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Affinity and Consanguinity

in Neo-Hittite Kingship
A Preliminary Survey of Possibilities

Robert Matthew Jennings

Abstract: Ethnographic and historical data from many regions of the world indicate the extent to which
kingship as an institution involves the creative management of both affinity and consanguinity. Royal
ideologies often depict the king as an affinal relative of his people, but at the same time he is also a link to
prestigious sources of alterity which legitimize his right to rule over his people as an “intermediary”
between them and the outside world. Sahlins (1985; 2008; 2010; 2013) has written sweeping surveys of
the phenomenon of alterity as it applies to kingship and other forms of power, and has also demonstrated
the existence of what he refers to as “stranger-king formations” (2010:108) or “dual polities” (ibid.:109),
polities where the king traces his descent from a prestigious foreigner or deity, but is also related to his
people via a myth of kinship with an indigenous population from whom he derives his legitimacy. In this
paper I argue for the usefulness of these concepts in thinking about kingship in the so-called “Neo-Hittite”
polities of Anatolia and Syria in the Early Iron Age (c.1200-700 BC), using data derived from
archaeological and epigraphic sources.
Figure 1: Map of the Neo-Hittite and Aramaean States c.800 BC. From

Introduction: Kingship and Identity after the Fall of Ḫattuša

The fall of the Hittite Empire gave rise to a variety of polities in which elite identity and

representation was the locus of a bewildering number of intersections involving consanguinity

(kinship relationships based on sharing a common “substance”; Sahlins 2008:195) and affinity

(kinship relationships based on alliance with the forces of alterity; ibid.). While kingship in

general can be described as involving the practice of skilled management of alterity within a

framework of kinship, the specific historical circumstances in northern Syria and southeastern

Anatolia at this time produced a situation in which the representation of kingship was

particularly loaded with great intercultural political significance. While in the beginning of this

period the remnants of the old Hittite Empire reorganized themselves into a number of powerful

“Neo-Hittite” states, the size and power of these polities gradually declined over time, to the

point where they became easy pickings for a resurgent Assyria in the second half of the 8th

century BC. Furthermore, the prestige of the old imperial Hittite international style that was

retained for several centuries after the fall of Ḫattuša gradually waned, both with the steady

increase in Assyrian power beginning around 900 BC, and with the migration of nomadic

Aramaic-speaking tribes into these polities’ territories, tribes that would eventually overthrow

the reigning Hittite-inspired dynasties and replace them with their own chieftains, beginning

around the same time.

Such a situation of tribes and empires in the midst of shifting “international styles” was

particularly conducive to the formation of what Sahlins (1985; 2008; 2010; 2013) refers to as

stranger-kingships, a Weberian ideal type (2010:108) referring to polities where the ruling

dynasty is both kin and stranger to its subjects, where it derives authority from kinship links to

both prestigious deities and/or “Other-peoples” as well as to the people it rules over. This

situation necessarily generates competing sources of sovereign legitimacy, sources which can be

exploited by both the king and his subjects in situations of domination and revolt. Indigenous

elites play a key role in this game. While they are not themselves of the royal lineage, by virtue

of their prior ties to the king’s land and subjects, they often control access to the local sources of

divine alterity needed by the king to legitimate his own authority.

As will be explained below, it seems that the polities of northern Syria and southeastern

Anatolia in the Iron Age, both before and after the Aramaean and Assyrian takeovers, can be

usefully analyzed as stranger-kingdoms. My primary case studies in this paper will be the

polities of Carchemish, Sam’al, and Palstin (Pattina). However, before getting to these case

studies we must make a short detour in order to describe the nature of political authority in

general in the Ancient Near East.

Figure 2: The Hittite Empire at its greatest extent, c.1300 BC. Egyptian-dominated territory is to
the south in yellow; Assyria to the southeast in green. From

Galactic Political Dynamics in the Ancient Near East

It was Stanley Tambiah (1977) who first coined the term “galactic polity” in order to

describe the traditional political structure of pre-modern kingdoms in Southeast Asia. In

Tambiah’s description of galactic political dynamics, apical kings, often claiming to be masters

of the universe, must in fact exercise their power through subordinate chiefs and regional lords,

who themselves must exercise power through lesser chiefs and lords, and so on, down to the

level of village headman. In the Southeast Asian contexts, we sometimes find lesser chiefs

paying homage to two or three “masters of the universe” at the same time and playing the apex

figures off against each other.

Several studies have recently been put forward which examine the internal power

dynamics of Ancient Near Eastern societies and have questioned earlier views of these societies

as highly centralized. Seth Richardson (2012) has described early Mesopotamian polities as

“presumptive states,” polities in which the official propaganda depicted the power of the state as

centralized in the person of the king, but which in reality constantly had to negotiate with local

village and tribal leaders within its claimed territory. Bruce Routledge (2004) has analyzed the

kingdom of Moab in Iron Age Transjordan which existed from c.850-550 BC through the lens of

the galactic polity. In his close analysis of the Mesha Stele (c.830 BC), in which the Moabite

ruler Mesha describes his conquests, Routledge notes how Mesha refers a variety of “lands,”

each characterized by the name of a city or town, which were under his control; Routledge takes

each of these lands as a local sub-polity with its own leader(s) over whom Mesha was claiming

to be the paramount ruler. David Schloen (2001), building upon the earlier research of Lawrence

Stager (1985), critiques previous scholars as taking for granted the Classical Marxist model of

highly centralized states operating on an “Asiatic mode of production” and makes the case that a

more segmented form of political authority was characteristic of Ancient Near Eastern polities in

general, and was organized around metaphors of kinship ultimately rooted in the patrimonial

household characteristic of the way of life of the average Ancient Near Eastern peasant. Hence

the king of an Ancient Near Eastern polity was represented as a “father” to his people and at the

same time was the “son” of the polity’s chief deity. Likewise, in situations of imperial

domination and vassalage, such as the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age, the Great King of

Ḫatti was addressed as “my father” by his vassal rulers while at the same time he corresponded

with his “equal,” the King of Egypt, addressing him as “my brother.” Kinship relations were the

conceptual framework upon which the internal and international political orders were built.

While Schloen refers to this arrangement as “patrimonial,” using a version of classical Weberian

terminology, he does note that it is compatible with Tambiah’s notion of galactic polity (Schloen


It must be emphasized that it is not only individual polities that behave in a galactic

manner, but entire cultural and political systems as well. Norms of cultural prestige emanate from

apex polities or imperial centers, and the material forms of elite culture in the peripheral polities

often mimic the forms of those of the central polities even though the meaning attributed to these

material forms may change drastically as they move from culture to culture. Thus Sahlins

(2010:114) takes note of Edmund Leach’s classical study of Kachin social structure in highland

Burma (Leach 2004 [1959]), commenting on how Kachin village chiefs were often said to

“become Shan” by intermarrying with the neighboring Shan rulers of the lowlands who often

dominated them politically, and adopting their style, mannerisms, and architectural forms; the

Shan themselves, for their part, adopted much of their own royal style from the Chinese Empire

that historically dominated the entire region. Hence the dwellings of Kachin chiefs were referred

to as the “Cave of the Alligator” referring to an ancestral theriomorphic spirit-being whose

symbolic associations bear an uncanny resemblance to the Chinese imperial dragon; likewise

these dwellings came to be associated with rituals whose outward form and function (though not

necessarily their culturally-specific meaning) came to resemble those performed Chinese Temple

of Heaven (Sahlins 2010:114). According to Sahlins, it is such galactic systems of political and

cultural domination which often give rise to stranger-kingships—in their competition for cultural

prestige via the appropriation of prestigious forms of alterity, sometimes a peripheral elite will

“up the ante” by actually claiming consanguineous relations—relationships of common

“substance”—with the galactic center, or with some other prestigious source of alterity such as

the divine realm, the untamed wilderness, or a famous deceased empire of the past. Such a

privileged claim to common substance with alterity positions these monarchs as affines—kin via

alliance rather than common substance—to their subject populations. No longer of common

substance to their subject populations (at least in putative origin—subsequent intermarriages

with non-royal elites may complicate this), these kings are genealogically distinct, hence the

term “stranger-king.”

