Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and its expansions.
|Capital||Aššur 934 BC
Nineveh 706 BC
Harran 612 BC
|-||934–912 BC||Ashur-dan II (first)|
|-||612–609 BC||Ashur-uballit II (last)|
|Historical era||Iron Age|
|-||Reign of Ashur-dan II||911 BC|
|-||Battle of Nineveh||612 BC|
|-||Battle of Megiddo||612 BC|
|Today part of|| Iraq
|↑ Bronze Age|
Ancient Near East (1200 BC – 500 BC)
India (1200 BC – 200 BC)
Europe (1200 BC – 1 BC)
China (600 BC – 200 AD)
Japan (100 BC – 300 AD)
Korea (400 BC – 400 AD)
Sub-Saharan Africa (1500 BC – 200 AD)
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The Neo-Assyrian Empire was an empire in Mesopotamian history which began in 934 BC and ended in 609 BC. During this period, Assyria assumed a position as the most powerful state on earth, successfully eclipsing Babylonia, Egypt, Urartu/Armenia and Elam for dominance of the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus, North Africa and east Mediterranean, though not until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BC did it become a vast empire.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire succeeded the Middle Assyrian period and Middle Assyrian Empire (14th to 10th centuries BC). Some scholars, such as Richard Nelson Frye, regard the Neo-Assyrian Empire to be the first real empire in human history. During this period, Aramaic was also made an official language of the empire, alongside the Akkadian language.
- 1 Historical context
- 2 Pre-reform Assyrian Empire 911-745 BC
- 3 Tiglath-Pileser III, 744-727 BC
- 4 Sargonid dynasty
- 5 The fall of Assyria, 627–605 BC
- 6 Assyria after the fall
- 7 The role of the Aramaic language
- 8 Culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Assyria was originally an Akkadian kingdom which evolved in the 25th to 24th centuries BC. The earliest Assyrian kings such as Tudiya were relatively minor rulers, and after the founding of the Akkadian Empire, which lasted from 2334 BC to 2154 BC, these kings became subject to Sargon of Akkad, who united all the Akkadian and Sumerian speaking peoples of Mesopotamia under one rule.
The urbanised Akkadian nation of Assyria emerged in the 21st century BC, and largely evolved from the dissolution of the Akkadian Empire. In the Old Assyrian period of the Early Bronze Age, Assyria had been a kingdom of northern Mesopotamia (modern-day northern Iraq), competing for dominance initially with the Hattians and Hurrians of Asia Minor, and the ancient Sumero-Akkadian "city states" such as Isin, Ur and Larsa, and later with Babylonia which was founded by Amorites in 1894 BC, and often under Kassite rule. During the 20th century BC, it established colonies in Asia Minor, and under the 20th century BC King Ilushuma, Assyria conducted many successful raids against the states of the south. It had experienced fluctuating fortunes in the Middle Assyrian period.
Assyria had a period of empire under Shamshi-Adad I in the late 19th to mid-18th centuries BC, following this it found itself under short periods of Babylonian and Mitanni-Hurrian domination in the 17th and 15th centuries BC respectively, followed by another period of great power and empire from 1365 BC to 1074 BC, that included the reigns of great kings such as Ashur-uballit I, Tukulti-Ninurta I and Tiglath-Pileser I.
During the ancient 'Dark Ages' Assyria remained a strong and stable nation, unlike its rivals. Beginning with the campaigns of Adad-nirari II, it again became a great power, overthrowing the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt and conquering Egypt, Babylonia, Elam, Urartu, Media, Persia, Mannea, Gutium, Phoenicia/Canaan, Aramea (Syria), Arabia, Israel, Judah, Philistia, Edom, Moab, Samarra, Cilicia, Cyprus, Chaldea, Nabatea, Commagene, Dilmun and the Hurrians, Shutu and neo Hittites; driving the Nubians, Kushites and Ethiopians from Egypt; defeating the Cimmerians and Scythians; and exacting tribute from Phrygia, Magan and Punt among others.
Assyria finally succumbed to a coalition of Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes/Persians, Scythians, and others at the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, and the sacking of its last capital Harran in 608 BC. More than half a century later, Babylonia and Assyria became provinces of the Persian Empire. Though the Assyrians during the reign of Ashurbanipal destroyed the Elamite civilization, the Assyrians' culture did influence the succeeding empires of the Medes and the Persians, Indo-Iranian peoples who had been dominated by Assyria.
Pre-reform Assyrian Empire 911-745 BC
After the death of Tiglath-Pileser I in 1076 BC, Assyria was in comparative decline for the next 150 years. The period from 1200 BC to 900 BC was a dark age for the entire Near East, North Africa, Caucasus, Mediterranean and Balkan regions, with great upheavals and mass movements of people. Despite the apparent weakness of Assyria, at heart it in fact remained a solid, well defended nation whose warriors were the best in the world.
Assyria was in a stronger position during this time than potential rivals such as Egypt, Babylonia, Elam, Phrygia, Urartu, Persia and Media Kings such as Ashur-bel-kala, Asharid-apal-Ekur, Ashur-rabi II, Tiglath-Pileser II and Ashur-Dan II successfully defended Assyria's borders and upheld stability during this tumultuous time.
Expansion up to 858 BC
This long period of isolation ended with the accession in 911 BC of Adad-nirari II. He firmly subjugated the areas previously under only nominal Assyrian vassalage, conquering and deporting troublesome Aramean and Hurrian populations in the north to far-off places. Adadinirari II then twice attacked and defeated Shamash-mudammiq of Babylonia, annexing a large area of land north of the Diyala river and the towns of Hit and Zanqu in mid Mesopotamia. He made further gains over Babylonia under Nabu-shuma-ukin I later in his reign. He was succeeded by Tukulti-Ninurta II in 891 BC, who further consolidated Assyria's position and expanded northwards into Asia Minor and the Zagros Mountains during his short reign.
The next king, Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), embarked on a vast program of expansion, first conquering the peoples to the north as far as Nairi near Lake Van, then conquering the Aramaeans and Neo Hittites between the Khabur and the Euphrates. His harshness prompted a revolt that was crushed decisively in a pitched, two-day battle. Following this victory, he advanced without opposition through Aram (modern Syria) and Asia Minor as far as the Mediterranean and exacted tribute from Phrygia and Phoenicia.
Ashurnasirpal II also campaigned in the Zagros Mountains in modern Iran, repressing a revolt against Assyrian rule by the Lullubi and Gutians. Unlike any before, the Assyrians began boasting in their ruthlessness around this time. Ashurnasirpal II also moved his capital to the city of Kalhu (Calah/Nimrud). The palaces, temples and other buildings raised by him bear witness to a considerable development of wealth and art. Ashurnasirpal II also built a number of citadels and fortresses such as Kar Ashurnasirpal.
Reign of Shalmaneser III (858–823 BC)
Ashurnasirpal's son, Shalmaneser III (858–823 BC), had a long reign of 34 years, when the capital was converted into an armed camp. Each year the Assyrian armies marched out to campaign. Babylon was occupied, and Babylonia reduced to vassalage. He fought against Urartu and marched an army against an alliance of Aramean states headed by Hadadezer of Damascus and including Ahab, king of Israel, at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC. Despite Shalmaneser's description of 'vanquishing the opposition', it seems that the battle ended in a deadlock, as the Assyrian forces were withdrawn soon afterwards.
Shalmaneser took the neo Hittite state of Carchemish in 849 BC, and in 841 BC marched an army against Hazael, King of Damascus, besieging the city and forcing tribute, but not taking it. He also brought under tribute Jehu of Israel, and the Phoenician states of Tyre, and Sidon. His black obelisk, discovered at Kalhu, records many military exploits of his reign.
Rebellion at the end of his reign
The last four years of Shalmaneser's life were disturbed by the rebellion of his eldest son Ashur-nadin-aplu that nearly proved fatal to Assyria.
Twenty seven cities, including Assur, Arbela, Arrapkha (Kirkuk) and other places joined the pretender. The rebellion was not directed primarily against the king, but rather against the provisional governors such as Dayan-Ashur who had assumed disproportionate power. The revolt was quashed with difficulty by Shamshi-Adad V, Shalmaneser's second son, who succeeded him upon his death in 824 BC.
The long and bitter civil war had allowed the Babylonians to the south, the Medes, Manneans and Persians to the north and east and the Arameans and neo Hittites in the west to largely shake off Assyrian rule, and Shamshi-Adad V took the remainder of his reign to reassert control over these peoples. During this period Urartu took the opportunity to reassert its influence on the region. As a result of all these events, Assyria did not expand further during the reign of Shamshi-Adad V. Adad-nirari III was a boy when succeeding his father in 810 BC, and for four years until 806 BC, his mother, Queen Semiramis (Sammuramat) ruled as regent in his stead. Many legends abound regarding this queen; however she is mentioned little in Assyrian records of the time.
In 806 BC Adad-nirari III took the reins of power. He invaded the Levant and subjugated the Arameans, Phoenicians, Philistines, Israelites, neo Hittites and Edomites. He entered Damascus and forced tribute upon its king Ben-Hadad III. He next turned to Iran, and subjugated the Persians, Medes and Manneans, and penetrating as far as the Caspian Sea. His next targets were the Chaldean and Sutu tribes of south eastern Mesopotamia whom he conquered and reduced to vassalage.
Period of stagnation, 782–745 BC
Adad-nirari III died prematurely in 782 BC and this led to a period of true stagnation. Shalmaneser IV (782 - 773 BC) seems to have wielded little authority, and a victory over Argishti I, king of Urartu at Til Barsip is accredited to a general ('Turtanu') named Shamshi-ilu who does not even bother to mention his king. Shamshi-ilu also scored victories over the Arameans and neo Hittites, and again, takes personal credit at the expense of his king.
Ashur-dan III ascended the throne in 772 BC. He proved to be a largely ineffectual ruler who was beset by internal rebellions in the cities Ashur, Arrapkha and Guzana. He failed to make further gains in Babylonia and Aram (Syria). His reign was also marred by Plague and an ominous Solar Eclipse. Ashur-nirari V became king in 754 BC, his reign seems to have been one of permanent revolution, and he appears to have barely left his palace in Nineveh until he was deposed by Tiglath-pileser III in 745 BC bringing a resurgence to Assyria.
Tiglath-Pileser III, 744-727 BC
When Tiglath-Pileser III ascended the throne Assyria was in the throes of a revolution. Civil war and pestilence were devastating the country, and many of its most northerly colonies in Asia Minor had been wrested from it by Urartu. In 746 BC the city of Kalhu joined the rebels, and on the 13th of Iyyar in the following year, an Assyrian general (Turtanu) named Pulu, took the name of Tiglath-pileser III, seized the crown, and made sweeping changes to the Assyrian government, considerably improving its efficiency and security.
The conquered provinces were organized under an elaborate bureaucracy, with the king at the head — each district paying a fixed tribute and providing a military contingent. The Assyrian forces at this time became a professional standing army, that by successive improvements became an irresistible fighting machine; and Assyrian policy was henceforth directed toward reducing the whole civilized world into a single empire, throwing its trade and wealth into Assyrian hands. These changes are often identified as the beginning of the "Second Assyrian Empire".
When Tiglath-Pileser III had ascended the throne of Assyria, he invaded Babylonia, defeated its king Nabonassar, and abducted the gods of Šapazza; the Assyrian-Babylonian Chronicle informs us (ABC 1 Col.1:5). After subjecting Babylon to tribute, defeating Urartu and conquering the Medes, Persians and Neo-Hittites, Tiglath-Pileser III directed his armies into Aramea, of which large swathes had regained independence, and the commercially successful Mediterranean seaports of Phoenicia. He took Arpad near Aleppo in 740 BC after a siege of three years, and razed Hamath. Azariah, king of Judah had been an ally of the king of Hamath, and thus was compelled by Tiglath-Pileser to do him homage and pay yearly tribute.
Invasion of Israel (738 BC)
In 738 BC, in the reign of Menahem, king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser III occupied Philistia (Palestine) and invaded Israel, imposing on it a heavy tribute (2 Kings 15:19). Ahaz, king of Judah, engaged in a war against Israel and Aramea, appealed for help to the Assyrian king by means of presents of gold and silver (2 Kings 16:8); Tiglath-Pileser III accordingly "marched against Damascus, defeated and put king Rezin to death, and besieged the city itself". Leaving part of his army to continue the siege, he advanced, ravaging with fire and sword the provinces east of the Jordan (Nabatea, Moab and Edom), Philistia, and Samaria; and in 732 BC he took the chief Aramean state of Damascus, deporting many of its inhabitants and the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria to Assyria. He also forced tribute from the Arabs of the deserts in the Arabian peninsula.
In 729 BC, Tiglath-Pileser III went to Babylonia and captured Nabu-mukin-zeri, the king of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.1:21). He had himself crowned as King Pulu of Babylon. Tiglath-Pileser III died in 727 BC, and was succeeded by Shalmaneser V. However, King Hoshea of Israel suspended paying tribute, and allied himself with Egypt against Assyria in 725 BC. This led Shalmaneser to invade Syria (2 Kings 17:5) and besiege Samaria (capital city of Israel) for three years (ABC 1 Col.1:27).
Sargon II, 721-705 BC
Shalmaneser V died suddenly in 722 BC while laying siege to Samaria, and the throne was seized by Sargon II, the Turtanu (commander-in-chief of the army, which the Old Testament refers to as Tartan), who then quickly took Samaria, effectively ending the northern Kingdom of Israel and carrying 27,000 people away into captivity into the Israelite diaspora. (2 Kings 17:1–6, 24; 18:7, 9).
Sargon II waged war in his second year (721 BC) against the king of Elam, Humban-Nikash I, and his ally Marduk-apal-iddina II (the biblical Merodach-Baladan), the Chaldean ruler of Babylon, who had thrown off Assyrian rule (2 Kings 20:12), but Sargon was unable to dislodge him on this occasion, as told in ABC 1 Col.1:31-37. Sargon, able to contain the revolt but not actually retake Babylon on this occasion, turned his attention again to Urartu and Aramea, taking Carchemish in 717, as well as re conquering the Medes, Persians and Manneans, penetrating the Iranian Plateau as far as Mount Bikni and building several fortresses. Urartu suffered a crushing defeat, its capital city was sacked and its king Rusas committed suicide in shame. The neo Hittite states of northern Syria were conquered, as was Cilicia and Commagene.
Assyria was belligerent towards Babylonia for ten years while Marduk-apla-iddina ruled Babylon (ABC 1 Col.1:41-42). In 710 BC, Sargon attacked Babylonia and defeated Marduk-apla-iddina, who fled to his protectors in Elam (ABC 1 Col.2:1-3). As a result of this victory the Greek rulers of Cyprus gave allegiance to Assyria and king Midas of Phrygia, fearful of Assyrian power, offered his hand in friendship. Sargon also built a new capital at Dur Sharrukin ("Sargon's City") near Nineveh, with all the tribute Assyria had collected from various nations.
Sennacherib, 705–681 BC
In 705 BC, Sargon was killed in battle while driving out the Cimmerians, who had come down from their homeland on the shores of The Black Sea and attacked the Assyrian-ruled colonies and peoples in Iran, forcing its Persian subjects southwards from their original lands around Urmia. He was succeeded by his son Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13; 19:37; Isa. 7:17, 18), who moved the capital to Nineveh and made the deported peoples work on improving Nineveh's system of irrigation canals. His first task was to affirm his control over Cilicia, which was attempting to rebel with Greek help. Sennacherib marched into Cilicia, defeating the rebels and their Greek allies. He also reasserted Assyria's mastery of Corduene in Asia Minor.
