Political Change and Cultural Continuity in Eshnunna from the Ur III to the Old Babylonian Period

A Dissertation Proposal Submitted to the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Clemens Reichel

©1996, 1997 All Rights Reserved
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Approved* 11 June 1996


Table of Contents


I. Collapse Models and their Relevance for the Study of Complex Societies

a). Introduction:

Unlike the formation of complex states and state societies, the collapse of these entities only recently has received more comprehensive treatment in anthropological and socio-historical literature (e.g., Tainter 1988; Yoffee and Cowgill 1988; Sharer 1993). For archaeological research this interest is of much more importance than often is acknowledged: archaeological remains unearthed are often found - and preserved best - in connection with the very end of a political or social system such as a destruction or an abandonment. In short, the archaeological evidence is a direct reflection of the flaws and shortcomings of a political or social system, whose ultimate failure results in the formation of the archaeological context.1

b) Definitions of Collapse:

Most studies of collapse are based on societies in Meso-America, Oceania, India and Africa, especially the Mayan and the Harappan civilization. While these studies cover a large temporal and geographical area, it is interesting to note that, with very few exceptions, most of them focus on pre-literate societies. This is an important point because this focus also defines a general concept of collapse. Gupta's introductory remarks to his discussion of Late Harappan culture state: "What happens when the urban fabric of a culture disintegrates? People, by and large, leave the urban settlements and migrate elsewhere. Similarly material culture becomes poor" (Gupta 1993: 50). A similar concept is apparent in Sharer's discussion of the Mayan collapse when he states that "... over the years a number of theories have been proposed to account for this collapse, recognized from the archaeological record by the abandonment of the largest and most sophisticated Maya centers in the lowland rainforests of Guatemala" (Sharer 1993: 427). The underlying assumption in both cases is that political collapse can be equated with a decline or disappearance of material culture. Sharer (ibid.) is quite aware of this dilemma when he points out that "... it must be borne in mind that, unlike the demise of civilizations known from the historical record, the Maya, like Harappan society, represents an example of collapse identified solely from archaeological context." A recent study on the collapse of complex societies by J. Tainter (1988) has helped to articulate the nature of this dilemma: in his introduction Tainter distinguishes between several types and notions of collapse - such as political or economic collapse (Tainter 1988: 4). His book concentrates on collapse as a political process, defined as "... a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity" (ibid.), and found in a decline of

  • 1. Stratification and social differentiation
  • 2. Coordination and organization of individuals and groups
  • 3. Economic specialization
  • 4. Administrative and 'behavioral' control
  • 5. Scale and quality of architecture, art and science
  • 6. Information exchange on an individual and corporate level
  • 7. Scale and organization of resource management
  • 8. Territorial scale of a political unit
  • (after Tainter 1988:4 (summarized))

c) Problems in Definitions and Outline of Research Topic:

The definitions for the collapse quoted above for the Mayan and Harappan culture would fit largely under point 5 of Tainter's list. However, it is important to recognize that, with the exception of this very point, Tainter's characteristics of collapse largely describe non-empirical phenomena which in archaeology can only be inferred secondarily by interpretive analysis. The difference in definitions by Tainter on the one side and Gupta and Sharer on the other side corresponds to M. Schiffer's definition of systemic contexts as opposed to archaeological contexts (Schiffer 1987: 1 - 2): Tainter's definition of collapse is based on observations made in systemic contexts, either contemporary or in historical writing, while the collapses of the Maya and Harappan culture as outlined by Gupta and Sharer is solely based on the empirical impression which they had left in the archaeological record. This disappearance or decline of material evidence identified in archaeological context will be referred to here as "cultural collapse". While political and cultural collapses might well co-occur, the question arises as to what degree they can be equated. Does the disappearance of a socio-political system necessarily have to be reflected in a negative impact on the material culture, such as the decline in quality, numbers and sizes of type fossils which are considered to be characteristic? If not, two important questions arise:

  • 1. How can a political collapse be ascertained in archaeological context other than by decline of material culture?
  • 2. In what other way than decline does material culture reflect or respond to a political collapse?

