To the serious student of Assyrian history, it is obvious that we cannot write that history until we have adequately discussed the sources. We must learn what these are, in other words, we must begin with a bibliography of the various documents. Then we must divide them into their various classes, for different classes of inscriptions are of varying degrees of accuracy. Finally, we must study in detail for each reign the sources, discover which of the various documents or groups of documents are the most nearly contemporaneous with the events they narrate, and on these, and on these alone, base our history of the period.
To the less narrowly technical reader, the development of the historical sense in one of the earlier culture peoples has an interest all its own. The historical writings of the Assyrians form one of the most important branches of their literature. Indeed, it may be claimed with much truth that it is the most characteristically Assyrian of them all. [Footnote: This study is a source investigation and not a bibliography. The only royal inscriptions studied in detail are those presenting source problems. Minor inscriptions of these rulers are accorded no more space than is absolutely necessary, and rulers who have not given us strictly historical inscriptions are generally passed in silence. The bibliographical notes are condensed as much as possible and make no pretense of completeness, though they will probably be found the most complete yet printed. Every possible care has been taken to make the references accurate, but the fact that many were consulted in the libraries of Cornell University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania, and are thus inaccessible at the time when the work is passing through the press, leaves some possibility of error. Dr. B. B. Charles, Instructor in Semitics in the University of Pennsylvania, has kindly verified those where error has seemed at all likely.--For the English speaking reader, practically all the inscriptions for the earlier half of the history are found in Budge-Kjing, _Annals of the Kings of Assyria. 1_. For the remainder, Harper, _Assyrian and Babylonian Literature_, is adequate, though somewhat out of date. Rogers, _Cuneiform Parallels to the, Old Testament_, gives an up to date translation of those passages which throw light on the Biblical writings. Other works cited are generally of interest only to specialists and the most common are cited by abbreviations which will be found at the close of the study.]
The Assyrians derived their historical writing, as they did so many other cultural elements, from the Babylonians. In that country, there had existed from the earliest times two types of historical inscriptions. The more common form developed from the desire of the kings to commemorate, not their deeds in war, but their building operations, and more especially the buildings erected in honor of the gods. Now and then we have an incidental reference to military activities, but rarely indeed do we find a document devoted primarily to the narration of warlike deeds. Side by side with these building inscriptions were to be found dry lists of kings, sometimes with the length of their reigns, but, save for an occasional legend, there seem to have been no detailed histories. It was from the former type that the earliest Assyrian inscriptions were derived. In actual fact, we have no right to call them historical in any sense of the word, even though they are our only sources for the few facts we know about this early period. A typical inscription of this type will have the form "Irishum the vice gerent of the god Ashur, the son of Ilushuma the vice gerent of the god Ashur, unto the god Ashur, his Lord, for his own life and for the life of his son has dedicated". Thus there was as yet little difference in form from their Babylonian models and the historical data were of the slightest. This type persisted until the latest days of the Assyrian empire in the inscriptions placed on the bricks, or, in slightly more developed form, in the inscriptions written on the slabs of stone used for the adornment of palace or temple. For these later periods, they rarely have a value other than for the architectural history, and so demand no further study in this place. Nevertheless, the architectural origin of the historical inscription should not be forgotten. Even to the end, it is a rare document which does not have as its conclusion a more or less full account of the building operations carried on by the monarch who erected it.
It was not long until the inscriptions were incised on limestone. These slabs, giving more surface for the writing, easily induced the addition of other data, including naturally some account of the monarch's exploits in war. The typical inscription of this type, take, for example that of Adad nirari I, [Footnote: BM. 90,978; IV. R. 44 f.; G. Smith, _Assyr. Discoveries_, 1875, 242 ff.; Pognon, JA. 1884, 293 ff.; Peiser, KB. I. 4 ff.; Budge-King, 4 ff.; duplicate Scheil, RT. XV. 138 ff.; Jastrow, ZA. X. 35 ff.; AJSL. XII 143 ff.] has a brief titulary, then a slightly longer sketch of the campaigns, but the greater portion by far is devoted to the narration of his buildings. This type also continued until the latest days of the empire, and, like the former, is of no value where we have the fuller documents.
When the German excavations were begun at Ashur, the earliest capital of the Assyrian empire, it was hoped that the scanty data with which we were forced to content ourselves in writing the early history would soon be much amplified. In part, our expectations have been gratified. We now know the names of many new rulers and the number of new inscriptions has been enormously increased. But not a single annals inscription from this earlier period has been discovered, and it is now becoming clear that such documents are not to be expected. Only the so-called "Display" inscriptions, and those with the scantiest content, have been found, and it is not probable that any will be hereafter discovered.
