National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Assyria Gains the Upper Hand over Babylonia W HILE SUMER and Akkad and Babylon were making history in Lower and in Central Mesopotamia, a city on the middle Tigris was rising slowly to ever increasing prominence. Its name was Ashur, as was also the name of its chief god. The state that city came to control-one which developed eventually into a far-flung empire-is known as Assyria. About the time of Hammurabi, Ashur enjoyed sufficient independence and power to make its influence felt in distant Cappadocia, an easterly area of Asia Minor. Later in the sec ond millennium the city came under the domination of the Hurrians, but the relative balance of power which prevailed in western Asia in the 15th and 14th centuries B. c. gave the reso lute native rulers of Ashur their chance to gain complete freedom. From then on it was a story of con stant rise, with the kings of Ashur becoming the equals of other mon archs. From the end of the second millennium down to almost the middle of the next they were leaders and finally masters of the Fertile Cres cent. Ashur's closest neighbor of any prominence was Babylon. The rela tions between the two were much like those that many centuries later char acterized Greece and Rome. Babylon was the cultural center, but no match for its northern neighbor in war and politics. Ashur, on the other hand, was keenly resentful of its inferiority in culture. The resulting rivalry was acute and bitter. Our scene seeks to capture that moment in history when the political tide had swung for the first time de cisively in favor of Ashur. This oc curred during the reign of the vigorous Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I. The words which he uttered on hum bling the captured Babylonian king, Kashtiliash IV (opposite page), were to become symbolic of the future status of these two states. Tukulti-Ninurta I transferred his capital from Ashur to a near-by site, to which he gave his name. It was excavated by a German expedition under Walter Andrae, and the results of that work are ample for a recon struction of the life of the period. The great hall focuses upon a niche containing a sculptured stand bearing the statue of the chief deity, who holds in his left hand the rod-and ring, used as a symbol of authority. The king, clad in a rich fringed garment, has been copied from one of his reliefs. His sandaled right foot is placed on the neck of the Baby lonian. In his right hand he holds the scepter with which he touches the skull of his prisoner, while his left clutches the ring, this time separated from the rod. The garment of Kash tiliash has the vertical folds which often distinguish the Babylonian dress from the Assyrian. The scene is witnessed by the vizier, beside whom stands a Syrian emissary with an Anatolian observer wearing the typical pointed shoes. The decoration has been selected from among the scenes uncovered on the walls of Tukulti-Ninurta's palace. One of these paintings has been uti lized for a valance of woven material placed over the side door flanked by two soldiers. The design shows two mythological figures, back to back, one on red and the other on blue. The left hand of each holds a basket or bowl of gold, with some sub stance which the right hand now places on the conventionalized palm to lend it greater fertility.