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.

Crowns of Egypt

Hedjet was the crown of the Upper Egypt.

Hedjet
Hedjet

Deshret was the crown of the Lower Egypt.

Deshret
Deshret

The Hedjet and the Deshret are later united to form Pschent, the crown of the united Egypt. They just took the two crowns and put them together. Simple and very effective.

Pschent
Pschent

In the numerous tombs of the Pharaohs that have been found, not a single one contains Hedjet or Deshret or Pschent. This probably indicates that like modern crowns, they were hereditary and passed on from one ruler to the next. We don’t even know what material they were made of. Cotton? Leather? Metal? Bark? Was it heavy indicating the burden of rule? Light as a feather? And what was that tail like thing made of?

Narmer

Narmer was a little known Egyptian King, who in the words of Historian Brian Fagan must have been a “remarkably able man”. He lived around 31** – 3125 BCE, almost 5000 years ago. The period 3100 – 3200 is very significant. According to Surya Siddhanta, Kali Yuga started on 18th February 3102 BC. Thus Narmer lived in the Dvapara Yuga at around the same time as Krishna. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar indicates that we are in the 13th b’ak’tun and that the 14th b’ak’tun starts on December 21st 2012. The end of the 13th b’ak’tun is popularly believed to indicate the end of world as depicted in <sarcasm> hugely popular, scientifically accurate and very entertaining movie </sarcasm> 2012. Interestingly the Long Count calendar indicates that the world was created on August 11th, 3114 BCE, again in the 31st century BCE. The closeness of the start of the Kali Yuga according to Hindu mythology and the world creation date according to Mayans is very interesting. Being a ruler before the current Kali Yuga or before creation of the world is in itself a remarkable achievement but there is more to Narmer’s story.

In 3rd century BC, an Egyptian priest Manetho compiled Aegyptiaca. It contained chronological list of Egyptian rulers with a small description for some of them. His innovation was to divide the rulers into dynasties, not necessarily based on bloodlines but sometimes based on geographical or religious changes. He starts with predynastic times with the Gods and demigods as rulers of Egypt. He then begins with Dynasty I, the first Pharaoh of which was Menes, who purportedly unified Lower and Upper Egypt. Upper and Lower Egypt are the reverse of what we would see in a modern map. Thus Lower Egypt centered around Nile delta while Upper Egypt lies to the south. It is widely believed that Menes and Narmer were two names of the same Pharaoh. The lack of archaeological evidence for existence of Menes but widespread evidence for Narmer points to the fact that it is more likely that Narmer was the first Pharaoh of the Dynasty I and the unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt.

There were many attempts before Narmer to unify Egypt but they all failed. Egypt at that time was a patchwork of many smaller kingdoms. Narmer was able to unify this patchwork into a state that lasted for more than 3000 years. He used both diplomacy (indicated by his marriage to the princess of Lower Egypt, Nithotep, shown on Narmer Macehead) and military campaigns to achieve unification.

Much that we know of Narmer is gleaned from Narmer Palette. A palette was a cosmetic plate used to grind cosmetics to be applied to the body or face. But the size of the palette indicates that it is more a ceremonial palette donated to the temple. The Narmer Palette is the first historical document in the world. The palette has survived almost 5000 years in perfect mint condition.

Narmer Palette
Narmer Palette

One side of the palette shows Narmer, his name given at the middle top of the palette in a Serekh, occupying almost 3/4 of the height of the palette. A serekh is a rectangle which shows the façade of a palace with the name of the Pharaoh. The serekh indicates that the name is of a Pharaoh. He is wearing the white crown of upper Egypt, the Hedjet. He is shown as a conqueror with the bodies of the enemies that he has conquered below his feet. The names of the victims probably indicates the names of the cities or kingdoms. On the other side of the palette, he is shown as wearing the Red Crown, Deshret, of the Lower Egypt, with ten headless bodies indicating more cities or kingdoms conquered. It also shows two serpopards, a fictional animal with neck and head of serpents with the body of leopards, probably indicating the unification of the two kingdoms. The circle formed of the necks of serpopards is used for the grounding of the cosmetics. Use of the two crowns of the two kingdoms indicate that he was the ruler of both the Upper Egypt and the Lower Egypt.

 The history as we see is a product of long term cultural change affected by climate, environment, economy etc. But “People are agents of culture change” (Brian Fagan). A few of them, like Narmer, we come to know about. A vast majority though remain unknown. History is as much about the macro cultural changes as about these individuals.