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The Assyrian Empire



The Assyrians were Semitic people living in the northern reaches of Mesopotamia; they have a long history in the area, but for most of that history they are subjugated to the more powerful kingdoms and peoples to the south. The new state grew around four cities fed by the waters or tributaries of the Tigris: Ashur, Arbela, Nimrud (or Calah) and Nineveh.

The god Ashur gave his name to the city Ashur, and then to the whole of Assyria. There, the earliest of the nation's kings had their residence, until its exposure to the heat of the desert and the attack of the neighboring Babylonians led Ashur's rulers to build a secondary capital in cooler Nineveh, named after Nina, the Ishtar of Assyria.

They took their common language and their arts from Sumeria, but modified them later into an almost undistinguishable similarity to the language and arts of Babylonia. However, unlike Babylon, from beginning to end they were a race of warriors, more crueler and more brutal that any other race before. Their history is one of kings and slaves, wars and conquests, bloody victories and sudden defeat.


 Early Empires and Dependency

About 1810 BC an Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad I (reigned 1813-1780 BC), succeeded in extending the territory of Assyria from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. Shamshi-Adad may have been the first ruler to establish a centrally organized empire in the ancient Middle East. He divided his kingdom into districts under specially appointed administrators and councils, instituted a system of couriers, and took a census of the population at regular intervals. This first Assyrian Empire did not last long, however; Shamshi-Adad's son, Ishme-Dagan I, (reigned circa 1780-1760 BC),was defeated about 1760 BC by the Babylonian king Hammurabi, and Assyria became part of the Babylonian Empire.

The Babylonian Empire was also short-lived. The Kassites, a non-Semitic people, invaded Babylonia in the 16th century BC and seized political power. Another non-Semitic mountain people, the Hurrians, infiltrated practically all northern Mesopotamia and even reached Palestine to the west. Close behind the Hurrians, and to some extent intermingling with them, came an Indo-European people whose name is unknown. As a result of these migrations and wanderings, the 16th century BC was one of turmoil in Mesopotamian history. About 1500 BC Assyria became a dependency of Mitanni, a kingdom of imperial proportions that had extended its sway over all northern Mesopotamia. Assyria remained in subjection until early in the 14th century, when the Mitanni Kingdom suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the rising empire of the Hittites to the north. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit I (reigned 1364-1328 BC) freed Assyria from the Mitanni yoke and even annexed some of its

Altar of Tukulti-Ninurta I


Ashur-uballit I was succeeded by a series of vigorous rulers, notably Adad-nirari I (reigned 1307-1274 BC), Shalmaneser I (reigned 1274-1244 BC), and Tukulti-Ninurta I (reigned 1244-1207 BC). They were successful in extending the Assyrian boundaries and in keeping at bay their powerful neighbors, the Urartians, the Hittites, the Babylonians, and the Lullubi.

Beginning with the monarch, Tukulti-Ninurta , Assyria began its first conquests, in this case the conquest of Babylon. The Assyrian dream of empire began with the monarch, Tiglat-Pileser I (1115-1076), who extended Assyrian dominance to Syria and Armenia. At the time of Tiglath-Pileser's death, Assyria was enjoying a period of tranquillity, which did not last, however, very long; for we find his two sons and successors, seeking offensive and defensive alliances with the Kings of Babylonia


 Beginning of the Neo Assyrian Empire

Ashurnasirpal II
From about 1070 to 950 B.C., a gap of more than one hundred years presents itself in the history of Assyria. But from 950 B.C. down to the fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire (609 B.C.) the history of Assyria is very completely represented in documents. Towards 970 B.C., Tiglathpileser II was king over Assyria. In 935 B.C. he was succeeded by his son, Assuhr-Dan II, and about 911 B.C. by the latter's son, Adad-nirari II, who, in 889 B.C., was succeeded by his son, Tukulti-Ninurta II. The last two monarchs appear to have undertaken several successful expeditions against Babylonia and the regions north of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninurta's successor was his son Asshur-Nasir-Pal (884-859 B.C.), with whose accession to the throne began a long career of victory that placed Assyria at the head of the great powers of that age. He was a great conqueror, soldier, organizer, hunter, and builder, but fierce and cruel.