There is no easy answer to either of these questions. Again, however, it has to pointed out that collapse in archaeological contexts has mostly been studied for non-literate societies. Political collapses in historical periods are obviously widely attested and have been examined (e.g. Yoffee 1979), but this research tends to concentrate on written records. Once the historical facts have been established, an additional detailed and cumbersome analysis of the archaeological assemblage may seem redundant and unnecessary. However, such an interdisciplinary approach which combines archaeological material, social history and philology, practiced on a suitable test case, not only holds the potential of revealing new and interesting insights into this particular example but a more detailed knowledge of patterns in which the demise of a sociopolitical system has left its imprints on the archaeological evidence would, by virtue of suitable analogies, give interesting clues for establishing new paradigms for the detection of political collapse in non-literate societies. The following research proposal will outline the potential of such an analysis on a suitable test case.

d) Analytical Aspects - The Origins and Mechanisms of Political Collapse:

The discussion has so far dealt only with collapse in descriptive/observational terms. Interpretations of collapse are necessarily bound to specific schools of thought: following the Darwinist model of biological evolution, several scholars, spearheaded by L. White, have developed an evolutionist model for cultural development. White's universalistic approach, addressing 'culture' rather than individual cultures, was modified by J. Steward who recognized the impact of particular environmental preconditions on individual systems (Steward 1955: 30 - 42). The success or failure of a particular system depends on its ability to adapt to environmental challenges. While adequate dynamics within the system guarantee its successful adaptation to and flourishing within its ecological setting, inadequate dynamics will result in a failure to adapt, resulting in the ultimate breakdown of the system. Human behavior in this approach is a mere reaction to environmental challenges: under similar conditions humans are seen to react similarly and human action therefore becomes predictable. This evolutionist/adaptationist approach, which remained the dominant model of state formation for a long time and which was also followed by Flannery (1972), Fried (1967) and Service (1975), has now come under increasing attack and often has been countered with a "political model". The latter puts more emphasis on individual political decisions as a prime mover, rather than as a mechanical secondary response to environmental challenges, in the development of state and society, leaving the outcome of any development much less predictable than in the adaptationist models (see Brumfiel and Earle 1987: 1 - 4 for an overview). Such an approach, for example, was applied by Yoffee when analyzing the collapse of the Old Babylonian state, which, he concludes, was less the outcome of environmental constrains (cf. Stone 1977) than of misguided political decisions, namely - "... the failure to integrate the traditional, locally autonomous controls within and among city-states within the sociopolitical organization" (Yoffee 1979: 14).

The main difference between these approaches lies in the identification of the main agent of change, in the one case the environment, in the other the human agent. However, since in the adaptationist model changes only occur because of environmental challenges, state and society would rest in an equilibrium under stable conditions; a collapse could not occur. The relevance and accuracy of either model will have to be checked carefully on the test case chosen below.

e) Collapse and 'Center-and-Periphery':

A study involving the collapse of complex state societies, especially those which may be labeled empires, cannot avoid looking at the antagonism between center and periphery. The fact that centers exhibit greater variability in architectural and artifactual assemblages naturally has resulted in a research focus on centers. To study the impact of political collapse on material culture in a larger ('imperial') state entity, however, a more 'peripheral' test case may provide data of more immediate relevance. Some thoughts on this have been elaborated by Service (1975: 313 - 314): in the case of a collapse he sees the technologically advanced center suffer "the penalty of taking the lead," while its hinterland, having enjoyed the "privilege of backwardness," can borrow technological innovations from the center, thereby skipping the earlier stages of their development: "with all other things constant, therefore, some of the newly civilized societies of the frontier have an increasing evolutionary potential that the original center steadily loses in the very act of successfully dominating its own local environment." This concept overemphasizes the importance of technological innovation on formative processes of the state. How can the difference between collapse in the center and the periphery be conceptualized on a political level?

Since administrative and political control in "provincial" or "peripheral" regions is installed and organized from a remote center, its archaeological imprints should be identifiable as 'non-local' or 'foreign'. Such traits, which should be distinct from their local counterparts, can be expected on administrative-bureaucratic, religious, socio-political and socio-economic levels, evidence of which should be apparent in the surviving material assemblage. If a state collapse results in a reduced territorial control of the center, then it is likely that the political system at least in the more remote periphery changes from an 'imperial' or 'foreign' to a regionally limited local rule. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that a center is more affected by a political collapse - whatever its origin may be - than a peripheral area where a clear change, but not a break, can be expected on the political and administrative level. It it therefore likely that a peripheral site would complement the knowledge about the relation between material culture and political collapse as observed at the center in a significant way.

f) Summary:

The research topic suggested here will therefore focus on the impact of a political development - in this case a political collapse - on the material culture of a complex society. The general underlying hypothesis to be tested is that political collapse and the decline or disappearance of some categories of material culture are not to be taken as coterminous and cannot be used reciprocally; while the disappearance of a political system leaves its imprint on the surviving material culture that change may not be expressed in any decrease in scale, size or quality of type fossils.

This implies that political collapse has to be identified by means other than the decline of material culture; for this study it is therefore vital to choose a test case for which written information is available. The historical information about the nature and structure of this state entity, its governmental as well as non-governmental institutions, will be scrutinized carefully against the archaeological context; any changes in quality and quantity will be noted and evaluated as to its potential relevance to the political changes. A 'peripheral' site will be preferred to a political center to facilitate the identification of administrative, social, and ideological factor belonging to the center by their non-local character.


