A General History of the Middle East
Chapter 3: THE EARLY IRON AGE, PART I
930 to 627 B.C.
This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:
Before the industrial revolution, the vast majority of people were farmers, so less than ten percent of a typical nation's population lived in cities. Moreover, among the cities, only national capitals served more than local needs. These two factors meant that few cities in the pre-classical world had more than ten thousand people; by our standards, they were just towns.(1) In the third millennium B.C., only four communities had a population of 30,000 or more: Memphis (in Egypt), Agade, Ur and Mohenjo-Daro (in India).
Three of those bronze age metropoli were destroyed or abandoned in the first half of the second millennium B.C. Only Memphis survived, because of its excellent location; in fact, it remained Egypt's largest city until Alexandria was built (see Chapter 6), though it never again served as the capital after 2000 B.C. Avaris, Akhetaten and Thebes grew to rival Memphis, but none of them had its staying power; they rose and fell with the dynasties that made them important. Thebes, for example, was nothing but a religious center after the XVIII dynasty ended; the growing importance of Egypt's commerce and foreign policy meant that the capital had to be in the north, close to the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, in the Mesopotamian vacuum, Babylon rose up, and because it was usually the capital of central and southern Mesopotamia from Hammurabi onward, the king's court and administration kept it large. It was a similar story with Hattusas, which grew to first-rate size as the Hittite capital.
Another urban upheaval came with the beginning of the iron age. In the first century covered by this chapter, Hattusas was burned down, while three new cities joined Memphis and Babylon: Calah and Nineveh in Assyria, and Tyre in Lebanon. This meant there were now five cities in the Middle East with populations of at least 30,000. The two Assyrian cities grew so large that they replaced Assur as the capital; Nineveh may have been the first city whose population passed the 100,000 mark, if the statistic in the last verse of the Book of Jonah is correct.
As for Tyre, it climbed to the top because of commerce, not politics. The people of Tyre and the neighboring city-states on the Lebanese coast, whom we now call the Phoenicians, did not build a great empire in their homeland--in fact they were never united into one state--but they have influenced us more than the aggressive empires around them.(2)
Originally the Phoenicians were Canaanites, no different from the other Canaanite tribes around them. According to Sanchuniathon, a Phoenician author whose works have been lost, their oldest city was Byblos (also called Gebal or Gubla). Philo of Byblos, a Greek scholar who lived in the second century A.D., claimed even more for his home town; he asserted that Byblos was the oldest city in the world, and that writing was invented there. He may have exaggerated on both counts, but excavations have shown continuous settlement, all the way back to the dawn of history. Our word "Bible" comes from Byblos, because in its heyday it was a center for the production of papyrus scrolls. Two other Phoenician cities, Sidon and Ugarit, also show signs that people lived there as early as the neolithic era. Ugarit is worth remembering because that is where the Ras Shamra clay tablets, the oldest samples of Phoenician writing, were found. In the early second millennium B.C., these three cities were joined by a fourth, Arvad.
The two youngest major Phoenician cities were Berytus (modern Beirut) and Tyre; both were appearently founded in the second half of the second millennium B.C. Berytus first appears in the Amarna Letters, where a king named Ammunira of Biruta wrote three letters to the pharaoh of Egypt. Tyre also introduced itself at that time, when its king, Abi-Milku, wrote ten more Amarna Letters. Incidentally, Tyre got started as a fishing village, a colony of neighboring Sidon, and it is not mentioned in the Old Testament until Joshua 19:29; Sidon is mentioned in Genesis 10:15, though. Eventually Tyre would overshadow its mother city, the way one of its colonies, Carthage, would overshadow Tyre later on.
The Phoenicians got the attention of civilization because they had an important resource both Egypt and Mesopotamia lacked--wood. As early as 2500 B.C., Egyptian boats were coming to Byblos to buy timber, and the fragrant Lebanese cedar became the most highly valued wood of all.(3) From the opposite direction, Sargon I's military expedition to Lebanon appears to have been motivated by the same shortage of building material at home. No enterprising merchant was in charge of the cedar trade this early; a temple or palace organized and led every trip.
Gradually the Phoenicians learned the ways of civilization from their customers. In the second millennium B.C., their Canaanite neighbors were overrun by newcomers: the Egyptians, Philistines, Hebrews, and Aramaeans. The Phoenicians survived because by now they were wealthy enough to buy the favor of these alien folk. And their source of wealth did not come from the land, where somebody else could steal it; they got rich from the sea.
As the second millennium drew to a close, the Phoenicians became good enough sailors to challenge the previous masters of the sea, the Mycenaean Greeks. From Tyre, Sidon, Berytus, Byblos, Arvad and Ugarit, they launched fleets of black-sailed merchant vessels, along with galleys to guard them. The merchantmen had a round, tublike shape to increase cargo space, while the warships were sleek, built for speed, and equipped with a new weapon: a ram to puncture the hull of enemy vessels. Both used oarsmen so they could keep moving on windless days.
At first the Phoenicians went to familiar grounds such as Cyprus, Greece, and Egypt, where they already knew what trade goods to expect. Then the navigators grew bolder, striking out westward to explore new lands on the other side of the Mediterranean. They visited Libya and Tunisia first, then the islands of Malta(4), Sicily, and Sardinia. Usually the ships sailed only twenty-five to thirty miles per day, and stayed in sight of land as much as possible, but the navigators were confident enough to steer by the stars across an open sea if they had to.
Tyre was the most successful Phoenician city for three reasons. First, it was built on an offshore island, so it was easily defended, especially if an attacking enemy didn't have a fleet. Second, as the southernmost city, it had the most trade with Israel; we already noted that King Hiram of Tyre (979-945 B.C.) did business with both David and Solomon. Israel bought large amounts of Lebanese cedar for building projects, the Tyrians found employment sailing the ships for Jerusalem's commercial ventures, and Phoenician architects guided the work done on the temple Solomon built to God. Third, Tyre hit the jackpot when her ships discovered Spain. Because Spain's oldest city and kingdom were called Tartessos, the Bible refers to Hiram's fleet as "ships of Tarshish."
Spain was rich in metals, possessing more copper, silver and tin than any place known in the civilized world. The income from Spanish mines made Tyre great and financed the next explorations. Tyrian and other Phoenician ships sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar and traveled as far north as the British Isles, where they found another bountiful source of tin. They appear to have sailed the same distance down the Atlantic coast of Africa, and at least once they went farther (Hanno's expedition). Records of these expeditions were kept secret, and warships guarded Gibraltar, to keep the competition (especially Greece) away. As a result, we can only guess how far those early explorers actually went.
To maintain the ships and handle the needs of commerce and defense, trading posts were set up wherever the ships frequently traveled. Most of these were in Spain and North Africa; there were also some on Sicily, Cyprus, and the islands of the western Mediterranean. The most important of them, Carthage in Tunisia, was traditionally founded in 814 B.C. Carthage would grow to become the capital of an empire in its own right, dominating the western Mediterranean until challenged by Rome. It was the Carthaginian trading network, located beyond the clutches of any Middle Eastern king, that kept Tyre alive for many years after the Assyrians swallowed up the rest of Lebanon.
The Phoenicians were not terribly original when it came to culture--they borrowed most of their art, technology, etc. from others--but they learned and practiced various crafts until they outperformed their teachers. Their excellent handiwork in ivory, glass, gold and silver became legendary, exciting even the haughty Greeks. The biggest moneymaker, however, was dyed textiles. The source of the dye was the murex, a spiny type of sea snail. Workers would collect the shells, smash them, extract the mollusks, and place them in vats. As the dead animals decayed, they produced a yellow liquid, about two drops per murex. By boiling this liquid for varying lengths of time, they produced dyes in many hues: red, blue or violet. The most valued dye was deep purple; it became a symbol of royalty because for a long time only kings could afford it.
Because the dye industry was so messy, they put the factories on the leeward side of cities to keep the smell of rotting shellfish away. Thousands upon thousands of crushed shells piled up, until the murex almost became extinct in Mediterranean waters. Those who worked as dyers had their hands permanently stained, perhaps inspiring a verse in the first chapter of Isaiah: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."
The dark side of Phoenician life was that they practiced the same religion as the other Canaanites, a faith preoccupied with sex and violence. The principal deity was Baal, a weather god that appears to have been copied from the Babylonian Marduk (Babylonians sometimes called Marduk Bel). Often portrayed as a man holding a thunderbolt, Baal was believed to control the rain, and though he died every fall, he came back to life the following spring, thus causing the seasons. Also important was Asherah or Astarte, a fertility goddess identical to the Mesopotamian Ishtar (see chapter 1). In times of distress children would be burned alive to appease a frightening devil called Moloch.
