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LATE BRONZE AGE, ca. 1225-1120 BC

The excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad gave evidence of extensive occupation in the Late Bronze Age (or so-called Middle Assyrian) period of the late 13th and 12th centuries BC. A Late Bronze Age fortified administrative centre or dunnu was installed atop the prehistoric mound. The dunnu, dated ca. 1225-1120 BC, covered roughly 1 hectare in total and had in its centre a walled stronghold (about 60 by 60 m), surrounded by an impressive dry moat. 


Five major building phases are distinguished, the lowest of which belongs to the Mitanni period, while the others are all Middle Assyrian. In the heart of the installation was a massive square tower (20 by 23 m) adjacent to what seems to have been a palace, a tripartite edifice with a central reception room flanked on its long sides by smaller chambers including baths and toilets. 


Around the tower and palace there were administrative units, houses, storage buildings, pottery kilns and workshops of all kinds, including those of a potter, brewer, and baker. The settlement yielded a remarkable array of in-situ artefacts including pottery, grinding tools, bone implements, weapons, jewellery, seals and sealings, and over 400 cuneiform tablets. 


The cuneiform texts, evincing a not infrequent mixture of state and private interests, prove that the site was the seat of the regional Assyrian administration, as well as a garrison station, custom post and rural estate. Moreover, they show that from its foundation early in the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I the dunnu was maintained by a number of high-ranking officials affiliated with the Assyrian royal house and each bearing the titles of ‘grand vizier’ and ‘king of anigalbat’: Assur-iddin, Sulmanu-musabsi and, finally, Ili-pada.


The death of Ili-pada around 1180 BC seems to have ushered in important changes in the layout and organization of the fortress in the first place, followed by  its devastation by a violent conflagration. Shortly afterwards, there were attempts to partially renovate and reconstruct the rural estate, and the occurrence of cuneiform texts reveals the continuing presence of both Assyrian functionaries and a centralized system of administration and control until the end of the 12th century, albeit at a much lower level and on a much smaller scale than before. Around 1120 BC the Assyrians seem to have abandoned the site altogether.

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Assyrian clay tablets with inscriptions in cuneiform, found at Tell Sabi Abyad, ca. 1180 BC