Tag Archives for " Upper Euphrates Valley "

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

Tell Ahmar: 5000 Years of Continuous Occupation

By Victoria | Context

Some two and a half hours by road east of Aleppo, the site of Tell Ahmar is located on the east bank of the Euphrates River, approximately twenty kilometres south of the present Turkish border.

Tell Ahmar  from the Euphrates River, picture taken by me in 1993

Tell Ahmar from the Euphrates River, picture taken by me in 1993



The artificial mound was excavated in 1927 and from 1929 to 1931 by a French expedition led by F. Thureau-Dangin and M. Dunand.

Tell Ahmar by Gertrude Bell, source: http://www.presscom.co.uk/amrath/amura01.html

Tell Ahmar by Gertrude Bell, source: http://www.presscom.co.uk/amrath/amura01.html

The main focus of these excavations was on the Acropolis, where a Neo-Assyrian palace was exposed.

This most significant site is unfortunately located in the area of the Tishrin Dam and is currently threatened with total inundation along with many other important settlements. In 1988 a research team from the University of Melbourne under the direction of Dr Guy Bunnens began further excavation of the tell and initiated exploration of the middle terrace and lower city. Photos of it being underwater now   It is clear from architectural, ceramic and artifactual evidence from the tell that the site was occupied prior to Neo-Assyrian domination. An additional goal of the recent excavations was to explore a provincial city of the Neo-Assyrian period. Investigations were centred on exposing the outermost limits of the urban area, with the main core of operations being Area C.


Tell Ahmar is ideally located to take the best advantage of the fertile plain in which it stands. The position has agricultural benefits, enabling easy irrigation, while clear views of the surrounding area provide security and control of movement about the plain. Communications across the river could also be controlled, despite the high cliffs and desert steppe on the west side of the river. The settlement is located on the trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Levant.

These factors are common to a number of sites in the region, and thus it is probably this combination that accounts for the length of occupation at Tell Ahmar. Only the city of Carchemish, not far to the north, remained in occupation for as long as it has been suggested that strategic control of the region is likely to have been the cause of disputes between these two urban centres, with the smaller settlements taking a minor role.


Beginning in the Chalcolithic period, it is possible that Tell Ahmar was continually inhabited through the Bronze and Iron Ages. Ubaid material was noted by Thureau-Dangin. Tell Aber, just north of Tell Ahmar, and Hammam Seghir on the opposite bank of the river both yielded Ubaid remains. Several sites surveyed and excavated in the vicinity have also yielded Early Bronze material. Clearly, from a very early age, the considerable advantages of this part of the valley for establishing a settlement were exploited. While pottery dating from the Early Bronze Age (phases I or II) has been identified in trenches on the Acropolis, later phases of the Early Bronze Age are well represented by the discovery of the Hypogeum by the French excavators and more recently renewed exploration of this structure.

The recent operations revealed that the Hypogeum is related to a complex of rooms, two of which have been partially excavated. Ceramics found in this context indicate a date in the Early Bronze III-IVa period. Both the architecture of the Hypogeum and the associated cist graves are well represented Euphrates Valley traditions.   Levels overlying those associated with the Hypogeum have yielded figurines of the early 2nd millennium.

The figurine assemblages from Upper Euphrates sites indicate that Tell Ahmar shared the Bronze Age culture of the Euphrates Valley, identified by Badre and represented by sites further to the south such as Selenkahiye, Tell Habuba, Tell Sweihat and Tell Hadidi. Thus the material remains of Early Bronze Age Tell Ahmar suggest a close association with cultural horizons noted in the Upper Euphrates Valley region. Dr Andrew Jamieson describes the ceramic traditions as indicating the ‘unified and homogeneous nature of the middle and Upper Euphrates Valley region.”[1] The later phases of the Bronze Age are not so apparent at Tell Ahmar, although material collected from unstratified deposits suggest a human presence in the Middle Bronze Age, while a few possible Late Bronze Age shards were recovered at the base of the enormous Iron Age wall exposed in the sounding on the tell.

[1] Jamieson, AS. 1993. “The Euphrates Valley and Early Bronze Age ceramic traditions”, in Abr Nahrain Vo.31, pp.36-92 (quotation from p.78).


For early excavations see Thureau-Dangin, F, Til-Barsib, Paris, 1936.

For University of Melbourne excavations see Bunnens, G, “Tell Ahmar (Ancient Til Barsib, Middle Euphrates)”, Syrian Archaeological Bulletin 1, 1988, pp.1-2; “Tell Ahmar on the Euphrates. A New Research project of the University of Melbourne,”, Akkadica 63, 1989, pp.1-11; “Melbourne University Excavations at Tell Ahmar: 1988 Season”, Mesopotamie et Elam, Actes de la XXXIV Rencontre Assyriologique Internationales, Gand, 10-14 Juillet 1989, Mesopotamian History and Environment, Occasional Publications, Vol.1, Ghent, 1991, pp.163-170; “Ahmar”, Weiss, H (ed), “Archaeology in Syria”, American Journal of Archaeology Vol.95, 1991, pp.732-734; “Melbourne University excavations at Tell Ahmar on the Euphrates; Short report on the 1989-1992 seasons”, Akkidica 79-80, 1002, pp.1-13; “Tell Ahmar”, Weiss, H (ed), “Archaeology in Syria”, American Journal of Archaeology Vol.98, 1993-94, pp.149-151; ‘Tall Ahmar/Til Barsib 1988-1992”, in Kuhne, H (ed) “Archaologische Forschung in Syrien (5)”, AfO, Vol.40-41, 1993-94, pp.221-225.

For other publications of Tell Ahmar material see Roobaert, A, “A Neo-Assyrian Statue from Til Barsib”, Iraq, Vol.58, 1996, pp.79-87, Bunnens, G, “Carved Ivories from Til Barsib”, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.101, 1997, pp.435-450 and Bunnens, G (ed) Abr Nahrain, Vol.34, 1996-1997 for translations of tablets and inscriptions from Tell Ahmar.

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