Saturday, 16 April 2016

Tiglath-Pileser's Hunting Omission

This post is on a different topic than usual post-doc ergo propter hoc content.

In the discussions or conclusions of academic papers, you will often find a description of work that the author had done but chose not to include in the paper. The reason is often because it would make the paper too long without adding much interest, or is a bit too tangential to keep the paper on topic. These are slightly different than the "future work will involve..." statements that often come at the end of papers. Including these references to omitted work can inform the reader that due-diligence was performed by the investigator, and also makes the author sound smarter and more impressive.

I was reading an account of the conquests of Tiglath-Pileser I, king of Assyria around 1100 BC. These accounts were inscribed on clay tablets in cuneiform script in the Akkadian language, and were found in the ruins of Assur, in what is now Iraq.
This is actually the equally ferocious Tiglath-Pileser III, who has a better picture than Tiglath-Pileser I.

Assyria was a dominant military power in the Middle East in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, before being supplanted by the Babylonians. They are known for their use of chariots in battle, their ferocious descriptions of their conquests, and the scattering of the ten "lost tribes" of Israel after conquering the Northern Kingdom. Tiglath-Pileser I ruled at the end of the Bronze Age, before a period of tumult involving the invasion of the Sea Peoples and the collapse of the Mediterranean Bronze age. Tiglath-Pileser I went on a rampage Eastwards, conquering literally dozens of kingdoms in several pitched battles, looting the region and defiling the temples of the defeated. He writes, in typical Assyrian fashion:

The city of Khunutsa, their stronghold, I overthrew like a heap of stubble. With their mighty troops in the city and on the hills I fought fiercely. I defeated them; their fighting men in the middle of the forests I scattered like chaff. I cut off their heads as if they were carrion; their carcasses filled the valleys and (covered) the heights of the mountains. I captured this city; their gods, their wealth, and their valuables I carried off, and burnt with fire. Three of their great castles, which were built of brick, and the entire city I destroyed and overthrew, and converted into heaps and mounds, and upon the site I laid down large stones; and I made tablets of copper, and I wrote on them an account of the countries which I had taken by the help of my Lord Ashur, and about the taking of this city, and the building of its castle; and upon it I built a house of brick, and I set up within it these copper tablets.

There are many such descriptions. However, after he finished his descriptions of all the armies he defeated and cities he destroyed, he left the following note:

I have omitted many hunting expeditions which were not connected with my warlike achievements. In pursuing after the game I traversed the easy tracts in my chariots, and the difficult tracts on foot. I demolished the wild animals throughout my territories.
In mentioning these omitted hunting achievements, he saves the reader the time that would have gone into taking in all this out-of-scope extraneous information, but uses the stated omission to bolster his credibility as a martial conqueror. I believe that this is one of the first published omissions to other relevant work, setting the stage for scholarly literature for the next three millennia.

This may not be the first reference to a deliberate omission; I haven't thoroughly scoured the Egyptian and Akkadian records.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.