Tag Archives for " Til Barsib "

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.




Skip to toolbar