By James Bleckley
Oldest StoriesMay 24, 2023
OS 118 - Israel's First Failed King
Today we get some serious military history as we look at the main chunk of King Saul's reign. We deliberately avoid David as much as possible today, because it is far too easy for King Saul to get upstaged in his own chapters by history's favorite king, and so we end up with a surprising amount of often quite detailed military history, and a bunch of interesting details about the time period itself. Finally, we get to see how Saul is super desperate to be a good Yahweh worshipper, and then we read his final eulogy and hear that the bible writers blame his death on failing to pursue God, which seems a bit unfair, but sometimes life is just that way.
OS 117 - Israel's First King
Today we properly start the career of King Saul, or at least Saul as he makes his bid for kingship. This story is important as a piece of ancient literature, it is important through the question of whether or not the bible is valid as history, but most of all it is important because this is one of the only windows we get in the entire near east for military history details during the crucial transition from late bronze age chariot warfare to the massed imperial warfare of the iron age. Thanks to both the text itself and its extensive commentary traditions, we can pull out some really interesting details about how armies equipped themselves and the grander picture of how warfare and tactics contributed to ancient kingship that will play into our wider story even past the Israel section.
OS 116 - Israel's United Monarchy
Today we look at the lead up to King Saul, and how Israel made the transition from a collections of tribes to a unified kingship. Why is the Old Testament so ambivalent on the matter of kingship? Most interestingly, there is a universally applicable political lesson here, in what may be history's earliest commentary on the nature and source of effective governance. Also, why do the Israelites cut up animals as messages so often in this period? We look at Gideon, Abimelech, Micah and the Danites, and the Benjaminite war.
OS 115 - The Place of Faith in Biblical History
Just to give an overview of this episode to see if you want to listen all the way through, the topics I am going to discuss are: Why do I believe that Israel entered Canaan as outsiders violently invading, when so much of academia believes that these invasions never happened, and that the Isarelite emergence was largely peaceful? Why do I believe that the bible, as we have it today, is a worthwhile historical record, at least worthwhile enough to go over it so extensively on a history podcast? Why has my perspective on the historical tale of the bible not changed even though I began studying as an atheist and am now studying it as a fairly conservative Christian? How can I, personally, continue to have faith in the religion revealed in the Bible when I have vehemently argued that certain fairly important parts of the Old Testament are meant as history, and yet false? Why does God's story so often occur inside gaps of our knowledge, and why does the revealing light of science never reveal God's hand? And finally, what is the meaning of analyzing the various books of the bible through the lense of genre, why does that matter for understanding some biblical problems, and why does that make other problems even worse? Why does history matter at all, particularly Israelite/biblical history?
OS 114 - Israel's Judges and Defeats
The institution of Judges, as described in the book of Judges, is an English translation of the word Shofet, a political position which doesn't really exist in modern times, and as such is often poorly understood even in the study bibles and commentaries that I have read. And yet, there are reasons to think that whether or not the stories themselves within this book are true or not, there really was a class of Shoftim prior to the monarchy. That, plus issues of chronology among the judges, get hashed out a bit. And also we talk about the fact that the bible really doesn't like to talk about Israel getting defeated in times when it is theologically inconvenient, yet was probably getting kicked around like a rented mule around this time.
OS 113 - Israel's Settlements and Philistine Neighbors
Today we go full archeology on everyone, looking at what makes a settlement more or less likely to be Israelite as opposed to Canaanite or whatever based purely on the archeological record. Also, a brief overview of the entire history of the Philistines, because I introduced them as a brief tangent and ended up telling their entire story all at once. Archeology by itself is just a bunch of broken clay pots, and serious archeology really has a tendency to put me to sleep, especially once they start listing of subvariants of pottery, but understanding the evidentiary foundations is crucial especially in a hotly debated area of history. Even more important is getting a sense of how these evidences map onto various interpretive frameworks to build the idea that we actually do start to see a distinctive and probably Israelite people emerging in the Levant during the bronze age collapse.
OS 112 - Israel's Conquest and Integration in Canaan
When did Joshua conquer Canaan for Israel? Did Joshua even exist, as described in the Book of Joshua? We continue our march through the Old Testament as the people of Israel march through Canaan. We spend some good time discussing the Canaanite genocide in the context of ancient warfare, and the things that are and are not remarkable about it. We look a bit at settlement patterns in archeology and destruction layers and what they mean for the entry or emergence of Israel in the holy land. Also, we talk a bit about the meaning of Herem and the idea of Devoting to Destruction.
OS 111 - Israel's Wandering and Settlement
What does it mean that the people of Israel are the biggest whiners in recorded history? It may mean that a lot of the people were not actually on board with the theological mission of the Yahwist religious leaders. It may also mean that we are knee deep in the book of Numbers. My favorite Old Testament story, Balaam son of Beor, gets a mention here, as does some points where the people of Israel may well have left some actual historical evidence. And finally we get to the first actual mention in non-biblical history of the people of Israel, recorded in the Merneptah Stele around 1207 BCE.
OS 110 - Israel and the Hebrews
Today we obsess over the word Hebrew and go deep into what it means, who was and was not a Hebrew, whether it was a social or ethnic designation, what that implies about the religious and cultural mission of Israel, and what that might mean for the historicity of the Bible. In a sense, this is kind of a tangent from our wider story, but I think this is one of the really core issues that most people either wonder about, or are ignorant of and should be wondering about. If you really want to skip this, the short version is that there is a theory that the word Hebrew comes from 'Apiru, or Habiru, and while there is quite a lot of back and forth on the topic, I happen to think this is surprisingly likely, for reasons that go way beyond linguistic matters. But we also look at the other possibilities and what I think about them as well.
OS 109 - Israel's Numbers Problem
Today we look at possibly the oldest section of the entire Bible, Exodus chapter 15, the Song of Moses, as well as the issues with the census listed in Numbers and what that might mean for biblical historicity. These are some pivotal chapters today, not so much for the narrative itself but for keying in how we are going to interpret the bible and a whole in historical context. I think one of the most important questions for our own personal understanding of the bible is "How would this look in a movie", because how it plays out in our imagination, in terms of things like how many people there are in the scene, really affects who we can and can not consider plausible later on.
OS 108 - Israel's Formation and the Historical Exodus
We begin our big series on the historicity of the bible with Genesis. Unfortunately, nearly the entire book is beyond the purview of history, for reasons we will discuss. But with the tale of the Exodus, we have a narrative which could, in theory, have left some historical evidence to confirm its existence. Unfortunately, we don't actually have any evidence of the exodus narrative. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absense, and the far more interesting question is what we can look at to not refute or affirm, but merely to support or weaken the narrative as presented in the bible.
OS 107 - The Bible as History and Skeptical Views
Here it is, the part of ancient Near Eastern history that excites the most passion and interest. There is no doubt that there were kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and there is no doubt that after they were conquered by the Babylonians there was a class of Judahite priests who assembled the collection of texts we now call the Old Testament, but before that pretty much all bets are off. Today begins what will be a bit of a series on Israel, and we will go over briefly the four main points of view on Israelite history, which I call the Biblical Literalists, the Accomodationists, the Pure Archeologists, and the Radical Skeptics. Then we will look in a very bare bones way at what is the bare minimum we can say about pre-kingdom Israelite history to set the stage for future episodes.
OS 106 - The Fate of Anatolia
After the Hittite Empire fell during the bronze age collapse, Anatolia became a Mad Max style wasteland with tribes crossing the hills and fighting for survival. Amidst all this, we have the fateful arrival of the mysterious Sea Peoples, and out of this mess emerged not a whole lot for a long time, but eventually we get the Phrygians in the northwest and the Neo-Hittites in the southeast, as well as a whole host of more peripheral people who will merit more mentions as our story progresses. The Phrygians we will look at briefly, but the Neo-Hittites, who are the same as the Biblical Hittites, are fascinating and poorly understood, and we will emerge from our time with them still fascinated and still not understanding much, but maybe a bit more than we started with.
