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The Assyrian Civilization - History

The Assyrian Civilization - History

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While civilizations were being established in the Middle East and Asia, in various parts of South and Central America rich civilzations were also developing. Experts theorize that over 10,000 years ago the first immigrants to North and South America arrived via a Land bridge from Asia. Thefour biggest civlization were established by the Chavi, May, Olmec and Teotihucan's

Military history of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

The Neo-Assyrian Empire arose in the 10th century BC. Ashurnasirpal II is credited for utilizing sound strategy in his wars of conquest. While aiming to secure defensible frontiers, he would launch raids further inland against his opponents as a means of securing economic benefit, [4] as he did when campaigning in the Levant. The result meant that the economic prosperity of the region would fuel the Assyrian war machine. [5]

Ashurnasirpal II was succeeded by Shalmaneser III. Although he campaigned for 31 years of his 35-year reign, [5] he failed to achieve or equal the conquests of his predecessor, [6] and his death led to another period of weakness in Assyrian rule. [6]

Assyria would later recover under Tiglath-Pileser III, whose reforms once again made Assyria the most powerful force in the Near East, [7] and transformed it into a fully fledged empire – the first of its kind. Later, under Shalmaneser V, Sargon II and Sennacherib, further Assyrian offensives occurred, although these were designed not only for conquest, but also to destroy their enemies' ability to undermine Assyrian power. As such, costly battles raged taking tolls on Assyrian manpower. Esarhaddon succeeded in taking lower Egypt and his successor, Ashurbanipal, took the southern upper half of Egypt.

However, by the end of the Ashurbanipal's reign it appears that the Assyrian Empire was falling into another period of weakness, [8] one from which it would not escape. It appears that years of costly battles followed by constant (and almost unstoppable) rebellions meant that it was a matter of time before Assyria ran out of troops. The loss of the outer regions meant that foreign troops were gone too. By 605 BC, independent political Neo-Assyrian records vanish from history. [9]


In prehistoric times, the region that was to become known as Assyria (and Subartu) was home to a Neanderthal culture such as has been found at the Shanidar Cave. The earliest Neolithic sites in Assyria were the Jarmo culture c. 7100 BC and Tell Hassuna, the centre of the Hassuna culture, c. 6000 BC.

The cities of Assur (also spelled Ashur or Aššur) and Nineveh, together with a number of other towns and cities, existed as early as the 26th century BC, although they appear to have been Sumerian-ruled administrative centers at this time, rather than independent states. The Assyrian king list records kings dating from the 25th century BC onwards, the earliest being Tudiya, who was a contemporary of Ibrium of Ebla. However, many of these early kings would have been local rulers, and from the late 24th century BC to the early 22nd century BC, usually subject to the Akkadian Empire based in the city of Akkad, which united all of the Akkadian speaking Semites (including the Assyrians) under one rule.. The Sumerians were eventually absorbed into the Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) population. [1] [2]

After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the Akkadians once more fragmented into smaller nation-states, with Assyria coming to dominate northern Mesopotamia, and states such as Ur, Kish, Isin and Larsa the south. In the 18th century BC the south Mesopotamian states were subsumed into a new power, that of Babylonia. However, Babylonia unlike Assyria, was founded and originally ruled by non indigenous Amorites, and was to be more often than not ruled by other waves of non indigenous peoples such as Kassites, Hittites, Elamites, Arameans and Chaldeans, as well as by the indigenous Assyrians.

Assyria was for most of this period a powerful and highly advanced nation, and a major center of Mesopotamian civilization and Mesopotamian religion. Assyria had three periods of empire the Old Assyrian Empire (2025–1750 BC) which saw it emerge as the most powerful state in the region, extending colonies into southeast Anatolia, the northern Levant, central Mesopotamia and northwestern Ancient Iran. The Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1020 BC) saw Assyria emerge as the most powerful military and political force in the known world, destroying the Mitanni-Hurrian empire, largely annexing the Hittite Empire, forcing the Egyptian Empire from the region, conquering Babylonia and besting the Elamites, Kassites, Phrygians, Amorites, Arameans, Phoenicians and Cilicians among others. Middle Assyrian Empire kings extended Assyrian domination from Mount Ararat in the north to Dilmun (modern Bahrain) in the south, and from the Eastern Mediterranean and Antioch in the west to the Zagros (in modern northern Iran) in the east.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC) was the largest the world had yet seen in the north, it extended to the Transcaucasia (modern Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan), to the south it encompassed Egypt, northern Nubia (modern Sudan), Libya and much of the Arabian peninsula, to the west it extended into parts of Ancient Greece, Cyprus, Cilicia, Phoenicia western Anatolia etc., and the East Mediterranean, and to the east into Persia, Media, Gutium, Parthia, Elam, Cissia and Mannea (the modern western half of Iran). [3] In 626 BC it descended into a bitter series of civil wars conducted by rival claimants to the throne, weakening it severely, and allowing it to be eventually conquered by a coalition of former subject peoples. In 615 BC combined attacks by an alliance of its former subjects namely the Medes, Babylonians, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians, Sagartians and Cimmerians, gradually led to its fall by 599 BC. However, Assyria was to survive as a geo-political entity until the mid 7th century AD. The Assyrians today speak dialects of Eastern Aramaic, which still contain an Akkadian grammatical structure and hundreds of Akkadian loanwords. This language was originally introduced to Assyria as the lingua franca of the Neo Assyrian Empire in the mid 8th century BC by Tiglath-pileser III.

After the defeat of Ashur-uballit II in 608 BC at Haran, at Carchemish in 605 BC, and after the last center of Assyrian imperial records at Dūr-Katlimmu in 599 BC, the Assyrian empire was divided up by the key invading forces, the Babylonians and the Medes, with the Medes ruling Assyria proper. The Assyrian people, after the fall of their empire, fell under foreign domination ever since. Assyria came under the rule of the short-lived Median Empire until 546 BC. The last king of Babylon, Nabonidus (together with his son and co-regent Belshazzar), was ironically an Assyrian from Harran. Assyria then became an Achaemenid province named Athura (Assyria). [4]

The Median Empire was then conquered by Cyrus in 547 BC, [5] under the Achaemenid dynasty, and the Persian Empire was thus founded, which consumed the entire Neo-Babylonian or "Chaldean" Empire in 539 BC. [6] King Cyrus changed Assyria's capital from Nineveh to Arbela. Assyrians became front line soldiers for the Persian empire under King Xerxes, playing a major role in the Battle of Marathon under King Darius I in 490 BC. [7] Cyrus II returned the sacred images of the Assyrians to Nineveh and Assur, established for them permanent sanctuaries, gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. At the news of the assassination of Bardiya (son of Cyrus II), and this connection, Darius the Great declared that several satrapies including the Assyrian satrapy revolted. [6] In 482 BC, Babylonia and Assyria were joined together in the same administrative division. [6]

The Assyrian people were Christianized in the 1st to 3rd centuries, [8] in Roman Syria and Roman Assyria. [4] They were divided by the Nestorian Schism in the 5th century, and from the 8th century, they became a religious minority following the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia. They suffered a genocide at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and today to a significant extent live in diaspora.

In Assyrian Church of the East tradition, the Assyrians are descended from Abraham's grandson (Dedan son of Jokshan), progenitor of the ancient Assyrians. [9] Along with the Arameans, Phoenicians, Armenians, Greeks and Nabateans, they were among the first people to convert to Christianity and spread Eastern Christianity to the Far East.

The Council of Seleucia of c. 325 dealt with jurisdictional conflicts among the leading bishops. At the subsequent Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon of 410, the Christian communities of Mesopotamia renounced all subjection to Antioch and the "Western" bishops and the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon assumed the rank of Catholicos.

The Nestorian and Monophysite schisms of the 5th century divided the church into separate denominations. With the rise of Syriac Christianity, eastern Aramaic enjoyed a renaissance as a classical language in the 2nd to 8th centuries, and the modern Assyrian people continue to speak eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects which still retain a number of Akkadian loan words to this day.

