Adad-nārārī III


BM 131124 © The Trustees of the British Museum. See text no. 5

The twenty-eight years [/riao/kinglists/assyriankinglist/assyriankinglist/index.html#assurnasirpal2] of Adad-nārārī III's reign (810-783 BC) are difficult to reconstruct in any detail. We lack chronologically organized campaign accounts and the campaigns described in the royal inscriptions available to us are not easily correlated with the campaign destinations presented in the Assyrian eponym chronicle. The latter text is, nonetheless, fully preserved for this king's reign and makes it possible to discern patterns in his campaigns. The majority of the campaigns went to the east and south, but some were directed against the west. Most of these western campaigns were concentrated in the first third of Adad-nārārī III's reign (years 808, 805-802?, and 796). The reason for this focus was that Adad-nārārī III's father had concentrated his final years on Babylonia, while the western polities had rebelled. Adad-nārārī therefore needed to regain control in the west. In spite of the fact that, according to the Assyrian eponym chronicle [/saao/Q007771.54/], the majority of the campaigns were directed to the east and south, the available campaign accounts have to do with these western campaigns. They recount the continuation of the Assyrian struggle to dominate the Aramean polities, as well as states further south in the Levant, including the Phoenicians and the Israelites. They also deal with the management of boundaries between western kingdoms.

A quite unique feature of Adad-nārārī III's reign is the emergence of unusually prominent figures in the Assyrian state, whose agency and power are almost as visible in the royal inscriptions as the figure of the king himself. Of particular importance among these figures is the queen mother, Sammu-ramat. A stone monument discovered just north of Gaziantep (text no. 3) states that it is a "boundary stone of Adad-nārārī ... and of Sammu-ramat ...," which was set up when the boundary between the territories of Kummuḫu and Gurgum was fixed by Adad-nārārī and Sammu-ramat. According to the inscription, this occurred after both Adad-nārārī and Sammu-ramat came to the rescue of Ušpilulume, king of Kummuḫu, against a coalition of western kings led by one Ataršumki of Arpad. The fact that both of these figures were involved in the campaign and in marking the boundary, as well as the fact that both of them are named in the boundary stone as the authoritative agents in the events, indicates that Sammu-ramat exercised power jointly with the king.

Other evidence attests to her unique status as well. She is among only three women to have stelae at Ashur, in the series of stelae otherwise reserved for kings and high officials who were eponyms. Moreover, according to the inscription written on two statues from Kalḫu (mod. Nimrud), they were dedicated to the god Nabu by the governor of Kalḫu, Bel-tarṣi-ilumma, "for the life of Adad-nārārī, king of Assyria, his lord, and (for) the life of Sammu-ramat, the palace woman, his mistress" (text no. 2002). Here again, Adad-nārārī and his mother are paired in similar roles: as "lord" and "mistress" of the governor of Kalḫu. Given the fact that Sammu-ramat soon disappears from Adad-nārārī's royal inscriptions, it seems likely that she wielded a transitional power during the succession. This may have been to see to it that the succession ran smoothly, bearing in mind the chaos surrounding her husband's succession; it may have been the case as well that Adad-nārārī was quite young when he came to the throne and Sammu-ramat saw the young king through his early years. Regardless, her role was unusual in our sources and it was probably immortalized in the figure of Semiramis, who appears in classical sources as a cunning Assyrian queen and the lone ruler of Assyria after the death of her husband.

Another unusually prominent person during this reign was the field marshal Šamši-ilu, who came into his role later in the reign of Adad-nārārī III. Remarkably, however, this magnate managed to retain his position for close to half a century, wielding unprecedented power particularly in the western portion of the empire through the reigns of three of Adad-nārārī III's successors. A stele discovered near Antakya (text no. 2) records that Adad-nārārī and Šamši-ilu together established a boundary between the territories of Hamath and Arpad. The prominence of Šamši-ilu is further attested during the reign of Shalmaneser IV (782-773 BC), when the former commissioned his own monumental inscription in his provincial capital at Til-Barsip, commemorating his own campaign against Urartu (text no. 2010). In this inscription, the king of Assyria is not even mentioned.

During approximately the first half of the eighth century, Assyrian power was disseminated through agents in addition to the king in ways that are unexpected when considered in the light of the powerful kings of the ninth century or of the Sargonid era. There is debate about whether this signaled a crisis in Assyrian royal power and administration or whether this was merely one way of overseeing the massive territorial gains of the ninth century. The Assyrians seem to have managed to largely retain control over the Land of Aššur and at least some of its adjacent territories, partly through a reorganization of the older provincial system. Moreover, Adad-nārārī III had a relatively long reign and the eponym chronicle presents a pattern of yearly campaigning; apart from a plague in 802 [/saao/Q007771.61/], nothing seems amiss. Unfortunately, most of the campaigns of Adad-nārārī III mentioned in the eponym chronicle are unattested in royal inscriptions. On the other hand, the prominent roles of key figures in the Assyrian state suggests a redistribution of power unattested in the royal inscriptions of other periods of Neo-Assyrian history. Royal ideology seems to have been altered for the time of Adad-nārārī III and his three successors, Shalmaneser IV, Aššur-dan III [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/ashurdaniii/index.html] (772-755 BC), and Aššur-nerari V [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/ashurnarariv/index.html] (754-745 BC). Their reigns are marked by increasing signs of disruption in Assyrian stability, culminating in revolt, the removal of Aššur-nerari V, and the ascent of the powerful figure of Tiglath-pileser III [/rinap/rinap1] (744-727 BC), who refocused the locus of Assyrian power on himself.


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J. Caleb Howard

J. Caleb Howard, 'Adad-nārārī III', The Royal Inscriptions of Assyria online (RIAo) Project, The RIAo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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