The Egyptians had begun agitating peoples within the Assyrian empire in an attempt to gain a foothold in the region. As a result, in 701 BC, Hezekiah of Judah, Lule king of Sidon, Sidka, king of Ascalon and the king of Ekron formed an alliance with Egypt against Assyria. Sennacherib attacked the rebels, conquering Ascalon, Sidon and Ekron and defeating the Egyptians and driving them from the region. He marched toward Jerusalem, destroying 46 towns and villages (including the heavily defended city of Lachish) in his path. This is graphically described in Isaiah 10; exactly what happened next is unclear (the Bible says an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers at Jerusalem after Hezekiah prayed in the temple) Sennacherib's account says Judah paid him tribute and he left.
The Hebrew Bible states that Hezekiah did pay tribute once, and the Assyrians left, but returned a second time when the soldiers were then killed; however what is certain is that Sennacherib failed to actually capture Jerusalem. Marduk-apla-iddina had returned to Babylonia during the reign of Sennacherib. The Assyrian king attacked him in 703 BC outside Kish and defeated him. Sennacherib plundered Babylonia and pursued Marduk-apla-iddina through the land. At his return to Assyria, Sennacherib installed a puppet ruler, Bel-ibni as king of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:12-23). Bel-ibni however committed hostilities, so Sennacherib returned to Babylon in 700 BC and captured him and his officers. Sennacherib instead installed his own son Ashur-nadin-shumi on the throne of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:26-31).
Sennacherib launched a campaign against Elam in 694 BC and ravaged the land. In retaliation, the king of Elam attacked Babylonia. Ashur-nadin-shumi was captured and brought back to Elam and a new king called Nergal-ushezib was installed as ruler of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:36–45). The Assyrians returned the next year to Babylonia and plundered the gods of Uruk. Nergal-ušezib and his Elamite allies were defeated by Assyria, and he was taken prisoner and transported to Assyria (ABC 1 Col.2:46 – Col.3:6). Another native ruler, called Mushezib-Marduk, soon seized the throne of Babylon. He held on to it with help of his Elamite allies for four years until 689 BC, when the Assyrians retook the city (ABC 1 Col.3:13–24). Sennacherib responded swiftly by opening the canals around Babylon and flooding the outside of the city until it became a swamp, resulting in its destruction, and its inhabitants were scattered.
In 681 BC, Sennacherib was murdered while praying to the god Nisroch by one or more of his own sons (allegedly named Adremelech, Abimlech and Sharezer), perhaps as retribution for his destruction of Babylon.
Esarhaddon, 681–669 BC
Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon (Ashur-ahhe-iddina), who had been governor of Babylonia, and was campaigning in the Caucasus Mountains against Urartu at the time of his father's murder, where he won a victory at Malatia (Milid). During the first year of Esarhaddon's rule, a rebellion broke out in the south of Babylonia. Nabu-zer-kitti-lišir, an ethnic Elamite governor of the mat Tamti, with the help of the Chaldeans laid siege to Ur. The Elamite and his Chaldean allies were defeated and he fled to his kinsmen in Elam (Hal-Tamti); however, "the king of Elam took him prisoner and put him to the sword" (ABC 1 Col.3:39–42); also in (ABC 14:1–4).
In 679 BC the Cimmerians and Scythians (a horse-riding horde (army) from what is now southern Russia) crossed the Taurus Mountains and harassed Assyrian colonies in Cilicia. Esarhaddon swiftly attacked and drove these marauders away where they instead fell on Phrygia.
As king of Assyria, Esarhaddon immediately had Babylon rebuilt, and made it one of his capitals. Defeating the Scythians, Cimmerians and Medes (again penetrating to Mt. Bikni), he then turned his attention westward to Phoenicia—now allying itself with the Nubian/Kushite rulers of Egypt against him—and sacked Sidon in 677 BC. He also captured King Manasseh of Judah and kept him prisoner for some time in Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). Having had enough of Egyptian meddling, Esarhaddon raided Egypt in 673 BC. Two years later he launched a full invasion and conquered Egypt, chasing the Pharaoh Taharqa back to Nubia, thus bringing to an end Nubian-Kushite rule in Egypt, and destroying the Kushite Empire which had begun in 760 BC.