Whereas Latin and Greek Christian cultures became protected by the Roman and Byzantine empires respectively, Assyrian/Syriac Christianity often found itself marginalized and persecuted. Antioch was the political capital of this culture, and was the seat of the patriarchs of the church. However, Antioch was heavily Hellenized, and the cities of Edessa, Nisibis, Arbela and Ctesiphon became Syriac cultural centres.

The Seleucid Greek hegemony Edit

At the end of the Achaemenid Persian rule in 330 BC, Mesopotamia was partitioned into the satrapy of Babylon in the south, while the northern part of Mesopotamia was joined with Syria in another satrapy. It is not known how long this division lasted, but by the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the north was removed from Syria and made into a separate satrapy. Generally speaking, the Seleucid rulers respected the native priesthood of Mesopotamia, and there is no record of persecutions. [6] There is proof that the Parthians, when establishing their sovereignty over different parts in the empire, retained the dynasts that had become independent or had been acting on behalf of the Seleucids, as long as they accepted Parthian sovereignty. Full overlordship of the Parthians was established since the full establishment of the empire under Arsaces I of Parthia. Aramaic was the official language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek replaced Aramaic, including up to the Seleucid empire. However, both Greek and Aramaic were used throughout the empire, although Greek was the principal language of the government. Aramaic changed different parts of the empire, and in Mesopotamia, under the subsequent rule of the Parthians it evolved into Syriac. [6]

Roman Empire Edit

Syria became a Roman province in 64 BC, following the Third Mithridatic War. The Assyria-based army accounted for three legions of the Roman army, defending the Parthian border. In the 1st century, it was the Assyria-based army that enabled Vespasian's coup. Syria was of crucial strategic importance during the crisis of the third century. From the later 2nd century, the Roman senate included several notable Assyrians, including Claudius Pompeianus and Avidius Cassius. In the 3rd century, Assyrians even reached for imperial power, with the Severan dynasty.

From the 1st century BC, Assyria was the theatre of the protracted Perso-Roman Wars. It would become a Roman province (Assyria Provincia) between 116 and 363 AD, although Roman control of this province was unstable and was often returned to the Parthians and Persians.

Parthian hegemony Edit

When the Seleucids passed, it was the Iranian Parthians who took their place, wielding the scepter over much of West Asia for some 400 years. [10] It is during the Parthian period that the Christianisation of Adiabene began. Despite the influx of foreign elements, despite the changes in architecture, the presence of Assyrians is confirmed by the worship of God Ashur, all proof of the continuity of the Assyrians. [6] The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Greeks, Parthians, and Romans had a rather low-level of integration with the local population in Mesopotamia, which allowed their cultures to survive. Therefore, the large influx of Greek and Iranian Parthian elements did not wipe out the local population and culture.

The Parthians exercised only loose control over Assyria, and it saw a major cultural revival, with Ashur once more becoming independent, and other Assyrian states arising, such as Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra and Beth Garmai, together with the partly Assyrian state of Hatra.

At the dawn of Christianity in the 1st century AD the people living in Assyria were Assyrians, bordered by Parthians, Persians, Greeks, and Armenians. [10]

Sassanid Persian hegemony Edit

In 225 AD Parthian rule over the Assyrian territories straightly moved to the newly established and vibrant Sassanid Persian Empire. [11]

The population of Asorestan was a mixed one, composed of Assyrians, Arameans (in the far south, and western deserts), and Persians. [12] [13] The Greek element in the cities, still strong in the Parthian period, was absorbed by the Semites in Sasanian times. [12] The majority of the population were Assyrian people, speaking Eastern Aramaic dialects. As the breadbasket of the Sasanian Empire, most of the population were engaged in agriculture or worked as traders and merchants. The Persians were found in the administrative class of society, as army officers, civil servants, and feudal lords, living partly in the country, partly in Ctesiphon. [12] At least three dialects of Eastern Aramaic were in spoken and liturgical use: Syriac mainly in the north and among Assyrian Christians, Mandaic in the south and among Mandaeans, and a dialect in the central region, of which the Judaic subvariety is known as Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Aside from the liturgical scriptures of these religions which exist today, archaeological examples of all three of these dialects can be found in the collections of thousands of Aramaic incantation bowls—ceramic artifacts dated to this era—discovered in Iraq. While the Jewish Aramaic script retained the original "square" or "block" form of the Aramaic alphabet used in Imperial Aramaic (the Ashuri alphabet), the Syriac alphabet and the Mandaic alphabet developed when cursive styles of Aramaic began to appear. The Mandaic script itself developed from the Parthian chancellery script.

The religious demography of Mesopotamia was very diverse during Late Antiquity. From the 1st and 2nd centuries Syriac Christianity became the primary religion, while other groups practiced Mandaeism, Judaism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and the old Mesopotamian religion. Christians were probably the most numerous group in the province. The Sasanian state religion, Zoroastrianism, was largely confined to the Persian administrative class. [14] Asorestan, and particularly Assyria proper, were the centers for the Church of the East (continuity with which is now claimed by several churches), which at times (partially due to the vast areas the Sasanian empire covered) was the most widespread Christian church in the world, reaching well into Central Asia, China and India. The Church of the East went through major consolidation and expansion in 410 during the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sasanian capital (in Asorestan). Selucia-Ctesiphon remained a location of the Patriarchate of the Church of the East for over 600 years.

This period of Sassanid hegemony lasted till the advent of the invading Rashidun Arabs between 633 and 638 AD after which Assuristan got annexed by the Islamic Arabs. Together with Mayshan became the province of al-'Irāq. A century later, the area became the capital province of the Abbasid Caliphate and the center of Islamic civilization for five hundred years from the 8th to the 13th centuries.

After the Arab Islamic Conquest of the mid 7th century AD Assuristan (Assyria) was dissolved as an entity. The previously basic civilization of the desert-dwelling Arabs was greatly enhanced and enriched by the influence and knowledge of native Mesopotamian & Iranian scientists, physicians, mathematicians, theologians, astronomers, architects, agriculturalists, artists, and astrologers.

Assyrian Christians especially Nestorian contributed to the Arab Islamic Civilization during the Ummayads and the Abbasids by translating works of Greek philosophers to Syriac and afterwards to Arabic. [15] They also excelled in philosophy, science (such as Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Qusta ibn Luqa, Masawaiyh, Patriarch Eutychius, Jabril ibn Bukhtishu etc.) and theology (such as Tatian, Bar Daisan, Babai the Great, Nestorius, Toma bar Yacoub etc.) and the personal physicians of the Abbasid Caliphs were often Assyrian Christians such as the long serving Bukhtishu dynasty. [16] [17]

However, despite this, indigenous Assyrians became second class citizens in a greater Arab Islamic state, and those who resisted Arabisation and conversion to Islam were subject to religious, ethnic and cultural discrimination, and had certain restrictions imposed upon them. [18] They were excluded from specific duties and occupations reserved for Muslims, did not enjoy the same political rights as Muslims, their word was not equal to that of a Muslim in legal and civil matters, as Christians they were subject to payment of a special tax (jizyah), they were banned from spreading their religion further in Muslim ruled lands, men were banned from marrying Muslim women, but at the same time they were also expected to adhere to the same laws of property, contract and obligation as the Muslim Arabs. [19] The ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh had its bishop of the Church of the East at the time of the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. The Arabs still recognised Assyrian identity in the Medieval period, describing them as Ashuriyun. [20]

Assyrian people, still retaining Akkadian infused and influenced Eastern Aramaic and Church of the East Christianity, remained dominant in the north of Mesopotamia (what had been Assyria) as late as the 14th century AD [21] and the city of Assur was still occupied by Assyrians during the Islamic period until the mid-14th century when the Muslim Turco-Mongol ruler Tamurlane conducted a religiously-motivated massacre of indigenous Assyrian Christians. After that, there are no traces of a settlement at Ashur in the archaeological and numismatic record, and from this point, the Assyrian population was dramatically reduced in their homeland. [22] However, another theory posits that the migration of many Assyrians out of Ashur began in the fourteenth century during the Mongol conquests. [23]

