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ASSYRIA: THE MIGHT OF ANCIENT IRAQ INFORMATION & PICTURES SOURCED FROM NELSON ANCIENT HISTORY, THE NEAR EAST
introduction Assyrian culture was spread widely through the Near East from approximately 3000 BCE. It was influential in spreading religion, art as well as advances in science, technology and medicine during this time. The powerful Assyrian Empire rose to power in 744 BCE, under the rule of Tiglath-Pileser III. Using their superior military and technology, the Assyrians swept across the Fertile Crescent like a destructive storm. They would either threaten their enemies into submission or crush them in battle. When they controlled a new territory, they would relocate the recently conquered people to other areas of the Assyrian Empire as slaves.
Introduction continued The Assyrians were the dominant culture in the land until 608 BCE when they were defeated by the Medes (who would later join together with the Persians to form a great empire). The Assyrian Empire stretched across modern day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The Assyrians were one of the most brutal and cruel nations in all of history, though they should not be remembered for this alone. they also built impressive cities, magnificent palaces, imposing temples. Citizens of their cities had constant flowing water, cities had beautiful gardens and parks and public libraries contained huge works of literature, religion, history, science and medicine.
Significant sites: The Royal Cities Ashur (or Assur) Nimrud (or Calah) Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad) Nineveh
Ashur Became the capital of the Assyrian Empire sometime between 1363-1328 BCE It remained the religious capital for more than 600 years. Ashur, the god of the city, became the chief-god of the whole empire and was responsible for determining the fate of kings. “The god Ashur … has entrusted me with unrivalled kingship.” (Sennacherib’s Annals) Location: the city was built at the top of a cliff edge, above the Tigris River. It was also the central point of many trade roads to the west and the north-west. The largest buildings in the city was Ashur’s temple, a ziggurat built to Ashur and Enlil, and a temple to Ishtar.
Nimrud Was the capital of the Assyrian Empire between 883-824 BCE, and maybe after this date also (historians cannot agree about this) Assurnasripal II built: a large palace; a temple and a ziggurat to the god, Ninurta; a temple to Nabu; a huge military arsenal; large domestic housing, similar to apartment buildings. Assurnasripal II decorated his palace with dramatic scenes of hunting lions and bulls as well as his war against the Hittites. Nimrud remained one of the most important military cities until the end of the Assyrian Empire.
Black Obelisk In 1846, archaeologist Henry Layard a 2m high stele. It is a large stone with four sides, recording the 31 year history of the reign of Shalmaneser III (son of Assurnasripal II). On one panel of this stone is recorded a visit by King Jehu, son of Omri, who made a large tribute payment to Shalmaneser III. King Jehu was King of Israel between 841-813 bce. This is the only picture that archaeologists have found of a king of Israel so far.
Dur-Sharrukin Dur-Sharrukin, the Fortress of Sargon, was built by King Sargon II in 722 BCE, to replace the city of Nimrud. (Today, there is a modern city, named Khorsabad on this site.) Sargon II built this military fortress to defend against the Urartu tribes and to protect a very important road through the Taurus mountains. There were seven gates that allowed entrance through the city walls. There was a large palace, many administration buildings, a large city square where people could meet together and many homes for administration people. The city was dedicated in 706 bce, though the royal family didn’t have a chance to live there as Sargon was killed in 705 bce.
Nineveh For a long time, Nineveh wasn’t an important city. It was the religious capital for the worship of the goddess Ishtar. After Sargon II died, his son, Sennacherib chose Nineveh as his capital city. After this, it was made into a city without rival. Sennacherib built a huge palace, consisting of more than 70 rooms. The walls are covered in detailed pictures and written information about Assyrian society and life. Sennacherib improved the water supply to the city and also to the surrounding farmland by ordering the construction of canals and aqueducts. He built new roads, widened existing roads, built parks and new walls and gates to protect the city.
Nineveh continued Sennacherib also built a huge military palace/arsenal for his army headquarters, as well as storage houses for booty and military equipment. Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son, extended the military palace and also built another arsenal in the city. Sennacherib’s grandson, Ashurbanipal also added many buildings to the city. The most exciting find for archaeologists and historians is the Royal Library. It contained thousands of clay tablets and cylinders with written records about myths, religious rituals, royal letters, contracts and magical incantations. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 bce by a combined army of Chaldeans (Babylonians) and Medes. The leader of the army was Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar.
Nineveh is destroyed Nahum 2:1,6: “An attacker advances against you, Nineveh… Guard the fortress, watch the road. Brace yourself, marshal all your strength! … The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses; it is decreed that the city be exiled and carried away.” Archaeologist, Henry Layard, identifies that the city was destroyed by fire: “The sculptures, faintly seen through the gloom, were still well preserved… although, with the rest of the bas-reliefs of [the palace], the fire had nearly [destroyed them]… and had cracked them into a thousand pieces.”
Tiglath-Pileser III: 745-727 BCE Tiglath-Pileser III is considered the founder of the neo-Assyrian empire. Historians think that before he became king, he could see that Assyria was loosing power and beginning to fail. So he started a revolution and rebellion in Calah. From the chaos and confusion, he proclaimed himself as king. He became king in April 745 BCE
The Founding of an Empire Five months after he became king, he took an army to crush the Chaldean tribes, who were harassing Babylon. Tiglath-Pileser III made many political reforms to increase control and power over his empire. He also extended the borders of the Assyrian empire by defeating enemies through military and economic methods.
Tiglath-Pileser III’s Reforms Each province was divided into smaller administrative areas. Each of these were ruled by administrators appointed by the king. A permanent, professional army was created, rather than relying on amateur conscripts. Rules and methods to make military structure and movement more efficient were also put into effect. Weapons and war machines were improved. Cavalry soldiers were created, because they were faster and more flexible than heavy, slow chariots. A communication system was set up with new roads and horse-back messenger services. Ruling families of newly captured territories were often allowed to continue ruling. But the had to pay tribute to the Assyrian king and accept his administrative instructions when he insisted. Small Assyrian armies were left in these states/cities to enforce order, to collect taxes and to remind the people who was the ‘high-king’. Newly captured peoples were frequently deported and resettled in other areas of the empire. This served the double purpose of reducing the chance of rebellions and provided the empire with a labour (slave) workforce.
Military Activities To the south: Babylon Tiglath-Pileser III formed an agreement with the Babylonian king (Nabu-Nasir) to provide protection for Babylon in return for payment. After Nabu-Nasir died, some Chaldean tribes, led by Ukin-Ezer, took the throne of Babylon. In 729 bce, Tiglath-Pileser III tricked Ukin-Ezer into surrendering Babylon to Assyria. Tiglath-Pileser III to the name King Pul of Babylon. He also captured territories south of Babylon. Assyrian kings remained as rulers of Babylon until a Chaldean named Merodach-Baladan II rebelled against Sargon II in 722 bce.
Military Activities To the North: Urartu Tiglath-Pileser III believed that the Urartu territories belonged within the Assyrian empire. He faced several battles against united Urartu (and others) tribes. Often his Tiglath-Pileser’s army was outnumbered, though he only ever lost one battle against the Urartu tribes. In 735 Tiglath-Pileser III launched an invasion deep into Urartu territory. He captured many new territories, though the siege against the capital city, Turusha was unsuccessful, it was enough to bring the Urartu to submission.
Military Activities To the East: Medes Tiglath-Pileser III launched an invasion in 744 bce and again 737 bce. He crossed the Zagros Mountains into Media, though the Medes provided very strong resistance. When Tiglath-Pileser III finally defeated them, he plundered their cities, placed Assyrian governors in charge and began a large resettlement program. Some historians say that Tiglath-Pileser III ‘woke a sleeping dragon’ when he crossed the Zagros Mountains and attacked the Medes. It was the Medes who eventually defeated the Assyrian empire in 609 bce.
Military Activities To the West: Israel/Judea Assyrian records describe ‘Azriyau of Yaudi’ as leading an army of united Canaanite peoples against Tiglath-Pileser III when he invaded to the south-west. Many historians consider this king to be Azariah, King of Judah (792-740 bce), see 2 Kings 15. (Some translations call him Uzziah). 2 Kings 15:19 “Pul, king of Assyria, came against the land, and Menahem [king of Israel] gave Pul a thousand talents of silver so that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his rule.”
Military Activities To the West: Israel/Judea In 733-732 bce, Rezin of Demascas, Hiram of Tyre and King Pekah of Israel rebelled against Tiglath-Pileser III. The Assyrians defeated them. Rezin was killed, the people of Damascas and Israel were deported. King Ahaz of Judah did not join the rebellion, so Ahaz was allowed to continue ruling, though he was forced to make regular payments to Assyria. 2 Kings 15:29 “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon and Abel-beth-maacah and Janoah and Kedesh and Hazor and Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.”
The Role of the King Appointed by the gods: Assyrian kings did not think of themselves as divine, although they did think they were the only link between humans and gods. Military commander: the king was expected by the gods and the people to lead armies into battle every spring. Some kings would personally go to battle, though most remained at home to protect against some one taking their throne. Being absent from battle did not stop kings from taking credit for military victories. E.g. Sennacherib describes a battle: “I succeeded… I decimated… I speedily cut down… I cut their throats… I cut off their precious lives.” Historians suggest that Sennacherib was at home in the safety of his palace!
The Role of the King Administrator of the kingdom: Assyrian kings were responsible to the people. Their task was make the gods happy, to provide protection from invasion, be sure their people had enough food, provide access to water, build beautiful cities and gardens and temples. High priest (shangu): Assyria was a very religious society. The gods were responsible for success and failure in all areas of life; Assyrian people believed that beliefs, practices and rituals were very influential in their lives. Kings were considered to be the highest of all priests, in all temples. Kings would perform many sacrifices and other rituals. They would frequently consult omens and divinations to help see the future or consult the gods advice. Sargon II wrote a letter to the god Ashur, asking for support for a military invasion.
The Role of the King Promotor of Justice: Assyrian kings were considered as the highest judge and the ultimate legal authority in the empire. The king was to uphold the traditions and laws of Assyrian society, including the individual legal rights, especially property ownership. The king could also make proclamations and decrees, which were considered the highest authority. Even though the king was the supreme judge, he only occasionally attended legal court sessions; civil administrators filled the practical roles of judge in everyday matters. Economic overseer: Officially, the king owned all the land in the empire. Therefore he was responsible for paying for repairs etc. The king was also responsible for distributing funds to pay for administrators, military officials, religious workers etc.