Category Archives for "Tell Ahmar"

Jun 30

Til Barsib becomes Kar Shalmaneser

By Victoria | Assyrian material culture , Carved Ivory , Colonisation , Pottery , Shalmaneser III , Tell Ahmar , Til Barsib , Trade and merchants

The use of karu (port, harbour, trading station) in the name given to Til Barsib by Shalmaneser III when he conquered the region in 856 BCE suggests that the town was important economically. Included in the tribute offered by the kings of the Euphrates states were metals, copper vessels, cattle, sheep and brightly coloured woollen and linen garments. The Assyrian sources refer to the capital both by the new royal name and also the original name, Til Barsib.

Fresco depicting scribes writing in cuneiform and Aramaean from the palace of Shalmaneser III

Fresco depicting scribes writing in cuneiform and Aramaean from the palace of Shalmaneser III


Maybe Assyrian traders were installed in the town by the king. Tablets found in the excavations by Melbourne University in Area C mention a man named Hanni who was conducting some kind of business there, possibly related to textile manufacture. How do we know this? Archaeologists use written (historical) records as well as the objects they excavate to put together the story of what happened in the past.

So who was Hanni? Was he Assyrian or perhaps a local man?

The excavations in the lower city where the figurines were found have revealed a material culture that echoes that of the Assyrian heartland, the kingdom of Assur. For example, twelve pieces of carved ivory dating to the second half of the 7th century recovered from a destruction layer that signals the end of the Neo-Assyrian occupation at the site. The carved ivories indicate a variety of styles, but the closest parallels may be found among the ivories from the city of Nimrud, located in Assur.

Other pieces of carved ivory from Til Barsib that show a procession of men carrying various foodstuffs is similar to a carved pyxis from Nimrud, while the techniques of carrying provisions on a string is depicted on the procession reliefs of Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh, another capital city in Assur. Stylised trees shown on other ivory fragments from Til Barsib may be compared to similar motifs from Nimrud.

The fact that some pieces were uncarved suggests that production was taking place on site. There certainly seems to be a clear influence from Assyrian culture if not direct imitation.

Pottery found at Tell Ahmar complements the picture painted by the carved ivories.

Most of the pottery is predominantly Assyrian, with some pieces identical to those found at Nimrud. Although no kilns have been found, scraps of pottery and possible wheel bearings as well as the plentiful supply of local raw clay suggest that pottery production, like the ivory carving, took place at Til Barsib. Large storage jars and cruder ceramics such as cooking pot ware are likely to have been made at the site. Thus, it seems that replica Assyrian wares were being produced at Til Barsib.

The picture we have of life in Til Barsib at the time when the figurines were made is of locals and Assyrians living together. Manufacturing and trade is thriving, with possibly many people involved in business in some way. Some two hundred years have passed since Shalmaneser’s invasion and colonisation of the town and the types of objects used in households is still very similar in shape and style to those used in Assur.

But what about the figurines? Are they Assyrian as well?

I believe that the figurines are local in style and tradition. What was the relationship between the two populations, the Assyrian colonisers and local inhabitants?



Bunnens, G. 1997. “Carved Ivories from Til Barsib”, in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.101, pp.435-450.

Jamieson, AS. 1993. “The Euphrates Valley and Early Bronze Age ceramic traditions”, in Abr Nahrain Vo.31, pp.36-92.

Jun 02

Assyria Arrives in the Upper Euphrates Valley

By Victoria | Colonisation , Neo-Assyrian Army , Neo-Assyrian Empire , Shalmaneser III , Tell Ahmar , Til Barsib , Upper Euphrates Valley

To the west of Assur, the North Syrian states faced demands for tribute from the territory- and resource-hungry Neo-Assyrian kings. These states had access to Cilicia, a major source of iron and silver. Assurnasirpal II received tribute twice from a person named Ahuni, who appears to have had under his control the Land of Bit Adini (where Til Barsib, ancient Tell Ahmar, was the capital).

A final attempt at preserving their independence, a confederacy was formed between leaders of the northern Euphrates states of Carchemish, Patina, Bit Adini, Bit Agusi, Sam’al, Que, Hilakku and two others, possibly led at one time by the ruler of Carchemish. However, this appears to have been a loose arrangement as only four states in the alliance took part in the battle against Shalmaneser III at Lutubu in the region of Sam’al in 858 BC. In an inscription of Shalmaneser III describing the battle with the North Syrian coalition, the defeated allies hand over vessels of tin, copper and gold. The Neo-Assyrian army was too powerful for the confederacy.


Map showing the city states of North Syria during the Iron Age.

Map showing the city states of North Syria during the Iron Age.

Two years later, Til Barsib fell to Shalmaneser, and for the first time a North Syrian state, Bit Adini was annexed to the ‘Land of Assur’. The Euphrates River was now the western border of the Empire, as it had been in the second millennium, and Til Barsib was renamed Kar-Shalmaneser, or the ‘Port’ or ‘Trading town’ of Shalmaneser. His successorsfrom Tiglath-Pileser III to Sargon II extended the boundaries, and incorporated Syria, Palestine, and, briefly, Egypt, into the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Following the submission of the Land of Bit Adini, Shalmaneser established a governor’s residence at Kar Shalmaneser and the settlement became a provincial capital for over two hundred years. The internal walls of the palace were decorated with painted scenes, said to have been produced between 735 and 710 BC, in the tradition of the relief sculptures in the palaces in the Assyrian heartland.

It seems likely that military personnel were present at Til Barsib as the occupying force at the time. There must have been specially constructed accommodation for the soldiers defending this vital western outpost of the Empire as well as stables for their horses. Unfortunately no archaeological evidence for such accommodation was recovered from the excavations at Tell Ahmar. However, an Aramaic tablet mentions horses; it is too damaged to read clearly, but refers either to horse feed, or to ‘all the horses’, or ‘all the riders’.


Neo-Assyrian soldiers at Kar Shalmaneser (artist's impression)

Neo-Assyrian soldiers at Kar Shalmaneser (artist’s impression)


How did the town change after invasion and subjugation by the Neo-Assyrian army?

The latest excavations suggest that the city of Til Barsib grew due to the influx of new residents who started to construct buildings and revitalise the economy. The University of Melbourne excavations focussed on the lower city, some one hundred metres from the tell. Beneath the houses where the figurines were found, there is no evidence of earlier structures, indicating that this period of construction is a direct result of the presence of Neo-Assyrians.

In fact, from the excavations carried out at Area C, in the lower city, we have a wonderful snapshot of life in an Upper Euphrates township, after some 200 years of colonisation by the Assyrians.




Jun 02

Booty, Blood and Borders: Neo-Assyrian Expansion to the West

By Victoria | Context , Neo-Assyrian Army , Neo-Assyrian Empire , Shalmaneser III , Tell Ahmar , Til Barsib

The site where the modern village of Tell Ahmar until recently stood, was clearly occupied for a very long period of time, however the period that I am interested in, the period in which the figurines were made, is between 650 and 600 BC. During that time, the settlement and surrounding regions were under the control of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, centred on the city of Assur to the east of the Euphrates. The name Assyria comes from Assur.

The heart of the Assyrian Empire, the state of Assur itself, was a small region with good agricultural land but few natural resources situated around the triangle formed by the rivers Tigris and Habur. Assur obtained the resources it needed by demanding that the regions it conquered provided what it needed. Dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry, the internal provinces provided the major cities with foodstuffs through a rotated tax system. Best attested under Tiglath-Pileser I, this system is still apparent in the 7th century when Til Barsib fell to Shalamaneser III. Although stone was available in the north of Assyria, timber, metal and a ready supply of horses, important for military capabilities, had to be assured through tribute, booty or trade.

The enforced movement of occupied people between their homes in the provinces to the capital Assur was a standard Neo-Assyrian practice from the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III through that of Assurbanipal, although it seems less important under Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal.

Tribute was taken on threat of further military incursion in the region, and so to ensure the city of Assur received what it needed to survive, its imperial policies relied heavily on the abilities of the army to fulfil these threats. Also, the strength of the army was the crucial factor in the stability of the empire. But without the continuous supply of metals, horses and manpower, the military machine could not be maintained. Forts were situated within vassal states. These military centres acted as bases from which intelligence could be gathered and campaigns launched. The colonies and forts formed the basis of the network of the Assyrian Empire.

For short periods, the Assyrians were defeated by other kingdoms, such as the Mitannians. However, having thrown off Mitannian vassaldom in the 14th century, and advancing towards the Euphrates from the heartland around the Habur, the Assyrian kings quickly came into conflict with the “Land of Hatti”, centred around North Syria and Southern Anatolia. By the 12th century the Hittite city-states had fallen victim to the general disruptions marking the end of the Bronze Age. But then, probably as a result of the recent incursions of Aramaean tribes from the southern deserts, the embryonic Neo-Assyrian Empire fell into a period of slow collapse, which resulted in the contraction of territory almost to the city of Assur itself.


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