Battle of Qarqar (853 BCE)

30 August 2009
Statue of Šalmaneser III from Aššur (Arkeoloji Müzesi, Istanbul)

Statue of Šalmaneser III from Aššur (Arkeoloji Müzesi, Istanbul)

I did not intend to write about the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BCE, but when I was again forced to refer to the clash between the Assyrian king Šalmaneser III and a coalition of some twelve Syrian states, this time in a piece on the Nabataeans that I find more important, I decided to put online a page, if only to get rid of it. Of course, when I was occupied with the subject, I started to like it.

Well, “like it”: it remains warfare, which is a dirty job. Šalmaneser himself says that he filled the plain of Qarqar (in northwestern Syria) with the corpses of his dead enemies, that he “made the blood of his defeated enemies flow in the wadis”, that “the field was too small for laying flat their bodies,” that “the broad countryside had been consumed in burying them,” and that he “blocked the Orontes river with their corpses as with a causeway”.

There is some reasonable doubt whether the Assyrians really overcame their enemies. In fact, they appear to have been on the defensive during in the next years. Yet, in 841, they reached Damascus and king Jehu of Israel offered tribute. Qarqar may not have been the decisive Šalmaneser claims it had been, but it surely marked the beginning of the end of independent Syria.

One of the coalition members, by the way, was king Ahab of Israel, who is better known as one of the archvillains of the Bible. During the battle, he commanded one of the largest units. You can read more about the battle here.

Antioch and the Orontes

1 December 2008
the battlefield in 1274 BCE.

The plain of the Orontes near Kadesh: the battlefield in 1274 BCE.

The valley of the middle Orontes is not only extremely fertile, it is also flat, so that armies can easily encounter each other. The river has seen many military engagements. The most famous of these is the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE, in which the armies of the Hittite king Muwatalli II and pharaoh Ramses II clashed; the latter won a tactical victory, but had to admit that the valley was taken over by the Hittites. Many other encounters have been recorded.

In c.300 BCE, Seleucus I Nicator founded three cities along the river: Apamea, Antioch, and Seleucia. Antioch became the main residence of his dynasty and the capital of the Roman province Syria. Today, it is a lively city, with a splendid museum full of ancient mosaics. I moved and expanded my page on Antioch; it is now here. Only 220 pages to go.

And for those interested in Diodorus of Sicily‘s Library of World History: Bill Thayer has now completed the online edition of Book 20.