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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Journal of Hellenic Studies
Vol. 33 (1913), pp356‑259

The text is in the public domain:
Leonard William King died in 1919.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p356 The Origin of the Province of Kommagene

The object of this note is to examine the earlier history of this North Syrian province, and incidentally to suggest a cause for its political independence, of which we have striking evidence in the establishment of a kingdom of Kommagene when the power of the later Seleucidae had declined. In spite of lying in the more immediate neighbourhood of Antioch, the province had already won its independence in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes; at the beginning of the first century King Mithridates Callinicus obtained recognition of his dynasty from the Seleucid house; and even after the kingdom had become a Roman province it reverted for a time to its independent status. Hitherto, the need for an inquiry into the cause of so decided a tendency to break away from its surroundings has not been apparent. The descent of the Seleucid province from a Persian satrapy of the same area has served as a bridge to Assyrian times; and the continual 'revolts' of 'the land of Kummukh' from the end of the twelfth century onwards have furnished sufficient analogies to its history during the later period.

It will be obvious that this view rested, not only on the identification of the two place-names, Κομμαγηνή and Kummukhu, but also on the assumption that the Seleucid and Assyrian districts were largely, if not entirely, identical. But a geographical reference in some recently published rock-inscriptions has proved that the latter assumption was ill founded. Instead of lying on the upper Euphrates, and, as some have assumed, entirely to the west of the river, it appeared that the land of Kummukh, at the beginning of the seventh century B.C., extended as far east as the Tigris. This rather unexpected information rendered it necessary to re-examine the other passages in the Assyrian inscriptions in which the name occurred, and the result has been to show that the land of Kummukh was, strictly speaking, a Mesopotamian and not a North-Syrian district, and that none of its territory lay within the boundaries of Kommagene.1 In setting out this result I suggested a possible reason for the survival of the name into the Hellenic period for a district with which it originally had no connexion, and it is to this point I propose to return. Such a transference of the name seems to call for a rather more detailed explanation than it was possible to attempt within the limits of that paper. But it will be necessary first to restate the p357problem, and perhaps the best way of doing so will be to summarize quite briefly the evidence that the name did actually cross the Euphrates.2

One main result of the re-examination of the Assyrian evidence has been to explain the reference in seventh-century rock-inscriptions3 by demonstrating the fact that the eastern boundary of Kummukh, during the whole Assyrian period, was the Tigris. There is definite proof that this was the case in the early part of the ninth century,4 and it is also practically certain for the close of the twelfth century, when the name first makes its appearance. For the military operations of Tiglath-pileser I, in the course of which he annexed 'the land of Kummukh,' were confined to the basin of the Tigris.5 But, in spite of his claim to have subjected the country 'in its length and breadth,' it was only Eastern Kummukh that he conquered, a much smaller district than the Kummukh of Tiglath-pileser IV, three centuries and a half later.6 In the interval the western expeditions of Ashur-naṣir-pal and Shalmaneser II had considerably widened the geographical horizon of the Assyrians, and had led to a gradual increase in their knowledge of the district. A record of the year 728 B.C. refers to the Euphrates as its western boundary,7 proving that the land of Kummukh was a purely Mesopotamian region and extended from river to river.

p358 The principal grounds for the view that would place Kummukh in Syrian territory are to be found in the fact that both Shalmaneser II and Tiglath-pileser IV refer to princes of Kummukh who ruled districts to the west of the Euphrates. In 854 B.C. Shalmaneser II, after crossing the Euphrates, received tribute from a number of kings, and the second name on his list, following Sangar of Carchemish, is a certain Kundashpi of Kummukh. A similar list of tributaries to Tiglath-pileser IV, including the kings of Damascus, Samaria, Tyre, Gebal, Cilicia, Carchemish, Hamath, etc., is headed by Kustashpi of Kummukh. At first sight these passages appear to conflict with the evidence already summarized, but the discrepancy is only apparent. Neither Kundashpi nor Kushtashpi is styled 'king of the land of Kummukh': each is referred to simply as the 'Kummukhian.'8 They were princes from Kummukh, though ruling a district in Syria. The passages, in fact, exhibit the earliest appearance of the name west of the Euphrates. Though employed in Syria at first in a racial sense, the term clearly acquired a geographical connotation. It remains only to inquire the cause of the original settlement in Syria, and the circumstances which may have contributed to the perpetuation of the name in its new surroundings.

It has long been recognized that Kundašpi and Kuštašpi are both Aryan (Iranian) names. The latter corresponds to the Old Persian Vištâspa, Gr. Ὑστάσπης; while for the first component of the former name we may compare Vindafarna (= Ἰνταφέρνης).9 For this reason it has been recognized that the dynasty they represent was Aryan in character and was established in Syria before the ninth century.10 But there the matter necessarily rested. Our new information enables us to connect this dynasty with other evidence of the same class that dates from an earlier period.

The recognition of the fact that Kummukh was originally not a Syrian but a Mesopotamian district opens up new possibilities of comparison. Corresponding to the northern and more mountainous districts of Mesopotamia, it was clearly a later place-name for a considerable part of the area incorporated in the earlier kingdom of Mitanni. And, since in the fourteenth century Nineveh was under Mitannian control, we may infer that Mitanni, p359like Kummukh, extended from river to river, though its southern boundary was probably farther to the south. Rost's acute identification of the Iranian character of the Mitannian proper names in the Amarna letters11 was confirmed by Winckler's finds at Boghaz Kyöi, which proved not only that the Mitannian princes bore Iranian names, but that they had brought Aryan gods with them and called themselves Aryans.12 The new finds also directed attention to Scheftelowitz's theory that the Kassite Dynasty of Babylon was Aryan, and proved at any rate that it had borrowed from the Aryans its gods. It followed that as early as the seventeenth century a conquering Aryan race must have begun to invade the northern district of Mesopotamia and to impose its rule on the indigenous inhabitants.13 In the fifteenth century we find it fully established as the ruling population and extending its influence into Syria. But in less than a century it had succumbed before the Hittite advance and the encroachments of Assyria.14 We may regard the Aryan dynasty, which we find settled in North Syria in the ninth century, as representing the fringe, or a fresh wave, of this migration, which had long been settled in Kummukh as their predecessors had been settled in Mitanni. To the westward expansion of Assyria, which began at the close of the twelfth century, we may trace the pressure which drove sections of the Aryan population of Kummukh across the Euphrates. And the survival of the place-name in Syria under the Achaemenian kings may doubtless be traced to a natural tendency on their part to encourage the prosperity of a district in which the ruling caste were men of their own kindred. There is evidence that Kommagene retained this racial character beside a North Syrian population which was largely Semitic.

L. W. King.

The Author's Notes:

1 See the Journal of the Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society, 1913, pp47 ff.

2 The other alternative, that the names Kummukh and Κομμαγηνή were of independent origin, need not be contemplated. Both are obviously transliterations of the same foreign place-name, and the Greek and Assyrian forms could hardly be closer. Later Assyrian variants of the name suggest a shifting of the accent from the first syllable, but with no consonantal nor vocalic change; the interchange of K and  at the beginning of the word can be disregarded, as before the vowel u the distinction tended to be blurred in pronunciation.

3 These were engraved by Sennacherib on the Jûdî Dâgh, to the east of the Tigris, between the years 698 and 695 B.C.; cf. King, P.S.B.A. XXXV.66 ff.

4 When starting on his campaign of 881 B.C., Ashur-naṣir-pal entered the land of Kummukh immediately after crossing the Tigris; and another passage in his annals closely resembles Sennacherib's record, since it refers to Kummukh as contiguous to the cities at the foot of Mt. Nipur (the Jûdî Dâgh).

5 The city of Sherishe, into which the Kummukhians fled, was on the Tigris; and on their final defeat with their allies, the Kurkhê, the dead bodies of the slain were carried by the river Nâme into the Tigris, proving that the Assyrian army had not crossed the water-shed. The Euphrates is not once mentioned.

6 It may be noted in passing that this conclusion is bound to contract our ideas of the extent of the 'First Assyrian Empire.' In a lecture before the Egypt Exploration Fund, to be published in the first number of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Mr. Hogarth has emphasized the necessity, both for Egypt and Assyria, of distinguishing a spring raid for booty from an organized empire. The wisdom of this advice has lately been exemplified in the case of the alleged inclusion of Cyprus in the Old-Babylonian empire of Sargon of Akkad. The evidence of a Neo-Babylonian chronicle, to the effect that it was not the Mediterranean but the Persian Gulf that he crossed, has been confirmed by an early text from Nippur, which is being prepared for publication by Dr. Arno Poebel. Sargon is there recorded to have 'washed his weapons' in the Persian Gulf, which his successor crosses to capture the 'silver holes' (i.e. the silver mines) of Elam. In the west he raids no further than 'the cedar forest' (Lebanon) and 'the silver mountains' (the foothills of Taurus).