OS 105 - Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad
Animals in ancient Mesopotamia. From sheep, goats, horses, and other domesticated animals to wild beasts like lions, elephants, insects, birds and fish, the ancient world was surrounded by animals. But in our history we are usually so focused with humans that we don't get a chance to focus on the four legged companions of the ancient world. So today we rectify that with an overview of all the animals that the Old Babylonians cared about and a look at how they interacted with each.
OS 104 - Arameans Everywhere
Today we look at pretty much everything we know about the Mesopotamian dark age following the bronze age collapse, and manage to cover about 120 years of history in about half an hour. After that is a discussion about chronologies and why we know when all these things happened, with a reference to lost time and other alternate chronologies, both legitimate and silly.
OS 103 - The Babylonian Aristotle, Esagil-Kin-Apli
Today we are going to look at the reign of Adad-Apla-Iddina, the fact that he was hit by some brutal Aramean invasions and that he built a ton of stuff despite the times being pretty awful. But the star of our show today is the first great scientist in human history whose name reached great levels of fame. Esail-Kin-Apli may be forgotten now, but for a thousand years after his own time his name carried the same cachet as Einstein does to a modern lay person. It isn't wholly clear that he existed, or that he wrote the whole corpus with which he is credited, but there is a chance that he really did write the great catalogs of wisdom which constitute the first great body of scientific knowledge under a single known author. The significance of him as an historical figure and what his scientific catalogs looked like are discussed here. This episode is long, because I got a little too excited about the theoretical foundations of Babylonian thought.
OS 102 - A Bit More Tiglath-Pileser
This week, Tiglath-Pileser is going to kill more people, just like last week. But now he is going to branch out into killing animals, too! But when he pauses to catch his breath between killing, he is also going to build up Assyria domestically and fund a bit of an intellectual renaissance. Then he will die and things will get grim again for a while. But that is the rollercoaster of ancient Mesopotamia, it is great.
OS 101 - A Short Assyrian Burst of Activity
Today we see Assur rise mightily with Tiglath-Pileser I, and we see the seeds of another century of decline sown in the climate change that drives the Aramean invasions. Meanwhile, Babylon has to deal with the same set of problems, but without the same sort of vigorous leadership.
OS 100 - The Babylonian Theodicy
For a Babylonian polytheist, the gods are worshipped with the explicit expectation that divine veneration will avert bad fortune and attract good fortune. Yet as long as there have been people, we have seen that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good fortune finds bad people. Religious explorations of this are called Theodicy, and we have already see a number of Mesopotamian attempts to wrestle with this, back in Episodes 26 and 53. The genre appears to culminate in one of the most impressive technical and philosophical works of ancient Mesopotamia, in the Babylonian Theodicy. Also, after looking at the Theodicy, we compare it to another Babylonian writing from an old man who is simply miserable with life.
For more on this, check out episode 26, where we discussed the Sumerian "A Man and His God" and episode 53 where we discussed the Old Babylonian "Poem of the Righteous Sufferer", both of which are thematic precursors to this and almost certainly were at least indirect references for the author of the Babylonian Theodicy.
OS 99 - The Legend of Nebuchadnezzar
Nabu-Kudurri-Usur, the first Nebuchadnezzar, rescued the statue of Marduk from Elam after a grueling adventure beset by intense heat, low supplies, and enemies on all sides. And yet, even though this event would be celebrated in later generations, it is unclear if it was highly celebrated in his own lifetime. Today we look at the cult of Marduk, how it may have developed within the city of Babylon, and some more of Nebuchadnezzar's life.
OS 98 - Nabu-Kudurri-Usur
In Babylon rules Nebuchadnezzar the first. He isn't the Nebuchadnezzar that we remember today, but he was certainly the more famous king of that name for most of Babylonian history. His great accomplishment, the retrieval of the stolen statue of Marduk from the Elamites, would inspire poets and leaders until the end of Babylonian history, and even a bit beyond. That one campaign has some exciting detail, but he is more than just that, and today we will look at this first Nebuchadnezzar in extensive detail.
OS 97 - Ashur-Dan and the Isin Dynasty
Welcome to the iron age. Though the international system of the late bronze age has collapsed under the weight of countless invaders, the Babylonians and Assyrians in their much diminished empires still have eyes only for each other. For them, no era has really ended, the great struggle between the two Mesopotamian power centers has been ongoing for over a century now, and will continue for centuries more. Though the founding of the Isin dynasty in Babylon is shrouded in the mists of poor documentation, and the long lived Ashur-Dan has few surviving records, there are still things to look at as we kick off Season 2 of the podcast.
An Overview of Bronze Age Mesopotamia
This is a summary of the bronze age in ancient Mesopotamia, covering the years about 3000 BCE to 1200 BCE. This is a review of about 119 episodes of the oldest stories podcast, covering all of season 1 before we move into season 2, which will cover iron age Mesopotamia and their near eastern neighbors. Notes for this episode online at oldeststories.net
Industry 5 - The Bronze of the Age
Today we have a history of metals, mining and metalworking in the bronze age near east. The story telling style of the last few industrial episodes didn't really work out here, so it is more of a bird's eye overview. We cover mostly copper and bronze, but also look at the history and production of gold, silver, and iron.
Industry 4.5 - Last Century's Fashions (pt 2 of 2)
This is part 2 of our look at clothing and how it was manufactured in the bronze age near east. If you haven't yet listened to part 1, The Fabric of Civilization, I recommend that you check out that episode first. In this episode we will look at going from the thread to full on clothing, and what that clothing looked like. For references on weaving and visual aids to what the clothes may have looked like, check out the oldeststories.net post for this episode.
Industry 4 - The Fabric of Civilization (pt 1 of 2)
Clothing is foundational to civilization. In the bible, it is humanity's first invention. In Mesopotamian philosophy, it is the thing which separates humans from animals. But as we will see today, even the simplest of cloth garments were the result of an extreme amount of work and technical skill, built up over countless generations of mostly women working in already very busy households. This is part 1 of a two part episode, part 2 will be releasing in two weeks.
Shamash, the Sun
Nowadays we tend to give Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god, a bit less respect than he is probably due. After all, for modern folk, the category of "sun god" is the height of pagan foolishness. After all, why would anyone worship an object which has been held in common by all humans throughout all of history, whose power is so great that even with modern advanced science we still can't touch it, and which is literally the ultimate source of all life on the planet? But even among sun gods, Shamash takes on a character of his own, becoming more than just a guy carrying a big ball of fire, or maybe just being the big ball of fire, and becoming a stand in for the cosmic order itself, something that was hugely important in the ancient world. Today we look at how he was worshipped, mostly in the words of his actual worshippers.
Passionate Daughter Ishtar
Ishtar, the passionate goddess of love and war from ancient Mesopotamia has had a long life, historically speaking, and she continues to be a popular object of fascination for historians and of reverance for pagan revivalists. Today our focus is on Ishtar as she was worshipped in the ancient world. Less here about myth and far more about the ideas that Ishtar worshippers kept in their minds about their goddess. We are going to read a lot of hymns and praise poems, which do lose a bit in the transition from Akkadian into English, but still often have powerful imagery and are interesting as both examples of ancient literature and as windows into ancient religion.
Industry 3 - Liquid Bread
Our tale of daily life continues. The harvest is over, but the work continues, as there are many steps required to transform boring, nutritious grain into delicious, nutritious beer. Online at oldeststories.net
Industry 2 - The Stuff of Life
Today we are talking all about the sort of industry that would have occupied most of the attention of most of the people of the ancient world. That is to say, beer making. But to talk about beer, you have to start with grain, and to talk about grain you have to start with a farmer. So today we will look deep into the life of a generic farmer, we will call him Ea-Rabi, and follow him step by step as he gains land, prepares a field, and grows barley, in preparation for next episode, where he turns that barley into bread and beer.
