The AssyriansThere are different periods of the Assyrian empire. The first was called theOld Assyrian period which lasted from 2000-1550 BC.Then there was the MiddleAssyrian period which lasted from 1550-1200 BC. The last was the Neo-Assyrianperiod which lasted from 1200-600 BC. The final phase of the Neo-Assyrianperiod 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 theoriginal territory of Assyria. Assyria’s early history was marked by frequentepisodes of foreign rule.
Assyria finally gained its independence around 2000BC. About this time the Assyrians established a number of trading colonies inCappadocia (central Anatolia), protected by treaties with local Hattic rulers.The most important of these was at Kultepe (Kanesh), north of present-dayKayseri, Turkey. Political developments Brought this enterprise to an end in1750 BC.
Assyria lost its independence to a dynasty of Amorite. Then Hammurabiof Babylon took over and established himself ruler of Assyria. The collapse ofHammurabi’s Old Babylonian dynasty gave Assyria only temporary relief. It soonfell under the control of the Mitanni, until that state was destroyed by theHittites c.1350 BC.
The Early Neo-Assyrian Period (c.1200-600 BC)After the collapse of Mittanni, Assyria regained its independence and was ableto hold it thanks to the weakness of its neighbors. The most important event inAssyrian history during the 13 century BC, was the capture of Babylon by KingTukulti-Ninurta (r.1244-1208 BC). Although the conquest was short-lived thememory of it remained strong. In the following centuries the chief adversariesof the Assyrians were the Aramaeans, who settled in Syria and along the upperTigris and the Euphrates rivers, where they founded a number of states. In the9th 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), themost powerful Aramaen state on the upper Euphrates.
Shalmaneser then tried toinvade the Syrian heartland, where he met with serious resistance from acoalition of kings that included Ahab of Israel. They successfully opposed himat the battle karkar in 853 BC. Internal disagreements marked the end ofShalmaneser’s reign, and many of his conquests were lost.
Assyrian power began with Tiglath-Peleser III (r. 745-727 BC) taking over thethrone. He began on administrative reforms aimed at strengthening royalauthority over the provinces. Districts were reduced in size and placed undergovernors directly responsible to the king. Outside Assyria, slave states weretaken over and made into Assyrian provinces. In Syria, Tiglath-Pileser foughtand 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 hecaptured Babylon to guard against a Chaldean-led rebellion there and wasproclaimed king of Babylon under the name Pulu (Biblical Pul). Hisadministrative reforms and military victories laid the foundation of theAssyrian Empire. Tiglath-Peleser’s son, Shalmaneser V, is remembered for hissiege of Samaria, the capital of Israel (recorded in 2 Kings: 17-18). H diedduring the siege and was succeeded by Sargon II, who took credit for thedestruction of Samaria and theexile of its people in 722 BC.The end of the Assyrian EmpireThe Assyrian Empire was faced with many challenges, Babylon successfullyresisted Assyrian attempts to remove a Chaldean tribal chief who allied withElam for over 10 years, a crusade against the northern state of Urartu, whichresulted in their defeat and battling with rebellious coastal cities. The waragainst his Elamite ally continued for several years with indecisive results.Finally, after another revolt in Babylon, Sennacherib conquered the city anddestroyed 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 toappease the Babylonian’s. During his reign, incursions by the Cimmerians andScythians posed serious threats to Assyrian possessions in Anatolia and Media(northwest Iran), the latter of which was a major source of horses for theAssyrian 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 manyrevolts. 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 toHarran on the northwest frontier. In 605 BC, Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar,defeated an Egyptian army that had come to the aid of the Assyrians, thuscompleting the destruction of the Assyrian state.
Assyrian Society and CultureBefore the development of modern archaeology, the Bible was the chief source ofinformation about Assyria. The image of Assyria by the biblical accounts is oneof irresistible military might. It was seen as an instrument of God’s wrathagainst a sinful people. Archaeological excavations, have unearthed themonuments and written records of the Assyrians kings, confirming this pictureof military prowess and terrible brutality. They maimed, burned, speared anddenounced harshly their captives.
They wanted to instill terror and discouragerebellion. They also deported to cities and farmlands the enemy populations.Assyria dominated Babylonia politically, however, culturally was dependent onthe 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 magicaltexts, providing a representative sample of Babylonian scholastic literature.Assyrian art is usually associated with the colossal winged bulls and lionsthat guarded the entrances of their palaces, but even finer are the bas-reliefson 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.Social Issues