In his many military campaigns he invaded, subdued, and conquered, after a series of devastations and raids, all the regions north, south, east, and west of Assyria, from the mountains of Armenia down to Babylon, and from the mountains of Kurdistan and Lake Urmi to the Mediterranean. He crossed the Euphrates and the Orontes, penetrated into the Lebanon region, attacked Karkemish, the capital of the Hittites (Neo-Hittite) , invaded Syria, and compelled the cities of the Mediterranean coast (such as Tyre, Sidon, Bylos, and Arvad ) to pay tribute.

Asshur-Nasir-Pal was succeeded by his son, Shalmaneser III, who during his reign made an expedition to the West with the object of subduing Damascus. In this memorable campaign he came into direct touch with Israel and their king Achab who happened to be one of the allies of Benhadad, King of Damascus. In describing this expedition the Assyrian monarch goes on to say that he approached Karkar, a town to the southwest of Karkemish, and the royal residence of Irhulini

After Shalmneser III came his son Shamshi-Adad V (824 B.C.), who, in order to quell the rebellion caused by his elder son, Asshur-Danin-Pal, undertook four campaigns. He also fought and defeated the Babylonian King, Marduk-balatsuiqbi, and his powerful army. Shamshi-Adad V was succeeded by his son, Adad-Nirari III (811 B.C.). This king undertook several expeditions against Media, Armenia, the land of Nairi, and the region around Lake Urmi, and subjugated all the coastlands of the West, including Tyre, Sidon, Edom, Philistia, and the "land of Omri", i.e. Israel. Adad-Nirari III also claimed sovereignty over Babylonia. In one of his inscriptions, which are unfortunately scarce and laconic, he mentions the name of his wife, Sammuramat, which is the only Assyrian or Babylonian name discovered so far having any phonetic resemblance to that of the famous legendary queen, Semiramis. The personal identity of the two queens, however, is not admissible. Adad-Nirari III was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV (782-772 B.C.), and the latter by Asshur-Dan III (773-754 B.C.). Of these three kings we know little, as no adequate inscriptions of their reigns have come down to us.


 World Empire

Tiglath-pileser III in triumph.
From Nimrud, about 730 B.C

In the year 745 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III seized the throne of Assyria, at Nineveh. For the first time in history the idea of centralization was introduced into politics; the conquered provinces were organized under an elaborate bureaucracy at the head of which was the king, each district paying a fixed tribute and providing a military contingent.

The Assyrian forces became a standing army, which, by successive improvements and careful discipline, was moulded into an irresistible fighting machine, and Assyrian policy was directed towards the definite object of reducing the whole civilized world into a single empire and thereby throwing its trade and wealth into Assyrian hands. With this object, after terrorizing Armenia and the Medes and breaking the power of the Hittites, Tiglath-Pileser III secured the high-roads of commerce to the Mediterranean together with the Phoenician seaports and then made himself master of Babylonia. In 729 BC the summit of his ambition was attained, and he was invested With the sovereignty of Asia in the holy city of Babylon.

Two years later he died but his successor, who took the name of Shalmaneser IV, continued the policy he had begun. Shalmaneser died suddenly in Tebet 722 B.C., while pressing the siege of Samaria, and the seizure of the throne by another general, Sargon, on the 12th of the month, gave the Babylonians an opportunity to revolt. The Babylonian prince Marduk-baladan, entered Babylon and was there crowned legitimate king. For twelve years he successfully resisted the Assyrians; but the failure of his allies in the west to act in concert with him, and the overthrow of the Elamites, eventually compelled him to flee to his ancestral domains in the marshes of southern Babylonia. Sargon, who meanwhile had crushed the confederacy of the northern nations, had taken (717 B.C.) the Hittite stronghold of Catchemish and had annexed the future kingdom of Ecbatana, was now accepted as king by the Babylonian priests, and his claim to be the successor of Sargon of Akkad acknowledged up to the time of his murder in 705 B.C.

His son and successor - Sennacherib, did not possess the military or administrative abilities of his father; and the success of his reign was not commensurate with the vanity of the ruler. He was never crowned at Babylon, which was in a perpetual state of revolt until, in 691 B.C., he shocked the religious and political conscience of Asia by razing the holy city of Babylon to the ground. His campaign against Hezekiach of Judah was as much a failure as his policy in Babylonia, and in his murder by his sons on 681 B.C. both Babylonians and Jews saw the judgment of heaven.

Esarhaddon, who succeeded him, was of different calibre from his father. He was commanding the army in a campaign against Ararat at the time of the murder; forty-two days later the murderers fled from Nineveh and took refuge at the court of Ararat. But the Armenian army was utterly defeated near Malatia, and at the end of the day Esarhaddon was saluted by his soldiers as king. He there upon returned to Nineveh and on the formally ascended the throne.

One of his first acts was to restore Babylon, and to re-people the city with such of the priests and the former population as had survived massacre. Then he was solemnly declared king in the temple of Bel-Merodach, which had again risen from its ruins, and Babylon became the second capital of the empire. Esarhaddon's policy was successful and Babylonia remained contentedly quiet throughout his reign.

In February (674 B.C.) the Assyrians entered upon their invasion of Egypt, and in March 670 B.C. an expedition on an unusually large scale set out from Nineveh. The Egyptian frontier was crossed on June, Egyptian forces, were driven to Memphis after fifteen days of continuous fighting, during which the Egyptians were defeated with heavy losses. Next Memphis was entered by the victorious army and Tirhaka (Egyptian commander) fled to the south. Two years later (668 BC) Egypt revolted, and while on the march to reduce it, Esarhaddon fell ill and died.

Assur-Bani-Pal succeeded him as king of Assyria and its empire, while his brother, Samassumyukin was made viceroy of Babylonia. The arrangement was evidently intended to flatter the Babylonians by giving them once more the semblance of independence. But it failed to work, Samassumyukin became more Babylonian than his subjects. The viceroy claimed to be the successor of the monarchs whose empire had once stretched to the Mediterranean. Even the Summerian language was revived as the official tongue, and a revolt broke out which shook the Assyrian empire to its foundations. After several years of struggle, during which Egypt recovered its independence, Babylon was starved into surrender, and the rebel viceroy and his supporters were put to death.

Ashurbanipal Killing a Lion


Egypt had already recovered its independence (660 B.C.) with the help of mercenaries sent by king of Lydia. Next followed the contest with Elam, in spite of the efforts of Assur-Bani-Pal to ward it off.

Assyria, however, was aided by civil war in Elam itself; the country was wasted with fire and sword, and its capital Susa levelled with the ground. But the long struggle left Assyria maimed and exhausted. It had been drained of both wealth and fighting population; the devastated provinces of Elam and Babylonia could yield nothing with which to supply the needs of the imperial exchequer, and it was difficult to find sufficient troops even to garrison the conquered populations. Assyria, therefore, was ill prepared to face the hordes of Scythinas who now began to har


 Decline of the Empire

The rapid downfall of the Assyrian empire was formerly attributed to military defeat, although it was never clear how the Medes and the Babylonians alone could have accomplished this. More recent work has established that a civil war occurred, weakening the empire so that it could no longer stand up against a foreign enemy. Ashur-Bani-Pal had twin sons. Ashur-Etil-Ilani was appointed successor to the throne, but his twin brother Sin-Shar-Ishkun did not recognize him. The fight between them and their supporters forced the old king to withdraw to Harran, in 632 at the latest, perhaps ruling from there over the western part of the empire until his death in 627. Ashur-Etil-Ilani governed in Assyria from about 633, but a general, Sin-Shum-Lisher, soon rebelled against him and proclaimed himself counter-king. Some years later Sin-Shar-Ishkun finally succeeded in obtaining the kingship. In Babylonian documents dates can be found for all three kings. In 626 the Chaldean Nabopolassar (Nabu-apal-usur) revolted from Uruk and occupied Babylon. There were several changes in government. King Ashur-Etel-Ilani was forced to withdraw to the west, where he died (621?).

