Christopher W. Jones

Title: Power and Elite Competition in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, 745-612 BC.

University: Columbia University

Supervisor: Prof. Marc Van De Mieroop


The Neo-Assyrian Empire in the eighth century was dominated by a small clique of officials holding high offices (often called ‘magnates’) who accumulated power by controlling vast areas of land and holding multiple offices simultaneously. This situation persisted until at least the end of the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III in 727 BC.

My dissertation utilizes tools from the fields of social network analysis and organizational communication to study the changing nature of political power in the late Neo-Assyrian empire. Using an analysis of 3,858 letters which survive from this period, my dissertation argues that Sargon II initiated reforms which fundamentally changed the relationship between the king and his officials. He reduced the status of the high officials by breaking up their provinces while vastly expanding the number of provinces and provincial governors. By leveling the field of Assyrian officialdom, he reduced their status to be equivalent to other provincial governors, centralizing power in the king and royal family while dividing it into smaller pieces among everyone else.

These reforms had unintended consequences. They radically increased competition between officials, structuring the empire in such a way that hundreds of governors, palace officials, and temple officials reported directly to the king and were in competition with each other for status. This in turn created a massive information problem, as officials frequently made allegations against their rivals. The king had no way of ascertaining the truth of these allegations, and kings became increasingly isolated during the seventh century BC as they turned to other means such as court scholars to attempt to circumvent this problem. The end result was a poor information environment which made Assyrian governance less effective and rendered Assyrian kings less able to assert control over their subordinates.

Keywords: Assyria, Neo-Assyrian period, imperialism, imperial organization, organizational communication, social network analysis