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Mesopotamia in the Ancient World

Impact, Continuities, Parallels

Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium


of the Melammu Project Held in Obergurgl,
Austria, November 4–8, 2013

Edited by
Robert Rollinger and Erik van Dongen
Melammu Symposia 7

Edited by Robert Rollinger (Helsinki / Innsbruck)

In collaboration with Ann Gunter (Evanston),


Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila (Helsinki), Johannes Haubold (Durham),
Giovanni-Battista Lanfranchi (Padova), Krzysztof Nawotka
(Wrocław), Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), Beate Pongratz-Leisten
(New York), Kai Ruffing (Kassel), Josef Wiesehöfer (Kiel)
Mesopotamia in the Ancient World

Impact, Continuities, Parallels

Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium


of the Melammu Project Held in Obergurgl,
Austria, November 4–8, 2013

Edited by
Robert Rollinger and Erik van Dongen

Ugarit-Verlag
Münster 2015
Mesopotamia in the Ancient World. Impact, Continuities, Parallels.
Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium of the Melammu Project Held in Obergurgl,
Austria, November 4–8, 2013
Edited by Robert Rollinger and Erik van Dongen
Melammu Symposia 7

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Obergurgl 2013, or A New Dawn for the Melammu Project ................ 1

Robert Rollinger
Old Battles, New Horizons: The Ancient Near East and the Homeric Epics ........ 5

Talking to God(s): Prayers and Incantations


Tzvi Abusch (Chair)
Introduction ......................................................................................................... 35
Cynthia Jean
Performing Rituals in Secluded Places: A Comparison of the Akkadian
and Hittite Corpus ............................................................................................... 41
Patrick M. Michel
Worshipping Gods and Stones in Late Bronze Age Syria and Anatolia ............. 53
Alan Lenzi
The Language of Akkadian Prayers in Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi and
its Significance within and beyond Mesopotamia ............................................... 67
David P. Wright
Ritual Speech in the Priestly-Holiness Prescriptions of the Pentateuch and
its Near Eastern Context ................................................................................... 107
Alberto Bernabé
To Swear to Heaven and Earth, from Mesopotamia to Greece ......................... 125
Martin Lang (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 135

Et Dona Ferentes: Foreign Reception of Mesopotamian Objects


D. T. Potts (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 143
Giacomo Bardelli
Near Eastern Influences in Etruria and Central Italy between the
Orientalizing and the Archaic Period: The Case of Tripod-Stands
and Rod Tripods................................................................................................ 145
VI Table of Contents

Winfried Held and Deniz Kaplan


The Residence of a Persian Satrap in Meydancıkkale, Cilicia .......................... 175
Joachim Ganzert
On the Archetype of Sacral Rulership Legitimization and the Lower Court
in the Lüneburg Town Hall ............................................................................... 193
Ann C. Gunter (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 221

‘Fighting like a Lion’: The Use of Literary Figures of Speech


Simone Paganini (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 227
Sebastian Fink
Metaphors for the Unrecognizability of God in Balaĝs and Xenophanes ......... 231
Johannes Haubold
‘Shepherds of the People’: Greek and Mesopotamian Perspectives ................. 245
Krzysztof Ulanowski
The Metaphor of the Lion in Mesopotamian and Greek Civilization .............. 255
Amar Annus and Mari Sarv
The Ball Game Motif in the Gilgamesh Tradition and
International Folklore........................................................................................ 285
Thomas R. Kämmerer (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 297

Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction


Giovanni-Battista Lanfranchi (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 307
Reinhard Pirngruber
šulmu jâši libbaka lu ṭābka : The Interaction between
the Neo-Assyrian King and the Outside World ................................................ 317
André Heller
Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History ........ 331
Julien Monerie
Writing Greek with Weapons Singularly Ill-designed for the Purpose:
The Transcription of Greek in Cuneiform ........................................................ 349
Krzysztof Nawotka
Alexander the Great in Babylon: Reality and Myth .......................................... 365
Table of Contents VII

Birgit Gufler and Irene Madreiter


The Ancient Near East and the Genre of Greek Historiography ....................... 381
Simonetta Ponchia (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 397

The World of Politics: ‘Democracy’, Citizens, and ‘Polis’


Kurt A. Raaflaub (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 413
Kristoffer Momrak
Identifying Popular Power: Who were the People of Ancient Near Eastern
City-States? ....................................................................................................... 417
Kurt A. Raaflaub
Lion’s Roar and Muses’ Song: Social and Political Thinking in Early Greek
Poets and Early Israelite Prophets ..................................................................... 433
Sabine Müller
A History of Misunderstandings? Macedonian Politics and Persian
Prototypes in Greek Polis-Centered Perspective ............................................... 459
Raija Mattila (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 481

Iran and Early Islam


Lucian Reinfandt (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 487
Aleksandra Szalc
Semiramis and Alexander in the Diodorus Siculus’ Account (II 4–20) ............ 495
Tim Greenwood
Oversight, Influence and Mesopotamian Connections to Armenia
Across the Sasanian and Early Islamic Periods ................................................ 509
Lutz Berger
Empire-building vs. State-building between Late Antiquity
and Early Islam ................................................................................................. 523
Josef Wiesehöfer (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 533

Representations of Power: Shaping the Past and the Present


Sabina Franke (Chair)
Introduction ....................................................................................................... 539
VIII Table of Contents