It is important to note that claims to stranger-kingship may be generated by actual

historical migrations of peoples as well as by fictional claims of kinship with emperors, gods, or

heroes; in the Near Eastern examples studied below we find that there is very often a core of

historical reality in monarchs’ claims to foreign ancestry vis-à-vis their subjects. The most

important element of stranger-kingship is the political structure that it produces: a “dual polity”

(Sahlins 2010:109) in which the king has privileged consanguineous kinship relations with the

gods or certain heroic strangers which the majority of the people of his realm do not, but where

religious specialists and other local elites who control the king’s access to the gods of the land

have privileged kinship relations with the people themselves, and thus serve as a competing

source of royal legitimacy based in consanguineous kinship vis-à-vis the subjects which is often

in conflict with the king’s own claims to legitimacy based on affinity vis-à-vis the subjects. This

necessarily creates tensions within the political system and often leads to a diarchic or

heterarchic power structure within a polity that is conceptually a monarchy. This tension is often

expressed via a myth of marriage between the dynastic founder and an indigenous political

leader’s daughter, an indigenous political leader who is often linked genealogically to the

polity’s priesthoods which are firmly associated with the land and territory; conversely, such an

indigenous political leader may not be closely linked with the priesthood, but instead may

become a “prime minister” to the stranger-king and serve as a basis for incorporating local non-

priestly elites into the royal leadership structure.

Economically, this creates a system in which the “indigenes”—that is, those who claim

“a privileged spiritual relation to the land and its products” (Sahlins 2010:110)—are the main

means of production. Given that stranger-kingships are largely a feature of non-industrial

societies, the form of production referred to here is agricultural production. The indigenes in this

system by necessity compose the majority of the peasant population, directly ruled over by local

lords, chieftains, and priestly lineages that are often treated as the “owners” (ibid.:109) of the

land before the rise of the founder of the stranger-dynasty. These indigenous elites are therefore

“kingmakers,” in the sense that they provide the foundations of the royal dynasty’s legitimacy in

ruling the land, as it is primarily through the king’s affinal relationships to them that he

maintains his legitimacy, at least in their eyes.1

There is also a duality between the gods of king and those of the indigenes. The gods of

the king are celestial and cosmopolitan, while those of the indigenes are terrestrial and local:

In the eyes of the king himself, however, the hereditary dynastic principle often takes precedence over any
relationships to indigenous elites. On a pan-elite basis, therefore, the maintenance of the political structure
depends on a dialectic between the dynastic principle, on the one hand, and marriage ties between king and local
elites on the other. These principles may themselves be contested by the non-elite populations of the kingdom,
who may or may not have completely different principles on which political legitimacy is based. However, the
ideologies of the non-elite are largely inaccessible to us archaeologically, as they did not produce texts that we can

“More than merely political, the conjunction here is cosmological, which is what helps it endure.

In the instance at hand, the foreign rulers are to the native people in some such encompassing

relation as the Celestial is to the Terrestrial, the Sea to the Land, the Wilderness to the Settled; or

in abstract terms, as the Universal is to the Particular, a ratio that also holds for their respective

gods. We see, then, why the narratives of the original stranger hero function as all-round cultural

constitutions: the union with the other, which is also an elemental combination of Masculine and

Feminine, gives rise to the society as a self-producing cosmic totality, if it does not also restore a

cosmogonic unity. On a specifically human plane, the same is replicated in the legendary

marriage of the god-like stranger with the native princess that synthesizes their opposition in the

dynastic line they initiate. But then, as a fruitful union of socially and sexually differentiated

persons, marriage itself demonstrates the principle that the acquisition of alterity is the condition

both of fertility and identity” (Sahlins 2008:184).

In what follows, I will examine the evidence for the ruling dynasties of several North

Syrian and Anatolian polities in the period following the end of the Hittite Empire (although

occasionally going back a little earlier when the argument demands it). I will argue that it is

useful to analyze these societies through the lens of the stranger-king concept as it provides us

with a useful heuristic for understanding the structure of political authority in these kingdoms

and the ideologies of cosmology and kinship on which they were based.

“Ḫatti,” “Hittite,” and “Neo-Hittite”: Definitions and Use in this Paper

The term “Neo-Hittite” refers primarily to an artistic and architectural style. The term is

modern, coined by archaeologists and art historians to describe a monumental tradition

descended from that of the Hittite Empire that emerged following the disintegration of that

empire into the constellation of petty states found here. The style is characterized by large portal

lions, monumental orthostats featuring narrative scenes of royal and divine significance and,

from the 9th century BC on, a distinctive palace style generally referred to as the bīt ḫilāni

(Bonatz 2004).

Most of the states where this style is attested produced inscriptions in Hieroglyphic

Luwian, although in the southeastern part of this stylistic zone, this was replaced or

supplemented beginning in the 9th century BC with various West Semitic languages written in

alphabetic script, predominantly Aramaic dialects2, but occasionally also Phoenician. The switch

from Hieroglyphic Luwian to West Semitic alphabetic monumental inscriptions did not,

however, accompany a change in style of monumental architecture, at least not immediately; in

general stylistic shifts away from the Neo-Hittite style were correlated with the expansion and

consolidation of the Neo-Assyrian Empire beginning in the 9th century BC.

For example, at Sam’al (Zincirli Höyük), which became an Assyrian vassal state around

840 BC in the reign of Kilamuwa, royal art and architecture becomes increasingly Assyrianizing

in style over the next century and a half yet retains a distinctly local flavor in part derived from

its Neo-Hittite origins (Bonatz 2014:210). However, apart from a single graffito inscribed on a

piece of metal discovered in the 2013 season3 (in which the author participated), no Luwian

Hieroglyphic inscriptions have been found at the site. The earliest monumental inscription dates

to the reign of Kilamuwa and is written in Phoenician, while later inscriptions are written in a

I consider Sam’alian to be an Aramaic dialect. This will be clarified below in the section about Aramaeans and the
Aramaic language.
The actual metallic object was discovered in a previous season. However, the Luwian graffito was not noticed
until the object was cleaned at the dig house in 2013.

local dialect called Sam’alian as well as in Standard Old Aramaic, the latter of which becomes

prevalent in the reign of Bar-Rakkab, last king of Sam’al, with the increase of Assyrian

influence4. This reflects the shift of Sam’alian royal art away from one “ideological center”

(Carchemish; Bonatz 2004:209) to another (Assyria [ibid.:205], which had a large population of

Aramaic-speakers and beginning in the 8th century BC used Aramaic for administrative purposes

alongside the traditional Akkadian), corresponding to (but following in time by about a century)

the decline of Carchemish as the regional galactic center in favor of Assyria.

It should be noted that by the 9th century BC the Assyrians were using the terms “Ḫatti”

and “Amurru” interchangeably to refer to the area occupied by kingdoms using this architectural

style (Osborne 2012:32). In the preceding Late Bronze Age, “Ḫatti” referred to the Hittite

Empire, while “Amurru” was the name of a small kingdom in what is now northern Lebanon.

However, the overlap of these terms and their association with what we would identify as Neo-

Hittite art and architecture is attested by the Display Inscription of Sargon II (r.722-705 BC),

which claims that Sargon built “the exact copy of a palace from the land of Ḫatti, which is called

bīt ḫilāni in the language of the Amorites” (translation from Osborne 2012:32). In this context,

the term “language of the Amorites” clearly refers to West Semitic-speakers (Aramaeans and

others) living in “Ḫatti.” That Ḫatti and its architectural style held some sort of alterity-prestige

for the Assyrian kings even at this late date when Assyria was clearly the dominant power is

reflected in the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib (r.705-681 BC) at Nineveh and the North

Palace at the same site. Room XLVIII (M) in the Southwest Palace was “deliberately designed as

a western-style unit, reminding visitors which culture had the upper hand between east and

west,” (Osborne 2012:36) i.e., between Assyria and the Neo-Hittite polities to its west. The

This political significance of this will be discussed in the section on Sam’al below.

North Palace contains the garden scene of Aššurbanipal (r.668-627 BC) as well as Room S, both

of which are also highly evocative of architecture and furniture from the Neo-Hittite style

(ibid.:32-36). It should be noted that the term “Ḫatti” is used in some instances to refer to

Carchemish in particular, for example in the Nimrud Inscription of Sargon II (2.1I81) which

refers to Pisiri, king of Carchemish, as the “King of Ḫatti” (translated in Hallo and Younger

2003:298-299), while Yaubidi, king of Hamath, is referred to in another inscription of the same

king (2.118E, the “Great Summary Inscription”) as “an evil Hittite” (translated in ibid.:296-297).

Clearly the term “Ḫatti” had a variety of meanings in Neo-Assyrian usage, referring to both

North Syria in general (analogous to the “kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram” referred to

in I Kings 10:29, with whom Solomon is supposed to have traded horses5), and to the kingdom

of Carchemish in particular, which had been the dominant political power in North Syria from

the 12th-10th centuries BC and had maintained a tradition of political and cultural continuity with

the Hittite Empire going back to the Bronze Age (at least until the 10th century BC; see below).

Thus, while it goes without saying that no ethnic or linguistic unity should be attributed

to the polities or style referred to here as “Neo-Hittite,” the Assyrian and biblical evidence does

indicate that some notion of “Hittite-ness” was attributed to certain inhabitants and polities of

North Syria by their neighbors. This “Hittite-ness,” was distinguished from an “Aramaean”

component on the part of at least one biblical author, and maintained a particular association with

Carchemish in at least some contexts within the Assyrian scribal tradition, although it also had a

While other biblical texts identify “Hittites” as one of the peoples living in Canaan before the Israelite conquest,
these texts generally refer to the mythical time period of the Patriarchs and Exodus, and therefore should be
bracketed from the present discussion. The context of the comment about Solomon’s horse trade, however, while
placed in an aggrandizing and probably inaccurate narrative about Solomon’s greatness (cf. Sass 2010), is
nonetheless revealing of the geopolitics assumed by the author or scribe who inserted the comment—for this
individual, the “kings of the Hittites” are placed in association with the “kings of Aram,” to Israel’s north in what is
now Syria. Note also II Kings 7:6, where the king of Damascus is depicted as fearing that the king of Israel has hired
“kings of the Hittites” to attack him.

much broader application as well. The imprecise but still limited associations of the terms

“Ḫatti” and “Hittite” in our sources referring to this period should be kept in mind throughout the

following discussion. However, their imprecision and porousness does not detract from their

usefulness as analytical categories, as it is precisely this fluctuating reference that would have in

part made them useful terms for kings wishing to base their authority on the prestigious alterity

of a dead empire.

Fig. 3: Basalt portal lion orthostat from ‘Ain Dara near Aleppo in Syria, 10th century BC. Typical

example of Neo-Hittite art. From

Fig. 4: Plan of a bit-hilani type palace from Tell Tayinat, site of Kunalua, capital of Palstin

(Pattina). Source:

Carchemish and its Satellites

The first Hittite dynasty of Carchemish was installed by the Hittite Empire around 1340

BC, upon the conquest of North Syria by Šupiluliuma I, who installed his son Piyyašili as King

of Carchemish (Van Exel 2010:66). The rulers of Carchemish, until the fall of Ḫattuša around

1180 BC, represented a collateral branch of the ruling dynasty of Ḫattuša, serving as a sort of

“viceroyalty” to the Great Kings of Ḫatti who had control over the affairs of the lesser kings of

Syria. Local Syrian monarchs addressed the kings of Carchemish as “my father” the same way in

which they would have addressed the Great Kings of Ḫatti, and in periods of imperial weakness

the kings of Carchemish assumed even greater control over the local Syrian polities, as can be

seen in the instance of Emar.

Indeed, the picture of Hittite control of Emar, as detailed in Van Exel 2010, provides us

with the earliest examples of the Hittite kings of Carchemish acting in their capacity as stranger-

kings in a galactic context. While subordinate to the Great Kings at Ḫatti, the kings of

Carchemish exercised a large degree of control over the smaller kingdoms under their rule. The

data provided by the cuneiform archives at Emar, in comparison to the slightly earlier pre-

conquest ones at Ekalte, demonstrate the ways in which Hittite rule changed the political

institutions of the region. Prior to the Hittite conquest of North Syria around 1340 BC, it would

seem that both Emar and Ekalte—culturally-similar “Amorite” (West Semitic) polities located

along Upper Euphrates—operated according to what Van Exel (ibid.) refers to as an “ideology of

peer authority.” While Ekalte possessed a king, it would seem that his authority was extremely

limited, and the authority within the polity was exercised by a “upper council” of “Elders”—

probably elderly male heads of extended patrimonial households deriving their legitimacy from

the city-god Ba‘laka (as attested by their seals)—led by a ḫazannu, or “mayor,” elected from

among their numbers. In addition to this council, there also seems to have been an informal

institution of the “Brothers,” probably representing all adult males, whether they were heads of

households or not. While we do not know if the king of Ekalte represented himself as a stranger

explicitly, the severe check on his power by a religiously-sanctioned Council of Elders is

reminiscent of the ideal type of stranger-kingship, in which the indigenes’ claim to power

limiting that of the king is based on an intimate association with both the land (or in this case, the

city-state), and its local deities (in this case, Ba‘laka, probably the local Upper Euphratean

version of the West Semitic Storm God Baal-Hadad).

Moving along in time to the period after the Hittite conquest, the archives from the

nearby polity of Emar attest to a similar political structure to that of pre-conquest Ekalte (Van

Exel 2010). Indeed, before the Hittite conquest, there is no evidence at all for kingship at Emar,

the highest political office being that of the elected ḫazannu. It would seem that kingship at Emar

was implemented by the administration at Carchemish, probably with the hereditarization of the

post of ḫazannu. Over the course of nine “generations” as enumerated by Van Exel, the kings of

Emar seem to have gained more and more power at the expense of the local councils, until the

local Emarite kingship was removed by King Kuzi-Tešup of Carchemish in the early 12th century


Kuzi-Tešup himself took on the mantel of “Great King” upon the fall of Ḫattuša. In his

inscriptions, Kuzi-Tešup also claimed kingship over the northern city-state of Malatya, taking on

the full title “Great King and Hero of Malatya and Carchemish” (Hawkins 2000a:73; Van Exel

2010:66). Apparently this dual polity of Carchemish and Malatya split upon the death of Kuzi-

Tešup, but the next three kings of Carchemish continued to use the old Hittite title of “Great

King and Hero” (Hawkins 2000a:73-81), and the following four kings of Malatya also emphasize

their descent from the “Great King and Hero” Kuzi-Tešup (Hawkins 2000a:73, 282ff), although

his origin from Carchemish is not mentioned in their inscriptions and they do not claim the title

themselves. The title “Hero” here is interesting for our stranger-kings argument—while it is of

very old origin in the Middle East, harking back to early Mesopotamia, myths of stranger-

kingship often emphasize the newcomer’s heroic deeds that secure him the throne, deeds that

often involve a conquest over the forces of both the divine and animal worlds—in short, over the

forces of alterity (Sahlins 2008; 2010). In the Ancient Near Eastern context, this hero-symbolism

is best known from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the titular hero of which served as the prototype of

kingship in Mesopotamia (Winter 2008) and who was known in the Hittite world via translations

of the epic (cf. Foster 2001). In the title of “Hero,” then, we have multiple levels of alterity being

used to legitimize Kuzi-Tešup’s kingship—to the residents of Malatya, his origin as the king of

Carchemish would have made him a stranger; his descendants at Malatya recognize this by

claiming descent from him, hero-title and all, but not claiming that title for themselves; and his

successors at Carchemish maintained their claim to his title (although not the kingship over

Malatya). Overall, it seems that Carchemish in the immediate post-empire period had replaced

Ḫattuša as the center of galactic prestige in the Hittite world, and the early Malatyan kings’

invocation of their descent from the hero-conqueror of Carchemish represents the alterity-

prestige associated with that center from the Malatyan point of view. By claiming affinity with

the Hero of Carchemish, the early kings of Malatya claimed a source of alterity vis-à-vis their

population in the very act of claiming affinity with the ruling dynasty of a neighboring state,

despite the fact that the populations of both polities participated in a wider Neo-Hittite cultural

koiné associated with the now-defunct imperial center at Ḫattuša. Subsequent rulers of Malatya

seem to have dropped the claims of descent from Kuzi-Tešup, perhaps implying a change of

dynasty, but the appropriation of the alterity-prestige of the old Hittite traditions remained

present in the epigraphy and iconography of the Malatyan kings.

Around 1000 BC, the dynasty of Kuzi-Tešup at Carchemish was overthrown by a man

named Suhis, who made certain important changes to the royal style and titulary (Gilibert

2011:12-13; Hawkins 1999a:77-8, 82ff). The dynasty of Suhis dropped the title of “Great King”

for themselves, possibly reflecting the fading memory of the institutions of the old Hittite

Empire, instead calling themselves “Country-Lords,” a much more humble title reflecting the

“feudal” or galactic nature of the Carchemishite polity at this time, organized into a series of

small-scale vassals based in cities (Gilibert 2011:14-15). This is also reflected in the re-naming

of the polity in inscriptions from the “land” of Carchemish to the “city” of Carchemish (Hawkins

1999a:82ff; Gilibert 2011:14-15), emphasizing the very real decline in power of the city at the

expense of a resurgent Assyria as well the increasingly powerful Aramaean tribes and the rise of

the kingdom of Taita to the west (see below). The inscriptions do, however, give us a glimpse of

the hierarchically-organized galactic titulary at this time, which seems to have consisted of Great

Kings, Kings, Country-Lords, and River-Lords in that order (see also the section on Taita

below). Interestingly enough, at least one Great King (Ura-Tarhunzas) seems to have remained

on the throne as a sort of figurehead after the coup (Hawkins 1999a:80).

While the dynasty of Suhis seems to have severed some of the more obvious links to

Carchemish’s imperial Hittite heritage, it did maintain an element of alterity reminiscent of

stranger-kingship vis-à-vis its population in the form of the cult of the dead ancestors. In

particular, there is evidence that monarchs and their queens were deified upon death (Gilibert

2011:31-2, 46-7; Hawkins 1999a:87-92). BONUS-tis, wife of Suhis II, seems to have been at

least semi-deified in her commemorative image on the Long Wall of Sculpture at Carchemish,

and a colossal statue dedicated to the god Atrisuhas—which Hawkins (1999a:101) translates as

“image (soul) of Suhis,” i.e., the deified dynastic ancestor Suhis I—was erected by his

descendent Katuwas, horns of divinity and all (Hawkins 1999a:94ff; 1999c: Plates 10-12). The

king maintained a privileged connection to divinized ancestors, by definition strangers due to

their divinity, and would become a deity himself upon his death, implying that he was of a

substance distinct from that of his subjects.

Fig. 5: Statue of Atrisuhas standing atop lion base from Carchemish. Note that the motif of a

figure standing atop lions is usually associated with the Storm God (Hadad, Teshup, or Tarhunt),

as are the horns of divinity. Source:

Taita, Hero and King of the Land of Palstin

While the fall of the Hittite Empire cannot be attributed to a single cause, one of the

major events that occurred in its wake was the migration of “Sea Peoples” of Aegean origins into

the coastal regions of Southern Anatolia and the Levant. While there were various groups of

these peoples, some of whom appear as mercenaries in earlier periods, the most prominent of

them appear to have been the Philistines, who are known to have settled in the coastal region of

Southern Palestine, where they appear as a distinctive culture organized into four or five city-

states during the Iron Age. However, new discoveries at Tell Tayinat in the Amuq region of

Hatay Province in Turkey, as well as new readings of previously-published Luwian texts from

Aleppo and the Hama region in Syria, suggest that the Philistines had a wider distribution along

the Levantine coast than previously thought. In particular, Tell Tayinat, known in the Iron Age as

Kunalua, capital of the Kingdom of Pattina or Unqi, was settled in the early 12th century BC by a

group of immigrants with material culture and dietary practices of mixed Aegean-Anatolian-

Cypriot origin, similar to the classical “Philistine” material culture of the same period in the

Southern Palestinian coast (Harrison 2009). A pair of Luwian inscriptions from Meiharde and

Sheizar in the Hama region in Syria, along with inscriptions found at the Temple of the Storm

God at Aleppo, attest to the existence of a powerful stranger-kingdom with Philistine roots, with

a royal style typical, however, of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of the time.

Two stelae in the Hama region—later the Kingdom of Hamath (attested in the 9th century

BC and later, and itself a stranger kingdom, although that is beyond the scope of this paper6)

6 th
Sader (2014:22) suggests that the 9 -century BC dynasty of Hamath may itself have been an offshoot of Taita’s
dynasty. The inscriptions of this kingdom are in Luwian as are the names of its kings. Given that Hamath was on the
periphery of Bronze Age Hittite rule and seems to have been outside the Neo-Hittite elite cultural sphere until the
time of Taita, the present author finds this suggestion plausible.

were found at the nearby sites of Meiharde and Sheizar, both mentioning a man called Taita,

King and Hero of the Land of Palstin (Hawkins 1979; 2009). One of the stelae is a funerary

monument to Taita’s wife, and both are dedicated to the “Divine Queen of the Land”—probably

the West Semitic goddess Baalat, known from later Hamathite Luwian inscriptions as Pahalatis

(Hawkins 1999b:403ff), and also known as the main goddess of the nearby Phoenician city-state

of Byblos (Peckham 2001). The other is simply Taita’s dedication to this same “Divine Queen of

the Land.” We here find one of the classical elements of stranger-kingship: a king, based in a

foreign region (in this case the Amuq, see below), paying homage to the local deities, probably

with the interdiction of local priests. However, his inscriptions are not in the local Semitic

language, but rather in Luwian, part of the “international style” of the Syro-Anatolian region at

this time (probably around 1000 BC; cf. Hawkins 2009; Harrison 2009). As we will see below,

Taita’s kingdom can be considered as not only a “dual polity,” but in fact, as a “triple polity” at

the very least.

