THE REIGN OF SARGON II AND ARABIA
Mecca, if existing at the time of Sargon II, would have been mentioned with the various Arabian tribes including Saba, which were all mentioned in the inscriptions of that period.
Sargon II was one of Assyria's greatest kings. As the successor to Shalmaneser V, he reigned from 722-705 B.C., and consolidated the conquests made by Tiglath-Pileser III. Philistia, Babylonia, Kurdistan and Israel were among the lands he conquered. In 717 B.C., he deposed the king of the Hittite city of Karkemish and made the city an Assyrian colony. He put down rebellions in many cities, such as Arpad, Damascus and Hamath, and he defeated the plans of the Egyptians who supported these rebellions. After conquering a nation, Sargon would deport some of the inhabitants and mix the remnant of the population with inhabitants from other regions. Samaria is one example of this. Sargon II deported Israelites living in Samaria to the north of Assyria and then brought some Arabian tribes that were threatening his border to live in Samaria.
Excavations in Sargon's palace and capital at Dur Sharrukin have uncovered his annals. Among the events recorded in these annals is his triumph over several Arabian tribes, such as Thamud, Marsimani, Ephah and Ibadidi. He deported part of their populations to Samaria. His annals also record tribute given to him by Pir'u, the King of Egypt; by Samsi, the Queen of northern Arabia and the desert between Arabia and Palestine; and by Ita'amra, King of Saba, who is known in the Saba inscriptions as Yathi' amar. We also find this information about the defeat of the Arabian tribes in other Assyrian records, namely the Cylinder inscription. We also find the tributes of the kings in the Display inscription. We see that the historical events during this period are confirmed from more than one record.
The tribe of Marsimani is identified as the tribe of Mesamanes, mentioned by Ptolemy in the sixth book and seventh chapter of his work simply titled Geography. Ptolemy placed the location of this tribe close to the area of the Thamud. Thamud is mentioned in the inscriptions and is an Arabian tribe in northwestern Arabia. It's also mentioned by Greek and Roman classical writers, and richly documented in northern Arabian inscriptions. Thamud is located between Teima and the region where Mecca was eventually built.
Ephah, which we saw participating at the time of Tiglath-Pileser III with the other Arabian northwestern tribes in an alliance against the Assyrians, is seen again here in a new alliance.
Considering the events of the 8th century B.C., including the things already recorded in inscriptions by Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II, we have a clear picture of which nations and tribes dominated the scene in western Arabia. This picture contains both the military point of view and the trading activity point of view. Mecca is absent from all these records, even though it would have been near the location of tribes mentioned in the inscriptions of the 8th century B.C., like the tribes of Thamud and Mesamanes. Mecca, if it had existed at that time, would have been located between the aforementioned tribes and Saba.
THE REIGN OF SENNACHERIB
Mecca is absent from the military, trade and religious scene during Sennacherib's reign.
Sennacherib, who ruled from 705-681 B.C., fought to maintain the empire established by his father, Sargon II. Among Sennacherib's actions was a campaign against Babylonia. Later, he initiated campaigns against countries located on the Mediterranean coast, and supported by Egypt, two of which were Phoenicia and Philistia. Next, Sennacherib campaigned against Jerusalem. Then, he defeated the Egyptians around 701 B.C. Another important campaign that Sennacherib conducted targeted Elam around 691 B.C.
Sennacherib defeated the Arabs, who took sides with Merodach Baladan, the Babylonian king who rebelled against the Assyrians. Another campaign was against the queen of northern Arabia named Te'lhunu. The queen was defeated and she was pursued to the city of Adummatu, identified with the Dumah. Classical authors mention Dumahas. Domatha, a city of north Arabia built on an oasis. Dumahis located between al-Medina and Syria. It was known also as Dumaht al-Jandal. Dumah was known to be an important religious center for Arabian tribes. A temple to the god, Wadd, was located in Dumah. We know that in later times, a temple in the Aqaba Gulf region replaced Dumah, an important religious center. The Greek geographer, Agatharchides, attests to this religious center. We know that Sennacherib's army captured images that the Arabians had veneered in Dumah and brought to Assyria. Later, Esarhaddon returned them to Dumah.
According to Assyrian inscriptions, around 689 B.C. the Assyrians conducted a campaign in northern Arabia against Adummatu. They fought against an alliance of two northern Arabian rulers: Telehunu, Queen of the Arabs; and Hazael, King of Qedar. The inscriptions tell us the alliance was defeated, and Hazael resumed sending tribute to Sennacherib. Through these wars, Sennacherib established himself in the lands that his father, Sargon II, had captured. Sennacherib gained notoriety beyond his borders by defeating the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Arabian Queen Te'lhunu, and Dumah. Sennacherib was also known for gaining control of the spice land routes. His fame had spread to the point that Herodotus, the Greek historian, called him "king of the Arabs and Assyrians."
