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Shamshi-Adad & the Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


The early history of king Shamshi-Adad is vague to us. We cannot even establish when and where he first ascended any particular Mesopotamian throne. Most likely, around 1833 B.C., he inherited rule from his father, Ila-kabkabu, in Ekallatum, a city still unlocated, but certainly in the vicinity of Assur. There he governed about ten years until he had to flee to Babylon when Naram-Sin of Eshnunna conquered Ekallatum. (This is not the same Naram-Sin of Akkad, as discussed in the last episode, but a different ruler who took his name). When Naram-Sin died, seven years later, Shamshi-Adad took the opportunity to return from exile and, three years later, conquered Ashur as well. At that time, he was still only the ruler of a minor power in the region. Soon, however, he extended his influence westward into Northern Syria, where he clashed with Yahdun-Lim of Mari. The mighty kingdom of Mari controlled the caravan route between Anatolia and Mesopotamia. King Yahdun-Lim was assassinated by his own servants (possibly on Shamshi-Adad's orders) and the heir to the throne, Zimri-Lim, was forced to flee to Yamhad. Shamshi-Adad seized the opportunity and occupied Mari in roughly 1795 B.C., thus creating the “Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia”.

Shamshi-Adad was a very tolerant ruler. At Ashur, also known as Assur, he took the title “Governor of Assur”, and in Nineveh he restored the Ishtar temple, said to have been built by Manishtushu five centuries before. Certain cities, such as Qattara, retained their former rulers, who now became his vassals.

Having to control this large kingdom, Shamshi-Adad, who resided in Shubat-Enlil, placed his two sons in strategic locations. The eldest, Ishme-Dagan, ascended the throne at Ekallatum, the ancestral home, while the younger, Yasmah-Adad, was placed in Mari. Ishme-Dagan clearly had more authority than his younger brother, and often scolded Yasmah-Adad for his inaction. The father kept ultimate authority, however, sending numerous letters to his sons. Those to Mari accused Yasmah-Adad of being lazy. He stated repeatedly:

“How long do we have to guide you in every matter? Are you a child,

and not an adult? Don't you see that your brother is leading vast armies?

So you too, take charge of your palace, your house!”

Shamshi-Adad clearly kept a firm control on the actions of his sons. At one point, he arranged a diplomatic marriage between Yasmah-Adad and Beltum, the princess of his ally in Qatna. Yasmah-Adad already had a leading wife and placed this princess in a secondary position of power. Shamshi-Adad did not approve and forced his son to keep Beltum in the palace in a leading position.

Shamshi-Adad continued to strengthen his kingdom throughout his life, but as he became older, the state became more vulnerable and the neighboring powers of Yamhad and Eshnunna began attacking. When he died, either in battle or of natural causes in 1776 B.C., local powers quickly asserted themselves. Zimri-Lin returned from exile and chased Yasmah-Adad from Mari. Ishme-Dagan lost control of everything except Ekallatum and Ahsur. Northern Syria became a patchwork of small independent states. Hammurabi, one of the most famous kings of Mesopotamian history, would soon confront both Ishme-Dagan and Zimri-Lin on the battlefield.


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