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Research programme

Consolidating Empire

Reconstructing Hegemonic Practices of the Middle Assyrian Empire at the Late Bronze Age Fortified Estate of Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria, ca. 1230 – 1180 BC

Duration
2012  -   2016
Contact
Bleda Düring
Funding
European Research Council Starting Grant European Research Council Starting Grant

The origins of imperialism, a socio-military system in which hegemony is achieved over alien territories, are poorly understood. This applies in particular to how imperial strategies affected local communities.
To understand how the Assyrian Empire could achieve and maintain its dominion we have to shift our focus from the capital and court to the transformations that occurred in the occupied territories. The Consolidating Empire project focusses on new data from the Late Bronze Age fortified estate or dunnu at Tell Sabi Abyad, ca. 1230-1180 BC. The project aims to assess hegemonic practices as a set of flexible strategies that were affected by logistics and local conditions.

Investigating Imperial Strategies

The Consolidating Empire project investigates the imperial strategies of the Assyrian Empire and how they affected local communities in the occupied territories.

 

Excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad

 

Investigating the Origins of Imperialism at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria  

The Assyrian Empire rose from a humble peripheral state to a small empire that successfully withstood the crisis years around 1200 BC. Assyria became the most long lived and largest empire of the Ancient Near East. It dominated much of the Near East for about seven centuries and became the direct predecessor of the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Empires.

How did the Assyrians accomplish these astonishing feats, and in what way did the Assyrian State differ from other states? By investigating these questions, the research aims to contribute to the cross-cultural issue of how hegemonic control is achieved in alien territories, and to our understanding of early empires. 

Wiggermann studying cuneiform tablets

Bottom-up approach: A small settlement in the Western provinces

To consolidate their hegemony the Assyrians created a network of strongholds in the conquered area’s, ranging from cities to farmsteads. The fortified estate at Tell Sabi Abyad on the Balikh in northern Syria is the only extensively investigated of these Assyrian settlements.

This rural fort or dunnu is a relatively small and well preserved estate with a walled stronghold in the centre. It was surrounded by an impressive dry moat and outbuildings, covering roughly 1 hectare in total. The settlement has been almost completely excavated,  a rarity in archaeology.

Tell Sabi Abyad - The main mound

The Research

The complete settlement plan facilitates a study of the spatial properties of this fortress and how it structured interactions. Further, the estate contained a wealth of in situ finds, which allow for a reconstruction of activity patterns. Perhaps most importantly, among the thousands of artefacts over 400 cuneiform tablets were discovered, shedding light on the local social and economic situation and the broader imperial context.

In addition to all those artefacts, a large amount of sub-fossil charred plant remains of different archaeological contexts was preserved in situ. The project analyses these botanical remains in order to reconstruct  the agricultural economy, combining both archeobotanical and textual records.

The Late Bronze Age Fortress at Tell Sabi Abyad

Research aims

The Consolidating Empire project provides a bottom-up perspective on the Assyrian Empire. In addition to the data from the Tell Sabi Abyad estate, data from the Middle Assyrian empire at large is reconsidered, in order to achieve a better understanding of how this empire functioned. 

Texts and other data such as artefacts and architecture, usually studied in isolation, are integrated in the research. This approach opens a window on short-term patterns that usually elude us in the archaeological record.

With the results, the research aims to contribute to the cross-cultural issue of how hegemonic control is achieved in alien territories, and to our understanding of early empires. 

Cuneiform Tablets from Tell Sabi Abyad

Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at Leiden University

This project has developed out of a long term research project on the site of Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria, Leiden archaeologists have worked for more than two decades under the direction of Professor Peter M. M. G. Akkermans.

Map of the Assyrian Empire with Tell Sabi Abyad

Funding

In 2011 Dr. Bleda  Düring of the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden obtained a European Research Council Starting Grant for his project  “ Consolidating Empire - Reconstructing Hegemonic Practices of the Middle Assyrian Empire at the Late Bronze Age Fortified Estate of Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria, ca. 1230 – 1180 BC”.

Artefact densities
Middle Assyrian Moat Surrounding the Estate
Arched doorway to the tower
Middle Assyrian necklaces
Work inside the dig house at Tell Sabi Abyad

Relations with other projects

Groninger Instituut voor Archeologie / Bioarchaeology