Industry 1 - The Earthen World
Perhaps the defining material of ancient Mesopotamia was dirt. Buildings were made by mud brick, and those buildings were filled by clay pottery of all sorts. Today we are going to look at the people who made these things and how they made them. It will necessarily be a bit of a summary, sort of taking the whole region and period in generic form, since it is quite difficult to nail down too specific of a picture from any one time or place. From the mud collectors to the brick makers to the builders to the ways in which those buildings were used, this episode is a comprehensive overview of the construction industry in bronze age Mesopotamia.
A long time ago I asked for listener questions, and also posted a call for questions over on tiktok, and here they are finally getting answered. This is theoretically the hundredth episode special, but depending on how you count it, we are either on episode 97 or on episode 110-ish. It is a grab bag of stuff, all related to the ancient near east. If you still have any questions, check out the contact page over on oldeststories.net and send me a note.
Sumer in Genesis
Here by popular demand and my own personal interest, an overview of the first eleven chapters of the biblical book of Genesis, alongside the ancient Mesopotamian stories that existed in parallel. The interplay between the two traditions is complicated and fascinating, and all the harder to untangle because both exist in fragments and summaries, but we can still tease out important aspects of the self-identification of Mesopotamians and ancient Hebrews through these comparisons. These comparisons can be examined in multiple ways, both faithful and secular, and provide fascinating lessons of the ancient world however we want to look at them. Our focus today is particularly on the tales of Adam, Cain and Abel, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the war in heaven. Hatemail and charges of heresy can be sent in through the contact page at oldeststories.net
Canaan 9 - Baal and Mot
Today we conclude the Baal cycle with the epic final confrontation between Baal Hadad, rightful lord of the Canaanite heavens, and Mot, the deity whose name literally means Death. How can a god fight against death itself? What were the Canaanites smoking when they came up with these stories? What are the theological implications of death facing the prospect of its own death? None of these questions will be answered, and many more questions will go unanswered as we conclude the greatest and strangest epic of the city of Ugarit.
Canaan 8 - The Feast of Baal
Songs 1 - Ancient Akkadian Love Songs
Valentine's Day Special. This is a bunch of love poetry from the Mesopotamian bronze age, as well as some magical love spells. Translation by Benjamin R Foster in his book "Before the Muses". Some of the original text is damaged, and I have gone in and filled the missing bits with what seems appropriate to make it flow better in audio format. This is mostly reading with very little commentary.
Canaan 7 - The Baal Cycle
Today we begin perhaps the most significant of the surviving myths from Canaan, the Baal cycle. In the Baal cycle, we look at Ba'al Hadad, the mighty storm god, as he battles various foes in a great contest over the kingship of heaven. It is a subject we have seen before, but of course the Canaanites do things a bit differently than their neighbors. In this, the first of three major sections, Baal fights against Yamm, the god of rivers and seas. The story is sadly very damaged, but there is still a good bit of interesting things here, even if it does get a bit of the character of a radio show fighting against the static to be heard.
Canaan 6 - Aqhat and Daniel
Daniel, sometimes called Danel, depending on your translation, is a figure of great wisdom who even gets name dropped in the bible. In this, the main story we have from him, we will see very little of that wisdom on display, as a series of events will occur with very little narrative motivation that will witness a lady grow jealous for no clear reason, every bird in the world ripped apart for no clear reason, and an unsatisfying conclusion. It is going to be a lot of fun. Also, I think I may have had covid while I recorded this, so make sure you wear your mask and and sit at least six feet away from your audio device while listening.
Canaan 5 - The Legend of Kirta
The Legend of Kirta, called Keret in some translations, can be a bit hard to understand, especially for a modern audience used to things like the three act structure and protagonists who fit neatly into any sort of moral categories at all. This is the first of our stories from Ugarit, and we are starting with one that we don't even know if it is meant as tragedy or farce. What all these stories hold in common is that they are deeply strange, stranger even than many of the tales from the Hitties or Mesopotamians, and the many missing sections from the text do nothing to edify us. I will be reading them more or less straight, with a bit less commentary than usual, because just putting the story in front of you should be enough to get you pondering. Online at oldeststories.net
Canaan 4 - Ugarit's Final Century
The final century of the Canaanite city of Ugarit is by far the most well documented, and sheds light not only on how things were going in the city, but also on what other Canaanite cities likely looked like. We also get a novel and interesting perspective on how the great powers of the late bronze age looked to their many tiny vassals as the bronze age collapsed around them. Online at oldeststories.net
Canaan 3 - The City of Ugarit
The Canaan history series continues as we finally look at the city of Ugarit, its rise and significance both in Northern Canaan and in archeology. Ugarit is really fascinating, sitting at the edge of multiple great empires, from the obscure Eblaite empire to the Egyptian, Mitannit and Hittite empires. It is a great window on the Canaanite region and the history of the levant in general.
Canaan 2 - The Amarna Age in Canaan
Our mini series on Canaan continues, as we transition into the period we know most about, the late bronze age. Here, our sources multiply, and we get to dig into the remarkable and extensive Amarna archives, which contain hundreds of letters from the rulers of Canaanite cities to the Pharaoh on a variety of topics. We will look at the history of the late bronze age, and read some of the Amarna letters.
Canaan 1 - Bronze Age Levant
The Oldest Stories Hiatus continues, but I a still inspired to push out some episodes when I get a chance. This is the beginning of a mini series on another culture group that got largely missed in Season 1, the lands of Canaan, or Phoenicia, or the Levant, or any of the other names that are attached to the land. Ultimately, I want to make sure that we don't miss the exciting and informative tales of the Canaanite city of Ugarit before we leave the bronze age, but before we get to that, we need a bit of historical background. Today that will cover the early and middle bronze age, basically looking at where Canaan comes from.
The Oldest Games
Play is older than humanity, but among the ancient Mesopotamians, a handful of games are attested throughout the ancient period, from all the way to the beginning with the Royal Game of Ur, to various gambling games and pastimes. Today we will look mostly at the board game called the Royal Game of Ur and see how it may have been played. Things are a bit up and down with the show right now, but I will be doing my best to keep us on a fortnightly release schedule either through guest episodes or bonus episodes.
Elamite 4 - Elamite Religion
This week we take a look at who the Elamites were at home, or at least how they were up in heavens. The Elamites gods are a tough subject to get deep into, but today we take a look at who the Elamites worshipped, the gods both native and foreign that shaped the moral and cultural life of Elam. This is a guest episode of the Oldest Stories hiatus, brought to you by the fantastic Trevor Culley of the History of Persia podcast, over at https://historyofpersiapodcast.com/ . Trevor's show is in a lot of ways the sequel to the Oldest Stories, picking up with the tale of the Persian empire right around the fall of the Neo-Babylonian one in 539BCE. Over in his own feed, he has done a fantastic job of bringing the history of that empire to life, both in the narratives of kings and conquests and in the leisurely walks through the internal shape, cultures, and lifestyles of the Persian Empire. I am a fan of this show, and I think you will be, too.
Elamite 3 - The Grand Regents of Elam
This is a guest episode of the Oldest Stories hiatus, brought to you by the fantastic Trevor Culley of the History of Persia podcast, over at historyofpersiapodcast.com/ . Trevor's show is in a lot of ways the sequel to the Oldest Stories, picking up with the tale of the Persian empire right around the fall of the Neo-Babylonian one in 539BCE. Over in his own feed, he has done a fantastic job of bringing the history of that empire to life, both in the narratives of kings and conquests and in the leisurely walks through the internal shape, cultures, and lifestyles of the Persian Empire. I am a fan of this show, and I think you will be, too.
