Among the Neo-Assyrian kings, Assurnasirpal II has a reputation for being one, if not the, most sadistic and cruel. This impression undoubtably comes from the king's vivid campaign annals, which with its relentless refrains of massacres, impaling, flaying, and burning among rebellious cities, reinforces in clay what the army did in the field: the invincible insistence of the Assyrian war machine.
Assurnasirpal's royal annals are among the longest and best preserved from the Neo-Assyrian period, a condition which helps scholars to reconstruct political events, geography, architecture, and many other aspects of 1st millennium upper Mesopotamia. This same expansive coverage, however, should not make us blind to the possibility that there were other Neo-Assyrian kings just as active and cruel whose records have not survived.
At the political and military level, Assurnasirpal II continued the momentum generated by his predecessors with extensive campaigns east, north, and west of the Assyrian heartland. As soon as his accession year (apparently following directly on the heels of Tukulti-Ninurta II's last campaign - see Olmstead pg. ???) the king brought out his soldiers and chariots for a march through the area of Zamua, which stretched east from Nineveh as far as the Zagros foothills, and north up to Lake Urmia. He first conquered the cities of Libe, Surra, Abuqu, Arura, and Arabe, (Ass. annals l. 46). People fleeing from these towns congregated at the peak of a tall mountain, which the annals describe with the oft-quoted phrase: "like the point of an iron dagger, which no bird reaches" (King pg. 270). As was often the case for campaigns in these regions, the land was not suitable for chariots and large formations of men, a hinderance which may be masked behind the king's statement that only three days later were his soldiers able to climb the mountain peak and engage the enemy (Annals l. 50).
The next area of this first, brief campaign were the lands of Kirurri and Kirhu, which lay in the upper Tigris Valley north of Nineveh (Olmstead pg??). Several local rulers presented him with tribute, however when he reached the cities lying along the Arzn river, a north-south running tributary of the Tigris west of Lake Van, he proceeded to pillage until reaching the town of Nishtun. There he put the people to flight to a high mountain that "hung over the town like a cloud from heaven" (King pg. 275, l. 62). Boasting as a feat none of his fore-fathers had achieved, his soldiers managed to climb the mountain and again defeat the enemy (l. 63). He renamed Nishtun 'Al Assurnasirpal' (Assurnasirpal City) a testament to his dominion, capped off with a stele of himself set at the source of the river. Most graphically though, as an example to future would-be rebels he took the chief Bubu of Nishtun and flayed him in Arbela, spreading his skin along the city-wall (l. 68).
The next year's campaign was longer and farther-ranging. Returning to where the previous year's campaign left off, at the base of Mt. Nippur and Mt. Pasate (Olmstead pg.?), he started off by conquering the towns of Atkun, Ushhu, Pilazi, and numerous other small towns to the north of modern Diyarbakır. Then crossing the Tigris over to the land of Qummuhi, he received tribute from the troublesome Mashki (Phrygians), at which point he received reports of a rebellion in Suru, along the Habur river. Thus he swooped down from the north, proceeding along the left bank of the river collecting tribute until he reached Suru. The account of what happens there merits a full quotation, as it illustrates even through the filter of Grayson's pragmatic translation, the alternatingly lush and concise quality of Neo-Assyrian annals generally and Assurnasirpal's cruelty in particular:
I approached the city Suru, which belongs to Bit-Halupe. Awe of the radiance of Assur, my lord, overwhelmed them. The nobles (and) elders of the city came out to me to save their lives. They submitted to me and said: 'As is pleases you, kill! As it pleases you, spare. As it pleases you, do what you will!' I captured Ahi-iababa, son of a nobody, whom they brought from the land Bit-Adini. With my staunch heart and fierce weapons I besieged the city. All the guilty soldiers were seized and handed over to me. I sent my nobles into his palace (and) temples. I carried off his silver, gold, possessions, property, bronze, iron, tin, bronze casseroles, bronze pans, bronze pails, much bronze property, gishnugallu-alabaster, an ornamented dish, his palace women, his daughters, captives of the guilty soldiers together with their property, his gods together with their property, precious stone of the mountain, his harnessed chariot, his teams of horses, the equipment of the horses, the equipment of the troops, garments with multi-coloured trim, linen garments, fine oil, cedar, fine aromatic plants, cedar shavings, purple wool, red-purple wool, his wagons, his oxen, his sheep - his valuable tribute which, like the stars of heaven, had no number.
I appointed Azi-ili as my own governor over them. I erected a pile in front of his gate; I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me (and) draped their skins over the pile; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile, (and) some I placed on stakes around the pile. I flayed many right through my land (and) draped their skins over the walls. I slashed the flesh of the eunuchs (and) of the royal eunuchs who were guilty. I brought Ahi-iababa to Nineveh, flayed him, (and) draped his skin over the wall of Nineveh. (Grayson pg. 199).
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