It is almost certain that the “Land of Palstin” that Taita claims to be king over is identical

to the polity known in later Neo-Assyrian inscriptions as Pattina, reflecting the instability of the

boundary between the d and l phonemes in Luwian (cf. Hawkins 2009), and its standardized

transcription into Akkadian as the former. This polity Pattina, however, is only known from

Neo-Assyrian sources of the 9th century BC and later, when it is relatively weak, limited to its

core territory in the Amuq region around Tell Tayinat, its power eclipsed within Syria by both

Damascus and Hamath. The inscriptions of Taita and his wife, however, attest to a much larger

and hitherto unknown extent of this polity in the poorly-documented decades around the turn of

the 1st millennium BC. The name of the polity Palstin reflects the name of the Philistine

immigrants who are known to have settled in the Amuq region in the 12th century BC. However,

it is unknown if Taita himself claimed Philistine ancestry or simply inherited a polity named

after a large component of its population base—Taita is a good Luwian name, and, as noted

before, Taita’s inscriptions and iconography are in the standard Neo-Hittite international style of

the period. Additionally, a 9th-century ruler of the much smaller rump-state governed by Taita’s

successors is named Šupiluliuma (Bhanoo 2012), the same name as the Hittite Great King who

conquered Syria some 500 years earlier, possibly suggesting a claim of dynastic or at least

cultural links with the old imperial center of Ḫattuša (Hawkins 2009 notes that such “classical”-

sounding Hittite names were quite common throughout the Iron Age southern Anatolia well into

the 8th century BC, despite the fact that Hittite as both a spoken and written language had long

been replaced by Luwian). It is also common for polities ruled by stranger-kings to be named

after the people they rule rather than the people they claim to be descended from (Marshall

Sahlins: Personal Communication), and if we take the ideal type as our model, it is not

unreasonable given the evidence to hypothesize that Taita was a king claiming links with the old

Hittite ruling house (as suggested in Harrison 2009), ruling over a population consisting of a

major Philistine component which provided the name of the polity, as well as most likely an

indigenous Semitic-speaking population as well. Indeed, the Assyrian inscriptions alternately

refer to the polity as Unqi as well as Pattina, the former being an indigenous name for the region

known from the Bronze Age which still survives in the form of the modern geographic

designation “Amuq.”

The evidence from the Temple of the Storm God at Aleppo (cf. Hawkins 2009;

Kohlmeyer 2009) also seems to position Taita within the ideal type of the stranger-king. Aleppo

was already a very old site of the worship of the Storm God by the time the Hittites got to it; the

temple dates to the 3rd millennium BC, and cuneiform texts from the “Amorite” period (Middle

Bronze Age) refer to the deity worshipped there under the Semitic moniker of “Adad of Aleppo.”

After the conquest of the region by Šupiluliuma of Ḫatti around 1340 BC, the temple was

extensively renovated in classical Hittite style, and Luwian inscriptions from the Late Hittite

Imperial Period refer to the “Storm God of Aleppo,” depicted in Hittite garb with horns of

divinity; it is likely that the local Semitic inhabitants of Aleppo would have continued to refer to

the god as Haddu or Hadad, and that the deity would probably have been referred to as Tešup in

Hittite and Tarhunzas in Luwian.

Seemingly cognizant of the long-standing local importance of this temple, Taita made his

mark on it by inserting his own orthostats and inscriptions onto the outside of the temple

(Hawkins 2009; Kohlmeyer 2009), including one in which he has himself facing a (much earlier)

image of the Storm God on an almost equal plane, minus the horns of divinity which mark the

Storm God as a divine being. In this composite image, Taita claims the prestige of a realm of

alterity which is both temporal and ontological—by putting himself “on equal footing” with the

Storm God, he makes a claim to privileged access to the divine forces which control nature and

fertility; at the same time, by inserting his own Iron Age image and inscription into a Bronze Age

scene which dates back to the hoary days of the Hittite Empire, he implicitly makes a claim to

continuity with that empire’s legacy, positioning himself as a “rival” to slightly earlier kings at

Carchemish and Malatya who were making the same claims, but who since the coup of Suhis I at

Carchemish had ceased to make such claims. There are multiple levels of alterity being

mobilized in the figure of Taita—that between his implicit links to the old Hittite Empire due to

his active participation in both the Neo-Hittite international style as well as renovation of old

Hittite monuments, his claimed link to the Philistines of Aegean origin as revealed in the name

of his kingdom, as well as even deeper links with indigenous Semitic-speaking populations as

represented in his respect for both the “Divine Queen” of the Hamath region (Baalat) as well as

his attempt to derive legitimacy from his renovation of the Temple of the Storm God at Aleppo

which, although by the time Taita got to it already had a long history of Hittite rule, was

nonetheless of very old origin and, although this cannot be demonstrated directly from the data at

hand, most likely had a very old priesthood to go with it, as was quite common in the Near East,

from Babylonia to Palestine. The survival of these old, venerable sites of religious ritual is

known to have often included the survival of institutional priesthoods tied to the location of

veneration, despite the coming and going of new rulers and populations, and the changes of

name by which the gods in question might be known. Thus the religiously-motivated

assassination of the Assyrian king Sennacherib for his destruction of the holy city of Babylon

(Parpola 1980), and the propaganda of the Persian king Cyrus the Great paying homage to the

Babylonian priests of Marduk on whom he was dependent for his legitimacy (Lincoln 2007).

This phenomenon of new kings paying homage to old gods at old temples staffed by old

priesthoods, tied to the locality at which they worked and to the people who lived there, is very

typical of stranger-kingship, and Taita’s multiple levels of alterity—in which his own Hittite

pedigree intersects with the Philistine identity of his polity, which itself intersects with the pre-

Philistine Semitic components, is also characteristic of stranger-kingships, in which stranger-

kings can become indigenes by virtue of being conquered by yet another set of strangers (Sahlins

2010:108). It should also be noted that the indigenous gods Taita pays homage to at Aleppo and

Hamath are celestial storm and fertility gods, demonstrating the both the king’s co-optation and

incorporation of the terrestrial, local forces of fertility, as well his ability to mobilize the

celestial, universal forces of the storm god (Hadad, or Baal) and his consort (Baalat).7

It should also be noted that one of Taita’s inscriptions at the Aleppo temple attests to the galactic hierarchy of his

Fig. 6: Monument of Taita, “King and Hero of the Land of Palastina,” dedicated to the “Divine
Queen of the Land.” Found at Meharde, near Hama in Syria. From

polity, which included kings, country-lords, river-lords, and commoners. It is interesting that Taita does not claim
the title of Great King for himself, although he was almost certainly aware of it—Taita was most probably
contemporary with the Carchemishian Great King Ura-Tarhunzas, who was probably little more than a figurehead.
The expansion of Taita’s polity was roughly contemporaneous to the time in which Carchemish, under the new
dynasty of Suhis, was significantly reconfiguring its royal ideology; shortly after this time, the title of Great King
disappears from the Neo-Hittite world altogether, perhaps so as not to arise the ire of a newly-resurgent Assyria.

Fig. 7: Taita (right) facing the Storm God in greeting pose, from the Temple of the Storm God at
Aleppo, Syria. Source:

A Brief Interlude on Aramaeans and the Aramaic Language

My inclusion of the kingdom of Sam’al or Ya’diya in the realm of stranger-kingship

necessarily involves delving into a bit of historical linguistics, particularly concerning the

replacement of most Neo-Hittite dynasties by Aramaic-speaking ones beginning around 900 BC,

and as to whether the royal dynasty of Sam’al can be considered “Aramaean” or not. I believe

that this can be answered in the affirmative, but before doing so it is necessary to briefly delve

into some proto-history concerning the origins and cultural affiliations of the people later known

to history as “Aramaeans.”

