Kings of Chaldea and Sons of Nobodies: Assyrian Engagement with Chaldea and the Emergence of Chaldean Power in Babylonia
From the ninth century until the last quarter of the seventh century BCE, the Assyrian Empire first extended its power over Babylonia and then engaged in a prolonged effort to retain control. The patchwork nature of Babylonian society—divided as it was between the traditional urban centers, territories controlled by five distinct Chaldean tribes, and regions inhabited by Aramaean tribes—presented opportunities and challenges for Assyria as it sought to assert its dominance. Assyrian interactions with the Chaldean tribes of Babylonia redefined the Chaldeans’ place within power relationships in southern Mesopotamia. Starting in 878, Assyria first perceived Chaldean territory as distinct from what they defined as Karduniaš, the land ruled by the king of Babylon. Shalmaneser III exploited and accentuated this division by recognizing the Chaldean leaders as kings and accepting their tribute even as he concluded a treaty with the Babylonian king, Marduk-zakir-shumi I. By decentralizing power in Babylonia, Assyria was able to assert indirect control over Babylonia. However, periods of Assyrian weakness created opportunities for several Chaldeans—drawing upon the economic and military power they could muster—to claim the title of king of Babylon with all the accompanying ideological power. These new developments prompted Assyria under the Sargonids to create counter-narratives that questioned the legitimacy of Chaldeans as kings of Babylon by presenting them as strange and inimical to the Assyrian order even as Assyrian interactions with the Chaldeans improved Assyrian familiarity with them.
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