Tag Archives for " Assur "

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

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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