II. The Setting: The Collapse of the Ur III State and its Isin/Larsa - Old Babylonian Successor States

An ideal test case for the hypothesis outlined above can be found in the empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112 - 2004 B.C.).2 Following the demise of the Akkadian state - the first undisputed 'empire ' in Mesopotamian history (see Liverani (ed.) 1993) - the Ur III represents an interesting symbiosis between a "Sumerian" tradition going back to the Presargonic city-states and an "Akkadian" heritage of a large super-regional state (Becker 1985). While the predominance of Sumerian writing and the centralization of political power in the south give the image of a "Neo-Sumerian Renaissance," the concept of world rule, expressed in the Akkadian empire by royal titulary such as "King of the Universe" (shar kishshati) and "King of the four World Quarters" (shar kibrat arba'im) and the deification of the king under Naramsin (cf. Farber 1982), was also clearly an underlying concept of the Ur III state. Indeed, four of the five Ur III rulers were deified during their lifetimes (Wilcke 1974: 178-179; Selz 1992: 2582). There are numerous textual attestations of temples built for them (Limet 1975) and regular offerings for living and deceased rulers (Sigrist 1989; Englund 1992: 87 - 88, for Umma). Archaeological manifestations for a deceased kings' cult can be found in the royal tombs of the Ur III kings at Ur, which are semi-subterranean house structures with numerous offering installations (Woolley 1974).

Under its second king, Shulgi (2094 - 2047 B.C.), numerous reforms created the most centralized and bureaucratic state apparatus so far attested in the ancient Near East. These reforms included the creation of an army with large numbers of conscripts, the reorganization of the temple households (which effectively became possessions of the state), a unified administrative system for southern and northern Babylonia, the creation of crown lands, the centralization of industries into production centers, the creation of a law collection ('Codex Shulgi'), and the standardization of the calendar as well as of the measuring and writing systems (Steinkeller 1991: 16 - 17). In geographical terms, the Ur III state controlled Babylonia, the East-Tigrisland, parts of the Zagros and Elam. The state was divided into provinces, usually successors of previous city states, governed by a local city ruler (ensí); in addition, a military governor (shagina) with virtual independence from the city ruler was appointed to most provinces by the central government. Differences in the taxation system divided these provinces into a core area and periphery (Steinkeller 1991: 17f.). The periphery was formed by a 'defense zone' along the east bank of the Tigris from Urbilum to Tutub and Der (excluding Elam); its military personnel paid a special tax (mu-túm lugal, later gún ma-da) in livestock or agricultural produce (Maeda 1992). This tax revenue was paid into the 'bala', an enormous redistribution system with large central collection centers, from which provinces belonging to the core area could draw supplies. Best known among these places is Puzrish-Dagan near Nippur, which dealt with livestock and animal products (Sigrist 1992).

The picture of Ur III society traditionally presented in scholarly literature identifies three distinct classes: free citizens (lú), semi-free 'serfs' (gurush), and house slaves (arad) (see Gelb 1972 and 1979). Abundant ration lists from the Ur III period have been seen as evidence for a large group of semi-free laborers, living in family structures, being employed largely in vast agricultural and irrigation projects. Such a clear-cut view is now gradually being reconsidered (e.g. Steinkeller 1987). Likewise, the private economic sector, which was gravely neglected because of the predominance a predominance of state and temple archives, has now received more attention (Waetzhold 1987; Neumann 1992; van Driel 1994).

In spite of its elaborate setup the Ur III state did not survive much longer than a century. Various factors appear to have contributed to its decline: environmental causes such as a reduced stream flow in the Euphrates and Tigris and the loss of agricultural land due to increasing salinization (Jacobsen 1982; compare, however, Powell 1985) indicate a failure or incapability to adapt to ecological deterioration; indeed, a famine is reported under its last king, Ibbi-Sin (2028 - 2004 BC; Jacobsen 1953). External threats were present in the form of recurring invasions by Elamites (Wilcke 1970) and Amorites (Edzard 1957; Buccellati 1966), who themselves may have been forced to migrate southwards into Mesopotamia due to a natural disaster (Weiss et al. 1993). To prevent such nomadic incursions, a defensive wall was built across northern Babylonia in the year Shu-Sin 4 (Edzard 1957: 33). However, even under normal circumstances the extensive bureaucracy necessitated by centralized control and redistribution left very little room to account for internal variabilities; in case of a crisis its inflexibility is likely to have choked the economy (Civil 1991: 38 - 39; Gomi 1984). While the actual end of the Ur III state in Ibbi-Sin's year 24 (2004 B.C.) was caused by an Elamite invasion, the state appeared to have been in decline for several decades: the latest year dates of Ibbi-Sin on texts from various cities (Eshnunna: year 2, Susa: year 3,: Girsu: year 5; Umma: year 6; Nippur: year 7 (Edzard 1957: 45)) indicate a substantial loss of territory early in his reign - all of the defensive zone east of the Tigris and even parts of the core territory.

