History of the Old Assyria Kindom C. 2600 BC - 1400 BC


The Old Assyrian Kingdom

Museopics the free museum History

circa 2600 BC - 1400 BC


In the early days the city state of Assur became successful because of the skill of its merchants. The merchants operated as independent entrepreneurs against the background of religious and social beliefs set by the Assyrian government. To make profits it was important that a merchants capital remained active and was not be tied up in stock. If he saw an opportunity to trade the merchant needed to be able to grant loans to agents, or others, to buy goods who in turn had to sell them as quickly as possible to pay off the loan. Goods were traded across a network and may pass through several traders and agents before reaching the final customer. The speed of transaction was an important skill of the Assyrian traders which allowed them to keep their cash liquid and available for the next deal.


This created a very active trading system that traded high value commodities like textiles from Babylon and tin from Iran for silver and gold in Anatolia. Assyrian merchants were aggressive when buying and selling and with defaulting debtors or un reliable partners. To speed up time consuming law suits, Assyrian Merchants took private summonses against defaulting debtors which led to arbitration (1). According to M. Silver (1995) and D. Warburton (2003) the Assyrian trading practices were the equivalent of our modern supply and demand market economy , with commodity prices being dictated by the market. Warburton cites the cessation of tin production in Anatolia when Assyrian merchants started trading Iranian tin into Anatolia cheaper.


Assur became the centre of an Assyrian trading hub that connected Babylon to its south to Anatolia to its North. Cuneiform tablets excavated in Anatolia detailed how the Assyrian trading network was organised. At the heart of the hub was Assur. Routes connected Assur to Kanesh in Anatolia, present day Turkey. Kanesh was a karum, which was the name for a trading colony for the Assyrian merchants possibly with a quay or a commercial centre. From the karum goods went out to smaller “warbartum” or trading posts. The extensive network with good communication allowed Assyrian merchants to take advantage quickly of trading opportunities that arose. Assur became a wealthy city state on the back of trading with the King leaving merchants largely alone. Academics believe this reveals that the early kings were either weak or were wise enough to not rock the economic boat.


Shamshi-Adad I A Founding Father of Mesopotamia


Circa 1814BC Assur was conquered by Shamshi-Adad I. According to documents found in the city state of Mari, Shamshi-adad had succeeded his father Ila-Kabkabum to the throne of the Amorites city of Ekallatum (location unknown) from where he conquered Assur. Despite his Amorite origins and being an invader, Shamshi-Adad was accepted by the Assyrians and has a significant entry on the Assyrian King Lists. Shamshi-Adad was a skilled diplomat and initially after his conquest of Assur he only took the title of “governor of Assur” but the Assyrians soon recognised him as their king. The Assyrian King lists record that he ruled for 33 years. By 1800BC Shamshi-Adad had conquered the whole of Upper Mesopotamia including the city state of Mari.


Shamshi-Adad possibly made himself popular with the Assyrians by beautifying Assur and its temples. One of his Assyrian inscription reads “Shamshi-adad I king of the Universe builder of the temple of Assur, who devotes his energies to the lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates and the commands of Assur who loves him”. Shamshi-adad was the first Assyrian king to adopt the title “King of the universe” which all subsequent Assyrian kings used.


Shamshi-adad organised his military campaigns and of all the matters of his government with meticulous detail. He was also a great diplomat allowing those that he conquered or annexed to keep their cultures, making defeated rulers his vassal. He had a deep understanding of siegecraft and used battering rams to great effect during his conquests.


After the death of Shamshi-adad I his empire only lasted a short time before it fell to a joint attack from the Kingdoms of Aleppo and Eshnunna then finally falling under the rule of Babylon or Mitanni.


For 400 years it seems that Assyria languished in subordination to Babylonian or Mitanni rule. The lack of primary sources for this period apart from the Assyrian Kings list makes it difficult to know what the Assyrians were doing. Later chronicles indicate that Assyria made boundary treaties with Babylon during this period which means that it was probably still operating as an autonomous state at times.


In the 16th century BC though the expansion of the Hurrian Kingdom of Mitanni, from present day Syria, overwhelmed northern Mesopotamia conquering Assur. It is unclear though if Assyria became a vassal state of Mitanni with the Assyrian kings paying tribute. The Mitanni king Shaustatar claimed to have plundered Assur taking booty back to Syria. Legal texts from the period display Hurrian names indicating that Mitanni had some direct influence over Assur. The discovery of thousands of bureaucratic texts in Nuzi, in present and northern Iraq, also had Hurrian names suggesting that the Matanni had settled in the region. It also appears from the Nuzi texts that Assur had been divided into several vassal kingdoms.


Around 1420 BC Assyrian Royal chronicles reappear in the archaeological record. From these it can be seen that the walls of Assur were rebuilt and Egyptian sources report that Assyrian King Ashur-nadin-ahhe II, 1400 - 1391 BC, exchanged gifts with the Egyptians. Around the same time a treaty between the Hittites and Mitanni also mentions that Assyrian king, possibly Eriba-adad, 1390 - 1364 BC, had declared Assyrians independence from Mitanni.


By the reign of Ashuruballit I, 1362 - 1328 BC Assyria was definitely an autonomous state again.




(1) Documentary Sources in Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman Economic History. edited by Heather D. Baker, Michael Jursa




Related MuseoPics Pages


Assyrian history In the Begining Sam'al Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures History of the Old Assyrian Kingdom History of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom History of the Neo-Assyrians History of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal-II History of Assyrian King Sargon II History of Assyrian King Senacherib & Nineveh History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of the downfall of the Assyrian Empire History of the Assyrian Palace at Ninevah, Kalha History of the Assyrian Palace at Dur Sharrukin History of the Assyrian Palace at Neneveh


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