Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Place of the Šaknu in Assyrian Government

  • J. N. Postgate

The legacy of the Assyrian empire consisted chiefly in the administrative structure inherited by its successors, and hence Assyriologists have always been conscious of the interest of the “army” of officials who appear in the correspondence and administrative documents found in the palaces of Assyria. In reconstructing this system the views of the Assyrian scribes themselves are obviously worthy of our careful attention, and a long-known “practical” list of officials, etc. from Kouyunjik (K 4395, hereafter “the Kouyunjik list”) has been joined by two copies of a longer list from Sultan Tepe (STT 382 to 385, hereafter “the Sultan Tepe list”). Although parts of each are missing, and their arrangement is far from consistent, both lists give an invaluable idea of how the scribes viewed the different professions and appointments, and, within their own limits, they are obviously meant to give a fairly comprehensive account. Moreover, and this is of particular importance, they are lists of Assyrian terms, composed freshly from Assyrian sources and not dependent on the Babylonian lexical canon. Hence there is a reasonable expectation that they will give a picture of the situation at about the time in which we are interested, and we may even be allowed to hope that the lists may have been “up-dated” in the course of their existence to allow for changes. This hope does indeed seem to be fulfilled by the individual entries, which coincide very well with the repertoire of titles and their Schreibweise as these are known from 7th century documents. In this article devoted to a single title, šaknu, we shall have frequent occasion to refer to these practical lists, underlining their value to the “Neo-Assyriologist”.

Hide All

1 We do not mean to state categorically that this is impossible, merely that we do not consider it proven. Even in K LÚ šá-kìn may also be read LÚ.GAR.KUR = šakin māti, or rather šakin māt(-X), meaning “provincial governor”.

2 In TCAE 221 it was stated that the kiṣru held 50 men; but this was with the mistaken assumption that the rab kiṣri = the rab ḫanšē. Evidently it is equally possible, and perhaps more likely, that the kiṣru, which we know was the basic unit of Assyrian chariotry, held not only 100 horses but also 100 men, two of each to each chariot: this would account for the passage quoted from ABL 273. Nevertheless, it seems improbable that the same system involved units of both 100 and 50 men, and hence an explanation of the rab ḫanšē needs to look outside the kiṣru system. Provisionally, we suggest that the military auxiliaries (e.g. Itu'aeans) and other, not necessarily military, groups of non-Assyrians in government service were divided into 50s. The correct explanation may of course be more complex; for the rab ḫanšē in Assyria (and Babylonia) see Zablocka, J., Stosunki agrarne w państwie sargonidów, 104–5312.

3 See also the dedication text, ARU 44, where much the same arguments apply.

4 The mention of the šaknu in Exx. 9, 11, 12 and 13 above shows that the title's use reaches back at least into the early 8th century, although at this date his function may have been more purely military. For the high rank of the šaknu in later years, compare Assur-ban-apli's statement that “no governor was appointed and no officer commissioned without me” (LÚ.GAR-nu; Streck, M., VAB 7, 258, 28).

5 The equivalence ḫaṭru = kiṣru accords very opportunely with the recent suggestion of V. A. Livshitz that the first word derives from a Median word meaning “aggregate, union”, a substantive from the Old Iranian root hā(y)-, “unite, connect” (Vestnik Drevnei Istorii 1979/4, 100). This would therefore be a simple loan translation of kiṣru into Persian or Median. On the ḫatru in general see recently Cardascia, G., Armées et fiscalité dans la Babylonie achéménide (in Colloques nationaux du C.N.R.S. No. 936: Armées et fiscalité dans le monde antique, Paris 1977).

6 See also TCAE 2242; there are also literary and artistic influences which seem to have passed from Assyria to the Achaemenid empire without a Babylonian intermediary: see for example Walker, C. B. F., Iran 10 (1972) 159 or “despite the uncertainty about how Assyrian art influenced Achaemenid art, there can be no doubt that it was directly or indirectly of profound importance and formed the fundamental basis of the Persepolitan style”(Roaf, M. D., Sculptures and Sculptors at Persepolis [Oxford, D.Phil. thesis, 1978], I, 295; I am grateful to Dr. Roaf for enabling me to quote this concluding sentence of a ten-page discussion of the question.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Anatolian Studies
  • ISSN: 0066-1546
  • EISSN: 2048-0849
  • URL: /core/journals/anatolian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed