A tribal people of unknown origin, the Kassites (Kaššu) are attested mainly in Babylonia and western Iran in the second and first millennia BCE. Apart from Kassite-Akkadian bilinguals and Kassite onomastica (Balkan, 1954, pp. 2–4), a Kassite presence in Babylonia is deduced from textual references to a “land of the Kassites” (Kessler, 1982, p. 57, no. 1), a “king of the Kassites” (Brinkman, 1976, p. 405), a “Kassite” dynasty (Babylonian king list A), and certain individuals designated as Kassite in administrative records.
The Kassite dynasty (fifteenth-twelfth centuries BCE) is bracketed by two “dark ages” which obscure what is known of its rise and the aftermath of its fall. Though often dismissed as a reign lacking in cultural identity, Kassite rule brought an extended period of relative political stability and economic prosperity to a unified Sumer-Babylonia, which attained international prestige, ranking with Assyria, Ḫatti, and Egypt in the Amarna correspondence of the fifteenth-thirteenth centuries BCE. [See Amarna Tablets.] The culture and literature of Babylonia, promoted by the Kassites in an effort to legitimize their rule at home, spread throughout the Near East, along with the widespread adoption of Babylonian as the language of diplomacy.
Texts of the eighteenth century BCE provide the first references to individuals and groups of Kassites linked primarily with Sippar and its tribal environs. As agricultural laborers and militiamen, these early Kassites appear in collaboration, but also in confrontation, with the Babylonians. By the end of the Old Babylonian period, a Kassite is attested as far west as Alalakh in the Orontes valley; their main concentration lay on the Middle Euphrates and Khabur river valleys, near Khana and Terqa. This area was ruled by a king with the Kassite name of Kashtiliashu, who may have been a Babylonian vassal (Podany, 1991–1993, p. 60, n. 60).
From the region of Khana, the Kassites gained control of northern Babylonia following the decline of the first dynasty of Babylon in the early sixteenth century BCE. With the departure of the Sealand kings and the conquest of their territories, the Kassites then ruled over a united Sumer-Babylonia between about 1475 and 1155 BCE. Most of what is known about the Kassites of this period relates to the ruling dynasty.
According to the Babylonian king list A, the Kassite dynasty consisted of thirty-six kings who, with minor interruptions, reigned an unprecedented 576 years. Little is known of the earlier kings until the reign of Agum II. In an inscription known from a later copy, which may be a scribal forgery, Agum II is said to have returned the statues of Marduk and his wife from Khani to Babylon twenty-four years after their removal by the Hittites in about 1595 BCE (middle chronology). The first Kassite monarch to rule the north as king of Babylonia was Burna-Buriash I (c. 1510 BCE), but it is not until the late fifteenth century BCE that there are contemporary sources for the Kassite kings. Royal inscriptions and the Amarna letters, dating largely between 1402 and 1347 BCE, document the intensification of international relations between Egypt and Babylonia—from the initial exchange of ambassadors and gifts under Kara-indash (c. 1415 BCE) to diplomatic marriages and large-scale trade during the reign of Burna-Buriash II (1359–1333 BCE).
The early years of Sumero-Babylonian unification and the establishment of the Kassite dynasty were marked by extensive building programs, associated in particular with Karaindash and Kurigalzu I (c. 1390 BCE). With proceeds obtained largely from international trade, major restoration and reconstruction were undertaken in several old Sumerian cities, notably at Ur, Eridu and Uruk. A fortified capital or royal residence was erected at Dur Kurigalzu/῾Aqar Quf on the outskirts of modern Baghdad, presumably to defend the capital at Babylon against Assyria or Elam. With the decline of Mitannian hegemony in the mid-fourteenth century BCE, Babylon extended its boundaries northward to Kirkuk, where Kassites made up approximately 2 percent of the population in and around Nuzi (1440–1340 BCE), whose records provide the oldest archival corpus of Kassite onomastica. [See Mitanni.]
During the reign of Burna-Buriash II, the Kassite dynasty ranked among the major powers of the Near East, its monarch hailed internationally as a “Great King” and his family linked by diplomatic marriages to the courts of Ḫatti, Egypt, and Assyria, where the influence of Babylonian language, religion, and customs is apparent.
After 1335 BCE, the equilibrium was upset by occasional conflicts on the northern and eastern frontiers, with Babylonian incursions into Assyria and Iran and vice versa. A short-lived Assyrian interregnum under Ashur-Uballit I was followed by Tukulti-Ninurta I's more major conquest of Babylonia (c. 1225–1217 BCE), which recovered its independence before the Elamite invasion by Shutruk-Nahhunte brought about the end of the Kassite dynasty in about 1155 BCE. The deportation of prisoners and booty accounts for the presence of Kassites in northern Mesopotamia from the late thirteenth century BCE. They are still attested serving in various capacities in Neo-Assyrian records of the first millennium BCE. At this time, monarchs with Kassite names reigned in the northerly regions of Allabria and Na'iri. Large concentrations of Kassites had been settled to the east in the Namri (Namar)-Habban area, which fell under Assyrian influence in the ninth century BCE.
After the fall of the Kassite dynasty in the mid-twelfth century BCE, Kassites continued to reside in Babylonia, where they appear to have been fully assimilated. They bear Babylonian names and hold high governmental posts, until at least the ninth century BCE. Monarchs of Kassite descent occupied the throne under the second Sealand and Bazu dynasties in the late eleventh and early tenth centuries BCE. At that time, when trade relations to the west and north of Babylonia were being disrupted by the Arameans, there were close artistic and economic connections between Babylonia and the people living in the area of the Zagros Mountains, on either side of the Baghdad-Kermanshah road. It is there, in the piedmont hills of eastern Iraq and western Iran, that the majority of Kassites settled in the first millennium BCE. A warlike tribal people, they retained their independence from the Neo-Assyrian period through to Achaemenid and Hellenistic times, when the main textual sources are in Greek or Latin (Brinkman, 1968, 1972, 1976).
Language and Literature.
Knowledge of the Kassite language and its syntax is limited, based as it is on bilingual lists and scattered references to Kassite deities, names, terms, and words. From what is known, it bears no relation to any other language or language family. Archives and texts dating to the Kassite dynasty have been found at numerous sites on the Middle Euphrates (Terqa); in the Hamrin (Tell Mohammed, Tell Imlihiye, Tell Zubaydi); in Sumer-Babylonia (Ur, Larsa, Uruk, Isin, Nippur, Babylon, Dur Kurigalzu, Sippar); at Susa; and on both Failaka (Kuwait) and Bahrain (Qala῾at al-Bahrain). The bulk, largely unpublished, are written in Middle Babylonian and concern economic life. Dedicatory building inscriptions were, by contrast, written in Sumerian. [See Sumerian.] These, the letters, and the royal inscriptions (notably from Dur Kurigalzu) shed light on international affairs, the conventional titulary of the Kassite monarchs, and their public display of power and piety through major building projects. Boundary stones (kudurru) from the final quarter of the dynasty inform on the tax structure and provincial administration under Kassite rule.
In addition to restoring and maintaining national shrines, the Kassite kings also promoted the collection, composition, and recording of literary works, which were stored in temple libraries, such as those largely preserved at Ur, Uruk, Nippur, Babylon, and Sippar. Some of these were looted by Tukulti-Ninurta I, following his sack of Babylon in the thirteenth century BCE. It appears that many of the standard literary works found in the later Neo-Assyrian libraries of the seventh century BCE are copies of Kassite originals and compilations. Scribal families of the first millennium BCE claimed descent from famous Kassite forebears, one of whom, Sin-leqe-unnini, is credited with the authorship of the eleven-tablet Epic of Gilgamesh found in Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh.
Sociopolitical Structure and Settlement Patterns.
As ruler of a unified Sumer-Babylonia, the Kassite monarch replaced the old political structure of city-states with a national state and surpassed his predecessors in international prestige. In what appears to have been an attempt to appease the ancient Sumerian centers, the Kassite monarchs (who bore Kassite names until the reign of Kudur-Enlil [1254–1246 BCE], when some assumed Babylonian names) adopted Babylonian titulary, customs, religion, and language.
For much of its rule, the Kassite monarchy was dominated by a single family; the normal succession being father-son, but fraternal succession may also have occurred. The Amarna correspondence demonstrates that the palace engaged in foreign trade—though the extent of its involvement is uncertain—and royal participation in military maneuvers—which then incorporated the horse and chariot—is also attested.
Information on the government bureaucracy, provincial administration, and taxation derives mainly from kudurrus (boundary stones) of the last quarter of the dynasty. The individual provinces were governed by a šaknu/šaknu mati (governor/governor of the land) or, in the case of Nippur, the šandabakku (a unique title for the governor of Nippur), but little is known of their duties or the extent of their jurisdiction. Private ownership of land was recognized by the crown. Exemption from taxes in kind, corvée, and military service was normally obtained only by royal decree, which may have been granted to certain religious cities (e.g., Babylon) at this time.
Apart from the ruling dynasty, little is known of the Kassite aristocracy or the Kassite component within the population of Babylonia. Kassite social structure was tribal, based on a unit called House of So-and-So, after an eponymous ancestor. Each house or clan, comprising persons related in the male line, involved up to several villages with considerable agricultural land and was headed by a bēl biti (“lord of the house”). The Kassite tribal organization is best attested between 1200 and 850 BCE. There are, however, references to Kassite “houses” in the eighteenth century BCE, suggesting the existence of similar social units on the outskirts of Old Babylonian cities. These units seem to have retained their social structure throughout the period of the Kassite dynasty. The prominence of relatively small clan and tribal units in Kassite society may account for the steady rise in the percentage of small nonurban settlements (e.g., Tell Zubaydi) and the decline in urban complexes in Babylonia during the Late Bronze Age.
The extensive building and restoration programs undertaken by the Kassite monarchs in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE were largely financed by trade, in particular with Egypt. In its age-old role as middleman, Babylonia prospered at the center of a complex network of commercial contacts that spread throughout the Near East and beyond to the Aegean, as well as to present-day Afghanistan. Babylonian textiles, horses (steeds), and chariots were sent west to Egypt with transhipped luxury items such as lapis lazuli in exchange for gold and precious stones. The textual evidence for far-flung trade during the Amarna period is borne out in the archaeological record by the discovery of a Babylonian cylinder at Failaka and another in the Uluburun shipwreck, which was bound westward, where Kassite seals made of lapis lazuli were found in a hoard at Thebes in Boeotia (Porada, 1981). Evidence for foreign shipments within Babylonia include a Mycenaean-style ingot from Tell al-Abyad, as well as Egyptian jewelry found at Babylon, Tell ed-Der, and Nippur. As a result of this trade, the country's economy went on the gold standard, which lasted at least until the reign of Ada-shuma-iddina (c. 1222–1217 BCE). Under the last kings of the dynasty, trade had dwindled to such an extent that Babylonia briefly went on a copper standard.
Religion and Burial Customs.
The official embrace of Mesopotamian religion and liturgy left little trace of the veneration of Kassite deities, and much of the evidence is textual. The investiture of the Kassite kings took place at Babylon in the shrine of their patron deities, Šuqamuna and his consort Šimalija, both mountain deities of foreign origin, whose names occur in Ugaritic literature and whose statues were still preserved in the seventh century BCE. There is an indication of a possible cult of a Kassite goddess (dKaššītu) in about the mid-first millennium BCE at Uruk and perhaps also at Babylon.
Other prominent Kassite deities include: Buriaš, the weather god; Ḫarbe, the lord of the pantheon—a god also venerated in Hurrian areas; Maruttaš (often equated with the Sumero-Akkadian Ninurta); Mirizir, a goddess identified with the generic Bēltu; Saḫ, a sun god; Šipak, the moon god; and Šuriaš, the more common solar deity. The names of some of the Kassite gods have been compared with Indo-European deities, but contact, if any, would have occurred prior to the arrival of the Kassites in Mesopotamia (Brinkman, 1976).
As with the religious and literary culture of the Kassites, there is little remaining in the way of architecture, industry, or art that is quintessentially Kassite. At the capital, Babylon, most of the Kassite occupation lies under the water table, but contemporary levels have been exposed at several ancient Sumerian cities (Nippur, Isin, Larsa, and Ur) and, most recently, in the Hamrin and Haditha regions. [See Hamrin Dam Salvage Project.] These provide evidence for Kassite town planning, as well as secular and religious architecture and burials—which, on the whole, adhere to Mesopotamian conventions. Much the same applies to the extant artwork of the Kassite period, which is characterized by the selective adaptation of established forms and iconography.
Architecture and architectural decoration.
The earliest-known Kassite building is the Inanna temple built by Kara-indash at Uruk (late fifteenth century BCE). Its rectangular plan follows the Assyrian langraum scheme, with the entrance in the center of the short wall, directly opposite the altar. Its exterior decoration of baked, molded bricks is derived from unbaked variations at Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian temples. The alternating mountain and water deities, which decorate the facade, each have older prototypes, but their combination is unique. Fragments of molded-brick ornament have also been found at Ur, Nippur, Larsa, and Dur Kurigalzu. The technique was adopted and developed by the Elamites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.
Dur Kurigalzu was most probably founded by Kurigalzu I in the early fourteenth century BCE. The eroded remains of its ziggurat, which still rises about 57 m above the plain, was often mistaken by early travelers for the biblical Tower of Babel. [See Ziggurat.] Its mud-brick core was leveled and bonded with layers of reed matting and plaited ropes at regular intervals. Aside from this construction method, the ziggurat conforms to southern decoration and plan with an exterior facade of buttresses and recesses and a triple staircase giving access to the temple on top. Also reminiscent of Ur III and Isin/Larsa-period religious precincts is the adjoining complex of partially excavated courtyards and corridors—identified as temples though they lack a recognizable shrine.
The palace at Tell Abyad, 700 m northwest of the ziggurat, covered an area of about 300 sq m. It consisted of several courtyard blocks with four building levels, of which level II is associated with tablets of Kudur-Enlil (1254–1246 BCE) and Kashtiliashu IV (1232–1225 BCE); level I contained those of Marduk-apla-iddina (1171–1159 BCE). Wall painting, found in all four building levels, is especially well preserved in level IC, where individuals and groups are shown in procession. The procession motif prefigures the common theme of Assyrian palace decoration, and the fez, which is later adopted as the royal headdress in Assyria, appears here in connection with one group of Babylonian nobility or Assyrian subjects. [See Wall Paintings.]
The Kassites are credited with the introduction of the kudurru, an elaborately carved boundary stone which served to commemorate royal land grants (see figure 1). Most popular in the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries BCE, the oldest extant kudurru dates to the fourteenth century BCE; they continued to be made into the first millennium BCE. The text is generally accompanied by a relief decoration illustrating the symbols of the deities who witnessed the transaction. While most deities and symbols are Mesopotamian in origin, three symbols (a bird with its head reversed, a bird on a pole, and the cross) represent Kassite gods.
Kassite glyptic is conventionally divided into four main styles, whose regional and chronological distribution is difficult to determine on the basis of the evidence available to date. First Kassite has been traced to origins in the eighteenth century BCE although a number of seals from the Khana kingdom have now been redated to the sixteenth century BCE (Podany, 1991–1993). It is seen as an outgrowth of the late Old Babylonian style, continuing to at least the mid-thirteenth century BCE. Characterized by its hard-stone material and full-length inscriptions, this group includes most of the seals inscribed with royal names. [See Seals.] Comparisons between this group and the later paintings at ῾Aqar Quf, on the one hand, and Kassite kudurru on the other, are considered unconvincing. Caps of granulated gold, once regarded as typically Kassite, are now known to have been used during the reign of Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria.
Second Kassite includes a variety of mainly symmetrical designs of which the most important is the “cthonic god” series. The scenes depicting a god rising from either water or mountains resemble the figural decoration on the Temple of Kara-indash at Uruk and find parallels at Aššur. Other typical designs are centered on an upright man, demon, or tree that is flanked by diagonal fish men, animals, or monsters. This group ranges from the fourteenth to late thirteenth centuries BCE. The related Third Kassite/Isin II group is posited in the twelfth century BCE, on account of its apparent derivation from Assyrian prototypes of the thirteenth century BCE. The scenes concentrate on the themes of animals, monsters, and trees and are identified above all by the volute tree and garland motif.
