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Stela of Shamshi-Adad V

Shamshi-Adad V commissioned a stela that was excavated in Kalhu, which is remarkable for its record of the succession crisis that preceded his reign. It tells the story of his brother Ashur-da'in-apla gaining the allegiance of many cities and leading them into rebellion against their father, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. The rebellion ended with Shamshi-Adad V subduing all the cities involved in the revolt and ascending the throne as a strong military leader. The rebellion lasted about six years altogether and must have been a major event. The stela has unusual visual and scriptural elements to reinforce Shamshi-Adad as a legitimate, militarily strong, and pious leader. There are inscriptions on the observe and the reverse. They use a peculiar, archaizing style of cuneiform that would have given the monument an air of authority and historicity

The obverse is dominated by the image of the king in obeisance to five deities. The king has his typical accouterment – a scepter or mace in his hand, and a hat with flowing ribbons. However, he is wearing an unusual necklace: it is a large pendant resembling a maltese cross, which was associated with the god Shamash but only normally worn by the crown prince. For Shamshi-Adad V as an incumbent king to wear the insignia of the crown prince means he was making a visible effort to propagandize his reign – and his alone – as the only legitimate kingship and the only valid line of succession. It may also have meant that Shalmaneser III had chosen him as the legitimate crown prince, once Ashur-da'in-apla's betrayal was evident. The king is standing with his hands in prayer to emblems of five astral deities,

  • Venus – a star depicted with eight points – – symbolizing Ishtar. This star is both a morning star and an evening star, a suitable symbol for a complex god with a duality of male and female qualities.

  • Lightning – resembling a fork, as it might naturally appear – which symbolized the weather god Adad, who was especially important in the northern areas with more tumultuous weather.

  • The moon – shaped like a crescent – symbolizing the moon god Sin.

  • The sun – shown as a disc with feathers radiating out, similar to the rays of glare that flare out when squinting at the sun – symbolizing the sun god Shamash.

  • At the top there is a hat with triple cow horns, which was a generic symbol for a god. In this context, it is mostly understood to represent the sky god Anu. This makes the most sense considering the sequence of deities and its position.

There is also a text on the obverse. The inscription dedicates the stela to Ninurta: the young, heroic warrior god with whom the Assyrian king is closely associated as the commander of the army. From there, the inscription details the military campaigns Shamshi-Adad V conducted in the first years of his reign. Shamshi-Adad V wanted to present himself as a highly capable military leader. His father and predecessor Shalmaneser III had become too old to lead the Assyrian forces and appointed officials to do so instead, which led to a violent uprising by one of his sons. Shamshi-Adad V positioned himself as the antithesis to this chaotic vacuum of military leadership.

On its reverse, the stela's cuneiform inscription introduces the king as the pious servant of Assyria's gods, and the son of Shalmaneser III and grandson of Ashurnasirpal II. He says that Ashur-da'in-apla – in the time of Shalmaneser III – acted treacherously by inciting insurrection, uprising, and criminality. (Notably, Ashur-da'in-apla was, of course, Shamshi-Adad V's brother and could very well have become king.) Ashur-da'in-apla gained followers who made a binding oath of allegiance to him, and he caused cities to prepare for battle and to rebel against Shalmaneser III. The stela lists 27 fortress cities that had rebelled included Nineveh, Ashur, and several very important centers of the empire. However, Kalhu is not mentioned: clearly, Kalhu had stayed loyal to the crown and its frail, aged king who was probably overshadowed by Shamshi-ilu (who became the main opponent of Ashur-da'in-apla). The stela continues to say that by the command of the great gods, Shamshi-Adad V was able to subdue the rebellious cities and he now enjoyed their support. However, it does not say how he subdued the cities – which were under his brother's forces – nor is Shamshi-ilu mentioned at all.