ABC 3 (Fall of Nineveh Chronicle)

The Chronicle Concerning the Fall of Nineveh (ABC 3) is one of the historiographical texts from ancient Babylonia. It deals with Nabopolassar's capture of Nineveh, rhe capital of Assyria, one of the most shocking events in ancient history. This chronicle belongs to one large text that started with the Early Years of Nabopolassar (ABC 2) and continued with the Fall of Nineveh and the Late Years of Nabopolassar (ABC 4).

Introduction

Map of the Assyrian-Babylonian War

After the death of king Aššurbanipal in 631 BCE, the Assyrian empire became unquiet, and the Babylonians seized their independence. For one year (627/626), two Assyrian officials named Sin-šumlišir and Sin-šar-iškun ruled the ancient city on the Euphrates; in the next year, the Babylonian general Nabû-apla-usur, who had been appointed by Sin-šar-iškun, defeated the Assyrians in a battle near Babylon. The Babylonian chronicle known as ABC 2 relates that

on the twenty-sixth day of Arahsamnanote Nabû-apla-usur sat upon the throne in Babylon. This was the beginning of the reign of Nabû-apla-usur.

King Nabû-apla-usur is better known under his Greek name, Nabopolassar; his accession marks the beginning of the Babylonian Empire, which was to last until its capital was taken by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in October 539.

Assyrian soldiers (from the Palace of Sennacherib, Nineveh)

Although he had liberated Babylonia, Nabopolassar continued the struggle against Assyria and his contemporaries knew that he would not rest until he had destroyed the capitals of Assyria: the religious center at Aššur and the administrative center at Nineveh. If he would succeed, the balance of power in the Near East would be seriously endangered; consequently, the Egyptians started to support Assyria against the aggressors.

In the Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, we can read about the events of these years. On 25 July 616, Nabopolassar defeated an Assyrian force on the banks of the Euphrates, south of Harran. This suggests that Nabopolassar wanted to block the main road between the Assyrian heartland and the territories in the west. However, he was forced to retreat when an Egyptian army (commanded by Psammetichus I?) approached; still, the year was not lost because the Babylonian army defeated an Assyrian army near Kirkuk, far to the east. Warfare between Babylonia and Assyria appears to have been quite mobile.

Reconstruction of the double walls of Nineveh

Next year, we find the Babylonians in the Assyrian heartland, beginning a siege of Aššur. The Assyrians were able to push their enemy away, and the Chronicle does not hide that the Babylonians were in a tight spot for some time. At the end of 615, the Medes, a tribal federation living in modern Iran, intervened in the conflict. The temptation to fish in troubled waters must have been irresistible. The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle mentions that they operated in the neighborhood of modern Kirkuk; they may have taken the town.

In 614, the Medes succeeded where the Babylonians had failed during the preceding year: they took Aššur. Nabopolassar arrived too late to help the Medes, but he managed to signed a treaty with their king Umakištar, who is better known as Cyaxares. The Babylonian historian Berossus (third century BCE) tells us that the alliance was cemented by a royal wedding: the Babylonian crown prince Nabû-kudurru-usur, also known as Nebuchadnezzar, married Amytis, the daughter of Cyaxares' son Astyages. This is impossible (Astyages was too young to have children), but perhaps Amytis was the daughter of Cyaxares himself.

Remains of the defenders of Nineveh

After a year of inconclusive campaigning, the united Medes and Babylonians blocked the Assyrian government center Nineveh in May 612. The siege lasted for three months; in July, the city fell. (It may be noticed that archaeologists discovered the remains of forty of the defenders.) King Sin-šar-iškun, who had once been in charge of Babylon (above), is said to have committed suicide. The looting of the town continued until 10 August, when the Medes finally went home.

The fall of Nineveh shocked the ancient world. The Jewish prophet Nahum described the Median armies advancing to the city that had once ruled the Near East.

An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. [...]
The shields of his soldiers are red;
the warriors are clad in scarlet.
The metal on the chariots flashes
on the day they are made ready;
the spears of pine are brandished.
The chariots storm through the streets,
rushing back and forth through the squares.
They look like flaming torches;
they dart about like lightning.
He summons his picked troops,
yet they stumble on their way.
They dash to the city wall;
the protective shield is put in place.
The river gates are thrown open
and the palace collapses.
It is decreed that the city
be exiled and carried away.note
Axes from Luristan, as used by the Median attackers of Nineveh

Reports of the destruction of the ancient city reached even far-away Greece, where the poet Phocylides recognized a lesson: 

A small city well-organized and built on a steep promontory is stronger than foolish Nineveh.note

However, the end of the two Assyrian capitals was not the end of the war. A new king, whose name was Aššur-uballit II, set up a kingdom in Harran. But he was no match for Nabopolassar, who, according to the Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, "marched to Assyria victoriously" in the fifteenth and sixteenth year of his reign (r.612-609). King Aššur-uballit was forced to leave Harran.

Vultures at a battlefield: relief from Nimrud

He seems to have convinced the Egyptians to support his hopeless cause one more time. A large army under command of Necho II (r.610-595) advanced to the north. King Josiah of Judah, who had tried to conquer the former kingdom of Israel, tried to resist the invaders; the Second Book of Kings informs us that 

while Josiah was king, pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, went up to the Euphrates river to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo. Josiah's servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb.note

In June, Necho's men tried to recapture Harran for Aššur-uballit II and they may have come close to victory, but they had to raise their siege of Harran in August 609. After this event, Aššur-uballit and Assyria disappear from the historical sources. The Babylonians and Egyptians would continue their struggle in Syria and Palestine. This story is told in ABC 5, the Jerusalem Chronicle.


The Chronicle

The following chronicle, also known as Chronicle 3 or ABC 3, describes the final years of the Assyrian Empire. The text is inscribed on a medium-size tablet, BM 21901 (96-4-9, 6), which measures 132 mm long and 69 mm wide. At one time it was broken into four pieces and, although the fragments have been joined, there are several surface flaws as well as a large lacuna in the center of the tablet.

The translation was adapted from A.K. Grayson and can be found in Assyrian and Babylonian chronicles (1975); some readings were adapted from Jean-Jacques Glassner, Chroniques Mésopotamiennes (1993). An introduction can be found here.       


Translation

[Y10] The tenth year of Nabopolassar:note In the month Ajaru, Nabopolassar mustered the army of Akkad and marched along the bank of the Euphrates. The Suheans and Hindaneansnote did not do battle against him but placed their tribute before him.

In the month Âbu the army of Assyria prepared for battle in Gablini and Nabopolassar went up against them. On the twelfth of the month Âbu note he did battle against the army of Assyria and the army of Assyria retreated before him. He inflicted a major defeat upon Assyria and plundered them extensively. He captured the Manneans, who had come to the Assyrians' aid, and the Assyrian officers. On the same day he captured Gablini.

In the month Âbu the king of Akkad and his army went upstream to Mane, Sahiri and Bali-hu. He plundered them, sacked them extensively and abducted their gods.
In the month Ulûlu the king of Akkad and his army returned and on his way he took the people of Hindanu and its gods to Babylon.

In the month Tašrîtu the army of Egypt and the army of Assyria went after the king of Akkad as far as Gablini but they did not overtake the king of Babylonia. So they withdrew.

In the month Addaru the army of Assyria and the army of Akkad did battle against one another at Madanu, a suburb of Arraphu,note and the army of Assyria retreated before the army of Akkad. The army of Babylonia inflicted a major defeat upon the Assyrian army and drove them back to the Zab river. They captured their chariots and horses and plundered them extensively. They took many [lacuna] with them across the Tigris and brought them into Babylon.

[Y11] The eleventh year:note The king of Akkad mustered his army, marched along the bank of the Tigris, and in the month Ajaru he encamped against Aššur. On the [lacuna] day of the month Simanu he did battle against the city but he did not capture it. The king of Assyria mustered his army, pushed the king of Akkad back from Aššur and marched after him as far as Takrita'in, a city on the bank of the Tigris. The king of Akkad stationed his army in the fortress of Takrita'in.note The king of Assyria and his army encamped against the army of the king of Akkad, which was stationed in Takrita'in, and did battle against them for ten days. But the king of Assyria did not capture the city. Instead, the army of the king of Akkad, which had been stationed in the fortress, inflicted a major defeat upon Assyria. The king of Assyria and his army turned and went home.

In the month Arahsamna the Medes went down to Arraphu and [lacuna].

[Y12] The twelfth year:note In the month Âbu the Medes, after they had matched against Nineveh [lacuna], hastened and they captured Tarbisu, a city in the district of Nineveh. They went along the Tigris and encamped against Aššur. They did battle against the city and destroyed it. They inflicted a terrible defeat upon a great people, plundered and sacked them. The king of Akkad and his army, who had gone to help the Medes, did not reach the battle in time. The city was taken. The king of Akkad and Cyaxares met one another by the city and together they made an entente cordiale. Later, Cyaxares and his army went home. The king of Akkad and his army went home.

[Y13] The thirteenth year:note In the month Ajaru the Suheans rebelled against the king of Akkad and became belligerent. The king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Suhu. On the fourth day of the month Simanunote he did battle against Rahi-ilu, a city which is on an island in the middle of the Euphrates and at that time he captured the city. He built his [lacuna] The men who live on the bank of the Euphrates came down to him. [lacuna] he encamped against Anati and the siege engines he brought over from the western side [lacuna] he brought the siege engines up to the wall. He did battle against the city and captured it. The king of Assyria and his army came down and the king of Akkad and his army went home.

[Y14] The fourteenth year:note The king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Assyria. The king of the Medes marched towards the king of Akkad and they met one another at [...]-u. The king of Akkad and his army crossed the Tigris; Cyaxares had to cross the Radanu, and they marched along the bank of the Tigris. In the month Simanu, the Nth day, they encamped against Nineveh.

From the month Simanu until the month Âbu - for three months - they subjected the city to a heavy siege. On the Nth day of the month Âbu they inflicted a major defeat upon a great people. At that time Sin-šar-iškun, king of Assyria, died. They carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple and turned the city into a ruin heap The [lacuna]of Assyria escaped from the enemy and, to safe his life, seized the feet of the king of Akkad.

On the twentieth day of the month Ulûlunote Cyaxares and his army went home. After he had gone, the king of Akkad dispatched his army and they marched to Nasibina. Plunder and exiles [lacuna] and they brought the people of Rusapu to the king of Akkad at Nineveh. On the [lacuna] of the month [lacuna] Aššur-uballit ascended to the throne in Harran to rule Assyria. Up until the [lacuna] day of the month [lacuna] the king of Akkad set out and in [lacuna]

[Y15] The fifteenth year:note In the month Du'ûzu the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Assyria victoriously. He marched about of [lacuna] and Šu[lacuna], plundered it and carried of its vast booty.

In the month Arahsamna the king of Akkad took the lead of his army personally and marched against Ruggulitu. He did battle against the city and on the twenty-eighth day of the month Arahsamnu he captured it. He did not leave a single man alive. [lacuna] He went home.

[Y16] The sixteenth year:note In the month Ajaru the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Assyria. From the month Simanu until the month Arahsamna he marched about victoriously in Assyria. In the month Arahsamna the Medes, who had come to the help of the king of Akkad, put their armies together and marched to Harran against Aššur-uballit, who had ascended the throne in Assyria. Fear of the enemy overcame Aššur-uballit and the army of Egypt that had come to help him, and they abandoned the city, and crossed the Euphrates. The king of Akkad reached Harran, fought a battle, and captured the city. He carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple. In the month Addaru the king of Akkad left his troops and their camp, and went home. The Medes, who had come to help the king of Akkad, withdrew.

[Y17] The seventeenth year:note In the month Du'ûzu Aššur-uballit, king of Assyria, with a large army from Egypt crossed the river Euphrates and marched against Harran to conquer it. They captured [lacuna].note They defeated the garrison which the king of Akkad had stationed inside. When they had defeated it they encamped against Harran. Until the month Ulûlu they did battle against the city but achieved nothing. The king of Akkad went to help his army but did not join battle. He he went up to Izalla and the numerous cities in the mountains [lacuna] he set fire to their [lacuna]

At that time the army of [lacuna] march as far as the district of Urartu. In the land [lacuna] they plundered their [lacuna] The garrison which the king of [lacuna] had stationed in it set out. They went up to [lacuna]. The king of Akkad went home.       

[Y18] In the eighteenth year:note In the month Ulûlu the king of Akkad mustered his army and [lacuna].

Let the one who loves Nabû and Marduknote keep this tablet and not let it stray into other hands.