Further on “House of …” usage

As I mentioned in a comment on a post chez Chris Heard, I’ve been compiling instances of the Assyrian usage of the phrase “House of …” in reference to territories and their associated rulers, of which we have much more information than in the case of the Aramaic usage. The importance of the Assyrian evidence lies in that it is predominantly if not universally held among Assyriologists that this naming convention originated among the Arameans, and the Assyrian usage represents the Aramean without distortion. So much for Eigenbegrifflichkeit!

I have yet to examine the texts of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II, in which quite a number (including instances of “Bīt-Hūmrī”) of relevant examples are to be found, and which will be quite fun, regardless. Until I’ve done so, just to keep the conversation from going stale, or continuing on the basis of opinion rather than evidence, I’ll share below the preliminary results of investigating, exhaustively, all the known published royal Assyrian inscriptions included in the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: the Assyrian Period, volumes 2 and 3, covering the dates 1114-745 BC. I should be done by the weekend with both TPIII and Sargon, and have a web page up with the primary source data, and some (hopefully conclusive! probative! definitive!) conclusions. (I’m going to put them onto a web page because I’m having “issues” with fonts in this blog!)

Preliminarily, it’s certainly clear that, regardless of the actual dynastic situation in the various territories, the Assyrians considered the PN in the Bīt-PN phrase to refer to a personal, dynastic founder. [Please note that this is in contrast to my understanding of only last week, that the dynastic assumption was premature. My subsequent exhaustive investigation of the primary sources is conclusive and incontrovertible, therefore I’ve quite sanely admitted my egregious error, and changed my mind to reflect that reality!] How is this learned? In two ways. Firstly through reference to the ruling successors of that person, who are invariably noted as “son of PN.” A geographic territory does not have children, nor does a political entity. Secondly, the personal name element of the Bīt-PN phrase is often tellingly marked with a determinative indicating that the name belonged to an individual, either male (as in most cases), or female (in the case of Bīt-Halupe). The combination of these two points leads undoubtedly to the conclusion that the names involved belonged to people, former rulers of the territories named for them. Mr. Adinu ruled at some point the territory of Bīt-Adini. Madame Halupe ruled at some point the territory of Bīt-Halupe.

There is another very interesting instance of the usage, or rather non-usage of the Bīt-PN/son of PN phrases in the case of Ahunu of Bīt-Adini/Ahunu son of Adinu, a vassal ruler active in the reigns of Adad-narari II and Shalmaneser III. While he is ruling in the city Til-Barsip, his territory is called Bīt-Adini, and he is referred to invariably as Ahunu son of Adinu. During Shalmaneser’s reign he gathered a coalition of rebels, but fled at the approach of the Assyrian army, abandoning the city to the Assyrians. Now, what we see in the royal inscriptions is this rebellious ruler being called, while still ruling his territory Bīt-Adini from his city, “Ahunu son of Adinu.” After abandoning his city, he is only referred to as Ahunu, without the patronymic. It appears that the Assyrians considered that Ahunu had abandoned not only his city, but also his dynastic association itself. That is certainly how they depicted it: he no longer belonged to the dynasty of Adinu! An alternative interpretation is that, with the elimination of local rule, the Assyrian garrisoning of the city, and Til-Barsip’s being renamed to Kar Shalmaneser, the dynasty of Adinu was considered gone, so no one could be a member of it anymore (even though the last scion of the house of Adinu, dynastically speaking, was still, temporarily, alive). It’s hard to say, not being an ancient Assyrian, which of the two would be the reason. It is clear, however, that the patronymic was deliberately omitted after Ahinu fled his city.

Now, while the Assyrians treated these territories as named for founding dynasts, that doesn’t mean that the eponymous ruler’s dynasty was still actually ruling. The only evidence that I’ve so far seen for this (there’ll be more as I get through the later rulers) is that of “Jehu son of Omri.” We are only aware of the Assyrian usage as being incorrect through the accounts in the Hebrew Bible. Jehu, according to those texts, killed the last of the Omrides and was the founder of new dynasty. (This is the precise point of contact of the Hebrew Bible and the Tel Dan Stele, which appears to be in part an Aramean account of the deaths of those same kings.) Yet, as a ruler in the still locally-ruled (Assyrian vassal? Aramean vassal?) territory of Bīt-Hūmrī, “House of Omri”, also known to the Assyrians as Sir’al/Israel, he was considered, despite the historical (or biblical) dynastic gymnastics, to be a member of Omri’s dynasty. Thus we have in the Assyrian inscriptions, “Jehu son of Omri,” which we are also completely justified, in view of Assyrian usage as described above, in translating as “Jehu, ruler of the territory ‘House of Omri'” if we like.

So, stay tuned!


  1. Another source I’m looking forward to is yet to be returned to the library, but will be extraordinarily appropriate to the current discussion:
    Hélène Sader’s book, Les États Araméens de Syrie: Depuis leur fondation jusqu’à leur transformation en provinces assyriennes. Beiruter Texte und Studien 36. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1987.

  2. Kevin, I really value your work on “House of …” usage in early first-millennium Aramaic and Akkadian primary sources. This morning I looked up _bayit_ and _’ab_ in _TDOT_ and found them to be only tangentially relevant to this topic (I can usually rely on _TDOT_ as a convenient way to get broad-based ancient Near Eastern background).

    Your work on this is important. I hope you will submit your research for publication in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal so you can get expert feedback and so that I can cite a journal article that contains your work.

    Best regards,

    Larry Mykytiuk
    History Bibliographer
    Purdue University

  3. P.S. In case anyone is wondering, immediately above I am referring to Kevin’s findings as they appear on this blog Dec. 5th and as posts on Christopher Heard’s blog, Higgaion, on Dec. 6th.

    (By the way, the link above on this comments page at “The raw data, which I’ll update as I go, with my translation, is available in pdf format here” does not seem to work for me.)

    Larry Mykytiuk

  4. Hi Larry, and thanks!

    That’s funny, the link WAS working by just clicking it. It must be a Blogger thing. I sigh.

    Try this, which works: right-click the link, pick Save Target As…, and save it to your hard drive. Then you can open it from there.

    Publishing is probably a good idea, and I may end up doing that. Right now, I just want to answer the question, and as others share the same question, I thought it’d be nice to share the developing answer. Down at the end of the road we can have it entered in the bronze tablets!

  5. Thank you for the “Save target as” tip, Kevin. It worked.

    Regarding submitting your work on “House of …” usage for publication, please don’t put it off indefinitely. Writing a journal article and revising it in response to editorial review is usually very demanding, but it is a great way to present your research and get it into the thinking of scholars who would not otherwise even be aware of it. The mutual benefit can be great.

    The answer seems to be developing nicely.

    Larry Mykytiuk

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