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Tukulti-Ninurta I

Biography of Tukulti-Ninurta I

Following on the campaigns of his predecessor Adad-Nirari I to the west, Tukulti-Ninurta I undertook ambitious missions aimed at carving away land controlled by the Hittites and then from the staunch enemy to the south, Babylon. He is one of the better documented kings of the Middle Assyrian period. Among the sources dealing with him are remnants of an epic poem detailing his struggle with Babylonia, a number of royal inscriptions, and some alabaster tablets describing the construction of his new capital city. Yet despite his success in strengthening Assyria's position among the great powers, the king himself fell to an assassination plot by one of his sons, after which ensued a period of political turmoil and moderate territorial loss (Kuhrt pg. 358).

Tukulti-Ninurta ascended the throne at a time of great tension between Assyria and the Hittites. His father Shalmaneser I had defeated the kingdom of Mitanni (Hanigalbat), which since Suppiluliuma had served as a buffer state for the Hittites' eastern flank. Now worried that the son would take after his father, the Hittite king Tudhaliya sent messages to the new Assyrian king seeking to maintain a peaceful status quo, and even to deflect his rival's energy south toward Babylon (See KUB III 73, 10'f, KUB XXIII 103 rev. 20f, and Singer pg. 102).

Yet despite initially friendly overtures from Tukulti-Ninurta, both sides gradually abandoned their pretense toward peace and a confrontation appeared likely. Thus in a response to rebellions of the Qutu and Uqumeni to the north of Assur, Tukulti-Ninurta invaded an area called Shubari just north of modern Diyarbakir, attacking the lands of Katmuhi, Alzi, Amadani (Amedi) and Paphi/Papanhi (Singer pg. 104). The Hittites retaliated, but the conflict seems to have ultimately favored Tukulti-Ninurta, as in two of his late inscriptions the Assyrian king boasts of capturing eight szar of Hittite soldiers from across the Euphrates (ibid).

The Assyrian offensive now threatened the Hittites last eastern stronghold of Isuwa with its routes leading across the Euphrates and the all important copper mines at Ergani Maden (Singer, pg. 105). Indeed, certain letters from the archives of Ugarit and Hattusa make references to an important battle that took place in the Upper Euphrates, in the small state of Nihriya (Kuhrt pg. 355). This locality has not been definitively pin-pointed. Based on the place name's occurrence in the Mari archives, some scholars have argued for somewhere in the upper Habur or Balih valley. Others, on the basis of Assyrian, Hittite, and Urartean sources, believe Nihriya lay in the upper Tigris Valley, north or northeast of Diyarbakır (Singer pg. 106).

Accounts of the battle come only from the mouth of the Assyrian king himself. In a fragmentary letter likely attributable to Tukulti-Ninurta I, an Assyrian king describes to the king of Ugarit his preparations for the battle:

I called my camp herald: "Put on your cuirasses and mount your chariots. The king of Hatti arrives in battle-order." I harnessed [ ] my chariot and made a charge, [shouting(?) 'the king(?) of Ha]tti comes ready to do battle!'…Certainly I won a great victory. (RS 34.165, translation from Bryce pg. 317).

That the battle ended in a disastrous defeat for the Hittites finds corroboration in another letter sent by the Hittite King to one of his vassals, in which he both berates his presumed ally for failing to provide military support and indirectly implores him to return to his side. The addressee is not known, but the eastern state of Iszuwa has been proposed as a likely candidate (Singer 110):

As (the situation) turned difficult for me you kept yourself somewhere away from me. Beside me you were not! Have I not fled from Nihriya alone? When it thus occurred that the enemy took away from me the Hurrian lands, was I not left on my own in Alatarma? (ibid.)

The defeat placed Tudhaliya, the Hittite king, in a politically unstable situation and left his kingdom open to further attack. Curiously, however, Tukulti-Ninurta did not pursue this option, choosing instead to begin a campaign against the Babylonians, who in the mean time had taken advantage of Assyria's focus on the Hittites to reclaim some of their lost territories to the north and east (Kuhrt pg. 355). As described in a rare indigenous Assyrian epic (see Lambert AfO 18 (1957-8)), and supported by the fragmentary Chronicle P, Tukulti-Ninurta defeated the Babylonian king Kashtiliash IV, and took him prisoner to Assur along with other treasures from Babylon.

Tukulti-Ninurta I also undertook the construction of a new capital city a short distance from Assur, naming in Kar Tukulti-Ninurta ("Port Tukulti-Ninurta"). There he spent much of the last years of his life, facing growing opposition to his expensive military policies and ultimately meeting his death in palace intrigue (Singer pg. 107). Further, tespite the amount of resources put into building the new capital, the city did not last long beyond its founder's reign (see Kuhrt pg. 357).

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