The Neo-Assyrian Zagros and Western Iran

In 716 the last Assyrian provinces in the Zagros mountains, i.e. in the region between Mazamua and Media had been established. The letters sent by officials and governors of these provinces were all written a few years after that when things had settled down. They deal with day to day matters, routine and only small scale troubles. Here the dramatic events in Babylonia (710) were felt only as a remote echo. Even the turmoil in Ellipi (708-707), the southern neighbour of no less than three Assyrian provinces was nothing to worry about.

So far the majority of the toponyms belonging to the Zagros and Western Iran can not be localized with certainty. Two studies of Levine and Reade both covered the entire area of Assyria's eastern and northeastern provinces and since the seventies these have come to be the "classics" of the historical geography of the Zagros.[[51]] But their results are contradictory in many points and are just confirming the state of uncertainty. This, however, is not the place for lengthy discussions about historical geography. The diagram on the facing page (Chart I) may give a rough idea of the approximate pattern of the more important toponyms mentioned in this volume and of their positions relative to each other. It is based on itineraries of Assyrian campaigns in the Zagros and Western Iran provided by royal inscriptions.

Karalla[[52]] was part of the province of Lullumî or (Ma)zamua since 716.[[53]] Therefore reports on affairs of Karalla (nos. 74 and 75) most probably reached the king from this province.[[54]]

The location of Parsua is described in a letter of its governor (no. 54).[[55]] When he came back from Media he sent his men in pursuit of some fugitives[[56]] "to Mannea, Mazamua and Hamban" (obv. 18-r.4). With this the main regions to the east, north, west and south of Parsua are mentioned.[[57]] Nikkur (nos. 53 and 54) was its main Assyrian stronghold since Tiglath-pileser's establishment of the province in 744.[[58]] Kiguhtu, one of the fortresses surrounding Nikkur (54 r.10) may be identical with Ganguhtu or Ganungu[htu], annexed to Parsua in 716.[[59]] The extent and inner structure of Parsua is more or less unclear but the governor was in charge of the otherwise unknown land of the Zalipaeans (no. 53).

Close to Parsua must have been the seat of the governor Aššur-belu-uṣur which is not mentioned. He sent two letters (nos. 60 and 61) about journeys to Babylon. According to no. 60 he had passed Bit-Hamban already (lines 6-11) and sent back for mules to Bit-Kari (r.9). His province therefore must have been to the north or east of Bit-Hamban. Aššur-belu-uṣur might have been either the successor or predecessor of Nabû-remanni in Parsua or the governor of Kišesim, a provincial center established in 716 and renamed Kar-Nergal.[[60]]

Diagrammatic representation of the relative positions of toponyms in the Zagros and Western Iran in the Neo-Assyrian period

In no. 59 Aššur-belu-uṣur reports on two people, named Ezî and Zalâ. Although the first name is slightly different, they are most likely identical with Zizî and Zalâ, two city-lords from Gizilbunda, subordinated to the governor of Parsua since their submission in 714. Together with Mannaea and Bit-Kapsi, which are mentioned in the same letter, Gizilbunda was part of the area to the north or northwest of Media.[[61]] No. 76 was written in Namri, as both Summurzu as well as Niqi-Tupliš (= Niqqi/u ša Tup/gliaš) belonged to this area.[[62]]

Further east, in Šingibutu Marduk-šarru-uṣur was appointed governor (69:11f). Šingibutu and perhaps Singi[butu] (73 r.3) must be identical with the better known Bit-Sangibutu/i. Nergal-eṭir reported on messengers and tribute (no. 65) coming from Ellipi (no. 66), Parsua (no. 67) and Bit-Zualza (no. 68), i.e. from territories connected with the so-called Khorasan-road. He thus might have written from either Namri, Bit-Hamban or Bit-Sangibutu.

By far the most important Assyrian stronghold in Western Iran was the city of Harhar which had been conquered in 716.[[63]] Extremely proud of his success Sargon had changed its name to Kar-Šarrukin, making it a kāru, one of the places at the borders of the empire where the commercial connections with the outside world were focused in order to control, to supervise and, of course, to tax trading activities. A few years after Sargon's death his son Sennacherib imitated him when he conquered the Ellipian city Elenzaš and renamed it Kar-Sennacherib. But at great pains as ever to avoid any mention of his father, he handed over Kar-Sennacherib to "the governor of Harhar" according to his inscriptions.[[64]] After this second change the old name was kept.[[65]] In the letters of this volume the city always appears as Kar-Šarrukin and (if required at all) this is a clear indication that none of these could have been written after Sargon's reign.

