Nihriya (1230 BC)

The Hittite king Tudhaliya IV, son and successor of Hattusili, made no call on Babylonian support when he clashed with the Assyrians in the battle of Nihriya (c. 1230) in northern Mesopotamia – and was resoundingly defeated by them.

Assyria and Hatti in conflict We have noted the involvement of Ini-Teshub in this affair. As viceroy of Carchemish, Ini-Teshub proved a highly competent administrator and an invaluable support to the Great King by his efficient governance of his own kingdom, and more broadly by the vital role he played in maintaining stability within Hatti’s Syrian territories-particularly at this time when fears were mounting of renewed Assyrian aggression. Tudhaliya’s father Hattusili had tried to cultivate good relations with the Assyrian king Shalmaneser I (c. 1263-1234),19 and for a time there was peace between the Great Kingdoms. But tensions returned and escalated sharply during Tudhaliya’s reign, especially when Shalmaneser invaded and destroyed the Hittite-backed kingdom of Hanigalbat, the final remnant of the fomer Mitannian empire. Hanigalbat’s territory had extended to the east bank of the Euphrates. By conquering it, Shalmaneser expanded his power to a mere river’s breadth away from Hittite territory. An Assyrian invasion of Tudhaliya’s Syrian states seemed imminent. Then came news of Shalmaneser’s death and his replacement on the Assyrian throne by his young son Tukulti-Ninurta. Tudhaliya wrote to the new king in cordial terms, congratulating him on his accession, and praising the exploits of his father-a necessary piece of diplomatic hypocrisy. He made an explicit offer of friendship to the new king, who wrote a warm letter in reply, expressing his own desire for friendship. Perhaps this would mark the beginning of a new era of peace between Hatti and Assyria.

It was too good to be true. Tukulti-Ninurta had barely mounted his throne before he began preparations for a major offensive against a number of Hurrian states in northern Mesopotamia. This was alarming news for Tudhaliya. For an Assyrian conquest of the region would give Tukulti-Ninurta control of the major routes leading across the Euphrates into Hittite territory in Anatolia. Already his subject lands along the river’s east bank provided him with immediate access to Syria. The time for diplomatic posturing was over, and Tudhaliya declared the Assyrian king his enemy. This we learn from a treaty he drew up with the Amurrite king Shaushgamuwa. Hatti and Assyria were now at war, he informed his vassal. Bans were to be imposed on all commercial dealings between Amurru and Assyria: `As the king of Assyria is the enemy of My Sun, so must he also be your enemy. No merchant of yours is to go to the Land of Assyria, and you must allow no merchant of Assyria to enter your land or pass through your land. If, however, an Assyrian merchant comes to your land, seize him and send him to My Sun. Let this be your obligation under divine oath! And because I, My Sun, am at war with the king of Assyria, when I call up troops and chariotry you must do likewise.’

A showdown between the two Great Kings was now inevitable. It took place in the region of Nihriya in north-eastern Mesopotamia, probably north or north-east of modern Diyabakir. In a letter to the king of Ugarit, Tukulti-Ninurta described the conflict, disclaiming all responsibility for initiating it. He had no wish for war with Hatti, he declared. His campaign had been directed primarily at a region called the Nairi lands, which had nothing to do with the Hittites. Tudhaliya saw things differently. The Assyrian campaign in the region was but one more stage in the continuing expansion of the Assyrian empire which ultimately threatened Hatti, and he made the decision to confront the Assyrian forces there and then, outside Hittite territory and in support of the local kings who were the object of the Assyrian offensive. Tukulti-Ninurta sent an ultimatum to Tudhaliya to back off and withdraw from Nihriya. When Tudhaliya ignored it and continued his advance, Tukulti-Ninurta ordered his forces to attack. If we are to believe the account he gives in his letter to the Ugaritic king, the Hittite forces were routed. It was one of the very few occasions in the history of the Late Bronze Age that two of the Great Kingdoms ever met in an all-out pitched battle. And though we have only the Assyrian version of the engagement, almost certainly the Hittites were heavily defeated. With their defence forces now substantially weakened, all looked set for an Assyrian invasion across the Euphrates. Indeed, two later inscriptions from Tukulti-Ninurta’s reign may indicate that the Assyrians did attack Hittite territory at this time. The inscriptions refer to the capture of 28,800 troops `of Hatti’ from across the Euphrates. But most scholars think that the figure is highly exaggerated, and the whole episode indicative of no more than a minor border clash. None the less, there is little doubt that after the Assyrian victory in Nihriya, Tudhaliya feared a comprehensive Assyrian invasion of his kingdom-and there was little he could have done to prevent it.

Then came news that led him to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Inexplicably, at least to us, Tukulti-Ninurta suddenly changed direction. Instead of launching an invasion west of the Euphrates, he turned against his southern neighbour Babylon, and spent much of the rest of his career locked in conflict with the Babylonians. Hatti was spared the ravages of an Assyrian invasion.

But the end was in sight anyhow, for the world as the Hittites and their subjects knew it. This phase of Syria’s history is almost played out.

Singer, I. 1985. “The Battle of Nihriya and the End of the Hittite Empire,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie