Ishme-Dagan I

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Ishme-Dagan I
Išši’ak Aššur
Reignfl. c. 1776 BCE — c. 1736 BCE
PredecessorShamshi-Adad I
AkkadianIšme-Dagān I
FatherShamshi-Adad I

Ishme-Dagan I (Akkadian: Išme-Dagān I; fl. c. 1776 BCE — c. 1736 BCE) was a monarch of the Old Assyrian Empire. The much later Assyrian King List (AKL) credits Ishme-Dagan I with a reign of forty years, however; it is now known from a limmu-list of eponyms unearthed at Kanesh in 2003 that his reign in Assur lasted eleven years. According to the AKL, Ishme-Dagan I was the son and successor of Shamshi-Adad I. Also according to the AKL, Ishme-Dagan I was succeeded by his son Mut-Ashkur.



A map of the Ancient Near East showing the geopolitical situation around the Old Assyrian Empire (light brown) near contemporary great powers such as: Eshnunna (light blue), Yamhad (dark blue), Qatna (dark brown), the First Dynasty of Babylon (yellow), and the Third Mariote Kingdom (shortly before the conquest of the long-abandoned town of Shubat-Enlil c. 1808 BCE by the Amorite conqueror Shamshi-Adad I.)

Shamshi-Adad I inherited the throne in Terqa from Ila-kabkabu (fl. c. 1836 BCE — c. 1833 BCE.) Ila-kabkabu is mentioned as the father of Shamshi-Adad I in the AKL; a similar name (not necessarily the same figure) is listed in the preceding section of the AKL[1] among the:

"Kings whose fathers are known."[1]

Shamshi-Adad I did not inherit the Assyrian throne from his father, but was instead a conqueror. Ila-kabkabu was an Amorite king not of Ashur (in Assyria), instead; Ila-kabkabu was king of Terqa (in Syria) during the same time as that of the King Yahdun-Lim of Mari (also in Syria, c. 1800 BCE — c. 1700 BCE.) According to the Mari Eponyms Chronicle, Ila-kabkabu seized Shuprum (c. 1790 BCE), then Shamshi-Adad I:

"Entered his father's house."[1]:163

Shamshi-Adad I succeeded Ila-kabkabu as the king of Terqa, in the following year. Shamshi-Adad I was forced to flee to Babylon (c. 1823 BCE) while Naram-Suen of Eshnunna (fl. c. 1850 BCE — c. 1816 BCE) attacked Ekallatum. Shamshi-Adad I remained in exile until the death of Naram-Suen of Eshnunna. The AKL records that Shamshi-Adad I:

"Went away to Babylonia in the time of Naram-Suen."

Shamshi-Adad I did not return until taking Ekallatum, pausing for some time, and then overthrowing King Erishum II of Assur (fl. c. 1815 BCE — c. 1809 BCE.) Shamshi-Adad I conquered Assur and emerged as the first Amorite king of Assyria (c. 1808 BCE.)[2] Shamshi-Adad I attempted to legitimize his position on the Assyrian throne by claiming descent from Ushpia (a native Assyrian monarch who fl. c. 2050 BCE — c. 2030 BCE.) Although regarded as an Amorite by later Assyrian tradition, earlier archaeologists assumed that Shamshi-Adad I had indeed been a native Assyrian. Ushpia was the second last in the section of the AKL:

"Kings who lived in tents."

However, Ushpia has not been confirmed by contemporary artifacts. Ushpia is succeeded on the AKL by his son Apiashal (fl. c. 2030 BCE — c. 2027 BCE.)[3] Apiashal is listed within a section of the AKL[1] as the first of the ten:

"Kings whose fathers are known."

This section (which in contrast to the rest of the list) had been written in reverse order—beginning with Aminu (fl. c. 2003 BCE — c. 2000 BCE) and ending with Apiashal:

"Altogether ten kings who are ancestors."

This has often been interpreted as the list of ancestors of Shamshi-Adad I. In keeping with this assumption, scholars have inferred that the original form of the AKL had been written (among other things) as an, "attempt to justify that Shamshi-Adad I was a legitimate ruler of the city-state Ashur and to obscure his non-Assyrian antecedents by incorporating his ancestors into a native Assyrian genealogy." However, this interpretation has not been accepted universally. The Cambridge Ancient History rejected this interpretation and instead interpreted the section as being that of the ancestors of Sulili (fl. c. 2000 BCE.)[4]

Shamshi-Adad I ruled from the capital city of the Old Assyrian Empire: Shubat-Enlil. Shamshi-Adad I placed his oldest son (Ishme-Dagan I) on the throne of Ekallatum. Shamshi-Adad I placed his youngest son (Yasmah-Adad) on the throne of Mari. Ishme-Dagan I ruled the south-eastern region in Upper Mesopotamia. Ishme-Dagan I's realm of influence included the city-state of Assur.


A number of letters relating the familial relationships between Shamshi-Adad I and his two sons have been excavated, and these letters provide a glimpse into the tensions of this family of rulers. Ishme-Dagan I appears to have been:

“A forceful soldier not afraid to risk his own skin.”

A quality which allowed Shamshi-Adad I to rely on him unhesitatingly.[5] Shamshi-Adad I's correspondence to his younger son is not as generous, and Ishme-Dagan I appears to have picked up his father's censure of his younger brother and contributed to it. As one letter attests, Ishme-Dagan I asks his brother:

“Why are you setting up a wail about this thing? That is not great conduct.”[5]

In one other letter; Ishme-Dagan I bluntly commands Yasmah-Adad to:

“Show some sense.”[5]

In another, Ishme-Dagan I tells his brother to stop writing their father directly, and use him as an intermediary. The reasons behind this move could be political, as a way for Ishme-Dagan I to gain more political standing with their father, or perhaps Ishme-Dagan I was sincere in his desire to help his brother appear more competent in their father's eyes.

Conquests of Shamshi-Adad I[edit]

Conquests of Shekhna, Ekallatum, and Assur[edit]

Shamshi-Adad I inherited the throne in Terqa c. 1833 BCE. He was forced to flee to Babylon c. 1823 BCE. He remained in exile until c. 1815 BCE. He first conquered Ekallatum, and then Assur after overthrowing King Erishum II (fl. c. 1815 BCE — c. 1808 BCE.)[6] Shamshi-Adad I took over the long-abandoned town of Shekhna (today known as Tell Leilan), converted it into the capital city of the Old Assyrian Empire, and then renamed it "Shubat-Enlil" (Akkadian) meaning:

"The residence of the god Enlil."[7]

War against Eshnunna[edit]

Ishme-Dagan I's main challenge was in keeping his enemies in check. To Ishme-Dagan I's south was the King Dadusha of Eshnunna (fl. c. 1800 BCE — c. 1779 BCE.) To Ishme-Dagan I's east were the warlike, nomadic, pastoral peoples inhabiting the foothills of the Zagros mountains. Eshnunna was to be Ishme-Dagan I's chief enemy, and although records are sparse, there are some accounts of some political conflicts involving Eshnunna. An instance of defeat occurs in a year-name coined by the King Dadusha of Eshnunna which commemorates a victory over an army led by Ishme-Dagan I.[5]

King Dadusha of Eshnunna made an alliance with Shamshi-Adad I to conquer the area between the two Zab rivers (c. 1781 BCE.) This military campaign of joint forces was commemorated on a victory stele which states that Dadusha gave the lands to Shamshi-Adad I. Shamshi-Adad I later turned against Dadusha by attacking cities including Shaduppum and Nerebtum. On inscriptions Shamshi-Adad I boasts of erecting triumphal stelae on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but these probably represent short expeditions rather than any attempts at conquest. His campaigns were meticulously planned, and his army knew all the classic methods of siegecraft, such as: encircling ramparts and battering rams.

Conquest of Mari[edit]

During Ishme-Dagan I's reign, the Old Assyrian Empire competed for power in Lower Mesopotamia against Yahdun-Lim of Mari,[8] King Naram-Suen of Eshnunna and his successors. A main target for expansion was the city of Mari, which controlled the caravan route between Anatolia and Mesopotamia. King Yahdun-Lim of Mari (fl. c. 1800 BCE — c. 1700 BCE) was assassinated by his own servants (possibly on Shamshi-Adad I's orders.) The heir to the throne of Mari (Zimri-Lim) was forced to flee to Yamhad. Shamshi-Adad I seized the opportunity and occupied Mari c. 1795 BCE.

He placed his sons (Ishme-Dagan I and Yasmah-Adad) in key geographical locations and gave them responsibility to look over those areas. Shamshi-Adad I put his eldest son (Ishme-Dagan I) on the throne of Ekallatum, while Shamshi-Adad I remained in Shubat-Enlil. Shamshi-Adad I put his second son, (Yasmah-Adad) on the throne in Mari.[2] With the annexation of Mari, Shamshi-Adad I had carved out a large empire[9] encompassing much of Syria, Anatolia, and the whole of Upper Mesopotamia. Shamshi-Adad I proclaimed himself as "King of All" (the title had been used by Sargon of the Akkadian Empire c. 2334 BCE — c. 2279 BCE.)

Campaign against Qabra and Nurugum[edit]

Shamshi-Adad I, along with Ishme-Dagan I, embarked on a new campaign against both Qabra and Nurugum. During the course of the campaign on Nurugum, Ishme-Dagan I and his armies besieged the city of Nineveh. Once Ishme-Dagan I conquered Nineveh, he allowed some prisoners to enter his army, and gave special treatment to skilled prisoners (according to letters excavated from the period.) These expeditions betray the different attitudes of the urban peoples toward the tribal peoples. The people of the kingdoms were treated differently than the tribal people.

Campaign against the Ya’ilanum[edit]

Another campaign for which records exist is a campaign that Ishme-Dagan I appears to have engaged in was against the nomadic tribe called the Ya’ilanum. Shamshi-Adad I had ordered Yasmah-Adad to execute all the members of this tribe. However, it was the troops of Ishme-Dagan I who later exterminated the entire tribe. There are two accounts of this annihilation, one from Shamshi-Adad I, and one from Ishme-Dagan I. Shamshi-Adad I seems to have slightly reneged on his earlier bloodthirstiness[10] toward the tribes, as his account appears to limit the killing to the leaders and the combatants of the army, but in a letter from Ishme-Dagan I to Yasmah-Adad, it seems the whole population was eradicated, as he states:

“Mar-Addu and all the sons of the tribe of Ya’ilanum were killed, and all its servants and soldiers were killed, and not one enemy escaped.”

Death of Shamshi-Adad I[edit]

Although his father counted Ishme-Dagan I as politically astute and a capable soldier, commending him as he berated Yasmah-Adad in their letters, Ishme-Dagan I was not able to hold his father's empire for long after his father died. Ishme-Dagan I eventually lost most of his domain, and was reduced to holding Ashur and Ekallatum, despite waging several counter offensives to try to regain the upper Khabur area. The year-name of the fifth year of Ibalpiel II's reign (indicating some reverence to Shamshi-Adad I at his passing) suggests that Eshnunna had become subservient to the Old Assyrian Empire. Ishme-Dagan I wrote a letter to his brother, after Ishme-Dagan I assumes their father's throne and the rule of all of Upper Mesopotamia, that he:

“Has the Elamites on a leash as well as their ally, the king of Eshnunna.”[5]

His confidence was overstated, however; as year-names of the eighth and ninth years of King Ibalpiel's reign indicate Eshnunna attacked and destroyed the armies of Ashur and Mari, and Ishme-Dagan I's control over his father's entire realm slipped, as his hold was reduced to the region of Ashur and Ekallatum.

