Posts Tagged ‘History of the Fertile Crescent’

 

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Nebuchadrezzar died in 562 he was followed by his son Evil-Merodach but his reign was short. According to one source ‘he managed affairs in a lawless and outrageous fashion’. Another says he paid little heed to his counsellors or the temples. He was certainly deposed and probably murdered within the year at the behest of his Sisters Husband Neriglissar, who took the throne. He died a few years later following a military campaign and was succeeded by his son, who in turn was killed by Nabonidas who came to the throne in 556. His claim to the throne is not clear as his heritage was Assyrian, having been born in the city of Harran, once briefly the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Inscriptions imply that he came from a lowly background. The records do however, suggest that he might have been married to a daughter of Nebuchadrezzar and so although he had no claim to the throne, his son did as a grandson of the great King. This could be borne out by the fact that Nabonidas reigned in a power-sharing arrangement with his son Belshazzar (of the feast and writing on the wall fame). Belshazzar was noted as being a good soldier, but a poor politician who had a knack of upsetting people by his actions. Amongst these were the religious and military elites of the kingdom. The reason for the former is clear as he and his father suppressed the worship of Marduk, the traditional god of Babylon in favour of the moon god. The most likely reason for this is that Nabonidas’ mother was the high priestess of the Moon God Temple in Harran.

Relief of Cyrus at the gate of Pasargadae. "Olympic Park Cyrus-3" by Siamax. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Olympic_Park_Cyrus-3.jpg#/media/File:Olympic_Park_Cyrus-3.jpg

Relief of Cyrus at the gate of Pasargadae. “Olympic Park Cyrus-3” by Siamax. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Olympic_Park_Cyrus-3.jpg#/media/File:Olympic_Park_Cyrus-3.jpg

The Persians King Cyrus was becoming very popular in Babylon. In contrast to Nabonidus and Balthasar, Cyrus portrayed himself as the saviour of the true Babylonian religion, chosen by Marduk to restore order and justice and the worship of Marduk to the people of Babylon.
Cyrus invaded Babylon in 539 and within a few years the whole Neo-Babylonian empire was under Persian rule.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Nebuchadrezzar was not just a mighty warrior, he was also a patron of cities and a spectacular builder. He rebuilt all of Babylonia’s major cities on a lavish scale. The city of Babylon during his reign covered more than three square miles, surrounded by moats and ringed by a double circuit of walls. The Euphrates flowed through the centre of the city, spanned by a beautiful stone bridge. At the centre of the city rose the giant ziggurat called Etemenanki, “House of the Frontier Between Heaven and Earth,” next to the Temple of Marduk. He is also credited with building the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to one legend, he built the Gardens for his Median wife, Queen Amytis, because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. He also built a grand palace that came to be known as ‘The Marvel of the Mankind’.

"Die schwebenden Gärten von Babylon 1726" by Unknown - http://www.bassenge.com/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Die_schwebenden_G%C3%A4rten_von_Babylon_1726.jpg#/media/File:Die_schwebenden_G%C3%A4rten_von_Babylon_1726.jpg