Frederick Mario Fales


Looking the God in the Eye: Sennacherib’s Bond with Destiny,
from Rock Reliefs to Cylinder Seals ................................................................ 543
Dirk Wicke
Assyrian or Assyrianized: Reflections on the Impact of Assyrian Art
in Southern Anatolia ......................................................................................... 561
Rocío Da Riva
Enduring Images of an Ephemeral Empire: Neo-Babylonian Inscriptions
and Representations on the Western Periphery ................................................. 603
Christoph Schäfer
Inspiration and Impact of Seleucid Royal Representation ................................ 631
Jonathan Valk and Beate Pongratz-Leisten (Respondent)
Response ........................................................................................................... 643

List of Contributors ................................................................................................ 653

Index ....................................................................................................................... 657


Why the Greeks Know so Little about
Assyrian and Babylonian History
André Heller*

Introduction
The Ancient Near East influenced Greece deeply in many ways. The important role
of Greek aristocrats for this process has rightly been emphasised.1 However, when
we cast a look on the history of the Near East in the classical sources, a rather disap-
pointing picture emerges – despite of all these extensive contacts.2 Structure and
purpose of Herodotus’ “Histories” deliver an overview on the most important Near
Eastern entities from the 8th century onwards. Since Detlev Fehling’s seminal work,3
however, our view on the author’s way of gathering information by autopsy and
local informants has remarkably changed. For Herodotus votive offerings by foreign
kings to Greek sanctuaries were of chief importance,4 as were mercenaries returning
home from Egypt or the East and subsequently dedicating precious gifts.5 Descend-
ants of Ionian and Carian mercenaries also provided information. As they originated
from Eastern Greece and even from Herodotus’ own native country, there was no
need for intense travelling or autopsy on side of the author; although there are good
reasons for that he had indeed visited Egypt. There is also evidence that Herodotus
used poetry as a source.6
At the beginning of the 4th century, Ctesias of Cnidus, making a living as a physi-
cian at the Persian court,7 wrote the Persiká.8 In this account, we find fabulous sto-
ries about the first Assyrian ruler Ninus, his myth-enshrouded wife Semiramis, and

*
I wish to thank the organisers for inviting me to the Melammu Symposium held at Obergurgl
as well as the participants for discussing my paper.
1
Cf. Raaflaub, 2004.
2
On the authors, cf. Drews, 1973; for Assyria in the classical literature, see Drews, 1965 and
the overviews in Kuhrt, 1982a; Bichler, 2004b; Heller, 2010: 140–149; Rollinger, 2011a.
3
Fehling, 1971. 1989. Cf. Asheri/Lloyd/Corcella, 2007: 1–56.
4
Kaplan, 2006; Kindt, 2006. The inscriptions on the objects – if existing at all – only gave a
hint on dedicator or occasion, so the priests would have provided Herodotus with the underly-
ing stories, thus making the reliability doubtful and often biased.
5
E.g., the block statue of Pedon (Masson/Yoyotte, 1988), who made career in the Egyptian
army and administration under Psammetichus I. Cf. Bettalli, 2013: 216–217.
6
West, 2011.
7
Dorati, 1995, even doubted Ctesias’ presence at the Persian court.
8
Edition: Lenfant, 2004; translations: Stronk, 2010; Llewellyn-Jones/Robson, 2010; cf. Wie-
sehöfer/Lanfranchi/Rollinger, 2011 (conference volume on “Ctesias and his world”).
332 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

the infamous Sardanapalus. It is a matter of debate whether Ctesias had access to


written sources, e.g. chronicles or king-lists, or simply relied on oral traditions and
courtly gossip.
Berossus of Babylon, writing the Babyloniaká in Hellenistic times (ca. 275),9
aimed – rather unsuccessfully – for correcting some of Ctesias’ stories about Baby-
lonia.10 As a priest, he had access to the rich cuneiform tradition of Babylon.

Greeks and the East – the archaeological and cuneiform evidence


Around the last quarter of the 9th century, Eastern Greek pottery appears in Levan-
tine ports, and excavations, conducted by Sir Leonard Woolley, uncovered a settle-
ment of Greek merchants at Al Mina on the mouth of the Orontes.11 During the 8th
century, more such enoikismoi of Greek merchants in already existing towns on the
Phoenician coast came up. However, the power of the Assyrian Empire prevented
the foundation of Greek apoikiai within its sphere of interest. Even in Cilicia, it was
not until the end of the 7th century (when Assyrian rule collapsed) that Eastern Greek
colonists were able to establish permanent settlements.12 From the reign of pharaoh
Psammetichus I onwards, Ionian and Carian mercenaries enlisted in the pharaonic
army and had their dwellings in the Delta area.13 Plethora of potsherds of Eastern
Greek origin, unearthed in the layers of the 7th century, prove the massive presence
of Greek soldiers in the forts of the pharaoh on the Egyptian border and the Levan-
tine coast, as e.g. in Meẓad Ḥashavyahu.14 Greek soldiers were part of the army of
pharaoh Necho II, when he intervened in Syria around 610, as is shown by parts of a
hoplite’s armour found at Carchemish on the Euphrates.15
For the contact of “Greeks” with the Neo-Assyrian Empire, we possess only a
few sources.16 Starting with the middle of the 8th century, people named as “Ionians”
occasionally occur in Assyrian royal inscriptions and letters.17 A letter from Nimrud
from the time of Tiglath-Pileser III reports the rejection of an attack by “Ionians”
and refers to a “city of Ionians”, probably to be located near Ugarit.18 Under Sargon

9
Edition: De Breucker, 2012; cf. Haubold/Lanfranchi/Rollinger/Steele, 2013 (conference
volume on “The world of Berossos”).
10
Cf. Tuplin, 2013.
11
Woolley, 1953; Boardman, 1996; Luke, 2003.
12
Gander, 2012; Kearsley, 1996. A cuneiform tablet from Tarsus lists three Greek personal
names along with, at least, three Luwian names. However, it must remain unclear whether
those Greeks were captives of war or member of a “Greek” community in Tarsus (Schmitz,
2009).
13
Herodotus 2.152.4–5, 2.154; Diodorus 1.66.12. Cf. Braun, 1982b; Haider, 1988: 153–223;
Kaplan, 2003.
14
Cf. the overview in Stern, 2001: 216–228; Niemeier, 2002. 2003; on Meẓad Ḥashavyahu,
Fantalkin, 2001.
15
Cf. Hale, 2013: 185.
16
Cf. Helm, 1980; Braun, 1982a; Haider, 1996; Kuhrt, 2000a. 2000b; Lanfranchi, 2000.
17
Rollinger, 1997. 2007.
18
CTN 5: 166–167. Parker, 2000; Na¬aman, 2004; Rollinger, 2011b.
A. Heller: Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History 333

II, the raids on the Cilician coast by “Ionian” pirates continued. In the last quarter of
the 8th century, the Assyrian influence reached far into Anatolia;19 the Phrygian king
Mita/Midas concluded an alliance with Assyria.20 In 696, Sennacherib reports the
suppression of a revolt of Cilician dynasts, but does not refer to “Ionians”.21 In 694,
he compelled “Ionians”, possibly Cypriots, along with Phoenicians to build and man
ships for his campaign against the Babylonian Sealand and Elam.22 Under Ashurba-
nipal’s reign, king Gyges of Lydia concluded an alliance with Assyria to withstand
Cimmerian attacks.23
Although no Assyrian documents mention the deployment of Greek soldiers,
there are some accidental traces for hoplites.24 Under Sargon’s reign, the governor of
Dēr (near the eastern border of Babylonia) reported the capture of several fugitives,
among them a certain Addiqritušu, obviously the Assyrian rendering of a Greek per-
sonal name (Antikritos or Adakrytos).25 A bowl of Cypriote or Phoenician origin
from the Cypriote town Amathus, discovered in 1875 and dating probably from
around 700 BCE, depicts hoplites in formation fighting alongside with the Assyrians
and attacking a fortified town defended by a different group of hoplites. Obviously,
the artist knew about the hoplites’ tactics, and the bowl proves the deployment of
hoplites in Assyrian service at the end of the 8th century.26 Decorated bronze plaques
from chariot horse-harness taken from the Damascene king Hazael, identified by
their inscriptions, have been found as re-gifted votive objects at the Heraion of Sa-
mos27 and in the temple of Apollo at Eretria on Euboea. It is an attractive suggestion
to deduce from these pieces the presence of Greeks in the army of Tiglath-Pileser
III, which captured and looted Damascus in 732.28 From the evidence presented
above, we can conclude firmly that, from the time of Tiglath-Pileser III on, Greeks
were constantly in contact with the Neo-Assyrian Empire – both as enemies and as
mercenaries.29
After the downfall of the Assyrian empire, Greek hoplites may have entered

19
Lanfranchi, 2005; 2007.
20
Lanfranchi, 2000: 19–22, for the persuasive theory that the “Ionian” attacks were the result
of a treaty between Midas and the “Greeks” to prevent Assyrian growth of power. Aristoteles
frg. 611.37, and Pollux 9.83, attest king Agamemnon of Cyme as father-in-law of Midas.
21
The absence of the “Ionians” contradicts the testimony of Berossus (FGrHist 680 F7c.31).
22
Rollinger, 2008: 156–158.
23
Fuchs, 2010. The appearance of the names Ninus and Belus in the Herodotean genealogy of
the Heraclid dynasty should not be treated as reflection of the Lydian-Assyrian connections.
24
On the employment of foreign specialists in the Assyrian army, cf. Dalley, 1985.
25
ABL 140 = SAA 16: no. 136. Rollinger/Korenjak, 2001; Lipiński, 1998 (Adakrytos).
26
Schwartz, 2009: 130–135. Whether the Greeks adopted the hoplites’ tactic from the Assyri-
ans is a matter of debate; cf. Raaflaub, 2013: 99–100.
27
Kyrieleis/Röllig, 1988.
28
Luraghi, 2006.
29
Burkert, 2009a: 118–119, suggests – rather far-fetched – from the Iliad-reminding descrip-
tion of the battle of Ḫalulê (691) that “some Greek singer had arrived in Assyria together with
the mercenaries and that he composed this song ( . . . ) which so much pleased the king that it
was incorporated in the official annals” (119).
334 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

service with the Babylonian army.30 We know one of them by name: Antimenidas,
brother of the famed Lesbian poet Alcaeus. He fought on behalf of the Babylonian
king during the siege of Ashkelon in 60431 and returned home highly distinguished;
he might even have visited Babylon.32 There is also evidence for “Ionians” and Car-
ians in Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian period.33 The Neo-Babylonian kings
were also active in Cilicia and probably had diplomatic contacts to “Ionians”.34 The
Neo-Babylonian administrative control over the Levantine coast was less tight,35 but
the Babylonians exploited it economically, too.36

