Many of the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III (744–727) and Shalmaneser V (726–722) edited in this volume have attracted scholarly interest since the very dawn of Assyriology, with the first discoveries at Nimrud (ancient Kalḫu) by Austen Henry Layard in 1845–1851. The search for new evidence for these two Assyrian monarchs, who played a crucial role in stories told in the Bible, was of prime importance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since then, as a result of further discoveries and studies, it has become apparent that their reigns marked the beginning of the imperial phase of Assyria, and that this period of time should be regarded as a watershed in the history of the ancient Near East.

The kingdom of Assyria was first formed as a territorial state, with a provincial system, in the fourteenth–thirteenth centuries, roughly half a millennium before the reigns of the two kings whose inscriptions are edited here. During a period of weakness in the eleventh and tenth centuries, Assyria's territorial holdings were greatly reduced, and its administrative and economic systems broke down because of the intrusion of numerous Aramean tribes and a series of bad harvests. In the ninth century, the pre-imperial phase of Assyria, rulers mounted aggressive military campaigns to recover land once regarded as the "Land of (the god) Aššur." This Reconquista-like advance reached its peak with the ambitious campaigns of the great conquerors Ashurnasirpal II (883–859), Shalmaneser III (858–824), and Adad-nārārī III (810–783); these three rulers led their armies on campaign almost every year. This relentless Assyrian territorial expansion, especially to the west, established an Assyrian "corridor" that led to the north Phoenician coast. With the exception of Shalmaneser III's 856 conquest of Bīt-Adini, a state that occupied territory on both the east and west banks of the Euphrates, these rulers did not annex territory west of the Euphrates, an area beyond the traditional border of the "Land of (the god) Aššur." Adad-nārārī III's successors continued to wage war in Syria, as well as in other directions, e.g., against Urarṭu in the north, the Zagros countries in the east, and Babylonia in the south. The basic details are recorded in laconic references appearing in the Eponym Chronicle (Millard, SAAS 2 pp. 37–43). These campaigns, however, failed to achieve uncontested supremacy or lasting Assyrian dominion over those lands, with the end result just a show of military might.

In the first half of the eighth century, several other states grew substantially in power and rivaled Assyria's might: in particular, Urarṭu in the north and northwest and Damascus in the west, both of which imposed their hegemony on a plethora of neighboring states. To the south and southeast, there was a decline and gradual disintegration of centralized authority in Babylonia. The cities Babylon, Sippar, and Nippur, all of which were important religious and economic centers, regularly clashed with nomadic and semi-nomadic Aramean tribes who disrupted their way of life. Moreover, the king of Babylon occasionally had to appeal to Assyria for military support. At this time, the internal stability of Assyria had also declined. This was due in part to periods of domestic instability and in part to the rise of formidable Assyrian high officials, men whose power and influence rivaled or surpassed those of the king. Far-flung campaigns, as well as victories in battle against major rival states, decreased in number, as suggested by the annual records of the Eponym Chronicle; there is also a noticeable decrease in the number of royal inscriptions. Thus, the first half of the eighth century is generally regarded as a period of Assyrian decline.

Assyria's fortunes changed dramatically after Tiglath-pileser III — "My trust is in the heir of Ešarra (i.e., Ninurta)" — ascended the throne. In the course of his eighteen-year reign, this king reshaped the political map of the ancient Near East and made Assyria the dominant power once again. Like the strong and ambitious ninth-century rulers Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III, Tiglath-pileser mounted campaigns in all directions. He began in the south with northern Babylonia, on the east side of Tigris, where he firmly established Assyrian control of Babylonian territory. Afterwards, he set his sights on rivals in the northwest and the west. From his second regnal year (his 3rd palû, 743) to his sixth regnal year (7th palû, 739), he fought with Urarṭu and its north Syrian allies. The Urarṭian army was routed, and the troublesome city Arpad in northern Syria was conquered and annexed. After that, as in an inexorable chain reaction, Tiglath-pileser rapidly conquered and annexed numerous Syro-Palestinian states, including Unqi (Pattinu), Ḫatarikka, Ṣimirra, Aram-Damascus, and the majority of the kingdom of Israel. These conquests were followed by unprecedented, large-scale two-way deportations, a new policy that disrupted the lives of tens of thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people and radically transformed the demographic structure and cultural character of Assyria. Other rulers in southeastern Anatolia, along the Phoenician coast, and in Palestine (Israel and Judah), Philistia, and Trans-Jordan became vassals, from whom a heavy tribute was extracted annually, and symbolic acts of obeisance were regularly required. At the time the west was being transformed into provinces, the Assyrian army advanced northward into the heart of Urarṭu, a kingdom centered around Lake Van, and eastward into Median territory. In the east, rulers, weak and powerful alike, were brought into submission and their lands were subsequently turned into Assyrian provinces; their larger cities became Assyrian administrative centers. Towards the end of his reign, Tiglath-pileser's attention turned to the south. The Assyrian king conquered Babylonia, his victory possibly won as the result of the political circumstances of the region. He not only took the traditional title "king of the lands Sumer and Akkad," but also declared himself "king of Babylon," something not done by his predecessors. He ascended the throne as Babylon's legitimate king and participated in the akītu-festival by taking the hand of the god Bēl (Marduk), a role suitable only for the true and divinely sanctioned king of Babylon. With both Assyria and Babylonia under the authority a single king, new geo-political complications arose, some of which came to a head during the reigns of his successors. The inclusion of Babylon — with its strong independent tendencies — within the Assyrian empire would prove to be a thorn in the side of the kings of the Sargonid period (721–612).

Shalmaneser V — "The god Salmānu is pre-eminent" — ascended the thrones of Assyria and Babylonia upon the death of his father Tiglath-pileser III late in 727. He should have been well suited to the task since he had held an important role in his father's administration, and because he had presumably been educated as the heir designate. Continuing Tiglath-pileser's policies, Shalmaneser appears to have conquered and annexed several lands and cities. His expansion of the "Land of (the god) Aššur" included the absorption of Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel (although the nature of its conquest has been long disputed among scholars), and possibly Samʾal and Que, kingdoms in northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia. Babylonia, which he inherited from his father, remained firmly in his hands. Although the details of his reign remain obscure, he appears to have successfully maintained the kingdom, at least for a few years. In his fifth year as king, internal strife, the details of which are recounted by his successor, brought Shalmaneser's reign to an abrupt end. The Babylonian Chronicle states that he died, but it does not record the disruption that shook Assyria's foundations. Under his immediate successor, Sargon II, and his descendants, Assyria not only experienced its zenith but also its decline and total annihilation as a political entity. Its legacy, however, remains to this day.

Hayim Tadmor & Shigeo Yamada

Hayim Tadmor & Shigeo Yamada, 'Introduction', RINAP 1: Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V, The RINAP 1 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

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