'Kill them all!' Some Remarks on the Annihilation of the Ya'ilanum Tribe (1781 B.C.E.).

Author:Vidal, Jordi
Position:Book review

My analysis of the military campaign carried out by the armies of the Upper Mesopotamian Kingdom in the lands of Qabra and Nurrugum (1781 B.C.E.) centers on the different treatment allotted by the armies of Samsi-Addu and Igme-Dagan to the populations defeated during that campaign. While the inhabitants of Nineveh were captured and some even incorporated into the army of Igme-Dagan, the tribe of Ya'ilanum was annihilated. This drastic action was the result of deep-seated prejudices of the leaders of the Upper Mesopotamian Kingdom against non-urban populations, who were frequently perceived as subhuman and dangerous beings meriting annihilation.


    The purpose of this article is to study the massacre of the Ya'ilanum tribe perpetrated by the troops of the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia in 1781 B.C.E. This massacre was a singular act within the military campaign led by Samsi-Addu and Igme-Dagan in the regions of Qabra and Nurrugum. No other population attacked that year underwent similar treatment. Unfortunately, in no place does the documentation available explain why Ya'ilanum was treated in this dramatically different way. Below we shall briefly reconstruct the military campaign of 1781 B.C.E. and attempt to identify the potential causes that may have led Samsi-Addu and Igme-Dagan to decree the total extermination of the tribe.


    After a period of severe tension between the Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia and that of Egnunna, the kings Daduga and Samsi-Addu reached a peace agreement in 1782 B.C.E. that put an end to the hostilities between the two kingdoms. This peace led to a new context of military cooperation that enabled Samsi-Addu to embark upon an expansionist campaign, in the course of which he launched a series of attacks against the kingdoms of Qabra and Nur-rugum in 1781 B.C.E., and against the Ya'ilanum tribe located in the inland regions of both kingdoms. (1) However, not all of the conquests unfolded in the same way, nor did they have the same consequences for the regions and populations conquered.

    Thus, for example, during the attack on Nurrugum, Nineveh (2) suffered a long siege waged by the large army led by Igme-Dagan, the son of Sarnsi-Addu. (3) In a letter that Igme-Dagan himself sent to his brother Yasmah-Addu, king of Mari, he reports that the siege had prompted a serious famine inside the city. (4) Once the fall of Nineveh was consummated, (5) much of the population was taken prisoner. This was explicitly recognised by Sumiya in a letter to Yasmah-Addu, in which he states that Igme-Dagan "has not left any men inside the town of Nine[vehl." (6) Some of these prisoners joined the army of Igme-Dagan and were immediately deployed in the campaigns then being waged. (7) Others, according to their special skills (such as physicians), were treated differently. (8) Only one letter from Warad-Sin to Yasmah-Addu mentions the occasional use of violence against prisoners, citing the execution of 1,000 Nur-rugean soldiers captured in Nineveh. (9)

    In short, as may be gleaned from all of this information, the conquest of Nineveh by the troops of the Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia led to the capture of (much of) the population, and there were also isolated episodes of lethal violence against captured combatants, although not against civilians.

    With regard to the campaign of Samsi-Addu in Qabra, according to an inscription of the king himself, his army destroyed the harvest of the lands of Urbel and occupied several fortified cities, establishing garrisons inside them. (10) They also captured the towns of A'innum and Zarniyatum (11) and occupied Sarri, a city which had been abandoned by its inhabitants before the arrival of the troops of Samsi-Addu: these people took refuge in Qabra. (12) Therefore, Samsi-Addu's campaign in Qabra had major consequences for the population: destruction of crops in Urbel, flight of the inhabitants of Sarri; yet there is no information as to the commission of acts of violence against civilians.

    In the case of the Amorite tribe of Ya'ilanum, (13) the actions of the armies of the Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia were totally different. Thus, at first, after the failure of diplomatic negotiations with the representatives of the tribe, Samsi-Addu ordered his son Yasmah-Addu to execute immediately all members of that tribe who were under his authority:

    Give an order that the sons (of the tribe) of Ya'ilanum, all those who are with you, must die tonight ... They must die and be bufriedi in the graves! (14) Later, the troops of Eme-Dagan totally wiped out this tribe. We have two different accounts of the massacre, one from Igme-Dagan himself and another from his father, Samsi-Addu. In this latter version, Samsi-Addu seems to limit the slaughter solely to the tribal leaders (rubu) (15) and combatants (gibum): (16)

    Mar-Addu, the Ya'ilanumite, his princes and his whole army are dead. Not one man of them escaped. (17) However, Igme-Dagan himself, the real author of the deeds, confirms in a...

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