Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-2bgxn Total loading time: 0.335 Render date: 2022-11-30T04:24:22.257Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Assyrian Sources of Iron

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2014


In his introduction to the Nimrud wine tablets Professor Mallowan has pointed out that the closest source of iron for Assyria were mines noted by Layard in Kurdistan, notably in the Berwari valley north-east of Amadiya, and also in the Tiyari mountains “particularly in the heights above Lizan”.

Iron was also observed by Layard only “three or four days journey from Mosul”, “in great quantities scattered on the sides of mountains,” and his information is confirmed by the Rev. George Percy Badger who visited Kurdistan between 1842 and 1850. He gives the following information, “of iron they have abundance in several parts of Tiyari, this they smelt and beat out into rude ploughshares and such other tools as they require for tillage. The people of Asheetha, however, are famed for tempering steel, and the best packing needles used by Kurdish muleteers are made in this village”. Deposits in the Kurdistan mountains may also have been the closest source of supply for the land of Muṣaṣir.

Although we can suspect that these sources were exploited by the Assyrians, archaeological and documentary evidence is lacking and this preliminary study concerns other possible sources in Anatolia and Syria with reference to Assyrian textual references and evidence concerning the most important deposits known to-day, including those recorded in the last century. At the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennia B.C. the expansion of the Assyrian armed forces necessitated regular and increasing supplies of smelted iron ore which could be used in the production, not only of weapons, but of tools and implements for use in building, agriculture and other allied crafts.

Research Article
IRAQ , Volume 36 , Issue 1-2 , October 1974 , pp. 139 - 154
Copyright © The British Institute for the Study of Iraq 1974

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Wilson, J. V. Kinnier, The Nimrud Wine lists, xiiGoogle Scholar; Layard, A. H., Nineveh and its Remains I, 225Google Scholar—see map at end of Vol. I for “iron mines” between the Great Zab and Amadiya, near Dura; Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Geographical Handbook, 1942 (Admiralty Naval Intelligence Division), 112, Fig. 28. The Foreign Office Guide to Mesopotamia (1920), 84, refers to the existence of large quantities of iron ore in the Sergusa hills north of Amadiya which used to be worked but insecurity caused abandonment of the mine. “Other deposits are reported East of Amadiya and in the Dohuk district”.

2 The Nestorians and their Rituals with a narrative of a mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842–1844 (London, 1852Google Scholar; 1969 edition, Gregg International Publishers Farnborough), 215 ff. A. H. Layard, op. cit., II, 415. The village of Aşuta, where Layard visited the copper mine in 1840, now lies in Turkey.

3 Boehmer, R. M. (Baghdader Mitteilungen 6 (1973), 3140Google Scholar, Abb. 1, Taf. 1–3) suggests the identification of Muṣaṣir with the village of Mudjesir in the upper valley of a small tributary of the Great Zab N.E. of Stoleka.

4 Iranian iron deposits require a separate study. See Cambridge History of Iran I, 496, Fig. 113Google Scholar; Wertime, T. A. in Science 159, (1968), 927 ffCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Cleere, H. F., “The Classification of Early Iron-Smelting Furnaces,” AJ 52 (1972), 823Google Scholar, surveys the European evidence.

6 Jankowska, N. B., in Ancient Mesopotamia, ed. Diakonoff, I. M. (Moscow, 1969), 253Google Scholar.

7 I.e. the spongy pieces of metallic iron produced by the initial smelting process.

8 King, L. W., AKA, 101 lines 11–14Google Scholar. Mention of Nairi also occurs in die tablets from Tell al Rimah where although the metal traded was annaku (tin) which often comes from Nairi, a few instances of consignments of šarbu occur. In TR. 3008 Wiseman suggests that šarbu could denote a metal ore or slag and if rašubat (rašābu, “to blaze”) is part of the description, it is possible that the tablet refers to 23 minas of smelted iron ore (Iraq 30 (1968), 180Google Scholar). The source of the šarbu is not given. It is unlikely that lumps of unsmelted ore would have been imported to Rimah but a consignment of lumps of bloom-iron c. 23 lb. in weight would be reasonable. Tylecote refers to a bloom of probably 30 lb. produced by the Tudely bloomery in Kent (14th cent A.D.), where the account roll gives a yearly output of about 200 blooms a year (Metallurgy in Archaeology, 273).

9 Weidner, E., AfO, Beiheft 12 (1959), 27Google Scholar, no. 16 1. 44. Grayson, A. K., Assyrian Royal Inscriptions I (1972), 108, § 714Google Scholar; 118, §773; copper axes could be used for cutting trees, but copper picks or hoes would be ineffective tools. See CAD s.v. akkullu; Salvini, M., Nairi e Ur(u)aṭri, 20 f.Google Scholar; Salonen, A., Agricultura Mesopotamia, 157Google Scholar.

10 King, L. W., AKA, 85 1. 66Google Scholar; Luckenbill, D. D., ARAB I, §§ 405, 411Google Scholar. Ammi-ba'li may not have been a ruler of a Nairi state, but could have obtained his metal supplies from Nairi. He probably ruled an area located somewhere between the Tigris and Lake Van. For a dagger of iron and a lance of habalginnu in a Middle Assyrian administrative text, see Postgate, J. N., Iraq 35 (1973), 13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Quiring, H., “Die Erzgrundlagen der ältesten Eisenerzeugung” (Zeitschrift für praktische Geologie 41 (1933), 128Google Scholar; C. W. Ryan, op. cit., 112).

12 A. Goetze, Kizzuwadna and the Problem of Hittite Geography, KBo I, 14 ll. 20–26.

13 parzillu damqu can be translated either as “good quality bloom-iron” which had to be re-heated and hammered (i.e. forged) to squeeze out the remaining slag, or as “wrought iron” ready to be worked up into artifacts.

14 Garstang, J. and Gurney, O. R., Geography of the Hittite Empire, 44, 50 f.Google Scholar; Admiralty Handbook of Asia Minor I (1919), 132Google Scholar, states that the Berit Daǧ deposits “are difficult of access and for that reason have not been worth exploitation. The inhabitants of Zeitun and the neighbourhood, however, have been permitted by the Government to mine the ore without tax and sell it in Aintab and Marash”. The Farasa iron deposits were an important centre in Ottoman times and today superficial deposits of haematite and limonite ore and many old workings are visible in this region. The Greek inhabitants of the villages of Gürümze and Bahçecik in the Farasa iron district were still engaged in smelting iron ore some years prior to 1919.

15 J. A. Knudtzon, Die El-Amarna Tafeln, no. 22. I, 32, 38, II 1, 3, 16, III, 7, 49; Laroche, E., RHA 60 (1957), 9 ff.Google Scholar, refers to a bilingual Hattian-Hittite text where Hittite hapalki is equated with the Sumerogram AN.BAR. In the list of iron objects in Hittite texts AN.BAR can be distinguished from AN.BAR MI, “black metal of the sky”, i.e. meteoric iron, which occurs far less frequently. There is no evidence for translating hapalkinu as steel.

16 Wainwright, G. A., Antiquity 10 (1936), 524CrossRefGoogle Scholar, has suggested that the blade of Tutankhamun's dagger may not belong to the hilt and could have been imported separately.

17 Schaeffer, C., Ugaritica I, 107 ff., Pl. XXIIGoogle Scholar; Richardson, H. C., Berytus 8 (1943), 72Google Scholar.

18 Bottero, J., RA 43 (1949), 1 ffGoogle Scholar.

19 Goetze, A., JCS 7 (1953), 59, note 47Google Scholar.

20 C. Ryan, op. cit., 108, 112; Chesney, F. R., Euphrates expedition 521–2Google Scholar. Ainsworth records that “the sands of the river … abound in iserine or magnetic iron … which could be separated from the sand by a magnet.” See also Ainsworth, W. F., Researches in Assyria, Babylonia and Chaldaea, 270Google Scholar.

21 le Strange, G., Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, 110Google Scholar.

23 Anabasis II, 5 “Their livelihood was for the most part derived from working in iron.” Pleiner summarizes the classical references in Iron working in Ancient Greece (Prague, 1969), 26–7Google Scholar.

24 Hamilton, W. J., Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus, and Armenia I (1842), 275–7Google Scholar. Hamilton's description of iron smelting near Ünye after he had been taken 5 miles into the mountains and received hospitality in a “rude forge and hut, constructed of branches and trees”, is worth quoting to illustrate the primitive methods used in 1835. He was informed that “there were no mines, but that the ore was found everywhere about the hills near the surface. This they proved by scraping up the soil near their hut with a mattock, and collecting small nodular masses … The ore is poor, and the miners … are at the same time charcoal-burners, for their own use; removing their huts and forges to a more productive spot, as soon as they have exhausted the ore and consumed the wood in their immediate vicinity.” The ore was smelted in a blacksmith's forge, and the process was extremely laborious with 180 okes of ore producing only 3 pigs of metal weighting 6 okes or 13½ lb each. The ore only yielded 10% of metal and for this 300 okes of charcoal was necessary. (The modern oke weighs 2·8 lb.). “The blast of the furnace is kept up for 24 hours, during which the mass must be constantly stirred, and the scum and scoria raked off, after which the melted iron is found at the bottom, which, from the specimen I saw, appeared of very good quality … Returning to Unieh, we passed die remains of several forges in places where the ore had been completely worked out, and where the ground was strewn with ashes”.

25 Maxwell-Hyslop, K. R., Iraq 15 (1953), 75, n. 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Malamat, A., VT 5 (1955), 3 ffGoogle Scholar.

26 von Schuler, E., Die Kaskäer, 75 ffGoogle Scholar.

27 Garstang and Gurney, op. cit., 44, 64, 91 and Map 1; Macqueen, J., An St 18 (1968), 169, Fig. 11CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 Garstang and Gurney, op. cit., 17, 42; H. H. von der Osten, Explorations in Hittite Asia Minor (OIC 6), Fig. 155.

29 Garstang and Gurney, op. cit., 33 ff.

30 Garstang, J., JNES 1 (1942), 454, MapGoogle Scholar.

31 Alp, S., “Die Lage von Šamuha,” Anatolia 1 (1956), 7780Google Scholar.

32 Garstang and Gurney, op. cit., 31.

33 Güterbock, H. G., JCS 10 (1956), 91Google Scholar.

34 D. D. Luckenbill, ARAB I, § 226.

35 ARAB I, § 412. See Mallowan, M. E. L., An St 22 (1972), 68, n. 16Google Scholar, quoting J. D. Hawkins who reads Hamataya as a gentilic “the Hamatean” or man of Hamath.

36 King, L. W., AKA, 230, l. 12Google Scholar; 331, l. 96; 270, l. 49; 342, l. 122.

37 Parpola, S., Neo-Assyrian Toponyms, 98Google Scholar; King, L. W., AKA, 241 l. 52Google Scholar.

38 Merlat, Pierre, Jupiter Dolichenus (1960), 4, 76, 132Google Scholar.

39 Chesney, op. cit., 135–6, 188, 219; von der Osten, OIC 8, 106–7 Fig. 112.

40 Pritchard, J. B., ANET (1950), 275Google Scholar.

41 ARAB I, §§ 443, 475.

42 ARAB I, § 601. Hattina appears again as a source of iron tribute in the later campaign of year 28, ibid., § 585.

43 Laessøe, J., Iraq 21 (1959), 150 l. 15Google Scholar.

44 Cf. Mallowan, M. E. L., An St 22 (1972), 67 Fig. 1Google Scholar; H. Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, Pl. 163; AiS III, Tafel XL; Thureau-Dangin, F., Dunand, M., Til Barsib I, 1Google Scholar.

45 Lambert, W. G., An St 11 (1961), 150, lines 20, 22, 33Google Scholar.

46 ARAB I, § 221; see Wilson, J. Kinnier, Iraq 24 (1962), 102 f.Google Scholar, for the location of Enzite either in the Harput-Gölcük area, or territory to the east on the south bank of the Murat Su; also Adontz, N., Histoire d'Armenie, 80Google Scholar, for a possible identification of Enzite with Tell-Enzit, near Elazığ.

47 van Loon, M., Middle East Technical University Keban project publications, I (Ankara 1970), 99, Fig. 11Google Scholar. Iron implements and piece of armour scale belong to Hittite Empire levels; an iron knife and sickle to the post-Hittite period.

48 Garstang and Gurney, op. cit., 52.

49 ARAB II, §§ 26, 60.

50 Die Kaškaer, 68; for the location of these fortresses see Forrer, E., Provinzeinteilung, 7576Google Scholar.

51 Naster, P., L'Asie mineure et l'Assyrie, 51Google Scholar.

52 Tentatively identified by Garstang and Gurney with Hittite Pahhuwa, op. cit., 35.

53 Chesney, F. R., The Euphrates expedition during the years 18351837Google Scholar, Appendix by Ainsworth, 526–7.

54 Page, S., Iraq 30 (1968), 144Google Scholar, compares the amounts given on the Calah slab, the Saba'a stele and the Rimah stele.

55 For the Lebanon as a source of iron at the time of Nabonidus, see Oppenheim, A. L., JCS 21 (1967), 237Google Scholar.

56 Landsberger, B., Sam'al, 19Google Scholar, n. 39, discusses the boundaries of Tabal in the 8th century B.C. Fo recent work in this area see Özgüç, T.Kültepe and its Vicinity in the Iron Age (Ankara, 1971)Google Scholar.

57 For Cilicia as a distribution centre for iron in the Neo-Babylonian period, see Albright, W. F., BASOR 120 (1950), 22 ffGoogle Scholar.

58 For a similar iron bar from Delphi with small hole probably intended for a cord so that several bars could be easily transported see Pleiner, R., Iron working in Ancient Greece (Prague, 1969), Figs. 5, 7Google Scholar. For details of a repair to the iron storehouse at Assur, see Pfeiffer, R. H., State letters of Assyria (America Oriental Society, Series 6, 1935)Google Scholar, no. 146= HABL no. 91.

59 We have no precise information as to the date of the introduction of steel in Western Asia; its use in Roman times is well attested; Chalybic steel was used for files and borers, Sinopic steel for carpenters' tools.

60 Nimrud and its Remains II, 441Google Scholar; Maxwell-Hyslop, K. R. and Hodges, H., Iraq 28 (1966), 164176CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Smith, C. S.The Techniques of the Luristan smith (ACS symposium on Archaeological Chemistry, Atlantic City, 09 1968)Google Scholar; Pleiner, R., Ar Anz 1969, 41 ffGoogle Scholar.

61 Seton Lloyd, Sennacherib's aqueduct at Jerwan; Strommenger, E., The Art of Mesopotamia, 449 f.Google Scholar, Pls. 232, 233 (BM. Nos. 124821–2) A. Paterson, Palace of Sinacherib, Pls. 32–33.

62 Ibid., Pbs. 34–35.

63 In Europe up to the 14th century A.D. the Waldschmied using local supplies of charcoal roasted and smelted the iron ore, and many farmers had their own small forges to make agricultural tools. A different pattern is known in medieval times in the Lake district of England and in Yorkshire where the monastic houses had to ensure a plentiful supply of ore for the manufacture of tools. In Furness the monks sent the ore to the fells by pack horse to be smelted in small bloomeries which were often sited in exposed positions to obtain the maximum amount of wind. The plentiful amount of charcoal in the valleys of the fells, the remains of bloomeries round Coniston and the slag heaps visible to-day in this area attest seasonal activities of local ironworkers, many of whom were farmers or shepherds. (Cowper, H. S., Notes from Hawkshead (1899)Google Scholar; R. F. Tylecote, op. cit., 290): Reference to itinerant smiths who might move their furnaces occur in a charter regulating the iron mining activities of the Cistercians of Jervaulx dated 1281 A.D. (Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300–1326, p. 96). In 1145 Jervaulx had been granted the right to dig and use iron and lead ore if they found it on their pasture in the forest of Wensleydale (Early Yorkshire Charters IV, ed. Sir Charles Clay, no. 24, p. 26).

64 Von Schuler op. cit., 76–7, and 120, lines 52–56.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Assyrian Sources of Iron
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Assyrian Sources of Iron
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Assyrian Sources of Iron
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *