Mannea, a forgotten kingdom of Iran

The kingdom of Mannea occupied roughly the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Western Azerbaijan and (parts of) Eastern Azerbaijan, and its rich material culture has only recently begun to emerge from Iranian excavations in the area. Once Assyria had established a permanent presence in Iran in 744 BC, Mannea was sandwiched between Urartu in the north and Assyria in the south and west, and the powerful neighbours' conflicts caused the kingdom's political fragmentation.

Mannea between Urartu and Assyria: my enemy's enemy is my friend

Three multicoloured glazed tiles from Qalaichi Tepe: [A] Composite figure with human head, the body of a lion and wings, facing right. Excavated at Qalaichi, now in the Urmia Museum, Iran. Photo from Antiquity [] website; [B] Ibex facing left. Illegally excavated at Qalaichi, now in the Ancient Orient Museum, Tokyo, Japan. Photo from Antiquity [] website; [C] Human-headed bird, with the horns of an ibex, facing left. Illegally excavated at Qalaichi, now in the National Museum of Tokyo, Japan. Photo from the website of The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies [].

In the second half of the 8th century BC, the relationship between Mannea and Assyria was shaped by Mannea's rapport with its northern neighbour Urartu, which sought to extend its influence into the southern Urmia basin and therefore began to exert heavy pressure on Mannean holdings there. When Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 BC) took control of Assyria, he must have seemed an ideal ally and Iranzu king of Mannea became his vassal in 744 BC, when the newly crowned Assyrian king campaigned in Iran and established for the first time a permanent Assyrian presence on the eastern flank of the Zagros PGP  by creating two provinces there (Parsua PGP  and Bit-Hamban PGP ). Assyria was now also Mannea's southern neighbour. In the west, Mannea bordered on the Assyrian province of Mazamua PGP  (centred on the Shahrizor plain in the province of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi-Kurdistan) since the latter's creation in the 9th century BC - the source of frequent reports on the eastern neighbour (e.g. SAA 5 217; SAA 5 221).

The alliance with Mannea, the most powerful state in the region, guaranteed protection for these new Assyrian provinces but from the start the relationship was uneven: Assyria was in the stronger position and extracted annual tribute payments of horses, cattle and sheep. Clearly, Iranzu was in dire need of Assyrian military aid against Urartian expansionism. In 743 BC, the Assyrian army defeated the Urartian forces and their western allies in Arpad PGP  in northern Syria: excellent news also for far-away Mannea whose Assyrian partner had proven his mettle. Tiglath-pileser's inscriptions, most prominently a stele erected in Iran during his second campaign there, document a further personal encounter with Iranzu in 737 BC (Tiglath-pileser III 35 i 15'-20' and iii 24-30).

The close relationship between Mannea and Assyria continued into the reign of Sargon II (721-705 BC). In 719 BC, Iranzu was still king of Mannea and a loyal Assyrian vassal. His horses, especially the celebrated steeds from the eastern region of Mesu PGP , were of crucial importance for the Assyrian army: the dependence on horses from Iran only decreased once Esarhaddon (681-669 BC) invaded Egypt and started to import horses from there and Nubia. Until then, every horse from Mannea was very welcome:

"A messenger of the Mannean (king) has come to me bringing a horse as the audience gift and giving me the regards of the Mannean. I dressed him (in purple) and put a silver bracelet on his arm." (SAA 1 29; cf. SAA 5 171 and SAA 11 68)

Two Mannean kingdoms: the secession of Zikirtu in 719 BC

But after a quarter of a century firmly on the side of the Assyrian Empire, the political climate in Mannea changed: Assyria was no longer universally seen as the saviour from the land-grabbing Urartian foe. Mannea was now divided in its political allegiances, with some openly favouring an alliance with Urartu. Mitatti, Iranzu's governor in Zikirtu PGP , headed this faction. When Mittati openly rebelled against Iranzu in 719 BC, the spread of the revolt was quelled thanks to heavy Assyrian military aid. Yet Zikirtu nevertheless seceded from Mannea and became an independent state. There were now two Mannean kingdoms: the Urartian ally Zikirtu with its capital city Parda and the Assyrian vassal state Mannea with Izirtu as the royal seat.

The political unity of the region further disintegrated when the long-serving king Iranzu died shortly afterwards. His son Aza ascended the throne with Assyria's blessing but his brother Ullusunu immediately contested his claim, with much local backing as well as Urartian support, leading to open war between the two factions. Aza died in battle and the kingship of Mannea fell to Ullusunu. By 716, the Assyrian army had invaded the country and, in a universal display of political pragmatism, Ullusunu formally submitted to Sargon who in turn proclaimed him king of Mannea. Urartu quickly found another Mannean leader, Daiukku, to support and ensured his compliance by taking his son hostage. Poor Daiukku paid the price when he and his family were captured and deported to Assyria while the territory of the kingdom of Mannea was further reduced as Assyria now claimed Daiukku's territory, with 22 fortresses, for itself. The southern Urmia region was torn by war at the time, with frequent attacks by Mannean troops on Urartian cities and forts there (SAA 5 84; SAA 5 131) and vice versa.

The Assyrian siege of the Mannean fortress Pazzaši (elsewhere Panziš) in 715 BC, as depicted on a now lost relief from room 14 (slab 2) of Sargon II's palace at Dur-Šarruken (modern Khorsabad). The accompanying inscription reads: "Pazzaši, a Mannean fortress, which is in front of the pass leading to the land of the Zikirtean (i.e. Mittati of Zikirtu)". Drawing from P.-É. Botta and E. Flandin, Monument de Ninive, vol. 2, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1850, pl. 145. A badly broken letter of the Treasurer Ṭab-šar-Aššur to Sargon may refer to room 14 or another similarly themed decorative programme: "The king, my lord, knows that our previous campaign which we directed against Mannea (and) the Medes [is depicted] o[n the walls of] the Ol[d] Palace". (SAA 1 70 + SAA 5 282). View large image.

All the while the renegade Mittati ruled over Zikirtu, in open contempt of Assyria and attempting to further his holdings by incursions into Mannean territory with Urartian military aid (SAA 1 29). In 714 BC, the Assyrian army finally invaded Zikirtu and although Rusa of Urartu came promptly to his ally Mitatti's aid (cf. SAA 5 164), their joined forces suffered a terrible defeat at the battle of Mount Wauš. But rather than returning Zikirtu to Ullusunu's kingdom, Sargon accepted Mitatti as a vassal, resulting in a split with Urartu. A diplomatic relationship was established (SAA 11 31). According to a letter from Sargon's representative at Zikirtu, Issar-šumu-iqiša, Mittati handed over Urartian messengers to Sargon, no doubt a coup for Assyrian intelligence, and vouched to supply the Assyrian army with badly needed horses; in spite of the fact that Mittati now found himself in a vassal relationship, the animals were to be sold for good money, and despite Mittati's assurances, the Assyrian representative was very worried whether the business would actually come together (SAA 5 169): although Mittati had just lost a battle he was certainly not beaten and Assyria's hold over Zikirtu was far less certain than that over Mannea.

The 7th century BC saw Mannea's fate much improved - at the expense of Urartu and Assyria, both of which it ultimately outlived. After decades of open conflict with Assyria under Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal (668-627 BC), it comes as a surprise that according to the Babylonian Chronicles, Mannea came to Assyria's aid at the first confrontation with Nabopolassar of Babylon in 616 BC on the Middle Euphrates PGP , albeit without much success (Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, line 5). How and whether this is connected to the eventual attack of the Medes, Mannea's southern neighbours, is at present unclear.

The archaeology of Mannea

The Assyrian accounts portray Mannea as a country with many cities and fortresses, a rich agriculture and fine horsemanship. Only recently has the archaeology of Mannea began to emerge, chiefly at the settlement sites of Qalaichi Tepe (also known as Haidar Khan Qal'e) and Qal'e Bardine in the county of Bukan and in Rabat Tepe in the county of Sardasht, both in Western Azerbaijan province, as well as at the cemetery of Kul Tarike in Kurdistan province. The finds from these site also offer a welcome context for the Ziwiye Treasure, a supposed hoard find said to have been discovered in Ziwiye in Kurdistan province in 1947 but whose provenance and homogeneity are compromised by the fact that the 341 objects were sold on the art market.

Most distinctive among the materials excavated at Qalaichi and Rabat are the multicoloured glazed tiles depicting animals and composite creatures and used to decorate walls. But the most spectacular find is certainly a broken stone stele from Qalaichi with 13 lines of incised Aramaic inscription. The so-called Bukan Stele is dated to the early 8th century on the basis of the palaeography of the Aramaic letters and parallels to the inscriptions from Sfire and Tell Fekhariyah in northern Syria. Unfortunately, only the curses at the end of the text survive:

The Aramaic inscription engraved on the so-called Bukan Stele, from Qalaichi Tepe in the Iranian province of Western Azerbaijan. After A. Lemaire, 'L'inscription araméenne de Bukân et son intérêt historique (information)', Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 142 (1998), 297. View large image.

"[If there will be a (future) king] who will remove this stele [...], be it in war or be it in peace, every pestilence that exists over the entire earth - may the gods inflict it on this palace, and he will be accursed before (all) the gods and accursed before Haldi, (the god) of BS/Z'TR. May seven cows suckle a single calf, but let it not be sated; and may seven women bake in a single oven, but let them not fill it. And may the smoke of fire and the sound of millstones be removed from his country; and may his land become as a salt-field. And against him may the commander-in-chief revolt. And that king, who will write upon this stele - may his throne Hadad overthrow, with Haldi, and for seven years may he not provide the grass of pasture in his county. And may all the curses of this stele strike him (together)." (Translation: Fales, 'Evidence for west-east contacts', 2003,134-135)

The broken inscription is clearly the final passage of a treaty and, due to its find spot, one party will have been Mannean, and the deity associated with that party is Haldi, best known as the god of Muṣaṣir PGP  and of the Urartian royal house. The mention of Haldi associated with a place name other than Muṣaṣir has caused a lively debate as to the site's identity. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution and the often championed reading as Z'TR, thought to represent Izirtu, the capital of Mannea, does not satisfy critical evaluation. It is therefore presently not advisable to assume that the identification of Qalaichi with Izirtu is proven. The identity of the other treaty partner is obscure. The deity protecting the interests of that party is the storm god Hadad who was popular all over the Middle East but especially in northern Syria where the already mentioned parallel texts for this stele originate. Given that we know very little about Mannean politics prior to the alliance with Tiglath-pileser III in 744, there is ample scope for speculation about a treaty with a Syrian partner - despite the significant distance, the corridor of buffer states in the mountain ranges between Assyria and Urartu would certainly have enabled Mannea to contact the far West behind both Assyria's and Urartu's backs, so we cannot even decide who the treaty was directed against.

Despite the testimony of the Bukan Stele, there can be no doubt that Aramaic was not routinely spoken in Mannea: otherwise, there would have been no need to dispatch a Mannean interpreter (SAA 11 31) to the Assyrian royal court where Aramaic speakers had no problems in making themselves understood.

Further reading:

Fales, 'Evidence for west-east contacts', 2003.

Hassanzadeh, Y., 'Qal'e Bardine, a Mannaean local chiefdom in the Bukan Area, North-Western Iran', Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 41 (2009), 269-282.

Hassanzadeh, Y. and H. Mollasalehi, 'New Evidence for Mannean Art: An Assessment of Three Glazed Tiles from Qalaichi (Izirtu)', in J. Alvarez-Mon and M. B. Garrison (eds.), Elam and Persia, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2011, 407-417.

Kargar, B. and A. Binandeh, 'A preliminary report of excavations at Rabat Tepe, Northwestern Iran', Iranica Antiqua 44, 2009, 113-129. View article online (requires subscription) [].

Mollazadeh, K., 'The Pottery from the Mannean Site of Qalaichi, Bukan (NW-Iran)', Iranica Antiqua 43 (2008), 107-125. View article online (requires subscription) [].

Rezvani, H. and K. Roustaei, 'A preliminary report on two seasons of excavations at Kul Tarike Cemetery, Kurdestan, Iran', Iranica Antiqua 42 (2007), 139-184. View article online (requires subscription) [].

Content last modified: 12 Apr 2013.

Karen Radner

Karen Radner, 'Mannea, a forgotten kingdom of Iran', Assyrian empire builders, University College London, 2013 []

Back to top ^^
© Mechanisms of communication in the Assyrian empire. History Department, University College London, 2009-2013
People, gods & places
Technical terms