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Revolt and Resistance in the

Ancient Classical World and the


Near East
In the Crucible of Empire
Edited by

John J. Collins and J.G. Manning

LEIDEN | BOSTON

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Contents
PrefaceviI
Contributorsviii
1 Introduction1
John J. Collins and J.G. Manning
2 When is a Revolt not a Revolt? A Case for Contingency10
Erich S. Gruen

Assyria and Babylonia


3 Revolts in the Assyrian Empire: Succession Wars, Rebellions Against a
False King and Independence Movements41
Karen Radner
4 Assyrias Demise as Recompense: A Note on Narratives of Resistance in
Babylonia and Judah55
Peter R. Bedford
5 Revolts in the Neo-Assyrian Empire: A Preliminary Discourse
Analysis76
Eckart Frahm

The Persian Empire


6 Xerxes and the Oathbreakers: Empire and Rebellion on the
Northwestern Front93
Matt Waters
7 Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxes II, 401 BC: An Achaemenid Civil War
Reconsidered103
John W.I. Lee
8 Resistance, Revolt and Revolution in Achaemenid Persia:
Response122
Elspeth R.M. Dusinberre

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vi

Contents

The Ptolemaic Kingdom


9

Revolting Subjects: Empires and Insurrection, Ancient and


Modern141
Brian McGing

10

Revolts under the Ptolemies: A Paleoclimatological Perspective154


Francis Ludlow and J.G. Manning

The Seleucid Empire


11

Resistance and Revolt. The Case of the Maccabees175


Robert Doran

12

Temple or Taxes? What Sparked the Maccabean Revolt?189


John J. Collins

The Roman Empire


13

The Importance of Perspective: The Jewish-Roman Conflict of


6670 CE as a Revolution205
James McLaren and Martin Goodman

14

Josephus, Jewish Resistance and the Masada Myth219


Tessa Rajak

15

The Impact of the Jewish Rebellions, 66135 CE: Destruction or


Provincialization?234
Seth Schwartz
Bibliography253
Index of Works Cited293
Index of Names295

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chapter 3

Revolts in the Assyrian Empire: Succession Wars,


Rebellions Against a False King and Independence
Movements
Karen Radner
From the 14th century BC onwards, Assyria was conceived as a territorial state
and a hereditary monarchy. Despite the waxing and waning of its holdings,
especially around the turn of the millennium, Assyria dominated Mesopotamia
and, more often than not, the wider Middle East politically and militarily.
A period of c. three centuries, from the reign of Aurnasirpal II (r. 883859 BC)
onwards until the collapse of the state in the late 7th century BC, is today
described as Assyrias imperial period (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Map of the Assyrian Empire indicating the borders at the end of the reign of
Sargon II (r. 721705 BC) and the sites mentioned in this paper.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016|doi 10.1163/9789004330184_004

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42

Radner

This paper focuses on revolts during that time and on the Empires responses
to resistance. We will concentrate on rebellions within the provinces of the
Empire, not on the insurrection of client states (for a recent discussion of one
such case, see Melville, 2010).
1