The ancestors of the Aramaeans were most likely the indigenous pastoral nomads of the

entire Syro-Euphrates region (cf. Lipinski 2000a: Chapter 1; 2000b; Sader 2014), probably of the

same stock as the earlier Amorite and Sutaean nomads of the same region. While the Aramaeans

do not appear as a collective ethnicon in the Assyrian sources until the end of the 12th century

BC, individual tribes that would later be known as “Aramaean” make their appearance a century

before this (ibid.). It would seem that the Aramaeans, as first encountered in the Assyrian sources

in the 12th and 11th centuries BC, were a confederation of various tribes indigenous to the Upper

Euphrates region. Whatever unity this tribal confederation had when it was first encountered

seems to have dissolved fairly quickly, as various branches of the Aramaean tribal confederation

were founding independent kingdoms in Syria and Mesopotamia by around 900 BC, from

Damascus in the South to Arpad (based in Aleppo) in the North. Various other groups of

Aramaic-speakers, who may not have actually identified as Aramaeans, were at play here as

well, such as the Chaldeans, a tribal confederation who settled in southern Babylonia (Lipinski

2000b) as well as the Laqê, who seem to have consisted of an amalgamation of Aramaic-

speakers and North Arabian-speakers (Lipinski 2000a: Chapter 3), and who seem to have had

some sort of galactically dependent relationship on the kings of Hamath8.

It is here that we must make a distinction between Aramaeans per se and Aramaic-

speakers. In his 1995 article “What is Aramaic?” John Huehnergard argues that Sam’alian—the

Northwest Semitic dialect spoken by the royal dynasty at Sam’al—falls outside the range of “Old

Aramaic proper” and is probably no more closely related to Old Aramaic than it is to any other

Northwest Semitic dialect. The present author is unconvinced by Huehnergard’s argument—his

insistence that the development of bn into br (“son”) and wḥd into ḥd (“one”) has no historical

Unfortunately, while the relationship between Hamath and the Laqê, including and especially the figure of Zakkur
“Man of ‘Ana, King of Hamath and Lu‘ash,” is perhaps the most interesting case of stranger-kingship in the entire
Iron Age, there is simply too much data regarding the political structure of Hamath in order to do it justice in a 40-
page MA thesis. Zakkur makes a brief appearance in this section, but mostly as background information for my
argument regarding Sam’al.

significance because lexical items are a poor gauge of language evolution may have relevance if

this were the only innovative trait uniting Aramaic and Sam’alian, but when this is combined

with the other shared innovative features that Huehnergard dismisses in an ad hoc manner—the

orthographic realization of Proto-Semitic * with the letter qof, the near-absence of the N-stem

(Gzella 2014:101), the development of the emphatic particle *hin into a conditional particle

(Dion 1978:116), and a final vowel of î in the causative and probably D-stem forms of the final-

weak verbs (ibid.), a picture emerges of a dialect which, while not standard Old Aramaic, is

clearly closer to it than to any other known language. It should be noted that Garr, in his 1985

study of the dialect continuum of Syria-Palestine in 1st millennium BC, takes the bulk of the

phonological, morphological, and syntactic evidence to place Sam’alian on a peripheral position

on the end of the Aramaic end of the dialect continuum.

Likewise, the recent discovery of an 8th-century BC inscription at Sam’al that apparently

represents a spoken dialect intermediate between Sam’alian and standard Old Aramaic (Pardee

2009), indicates that Sam’alian was indeed within a dialect continuum with Old Aramaic. The

evidence of dialect continuity indicates that the Semitic-speaking royal dynasty of Sam’al can be

considered part of the same population movement that led to the rise of Aramaic-speaking

dynasties in former Neo-Hittite territories, even if they were never part of the tribal

confederation that were considered to be Aramaeans “proper.”

Indeed, I would argue that the commonsense assumption that Aramaic-speaking tribes are

necessarily self-identified Aramaeans and vice versa may need to be revised in light of the

evidence. The Chaldean tribes of Southern Babylonia were almost certainly Aramaic-speakers

and yet are never referred to as “Aramaeans” in any historical documents, and indeed are

consistently distinguished from Aramaean groups living in the same region (Lipinski 2000b).

The biblical authors claimed Aramaean ancestry for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 26:5; Genesis

22:20-24; 25:20; 28:5), although they did not speak Aramaic and more often than not defined

themselves against the larger concept of “Aram,” which was usually associated with a region

stretching from northern Palestine to the Harran region of Syro-Mesopotamia, and especially the

kingdom based around Damascus (Genesis 24:10; II Samuel 10:6-8; 15:8; Zechariah 9:1),

suggesting that to be “Aramaean” was a context-dependent, negotiable identity that could be

claimed or denied depending on the circumstances.

The Laqê, for their part, seem to have been a tribal confederation consisting of both

Aramaic and North Arabian speakers (cf. Lipinski 2000a). It is in this light that we should note

that Zakkur, the man who overthrew the Neo-Hittite dynasty of Hamath in 807 or 806 BC and

supposedly replaced it with his own “Aramaean” dynasty, never refers to himself as an

Aramaean in his famous inscription9—instead, he refers to himself a “Man of ‘Ana,” a city in the

Middle Euphrates region known from other sources to have been under the suzerainty of Hamath

and to have been occupied by the Laqê confederation (Lipinski 2000a: Chapter 11). Describing

the conflict that followed his seizure of power over Hamath, he refers to a coalition of kings that

tried to remove him from the throne as led by “Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, King of Aram.” Thus,

while Zakkur makes a claim to kingship over the prestigious throne of Hamath, and

simultaneously speaks with pride of his origin as a stranger from ‘Ana, it is the king of

Damascus—Bar-Hadad son of Hazael—who is referred to as the “King of Aram,” indicating that

Zakkur had no interest in claiming that title for himself, probably because he identified first and

foremost as a “Man of ‘Ana” and probably a Laqêan, who had previously been in a subordinate

For two different transcriptions and translations of the inscription, see Gibson 1975:7-17 and Lipinski 2000a:254-
5. The Lipinski translation is more current and seems to be the one that is more accepted in other literature, and
thus it is the one that I follow.

relationship with the Neo-Hittite king of Hamath but took advantage of some historical

contingency to overthrow him. While the language he spoke and wrote in is certainly an Aramaic

dialect according to the standards of modern Semitic linguists, this does not ipso facto imply that

he identified himself as Aramaean; indeed, to the extent that he did, if at all, it was probably

subordinate to his other identities.

What the data do imply, however—and this is where we shall return our focus to the

dynasty of Sam’al—is that despite these very real ethnic distinctions, Aramaic-speaking tribal

groups—including, but not limited to, the Aramaeans proper—can be considered as part of a

generalized movement and sedentarization of pastoral tribal groups of the Syro-Euphrates region,

beginning in the late 12th century BC and reaching its peak in the late 10th and early 9th centuries

BC, when these groups started to found their own city-based kingdoms in the midst of Neo-

Hittite and Assyrian territory. It is in this context, then, that we can turn to the situation in the

kingdom of Sam’al, whose ruling dynasty, although not necessarily or primarily self-identified

Aramaeans, seem from the linguistic evidence to have been part of the same general “wave” of

migration and sedentarization that led to the rise of polities like Damascus and Arpad around the

same time. As I will argue, with this in mind, the evidence that the ruling dynasty of Sam’al can

be considered to be within the range of variation of the stranger-king ideal type is very strong. It

is to the evidence left behind by this polity that we now turn.