“Die schwebenden Gärten von Babylon 1726” by Unknown – http://www.bassenge.com/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In 601 BC, Nebuchadrezzar was involved in a major, but inconclusive battle, against the Egyptians, probably somewhere in the southern Levant. In 599 BC, he invaded Arabia and routed the Arabs at Qedar. In 597 BC, he invaded Judah and captured Jerusalem and deposed its king Jehoiachin. Egypt and Babylon continued to vie with each other for control of the southern Levant throughout much of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign. Egypt’s policy was usually to do this by proxy, by encouraging the Levantine states to rebel and promising them aid. It is not always clear from the accounts whether these promises were actually fulfilled. It was probably these promises, and a civil war in Babylon, which encouraged king Zedekiah of Judah to revolt. It took the Babylonians two years to sort out their problems at home but in 586 the might of the Babylonian army descended into Judah culminating in the siege of Jerusalem. This time the Egyptians did mobilise an army to support the Judaean revolt, but Nebuchadrezzar merely broke off the siege , gave battle, defeated the Egyptian army and then returned to the besieging Jerusalem. After an 18-month siege, Jerusalem was captured, and thousands of Jews were deported to Babylon, and the city, including Solomon’s Temple and Palace was razed to the ground.
By 572 Nebuchadrezzar was in full control of Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Judah, Israel, Philistia, northern Arabia, and parts of Asia Minor. In 568 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis, he invaded Egypt. A clay tablet, now in the British Museum, states: “In the 37th year of Nebuchaddrezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Mitzraim (Egypt) to wage war. Amasis, king of Mitzraim, collected his army, and marched and spread abroad.” Unfortunately there appears to be no record of the aims or outcome of this campaign, but it does not seem as though the Babylonians were able to establish any territory in Egypt.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Once the capital Nineveh had fallen the Assyrians began to withdraw west and moved their capital west to Harran. When Harran was captured by the Babylonians in 610 BC the capital was once again moved, this time to Carchemish, on the Euphrates river. Egypt had by this time realised that the rising Neo-Babylonian empire was ever expanding in their direction and therefore at sometime around 610 they entered into an alliance with the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II, and in 609 BC sent an army north to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians. It is interesting to consider how late they left this decision. Carchemish was the Assyrians last stand, their last hope of survival and even if they had won there was little left of the Assyrian empire. To my mind the most likely scenario would be that by this time the end was inevitable even if they escaped it in 609.
The Egyptian army of Pharaoh Necho II marching north to aid the Assyrians was delayed at Megiddo by the forces of King Josiah of Judah. During the battle Josiah was killed and his army was defeated. But why did Josiah attack the much larger army of the Egyptians? Did he think that if the Assyrians were defeated then Judah would be freed from subjugation? Was this attack a deliberate delaying tactic to slow the Egyptian reinforcements down?
If so it partially worked as by the time the Egyptians arrived the Babylonians had forced the Assyrian army to withdraw across the Euphrates. The Egyptians and Assyrians came together on the west side of the river, crossed it and laid siege to Harran, which they failed to retake. They then retreated back towards Carchemish and the river Euphrates.
The Egyptian / Assyrian army met the might of the Babylonian army led by Nebuchadrezzar II, the son of Neblopolassor, near Carchemish where the combined Egyptian and Assyrian forces were soundly defeated. Assyria ceased to exist as an independent power, and Egypt retreated and would never again be a significant force in the Fertile Crescent.

Carved walls from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carved walls from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Nebuchadrezzar Chronicle, now housed in the British Museum, claims that Nebuchadrezzar “crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Karchemiš. They fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and beat them to non-existence. As for the rest of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so quickly that no weapon had reached them, in the district of Hamath the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them so that not a single man escaped to his own country. At that time Nebuchadrezzar conquered the whole area of Hamath.”

Carved panels from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public

Carved panels from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public

Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddan , who reigned from 681 to 669 is noted for two events. In 680, he commenced the rebuilding of the city of Babylon and re-established it as a client kingdom. From 675 to 671 he launched a campaign into Egypt, which resulted in the Assyrians occupying Memphis, the Nile Delta and the lower valley. [map4].  However, these gains were to be short lived as in 669 the Egyptians rebelled and Ashurbanipal II, who had succeeded his father, fought a six-year campaign before the Assyrians were forced to admit defeat and withdraw back to their border at the southern end of the Levant.

Ashurbanipal on Horseback "Nineveh Ashurbanipal on horseback" by Anonymous (Nineveh) - Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nineveh_Ashurbanipal_on_horseback.jpg#/media/File:Nineveh_Ashurbanipal_on_horseback.jpg

Ashurbanipal on Horseback
“Nineveh Ashurbanipal on horseback” by Anonymous (Nineveh) – Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

 His reign was also marked by continued rebellion in Babylonia. Ashurbanipal is best remembered for the building of the great library at Nineveh from the contents of which much of our knowledge of the ancient near East comes.

Tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal. "1911 Britannica - Babylonia-Tablet" by Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 - Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 3, Plate II. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1911_Britannica_-_Babylonia-Tablet.png#/media/File:1911_Britannica_-_Babylonia-Tablet.png

Tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal.
“1911 Britannica – Babylonia-Tablet” by Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 – Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 3, Plate II. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – 

Following his death, his sons waged Civil War for the throne of Assyria. Nablopolassar, the client King of Babylon took advantage of this situation and declared himself King of an independent Babylonian kingdom in 620. It seems that the weakened Assyrians were unable to respond. In 615 Nablopolassar made an Alliance with the Medes, and their clients, the Persians, and declared war on Assyria. A 5 year campaign followed as the Allies gradually gained territory from the Assyrians. Nineveh finally fell in 612 following a three-year siege and the Babylonian forces completely destroyed the city to ground level. It seems likely that this was payback for the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689.

In 853 BCE Shalmaneser III was defeated by a Levantine Alliance, led by Aram and Israel. However, the campaigns of Tiglath-Pilessar III from 745 expanded the Assyrian empire further west with the inclusion of the Phoenician port cities as client kingdoms. This gave the Empire access to the trade routes of the Mediterranean. Sargon the second (721 to 705) continued the expansion taking into the Empire parts of the old Hittite kingdom; This brought under Assyrian control parts of the Hittite kingdom; Phoenicia and Israel and established client kingdoms in Judah, Philistia and Babylonia. The reign of Sennacherib is one of mixed fortunes for the Empire. Perhaps best remembered for his campaign in Judah, notably the siege and sack of Lachish and the siege of Jerusalem.

Battle scene from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

Battle scene from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

 

He also faced major rebellions in Babylonia and in 689, Babylon was sacked and razed to the ground and the province of Babylonia was annexed into the Assyrian Empire. In the North of the Empire, a great deal of effort was needed to contain the raids of peoples from the Caucuses down the land corridor between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In the North West the Assyrians encountered, with less than successful results, the Phrygian Kingdom, who had by this time annexed the western part of the old Hittite Empire.

Sennacherib "Sanherib-tr-4271" by Timo Roller - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanherib-tr-4271.jpg#/media/File:Sanherib-tr-4271.jpg

Sennacherib
“Sanherib-tr-4271” by Timo Roller – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

If you ever thought spin was a modern invention then here are two accounts of Sennacherib’s campaign in Judea. The Hebrew account says little if anything about the campaign leading up to the siege of Jerusalem but focuses on the outcome and the successful breaking of the siege ‘Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh.’

However if we look at Sennacherib’s version as seen on the Taylor Prism it reads very differently “As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong walled cities, as well as the small cities in their neighborhood, which were without number, by escalade and bringing up siege engines (did I destroy)…  Himself, like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. ‘ He then goes on to tell that he extracted a huge tribute from him which when paid he took back to Nineveh, which was why he lifted the siege. What we do know is that Sennacherib made far more of his campaign against Lachish than he did of the siege of Jerusalem as witness the wall murals from his palace at Nineveh, which are in the British Museum.

The King recieves tribute  from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

The King receives tribute from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

Sennacherib died in 681. What is clear is that he was assassinated. What is less clear is the why and the how. There is a story that this happened whilst he was praying in the temple. Some sources in the later Babylonian Chronicles name his son as the guilty party although other sources give different identities to the killer.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Between 1206 and 1150 BC, the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and northern Syria and the New Kingdom of Egypt in southern Syria and Canaan interrupted trade routes and severely reduced literacy. In the first phase of this period, there is evidence that many cities were violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter: examples include Hattusa, Mycenae, and Ugarit. The civilisations of the eastern fertile crescent fared only a little better. The  Assyrian Empire came under attack from the Mushki, a people who had moved into Anatolia following the collapse of the Hittite Empire. It is thought that they were probably from the area of modern-day Georgia or Armenia. However, the Assyrians were able to defeat and repel these attacks. Thus, the Assyrian Empire survived, if in a somewhat reduced state, throughout much of this period. Assyria retained a stable monarchy, the best army in the world and an efficient civil administration, thus enabling it to survive the Late Bronze Age Collapse relatively intact and this put them in the prime position to rebound from this dark age. From the late 10th Century BC onwards, it began to assert itself internationally once again.