The greatest Phoenician contribution to the modern world is their phonetic alphabet. We do not know if they got the idea from those Semites who tried to convert Egyptian hieroglyphics into an alphabet (see Chapter 2, we may find out if there's a connection at a later date); we give the Phoenicans credit for inventing the alphabet because theirs is oldest completely developed one. Because it had only 22 different letters, it was a lot easier to learn than the hundreds or even thousands of characters in cuneiform and hieroglyphic script. Literacy was no longer limited to priests and scribes; now the ordinary man could read and keep his own records. Consequently the nations of the Levant, from Syria to Edom, had the best-educated populations at this time. The Phoenician system would become the model for Western alphabets like Etruscan and Greek, through which it would eventually come to us.(5)
Phoenician civilization peaked in the tenth century B.C., when Israel was its main customer. After Solomon's death there must have been an economic slump, and competition with the Greeks increased, but by building more colonies, the Phoenicians were able to continue business as usual. The beginning of the end came in 702 B.C., when the Assyrians conquered all of Phoenicia except Tyre, which resisted for thirty years. Another long siege of Tyre was required (587-574 B.C.) when Nebuchadnezzar replaced the Assyrians as the ruler of the Fertile Crescent. When Nebuchadnezzar's empire fell to the Persians, the Phoenician ships became the main element of the Persian navy, used in campaigns against the Egyptians and the Greeks. They existed as a distinct ethnic group until the time of the Romans, and we can still see the Phoenician business sense in their Lebanese descendants today.
When Rehoboam succeeded Solomon, he decided to proclaim himself king in Shechem, rather than Jerusalem, because the two tribes of Joseph were rivals of the king's tribe (Judah), and were unlikely to accept him; we saw that Judah and Ephraim had been rivals before the kingdom was established. Jeroboam, himself a descendant of Ephraim, came back from Egypt and went to Shechem, too. There he led a delegation to Rehoboam, which asked if he was going to continue his father's policies. Rehoboam's older advisors recommended that he lighten the burden on the people, because they had a genuine grievance, while the younger advisors, the king's immediate friends, told him that now was the time to get tough. Rehoboam foolishly went with the latter advice and gave the delegation this memorable speech: "My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." The delegation's response was just as memorable: "What portion have we in David? Neither have we an inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now see to thine own house, David."
Rehoboam sent his tax collector to speak next, and the Israelites stoned him to death, giving the king a message that wouldn't be misunderstood. Then he raised an army to recover the part of his kingdom that had broken away, but another prophet talked the soldiers out of marching against their kinsmen, telling them this was God's doing. Thus, all Rehoboam had left to his name was the southern highlands. Besides Judah, the only tribe that stayed loyal was Benjamin, because the city of Jerusalem was in Benajmin's territory. Meanwhile, Jeroboam was crowned king of Israel in Shechem.
As noted in the previous chapter, the chronology used here has King Solomon reigning at the same time as Horemheb, the last pharaoh of Egypt's XVIII dynasty, and the first three pharaohs of the XIX dynasty: Ramses I, Seti I, and Ramses II. Ramses II has gone down as perhaps the greatest pharaoh of all, because when he wasn't fighting the Hittites, he was building temples and statues to his glory all over Egypt, making sure that if any pharaoh would be remembered, it would be him. Surely such an attention-getter would appear somewhere in the Bible, and for reasons we don't have the space to go into here, most Bible scholars put him in the Moses story, as either the Pharaoh of the oppression or the Pharaoh of the Exodus; hence, we see Egyptian characters in "The Ten Commandments," and "The Prince of Egypt" with XIX dynasty names.
In the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign, the Egyptians raided Judah. The Egyptian army included Libyans and Nubians, and was led by a pharaoh the Bible calls Shishak. After capturing Gezer (a town that had previously been given to Solomon as a wedding gift, along with his Egyptian bride), Shishak took the towns Rehoboam had fortified on his western frontier to prevent such an invasion, and proceeded to Jerusalem. Rehoboam bought him off by paying a heavy tribute, which included much of the gold and ivory Solomon had used to decorate his palace, but there is no mention of the Ark of the Covenant being hauled off to Egypt (sorry, Indiana Jones fans). Presumably the Ark stayed in the Temple's innermost room, the Holy of Holies, until the Temple itself was destroyed by the Babylonians.
When Egyptian hieroglyphics were first deciphered in the early 1800s, it was noted that the first pharaoh of the XXII dynasty, Soshenk I, left a record on the great temple of Karnak of a campaign he fought in the Holy Land, and the conclusion was reached that Soshenk and Shishak were one and the same. However, more recent revisions of ancient chronologies have suggested that Shishak was an earlier pharaoh; for one thing, Soshenk doesn't say anything about plundering Jerusalem, which would have been the high point of Shishak's raid. Now it appears that Ramses II is a better candidate, because one of his nicknames was "Sysa" or "Sese," and some Hebrew writer changed it to Shishak, meaning "Looter." Anyway, the result of the raid was that Israel's independence was assured, now that Judah was reduced to the status of an Egyptian protectorate, the last remnant of the empire that had ruled the Levant a generation earlier.
After that, Rehoboam had one asset left--God's Temple was still located in Jerusalem. God had only permitted one holy place for His worship at any given time; even Shiloh, the site of the Tabernacle during the period of the Judges, was now deserted. Consequently the tribe of Levi, whose job it was to handle all priestly functions, did not stay in the northern kingdom for long; gradually all the Levites moved south into Judah. Members of other tribes also went to Jerusalem, to make offerings at the Temple, and Jeroboam was concerned that they might choose to stay there. Finally, no kingdom could be considered complete without some kind of holy place, because the typical king claimed that his authority came from the gods. To keep the Temple from draining the rest of his subjects away, Jeroboam built two shrines containing golden calves (a representation of the Egyptian god Apis), one in the north at Dan and one in the south at Bethel. And because the Levites were gone, he allowed anyone to become a priest, regardless of ancestry. For bringing back idolatry into the land, and passing it off as proper worship ("Behold your gods, o Israel!"), Jeroboam brought down a curse on his family, but most of the kings after him had a hard time doing any better. While half the kings of Judah are described as good ones in 1 & 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, all of Israel's monarchs are rated badly, because they did nothing to stop idolatry in the north; in fact, some actively encouraged it.
Rehoboam was succeeded by a short-lived son, Abijah (913-911). He defeated Jeroboam in a big battle over disputed border towns, which ensured that Israel would not conquer the southern kingdom. One of the towns captured was Bethel; Jeroboam's made-up god could not defend itself against the followers of the One True God. Jeroboam died shortly after that humiliation, and his son Nadab lasted even a shorter time than Abijah; one year after taking charge, he was assassinated by Baasha, a member of the tribe of Issachar (909 B.C.). This showed that Israel's government would be less stable than Judah's, going through a total of nine dynasties during the 208 years of its existence. Each dynasty ended with the assassination of the last king from that family.
In Judah, Abijah was succeeded by a long-ruling son named Asa (911-870), who proved to be the best king since Solomon, maybe even the best since David. Unlike his predecessors, Asa took down the images and altars to other gods that had spread around the kingdom, since the latter part of Solomon's reign. He even took away the crown of the queen mother, Maacah (Rehoboam's queen and Asa's grandmother), because she set up an idol to the goddess Asherah, in a sacred grove right outside Jerusalem's walls. Unfortunately he didn't remove all of the "high places," so idolatry would continue to be a problem in Judah.
Asa also broke the Egyptian yoke Ramses II/Shishak had placed over Judah. The Old Testament (2 Chronicles 14:9-15) tells us of one "Zerah the Ethiopian" who came against Asa with an army of Kushites (Nubians) and Libyans, numbering one million men and three hundred chariots. Ramses himself was no longer interested in leading armies, because of his age and for reasons explained in the next section, so Zerah was presumably a general or the Egyptian viceroy over Nubia, sent by Pharaoh to teach Asa who's boss. As for the numbers stated, "three hundred chariots" makes sense, but "one million men" is almost certainly a mistranslation or an exaggeration. Anyway, Asa beat the odds, defeated the African invaders at Mareshah, and chased the survivors as far as Gerar on the coast. Egypt wouldn't give Judah any more trouble until the reign of Josiah, three hundred years later.
