The creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces.

Author:Llop, Jaume

The present paper focuses on the question of when the Middle Assyrian provinces were created. (1) To begin with, I will mention previous studies on the Middle Assyrian provinces and briefly summarize their overall results, focusing on the views of various scholars about the actual point when the provinces were created.


The Middle Assyrian provinces have received far less attention from scholars than the Neo-Assyrian ones. Most of the relevant studies have centered on the territorial extension and identification of the provinces, in connection with the expansion of the Middle Assyrian kingdom. Moreover, not every scholar has considered the chronological aspect of the origins of the Assyrian provinces.

In 1920, Emil Forcer published Die Provinzeinteilung des assyrischen Reiches (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1920), in which he concentrated on the Neo-Assyrian provinces. Nevertheless, he stated that a provincial administration had been present in Assyria ever since Adad-n[]r[]r[] I (1295-1264 B.C.E.) conquered Mittanni. (2) The Middle Assyrian provinces were first studied in detail by Ernst F. Weidner, who described the extension of the Middle Assyrian kingdom in the time of Ninurta-tukulti-Assur (twelfth century B.C.E.), based on the geographical names attested in an archive from Assur related to this ruler. (3) He argued that the territory of Assyria did not substantially contract after the reign of Tukult[]-Ninurta I (1233-1197 B.C.E.), except for the loss of Babylonia, (4) but he did not treat the problem of the creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces.

The past thirty years have seen numerous contributions to the study of our problem. (5) Peter Machinist made the first extensive and systematic study of the Middle Assyrian provinces. (6) He situated the beginning of provincial activity in the mid-fourteenth century under Assur-uballit I (1353-1318 B.C.E) (7) and studied in detail the expansion of these administrative units over time, as well as the nature of the provincial administration and the families responsible for managing it.

In his exhaustive review of RGTC 5, J. Nicholas Postgate placed on the map the provinces named in MARV 2, 21, a document of the twelfth or eleventh century B.C.E. (8) In his opinion, Assyria under Tiglath-pileser I (1114-1076 B.C.E.) had lost control of some territories held by Tukult[]-Ninurta in the thirteenth century. In a second study, Postgate concentrated on the provinces of the Assyrian heartland, primarily in the Neo-Assyrian period. (9) He made no reference to the question of the origin of the Middle Assyrian provinces in either of these studies.

In Assyria and Hanigalbat Amir Harrak studied the conquest of the Habur region (Hanigalbat) by the Assyrians, (10) discussing the provinces in this region as they were created by the Assyrians and following them through the reign of Adad-n[]r[]r[] I to that of Tukult[]-Ninurta. (11) Although he did not consider the creation of the Assyrian provinces in general, in his view the provincial administration was introduced in Hanigalbat by Adad-n[]r[]r[] I. (12)

In her publication of the letters from D[]r-Katlimmu (Tell S[]h Hamad), Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum also studied the provincial administration, analyzing administrative titles and their functions. (13) Citing the Harem Edicts, (14) she also argued that the term p[]hutu, 'province', is found for the first time during the reign of Assur-uballit. Although the creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces was not treated in these studies, in 1997 Helmut Freydank analyzed a group of tabular lists of provinces and the offerings that they contributed to the temple of the god Assur (15) and returned to this general subject in 2006. (16)

In the first decade of the new millennium, studies of the Middle Assyrian provincial system have multiplied: Jaume Llop and Andrew R. George concentrated on the extension of the realm and the existing provinces in the last years of the reign of Assur-d[]n I (1168-1133 B.C.E.). (17) Later Llop gathered some additional information on the provinces, (18) but the creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces was not discussed in these surveys.

