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The Assyrians

There are different periods of the Assyrian empire. The first was called the
Old Assyrian period which lasted from 2000-1550 BC.Then there was the Middle
Assyrian period which lasted from 1550-1200 BC. The last was the Neo-Assyrian
period which lasted from 1200-600 BC. The final phase of the Neo-Assyrian
period is called the Assyrian Empire.

The Old and Middle Assyrian periods ( 2000 – 1200 BC )
The name Ashur was used by the Assyrians to designate not only their country,
but also their most ancient city and their national god. The cities of Ashur
(near modern al-Sharqat), Nineveh, and Irbil formed a triangle that defined the
original territory of Assyria. Assyria’s early history was marked by frequent
episodes of foreign rule. Assyria finally gained its independence around 2000
BC. About this time the Assyrians established a number of trading colonies in
Cappadocia (central Anatolia), protected by treaties with local Hattic rulers.

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The most important of these was at Kultepe (Kanesh), north of present-day
Kayseri, Turkey. Political developments Brought this enterprise to an end in
1750 BC. Assyria lost its independence to a dynasty of Amorite. Then Hammurabi
of Babylon took over and established himself ruler of Assyria. The collapse of
Hammurabi’s Old Babylonian dynasty gave Assyria only temporary relief. It soon
fell under the control of the Mitanni, until that state was destroyed by the
Hittites c.1350 BC.

The Early Neo-Assyrian Period (c.1200-600 BC)
After the collapse of Mittanni, Assyria regained its independence and was able
to hold it thanks to the weakness of its neighbors. The most important event in
Assyrian history during the 13 century BC, was the capture of Babylon by King
Tukulti-Ninurta (r.1244-1208 BC). Although the conquest was short-lived the
memory of it remained strong. In the following centuries the chief adversaries
of the Assyrians were the Aramaeans, who settled in Syria and along the upper
Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, where they founded a number of states. In the
9th century BC, under Ashurnasirpal II (r.883-859 BC) and Shalmaneser III (859-
824 BC), the Assyrians finally managed to conquer Bit-Adini (Beth-Eden), the
most powerful Aramaen state on the upper Euphrates. Shalmaneser then tried to
invade the Syrian heartland, where he met with serious resistance from a
coalition of kings that included Ahab of Israel. They successfully opposed him
at the battle karkar in 853 BC. Internal disagreements marked the end of
Shalmaneser’s reign, and many of his conquests were lost.

Assyrian power began with Tiglath-Peleser III (r. 745-727 BC) taking over the
throne. He began on administrative reforms aimed at strengthening royal
authority over the provinces. Districts were reduced in size and placed under
governors directly responsible to the king. Outside Assyria, slave states were
taken over and made into Assyrian provinces. In Syria, Tiglath-Pileser fought
and defeated a number of anti-Assyrian alliances. In 732 BC he ruined Damascus,
deporting its population and that of northern Israel to Assyria. In 729 he
captured Babylon to guard against a Chaldean-led rebellion there and was
proclaimed king of Babylon under the name Pulu (Biblical Pul). His
administrative reforms and military victories laid the foundation of the
Assyrian Empire. Tiglath-Peleser’s son, Shalmaneser V, is remembered for his
siege of Samaria, the capital of Israel (recorded in 2 Kings: 17-18). H died
during the siege and was succeeded by Sargon II, who took credit for the
destruction of Samaria and theexile of its people in 722 BC.

The end of the Assyrian Empire
The Assyrian Empire was faced with many challenges, Babylon successfully
resisted Assyrian attempts to remove a Chaldean tribal chief who allied with
Elam for over 10 years, a crusade against the northern state of Urartu, which
resulted in their defeat and battling with rebellious coastal cities. The war
against his Elamite ally continued for several years with indecisive results.

Finally, after another revolt in Babylon, Sennacherib conquered the city and
destroyed in 689 BC. He was assassinated by members of his own family in 681 BC.

Esarhaddon (r.608-669 BC), son of Sennacherib, rebuilt Babylon and tried to
appease the Babylonian’s. During his reign, incursions by the Cimmerians and
Scythians posed serious threats to Assyrian possessions in Anatolia and Media
(northwest Iran), the latter of which was a major source of horses for the
Assyrian army. Esarhaddon’s principle accomplishment was the conquest of Egypt,
begun by him in 675 BC, but completed by his son Ashurbanipal (r.668-627 BC).

Ashurbanipal, was the last great king of Assyria and had to deal with many
revolts. He led an expedition against Elam and captured Susa, its capital city.

After his death, however, the empire gradually disintegrated. In 626 BC,
Nabopalassar, a Chaldean nobleman, proclaimed Babylonian independence and,
allied with the Medes, set out to challenge Assyria. In the years 614-609,
Ashur and Nieveh were captured by the Medes, and the Assyrian king fled to
Harran on the northwest frontier. In 605 BC, Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar,
defeated an Egyptian army that had come to the aid of the Assyrians, thus
completing the destruction of the Assyrian state.

Assyrian Society and Culture
Before the development of modern archaeology, the Bible was the chief source of
information about Assyria. The image of Assyria by the biblical accounts is one
of irresistible military might. It was seen as an instrument of God’s wrath
against a sinful people. Archaeological excavations, have unearthed the
monuments and written records of the Assyrians kings, confirming this picture
of military prowess and terrible brutality. They maimed, burned, speared and
denounced harshly their captives. They wanted to instill terror and discourage
rebellion. They also deported to cities and farmlands the enemy populations.

Assyria dominated Babylonia politically, however, culturally was dependent on
the south. The first major collection of cuneiform tablets discovered by 19th-
century excavators–the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh–consists of myths,
epics, rituals, lexical texts, wisdom literature, and prophetic and magical
texts, providing a representative sample of Babylonian scholastic literature.

Assyrian art is usually associated with the colossal winged bulls and lions
that guarded the entrances of their palaces, but even finer are the bas-reliefs
on the palace walls and the carved ivories used to decorate their furniture.

The bas-reliefs portray the Assyrian kings hunting, kneeling before their gods,
or conquering foreign cities.

Category: Social Issues


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