Horses were of course one of the mainstays of Assyrian military power, and thus it is not surprising to find numerous administrative texts from the State Archives concerning the arrival and destination of groups of horses - to which mules are often attached. For example, the large number of lists of horses and mules which were discovered in the ekal mašarti of Calah prove to be records of musters of equids in connection with the yearly campaigns, since the animals are listed alongside names of military of various ranks (TFS, pp. 17ff and 167ff).

In these texts from Nineveh, the situation seems partly different, with a generally greater stress on the bureaucratic aspect, and a more remote connection with military uses for the equids (cf. in no. 107, the possible mention of yoke horses). The minimal type of note, or memorandum, undated and concerned with a single contingent (see nos. 107-11) provides only the numbers of the animals (almost always written in abbreviated fashion KUR. MEŠ) and the name of the individual responsible: precious little save for the impression of very frequent, possibly daily, arrivals of equids to the seat of Assyrian government, and that a specialized sector of the administration was there to receive them. A few of these small documents are indeed dated: no. 111 records an arrival of 9/II/677; no. 112 is a record of equids from a foreign king, Mugallu of Tabal, dated 651 BC; a list of men and horses (no. 122) refers to the year after that (650); and no. 12 1, summarizing a vast tally of equids, presents an eponym of the post-648 group.

Horses and their Colours

A further group of six tablets regarding horses (nos. 113-114, 116-119) shows a number of common features; since the texts are undated, a look at their compositional traits is in order. In the first place, all these texts bear lists of horses, divided by horizontal rulings into sections which end with the totals and the personal names of the persons responsible for the incoming animals. Secondly, one of these names, Banaya, recurs in almost all exemplars (he is absent only from the small fragment no. 114 ). Thirdly, and most importantly, the horses are described according to a fixed series of terms: two of these refer to primary and clearly opposite hues of the hide, i.e. SA5 , "red" and Gl6 , "black." Two other terms, irginu and harbakkannu, should also refer to colours of the hide, many of which have been suggested, although no precise explanation and translation has yet been provided ( cf. Fales, Assur I/3, pp. 12f, with previous references). As things stand, the only additional point to be noted is that harbakkannu horses are often mentioned in the penalty clauses of NA legal documents (cf. e.g. SAA 6, p. 297a s.v.), presumably as a rare and expensive type. Finally, our lists comprise the haršayu-horse, which might represent a breed defined by a gentilic (like the "Arabian" horse of today), although no geographical determinative precedes the term, counter to the case of the and KUR.ku-sa-a-a in the "horse reports" in letter form of the age of Esarhaddon (cf. TCAE, pp. 7ff; Assur I/3, pp. 15ff). No mules are present in these lists, but mares are regularly counted before the end of the section; in only one case (no. 118) are donkey mares attested.

The chronological and contextual guidelines of this mini-archive on horses and their colours are, as so often in the Nineveh administrative archives, relatively difficult to draw. The terms for the hues of the horses' hides might go back to the age of Tiglath-Pileser III, on the basis of their attestation in undated texts from the Governor' s Palace Archive of Calah (GPA 124- 126). On the other hand, they are certainly attested in a letter from the time of Sargon (SAA 5 171), which describes the tribute in kind brought by the crown prince of the land of Andia, comprising red, irginu, black, and haršayu horses, plus horses of other breeds, mares, and mules; and they make a rapid appearance in abbreviated form in a Calah horse-list of the same age (TFS 116, with mention of Aššur-reṣuwa, Sargon' s well-known "spy"). In the 7th century, this gamut of descriptive terms for horses seems to have been abandoned: the only major archive on horses, the group of "horse reports" of the time of Esarhaddon, shows totally different aims in classification, bringing the different breeds and uses of the animals ("yoke horses," "riding horses," etc.) to the fore. In view of all the above, then, it seems plausible to assign our documents to the time of Sargon. The question of the scope of the lists would certainly have benefited from our knowing a bit more of the individuals who brought in the horses, but their professional titles are consistently absent: were they palace employees or specialized horse traders? Could this by any chance be a portion of an archive concerned with the day-by-day arrival of horses for Sargon's new capital?

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate, 'Horses', 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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