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Around the year 910, the kingdom of Ashur or Assyria once again began to expand south-east into Babylonia and West to the Mediterranean coast. This would eventually become known as the neo-Assyrian Empire. They encountered very little resistance. In Babylon,  the Kassites had been replaced by a Chaldean or Aramaean ruling class. These were people had come east out of the desert and taken control of the kingdom possibly sometime between 1100-1000 BC. Records show that there was a constant tension between the native Babylonians and their Chaldean rulers. It has been suggested that this made the ruling class inward looking, concentrating on the prevention of internal rebellion and so not reacting till it was too late to the advances of Assyria. In the lands to the West, the population now consisted of Aramean tribesman who had moved into the grasslands of Syria. There is no evidence of any pan-tribal organisation and it is probable that the Assyrian army were able to pick them off individually. In Egypt, the Libyan rulers of the 22nd to 24th dynasties had little interest in what was happening in the Levant and Mesopotamia, regarding Egypt as merely as a buffer state to their own homelands in north Africa. In addition to these political reasons, there was also one overriding practical reason, which may explain the speed at which the neo-Assyrian Empire was able to expand. Babylon, Egypt and the tribes of the Syrian grasslands all lacked access to the new wonder material of weapon making – iron. In contrast, Assyria had access to rich deposits, both in the Armenian highlands to the North and in the Zagros mountains to the East. Their relationship to these lands is unknown, but there clearly was some relationship, both in the supply of resource materials and from the fact that it is recorded that tribesman from these areas formed part of the Assyrian military force from an early stage. Relatively quickly, we also find records of Aramean forces fighting for the Assyrian Empire. This may be reminiscent of the Roman use of foreign troops or perhaps the Gurkhas in the British army. What was the advantage to these troops? – well certainly employment and the prospect of loot, but it may have gone farther than that.  It has been speculated that, unlike in other kingdoms of the fertile crescent, the definition of being Assyrian was a political designation rather than an ethnic one. Thus, if you spoke Akkadian, were loyal to the Assyrian king and fought in the army or were loyal and diligent in royal service then you were defined as an Assyrian citizen with the benefits that may have brought.

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

We left our story around the year 1200 BC with the collapse of the Late Bronze Age civilisations. This was a period of immense transition in the Aegean Region, Southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean that historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. Indeed, this was such a traumatic event that some Historians have referred to it as the Ancient Dark Ages. The Historian Robert Drews describes this collapse as “the worst disaster in ancient history, even more calamitous than the collapse of the Western Roman Empire”

As I said last time the causes of this collapse have long puzzled historians. All-around it certainly seems as though it was a time of change and great population movements since at this same time we see the first evidence of the arrival of Iranian speakers east of the Zagros Mountains; these are the people who would later be known as the Persians and the Medes, the rise of the Chaldeans and Arameans in the central desert areas which are enclosed by the Fertile Crescent and the arrival of the Mushki in Anatolia.  It also sees the arrival in surrounding areas of a number of other new peoples. Theories include environmental causes such as climate change, volcanic action or drought. It may be that these are linked since it has been suggested that the migration of people seen at this time may well have been caused by environmental disasters in lands to the north of the area.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

By 1400 BCE Egypt had established control over most of the coastal lands and began to move north conquering the Hurrian-Mittani held territory between the Mediterranean and Euphrates. This expansion north soon brought them into conflict with the Hittites, who under the Emperor Suppiliaumas I captured some of the Egyptian held northern Laventine territories from the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton.

