from being able to provide information about the reign lengths for the first six rulers (nos. 27-32) of this section. Beginning with Erišum I [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Erishum_KL], the manner in which information is given about each ruler was standardized. With the exception of periods of political confusion, the AKL lists the ruler's name, filiation, and the length of their reign.3 Two later fictitious filiations appear in this section. In the first instance, Apiašal and Ušpiya, rulers no. 16 and 17 respectively, were listed among the "tent-dwellers" and the "forefathers," although they clearly did not belong to either group. Information on these men, who most likely were actual rulers of the city of Aššur, must have been so obscure by the time that the AKL was first compiled that the text's composers showed their ambivalence towards them by naming them as both "tent-dwellers" and "forefathers," thereby placing Apiašal and Ušpiya among the Amorite ancestors of Aminu and Ilā-kabkabī and thus providing further legitimacy to Samsī-Addu I's claim to the throne. Ušipa is mentioned in the inscriptions of Shalmaneser I [/riao/Q005789,Q005790/] and Esarhaddon [/rinap/Q003286/] as an early ruler who was responsible for building a temple to the god Aššur at an unspecified time before the reign of Erišum I.

An insertion that also appears to be later in date than the original composition is the fictitious connection between Aminu [/riao/fromcolonytocitystate23341809bc/sargonicanduriiiperiods/aminu/index.html] (no. 26), son (like Samsī-Addu I) of Ilā-kabkabī (no. 25) -- the last ruler of the "forefathers" section -- and his son Sulilu [/riao/fromcolonytocitystate23341809bc/sargonicanduriiiperiods/sulilu/index.html] (no. 27) -- the first in the list of "kings [who(se names) appear on] bricks, (but) whose eponyms are not known." [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Unknown eponymies] Both rulers are known from other sources (two seals [/riao/Q005616,Q005617/] and one inscription [/riao/Q006657/]), but their relationship in the AKL was created in order to make a visible link via a "common" father between the "forefathers," the kings without eponyms, and the kings who immediately preceded Samsī-Addu I.

Išme-Dagān I, the "son(s) of a nobody," and the Bēlu-bāni Dynasty (nos. 40-53) [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#SonsOfNobody]

In the AKL, the dynasty of Samsī-Addu I ends with his son Išme-Dagān I [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#SonsOfNobody] and that king is followed by a period of instability that started with the reign of Aššur-dugul (no. 41) and continued through the reigns of six other rulers - the seven men who are all referred to as "son(s) of a nobody." Afterwards, Bēlu-bāni [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#BelubaniDynasty] (no. 48) inaugurates a new, stable and long-lasting dynasty, which is only interrupted briefly, by a certain Lullāyu (no. 53), another "son of a nobody."

As E. Weidner (1945-51) and B. Landsberger (1954:36-42) have already noted, the span of time between the reigns of Išme-Dagān I and Aššur-dugul must have been longer than the AKL records. Landsberger (ibid. 37) suggests that sometime after the reign of Tiglath-pileser I (no. 87; 1114-1076 BC), Samsī-Addu I's popularity rose in historical memory. Because the reputations of many of his direct descendants, all of whom had originally been included in the list of rulers, tarnished Samsī-Addu's image, the names of those men were redacted from the AKL.4

Information about this chronological gap in the AKL has survived in two sources: (1) an inscription of Puzur-Sîn, a man who claims to have put an end to the dynasty of Samsī-Addu I by killing his descendent Asīnum; and (2) the version of the AKL written on VAT 9812 [/riao/kinglists/fragmentvat9812/index.html], which records the names of the kings who ascended the throne after Išme-Dagān I (Mut-aškur, Remu-x, and possibly Asīnum) -- all of whom were part of Samsī-Addu's Dynasty -- and omits the rulers who were the "sons of a nobody" and the Bēlu-bāni dynasty, thereby placing Šū-Nīnua (no. 54) immediately after the Samsī-Addu Dynasty. Following Yamada, it seems fairly certain that the list of rulers between Samsī-Addu I (no. 39) and Šū-Nīnua (no. 54) was not the product of contemporary editing, but rather the work of a later editor, possibly from the period of Aššur-nārāri I (no. 60) and Enlil-naṣir I (no. 62). This reworking of the text may have been influenced by: (1) a lack of, or incompleteness of, information available to the editors of these chronographic texts; and (2) the difficulty encountered in trying to describe the various periods of confusion, when it was difficult or even impossible to determine who had actually ruled the city of Aššur (Yamada 1994:26-8). Thus, the omission of specific groups of kings, or individual rulers, may have been partly due to historiographical considerations on the part of the editors of the individual manuscripts.

