Kassites (from the Akkadian Kassu) is the name given to the dynasty that ruled Babylonia from the 16th to 12th centuries BCE, and to the 5th to 1st century BCE Kossaean / Cossaean (from Gk. Kossaioii) nation that was located in the Hamadan-Kermanshah-Luristan area in present day Iran. We know about the Babylonian Kassites from inscriptions and tablets found in the region, and we read mention of the Kossaeans in the writings of several classical Greek writers.
|Map of Anatolia. Base image courtesy Microsoft Encarta|
Several modern historians such as K. Balkan (in 1986, p. 8) and M. Heinz (in 1995, p. 167) have stated that the Kassite rulers of Babylon were members of the Indo-Iranian Kossaean people based in Hamadan-Kermanshah-Luristan area, but whose origins are not mentioned in historical records. The historians make several additional conclusions or assumptions:
First, that the Kossaeans mentioned by Greek writers were the successors of the Babylonian Kassites who were driven out of Babylonia by conquering Elamites (neighbours of the Kossaeans) in the 12th century BCE.
Second, that the Kassites in fleeing to Kossaea were returning to their ancestral lands.
Third, that the Kassites were originally Indo-Iranian Kossaeans who had settled the Hamadan-Kermanshah-Luristan area prior to the 17th century BCE.
Fourth, that the Indo-Iranian Kossaeans were immigrants to the area since they are not mentioned as being among the peoples who inhabited the central and southern Zagros in Sargonic (2270-2215 BCE) and Ur III / Third Dynasty of Ur era (21st to 20th century BCE) inscriptions. As we shall see below, these assumptions and conclusions are plausible.
Hamadan and Kermanshah, are two provinces with eponymous capital cities that straddle the northern Zagros mountains placing them strategically on the Aryan trade roads - the Silk Roads. Luristan lies to their south and the Iranian province of Elam is found to the west of Luristan. Elam and Kermanshah border modern-day Iraq and what would have been Northern Babylonia (see map).
Babylonian/Kassite Chronology & References
The chronology of events in Babylonia in particular and the Middle East in general during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE is not precise and can be quite confusing when reading the literature. There are four different ancient Middle East chronologies called Ultra-Low, Short or Low, Middle, and Long or High.
For the time period when the Kassites ruled Babylonia, the Middle to Late Bronze Age, the chronologies are determined by the date of the sacking of Babylon by the Hittites. The short chronology which places the sack of Babylon at 1531 BCE is currently the most widely accepted (and used in this page) while older literatures favours the middle chronology which places the sack of Babylon at 1595 BCE.
The following table gives an overview of the different chronologies, listing some key dates and deviation relative to the short chronology (source Wikipedia):
||Ammisaduqa Year 8
||Reign of Hammurabi
||Sack of Babylon
||1696 BCE - 1654 BCE
|Short or Low
||1728 BCE - 1686 BCE
||1792 BCE - 1750 BCE
|Long or High
||1848 BCE - 1806 BCE
» The Babylonian and Oriental Record (source of dates)
» Images at ARTH 422
Kassites - Babylonian Rulers (16th - 12th Centuries BCE)
1770 BCE: The earliest written record of an individual with a Kassite name in Babylonia region is from a 1770 BCE inscription made by Sumerian city-state Larsa ruler Rim-Sin I (1758-1699 BCE). Larsa was located south of Babylon near Uruk.
1742 BCE: The Kassites as a political force entered written history with the record of their attack on Babylonia in 1742 or 1741 BCE - an attack that was repelled by the Babylonians. At that time, the king of Babylonia was Samsu-Iluna (also Samsiluna. reign c. 1749 - 1712 BCE), son of Hammurabi. [Sassmannshausen (1999, pp. 411 f.) is of the opinion that they penetrated from the central Zagros via the lower Diyala region into northern Babylonia, notably the Sippar region during the late Old Babylonian period.] Thereafter, Kassite groups and individuals are found recorded in northern Babylonian texts, especially in inscriptions found in the area around Sippar Yahrurum (see Zadok, 1987, pp. 17 ff.; De Smet, 1990; De Graef, 1998, pp. 5 ff.; Pientka, 1998, pp. 257 ff.; Sassmannshausen, 2000, pp. 415 f.).
1531 BCE: While the initial Kassite attack was not successful, later, sometime after Babylon succumbed to the Hittite invasion in c. 1531 BCE called the 'sack of Babylon' (the Hittites did not occupy Babylon after their plundering raid), the Kassites under the command of Agum-Kak-Reme gained control of northern Babylonia.
1475 BCE: In c. 1475-1450 BCE, the Kassites (under King Ulamburiash?) went on to conquer southern Babylonia.
|Dur Kurigalzu Citadel at modern Aqar-Quf west of Baghdad, Iraq|
1400-1225 BCE: After consolidating their rule over Babylonia, the Kassites under Kurigalzu I (c. 1400-1375 BCE) built a new capital, Dur Kurigalzu, modern Aqar-Quf west of Baghdad, Iraq, while giving the name Karanduniash to the city of Babylon. After Kurigalzu II (c. 1332-1308 BCE) was defeated in a war with the Assyrians, his successors allied themselves with the Hittites in order to defend against Assyrian expansion. During the reign of Kashtiliash IV (c. 1232-1225 BCE), Babylonia fought two simultaneous and disastrous wars against Elam and Assyria culminating in the invasion and destruction of Babylon by Tukulti-Ninurta I.
1216-1155 BCE: Kassite Babylonia would have to wait until the time of kings Adad-shum-usur (c. 1216-1187 BCE) and Melishipak (c. 1186-1172 BCE) to experience a period of relative peace. Their successors were obliged to defend Babylonia once again this time against an assault from the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte (c. 1185-1155 BCE) who led a cruel and fierce army that defeated and brought to an end the Kassite dynasty around 1155 BCE. The last Kassite king, Enlil-nadin-ahi, was imprisoned in Susa where he died.
Once the Kassites had established themselves in Babylonia, they had no further expansionist plans and sought to bring order, peace and prosperity to Babylonia. The Kassite kings ruled a unified Babylonia for almost four hundred years - longer than any other dynasty in Babylonian history. Under them, Babylon achieved a relative stability that enabled it to become the political and cultural center of the ancient world.
Post-Babylonian Kassites - Kossaeans/Cossaeans
After their expulsion from Babylon, the Kassites next reappear in an inscription recording the attack by Sennacherib in 702 BCE of the Khabira clan living in the Zagros mountains northwest of Elam, immediately south of Holwan.
A few hundred years later, a nation of Kissia / Cissia the same area of the Zagros mountains are mentioned by Aeschylus (c. 525-456 BCE) in his Choephori line 424, Persians lines 17, 120, and Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE) in Histories Book 5. sections 49, 52.
Five hundred years later, the Kissians / Cissians of Herodotus and Aeschylus appear to have become Kossaeans / Cossaeans in Greek literature. Strabo (63/64 BCE - 24 CE) writes (xi. 13,3,6) that a people called Kossaeans or Cossaeans were the neighbours of the Medes and that Alexander the Macedonian battled Kossaeans in the winter of 323 BCE on his way from Ecbatana to Babylon. The campaign was extremely bloody, and Alexander's contemporaries thought that Alexander was in a rage venting his emotions because his lover Hephaestion had died. Next we read mention of Susiana being divided between Kossaeans and the Elymaeans (Elamites) in the writings of Ptolemy (90-168 CE).
The quotes from translations of these texts are reproduced below:
Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE)
5.49 "Next to the Phrygians are the Cappadokians, whom we call Syrians; and bordering upon them are the Kilikians, coming down to this sea, in which lies the island of Cyprus here; and these pay five hundred talents to the king for their yearly tribute. Next to these Kilikians are the Armenians, who you may see here and these also have great numbers of sheep and cattle. Next to the Armenians are the Matienians occupying this country here; and next to them is the land of Kissia here, in which land by the banks of this river Choaspes is situated that city of Susa where the great king has his residence, and where the money is laid up in treasuries"
5.52 "As regards this road (Royal Road of Darius) the truth is as follows: Everywhere there are royal stages [and excellent resting-places], and the whole road runs through country which is inhabited and safe. ...Passing thence into the Kissian land, there are eleven stages, forty-two and a half leagues, to the river Choaspes, which is also a navigable stream; and upon this is built the city of Susa."
