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Neo-Assyrian Archival Texts from Šibaniba

Tell Billa

The archaeological site of Tell Billa is located in the environs of the modern town of Bashiqa in northern Iraq. A small site of about 12 hectare, it corresponds to the Assyrian city of Šibaniba, as the frequent mention of this place name in the Middle and Neo-Assyrian clay tablets excavated there demonstrates.


A stele of Šamši-Adad V [/riao/Q004738/] of Assyria (823–811 BC) from Kalhu (BM 118892; 1856-09-09, 0063), which mentions the city of Šibaniba as one of twenty-seven cities rebelling against his father Shalmaneser III from 826 BC onwards. Photo Credit: Trustees of the British Museum [ ].

Šibaniba was situated in the fertile agricultural lands east of the Tigris, about 17 km northeast of Nineveh [/atae/nineveh/] and 13 km southeast of Dur-Šarrukin []. In the Middle Assyrian Period, there was certainly a separate province of Šibaniba, and the thirteenth-century-BC archive of sixty-seven tablets from Tell Billa, which dates to the reigns of Shalmaneser I and Tukulti-Ninurta I, illustrates aspects of the workings of the provincial administration at that time. However, in the first millennium BC, there was no separate province of Šibaniba, and the supposed mention of an otherwise unattested "Balaṭu, [governor of] Šibaniba," as year eponym is an erroneous reconstruction of a broken passage in a grant fragment of Adad-nerari III [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/adadnarariiii/index.html] (810–783 BC; SAA 12 11 [/atae/P336250]; see K. Radner, Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischer Archäologie 11 [2008]: 66 no. 85). After the foundation of Dur-Šarrukin as the new capital by Sargon II [] (721–705 BC), Šibaniba was certainly part of the province attached to that city. As this new territory was most likely established by dividing the holdings of the province of Nineveh, we may assume that Šibaniba was part of that administrative unit prior to the foundation of Dur-Šarrukin in 717 BC.


An administrative list enumerating the households of 125 "craftsmen from Šibaniba" (LÚ.ki-it-ki-ta-te [ša URU].ši-ba-ni-be): Billa 085 [/atae/szibaniba/P282766] = University Museum Philadelphia, UM 33-58-085. Photo credit: CDLI [].

The archaeological site of Tell Billa was first noted and briefly explored by Austen Henry Layard in 1850 during his long years of investigating nearby Nineveh. Systematic excavations were undertaken at Tell Billa from 1930–34 by the Joint Excavation of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the University Museum, led by Ephraim A. Speiser and Charles Bache on behalf of the Baghdad School and the University of Pennsylvaniain Philadelphia. As a result, finds from Tell Billa are today kept in Philadelphia at the University Museum [] , including the twenty-two Neo-Assyrian cuneiform texts that were discovered in a sounding on the southwestern part of the settlement mound.


The only legal text among the ninth century BC cuneiform documents from Šibaniba: Billa 068 [/atae/szibaniba/P2827496] = University Museum Philadelphia, UM 33-58-068. Photo credit: CDLI [].

These Neo-Assyrian texts were published by Jacob J. Finkelstein in 1953, and they all date to the period of 853–826 BC during the reign of Shalmaneser III [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/shalmaneseriii/index.html] (858–824 BC). On the stele [/riao/Q004738/] of his son and successor Šamši-Adad V [/riao/theassyrianempire883745bc/shamshiadadv/index.html] (823–811 BC) from Kalhu, Šibaniba is listed among twenty-seven Assyrian cities that had rebelled against the aged king Shalmaneser from 826 BC onwards in support of the prince Aššur-da''in-aplu, who had seemingly grown impatient with waiting to inherit the throne from his frail father and did not trust the growing power of the commander-in-chief Dayyan-Aššur. The ensuing years of war lasted until 820 BC [/saao/saas2/Q007771.42#Q007771.37] and brought to the throne not Aššur-da''in-aplu, but his brother Šamši-Adad V. We likely owe the preservation of the small Neo-Assyrian archive from Tell Billa to the punitive action taken against the insurrectionists at Šibaniba: the administrative building housing the archive went up in flames, and this led to the firing of the otherwise unbaked clay tablets, which were thus not destroyed but made more durable. Nevertheless, many of the texts were found smashed to pieces.

As these tablets all date to the second half of the ninth century BC, the Neo-Assyrian texts from Šibaniba are considerably earlier than the bulk of the other available archival material of the Assyrian Empire, which was written in the eighth and seventh century BC. Most of the Šibaniba texts are administrative lists dealing with matters of taxation, enumerating, for example, settlements, people, horses, sheep and textiles in connection to various kinds of taxes including ilku (public work obligation), nusahu (tax on grain) and tibnu (ŠE.IN.NU; tax on straw). The texts are therefore a key source of information on Assyrian administrative practices in the ninth century BC.

Only one tablet (Billa 068 [/atae/szibaniba/P282749]) is a legal text and documents the lease of a field in 830 BC for the period of six years. As is typical for such arrangements in the Neo-Assyrian documentation, the field is described as being placed as a pledge (šapartu) in order to secure a debt of five minas of bronze. The Assyrian Empire relied on a bronze-based economy until the late eighth century BC when Sargon II [] captured the silver mines in the Taurus mountains as well as over sixty tons of silver of the state treasury of Carchemish, conquered in 717 BC. The resultant enormous influx of silver permanently changed the Assyrian economy to a silver-based system that was based on the silver standard of Carchemish.

Click here [/atae/szibaniba/pager] to browse the Šibaniba corpus.

The aim of the Šibaniba sub-project of ATAE is to make the published Neo-Assyrian archival texts from Tell Billa 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/Šibaniba presently includes Neo-Assyrian sources edited and discussed in the following publications:

As work on this group of texts is still in the early stages of preparation, please bear with us while we work on this material. Over the course of 2021, we will add English translations, as well as lemmatize the texts.

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.

Home Page banner credit

Satellite image of the ruins of Šibaniba (modern Tell Billa).

Karen Radner

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

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ATAE/Šibaniba, 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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