Fig. 8: Aramaic-inscribed stele of Zakkur, King of Hamath and Lu‘ash, c.800 BC. Found at Tell
Afis (ancient Hadrach/Hatarikka) in Syria, north of Hama (ancient Hamath). From

Sam’al (Zincirli) and the Kingdom of Ya’diya

Sometime around 920 BC, a man named Gabbar founded a kingdom in what is now the

Islahiya valley in Turkey, at the foot of the Amanus Mountains, at a site (known in modern times

as Zincirli) that had probably been abandoned for a century or two. The site’s name, Sam’al, is a

common Semitic word for “North,” and it is known by this name in Akkadian texts as early as

the Middle Bronze Age (c.2000-1600 BC), clearly from the viewpoint of Semitic-speakers

located to its south (Schloen and Fink 2009). This is also the name by which the kingdom is

known in the Iron Age by the Assyrians, also Semitic-speakers who were viewing it from their

more southerly viewpoint (ibid.). However, inscriptions found at the site itself indicate that this

rather Semitocentric name is not the only one by which the site itself was known. Local Iron Age

inscriptions in both Phoenician and Aramaic attest to the fact that, while the capital city was

known by its Semitic-speaking rulers as Sam’al, the kingdom itself was known locally as

Ya’diya. Starke (1999:525, cited in Schloen and Fink 2009:7) suggests on the basis of

morphology that the name is Luwian.

It was these new Aramaic-speaking rulers who transformed this former small town into a

rather large citadel, which after the middle of the 9th century BC also became home to a large

lower town (Schloen and Fink 2009). The early architecture of the citadel is of typical Neo-

Hittite style, and elements of this style appear in the two most famous inscriptions of the site,

that of King Kilamuwa (c.840 BC) and that of the royal official Kutamuwa (mid-late 8th century

BC). It is these two stelae, in fact, that give us the most fascinating information about the ways in

which affinity and alterity were being manipulated to legitimize kingship over a heterogenous


The Kilamuwa inscription, for example, is written in Phoenician, a Northwest Semitic

language that, though related to the Aramaic dialect spoken by the ruling dynasty, is nonetheless

distinct and by this time was probably not mutually intelligible with it. The “homeland” of the

Phoenician language was the Phoenician coast, home to the wealthy mercantile city-states of

Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos (Peckham 2001). While in terms of size these polities paled in

comparison to the wide swaths of territory ruled by inland tribal states like Sam’al, they were

nonetheless incredibly wealthy, and likely served as a source of prestige alterity which could be

mobilized by kings for various purposes10. The Old Aramaic and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, for

example, were both borrowed directly from the Phoenician script in the 9th century BC, despite

the already existing alphabetic scripts in the regions in which the languages written by these

scripts were spoken (Peckham 2001), and Phoenician motifs were a large part of the Assyro-

Aramaic international style that spread across the Middle East after the decline in prestige of the

Neo-Hittite international style and the resurgence of Assyria after 900 BC. The fact that

Kilamuwa wrote in Phoenician, a language that nobody within his polity (except perhaps a few

Phoenician merchants) spoke, is a testament to the prestige of this language, and it has been

suggested (Gilibert 2011:79-84) that he deliberately used this prestigious foreign language in

order to communicate “neutrality” in the conflict between the oppressed mškbm and the powerful

b‘rrm within his polity. It has long been suggested that these two groups of people represent,

respectively, the indigenous Luwian-speakers and the foreign Semitic speakers from whom the

royal dynasty was derived; this is bolstered by Lipinski’s derivation of these words from the

roots škb (to settle) and b‘r (to roam), respectively (Lipinski 2000a:236). In this interpretation,

then, the mškbm would be the “sedentists,” descendants of Luwian-speaking settled

As Sahlins (2010) notes, mercantile wealth is often considered to be a particularly prestigious form of alterity,
and many stranger-kings start out as stranger-merchants.

agriculturalists who were being politically and economically dominated by the b‘rrm, the

“nomads” (Tropper [1993:27ff] translates “Wilden” in German) who formed the power base and

origin of the ruling dynasty. That Kilamuwa depicts himself as a fair mediator between these two

groups, emphasizing his redistribution of wealth, is also a testament to the possibility of an

“alterity-as-neutrality” motive behind his use of Phoenician. Also interesting in terms of galactic

political dynamics Kilamuwa’s frank admission of his position of weakness vis-à-vis his

neighbors—he is at the mercy of his more powerful neighbors the Danunians to the west, and is

forced to “hire” (i.e., envassal himself to) the king of Assyria to come save him—although he is

sure to emphasize how cheaply the Assyrian monarch offered his “services!”

Kilamuwa’s name and genealogy are interesting. He was preceded by his brother Sha’il,

and his father Hayyan, both of which are good Semitic names, but his own name—and that of his

mother, TMN—are of Luwian origin (cf. O’Connor 1977; Schloen and Fink 2009; Tropper

1993:27ff). It has been suggested (Schloen and Fink 2009) that Kilamuwa had a different mother

than his brother Sha’il, perhaps suggesting some motivation to his redistribution of wealth and

mediation of conflict between the two segments of the population based in his own Luwian

heritage on his mother’s side. It appears that we may have here, frozen in time, direct attestation

to the moment in which an element of the structure of stranger-kingship was created, the moment

in which the foreign dynast married a daughter of the indigenous elite and produced a son in the

form of Kilamuwa.

The fusion of Semitic and Luwian elements at Sam’al are even more apparent in the

mortuary inscription of Kutamuwa, a royal official with a Luwian name and probably Luwian

ancestry, whose funerary inscription was, however, written in a dialect of Aramaic intermediate

between the “Old Sam’alian” used in the inscriptions of some of the Sam’alian kings after

Kilamuwa and the Standard Old Aramaic that was adopted for most inscriptions during the reign

of Barrakib, the last king of Sam’al before the kingdom was turned into an Assyrian province

towards the end of the 8th century BC (Pardee 2009). The iconography of Kutamuwa’s stele

attests to an eclectic mixture of Neo-Hittite, Aramaic, and Assyrian influences; the Aramaic

alphabetic writing is inscribed in a “three-dimensional” style very much reminiscent of classical

Luwian hieroglyphs (Struble and Hermann 2009), which by this time (late 8th century BC) were

largely going out of use except for at Carchemish and a few pockets in Anatolia (Hawkins 2009).

While no cremation burial has been found, it is clear that from both the inscription (which

mentions that the deceased’s soul is “in this stele”) and several vessels found in the mortuary

chamber, that Kutamuwa had been cremated, a primarily Indo-European (i.e., Hittite-Luwian)

tradition that the Hittites and their successors had introduced into parts of the Semitic-speaking

world (Peckham 2001; Schloen and Fink 2009; Struble and Hermann 2009). Schloen and Fink

suggest that the explicit mention of the deceased’s soul being in the stele was needed for

clarificatory purposes in a world in which these old Luwian burial traditions had been largely

replaced by Semitic practices of inhumation and collective secondary burial—that is, Kutamuwa

was communicating to his family that it was “safe” to cremate him in the old tradition, in

anticipation of concerned skepticism as to the fate of his soul.

Also present in Kutamuwa’s stele are the mention of several Luwian gods that are largely

absent from the purely Semitic pantheon mentioned in the royal inscriptions, one of whom,

Kubaba, was also the chief deity of Carchemish (cf. Pardee 2009; Schloen and Fink 2009). In

addition to Kubaba, we also find two Anatolian deities mentioned in the guise of epithets of

Hadad (the chief Semitic deity of the pantheon)—“Hadad of the Vineyards,” known in Anatolian

context as “Tarhunt of the Vineyards” (Sanders 2013:92 and n.32); and “Hadad QRPDL,” who is

probably an Aramaicization of the Luwian term ḫarpatalli connoting a bond of alliance through

the sharing of sacrifice; thus “Hadad the Sacrificial Ally” (ibid.:94-5). Another epithet of Hadad

mentioned here is “He who is in Charge of Provisions,” echoing the description of Hadad from

the nearby site of Tell Fekheriye as the deity who distributes offerings to his fellow gods; this

epithet of Hadad, unattested anywhere else, could be purely local to this area (ibid.:95).

Characteristic of the ideal-type of stranger-kingship, the gods of the royal dynasty are

global and cosmopolitan, while those of the indigenes are local; the exclusion of non-Semitic

deities from the royal cult at Sam’al, deities that were still apparently worshipped even by high

officials of Luwian ancestry, fits within this pattern. What complicates the picture here, however,

is that the “local” traditions of the indigenous Luwians were also part of a much wider “global”

tradition of Neo-Hittite international style, while the global traditions of Sam’al were

cosmopolitan in the sense of being “pan-Semitic”—most of the gods mentioned in the royal

inscriptions, particularly Hadad, El, and Shamash, were common Semitic deities who had

recognizable analogues in royal cults throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia; indeed, the only

deity that seems to have been completely unique to the Sam’alian dynasty was Rakkab’el—

literally, “El’s Chariot”—who was at once both a personification of the High God El’s vehicle,

as well as the patron deity of the royal house of Sam’al at least from the reign of Ḥayya forward

(cf. Lipinski 2000a:239; O’Connor 1977). It is likely that religious specialists of local, Luwian

origin were responsible for the cults of Luwian gods (albeit sometimes reconfigured as epithets

or manifestations of Hadad), while religious specialists of Semitic origin were responsible for the

cults of the Semitic gods.

Lastly, a look at some of the inscriptions from the reign of Bar-Rakkab, last king of

Sam’al and a loyal vassal of Assyria, attest to his conscious choice to further integrate Sam’al

into the developing Assyro-Aramaic koiné of the second half of the 8th century BC. Most of Bar-

Rakkab’s inscriptions were written in Standard Old Aramaic, probably a result of a conscious

choice to further integrate Sam’al into the new prevailing international style (the prestige of Neo-

Hittite style now having been completely lost), although inscriptions at the cultic site of Gercin

continued to be written in Old Sam’alian, attesting to its local prestige as a dynastic cultic and

literary language (Pardee 2009). However, neither Old Sam’alian nor Standard Old Aramaic

actually reflects the spoken dialect of Sam’al at this time; the dialect of the Kutamuwa stele,

being intermediate between the two, probably approximates the local spoken Aramaic most

closely, at least that used by the elite classes (ibid.). We seem here to have a case of complex

language politics, in which multiple dialects of the same language were used for different

purposes in navigating the complex intersections between distinct cosmopolitan and vernacular

worlds—on the one hand, we have a standardized, archaizing “cultic vernacular” in the form of

Old Sam’alian, used for long-standing dynastic cultic rituals at the specialized site of Gercin; on

the other, we have the use of Standard Old Aramaic in order to integrate Sam’al into the

increasingly cosmopolitan world of the Neo-Assyrian Empire; and in between these two

extremes were probably a variety of Aramaic sociolects, only one of which is captured in the

language of the Kutamuwa stele. Further complicating the picture is the fact that Bar-Rakkab

possessed both an Aramaic and a Luwian signet ring (Schloen and Fink 2009).

A final, and particularly telling example of Bar-Rakkab’s desire to integrate himself into

the increasingly cosmopolitan world of the Assyrian Empire is an inscribed relief depicting Bar-

Rakkab on one of the bīt-ḫilāni style palaces (no. IV) found at Zincirli. The inscription reads:

“My lord is Baal-Harran. I am Bar-Rakkab, son of Panamu[wa]” (Gibson 1975:93; Gilibert

2011:85-6). Baal-Harran (“Lord of Harran”) is clearly a reference to the Moon God, Sin,

worshipped at the city of Harran, a major city of the Assyrian Empire as well as a prominent

Aramaean cultic center (Niehr 2014). As suggested by Gibson (1975:93), this is clearly a

political statement—Bar-Rakkab, the most highly-integrated of the Sam’alian kings into the

Assyro-Aramaic koiné associated with the complete dominance of Assyria over the region from

c.745-640 BC, wishes to associate himself with the prestigious alterity of his own overlord, his

own stranger-king, the King of Assyria, by dedicating a relief to an important Assyrian and

Aramaean god worshipped at an important Assyrian and Aramaean city. Indeed, it would seem

that Bar-Rakkab was so loyal to Assyria that he was willing to give up his kingdom’s autonomy

upon his death—he is the last known king of Sam’al, and on his death it seems to have been

rather peacefully organized into an Assyrian province (Schloen and Fink 2009), escaping the

violence (often including the flaying alive of civilians and rebellious vassal-kings) that was

usually intrinsic to this process. Just when it seems the memory of any division between West-

Semites and Luwians at Sam’al was beginning to fade, Sam’al lost its Aramaic-speaking

stranger-dynasty and gained a new one, based far to the east in Assyria. One wonders if the king

of Assyria was made heir to throne by marrying Bar-Rakkab’s daughter.

Fig. 9: Phoenician-inscribed stele of Kilamuwa, King of Sam’al/Ya’diya, c.840 BC. From

Fig. 10: Aramaic-inscribed stele of Katumuwa, last quarter of 8th century BC. Source:


The above examples provide us with a quite powerful case for the usefulness of the ideal-

type of the stranger-king in helping us think about the ways in which alterity and kinship were

mobilized by Ancient Near Eastern kings in the contexts of shifting empires, populations, and

international styles. It should be emphasized that the ideal type, is not an end in itself, but rather

a heuristic that allows us to ask more detailed questions—in this case about kinship, alterity, and

sovereignty—by breaking it down into its component parts. Indeed, as argued by John Kelly

(2006), Weberian ideal types, when used skillfully, allow us to find answers to certain questions

regarding human behavior and, when necessary, allow us to re-frame the questions or ask new

questions altogether. Indeed, the data from Carchemish and Sam’al, in particular, illustrate the

various “structures of the conjuncture” (Sahlins 1981) and versa that occur when political

structure and human action act dialectically upon one another through time. The data from reign

of Taita of Palastina, when put within this framework, open up new questions we might ask

about the intersections of the local and the global within a multi-ethnic polity, with a royal

ideology framing itself within a standardized international style, and yet within that style

mobilizing elements of diverse local and foreign traditions into a set of symbolic meanings that

are unique to that specific polity at that specific period in history. And the data from Sam’al

present a number of questions regarding the interaction between Aramaic and Luwian-speakers

and the basis upon which an intermarrying elite was able to maintain control over an originally

heterogenous, but increasingly homogenizing, population over time.

We must keep in mind that ultimately, all of the characters in our story—Kilamuwa,

Kutamuwa, Kuzi-Teshup, Taita, Suhis, BONUS-tis, Zakkur, etc.—not to mention the myriads of

commoners who did not leave royal inscriptions, and whose lives and existence are known to us

only through relatively mute archaeological remains—were human beings like ourselves, people

who lived, loved, fought, and died, and each of whom attributed particular meanings to actions

and events that were singular and unique to them, despite the similarities between them which

we might recognize, some 3000 years later, as “structures” in the Lévi-Straussian sense. These

structures, such as stranger-kingship and galactic polity, certainly exist, but they are never exact

and immutable; rather, they are recognizable but inexact patterns that reveal themselves from the

collective results of motivated and meaningful human action. History is not simply the collection

and interpretation of documents and artifacts; these documents and artifacts must be understood

in relation to the fact that they were produced by human bodies moving on the ground, bodies

with brains, brains with minds, and minds that were always and already thinking in terms of

culturally-determined and intersubjectively-constituted symbolic codes of meaning (Geertz

2001[1973]; Ricoeur 2007), codes of meaning which were nonetheless changeable due to the

very acts that they inspired and legitimized. It is ultimately with these questions in mind—

questions of structure and meaning, process and agency, power and alterity—that the model of

the stranger-king provides a useful new way of looking at the Ancient Near Eastern data.


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