top of page

Ancient Near East - The Kassite Dynasty

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


After the death of King Hammurabi, his ineffectual successors reduced his great empire after several military defeats with the Assyrians. The kingdom was reduced to the small and minor state it had been upon its founding. As discussed in the previous episodes, the Hittite King, Mursilis I, sacked Babylon in 1595 B.C. and turned over Babylon to their Kassite allies, a people from the Zagros Mountains. With the sack of Babylon, a power vacuum emerged. The ancient social and political structures vanished and much of the population of Babylonia no longer lived in cities. A people using the name Kassites took advantage of this situation and seized the throne of Babylon at some undetermined date.

The Hittites had carried off the idol of the god Marduk, but the Kassite rulers regained possession, returned Marduk to Babylon, and made him an equal to the Kassite god Shuqamuna. The circumstances of their rise to power are unknown due to a lack of documentation from this 'dark-age' period of widespread dislocation. No inscription or document in the Kassite language has been preserved, an absence that cannot be purely accidental, suggesting a severe regression of literacy in official circles. Babylon under Kassite rulers, who renamed the city Karanduniash, re-emerged as a political and military power in Mesopotamia.

Kassite wealth and control of resources was such that the ruler, Kurigalzu I, could build a new royal city that bore his name (Dur-Kurigalzu, “Fortress of Kurigalzu”). This new city contained a palace and several temples. He expanded Babylon's power as far south as Dilmun, in the Persian Gulf, and he and his descendants were in regular contact with rulers in Mitanni, Hatti, Assyria, Egypt, and Elam, as witnessed in part by the Amarna letters.

Kassite success was built upon the relative political stability that the Kassite monarchs achieved. They ruled Babylonia practically without interruption for almost four hundred years – the longest rule by any dynasty in Babylonian history.

The Transformation of southern Mesopotamia into a territorial state, rather than a network of allied or combative city-states, made Babylonia an international power, although it was often overshadowed by its northern neighbor, Assyria and by Elam to the East. Kassite kings established trade and diplomacy with Assyria, Egypt, Elam, and the Hittites, and the Kassite royal house intermarried with their royal families. There were foreign merchants in Babylon and other cities, and Babylonian merchants were active from Egypt (a major source of Nubian gold) to Assyria and Anatolia. Kassite weights and scales, the measuring tools of commerce, have been found in as far afield as Thebes in Greece, in Southern Armenia, and even in a shipwreck off the southern coast of Asia Minor.

The Kassite kings maintained control of their realm through a network of provinces administered by governors. Almost equal with the royal cities of Babylon and Dur-Kurigalzu, the revived city of Nippur was the most important provincial center. Nippur, the formerly great city that had been virtually abandoned around 1730 B.C., was rebuilt in the Kassite period with temples meticulously rebuilt on their old foundations.

Peace between the Kassites and Assyria lasted until the rise of the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit I, who came to the throne in 1365 B.C. He married his daughter to the Kassite king, Burnaburiash II, but later sacked the city when Burnaburiash II was murdered. Ashur-uballit promptly marched into Babylonia and avenged his son-in-law, deposing the king and installing Kurigalzu II of the royal Kassite line as the ruler. His successor, Enlil-Nirari, also attacked Babylonia and his great-grandson, Adad-Nirari, who annexed Babylonian territory when he became king. Tukulti-Ninurta I, not content with merely dominating Babylonia, went further, conquering Babylonia, deposing Kashtiliash IV, and ruling there 8 years in person from 1235-1227 B.C.<