Arabian cities like Teima regularly paid tribute to Sennacherib. There was an inscription at Nineveh which describes a gate in Nineveh as "the desert gate through which gifts from the people of Teima enter." This indicates how much the trade cities, like Teima, were at the mercy of the Assyrians if they wanted their trade to continue. These cites needed to have the favor of the Assyrians to survive.
The Assyrian annals mention gifts or tributes paid by the King of Saba named Kariba'ilu. This king is Karib'il Water, well known in the Saba inscriptions. This is because of the Assyrian control of the land route boundaries of the Fertile Crescent. King Hazael of Qedar paid tributes to the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. After the defeat of his alliance with Queen Telehunu, Hazael resumed paying tributes to Sennacherib.
Mecca, which depended for its survival upon its trade with markets controlled by Assyrians, could not have been silent in the trade relationships with the Assyrians if Mecca had existed in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.
Many nations in western Arabia are mentioned by Sennacherib, especially kingdoms trading along the spice route. Among them were Dumah, Qedar, Teima, and Saba in Yemen. Sargon II also mentions spice route cities such as Saba, Teima and Ephah. Cities which depended on their relationships with other nations couldn't be silent in the history of empires like Assyria, when it dominated the routes that led to the markets.
Since the construction of Mecca in the 4th century A.D. in an arid area of Arabia, Mecca bought goods from Yemen and marketed them to Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia in the Fertile Crescent. Assyria controlled that land beginning with the end of the 8th century B.C. and recorded tribes of secondary importance in its trading records. How, then, could the most important and ancient city in the region, according to the Islamic claim, be missed if it existed in the 8th century B.C. and in the beginning of the 7th century B.C.?
The Religious Center of Dumah
Mecca is absent from the religious scene, when a religious city of that time like Dumah was the place of attention for the Arabian tribes.
Another important observation we also see in the Assyrian inscriptions is about Dumah, the religious center for tribes of northern Arabia. The images and gods of Dumah were of such primary importance to the Arabians that they went to Assyria begging Esarhaddon for their return. This was many years after Esarhaddon's father had taken the images to Assyria. Dumah had religious preeminence during the Assyrian period before the Arabians built another temple in the Aqaba Gulf region. Knowing that the Arabians of the desert are faithful to the religious center they revere, if Mecca had existed in Assyrian times, then it could not have been hidden. Mecca would have been the city where people went to worship and consult their gods before battle. Mecca would have been their refuge when they suffered military defeat. Kings would have fled there like they used to flee to Dumah. They would have gone to their holy city to invoke the protection of their gods.
Yet, we see once more that Mecca is absent from the trade, military and religious records of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. To affirm a claim, like Mecca being the center of monotheism established by Abraham, and continuing to be the place where the Arabian tribes tried to have the prerogative and privilege to control through all history of Arabia, as it claimed by the Islamic tradition, is something that would make Mecca the center of interest and contentions for all Arabian tribes. It would consequently have been obvious in all epochs, and recorded historically in each of these eras. The fact of the matter is, if Mohammed had selected any city as his religious claim other than Mecca, he could have made connections to the old local pagan Arabian religious centers of the 7th century B.C., like Dumah. But Mecca has no history to support these ancient connections beyond the pagan star worship of Yemen in the 4th century A.D., for which, historically, the temple of Mecca was built.
THE REIGN OF ESARHADDON
As we continue our quest to understand the dating of the founding of the city of Mecca, we come to the reign of Esarhaddon, who followed his father Sennacherib. Esarhaddon reigned from 680-669 B.C. Among his campaigns, the most important were his invasions of Egypt, Ethiopia and the Arabian desert. Near the river Kalb, which is near Beirut, Lebanon today, one of his inscriptions was found. It records his campaigns into Egypt and Ethiopia. Egypt was under the rule of the Ethiopians when Esarhaddon invaded it. He eventually conquered all the kingdoms along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, and he brought their kings to Nineveh.
The inscriptions of Esarhaddon provide us with a lot of information about his wars with the Arabs, reflecting just how much land the Assyrians controlled in some parts of Arabia at the beginning of the 7th century B.C. The annals of Nineveh reveal many such events. One event was the return of the images of the Arabian gods to Dumah. Dumah became a religious center for the Arabian tribes since the 9th century B.C.
Esarhaddon also rescued Tabua. She had been taken as a small girl from her own people, and she grew up in the court of the Assyrian kings. Then the Assyrians appointed her to be the queen of the Arabs in Dumah. For Assyrian kings to appoint rulers for some of the Arabian lands shows the influence they had over parts of Arabia at the time of Esarhaddon.
The Annals of Nineveh also report the tribute that Hazael, King of Qedar, paid to Assyria. Assyrian records describe Hazael as he came to Nineveh to express his submission to Esarhaddon:
As for Hazael, king of Arabia, the splendor of my majesty overwhelmed him, and with gold, silver, and precious stones he came into my presence and also kissed my feet.
The Annals of Nineveh also tell us about Hazael's son, Ia'-hi-u', who was also called Yauta'. He became king of Qedar after Hazael's death. The Assyrian army intervened to help Ia'-hi-u' defeat a revolt conducted by U-a-bu. U-a-bu led an Arabian alliance against Yauta', but the Alliance was defeated by the Assyrian army. Later IA'-hi-u' became disloyal to the Assyrians who, in turn, attacked IA'-hi-u', who was defeated and fled. He later returned and swore a loyalty oath to Assurbanipal, the next king of the Assyrians.
These, and other examples from the inscriptions of Esarhaddon show that northern Arabia, especially Qedar, was under Assyrian rule. The Assyrians appointed kings, took tributes, and suppressed any revolts directly against them, or against any Arabian rulers who were loyal to them. The aforementioned episodes are also found in other Assyrian inscriptional documents. Also, there are other inscriptions in Nineveh and Assur reporting these same episodes. These examples testify as to how the historical events occurring during the reign of Esarhaddon are well-attested in the archaeological records. We find an interesting fact in the so-called "Fragment F" from Nineveh. When Esarhaddon's army crossed the Sinai desert to suppress a revolt in Egypt, they used Arabian camels to supply them with water. This suggests that through the domain of Esarhaddon over the many Arabian lands, through the Arabs' experience in the deserts, and with their camels, the Assyrian army was capable of crossing huge deserts to attack distant lands. In fact, among the episodes recorded in Esarhaddon's inscriptions was his campaign into the land of Bazu.
The Land of Bazu
Another important argument (for the case against the existence of Mecca at the time of Esarhaddon) hinges on the fact that there were no more cities for Assyrian to conquer in northwestern Arabia, so they marched in profundity into central Arabia to the land of Bazu.
Ba'zu is considered by many scholars to have been located in central Arabia, or toward the Persian Gulf region. This supports the idea that the Assyrians controlled parts of northern and central Arabia. Details about this campaign are found in Esarhaddon's Inscriptions, his Chronicles and some Babylonian Chronicles. Ba'zu is described as:
A distant country, beyond a salt desert, beyond sandy and thorny land, beyond the sphere of military activity of earlier Assyrian kings.
The same records describe Ba'zu as: "An arid land, saline ground, a waterless region." Heidel Prism III speaks of a march of about 140 beru (which corresponds to 1,500 kilometers) through a region "covered with sand, thorny plants, snakes and scorpions cover the land like ants."Another description of the land of Ba'zu says: "A district located afar off, a desert stretch of alkali, a thirsty region of sand, thorn brush and gazelle mouth, stones, 20 double hours of serpents and scorpions, with which the plain was covered as with ants." Inscriptions name nine places the Assyrians conquered in the land of Ba'zu, and give the names of eight of their kings. Assyrian records tell us that the Assyrian army burned seven walled cities in Ba'zu. Then they appointed a local king by the name of Layale' to rule the country. He was the king of a land near Ba'zu under the name of Ia-di.
These episodes reflect how deep the Assyrian influence was in Arabia at the time of Esarhaddon. They were able to march across a desert over a distance of 1,500 kilometers. Scholars suggest two places for the location of Ba'zu: One is in central Arabia, near the city of Khaybar and beyond, and the other is west of the Persian Gulf. The events involving Ba'zu reflect the depth of the Assyrian influence in Arabia at the time of Esarhaddon. It is significant that the Assyrian army conquered a distant and arid land like Ba'zu, instead of going west toward the area where Mecca was eventually built. This supports the fact that the classical writers found that the area in which Mecca was eventually built was uninhabitable at that time. The area divided northern Arabia from Yemen, to the point that the Assyrians possessed no more cities or kingdoms in that area. Instead, they proceeded into central and eastern Arabia to conquer new lands, such as the land of Ba'zu.
Although Assurbanipal had many contacts with Arabian tribes, and had reached the area of Teima, Mecca is absent in the Assyrian records which talk about him.
Our argument doesn't stop with Esarhaddon. When he died, he divided the Mesopotamian territory between his two sons. He gave Babylonia to his eldest son, Shamash-shum-ukin, and he gave the throne of Assyria to his second son, Assurbanipal, who ruled Assyria from 669-626 B.C. Assurbanipal drove the Ethiopian king, Taharka, out of Egypt and appointed Necho to replace him. Then, around 660 B.C., during Assurbanipal's campaign against Elam and the Chaldeans, Psamtik, son of Necho, rebelled and separated Egypt from Assyria. Then Shamash-shum-ukin, Assurbanipal's elder brother and King of Babylonia, formed an alliance with several nations to make war against his brother, Assurbanipal. Assyrian records list the Arabian tribes which joined Shamash-shum-ukin. The Assyrian record reads like this:
In these days Shamash-shum-ukin, the faithless brother of mine, king of Babylon, stirred to revolt against me the people of Akkad, Chaldea, the Arameans... the Sealand from Akaba to Bab-Salimeti.(Akaba may be the actual name of Aqaba.)
He also mentioned tribes of Arabia which rebelled with Shamash-shum-ukin against Assurbanipal. Around 648 B.C., when Assurbanipal defeated the alliance and annexed Babylonia to his empire, his brother killed himself. Some years later, Nabopolassar, the leader of Chaldean dynasty, rebelled against Assurbanipal.
The inscriptions of Assurbanipal present information about the Arabs. The annals of Assurbanipal record a treaty that he made with the Qedarites prior to year 652 B.C. The annals also provide us with information about the revolt of Yauta', the son of Hazael and King of Qedar. He attacked regions in Trans Jordan before the hostilities between Assurbanipal and his brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, King of Babylonia, began. Yauta' was defeated and fled to the land of Nebaioth to seek refuge under their king, Natnu. Assurbanipal replaced Yauta' with Abiyate', son of Te'ri, who submitted to Assurbanipal and paid tribute to him. Also Natnu, King of Nebaioth, did the same. The Assyrian inscriptions show that the Qedarites had more than one leader. One of them was called Ammuladi. Ammuladi attacked the western border of the Assyrian empire and was defeated.
According to Shamash-shum-ukin's Chronicles, the siege of the city of Babylon was in the year 650 B.C. Among the Arabians who helped Shamash-shum-ukin was Abiyate', son of Te'ri. There was another Arabian called Uaita', son of Birdada, king of a tribe called Su-mu-An, who sent forces to help Shamash-shum-ukin. The Su-mu-An tribe is considered one of the Qedar tribal confederations. The reason that Arabian tribes took sides with Shamash-shum-ukin against Assurbanipal was that Babylonia was closer to them, and they thought that Babylonia would win the conflict and control the land routes to the markets in the Fertile Crescent. They also thought the Babylonians would not impose heavy tributes like Assyria did.
Around the year 645 B.C., an Assyrian campaign took place against the tribes of Qedar, Su-mu-An and Nebaioth. This campaign came after the Assyrian victory against Elam. So Assurbanipal was now ready to punish the tribes who gave aid to his rebellious brother, Shamash-shum-ukin. Before Assurbanipal's Assyrian empire declined, and was superseded by the Babylonians, Assurbanipal waged many other campaigns against the Arabs. He fought them in the Syro-Arabian desert, starting from Tadmur and moving south. In the final stage of his campaigning, according to the historian Glaser (as we mentioned previously), Assurbanipal penetrated the Arabian desert as far as Teima.
Mecca was a city built on the spice route, and it depended on the markets of the Fertile Crescent which, before the 7th century B.C., was under the Assyrian occupation for centuries. To survive, Mecca would have made itself known to traders and other cities if it had existed during that long time span.
From the study of Assyrian inscriptions of the 7th century B.C., we see in all of this that Mecca is conspicuously absent, just as it is absent from all the other Assyrian inscriptions. This long period of time spans several centuries. Each king documented his conquests and kept meticulous records. Some events appear in not only one inscription, but in many. We have seen how each tribe in north and western Arabia, even as far away as Saba, was eager to please the Assyrians in order to protect their interests. Many paid tribute annually. Some Assyrian-controlled tribes and cities at times rebelled and were punished. Still others formed alliances, hoping to occupy new regions, or have more influence over the land trading routes which influenced their markets.
Yet, there's no explanation for the absence of Mecca in all the Assyrian records during this long period of history. The names of kingdoms and cities on the spice route appear many times, but the city of Mecca is never among them. If it had existed, as Muslims claim, Mecca would have had more reason than any other nation to build a strong relationship with the Assyrians. Mecca would need to gain Assyrian favor with tributes and gifts, because Mecca's location would require it to be dependent on trade in order to survive.
Much later in history, the city of Mecca does appear in central western Arabia, but that's not until the 4th century A.D. Like the nations before it, the historical record shows that Mecca was dependent on trade (after its appearance) because of its location on the spice-trading route. The silence of Mecca during the Assyrian domination of the Fertile Crescent, and its preeminence over the tribes of northern Arabia, points once again to the fact that Mecca could not have existed during the era of Assyrian control. This information would have importance only for historians who study this time period, if it were not for one thing: The followers of Islam claim that the city of Mecca began long before the time of Assurbanipal. They claim that it was founded by Abraham and Ishmael, his son by Hagar. They claim that these two men built a temple in Mecca as early as 2050 B.C. We have shown this cannot be true.