In 1552, a schism occurred within the Church of the East: the established "Eliya line" of patriarchs was opposed by a rival patriarch, Sulaqa, who initiated what is called the "Shimun line". He and his early successors entered into communion with the Catholic Church, but in the course of over a century their link with Rome grew weak and was openly renounced in 1672, when Shimun XIII Dinkha adopted a profession of faith that contradicted that of Rome, while he maintained his independence from the "Eliya line". Leadership of those who wished to be in communion with Rome passed to the Archbishop of Amid Joseph I, recognized first by the Turkish civil authorities (1677) and then by Rome itself (1681). A century and a half later, in 1830, headship of the Catholics was conferred on Yohannan Hormizd. Yohannan was a member of the "Eliya line" family, but he opposed the last of that line to be elected in the normal way as patriarch, Ishoʿyahb (1778–1804), most of whose followers he won over to communion with Rome, after he himself was irregularly elected in 1780, as Sulaqa was in 1552. The "Shimun line" that in 1553 entered communion with Rome and broke it off in 1672 is now that of the church that in 1976 officially adopted the name "Assyrian Church of the East", [24] [25] [26] [27] while a member of the "Eliya line" family is one of the patriarchs of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

For many centuries, from at least the time of Jerome (c. 347 – 420), [28] the term "Chaldean" indicated the Aramaic language and was still the normal name in the nineteenth century. [29] [30] [31] Only in 1445 did it begin to be used to mean Aramaic speakers in communion with the Catholic Church, on the basis of a decree of the Council of Florence, [32] which accepted the profession of faith that Timothy, metropolitan of the Aramaic speakers in Cyprus, made in Aramaic, and which decreed that "nobody shall in future dare to call [. ] Chaldeans, Nestorians". [33] [34] [35] Previously, when there were as yet no Catholic Aramaic speakers of Mesopotamian origin, the term "Chaldean" was applied with explicit reference to their "Nestorian" religion. Thus Jacques de Vitry wrote of them in 1220/1 that "they denied that Mary was the Mother of God and claimed that Christ existed in two persons. They consecrated leavened bread and used the 'Chaldean' (Syriac) language". [36] Until the second half of the 19th century. the term "Chaldean" continued in general use for East Syriac Christians, whether "Nestorian" or Catholic: [37] [38] [39] [40] it was the West Syriacs who were reported as claiming descent from Asshur, the second son of Shem. [41]

Starting from the 19th century after the rise of nationalism in the Balkans, the Ottomans started viewing Assyrians and other Christians in their eastern front as a potential threat. Furthermore, constant wars between The Ottomans and the Shiite Safavids encouraged the Ottomans into settling their allies, the nomadic Sunni Kurds, in what is today Northern Iraq and South-eastern Turkey. [42] Starting from then, Kurdish tribal chiefs established semi-independent emirates. The Kurdish Emirs sought to consolidate their power by attacking Assyrian communities which were already well established there. Scholars estimate that tens of thousands of Assyrian in the Hakkari region were massacred in 1843 when Badr Khan the emir of Bohtan invaded their region. [43] After a later massacre in 1846 The Ottomans were forced by the western powers into intervening in the region, and the ensuing conflict destroyed the Kurdish emirates and reasserted the Ottoman power in the area. The Assyrians of Amid were also subject to the massacres of 1895.

The Assyrians suffered a further catastrophic series of massacres known as the Assyrian genocide, at the hands of the Ottomans and their Kurdish and Arab allies from 1915–1918. The genocide (committed in conjunction with the Armenian genocide and Greek genocide) accounted for up to 750,000 unarmed Assyrian civilians and the forced deportations of many more. The sizable Assyrian presence in southeastern Asia Minor which had endured for over four millennia was reduced to a few thousand. As a consequence, the surviving Assyrians took up arms, and an Assyrian war of independence was fought during World War I, For a time, the Assyrians fought successfully against overwhelming numbers, scoring a number of victories over the Ottomans and Kurds, and also hostile Arab and Iranian groups then their Russian allies left the war following the Russian Revolution, and Armenian resistance broke. The Assyrians were left cut off, surrounded, and without supplies, forcing those in Asia Minor and Northwest Iran to fight their way, with civilians in tow, to the safety of British lines and their fellow Assyrians in the Assyrian homeland of northern Iraq. Assyrians prominently served in Iraq Levies organized by the British in 1919, and after 1928, these became the Assyrian Levies.

Many Assyrians from Hakkari settled in Syria after they were displaced and driven out by Ottoman Turks in southeast Turkey in the early 20th century. [44] During the 1930s and 1940s, many Assyrians resettled in northeastern Syrian villages, such as Tel Tamer, Al-Qahtaniyah Al Darbasiyah, Al-Malikiyah, Qamishli and a few other small towns in Al-Hasakah Governorate. [45]

In 1932, Assyrians refused to become part of the newly formed state of Iraq and instead demanded their recognition as a nation within a nation. The Assyrian leader Mar Shimun XXI Eshai asked the League of Nations to recognize the right of Assyrians to govern the area known as the "Assyrian triangle" in northern Iraq. The Assyrians suffered the Simele massacre, where thousands of unarmed villagers (men, women, and children) were slaughtered by joint Arab-Kurdish forces of the Iraqi Army. These massacres followed a clash between Assyrian tribesmen and the Iraqi army, where the Iraqi forces suffered a defeat after trying to disarm the Assyrians, whom they feared would attempt to secede from Iraq. Armed Assyrian Levies were prevented by the British from going to the aid of these defenseless civilians. [46] Eventually this led to the Iraqi government to commit its first of many massacres against its unarmed minority populations (see Simele massacre). [47]

The Assyrian Levies were founded by the British in 1928, with ancient Assyrian military rankings, such as Rab-shakeh, Rab-talia and Tartan, being revived for the first time in millennia for this force. The Assyrians were prized by the British rulers for their fighting qualities, loyalty, bravery and discipline, and were used to help the British put down insurrections among the Arabs and Kurds, guard the borders with Iran and Turkey and protect British military installations. [48]

The Assyrians were allied with the British during World War II, with eleven Assyrian companies seeing action in Palestine/Israel and another four serving in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was attached to the Royal Marine Commando and Assyrian Paratroopers were involved in fighting in Albania, Italy and Greece. Assyrians played a major role in the victory over Arab-Iraqi forces at the Battle of Habbaniya and Anglo-Iraq war in 1941, when the Iraqi government decided to join WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany. The British presence in Iraq lasted until 1954, and Assyrian Levies remained attached to British forces until this time.

The period from the 1940s through to 1963 saw a period of respite for the Assyrians. The regime of President Kassim, in particular, saw the Assyrians accepted into mainstream society. Many urban Assyrians became successful businessmen, others were well represented in politics and the military, their towns and villages flourished undisturbed, and Assyrians came to excel, and be over-represented in sports such as Boxing, Football, Athletics, Wrestling and Swimming.

However, in 1963, the Ba'ath Party took power by force in Iraq. The Baathists, though secular, were Arab Nationalists, and set about attempting to Arabize the many on Arab peoples of Iraq, including the Assyrians. Other ethnic groups targeted for forced Arabization included Kurds, Armenians, Turcomans, Mandeans, Yezidi, Shabaki, Kawliya, Persians and Circassians. This policy included refusing to acknowledge the Assyrians as an ethnic group, banning the publication of written material in Eastern Aramaic, and banning its teaching in schools, banning parents giving Assyrian names to their children, banning Assyrian political parties, taking control of Assyrian churches, attempting to divide Assyrians on denominational lines (e.g. Assyrian Church of the East vs Chaldean Catholic Church vs Syriac Orthodox) and forced relocations of Assyrians from their traditional homelands to major cities.

In response to Baathist persecution, the Assyrians of the Zowaa movement within the Assyrian Democratic Movement took up armed struggle against the Iraqi regime in 1982 under the leadership of Yonadam Kanna, [49] and then joined up with the IKF in the early 1990s. Yonadam Kanna, in particular, was a target of the Saddam Hussein Ba'ath regime for many years.

