Provincial Administration and Taxation

Geographical Lists

This group is undisputably a "mixed bag" of tablets of general geographical concern, i.e. dealing with names of provinces or cities. A part of these documents might have issued from a single bureau, but other exemplars stand hopelessly isolated, as interesting testimonials to the potential of Assyrian bureaucratic thought and realization, while leaving us no clue as to whether they were of a topical or serial nature of sorts.

Decidedly unique is no. 1, a multi-columned list of place names on which E. Forrer based his pioneering study on the Neo-Assyrian provincial system (Forrer Provinzeinteilung, p. 52 and passim). It is generally accepted that this text dates to Assurbanipal' s reign, and that it records most of the lands and cities subject to the last great Assyrian ruler, but both these statements are a matter of inference. The listing is essentially lexical in scope and type: cases of two variant writings for a specific toponym are given side by side in one line, otherwise the norm is one line for one toponym. However, an interesting third possibility may also at times be found, whereby two geographically adjoining or administratively associated places are listed on the same line.

Thus, the first lines (i.1-14), relevant to Babylonian sites, show the main and "historical" variant writings for such toponyms as Babylon (the only site with four different writings), Borsippa, Nippur, Uruk, Larsa, Ur, Sippar, Marad, Opis, Dilmun, and Der. After a smattering of place names associated with tribal ethnonyms (Itu'u, Labadudu, Yasubu), we are swept northwards by three provinces named after higher-level officials (the "Land of the Palace Herald" has two well-attested variant writings). The first column ends in a break with what seems to be the listing of mountains in the north-to-northwestern sector. In the second column, the geographical layout of the text gets much more chaotic, with wide swings to the east (e.g. Mazamua, Arzuhina) and to the west (e.g. Hilakku, Melid, Edom, Ammon), then back again to Parsua. In this column, the double entries are all problematical except for Suhu-Hindanu, a combination of toponyms which is well known from the royal inscriptions.

The first column of the reverse is basically concerned with Syrian and Anatolian sites, rigidly written one per line, except in the cases of Ṣupat-Hamat and Tabal-Que, both well-attested in combination elsewhere, and the two lines used exceptionally for the double writing of Kummuh, possibly due to an afterthought of the scribe. In Rev. ii, the order and presences seem largely random, except for the fact that only cities are involved: townships in the heartland of Assyria as well as in the deeps of the Jezirah appear in unexpected sequences, although it may be suspected that we have in fact to deal with a to-and-from regard centering on the axis of the Tigris.

A more marked interest in administrative geography may be seen in the next few inventories, nos. 2-9. None of these texts shows a dependence on no. 1, although certainly various groups of toponyms of the larger text occur also in the fragmentary exemplars, albeit in different order. Once again, the specific purposes for these lists escape us: however, the occasional presence of numbers and indications of totals points to tallies of contributions, divided up by place of origin, and in view of the toponyms in the building texts of group 2, some exemplars might be dated to the reign of Sargon and referred to the construction of Dur-Šarruken (especially no. 6).

From the geographical point of view, we may note: the toponyms from the eastern and western sectors of the empire respectively in the obv. and rev. of no. 2, an elusive text wherein an attribution of specific provinces to the king and others to "[...] of the palace" might have been committed to writing; a fair sample of Syrian provincial capitals in no. 3; again Syrian and Palestinian place-names in no. 6, preceded by varying quantities of an unknown commodity; and names of sites from the Assyrian heartland and the trans-Tigridian provinces in no. 7, in a layout similar to the previous text.

People and places, i.e. personal names listed alongside toponyms, are the common subject-matter of a further subgroup, nos. 10-13. In the ill-preserved no. 10, we should be dealing with a list of female names, as borne out by the feminine onomastic endings and a number of unequivocal verbal forms ("she has come, she did not come"); the toponyms should represent the places of origin of the recorded women. In no. 11, a one-to-one relation between place names and anthroponyms is given, but we cannot tell whether the named people came from, or were destined to, the individual cities, which are in the main well known. Perhaps the key to this riddle lies in the enigmatic expression re-eš GIŠ.IG: it occurs a few times in second position and thus might have been used to "fill in" for an unknown or unassigned name, maybe even comprising a hint to the task required of the named individuals.

Text no. 14 is a unique tablet, largely complete, recording an itinerary between the Lower Zab area and an eastern region, presumably Mazamua. As shown in a recent study by Levine in SAAB 3 (1989) 75ff, each of the 10 sub di visions of the tablet (evidenced by line rulings) is relevant to one stage (mardētu) of the journey, and bears the place names for the initial, intermediate, and final points of each stage, together with the distance between all points, or just between beginning and end. A final recapitulation of the stretch involved is then followed by the ordinal number referring to a day (in the form UD-n-KAM), and by a progressive number for each stage. The stages from the first to the tenth are preserved, entailing a time-span of 12 days: all stages are expected to require a day's travel, except one (e.21-r.5) for which 3 days are calculated. Unfortunately, the loss of most of the measures of distance for the other stages does not allow us to gauge whether this extra-long mardētu was due to a vastly greater distance or to other factors, such as e.g. particularly difficult conditions in the terrain. Counter to the numbering of the stages, the expressions UD-n-KAM do not begin with the 1st, but with the 6th day, and end with the 17th day: they did not therefore refer to the progressive day of travel, but to an absolute calendar date. In this light, the absence of month and year dates is striking: from this feature it is plausible to infer, with Levine, that "the journey would appear to have been a specific one, rather than a general itinerary" (op. cit., p. 83). The document has been attributed to the age of Sargon on palaeographical and contextual grounds (Parpola apud Levine, loc. cit.), and presents particular links with the documents of Šamaš-belu-uṣur, governor of A/Urzuhina around 710.

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate, 'Provincial Administration and Taxation', 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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