The Babylonian Chronicle retells how Egypt "was sacked and its gods were abducted" (ABC 1 Col.4:25); also in ABC 14:28–29. The pharaoh Tirhakah fled Egypt, and a stele commemorating the victory, was set up at Sinjerli in Asia Minor, north of the Gulf of Antioch, and is now in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. The Bible graphically recounts Egypt's demise in Isaiah 20:4 "So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. 5 And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory."
Assyria defeated Urartu, annexed much of its territory and reduced it to vassalage, and expanded southwards as far as Dilmun (Bahrain) and into Arabia at this time. This was perhaps Assyria's greatest territorial extent. However, the Assyrian governors and local puppet rulers Esarhaddon had appointed over Egypt were obliged to flee the restive native populace who yearned for independence now that the Kushites and Nubians had been ejected.
A new campaign was launched by Esarhaddon in 669 BC, However he became ill on the way and died. His elder son Shamash-shum-ukin became king of Babylon and his son Ashurbanipal became king of Assyria, with Ashurbanipal holding the senior position and Babylon subject to Nineveh; see ABC 1 Col.4:30–33 and ABC 14:31–32, 37. Bel and the gods of Babylonia returned from their exile in Assur to Babylon in the first year of Shamash-shum-ukin, and the akitu festival could be celebrated for the first time in twenty years; ABC 1 14:34–39 and ABC 1 Col.4:34–36.
Ashurbanipal, 669–627 BC
Ashurbanipal, or "Ashur-bani-apli" (Ashurbanapli, Asnapper), succeeded his father Esarhaddon to the throne. He continued to campaign in and dominate Egypt, when not distracted by having to deal with pressures from the Medes to the east, and Cimmerians and Scythians to the north of Assyria. He installed a native Egyptian Pharaoh, Psammetichus as a vassal king in 664 BC. However, after Gyges of Lydia's appeal for Assyrian help against the Cimmerians was rejected, Lydian mercenaries were sent to Psammetichus. By 652 BC, this vassal king was able to declare outright independence from Assyria with impunity, particularly as Ashurbanipal's older brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, king of Babylon became infused with Babylonian nationalism, and tired of being subject to his brother began a major civil war in that year. However, the new dynasty in Egypt wisely maintained friendly relations with Assyria.
Shamash-shum-ukin attempted to raise a huge rebellion encompassing many vassal peoples against Ashurbanipal, however this largely failed. This rebellion lasted until 648 BC, when Babylon was sacked, and Shamash-shum-ukin set fire to the palace, killing himself. Ashurbanipal then set about punishing the Chaldeans, Arabs and Nabateans who had supported the Babylonian revolt. He invaded the Arabian Peninsula and routed and subjugated the Arabs, including the powerful Qedar tribe, taking much booty back to Nineveh and killing the Arab kings, Abiate and Uate. The Nabateans who dwelt south of the Dead Sea and in northern Arabia, and the Chaldeans in the far south east of Mesopotamia were also defeated and subjugated. Elam was targeted next, it was subjugated devastated in 646 BC and 640 BC, and its capital Susa sacked.
Legacy of Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal had promoted art and culture, and had built a vast library of cuneiform tablets at Nineveh. After the crushing of the Babylonian revolt Ashurbanipal appeared master of all he surveyed. To the east, Elam was devastated and prostrate before Assyria, the Manneans and the Iranian Persians and Medes were vassals. To the south, Babylonia was occupied, the Chaldeans, Arabs, Sutu and Nabateans subjugated, the Nubian empire destroyed, and Egypt paid tribute. To the north, the Scythians and Cimmerians had been vanquished and driven from Assyrian territory, Urartu, Phrygia, Corduene and the neo Hittites were in vassalage, and Lydia pleading for Assyrian protection. To the west, Aramea (Syria), the Phoenicians, Israel, Judah, Samarra and Cyprus were subjugated, and the Hellenised inhabitants of Caria, Cilicia, Cappadocia and Commagene paid tribute to Assyria.
Assyria now appeared stronger than ever. However, his long struggle with Babylonia and Elam and their allies, and the constant campaigning to control and expand its vast empire in all directions, left Assyria exhausted. It had been drained of wealth and manpower; the devastated provinces could yield nothing to supply the needs of the imperial exchequer, and it was difficult to find sufficient troops to garrison the huge empire.
