A Short Introduction on the Sūḫu Texts

The Land of Sūḫu

The development of huge empires in the course of the first millennium BC (like the Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, etc.) makes one easily forget that there also existed a large number of smaller political entities that were at least temporarily independent and played an important role in the eventful history of that period by interacting with the great powers in peaceful and/or hostile ways. A remarkable testimony for such a political entity was discovered during the course of Iraqi (and later English) salvage excavations in the area of the lake created by the dam upstream of Haditha on the Euphrates River. A number of clay tablets and inscribed stones (including steles) were found there (both at Sur Jurʿeh and on the island of ʿAna) that contained inscriptions of two individuals named Šamaš-rēša-uṣur [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/rulers/shamashreshausur/index.html] and Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/rulers/ninurtakudurriusur/index.html] who were obviously father and son and called themselves "governors of Sūḫu and Mari." According to their own inscriptions, these rulers had been able to shake off the yoke of Assyrian domination some time at the beginning of the eighth century BC and managed to control quite a considerable amount of territory in the region of the Middle Euphrates, approximately from the town Rapiqu (possibly to be identified with Tell Anbar, near Falluja) on the northern border of Babylonia in the southeast to the area of Ḫindanu (modern Tell Jabiriyah, near Al-Qaʾim) in the northwest.


The Middle Euphrates region controlled by Sūḫu.

Its geographical location provided a key advantage for this kingdom: Sūḫu consisted not only of a number of cities that were situated in very fertile river lands and near an important trade route,[1] but also of several islands in the middle of Euphrates, which offered safety in times of emergency. However, independence would certainly not have been possible for this polity without a strong army, as well as good tactical and negotiating skills, since it bordered the more powerful Babylonia (in the east and south) and Assyria (in the east and north), whose rulers were always ambitious to extend their influence beyond their existing borders.

Foes and Bees

The fact that Sūḫu indeed possessed a considerable -- and obviously very successful -- army is vividly illustrated by the inscriptions of the son, Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur. He describes in great detail his victory over a horde of 2000 (Aramaean) Ḫatallu tribesmen, a group that reportedly had successfully attacked the land of Laqû and that could not be stopped by any other military commander, not even the powerful Assyrian provincial governor of Ruṣapu, Assyrian provincial governor of Ruṣapu, Sîn-šallimanni:

"I brought about a [cloud]-burst over themand from inside my chariot I blew them away (lit. "washed them away") like ch[aff]. Arrows quivered like locusts over [my] forces, (but) not one person among my forces fell. (Although) they wounded thirty-eight men from among my forces, not one person among them (my forces) fell dead in the steppe. I fell upon them (the enemy) like a blazing fire and put one thousand six hundred and sixteen of their men to the sword." (Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur 02, ii 1-7 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/Q006212.html]; translation by G. Frame, RIMB 2

Similar to some kings of Assyria, Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur does not even spare the reader the details of how cruelly he treated his enemies:

"Moreover, I removed the arms (and) lower lips of eighty of their men and let them go free to (spread the news of my) glory. From the well Makiru (as far as) (ii 10) the well Gallabu and the well Suribu, at (these) three wells, I defeated (and) annihilated them. I broke up their numerous auxiliary troops and split up their military contingents. I captured those who tried to get away; I made their blood run like the water of a river. Eagles and vultures hovered over their corpses. (ii 15) I filled the mountains and wadis with their skulls like mountain-stones; birds made (their) nests in their skulls." (Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur 02, ii 7-16 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/Q006212.html]; translation by G. Frame, RIMB 2

In contrast, his accounts of the history of the important city Anat, where he claims to have sponsored several grandiose restoration and construction projects, are vague. According to a few of his inscriptions, Anat had been under Assyrian rule for fifty years, until the reign of his father, Šamaš-rēša-uṣur. However, Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur does not give us any details about the circumstances of that city's return to Sūḫu. Due to the fragmentary state of preservation and vague wording of the texts themselves, we are not in a position to date this event, or even speculate on what happened at Anat during the reign of Šamaš-rēša-uṣur.

Although there are at least four inscriptions of Šamaš-rēša-uṣur himself, none of these are very helpful in this regard because, as far as they are preserved, these texts mainly describe his construction of the city Āl-gabbāri-bāni (possibly to be identified with Sur Jurʿeh) and another deed of his that he was especially proud of: The introduction of honeybees (brought down from the mountains of the people of Ḫabḫu) and the techniques of apiculture to Sūḫu. The lack of information on military matters in his inscriptions has caused scholars to speculate that the recapture of Anat was not the result of a great victory, but rather due to happenstance, possibly on account of that city's population changing their allegiance. However, one should note that the (unfortunately broken) beginning of the longest and most prestigious monumental inscription written in his name -- a stone stele that was found not in Sūḫu itself, but rather at Babylon -[2] actually contains a relatively long account on military events [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/Q006206.html], of which only the end is preserved. Therefore, the modern picture of Šamaš-rēša-uṣur as a peaceful ruler who only concerned himself with construction and beekeeping is certainly neither correct[3] nor was it even intended by Šamaš-rēša-uṣur himself. However, it might well have been the case that the Suhean rulers did not want to overemphasize Assyria's setback at Anat, in order to avoid provoking that mighty opponent.

Historical Links

Despite of Assyria's assumed predominance in the early first millennium BC, its cultural impact on Sūḫu seems to have been rather limited. Although the literary style of the more detailed accounts of the inscriptions mentioned above might have been influenced by Assyrian annals and the texts occasionally contain Assyrianisms (and perhaps some Aramaisms), the language of the official texts of Sūḫu is essentially Babylonian. Moreover, both Šamaš-rēša-uṣur and Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur ideologically relate themselves to Babylonian history by tracing their genealogy back to the Old Babylonian king Hammurabi of Babylon (who is still known to this very day because of his famous law code) via a distant ancestor bearing the Kassite name Tunamissah. While these rulers are also quite explicit (though with noticeable differences and omissions) about the names of their more immediate forefathers, all of whom allegedly preceded them as "governors of Sūḫu and Mari," and about the names of their contemporaries (even their enemies), they treat the Assyrians who exercised control over the city Anat during the reign of Šamaš-rēša-uṣur's predecessors anonymously. This deliberate omission of information is certainly revealing from an ideological perspective, but also very unfortunate for us because synchronisms between Sūḫu and its neighbors are generally lacking for that period of time.

What we know for sure is that Šamaš-rēša-uṣur's ancestor Kudurru (who is remarkably not mentioned in the inscriptions of Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur) was a contemporary of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), since that powerful ninth-century ruler records in his now-famous "annals" to have defeated Kudurru during his sixth regnal year, despite the fact that the Suhean ruler was supported by a large contingent of troops provided by the Babylonian king Nabû-apla-iddina. In addition, it is certain that: (1) Šamaš-rēša-uṣur's son Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur was a contemporary of Sîn-šallimanni, the Assyrian provincial governor of the city Ruṣapu (see above) and the eponym official for the year 747 BC [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/saao/saa06/P335355] (that is, during the reign of Aššur-nārārī V), and (2) Sūḫu was paying tribute again to Assyria during the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 BC), as a letter from Nimrud [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/saao/saa19/P393668] indicates. However, as for the political conditions and role of Sūḫu in the late ninth and early eighth centuries BC, there is still much room for scholarly speculation.

Selected bibliography

Beaulieu, P.-A., Sūḫi/u, in: M. P. Streck (ed.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 13, Berlin: de Gruyter 2012, pp. 259–262.

Cavigneaux, A., and B. K. Ismail, Die Statthalter von Suḫu und Mari im 8. Jh. v. Chr. anhand neuer Texte aus den irakischen Grabungen im Staugebiet des Qadissiya-Damms, Baghdader Mitteilungen 21, Berlin: Gebr. Mann 1990, pp. 321–456.

Frame, G., Sūḫu, in: G. Frame, Rulers of Babylonia. From the Second Dynasty of Isin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157–612 BC), The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia. Babylonian Periods Volume 2, Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press 1995, pp. 275–277. [Go back to body text]

Na'aman, N., Two Additional Notes on the Suhu Inscriptions, Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 2003/92.

Na'aman, N., The Suhu Governors' Inscriptions in the Context of Mesopotamian Royal Inscriptions, in: M. Cogan and D. Kahn (eds.), Treasures on Camels' Humps. Historical and Literary Studies from the Ancient Near East Presented to Israel Ephʿal, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University Magnes Press 2008, pp. 221-236.

For further literature click here [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/bibliography].


[1] Of particular interest is Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur's report about his raid on a caravan from "Tema" and "Šaba" [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/Q006212], which shows that trade relations between South Arabia and the Middle Euphrates region already existed in the 8th century BC. [Go back to body text]

[2] Obviously, the object later raised the interest of a Babylonian king who deported it to his capital and displayed it there together with booty from other places. The most likely candidate for this deed is Nabopolassar (r. 625–605 BC), who put down a rebellion by the Suheans in 613 BC, when the Assyrian Empire was about to vanish. [Go back to body text]

[3] Note also that inscriptions of his son Ninurta-kudurrī-uṣur record that Šamaš-rēša-uṣur successfully suppressed a revolt of the people of Ra'il [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/Q006212.html]. [Go back to body text]

Alexa Bartelmus

Alexa Bartelmus, 'A Short Introduction on the Sūḫu Texts', Suhu: The Inscriptions of Suhu online Project, The Suhu Inscriptions Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2016 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/suhu/introduction/]

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