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Neo-Assyrian Archival Texts from Marqasu


Until 711 BC, the city of Marqasu (modern Kahramanmaraş, before 1973: Maraş) was the capital of the kingdom of Gurgum. In that year, Sargon II of Assyria (721–705 BC) conquered the country and transformed it into the province of Marqasu, known by the name of its administrative centre and the seat of the Assyrian governor. The annexation of Gurgum was part of the Assyrian Empire's expansion deep into Anatolia [] that had cost Carchemish its independence in 717 BC and would later bring an end to the kingdom of Kummuhu in 708 BC (transformed into the Border March of the Commander-In-Chief of the Left, i.e. of the Euphrates river). The specific reason that Sargon gives in his inscriptions for the attack on Gurgum is the assassination of his client, King Tarhulara of Gurgum, and the subsequent usurpation of his son Muttallu who objected to his father's pro-Assyrian politics; the empire's invasion put an end to any attempt to align Gurgum with the rival powers of Phrygia [] and Urartu [].


The ancient settlement mound at the heart of Kahramanmaraş, with the famous rectangular fortress on top. Photo by Dosseman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since 1998, Neo-Assyrian clay tablets from Marqasu have appeared on the art market, all private legal documents. Their origin is clear because many of these legal texts mention the city explicitly. Thus, the sellers of two women are identified as a deputy and a scribe "from Marqasu" (no. 23 [/atae/marqasu/P522568]); fields and gardens in Marqasu are the subject of two contracts (nos. 22, 30 [/atae/marqasu/P522567,P522575]) while the interest for three grain loans has to be paid "at the threshing floor in Marqasu" (nos. 11–13 [/atae/marqasu/P522556,P522557,P522558]). Most interestingly, in a dispute concerning some women, the parties are said to have assembled "in Marqasu" where the case is then decided (no. 34 [/atae/marqasu/P522579]); it is contested whether or whether not these women were removed with proper authorization from a household in the Phoenician port of Sidon, a city that is situated ca. 300 km south of Marqasu. This highlights the ease with which the subjects of the Assyrian crown could conduct long distance business and also that a common law bound them all together.

Some of the texts mention the city of Marqasu in the penalty clauses that stipulate what the consequences of breaking the contract would be. Such clauses habitually favour the locally worshipped gods, and we therefore know that the most important deities of Marqasu were a god whose name is spelled dU.GUR and a goddess whose name is spelled dIŠ.TAR in these texts. The clauses stipulate that the guilty party would have to "tie four horses at the feet of the god dU.GUR residing in Marqasu" (no. 1 [/atae/marqasu/P522546]), "place ten / twenty minas of (refined) silver and one / two (pure) mina(s) of gold in the lap of the god dU.GUR of Marqasu / residing in Marqasu" (nos. 15, 17, 28 [/atae/marqasu/P522560,P522562,P522573]), or "place ten minas of refined silver and five minas of pure gold in the lap of the goddess dIŠ.TAR who resides in Marqasu" (no. 27 [/atae/marqasu/P522572]).


Runtiya, the Luwian god of the hunt, on the Karasu relief (named after the nearby river). Photo by Klaus-Peter Simon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In an Assyrian cultural context, dU.GUR stands for Nergal, the god of the netherworld. In text no. 1 [/atae/marqasu/P522546], the clause invoking "dU.GUR residing in Marqasu" is followed by the stipulation to "place one mina of gold in the lap of Laṣ (dla-aṣ)"; and in Assyria, this goddess was the spouse of Nergal. The divine couple is, for example, mentioned among the gods by whom the succession treaty of Esarhaddon of Assyria (680–669 BC) is sworn [/saao/saa02/P336039.160#P336039.155]. It is therefore possible that also "dIŠ.TAR residing in Marqasu" in text no. 27 [/atae/marqasu/P522572] refers to Laṣ, rather than to the goddess Ištar, because the spelling is frequently used as a catch-all designation for female deities.

