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The land of Subartu (Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) or Subar (Sumerian Su-bir4/Subar/Šubur) is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit, and came to be known as the Hurrians or Subarians and their country was known as Subir, Subartu or Shubar.[1]

Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked "west", "east" and "south", respectively.


The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the "languages are confused" as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land (the Amorites). Similarly, the earliest references to the "four quarters" by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves.

Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), -which has been identified with Aleppo-,[2] among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.

Three of the 14th century BC Amarna letters, Akkadian cuneiform correspondence found in Egypt, mention Subari as a toponym. All are addressed to Akhenaten; in two (EA 108 and 109), Rib-Hadda, king of Byblos, complains that Abdi-Ashirta, ruler of Amurru, had sold captives to Subari, while another (EA 100), from the city of Irqata, also alludes to having transferred captured goods to Subari.

There is also a mention of "Subartu" in the 8th century BC Poem of Erra (IV, 132), along with other lands that have harassed Babylonia.[3] In Neo-Babylonian times (under Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus), Subartu was used as a generic term for Assyria.


Various scholars explain the word "Subar" as a name composed of two Turkic word stems Sub ('water') and er ('man, people, tribesman'), which means 'water people' or 'river people'.[4][5]


Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians.[6]

There are various alternate theories associating the ancient Subartu with one or more modern cultures, including Armenian,[7] Turkic,[4][8] Hungarian (Ugric)[9] or Kurdish tribes. Some scholars, such as Harvard Professor Mehrdad Izady, claim to have identified Subartu with the current Kurdish tribe of Zibaris inhabiting the northern ring around Mosul up to Hakkari in Turkey.[10]

A connection with the Sabir people of classical sources, which modern scholars associate with Turkic tribes, was proposed by a number of scholars such as Édouard P. Dhorme,[11] Igor M. Diakonoff,[12] and Zeki V. Togan.[4] Some scholars also tried to identify them with the Turkic Suars.[13] However, the American historian Ignace J. Gelb is not in accordance with these scholars and determines that these connections at present remain unprovable, but phonetically admissible.[11]

Amongst the names of peoples mentioned in the Sanskrit epic of ancient India Mahābhārata, there occurs a name Sauvīra secondary nominal derivative of *Suvīra whch may be Subīra with a v < b correspondence.[1]

Amarna letters corpus[edit]

Subartu (Subaru of the letters) is a toponym mentioned in the Amarna letters (14th century BC); the letters were written in the short period approximately from 13501335 BC. It is commonly accepted that the region referenced was Subartu.

Subartu is only referenced in three of the Amarna letters: EA 100, 108, and EA 109. All three letters state that people, or 'items' are needed to be sold in Subaru, for money.

The letters referencing region Subartu[edit]

Subaru of the letters is only referenced in three Amarna letters, and with no links to any rulers of Subaru.

The following are the letters referencing Subartu:

EA 100—Title: "The city of Irqata to the king" -See Arqa, Amarna letters Irqata
EA 108—Title: "Unheard-of deeds" -letter of Rib-Hadda
EA 109—Title: "Then and now" -letter of Rib-Hadda

EA 108, "Unheard-of deeds"[edit]