The Ur III state was succeeded by a number of smaller to medium-sized states struggling for supremacy in Mesopotamia for the next 250 years. The onomasticon of their dynasties clearly indicates an Amorite origin (Edzard 1957: 39 - 43). During Ibbi-Sin's reign a local official, Ishbi-Erra, had declared himself independent from Ur at the city of Isin, founding the First Dynasty of Isin (Falkenstein 1950, Jacobsen 1953, Edzard 1957: 46; Wilcke 1970: 55 - 56, van Dijk 1978). This state was the predominant power in Mesopotamia for the earlier part of the 20th century B.C., until its rival, the city of Larsa, gained increasing power and dominated the political scene until the late 19th century B.C.. Concurrently, a number of other dynasties, such as Uruk, Kazallu, Eshnunna, and Babylon, held control over parts of Mesopotamia (Edzard 1957: 100 - 180). Around 1800 B.C. an Amorite ruler, Shamshi-Addu, gained control over Assyria and Upper Mesopotamia, creating a large, albeit short-lived, empire (Dalley 1984; Wu Yuhong 1994). The struggle for supremacy in Babylonia was finally won by Hammurapi of Babylon when he defeated Larsa in the year 1761 B.C.. The long decline of the Old-Babylonian state, precipitated by environmental or man-made factors, have been studied by Yoffee (1979).

Relatively little research has been done on the state and administration during these periods (see Kraus 1974 for aspects of kingship, Yoffee 1977 for its economic function). A number of kings, especially in the Dynasty of Isin, retained a divine aspect like the Ur III kings (Kraus 1974: 242). A strong emphasis on genealogy has been interpreted as an Amorite trait ("Ostkananäisch ", Kraus 1965, 1974: 254). A fair amount of data on Old Babylonian society is available from a large number of economic and legal texts. Law collections from Isin, Eshnunna, and Babylon supplement the insight into the social structure (Yaron 1988; Roth 1995). It appears that, as in the Ur III period , three major classes are present (awilum, mushkenum, wardum). Whether these should be equated with "free citizen", "serf," and "slave" is as yet a matter of dispute (see Kraus 1973: 288 - 321).

It is apparent that the collapse of the Ur III state and the emergence of its successors form an ideal test case to study origins, mechanisms, and outcome of political collapse. An unparalleled amount of both historical and especially economic textual data allows multivariate insights into its structure. While archaeological data, therefore, is non-essential here for identifying this collapse, it is available in abundance, in particular from sites in the core area itself at Ur, Uruk, and Nippur, allowing a broad comparison between textual and archaeological information. There is less archaeological evidence from the periphery or defensive zone east of the Tigris. An exception to this, however, can be found in the city of Eshnunna which presents an excellent test case fulfilling virtually all requirements outlined above.


III. Eshnunna in the Ur III and Old-Babylonian Period: A Test Case for the Impact of Political Collapse

a) History:

A historical framework for Eshnunna can be pieced together from building inscriptions, year dates, letters, and seal inscriptions both from Eshnunna and elsewhere, thus establishing a relative chronology of 28 rulers over 300 years (2065 - 1762 B.C.). 3 The site itself, modern Tell Asmar, is located east of the Diyala river within the plain some 50 km northeast of modern Baghdad. In the Ur III period it was a well-attested city and capital of an Ur III province with the same name; its location east of the Tigris but close enough to the core area appears to have created an enigmatic situation in the taxation system: while it paid the gún ma-da tax characteristic of the periphery (according to Steinkeller's core-periphery model) it also seems to have been part of the bala system characteristic of the core area (Steinkeller 1991: 19 note 12). Ur III year dates are attested at least from Shulgi's year 30 (2065 B.C.) onwards. Save for a few names of city rulers, not too much is known about Eshnunna in the Ur III period until the rule of Shu-Sin, when a city ruler, Ituria, built a temple for his divine overlord (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1943: 135 - 136 [Building Inscription no. 1]), to which a palace was attached soon afterwards. Ituria was still in power when Ibbi-Sin ascended the throne; however, Eshnunna seems to have broken away from Ur almost immediately afterwards as Ibbi-Sin's year 2 is the latest Ur III date attested in Eshnunna. This break seems to be associated with the succession of Ituria's son Shu-ilija 4; the fact that his name is written with a divine determinative and his assumption of title "king", both of which are exceptions at Eshnunna, indicate that he followed closely the example set by his former masters. Shu-ilija maintained good relationships with Ishbi-Erra of Isin as did his successor Nurahum, who apparently received help from Isin to win a battle against Subartu. The names of two rulers succeeding Nurahum, Kirikiri and Bilalama, appear to be Elamite; indeed, at that time Eshnunna appears to have had fairly close links to Elam. A political overlordship of any other power cannot be detected even though the rulers succeeding Shu-ilija only held the title 'ensí / ishshakum' like contemporary rulers from Mari at Ashur. An ever pressing problem, Amorite incursions, could be assuaged by an intermarriage of Nurahum's daughter with an Amorite family of very high status, a truce which, however, seems to have fallen apart during Bilalama's reign (Whiting 1987: 27). The city was sacked during the time of Bilalama's successor Usurawassu, possibly by Anum-muttabbil 5 of Der, and temporarily may have lost its independence to that city. Not a lot is known for a number of following city rulers (Azuzum, Urninmar, Urningishzida, Ipiqadad I, Abdi-Erah, Shiqlanum, Sharrija, Belakum, Ibalpiel I), a situation that changed with Ibalpiel II, who assumed the royal title again. This resurgence of Eshnunna's power may well be connected to a decline of Isin and Larsa as power bases in the mid-to-late 19th century BC. Ibalpiel's successor .Ipiqadad II kept this title and, as the first ruler since Shu-ilija, assumed divine status, a practice now followed by all remaining rulers of Eshnunna. His son Naramsin expanded Eshnunna's territory considerably into northern Babylonia and possibly even gained temporary control over Ashur. The last ruler, Ibalpiel II, grandson of Naramsin, formed diplomatic ties with Mari in the eyes of Babylon's rising power (Charpin 1991; Joannes 1992). In spite of this, Eshnunna was conquered by Babylonian troops in Hammurapi's year 31 (1762 B.C.), thus ending 250 years of independence.

b) Architectural Evidence:

Excavations were undertaken by the Oriental Institute (Chicago) between 1930 and 1935; most of the archaeological evidence dating to the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods was excavated in an area of 3 hectares in the center of the mound, the core of which is formed by the so-called "Shu-Sin (formerly read 'Gimil-Sin') Temple and the Palace of the Rulers" (pl. 1) which was excavated in two seasons between 1930/31 and 1931/32 (Frankfort 1932, 1933; Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940). It appears that for most of the time this area housed Eshnunna's government or at least parts of its administration. The Shu-Sin Temple was built in the style of a Babylonian Temple with entrances on axis and a broadroom cella. The palace was added shortly after the completion of the temple since its bricks bond with the 'kisu' of the temple (pl. 2 a). Unfortunately, the palace plan for the earliest period is incomplete, unexcavated in virtually all residential sections. A sequence of two thronerooms, parallel to the arrangements in the palaces at Ur and Mari (Heinrich 1984), administrative quarters, and a "palace chapel" dedicated to an unknown deity are clearly identifiable. Successive rulers rebuilt the palace and the Shu-Sin temple at higher level, in the course of which, however, they added and changed the layout of both considerably. Already at the level above the one dated to Ur III/Ituria, the Shu-Sin temple was desecrated and turned into a workshop, thus reflecting a change of political fortune. The palace was rebuilt substantially under Bilalama (pl. 2 b); its violent destruction by heavy burning possibly reflects Eshnunna's confrontation with Der under the rule of Usurawassu. The rather flimsy and incoherent reconstructions dating to the next series of rulers may indicate not only a decline of Eshnunna itself but also a shift away from this building, as the so-called "Azuzum building" farther south on the site may indicate. Very substantial rebuildings at a higher level, undertaken by rulers from Ibalpiel I to Ipiqadad II (pl. 2 c), may indicate Eshnunna's resurgence as a super-regional power, indicated best by the laying of the foundation for the Southern Building, a new unfinished palatial structure south of the Shu-Sin Temple and the palace, by Ipiqadad II. An interesting indication of divine royal ideology is found in the construction of the so-called Naramsin Audience Hall: its function is uncertain but the double-recessed niches along its outer wall give the notion of a religious building (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1943: 100 - 115). Naramsin, who was among the deified rulers of Eshnunna, appears to have picked up an old tradition which had disappeared otherwise from Eshnunna with the collapse of the Ur III state. Unfortunately, site degradation has obliterated the latest phases of the palace.

c) Archaeological Finds:

This building complex proved to be very rich in finds. No exhaustive list is attempted here, but among the most important items were some 1400 tablets - largely economic documents and letters - and inscribed seal impressions. Most of these texts were well stratified and can be correlated with an architectural phase. The economic documents name commodities, business procedures, and names; most of them have year dates. Other objects include terracotta figurines and plaques, seals (mostly cylinder seals but also stamp seals), metal objects (tools / weapons) and numerous kinds of artifacts (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 235 - 243). The finds were divided between the Oriental Institute expedition and the Iraq Department of Antiquities. Virtually all artifacts, therefore, are either in the Oriental Institute Museum or the Iraq Museum. All tablets from the 1930/31 and 1931/32 campaigns are located in the Oriental Institute tablet room.


IV. Research Design

The foregoing discussion should provide sufficient evidence to show that Eshnunna, especially the Shu-Sin Temple and the Palace of the Rulers, is a prime candidate to provide evidence for political developments and material culture before, during, and after a collapse. While keeping the definition of the material flexible, the research will focus primarily on this building complex. The justification for this limitation can be found in the large size of the archaeological assemblage coming from it; moreover, this building housed organs of state organization, state cult, and at times production centers of various specializations; it is therefore likely to provide variegated and - while necessarily incomplete - still representative samples of information. Within the material introduced above the following analytical steps will be taken:

a) Reviewing the Historical Framework:

Since Jacobsen's summary of the historical data in the publication of the final volume on this building complex (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 116 - 200) and Edzard's analysis of this period (Edzard 1957), the Old Babylonian letters from Eshnunna have been published (Whiting 1987), filling in a large number of gaps. This information has been included in Wu Yuhong's recent political history of this period (Wu Yuhong 1994). Any possible synchronism with Babylonian and Assyrian chronology must be examined carefully and incorporated into Eshnunna's sequence. Additional information from the texts found on two other Old Babylonian sites -Tell Harmal (Shaduppum) and Ishchali (Neribtum) - have already been incorporated into Wu Yuhong's study. As available, the result from recent excavations on Old Babylonian sites in the Hamrin region such as Tell Haddad and Tell al-Sib (ancient Me-Turan; Mustafa 1983), Tell Suleima and Tell Yelkhi will also be incorporated (Roaf and Postgate 1979 a and b).

b) Reworking the Stratigraphy:

For their time the stratigraphic observations made by the excavators, H. Frankfort, S. Lloyd and Th. Jacobsen, were remarkably good. However, while intrusive features such a drains or pits were usually carefully analyzed and assigned to their proper phase (see Frankfort in Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 1), the section drawings show that floor lines were assumed to run straight and horizontally, essentially following a 'same height equals same date' system of stratigraphy (id. pl. VIII). The case is further complicated by the fact that different periodizations were used in the site plans (with 6 phases) and sections (with 8 phases), which do not correspond. Artifacts are classified in an even simpler way by giving their position in relation to the burnt palace level dating to Bilalama ("higher" or "lower than Bilalama level"). The process is not helped by the fact that locus numbers often were not changed when digging progressed into a lower phase, so that the exact level from which an artifact came often cannot be determined from the published record. Moreover, the dating of architectural levels to individual rulers often was based on extremely thin evidences, leaving many chances for circular conclusions.6 A more neutral terminology, such as Roman numerals shown in the section drawings, would have been preferable. So far the palace and temple have only been published in three composite plans, each containing two superimposed phases. None of these plans carries any elevations, leaving the reader totally afloat as to the size of depositions between individual phases or slopes in a single phase.

A first step, therefore, will be to sort out the relative stratigraphy of this building. This will be done by using the field notebooks, the locus cards, and the available original plane table sheets which carry the needed elevations. Due to the possibility of re-use, inscribed building material (such as bricks, door sockets etc.) will be used only as a second step. After critical re-evaluation the architectural composite plans will be divided in order to obtain individual phase plans.

c) Re-establishing the Archaeological Provenance of Artifacts:

It has already been pointed out that the identification of an artifact's findspot - especially the attribution to a particular phase - is often hampered by the excavator's continued use of the same locus number beyond a given level. However, when expressing dissatisfaction with the information currently available in print, it has to be pointed out that throughout the excavation the general importance of recording artifact proveniences was well recognized. Often the individual object cards will provide valuable information; in addition, the accession dates on these cards create a link to the relevant field diary entries which may provide more information. An inconsistency observed on the tablet catalogue cards in the first season (1930/31) actually turned out to be helpful for proveniencing the objects: locus numbers consistently were not assigned right away, so the excavator (in this case T. Jacobsen) noted the relative position of each tablet to a visible point such as a vertical drain. This information was then crossed out when the locus number was assigned but luckily can be recovered. So far all reference points could be identified, giving a chance not only to observe vertical, but also horizontal patterns of artifact distributions. By not only using tablet year dates to date levels but also use stratigraphy to put unknown year dates into a chronological framework, Jacobsen's approach was visionary and at that time unprecedented, even though occasionally a bit uncritical. Still, it appears that the original field records, much more than the final publication, will allow the reconstruction of a fairly detailed relative sequence of the artifactual assemblage.