Pseudo-Kassite is typified by its soft-stone or composite material, its truncated inscriptions, horizontal and vertical borders, and the twisted tree. A tentative origin in the mid-fourteenth century BCE is argued on the basis of impressions on dated tablets from Nippur. A hybrid group, pseudo-Kassite designs show influence form Babylonian, Mitannian, and Elamite traditions. (Matthews, 1992; Kühne, 1995).
The Kassite-period industry in luxury goods is characterized by the production of faience, sintered quartz, and glass wares, which, in common with other production centers of the Amarna Age, was largely restricted to local needs. A foreign, Egyptian influence is manifest in the jewelry of this period, as well as in the painted terra-cotta head from the palace at ῾Aqar Quf.
[See also Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia. In addition, most of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]
- Balkan, Kemal. Kassitenstudien I: Die Sprache der Kassiten. Translated from Turkish by F. R. Kraus. American Oriental Series, 37. New Haven, 1954.
- Dosch, Gudrun, and Karlheinz Deller. “Die Familie Kizzuk. Sieben Kassitengenerationen in Temfena und Šuriniwe.” In Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians, edited by M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen, vol. 1, pp. 91–113. Bloomington, Ind., 1981.
- Kessler, Karlheinz. “Kassitische Tontafeln von Tell Imliḥiye.” Baghdader Mitteilungen 13 (1982): 51–116.
- Lambert, W. G. “Ancestors, Authors, and Canonicity.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 11 (1957): 1–14.
- Prichard, James, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d ed. Princeton, 1969.
Language and Texts
- Brinkman, John A. A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia, 1158–722 B.C. Analecta Orientalia, 43. Rome, 1968. See pages 246–259.
- Brinkman, John A. “Foreign Relations of Babylonia from 1600 to 625 B.C.: The Documentary Evidence.” American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972): 271–281.
- Brinkman, John A. “The Monarchy in the Time of the Kassite Dynasty.” In Le palais et la royauté: Archéologie et civilisation; compte rendu de la 19e rencontre Assyriologique internationale, edited by Paul Garelli, pp. 395–408. Paris, 1974.
- Brinkman, John A. Materials and Studies for Kassite History, vol. 1, A Catalogue of Cuneiform Sources Pertaining to Specific Monarchs of the Kassite Dynasty. Chicago, 1976.
- Edzard, Dietz O. “Die Beziehungen Babyloniens und Ägyptens in der mittelbabylonischen Zeit und das Gold.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3 (1960): 38–55.
- Podony, Amanda. “A Middle Babylonian Date for the Ḫana Kingdom.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 43–45 (1991–1993): 53–62.
Art and Archaeology
- Baqir, Taha. Iraq Government Excavations at ῾Aqar Quf, 1942–1943. London, 1944.
- Baqir, Taha. Iraq Government Excavations at ῾Aqar Quf: Second Interim Report, 1943–1944. London, 1945.
- Beran, Thomas. “Die babylonische Glyptik der Kassitenzeit.” Archiv für Orientforschung 18 (1957): 255–278.
- Boehmer, Rainer Michael, and Heinz-Werner Dämmer. Tell Imliḥiye, Tell Zubeidi, Tell Abbas. Baghdader Forschungen, 7 Mainz am Rhein, 1985.
- Invernizzi, Antonio. “Excavations in the Yelkhi Area (Hamrin Project, Iraq).” Mesopotamia 15 (1980): 19–49.
- Kühne, Hartmut. “Der mittelassyriche ‘Cut Style.’” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 85.2 (1995): 277–301.
- Matthews, Donald M. Principles of Composition in Near Eastern Glyptic of the Later Second Millennium B.C. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, Series Archaeologica, 8. Freiburg, 1990.
- Matthews, Donald M. The Kassite Glyptic of Nippur. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 116. Freiburg, 1992.
- Porada, Edith. “The Cylinder Seals Found at Thebes in Boeotia.” Archiv für Orientforschung 28 (1981): 1–70.
- Seidl, Ursula. Die babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 87. Freiburg, 1989.
- Spycket, Agnès. “Kassite and Middle Elamite Sculpture.” In Later Mesopotamia and Iran: Tribes and Empires 1600–539 BC, edited by John Curtis, pp. 25–32. London, 1995.
- Tomabechi, Yoko. “Wall Paintings from Dur Kurigalzu.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 42 (1983): 123–131.
Diana L. Stein