Rise of Assyria

Assyria came on the center stage of the world history again in the middle of the 14th century BCE with the ascension of Ashur-Uballit I to the Assyrian throne (1365-1330 BCE). Akehnaten, the Egyptian Pharaoh, may have been his contemporary, as was Suppiluliuma I, a Hittite king. Suppililiuma I is known for being a great warrior who successfully challenged the Egyptian supremacy in Canaan and Syria and also known for his role in what I call the “Affair of the murdered Pharaoh and the dead prince”, more on it later.  Ashur-Uballit I  was able to throw of the yoke of Mitanni rule over Assyria. He was able to defeat the Mitannis, the Babylonians, the Hurrians and the Hittites. The successors of Ashur-Uballit I continued expansion of the Assyrian kingdom.

A year after the famed Battle of Kadesh (Ramesses the Great and the battle deserves a separate post), Shalmaneser I became the ruler of Assyria in 1274 BCE. Shalmaneser won many battles and apparently blinded 14000+ prisoners of war in one eye. Talk about War Crimes! Tukulti-Ninurtha I was the son of Shalmaneser and the last of the great Assyrian kings for almost a century. Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was again a great warrior and conquered Babylon and in the process defeated the Kassites and the Elamites. He plundered the temples in Babylon and is identified with the biblical Nimrod by some historians. Nimrod was the king in the bible, who is named as “Great Hunter In the Face of God” implying standing against God. He is also associated with the Tower of Babel. I believe the rise to infamy for Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was the disrespect that he showed in sacking the temples and the outrage that must have produced in the then existing religion. He also built a new capital city which would have led to the legend of Tower of Babel.

The biblical, Talmudic tradition also gives Nimrod the first crown ever worn by kings which seems incorrect as the Pharaohs were wearing the Pschent since before Tukulti-Ninurtha I.


14th Century Mesopotamia
14th Century Mesopotamia

Tukulti-Ninurtha I  proclaimed himself the king of Sumer, Akkad and also surprisingly Meluhha. Sadly history is written by the victors or in the case of ancient history, those who can write. Hence I don’t think we will ever be able to decipher the mystery of how could Tukulti-Ninurtha I I the king of Assyria could also be the king Meluhha which by most accounts was the Harappan civilization. The distance itself would have been insurmountable consisting of modern day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fact that they knew about Meluhha in those times is itself astonishing let alone conquer it. The most likely explanation is that Tukulti-Ninurtha I  was just boasting a little bit. Or that Meluhha in later periods referred to some distant place in general and not necessarily the Meluhha of Harappans. Or that our identification of Meluhha with Harappa is incorrect.

Anyways, Tukulti-Ninurtha was killed by his sons, which started the period of stagnation of the Assyrian empire which was ended by Tiglath Pileser I more than a century later.

Akkadian Empire

The foundation of the Akkadian Empire, the first true empire in the history of mankind was laid by Sargon of Akkad. Sargon was the Cup-Bearer of Ur-Zababa, the king of Kish. There was a falling out, purportedly over a dream that Sargon had about drowning Ur-Zababa by  Inanna the goddess. Eventually Sargon usurps the power in Kish. Soon after, he attacks the Uruk and dismantles its legendary walls (Built by Gilgamesh). After the Battle of Uruk, Sargon brings Lugal-Zage-Si, the king of Uruk in a dog collar. One wonders how old the invention of dog collar is.

Bust of Sargon of Akkad or Naram-Sin of Akkad
Bust of Sargon of Akkad or Naram-Sin of Akkad

Sargon then went ahead and conquered the vast swath of land that was Mesopotamia. It is believed that Sargon was the inspiration behind the biblical hero and great hunter Nimrod. His rule lasted from 2270 BCE at age 30, to 2215 BCE, a staggering 56 years when the average lifespan was 26 years (Bronze Age). To keep things in perspective, Queen Elizabeth II has been ruling the commonwealth for more than 60 years now and she is one of the longest serving monarch. A reign of 55 years over the first empire almost 4300 years ago seems like a miracle. Emperor Ashoka, almost 2000 years after Sargon, ruled for 36 years and he was crowned at age of 36.

One of the prominent successor of Sargon was Naram-Sin, who like his Grandfather ruled for 56 years. He was the first Mesopotamian king to be God-King, perhaps inspired by the Egyptian Pharaohs. Naram-Sin was the king of Four Quarters, perhaps a title similar to Indian Chakravartin indicating the ruler of the whole world.

Akkadian tablets from the reign of naram-Sin writes that he traded with Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha. Magan is generally believed to be referring to modern day Oman while Dilmun with Bahrain or modern Iran. The identity of Meluhha is a hotly debated one with most consensus associating it with the Indus Valley Civilization. The Akkadian empire reached its zenith during Naram-Sin’s reign. After the death of Naram-Sin, raids by barbarian (?) Gutians and increased aridity resulted in the collapse of the Akkadian empire within 180 years of its founding.

Short Chronology gives the period of Akkadian Empire from 2270 BCE to 2129 BCE corresponding to the Middle Chronology of 2334 BCE to 2193 BCE. {Citation needed for this information :)}

The mortals of Meluhha

Sumer, which meant “The land of the civilized lord” or “The native land” was an ancient civilization that existed in southern Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, the cradle of civilization. It existed from before 26th century BCE till the rise of the Akkadian empire in the 23rd century BCE. Sumerian cuneiform writings are the oldest example of deciphered writing in history. The Sumerians are credited with the invention of wheel too, initially in the form of potter’s wheel. Sumerians used base 10 and 6 numerals and were aware of the astronomy. They developed the first legal and administrative systems and first true city states. They were the first to invent military formations. They left behind them thousands of cuneiform clay tablets with details of their business deals, letters, hymns etc. These tablets provide a deep insight into their culture.

These tablets tells about three important trade centers that the Sumerians traded with; Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha. Magan is now believed to be Egypt, Dilmun to be Oman, Bahrain or Arabian peninsula. Meluhha is what interests us. It is now believed that Meluhha referred to the Harappan Civilization. The word for sesame (Tila in Hindi and Marathi) in Malayalam and Tamil is Ellu. The Sumerians imported sesame oil from Meluhha and the word for it in their language was Ellu too. The Aryan (Sanskrit) word Mleccha referring to barbarians or non-Vedic people may also have its origin from the word Meluhha. It is believed that the word was actually Melukka which got distorted to Meluhha in the cuneiform. It is also believed that the word has similar origins to Melakam or Melai-y-akam from ancient Tamil which meant “house to the west” or “storeyed house, upper storey”.

These discoveries adds credence to the claim that the Harappans were Dravidians who had later moved to the southern parts of India due to the Aryan invasion and were later assimilated, not completely though, into the Aryan culture. Some commentators (http://www.harappa.com/arrow/meluhha_and_agastya_2009.pdf) even equate the Tamil tradition of Sage Agastya as the progenitor of Tamil with Melakkam (High House), Akatt-u people (the one with the jar) and were the jar-born priests like Agastya.

All references of Meluhha in the Sumerian texts stops about 1700 BCE, the time of the decline and end of Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). The reference to Meluhha is again observed around 650 BCE implying Meluhha to be somewhere in Egypt. This could just be a reference to a land of legend like the way we use El-Dorado or Atlantis.

There is a monograph written by Romila Thapar on the subject of identification of Meluhha “Thapar, Romila 1975. A possible identification of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan.” Unfortunately it costs 34$ to buy the paper from Jstor. It is cheaper to buy the collection of Romila’s paper than to just buy one paper. http://www.flipkart.com/culture-pasts-thapar-romila-eassays-book-0195664876

I believe that knowledge should be open, free and easily accessible. The authors should be compensated for their efforts but for those who can’t afford it, it should be made available free or at reasonable cost.

I have touched on the controversial Aryan Invasion theory in this blog. A lot has been written on the topic. I will try to take a deeper look at the question and may avoid writing on it to prevent bringing any untoward attention to the blog.