Around 1370 a new wind blew through the Fertile Crescent. Ashur or Assyria, which until then had been a fairly minor player on the political scene began campaigns moving both Northwest into the remains of the Hurrian-Mittani kingdom and South into Kassite controlled Babylonia. Ashur-uballit I titled himself ‘Lord of the universe’ following these victories. The use of this title, first used by Sargon of Akkad is obviously deliberate, creating a link between the new Assyrian rulers and the old Akkadian Empire. Their expansion was limited by the Egyptians and Hittites to the West and although in 1230 they managed to capture the city of Babylon, they were unable to hold onto the territory.

"Statue of Ramesses II in Karnak Temple in Luxor Egypt" by MusikAnimal - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Ramesses_II_in_Karnak_Temple_in_Luxor_Egypt.JPG#/media/File:Statue_of_Ramesses_II_in_Karnak_Temple_in_Luxor_Egypt.JPG

“Statue of Ramesses II in Karnak Temple in Luxor Egypt” by MusikAnimal – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

In the West 1275 saw the battle of Kadesh (in modern day Syria) at which the forces of Rameses II of Egypt clashed with those of either Hattusillas II or Muwatalli II, the Hittite Emperor. It has been suggested that this battle was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000–6,000 chariots. The Hittites using their traditional 3 man chariots against the lighter and faster Egyptian 2 man chariots.

3 man chariot Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C%2BB-Chariot-Fig7-HittiteChariot.PNG#/media/File:C%2BB-Chariot-Fig7-HittiteChariot.PNG

3 man chariot
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – 

Initially the battle went heavily in favour of the Hittites, who managed to ambush the Egyptian army, but Rameses skilfully managed to extract his forces from the ambush and counter attack against the Hittite forces. The most likely outcome is that it was a draw or maybe a slight victory for the Hittites. This battle is primarily recorded in reliefs at the Abu-Simbel temples and in Egyptian documentation, which all describe the battle as a great Egyptian victory.

Abu Simbel Relief by Olaf Tausch - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gro%C3%9Fer_Tempel_(Abu_Simbel)_21.jpg#/media/File:Gro%C3%9Fer_Tempel_(Abu_Simbel)_21.jpg

Abu Simbel Relief by Olaf Tausch – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

However it must be noted that within a year, Rameses had signed a treaty with the Hittite Empire, which acknowledged the loss of the Egyptian northern Levantine territory seeding it to the Hittites.

Around the year 1200, there is a major civilisation collapse in the Fertile Crescent and in adjacent areas. This period, marked a significant decline for the Hittites, Egypt, the Kassite kingdoms, Assyria and for the remnant of the Hurrian-Mittani kingdom. The reasons for this decline are unexplained and puzzle historians to this day.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

The political structure of the area was disrupted around the year 1750 BCE with the arrival of the Mittani, an Indo-Ayrian people into the region. Like the Hurrians before them their place of origin is unknown. Unlike the Hurrians, the Mittani were a warrior elite and have been credited with the introduction of the newly evolved, 3 man light chariot into the area. These chariots had a complement of three warriors each; an archer, a spear-man and the charioteer.

 

3 man chariot Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C%2BB-Chariot-Fig7-HittiteChariot.PNG#/media/File:C%2BB-Chariot-Fig7-HittiteChariot.PNG

3 man chariot
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Study of their religion reveals a divine pantheon not dissimilar to that of early Hinduism, which may suggest that they have a similar origin as the civilisations which settled in the Indus Valley. The Mittani incorporated themselves into the Hurrian kingdom. Best guess estimates are that they made up about 5% of the population, but because of their military prowess, they quickly became the ruling elite of the kingdom. They abandoned the accommodating stance of the Hurrians and by 1550 had expanded West to the Mediterranean and into Northern Syria and to the South West into Assyria. 