Before (nos. 54-62), during (nos. 63-68), and after (nos. 69-72) Mitanni [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#Pre-Mittani]

The aforementioned editorial phases on the fourth section of the AKL might very well have taken place during the period [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#BelubaniDynasty] between the reign of Šū-Nīnua (no. 54) and the reigns of Aššur-nārāri I (no. 60) and Enlil-naṣir I (no. 62), that is, before the Mitannian invasion. During this period, Assyria seems to have seen a political rise, accompanied by an increased interest in the past. Kings were named after well-known and important Old Assyrian rulers (Erišum III, Šamšī-Adad II, Išme-Dagān II, Šamšī-Adad III, Puzur-Aššur III). Royal inscriptions (Šamšī-Adad III [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/belubanidynasty/shamshiadadiii/index.html], Aššur-nārārī I [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/belubanidynasty/ashurnararii/index.html], Puzur-Aššur III [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/belubanidynasty/puzurashuriii/index.html]) are once again attested, in contrast to the period between Bēlu-bāni (no. 48) and Išme-Dagān II (no. 58) when no texts of this genre are known.

The expansion of Mitanni into the Assyrian political sphere is most likely the reason for the absence of royal inscriptions between the reigns of Nūr-ili (no. 63) and Aššur-nārārī II (no. 68; 1424-1418 BC), with the sole exception of Aššur-rabi I [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/mittanianhegemony/ashurrabii/index.html] (one inscription). This genre reappears during the reigns of Aššur-bēl-nišēšu (no. 69; 1417-1409 BC), Aššur-nādin-ahhē II (no. 71), Erība-Adad I (no. 72), and especially Aššur-uballiṭ (no. 73), when Assyria witnessed a military, political, and cultural ascent (see below).

This section displays a trace of the third of the three/four editorial stages that followed one another in the composition and canonization of the AKL (see above): the filiations attributed to "Aššur-nērāri II son of Enlil-nāṣir (I)" (no. 68) and "Aššur-rēm-nišēšu, son of Aššur-bēl-nišēšu," (no. 70) when compared with their own (Aššur-rēm-nišēšu) or later inscriptions, prove to be wrong. Aššur-nērāri II [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/mittanianhegemony/ashurnarariii/index.html] was in fact the son of Aššur-rabi I [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/mittanianhegemony/ashurrabii/index.html] and the father of Aššur-rēm-nišēšu [/riao/fromsamsiaddutomittanicilent18081364bc/mittanianhegemony/ashurremnisheshu/index.html].

As Yamada (1994, 31) pointed out, these mistakes cannot be explained as scribal errors, because the names are too different from one another, nor can they be ascribed to the period of these two reigns, because the awareness of the correct filiation of both rulers is confirmed by contemporary and later inscriptions until the reign of Aššur-uballiṭ I (no. 73). It is more plausible that these errors were made during the following period, between the reigns of Arik-dīn-ili (no. 75, 1317-1306 BC) and Tukulti-Ninurta I (no. 78, 1243-1207 BC). At that time, Assyria's political growth was followed by a proliferation, in both number and style, of royal inscriptions (see below); at the same time a growth of ideological interest in Assyria's past, which particularly sought to confirm the continuity of the royal line, is apparent. Therefore, Yamada (1994, 33) suggests that it was in this period that the mistakes regarding the rulers' filiation happened, as the new editors – possibly driven by the ideological trends of their time - assumed that the kings' immediate royal predecessors had to have been their fathers.