7 The phrase reads 'the Euphrates, the boundary of Kummukh,' and has hitherto been taken as referring to the eastern boundary of the district. Meyer attempts to reconcile the various passages by placing Kummukh on both sides of the upper Euphrates (Geschichte des Altertums, I.II p601); others have placed it mainly to the west of that river with an extension on the left bank (cf. Schrader, Keilins. Bibl. I.218, II.294, and Keilinschriften und Geschichtsforschung, 127 ff.; Winckler in Helmolt's History, III.54, 86; Maspero, Histoire ancienne, III.195, etc.); others again, disregarding the earlier references, confine the term, like Kommagene, to Syrian territory (cf. Encycl. Bibl. I.352 f.; Garstang, Land of the Hittites, 342, 368; Hall, Anc. Hist. of the Near East, 504). But if the Tigris formed the eastern boundary of Kummukh in 881 B.C. and also in the years 698‑695 B.C., it is hardly probable that in the interval between these two dates it could have been regarded as extending as far east only as the Euphrates. Moreover the passage in question records the defeat of the Vannic king Sarduris III, and is written from the standpoint of Urarṭu (Armenia): it mentions the Euphrates as the most distant boundary of Kummukh from that direction.

8 In all the inscriptions which refer to these two princes the name occurs in its gentilic, not under its geographical form; and the distinction is obviously intended.

9 The terminal i in Kundašpi and Kuštašpi is the Assyrian genitive case-ending; while for the transition of the initial vi to gu (Assyr. ‑ku) we may compare the Middle-Persian forms Gondopherres, Gondopharos, Guštâsp, etc.; cf. Justi, Iranisches Namenbuch, 372 f.; Geiger and Kuhn, Grundriss der iran. Philol. II.506 f.; Scheftelowitz, Zeitschrift f. vergl. Sprachf. XXXVIII.276; and Meyer, ibid. XLII.16 f.

10 Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, I.II.601 f.

11 Mitteil. d. Vorderas. Ges., 1897, 216.

12 Cf. Winckler, O.L.Z., 15th Dec. 1906, and M.D.O.G., No. 35 (Dec. 1907); and Meyer, Sitzber. kgl. preuss. Akad. 1908, I. Winckler at first refused, but afterwards accepted, the equation Ḫarrî = Aryans.

13 This is clear from the non-Iranian character of the Mitannian speech, as represented in one of Tushratta's letters from Tell Amarna. In spite of Scheftelowitz's attempt to prove it Aryan (Z. f. vergl. Sprachf., XXXVIII.260 ff.), it has been shown by Bloomfield to be totally non-Indo‑European (Amer. Journ. of Philol., XXV.4 ff.); cf. also Meyer, Z. f. vergl. Sprachf., XLII.21; Hall (Anc. Hist. of the Near East, p201) suggests that the ruling caste in Mitanni were 'barons' of the usual Iranian type. The success of the Aryan invaders may in large part be traced to their greater mobility. That they were a 'Reitervolk' is clear from the numerous Iranian proper names which include asva (aspa), 'horse,' as a component (cf. Justi, Iran. Namenbuch, p486; Meyer, Geschichte, I.II.579). With their appearance the horse suddenly becomes the beast of burden throughout Western Asia; before that time 'the ass of the mountain' was a great rarity, the earliest reference to it occurring in the age of Hammurabi at the beginning of the second millennium (cf. Ungnad, O.L.Z., 1907, 638 f.).

14 The Eastern Kummukhians and their allies, the Kurkhê, who were defeated by Tiglath-pileser I (see above n5), were under princes of Hittite extraction; this is clear from the proper names 'Shadi-Teshub, the son of Khattushar,' and 'Kili-Teshub, the son of Kali-Teshub' (cf. Hommel, Grundriss der Geogr. und Gesch. des alt. Orients, I.43). The occurrence of the name of the Hittite-Mitannian weather-god (Teshub) cannot be regarded as a Mitannian survival in view of the purely Hittite name Khattushar (cf. Khattusil, Eg. Khetasar, the contemporary of Rameses II).

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