"Rib-Hadda writes to his lord, king of all countries, Great King, King of Battle: May the Lady of Gubla grant power to the king, my lord. I fall at the feet of my lord, my Sun, 7 times and 7 times. Moreover, is it pleasing in the sight of the king, who is like Baal and Šamaš in the sky, that the sons of 'Abdi-Aširta do as they please? They have taken the king's horses and chariots, and they have sold into captivity, charioteers: ši-x-y(?) and soldiers to ((to))-(emphasis?) the land of Su(ba)ru. In whose lifetime has such a deed been done? False words are now being spoken in the presence of the king, the Sun. I am your loyal servant, and whatever I know or have heard I write to the king, my lord. Wh[o] are they, the dogs, that they could res[ist] the archers of the king, the Sun? I wrote t[o] ((to))-(emphasis?) your father-(i.e. Amenhotep III), and he he[eded] my wor[d]s, and he sent ar[ch]ers. Did he not take 'Abdi-Aširta for h[imself]? Moreover, since the mayors have not oppo[sed] th[em], they are stron[g]. The army furnishes whatever they ne[ed], and so they are not afra[id] of the magnate. Because they have taken the hors[es], they are bold. Because we know that they are strong, we have to(ld) the king, "They are strong," Truly, they will not prevail. When I sent 2 messengers to Sumur-(Zemar), I retained this man in order to report to the king. Moreover, why do you listen to other men? The king's messengers must bring (news) by night and bring (it) back by night because of the dog. If the king, the Sun, desires, they will be taken in a day. Moreover, has he [n]o[t] plotted evils [upon evils a]gainst you, and rev[olted? A]nd as for the man of [my] god, 'Apiru came from Sumur to take him prisoner, but I did not give him up. May the [k]ing he[ed] the words of his servant. Send me [2]0 men from Meluhha and 20 men from Egypt-(named 'Mizri'-see Mizraim), to guard the city for the king, the Sun, my lord. (I am)-Your loyal se[rvan]t. -EA 108, lines 1-69 (complete)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Malati J. Shendge, The Language of the Harappans: From Akkadian to Sanskrit, 1997, p. 47.
  2. ^ Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Eisenbrauns 1998, ISBN 0-931464-99-4
  3. ^ BOTTERO Jean, KRAMER Samuel Noah, Lorsque les dieux faisaient l'homme, Gallimard, Paris, 1989, p.704.
  4. ^ a b c A. Z. Velidi Togan, Umumi Türk tarihine giriş: En eski devirlerden 16. Asra Kadar, Enderun, 1946, pp. 40, 143, 163. quote from pages 143 and 163:
    • "Muhtelif istikamette yayılan bir Türk urugunun da Subar (Suar, Sabir)lar olduğunu yukarıda anlatmıştım. [...]. Milâdın 305 yılında Sabir Türkleri, Kafkasya'nın şimalinden cenubuna geçtiler. Bunlar, eski dünyanın muhtelif taraflarında izleri görülen Subar (Sub + er) ve bu ismin muhtelif telâffuz şekillerine göre adlanan Türk boyunun Hazar'lara karışarak yaşıyan bir kısmıdır;... ."
  5. ^ O. Karatay, In: "Karadeni̇z araştırmaları, Issues 1-3", chapter: "Doğu Avrupa Türk Tarihi", KaraM 2004, pp. 16-19. quote from page 17:
    • "Ağasıoğlu ve Zekiev gibi bilginlere göre, Suvar < Subar kelimesi sub + ar/er (su halkı, ırmak boyu sakinleri) şeklinde çözümlenir."
    1. Firudin Ağasıoğlu Cəlilov, Azär halgy: (sečmä jazylar), Baku 2000, pp. 129-130.
    2. Zakiev Mirfatyh, "Törki-Tatar etnogenezi", Kazan/Moscow 1998, p. 223.
  6. ^ Finkelstein J.J. (1955), "Subartu and Subarians in Old Babylonian Sources" (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol 9, No.1)
  7. ^ Armenians article, Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  8. ^ Türkoloji dergisi, Volume 8, Ankara Üniversitesi Basimevi, 1979, p. 51. quote:
    • "Bu duruma göre, Kuzey Asya'dan Güney Mezopotamya'ya doğru göç eden ve bir kısmı da göç yollan boyunca yerleşen Türk asıllı kavimleri şöyle sıralayabiliriz: 1. Sabir'ler, Subar'lar, Subir'ler, Sibir'ler ve Sümerler."
  9. ^ Endrey, Anthony (1975). Sons of Nimrod: The Origin of Hungarians. Hawthorn Press. p. 70. ISBN 0725601302. 
  10. ^ Izady, Mehrdad R (1992). "The Kurds: A concise handbook". ISBN 978-0-8448-1727-9. . quote from page 74:
    • "There are considerable number of clans, tribes, and tribal confederations in Kurdistan today, each with its own defined territory. Many of these tribes have been in existence - with the same names - for several thousand years. The modern Zibari tribe, for example, is mentioned as the Saubaru/Sibaru by Sumerian and Akkadian sources. Variations of the tribal names... appear in the Greco-Roman, Aramaic, Middle Persian, and Armenian records."
  11. ^ a b P. Dhorme, Soubartou-Mitani, Revue d’Assyriologie, Volume VIII (Paris 1911), pp. 92 & 98f. Pauly-Wissowa-Kroll, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, under Sabiroi and Saspeires. In: Ignace J. Gelb, Hurrians and Subarians, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 1944 - No.22, p. 30. The University of Chicago Press - Chicago - Illinois. Quote:
    • "P. Dhorme's identification of the Sáspeires, Sápeires, Sábeires, Sábiroi, and Sábēroi (to whom might possibly be added some other similarly named peoples not cited by Dhorme) of classical sources with the Subarians, although phonetically admissible, is at present unprovable. The chief difficulty lies in the fact that it is impossible to localize the peoples of the classical sources in one definite region; at various periods they seem to have occupied widely separated areas of Asia, such as Armenia, Iran, and Turkestan."
  12. ^ Igor Mikhailovich Diakonoff (1971), Вавилон легендарный и Вавилон исторический [Babylon legends and history of Babylon]. In: Bollettino del Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici, Volumes 15-16, Centro camuno di studi preistorici, 1977, p. 37. quote:
    • "The Subarians expanding to the north, reached Siberia which received its name from the Sabir people (Diakonoff, 1971) like the city in western Hungary;..."
  13. ^ Mehmet Bilgin, Karadeniz'de postmodern pontusculuk, 2008, pp. 215, 222.

Further reading[edit]

Amarna letters corpus