Near Eastern history and the Greeks


The first historiographical texts originated in a time when the collapse of the Assyr-
ian Empire had happened already more than 150 years ago; the Neo-Babylonian
Empire had ceased when Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539. However, Greek litera-
ture per se, starting with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, is roughly contemporary with
the climax of Assyrian and Babylonian power. The synopsis given above demon-
strates that the Greeks came in contact with and had direct access to both the Neo-
Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empire. Scholars have correctly emphasised the im-
portance of Cilicia as a contact zone between “Greeks” and Assyrians, leading to
Raoul Schrott’s highly controversial theory that Homer originated from there and
that the “Trojan war” is a reflection of the Greek-Assyrian struggle in Cilicia.37 The
conquest of Egypt by Esarhaddon was indeed an unprecedented achievement.38
Inscriptions of the kings from the Sargonid line offer an insight in their conception
of the world stretching as far as Tarṣisi, which might be identical with Tartessus in
Southern Spain.39 In the Assyrians’ view, the whole Mediterranean was subject to the
king’s will. Giovanni Lanfranchi stated that “Assyrian imperialism is a problem
largely underestimated if not totally missing in most studies about the political
developments of the Greek archaic world”.40 Is the Iliad in the end “an anti-im-
perialistic appeal to unity”41 to the Greeks in the wake of Assyrian imperialism? Be

30
Cf. Hale, 2013: 184–187.
31
On the historical background, Fantalkin, 2011.
32
Alcaeus 350 L.-P. (Antimenidas). 48 L.-P. (Babylon). Fantalkin, 2011: 103–104, points to
the possibility that Antimenidas was soldier of the Egyptian army and taken captive. In this
case, the whole poem would be mockery.
33
Kessler, 2006; Rollinger, 2008: 153–155.
34
Glassner, 2004: no.s 25 (time of Neriglissar). 26, col. I 1–7 (time of Nabonidus); Rollinger,
2008: 155–156.
35
Stern, 2001: 303–350; cf. the contributions in Lipschits/Blenkinsopp, 2003.
36
For the role of the Eanna-temple of Uruk in this context, Kleber, 2008: 141–154.
37
Schrott, 2008; for a balanced discussion of the problems and questions connected with this
topic, cf. Ulf/Rollinger, 2011.
38
Cf. Kahn, 2006.
39
Lang/Rollinger, 2010.
40
Lanfranchi, 2011: 236.
41
Lanfranchi, 2011: 236.
A. Heller: Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History 335

it as it may, one should expect to find, at least, traces of the impact of Assyrian im-
perialism in the sources.
Assyrian history in Herodotus’ “Histories” is a vexed problem. He promises
Ἀσσύριοι λόγοι twice to the reader but never fulfils this claim – at least not in a
literally sense.42 This led some scholars to assume that these Ἀσσύριοι λόγοι were
lost – either as an independent work or within the “Histories”.43 However, there
arises the question whether Assyrian and Babylonian history was really fitting to the
leitmotif of the “Histories”. Herodotus mentions two Assyrian rulers by name,
Sardanapalus (2.150) and Sennacherib (2.141.2). Herodotus states in his Median
logos (1.95.2) that the Assyrians ruled Upper Asia for a total of 520 years before the
Medes defected, followed by all the other subjugated people. Taken Herodotus’
chronological outline at face value, this suggests some time before 700 BCE.44
Herodotus knew about two Median attacks on Nineveh at the hands of Phraortes and
Cyaxares (1.102 and 106). The second, successful onslaught of 612 – a combined
attack of Babylonians and Medes – is the one recorded in a cuneiform chronicle.45
Although Assyrian royal inscriptions of the 9th century mirror the loose confedera-
tion of the Median tribes, cuneiform documents mention some of the Median kings
while a Babylonian chronicle confirms Cyaxares’ contribution to the fall of Nineveh,
Herodotus’ outline of Median history is an amalgam of Greek conceptions and Me-
dian folk-tales.46 However, there is one detail that requires further explanations:
Although Herodotus provides us with the exact duration of Assyrian rule – a feature
the Assyrians share with the Heraclids of Lydia (505 years), the Medes (128 years)
and even the Scythians (28 years) – he fails to name any Assyrian king involved in
the events described above. This phenomenon can rather simply be explained: Since
there were close connections between Medes and Persians, Herodotus could obtain
his information relating to the Median attacks on Assyria directly from Persian offi-
cials – even in the Western part of the Achaemenid Empire. Why should they know
something about the rulers of the cities their ancestors had plundered?
Herodotus’ Sardanapalus, son of Ninus, shows no signs of the negative traits
later authors ascribe to him. He characterises him simply as “wealthy man” who was
robbed by thieves digging their way under the Tigris into his treasury (2.150.3).
Herodotus’ rendering of the name leads to an Assyrian personal name Aššur-da¬¬in-

