Aššūr-bēl-kala, inscribed maš-šur-EN-ka-la and meaning “Aššur is lord of all,” was the king of Assyria 1074/3–1056 BC, the 89th to appear on the Assyrian Kinglist. He was the son of Tukultī-apil-Ešarra I, succeeded his brother Ašarēd-apil-Ekur who had briefly preceded him, and he ruled for 18 years[i 1] whilst mounting a series of ineffectual campaigns against the migrating Aramean hordes who were pressing in on his land. He is perhaps best known for his zoological collection.
His reign marks the point at which the tide turned against the middle Assyrian empire and substantial territory was captured by the invading Arameans. Aššūr-bēl-kala was the last of the monarchs of the second millennium for whom there are any significant surviving inscriptions. His annals are recorded on numerous fragments from Aššur and Nineveh.
The Broken Obelisk
The Broken Obelisk,[i 2] an unfinished part of a monumental inscription, is usually attributed to him following the arguments made by Weidner, Jaritz and Borger, despite its apparent imitation of the campaigns of Tukultī-apil-Ešarra I and his hunting of a nāḫiru (a “sea-horse”) in the Mediterranean (the “upper sea of the land of Amurru”). These arguments include the introduction of Babylonian month names, its discovery with a limestone statue of a naked Ištar inscribed with his name, the designation of the Arameans as living in KUR a-re-me, and their evident progress into traditional Assyrian lands. It was discovered by the ethnic Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in mid-August 1853 at a "locality about half-way between Sennacherib's palace and that of Assurbanipal" and depicts the (enlarged) king towering over bound, supplicant prisoners under five symbols of the gods. Any reconstruction of the events of his reign consequently depends heavily on whether this object is correctly assigned.
In his first year, he campaigned in the north against Urarṭu, delaying his adoption of the eponym office until the following year. In his second, he turned his attention to the countries Himme, Ḫabḫu, and Mari, the latter of which was under the authority of Tukulti-Mer, a pretender to the Assyrian throne. Thereafter his attention was largely absorbed with endless counterattacks against the hordes of Arameans pressing on his borders, whom he even pursued: “[...in] rafts (of inflated) goatskins I crossed the Euphrates.”[i 3] He fought them as far as Carchemish, which he plundered, and in the Ḫārbūr valley, the Broken Obelisk referencing at least 15 campaigns. Texts recovered from Giricano, ancient Dunnu-ša-Uzibi, mostly dated to the eponym year of Ili-iddina (1069/68) his 5th or 6th year, include one that recalls the fighting the preceding year, the eponymy of Aššur-rem-nišešu, in Dunnu-ša-Liṣur-ṣala-Aššur in the district of Šinamu, when territory was lost. Sometime later the entire region fell to the invaders.
Building works and zoo
Among his civic construction activities were the re-excavation of a city moat and the irrigation of a public garden:
I built the palace of cedar, box-wood, terebinth, (and) tamarisk in my city Aššur. The canal which Ashur-dan I, king of Assyria excavated – the source of that canal had fallen in and for thirty years water had not flowed therein. I again excavated the source of that canal, directed water therein (and) planted gardens.
— Broken Obelisk
The continued prestige of Assyria was acknowledged by the gift of exotic animals by the Egyptians which nišē mātīšu ušebri, “he displayed (the animals) to the people of his land.” These he added to his collection of rare animals which he bred and dispatched merchants to acquire more, such as “a large female ape and a crocodile (and) a ‘river man’, beasts of the Great Sea” and the dromedaries he displayed in herds. Aššūr-bēl-kala’s interests were not solely zoological as he enjoyed hunting and boasts killing wild bulls and cows “at the city of Araziqu which is before the land of Ḫatti and at the foot of Mount Lebanon.”
He “rebuilt from top to bottom the storehouses of my lordly palace, which are at the fore part of the enclosure,” Aššur-nādin-aḫḫē's terrace of the New Palace at Nineveh, placing gate guardians inspired by the nāḫiru he had supposedly hunted. He also repaired a quay wall originally built by Adad-nārārī I (ca. 1307–1275 BC).
Relations with Babylonia
After his inauguration, he was apparently visited by the reigning Babylonian king, Marduk-šāpik-zēri, who “established friendly relations with Aššūr-bēl-kala,” and then returned to Sippar.[i 4] This treaty followed the earlier poor relations of their predecessors, Tukultī-apil-Ešarra and Marduk-nādin-aḫḫē, who had sparred and was probably motivated by their need to unite to fight their common enemy the Arameans. Marduk-šāpik-zēri died around five years later and this seems to have galvanized Aššūr-bēl-kala into intervening militarily to install a successor of his choice:
In that year (the eponym of Aššur-ra’im-nišešu), in the month of Šebat, the chariots and […] went from the Inner City (of Assur) (and) conquered the cities of [x-x]indišulu and […]sandû, cities which are in the district of the city of Dūr-Kurigalzu. They captured Kadašman-Buriaš, the son of Itti-Marduk-balāṭu, governor of their land.
— Broken Obelisk
The Synchronistic History[i 5] relates that the next king, Adad-apla-iddina, “son of Esagil-šaduni, son of a nobody,” was appointed by Aššūr-bēl-kala, who married his daughter and “took her with a vast dowry to Assyria,” while the Eclectic Chronicle gives his father as Itti-Marduk-balāṭu. The Synchronistic History concludes with noting that “the people of Assyria and Babylonia mingled (peacefully) with one another.”
His tomb was one of the five found on the lower reaches of the palace at Assur. He was briefly succeeded by his son, Erība-Adad II, whose short reign was followed by that of his brother Šamši-Adad IV.
- Assyrian Kinglist, iii 29-30, 31, 35.
- Broken Obelisk, BM 118898 .
- Annals, VAT 9539, BM 134497 .
- Eclectic Chronicle (ABC 24), tablet BM 27859 , obv. 4–7.
- Synchronistic History (ABC 21), ii 25-37.
- K. Åkerman (1998). "Aššūr-bēl-kala". In K. Radner. The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Volume 1, Part I: A. The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project. p. 171.
- D. J. Wiseman (1975). "XXXI: Assyria & Babylonia 1200–1000 BC". In I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, N. G. L. Hammond, S. Solberger. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume II, Part 2, History of the Middle East and the Aegean Region, 1380–1000 BC. Cambridge University Press. pp. 467–469.
- Younger, K Lawson (2007), Ugarit at Seventy-Five : proceedings of the Symposium "Ugarit at Seventy-Five" held at Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois, February 18-20, 2005 under the auspices of the Middle Western Branch of the American Oriental Society and the Mid-West Region of the Society of the Biblical Literature, Eisenbrauns, pp. 149–151, ISBN 1575065886
- Koh, Yee-Von (2006). Royal autobiography in the book of Qoheleth. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 369. Walter de Gruyter. p. 94. ISBN 3110192284.
- Shigeo Yamada (2000). The Construction of the Assyrian Empire: A Historical Study of the Inscriptions of Shalmanesar III Relating to His Campaigns in the West. Brill. p. 253.
- Tomoo Ishida (1982). Studies in the period of David and Solomon and other essays. Eisenbrauns. p. 219.
- Edward Lipiński (2006). On the Skirts of Canaan in the Iron Age: Historical and Topographical Researches. Peeters Publishers. p. 368.
- J. A. Brinkman (1968). A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia, 1158–722 BC. Pontificium Institutum Biblicum. pp. 141–142.
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