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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
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.
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