Meanwhile to the north, Baasha moved the capital from Shechem to Tirzah, but this defensive move did not keep him from losing ground on two fronts. According to 2 Chronicles 15:1, he provoked Asa in the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign by fortifying Ramah (modern Ramallah), a border town six miles north of Jerusalem that controlled trade between Israel and Judah. We have a bit of a chronological problem here because Baasha was already dead by Asa's thirty-sixth year, so some Jewish scholars believe the author of 2 Chronicles meant to say the thirty-sixth year since the kingdom was divided, meaning 895 rather than 876 B.C. Whatever the date, Asa decided to bring the Syrians into the game, sending gold and silver from his palace and the Temple to King Ben-Hadad of Damascus, telling him the gifts were his if he would break his alliance with Israel. Ben-Hadad took the bribe and attacked Israel, taking the three northernmost towns in the kingdom (Dan, Ijon and Abel-Maim). Baasha had to break off from building fortifications in the south to deal with the new threat, and while he was away, Asa marched northward, captured Ramah, tore down its wall, and used the stones to build walls around the border towns of his choice, Geba and Mizpah. Although the diversion was a success for Asa, afterwards a prophet came to him and warned that he should have trusted in God, the way he had when fighting Zerah. Because Asa trusted in the strength of the Syrians instead, he brought down a curse on the land, and the kingdom of Aram would torment Israel and Judah for many years to come.
Even so, Judah still had it easier than Israel did. Baasha's son, a drunkard named Elah, ruled for just over a year (886-885 B.C.) and was killed at a party by one of his officers, Zimri. However, Zimri was only accepted by the soldiers under him, and a rival general, Omri, marched on Tirzah immediately; after lasting on the throne a week, Zimri went up in flames with his palace. Omri then fought another rival named Tibni for three years before he won and could claim all of Israel for himself.
Usually after two countries sign a treaty, increased exchanges of goods and ideas follow. At least this seems to be the explanation for what happened next. The kings after Hattusilis III pumped up their authority with grand titles that had not existed previously. For example, one of the new titles was "My Sun." For most civilizations along the ancient Mediterranean, it seemed natural to portray the king of the gods as a man holding a lightning bolt, whether he was called Zeus, Baal, Teshub, or whatever. On the other hand, thunderstorms almost never happen in Egypt, so the Egyptians were more impressed by sun gods like Ra and Aten. The elevation of the sun goddess in Hatti suggests that the Hittites picked up some ideas about religion from Egypt. The son of Hattusilis, Tudkhaliyas IV (906-884), went all the way and proclaimed himself an Egyptian-style god-king. At Yazilikaya, a shrine in the rocks one mile northeast of Hattusas, Tudkhaliyas carved a number of reliefs showing a parade of the gods, but the largest sculpture shows Tudkhaliyas himself, ten feet high, with each foot on a mountain peak and the disk of the sun floating above his raised right hand. In this way, he wanted to convince everyone visiting the shrine that Tudkhaliyas had become a living representation of the sun god.
When Tudkhaliyas became king, Ulmi-Teshup, the brother of Hattusilis, was still in charge of Tarhuntassa, the main city of Cilicia (then called Kizzuwatna). In 1986 a bronze tablet was found at Hattusas in near-perfect condition; recording a treaty between Tudkhaliyas and Ulmi-Teshup, and reaffirming the latter's position as governor of the south. This tells us that the Hittite Empire wasn't a centralized state, but more like the feudal monarchies of medieval Europe. At the time the treaty was written, Ulmi-Teshup, also called Kurunta, was involved in a campaign to conquer western Anatolia, and he expected to capture a city named Parha (classical Perge in Pamphylia). The treaty came with the usual admonitions to the gods, promising that as long as Ulmi-Teshup and his descendants were loyal, the governorship would remain in the hands of their family, and Tudkhaliyas warned what would happen if they weren't: "If you lay claim to the throne in Hattusas, may you and your sons be destroyed by the gods!" However, the treaty wasn't kept; presumably Ulmi-Teshup wasn't content to just be a duke, when his nephew was king. Late in the reign of Tudkhaliyas, Ulmi-Teshup began using the title of "Great King" on his seals, and it also appears and on a rock inscription at Hatip, near modern Konya. He may have tried to become the next king, and when that failed, he declared his part of the empire independent; the kings lost control of the empire's southern and western provinces after that. The bronze tablet originally had clay seals depicting the weather god and the sun goddess, but these were removed and stored elsewhere in Hattusas, while the tablet itself had been buried under a paved road near the Sphinx Gate--a silent message announcing that the treaty had been voided. Finally, Tudkhaiyas annexed the island of Alashiya (Cyprus), which had become the richest source of copper in the Middle East, but suffered defeat in the battle of Nihriya, when he fought the Assyrian king, Tukulti-Ninurta II, for the land once ruled by Mitanni between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.(7)
The last two great Hittite kings were both sons of Tudkhaliyas IV: Arnuwandas III (884-881) and Suppiluliumas II (881-875). Under the latter king the empire literally crashed and burned. Records from his reign report wars against two former vassals, Tarhuntassa and Alashiya. It looks like Suppiluliumas sacked Tarhuntassa, only to lose Hattusas to a rebellion. We know the end result because when Hattusas was excavated, its walls were blackened by flame, and not a single building remained standing. Outside the capital, other Hittite towns, and even the Aegean port of Miletus, also show evidence of destruction from fire at this time. The scribe who filed the last report in the Hattusas archives simply said, "The inhabitants of Hatti sinned against His Majesty."
For a long time it was believed that a coalition called the "Sea Peoples" destroyed the Hittite capital, because they destroyed the Phoenician city of Ugarit at the same time. We have a letter that Suppiluliumas wrote to Amarapi, the last king of Ugarit, requesting aid against his enemies. No assistance came, because Ugarit itself was under attack from enemy ships, and Amarapi in turn pleaded to the king of Alashiya for aid, because Ugarit had been caught while its troops, chariots and ships were out of town. Indeed, the letter written by the king of Ugarit was never sent. Archaeologists found that letter in the kiln where it was fire-hardened, indicating that the attack which burned down Ugarit came right after the letter was written, thereby preventing its delivery.
Empires have been cut down in the prime of life (e.g., Khwarizm in Chapter 12), but it does not happen as often as empires falling after a prolonged period of decline, and the Hittites were at their peak just twenty years earlier, under Tudkhaliyas IV. Thus, it is more likely that rebels from within were responsible for the destruction of Hattusas, though they may have gotten some help from unfriendly outsiders like the Kaska tribes, who lived on the empire's northern border. Sometime after the fall, Kuzi-Teshub, the ruler of Carchemish, claimed the title of "Great King" for himself, because he was a direct descendent of Suppiluliumas I, but all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put the empire together again.
This was not the end of the Hittites; they hung around as a distinct people for at least a century and a half after their empire broke up. This period is called the Neo-Hittite or Syro-Hittite era, to distinguish it from the imperial era that had just ended. We believed that the area around Hattusas was occupied by the Kaskas, at least until the Phrygian and Urartian kingdoms were established. Now instead of one large state, the Hittites were divided into fifteen city-states, scattered across southern Anatolia and northern Syria; the most important city-states were Carchemish, Aleppo, and Tarhuntassa. As with the old empire, an ethnic mixture lived within the city walls (the population of the Syrian city-states was largely Aramaean); the main difference was that the Hittite hieroglyphic system replaced cuneiform as the main system of writing.(8)
When I introduced the Hittites in Chapter 2, I pointed out one of the Old Testament verses which mentions them, 2 Kings 7:6. It describes an event that took place one generation after the fall of Hattusas. To refresh your memory, this is the verse which tells how the Syrians fled from Israel because of a rumor that Israel had hired the "kings of the Hittites" and the "kings of the Egyptians" to fight on their side. This tidbit of historical information tells us three things:
According to Hittite records, Muwatallis II once had to come to the rescue with the Hittite army, when a client king, one Manapa-Tarhunta, failed to defend Wilusa from an enemy named Piyama-Radu. We also have a treaty signed between Muwatallis and the king of Wilusa, Alaksandu, which is interesting because one of the three gods mentioned as a witness in the treaty was Apaliunas, an Anatolian forerunner to the Greek God Apollo. A letter from Hattusilis III to the "king of Ahhiyawa" (the "Tawagalawas Letter"), requested the extradition of Piyama-Radu to the Hittites, and mentioned a former conflict between the Hittites and Ahhiyawans over Wilusa, which was resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Then in the "Milawata Letter," Tudkhaliyas IV informed an unidentified king that he has conquered Milawata (classical-era Miletus), and he wants a former king of Wilusa named Walmu sent to him so he can be restored on his former throne.(9)
Finally, another letter from Tudkhaliyas IV mentions a king named Pariyamuwa in Wilusa, and he lasted through the short reigns of Arnuwandas III and Suppiluliumas II. If you accept the Wilusa-Ilion connection, then Walmu was probably Laomedon, and Pariyamuwa was Laomedon's son Priam, the aged king of Troy at the time of the Trojan War.
