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- Assyrian Historiography - 2/13 -

types of inscriptions, especially in the later days of the empire, are numerous. In addition to the brick and slab inscriptions, rarely of value in this later period, we have numerous examples on a larger scale of the so called "Display" inscriptions. They are usually on slabs of stone and are intended for architectural adornment. In some cases, we have clay tablets with the original drafts prepared for the workmen. Still others are on clay prisms or cylinders. These latter do not differ in form from many actual annals, but this likeness in form should not blind us to the fact that their text is radically different in character.

All the display inscriptions are primarily of architectural character, whether intended to face the walls of the palace or to be deposited as a sort of corner stone under the gates or at the corners of the wall. We should not expect their value to be high, and indeed they are of but little worth when the corresponding annals on which they are based has been preserved. For example, we have four different recensions of a very long display inscription, as well as literally scores of minor ones, also of a display character, from the later years of Sargon. The minor inscriptions are merely more or less full abstracts of the greater and offer absolutely nothing new. The long display inscription might be equally well disregarded, had not the edition of the annals on which it is based come down to us in fragmentary condition. We may thus use the Display inscription to fill gaps in the Annals, but it has not the slightest authority when it disagrees with its original.

It is true that for many reigns, even at a fairly late date, the display inscriptions are of great value. For the very important reign of Adad nirari (812-785 B.C.), it is our only recourse as the annals which we may postulate for such a period of development are totally lost. The deliberate destruction of the greater portion of the annals of Tiglath Pileser IV forces us to study the display documents in greater detail and the loss of all but a fragment of the annals of Esarhaddon makes for this period, too, a fuller discussion of the display inscriptions than would be otherwise necessary. In addition, we may note that there are a few inscriptions from other reigns, for example, the Nimrud inscription of Sargon, which are seemingly based on an earlier edition of the annals than that which has come down to us and which therefore do give us a few new facts.

Since, then, it is necessary at times to use these display inscriptions, we must frankly recognize their inferior value. We must realize that their main purpose was not to give a connected history of the reign, but simply to list the various conquests for the greater glory of the monarch. Equally serious is it that they rarely have a chronological order. Instead, the survey generally follows a geographical sweep from east to west. That they are to be used with caution is obvious.

Much more fortunate is our position when we have to deal with the annalistic inscriptions. We have here a regular chronology, and if errors, intentional or otherwise, can sometimes be found, the relative chronology at least is generally correct. The narrative is fuller and interesting details not found in other sources are often given. But it would be a great mistake to assume that the annals are always trustworthy. Earlier historians have too generally accepted their statements unless they had definite proof of inaccuracy. In the last few years, there has been discovered a mass of new material which we may use for the criticism of the Sargonide documents. Most valuable are the letters, sometimes from the king himself, more often from others to the monarch. Some are from the generals in the field, others from the governors in the provinces, still others from palace officials. All are of course absolutely authentic documents, and the light they throw upon the annals is interesting. To these we may add the prayers at the oracle of the sun god, coming from the reigns of Esarhaddon and Ashur bani apal, and they show us the break up of the empire as we never should have suspected from the grandiloquent accounts of the monarchs themselves. Even the business documents occasionally yield us a slight help toward criticism. Add to this the references in foreign sources such as Hebrew or Babylonian, and we hardly need internal study to convince us that the annals are far from reliable.

Yet even internal evidence may be utilized. For example, when the king is said to have been the same year in two widely separated parts of the empire, warring with the natives, it is clear that in one of these the deeds of a general have been falsely ascribed to the king, and the suspicion is raised that he may have been at home in Assyria all the time. That there are many such false attributions to the king is proved by much other evidence, the letters from the generals in command to their ruler; an occasional reference to outside authorities, as when the editor of the book of Isaiah shows that the famous Ashdod expedition was actually led by the Turtanu or prime minister; or such a document as the dream of Ashur bani apal, which clearly shows that he was a frightened degenerate who had not the stamina to take his place in the field with the generals whose victories he usurped. Again, various versions differ among themselves. To what a degree this is true, only those who have made a detailed study of the documents can appreciate. Typical examples from Sargon's Annals were pointed out several years ago. [Footnote: Olmstead. _Western Asia in the Reign of Sargon of Assyria_, 1908.] The most striking of these, the murder of the Armenian king Rusash by--the cold blooded Assyrian scribe,--has now been clearly proved false by a contemporaneous document emanating from Sargon himself. Another good illustration is found in the cool taking by Ashur bani apal of bit after bit of the last two Egyptian campaigns of his father until in the final edition there is nothing that he has not claimed for himself.

The Assyrians, as their business documents show, could be exceedingly exact with numbers. But this exactness did not extend to their historical inscriptions. We could forgive them for giving us in round numbers the total of enemies slain or of booty carried off and even a slight exaggeration would be pardonable. But what shall we say as to the accuracy of numbers in our documents when one edition gives the total slain in a battle as 14,000, another as 20,500, the next as 25,000, and the last as 29,000! Is it surprising that we begin to wonder whether the victory was only a victory on the clay tablet of the scribe? What shall we say when we find that the reviser has transformed a booty of 1,235 sheep in his original into a booty of 100,225! This last procedure, the addition of a huge round number to the fairly small amount of the original, is a common trick of the Sargonide scribe, of which many examples may be detected by a comparison of Sargon's Display inscription with its original, the Annals. So when Sennacherib tells us that he took from little Judah no less than 200,150 prisoners, and that in spite of the fact that Jerusalem itself was not captured, we may deduct the 200,000 as a product of the exuberant fancy of the Assyrian scribe and accept the 150 as somewhere near the actual number captured and carried off.

This discussion has led to another problem, that of the relative order of the various annals editions. For that there were such various editions can be proved for nearly every reign. And in nearly every reign it has been the latest and worst edition which has regularly been taken by the modern historians as the basis for their studies. How prejudicial this may be to a correct view of the Assyrian history, the following pages will show. The procedure of the Assyrian scribe is regularly the same. As soon as the king had won his first important victory, the first edition of the annals was issued. With the next great victory, a new edition was made out. For the part covered by the earlier edition, an abbreviated form of this was incorporated. When the scribe reached the period not covered by the earlier document, he naturally wrote more fully, as it was more vividly in his mind and therefore seemed to him to have a greater importance. Now it would seem that all Assyriologists should have long ago recognized that _any one of these editions is of value only when it is the most nearly contemporaneous of all those preserved. When it is not so contemporaneous, it has absolutely no value when we do have the original from which it was derived._ Yet it still remains true that the most accessible editions of these annals are those which are the latest and poorest. Many of the earlier and more valuable editions have not been republished for many years, so that for our most contemporaneous sources we must often go to old books, long out of print and difficult to secure, while both translation and commentary are hopelessly behind the times. Particularly is this the case with the inscriptions of Sennacherib and Ashur bani apal. The greatest boon to the historian of Assyria would be an edition of the Assyrian historical inscriptions in which would be given, only those editions or portions of editions which may be considered as contemporaneous and of first class value. With such a collection before him, notable as much for what it excluded as for what was included, many of the most stubborn problems in Assyrian history would cease to be problems.

The historian of Assyria must test his sources before he can use them in his history. To do this, he must first of all be able to distinguish the primary sources which will reward future study from those which are secondary and are based on other and more contemporary documents which even now are actually in our possession. When these latter are cast aside as of no practical value, save perhaps as they show the peculiar mental operations of the Assyrian editor, we are then ready to test the remainder by the various methods known to the historian. The second part of this task must be worked out by the historian when he studies the actual history in detail. It is the discovery of what are the primary sources for the various reigns and of the value of the contributions which they make to Assyrian history that is to be the subject of the more detailed discussion in the following chapters.



(Tiglath Pileser I)

We shall begin, then, our detailed study of the sources for Assyrian history with the data for the reign of Tiglath Pileser I (circa 1100 B.C.). Taking up first the Annals, we find that the annalistic documents from the reign may be divided into two general groups. One, the Annals proper, is the so called Cylinder, in reality written on a number of hexagonal prisms. [Footnote: Photographs of B and A, Budge-King, xliii; xlvii; of the Ashur fragments, of at least five prisms, Andrä, _Anu-Adad Tempel_, Pl. xiii ff. I R. 9 ff.; Winckler, _Sammlung_, I. 1 ff.; Budge-King, 27 ff., with variants and BM numbers. Lotz, _Inschriften Tiglathpilesers_ I, 1880; Winckler, KB. I. 14 ff. Rawlinson, Hincks, Talbot, Oppert, JRAS. OS. XVIII. 150 ff.; Oppert, _Histoire des empires de Chaldée et d'Assyrie, 1865, 44f; Menant, 35 ff.; Rawlinson, Rp1, V. 7 ff. Sayce RP², I. 92 ff.; Muss-Arnolt in Harper, llff.; MDOG. 25, 21f; 28, 22; 29, 40; 47, 33; King, _Supplement_, 116; Andrä, _Tempel_, 32 ff.] First comes the praise of the gods and self praise of the ruler himself. Then follow the campaigns, not numbered as in the more developed style of later rulers, but separated into six sections, for the six years whose events are narrated, by brief glorifications of the monarch. Next we have the various hunting exploits of the king, and the document ends with an elaborate account

Assyrian Historiography - 2/13

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