In 716 and 715 the king had conquered and renamed more cities around "Sargon's entrepôt." Their new names likewise were compound names beginning with "Kar-". With the exception of Kišesim/Kar-Nergal which was to become the capital of a separate province all of them belonged to the province of Kar-Šarrukin.[[66]] None of them is mentioned in any of the letters but most likely it was the border-region with all its entrepôts (kāru), which was called by the otherwise unexplainable term Bit-Kari (60 r.9).

The volume includes letters from two successive governors of Kar-Šarrukin. The first was Nabû-belu-ka''in, who is identified as such by his successor Mannu-ki-Ninua (90:28ff and 91r.10). Three letters of Mannu-ki-Ninua (nos. 90-92) were written when he took over, because they deal with the procedures of his succession. In one of them the month Kislev is given. This must have been Nov.-Dec. 708 (no. 92:4).[[67]]

Interesting details on how the new governor introduced himself to the native rulers of his province are also provided. To renew their oaths of loyalty the city-lords did not come together in the provincial capital to witness an extensive ceremony but the governor himself went to meet them in groups at a border town (90 r.18-20) or he visited them individually in their respective cities (92:1-13). No. 90 describes the essential elements of the adê-ceremony in outline: First, the vassals received garments and bracelets as gifts of honour (90:25-26 and 91 r.2). This is known as the usual procedure when, for instance, loyal vassals met the king.[[68]] Then the new governor formulated the basic reciprocal obligations of their relationship: The city-lords had to obey and had to pass on all kinds of information. The governor on his part had to protect them against local enemies and had to stand up for them before the king (90:28-r.6). This is akin to the obligations of "consilium et auxilium" fulfilled by both vassal and lord in the feudal system in medieval western Europe.[[69]] Yet the answer (the oath?) of the city-lords makes clear that Kar-Šarrukin was no fief at all in the medieval sense of the word and that Mannu-ki-Ninua was but a royal official who could be replaced at any time: The city-lords are at the disposal of the governor of Kar-Šarrukin – whoever should hold office – only because they obey the king's orders. They are loyal to the king exclusively (90 r.7-12).

The king wished his new governor to be an impartial judge: "Your friend and your [enemy] should not be treated differently!" (91:16-17). The letters from Kar-Šarrukin explain who was to be treated in such a way. It had been a main object of Sargon's conquests in Western Iran "to subdue the Medes around Kar-Šarrukin."[[70]] Accordingly the letters show the governor of Kar-Šarrukin responsible for Media as long as it was under Assyrian control. But if city-lords, settlements or groups of people are not explicitly called "Median" by any source, one can never be sure about their identity.[[71]] This is the case with the otherwise unknown cities of Satarnu (90 r.19) and [ . . . ] -ahkapkap (92:7). The better known Bit-Zualza (no. 68) was certainly not Median.[[72]] For Humbê, its city lord, connections are mentioned not with Media but with the nearby kingdom of Ellipi because he visited Akkuddu, one of Ellipi' s royal cities, at least once (no. 86).[[73]] A similar orientation to the south is visible for the inhabitants of Zabgaga (90:3ff) and the Irtiašaeans (91 r.9ff) who moved between "the House of Daltâ" i.e. Ellipi and the Assyrian province of Kar-Šarrukin. Their migrations may have been caused by transhumance as well as by political reasons. Closely connected with Kar-Šarrukin/Harhar was the city of Kuluman (84:11 , and nos. 90 and 95-97), later mentioned as "Kilman, in the province of Harhar" (SAA 4 51 r.4). And in broken context appears the city of Parnaka (92 r.8), probably the city of the Barnakeans, who were so troublesome in the reign of Esarhaddon.[[74]]

The Median city-lords, territories and settlements which are confirmed by royal inscriptions are listed below according to their increasing distance to Kar-Šarrukin:[[75]]

TABLE III. Median City-Lords and Their Territories

Letters Official records
city- lord origin Stela (716) and TCL 3 (714)
U(m)aksatar (101, 110) Uksatar, a city lord in Nartu (Stela II 45; TCL 3 42)
Paukku (272) Paukku, city lord of Bit-Kapsi (TCL 345)
Bag(a)parna/u (91, 93) Zakrutu (84) Bagbarna, city lord of Zakruti (Stela II 46f": TCL 347)
- Šabarda (101, 102) Daiku/Darî, city lord of Šabarda (Stela II 47; TCL 347)
- Sikrisi (90) Sikris (Stela II 48 II 51)
- Karakka/u, city lord of Uriakka/Urikaia (Stela II 55; TCL 3 49)
Uppite, son of Karakku (85, 101) Uriakka/u (85, 101) -
Rama/etî, son of Irtukkanu (85, 95, 100, 101) Uriakka/u (85, 95, 101) -

At this time Assyria must have indeed exercised control over large parts of Media. Some letters give proof of this because the city-lord of Uriakku could be deposed by the Assyrian king and replaced with another candidate against the will of the local population. Uriakku cannot be localized but according to the stela from Najafehabad an army which started at Harhar (Kar-Šarrukin) had to pass six stages before reaching it.[[76]] So from the Assyrian perspective the distance to Uriakku was not extreme (as many other regions in Media were) but it was somewhat "far out."

As can be seen from Table III above, in 716 and in 714 the name of its city lord had been Karakka/u. The earliest of our letters dealing with Uriakku was written later because the governor of Kar-Šarrukin, ordered to replace the city-lord of Uriakku, arrested the "son of Karakku" (85:6). The new city-lord was Rametî (85:10), son of Irtukkanu (85:13), and the whole affair caused some unrest in Uriakku.[[77]] Rametî was installed by Nabû-belu-ka''in, and he remained a loyal subject also to Mannu-ki-Ninua who succeeded Nabû-beluka''in in Kislev (Nov.-Dec.) 708.[[78]]

In Nisan (Mar.-Apr.) 706, just back from an audience with the king, the governor of Kar-Šarrukin had to report on an accident. In his absence Uppite, the discharged city-lord of Uriakku, had used the opportunity to escape (101:15ff). This fugitive can only be the son of Karakku, whose proper name is given here for the first time. That means Uppite had not been killed after his deposition, but had been held prisoner in Kar-Šarrukin by two consecutive governors for more than a year. The reason seems clear: Still alive, the son of Karakku could easily be reactivated by his Assyrian masters to replace Rametî once the new city-lord should arouse their anger.

Uppite's flight soon ended in Šabarda (101 r.3), another Median city. According to the stela of Najafehabad this place was about two stages away from Kar-Šarrukin: Uppite had covered less than half the way to Uriakku.[[79]] But when Nabû-taqqinanni (the deputi governor?) and Uaksatar (see Table III) learned that Uppite had reached Šabarda, no pursuit or campaign was necessary. They just "sent and had him captured" (101 r.2-8). Obviously, Šabarda too was under firm Assyrian control.

51 L.D. Levine, "Geographical Studies in the Neo-Assyrian Zagros," Iran 11 (1973) 1-27 and 12 (1974) 99-124. J.E. Reade, "Kassites and Assyrians in Iran," Iran 16 (1978) 137-143.

52 Thanks to the inscription of Tang-i Var and its publication by G. Frame the localization of this region is now possible (Frame, Or. 68 {1999} 31-57).

53 SAAS 8 II.d, Ass.19-21.

54 Mazamua was approximately the center of the triangle formed by Karalla, Ellipi and Urzuhina which are all mentioned in no. 75. Nabû-[hamat]ua who is mentioned in the same letter (r.7) may have been the deputy governor of Mazamua (see SAA 5 p. 244).

55 Most likely Nabû-remanni who is mentioned also in SAA 5 64:6. Letter 53 was written on a trip, because he met a messenger coming from his home province (53:4).

56 The runaways were from Tabal, i.e. from Central Anatolia (no.54:20). Most likely they had been sent (voluntarily or unwilling) to the province of Parsua as soldiers (see also nos. 48 and 268). The governor gave them the houses, cattle and even the women "of the deceased" (54:9-11). This means that they were to function as replacements in virtually every respect.

57 Compare with Grayson, RIMA 3 p. 40 III:60-IV:5, Zamua = Mazamua, Munna = Mannea, Haban = Bit-Hamban. For Parsua and Media (Amadaya) see RIMA 3 p. 68:120-121.

58 Tadmor Tigl., p. 46 Ann. 11:5, and p. 98 Stele I B 9-11.

59 Fuchs Sar. p. 435. The conquest of Ganguhtu was even depicted on a relief in Khorsabad, cf. Fuchs Sar. p. 276 II:28 and Botta, Monument de Ninive I/II pl. 70. See also J.M. Russell, The Writing on the Wall (Winona Lake 1999), p. 116.

60 Stela II:35-41, SAAS 8 III.b:1-21, Ann. 93-94, Prunk 59-60. Kar-Nergal is only mentioned in one letter: SAA 5 207,6.

61 For Zizî and Zalâ see TCL 3 lines 64-73; for a shorter version cf. Ann. 128f. The geographical connections between Mannea, Gizilbunda, Bit-Kapsi and Media are explained by TCL 3 lines 64-75.

62 See Grayson, RIMA 3 p. 40 IV 13-16.

63 Stela II:41-46; Ann.96-100, Prunk 61-66

64 Stela II:41-46; Ann. 96-100, Prunk 61-66.

64 Luckenbill Senn. p. 28:27-32.

65 For Harhar in the reign of Esarhaddon see SAA 4 51, 77 and 78.

66 For Kišesim/Kar-Nergal see above. Kar-Nabû, Kar-Sin, Kar-Adad and Kar-Ištar are mentioned in Ann. 113-115, Prunk 64-65, but see Fuchs Sar. p. 445.

67The year depends on the demise of Daltâ, king of Ellipi. He died about the time when Mannu-ki-Ninurta took over in Kar-Šarrukin, a fact mentioned in his letters (91 r.11).See below for details.

68 For example see Postgate, Festschrift Hrouda p. 236f and SAAS 8 V.b-d:24 and 57-59.

69 Cf. F.L. Ganshof, Was ist das Lehnswesen? (Darmstadt 1983), p. 90ff.

70 Ann. 114-115, Prunk 65-66.

71 To distinguish the "real" Medes from people who belonged to other ethnic groups of this vast area, indo-European proper names are not evidence enough. For instance, "Ašpa-bara" is certainly an Indo-European name (PNA I/I p. 143), and the Ašpa-bara, who brought his tribute in 713 was most probably a Mede (SAAS 8 p. 41 VI.b:20). But there was a king of Ellipi of the same name whose father's name Daltâ does not seem to be Indo-European (PNA I/2 p. 373). The Ašpa-[bara] mentioned in broken context (86:12) could have been either of the two.

72 The annals of Tiglath-pileser III list Bit-Zualza(š) side by side with Media so it cannot have been part of it (Tadmor Tigl. p. 70 Ann. 14:6; p. 88 Ann. 4;3).

73 See for instance Luckenbill Senn. p. 28:16. For Humbê cf. SAA 1 15 and TCL 3 line 46.

74 Borger Esarh., p. 51 Ep. 10.

75 The relative distance can be deduced from the stela of Najafehabad, Sargon's most detailed report on Media, see Levine Stelae p. 25ff.

76 Stela II:47-55.

77 Rama/etî must have been the son of Irtukkanu, because elsewhere the "[son] of Irtukkanu" is identified as the city lord of Uriakku (95 r.2f and two more letters use the terms "son of Irtukkanu" (100 r.4-10) and "Ramatî" (101 r.10-14) interchangeably.

78 In 707, when the magnates went to Ellipi Rametî brought his tribute (95 r.2-10). In Nisan 706, just after Uppite's flight (see below), he was expected to send some people (100 r.4-10 and 101 r.8-14 refer to the same affair).

79 Stela II:46-Il:47-11:55.

Andreas Fuchs

Andreas Fuchs, 'The Neo-Assyrian Zagros and Western Iran', The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part III: Letters from Babylonia and the Eastern Provinces, SAA 15. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 2001; online contents: SAAo/SAA15 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

Back to top ^^
SAAo/SAA15, 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.
Oracc uses cookies only to collect Google Analytics data. Read more here []; see the stats here []; opt out here.