The Trojan War is sometimes regarded as the event that launched Western Civilization, because the first great work of Western literature, the Iliad, was composed around it. We already covered the war in Chapter 1 of the European history series on this site, but the city of Troy itself was located in modern-day Turkey, so it is really part of the Middle East. Therefore it is worth a digression to look at how Troy affected Middle Eastern history.
The epic poems of Homer motivated nineteenth-century scholars to excavate in Greece and western Turkey, just as the Bible was the incentive for the first archaeologists in the Fertile Crescent. In any book on the history of archaeology, Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90) gets the credit for finding Troy. A self-taught German who made a fortune buying and selling gold during the California gold rush, Schliemann was obsessed with finding proof that the Iliad was a true story. Modern skeptics have suggested that the Trojan War never happened, its heroes never lived, and that its "author" may have been several bards rather than one; even classical-era Greeks and Romans thought the Trojan War may have been exaggerated, and had doubts about Homer's existence. Schliemann wanted more than anything else to prove them all wrong. In 1868 he went to a Turkish mound named Hissarlik, conducted the first of what would be seven excavations there, and convinced everybody that the artifacts he found came from Troy.
We noted in Chapter 1 that when most ancient cities of the Middle East were rebuilt, the older rubble was not cleared out completely, so the result is several cities stacked one on top of the other, in layer cake fashion. Thus, if a site is inhabited for more than a few centuries, the city ends up being on top of a hill. Then when the final city is abandoned, the whole site is covered with dirt, forming one of the tells and tepes that dot the landscape. In the case of Hissarlik, nine cities were found, with the city on the bottom three thousand years older than the one on the top. The layers are now numbered according to age, so the lowest layer is called Troy I, and the uppermost is Troy IX.
Alas, Schliemann was a treasure hunter, not a true archaeologist. Today's archaeologists carefully document the exact location where each artifact is found, often photgraphing it in situ. Accordingly, Frank Calvert, the British colleague who directed Schliemann to Hissarlik, advised him to work slowly with small excavations, but instead Schliemann dug a huge trench through the mound, 131 feet long and 33 feet wide, removed hundreds of tons of dirt and stones, and simply dumped them down the slope, with no concern at what evidence he might have destroyed. At the second level from the bottom, he found a treasure trove of gold jewelry, decided this was Homer's Troy, and eventually smuggled the gold to Germany, after getting his wife to pose for a picture wearing some of it. Unfortunately for Schliemann's theories, this city was built and destroyed in the early bronze age, more than a millennium before the Iliad took place; Schliemann didn't realize this because he only had an incomplete understanding of the mound's chronology. Later on he brought in Wilhelm Dörpfeld, an architect who had helped excavate Olympia in Greece, to help him. Dörpfeld worked cautiously in the chaos that Schliemann had left, and in 1890 the two of them found Mycenaean-style pottery (the style of late bronze age Greece) in the sixth level. For Dörpfeld this was evidence that Troy VI, and not Troy II, was the city they were looking for; Schliemann went to his tent, stayed in there alone for four days, and then finally said, "I think you are right." He made plans to come back for more digging, but died in the following winter. In the century since then, Dörpfeld and more recent archaeologists like Carl Blegen and Manfred Korfmann completed Hissarlik's excavation.
Troy's best asset can be described with one word: location. There are two narrow straits connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (called the Hellespont in ancient times). Whoever controls either of those straits controls shipping between the seas, and Troy's location on the eastern shore of the Dardanelles put it on a valuable control point, especially after the Greeks discovered that the lands ringing the Black Sea were a better place for growing grain than Greece itself. Moreover, the ships of those times could not sail against the wind, so if the winds were blowing the wrong way, merchants might have to wait for months until the weather changed, and Troy had the best harbor in the neighborhood. The presence of a mariner's cemetery at the site shows how important commercial shipping was to the local economy--and how long some sailors had to wait for a favorable wind. Consequently Troy was settled for a very long time, perhaps even by the first people to reach the Dardanelles.
The oldest city of the site, Troy I, had residents in it as early as 3000 B.C. The architecture was cruder than what we see later on--mud brick houses and a wall built from rubble lying around. In the 24th century B.C., Troy II was built on top of Troy I, and it shows signs of trade with Sumer and other parts of Anatolia. For example, the jewelry Schliemann found at Troy II looks a lot like what was buried in the royal tombs of Ur. Troy II was destroyed by fire, which reinforced Schliemann's belief that this was Homer's Troy, and so was the next city, which unlike the first two, had mostly stone houses (Troy III, 21st to 19th century B.C.). The fourth city's main feature was a citadel that covered four acres and was surrounded by mud brick houses; this was destroyed in the 18th century B.C., causes unknown, after standing for less than a century.
Troy V had larger houses and more sophisticated pottery than its predecessors, because it existed during the first part of the Hittite era (18th-17th centuries B.C.), meaning that there were now several other city-states in Anatolia for it to trade with. Then, at some point between 1500 and 1200 B.C., Troy VI was founded. This city lasted through the rest of the middle and late bronze age, and as noted above, we now believe this is the most likely candidate for Homer's Troy. According to Greek tradition, Troy's founder was one Teucer, the chief of the Teucri tribe. Presumably these were Luwians, or some other group already established in western Anatolia. Teucer's daughter, Batea, was married to Dardanus, so the Dardanian tribe, previously a vassal to he north, inherited Troy in the next generation; from them the Dardanelles got their present-day name.
Dardanus had two sons, Ilus I and Erichthonius. Ilus was older, but died childless, so the inheritance went to Erichthonius by default. Erichthonius had one son named Tros, who became the fourth king of Troy listed by the Greeks. Tros in turn had three sons: Ilus II, Assaracus and Ganymede. The Greek myths assert that Ganymede was the most attractive mortal in the world, so that when the god Zeus saw him, he fell in love with the youth instantly. Then either Zeus sent a great eagle, or turned himself into an eagle, depending on who you're reading, to snatch Ganymede and bring him back to Mt. Olympus. At Olympus, Ganymede became both a cupbearer to the gods and a companion to Zeus. Naturally Tros was upset at losing his son, until another god, Hermes, told him that Ganymede was now immortal because he held a very honorable job; then Zeus gave Tros an excellent team of horses as payment. Eventually Tros bequeathed his kingdom to Ilus II, and Ilus liked Troy so much that he gave the rest of Dardania to his brother Assaracus, while keeping Troy for himself. From Ilus, Troy got its other name of Ilion/Wilusa. Ilus may have been the king named Alaksandu in the previously mentioned treaty with the Hittites.
The sixth recorded king of Troy was the son of Ilus, Laomedon. For details on him, again we have to turn to the Greek myths; these assert he was untrustworthy. The first occurrence came when two of the gods, Poseidon and Apollo, offended Zeus and he sent them to serve King Laomedon. Laomedon put them to work building a great wall around Troy, promising to reward them richly for their efforts, but then refused to pay after the project was finished. Poseidon retaliated by sending a sea monster to attack Troy.
Laomedon thought he could appease Poseidon and the sea monster by sacrificing his daughter, Hesione. He did not have to carry out this grisly deed, though, because Heracles (Hercules in Latin) arrived in the nick of time with the kings of two Greek city-states, Oicles and Telamon. In the battle that followed, Oicles was killed but the other two heroes killed the monster. Laomedon had promised them the divine horses of Zeus as a reward, only to break his word again after the heroes saved the day. Consequently Heracles and Telamon took the monster's place, by leading an army that put Troy under siege. When they broke into the city, they killed Laomedon and all but one of his sons. This son, Podarces, saved his life by giving Heracles a golden veil that Hesione had made; because of this ransom, he became the next king of Troy, and his name was changed to Priam (from the Greek priamai, meaning 'to buy'). As for Telamon, he married Hesione and they had a son named Teucer. The siege of Troy by Heracles may be a Greek account of the war between Hittites and Ahhiyawa; if so, the Greeks confused the outcome, because as we saw above, the Hittite annals reported that Walmu/Laomedon got his throne back.
With the reign of Priam we reach the time of the Trojan War. Greek authors like Hesiod considered the Trojan War a pivotal event; it marked the borderline between the ages of mythology and the age of true history. This makes sense, if it happened near the end of the Mycenaean age, as we believe. However, the Greeks also gave us no less than ten dates for the war, ranging from 1346 to 1127 B.C. All they were in agreement on was that it happened a long time before the classical era began (around 600 B.C.). Today's historians will also add that the war must have happened after the Hittite Empire fell, because Homer's list of participants in the Iliad does not include the Hittites, and a war which brought more than a thousand ships across the Aegean would have surely gotten the Hittites' attention. Because conventional chronologies put the end of the Hittite Empire around 1200 B.C., the date Eratosthenes gave for the fall of Troy, 1184 B.C., has become the most popular.(10)
An early date for the Trojan War is also popular because conventional chronology puts a 600-year "dark age" in Greek history, between the Mycenaeans and classical Greece. While you will still see this in most history texts, the dark age theory is now on shaky ground. First of all, it has been more than a century since a dark age was proposed, but aside from Mycenaean ruins, only a few artifacts have been found in Greece that can be dated older than the classical era, mostly pottery decorated with geometric patterns and statues in a style that has been called "archaic." This has caused some scholars to suggest that Greece suffered a major drop in its population, because fewer people would leave fewer artifacts, but to believe this, you have to accept the idea that for a time period as long as that between the Renaissance and the present, Greece was nearly deserted. However, they have to allow a dark age because the pre-classical (Minoan & Mycenaean) civilizations of Greece were contemporary with New Kingdom Egypt and the Hittite Empire, and the dates of those civilizations have been pushed back in time, for reasons covered in an essay on this site, Problems With Egyptian Chronology. Thus, we sometimes hear calls for a shortening of the dark age, but if those making the calls stick to the conventional chronology elsewhere, they cannot find a way to do it.(11)
However, the history papers on this site use the "New Chronology" proposed by scholars like John Bimson and David Rohl, so there is no need to prop up the Greek chronology with extra years when they have been removed from the chronologies of other civilizations. In the previous section, we gave a new date of 875 B.C. for the end of the Hittite Empire, and David Rohl suggests that this very collapse triggered the Greek attack on Troy, because Agamemnon, Menelaus and their allies would have risked massive retaliation from the Hittite chariots if they had tried it earlier. Thus, his dates for the ten-year siege of Troy are 874-864 B.C.
Indeed, it now looks like an attack on Troy was attempted, while the Hittite Empire was in one piece. According to the ancient authors Pindar and Strabo, in the second year after Helen of Troy's abduction, the hero Achilles led his own fleet to Troy, but instead made landfall more than sixty miles to the south, on the coast near the Kaikos valley (the site for the future city of Pergamun). This region was part of the kingdom of Arzawa, and ruled by Telephanes, the father of Eurypylus (see footnote #10). In the battle that followed, Telephanes was wounded, but succeeded in driving the invaders back to their ships. So he wouldn't return to Greece emptyhanded, Achilles sailed to the nearby island of Lesbos and sacked the community there, Thermi. Excavations of Thermi show evidence of destruction right at the end of the bronze age, suggesting that this story is true. Eight years later, Agamemnon launched his more famous invasion, so if we follow the date in the previous paragraph, the unsuccessful invasion of Achilles took place in 882 B.C., while Arnuwandas III was king of the Hittites.
After the destruction of Troy, the highest ranked survivor, Aeneas, tried rebuilding the city for himself and his followers, but it was not a successful venture, and a few years later they left to find a new home. Presumably this is where Roman authors like Vergil got the idea that Aeneas wandered west, visiting Carthage and eventually settling in Italy. The archaeological evidence here is in agreement with the literature; Troy VII was inhabited at least twice, and was a much smaller and much poorer city than Troy VI. Some believe that Troy VII was the city of Homer, rather than Troy VI, because it fits better with the dates in conventional chronology, but if the Trojan War had an economic motivation, as we now believe (see the next section) the Greeks would have been far less willing to attack a city that was scarcely better than a shantytown.
To finish the description of Troy's layer cake, Troy VII was destroyed by fire twice, rebuilt, and then abandoned some time before 700 B.C. At least one of those fires was man-made, caused by the Dorian invasion of Greece. The eighth Troy was not inhabited for long. Though the Greeks knew where it was, and put a temple on the site, which Alexander the Great later visited (see Chapter 6), for most of the classical era the main settlement on the Dardanelles was Abydos, about twenty-five miles north of Troy. Finally around 20 B.C., the Romans built Troy IX and called it Novo Illum (New Ilion); the New Testament called it Troas. It lost its importance in the early fourth century A.D., when Constantine converted the Bosporus town of Byzantium into the Roman Empire's eastern capital, Constantinople. After that the city declined gradually, with the last inhabitants disappearing around 500.
"The princes are prostrate saying: 'Salam!'"
It now appears more likely that Merneptah added his own victories to the list of victories achieved by his two predecessors, Seti I and Ramses II, without stating who won each, so the Merneptah Stele is really a review of what the whole XIX dynasty did. It is also a reminder of the saying "pride comes before a downfall," because immediately after that, the good times for the dynasty ended. Merneptah was ousted by a usurper named Amenmesses, who was either his brother or his son. A civil war broke out (873-855 B.C.?), which engulfed Egypt for the last years of the XIX dynasty. Amenmesses apparently had the support of Egypt's former Asian provinces, because after the war, Ramses III, the second pharaoh of the XX dynasty, claimed that his father Setnakht defeated and drove out an Asian named Arsu or Arsa, who had seized power in the eastern Nile delta. Arsa was described as a Syrian, but he may have been an Israelite, because Israel's King Elah was slain in the house of an official by that name; perhaps he was the commander of some Israelite mercenaries sent to Egypt. Arsa may also have been the same person as Chancellor Bay, who briefly ruled Upper Egypt at the end of the XIX dynasty; unfortunately we don't have enough records from that murky time to be sure.
The reason for this diversion into Egyptian history is to show the reader that Egypt was unprepared for the upheaval that shook the Mediterranean Basin in the ninth century B.C. It started with the Trojan War, and while Homer claimed that conflict was started by a love triangle between Menelaus, Helan and Paris, we now believe economic factors were more important. The main one is that the iron age had just begun in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean Basin. In Chapter 2 we saw that some smiths before the tenth century B.C. knew how to work with iron, but it was of poor quality, and not used as much as copper and bronze. Iron replaced other metals gradually, especially in places that didn't have a source of iron (e.g., Egypt), and it wasn't until the tenth or ninth century that iron tools and weapons became as common as bronze ones, making that period a good place to put the beginning of the iron age.
You may be surprised to learn that the first years of the iron age were also a time of poverty. Archaeologists looking at sites dating to the bronze age-iron age transition have noted that pottery and other artifacts from the late bronze age were more numerous and of better quality than similar artifacts from the early iron age, leading us to believe that people were richer and life was easier before the bronze age ended. Now we know why; a major climate change took place around the same time, making the weather cooler (and often drier) in the early part of the first millennium B.C. Remember that most people at this time were farmers, and before the invention of money, you were considered rich if you had enough grain, produce or livestock to barter for whatever else you wanted. Now with shorter growing seasons, some crops could no longer be grown, and the chance of crop failure from an out-of-season killing frost increased, so harvests generally were smaller. Consequently times became more difficult for everyone, though the civilizations which did a lot of fishing and trading (e.g., the Greeks, Phoenicians, Aramaeans and Arabs) did not suffer as much as those which were totally dependent on agriculture.
Greece is a difficult place for farming in good times, with its rugged landscape and poor soil; it is easy to imagine that a lot of the warriors attacking Troy were ex-farmers, seeking another way to make their fortune in a worsening climate. Though they were successful, the Greek homeland did not profit from their adventure. An army and navy as big as the one Homer described would have driven many city-states broke, and with so many men gone, the land was vulnerable to invaders. We see as much when the Dorians migrated out of the Balkans a few decades later (about 820 B.C.), and put cities like Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos to the torch. Those warriors who returned to Greece did not have a friendly homecoming, either. Agamemnon was murdered by his queen, Clytemnestra; Odysseus went home to find a gang of suitors trying to take his wife, treasure and throne; Idomeneus sacrificed his son when he arrived safely on Crete, to keep a vow he made to Poseidon, and the other gods, disgusted by this act, put a plague on Crete until the Cretans exiled their hero.
The adventurers who fared the best were the ones on both sides who left home and never returned. The previously mentioned Aeneas was one; another was Mopsus. Mopsus was the grandson of Tiresias, the wise man in the Oedipus legend, and gained a reputation as a great seer; the oracles of Klaros and Mallos were reportedly founded by him. At the start of his career, he was king of Colophon, a city in Ionia (the west coast of Anatolia, which was settled by Greeks around this time). Then after the Trojan War, some Greek warriors, led by Amphilochus of Argos, sailed from Troy to Colophon, seeking new adventure. Among them was Calchas, the evil seer who had persuaded Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter, in order to have a favorable wind blow the Greek ships to Troy. When Calchas met Mopsus, they had a divination contest. Mopsus correctly predicted how many figs a fig tree would produce, and how many piglets a pregnant sow would bear, including that only one of the piglets would be a male. The exasperated Calchas killed himself, because he could not predict anything that accurately. Then Mopsus joined the newcomers and they wandered along Anatolia's southern coast, ancient Pamphylia and Cilia, founding the cities of Aspendus, Phaeselis, Mopsouhestia and Mallos as they went. For a while Mopsus and Amphilochus shared power, but at Mallos they quarreled and Mopsus killed Amphilochus in a duel.
As they traveled along, these adventurers picked up like-minded folk, also seeking to find or make their fortunes. After all, it has happened with migrations and marches in other times and places (e.g., Hannibal and the Gauls in Italy). The result was a snowball effect; the army may have been at least half Greek when it set out from Ionia, but by the time it reached the border of Egypt it was a truly multinational force. They also had ships, so sometimes the army marched overland, other times it used ships to hop from one port to the next. By contrast, the Egyptians were only fair sailors on the sea, because their boats were designed to cruise the Nile, not the sea, so they called this group the "Sea Peoples" ("Peoples of the Sea" in some translations). Egyptian art from the time of Ramses III shows us that the force on land included wagons carrying women and children, meaning that they brought their families along, and were looking for new homes as well as wealth.
The most successful city founded by Mopsus was Adana, in Cilicia; Adana is the fourth largest city in modern Turkey. At nearby Karatepe is a monument built by Azatiwatas, a Neo-Hittite king from the eighth century B.C. Besides a large statue of the Hittite weather god, it contained an inscription written in Phoenician and Luwian; in fact, this inscription provided the key to deciphering the latter (see footnote #8). Here Azatiwatas lists all the things he did to make Adana prosper, and calls his family the "House of Mopsus," thus claiming Mopsus as his ancestor. From this we know that Mopsus was a true historical person, whether or not he could see the future.
Adana is only a few miles from the sea, and it is an easy march from the Cilician coast to the nearest part of Syria. We noted earlier in this chapter that Ugarit, the Phoenician city in this region, was destroyed around the same time as Hattusas, but that wasn't the only victim; the cities of Alalakh, Hamath, Qatna, Kadesh, and Enkomi on Cyprus, were destroyed, too. It's a safe guess that the Sea Peoples were responsible for all of this. From Syria they had the choice of going east or south. Continuing the march east would have been ruled out quickly, because the Assyrians were too tough, especially under the current kings, Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III (see below). However, by this point they also would have heard about the turmoil in Egypt, so the lands to the south became the logical destination. As the early XVIII dynasty pharaohs had done, they followed the Levantine coast, only this time going in the opposite direction. That path bypassed the interior kingdoms completely (Damascus, Israel, Judah, Ammon, Moab and Edom); they were probably not rich enough to make the invaders want to postpone their arrival in Egypt. When they reached Ashkelon, one of the five main Philistine cities, Ramses III hired them and the Philistines as mercenaries for a campaign against the Libyans, who were making trouble again (862 B.C.). Xanthus, an historian from the fifth century B.C., reports that at Ashkelon, Mopsus cast a statue of the goddess Asherah into the sacred lake of her temple, before going on the Libyan campaign. Shortly after this he died of a snakebite, though it is not clear whether it happened in Libya or Ashkelon; at any rate, I don't think the soldier/seer saw that fate coming!
Now that we have returned to Egypt, this is a good place to attempt an identification of the nationalities among the Sea Peoples. No less than ten groups are listed (twelve if you count the Philistines and Libyans), and the problem is that because the ancient Egyptian language is not Indo-European or Semitic, the names they used aren't likely to sound anything like our names for the same people. Some of the names have appeared before (e.g., the Shardana were mercenaries for Ramses II), but most are only used in Egyptian records from the XX dynasty. Thus, scholars have speculated on their identities for more than a century. Most books, for instance, will try to identify the Shardana and Shekelesh as Sardinians and Sicilians, respectively, when no evidence has yet been found of people from those distant islands getting involved in Middle Eastern affairs this early. For the present, it makes more sense to identify most of the Peoples of the Sea as tribes or nations from Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, who descended upon Egypt like a locust swarm when life became too harsh at home. Here is the list from the inscriptions of Ramses III, and the latest "who's who" concerning them:
*Fought on the side of the Libyans in Merneptah's time.
In other history papers I have pointed out that mercenaries may be better trained than native recruits or conscripts, but because they are fighting for money, they are less reliable; to make mercenaries desert their patron, all you have to do is show them enough gold. Ramses III found this out just three years after the first campaign (859 B.C.), when both the Peoples of the Sea and the Philistines turned against him. To his credit he knew they were coming; he established a defensive line near the borders of Judah and Philistia, and ordered every available ship to guard the mouth of the Nile. He also led a campaign east, presumably a pre-emptive strike against the Philistines, but the only enemy mentioned in Egyptian records was the "Seirites," suggesting that his main opponents were the kingdom of Edom (Mt. Seir is in Edom) and any Bedouins who got in the way. Still, the invading fleet managed to get into the Nile delta before the Egyptians were able to stop them. Afterwards, Ramses built a a temple to himself at Medinet Habu that resembled a fortress, and covered it with some of the most spectacular battle scenes to appear in Egyptian art. Here we can see that the Egyptians compensated for their lack of skill in naval warfare by stationing archers on the shore, to fire arrows at enemy ships; they also did well in hand-to-hand combat, when they got close enough to board the other vessels. To keep track of how many enemies they killed, the Egyptians cut off a hand from each victim, and because invaders did not practice circumcision (the Egyptians did), they also cut off and kept the phalluses of the enemy dead--undoubtedbly the worst war trophies of all time! After that one more campaign was fought in Libya in 856 B.C., but Ramses had little to say about this epilogue to the war.
Egypt was saved, and needless to say, Ramses celebrated his great victory. It is unlikely that anyone pointed out the victory was a defensive one, fought right in Lower Egypt, whereas the victories of the XVIII and XIX dynasties were successful wars of conquest in distant lands. It also was the New Kingdom's last hurrah; for the rest of his reign, Ramses saw his country suffering under severe economic strain. Within a few decades the New Kingdom would give way to the long period of decline we now call the Third Intermediate Period. In the rest of the world, the situation was similarly grim, due to the cooling climate mentioned above. In preclassical Greece and Aryan India, the age of heroes was coming to an end. More waves of Greeks would leave their homeland during the next three centuries, looking (literally) for greener pastures. The result of this was the Greek colonization of most available lands on the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, a migration that surpassed the Phoenician colonization effort described previously. For the rest of the period covered by this chapter, and even the next chapter, kings would not be remembered for their wisdom (e.g., Solomon), or for the monuments they built (e.g., the pharaohs); they would be remembered chiefly for raw power, and the terror they struck in the hearts of their opponents.
Under Ahab (874-853) and his Phoenician wife, the infamous Jezebel, Baal worship became a serious challenge to the original faith of Israel. The ministry of the prophet Elijah during this time was the only check against the tide of Baal-worship. Meanwhile, Ahab faced serious trouble on two other fronts. First, the land of Israel suffered from three years of drought, which may have been a by-product of the climate change mentioned in the previous section. Second, a shortage of good land in Syria encouraged Aram's king, Ben-Hadad II, to invade Israel. When the first Syrian attack on Samaria failed, Ben-Hadad's troops concluded that Israel's God was "a god of the hills" (1 Kings 20:23), and that a battle fought on flat ground would result in a Syrian victory. This was faulty logic, though.(13) At Aphek, a town just east of the Sea of Galilee, Ben-Hadad's army was wiped out, and he was captured. To get his freedom back, Ben-Hadad returned cities taken from Israel in the first invasion, swore an oath of loyalty to Ahab, and gave Israel commercial privileges in Damascus. After that a prophet criticized Ahab for sparing a king that deserved to be killed.
Ahab had his reasons. In 854 B.C. the Assyrian ruler, Shalmaneser III (see the next section), led an army into Syria. The quarrelsome kings of the Levant all put aside their differences and formed a coalition army to deal with an enemy that could destroy them all. At Karkar on the Orontes River, they met and stopped the Assyrian onslaught. Shalmaneser tells us that twelve kings opposed him and that Ahab brought to the battle two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers. Although Shalmaneser claimed yet another great victory, it was really a draw, and he went home again. Things promptly returned to "normal" in the Holy Land, and the alliance was forgotten as quickly as it was made. Ahab and Ben-Hadad met in battle at Ramoth-Gilead, east of the Jordan. Ahab disguised himself as an ordinary officer, but was mortally wounded by an arrow.
The divided kingdom (Israel & Judah) and neighboring states, around 840 B.C.
Ben-Hadad also met a violent end. Shortly after Ramoth-Gilead, Ben-Hadad fell ill, and the prophet Elisha (Elijah's successor) went to Damascus. Hazael, one of Ban-Hadad's servants, took gifts from the king to Elisha, and Elisha instructed him to tell Ben-Hadad he would recover, though the truth was that Ben-Hadad would die. Then Elisha pedicted that Hazael would become the next Syrian king, and wept over the devastation that Hazael would soon inflict on Israel. Hazael took the hint, and personally fulfilled the prophecies by smothering the king and seizing his throne.
Ahab's contemporary in Judah, Jehoshaphat (873-848), ruled the southern kingdom well, but he made a big mistake in his friendship with Ahab. Early in his reign, he married his son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. This act gave Baal worship a strong foothold in the south, with grave consequences for the next generation.
The alliance almost got Jehoshaphat killed in the Battle of Ramoth-Gilead. Around this time, Moab revolted from Israelite rule under a leader named Mesha, Edom revolted from Judah, and Ammon joined the two rebel states in an invasion of Judah. Jehoshaphat marched to meet this coalition, with his musicians praising God in the front of his army. Before the opposing forces met, the invaders began fighting among themselves, and Jehoshaphat won without drawing his sword. As a result, Judah regained control over Edom, and held it for the rest of Jehoshaphat's reign. In the tradition of Solomon, Jehoshaphat built a fleet of commercial ships at his Red Sea port, but a storm wrecked the fleet before it sailed.
In the north, the second king after Ahab, Jehoram, tried to reconquer Moab. He persuaded Jehoshaphat to help him, and they went around the south side of the Dead Sea, nearly perishing of thirst before they met Elisha, who promised them rain for Jehoshaphat's sake. They were joined by the king of Edom, invaded Moab, and surrounded its capital, but the attackers went home in disgust after Mesha sacrificed his son to the god Chemosh.
In theory, Assyria was a nation of serfs with a king who enjoyed absolute rule; economic, political, diplomatic, military and religious authority were supposed to be his. The king was supposed to be an earthly representative of the god Ashur, but even for him satisfying the gods was no easy task. He regularly underwent such rituals as fasting or living for a week at a time in a crude reed hut. He could not make a major decision without consulting the priests, oracles, exorcists, diviners, astrologers and soothsayers who, in effect, became powers behind the throne. Even the crown prince could only see the monarch when the omens were good. The most evil sign was a solar or lunar eclipse, which they saw as a warning of the monarch's upcoming death. When that happened, the king applied the ancient Sumerian solution; he abdicated and put a surrogate on the throne, giving the substitute king responsibility for whatever angered the gods. At the end of 100 days the real king returned, and they executed both the substitute and the substitute's wife, presumably to give the gods the previously predicted death of the king.
Assyrian thought was both conservative and superstitious. Astronomy, mathematics, law, medicine, the arts, etc., had been borrowed almost completely from the Babylonians. They built huge libraries containing up to 25,000 clay tablets, to collate and store the knowledge of earlier civilizations (one of the last kings, Ashurbanipal, boasted that he liked to read what was written before Noah's flood). The only real improvement made in any of these areas was art; superb relief sculptures have come down to us showing the main events in Assyrian history, often in minute detail. On the whole the Assyrians believed that anything old was good and must be preserved; innovation was dangerous and should be avoided.
One area where the Assyrians were not afraid to try something new was in their specialty--war. The army put iron weapons to use when the technology to make them became available, and siege weapons like the battering ram and the catapult were either invented or perfected by them, making the capture of cities much easier. From the nomads of Russia they learned the art of riding on horseback. This was an improvement over the chariot, because horses can go in many places a chariot cannot go, and a rider is less vulnerable to accidents and enemy weapons (it only takes one well-placed arrow against one of the horses pulling a chariot to overturn the whole thing). Around 900 B.C. Assyria became the first civilized nation with a cavalry, and in the years to come they would enlarge and improve it, though the chariot would remain in use until the end of Assyrian history.(14)
An otherwise obscure king, Adad-nirari II (911-891 B.C.), opened the next chapter in Assyrian history. He first defeated the Aramaeans, driving them from their outposts on the west bank of the Tigris. Then he marched into the hills of Kurdistan, where tribes allied with Mitanni were "cut down in heaps" and driven back into the Zagros mts. Presumably this marks the end of Mitanni's domination over Assyria, but for safety's sake the Assyrians chose to keep their late masters alive as a buffer state when the Anatolians advanced across the Euphrates. Finally they defeated the king of Babylon; the border between Babylonia and Assyria was pushed back to the Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris, and a treaty was signed between the two powers that brought peace between them for the next eighty years.
The next king, Tukulti-Ninurta II (891-884), rebuilt the wall around Assur, and as noted above, he defeated his Hittite counterpart, Tudkhaliyas IV, in the battle of Nihriya. He claimed that he took 28,800 Hittites prisoner, which may have been an exaggeration. His successor, Ashurnasirpal II (884-859), broke completely with the past by moving the capital to Calah (modern Nimrud), building a magnificent palace there. He was so proud of this project that according to the inscription he left, when the palace was finished, he hosted a ten-day feast, and invited 47,074 subjects from out of town, 5,000 foreigners, 1,500 court officials, and 16,000 of Calah's residents.
However, Ashurnasirpal wouldn't be remembered for throwing a record-breaking party; he was also also the first outstanding war leader the Assyrians had seen in nearly a century. Every spring he marched forth on campaigns resembling the grand hunting expeditions of peacetime. The most important of these campaigns, in 877 B.C., went from Carchemish to Lebanon, making him the first Assyrian king since Tiglath-Pileser I to reach the Mediterranean. When he got there he symbolically washed his weapons in "the Great Sea." The nations trembled with fear, because Ashurnasirpal, the cruelest of all Assyrian monarchs, committed a ghastly series of atrocities that eclipsed the dread deeds of his forbears. Unlike modern dictators, who hide most of their sins from public view, the Assyrians were proud of their butchery, and wrote it down so that everybody would know about it:
"I built a pillar against his city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skin. Some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar . . . And I cut off the limbs of the officers, the royal officers who had rebelled . . . "
This continues in too many royal inscriptions. Saying which is more shocking is difficult: the atrocities themselves, or the detailed, self-gratifying way in which the chief executioner describes them.
There was no "Geneva Convention" in the ancient Middle East, and cruelty in warfare was nothing new. The Assyrians, however, made it a key ingredient of their state policy. Everywhere they marched they mutilated, flayed, impaled, burned, and heaped up the heads of their victims, to spread terror and encourage submission through fear. Yet as one might expect, from the start the policy was a dismal failure. Often the mangled survivors of a vanquished nation would rise in revolt when the Assyrian army went somewhere else, and new rebellions would break out whenever a new king came to the throne. Eventually the Assyrians would exhaust their kingdom because of this, conquering and reconquering lands that should have been theirs after the first invasion. Is it any wonder that the Old Testament prophet Jonah did not want to preach to the Assyrians of Nineveh?
Shalmaneser III (859-824), the next king, continued in the footsteps of Ashurnasirpal. 31 years of his 35-year reign were spent in warfare. Like Ashurnasirpal, he glorified his cruelties; for example, he claimed he killed 14,000 Aramaean warriors in one campaign, and crossed the Orontes River on their bodies. Expeditions went farther from Assyria than ever before: against the Zagros tribes to the east(15), southward to the Persian Gulf against the ever-rebellious Babylonians, northward against the new Anatolian kingdom of Urartu, and westward into Syria and Cilicia against the Aramaeans, Neo-Hittites, and others. The Assyrians constantly celebrated victory, whether they won or not; constant victory was the condition that kept the Assyrians going.
Back in Calah, Shalmaneser built a palace that was nearly twice the size of Ashurnasirpal's; it had 200 rooms and covered twelve acres. As you might expect with a king like Shalmaneser, it also served a military function, containing a fortress full of soldiers within its walls. Max Mallowan, the archaeologist who discovered it in 1957, seemed to know this as soon as he started digging, because he called the palace "F.S.", meaning "Fort Shalmaneser." After the capital moved to Nineveh, the palace remained in use as an arsenal.