Middle Assyrian redaction (nos. 73-78) and canonization of the list [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#MiddleAss]

The advent of the Middle Assyrian [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#MiddleAss] period witnessed a newly aroused interest in the past reflected in the royal inscriptions that, starting in the reign of Aššur-uballiṭ [/riao/thekingdomofassyria13631115bc/ashuruballiti/index.html] (no. 73) and through those of Arik-dīn-ili [/riao/thekingdomofassyria13631115bc/arikdinili/index.html] (no. 75), Adad-nārāri I [/riao/thekingdomofassyria13631115bc/adadnararii/index.html] (no. 76), and Shalmaneser I [/riao/thekingdomofassyria13631115bc/shalmaneseri/index.html] (no. 77), became more complex, and demonstrated a more refined literary style. In these officially commissioned texts, references to previous Assyrian rulers as builders of temples and palaces, as well as authors of inscribed monuments, appear more regularly. Shalmaneser I offers the earliest example of the so-called Distanzangabe, a counting of the span of time between the reigns of Erišum I and Samsī-Addu I, which shows the development of the interest in the past into an organic literary and politically complex phenomenon. A further confirmation of this wave of cultural and political interest in the reconstruction of Assyrian history is the aforementioned Sumero-Akkadian bilingual document (BM 98496) composed in the time of Shalmaneser's successor Tukulti-Ninurta I (no. 78), under whose reign Assyria reached its peak level of expansion for the Middle Assyrian Period. According to Yamada (1994:33-5), this fruitful period is the best candidate for the final main editorial arrangement of the AKL, which, from the thirteenth century onwards, began to be periodically updated according to a standardized canon.


1: For arguments against the hypotheses of a later composition of the AKL's original form, see Yamada 1994:13-16. 2: Here, only the most important editorial characteristics of the AKL are noted. For a complete analysis of the subject, see Yamada 1994, with previous bibliography. 3: Note also that the dethronement passages follow a particular formula, which is standardized from the essential structure of Samsī-Addu I's section: RN1 RN2 ina kussê ušatbi kussâ iṣbat x MU šarrūta ēpuš "RN1 deposed RN2 from the throne, seized the throne, ruled x years." (Cf. Yamada 1994:21). 4: "Als Šamši-Adad I. in der historischen Erinnerung wieder hoch zu Ehren gekommen war, wollte man weder seine lasterhaften Epigonen noch den mit Blut befleckten Befreier von der Fremdherrschaft (und seine etwaigen Nachfahren) wahr haben. Man schnitt diese unerfreuliche Episode einfach aus der Geschichte aus. Terminus post quem für diesen Zensurakt ist (...) die Regierung des Tiglatpileser I. (um 1100)."

Selected Bibliography

Bloch, Y., Studies in the Middle Assyrian Chronology and its Implication for the History of the Ancient Near East in the 13th Century B.C.E. (Ph.D diss. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2012), esp. pp. 5-16.
Brinkman, J.A., 'Comments on the Nassouhi Kinglist and the Assyrian Kinglist Tradition,' Or. 42 (1973), pp. 306-19.
Finkelstein, J.J., 'The Genealogy oft he Hammurapi Dynasty,' JCS 20 (1966), pp. 95-118
Grayson, I., 'Königslisten und Chroniken. B. Akkadisch,' Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 6 (1980-83), pp. 115, esp.100-15.
Hagens, G., 'The Assyrian King List and Chronology: a Critique,' Orientalia 74 (2005), pp. 23-41.
Lambert, W.G., 'Tukulti-Ninurta I and the Assyrian King List,' Iraq 38 (1976), pp. 85-94
Landsberger, B., 'Assyrische Königsliste und "Dunkles Zeitalter",' JCS 8 (1954), pp. 31.45
Millard, A.R., 'Fragments of Historical Texts from Ninveveh: Middle Assyrian and Later Kings,' Iraq 32 (1970), pp. 166-76, esp. 174-6.
Poebel, A., 'The Assyrian King List from Khorsabad,' JNES 1 (1942), pp. 247-306, 460-92; JNES 2 (1943), pp. 56-90.
Weidner, E., 'Bemerkungen zur Königsliste aus Chorsābād,' AfO 15 (1945-51), pp. 85-102.
Yamada, S., 'The Editorial History of the Assyrian King List,' ZA 84 (1994), pp. 11-37.

Nathan Morello

Nathan Morello, 'The Assyrian King List', The Royal Inscriptions of Assyria online (RIAo) Project, The RIAo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

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