A Literary Revolution

As we shall see none of these instances of rebellion and insurrection qualify


for Jack A. Goldstones definition of a revolution as combining the elements of
forcible overthrow of government, mass mobilization, the pursuit of a vision
of social justice, and the creation of new political institutions (Goldstone,
2014:9). But the concept of such a revolution would nevertheless have been
familiar at least to educated Assyrians and Babylonians, as a classic work of
literature deals very prominently with the theme. This composition is an epic
poem in the Akkadian language and today called The Flood Story after its most
dramatic episode or Atram-hasis (Exceedingly Wise) after its main protagonist (translation: Foster, 2004:227280). At the end of the Old Babylonian
period (c. 18001600 BC), this poem was popular among urban audiences
in the cities of Southern Mesopotamia, as manuscripts found in their private houses demonstrate. A millennium later, the poem is attested in slightly
updated versions in manuscripts from the Assyrian royal library at Nineveh
as well as the Ebabbar temple library at Sippar. While not without parallel,
its long history of transmission makes Atram-hasis special among the literary
works of the Old Babylonian period and suggests that the poem never lost its
appeal and relevance.
Atram-hasis encompasses the whole mythological history of mankind
(van Koppen, 2011:142). For our purposes, the beginning of the tale is most
interesting. It describes a world still without people where gods are split into
a small elite of great gods (conceived as a royal court) and the masses of lesser
gods who have to provide for both groups. Eventually, fed up with the drudgery
of hard agricultural work, the lesser gods rebel. They lay down work and take up
arms, marching against the great gods and putting them under siege. Disbelief
gives way to fear, and the great gods begin negotiations that resolve the social
conflict with the creation of humankind, invented to release the lesser gods
from their hard work and provide for all gods. A new world order is established.
The episode in Atram-hasis thus features all of Goldstones categories, namely
the forcible overthrow of government, mass mobilization, the pursuit of a
vision of social justice, and the creation of new political institutions.
Some scholars have argued that the revolution described in Atram-hasis
reflects actual political events in the early 2nd millennium BC (cf. Shehata,

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Revolts In The Assyrian Empire

43

2001:6 for literature) but while this is possible, there is no consensus. For
our purposes, the question how first millennium audiences reacted to this
narrative of a successful revolutionary movement would be more essential.
Yet in the absence of any relevant testimonies, all we can do is speculate. Let us
instead turn to rebellions against Assyrian imperial power.
2

The Monarchy and Other Political Institutions

Assyrias self-designation was the land of Aur (mt Aur). Using the Greek
form Assyria obscures some of the nuances of its actual name. Land of Aur
refers as much to the city of Aur, the states original centre and the place of
origin of its ruling dynasty, as to the deity of the same name whose ancient
temple dominated that city. The god Aur and the city of Aur are inseparable, as the deity is the personification of the rocky crag called Qalat Sherqat
in Arabic that towers high above a bend of the river Tigris. The deitys only temple stood on this very crag. The Assyrian ruler was considered Aurs human
agent, invested by the deitys grace with the power to rule, and at the same
time also his head priest, lending him religious as well as political authority. All
Assyrian kings without exception were members of one particular family originally from the city of Aur, regardless of whether they had been appointed
crown prince and inherited the crown or whether they had taken the throne as
usurpers (Radner, 2010).
Apart from the king, the political institutions of the Assyrian Empire
are largely obscure. They are, however, relatively well known for a welldocumented period of around a century in the early 2nd millennium when
Aur was a city-state. Mario Liverani (2011:263) has recently described its
mixed constitution as comprising a monocratic power represented by the
[ruler], an aristocratic power represented by the lmum [i.e., a high administrative office held in annual rotation by the head of one of the major families and
determined by lot] and a democratic power represented by the city assembly.
All these institutions were maintained until the end of the Assyrian Empire in
the late 7th century. While it is unmistakable that they were modified in order
to suit the needs of kingdom and empire it is less than clear how. The available sources (state archives; royal inscriptions) focus very much on the king
and his palace, which Liverani (2011:263) has described very appropriately
as an impressive apparatus of military and fiscal nature: in the shape of the
palaces created in the provincial centres this institution was physically present
throughout the entire land of Aur. But the fact that the other institutions
were kept alive at all highlights that the Assyrian monarchy did not care to
promote itself as the sole pillar of the state.

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A turning point in the relation between the king and the aristocratic and
democratic powers of Assyria was marked by the relocation of the seat of royal
power away from Aur to Kalhu in 879 BC during the reign of Aurnasirpal II.
I have argued (Radner, 2011a) that the relocation of the seat of royal power
must be primarily seen as a strategy to, firstly, emancipate the king from god
Aur and, secondly, weaken the influence of the aristocratic and democratic
powers whose influence were strongest and most visible in the city of Aur.
Kalhu was greatly expanded in size and the residents of the new centre of
state and empire were handpicked from among the urban elites of the Assyrian
heartland and also the outlying provinces, as the royal edict appointing the
royal official Nergal-apil-kumua (a eunuch) to oversee the move to Kalhu
makes abundantly clear (Whiting & Kataja, 1995: nos. 8284). The inscription
on a monument commemorating the inauguration of palace and city, the socalled Banquet Stele (Grayson, 1991:288293 A.0.101.30), in turn stresses that
inhabitants were also drafted from the client states, namely Suhu and Laq on
the Middle Euphrates, Hatti (Carchemish) and Patina in Northwestern Syria,
Bit-Zamani and ubria on the Upper Tigris and Mazamua in the Shahrizor
plain. The population of Kalhu, taken from provinces and client states, was
therefore intended to represent not only the kingdom of Assyria but all regions
that its king commandedthe entire empire. We can safely assume that, in
addition, only those were selected who had showed enthusiasm for the king,
thus creating in 879 BC not only a new political centre but one that was exclusively populated by loyal supporters of the crown (Radner, 2011a:324 f.). This
aspect of the move prompted the later relocation of the imperial centre to
Dur-arrukin in 706 BC and then to Nineveh in c. 700 BC, both situated in the
Assyrian heartland.
In the imperial period, the royal strategy of weakening the aristocratic and
democratic powers was combined with a clear preference for delegating governing power to officials who owed their appointment and status entirely to
the king (Radner, 2011b:359361). A central strategy for achieving the states
cohesion saw, after a period of transition in the 9th century BC, the total
abolishment of local dynasties in the newly integrated provinces and their
replacement with governors without hereditary claims from the core region.
Whenever a new king ascended to the throne, he assigned all state offices anew,
including posts as governors and ambassadors. He could either reappoint his
predecessors officials or make new choices. The officials all received a copy of
a signet ring engraved with the universally recognised imperial emblem: the
king slaying a rampant lion. This ring served as a symbol of their office and
as a tool to act in the kings stead. It enabled them to issue commands in the

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kings stead while stressing that they were his men. Bound by loyalty oaths,
the officials allegiance to the king was further protected by the fact that
from the 9th century onwards, many of them were eunuchs, whose family links
had been severed and replaced by the patronage of the royal family. Eunuchs
were the preferred choice for the highest administrative and military appointments, at the expense of the members of the old urban elites. Their sterility
also effectively prevented the emergence of new local dynasties and moreover
avoided competition with the royal clan. No state office but that of the king
was hereditary.
3

Resistance is FutileBut Rebellions Happen

Kalhus most impressive building was certainly King Aurnasirpals new


palace (Oates & Oates, 2001; Kertai, 2015). With a length of 200 meters and a
width of 130 meters, this gigantic building dominated its surroundings and, in
an inversion of the topography of Aur, dwarfed the neighbouring temples.
In his new city, the king took centre stage.
The images decorating the throne room (Winter, 1983) were consciously
designed to promote a crucial twofold ideological message. Firstly, the throne
room was to emphasise that despite the move away from the temple of the
god Aur in the city of Aur, the relationship between the god and the king,
his chosen representative, was as close and strong as everdespite the fact
that when king and court moved to Kalhu, the deity stayed behind. The ingredients for the daily feast of the god in his temple in Aur continued to be
provided by the subjects of the empire (Maul, 2013) but all other taxes and
tribute were now delivered to the king and his imperial capital. Secondly, the
throne room decoration showed the king in tight control of all his lands.
The depictions on the monumental stone slabs lining the walls serve to commemorate actual events, made recognizable by highly specific details and, in
the art commissioned by Aurnasirpals successors, also labels with names
and other key information (Russell, 1999). The depictions juxtapose orderly,
calm scenes of audiences and tribute delivery that show the encounter of the
king with his dutiful subjects (from the provinces and the client states alike)
and chaotic, violent scenes of conquest and siege that illustrate how the king
reacted to resistance. The message is clear. Cooperation is mutually beneficial
while resistance is futile.
Many of Aurnasirpals successors built their own palaces, and while they
felt it no longer necessary to prominently stress unity with the god Aur, their

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Radner

palace decorations continue to emphasise the kings power over the lands by
contrasting peaceful interaction between the king and his subjects with the
furious response to revolt. What is notable is that the topic of resistance was
chosen at all, and so prominently, for the decoration of the royal palaces.
Moreover, instances of revolt are not only documented in the palace
reliefs but also frequently mentioned in the textual sources. The most common terms to describe instances of insurrection and revolt are the synonyms
shu (CAD S [1984], 240 f.; from the verb seh to become troublesome) and
brtu (CAD B [1965], 113115; from the verb bru B to stir up resistance), used
individually or as a pair (cf. Juhs, 2011). The so-called Eponym Chronicle (edition: Millard, 1994) is a composition that combines lists of the year eponyms
(the lmu(m)-officials mentioned above) with brief historical information.
Manuscripts are available for the period from 840700 BC and feature the
comment shu or shu ina (place name), i.e. rebellion in (place name) very
frequently, namely for the years 826, 825, 824, 823, 822, 821, 820, 763, 762, 761,
760, 759 and 746 BC. We will examine these insurrections, and some additional ones, in the following pages. The Eponym Chronicles aims to include
information on events of countrywide importance, regardless of whether they
are positive or negative. Rebellions feature alongside other adverse episodes
such as epidemics and, in one instance, a sun eclipse. When revolts are mentioned, we must certainly assume that they were thought to affect all of Assyria
prominently as events that seriously threatened the fabric of the state.
Even more remarkable, then, is the prominence given to revolts in the
royal inscriptions. Those compositions serve to celebrate and commemorate
the kings achievements. One might assume that in such a context the very
occurrence of insurrection against the king is highly undesirable and that
such information should therefore be excluded from the carefully edited
account. However, rebellions are of course mentioned only in the context of
their subsequent suppression by the king and his forces. The heroic overcoming of adversity is a central motive of the Assyrian royal inscription and the
repression of rebellious subjects is comparable to the conquest of the unwelcoming, hostile nature in the form of mountains, rivers in flood and deserts
while campaigning, another popular subject of the inscriptions (as well as
of the palace decoration). Both in the decorative programme of the imperial palaces and in the royal inscriptions, a deliberate choice to show the king
imperilled and subsequently triumphant is evident. This repeated message
emphasises that every time the king overcomes an obstacle his divine appointment is publicly confirmed.

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Succession Wars and How to Prevent Them

Let us now have a look at those rebellions that the mention in the Eponym
Chronicle marks as events of countrywide concern. The rebellion of 746 BC
brought with Tiglath-pileser III an usurper, albeit a member of the royal
house and therefore a legitimate contender, to the throne. According to the
Chronicle, the rebellion starts in Kalhu but as the new king did not commemorate the circumstances of his accession in his subsequent inscriptions and
as additional evidence available is severely limited, the sequence of events is
unclear (Zawadzki, 1994). This rebellion was an interdynastic succession war,
started with the goal to replace one member of the royal house with another.
From the moment he took the throne, Tiglath-pileser pursued a very aggressive foreign policy that stands in marked contrast with the isolationist stance
of his predecessor Aur-nerari V following the defeat against an Urartianled alliance in 754 BC. It is clear that Tiglath-pileser was part of a faction
that opposed this meek position and desired Assyrias active opposition to
Urartu and its allies. That the insurrection began in Kalhu, the seat of imperial
power, and that the putsch was quickly successful, with no discernible negative
impact evidenced for the government of the empire, indicates that Tiglathpilesers faction was influential and well placed to take power. The direct result
of the putsch was the massive expansion of directly controlled Assyrian territory as in a radical inversion of the previous foreign policy that favoured
treaties in indirect rule through local dynasts, many of the client states were
forcefully annexed and their territories converted into Assyrian provinces
(Radner, 2006:5663).
Not every succession conflict was so quickly decided as the one of 746 BC.
The insurgences between 826820 BC, featured in the Chronicle in yearly
entries, mark the difficult period of transition of power from the exceptionally long-ruling Shalmaneser III to his eventual successor Shamshi-Adad V
(Fuchs, 2008:6568). We encounter in the leading roles of this succession war
the eunuch Dayyan-Aur, Shalmanesers long-standing Commander-in-chief
(turtnu, one of the highest state officials) and his chosen stand-in, at the very
least in all military matters, in the latter years of his life, and Aur-dain-apla,
a son of Shalmaneser and presumably his crown prince, tired of waiting for his
aged fathers death.
Years after these events, Aur-dain-aplas brother, the eventual king
Shamshi-Adad V, reported the following in the inscription on a public monument that he had erected in the capital Kalhu after he had been able to establish himself as the unrivalled ruler over Assyria:

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Radner

When Aur-dain-apla, at the time of Shalmaneser (III), his father,


acted treacherously by inciting rebellion (shu) and uprising (bartu),
criminal acts, caused the land to rebel and prepared for battle, he won
over to his side the people of Assyria, great and small, and made them
take binding oaths (tamtu). He caused the cities to revolt and made
ready to wage battle and war. The cities..., altogether 27 centres with
their fortresses, which had rebelled against Shalmaneser (III), king of
the four world quarters, my father, sided with Aur-dain-apla. By the
command of the great gods, my lords, I subdued (the rebels). (Grayson,
1996:183).
According to this, support for the princes rebellion against his father was very
widespread, as the 27 cities listed here include prominent central Assyrian
places such as Aur, Nineveh and Kurbail and many provincial centres from
Til-Barsip (Tell Ahmar on the Euphrates) in the west to Amedi (modern
Diyarbakir) in the north and to Arrapha (modern Kerkuk) in the east. Kalhu,
stronghold of the monarchy and the empire, is conspicuously missing. The
imperial centres lack of support for Aur-dain-aplas faction may have been
a key reason why the prince failed to take the throne. The exact circumstances
that made his brother Shamshi-Adad V king are not clear, but he ascended the
throne when Shalmaneser died in the middle of the power struggle, presumably backed by the Commander-in-chief who, as a eunuch, could not claim the
throne for himself.
Generally speaking, the Assyrian monarchy was most vulnerable at the
moment when the king died or when he was considered too frail or otherwise
unfit for rule (abdication was not an option), before supreme power had formally been passed on to his successor on the occasion of the New Year celebrations (in March/April) at the Aur temple in Aur. Parricide and fratricide
did not disqualify from kingship, and therefore succession wars are not infrequently attested.
The obvious solution was to prevent such succession conflicts from happening altogether, by cementing the succession before the rulers death. At least
by the 7th century, succession oaths imposed on the imperial subjects were
designed to guarantee that the appointed crown prince would eventually succeed as king without opposition. While earlier examples are known only from
very fragmentary manuscripts (Frahm, 2009:129135), the succession treaty
imposed by Esarhaddon (r. 680669 BC) in 672 survives in at least nine copies
found in Kalhu, a copy from Kullania (Tell Tayinat on the Orontes) and a fragment from Aur. These manuscripts show that the same treaty was used to
bind state officials appointed by the king in the Assyrian provinces and client
rulers in the adjoining regions and internal peripheries.

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Inside the provincial system: The treaty of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria,


son of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, with the governor of Kullania, with
the deputy, the majordomo, the scribes, the chariot drivers, the third
men, the village managers, the information officers, the prefects, the
cohort commanders, the charioteers, the cavalrymen, the exempt,
the outriders, the specialists, the shi[eld bearers], the craftsmen, all the
men [in his hands], great and small, as many as there are from sunrise
to sunset, all those over whom Esarhaddon exercises kingship and
lordshipwith them and with the men who will be born in days to come
after the treaty. (Lauinger, 2012:912, 112).
Outside the provincial system: The treaty of Esarhaddon, king of
the world, king of Assyria, son of Sennacherib, king of the world, king
of Assyria, with Tun, city lord of Elippi, his sons, his grandsons and the
people of Elippi, all the men in his hands, small and great, as many as
there are from sunrise to sunset, all those over whom Esarhaddon exercises kingship and lordshipwith you, your sons and your grandsons
who will be born in days to come after the treaty. (Parpola & Watanabe,
1988: no. 6ND 4331)
But while Esarhaddons succession happened as planned, the treaty patently
did not prevent insurgencies, as we shall see when discussing the events of
670 BC.
5

