Building Texts

The massive building effort which Sargon undertook for his new capital city, Dur-Šarruken, was administered directly by the ruler, as we know from the king's royal inscriptions: for this very reason, it also left various traces in the Assyrian state archives, especially in the letter corpus (cf. the many references to incoming materials and labour forces in SAA 1 and SAA 5, passim). Administrative documents pertaining to this large-scale building enterprise are fewer, but the texts and fragments of this group (and especially nos. 15-21), despite their laconic and unappealing contents, bear information which greatly increases our knowledge of the Dur-Šarruken operation.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the venture was the apportioning of work for the construction of the city wall, the circuit of which measured 6800 metres by Flandin's calculation (Albenda Palace of Sargon, p. 40): each provincial governor was responsible for providing the labour force for a specific sector of the city wall, and at times also the relevant materials ( cf. no. 21, although the king and his aides seem to have also covered this sector in part: cf. SAA 1, 143). The share of work (pilku) pertaining to each governor seems to have been planned out and divided up by the king and his treasurer Ṭab-šar-Aššur beforehand (as recorded in SAA 1 64 r.5'ff: "of the governor of Arrapha - his work share of the city wall goes from (brick-course) 850 to the edge of the gate of the Tower of the People"), although slight misunderstandings and overlaps seem to have ensued (ibid.).

The texts on the building of Dur-Šarruken from the Nineveh archives - possibly brought to the later capital by Sennacherib, who is mentioned in no. 17 - may be described as provisional reports on building activity on the city-wall in its various sectors (see below). Only one of them (no. 15) is fairly complete; the others are hopelessly fragmentary. A chronological indication is extant only in no. 21, but the month name is lost, and only the day remains; where an eponym date would be expected, the expression "Across the River" is given. Since the fragmentary text shows mentions of the cities Hatarikka and Ṣupat, it may be inferred that "Across the River" summarizes the entire geographical range of this list. If such were indeed the case, the totally ephemeral nature of these building reports would be further underscored, since the year-date would have been omitted as unnecessary to the reader. On the other hand, we have no clue as to the periodicity of such reports within the year, if any.

Although they were little more than random "sheets" out of a work log, the inventories may be said to cast new light on two quite crucial areas for our understanding of the Dur-Šarruken operation: the number of provinces involved, and the type and variety of work performed. The geographical range of the contributors is particularly visible in texts nos. 15-17, which have a largely similar structure, being subdivided by horizontal rulings into sections, with each section referring to a specific province whence came the governor and the work force operating on the city-wall; but also other fragments, with a less rigid type of listing, are useful for the random attestation. As may be seen from the following table, the number of provinces which contributed to the building venture, and were possibly all endowed with an individual pilku, is much greater than is apparent in the letter-corpus, and show a geographical range which corresponds to the whole empire, although remote regions like Arpad, Megiddo and Samaria are mentioned in the letters as well (cf. SAA 5 291). In this light, it might be surmised that also some of the geographical lists in group 1 pertained to the general horizon of contributions for Sargon's new capital, as said above.

In a similarly implicit manner, these lists provide us with information on how the work was practically organized. Within each of the above-mentioned sections, numbers in groups (usually three per line, for one or more lines) are associated with one of a group of specific terms, architectural or otherwise. Such terms refer to structures mainly pertaining to the urban walled enclosure of the city, on which work was to be performed: isītāte, "towers"; šalhiu, "outer city-wall"; dūru, "inner city-wall"; tamlīu, "terrace"; "platform" (of the acropolis?) and abullu, "gateway." Non-architectural terms are limited to the frequently attested term tikpī, "brick-courses." As for the numbers, it is fair to assume that they represented the quantities of the brick-courses themselves which had been set in place at the time of writing, or since the previous report. However, there is no explicit clue as to this equation, and the entire layout of the text is open to a number of questions and problems.

Why were the numbers written out by triads, and in consistently descending order? It is of course entirely plausible that the preordained work share (pilku) of every province was the product of labour on the part of a number of combined squads, employed in construction work or on the architectural fittings in different points of the urban walled enclosure at the same time. But it is harder to correlate the groups of numbers with the quantities of brickcourses laid by each of the alleged squads, because no two numbers are ever the same; and in this perspective, the arrangement of the numbers themselves by triads in descending sequence would represent an absolutely unique touch of scribal orderliness, totally uncalled for in a bureaucratic and archival system which seems marked by disparate and haphazard guidelines. It is thus preferable to search for a different solution; and one possibility is offered by a fragment, no. 21, where the brick-courses "remaining" (rēhē) to be completed are noted. Thus the descending numbers might represent progressive "checks" - perhaps occurring at regular intervals - on the courses remaining to be laid; and if each line (i.e. each triad) were perchance to be referred to '-) a single day, one might even visualize particular spurts of activity alternating/ with slower hours (see e.g. ii.3, 7; ii.2, 6 for greater intervals between the first and middle number than between the latter and the third).

Proceeding with this hypothesis, the contents of each section might be visualized as follows: the pilku of each provincial governor would seem to have comprised the construction of a number of "towers" (these were presumably not the 9 major conical structures discovered by the archaeologists around the walled perimeter, but some of the ea. 200 bastions that projected from the wall) until their completion (cf. r.i.4' for "completed" towers); plus the laying of brick courses on the outer city-wall as well as the inner one; plus setting in place the beams and the gutters, coating the surfaces with pitch, and finally removing the temporary work-scaffoldings. While the regularsized bricks, moulded by the local population (cf. SAA 5 296), and distributed to the governors by a central bureau (SAA 5 291) are simply mentioned by courses (tikpī), larger bricks were employed for the terrace (no. 15 iii.11, 13), and glazed bricks (see the mention of šahāṭu in no. 21 and cf. SAA 1 143) have been found in the gateways (Albenda Palace of Sargon, p. 41). Not all these tasks seem to have deserved equal retribution: a fragmentary list of rations (no. 20) divides squads entitled to a 2-seah daily ration of barley from others, who obtained the absolutely minimal 1-seah ration (cf. Fales, SAAB 4 [1990] 28 ff.).

TABLE I. Governors of Provinces and other Officials in the Building Texts

Province or Official 15 16 17 18 19 21
Arpad x x
Arrapha x x
Arzuhina x
Aššur-nelu-taqqin x x
Birtu x
Bit-Zamani x
Chief cupbearer x
Damascus x
Habruri x
Hatarikka x x
Calah x x
Kilizi x
Kulimmeri x
Mazamua x x
Nineveh x
Palace herald x
Que x
Raṣappa x
Sam'al x
Samaria x
Sennacherib x
Ṣupat x
Ša-Aššur-dubbu x
Šahuppa x
Til-Barsip x x

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate, 'Building Texts', Imperial Administrative Records, Part II: Provincial and Military Administration, SAA 11. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1995; online contents: SAAo/SAA11 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

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SAAo/SAA11, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
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