Just a Series of Misunderstandings? Assyria and Bīt-Zamāni, Ḫadi-/Iḫtadi-libbušu, and Aramaic in the early Neo-Assyrian State


  • Alexander Johannes Edmonds Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations, Northeast Normal University, Changchun




Upper Tigris, Neo-Assyrian Empire, Aramaic, bilingualism, expansion, Amedu/Diyarbakır, Bīt-Zamāni, Gūzāna/Tell Halaf


The region of the Upper Tigris serves as a key case study in understanding the early expansion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Nevertheless, various aspects of its incorporation within the Neo-Assyrian pale remain obscure, particularly the date and nature of the establishment of the province of Amēdu or Na’iri, previously the Aramean polity of Bīt-Zamāni. After a summary of prior arguments and an investigation of the polity’s Middle Assyrian past, two overlapping and complimentary histories are written, one of the political interactions between Assyria and Bīt-Zamāni, and another of Assyria’s provincialisation of the Upper Tigris. The former finds that Bīt-Zamāni was remarkably resilient in the face of Assyrian aggression, while the latter argues that an early Assyrian presence at Damdammusa was replaced in 879 BC by the provinces of Sinābu/Na’iri and Tušḫan. These two histories are then supplemented by a prosopographical investigation of the Assyrian eponym of 849 BC, the first attested governor of Na’iri, one Ḫadi-libbušu or Iḫtadi-libbušu. It is demonstrated that the two contemporaneous variants of his name within the Assyrian textual corpus may be explained as an ambiguity in translating the Aramaic personal name *dhlbbh into Akkadian for use as an eponym date. It is hence likely that Ḫadi-/Iḫtadi-libbušu was an indigenous potentate made governor, and thus that the polity of Bīt-Zamāni serves as a previously unrecognised example of the Postgatian ‘transitional case’ within the Early Neo-Assyrian Empire analogously to Bīt-Baḫiāni/Gūzāna. Indeed, it is argued that a similar phenomenon of translating the transitional ruler/governor’s name into Akkadian for limmu dating may here be attested for Gūzāna’s two initial governors. In light of these findings, their broader implications for the use of Aramaic in correspondence or record-keeping within 9th century Assyria are considered, and it is suggested that Ḫadi-/Iḫtadi-libbušu’s correspondence was conducted in Aramaic, whence scribes must have had recourse in spelling this potentate’s name. This would mark the earliest use of Aramaic within the Neo-Assyrian bureaucracy presently known. It is then finally concluded that the threat of Urarṭu in the last years of Aššur-nāṣir-apli II’s reign may well have compelled him to enter in a manner of compact with Bīt-Zamāni, and that the indigenous rulers were thereafter made Assyrian governors, only to be unseated in favour of Ninurta-kibsī-uṣur, šāqiu rabiu to Salmānu-ašarēd III just prior to Amēdu’s rebellion in the succession war of 826-820 BC, after which it was conclusively incorporated. Some insufficiencies of present theories of Neo-Assyrian imperialism in explaining this complex historical scenario are finally highlighted.