The policies of the Baathists have also long been mirrored in Turkey, whose governments have refused to acknowledge the Assyrians as an ethnic group since the 1920s, and have attempted to Turkify the Assyrians by calling them Semitic Turks and forcing them to adopt Turkic names. In Syria too, the Assyrian/Syriac Christians have faced pressure to identify as Arab Christians.

Many persecutions have befallen the Assyrians since, such as the Anfal campaign and Baathist, Arab and Kurdish nationalist and Islamist persecutions.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, no reliable census figures exist on the Assyrians in Iraq (as they do not for Iraqi Kurds or Turkmen), though the number of Assyrians is estimated to be approximately 800,000.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement (or ADM) was one of the smaller political parties that emerged in the social chaos of the occupation. Its officials say that while members of the ADM also took part in the liberation of the key oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul in the north, the Assyrians were not invited to join the steering committee that was charged with defining Iraq's future. The ethnic make-up of the Iraq Interim Governing Council briefly (September 2003 – June 2004) guided Iraq after the invasion included a single Assyrian Christian, Younadem Kana, a leader of the Assyrian Democratic Movement and an opponent of Saddam Hussein since 1979.

In October 2008 many Iraqi Christians(about 12,000 almost Assyrians) have fled the city of Mosul following a wave of murders and threats targeting their community. The murder of at least a dozen Christians, death threats to others, the destruction of houses forced the Christians to leave their city in hurry. Some families crossed the borders to Syria and Turkey while others have been given shelters in Churches and Monasteries. Accusations and blames have been exchanged between Sunni fundamentalists and some Kurdish groups for being behind this new exodus. For the time the motivation of these culprits remains mysterious, but some claims related it to the provincial elections due to be held at the end of January 2009, and especially connected to Christian's demand for wider presentation in the provincial councils. [50]

In recent years, the Assyrians in northern Iraq and northeast Syria have become the target of extreme unprovoked Islamic terrorism. As a result, Assyrians have taken up arms, alongside other groups (such as the Kurds, Turcomans and Armenians) in response to unprovoked attacks by Al Qaeda, ISIS/ISIL, Nusra Front and other terrorist Islamic Fundamentalist groups. In 2014 Islamic terrorists of ISIS attacked Assyrian towns and villages in the Assyrian Homeland of northern Iraq, together with cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk which have large Assyrian populations. There have been reports of atrocities committed by ISIS terrorists since, including beheadings, crucifixions, child murders, rape, forced conversions, Ethnic Cleansing, robbery, and extortion in the form of illegal taxes levied upon non-Muslims. Assyrians in Iraq have responded by forming armed Assyrian militias to defend their territories.

Thus far, the only people who have been attested with a high level of genetic, historical, linguistic and cultural research to be the descendants of the ancient Mesopotamians are the Assyrian Christians of Iraq and its surrounding areas in northwest Iran, northeast Syria and southeastern Turkey (see Assyrian continuity), although others have made unsubstantiated claims of continuity. Assyria continued to exist as a geopolitical entity until the Arab-Islamic conquest in the mid-7th century, and Assyrian identity, personal, family and tribal names, and both spoken and written evolutions of Mesopotamian Aramaic (which still contain many Akkadian loan words and an Akkadian grammatical structure) have survived among the Assyrian people from ancient times to this day (see Assyrian people).

Middle Assyrian Period

During the 14 th century B.C., the Kingdom of Mitanni began to fade and those in charge of Assur began to assert the city's independence. Modern-day scholars often call this period of newfound Assyrian independence the "Middle Assyrian" period. At the start of this period Assur-Uballit I (reign ca. 1363-1328 B.C.) conquered territory near Assur and sought diplomatic recognition of his status from the kings of Egypt and Babylonia.

His successors further enlarged Assyrian territory. Adad-nirari I (reign ca. 1305-1274 B.C.) conquered Mitanni, taking over a kingdom that had ruled Assyria a century earlier. Adad-nirari I claimed that he "sowed salt over" the Mittani capital of Taidu and imposed labor obligations on the city's survivors. He constructed a palace over Taidu saying that he built it "from top to bottom" and deposited a stelae to mark his control of the city (translation by Albert Kirk Grayson). Adad-nirari I also used the title "king of the universe" to describe himself, a title which future Assyrian kings would also use.

Ancient records say that the successors of Adad-nirari I continued to expand Assyria. The Assyrians conquered Babylon during the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I (reign ca. 1243-1207 B.C.) and reached the Mediterranean coast during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 B.C.). Tiglath-Pileser marked the achievement by bringing back cedar wood for building projects.

The martial prowess and skill of the Assyrian kings continued to be emphasized in ancient inscriptions. Tiglath-Pileser I boasted in one inscription that "altogether I conquered 42 lands and their rulers" from across the Middle East, adding that he was a "valiant man" with an "unrivalled bow" who was such a good hunter that "I killed on foot 120 lions with my wildly vigorous assault" (translation by Albert Kirk Grayson).

However, inscriptions from Tiglath-Pileser's time, and that of his successors, point to problems Assyria was experiencing. Cities and civilizations across the Middle East were collapsing as a group of people from the Aegean arrived in the region, displacing local populations and collapsing trade networks. Assyrian records indicate that Tiglath-Pileser and his successors frequently fought against the Arameans, a group of people who were displaced or otherwise caught up in the chaos. In the two centuries following Tiglath-Pileser's conquest, Assyria's territory gradually contracted, the kingdom retaining control of Assur and territory near it. Assyria didn't expand again on a large scale until the 9 th century B.C.

The Assyrians were very creative about the brutality. They would cut off legs, arms, noses, tongues, ears, and testicles. They would gouge out the eyes of their prisoners. They would burn small children alive.

The Assyrian army was a professional army and it was well organized. So, their cruelty and brutality were systematic.

The Assyrian kings used brutality as a weapon. The psychological warfare worked. The news of extreme terror spread fast. The entire cities surrendered at the mere sight of the approaching Assyrian army.

The Assyrian kings bragged about their cruelty. They regarded it as their divine right.

I entered that city its inhabitants I slaughtered like lambs

— Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (668–631 BC)

Eventually, the extreme cruelty backfired. The Assyrian empire, weakened by the constant war, was attacked by many enemies. The Assyrians vanquished and nobody missed them.

Assyrian Religion

Their Mesopotamian predecessors from Sumeria heavily influenced the Assyrian religion. It also remained a vital identification for the modern Assyrians. Assyrians were believed to have been Christianized from the first to the third century in Roman Syria.

In the fifth century, they became a religious minority amongst the Muslims in Mesopotamia. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Assyrians suffered genocides and a series of massacres at the hands of Arabs and Kurds. This experience forced most of them to live in the diaspora. After they were displaced and driven out from Turkey, many Assyrians resettled in southeast Turkey.

Assyrians have a chief god whom they call Ashur from whom their capital and culture got its name. They also had ziggurats built with mud bricks like the Sumerians and their neighbors to the south. Ashur is found in the book of Genesis. According to the book, Ashur was the son of Shem, who was the son of Noah. After the Great Flood, it was said that Noah founded Assyrian cities, and it’s most likely that the name was named after his grandson Ashur.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire

A series of kings from Adad-Nirari II (c. 912-891 B.C.) to Adad-Nirari III (811 to 806 B.C.) fought to expand the empire. The powerful Assyrian army conquered its enemies city by city, as it excelled in siege warfare as well as battlefield tactics. The Assyrians were the first army to contain a separate engineer corps. Assyrians moved mobile ladders and ramps right up against heavily fortified city walls. Sappers and miners dug underneath the walls. Massive siege engines became prized Assyrian armaments. Successfully taking city after city, the Assyrians extended their empire throughout the Middle East and down the Levant coast. After Adad-Nirari III’s reign, however, the empire again stagnated.

The final stage of the Assyrian empire began in 745 B.C. when Tiglath Pileser III took the throne. Tiglath Pileser III received the empire in a slump with a demoralized army and disorganized bureaucracy. He took control and began reorganizing all aspects of the empire from the army to the bureaucracy to re-conquering rebellious provinces. Tiglath Pileser ended military conscription, replacing it with levy requirements from the provinces and vassals. His reorganized army became the model for efficiency, training and tactics for any military coming later.