Despite the propaganda, Shalmaneser made more raids than permanent conquests. The neighboring states were no longer taken by surprise, as they had been in Ashurnasirpal's day, and they joined against the Assyrian threat whenever it came their way (e.g., the battle of Karkar). The end of his reign saw a serious rebellion from his eldest son, Ashurdaninapal. It was put down by a loyal son, Shamshi-Adad V, but it lasted for seven years (828-821), and Shalmaneser died before it was over. As a result Shamshi-Adad inherited a weakened state that would stagnate for nearly a century.
1. The typical walled town in ancient times covered 50 to 150 acres, and could house as many as a hundred people per acre. These are average figures; towns in communities that practiced irrigation (mainly in the valleys of Egypt and Mesopotamia at this stage) could feed a slightly higher population, while communities that depended on rain-watered agriculture or herding supported a lower figure.
These statistics also mean that the earliest civilizations ran with fewer people than you might think. For all its importance to the Israelites (and later to Christians), it now appears that during the entire Old Testament era, Jerusalem never had more than 15,000 people. Don't get me wrong, King Solomon was the richest, and probably the strongest king of his day--but that was by the standards of the late bronze age, when the only real competition came from the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hittites. Compared with empires that came later on, like ancient Rome or imperial China, Solomon would have been a big fish in a small pond.
2. They didn't even give themselves a national name, though they certainly noticed a common language, religion, and culture. Most of the time a typical Phoenician seem to have associated himself with his home city first: e.g., Tyrian, Carthaginian, Sidonian, etc. The Bible calls them all "Sidonians"; our term "Phoenician" comes from their main competitor, the Greeks (who also had many names for themselves) and is derived from the Greek word for their most famous export, purple cloth.
3. So many of the famous "cedars of Lebanon" were cut down to satisfy the demand for wood that only a few hundred of them remain standing today. Even the cedar tree on the Lebanese flag is endangered, from a political standpoint, if one looks at Syria's meddling in Lebanon's affairs.
4. A recent DNA analysis revealed that more than half of the Y chromosomes in Malta's population match those found in the Levant, suggesting that when the Phoenicians colonized Malta, they either killed off the original inhabitants, or simply outbred them. It also means that today's Maltese, like the Lebanese, are direct descendants of the Phoenicians.
5. All of the Phoenician letters were consonants; the first people to write vowels were Indo-Europeans, presumably the Greeks. Before that time the writer was expected to mentally put in the vowels as he read the words, as is usually done in modern Hebrew. This works better than you'd think in several Semitic/Hamitic languages, where certain vowels and consonants are expected to go together.
6. Because the Middle East has been overwhelmingly male-dominated for most of history, I make it a point to mention the female rulers who managed to break that tradition, if only for their lifetimes. Examples include Kubaba in Chapter 1, and Zenobia in Chapter 8. Another was Puduhepa, a priestess from Kizzuwatna. Hattusilis III met her on the way home from the battle of Kadesh, when he stopped to pay his respects at a temple of Ishtar, and made her his wife and queen. Whereas most royal marriages were strictly political, like the ones Solomon had to keep the peace with everybody else, it appears that Hattusilis simply fell in love with Puduhepa; he is the first king on record who admitted marrying for love, anyway. In one letter written by the king, for example, he makes a statement that shows remarkable warmth for somebody with as much power as he had: "God granted us the love of husband and wife, and we had sons and daughters." In return, she prayed frequently for her husband's health, as several Hittite tablets assert. Hattusilis also gave her extraordinary powers, and Puduhepa used them. To start with, she carried on a lively correspondence with foreign kings and queens. Of the one hundred known letters written between Egyptian and Hittite rulers after they ratified their peace treaty, fifteen were addressed to Puduhepa. Even the bombastic Ramses II spoke to her as if they were equals, because the promised Hittite princess did not go to Egypt until Puduhepa gave her approval. When Hattusilis entered his terminal illness, Puduhepa took over the affairs of state, and governed as regent while the next king, Tudkhaliyas IV, was a child. Finally, because the Hittites had acquired hundreds of gods from every civilization they met, Puduhepa took on the task of organizing the Hittite religion, letting everyone know how the sacred texts and the gods were related to one another.
7. A severe dought left the Hittites so hungry that Tudkhaliyas was forced to import grain from Egypt. After the drought ended, he built thirteen dams, so that the water supply would be better managed next time. One of the dams, at Alaca Hüyük, was in such good shape after nearly three thousand years that modern Turkey put it to work again in 2006.
8. It was a similar story with the former Hittite client states. Arzawa and Kizzuwatna were lumped together under the name "Luwia," and the name of Lydia, the kingdom that dominated western Anatolia in the early sixth century B.C., probably comes from Luwia. Like the Neo-Hittites, the Luwians wrote with Hittite hieroglyphics; their language was translated by Emmanuel Laroche in 1960. Stay tuned, we'll come back to Lydia later in this chapter.
9. The same letter states that Milawata/Miletus had an ally named "Attarisiyas, the man of Akhiya," who raided the part of Anatolia called Lycia with one hundred chariots. Later on, when Arnuwandas III was king of the Hittites, the vassal of Milawata/Miletus revolted again, and with the help of Attarisiyas, sailed across the sea to attack Alashiya/Cyprus. Attarisiyas was probably the famous Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. A companion of Attarisiyas, named Mukshush in the letter, is now thought to be another hero of Greek legend, Mopsus; we will see him again later in this chapter.
10. The allies Homer listed as fighting on the side of the Trojans came from Dardania, the Halizones, the Hyrtacidae, Karkissa, Kolonae, Larissa, Lycia, Lyrnessos, Maeonia, Mysia, Paphlagonia, Percote, Phrygia, Thrace, and Zeleia. Most of these places have been identified in western Turkey; the main exception is Thrace, which was in modern-day Bulgaria. Another epic poem, the Aethiopis (written by Arctinus of Miletus), talks about Achilles defeating a "king of Ethiopia" named Memnon, which would suggest that Egypt sent a unit of soldiers to defend Troy.
11. Here is one example: "Recently it has been argued that dates currently assigned to the end of the Mycenaean period (c. 1200) should be lowered to the middle of the tenth century. This proposition (based on the re-evaluation of Egyptian and western Asiatic archaeology) has proved highly controversial and is not widely accepted, but it would go a long way towards explaining the continuities from Mycenaean palace centres to the city-states." From Robert Morkot, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Greece, London, Penguin Books, 1996, pg. 38.
12. The Story of Wenamun, an Egyptian tale of woe from the end of the XX dynasty, identifies the Tjeker as pirates based at Dor, an Israelite port. However, nobody is using that to claim that the Tjeker were Israelites or Canaanites; they probably had a more important base somewhere else. We have not yet found records making an identification that clear for any of the other Sea Peoples.
13. A lot of folks in ancient times believed their gods had a strictly local influence, and thus could not help someone who wandered out of that god's locality. This probably came about by the original division of communities into city-states, and residents of each city-state must have noticed that the gods of other city-states had different names, even if they looked and acted the same as theirs. It also might have been an incentive to stay put, if moving to amother city meant changing your religion. We see this kind of thinking again in the first chapter of the Book of Jonah. Instead of going to Nineveh, as God commanded, Jonah catches a ride on a ship heading for Tarshish. Most scholars believe that Tarshish was Tartessos, an ancient city in Spain, so apparently Jonah was trying to run away to the most distant place he knew of in the opposite direction! Then when the ship runs into a storm at sea, everyone aboard, except Jonah, prays to his god, in the hope that one of the gods represented there will have enough power over wind and water to save them. When that doesn't work, they wake up Jonah, and ask him what he might have done to cause the storm, and he answers that he is a Hebrew, running away from the God of Heaven, who created both the sea and the dry land. The others are shocked to hear that Jonah is trying to escape a God who outranks all of their gods; they know that Jonah can run, but he can't hide!
14. This is a good place to point out that the wars of Assyria were not motivated by greed, nor were the conquests planned at every step. The first battles of this period were no doubt defensive actions, to improve the security of a land that had no natural defenses. Later on there was a religious motivation; conquest was the divine mission of kings; anyone who opposed the king opposed the gods as well. This provided the justification for what happened next.
15. Shalmaneser's campaigns around Lake Urmia brought him into contact with the Medes and Persians. This is the first time we hear of those two tribes, who will play a very important role later, especially in Chapters 4, 5 and 8.
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