Diodorus Siculus (Works dated to 60 and 30 BCE i.e. 1st century BCE)
Book XVII, Section 111. 4 "...Alexander launched a campaign (324/3 BCE) with a mobile force against the Cossaeans, for they would not submit to him. This is a people outstanding in valour which occupied the mountains of Media; and relying upon the ruggedness of their country and their ability in war, they had never accepted a foreign master, but had remained unconquered throughout the whole period of the Persian kingdom, and now they were too proudly self-confident to be terrified of the Macedonian arms. 5 The king, nevertheless, seized the routes of access into their country before they were aware of it, lay waste most of Cossaea, was superior in every engagement, and both slew many of the Cossaeans and captured many times more. So the Cossaeans were utterly defeated, and, distressed at the number of their captives, were constrained to buy their recovery at the price of national submission. 6 They placed themselves in Alexander's hands and were granted peace on condition that they should do his bidding. In forty days at most, he had conquered this people. He founded strong cities at strategic points and rested his army."
[Note: The above is an example of Alexander's gratuitous brutality recorded in the Greek texts. Another example was when he wanted to test the validity of claims regarding the inflammability of naphtha. Strabo (63/64 BCE - 24 ACE) in
Geography, Book XVI, Chapter 1.15 writes:
"...naphtha, is of a singular nature; for it the naphtha is brought near fire it catches the fire; and if you smear a body with it and bring it near to the fire, the body bursts into flames; and it is impossible to quench these flames with water (for they burn more violently), unless a great amount is used, though they can be smothered and quenched with mud, vinegar, alum, and bird-lime. It is said that Alexander, for an experiment, poured some naphtha on a boy in a bath and brought a lamp near him; and that the boy, enveloped in flames, would have been nearly burned to death if the bystanders had not, by pouring on him a very great quantity of water, prevailed over the fire and saved his life."]
Strabo (63/64 BCE - 24 ACE):
Geography, Book XVI, Chapter 1.17. "...bordering on this country (Persis) are Paraetacenê and Cossaea as far as the Caspian Gates, which is inhabited by mountainous and predatory tribes. And bordering on Susis is Elymaïs, most of which is rugged and inhabited by brigands; and bordering Elymaïs are Media and the region of the Zagrus.
18. "Now the Cossaeans, like the neighbouring mountaineers, are for the most part bowmen, and are always out of foraging expeditions; for they have a country that is small and barren, so that they must needs live at the expense of the other tribes. And they are of necessity a powerful people, for they are all fighters; at any rate, thirteen thousand Cossaeans joined the Elymaeans in battle, when the latter were warring against both the Babylonians and the Susians."
Plutarch (46-120 CE)
Alexander, 72. "When he (Alexander) came to Ecbatana in Media and had transacted the business that was urgent, he was once more much occupied with theatres and festivals, since three thousand artists had come to him from Greece. 2 But during this time it chanced that Hephaestion had a fever... he sat down to breakfast, ate a boiled fowl, drank a huge cooler of wine, fell sick, and in a little while died. 3 Alexander's grief at this loss knew no bounds. He immediately ordered that the manes and tails of all horses and mules should be shorn in token of mourning, and took away the battlements of the cities round about; he also crucified the wretched physician, and put a stop to the sound of flutes and every kind of music in the camp for a long time, until an oracular response from Ammon came bidding him honour Hephaestion as a hero and sacrifice to him. 4 Moreover, making war a solace for his grief, he went forth to hunt and track down men, as it were, and overwhelmed the nation of the Cossaeans, slaughtering them all from the youth upwards. This was called an offering to the shade of Hephaestion."
The Kossaeans were not entirely exterminated by the murderous Alexander. Kossaeans soldiers are recorded as having served in the Macedonian army.
