History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Syria


Bit Adini / Beit Eden / Barsib (Syria)
Incorporating Muşri & Masuwari

The Semitic-speaking Aramaeans, former pastoralists in northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia, occupied various areas in ancient Syria in the eleventh and tenth centuries BC. This only became possible once the Assyrian influence of the 'Middle Kingdom' which was keeping them at bay had faded. One such group took a former Luwian stronghold in northern Syria which may have been known as Masuwari, thanks to local inscriptions which were written in Luwian. However, Masuwari may instead be the Luwian spelling of the name of a region which was known as Muşri (Musri) in some Middle Assyrian texts, and the stronghold may also have borne that name as its key garrison.

The Aramaeans may have gained the entire (relatively small) region along with the stronghold and they named it - seemingly after their leader, Adin - as Bit Adini. This was a small state at the heart of which was the stronghold itself, Till Barsip, now the modern village of Tell Ahmar or Tall al-Ahmar which stands on the site of the capital. Occupation of the site had begun in the fifth millennium BC, but greatness of any description was only achieved in the first millennium BC.

The 'Beit Eden' version of the name is the one used in the Old Testament (Amos 1:5), during the exposition of the words of Amos, one of the shepherds from the town of Tekoa (a small town in the highlands of Judah, fifteen kilometres south of Jerusalem). This event is generally assumed to have taken place in the second half of the eighth century BC, by which time Aramaean control had been replaced by that of renewed Assyrian control. However, 'Beit Eden' may instead be a name of mockery for Damascus, meaning 'city of delight'.

Within a century or so of their arrival, the new Aramaean rulers of Bit Adini had formed a tribal city state by that name which held some importance during the ninth century BC, although its existence is very poorly recorded. The city was situated on both sides of a crossing point on the Euphrates which was probably already in use, and would therefore be an ideal place to control trade between the Levant and Mesopotamia. At first, Bit Adini may have been controlled by the city of Hamath.

The ruins of Alalakh in Syria

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Dr Victoria Clayton (with thanks for photo reproduction), from A New Luwian Stele and the Cult of the Storm-God at Til Barsib-Masuwari, Guy Bunnens & Isabelle Leirens, from Til-Barsip and its Cuneiform Inscriptions, R Campbell Thompson (PSBA, Vol 34, pp 66-74, 1912), and from External Links: Bible Gateway (Expanded Bible (EXB)), and AncientFigurines.com, and Til Barsib (The History of the Ancient Near East).)

c.900 BC

Bit Adini, on the eastern border of the territory of Carchemish (although about twenty kilometres south of the city itself), may achieve independence around this date, if indeed it has at all previously been controlled by Hamath.

A former Luwian stronghold, it has been dominated by more recent arrivals - Aramaeans - for up to a century. Adin, its eponymous 'founder' may not be a ninth century figure - his name could be connected with his growing clan as their clan name for as much as two centuries beforehand.

Tell Ahmar/Tell Barsnip
This view shows the site of Tell Ahmar (ancient Barsib or Till-Barsip) from above the River Euphrates in the 1990s, although today part of the site is under water (click or tap on image to view full sized)

fl early 800s BC


Founder of the Aramaean stronghold? Renamed it?

883 BC

A man from Bit Adini is installed as king in the rebellious city of Suru. He seems to be unnamed but two dynasties are earlier known to have completed for control of Masuwari itself.

What may have been the legitimate dynasty (possibly Aramaean) seems to have been overthrown by a usurper (almost certainly Aramaean) whose son, Hamiyata, had promised to restore the rightful heir to the throne, and his own son had been unable to overthrow that decision by force.

al c.876 - 858 BC

Ahuni / Akhuni bar Adin

Son or tribal descendant? Made Bit Adini a principality.

Where this leaves Akhuni in terms of the line of descent is anyone's guess by this stage, but it is possible that one of the less fortunate contenders for command of Bit Adini could now be sent to command Suru. The use of the Luwian Masuwari (and Luwian script) for the inscription which relates this story could be a traditional practice which has not yet accepted the change of name to Bit Adini (and the Aramaeans have no written script of their own with which to replace Luwian).

877 - 876 BC

Bit Adini becomes involved in the Assyrian hostilities against Laqe. The following year, Assyria leads a punitive campaign against Bit Adini's fastness of Kaprabu which lies to the east of the Euphrates. Bit Adini's ruler, Akhuni, is first mentioned at this time, when he submits to Assyria and pays tribute.

c.870 BC

Ashurnasirpal II crosses the Euphrates with his Assyrian army, erupting into Syria and completing his conquest of much of it. The Assyrians are now the dominant force in the region, despite attempts to peg them back, but now Ashurnasirpal takes further tribute from Akhuni.

Assurbanipal II hunting a lion
Ashurnasirpal II undertook the expansion and recovery of Assyria following general social collapse and a short dark page period between about 1200-900 BC

858 - 856 BC

The Assyrians under Shalmaneser III conquer Bit Adini after a series of campaigns against a coalition of Aramaeans and neo-Hittite states. It becomes their provincial capital under the name of Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared.

The ruling family is apparently removed from power, although their fate is unknown. An Assyrian governor is installed in their place, although this may well be the same person, sworn to loyalty. Shalmaneser then takes his army north and east into Urartu to combat that threat to his northern borders.

Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared / Till Barsib (Syria)

The Semitic-speaking Aramaeans had graduated from pastoralists in northern Syria and northern Mesopotamia following the thirteenth century BC climate-induced social collapse. Amongst the victims of this collapse were the states of Anatolia - including the Hittites - and many in Syria too. Aramaeans were able to occupy various areas in ancient Syria in the eleventh and tenth centuries BC once the Assyrian influence of the 'Middle Kingdom' had also faded, again due to the collapse.

Under the command of Shalmaneser III, in the period between 858-856 BC the Assyrians came back to regain control of Syria. They conquered the small but strategically important state of Bit Adini (controlled from Till Barsib, modern Tell Ahmar) during a series of campaigns against a coalition of Aramaeans and neo-Hittite states in the region. The city had been a Luwian stronghold which was one of those to be taken over by Aramaeans during the short post-collapse dark age. Within a century or so of that takeover they had formed a tribal city state which held some importance during the ninth century BC.

Following Assyrian conquest Till Barsib became their provincial capital and garrison town under the name of Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared. The former ruling family was apparently removed from power, but it may have been they who were reinstalled as Assyrian governors, sworn to loyalty.

At least at an administrative level, the Assyrians also replaced the Aramaean name of Bit-Adini with an Assyrian name (alternatively shown in modern sources as Kar-Shulmanashared, which meant 'Quay of Shalmaneser'). The city's name at the local level may still have been the original Luwian one of Masuwari, although Til Barsib also persisted in general use. The city itself was already thoroughly Assyrianised: the palace was decorated with frescoes representing the same type of scenes which could be found in stone reliefs at Kalhu, one of the Assyrian capital cities.

The ruins of Alalakh in Syria

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Dr Victoria Clayton, from A New Luwian Stele and the Cult of the Storm-God at Til Barsib-Masuwari, Guy Bunnens & Isabelle Leirens, from Eden, Bit Adini, and Beth Eden, Alan Millard, from Til-Barsip and its Cuneiform Inscriptions, R Campbell Thompson (PSBA, Vol 34, pp 66-74, 1912), and from External Link: AncientFigurines.com.)

856 - c.800 BC


Unknown Assyrian governors.

fl c.800?


Father of Shamshi-ilu. Assyrian governor?

c.790s - 745 BC

Shamshi-ilu (bar Gayah?)

Son of Gayah? Assyrian regional governor.

c.796 BC

Shamshi-ilu (possibly the son of one Gayah who is otherwise unknown) is perhaps the most powerful man of his time, one of a small group of almost equally powerful magnates - princes who govern Assyria under the sovereignty of Adad-Nirari and his three immediate successors.

Making Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared his base (otherwise known, possibly, as Masuwari, and generally as Til Barsib), he campaigns west of the Euphrates on his own behalf without reference to the king. The scope of his actions and the tone of his inscriptions would seem to make him more than a provincial governor, and his conquests around this time include the once-powerful Damas.

Tell Barsnip frieze
This frieze shows a procession of servants at Tell Barsnip and, having been dated between around 800-600 BC, it is highly likely that it was created during the period of Assyrian domination (External Link: Creative Commons Licence)

fl c.750s BC?


Assyrian governor of Masuwari under Shamshi-ilu?

Ninurta-bel-usur seems to be of local origin, and he uses a phraseology which is very similar to that of a ruler. It is quite possible that Masuwari-Bit-Adini's local rulers had been left in place following the Assyrian conquest, while Shamshi-ilu remains free to campaign far and wide in defence of Assyria under his own semi-independent terms.

752 BC

The Aramaeans had brought a new method of writing with them, on parchment, leather, or papyrus, and its success now sees their language, Aramaic, supplant ancient Assyrian, although in a heavily Akkadian-influenced manner. Aramaic is made the second official language of the Assyrian empire.

750s? BC

Urartu has been continuing a series of conquests, being victorious against Assyria and conquering the northern part of Syria, and making Urartu the most powerful state in the post- Hittite Near East. However, Shamshi-ilu does score a victory in battle against Urartu before 745 BC, as is recorded by a report on inscriptions of stone lions guarding the gateways at Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared. It makes no mention of his master, the Assyrian king.

745 BC

Tiglath-Pileser's ascension to the Assyrian throne marks a change in how the empire is governed. He rules in a far more direct fashion than any other Assyrian king of this century, taking personal command of the various campaigns and removing the princes who had taken so much authority upon themselves.

Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria
Tiglath-Pileser III dominated the Levantine city states during the later years of the eighth century BC, terminating the kingdom of Samaria and, shown here, with his foot on the shoulder of Hanunu of the Philistine city of Gezer, a gesture of dominance in the face of Hanunu's crouched submission

The indirect governance of Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared as a base for Shamshi-ilu, the all-but independent Assyrian king of the west, is also ended.

612 BC

With the fall of Assyria, Barsib is now controlled by Nabopolasser of the new Babylonian empire. It never regains its former importance (or independence), but it does seem to retain the popularity of its Aramaean name in favour of the imposed Assyrian one, with Til Barsib now being known as Tell Barsnip (a tell being a mound which had formed the foundations of a settlement or which forms the only remains of it).

The site today is largely under water, or at least three sides of it are, but new archaeological information may still be gained thanks to ongoing investigations by the University of Liege.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.