Elamite 2 - Elamite Renaissances
This is a guest episode of the Oldest Stories hiatus, brought to you by the fantastic Trevor Culley of the History of Persia podcast, over at historyofpersiapodcast.com/ . Trevor's show is in a lot of ways the sequel to the Oldest Stories, picking up with the tale of the Persian empire right around the fall of the Neo-Babylonian one in 539BCE. Over in his own feed, he has done a fantastic job of bringing the history of that empire to life, both in the narratives of kings and conquests and in the leisurely walks through the internal shape, cultures, and lifestyles of the Persian Empire. I am a fan of this show, and I think you will be, too.
Elamite 1 - Back to the Beginning
The Sumerians did not develop writing and urbanization in a vacuum. To their east, the land of Elam developed both at almost the exact same time. From the start of written history, the great cities and kingdoms of Elam were power players in Near Eastern politics. The premier Elamite cities of Anshan and Susa appear in the earliest Mesopotamian myths, and before Sumerian history fully bridged the gap between legend and fact, there were already stories of both sides invading and ruling one another. However, it was really at the time of Sargon of Akkad that Elam emerged as a full-fledged historical entity ruled from the city of Awan, and it was the end of the Akkadian Empire that opened the door for Elam to become a power in its own right.
This is the first guest episode of the Oldest Stories hiatus, brought to you by the fantastic Trevor Culley of the History of Persia podcast, over at https://historyofpersiapodcast.com/ . Trevor's show is in a lot of ways the sequel to the Oldest Stories, picking up with the tale of the Persian empire right around the fall of the Neo-Babylonian one in 539BCE. Over in his own feed, he has done a fantastic job of bringing the history of that empire to life, both in the narratives of kings and conquests and in the leisurely walks through the internal shape, cultures, and lifestyles of the Persian Empire. I am a fan of this show, and I think you will be, too.
OS 96 - Fall of the Hittite Empire
In 1200 BCE, the Hittite Empire fell, its capitol of Hattusa was abandoned and its final king, Suppuliliuma II, was probably dead. The circumstances leading up to that fall, and the reign of Tudhaliya IV, the final significant Hittite king, are as much a roller coaster of ups, downs, and gaps in the historical record as the whole of Hittite history has been, but the empire had to end at some point, and it chose to end here. Note that this is the final episode of season 1 of the podcast, check the show website oldeststories.net to find out where you can submit your questions for the special question and answer episode and to learn when special episodes are released. And make sure you are subscribed to this feed right here. I appreciate all the interest that you listeners have had up until now, and I promise I will be returning to the show when my life settles down.
OS 95 - Hattusili Secures His Legacy
Western Anatolia is the biggest player in the fall of the Hittite Empire, and those movements begin now, with the later years of Hattusili III. Additionally, the chronic instability that used to afflict the Hittite monarchy on a regular basis returns with a vengeance, as memories of Hattusili's violent rise to the throne resurface as the Great King gets closer and closer to facing his own mortality. Though Tudhaliya IV will end up taking the throne more or less peacefully, he won't be sitting on it very comfortably as he deals with the legacies of defeat and rebellion left to him by his father. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 94 - Hattusili the Peace Maker
This week the Hittite empire hits its high point, as we look at Hattusili III and Ramesses II's so-called Eternal Treaty, the peace treaty which would help define the climate of the bronze age collapse. Additionally, we look at the various other peace deals that Hattusili is able to secure with his vassals, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians. Finally, the revolutionary queen Puduhepa is going to take the stage for a bit. We know less about this highly influential queen than we would like, but her role in governing the empire as her husband aged and sickened is clear, as is her role in a dramatic religious reform that will shake the very heavens above the Hittite empire.
OS 93 - Hattusili's Palace Drama
The Battle of Kadesh may be over, but the drama of the Hittite Empire's final century is only just beginning. Muwatalli's final few years give way to the rise of his son, Urhi-Tessub, also called Mursili III, but the young man's unstable regime will face a hefty challenge when his uncle, the man that Muwatalli had granted so much power in the north, sees his own power begin to diminish as the young king rises. The results will shake the very foundations of the Hittite empire for the rest of its history, and they all start with the political infighting of the 1260's. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 92 - Nergal and Ereshkigal
OS 91 - A Muddy Mesopotamian Mess
OS 90 - Tukulti-Ninurta's Victories
In Babylon, King Kashtiliash IV has a problem. His kingdom is in decline. And so he takes bold actions to shake up the Mesopotamian order, but ends up shaking far harder than he could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, Tukulti-Ninurta takes power in Assyria and spends his early years asserting dominance against the Hittites and Babylonians, but he will come to find that winning a war can sometimes be far easier that holding on afterwards. Today's story devolves into an absolute mess, as we are on the cusp of the Bronze Age Collapse, and the Aramaens, climate change, and political disorder are going to to give our Assyrian king of kings a massive headache. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 89 - The Peaceful Decline of Kassite Babylon
Today we watch the decline of Kassite Babylon, from which distressingly little survives. We look at the prosperity they have achieved, and the ultimate hollowness of its economic foundations, before the long standing rivalry between Assur and Babylon re-ignites with disastrous consequences for the ancient city of Marduk.
OS 88 - The Destruction of Mitanni
Today we will take a journey through the cultural achievements of Kassite Babylon, which are beginning to reach their famous heights at the cultural intersection of what we would today call science and magic, though of course for the ancients these were one and the same. This will include a look at the remarkably well documented life of Raba-sa-Marduk, a Babylonian physician of international renown. Then we will return to warfare, with the wars of Babylon, the wars of Assur, and the wars between Assur and Babylon in the early 13th century. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 87 - Rebirth of an Old City
Finally, the city of Assur wakes up and shakes off the dust of its centuries long obscurity, rising from minor Mitanni vassal to major world player in a single generation, thanks to the personal skill of king Assur-Uballit I. This is an episode of glorious conquest, and also one where we get to take a look at the bitter personal costs of those conquests. All this conquest is augmented expertly by some fascinating, though not always successful, diplomacy. Also, a door gets stolen, which apparently upset the Assyrians for generations to come. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 86 - The Battle of Kadesh
Huge apologies for the whistling. That is my internal cue to edit that part. and something seems to have happened where the edits reverted or didn't save right. I have fixed that here and on youtube, and if you notice any more editing issues, please please please let me know which episode you hear it on, so I can fix it. Thank you so much to the listener who pointed it out.
Here it is, the greatest battle of the late bronze age. Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt faces off against Muwatalli II of the Hittites, with control over the Levantine coast as the prize. This is a huge deal historically for a number of reasons. It was absolutely massive, involving as many as 90,000 men. It was the largest chariot battle in history, with perhaps as many as 6,000 chariots on the field. It is the oldest battle in history for which we have extensive tactical detail. And, of course, it represents the clash of two mighty civilizations at their very peak and would shape the near east for the rest of the bronze age. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 85 - New Cities and New Villains
OS 84 - Mursili's Plague
While he can easily be overshadowed by the military accomplishments of his father Suppiluliuma and his son Muwatalli II, Mursili II is one of the most significant kings in Hittite History, and one of the most well documented. Unlike most kings, for whom we have pretty much just state records, we have personal details of Mursili's life and reign, telling us things like how he felt when he took the throne, and how much he loved his wife. Today we look at Mursili II's accomplishments and writings, all of which take place in the backdrop of one of the most significant plagues of the late bronze age.
OS 83 - Vengeance, Mortal and Divine
We have a bit of a hodge podge here as we finish up the reign of Suppiluliuma and move into his successors, Arnuwanda II and Mursili II. But there is a common thread of vengeance woven throughout. We will see the level of violence rise, both in terms of more combat which has been recorded and in the brutality that gets pulled out to deal with the defeated side in these wars. We will talk a little bit about military trends, particularly the balance of siegecraft and city defense, and some of the reasons for Hittite military dominance. Mursili is an interesting fellow, a mix of remarkable brutality and unusual piety, and the gods himself will treat with him in remarkable ways.
OS 82 - Suppiluliuma Irritates Egypt
In the aftermath of one of the greatest campaigns of the bronze age, Suppiluliuma's Hittites need to consolidate control over Syria. This is complicated by matters of Egyptian and Mitanni politics, as well as the endless politicking of the tiny Syrian states, but it turns out if you have a massive army and a military genius, than many political problems have a way of simply resolving themselves. We will also see one of the strangest events in bronze age political history, and we will see how it goes sour and launches a multi-generational feud between Egypt and the Hittites. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 81 - King Tushratta Begs and Runs Away
Today we will start the great and storied reign of Hittite Great King Suppiluliuma I and his campaigns against the Mitanni. However, because this happens to be the age of Amarna, we are in the unusual position that his opponent in Mitanni is not a faceless non-entity. There is a fair bit we can say about the Mitanni king Tushratta, and so before we start wrecking the Mitanni kingdom, we are going to learn a bit about Tushratta and his role in shifting the balance of power in the near east. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 80 - The Storm Before The Calm
Today the Hittite Empire will fall, pretty much completely, and be replaced by the western Anatolian state of Arzawa. We have seen the Hittites beaten pretty badly before, and this is about as bad at it has ever gotten, with even the capitol Hattusa sacked and burned to the ground. But no matter how hard the Hittites get hit this episode, they have a secret weapon in their back pocket, king Tudhaliya III's son and heir Suppiluliuma. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 79 - Magic and Medicine in Hattusa
Magic, science, and medicine are our topic today, focusing primarily one the good number of documents on these topics which survive from the Middle Hittite period. We are going to learn how to cure diseases like impotence and argumentativeness, and we are going to learn which animals are and are not ok to have sexual relations with. The rituals we are looking at today provide one more window into the mindset of the ancients, and offer one more puzzle piece to fill in our picture of the late bronze age.
OS 78 - Foreigners and Vassals of Hatti
Things are tough for the Hittite Empire. The vassals who promise to be loyal keep being disloyal, the enemies who promise to attack keep attacking, and we can't even know for certain what the logistical situation looked like, though it was surely quite grim, given the number of folks who appear unwilling to show up to work when called on. That said, the Tudhaliya and Arnuwanda tag team is the rocky beginning of the uphill climb for the Hittite empire, and things are going to end up still uncertain, but certainly moving in the right direction.
OS 77 - Idrimi's Adventure and Tudhaliya's Invasion
We return to Anatolia, where our tale remains just as poorly documented and fast moving as it is in Babylon, thought there is light at the end of the tunnel this week as we finally get into the transition to the Hittite New Kingdom, with all the renewed conquest and court drama that entails. Actually, so little happens in the Hittite Middle Kingdom that much of the first half of the show is dedicated to one of the more peculiar incidents, the tale of Idrimi, a deposed prince who turns himself into a major Syrian power. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 76 - The Amarna Mailbag
The Amarna letters are famous because nowhere else in bronze age history do we have a cache of documents quite like it. Thirteen letters from Kadashman-Enlil, and later his son Burna-Buriash, addressed to Pharoah Akhenaten of Egypt, give us insights into the nuts and bolts of bronze age international diplomacy that even most bronze age folks would have not understood unless they were part of the royal courts. What did ancient kings know about their neighbors, how did they think about their kingdom, and how did they solve disputes? All these and more are in the Amarna letters, and as an added benefit, these letters will take us through the reigns of these two kings, continuing the tale of Kassite Babylonian history. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 75 - Building Babylonia
The growth of Kassite Babylonia, also called Karduniash, continues apace. Just like last week, Kassite Babylonia is very poorly documented, and thus we are going to cover all the way from Pharaoh Thutmose III to Pharaoh Akhenaten. That's right, Kassite Babylonia has so little history that we make our bookmarks against Egyptian history instead of Babylonian, but this does mean that we will start looking at the famous Amarna letters, the diplomatic correspondence between Kadashman-Enlil and the Egyptian Pharaoh. It is a little bit of war, a little bit of construction, and a thirty five hundred year old missing person case.
OS 74 - A New Dawn for Babylon
Babylon is reborn! Following the decline and sack of Babylon, the entire region was devastated for decades. However, even in these ashes lay the seeds of a new growth, the Kassite Dynasty, which will emerge to rebuild not just Babylon but the whole region. This is a relatively poorly documented century, but a significant one, meaning that our story is going to be jumping around quite a bit, but this will give us a good view of many different parts of the rising dynasty.
OS 73 - Corruption in Nuzi
True crime! Corruption in city hall! A gang of thugs terrorizing a town! One of the most interesting finds in the town of Nuzi is a series of court documents which contain testimony about a large number of criminal activities by a gang of thugs, including men who have positions in city hall. Today we get an on the ground look at what sort of crime went on in Nuzi, and what was done about it. Plus, we will start to get a sense of how many sheep the Hurrians actually had.
Bonus 4 - Akitu New Year Special
Happy Mesopotamian New Year! Akitu was celebrated at the start of the year from Sumerian times until the end of Babylonian civilization, and naturally the details changed significantly over the course of thousands of years. However, this is something of a reconstructed outline of what went on, with attention particularly paid both to the cultural context of many of the events, as well as to how some of those might be adjusted for modern neo-pagans attempting to reconstruct the holiday.
OS72 - Lawyers of Nuzi
Today we have a very real discussion about some very real people, hearing from the Hurrians in their own words by looking at the goings on in a town called Nuzi. When two groups disagree about who is the rightful owner of some land, the matter gets resolved in a peaceful and civilized fashion, with a well ordered and reasonable lawsuit. This may be the bronze age, but it turns out that we can, in fact, resolve our problems using words instead of violence. Today we are using actual court documents surrounding a particular lawsuit to follow a legal dispute from start to finish, and in the process learn quite a bit about how the Hurrians lived.
OS 71 - Hurrian Wisdom
OS 70 - Mighty Monsters of Mitanni
OS 69 - Kumarbi Strikes Back
OS 68 - The Song of Kumarbi
Today we begin the great epic of the Hurrians, the Kumarbi cycle, which in multiple fragmentary episodes discusses the multiple conflicts over kingship that the Hurrian gods have with each other. Focusing particularly on the battle between Tessub and Kumarbi, it draws in a number of gods from both native Hurrian as well as southern Mesopotamian and Anatolian tradition. The end result is a work about the cosmic order that finds many parallels, and may well have influenced, later Greek myth, especially Hesiod's Thegony.
OS 67 - Late Bronze Age Warfare
This may be the late bronze age, but it is the golden age of chariot warfare. To a great degree, the power of the great kingdoms is all built upon chariot warfare, from the Maryannu elites of Mitanni to the heavy chariots of the Hittites, to the personal valor of the Egyptian pharoahs, to the flat plains of Kassite Babylon. What did war look like in a time dominated by the the great chariots? We will look at how thoroughly a chariot army could dominate and raid into places that had no chariots for themselves, and then we will take a look at what it looked like when two full armies confronted each other. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 66 - Enter the Arena
The world of the Late Bronze Age is expanding, and today we introduce the two final players to the near east battleground. Egypt is probably familiar to many, though worth a bit of an introduction to see what exactly the Nile valley is doing to bring it into our story. Mitanni, however, and its people, the Hurrians, is quite a bit more obscure. Note that next week there will be no normal episode, instead I am doing some reworkings of the very first episodes, so remember to scroll down to check out the brand new Episode 3. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 65 - Disorder in the Court
OS 64 - Village Economics
OS 63 - Village People
OS 62 - The Man Who Changed The World, Mursili I
Mursili I destroyed two empires, plundering Aleppo and Babylon, and ruled for thirty of the best years in Hittite history. His conquests would pave the way for the great battles of the late bronze age. And yet he is almost completely obscure, despite being the singular catalyst for everything that was to come. Today I want to focus in on a man who has failed to receive the immortality he deserved, and to look at the military machine that helped him achieve these things.
OS 61 - The Conqueror's Triumph and Death
Hattusili I has already shown himself to be a cut above the Anatolian kings that have come before him, but like all the most ambitious of men he has set his sights far higher than just Greatest Anatolian King. Today he marches eastward to challenge the Syrian kingdom of Yamhad, where he will campaign for the rest of his life in an effort to outdo the great Sargon of Akkad. Then he will die after a pretty good showing, but the drama doesn't end there. On his deathbed, the family squabble over succession will force the ill and aged king to re-order dynastic politics. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 60 - Telipinu, the Vanishing God
A god is furious, and in his fury he has abandoned the people and the kingdom to suffer one catastrophe after another. Today we look at the myth, the ritual, and the theological understanding of why bad things happened and what to do about them, according to ancient Anatolian traditions that pre-date the Hittites themselves. Through looking at this story, we get a window into the mindset and lifestyle of the people over whom the Hittites rules, a mindset that was almost certainly shared at least in part by the rulers themselves. Will the missing god be found and the natural order restored? Yes, he will, but it is in the manner that this is accomplished that quite a lot is revealed. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 59 - The Conquering Lion, Hattusili I
The first king of the Hittites, Hattusili I, thought of himself as a conquering lion. Given his military record, this isn't a completely inappropriate boast. His accomplishments in establishing the Old Hittite Kingdom are far beyond the merely military, but this episode we are going to focus primarily on the parts of his career he was most proud of, his early conquests. Starting from nothing, he builds up a kingdom to rival his grandfather Labarna and his great ancestor Anitta, then goes beyond what they had ever hoped to achieve. Then has his entire kingdom fall apart, rebuilds it from nothing, and goes even farther. He will deal with the Curse of Hattusa in characteristic manner, and show us how Hittite kings throughout history will handle diplomacy and warfare. A busy episode, and we aren't even half done with Great King Hattusili I. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 58 - Rise of the Hittites
OS 57 - Ancient Anatolia
We begin our series on the Hittites by looking at what came before the Hittites. This episode is a survey of the geography, cultures, and history of Eastern Asia Minor prior to the arrival of the newest player on our stage, the Hittites. The Anatolians have been on the fringes of our story from the conquests of Sargon of Akkad to the trading colonies of Assyria, but until now we have been pretty vague about the conditions and people in the northwest extreme of the Mestopotamian world. Also, we will take a brief look at points west to round out our understanding of the late bronze age world. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 56 - Obscure Struggles in Assyria
Assyria is deep in a dark age following the fall of Babylon. Struggling to hold on and fighting over its identity, the Assyrians didn't appear to have a whole lot of time for writing stuff down. And so we are going to zoom through from 1740 to the mid 1400's BCE, some three hundred years or so, through some of the vaguest and poorly documented periods that we have encountered so far. It is an important time for defining Assyria's later culture, which makes it all the more tragic that we have so little to say here. Still, I will say what I can because it is important that we keep abreast of developments in this little town.
Bonus 3 - Lament for Ur
An interlude in our story. Today, a poem of passionate despair. With the collapse of Sumerian civilization in 2000 BCE, five great laments were written that would continue to be performed and recorded until the end of Mesopotamian civilization some fifteen hundred years later, and may well have survived for a time after that. This episode will be the Lament for Ur, in its entirety, in translation, with as much of the ancient passion that would have infused it as I can manage. I do warn you that the first two verses are very repetitive, and there is an element of mournful repetition in the entire thing, but the very first verse is not representative of the whole thing, so feel free to fast forward a bit if it gets to be a bit too much. Verse 2 starts at time stamp 7:12. Online at oldeststories.net
Bonus 2 - Fanciful Notions of Antiquity
OS 55 - Days of Quiet Prosperity
In a sense, not much happens in this episode. Covering a bit over a century, the borders of Babylon are going to remain more or less stable for most of this episode, and the people are going to enjoy a century of generalized quiet prosperity. Covering the later successors of Hammurabi, Abi-Eshuh, Ammi-Ditana, Ammi-Saduqa, and Samsu-Ditana, we will see scientific and legal advances, good government, and also the quite sudden and total destruction of Babylon, both city and empire. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 54 - Soldier of Babylon, Ubarum
Ubarum was just a man living in a small village in north Babylonia, one among possibly a few million. He was a soldier by trade, but also managed a little bit of side business and by the end of his life became comfortably middle class. Today we will not be telling the story of gods or kings, but the life of this simple man as best as can be understood from a collection of business receipts and legal documents found together in what archaeologists call the Ubarum Archive. It is only one part of his life, but it is still a perspective we don't see too often. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 53 - Poem of the Righteous Sufferer
The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer, or Ludlul-Bel-Nimeqi, is one of the oldest works of theodicy in history, and part of a long running philosophical tradition in Mesopotamian society. Marduk, clad in splendor and robed in dread brings first suffering and then relief on a man for seemingly no reason, and in this tale we will see both the events that occurred to him and his attempts to make sense of it all. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 52 - Theogony of Dunnu and The Education of Scribes
Incest and Patricide are the highlights of today's tale, sometimes also called the Dynasty of Dunnum or the Harab Myth. The ancient Mesopotamian religious tradition was far from unified, and from an obscure town survives a creation story that has powerful resonances all the way to ancient Greece. And while we are on the topic, this is a good chance to look at the men who wrote all these strange and wonderful stories and histories that the show has been depending on. How did they come to be educated, and what were their lives like? Online at oldeststories.net
OS 51 - The New Order
Finally, we have finished with Hammurabi, and it is time for his successor Samsu-Iluna to take over. At first, things are much the same as they were under his father, but the appearance of a strange new enemy with superior weaponry and tactics throws the empire into chaos. Samsu-Iluna is faced with the largest rebellion in three hundred years, and will do quite respectably for himself. The geopolitical order in general, however, will be shattered utterly. Kassites, Sealand, a weakened Yamhad, and horsies! Yay! are all in store for us today. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 50 - Hammurabi's Code of Laws
The entire code of Hammurabi, start to finish. This is the show's fiftieth episode, and will run quite long as something of a special edition. I am going to go through the entire law code of Hammurabi, start to finish, with commentary and extensive quotes. Not kidding, this is going to be seriously long, fair warning here. I did say I wasn't going to do this because it would be long and boring, but here I am doing it anyway. It is definitely long, but hopefully I have kept the boredom to a minimum. Feel free to skip over this episode if you are not interested in this sort of thing or if it gets dull halfway through. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 49 - Hammurabi's Death and Legacy
The final decade of Hammurabi's life would be peaceful and prosperous, and was in many ways the foundation of the rest of the Old Babylonian Empire. We have actual letters from Hammurabi himself as he micromanages his administrators, establishes the Ilkum system, and handles the complaints of common citizens, that are quite revealing of his character and ambitions. This will also be the episode where we lay Hammurabi to rest, but once he is in the ground we follow the path of his legacy throughout the centuries, both in ancient Mesopotamia and his rediscovery in the modern era. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 48 - Hammurabi's Women and Slaves
Thus far this show has largely ignored over half of the population, though in my defense, the ancient scribes on whom we rely upon for so much of our information also tended to neglect them as well. But today we will do what we can to rectify the situation and give you as complete a view of Babylonian society as I know how. This means that we will look in depth at the conditions and societal practices of Babylonian slavery and Babylonian women, how they lived and what sort of restrictions kept them in their place. Online at oldeststories.net.
Bonus 1 - The Slaying of Illuyanka
Bonus episode! Dragon slaying myths are about as old as myth itself, but one of the oldest is the tale of the Hittite Storm God's battle against Illuyanka the Serpent. Today's special episode is produced as part of a collaboration with the Mythology Multiverse discord channel's stable of creative and talented youtubers and podcasters. All of them are great, check them out below:
OS 47 - Hammurabi's Rebels and Oracles
Hammurabi's final conquests are almost perfunctory, but his responses to the subsequent rebellions is anything but. Much of the episode however is concerned with the practice of religion in old Babylon and how it intertwined with everything from the daily lives of commoners to matters of state policy. Where did the superstitions of divination come from, what did they look like, and how did the average Babylonian understand his own religion? Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 46 - Hammurabi's Northern Conquests and Agricultural Power
Hammurabi's power rises as the cities of the north begin to grow suspicious of his ambitions, and then have those suspicions proven correct when he goes to war with them. But amid all the devastation of war, we have a chance to look at the beating heart of the Mesopotamian economy, agriculture, and what it tells us about why Babylon was able to become so dominant. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 45 - Hammurabi's Medicine and Justice
Hammurabi conquers Larsa in another lightning campaign displaying his strategic and diplomatic cunning. But once it is conquered, he needs to bring this massive new territory into his growing empire. This will give us an occasion to look at what exactly justice looked like in an Amorite city. We will also have an opportunity to discuss Middle Bronze Age medicine and what kind of surgical practices were known in Babylon. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 44 - Hammurabi's Military and Elamite War
Today we follow the course of the Great Elamite War, the turning point in Babylon's history when it will beat the odds and establish itself as the region's great power for the next thousand years. The story itself is full of action and twists, but we will take some time also to look at how warfare has evolved and systematized as we emerge fully out of the previous transitional period fully into the Amorite age of warfare. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 43 - Hammurabi's Siegecraft and Diplomacy
We have actual letters from Hammurabi that show off the diplomacy and statecraft for which the king was celebrated, and in the chaotic years leading up to the Great Elamite War, he will have many opportunities to employ all his many skills to manage the balance of power without violence. But when violence comes, it means cities will be put to siege, so the second half of the episode examines what we know about middle bronze age siegecraft. In both war and peace we will see the calculating intelligence of the men of Mesopotamia on full display. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 42 - Hammurabi's Kingdom and Character
What was Hammurabi like, and what did the kingdom of Babylon look like in the earliest days? Today, we are going to look at the man himself, Hammurabi, and what he did when he inherited the kingdom from his father. There will be some legal drama, including a trial by water, as well as diplomatic jockeying and a bit of low level warfare. If you are new to the show, this is a great place to start, since this is something of a turning point in Mesopotamian history, and Hammurabi's Babylon is one of the best places to learn about not just exciting military campaigns, but also the daily life, culture, and world view of the people of the Middle Bronze Age. Online, with maps, at oldeststories.net
OS 41 - Shamshi-Adad and the Upper Mesopotamian Empire
From a refugee in Babylon to the king of the largest empire Mesopotamia has seen since the fall of Ur, and the first Assyrian empire at that, Shamshi-Adad's life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. This week we watch as he builds up his northern empire and begins to develop and handle it in a distinctively empire-like way. The fact that it wouldn't survive his death is almost beside the point. A map is available today at oldeststories.net.
OS 40 - Barbarian Kingdoms and Biblical Patriarchs
The Amorites swept through Syria and held the region in a dark age longer than any other part of Mesopotamia. But when the dust finally does settle, we will see a number of nations ruled by barbarians, but behaving in quite civilized fashions. Today we will look at the establishment of Yamhad, Qatna, and Mari as well as the early kings of Assyria, getting a feel for the new players that will be with us for the next few hundred years. In the second half of the show, we enter briefly into the Age of Biblical Patriarchs and events of the Book of Genesis, though this is more of an interesting tangent than a major part of the historical narrative at this point. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 39 - The Merchants and Families of Assyria
We know very little about the kings of early Assyria, so our introduction to the north will be bottom up by necessity. We know about merchants and farmers and pastoralists and slaves, men and women who worked the land and built the nation. It is a welcome break from the endless listing of "King did this" that makes up so much of the rest of history. In this period, old Assyria is primarily a commercial power, not a military one. Instead of conquests, we will see colonies, and instead of soldiers, we will see caravans. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 38 - Rim-Sin the Pretty Good
Today we see the near collapse of Larsa, and its sudden and unexpected rescue by an Amorite from Elam. After the failure of Nur-Adad's line, Kudur-Mabuk sweeps in from the desert to revitalize the city, and gives birth to the first great conqueror in 250 years, Rim-Sin, who despite his ultimate failure still deserves the title of Rim-Sin the Pretty Good. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 37 - Petty Kings
The multi-polar Isin-Larsa period continues this week, covering the period from the 1860s to the 1830s BCE. This week is a bit easier that the mess of last week, because we are slowly consolidating to only three major players, Isin, Larsa, and Babylon, and the first two see the coming of benevolent, peaceful kings that actually seem to care at least a little bit about the common citizens of their cities. This state of affairs won't last forever, but it is nice while it lasts. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 36 - The Founding of Babylon
This week we continue to watch as Isin and Larsa fight each other and the many other rising dynasties over the chaotic period from 1905 to 1865 BCE. Only slightly notable at the time, though soon to be much, much more important, is the occupation of the tiny fishing village of Babylon by an Amorite coalition who will over these forty years give it its first king Sumu-la-el, first walls, and protector god Marduk. This forty years is an absolute mess of conquest, re-conquest, and confused chronologies, but I feel like simplifying the story wouldn't do justice to how completely insane this period was. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 35 - Middle Bronze Age Warfare
The main narrative of the Isin Larsa period is full of battles both stated and implied, but what do those battles actually look like? What sort of equipment and organization was common in this part of the middle bronze age? Honestly, quite a lot is similar from when we last looked deeply at military organization under Sargon the Great, but a number of things have changed as well, with the introduction of many Amorite battlefield innovations, so this episode will take a break from linear narrative and sketch an example battle of what it could have looked like to be a soldier in a Mesopotamian middle bronze age battle. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 34 - Age of Chaos
It is time to shake things up as the line of peaceful merchant kings of Isin comes to an end thanks to two strong men, firstly Gungunum of Larsa and then Ur-Ninurta of Nippur and his revival of Sumerian Kingship. A lot of other players will start popping their head up as well, beginning properly our age of chaos. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 33 - A Time of Ritual and Law
This week we look at the somewhat obscure 1900's BCE in Isin, where details will be thin on the ground, but that will just give us more time to focus on the Law code of Lipit-Ishtar and the annual ritual of the sacred marriage between Ishtar and the king. Ishtar, or Inanna's sacred marriage to the kings of Mesopotamia was a major religious rite, and Lipit-Ishtar's law code, especially in comparison with the contemporaneous law code of Eshnnuna, tell us a great deal about the daily life and values of the middle bronze age. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 32 - Lay of the Land
OS 31 - First Men
The legends of Adapa, Enmeduranki, and Etana are the tales of three very early kings, though tales that don't seem to come around until the middle bronze age, and they are in a sense creation myths but most importantly they are moral stories in the broader genre of wisdom literature. They show us how the earth and heaven is ordered in the Mesopotamian world view, and they show us what is good and evil in a person's behavior, though it also seems to show us that sometimes evil doesn't really get punished all that much, if the evil person happens to be useful. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 30 - The Tablet of Destinies
Ninurta the action hero god returns, this time in an adventure to recover the stolen Tablet of Destinies. In doing this, we will wrestle with Semitic concepts of godhood and destiny, as well as peek under the hood and see some of the things that would come to inspire the invention of the Jewish god. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 29 - The Enuma Elish
The Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, tells the story of the creation of the world and how it was a terrible mistake immediately regretted by its parents. Said parents then attempt a late-term abortion, but the young gods, led by Ea and Marduk, fight a war. Since the universe obviously still exists, you can already guess who wins. In this tale, we learn that Marduk is awesome. Like seriously, totally awesome. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 28 - The Chamorros of Saipan
Special Episode. This week is a break from normal as we discuss the Chamorro people of the Marianas islands, A four thousand year oral culture in the Pacific ocean. We will look at a few creation legends as well as the history of the islands as told through the legend of Chief Taga. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 27 - The Study of Sumer and Ancient Aliens
There were some very important and talented people who have dug up the once lost civilization of Sumer and given their stories new life. Then there are the ancient aliens people. We will pay our respects to the giants of Sumerology, and examine exactly where the ancient aliens theorists go off the rails while enjoying the silliness of their earnestly held beliefs. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 26 - The Oldest Debates
Today we return to Sumerian Wisdom literature and see some of the oldest philosophy ever recorded, with the debates on creation and the oldest investigation of the problem of evil in A Man and His God. We also dig into the famous proverb collections and look at one of the diatribes, literally just a man writing down swears and insults about someone else in their life.
OS 25 - The Last Sumerian, Ibbi-Sin
Sumer is in a bad state, with enemies on all sides, and just as they are crying out for good fortune they instead receive Ibbi-Sin, a blustering fool. We will read the letters he wrote as the world collapsed around him and then part of the famous lament for Sumer and Ur. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 24 - The Rebirth of Sumer
The Sumerian Renaissance, a fruitful period of literary achievement and military conquest. We are going to see the first Sumerian kings in 250 years as they revive their ancient culture and leave their mark on history. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 11 - Instructions Manual
Note that this episode has moved in the ordering to better fit its position in the timeline. This week we look at the wisdom literature of Ancient Sumer with a genre called instructions which are just that, instructions for how to live, from the ethical to the deeply practical. We will learn how to live a good life and how to farm barley, as well as other things. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 10 - King Shulgi's Mailbag
Note that this episode has moved in the ordering to better fit its position in the timeline. Today we will look at the actual words of a man 4000 years gone as he sends letters struggling to forge an empire. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 23 - The Fall of Akkad
Today the Akkadian empire will collapse, brought low by climate change, foreign invasion, and civil war. A dark age of Gutian domination will descend upon Mesopotamia. This episode will cover the fall, the Gutian dynasty, and even a bit the cities that did survive the Gutians, mostly Lagash. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 22 - Slanderous Legends of Naram-Sin
Today the fall of Akkad begins. We start with how the Mesopotamians themselves remembered the fall of their first great empire, with the Curse of Agade and the Cuthean Legend, and see that they slanderously put all the blame on the great king Naram-Sin. Still, though it is untrue, it makes for good stories and reveals a lot about the bronze age mindset. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 21 - Surpassing Sargon with Naram-Sin
Who was the greatest king of the Akkadian Empire? Today I make the case for Naram-Sin, who brought the empire to the high water mark and really solidified everything his grandfather had worked to build, as well as creating his own innovations. He isn't well remembered by history, thanks to his tremendous hubris, but listen to his accomplishments and ask yourself if maybe his hubris was at least a bit justified. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 20 - Sargon, the Next Generation
Sargon had two sons and both will sit on the throne. Rimush will do all the work, while Manishtushu will enjoy all the rewards. Both are fairly interesting on their own, but suffer from being the interlude between two fascinating characters, Sargon and Naram-sin, and thus are less remembered then they perhaps deserve. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 19 - Sargon at war
Here is the meat of the Sargon Legend, his conquests. But he wasn't just conquering for the sake of conquest, his empire was formed from a vision which shows his very deep understanding of logistics, international trade, economies of scale. And all this, as we will see, is what makes his kingdom the world's first empire. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 18 - Sargon at Peace
What did Akkadian power look like on the ground, and what did daily life look like for the average Sumerian during this period? Today I will use the occasion of the rise of the Akkadian Empire to pause and look at the human condition below that of gods and kings, since there are now enough sources to put together that we can at least sketch these things for the first time in human history. Not much story this week, just discussion of how things were. We will return to the story of the grand sweep of the empire next week. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 17 - Sargon Rising
Today we look at the rise of the world's first empire, following the story of Sargon of Akkad's rise from the son of a gardener to the king of Sumer and Akkad. His rise and empire is bigger than can be fit into a single episode, but the Legend of Sargon's rise to power should be enough to whet your appetite for the coming Akkadian series. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 16 - Reform and Corruption in Lagash
Last time was the rise, this time is the fall of the city of Lagash, into corruption and military defeat. Can the hero of the people, great reformer Urukagina, save his city from certain destruction? No, he can't, but he will try. The three big names today are Enmetena, Urukagina, and Lugalzagesi as witness the dramatic end of an era. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 15 - Kings and Wars in Lagash
OS 14 - Ea, Tales from Creation
The god of wisdom and crafting is the chillest of the gods, that is when he is not turning his family tree into a family telephone poll. The most generous and the most distressingly criminal of the gods, Ea has some of the most unique stories. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 13 - The God of Action Heroes Ninurta
The mountains will crumble and cities will tremble as Ninurta comes to put down a rebellion with maximum casualties and no Geneva Convention. Then he will teach us geology. The Sumerians are a funny bunch, which is why their four thousand year old stories still have the capacity to surprise us. Online at oldeststories.net.
OS 12 - Enlil, Lord of Wind
He is a little bit creepy and king of the gods. He is Enlil, lord of wind, and today's episode is focused on the him as the head of the Sumerian pantheon. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 09 - Ishtar and Dumazid
OS 08 - Ishtar Gains Power
Today we are going to weave a few separate tales of Ishtar together to get a picture of her character and power as the Goddess of Love and War. Apologies for the poor audio quality, my set up was flawed today, but the story is still audible. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 07 - Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim, and Immortality
Today we finish the epic of Gilgamesh with the story of the mysterious hermit Utnapishtim, a tale that goes all the way back to when the earth was young. We will see labor disputes and quite a lot of geological investigation while learning three ways for a mortal to gain immortality. Online at oldeststories.net
OS 06 - Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven
OS 05 - Gilgamesh Has Adventures
In today's episode we cover two side stories of Gilgamesh. First he will fight off an invasion of Uruk in Gilgamesh and Aga, and then he will aid the goddess Ishtar, become obsessed with golf, and learn about the afterlife in Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Underworld. Two very different tales, but both say a lot about Gilgamesh and ancient Sumerian society. Find us online at oldeststories.net.
OS 04 - Gilgamesh vs Humbaba
OS 03 - Gilgamesh Tames Enkidu
OS 2.5 - Before the Beginning
The History part of the Oldest Stories begins here. Where did Enmerkar, Lugalbanda, and Gilgamesh come from, and how did civilization arise between the Tigris and Euphrates? Drawing from archeology and the very oldest writings, we look at the origins of Sumer, the pre-Sumerian Ubaids, the landscape of Mesopotamia, and the poorly understood ups and downs of the very earliest proto-history of Mesopotamia. Online at oldeststories.net. Also, I hang out at a mythology discussion discord, if anyone wants to come say hi or discuss myth in general: discord.gg/q8XPnpg
OS 02 - Lugalbanda's Adventures
In this episode, we continue the oldest still existing narrative of human warfare. Aratta has gone back on their agreement from last time and King Enmerkar finally rallies an implausibly large number of soldiers to put him down for good. Of his eight storied generals, literally the only one who even still has a name remembered by history is Lugalbanda, and in this tale we will hear a sampling of his fantastical, super-powered adventures as he dramatically fails to make it to the battle. Find us online at oldeststories.net. This episode was re-recorded to improve audio quality and narrative structure as of 2021/1/27.
OS 01 - Enmerkar and Aratta
In this, the first episode of the Oldest Stories podcast, we go all the way back to the very beginning with about the oldest story ever to be written on clay tablets. This is the story of the city of Uruk and it's king Enmerkar as they threaten the rival city of Aratta. Find us online at oldeststories.net. This episode was re-recorded to improve audio quality and narrative structure as of 2021/1/27. Also, I hang out at a mythology discussion discord, if anyone wants to come say hi or discuss myth in general: discord.gg/q8XPnpg