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Who were the 12 kings of Qarqar?

The Battle of Qarqar was recorded by Assyrian scribes on what is now called the Kurkh Monolith. It was fought in 883 BCE (according to the revised Assyrian chronology based on the more accurate biblical chronology for the Hebrew kings) in what is present-day Syria. A coalition of kings were defending their realms from invasion by the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III during a military campaign he conducted in his sixth regnal year.

The inscription reads as follows: “I razed, destroyed, and burned the city of Qarqar, the royal city. 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, and 20,000 troops of Hadad-Ezer (“Arad-idri”) of Damascus; 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, and 10,000 troops of Irhuleni, the Hamathite; 2,000 chariots and 10,000 troops of Ahab, the Israelite; 500 troops of Byblos; 1,000 troops of Sumur; 10 chariots and 10,000 troops of the land of Irqanatu; 200 troops of Matinu-Ba’al of the city of Arvad; 200 troops of the land of Usanat; 30 chariots of Adon-Ba’al of the land of Šianu; 1,000 dromedaries of Gindibu of Arabia; … hundred troops of Ba’asa of Bit-Ruhubi, the Ammonite; These twelve kings he took as allies. They marched against me to do war and battle … With the supreme forces which Aššur, my lord, had given me and with the mighty weapons which the divine standard, which goes before me, had granted me, I fought with them. I decisively defeated them from the city of Qarqar to the city of Gilzau. I felt with the sword 14,000 troops, their fighting men. Like Adad, I rained down upon them a devastating flood. I spread out their corpses and I filled the plain. I felled with the sword their extensive troops. I made their blood flow in the wadis. The field was too small for laying flat their bodies; the broad countryside had been consumed in burying them. I blocked the Orontes river with their corpses as with a causeway. In the midst of the battle I took away from them chariots, cavalry, and teams of horses.” — quoted from the article “The Battle of Qarqar” (

The mention of twelve kings in the inscription has puzzled scholars since only eleven kings are mentioned by name, and there have been several interesting explanations offered about the possible identity of the twelfth king. Approaching the question from a different perspective, I proposes that the phrase “twelve kings” had nothing to do with the eleven kings mentioned by name (with the exception of one of them, Ahab), but is instead a reference to a secondary group of combatants, the tribal heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and Judah assembled for battle by Ahab, the king of Israel who is named.

The Tanakh (old Testament), in 1 Kings:22, recounts how Ahab of Israel convinced his ally Jehoshaphat of Judah (not mentioned on the monolith) to join him in battle against the king of Syria, and they did so in the a battle at Ramoth-Gilead, which is generally assumed to have been part of the Qarqar campaign. Also note that the Kurkh Monolith says that Shalmaneser defeated the coalition of kings arrayed against him from the city of Qarqar to the city of Gilzau. Gilzau was the Assyrian name for Gilead, as indicated decades later when the Tiglath-pileser III captured Gilead and renamed that province Gilzau as noted by John Gray in his book Archaeology and the Old Testament (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1962; p. 152)

So, reasoning from the biblical data together with the details gleaned from the ancient Assyrian documents, we have strong evidence that the Assyrian forces of Shalmaneser III were opposed by the combined armies of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah—the twelve tribes—at Ramoth-Gilead during the Qarqar campaign. It seems reasonable to speculate that the Assyrian scribes who composed the inscriptions carved on the Kurkh Monolith could well have mistakenly interpreted the twelve field commanders of the twelve tribes of Israel and Judah as twelve kings. There is probably no way to prove that assumption one way or another, but by the same token it cannot be academically disproven.—Dan Bruce

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