Independence Movements

Dynastic contest could provide the opportunity for local independence movements to gain traction. A good example is the aftermath of the 722 putsch
that disposed of King Shalmaneser V (r. 726722 BC) and brought his brother
Sargon II (r. 721705 BC) to the throne (Fuchs, 2009; Vera Chamaza, 1992).
Even after Sargons accession to power, conflicts continued for some time
in the Assyrian heartland, in the western provinces and in Babylonia. In the
heartland, the civil war resulted most prominently in the deportation of 6,300
Assyrians (L.A-ur-a-a), whose transgression the king forgave in an act of
mercy according to a monument later erected in Hamath (Hawkins, 2004).
This city (modern Hama in western Syria) was the centre of a large-scale
insurrection spreading across a number of western Assyrian provinces. Several
of the Syro-Palestinian provinces, including Samaria and Damascus, managed
to struggle free from Assyrian control. One Ilu-bidi (God is behind me, alternatively written Iau-bidi Yahweh is behind me), a man of humble descent
according to Sargons inscriptions (Fuchs, 1994:200 f., 345 Prunk, 33), assumed

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Figure 2

Radner

The flaying of Ilu-bidi, rebel king of Hamath. Drawing of a stone slab from the
wall decoration of Sargon IIs palace at Dur-arrukin. Reproduced from
Paul-mile Botta and Eugene Flandin, Monument de Ninive, vol. 2, Paris:
Imprimerie Nationale, 1849, pl. 120.

leadership and united these regions in order to resurrect the ancient kingdom
of Hamath, with himself as its king. Sargon eventually crushed these ambitions
in 720 BC, destroyed the city of Hamath and killed the rebel leaders.
The figure head of the insurrection, Ilu-bidi, was taken to Central Assyria
where he was publicly flayed. This most violent form of execution in the
Assyrian repertoire of terror was reserved for the most prominent enemies of
the state (Radner, 2015:107 f., 122). In this instance, the high-profile flaying of Ilubidi was meant to serve as a deterrent to discourage any would-be insurgents
in the entire Empire. Subsequently, the execution was commemorated prominently in the wall decoration of Room VIII of Sargons palace in his new capital
city of Dur-arrukin (Albenda, 1986: pl. 78; here: Fig. 2). The larger than life
depictions in this room are devoted to Sargons public punishment of various
enemies who are led before him in shackles. Among these, the flaying of Ilubidi stands out in the highly graphic manner the execution is depicted, identi-

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Revolts In The Assyrian Empire

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fied with a label: I flayed Iau-bidi of Hamath (Fuchs, 1994:278, 364 VIII:25).
The person removing the rebel leaders skin with a small curved knife is not the
king himself, though, but one of his soldiers. As is the norm in the royal inscriptions, the king claims agency when another performs on his behalf. So important was the continued commemoration of the punishment of this particular
rebel that Sargon even included his execution into the royal titulary: He who
dyed the skin of the rebel Ilu-bidi red like wool (Fuchs, 1994:35, 291 Cyl. 25).
Babylonia, too, had used the opportunity created by Sargons putsch to
secede. The region had been less rigidly integrated into the Empire and in
open recognition of this, Sargon, like his predecessors Tiglath-pileser III and
Shalmaneser V, styled himself King of Babylon in addition to his Assyrian
royal titles. But when Sargon took power, the region instead supported
Marduk-apla-iddina (Brinkman, 198790), the leader of the Bit-Yakin tribe
and formerly an Assyrian ally, in his claim to the Babylonian throne. He was
crowned as King of Babylon a mere three months after Sargon had assumed
kingship. An early attempt to regain control in 720 BC was unsuccessful when
the Battle of Der was lost (or at least not won decisively). But Sargon eventually
managed to expel Marduk-apla-iddina a decade later in 710 BC and reclaimed
the Babylonian crown for himself. His treatment of the Babylonians was markedly different compared to the brutal handling of the Syrian insurgents and
Ilu-bidi in particular. As he proclaims in the inscription decorating the walls of
his palace in Dur-arrukin:
The citizens of Babylon and Borsippa, the temple personnel, the craftsmen who know their trade, leaders and administrators of the land who
had been formerly subject to him (= Marduk-apla-iddina), brought before
me in the city of Dur-Ladinni the Leftovers (from the cultic meals) of the
deities Bel, Zarpanitu, Nabu and Tametu, and they asked me to enter
Babylon. My heart rejoiced and I entered Babylon, the city of the master
of the gods, with happiness. I presented myself to the gods who dwell
in the Esagila temple (in Babylon) and the Ezida temple (in Borsippa)
and made pure, voluntary offerings before them (Fuchs, 1994:154 f., 332
Ann. 311314; cf. Frame: 2008:23).
Sargons pointed leniency to Marduk-apla-iddinas erstwhile supporters
was a key strategy in his attempts to win approval as King of Babylon while
his rival, who remained alive and footloose, remained a viable alternative
to his candidacy.
Whereas in the heartland the conflicts following the 720 putsch can be
characterised as on-going dynastic contest, designed to bring another member

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Radner

of the royal clan to the throne, the movements in Syro-Palestine and Babylonia
aspired to independence from Assyrian rule. These revolts were surely
informed both by ideological and economic considerations. The widely different Assyrian reaction to the two rebellions, once defeated, reflects the balance
of power but perhaps also the economic value of the regions to the empire
although the available sources do not directly elucidate this last point.
6

Revolting Against a False King

In contrast to the dynastic contests and independence movements just discussed, the revolts noted in the Eponym Chronicle for the years 763759 BC
occurred more than a decade after King Aur-dan III (r. 772755 BC) had
ascended to the throne. They are described as regional insurgencies in the cities Aur, Arrapha (modern Kerkuk) and Guzana (Tell Halaf near Nusaybin
on the Turkish-Syrian border), respectively, and follow an epidemic and a sun
eclipse, both noted in the Chronicle. A sun eclipse was always interpreted as a
bad omen for the king (Maul 2000), and a full eclipse, such as the one in 763,
would have been visible to all, not just to the royal astronomers who habitually watched out for such signs. If the opinion that the eclipse signalled divine
withdrawal of support for Aur-dan enjoyed any popularity (and this is likely),
this event may well have encouraged the initial insurrection in Aur, the city
of the kings divine overlord. Aur-dans reign is poorly documented, so little
more can be said about the circumstances.
Much better known is the case of a revolt against Esarhaddon in 670 BC.
However, the events have to be constructed from various letters and are not
always clear. It would seem that the movement took its departure from the
western city of Harran (near Urfa in Turkey) where a prophecy communicated
through a local woman provided the ideological foundation for the insurrection. The woman had fallen into ecstasy and uttered a sensational divine
message: This is the word of the god Nusku: Kingship belongs to Sas. I shall
destroy the name and the seed of Sennacherib! (Luukko & Van Buylaere, 2003:
no. 59). This prophecy proclaimed Sennacheribs son Esarhaddon and his heirs
as impostors, unworthy to rule over Assyria. Beyond the fact that he kept a
household at Harran at the time, we do not know much about Sas, Assyrias
one true king. Given the longstanding tradition that reserved the Assyrian
throne exclusively for members of the royal clan, Sas may well have been a
distant relative of Esarhaddon, perhaps descended from Sennacheribs father
Sargon II (r. 721705 BC). What started as a local insurgence quickly grew into

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Revolts In The Assyrian Empire

53

a transregional movement, as within a very short period of time supporters


joined the movement in various parts of the Empire. Some, like Esarhaddons
Chief Eunuch Aur-nair (Radner, 2003:172) or Abd, the city overseer of Aur
(Frahm, 2010:114 f.), held very influential positions. Allies of such calibre would
have enabled the rebels to tap into the state communication network, which
can explain the rapid spread of the movement. Sas imposed loyalty oaths, as if
he already were king (Luukko & Van Buylaere, 2003: no. 243), just like previous
rebels against the crown had done, namely the already discussed prince Aurdain-apla and prince Urdu-Mullissi in his plot against his father Sennacherib
in 681 BC. In marked difference to the traitors of 681, who had plotted regicide
as a small group and in utmost secrecy directly under the kings eyes, the new
rebels seem to have been less concerned about the concealment of their plans.
Their belief that Sas was chosen and protected by the gods as the true king of
Assyria will of course have made all the difference.
Esarhaddon did not react immediately but gathered detailed information
about the rebels and their supporters. Then, as a Babylonian chronicle text
puts it in the sole entry for the year 670: In Assyria, the king killed many of his
great ones with the sword. (Grayson, 1975:86; 127). According to Esarhaddons
chief physician, the insurrection made all other people hateful in the eyes
of the king, smearing them like a tanner with the oil of fish (Parpola, 1993:
no. 316). The movement to replace Esarhaddon with Sas was stopped but at
great cost for the state. After the executions in the wake of Sennacheribs murder in 681, this was the second mass culling among the Assyrian state officials
that Esarhaddon had ordered within a decade. But the well-oiled machinery of
Assyrias administration was the backbone of the empire and this caused permanent harm to the state, perhaps far more than murdering a king would have.
Just how much the state was damaged is shown by the fact that in the first
months of the year 669, no lmu-official was chosen to provide the years name
(as shown by the date formula in Kwasman & Parpola, 199, no. 286, dated to
the first month of the year after Kanunayu)a situation which is extremely
rarely attested in the long course of Assyrian history and always marks a time
of inner turbulences (Millard, 1994:67 f.).
The motivation of the 670 insurgents was apparently ideological. As far as
we can see, economic reasons play no role at all. The kings authority was fundamentally challenged because his legitimacy and divine right to rule were
contested. His response was extreme violence against the rebels, seemingly
without any regard for the implications for the states stability. Absolution and
rehabilitation of the rebels were not possible, however valuable the individual
may have been to the state.

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54
7

Radner

Conclusions

There is no attempt in the official records of the Assyrian Empire to disguise


the fact that rebellions happened. Quite on the contrary, especially in contexts
that were designed to celebrate the king and his achievements, such as in the
royal inscriptions and in the palace decorations, insurrections against the kings
power and their subsequent suppression are a popular motive. Weathering a
revolt seems to have confirmed the kings right to rule, as a widely accepted
ideology of divinely granted and supported rule provided a strong foundation for the monarchy. During the imperial phase, traditional aristocratic and
democratic powers were curtailed, although not abolished. In addition, the
royal family enjoyed a special, highly distinct status in Assyrian society that
reserved the right to the throne exclusively for the male members of that clan
(Radner, 2010:2627). Most attested revolts were therefore dynastic contests
for the kingship, settled among members of the royal clan and their factions.
The death of a king, his old age or perceived lack of divine support could all
prompt such uprisings that were generally ideologically justified. The only possible response to an usurpation attempt was the eradication of the rival and his
supporters.
Independence movements in integrated regions were relatively rare. But
opportunity breeds rebels. When the Assyrian heartland, in the grip of a dynastic power struggle, was temporarily paralysed a region might attempt to slip
out of direct Assyrian control. Such secession movements were likely informed
both by ideological and economic factors and triggered patriotic feelings,
broadly perceived as anti-Assyrian by Assyrian commentators. The Empires
responses could vary enormously, from great leniency to extreme brutality,
and reflect a pragmatic approach to the assertion of power.
The presence of manuscripts of Atram-hasis in the royal library of Nineveh
and in the Ebabbar temple at Sippar suggests that at least some educated
Assyrians and Babylonians were familiar with the concept of revolution as
a vehicle for social change. However, none of the conflicts discussed in this
paper can easily be described in this way. None of these revolts questioned the
monarchy, only who was to be king.

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