History of the Letter


The table of the Letter to Assur (Louvre, Paris)

The terracotta tablet on which Sargon’s campaign campaign was recorded, as one would imagine for a letter than ran for 430 lines front and back, is certainly sizable. Measuring 37.5 by 24.5cm, the tablet was bought by the Louvre Museum in 1910 from the French antiques deal J.E.Gejou; it is believed to have been stolen from the origin al site of excavation most likely at Assur, sold locally, and smuggled to Paris.[1] It is from this tablet that the French archaeologist, Assyriologist, and epigrapher Francois Thureau-Dangin made his original translation in 1912. As shown in this project, his original conceptualization of the route is still the basis for many more modern interpretations. However, the tablet that Thueau-Dangin worked from was not complete. It would only be after further excavation some years later that more of the tablet would be discovered, this time by German archaeologists. This section represented lines 195-236, but unfortunately nine lines are still missing from the text.[2]

The text itself tells a seemingly simple narrative, with the campaign described as one single circuit. Sargon began his campaign in the early summer from Kalah, located just south of Nineveh. From here, Sargon crossed the Upper and Lower Zab rivers, turning east into the mountains and entering Mannean territory. After reviewing his troups and receiving tribute from Assyria’s subordinates, he set off to pursue Metatti of Zikirtu, an ally of the Urartian king Rusa I. Sargon would, however, engage Rusa on the slopes of Mount Uaus, who had come to the aid of Metatti. Despite an army low on food and weary from the long journey, Sargon himself led a charge of the cavalry against Rusa, defeating Rusa and setting off into Urartian territory. Sargon then moved through six Urartian provinces, the fifth of which lay beside a “sea.” Having left Urartu, Sargon received tribute from Hubuskia, before leading a small elite force across difficult territory and the Upper Zab to raid the temple and palace of Musasir while the remainder of the army returned to Assyria. Having plundered the palace, Sargon himself returned before the onset of winter.[3] While describing the route Sargon took is merely a matter of translation, attempting to establish what this route looked like in practice has been a matter of far greater contention.

[1] Oscar White Muscarella, “Sargon II’s 8th Campaign: An Introduction and Overview.” Archaeology, Artifacts and Antiquities of the Ancient Near East (2006): 524.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Paul Zimansky, “Urartian Geography and Sargon's Eighth Campaign.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 49.1 (1990): 2-3.