Treaties as Instruments of Neo-Assyrian Imperialism

As the title of the present volume indicates, texts definable as 'loyalty oaths' make up a considerable portion of the Neo-Assyrian treaty corpus. In fact, such texts dominate the corpus so overwhelmingly that it has been questioned whether any of these texts, called adê in Neo-Assyrian, should be regarded as 'treaties' in the proper sense of the word. Following I.J. Gelb, many scholars have since the early sixties taken all adê texts as sworn pacts of loyalty imposed by the Assyrian king on his vassals or subjects. Some have even gone as far as to claim that in the final analysis all these texts are simply oaths, not treaties, pacts, or indeed any sort of formal agreements between two parties at all.[[3]]

A closer look at the texts will make it clear, however, that taking all of them for loyalty oaths just does not work. While all of them apparently did involve an oath, a few of them (cf. nos. 1, 5 and 13) are unquestionably bilateral agreements between rulers and hence treaties by the modern definition. One of these texts (no. 5) is explicitly designated as an adê, and all of them agree in structure and formulation with adê texts taken to be loyalty oaths. This indicates that despite differences in content, all the texts in the corpus belong to the same genre, and accordingly the 'loyalty oaths' too were basically conceived as agreements between the parties specified at the beginning of these texts.

Further study bears out that a schematic division of the corpus into treaties and loyalty oaths (here adopted for practical reasons) is artificial rather than real. The seemingly homogenous group of 'loyalty oaths' actually consists of many different types of pacts concluded under different circumstances and for a variety of different purposes. The small group of 'treaties' likewise consists of texts of different type and background. Significantly, some texts in the corpus (e.g., nos. 2 and 9-10) combine features of both groups so that the decision whether to classify them as 'treaties' or 'loyalty oaths' becomes rather arbitrary.

3 The previous discussion is conveniently surveyed by K. Watanabe in BaM Bh 3 (1987), p. 6ff; see further ibid. 24 and S. Parpola, JCS 39 (1987) 180-183, excursus on the term adê.

Simo Parpola

Simo Parpola, 'Treaties as Instruments of Neo-Assyrian Imperialism', Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths, SAA 2. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1988; online contents: SAAo/SAA02 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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SAAo/SAA02, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
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