d) Reviewing Artifact Assemblages and their General Significance:

Since the aim of this study is not a comprehensive site publication, no attempt shall be made to analyze each artifact individually; often enough it will be sufficient for the purpose of this study to establish the presence/absence or quantity of particular artifact types. This obviously excludes artifact types whose functional or ideological significance is quintessential to the success of this study (see point e, f below).

e) Cuneiform Texts and "Text-archaeology":

The 1400 cuneiform documents from the area of the Shu-Sin temple and the Palace of the Rulers are the most important source of information for this study. As a corpus they form one of the largest archaeologically well-provenienced text assemblages currently available from the Near East. Thus, they deserve a well thought-out approach which hereafter shall be referred to as "text-archaeology" and will need some explanation:

Some of the basic ideas of this approach have already been laid down by Frankfort and Jacobsen who realized that "... the tablets gained a significance which they could never have possessed if treated in the usual way as mere texts without reference to the circumstances of their discovery and to the exact stratigraphy of Tell Asmar" (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 1). Provenience, though, appears to have been seen as a vertical, not a horizontal, dimension when the excavators state that "... in many cases this material (i.e., the tablets) gained its full value only when studied in relation to the stratigraphic sequence" (ibid., my emphasis). New ideas for the archaeological use of cuneiform documents were outlined by Gibson (1972) and successfully applied by Stone (1981, 1987) and Zettler (1991, 1992), who also provided a model case of incorporating seal impressions into this approach (Zettler 1987). Using their ideas and refining them, I undertook a study on the texts from the Old-Babylonian Mari palace as a test case for text-archaeology which - with over 15000 tablet - certainly represents a prime candidate for this approach (Reichel 1994). By entering information such as provenience, date, business clause(s), sender and receiver of texts or items, sealing person etc. into a database it was possible to do quantitative analyses upon this material, identifying individual archive holders and revealing connections between business clause, business procedures and the findspot of a text. Thus, not only significant new insights into the function of several palace units could be obtained; the "spatial dimension" of many texts revealed information of great relevance which otherwise was not discernible in the texts.

The archeological observations on artifact proveniences at Mari at least in the earlier excavations, though, were mediocre at best. Many texts were published without any findspot and in no case is there any hint on stratigraphic differentiation. Compared to this, the situation at Tell Asmar is much better, making up for a much smaller number of texts.

As pointed out before, most of these texts are business documents - written in Sumerian - such as receipts, accounts, or records of outgoing produce. As in Mari, a number of formulae are used to describe the business (mostly shu ba-ti and zi.ga). These, the names and functions of the persons involved, the nature or object of the business venture, the date, sealings (if applicable), and findspot of these texts will be entered into a database. A first step will be the restoration of the text assemblage as found in the archaeological context.7 The directions of analysis from there will be both horizontal and vertical: on a horizontal level contemporary assemblages will be analyzed for occurrences of the same names and items; the nature of each archive should help to identify the function of the attached institutional unit and help to reconstruct a circulation pattern of goods and information within the buildings. On a vertical level (i.e., stratigraphically within the same spatial unit), changes in the nature of the text assemblages should indicate changes in the functions performed in the respective attached units. Combining the result of both of them, the changes in the functional layout of the palace and temple can be observed and evaluated.

Further analytical and interpretive steps will be described below.

f) "Quintessential" Type-fossils:

Artifacts deemed as 'individually significant' (see above s.v. c)) for the purpose of this study will be studied carefully, using typological, stylistic, and functional criterias. Aside from the obvious questions of spatial distribution (presence / absence / quantity) in a locus, the following questions - using seal impressions as an example - will be asked amongst others:

  • - Seal motive: are there any predominant motives (such as presentation scenes, "King and the Cup") in a particular phase? In any particular room / archive? Attached to any particular profession or transaction? Are there changes throughout time?
  • - Formula of the inscription: what kind of formulae are present? Are they attached to particular profession? Any changes throughout time?
  • - Nature of sealing: what object / container was it attached to? Which names / seal motives occur with which type of sealing? Do the types of sealed objects change throughout time?

