Introduction

The corpus of treaties edited in the present volume represents only a small fraction of all the treaties once concluded by the Neo-Assyrian emperors. Many treaties recorded on papyrus and leather were burnt to ashes during the destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C., [[1]] and innumerable treaties on clay and stone have either been destroyed or remain buried in the ruins of Assyrian palaces in Nineveh and elsewhere. Even the few extant texts edited here are only fragmentarily preserved. A mere glance at the diagrams on pp. XLIVf will reveal that large chunks of text have broken away from almost all of them, and every one of them has suffered at least some sort of textual damage.

Of course, the state of preservation of these documents has nothing to do with their intrinsic value as authentic treaties of an ancient superpower which once held in its iron grip half of the civilized world. To bring out their significance fully, one may add that the might of that superpower was to a very significant extent based on this very type of document, and that some of the treaties that helped it rule the world are actually included in the present volume.

Having access to such documents in the form of originals is a rare privilege indeed, considering that we do not possess a single copy of a treaty concluded by imperial Rome. In fact, precious few original treaties are available from ancient times altogether,[[2]] and none of the ancient states from which treaties are available can match the Assyrian empire at the apex of its power in significance. The treaties edited in the present volume span a period of 200 years from about 825 to 625 B.C., the time of Assyria's greatest territorial expansion, and they give first-hand testimony of how that expansion was achieved and how it was maintained.

Almost all the treaties included in the present edition have been previously available in English translation. However, most of the texts have been scattered in many specialized scholarly publications, which has made them in practice inaccessible for the general reader, and many of the available editions suffer from various inaccuracies and flaws, which has rendered a serious study of the genre difficult even for the specialist. It is hoped that the present volume, which is the first comprehensive edition of the whole Neo-Assyrian treaty corpus, will ameliorate this situation by making this important body of texts accessible in its entirety both for the specialist and the non-specialist in a reliable and easy-to-use edition.

It is clear that future excavations both in museums and in the field will add to the corpus and render the present edition obsolete in due course. However, we believe that for the moment and the immediate future, this edition will serve an important function. Many things which seemed to be obscure in the past become understandable once the texts are put together in a coherent Fashion. One of the myths that the present volume is sure to bury is the popular notion of Assyria as a primitive and crude military power. We believe this notion should be replaced by one of a superpower relying on power politics rather than arms, but prefer to leave that for the reader himself or herself to judge. The purpose of the following introduction is to put together the basic facts needed for making the texts speak for themselves to an attentive reader.



1 See A. H. Layard, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (London 1853), 153-159, for clay sea!ings of destroyed papyrus and leather documents discovered in Nineveh, including a bulla bearing the impressions of royal Egyptian (Shabako II) and Assyrian signet rings and thus almost certainly once attached to a treaty between the two countries.

2 Apart from the Neo-Assyrian treaties edited in this volume, about 35 cuneiform treaty fragments (twenty Hittite fragments, six fragments from Alalakh, several fragments from Ugarit, and possibly one Middle Assyrian fragment) are extant from the 2nd millennium B.C., see R. Borger, Handbuch der Keilschriftliteratur III (1975), p. 41. The only treaty extant from Egypt is the Hattusili-Ramses treaty edited by K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions II (Oxford 1977), p. 225ff. The oldest surviving treaties are the Treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Elam (W. Hinz, ZA 58 [1967] 66ff) from c. 2250 B.C. and the Treaty of Ebla (E. Sollberger, Studi Eblaiti 3 [1980] 129ff, see W. G. Lambert in L. Cagni (ed.), Ebla 1975-1985. Atti del convegno internationale [Napoli 1987], 353ff) about 2400 B.C.

Simo Parpola

Simo Parpola, 'Introduction', Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths, SAA 2. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1988; online contents: SAAo/SAA02 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 [http://oracc.org/introduction/]

 
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