Petitions and Denunciations

It is perhaps no surprise to find complaints, petitions and denunciations among the letters sent to an Assyrian king. However, the great number of denunciations extant from the reign of Esarhaddon is rather extraordinary when compared with those sent to his predecessors. It probably results directly from several provisions in his succession treaty (SAA 26), concluded in 672, where he personally urges his subjects to send denunciations to him.[[80]] It seems that the king took pains to control the empire as tightly as possible, and that the purpose of these treaty provisions was to institute an efficient intelligence system which would nip in the bud potential rebellions, conspiracies and riots against the royal house. The dire fates of his father and grandfather clearly had made Esarhaddon strive to prevent history from repeating itself.

But did those controlling measures organised by Esarhaddon create greater justice and a feeling of safety in the empire? And was he perhaps more easily accessible to his subjects than the other Neo-Assyrian kings? This may indeed have been the case, at least for a while, if he followed the advice of the writer of no. 64 (cf. especially lines 10-r.5). However that may be, the more prosaic reality would probably soon have set limits to such a practice. In any case, the good intentions of the king definitely resulted in a high number of petitions, complaints and denunciations, sent both to the king and the crown prince and, more rarely, to the palace scribe.

The most typical reasons for petitions seem to have been unemployment, court intrigues, oppression by other, higher officials, unsettled legal cases, financial needs, and so on. Often the writers sought to improve their own personal status or position, trying especially to enter into royal favour, but in some petitions they also try to intercede on behalf of their friends, relatives or colleagues (no. 40: "brother"). It is impossible to determine in which petitions the writers are in really serious trouble and which of them simply record the ordinary worries of officials.

Of the eighteen denunciations included in the present volume, three (nos. 59-61, by an informer named Nabû-rehtu-uṣur) pertain to a conspiracy against Esarhaddon detected and crushed in 671/670. For these and some other letters in this volume which may be connected to the same conspiracy,[[81]] as well as on the persons involved in that conspiracy one way or another (in particular, Saši), the reader is referred to the extensive discussion in Nissinen Prophecy (1998), pp. 109-153.

80 SAA 2 6: 73-82, 108-122, 130-161, 336-352, 499-507.

81 Such as nos. 31m 69, 71, and 207.

Mikko Luukko & Greta van Buylaere

Mikko Luukko & Greta van Buylaere, 'Petitions and Denunciations', The Political Correspondence of Esarhaddon, SAA 16. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 2002; online contents: SAAo/SAA16 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2022 []

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SAAo/SAA16, 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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