It is interesting to note that sometime around the year 1650, the Hittites also began using the 3 man light chariot. It is unclear whether this was a separate development, unconnected to the activities of the Hurrian-Mittani Kingdom but to me it seems more likely that the either they gained this technology as a result of being an ally of the Mittani against the kingdoms of northern Syria or as a result of having to fight off Mittani attempts to expand into their own territory. Whichever of these is the case over the next 50 years, the Hittites themselves began to expand south and south-west into  Hurrian-Mittani territory. 1600 sees the height of the Hittite Empire. The wonderfully named Mursilas the first, the third recorded Hittite king led an ambitious raid South West through Hurrian-Mittani territory, Assyria and into Babylonia, where he proceeded to sack Babylon. However, trouble at home forced him to withdraw from the areas he had subdued and return to the Hittite homeland. Here he was promptly murdered, apparently by nobles angry at the effects at home of the absence of their king and of his foreign campaigns. This put me in mind of the problems in England when Richard the first was away on the Crusades and I imagine it could well have been the same sort of problems that occurred. Whilst Mursilas’ campaign did him little good, it was also very bad news for the remnant of the line of Hammurabi, who were still ruling in Babylon. They never recovered control of their kingdom and as the Hittites withdrew , the Kassites invaded from the East and much as had happened in the Hurrian kingdom, a Kassite warrior elite replaced the dynasty of Hammurabi as the rulers of the Babylonian kingdom. It is interesting to note that the Kassites had also by this time acquired the knowledge of the use of the 3 man light chariot, whilst there is no evidence from the records that they had yet become part of the Babylonian military armoury. Whilst the Kassites took control of core Babylonian territory, they seemed to have had little or no interest in the lands to the north and north-east and consequently we see at this time the rise of Assyrian kingdom, and beyond them, the re-expansion of MIttani territory both West to the Mediterranean coast and east to the borders of Assyria.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Around 1850 BCE, we find the first records of a tribal people called the Amuru, who began to migrate into the areas of Sumer and Mari. From records, we know that these tribal warriors had often fought for both Akkadian and the neo-Sumerian empires as mercenaries, so they probably originated from the grasslands of central Syria. The nature of their kingdom is unknown, although it is clear that they controlled a number of important cities, including Mari, Larsa and Islin and establish an Akkadian speaking independent kingdom or kingdoms. We probably know them better as the Amorites of the Old Testament.

Hammurabi came to the throne of the city of Babylon in 1792 BCE and spent the next 40 years consolidating and expanding the territory held by the Babylonians. During this time Babylon emerges as the predominant city in the southern area of Mesopotamia. When Hammurabi came to the throne in Babylon, the areas we have come to know, as Babylonia and Assyria was probably controlled by two rival Kings, Rim-Sin, King of Larsa in the South and Shamshi-Adad, King of Assur in the north. There have been suggestions that initially Hammurabi came to power as a client king of the latter. In these extremely volatile times, no King could avoid being quickly drawn into regional conflicts. Records of Hammurabi’s early years mentioned a number of campaigns against his powerful neighbours, although the records are rather ambiguous about the outcome. Nevertheless these years honed his military, political and diplomatic skills. It seems that he also spent these early years consolidating his rule in Babylon and paying great attention to internal developments such as the digging of canals and the fortification of his cities. Then in just five years from 1776 to 1771 he established control over southern Mesopotamia, Elam, Larsa and formed them into the Babylonian Empire. In addition he had controlling interests in lands further afield such as in Mari, the Mediterranean coastal states and the Levant. Following these campaigns he added a new title ‘the King who made the four quarters of the Earth obedient’.

Stele of Code of Hammurabi "Stèle du Code d'Hammurabi". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Stele of Code of Hammurabi “Stèle du Code d’Hammurabi“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

One thing we are clear about in Hammurabi’s Empire is that it is extremely well administered as attested by the documents that have been left behind. Hammurabi also enacted significant military reforms based around a standing army backed up by a reserve. Hammurabi is probably most famous for his law code, a subject which is worthy of an article in itself. The code comprised of 282 laws, based on pre-existing Sumerian law code, thought to have originated around 2000 BCE and the law code of Lipith-Ishtar, King of Isen from around 1900 BCE.

Detail from the Stele ("Code-de-Hammurabi-2" by Rama - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons.)

Detail from the Stele (“Code-de-Hammurabi-2” by RamaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons.)