In 317 BCE, the Macedonian commander Antigonus Monophthalmus is quoted as saying that he encountered Kossaeans, calling them cavemen. This is significant and brings to mind the troglodyte dwellers of Kandovan in the Urmia region not too far north of Hamadan. The history of this region is replete with refugee groups retreating to remote areas in the hills and seeking refugee, shelter and anonymity in caves.
Possible Kassite Aryan or Indo-Iranian Connections
|Stele depicting 'Tree of Life' and other motifs|
We do not know definitively if the Kassites were an Indo-Iranian group. However, there is a similarity in their pantheon of deities and the Indo-Aryan daeva pantheon (Bloomfield, 1904; Balkan, 1986, p. 8; Eilers, 1957-58, p. 136 ad surya-) and they exhibited various Aryan traits as well. This combination of traits could have made them acceptable to the people they governed, allowing them to rule with the consent of the ruled. The Aryan traits were as follows:
Outward Cultural Integration
The Kassites were a small minority - a ruling class - amongst the Babylonians over whom they ruled. However, rather than imposing their culture - their religion, customs and language over the people over whom they ruled, they adopted many outward Babylonia customs and names, a tradition followed by other Aryans rulers in the lands they occupied (cf. Herodotus "There is no nation which so readily adopts foreign customs as the Persians"). According to A. Leo Oppenheim of University of Chicago and author of works such as Ancient Mesopotamia: portrait of a dead civilization, University of Chicago Press, 1964, "Kassite rulers in Babylon were also scrupulous to follow existing forms of expression, and the public and private patterns of behavior". The Aryan tradition was to readily adopted outward cultural norms, but to privately maintain their religion, language, philosophy, values and principles.
Religious Tolerance & Ecumenism
The Kassites followed an Aryan tradition of honouring the religious beliefs and practices of the peoples whose land they occupied or ruled. For instance, when the Hittites plundered Babylonia and carried off the idol of the Babylonian god Marduk, the Kassite king Agum II, regained possession of the idol, brought it back to Babylon, and honoured Marduk alongside the Kassite god Shuqamuna. King Cyrus of Persia would continue this tradition when he occupied Babylonia a thousand years later.
Nippur which had been left abandoned in about 1730 BCE, was rebuilt and revived by the Kassites as an important provincial center. In addition, the Kassite governor of Nippur had its dilapidated temples meticulously re-built on their old foundations, and in so doing, helped preserve the area's cultural heritage.
Trade & Economic Prosperity
The Kassites also maintained the Indo-Iranian Aryan tradition of being traders in lapis lazuli and gold (see Aryan Trade). The only known ancient source of lapis lazuli was Badakshan in present day Afghanistan and in the heart of ancient Aryan lands. The Zagros mountains had ore deposits of iron and copper which the Kassites extracted and used to manufacture vehicles such as chariots and carts. Along with horses, they exported the chariots in exchange for other raw materials. Amongst the nations with which the Kassite kings established trade and diplomatic relations were Assyria, Egypt, Elam, and the Hittite Hatti. Kassite merchants established themselves in the major cities in the region. Kassite weights and seals, the measuring and identifying and tools of commerce, have been found as far afield as Thebes (Greece), southern Armenia, and even in a shipwreck off the southern coast of Turkey.
Governance & Order
It would appear that in addition to their trading and manufacturing skills, one of the skills Aryans brought with them was their leadership skills and their ability to govern with order.
The system of governance employed by the Kassites was a hereditary dynasty of social-minded kings of kings - supreme kings supported by feudal or vassal kings who functioned as governors of provinces. The feudal lords were granted their land and authority by the Kassite king and the extent of land over which they had authority were recorded on stone tablets or boundary stones called kudurrus.
Deities & Names
A Kassite deity is Suriash, a name that sounds very similar to the Sanskrit Surya meaning the sun. Another Kassite deity is Maruttash which sounds similar to the Sanskrit Marut or Marutah, a Vedic storm god. A further deity is named Indas, a name that sounds similar to Indra.
Kassite royal names are thought to have elements of the names of Aryan (Indo-Iranian) deities even though the language employed by the Kassites in Babylon shows no Aryan elements.
» Kassites related images at Art History
» Babylonia Astronomy