42
Cf. the discussion by Heller, 2010: 42–44.
43
Cf. Drews, 1970.
44
Cf. the time-table in Asheri/Lloyd/Corcella, 2007: 147, and the subsequent discussion of the
Median logos. This would place the beginning of the Assyrian Empire to around 1220 BCE
when Tukulti-Ninurta I (1233–1197) reigned. One should be cautious in identifying this king
with the Ninus of our sources, even if Ninurta may sound like that, the realm reached its
greatest expansion during his reign, and he built a new capital with Kār-Tukulti-Ninurta. The
year 705, on the other hand, saw the death of Sargon II in battle. However, this occurred in
Anatolia and had obviously no further consequences for the stability of the Assyrian Empire.
45
Glassner, 2004: no. 22, lines 24–30.
46
The historicity and extension of the Median Empire is problematic: Lanfranchi/Roaf/Rollin-
ger, 2003.
336 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

aplu.47 A son of Shalmaneser III bore this name; he rebelled towards the end of his
father’s reign and brought numerous cities, among them Nineveh, under his control
before Shalmaneser’s son Shamshi-Adad V finally beat him. Possibly, Aššur-da¬¬in-
aplu was the “king” Herodotus had in mind when he penned the figure of Sardanapa-
lus.48 As the story shall provide a parallel for a similar incident in Egypt, it bears no
chronological embedding. Herodotus’ source remains unclear but there is no indica-
tion that he connected the incident with the destruction of Nineveh. This classical
Sardanapalus is obviously the composition of Ctesias of Cnidus.49 He lives hidden in
his palace among concubines and does women’s work. Surprisingly, the insurgents
needed a few attempts before Nineveh finally fell to the Medes. During the siege of
the city, Sardanapalus erected a pyre consisting of his treasures and burned himself.
The picture of a lewd king on the one hand and the losses the attackers suffered by
the Assyrian army on the other hand might have led to the imagination of two dis-
tinct kings of the same name – a tradition which is palpable in the work of Hellan-
icus of Mytilene, a contemporary of Herodotus.50 Some ten years after Herodotus’
death, Aristophanes introduces Sardanapalus in his play “The Birds” (v. 1021),
apparently alluding to the king’s luxury and extravagance. A generation later, Ctesias
presents us with the fully elaborated picture of Sardanapalus. It is hardly believable
that Herodotus should not have known the picture of Sardanapalus as a prototype for
Oriental despotism.51
Most modern historians assume due to the similarity of the names that the last
powerful Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (669–627)52 is identical with Sardanapalus.
His self-burning reflects the death of Ashurbanipal’s brother Šamaš-šum-ukīn who
rebelled while he was king of Babylon and died in similar way. However, this inter-
pretation poses some problems, as Ashurbanipal was not the last king of Assyria.
Although civil war in Assyria broke out following his death, finally one of his sons,
Sîn-šar-iškūn, prevailed and reigned until 612 when he died during the capture of
Nineveh. Furthermore, the Greek rendering of his Assyrian name Aššur-bāni-apli
should be Sarbanapalus. The correct rendering srbnpl is preserved in an Aramaic
papyrus written in demotic script about the “tale of the two brothers and the two

47
Weißbach, 1920: 2470; Asheri/Lloyd/Corcella, 2007: 352.
48
Is it probably more than a coincidence that in Shalmaneser’s III 24th year (835) the Medes
appear for the first in our sources?
49
The later development of the figure – in Roman times even a nickname for the Roman em-
peror Elagabal – is treated by Bernhardt, 2009; for all ramifications of the myth, see Weiß-
bach, 1920.
50
FGrHist 4 F63. Hellanicus’ work must have been of some importance as Ctesias considered
it necessary to criticise him – even if it was in a Persian context (FGrHist 688 F16.62 =
FGrHist 4 F184).
51
The conclusion of Drews, 1970: 190–191, that Herodotus intended to write Ἀσσύριοι λόγοι
is problematic as it does not explain why the author does not even name Sardanapalus as ruler
when Nineveh fell.
52
For the chronological problems, due to the sparse documentary evidence for the last years
of Ashurbanipal, and the struggle following, see Na¬aman, 2001.
A. Heller: Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History 337

cities”.53 The papyrus demonstrates that the story of Ashurbanipal and his rebel
brother Šamaš-šum-ukīn entered the realm of folk-tale.54 Parts of Ctesias’ story may
have originated from this, which, however, poses the question why Ctesias did not
spell the name correctly. Was it because Herodotus had used the name already? On
the other hand, Ctesias wasted almost no opportunity to “correct” Herodotus.55 Un-
fortunately, the fragmentary work of the Babylonian priest Berossus does not help to
settle the matter as it does not refer to Ashurbanipal but mentions Samoges instead,56
using the same rendering of Šamaš-šum-ukīn’s name as in the Egyptian papyrus.
Choerilus of Samos, author of a poem entitled Persiká, written at the end of the
th
5 century, composed an epitaph of Sardanapalus, which he claimed to have been
translated from the Chaldean.57 On the eve of the battle of Issus, Alexander was
shown what the locals purported to be the tomb of Sardanapalus at Anchialus in
Cilicia, with a relief carving of the king clapping his hands over his head and an
inscription that the locals translated for him as “Sardanapalus, son of Anakyn-
daraxes, built Anchialus and Tarsus in a single day; stranger, eat, drink and make
love, as other human things are not worth this”.58 There is no reason to doubt the
relief’s existence but the inscription is surely pure fiction with the imagination of the
lewd Sardanapalus in mind.59 We know from the very detailed account in Sennach-
erib’s inscriptions that he suppressed an insurrection of Cilician dynasts. Afterwards,
he re-built Tarsus and furnished it splendidly.60 According to Berossus’ and Aby-
denus’ testimonies, there was a fierce battle between Assyrians and “Ionians” with
Sennacherib’s troops finally prevailing; in Abydenus’ account, the battle took place
at sea.61 Afterwards, Sennacherib founded Tarsus making it an imitation of Babylon
and erected a victory monument. As Berossus relied on cuneiform evidence, the
participation of the “Ionians” might be historical. Berossus’ intention is the correc-
tion of the widespread Sardanapalus-tradition.62 One cannot but wonder why Hero-
dotus should have ignored such a memorable battle between Greeks and Assyrians.
One is even more baffled if we accept that Assyrian imperialism made deep impres-
sion on the Greeks as some scholars suppose.63