The Assyrian empire was renowned not only for its powerful military machine, but also for its progress in the arts, culture, medicine and education. While deportations of segments of conquered populations continued, all subjugated regions were accepted and treated as Assyrians.

Following Tiglath Pileser III, the Assyrian empire was ruled by Shalmaneser V, Sargon II and Sennacherib. Sennacherib’s reign (705 to 681 B.C.) welded the empire into an even greater force he conquered provinces in Anatolia, Judah and Israel, even sacking Jerusalem. Sennacherib moved the capital of Assyria to Nineveh, where he built a splendid palace and exquisite gardens, which might have been the famous Hanging Gardens.

Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddon and grandson Ashurbanipal both ruled well, if ruthlessly. They expanded the empire, consolidated its power and stabilized all the regions under their control. This security and stability allowed the arts to flourish. With the wealth that poured into Nineveh, artisans created many beautiful objects from jewelry to wrought iron temple gates. Ashurbanipal (668 to 627 B.C.) became the most literate of the Assyrian kings, collecting a vast library of cuneiform tablets from all over the known world.

Ashurbanipal was the last great Assyrian king. After his reign of 42 years, the huge empire began to fall apart. It had become too large, taxes were too high and entire regions rebelled. In 612 B.C., Nineveh itself was razed by a host of Persians, Babylonians and Medes. The great Assyrian empire was over.

This article is part of our larger resource on Mesopotamian culture, society, economics, and warfare. Click here for our comprehensive article on ancient Mesopotamia.

History of Assyria

This article covers the history of the Assyrian empire. Another article looks at the ancient Assyrians‘ culture and society in more depth.


Early history

Northern Mesopotamia had come increasingly under Sumerian influence from the 4th millennium onwards. It is possible that Nineveh, the later imperial capital of the Assyrian empire, may have begun life as a a colony of Sumerian merchants. The archaeological site of Nineveh, Tell Brak, reveals a city as large as leading Sumerian city, built around a Sumerian-style temple.

Urbanism declined in northern Mesopotamia around 3000 BCE, for reasons which may have been to do with the climate, or perhaps with the movements of peoples in that area. From the mid-3rd millennium, however, it spread again. The region became a centre of long-distance trade, with Assyrian trading colonies springing up hundreds of miles away in Asia Minor.

At this time northern Mesopotamia was divided amongst several small kingdoms, one of which, Asshur (named after its chief god), was the nucleus of the kingdom which later historians have called Assyria. Links with southern Mesopotamia were strengthened with the rise of Sargon’s empire, which incorporated all of Mesopotamia into one state. Later, in the 18th century BCE, northern Mesopotamia came under the domination of the king of Mari. This king was Samsi-Addu, and by 1796 he had extended his borders to take in most of northern Mesopotamia and much of Syria. The workings of his government, and that of his sons, are clearly glimpsed in thousands of letters and official documents found in the royal archive at Mari. His kingdom was ruled from three cities – Ekallatum, Ashur and Mari – and it included a host of petty kingdoms and semi-nomadic clans which caused the government no end of trouble.

After Samsi-Addu’s death, in 1776 BCE, his kingdom was divided between his surviving son, Ishme-Dagan, who ruled the northern half, which we should now call Assyria, and Zimri-Lim, the descendant of a previous royal family of Mari, who ruled the south.

Under foreign domination

Assyria was again briefly united with southern Mesopotamia when Hammurabi, king of Babylon, brought the whole of Mesopotamia under his rule. After Hammurabi’s death Assyria reasserted its independence. In the next century, however, it fell under the control of the Mitanni.

In c. 1360 BCE, however, the king of Assyria, Ashur-uballit I (1365-1330 BCE), was able to break free from Mitanni rule, and then occupy the eastern half of the kingdom. With the Hittites occupying the rest of their kingdom, the Mitanni vanished from history.

The first period of Assyrian greatness

The geography of Assyria makes her vulnerable to attack, with borders open to powerful neighbours from southern Mesopotamia and raids from hill peoples in other areas. To maintain her independence she had had to organize herself as a military state, ever-prepared for war for example the Assyrians were amongst the first Middle Eastern powers to adopt the new military technology, the chariot, from neighbouring Indo-European peoples. This enabled her now to go onto the offensive against her neighbours, and over the following centuries she established herself amongst the leading powers in the Middle East, along with the Hittites, the Kassites of Babylonia and the Egyptians. She expanded her territories into northern Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Armenia. In the second half of the thirteenth century BCE she joined forces with a newly expansionist Elam to bring Kassite-Babylonia to its knees. A dual invasion of Babylonia led to the Assyrians installing their own governors as rulers of Babylon (1235 BCE), but Assyria immediately entered a period of political instability, with a series of palace coups. The Babylonians very soon revolted (1227) and restored their independence.

Just over a century later an able Assyrian king, Tiglathpileser I (1115-1077 BCE) campaigned far and wide, reaching as far west as the Mediterranean Sea and inflicting defeat after defeat on the Aramaeans, a desert people who now posed a threat to the civilized areas of all Mesopotamia. Tiglathpileser finally brought Babylon again under Assyrian domination.

The Eclipse of Assyria

By the time of Tiglathpileser’s murder, in 1077 BCE, the ancient states of Mesopotamia were all under threat from large-scale migrations of Aramaean tribes and indeed the whole history of the Middle East now takes on a new character, with the eclipse of the ancient centres of civilization. The borders of the Assyria were relentlessly pushed back by the Aramaeans, who settled in newly formed kingdoms in Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, Babylonia fell into complete chaos, with Aramaean tribes and other peoples settling the land at will. One of these peoples were the Kuldu, known to history as the Chaldeans. They settled southern Babylonia in the region around Ur, which is why that city appears in the Bible as “Ur of the Chaldees”.

Dawn of a great power

Towards the end of the 10 th century, Assyria was at its lowest ebb. Its territory was just a narrow strip of land along Tigris. It was, however, still a compact nation, with an army trained by years of constant warfare, and under king Adad-nirari II (911-891 BCE) and his son Tukulti-Ninurta II (890-884 BCE), the Assyrians loosened the grip of their enemies, in wars which they clearly viewed as wars of national liberation. The Aramaeans were driven from the Tigris Valley, and other campaigns pushed the mountain tribes back. By the end of these two reigns Assyrian territory once again covered all of northern Mesopotamia.

By this time, great changes were affecting societies throughout the Middle East. Iron was coming into wide use, both for weapons of war and for farming implements and alphabet scripts were replacing older forms of writing, such as the cuneiform system used in Mesopotamia. Both these changes would affect the Assyrians (see more on iron and the alphabet).

The reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE) marked an important step up in the renewed rise of Assyrian power and ambition. He spent the first years of reign putting down rebellions and consolidating the kingdom, extending Assyrian territory somewhat, building and garrisoning some border fortresses and receiving the submission of neighbouring mountain tribes.

Then, in 877, Ashurnasirpal carried out a major military expedition through Syria, as far as the Mediterranean. This was not a war of conquest, but, being the first of its kind since the days of Tiglathpileser I, it announced the revival of Assyrian power in no uncertain terms. The entire Middle East trembled with fear.

As with many Assyrian monarchs, Ashurnasirpal’s passion for war was accompanied by a more refined element to his character. He had a taste for zoology and botany, bringing back from the lands through which he “travelled” exotic animals and plants for the imperial parks and gardens at home. He also had a passion for building – the mark of all great Mesopotamian monarchs, and he built himself a new capital at Nimrud.

The Assyrian hegemony

The next monarch, Shalmaneser III (858-824 BCE), surpassed his father in the number and scope of his military campaigns – 31 out of of 35 years as king were spent in warfare. Under him, the Assyrian army went further abroad than ever before – to Armenia, Cilicia, Palestine, into the Taurus and Zagros mountains, and as far as the Gulf. Shalmaneser’s was by no means a record of unbroken success, and he did not in fact extend actual Assyrian territory by much. However, his reign marked the high point of this phase, in which Assyrian armies conducted great long-distance raids across the Middle East.

In the reigns of Shalmaneser’s predecessors, Assyria’s wars had largely been defensive in character, aimed at protecting core Assyrian territory, and perhaps keeping vital trade routes open: westward towards Syria, northward towards Anatolia and Iran, and southwards to Babylonia. Under Ashurnasirpal, and more so under Shalmaneser, the wars were increasingly raids for booty, wealth and prestige.

The great raids

Almost every spring, the king mustered his troops and led them to war. At this time, his opponents (or perhaps more accurately, prey) were the rulers of small kingdoms and tribes, spread over an expanding area of the Middle East – in Syria, Palestine (including Israel), Anatolia and Iran.

Some princes opposed him bravely, though rarely successfully others fled to the desert or the mountains others submitted to the Assyrian monarch, bringing him presents and promising to pay tribute. But woe to those who failed to keep their promise! In another campaign, a storm swept over their country the rebel leaders were tortured and killed, the population massacred and enslaved, the towns and villages set on fire, the crops burned. Terror-stricken, the neighbouring rulers hastened to offer gifts and swear allegiance. Annual tribute would be imposed (or re-impose) on all.

Then, loaded with spoil, trailing behind its human captives, flocks and herds, the Assyrian army returned home and disbanded.

A well-deserved reputation for cruelty preceded Assyrian armies and greatly aided them in their campaigns – many of their enemies were half defeated even before encountering them on the field of battle. Although Assyria’s actual territory did not expand greatly during this phase of its history, it sphere of influence – its “hunting ground”, as one modern scholar has called it – increased enormously. Within this a growing number of terrified peoples professed obedience to the king of Assyria and paid him tribute.

In this way, while Assyria’s territory proper did not expand greatly during this phase of its history, it was surrounded by an expanding sphere of influence, or “hunting ground”, as one modern scholar has called it, in which terrified peoples paid tribute, or intermittently refused to do so, thus incurring the fierce wrath of the Assyrian king.


The one region which received different treatment was Babylonia. This region had suffered even more than Assyria during the “Age of Confusion”, as Babylonian scribes called the centuries around 1000 BCE. Indeed, the problems had not really gone away: large numbers of Aramaean peoples remained, especially in the south, in the old Sumerian heartland. They represented a continual threat to the rulers of Babylon, who often controlled very little territory effectively. This was especially so when the different Aramaean groups acted together under one charismatic leader.

The Assyrians were naturally drawn into this situation, originally to take advantage of Babylon’s weakness and grab territory for itself. However, the Assyrians had an enduring and genuine reverence for the ancient city, of Babylon, ever since Hammurabi’s time the cultural and spiritual centre of Mesopotamian civilization. From Shalmanaser’s time onwards, the Assyrian kings took on the role of protectors of Babylon, treating the Babylonian kings with great respect and campaigning against their enemies – and, of course, expecting the allegiance of the king and his subjects in return.

Internal weakness and external threats

At end of Shalmanaser’s reign (827 BCE) a serious rebellion shook the kingdom, led by one of his sons. He had the support of the chief cities of Assyria, Ashur and Nineveh, and 27 other cities. This revolt seems to have boon linked to resentments by the old nobility, whose power was centred on the old capitals and who were more or less excluded from the levers of power at the royal court in the new capital, Nimrud.

The rebellion took five long years to put down, by which time the old king was dead and his younger son, Shamshi-Adad IV (823-11 BCE), sat on the throne. During this time, Assyria’s vassals shook of her overlordship, and Shamshi-Adad spent his entire reign bringing them back to their allegiance. On his death, his young son, Adad-nirari III (810-783 BCE) was dominated by the queen, Sammuramas, about whom very little is known but about whom legends later gathered (the Greeks knew her by the name Semiramis). Sammuramas and Adad-nirari continued the work of Shamshi-Adad, and largely restored Assyria’s position – enabling Adad-niraru, for example, to act as protector of the king of Babylon against his Aramaean enemies.

At Adad-niraru’s premature death, however, Assyria sank again into a long period of internal instability, revolts and unsuccessful campaigns – made worse by severe epidemics that swept the country. At this very time, developments in the wider Middle East were making Assyria’s international position less secure. Assyria would need leadership of a high order to lift her out of the mire. Fortunately, in Tiglathpileser III, she would have just such a leader.

The Empire

For about a century, the northern kingdom of Urartu had been on the rise. Like Assyria, she had surrounded herself with vassal states which paid tribute, acknowledged her suzerainty and followed her in war. Now, her political influence was spreading amongst the small states of northern Syria, who had previously acknowledged Assyrian suzerainty. The emergence of such a powerful nation had a decisive influence on Assyrian policy. Annual campaigns for prestige and booty would no longer suffice to ensure Assyrian dominance the Assyrians now had to conquer, occupy and firmly hold territory in Syria and western Iran in order to keep out competing influences

Tiglathpileser III (744-727 BCE)

Luckily for Assyria, Tiglathpileser saw this clearly. He attacked into northern Syria, and defeated the Urartu army when it rushed to help its allies. Instead of withdrawing his forces, Tiglathpileser then established permanent Assyrian provinces in Syria, and kept garrisons in key cities there. Further troubles led to Tiglathpileser expanding Assyrian territory into southern Syria, with the annexation of Damascus and half of the kingdom of Israel’s territory. Many other Syrian rulers, including the king of Israel, rushed to acknowledge the Assyrian king as their overlord.

Tiglathpileser pushed the Assyrian borders deep into the Zagros mountains, and attacked Urartu itself, though without success.

By the time Tiglathpileser came to the throne, Babylonia had fallen into a state of complete anarchy. He therefore fulfilled the traditional Assyrian role of protecting Babylon by campaigning against its enemies in southern Mesopotamia, especially the Chaldeans. Then, Tiglathpileser departed from previous Assyrian practice by proclaiming himself king of Babylon.

At home Tiglathpileser carried out sweeping reforms of all aspects of the Assyrian state. He strengthening royal authority by multiplying the number of administrative districts, each being made smaller. This gave the king and his court more control over the country. Beyond the boundaries of Assyria proper he instituted a full-blooded imperial system for the first time in the Middle East, replacing many vassal kings with provincial governors.

The army, previously made up of Assyrian nationals performing military service for a year at a time, was now supplemented by a standing army of foreign troops, made up of contingents from conquered peoples. This new army proved more efficient than the old one, and was able to campaign for longer, not having to disband at harvest time to allow its troops to return to their farms. Crucially, this allowed permanent garrisons to be stationed at key points throughout the newly-organized Assyrian empire.

An efficient system of empire-wide communication between royal court and provinces was set up, consisting of special runners who carried messages between the king (wherever he happened to be) and the governors.

Notoriously, Tiglathpileser introduced the famous policy of mass deportation, whereby the populations of conquered towns and districts were forcibly resettled far away in distant provinces. Their place would be taken by people brought in from elsewhere. This policy was to have a major impact on Middle Eastern society.

It was under Tiglathpileser, therefore, that Assyria began to pursue a deliberately imperialistic policy, of conquering and holding huge tracts of territory in the Middle East, rather than just riding through it on massive raids. The Assyrian state now began to take on the shape of a true empire, with a huge, complex administrative machinery.

Sargon II (722-705 BC)

Tiglathpileser was succeeded by his son, Shalmaneser V (726-722 BCE), who reigned briefly before Sargon II came to the throne. Sargon may well have been a usurper his accession was certainly accompanied by a great deal of instability within Assyria, which he swiftly put down.

Sargon’s first act was to complete the capture and destruction of the city of Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel (722 BCE). This brought to an end the kingdom of Israel (this was the northern of the two Israelite kingdoms the southern one, Judah, lasted for a a century and a half longer as an Assyrian vassal). Its territory was shared out between its neighbours, and its people deported to other provinces within the Assyrian empire.

On the broad geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, Sargon found himself confronting a new situation, brought about by Assyrian expansion under Tiglathpileser. The borders of the Assyrian empire had been pushed into the spheres of influence of two large states, Egypt and Elam. Together with Urartu, these were to form a trio of powerful enemies which (rightly) saw the militaristic power of Assyria as a deadly threat, and who were therefore intent on weakening Assyrian power. The resulting struggle engulfed the Middle East for more than a century and saw immense damage inflicted right across the region.

In southern Mesopotamia, Elam constantly supported Babylon’s enemies as a way to weaken Assyria, Babylon’s protector. These enemies were predominantly the Aramaean tribes, and particularly the Chaldeans, who assumed a position of leadership amongst them. In Sargon’s reign, the Chaldean leader, Merodach-Baladan, took advantage of the troubles which accompanied his accession by seizing the throne of Babylon, actively supported by the kingdom of Elam. Sargon had great difficulty in dislodging him, and it was only in 708 BCE that the whole of Babylonia was again under direct Assyrian control.

Egypt twice supported major rebellions in Syria and Palestine during Sargon’s reign, each time being driven back by the Assyrians. Sargon also inflicted a crushing defeat on Urartu, reducing its influence.

On his death, Sargon left the Assyrian empire larger and more powerful than it had ever been. He had also built a new capital, Dur-Sharrukin (Sargon’s fortress). It took ten years to complete. A year after that, Sargon was killed in battle.

Sennacherib (705 – 681 BCE)

The news of Sargon’s death sparked serious revolts all around the empire, and Sennacherib was forced to spend the first years of his reign rushing hither and thither dealing with them. It was probably during this time that the famous Assyrian siege of Jerusalem took place, with the Assyrian army “encouraged” to withdraw by some natural calamity, according not only to the Biblical account but also to other ancient writers.

In Babylonia, the Chaldean leader Merodach-Baladan again led a great Aramaean rebellion. He captured Babylon and was proclaimed king. Sennacherib drove him out, and in a departure from the normal leniency that the Assyrians had extended to the Babylonians, he deported more than 200,000 people to Assyria. He installed first a puppet ruler, and then, after further revolts, his own son and then conducted a major land and sea operation into Elam itself, which brought back a huge amount of booty.

Elam immediately retaliated by invading southern Mesopotamia, driving back the Assyrians and putting an Elamite puppet on the throne in Babylon. The Assyrians soon expelled him from the city, but the population of southern Mesopotamia was not subdued. In 689 they invited the king of Elam to support them against the Assyrians a severe battle ensued in which the Assyrians were eventually victorious, and the exasperated Sennacherib carried out the unthinkable – he destroyed the venerable city of Babylon.

Sennacherib’s reign was not entirely spent in warfare. At home in Assyria, he did an enormous amount of construction work, erecting temples and other public buildings, restoring towns, and completing great irrigation schemes which boosted agriculture in the country. One of his first acts had been to bring the court back to Nineveh, and he restored, extended and beautified that city, making it a fit capital for the superpower of its day.

In 681 BCE, whilst worshipping in one of the temples in Nineveh, Sennacherib was assassinated by one of his sons.

Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE)

The death of Sennacherib found Esarhaddon, once his father’s chosen successor, in exile, a victim of rivalries within the Assyrian royal family. On hearing of the assassination of his father, Esarhaddon hastened towards the capital, gathering an army on his way. He swept aside his brothers and seized the throne, borne on a wave of popular support (according to Esarhaddon propaganda machine, at least).

His first act was to start the rebuilding Babylon, a task which took the whole reign. This act won him the loyalty of the Babylonian population, and there was little trouble from this quarter during his reign. Esarhaddon succeeded in putting a friendly king on the throne of Elam, which greatly eased the situation on that frontier.

It was during Esarhaddon’s reign that new threats began to make themselves felt – threats which would eventually bring about the fall of the Assyrian empire. In 679 BEC a Scythian and Cimmerian horde broke through the Taurus Mountains. Esarhaddon swiftly drove them back. He also attempted to weaken the threat posed by the rising power of the Medes, a warlike Iranian people who had recently established themselves on the eastern borders of the empire. He did this by cavalry raids and by supporting princes hostile to the king.

In the west, revolts persisted. In 677 BCE Sidon rebelled. The famous city was destroyed, its people deported to Assyria and its territory given to its rival, Tyre. Finally, wishing to deal with a major threat to Assyrian power at its source, Esarhaddon led an army into Egypt, where, overcoming strong resistance, he conquered the entire country.

The defeated pharaoh fled south, but within two years was back, leading a resistance movement. Esarhaddon was marching to meet this threat when he died.

Ashurbanipal (669-627 BCE)

Esarhaddon had tried to make sure that the succession would proceed peacefully by having his vassals sign a treaty of loyalty to the crown prince, Ashurbanipal. He had also arranged for a younger son, Shamash-shum-ukin, to sit on the throne of Babylon as a king subordinate to his brother.

Ashurbanipal immediately set about completing his father’s mission of dealing with the Egyptian revolt. A general was despatched to that remote country, and recovered the city of Memphis. The Assyrians then marched south towards Thebes, but again on hearing that a revolt was about to break out in the Delta region, turned north again. The revolt was crushed before it could begin, and its leaders either executed or sent to Nineveh. However, the Assyrians realised that they needed local support, so, to bolster their power in Egypt, they showered favours on certain princes in the Delta area (some of whom had been involved in plotting the recent revolt). Two years later, to meet a new invasion from Nubia, a powerful Assyrian army marched south to Thebes, and destroyed that ancient city.

Meanwhile, rebellions in Syria, most notably at Tyre, led to further operations, though not, for some reason, to the terrible reprisals normally visited on rebel rulers and their people. In the following years Ashurbanipal campaigned on his northern and eastern frontiers, against the Mannai, Medes, Elamites (who had invaded Babylonia yet again) and the Cimmerians. Then, in 655, the Delta region of Egypt rose against the Assyrians under a local prince, Psamtik. With the help of Greek mercenaries, the Egyptians expelled the Assyrian army. At this time the Elamites had mounted yet another fierce attack on the Assyrians in southern Babylonia, at the opposite end of the empire, and the bulk of the Assyrian army was engaged in driving this invasion out. They could not restore their position in Egypt immediately – nor did they ever reconquer that country.

The Elamites were crushed and Elam put under friendly princes. However, Shamash-shum-ukin, Ashurbanipal’s younger brother and king of Babylon, then rebelled (652). He enlisted the support of a huge number of potential rebels and enemies of Assyria from all corners of the empire – Phoenicia, Philistia, Judah, the Arabs, the Chaldeans of southern Iraq, the Elamites, the Egyptians, and the Lydians in Asia Minor. He hatched a plot for all to attack Assyrian forces simultaneously. Such a plot could not be kept secret, and Ashurbanipal marched against his brother. A three-year war ended in Shamsh-shum-ukin dying in the burning wreckage of his own palace. Ashurbanipal put a puppet ruler on the throne of Babylon, and then set about dealing with his other enemies. A long but successful war against the Arabs was followed by a long struggle against Elam, which finally put an end to the threat posed by that country: Elam was devastated and its capital, Susa, destroyed.

As with many of the Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal was interested in things other than war. He was deeply fascinated by the (by then ancient) civilization of Sumer and Akkad, and of Babylon of the time of Hammurabi and his successors. He ordered his officials to hunt out ancient tablets and send them to Nineveh, where he built a large library in his palace to house them. These tablets, discovered by archaeologists in the 19 th century, are now stored in the British Museum, and provide an immensely valuable insight into many aspects of Mesopotamian civilization, and particularly its religious and literary life.

The Downfall of Assyria

The last twelve years of Ashurbanipal’s reign are in almost complete darkness, as the royal annals come to an abrupt end in 639 BCE. In 627 BCE, Ashurbanipal died coincidentally, the puppet ruler whom Ashurbanipal had installed in Babylon also died. Ashurbanipal’s son, Ashur-etil-ilani, succeeded his father in Assyria, and his brother, Sin-shar-ishkun, became king of Babylon. The following year, however, Sin-shar-ishkun was driven from Babylon by (yet again) the Chaldeans, now under a leader called Nabopolassar. Sin-shar-ishkun then rebelled against his brother, and a three year civil war ensued in Assyria. Sin-shar-ishkun was the victor, ascending the Assyrian throne in 623 BCE.

Troubles were mounting for the Assyrian empire, however. A vicious seven year war in Babylonia failed to put down Nabopolassar’s revolt. Scythian and Cimmerian raiders from the steppes north of the Black Sea rampaged unchecked through Assyrian territory in Anatolia and northern Assyria the appeals of Assyria’s subjects in those areas for help went unheeded.

In 616 BCE the Chaldeans under Nabopolassar, who had styled himself king of Babylon for the past 10 years, invaded Assyria itself. This was an unprecedented turn of events, and was followed by another – the Assyrian king appealed to his former enemy, the king of Egypt, for aid. The Egyptians agreed, but any help they contributed arrived too late. For, in the following year, the Medes also invaded Assyria, and captured the Assyrian holy city of Ashur. Here, the Medes and the Babylonians agreed to act in unison (614 BCE), and, after a year’s slow campaigning, they besieged the Assyrian capital, Nineveh (612 BCE). After three months, the great city fell, and was utterly destroyed. All the other cities of Assyria were also taken and raised to the ground. Only villages were left in the land.

Two hundred years later, a Greek army marched through Assyria. The soldiers had no idea that the heaps of rubble they saw had once been the greatest cities in a great empire.

The huge Assyrian empire was shared out amongst its victorious enemies, the Chaldeans and Medes. A new era in Middle Eastern history had begun.

To continue the history of ancient Mesopotamia, see The Babylonian Empire.

"Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. . And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight." (The Book of 2 Kings) Isa 10:5-7 "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. I will send him against an ungodly nation, And against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, To seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Yet he does not mean so, Nor does his heart think so But it is in his heart to destroy, And cut off not a few nations." The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 of the tribes (excluding Judah and Benjamin). It lasted for about 210 years until it was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC. Its capital was Samaria. Every king of Israel was evil. In the northern kingdom there were 9 dynasties (family lines of kings) and 19 kings in all. An average of 11 years to a reign. 8 of these kings met death by violence. The epitaph written over every one of its kings was: I King 15:34 "and he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he had made Israel to sin." It was king Ahab who introduced Baal worship to them. I King 16:30-33 "Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." The last king was Hoshea (2 Ki 17). The petty wars of the past, wars with Syria and Edom, Ammon and Philistia, were now to give way to war on an ominous new scale. A world empire was being gathered into the ruthless hands of the Assyrians. The ruthless and cruel Assyrians (under Sargon II) besieged Samaria for 3 years and finally it fell, Israel was doomed. The Assyrians hauled them away into captivity (722 BC). But the Lord always reminded them of why judgment came: II Ki 17:7-23 "For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. Also the children of Israel secretly did against the LORD their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the LORD had carried away before them and they did wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger, for they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing." Yet the LORD testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets." Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them that they should not do like them. So they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone. . And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight. For He tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day." The Assyrian Civilization - History

The original capital of the Assyrian Empire, which dates back to 2600 BCE.

Assyrian Empire

A major Semitic kingdom of the Ancient Near East, which existed as an independent state for a period of approximately nineteen centuries from c. 2500-605 BCE.

The Assyrian Empire was a major Semitic kingdom, and often empire, of the Ancient Near East. It existed as an independent state for a period of approximately 19 centuries from c. 2500 BCE to 605 BCE, which spans the Early Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age. For a further 13 centuries, from the end of the 7th century BCE to the mid-7th century CE, it survived as a geo-political entity ruled, for the most part, by foreign powers (although a number of small Neo-Assyrian states arose at different times throughout this period).

Map of the Ancient Near East during the 14th century BCE, showing the great powers of the day. This map shows the extent of the empires of Egypt (orange), Hatti (blue), the Kassite kingdom of Babylon (black), Assyria (yellow), and Mitanni (brown). The extent of the Achaean/Mycenaean civilization is shown in purple.

Centered on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia (northern Iraq, northeast Syria, and southeastern Turkey), the Assyrians came to rule powerful empires at several times, the last of which grew to be the largest and most powerful empire the world had yet seen.

As a substantial part of the greater Mesopotamian “Cradle of Civilization,” Assyria was at the height of technological, scientific, and cultural achievements for its time. At its peak, the Assyrian empire stretched from Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea to Persia (Iran), and from the Caucasus Mountains (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan) to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Assyria is named for its original capital, the ancient city of Ašur (a.k.a., Ashur) which dates to c. 2600 BCE and was located in what is now the Saladin Province of northern Iraq. Ashur was originally one of a number of Akkadian city states in Mesopotamia. In the late 24th century BCE, Assyrian kings were regional leaders under Sargon of Akkad, who united all the Akkadian Semites and Sumerian-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire (c. 2334 BC-2154 BCE). Following the fall of the Akkadian Empire, c. 2154 BCE, and the short-lived succeeding Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, which ruled southern Assyria, Assyria regained full independence.

The history of Assyria proper is roughly divided into three periods, known as Old Assyrian (late 21st-18th century BCE), Middle Assyrian (1365-1056 BCE), and Neo-Assyrian (911- 612BCE). These periods roughly correspond to the Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, and Early Iron Age, respectively. In the Old Assyrian period, Assyria established colonies in Asia Minor and the Levant. Under king Ilushuma, it asserted itself over southern Mesopotamia. From the late 19th century BCE, Assyria came into conflict with the newly created state of Babylonia, which eventually eclipsed the older Sumero-Akkadian states in the south, such as Ur, Isin, Larsa and Kish. Assyria experienced fluctuating fortunes in the Middle Assyrian period. Assyria had a period of empire under Shamshi-Adad I and Ishme-Dagan in the 19th and 18th centuries BCE. Following the reigns of these two kings, it found itself under Babylonian and Mitanni-Hurrian domination for short periods in the 18th and 15th centuries BCE, respectively.

However, a shift in the Assyrian’s dominance occurred with the rise of the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365 BCE-1056 BCE). This period saw the reigns of great kings, such as Ashur-uballit I, Arik-den-ili, Tukulti-Ninurta I, and Tiglath-Pileser I. Additionally, during this period, Assyria overthrew Mitanni and eclipsed both the Hittite Empire and Egyptian Empire in the Near East. Long wars helped build Assyria into a warrior society, supported by landed nobility, which supplied horses to the military. All free male citizens were required to serve in the military, and women had very low status.

Beginning with the campaigns of Adad-nirari II from 911 BCE, Assyria again showed itself to be a great power over the next three centuries during the Neo-Assyrian period. It overthrew the Twenty-Fifth dynasty of Egypt, and conquered a number of other notable civilizations, including Babylonia, Elam, Media, Persia, Phoenicia/Canaan, Aramea (Syria), Arabia, Israel, and the Neo-Hittites. They drove the Ethiopians and Nubians from Egypt, defeated the Cimmerians and Scythians, and exacted tribute from Phrygia, Magan, and Punt, among others.

After its fall (between 612-605 BCE), Assyria remained a province and geo-political entity under the Babylonian, Median, Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman, and Sassanid Empires, until the Arab Islamic invasion and conquest of Mesopotamia in the mid-7th century CE when it was finally dissolved.

Assyria is mainly remembered for its military victories, technological advancements (such as using iron for weapons and building roads), use of torture to inspire fear, and a written history of conquests. Its military had not only general troops, but charioteers, cavalry, bowmen, and lancers.

1. Life’s Little Ironies

While the destruction of Nineveh was a shocking blow to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, there was a surprising silver lining. The attackers burned the great palace, which collapsed onto the massive library of Nineveh. This caused the library to be baked hard, leaving the clay tablet books inside buried, but also preserved. So while the city’s remains were hidden for 2,000 years, its eventual discovery, along with its massive library, meant that the Assyrian Empire would never be erased from history, and it was partly thanks to the very people who were trying to do the erasing!


Watch the video: Vom Euphrat kommt, was wir sind - Jahre Syrien und Zweistromland dctp (June 2022).


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