Other objects which deserve closer scrutiny in this category are terracotta figurines and plaques. The list will certainly have to be augmented.

g) Identifying Functional Artifact Assemblages and Activity Areas:

While the study of each object type itself is subject to individual approaches, no artificial separations should be created. Assemblages of artifacts, regardless of the variability of their nature, which were found together will have to be examined to gauge functional interrelations. Particularly important is the relationship between cuneiform texts and their archaeological environment. The identification of "activity areas" in archaeological context has been practiced mostly in non-literate societies outside the Near East (cp. Kent 1984, 1987, 1990), but promising attempts have been made in the Near East at Arslantepe (Turkey) in the Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age I period (Frangipane and Palmieri 1983) and at Nippur for the Old Babylonian period (Franke 1987).

h) Integrating the Data:

The combination of all the evidence obtained in this analysis should help to identify the functional layout of palace and temple in each period involved. This will help to address the following issues:

  • 1. Nature of the institution(s): What kind of institutions are involved in the administration and use of the palace and temple? Do palace and temple as such form one institution or 'household'? At times of external control (Ur III), does it form part of a larger "Royal Household"? Which ideological values are attached to these institutions (such as the Shu-Sin temple)? Do these values change and how?
  • 2. Administrative procedures: What do the administrative procedures reveal about the social and economic setup within these buildings? Do the observed transactions reflect closed redistributive systems (e.g., the bala system) or an open, free flow of goods or items? When do changes occur? How do they manifest themselves?
  • 3. Spheres and action radii: How are the spheres of action of each institution defined? Do they extend beyond the palace, across the province, the Ur III state, or even into foreign states? How do these spheres change from Ur III to the Old-Babylonian period?
  • 4. Behavioral patterns: What does the artifact assemblage tell about the people working or living in this complex? Are there substantial changes in subsistence (changes in pottery and tool assemblages) or ritual / religious beliefs (changes in religious / ritual artifacts such as terracotta figurines and reliefs)? What do the texts tell about social interconnections (family bonds / tribal interrelationships?) and social status?
  • 5. Ethnicity: What does the onomasticon gathered from these texts indicate about the ethnicity of people involved in the administration of this complex? Do changes occur (such as the appearance of Amorite and Elamite names)? Are certain groups characteristic of certain functions within the administration?
  • 6. Ideology: What is the nature of the state administered here? What is the nature of the rulership (deified king, city ruler etc.)? How is this reflected in the monumental art (architecture) and small-scale art (seals)? Are there changes? How do they manifest themselves?

i) Outlook and Prospect of Interdisciplinary Validity of the Results:

The integrated picture drawn from these observations cannot may not general enough to devise a universal model explaining cultural change in cases of political collapse. However, new insights from this study will certainly help to explain the various processes surrounding such a phenomenon in a complex society. It is hoped that such an attempted synthesis in a literate society will allow us to devise useful paradigms for collapse research in non-literate societies by helping to identify and explain phenomena which are not apparent solely from an archaeological context, thus making an important contribution to the general understanding of an important developmental process.

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Sources for the Illustrations

pl. 1 Delougaz and Hill and Lloyd 1967 pl. 23

pl. 2a Frankfort and Lloyd and Jacobsen 1940 pl. 1

pl. 2b Frankfort and Lloyd and Jacobsen 1940 pl. 4

pl. 2c Frankfort and Lloyd and Jacobsen 1940 pl. 6


All the illustrations included in this paper are reproduced courtesy of The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

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Notes

*In accordance with the rules of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago this dissertation proposal was approved by the dissertation committee and successfully defended at a public hearing. The members of the committee are:

  • McGuire Gibson (Advisor)
  • Miguel Civil
  • David Schloen

This document was published on-line for the first time on 11 June 1997, courtesy of the Oriental Institute Research Archives. The only changes from the version approved by the Faculty of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations include minor editorial corrections, normalization of the typographical presentation of ancient names, and some small changes to accommodate the HTML encoding. HTML encoding was done by Charles E. Jones


1 Note: My subsequent use of the terms "empire," "center," "periphery" is customary and will not be explained in any detail here. No positive or negative value is meant to be attached to any of them.

2 See Gadd 1971 for a comprehensive, though not recent, summary.

3 Unless otherwise specified, this summary follows Jacobsen in Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940, Edzard 1957 and Wu Yuhong 1994.

4 For this reading of the name as opposed to Ilushuilija see Whiting 1977b and Wu Yuhong 1994.

5 Read Ilum-mutappil by Wu Yuhong.

6 So, for example, the date of the original palace building to Shu-Ilija is based on one broken impression of his seal found "...beneath a mass of brickwork" (Frankfort, Lloyd, and Jacobsen 1940: 32, 144 no. 8).

7 For a comprehensive definition of the term "archive", which has been avoided here, see Veenhof 1986.


CLEMENS REICHEL ©1996, 1997
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations