The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
EMPIRES LOST AND FOUND
and the Search for the Great Powers of the Past
By: Professor Gunnar Heinsohn
(University of Bremen)
Classical Historiography debunked for good?
(Aemilius Sura, 2nd century BCE.)
(Ctesias as preserved in Diodorus Siculus 2, 1: 4-8;//2, 2: 1/3.).
Vlaardingerbroek, “The Founding of Nineveh and Babylon in Greek
Historiography”, in Collon, D., George,
A., Hg., Nineveh: Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre Assyriologique
Internationale, London 7—11 July 2003,
London, 2005, pp. 233-241 .
The History I: 103 / 106.)
Curtis). From: Giovanni Lanfranchi, Michael Roaf, Robert Rollinger, Continuity
of Empire (?). Assyria, Media, Persia. Proceedings of the International Meeting
in Padua, 26th-28th April 2001. History of the Ancient Near East. Monographs, V.
Padova: S.a.r.g.o.n., 2003, p. 19 and p. 165.
(Herodotus, The History
I: 192). That is why the Hebrews called Achaemenid rulers “King of Assyria”
(Ezra 6: 22).
(John Curtis, The Achaemenid
Period in Northern Iraq, November 2003, www.aina.org/articles/curtis.pdf).
(O. Lipschits / M. Oeming,
eds., Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period, Winona Lake/Indiana:
Eisenbrauns, 2006, IX).
(James D. Muhly, Review of G.
Lanfranchi, M. Roaf, R. Rollinger, Continuity of Empire (?). Assyria, Media,
Persia. Proceedings of the International
Meeting in Padua, 26th-28th April 2001. History of the Ancient Near East.
Monographs, V. Padova: S.a.r.g.o.n., 2003, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2004, 11.11.).
Classical Historiography confirmed
The Chaldaean priest Berossos, around
278-290 B.C.E., writes, in Greek, a history of his homeland for the Macedonian/Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281 -261). The work becomes
known under the title Babyloniaka
of which fragments are preserved in ancient Greek writings. In his
section on the Deluge, Berossos, surprisingly, calls the flood hero Xisuthros (Alexander Polyhistor) or Sisithrus (Abydenus). This is a Greek
transliteration of Ziusudra. Yet, Ziusudra is the protagonist of the
“Sumerian” version of the Flood. That Berossus does not leave us the
Chaldean name of the flood hero has never stopped to stun Orientalists. After
all, Berossos tells us nothing about the “Sumerians” who, since Jules
Oppert’s coining of the term 1868, are thought to have created mankind’s
first civilization in his very homeland. All ancient Greek writers who cite
Berossos take him for a Chaldaean expert of Chaldean history. Therefore, they
list his records under headings like “Chaldaean History” (Alexander
Polyhistor), “Of the Chaldaean Kings” (Apollodorus) or “Of the Chaldaean
Kings and the Deluge” (Abydenus).
Like Berossos, ancient Greek authors never give the
slightest hint of a “Sumerian” civilization though Greek transliterations of
cuneiform texts, called “Sumerian” by modern scholars, are produced as late
as the 2nd or even 3rd century AD (so called
Graeco-Babyloniaca). Thus, ancient Greeks are able to read and write
“Sumerian” for nearly half a millennium but fail to recognize the
“Sumerian” people not to speak of a “Sumerian” cradle of civilization.
What they know is a Chaldean civilization with some 900 larger and smaller
settlements which supposedly did not leave a single grave, brick or even
Why Berossos would draw on sources of the
“Sumerians” to tell Chaldean history remains as mysterious as the
bewilderingly wanting scholarly and astronomical/astrological texts of the
Chaldaeans whose erudition is famous all over Antiquity and “from whom the
Greek mathematicians copy” (Flavius Josephus). This enigma is aggravated by
the fact that the “Sumerians” themselves, who have left countless
astronomical/astrological texts, never employ the word “Sumer” or
“Sumerians”. In their own cuneiform writing they call their country Kalam
(e.g., Sumerian Kinglist) and its
inhabitants people of Kalam (e.g., the Nippur poem Praise of the Pickax).
Yet, not only the term Kalam fits Chaldea well—as do
the Mitanni fit the Medes or the Martu the Mardoi—but also its stratigraphic
location just two strata groups below Hellenism where one would look for the
predecessors of the Akhaemenids in Babylonia. Therefore, beginning in 1987, this
author has been suggesting that certain empires of the ancient near east did not
really exist, and should therefore be removed from modern textbooks (in English
see Heinsohn 1991. 1996 and 1998). At
the same time realms and empires well-known since antiquity should be restored
to the place they once held in the history and chronology of the ancient world.
The logical basis for this proposal is that in order
for great empires and civilizations that appear in modern textbooks to be
accepted as genuine there must be evidence of their existence in the
archaeological layers of the earth. If
textbook empires are without such layers, then there are two possibilities: (1.)
these empires should disappear from the pages of modern textbooks. (2.) the
existence of these empires must be affirmed by using archaeological layers that
are currently assigned to other empires, thus causing these latter empires to
The author prefers a conservative solution, i.e.
possibility 2. Otherwise we would have to throw out teachings and empires that
have dominated historical writings for two and a half millennia.
We would have to punish thus countless authors of antiquity—Jews,
Greeks, Romans and Armenian—by calling them liars, without being able to
explain why, in their own time, they had no doubt that the realms described by
them were real. Despite their
rather quarrelsome dispositions they were united in agreement about the imperial
succession—starting, quite in tune with proven Chinese chronology, around
-1000—of Assyrians, Medes (with Chaldeans and Scythians), Persians and
Macedonians: "Assyrii principes omnium gentium
rerum potiti sunt, deinde Medi, postea Persae, deinde Macedones” (Aemilius
Sura, -2nd century). Today’s beginning of Mesopotamian civilization
around -3000 was obtained by employing unscholarly dating techniques which
prefer Bible Fundamentalist genealogies and pseudo-astronomical retro
calculations to volume of strata and their depth in the ground. The 2nd option
produces the following results:
(A) The imperial dimensions of the Akhaemenids,
regarded as “elusive” by modern Assyriologists, remain in the textbooks.
They are well-known in the cuneiform literature pars
pro toto under the name of the martial and metallurgically famous Persian
tribe of the Mardoi (Mardians/Amardians). They are thus the Old Babylonian
(and/or Middle Assyrian) Mar(d)tu/Amorites, who didn't enter the history books
until the 19th century. Their great kings are really Babylonian and/or Middle to
Late Assyrian throne names for the Akhaemenid rulers (or their satraps) in
Persia's two richest provinces—Babylon (”Baberus“) and Assyria (“Athura”): "In power the land of Assyria counts as one third of all Asia. Rule
over this country - which rule is called by the Persians a satrapy - is of all
the satrapies by far the greatest" (Herodotus, The History I: 192). That is why the Hebrews called Akhaemenid
rulers “the King of Assyria” (Ezra
6: 22). Examples
given, the five last “Neo-Assyrian” rulers Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal,
Ashur-etil-ilani, Sin-Shumu-Lishir (eunuch), and Sin-Shar-Ishkun are identical
with the last five Akhaemenids: Artaxerxes II Arsakes, Artaxerxes III Okhus,
Artaxerxes IV Arses, Bagoas (enuch), and Darius III Kodomannos. The nine slain
soldiers found by David Stronach at Nineveh’s Halzi Gate are victims of
Alexander’s capture of the city. “According to Moses [of
Khoren; 5th century] these archives [of Nineveh] had been translated
from the ‘Chaldaean“ [cuneiform] to Greek at the command of Alexander the
Great“ (R.W. Thomson, Moses
Khorenatsi’s: History of the Armenians, translation and commentary on the
literary sources, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard
University Press, 1978, p. 12). Enigmatic Chana and Subartu of the Martu period
are Ionia and Sparta of the Persian (Mardian) period.
(B) The first Indo-Aryan empire of the horse-breeding
Medes, judged as a “phantom” by modern Assyriologists,
can be identified in the layers of the Mitanni (imperial dimension) and
the Middle-Elamites (Iran proper). Both powers were only admitted to the history
books in the 19th century. Cyaxares, despoiler of Assur and conqueror of
Nineveh, and Shaushatra (Hurrian transcription), despoiler of Ashur and ruler
over Nineveh, are one and the same Medish Cyaxares. In the Assyrian language,
Cyaxares of Ekbatana appears in Nineveh as Shamshi-Adad of Ekallatum, in the
“Elamite” language of Iran as Kutuk-Inshushinak. Aziru the Martu, as the man
of the future rising at the end of the Mitanni era, is identical with Cyrus the
Mardian rising at the end of Media’s empire. Aziru’s father Asratu is the
same as Cyrus’ father A(s)tradates. Aziru’s Armenian friend and ally Karanis
is identical with Cyrus’ friend Tigranis. The rebellious Medes of the
“Late-Assyrian” Period are the Medes notoriously rebelling against their
The Scythians under Madyas as allies of the Medes and
Chaldaens against Sharakos likewise return to the history books.
The Qutheans (Guti) under Madga, who were admitted to history books in
the 19th century as allies of the "Sumerians" and Elamites against
Shar-kali-sharri, disappear. The vassal graves of Ur, a unique feature in the
entire history of Babylonia, belong to the brief interregnum of Scythians well
known for that type of burial.
more than 900 cities and towns of Chaldaea, known to the Greeks as "the
cradle of civilization" but seen as non-retrievable by modern
Assyriologists, returns to the textbooks. To
Chaldaea are given the archaeological layers that not until 1868 began to be
called "Sumer" (albeit
Kalam in its own language), which disappears accordingly.
Ninos and/or Nimrod Assyrians as the first empire builders of history, defined
as mythological creations by modern Assyriologists, get the layers of the Old
Akkadians, who received those strata in a 19th century transfer.
In Egypt the empire Assyrians were known as the Great Hyksos. The close relationship between the enigmatic
Hyksos – with Sharek (Salitis) as their first ruler – and Old-Akkadians –
with Sargon in the same role – was seen long ago: Stratigraphically, both
empires immediately precede the Mitanni. However, the Hyksos are
pseudo-astronomically Sothic-dated to the -2nd millennium whereas the Old-Akkadians
are tied via a hidden Bible-fundamentalist Abraham-date to the -3rd millennium.
In glyptic, writing, pottery, weaponry (scimitars and composite bows), bellows,
true tin bronzes, vertical looms, chariots, vaulted burials, toggle pins, glass,
glazing, sophisticated triple gates etc. these stratigraphical bedfellows always
looked like twins. The first Akkadian "world ruler" Naram Sin, a
great hunter, supplies the empirical basis for Ninos of the Greeks and/or Nimrod
of the Hebrews, a great hunter before the Lord: “Nimrod began to be a mighty one on the earth. / And the beginning of his
kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Akkad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar"
(Genesis 10: 8/10). Ctesias (in
Diodorus Siculus 2, 1: 4-8;//2, 2: 1/3) writes: "The first about whom
history provides us with stories of his outstanding deeds is Ninos, king of the
Assyrians. / Easily he defeated the inhabitants of Babylonia [and] / the
Armenians. // Eventually he began to subdue the nations of Asia. And, indeed,
within 17 years he was master of them all — with the exception of India and
Bactria. / He subjugated Egypt and Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, Cilicia, Pamphylia,
and Lycia (Ctesias as preserved in Diodorus Siculus 2, 1: 4-8;//2, 2: 1/3.)
By dismissing dating schemes tied to
Bible-fundamentalism and pseudo-astronomical reckoning one must not fall into a
new trap by sanctifying the chronology provided by Classical historiography.
Thus, Cyaxares’ reign from -625 to -585 is not at all sacrosanct. Greek
historians, too, may have expanded the actual historical time span to meet a
pre-conceived system (Heinsohn 2005, 4). Yet, by liberating the chronologies
from Egypt to India from some 1500 blank years enforced by Abraham’s
genealogy, the Greek dates seem to be much closer to reality than Scripture.
Thus, if Assyriology will muster the strength to break the shackles of
Bible-fundamentalism in the 21st century, it may profit no less than
the sciences do since the 19th century.
Today, the best and the brightest historians of
Classical Greece are slandered as inventors or even liars and crackpots in
matters of the pre-Hellenistic Ancient World. With is defense of the empires of
Ninos-Assyrians, Medes and Achaemenids by invoking stratigraphy into the witness
stand, and by desisting the belief in the chronology of GOD or baseless retro
calculations, this author will certainly come up against the same accusations.
Yet his case, he may be told, is even more hopeless because he neglects all that
was excavated and deciphered within the last 200 years. This could not be
further from the truth. He merely tries to assign this evidence its appropriate
historical frame. The scholars of antiquity – taken with a grain of salt –
are borne out strikingly by the works of modern archaeology. Yet, this work is
not set to good use by forcing the excavators not to follow the strata in the
ground but pre-conceived chronology ideas. Modern Assyriology has excavated and
deciphered the very sources used by Greek historians in antiquity. This seminal
achievement will last forever.
1. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires: Egypt (Tell
el-Daba as best stratigraphy)
2. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires: Anatolia (Cappadocia)
3. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires: Northern Mesopotamia
4. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires: Southern Mesopotamia (Babylonia)
5. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires:
Iran (Susa, Perseopolis)
6. Stratigraphy and Search for Empires:
India (Harappa, Mohendjo Daro)
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