May 6, 2008
Assyrian bureaucracy can be viewed as a pyramid with the king at the pinnacle and the working population at the base with graduated layers of officials in between, the number of officials at each level increasing as one descends. It is convenient to keep this image in mind, although there are problems with such a neat schema, since the system was not theoretically thought out in advance but simply developed to meet demands as they arose. Particularly relevant to this point is the fact that the Assyrian state, including the administration, was essentially militaristic in organization and there was usually little distinction between military service and civil service. Another consideration is that the chain of command was not always from one level to that immediately adjacent; the crown gave direct orders to some officials far down the pyramid and the king had the right to intervene at any level in any matter. But for clarity it is useful to have the image of a pyramid in mind as one goes through the various levels of officials and describes their position, function, and responsibilities. Only the upper echelons will be discussed, since they are of most importance and our sources provide more information about them than about the lower orders.At the top of the pyramid sat the king and immediately under him was a trio of officials, the ‘major-domo’…, the ‘vice-chancellor’ …, and the ‘field-marshal’…. The major-domo was the only person who officially had direct access to the monarch, his position being comparable to the Black Eunuch of the sultan’s court in Ottoman Turkey. The power and influence of this individual was immense. Roughly on an equal footing with this officer was the vice-chancellor, whom the king consulted frequently on the various affairs of state and whose importance is illustrated by a legend…that surrounds one of them, Ahiqar, and the fact that their names are enshrined beside the names of their monarchs in ancient lists. The field-marshal completes the trio of officers directly under the king, his high status being confirmed by the lists of Assyrian eponyms…, wherein he appears immediately after the king.A second group of three which, if not equal in rank to the aforementioned trio, was a close second, consisted of the ‘palace herald’ …, the chief ‘cup-bearer’…, and the ‘steward’…. Although these officers bore titles related originally to domestic service in the court and they may have performed these services on ceremonial occasions, in practice they were entrusted with duties of state of a very high order. The palace herald was the chief administrative officer of the realm. The chief cup-bearer acted as the king’s plenipotentiary on great occasions such as, it will be remembered, at the siege of Jerusalem in the time of Sennacherib. The steward of the king (there was also a steward for each of the crown prince, the queen-mother and the chief wife) carried out special royal commissions, such as the direction of the transportation of precious items.The offices of most of the officials mentioned so far included ‘governorships’ over certain provinces, and the remaining provincial governors come immediately after them in rank. The governors…, including the governors of the chief Assyrian cities, were arranged in a hierarchy, as is evident from the eponym lists, with the governor of Assyria (i.e. the Assyrian heartland) first. Each governor had his own palace and court, located at the provincial capital, and there was a standing army at his disposal.
— The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2, pp. 199-201