History of Subir

This help file discusses the history of ancient Subir, the region and time explored by ArchaeoSim.

Historical Overview

Ancient Mesopotamia, the lowland drainage basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where agriculture, cities, and civilization first developed, was divided ecologically between two zones - the southern zone Sumer and Akkad, and the northern zone Subir.

The southern zone of Sumer and Akkad extended from the Persian Gulf north along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in present-day Iraq, to about 100 kms north of Baghdad. Sumer and Akkad had limited rainfall (less than 200 mm/annum), instead using canal irrigation to generate exceptional yields of essential grains (wheat and barley), and canal transport to ship harvests from fields to central grain depots of Sumer's politicallly independent, often contending, cities.


Kite photograph of 600 sq. m. excavation of street and residential area at Tell Leilan, a capital city of 3rd millennium BC Subir, in northern Mesopotamia, modern NE Syria. (H. Weiss, 1991) Unlike the irrigated south, northern Mesopotamian societies engaged in dry-farming - that is, rain-fed agriculture.

Subir, the ancient name for the northern zone, extended, west to east, across the rain-fed (i.e., "dry-farming") plains of northern Mesopotamia, today's northeast Syria and northern Iraq. Cereal cultivation in this area was bounteous and extensive, across low-rolling plains similar to the Ukraine and Kansas, and utilized animal-traction (carts) for grain transport from fields to independent cities. Essentially, all grain was grown for the state, and stored by the state. People were paid rations of grain based on their physical needs and the kind of work they did. One could call them slaves, but it's probably best to just say they were unusually organized.

These two zones, and their respective populations of towns, villages and cities (sites), interacted dynamically across millennia, as political and economic needs within each region forced relations that were variously peaceful or aggressive, integrative or isolating, colonizing or imperializing. Fundamentally, because these societies were cereal grain-based, the relationships between Sumer and Akkad and Subir shifted as their landscapes and climates—the determinants of agro-production—changed through both natural and anthropogenic agencies.

One landmark in Mesopotamian history is the ca. 2300 BC transformation of political organization in southern Mesopotamia from independent city states to one centralized imperial regional power, the Akkadian Empire. We don't understand why or how this happened. But for approximately 100 years this dynasty imperialized Sumer and Akkad in the south and Subir in the north. Artifact distributions and cuneiform records retrieved at sites across Mesopotamia, indicate the goals and structure of the Akkadian imperialization:


Incredibly enough, Akkade, the capital of the first empire, has yet to be identified among the thousands of archaeological sites in southern Iraq—although we know that it was inhabited for more than two thousand years! More astonishing, the Akkadian Empire collapsed just as it was "taking off."

ArchaeoSim examines—perhaps explains—the history of Subir and Akkad through an on-line simulation.


Present-day dry-farming in NE Syria. Foreground is fallow field in lentils and sunflowers. Middle ground is harvested cereal stubble. In the distance, archaeological sites, and sheep grazing on stubble. (H. Weiss, 1984)

Timeline / Scenarios

2600-2500 BC Period IIId - Leilan Early State: Urbanization and state formation: Leilan grows from 50 to 90 hectares within approx. 100 years.
2500-2300 BC Period IIa - Leilan Mature State: Wall is constructed around the site's public building (acropolis) area.
2300-2200 BC Period IIb - Akkadian Imperialization: Akkadians imperialize Subir and Leilan:
  • Imperial resource extraction: ration (sila) bowls.
  • City wall built.
  • Akkadian governors installed.

Two alternate versions of the Akkadian period are presented in the ArchaeoSim scenarios, portraying different taxation strategies for Akkad to exploit Subir.

2200-1900 BC Period IIc - Abrupt Climate Change: Collapse, "desertification and desertion", 20-30% drop in precipitation, with cooling. Desertion is modeled with elevated emigration, as the population flees rather than face starvation (i.e., "habitat tracking").

The two alternate scenarios here continue the Akkadian alternate scenarios, but also use two different maps.

However the scenario played out, the net result was that Subir was rapidly abandoned, and remained empty for over 200 years.

1900-1728 BC I - Khabur Resettlement: Sudden return to pre-aridification event climate brings return of pastoralists and repopulation of northern Mesopotamia and the Khabur plains. Tribal leader Shamshi-Adad establishes a new regional capital at the abandoned Tell Leilan, and calls it Shubat Enlil, "the dwelling place of the god Enlil." After the somewhat mysterious death of Shamshi-Adad, the city of Shubat Enlil passed through various hands, finally into those of a local dynasty who ruled it quite effectively for a few decades.

For modeling purposes, ArchaeoSim breaks the Khabur period into two scenarios - 50 years of resettlement, with extremely high immigration, followed by 172 years of stability.

1728 BC The Babylonians, from southern Mesopotamia, invaded and conquered Shubat Enlil in 1728 B.C. There was no subsequent settlement at Tell Leilan until the early 20th century when Kurdish settlers founded a village on the site's acropolis.
1979 AD Yale University excavations at Tell Leilan began.
2001 AD ArchaeoSim v 1.0 developed.
2014 AD ArchaeoSim v 4.0 developed.

Harvey Weiss and Ginger Booth, October 2014