53
Steiner/Nims, 1985.
54
Stories from the Assyrian court were popular, as is shown by the novel of Ahiqar, vizier of
the kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, recorded on a papyrus from Elephantine but wide-
spread in antiquity. Cf. West, 2003: 423–428, arguing that Croesus’ role as advisor of Cyrus in
Herodotus is based on the Ahiqar-story.
55
Bichler, 2004a. 2010.
56
FGrHist 680 F7c.33. 34.
57
Drews, 1970: 186–190, argues persuasively that the Choerilus in question is not Choerilus
of Iasus, a contemporary of Alexander the Great.
58
Aristobulos FGrHist 139 F9 = Arrian, Anabasis 2.5.4.
59
Fink, 2014, argues persuasively, against Burkert, 2009b, that the picture of the “hedonistic”
Sardanapal recurs on Mesopotamian motifs.
60
Dalley, 1999.
61
FGrHist 680 F7c.31. FGrHist 685 F5.6; De Breucker, 2012: 433–444.
62
Lanfranchi, 2013: 66–67.
63
Schrott, 2008; Lanfranchi, 2011b: 236. Abydenus FGrHist 685 F5.7, mentions – in a some-
338 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

Herodotus knows of Sanacharibos – the correct rendering of the personal name


Sîn-aḫḫē-erība – as “king of the Arabians and Assyrians” (2.141.2). He attacked
Egypt but failed because field mice gnawed his soldiers’ equipment. The story’s
historical background is certainly Sennacherib’s campaign against a coalition of
Palestine states in 701, which ended with an Assyrian victory near Altaqu. Herodo-
tus’ narration is reminiscent of a parallel in the Old Testament but seems to be inde-
pendent from the biblical episode.64 Herodotus’ Sethus corresponds well with the
name of pharaoh Shebitku of the Twenty-fifth Nubian dynasty, which had a prefer-
ence of the god Hephaistos-Ptah.65 The Egyptian perspective is clear, as Horus was
associated with the shrewmouse, even if the story mirrors typical Greek imagina-
tions.66
Herodotus (2.159) reports a victory of pharaoh Necho II over a Syrian army near
Magdolos and the subsequent conquest of Kadytis.67 Afterwards, Necho dedicated
the garments in which he gained these victories to Apollo of Didyma. This offering
was Herodotus’ initial source on the war. Since these inscriptions contained only a
few words, it is probable that either the priests themselves or descendants of Greeks
who fought back then provided the details. Magdolos, probably identical with Tell
el-Her, which yielded a large number of Greek vessels during the excavations, was
one of the Egyptian forts with a Greek garrison.68 Moreover, the form Kadytis for
Gaza exactly renders the Egyptian spelling G-d-t. Herodotus calls Necho’s oppo-
nents Syrians instead of Assyrians, therefore possibly indicating that the Assyrian
Empire of Nineveh had already ceased to exist – which is correct. Certainly, stories
by descendants of Greek hoplites were Herodotus’ source for Psammetich’s 29-year-
long siege of Azotos-Ashdod, which was the longest ever (2.157). Unsurprisingly,
Herodotus ignores Nebuchadnezzar’s 13-year-long siege of Tyre.69 Consequently,
Pharaoh Amasis is the first man who conquered Cyprus (Herodotus 2.182.2), ignor-
ing the deeds of the eighth-century Assyrians. All those events are of no greater
importance apart from the fact that Greeks participated in it or Herodotus saw votive
offerings relating to them.70 Although Herodotus’ informants were descendants of
mercenaries – some of them might have participated in the Egyptian struggle for
freedom against the Assyrians –, there are no traces of the short-lived Assyrian
domination over Egypt. In Herodotus’ time, however, this unflattering episode of

how corrupted passage – soldiers sent from Byzantium to help Esarhaddon; among them was
a certain Pythagoras who is identified with the philosopher. For a possible explanation, cf.
Rollinger, 2001: 152–153; Bettalli, 2013: 242.
64
On the historical background, see the volume edited by Grabbe, 2003a; Kuhrt, 2002c. For
Herodotus’ text, see the detailed discussion by Grabbe, 2003b.
65
Lloyd, 1988: 32.
66
Lloyd, 1988: 43.
67
The battle is reported in a Babylonian chronicle (Glassner, 2004: no. 24, rev. lines 2´–5´)
which shows the immense losses of the Babylonian army.
68
Oren, 1984.
69
Katzenstein, 1997: 329–337.
70
Lloyd, 1988: 48–49, emphasises Herodotus’ “graeco-centric” narration of Saite foreign
policy.
A. Heller: Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History 339

Egyptian history might have fallen into oblivion.