As Marqasu was a traditionally Luwian city, we should also consider the possibility that the Assyrian Nergal was identified with Runtiya, the Luwian god of the hunt who had a close association with death and dying. In relative proximity to Marqasu, near an important crossing point of the river Karasu, there is a rock relief of this deity standing on his sacred animal, the stag, that dates to the early first millennium BC. Runtiya was also worshipped in nearby Kummuhu, where his consort was the goddess Ala-Kubaba.

Altogether, forty-six douments from the Neo-Assyrian period are currently known from Marqasu: forty-four written in cuneiform and Assyrian, and one in the alphabetic script and Aramaic (no. 35 [/atae/marqasu/P522580]); there is also an uninscribed clay lump with a stamped seal impression (no. 46 [/atae/marqasu/P522591]). Five of these tablets are in the collection of the Kahramanmaraş Museum of Archaeology (= nos. 7, 17, 27–28, 31 [/atae/marqasu/P522552,P522562,P522572,P522573,P522576]). Three tablets were purchased by the Erimtan Museum of Archaeology and Art in Ankara (= nos. 4, 8, 17 [/atae/marqasu/P522549,P522553,P522562]) and two more tablets by Mustafa Demir whose private collection is registered at the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology (= nos. 10, 32 [/atae/marqasu/P522555,P522577]). One more tablet is currently known only from photographs that circulated in 1998 on the art market (= no. 18 [/atae/marqasu/P522563]). Thirty-our tablets, and thus the majority of the known texts, as well as the clay sealing, are kept in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

The known texts cover almost the entire period of Marqasu's Assyrian occupation. The oldest text dates to the year 703 BC (no. 42 [/atae/marqasu/P522587]) early in the reign of Sennacherib (704-681 BC) and the latest text to the year of Nabû-tapputu-alik (no. 14 [/atae/marqasu/P522559]) who served as year eponym late in the reign of Sîn-šarru-iškun (ca. 626-612 BC), shortly before the disintegration of the Assyrian Empire.

Click here [/atae/marqasu/pager] to browse the Marqasu corpus.

The aim of the Marqasu sub-project of ATAE is to make the published Neo-Assyrian archival texts from Kahramanmaraş available online for free in a fully searchable and richly annotated (lemmatized) format, as well as to widely disseminate, facilitate, and promote the active use of these important cuneiform sources in academia and beyond. ATAE/Marqasu presently includes Neo-Assyrian sources edited in the following publication: C. Günbattı, S. Çeçen, L.G. Gökçek, and F. Akyüz, Kahramanmaraş'ta Bulunmuş Yeni Asurca Tabletler, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 2020. Buy the book here []. The open-access editions of the Neo-Assyrian texts edited in that book are presented here with the kind permission of its authors Günbattı, Çeçen, Gökçek, and Akyüz, who provided the ATAE team with an electronic copy of the manuscript, as well as preliminary English translations of most of the texts. The corpus has been completely lemmatized (linguistically annotated) and all of the texts have been translated into English. Note that the original Turkish translations also accompany the transliterations.

This volume brings together edition of thirty-nine texts that are published for the first time with new editions of seven tablets that had been the subject of previous studies:

ATAE is a key component of the Archival Texts of the Middle East in Antiquity (ATMEA) sub-project of the LMU-Munich-based Munich Open-access Cuneiform Corpus Initiative [] (MOCCI; directed by Karen Radner and Jamie Novotny). Funding for the ATAE corpus project has been provided by LMU Munich and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (through the establishment of the Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East).

For further details, see the "About the project" [/atae/abouttheproject/index.html] page.

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A street view of the ruins of the ancient settlement mound of Marqasu in the heart of Kahramanmaraş, with the famous rectangular fortress on top.

Karen Radner

Karen Radner, 'Neo-Assyrian Archival Texts from Marqasu', Neo-Assyrian Archival Texts from Marqasu, The ATAE/Marqasu Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

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ATAE/Marqasu, 2021-. ATAE is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-21.
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