Administrative Communication in the Assyrian Empire

In order to fully understand the nature and significance of the letters edited here, it is necessary to have as clear a picture as possible of the central role administrative correspondence played in the Assyrian empire. Without this vital link between the central administration and its provincial extensions, the empire would have fallen apart in a matter of days.

Liverani has befittingly called the Neo-Assyrian empire "an empire of communications".[[4]] Indeed, it would have been impossible to rule a large landlocked multinational state without a smoothly and effectively functioning system of communications. It was simply not enough to station troops at strategic points or to make sure that merchandise, tribute and other commodities flowed steadily to the heart of the empire. It was vital that the central administration was constantly aware of what was going on within the empire and even beyond its borders and could quickly implement its orders and relocate its military and economic resources whenever and wherever necessary. In the words of Xenophon, "one who observed closely could see at a glance that while the King's empire was strong in its extent of territory and number of its inhabitants, it was weak by reason of the greatness of the distances and the scattered condition of its forces, in case one should be swift in making his attack upon it." (Anabasis I, v 9.)

The vital significance of administrative correspondence to the Assyrian central administration is clearly reflected in the way its delivery was organized and in the care that was taken to protect it from falling into the wrong hands. While it is generally not within the scope of the present edition to discuss or analyze the evidence contained in the letters, the significance of the matter makes it desirable that at least an outline of the system be presented here. The following survey may at the same time serve as a sort of general introduction to the correspondence of Sargon as a whole for the general reader.

4 See M. Liverani, "The growth of the Assyrian empire in the Habur/Middle Euphrates area: a new paradigm", Les Annales Archeologiques Arabes Syriennes 1984, 107-115, especially p. 110ff.

Simo Parpola

Simo Parpola, 'Administrative Communication in the Assyrian Empire ', The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part I: Letters from Assyria and the West, SAA 1. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1987; online contents: SAAo/SAA01 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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