A letter that was purportedly from Ishme-Dagan I, writing to his brother after their father had died, states:

“I acceded to my father's throne, but having been very busy, I haven't sent you my news. Now you are my brother, and aside from you I have no brother. I will make peace with any city or king that you take as a vassal. Don't ever worry. Your throne is yours to keep.”[11]

This letter led historians to believe that Yasmah-Adad held the throne of Mari for a while after his father died. However, this letter was proven to actually be from Ishme-Addu of Ashnakku, (written to Ibal-Addu of Ashlakka, thus disproving many chronologies that had been based on the letter.[11]

In addition to letters whose authorship can be verified to Ishme-Dagan I, Shamshi-Adad I and Yasmah-Adad, there have been letters attributed to this family that were not written by them. One such letter caused issues in the chronology of the ancient near east, as it allowed historians to place dates on Hammurabi of Babylon.

Subservience to Babylon[edit]

Some evidence indicates that after his reduction in power, Ishme-Dagan I appeared to hold tolerable relations with Babylon, Eshnunna, and Mari. Hammurabi requested reinforcements from Ishme-Dagan I at least once, and Ishme-Dagan I responded, though it seems his response was grudging, and Hammurabi was not entirely pleased with the poor support. However, Ishme-Dagan's troops were present in Hammurabi's war against Elam, and Hammurabi even allowed Ishme-Dagan's generals into his secret council meetings, to the dismay of Zimri-Lim, Hammurabi's then ally.[12] Ishme-Dagan's reputation with Hammurabi fluctuated with Hammurabi's goals, and there is some evidence that Hammurabi sent troops to aide Atamrum, one of Ishme-Dagan's rivals, during Babylon's war with Larsa.[12] Later, it is likely that Ishme-Dagan I was the king of Ashur when Hammurabi vanquished her king and occupied Assyrian lands.[5]

Preceded by
Shamshi-Adad I
Išši’ak Aššur
fl. c. 1776 BCE — c. 1736 BCE
Succeeded by

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Glassner, Jean-Jacques (2004). Mesopotamian Chronicles. Society of Biblical Literature. p. 137. ISBN 978-1589830905.
  2. ^ a b Van De Mieroop, Marc (2004). A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC (2nd ed.). Blackwell Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 9781405149112.
  3. ^ Roux, Georges (Aug 27, 1992). Ancient Iraq. Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-0140125238.
  4. ^ Hildegard Levy, "Assyria c. 2600-1816 B.C.", Cambridge Ancient History. Volume 1, Part 2: Early History of the Middle East, 729-770, p. 745-746.)
  5. ^ a b c d e f The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume II, Part I (Third ed.). Cambridge University Press. 1973-05-03. pp. 3. ISBN 978-0521082303.
  6. ^, Harvey Weiss et al., The genesis and collapse of Third Millennium north Mesopotamian Civilization, Science, vol. 291, pp. 995-1088, 1993
  7. ^ Harvey Weiss, Tell Leilan and Shubat Enlil, Mari, Annales de Recherches Interdisciplinaires, vol. 4, pp. 269-92, 1985
  8. ^ Chavalas, Mark W. (2006). The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-631-23581-1.
  9. ^ Some of the Mari letters addressed to Shamsi-Adad by his son can be found in the Mari Letters section of Shaika Haya Ali Al Khalifa and Michael Rice (1986). Bahrain through the Ages. KPI. ISBN 978-0-7103-0112-3.
  10. ^ Vidal, Jordi (2013). ""Kill Them All!" Some Remarks on the Annihilation of the Ya'ilanum Tribe". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 133 (4): 684. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.133.4.0683.
  11. ^ a b Sasson, Jack M. (1993). "Albright as an Orientalist". The Biblical Archaeologist. 56 (1): 3–7. doi:10.2307/3210355. JSTOR 3210355.
  12. ^ a b Van de Mieroop, Marc (2005). King Hammurabi of Babylon (Third ed.). Malden, Ma: Blackwell. pp. 54–63. ISBN 978-1-4051-2660-1.