It was not until the end of the fourteenth century B. C. with the reign of Arik den ilu, that we have the appearance of actual annalistic inscriptions. That we are at the very beginning of annalistic writing is clear, even from the fragmentary remains. The work is in annals form, in so far as the events of the various years are separated by lines, but it is hardly more than a list of places captured and of booty taken, strung together by a few formulae. [Footnote: Scheil, OLZ. VII. 216. Now in the Morgan collection, Johns, _Cuneiform Inscriptions_, 33.]
With this one exception, we do not have a strictly historical document nor do we have any source problem worthy of our study until the time of Tiglath Pileser I, about 1100 B.C. To be sure, we have a good plenty of inscriptions before this time, [Footnote: L. Messerschmidt, _Keilschrifttexte aus Assur_. I. Berlin 1911; _Mittheilungen der Deutschen Orient Gesellschaft_; cf, D. D. Luckenbill, AJSL. XXVIII. 153 ff.] and the problems they present are serious enough, but they are not of the sort that can be solved by source study. Accordingly, we shall begin our detailed study with the inscriptions from this reign. Then, after a gap in our knowledge, caused by the temporary decline of Assyrian power, we shall take up the many problems presented by the numerous inscriptions of Ashur nasir apal (885-860 B.C.) and of his son Shalmaneser III (860-825 B.C.). In the case of the latter, especially, we shall see how a proper evaluation of the documents secures a proper appreciation of the events in the reign. With these we shall discuss their less important successors until the downfall of the dynasty. The revival of Assyrian power under Tiglath Pileser IV (745-728 B.C.) means a revival of history writing and our problems begin again. The Sargonidae, the most important of the various Assyrian dynasties, comprising Sargon (722-705 B.C.), Sennacherib (705-686 B.C.), Esarhaddon (686-668 B.C.), and Ashur bani apal (668-626 B.C.), furnish us a most embarrassing wealth of historical material, while the problems, especially as to priority of date and as to consequent authority, become most complicated.
Before taking up a more detailed study of these questions, it is necessary to secure a general view of the situation we must face. The types of inscriptions, especially in the later days of the empire, are numerous. In addition to the brick and slab inscriptions, rarely of value in this later period, we have numerous examples on a larger scale of the so called "Display" inscriptions. They are usually on slabs of stone and are intended for architectural adornment. In some cases, we have clay tablets with the original drafts prepared for the workmen. Still others are on clay prisms or cylinders. These latter do not differ in form from many actual annals, but this likeness in form should not blind us to the fact that their text is radically different in character.
All the display inscriptions are primarily of architectural character, whether intended to face the walls of the palace or to be deposited as a sort of corner stone under the gates or at the corners of the wall. We should not expect their value to be high, and indeed they are of but little worth when the corresponding annals on which they are based has been preserved. For example, we have four different recensions of a very long display inscription, as well as literally scores of minor ones, also of a display character, from the later years of Sargon. The minor inscriptions are merely more or less full abstracts of the greater and offer absolutely nothing new. The long display inscription might be equally well disregarded, had not the edition of the annals on which it is based come down to us in fragmentary condition. We may thus use the Display inscription to fill gaps in the Annals, but it has not the slightest authority when it disagrees with its original.
It is true that for many reigns, even at a fairly late date, the display inscriptions are of great value. For the very important reign of Adad nirari (812-785 B.C.), it is our only recourse as the annals which we may postulate for such a period of development are totally lost. The deliberate destruction of the greater portion of the annals of Tiglath Pileser IV forces us to study the display documents in greater detail and the loss of all but a fragment of the annals of Esarhaddon makes for this period, too, a fuller discussion of the display inscriptions than would be otherwise necessary. In addition, we may note that there are a few inscriptions from other reigns, for example, the Nimrud inscription of Sargon, which are seemingly based on an earlier edition of the annals than that which has come down to us and which therefore do give us a few new facts.
Since, then, it is necessary at times to use these display inscriptions, we must frankly recognize their inferior value. We must realize that their main purpose was not to give a connected history of the reign, but simply to list the various conquests for the greater glory of the monarch. Equally serious is it that they rarely have a chronological order. Instead, the survey generally follows a geographical sweep from east to west. That they are to be used with caution is obvious.
Much more fortunate is our position when we have to deal with the annalistic inscriptions. We have here a regular chronology, and if errors, intentional or otherwise, can sometimes be found, the relative chronology at least is generally correct. The narrative is fuller and interesting details not found in other sources are often given. But it would be a great mistake to assume that the annals are always trustworthy. Earlier historians have too generally accepted their statements unless they had definite proof of inaccuracy. In the last few years, there has been discovered a mass of new material which we may use for the criticism of the Sargonide documents. Most valuable are the letters, sometimes from the king himself, more often from others to the monarch. Some are from the generals in the field, others from the governors in the provinces, still others from palace officials. All are of course absolutely authentic documents, and the light they throw upon the annals is interesting. To these we may add the prayers at the oracle of the sun god, coming from the reigns of Esarhaddon and Ashur bani apal, and they show us the break up of the empire as we never should have suspected from the grandiloquent accounts of the monarchs themselves. Even the business documents occasionally yield us a slight help toward criticism. Add to this the references in foreign sources such as Hebrew or Babylonian, and we hardly need internal study to convince us that the annals are far from reliable.