About the year 626 the Scythians laid waste to Syria and Palestine. In 625 the Medes under Cyaxares began to conquer the Iranian provinces of Assyria. One chronicle relates of wars between Sin-Shar-Ishkun and Nabopolassar in Babylonia in 625-623. It was not long until the Assyrians were driven out of Babylonia. In 616 the Medes struck against Nineveh, but, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, were driven back by the Scythians. In 615, however, the Medes conquered Arrapkha (Kirkuk), and in 614 they took the old capital of Ashur, looting and destroying the city. Now Cyaxares and Nabopolassar made an alliance for the purpose of dividing Assyria. In 612 Kalakh and Nineveh succumbed to the superior strength of the allies. The revenge taken on the Assyrians was terrible. Sin-shar-ishkun, king of Assyria, found death in his burning palace. The commander of the Assyrian army in the west crowned himself king in the city of Harran, assuming the name of the founder of the empire, Ashur-Uballit II (612-609 BC). Ashur-Uballit had to face both the Babylonians and the Medes. They conquered Harran in 610, without, however, destroying the city completely. In 609 the remaining Assyrian troops had to capitulate. With this event Assyria disappeared from history. The great empires that succeeded it learned a great deal from the Assyrians, both in the arts and in the organization of their states.


Tiglath-Pileser III established the most efficient military, financial, and administrative system the world had yet seen. The army was its heart. He abolished the militia organization and built the state around a standing regular army. The principal business of the nation became war; its wealth and prosperity were sustained by booty and by supervision of trade and finance. A semimilitary bureaucracy carried out the functions of government at home and in the conquered regions, setting the first pattern of centralized imperiał control over far-flung provincial territories.

Assyrian Regal Chariot With Two Horses

This was the first truly military society of history. No effort was spared which would contribute to the efficiency of the army, or which would assure continued Assyrian supremacy over all possible foes. The Assyrians were the first to recognize fully the advantage of iron over bronze. As early as 1000 B.C. their militia armies had been completely equipped with weapons, chariots, and armor made of iron. Tiglath-pileser saw to it that this technical superiority was maintained by constant and systematic improvement of weapons, and by the careful training of the soldiers in the use of their arms.

The bulk of the army was comprised of large masses of spearmen, slow-moving and cumbersome, but relatively morę maneuverable than similar infantry formations of other peoples of the time. Their irresistible advance was the culminating phase of a typical Assyrian battle plan.

In the Assyrian Army the archers were more highly organized than their counterparts elsewhere and evidently had stronger bows, from which they fired iron-tipped arrows with deadly accuracy. They created confusion in the enemy ranks in preparation for a closely coordinated chanot and cavalry charge.

The main striking force of the Assyrian Army was the corps of horse-drawn, two-wheeled chariots. Their mission was to smash their way through the ranks of enemy infantry. Like their contemporaries, the Assyrians used chariots in simple, brute force, but employed them in larger numbers, with more determination, and in closer coordination with archers, spearmen, and cavalry.

The cavalry was the smallest element of the army, but probably the best trained and equipped. The noble horsemen fought with a combination of discipline, skill, and ingenuity not possible in the other elements of the army. Only the cavalry could be employed in the occasional maneuvers attempted in battle.

The art of fortification had been well developed in the Middle East before 1000 B.C. The great walls of the large cities were almost invulnerable to the means of attack available within the limited technology of the times.

The Assyrians greatly improved the techniques of siegecraft and attack of fortifications. Accompanying their armies were siege trains and various forms of specialized equipment, including materials for building large movable wooden towers (protected from the flaming arrows of defenders by dampened leather hides) and heavy battering rams.

Assyrian Besiegers

From the tops of the wooden towers, skilled archers would sweep the walls of the defenders, to prevent interference with the work of demolition, while nearby other archers, sheltered by the shields of spearmen, would fire arrows-some of them flaming in a high trajectory over the walls, to harass the defenders and to terrify the population. The methods used by the Assyrians did not originate with them, but were pparently borrowed from the Sumerians. But it was the skill and organization of mployment which brought success to Assyrian siegecraft.

The high degree of organization of the Assyrian Army is clearły evidenced by its ability to fight successfully over all kinds of terrain. The organizational details have not been preserved in the fragmentary records available to us, but their field armies may occasionally have approached a strength of 50,000 men. Forces of such size would have required large suppły trains for desert or mountain operations, and could have functioned only with smoothly operating start and logistical systems.

Terror was another factor contributing greatly to Assyrian success. Their exceptional cruelty and ferocity were possibly reflections of callousness developed over centuries of defense of their homeland against savage enemies. But theirs was also a calculated policy of terror-possibly the earliest example of organized psychological warfare. It was not unusual for them to kill every man, woman, and child in captured cities. Sometimes they would carry away entire populations into captivity. The policies and procedures of Tiglath-Pileser III were employed with vigor and ferocity by his successors and proved invaluable in maintaining security.


 List of Kings

House of Shamshi-Adad
Shamshi-Adad I c. 1813-1781
Ishme-Dagan I c. 1780-1741
Mut-Ashkur, c. 1740-1730
Rimu......, c. 1730-1727
Asinum, c. 1726
Usurpers Puzur-Sin, c. 1726-1707
Ashur-dugul, c. 1706-
Adad-salulu, -1701

House of Adasi*
Adasi, c. 1701
Belu-bani, c. 1700-1691

*Adasi was the last of the usurpers.
His dynasty lasts until 1014 BC

Libaia 1690-1673 BC
Sharma-Adad I 1673-1661 BC
Iptar-Sin 1661-1649 BC
Bazaia. 1649-1621 BC
Lullaia 1621-1615 BC
Kidin-Ninua 1615-1601 BC
Sharma-Adad II 1601-1598 BC
Erishum III 1598-1585 BC
Shamshi-Adad II. 1585-1579 BC
Ishme-Dagan II. 1579-1563 BC
Shamshi-Adad III 1563-1547 BC
Ashur-Nirari I. 1547-1521 BC
Puzur-Ashur III 1521-1497 BC
Enlil-Nasir I. 1497-1483 BC
Nur-Ili1483-c. 1475 BC

Mitanni vassalage
Ashur-Shaduni. 1475 -1472 BC
Ashur-Rabi I. 1472-1452 BC
Ashur-Nadin-Ahhe I. 1452-1432 BC
Enlil-Nasir II. 1432-1426 BC
Ashur-Nirari II. 1426-1419 BC
Ashur-Bel-Nisheshu 1419-1410 BC
Ashur-Rim-Nisheshu. 1410-1402 BC
Ashur-Nadin-Ahhe II 1402-1392 BC

Eriba-Adad I. 1392-1365 BC
Ashur-Uballit I. 1365-1329 BC


Enlil-Nirari. 1329-1319 BC
Arik-Den-Ili 1319-1307 BC
Adad-Nirari I. 1307-1274 BC
Shalmaneser I 1274-1244 BC
Tukulti-Ninurta I. 1244-1207 BC
Ashur-Nadin-Apli 1207-1203 BC
Ashur-Nirari III. 1203-1197 BC
Enlil-Kudurri-Usur. 1197-1192 BC
Ninurta-Apil-Ekur I. 1192-1180 BC
Ashur-Dan I. .1180- ?
Ninurta-Tukulti-Ashur (?)
Mutakkil-Nusku. 1179-1133 BC
Ashur-Resh-Ishi. 1133-1115 BC
Tiglathpileser I (Tukulti-apal-Esharra), 1115-1077
Ashared-apil-Ekur, 1076-1075
Ashur-bel-kala, 1074-1057
Eriba-Adad II, 1056-1055
Shamshi-Adad IV, 1054-1051
Ashurnasirpal I, 1050-1032
Shalmaneser II, 1031-1020
Ashur-nirari IV, 1019-1014

House of Ashur-rabi II
Ashur-rabi II, 1013-973
Ashur-resha-ishi II, 972-968
Tiglathpileser II, 967-935
Ashur-Dan II 935-911 BC
Adad-Nirari II. 911-889 BC
Tukulti-Ninurta II. 889-884 BC
Ashur-Nasir-Pal II. 884-859 BC
Shalmaneser III. 859-824 BC
Shamshi-Adad V. 824-811 BC
Adad-Nirari III 811-782 BC
Shalmaneser IV. 782-772 BC
Ashur-Dan III 772-754 BC
Ashur-Nirari IV. 754-745 BC
Tiglath-Pileser III. 745-727 BC
Shalmaneser V. 727-722 BC

House of Sargon II
Sargon II. 722-705 BC
Sennecherib 705-681 BC
Esarhaddon. 681-669 BC
Ashur-Bani-Pal. 669-626 BC
Ashur-Etil-Ilani. 626-621 opposed by Sin-Shum-Lishir the Usurper 626 -? BC
Sin-Shar-Ishkun. 621-612 BC
Ashur-Uballit II. 612-609 BC


Mark Healy, Agnus McBride "the Ancient Assyrians" Trevor&Ernest Dupuy "
The Encyclopedia of Military History"