Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Cuneiform tablet: letter of Sin-sharra-ishkun to Nabopolassar

Period:
Seleucid
Date:
ca. 2nd century B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, probably from Babylon (modern Hillah)
Culture:
Seleucid
Medium:
Clay
Dimensions:
3.25 x 6 in. (8.26 x 15.24 cm)
Classification:
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1886
Accession Number:
86.11.370a, c–e
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 402
This tablet is a later copy of a letter from the last days of the Assyrian empire. In it, the last Assyrian king, Sin-sharra-ishkun, appears to reach out to the Babylonian king Nabopolassar, recognizing the latter’s rule and pleading to retain his own kingdom. The letter represents a great reversal in fortunes: despite frequent rebellions, Babylonia had for centuries been held under Assyrian rule, and at the beginning of his reign Sin-sharra-ishkun himself seems to have had some success in suppressing a rebellion there. By the time this letter was written the tide had turned, and, incredibly, Sin-sharra-ishkun repeatedly addresses Nabopolassar as "the king my lord." We do not have the Babylonian king’s answer in the form of a letter, but he must have rejected its terms: over the following years a coalition led by Babylonia and Media, a state in western Iran, destroyed the Assyrian capitals, and Nabopolassar, ruling from Babylon, came to inherit most of Assyria’s former empire. This letter may have been a response to another surviving piece of correspondence, in which Nabopolassar threatens (or perhaps declares) war, and a desperate attempt by Sin-sharra-ishkun to persuade Nabopolassar to switch allegiances, abandoning his alliance with Media for one with Assyria.

The tablet itself is a copy dating to the second century B.C., but the original letter was written over four-hundred years earlier in the late seventh century B.C.; its preservation and copying show that it must have been regarded as historically important even in antiquity.

The tablet is not complete and is made up of the following fragments in the Metropolitan's collection: 86.11.370a, c-e and 86.11.383c-e.
Acquired by the Museum in 1886, purchased from the Reverend William Hayes Ward.
Spar, Ira, and Wilfred G. Lambert. 2005. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume II: Literary and Scholastic Texts of the First Millennium B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 44, pp. 207-210, pls. 62-63.

Frahm, Eckart. 2005. "On Some Recently Published Late Babylonian Copies of Royal Letters." Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 43, pp. 43-45.

Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. 2006. "Berossus on Late Babylonian History." Oriental Studies, Special Issue, pp. 130-132.

Da Riva, Rocio. 2013. The Inscriptions of Nabopolassar, Amēl-Marduk and Neriglissar. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records 3. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 6-7.

Da Riva, Rocio. 2014. "Assyrians and Assyrian Influence in Babylonia (626–539 BCE)." In From Source to History: Studies on Ancient Near Eastern Worlds and Beyond Dedicated to Giovanni B. Lanfranchi on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday on June 23, 2014. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 412, ed. Salvatore Gaspa. Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, pp. 99-125.

Frazer, Mary. 2015. "Akkadian Royal Letters in Later Mesopotamian Tradition." Ph.D. diss. New Haven: Yale University, no. 6.8.

Frahm, Eckart. 2016. "Some Like It Hot: Reflections on the Historial 'Temperature' of Letters from Mesopotamian Royal Archives." In Official Epistolography and the Language(s) of Power. Proceedings of the First International Conference of the Research Network Imperium & Officium, ed. Stephan Prochazka. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, p. 11.

Da Riva, Rocio. 2017. "The Figure of Nabopolassar in Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic Historiographic Tradition: BM 34793 and CUA 90." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 76, pp. 80-81.
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