Cover image for The Southern Levant under Assyrian Domination Edited by Shawn Zelig Aster and Avraham Faust

The Southern Levant under Assyrian Domination

Edited by Shawn Zelig Aster and Avraham Faust


$59.50 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-1-57506-797-1

272 pages
7" × 10"
27 b&w illustrations

The Southern Levant under Assyrian Domination

Edited by Shawn Zelig Aster and Avraham Faust

With its unique geographic diversity and abundant archaeological and textual data, the southern Levant is an excellent “laboratory” for studying how Assyrian domination operated. This collection of essays explains how Neo-Assyrian rule influenced the demographics, economy, and culture of the region.


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With its unique geographic diversity and abundant archaeological and textual data, the southern Levant is an excellent “laboratory” for studying how Assyrian domination operated. This collection of essays explains how Neo-Assyrian rule influenced the demographics, economy, and culture of the region.

A systematic study of Assyrian rule in the west that integrates archaeological and textual perspectives and reconsiders the “Assyrian Peace” paradigm has long been needed. Building on the unparalleled archaeological and textual information available from the Land of Israel and its surroundings, the studies in this book address various aspects of Assyrian rule, including life under Assyrian hegemony and the consequences of the Assyrian conquests. It includes a broad overview of the vast archaeological data from both the provinces and client kingdoms in the Land of Israel in the Assyrian period, as well as a systematic and chronological survey of Assyrian texts that mention the region or sites therein. The contributors employ widely divergent approaches to topics such as the description of Assyrian encroachment in biblical texts, the Judean experience of Assyrian control, the political structure of the Coastal Plain, and the architecture of hospitality, among others. Integrating various sources of information to reconstruct the demography, economy, architecture, and intellectual life of the southern Levant, the articles in this volume are important not only for the study of Assyrian rule but also for research on empires writ large.

In addition to the editors, the contributors to this volume include Amitai Baruchi-Unna, Yigal Bloch, Alexander Fantalkin, Wayne Horowitz, David Kertai, Lily Singer-Avitz, and Peter Zilberg.

Shawn Zelig Aster is Senior Lecturer in the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology and the Department of Hebrew Bible at Bar-Ilan University.

Avraham Faust is Professor of Archaeology in the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University.

List of Illustrations

List of Tables




1 The Southern Levant under Assyrian Domination: An Introduction

Avraham Faust and Shawn Zelig Aster

2 The Assyrian Century in the Southern Levant: An Overview of the Reality on the Ground

Avraham Faust

3 The Assyrian Provinces of the Southern Levant: Sources, Administration, and Control

Peter Zilberg

4 Treaty and Prophecy: A Survey of Biblical Reactions to Neo-Assyrian Political Thought

Shawn Zelig Aster

5 “Your Servant and Son I Am”: Aspects of the Assyrian Imperial Experience of Judah

Amitai Baruchi-Unna

6 The Assyrian Influence on the Architecture of Hospitality in the Southern Levant

David Kertai

7 Neo-Assyrian Involvement in the Southern Coastal Plain of Israel: Old Concepts and New Interpretations

Alexander Fantalkin

8 On Phoeniciaʼs Trade Relations with Philistia and Judah under the Assyrian Hegemony: The Ceramic Evidence

Lily Singer-Avitz

9 The Beirut Decree and Mesopotamian Imperial Policy toward the Levant

Yigal Bloch

10 The Last Days of Cuneiform in Canaan: Speculations on the Coins from Samaria

Wayne Horowitz


From Chapter 1

The Southern Levant under Assyrian Domination:An Introduction

Avraham Faust and Shawn Zelig Aster

Empires have received their share of scholarly attention over the years (e.g., Doyle 1986; Sinopoli 1994; Alcock et al. 2001; Morris and Scheidel 2009; Parsons 2010), and the Assyrian Empire—often regarded as the first world empire—is no exception (e.g., Postgate 1992; Tadmor 1999; Yamada 2000; Parker 2001; Liverani 2001; Bedford 2009; Radner 2014; MacGinnis, Wicke, and Greenfield 2016; Tyson and Rimmer-Herman in press). The Assyrian Empire was the first in a series of eastern empires that ruled the Levant, and to a large extent, its period of domination set the tone for long- term traditions of imperial rule. The institutions and practices set by the Assyrian Empire were later adopted and adapted by subsequent empires (e.g., Dalley 2003; Bedford 2009: 45). Thus this formative period both began and influenced the centuries of eastern imperial control in the Levant.

Despite the great interest in this period and topic, and although the period of Assyrian rule in the southern Levant has been studied extensively and in depth (e.g., Grayson 1995; Stern 2001; Bagg 2013), a complete study, addressing all sources of information (including material and textual culture) and all subregions and polities and comparing these to the Assyrian Empire as a whole, remains a desideratum (but see Bagg 2011).

