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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Mesopotamia


City of Gasur / Nuzi (Mesopotamia)

Towards the end of the Sumerian period in ancient Mesopotamia, Sargon 'the Great' created an Akkadian empire which truly unified Sumer and Akkad - administratively - for the first time ever. A military victory which was won by his grandson, Naram-Sin, was immortalised on a stele of pink limestone which is now exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The city of Gasur in Mesopotamia was located to the south-west of modern Kirkuk (now in Iraq), near the Tigris. It seems to have been founded by the Akkadians in the twenty-fourth century BC. This would have been under the rule of Sargon 'the Great' himself, during a remarkable career of conquering his opponents from sea to sea: Mediterranean to Persian Gulf. This particular city's recorded history in this period is sparse though, while it was being built up from nothing.

The second millennium BC brought the city increased activity. It was renamed Nuzi (or Nuzu) when it was occupied by the Hurrians of Arrapha after around 2000 BC, although that name could theoretically be a contortion of the original rather than an actual renaming. Seemingly thanks to this occupation it became a prosperous community and an important administrative centre. It had its own 'mayor' who was dependent upon the Hurrian king of Arrapha. From about 1500 to 1350 BC Nuzi was on the outskirts of the powerful Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni (still with its own mayor). Mitanni, though was weakened by defeats at the hands of Egypt and the Hittites, before it was absorbed into the expanding Assyrian kingdom.

The Hurrian period of Nuzi's history is well known because those levels of the modern archaeological site of Yorgan Tepe (or Yorghan Tepe - ancient Nuzi) have been fully excavated. That history is closely interrelated with the histories of the nearby towns of Eshnunna and Khafajah. However, the city's earlier history as Gasur remains less clear thanks to only limited digs at these levels.

The Standard of Ur

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000 to 500 BC, John Haywood (Barnes & Noble, 2000), from The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC, Amélie Kuhrt (Volumes I & II, Routledge, 2000), from The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, Colon McEvedy (which misses the period 1600-1300 BC but shows a Mitanni kingdom in 1300-1000 BC, by which time it had certainly disappeared - Penguin Books, 1967, revised 2002), from Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, Michael Road (Facts on File, 2000), from Ancient Iraq, Georges Roux (Penguin Books, 1992), from The Hurrians, Gernot Wilhelm (Aris & Philips Warminster 1989), from Naming Names: The 2004 Season of Excavations at Ancient Urkesh, Giorgio & Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (via the Institute of Archaeology, UCLA), from A History of the Ancient Near East c.3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop (Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2007), and from External Link: Nuzi (Alchetron).)

c.2334 - 2279 BC

Sargon, 'whose [probable] father, La'ibum (or Itti-Bel), was a gardener, the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa of Kish, founded Agade', claims to be the first king to unite Mesopotamia (Sumer and Akkad), although Enshakushanna of Uruk had already achieved that.

Sargon the Great
Sargon the Great, the warrior king of apparently humble origins, unified Sumer for the first time in recorded history through a series of campaigns and the defeat of the current holder of Sumer's equivalent of a high kingship

His exploits create a realm which stretches from Anatolia and the Mediterranean, covering the Amorites (Martu) west of the Euphrates, up to Apum in northern Mesopotamia, and over to Elam in the east and Oman in the south. It is possibly he who is responsible for the destruction of Mari, while he also founds the new city of Gasur.

c.2000 BC

Having emerged as a recognisable group during the short dark age of the twenty-second century BC, the Hurrians have already founded kingdoms at Urkesh and Nawar, based around the two cities of the same name in northern Mesopotamia.

Around this time, 2000 BC, they also form the small state of Arrapha in the same region, seemingly after coming to dominate the city and form the majority population at the expense of the Assyrians who had previously dominated here. This state also includes the nearby city of Nuzi, which is governed by a mayor who is dependent upon Arrapha.

c.1350 BC

Perhaps a decade before this date the Hurrians of Mitanni had been devastatingly defeated by the Hittites in a shock reversal of fortunes. Also losing territory in Syria to the Hittites, the Hurrians now became Hittite vassals and their kingdom rapidly declines.

Nuzi map
The town of Gasur (now the archaeological site of Yorgan Tepe, shown here in sketch form) was apparently founded during the Akkadian empire period in the late third millennium BC, before being taken over by Hurrians who renamed it Nuzi (or simply mangled the original name)

A confused period develops with rival claimants and short-lived rulers hastening the process of decline. Tushratta of Mitanni is assassinated around this time, possibly by his successor, sparking a fresh dynastic struggle which allows the resurgent Assyrians to reclaim the important administrative centre of Nuzi on the edge of the kingdom. It seems likely that Arrapha is lost at the same time when it is destroyed by the Assyrians. Nuzi subsequently declines in importance.

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