Episode 41 – Assyria 2 Shamshi-Adad and the Upper Mesopotamian Empire

From a refugee in Babylon to the king of the largest empire Mesopotamia has seen since the fall of Ur, and the first Assyrian empire at that, Shamshi-Adad’s life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. This week we watch as he builds up his northern empire and begins to develop and handle it in a distinctively empire-like way. The fact that it wouldn’t survive his death is almost beside the point.

The origins of Shamshi-Adad are very confused. As mentioned in the show, some think his dynasty started in Ekallatum, some think it started in Terqa, some think there may have been a small territorial kingdom that held both cities even though they are very far apart and held nothing in between. Additionally, while everyone agrees Ekallatum was on the Tigris, whether it was north or south of Assur is also debated, though south seems more right to me. Honestly, there are so many different stories that there isn’t even a most popular one, each source I can find interprets it in a different way, and so I am leaning on William J Hamblin’s story most heavily in his book Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600BC, which has been an invaluable resource for much of the show. Another important source for Assyria has been Ekhart Frahm’s A Companion to Assyria, though his Old Assyrian political history is much sketchier than what can be found in other places, probably because he is sticking to the most confirmed details as much as he can and is in any case more focused on later periods of Assyrian history.

There are some who call the Upper Mesopotamian Empire part of the Assyrian empire, and indeed later Assyrian kings claimed Shamshi-Adad’s victories for thier own lineage. I, however, am being careful in this episode to separate the two because while I can definitely appreciate that some will use the word Assyrian as a descriptor for Shamshi-Adad’s empire, I think the two are separate enough to deserve distinct labels in history. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong to conflate the two, but I am keeping them separate for the purpose of this show.

This period of history is marked by a large number of letters, recovered primarily from a cache at Mari though also from other places. Sadly, lacking access to a university library, I am unable to get my hands on copies of most of these letters and am being forced to rely on excerpts from other sources. I wish I could read you more of these letters, like I did with the Ur dynasty, but it is looking like it won’t be possible with the show’s limited resources.

This is the empire just prior to Shamshi-Adad’s death

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