For a number of reasons, the southern Levant as a region is particularly suitable for a detailed study of Assyrian imperial domination. These are discussed in detail later, but they can be briefly summarized here: (1) the region has a unique geopolitical status, both as a land bridge to Egypt and as a gate to the Mediterranean (fig. 1.1); (2) despite its limited area, the region encompassed a number of political entities, some of which became Assyrian provinces, while others remained autonomous client states (thus facilitating a comparative study of these two types of polities);1 (3) the region encompassed different ecological, economic, and topographic units, and this enables one to evaluate different explanations for the workings of empire; (4) the Land of Israel also boasts the largest archaeological database in the world, with thousands of excavations and extensive surveys carried out over a fairly small region; and (5) the region is mentioned in many texts of various types. Furthermore, while the number of Assyrian texts relating to the region is limited in comparison to other regions, one area of the southern Levant produced a textual corpus that rarely exists in imperial contexts: texts that give voice to the conquered population. Such texts are found in several biblical passages. Despite the difficulties involved in the study of this latter source, it supplies a wealth of information about the local population in Judah from a perspective other than that of the imperial propaganda or administration.

It is the aim of this book, therefore, to present a series of studies that address various aspects of Assyrian rule in the region and its consequences as well as life under Assyrian hegemony and the sources available for such studies. This introductory chapter will briefly present some background information on the Assyrian Empire and the sources for its study, while the following chapters (to be described in more detail later on) integrate different sources of information to reconstruct the demography and economy in the various parts of the southern Levant in the time of Assyrian control (chapter 2); present a systematic summary of the Assyrian sources on the region (chapter 3); survey the local responses to Assyrian imperial hegemony as preserved in the Bible (chapter 4); consider the dynamics of imperial rule as experienced in the client state of Judah (chapter 5); study the Assyrian influence on the architecture of public buildings in the southern Levant (chapter 6); analyze Israel’s southern coastal plain—Assyria’s gate to Egypt and the Mediterranean—during Neo- Assyrian times (chapter 7); examine the relations among Phoenicia, Judah, and Philistia under Assyrian hegemony (chapter 8); study a decree demonstrating imperial control and its implications for understanding imperial policies (chapter 9); and review the final phase in which cuneiform was used in the region (chapter 10). This volume is therefore a comprehensive and wide- ranging investigation of this important region during the formative Neo-Assyrian era, and we believe that the perspectives presented here contribute significantly to the study of the area under Assyrian rule and the research on the Assyrian Empire at large.

The Assyrian Empire and Its Westward Expansion

With its core area in the Tigris triangle, around the cities of Ashur, Nineveh, and Arbil (fig. 1.1), early Assyria is known to us as a trading power. Benefitting from its location at the nexus of trade routes linking Babylonia, Anatolia, the Levant, and western Iran, Assyria gradually developed its cities’ dominance of trade into military force, which translated into imperial political control. During the second millennium, and especially after the fall of Mitanni in the fourteenth century, Assyria expanded until it came to dominate northern Mesopotamia and eastern Syria. During this period, the fascination of Assyria with the regions along the shores of the “Western Sea” is expressed by the expeditions of Tiglathpileser I (1114–1076) to the Lebanese coast (e.g., Kuhrt 1995: 348–65). The subsequent political eclipse of Assyria was arrested by the rise of Assurnasirpal II (883–859) and his successor, Shalmaneser III (859–824), who can rightly be considered the founders of the Neo- Assyrian Empire (Yamada 2000; Bedford 2009; Frahm 2017; and see fig. 1.1).

The apogee of Assyrian expansion into the west, however, was begun under the energetic leadership of Tiglath- pileser III (744–727), who centralized power and reached farther than any previous Assyrian king (fig. 1.1). He was the first to include all of Syria in his empire, and he expanded Assyrian domination southward to the borders of Egypt as well as northward to Urartu (modern Armenia) and eastward to Elam (modern Iran). The series of annual campaigns he initiated in the west—such campaigns took place in most of his first dozen years on the throne—began the period that is often called “the Assyrian century,” the hundred or so years beginning after 744 in which Assyria dominated the southern Levant more effectively and thoroughly than any previous empire. During his reign, Judah and Israel were tributary to Assyria, as were the Transjordanian kingdoms of Moab, Ammon, and Edom and several of the Philistine kingdoms (certainly Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza, and probably Ekron as well). The province of Megiddo was established in the northern part of the kingdom of Israel, and other provinces may well have been established in the northern parts of Transjordan.

It fell to Sargon II (722–705) to quell revolts that broke out at various points in the region. By establishing provinces in regions formerly occupied by client states (Samaria and Ashdod) and instituting a more intense policy of bidirectional deportation, this energetic king attempted to convince the population of Assyria’s western periphery that Assyrian domination was a permanent state of affairs.

The period beginning in 744, therefore, was entirely unlike the type of sporadic Assyrian domination that parts of the Mediterranean coast had known in the time of Tiglathpileser I or Shalmaneser III. This task of consolidating Assyrian control continued under the reign of Sennacherib (704–681). It fell to the last two great kings of Assyria, Esarhaddon (680–669) and Ashurbanipal (668–627), to attempt to extend Assyrian control to Egypt. While Esarhaddon’s 671 campaign to dominate Egypt was temporarily successful, the long- term control of Egypt proved to be a task beyond Assyria’s capacity (for Assyria’s westward expansion and rule, see Grayson 1995; Kuhrt 1995: 473–540; Bedford 2009; Frahm 2017). From 637 BCE onward, it appears that Egypt challenged Assyria in the southern Levant, and by 616, the latter’s control of the region had certainly collapsed (see summary in Kahn 2015).

The Unique Geopolitical and Geographical Position of the Southern Levant and Its Significance for the Study of Imperial Rule

For much of the period between the reign of Tiglath-pileser III and the collapse of the empire, the Land of Israel marked the far southwestern edge of the realm. Its geographic location is important for several reasons. First of all, it means that the region was conquered rather late; only at the time of Tiglath-pileser III did the empire reach the area and annex parts of it. Thus differences between Assyrian treatment of the region and that of the more “established” provinces are to be expected. Furthermore, during Assyria’s expansion west, some parts of the Land of Israel were annexed, while others maintained their autonomous status throughout the period of Assyrian rule. Therefore, studying this region allows us to examine two types of imperial control that were used simultaneously from a comparative perspective. Additionally, from a geopolitical viewpoint, the region was of great importance, as it (1) controlled the international highway connecting Syria and Egypt (important for trade), (2) served as both a gate to Egypt (important for potential and much desired expansion) and a buffer zone against it (important for defensive purposes), and (3) supplied access to the Mediterranean trade (important for immense income from taxation and tribute; see also chapters 3, 5, 7, and 8). The location of the region also limited the extent of Assyrian exploitation. The remoteness of the area, and the fact that no rivers connected it with Mesopotamia, meant that it was too far away to be directly exploited by the Assyrian Empire. Tribute in expensive commodities and products could be (and was) extracted, but no large-scale transportation of agricultural products to the Assyrian heartland was practical. Moreover, the Land of Israel can help us understand how Assyria dominated different types of regions, because in this small geographic area, we find different subregions. Some (such as the hill country) were marginal geopolitically and strategically, while others (such as the coastal plain) were important from these perspectives. Some (such as the interior valleys with their alluvial soil) were important agriculturally, while others were more marginal economically. Comparing how Assyria treated these different regions can improve our understanding of the considerations that influenced Assyrian policy across space.

The uniqueness of the region is also expressed in the available sources. While some of the sources, such as those originating from the imperial and provincial administrations, are common to the entire empire, others are unique to this specific region. These include the Hebrew Bible and, perhaps more important, the extremely rich archaeological data, which are far greater than those available in other regions. These increase the potential of the area for the study of Assyrian rule and perhaps the study of empire generally.

Sources of Information on the Assyrian Empire

The detailed information on the southern Levant under Neo- Assyrian rule is gathered from various sources, textual and material alike.

The Written Sources

The written sources include both Assyrian sources and local or indigenous ones. Assyrian texts—written mainly in Akkadian cuneiform3—were discovered throughout the empire (mainly in the imperial enters) and can be divided into royal inscriptions and administrative documents. The former are literary compositions that often narrate historical events and emphasize motifs that highlight the power of the king and empire, while the latter are functional texts and include correspondence between administrative officials, contracts, and administrative lists. (A useful overview of the royal inscriptions and their connection to history appears in Tadmor 1981, while an overview of the administrative correspondence of the empire appears in Parpola 1987.)

Both types of texts have been published in clear and easy- to- use modern editions in the last twenty years. A partial list of the royal inscriptions published includes those of the kings preceding Tiglath- pileser III (Grayson 1991b, Grayson 1996), Tiglath- pileser III (Tadmor 1994; Tadmor, Novotny, and Yamada, 2011), Sargon II (Fuchs 1994, 1998), Sennacherib (Grayson and Novotny 2012, 2014), Esarhaddon (Borger 1967, Leichty 2011), and Assurbanipal (Borger 1996).

[Excerpt ends here.]