Yet even internal evidence may be utilized. For example, when the king is said to have been the same year in two widely separated parts of the empire, warring with the natives, it is clear that in one of these the deeds of a general have been falsely ascribed to the king, and the suspicion is raised that he may have been at home in Assyria all the time. That there are many such false attributions to the king is proved by much other evidence, the letters from the generals in command to their ruler; an occasional reference to outside authorities, as when the editor of the book of Isaiah shows that the famous Ashdod expedition was actually led by the Turtanu or prime minister; or such a document as the dream of Ashur bani apal, which clearly shows that he was a frightened degenerate who had not the stamina to take his place in the field with the generals whose victories he usurped. Again, various versions differ among themselves. To what a degree this is true, only those who have made a detailed study of the documents can appreciate. Typical examples from Sargon's Annals were pointed out several years ago. [Footnote: Olmstead. _Western Asia in the Reign of Sargon of Assyria_, 1908.] The most striking of these, the murder of the Armenian king Rusash by--the cold blooded Assyrian scribe,--has now been clearly proved false by a contemporaneous document emanating from Sargon himself. Another good illustration is found in the cool taking by Ashur bani apal of bit after bit of the last two Egyptian campaigns of his father until in the final edition there is nothing that he has not claimed for himself.
The Assyrians, as their business documents show, could be exceedingly exact with numbers. But this exactness did not extend to their historical inscriptions. We could forgive them for giving us in round numbers the total of enemies slain or of booty carried off and even a slight exaggeration would be pardonable. But what shall we say as to the accuracy of numbers in our documents when one edition gives the total slain in a battle as 14,000, another as 20,500, the next as 25,000, and the last as 29,000! Is it surprising that we begin to wonder whether the victory was only a victory on the clay tablet of the scribe? What shall we say when we find that the reviser has transformed a booty of 1,235 sheep in his original into a booty of 100,225! This last procedure, the addition of a huge round number to the fairly small amount of the original, is a common trick of the Sargonide scribe, of which many examples may be detected by a comparison of Sargon's Display inscription with its original, the Annals. So when Sennacherib tells us that he took from little Judah no less than 200,150 prisoners, and that in spite of the fact that Jerusalem itself was not captured, we may deduct the 200,000 as a product of the exuberant fancy of the Assyrian scribe and accept the 150 as somewhere near the actual number captured and carried off.
This discussion has led to another problem, that of the relative order of the various annals editions. For that there were such various editions can be proved for nearly every reign. And in nearly every reign it has been the latest and worst edition which has regularly been taken by the modern historians as the basis for their studies. How prejudicial this may be to a correct view of the Assyrian history, the following pages will show. The procedure of the Assyrian scribe is regularly the same. As soon as the king had won his first important victory, the first edition of the annals was issued. With the next great victory, a new edition was made out. For the part covered by the earlier edition, an abbreviated form of this was incorporated. When the scribe reached the period not covered by the earlier document, he naturally wrote more fully, as it was more vividly in his mind and therefore seemed to him to have a greater importance. Now it would seem that all Assyriologists should have long ago recognized that _any one of these editions is of value only when it is the most nearly contemporaneous of all those preserved. When it is not so contemporaneous, it has absolutely no value when we do have the original from which it was derived._ Yet it still remains true that the most accessible editions of these annals are those which are the latest and poorest. Many of the earlier and more valuable editions have not been republished for many years, so that for our most contemporaneous sources we must often go to old books, long out of print and difficult to secure, while both translation and commentary are hopelessly behind the times. Particularly is this the case with the inscriptions of Sennacherib and Ashur bani apal. The greatest boon to the historian of Assyria would be an edition of the Assyrian historical inscriptions in which would be given, only those editions or portions of editions which may be considered as contemporaneous and of first class value. With such a collection before him, notable as much for what it excluded as for what was included, many of the most stubborn problems in Assyrian history would cease to be problems.
The historian of Assyria must test his sources before he can use them in his history. To do this, he must first of all be able to distinguish the primary sources which will reward future study from those which are secondary and are based on other and more contemporary documents which even now are actually in our possession. When these latter are cast aside as of no practical value, save perhaps as they show the peculiar mental operations of the Assyrian editor, we are then ready to test the remainder by the various methods known to the historian. The second part of this task must be worked out by the historian when he studies the actual history in detail. It is the discovery of what are the primary sources for the various reigns and of the value of the contributions which they make to Assyrian history that is to be the subject of the more detailed discussion in the following chapters.