It is evident from the “Babylonian logos”71 that the fall of Nineveh did not de-
stroy the Assyrian Empire72 as it continued with Babylon as capital until Cyrus’
conquest (1.178.1). This makes the negligence of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the
“Histories” and other sources like Ctesias explicable.73 Some scholars saw Naboni-
dus’ matrilineage from the Assyrians as reason for this.74 The rendering of Naboni-
dus’ name as Labynetos instead of Nabonnedos, as transcribed correctly by Beros-
sus, requires an Old Persian form *Nabunaita, with the N dissimilated to L.75
Surprisingly, Herodotus is unaware of the duration of rule of Nabonidus76 and other
rulers of Babylon. The capture of Babylon marks the end of Labynetus’ (II) reign
while his homonymous father ruled when Nineveh fell. One of the Labyneti acted in
the Median logos as mediator for the Lydian-Median peace treaty following the
indecisive battle of 585 (1.74.3). Moreover, Croesus concluded alliances with Spar-
ta, Amasis of Egypt, and Labynetus (II) of Babylon (1.77.2).
Additionally, Herodotus knew of two queens ruling Assyria: Semiramis as
builder of the dams near Babylon77 and Nitocris,78 rectifying the Euphrates and
erecting the famous stone bridge of Babylon (1.185–187).79 While Nitocris is other-
wise unknown, Semiramis’ well-known picture as wife of the first Assyrian king
Ninus and later queen of Assyria, campaigning as far as India and Egypt and founder
of Babylon, is only found in Ctesias and later authors.80 Herodotus places Semiramis
within the chronological frame of the historical Shammuramat.81 She acted as
widow of Shamshi-Adad V on behalf of her young son Adad-nirari III. According to
Herodotus, Nitocris is Nabonidus’ mother whose real name was Adad-guppi’.82 Even
though she was never married to an Assyrian king, she might have had relations to
the Assyrian royal house.83 Nitocris’ name is clearly Egyptian84 and her building

71
For a critical review, cf. Rollinger, 1993; Henkelman/Kuhrt/Rollinger/Wiesehöfer, 2011.
72
Phocylides F4 ( fl. 540 BCE) mentions the downfall of “foolish Nineveh” but the poem
seems to belong to a poet of the 1st century CE (Korenjak/Rollinger, 2001). Aristoteles, Histo-
ria animalium VII (VIII) 18.3 (601b), quotes the story from the Ornithomanteia of an eagle
drinking while Nineveh was under siege – a work attributed erroneously to Hesiod in Antiq-
uity. The idea of emendating the text and inserting Herodotus’ name is an extreme position
(Huxley, 1965). In this case, we would have the only hint attesting the existence of Ἀσσύριοι
λόγοι by Herodotus.
73
Kuhrt, 1982: 543; Madreiter, 2011.
74
Mayer, 1998.
75
Schmitt, 2006: 211–212. 2011: 228; Zadok, 2003: 514 (1.3. no. 4: Nabû-nādin = Aram.
Lbwndn). 562 (6.1. no. 67).
76
Cf. Beaulieu, 1989.
77
Cf. Tuplin, 2013: 186–187, on Berossus’ criticism of Greek authors who attributed the
founding of Babylon to Semiramis – a tradition of which Herodotus was unaware.
78
Cf. Streck, 1998–2001b.
79
Cf. Heller, 2010: 44–47.
80
For critical survey, cf. Rollinger, 2010; for an evaluation of the folk-tales, cf. Nagel, 1982.
81
Asheri/Lloyd/Corcella, 2007: 204; cf. Nikel, 1896: 39
82
Röllig, 1969, assumed identity between Nitokris and Adad-guppi.
83
The equation of Nitocris with Naqi¬a-Zakutu (cf. Streck, 1998–2001a), who played a
340 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

activities seem to reflect Nebuchadnezzar’s achievements.85 She might be an other-


wise unknown wife of Nebuchadnezzar II86 sealing an alliance with Egypt after the
unsuccessful campaign in 567.87 If Herodotus had interviewed Babylonians, his
failure to mention Nebuchadnezzar, the most important king of the Neo-Babylonian
Empire, would be very surprising. The assumption that the homonymous father of
Labynetus is identical with Nebuchadnezzar II is not what Herodotus says. Obvi-
ously, Herodotus had to guess who ruled over Babylon before Nabonidus, as his
informants had nothing to say about it. This would be no surprise if he used Persian
sources for the conquest of Babylon and heard from Egyptians about a marriage of
an Egyptian princess to a Babylonian king. Moreover, there are good arguments for
Herodotus knowing the poems of Alcaeus.88 In the poem, eulogising his brother’s
deeds before Ashkelon, Nebuchadnezzar is only styled as “king”. Although it is
highly conjectural, Herodotus’ description of Babylon might stem from the memo-
ries of Greek mercenaries like Antimenidas.

Concluding remarks
The history of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empire is almost non-existent
in the “Histories” of Herodotus. Considering the close contacts between Greeks and
the Near East and the far-reaching relations of Assyria and Babylonia into Anatolia,
this appears rather surprising. However, he mentioned the Assyrians and Babyloni-
ans when they came in touch with people or events he wrote about, but he did not
delve deeper as he would have digressed too much from his leitmotif, the causes of
the Greco-Persian wars. Herodotus referred to the Assyrians and Babylonians in
secondary places, i.e. in the Median and Egyptian logoi, when they contributed to
the history of these regions. The Babylonian logos is part of the narration regarding
Cyrus’ conquests and mainly concerned with the buildings of Babylon, the wonders
of Babylonia, and the successful capture of the city by Cyrus’ stratagem. Herodotus’
interviews of Greeks and Carians in the pharaoh’s service, the use of informants
from Persia and Egypt and, finally, of votive offerings in the sanctuaries, led to a
biased and one-sided view on Assyria and Babylonia. Unlike the kings of Phrygia,
Lydia, and the Saite rulers of Egypt, the Assyrian kings neither made dedications to
Greek sanctuaries nor did they establish diplomatic relations. They saw themselves
as overlords of the territories west of their empire.
Although Ctesias narrates Assyrian history in much more detail, his three books
add nothing substantial to our knowledge. His Assyrian Empire is nothing more than
the reflection of the Persian Empire, regarding the dimensions stretching as far as

significant role as mother of Esarhaddon and grandmother of Ashurbanipal, seems impossible.


84
Herodotus 2.100.2. Cf. Bianchi, 1982.
85
Cf. Nikel, 1896: 45–48.
86
Dougherty, 1929: 43–47, 51–63.
87
Edel, 1978.
88
Burkert, 1996.
A. Heller: Why the Greeks Know so Little about Assyrian and Babylonian History 341

India and the courtly life.89 His merit lies in the literary creation of the fabulous
kings and queens of Assyria, who were filigreed further in Hellenistic and Roman
times, whereby he preserved valuable material stemming from folk-tales about
Shammuramat, Naqi¬a and other Assyrian kings. Even if some details of his account
find their vague confirmation in cuneiform material, this should not be overesti-
mated. Ctesias extends the length of Assyrian rule to nearly 1300 years, mentioning
some 30 kings but naming only a few.90 Is the lack of any mention of Sennacherib in
Ctesias’ work a sign of his competence? Ctesias’ work with its illustrious figures
prohibited the success of a sober research on Assyrian and Babylonian history.
Even if many scholars believe that Herodotus would have been more capable
than Ctesias91 to write Assyrian history, the distance between the heyday of Assyrian
power and his own lifetime could not so easily be bridged.92 There was nearly no
possibility for serious research in his days. With that prospect in mind, Herodotus
decided to accurately tell what he could find out on Assyria and Babylonia and stood
back from recounting unreliable folk-tales.

Abbreviations
ABL: Harper, R. F., 1892–1914: Assyrian and Babylonian Letters Belonging to the
Kouyunjik Collections of the British Museum. Chicago.
CAH: The Cambridge Ancient History. 2nd ed. Cambridge 1970–2005.
CTN 5: Saggs, H. W. F., 2001: The Nimrud Letters, 1952. Cuneiform Texts from
Nimrud 5. Trowbridge.
FGrHist: Jacoby, F., 1923–: Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Berlin/Lei-
den.
PNAE: Radner, K. / Baker, H. D. (eds.), 1998–2011: The Prosopography of the Neo-
Assyrian Empire. Helsinki.
PW: Wissowa, G. / Kroll, W. / Mittelhaus, K. (eds.), 1893–1978: Paulys Realency-
clopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Neue Bearbeitung. Stuttgart.

89
On the possible reflections of the protocol at the Assyrian court in Herodotus’ and Ctesias’
descriptions of the Achaemenid court, cf. Lanfranchi, 2010.
90
Lanfranchi, 2011a, argued vigorously for Ctesias’ use of written sources and oral traditions,
at least from the western periphery of the Assyrian Empire. Even if we assume that the pub-
licly displayed king-lists were still extant in some of the provincial capitals, it is hardly plausi-
ble that Ctesias could have properly made use of them. The so-called “Leipziger Weltchronik”
(col. III 7–14; edited by Colomo/Popko/Rücker/Scholl, 2010; slightly corrected by Luppe,
2010) shows an independent tradition of Babylonian kings. However, none of the five – partly
fragmentary – corresponds with a king known from cuneiform sources. This makes this tradi-
tion very doubtful.
91
Cf. the sharp criticism on Ctesias’ use of the sources by Jacoby, 1922: 2046–2047.
92
The former capitals of the Assyrian Empire were not entirely depopulated (Dalley, 1993).
However, Xenophon, on his march with the “Ten-thousand” through the Assyrian heartland,
could not correctly name one of the Assyrian capitals (Anabasis 3.4.7–12 on Larisa and
Mespila, representing Kalḫu and Nineveh); Ctesias located Nineveh on the Euphrates
(FGrHist 688 F1b.3.2).
342 Mesopotamia and the World: Interregional Interaction

RlA: Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie. Berlin / Leip-


zig / New York 1928–.
SAA 16: Luukko, M. / van Buylaere, G., 2002: The Political Correspondence of
Esarhaddon. State Archives of Assyria 16. Helsinki.

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