Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.02.05 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.02.05

Alexa Bartelmus, Katja Sternitzke (ed.), Karduniaš. Babylonia under the Kassites 1: The Proceedings of the Symposium held in Munich, 30 June to 2 July 2011. Untersuchungen zur Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie, 11.   Boston, MA; Berlin:  De Gruyter, 2017.  Pp. xii, 312.  ISBN 9781501511639.  $210.00.  

Reviewed by Gary Beckman, University of Michigan (

Table of Contents

The Kassite (or Middle Babylonian) era, which stretched roughly from the late sixteenth to the middle of the twelfth century BCE, is perhaps the most neglected period in the history of ancient Babylonia. This is due, at least in part, to the character of the sources: While a few royal inscriptions, forty or so kudurru (land donation records in stone), and a corpus of administrative letters contain some contemporary information on political developments, in recovering the events of these centuries historians are primarily dependent upon later, first-millennium, sources (king lists, chronicles, etc.), as well as upon the annals of Assyrian kings of the time active in Babylonia.

The great majority of the estimated 15,000 Akkadian-language Kassite1 tablets are economic or administrative records (receipts and disbursements from temple stores, lists of workers, etc.), 75-80% (so Brinkman, p. 33) of which come from the single city of Nippur. Such texts yield significant data only through “wholesale” study, that is, as patterns over time may be recognized through the consideration of large numbers of documents. In turn, this type of research has usually demanded physical access to or publication of material disbursed through the vagaries of archaeology and the antiquities market to various museums and universities. Given the dry and unpromising nature of these Kassite tablets as individual pieces, Assyriologists have generally eschewed the effort required to compile useful “archives” of them and have turned their attentions to more immediately exciting questions.

But with the development of more efficient and economical means of image reproduction and the advent of data accumulation projects such as the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI), the “entry costs” of what we might call “Kassiteology” have fallen and the field is now attracting wider interest, particularly among younger, more cybernetics-savvy, scholars. The volume under review contains around half of the papers2 delivered at a 2011 conference intended to survey the “state of the field” of Kassite studies. The long gap between the holding of the meeting and the publication of its lectures (see p. viii) has allowed the participants in some cases to rework significantly their presentations, and indeed many of the essays far exceed in length and complexity what could have been delivered orally in Munich.

Of the eleven contributions in this collection, eight are in English, the remaining three in German. The most useful to readers unfamiliar with the Kassites will be that of J. A. Brinkman, who presents a careful general survey, first of the available textual material and then of Middle Babylonian history, concluding with a consideration of major outstanding problems in this area. His essay is also accompanied by its own bibliography, in addition to that found at the conclusion of part 2.

I would like to highlight several of the other essays here. Frans van Koppen tackles the early history of the Kassites, making some rather intriguing suggestions. He posits that they arrived in Babylonia in three waves which were not necessarily composed of the same ethnic group(s)3, that the Hittite king Mursili I conducted his famous raid on Babylon in order to intimidate his Hurrian enemies in Syria, who were allied with the Kassites (pp. 71–72), and that the true use of chariotry in Mesopotamian battles—rather than as a vehicle for display—began only with the coming of the Kassites. These points will certainly be hotly debated by scholars.

It is a curious fact that we have little direct evidence of a Kassite presence during the late second millennium in the Zagros Mountains, through which they had undoubtedly passed en route to Babylonia. Andreas Fuchs seeks to recover evidence for such a presence in linguistic relics (Akkadian- and Kassite-language personal and geographic names) encountered by Assyrian kings campaigning in this region hundreds of years later and finds Kassite terms in almost all Neo-Assyrian sources dealing with western Iran (p. 132).

Susanne Paulus, who recently edited the entire corpus of kudurru inscriptions,4 delivers a synopsis of that major work, discussing on the basis of extensive documentation (see esp. Table 10.04 on pp. 243–44), the origin, purpose, and passing out of use of these monumental “deeds.” Although they are largely attested from the Kassite period, Paulus demonstrates that they display the specific influence of that group neither in form nor in content (p. 231). They date from around 1400 to the time of the attacks of the Assyrian ruler Šamši-Adad V (r. 823–11) in Babylonia, after which the Babylonian king no longer controlled sufficient real estate to make significant territorial grants (p. 241).

In other papers, Michael Roaf tentatively reconstructs the chronology of the kings of Elam on the basis of their attested interactions with Kassite rulers (see p. 195, Table 6.11), while Jonathan Tenney presents some results of his study of records of the servile population at Nippur, remarking that the lot of these people seems to have resembled that of slaves in the antebellum United States (p. 218). Nils Heeßel examines the development of a handbook of extispicy (barûti) previously attested only in the libraries of the first millennium, showing that it had likely assumed its canonical form already in the twelfth or eleventh century (Isin II period).

The survey of Alexa Bartelmus of the divine world of the Kassites stresses the central role played by the ancient Sumerian god Enlil in the state cult (see esp. pp. 249, 275), and is accompanied by many useful tables illustrating aspects of the contemporary pantheon. Jared Miller5 returns to the problem of the chronology of the Amarna Age, producing charts of synchronisms among the rulers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and the Hittites dependent upon different assumed absolute dates for the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assur and comes to the surprising conclusion that the accession of pharaoh Ramses II should be pushed back toward its “traditional” date of 1290 (p. 107). In a related study, Elena Devecchi gives an overview of Babylonia’s foreign relations in the Late Bronze Age.

Full of solid information and provided with excellent maps (pp. 11–12), this volume—and its companion (see n. 2)—deserve a place in any archaeological reference collection.


1.   The Kassites (Kaššû), who entered Mesopotamia from the east during the second quarter of the second millennium, originally spoke their own extremely poorly-documented language, known primarily from elements of proper names. They immediately adopted Akkadian for all of their records. See Nathanael Shelley’s essay in this collection for the question of the extent to which the Kassites might have constituted what we would recognize as an ethnic group.
2.   Most of the remaining presentations have been published in part 2 of this work, a listing of whose contents may be found at Table of Contents, Part 2. In the context of this review, it is unfortunate that the indices and comprehensive bibliography have been placed in the second volume, to which this writer has had no access. Any librarian acquiring this work would be well advised to purchase both parts, despite their steep price.
3.   He maintains that the monarchs of the Kassite dynasty “had no discernable connection with the original Kassites who had arrived in Mesopotamia during the time of Samsu-iluna” (p. 78).
4.   Susanne Paulus, Die babylonischen Kudurru-inschriften von der kassitischen bis zur frühbabylonischen Zeit (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014).
5.   See already J. Miller, “Amarna Age Chronology and the Identity of Nibḫururiya in the Light of a Newly Reconstructed Hittite Text,” Altorientalische Forschungen 34 (2007): 252–93.

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