Stefan Jakob studied the administration of the Middle Assyrian period, (19) gathering attestations for the titles b[]l p[]hete, saknu, and halzublu. (20) He also proposed that Assur-uballit I was the creator of the Middle Assyrian provinces. (21) In her fine article "Province" in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie, Karen Radner focuses her attention almost entirely on the Neo-Assyrian period. (22)

Betina Faist has summarized our knowledge of Assyrian administration for the Old Assyrian, Middle Assyrian, and Neo-Assyrian periods, of which the provincial administration was the "backbone." (23) Daniele Rosa has explained the geographical logic of the sequence of the Middle Assyrian provinces in the tabular lists of the twelfth century. (24)

New cuneiform documentation has also been published in recent years, (25) which allows us to reach new conclusions, and recent chronological studies (26) have modified previous assumptions. A new look at the Middle Assyrian provinces is called for now, specifically in reference to precisely when the Middle Assyrian provinces appeared. Only a few of the scholars mentioned above (Forcer, Machinist, Cancik-Kirschbaum, and Jakob) have posited a date for the creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces. Most favor Assur-uballit I as the king who first implemented these territorial administrative units. In my opinion, a closer look at the evidence is needed.


The attribution of the creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces to Assur-uballit rests to a significant extent on the attestation of certain technical terms in our documentation that demonstrate the existence of provinces, as will be seen below. I consider the appearance of these termini in the documentation as the only way (for the moment) to recognize the existence of these administrative units. (27) The reader is referred to the studies discussed earlier, specifically to those of Machinist, Postgate, Cancik-Kirschbaum, Jakob, and Faist, for further details on the relevant vocabulary: halzu and p[]hutu in reference to a district or province; halzuhlu or hassihlu, b[]l p[]hete, and saknu denoting a provincial governor.

During the discussion of this paper at the 57th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in Rome, the opinion was put forth that the Middle Assyrian provinces "emerged in stages." Interestingly, this view seems not to be represented among the specialists of the Middle Assyrian period who have studied the provinces synchronically (see above). I am conscious that the Middle Assyrian provinces did not remain static over time, but the matter at issue here is this first "stage" of the establishment of the Middle Assyrian provinces. In the present paper several hypotheses for the moment of creation of the Middle Assyrian provinces will be presented. As seen above, the most commonly accepted view is that the Middle Assyrian provinces were created by Assur-uballit I in the fourteenth century B.C.E., but other possibilities might also be valid.


Could the Middle Assyrian provinces have been a vestige of the so-called late Old Assyrian period? (28) According to inscriptions recovered at Assur, this city had been under the domination of the southern Mesopotamian empires in the third millennium B.C.E., first by the Akkadian empire (at least for the reign of Man-ist[]su) and later by the Ur III dynasty (at least for the reign of Amar-Suen). (29) For both periods there were representatives of the southern powers resident in Assur. (30) The city's independence from the south was achieved only after the fall of the Ur III kingdom at the end of the third millennium (ca. 2002 BC). (31)

During the Old Assyrian period the Assyrians had no previous tradition of administrating large expanses of territory and had consequently created no large-scale administrative structure. The city's primary interest at this time was in commerce with Anatolia. (32) Nor do we know either the extent of the territorial dominion of the city at this time. (33) The documentation of the k[]rum level II period (1974 to 1837 B.C.E.) has not provided a title for any person in charge of the administration of a territory in the name of the king of Assur, that is, the equivalent of a "governor." (34)

However, the city of Assur was later annexed to his realm by Sams[]-Adad I (1808-1776 B.C.E.), the king of Ekall[]tum, and for the duration of his reign Assur was part of a larger political structure, the "Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia." (35)

The Middle Assyrian titles meaning 'governor' are b[]l p[]hete, saknu, and hassihlu I halzuhlu, (36) and the territorial administrative divisions in the contemporary documentation are the district (halzu) and the province (p[]hutu). (37) The term halsum 'district' was already in use during the reign of Sams[]-Adad. (38) The title b[]l p[]hitim might have also already been used in the documentation from Mari, (39) although the normal title for a governor there is s[]pitum (literally 'judge'). (40)

Mari Middle Assyrian period halsum halzu b[]l pahitim (dubious as b[]l p[]hete 'governor') According to P. Villard, the districts (hals[]nu) forming the core of the kingdom of Mari were Mari, Terqa, Saggaratum, and Qattun[]n. (41) Middle Assyrian Qatnu on the Habur, probably to be identified with the Old Babylonian Qattun[]n, was later a Middle Assyrian province. (42)

The problem is that we do not know the true extent of the territorial dominion of the city of Assur in the...

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