There are two letters in the el-Amarna collection signed by Assuruballit. These letters, though rather unimportant, are given much attention by the chronologists, not for their content, but for the name of their author. Assuruballit is not an unusual name, but the existence of an Assuruballit in the fourteenth century would link the Assyrian king lists with the Egyptian dynasties of the New Kingdom. Thus, the letters play an important role in conventional chronology, being the sole link in the space of many centuries between the Egyptian and Assyrian histories.
In Assyria were found king lists in which the names of the kings and the number of years of their reigns are given, and nothing more. The extant versions of the lists are of a later origin, since they give the succession until the end period of the Assyrian Kingdom.
If in the Assyrian lists there is a king who wrote letters to a pharaoh known by name, then a first and single link in the space of many centuries could be established between Egypt and Assyria. And, actually, efforts were made to synchronize Egyptian and Assyrian histories starting with Assuruballit I, who is called upon to hold together the two histories which otherwise appear to have no contact—and a great strain it is: This link was destined to carry the load of many centuries of disjointed histories, not only of these two lands but, more than that, of the entire history of the ancient East for the second half of the second millennium before the present era.
Probably such efforts would not have been made to accommodate this matter if it were not for the fact that in the period before Shalmaneser III, who mentions a tribute from Mizri (the name of the pharaoh is not mentioned), the Assyrian annals are silent on Egypt; and Egyptian annals, aside from the tribute paid to Thutmose III by Assur, interpreted as Assur (the name of the king is not mentioned), are silent on Assyria.
I will offer here a few observations that may erode the link. In the first place, Assuruballit is not an unusual name among the Assyrian kings. Actually, the very last king of Assyria, who continued to resist the Chaldeans and the Medes from his hideout in Harran, upon the destruction of Nineveh in ca. -612, also bore the name of Assuruballit. His number in the succession of monarchs is 117, whereas that of Assuruballit of the fourteenth century is no. 73: Shalmaneser III (-858 to -824) has the 102nd place.(2) A linking of two histories, the Egyptian and the Assyrian, is rather arbitrary if it is founded on nothing else than on the provenance of one name.
In the list of Assyrian kings, Assuruballit is the son of Eriba-Adad. But Assuruballit of the letters was, as he himself attests in one of the letters, son of Assur-nadin-ahe.
The idea of Schnabel and Weber that Assur-nadin-ahe, called Abu by Assuruballit, was not father but forefather, is a strained argument, becauseaccording to the king listsAssuruballit was neither a son, nor a grandson, nor a descendant of Assur-nadin-ahe. Assur-nadin-ahe II was a cousin of Assuruballit and he had no offspring on the throne.(3)
On this problem Luckenbill had wondered:
And, in Section 60, Lukenbill brings another such list by Assuruballit of his ancestors where again there is no mention of Assur-nadin-ahe.
Then the computations made on the king lists showed a discrepancy of several decades between the reign of Assuruballit and the time allotted to Amenhotep III and Akhnaton, his supposed correspondents.(6) When the el-Amarna letters were found in 1881 they were ascribed to the fourteenth century because they were partly addressed to Amenhotep III and Akhnaton. Since these kings, by the conventional chronology, were placed in the 14th century, the Assyrian king Assuruballit was looked for in the then available king lists. Thus, the desire to find the names mentioned in his letters in the king lists was already there. This required quite a bit of stretching.
In order to make the reign of Assuruballit and the time of these pharaohs contemporaneous, it was necessary to shift both chronologies, the Egyptian and the Assyrian. The Amarna Period, in order to meet the the earlier found king lists,(8) was moved back into the 15th century. For, as Professor Mahler brought out, the leveling of these histories required the placing of Amenhotep III at the end of the fifteenth century and Akhnaton in the years -1403 to -1391 —far too high by the standards of the next generation of chronologists. What had first led to raising the age of Amenhotep III and Akhnaton into the Fifteenth century, then required lowering it. (Due to Poebels publication of the contents of the Khorsabad List in 1942/43, which proved that all previous chronologies were too high, the age of the Assyrian kings of the period had to be reduced by 64 years.(9)) However, to lower the age of Akhnaton enough, in order to make him a contemporary of Assuruballit, was impossible because conventional Egyptian chronology is built on the premise that Ramses I started to reign in -1322 and after Akhnaton and before Ramses I, Tutankhamen, Smenkhkare, Aye, and Haremhab must have reigned.
The difference in years would be greater if the reign of Assuruballit, son of Eriba-Adad were not already brought as close as possible to the reign of Amenhotep IV, the incertitude in the duration of some reigns of later Assyrian kings being exploited to make the most of it, with all ruling years being regarded as full yearsthough kings, like other mortals, die on every day of the yearwhich in a long list may make a difference of a few decades. Also, no allowance was left for co-regencies or common occupation of the throne, of father and son, a possibility which is always taken into account by chronologists.
Presently, Akhnaton is placed between 1375 and 1358 and Assuruballit between 1362 and 1327. This enables the Assyrian king Assuruballit I to write letters to the Egyptian king Akhnaton.
However, as late as 1974, Ronald D. Long was making the same point as Rowton:
Since great stress has been put on the reliance of the chronology of the ancient world on the Assyrian king lists, a lesson needs to be drawn. The case of Hammurabi and the entire First Babylonian dynasty being lowered in age by four hundred years, because of a correlation with Egyptian material of the Middle Kingdom,(12) exemplifies the dependence of cuneiform chronology on the Egyptian time-table.(13) This is appropriate to remember during any effort to fortify the accepted Egyptian chronology by evidence coming from the Babylonian or Assyrian king lists.
The following quotes emphasize the direct dependence of Assyrian and Babylonian chronologies on that of Egypt:
In the chapter Astronomy and Chronology,(16) I showed on what unfirm foundations the chronology of Egypt has been erected and how chronologies of countries that do not possess an absolute chronology of their own are built on the chronology of Egypt by the strength of archaeologically discovered contacts.
• Assuruballit was a common name, still in use 750 years later.
• Assuruballit of the list was the son of Eriba-Adad; Assuruballit of the letters was the son of Assur-nadin-ahe.
• The time of Assuruballit of the king lists was not exactly the time of Akhnaton; and efforts to synchronize them were made at the cost of inner contradictions in the Egyptian chronology (which is based on the Sothis-Menophres theory).
• Assyrian chronology is itself dependent on Egyptian chronology and therefore cannot be used as proof of its validity.
Thus, if there is no other synchronization of the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt with the Assyrian kings, the case of Assuruballit cannot present an invincible argument.(17)
But if it were only a matter of evaluating my dating of the el-Amarna letters contra the conventional dating, we would use names alone. The list of identified persons in the el-Amarna letters in chapters of the Scriptures of the time of the middle of the ninth century, as presented in Ages in Chaos, is imposing. Among those names mentioned in both the letters and in the books of Kings and Chronicles are such unusual ones as Jehozabad, Adaja, Ben Zichri, Biridri, and many more. And is it little that, from five generals of king Jehoshaphat named by the Scriptures, four of them signed their letter by the very same names and one is referred to by his name?
Not only personal names, but dozens of parallels are found between the texts of those tablets and the scriptural narrative in the books of Kings and Chronicles, and also between them and the Assyrian texts of the ninth century. Eventsdown to the smallest detailswere illuminated in the chapters dealing with el-Amarna: actions, wars, sieges, a seven-year famine, and geographical names were compared.
Although the el-Amarna correspondence covers only a few decades at the most, the many details that could be and have been brought to comparison lend an unshakeable support to the reconstruction of the larger period covering the time from the end of the Middle Kingdom to the time of the Ptolemies in Egypt, a span of twelve hundred years. Therefore, a single name, even were it to appear in the king lists and in the letters, would not amount to much without any support from the entire sum of evidence.
Was Assuruballit I, son of Eriba-Adad of the 14th century, the king who wrote to Akhnaton?
In the Assyrian sources there is no reference to any contact of the king Assuruballit, son of Eriba-Adad, with Amenhotep III or Akhnaton, and nothing that would substantiate the claim that he was the author of two letters in the el-Amarna collection.
All her history long, Assyria was an important kingdom in the ancient world. Assuruballit, son of Eriba-Adad of the king list, is regarded as one of the greatest kings of ancient Assyria,(18) and his grandson Adad-Nirari was proud to be an offspring of this great king. The letters of Assuruballit in the el-Amarna collection do not convey the impression of their author being an important suzerain. It is worthwhile to compare the meek way of writing of Assuruballit, and the self-assured way of Burraburiash. And letters of other kings on the Near Eastern scene, extensive as they are, make it by contrast little probable that Assuruballit was an important king. But decisive is the fact that the author of very extensive letters, Burraburiash, clearly refers to his Assyrian subjects .
Assuruballit, son of Assur-nadin-ahe, could have been a provincial prince, or a pretender to the crown of Assyria. In a later age we find a prince Assuruballit installed by his brother Assurbanipal as the governor of the Harran province. Assuruballit could have been a provincial pretender in the days of Burraburiash; and Burraburiash actually complained to the pharaoh Akhnaton for entering into direct relations with some Assyrian potentates, despite the fact that he, Burraburiash, is the lord of Assyria.
In Ages in Chaos, in chapters Vl-VIII, it is claimed that Shalmaneser III, was a contemporary of Kings Amenhotep III and Akhnaton, and that Burraburiash must have been the Babylonian name of Shalmaneser III, who had actually occupied Babylon. To the reader of these lines, if unfamiliar with Ages in Chaos (and he should judge the discussion only upon its reading), it is not superfluous to report that the kings of Mesopotamia regularly applied to themselves different names in Assyria and in Babylonia. In the el-Amarna correspondence, he signed his Babylonian name (used more in the sense of a title) also on the tablet in which he referred to his Assyrian subjects (letter no. 9).
Our identifying Shalmaneser III as Burraburiash of the letters and as a contemporary and correspondent of Akhnaton(20) could receive direct archaeological verification. In the section The Age of Ivory, I quoted from the letters of Burraburiash in which he demanded as presents, more in the nature of a tribute, ivory objects of art, looking like plants and land and water animals, and from letters of Akhnaton in which he enumerated the very many objects of ivory art, vases, and carved likenesses of animals of land and water and of paints that were sent by him to Burraburiash.
Calakh (Nimrud) was the headquarters of Shalmaneser: what could we wish for more than that ivory objects made in Egypt in the time of Akhnaton should be found there. This also happened.
The excavation project at Nimrud on the Tigris in Iraq was initiated by M. E. L. Mallowan (1959) and continued by David Gates. Recent excavations there have been carried on in Fort Shalmaneser III that served as headquarters from the ninth to the end of the eighth century before the present era.
The reader of The New York Times of November 26, 1961,(21) must have been surprised to find a news story titled Ancient Swindle is Dug Up in Iraq . The report carried news of the finds of the British School of Archaeologys Nimrud Expedition:
There could be no question that this was Shalmanesers loot or collection, for in one of the storage rooms was found his statue and an inscription attests to the kings approval of the portrait as a very good likeness of himself .
The quantity of ivory found was so great that, in three seasons, the excavating team did not empty the first of the three storage rooms. The excavators strained their wits to understand why so much ivory work reflecting Egyptian styles of over five hundred years earlier should fill, of all places, the military headquarters of Shalmaneser III. Mallowan and his representative archaeologist on the site, David Oates, could not come up with anything better than the theory that, in the military headquarters of Shalmaneser, a factory for manufacturing fake antiques had been established.
No better explanation was in sight. Neither did the late Agatha Christie (the spouse of Mallowan), who took an intense interest in the archaeological work of her husband, know of a better solution to the mystery. Yet, the first volume of Ages in Chaos, with its el-Amarna chapters, had been on the shelves since 1952.
In complete accord with our historical scheme, Egyptian art of Akhnaton was found in the headquarters of Shalmaneser III. I could not say, as we expected, because this was too much to expect. From the point of view of the reconstruction, we could only wish that these objects would be found in Assyria, but we could hardly expect that they would be found almost intact in the fort of Shalmaneser III. Again it is too much to expect, but maybe there will still be found, in the same compound or in a room of archives to be discovered in Nimrud, original el-Amarna letters.