Mitanni Kingdom and the Middle Assyrian Period (1500 BC - 934 BC)

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19th century drawing of the royal seal of Shaushtatar
Royal seal of Shaushtatar

Northern Mesopotamia was dominated by Hurrian kingdom known as the Mitanni Kingdom or Hanigalbat from about 1500 to 1330 BC. The first records referring to Hurrians date from the late 3rd millennium BC when they were living in the Khabur River valley, the area east of Tigris River. The Hurrians became politically dominated by Mitanni, an Indo-Iranian (Aryan) warrior nobility probably during the 17th century BC, while Mitanni Kingdom encompassing the area from the Zagros Mountains to the Khabur River valley emerged about 1500 BC. Little is known about history of Mitanni Kingdom as well as about its political organization, administration, art and culture. Mitanni Kingdom reached its height under Shaushtatar (c. 1420 BC) when it encompassed the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Zagros Mountains, including northern Syria. It capital was the city of Washshukanni which has not been located yet. Despite paucity of historical records of Mitanni Kingdom it seems it has been one of the leading powers in the Middle East until it became involved in struggles with Hittites who finally destroyed the Mitanni Kingdom about 1330 BC. Territory of Mitanni Kingdom subsequently fell to Hittites and partly to Assyria.

The destruction of the Mitanni Kingdom by the Hittites about 1330 BC was crucial for the future rise of Assyria which emerged as independent kingdom under Ashur-uballit I (c. 1354-1318 BC). The land of Assur was named Assyria for the first time, while the year 1330 BC is traditionally considered the beginning of the Middle Assyrian Period in northern Mesopotamia. Successors of Ashur-uballit I continued the conquest of the territory of former Mitanni Kingdom and expended borders of Assyria on Babylonian expense as well. During their expansion the Assyrians came into conflict with the Hittites especially over Syria. Adad-ninari I (c. 1295-1264 BC) expanded Assyrian territory to Euphrates incorporating all Mesopotamia to his kingdom as a province but later lost larger part to Hittites. His successor Shalmaneser I (c. 1264-1234 BC) completed the conquest of the former Mittani Kingdom but he also lead a campaign against Uruartri (later Urartians), a tribe living in the Armenian Highland which later became a serious threat to Assyria. Shalmaneser I was after his death succeeded by his son Tukulti-Ninurta (c. 1233-1197 BC) who conquered and sacked the city of Babylon and made Assyria a great power. After his assassination about 1197 BC Assyria became politically inferior until the accession of Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1115-1077 BC) who renewed the former power of Assyria. His reign was notable for his wars against the Aramaeans and military campaigns against Babylon as well as for reaching the Mediterranean Sea. Tiglath-Pilesar I was after his death succeeded by three of his sons but the Assyrian Kingdom began to decline and had great difficulties defending itself against the Aramaeans. After death of grandson of Tiglath-Pilesar, Ashurnasirpal I (c. 1050-1032) history of Assyria is mostly unknown for about a century.

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