Shalmaneser III


Ist EŞEM 04650, see text no. 40

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Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) came to the throne early in his accession year (859) in the wake of one of the most successful kings of Assyria, Ashurnasirpal II [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/ashurnasirpalii/index.html]. The latter king had advanced significantly the program of regaining control over the Land of Aššur, the region between the Zagros Mountains and the Euphrates River, which was the ideological heritage of Assyria. Shalmaneser III ably carried on this effort, campaigning nearly every year of his reign. The vast majority of his campaigns were toward the west, against the recalcitrant Aramean polities which had established themselves in Syria and southern Anatolia during the decline of Assyrian dominance in the region in the twelfth-tenth centuries. Shalmaneser III's campaigns in the west were so frequent that he began to count the number of times he had crossed the Euphrates in his annals. Not only did Shalmaneser III further establish and maintain Assyrian rule over the Land of Aššur, but the sheer persistence of his campaigns extended a somewhat unsteady Assyrian dominance far beyond the Euphrates River in the west, as far as Que (Cilicia).

The accounts of these western campaigns are a key historical source for the Aramean polities of the ninth century. Moreover, they brought Shalmaneser III into contact with the kingdoms of the southern Levant, including Israel. In 853, Shalmaneser III fought against a coalition of western states, including Hadad-ezer (Adad-idri) of Damascus, Irḫuleni of Hamath, and Ahab of Israel, at the Battle of Qarqar ( 2 ii 89-102 [/riao/Q004607.145/]). In spite of Shalmaneser III's claim that he won this battle, he may in fact have been defeated or the battle may have been a draw. Shalmaneser had to return four years later and in successive campaigns he finally cowed the western coalition, so that by 841 the Israelite king Jehu could be portrayed bringing tribute to Shalmaneser in a relief register on the Black Obelisk (text no. 87).

But Shalmaneser III asserted his dominance over the other points of the compass as well as the west. He inherited a conflict with the northern kingdom of Urartu from his father, and led campaigns to Urartu in his accession-year and his third, fifteenth, and twenty-ninth regnal years against Arame of Urartu. In his thirty-third year, he sent his field marshal, Dayyan-Aššur, on a campaign against Sarduri I [/ecut/urartianrulersandtheirinscriptions/sarduriisonoflutipria1/index.html] of Urartu. These were the early confrontations of a rivalry that would last through to the end of the eighth century, when relations between the two countries cooled. A few of Shalmaneser's campaigns were conducted in the Zagros mountains to the east, and to the south he twice went to the aid of his Babylonian ally, Marduk-zakir-šumi, quelling a revolt against him. After conquering the rebels in the border towns between Babylonia and Assyria, Shalmanser III visited Cutha, Babylon, and Borsippa to make offerings in the temples there, and then proceeded down to Chaldea to subdue it as well. Finally, to the northwest, Shalmaneser campaigned into the Nairi lands, and twice proceeded to the source of the Tigris river at Bırkleyn, leaving his inscriptions on the cliff face at its entrance alongside that of his predecessor Tiglath-pileser I [/riao/thekingdomofassyria1114884bc/tiglathpileseri/index.html] (1114-1076).


Much of Shalmaneser III's building initiatives continued work his father had started, and feature some of the most iconic Assyrian monumental inscriptions. At Kalḫu (mod. Nimrud), he conducted some renovations and expansions on the Northwest Palace, did work on the citadel wall, and brought to completion the construction of the ziggurat. But his greatest contribution to the architectural contours of Kalḫu was the construction of a review palace or military palace, today called Fort Shalmaneser. The role of Fort Shalmaneser as a review palace probably corresponds to its architecture. It had two sets of walls, one enclosing a large parade ground and the second protecting the palace. Furthermore, the palace's northern sector (quadrants NE, NW, SE, SW), included three large courtyards and rooms that may have been used as barracks, workshops and storage.

In its southern sector, this palace had a throneroom alongside a courtyard, and on three sides of the throneroom were suites. This configuration is much like that of the Northwest Palace, although Fort Shalmaneser was not decorated with stone orthostats, but rather with glazed bricks and wall paintings. Like the throneroom of the Northwest Palace, that of Fort Shalmaneser featured a thronebase, which was inscribed with a summary of Shalmaneser III's conquests. The front of this thronebase bears a relief scene portraying Shalmaneser III clasping hands with Marduk-zakir-šumi, his Babylonian ally, and the remainder of the vertical edge of the dais has further relief scenes depicting the bringing of tribute in connection with Shalmaneser's Babylonian and western campaigns. These relief registers are provided with captions above the scenes explaining what they portray. This arrangement occurs as well on the famous Black Obelisk, also from Nimrud, which has relief registers portraying tribute-bearers below explanatory epigraphs. The arrangement is used again on the bronze bands [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/shalmaneseriii/texts6386/index.html] from massive gates installed by Shalmaneser III at Imgur-Enlil, modern Balawat.

In spite of a long and largely successful career, Shalmaneser III's reign ended in turmoil. The Assyrian eponym chronicle states that in his 33rd-35th regnal years there was revolt, and this lasted four years into the reign of Shalmaneser III's son and successor, Šamšī-Adad V [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/shamshiadadv/index.html] (823-811 BC). A royal inscription of Šamši-Adad V (text no. 1) tells us that this revolt involved his brother Aššur-daʾʾin-apla, who led no less than twenty-seven Assyrian cities to rebel, including strategic cities like Ashur, Arbail, and Nineveh. Indeed, the Black Obelisk states that four of the last five campaigns of Shalmaneser III (during his 29th-33rd regnal years) were led by his field marshal, and this overlaps with the period of revolt. One assumes that unrest in Assyria, or perhaps frailty, kept the king at home, and the prominence of the field marshal in the portrayal of the final campaigns of Shalmaneser III in the Black Obelisk hints at changes in the distribution of power in Assyria which would endure for the next three-quarters of a century.


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J. Caleb Howard

J. Caleb Howard, 'Shalmaneser III', The Royal Inscriptions of Assyria online (RIAo) Project, The RIAo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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