This long inscription of Assur-natsir-pal, inscribed in various forms across the bas-reliefs of his palace, ranks next in geographical importance to the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I. Assur-natsir-pal reigned from B.C. 883 to B.C. 858, more than 200 years after his illustrious predecessor. But this interval of 200 years was almost a blank in the history of Assyria. It witnessed the rise of no great king or conqueror; indeed it would seem that the feeble successors of Tiglath-Pileser lost territory rather than gained it. With Assur-natsir-pal, however, a new era commenced. Once more the armies of Nineveh went forth to conquer, and once more it was towards the north and the west that their marches were usually directed. The Armenian kingdoms on the north, Carchemish and Syria to the west, were the main objects of attack.
Tiglath-Pileser had been unable to penetrate beyond the Hittite fortress of Carchemish, and force the fords of the Euphrates which it protected. If he made his way further to the west it was along the northern range of mountains which led him into Kilikia or to the fertile plain of Malatiyeh. But Assur-natsir-pal was attended with better fortune. The merchant princes of Carchemish had in his day lost their ancient prowess and military spirit, and they were glad to buy off the threatened attack of the Assyrians with a rich bribe. Assur-natsir-pal left Carchemish in his rear and pressed onward towards Phœnicia and the Mediterranean coast. In the time of his son and successor Shalmaneser II, Assyria has already entered within the horizon of the western nations, and has come into contact, not only with the kings of Damascus, but with the kings of Israel as well.
The annals of Assur-natsir-pal present us with an invaluable picture of Western Asia in the ninth century before our era, before Assyrian conquest had as yet changed the political map of the country. It is interesting to compare it with the picture presented by the annals of Tiglath-Pileser two centuries earlier. It is chiefly in the Armenian highlands that a change has taken place, or, it may be, is in process of taking place. The land of Nahri or "the rivers" of Tiglath-Pileser has shifted its position and has passed from the districts at the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates to the southern shores of Lake Van. 1 The rise of the kingdom of Ararat or Van, which was destined to play a considerable part in the future history of Western Asia, was, it would appear, the immediate consequence of the campaigns of Assur-natsir-pal in the north. The cuneiform inscriptions of Armenia begin with Sari-duris I, the antagonist of Shalmaneser II, the son and successor of Assur-natsir-pal, and are not only written in the syllabary of Nineveh, but are modelled on the inscriptions of the Assyrian king. As the city of Dhuspas or Van was founded by Sari-duris, while his father Lutipri is never given the title of king, it is probable that he was the founder of a new dynasty as well as of a new kingdom. At all events Arrame, who appears in the annals of Shalmaneser as the predecessor of Sari-duris, had his capital at Arzaskun, to the west of Lake Van and at a long distance from what was afterwards the central point of the kingdom of Ararat. The wars of Assur-natsir-pal and Shalmaneser not only introduced Assyrian civilisation into the north, but also resulted in the union of a number of small principalities into a single monarchy, which, under the varying names of Ararat and Armenia, long continued to fill an important place in Asiatic history.
On the whole, however, when the veil which lies for two centuries over the map of Western Asia is lifted, we see that few changes have taken place in it. On the east the Kurdish mountains are still held by wild and independent tribes, who form a barrier between the inhabitants of the valley of the Tigris and the Aryan population of Media. South of them comes the ancient and cultured kingdom of Elam, stretching from its capital of Susa to the shores of the Persian Gulf. The valley of the Euphrates is occupied by the Babylonian monarchy, whose history and civilisation mount back into the night of time, and whose armies had penetrated to the shores of the Mediterranean, and even to the distant island of Cyprus, ages before the very name of Assyria had been known. The western bank of the Euphrates is the home of the Bedouin ’Sukhi or Shuhites, who extend from the vicinity of Carchemish to the frontiers of Babylonia; and the intervening district of Mesopotamia is filled with flourishing cities, each governed by a prince who claims jurisdiction over a small tract of surrounding country. They all belong to the Semitic family, and to the north press hard upon the Hittites, who are already in full retreat towards their old homes in the Taurus mountains. Carchemish, however, now Jerablûs, with its command of the caravan trade from east to west, is still in their hands.
Westward of them are the Patinians, a tribe of Hittite origin, whose territory stretches from Khazaz (now Azaz), near Aleppo, across the Afrin to Mount Amanus, with its forests of cedars, and to the shores of the Gulf of Antioch. But south of the Patinians we are again among the Semites. The sea coast is held by the wealthy trading cities of the Phœnicians, foremost among them being Arvad and Gebal, Sidon and Tyre; while Syria proper is divided into two kingdoms, that of Hamath, which has ceased to be Hittite, and that of Damascus. Damascus had risen upon the ruins of David's empire, which for a brief space had extended from the Gulf of Aqabah to the banks of the Euphrates. With Damascus, Samaria was brought into close relation, sometimes friendly, but more usually hostile. Its first mention on the Assyrian monuments, however, is in connection with the battle of Qarqar in B.C. 853, when "Ahab of Israel" sent a contingent to the help of Hadadezer or Ben-hadad against his Assyrian assailants.
The wars of Assur-natsir-pal, like most of those of the first Assyrian empire, did not lead to permanent conquest or annexation. They were little more than raids, carried on partly for the sake of plunder, partly in order to exalt the glory and power of the great god Assur, partly to open a road to the west for the merchants of Nineveh. It is possible also that the wars against the hardy mountaineers of Kurdistan or Armenia were intended to prevent the latter from descending into the fields of Assyria and disturbing their more peaceful neighbours. It was not until the rise of the second Assyrian empire, until the age of Tiglath-Pileser III, of Sargon and of Sennacherib, that Assyrian conquest meant absorption into a single great organised power.
Assur-natsir-pal, whose name signifies "Assur has defended the son," was the son and successor of Tiglath-Uras II, and was himself succeeded by his son Shalmaneser after a reign of twenty-five years. His "Standard Inscription" proved of high value in the early days of cuneiform decipherment, on account of the numerous variants presented by the different copies of it which we possess. It has been partly published in Layard's Inscriptions in the Cuneiform Character, pll. 1–11, and more fully and accurately in the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, vol. i. pll. 17–26.
The translation of it given in the first series of Records of the Past (vol. iii. pp. 37–80) belongs to the earlier days of Assyrian study, and it has therefore become necessary to replace it by one more accurate and trustworthy. Not only is it now possible to identify the chief localities mentioned in the text, but the progress of Assyrian philology has also made it possible to translate the text with a precision which fifteen years ago was unattainable. Like most of the historical inscriptions, it now offers but few words the rendering of which is doubtful. And its geographical importance and historical interest alike make it desirable that the student who is not an Assyriologist should possess the text in a trustworthy form. A translation of the introductory lines has been published by Lhotzky, Die Annalen Assurnazirpal's (Munich, 1884), and the whole inscription has been translated by Dr. Peiser in Schrader's Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek (1889), vol. i. pp. 51–129.
129:1 See the Records of the Past, new series, vol. i. p. 106, note 7.
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