Assyria, therefore, was ill-prepared to face the renewed hordes of Scythians who now began to harass the frontiers to the north and north east. After the Assyrians destroyed Elam, the Medes had begun to grow powerful, becoming the dominant force among the Iranian peoples who had begun to settle the regions to the east of Mesopotamia circa 1000 BC. at the expense of the Persians and the pre Iranian Elamites and Manneans, and they were by the end of Ashurbanipal's reign only nominally under Assyrian vassalage. Asia Minor too was full of hostile Scythians and Cimmerians who had overrun Urartu, Lydia and Phrygia, before being driven back by the Assyrians. However, while Ashurbanipal lived, he was able to contain these potential threats.
The fall of Assyria, 627–605 BC
Upon Ashurbanipal's death in 627 BC, the empire began to disintegrate rapidly after a series of bitter civil wars broke out involving a number of claimants to the throne. Ashur-etil-ilani succeeded Ashurbanipal, but was immediately embroiled in a civil war with one of his own generals Sin-shumu-lishir who seized control of Babylonia and then briefly took the throne of Assyria itself. He in turn was deposed by Sinsharishkun. After finally defeating his rivals, Sinsharishkun faced a much larger threat. His Babylonian vassal state had taken advantage of the upheavals in Assyria and rebelled under the previously unknown Nabopolassar, a member of the Chaldean tribe, in 625 BC. What followed was a long war fought in the Babylonian heartland. Nabopolassar tried to capture Nippur, the main Assyrian center of power in Babylonia, but was defeated by Sinsharishkun . However Nabopolassar did take the actual city of Babylon after a popular uprising there, and was crowned king of the city in 625 BC.
Sinsharishkun then lost more ground, before succeeded in recapturing Uruk in about 624 BC only to quickly lose it again. When Sinsharishkun led a large army to Babylonia in 623 BC in an attempt to finally crush the rebellion yet another war broke out in the Assyrian homeland. A relief army was sent back from the Babylonian campaign but changed sides so that the usurper could reach the capital Nineveh without interference, and claim the throne. Sinsharishkun was able to quell the homeland rebellion but precious time was lost to solve the Babylonian problem, and Nabopolassar was able to consolidate his position.
In 620 BC Nabopolassar finally captured Nippur, finally making him master of Babylonia. While these events were unfolding, the Medes had also freed themselves from Assyrian domination and consolidated power in what was to become Persia. In 616 BC Cyaxares the Median king, made an alliance with Nabopolassar and with the help of the Scythians and Cimmerians attacked Assyria. Assyria now faced overwhelming odds, and after four years of bitter fighting, the coalition finally destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC after a long siege followed by house to house fighting.
Thus the Assyrian empire fell, Sinsharishkun being killed in the process. A general called Ashur-uballit II was declared king of Assyria, and with belated military support from the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II whose dynasty had been installed by the Assyrians, held out at Harran until 608 BC. Egyptian aid continued to the Assyrians, who desperately attempted to curb the increasing power of the Babylonians and Medes.
In 609 BC at the Battle of Megiddo, an Egyptian force defeated a Judean force under king Josiah and managed to reach the last remnants of the Assyrian army. In a final battle at Harran in 608 BC the Babylonians and Medes defeated the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance, after which Assyria ceased to exist as an independent nation. Another Egyptian force was sent in 605 BC, indicating Assyrian resistance was still ongoing, but this too met with failure, with the defeat of the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC. It is not known if Ashur-uballit II was killed at Harran or Carchemish, or if he survived, however he disappeared from the pages of history. One hundred and seventeen years later, Assyria made a final attempt to regain independence with a large scale rebellion against the Achaemenid Empire in 482 BC which was suppressed by king Darius II.
Assyria after the fall
After its fall, Assyria came to be ruled by Babylon for a short period. Ironically Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon was Assyrian, originating from Harran, as was his son Belshazzar. After this it was ruled by Achaemenid Persia (Assyria revolted against Persia in 520 BC), Seleucid Greece, then again by various Persian dynasties, Sassanids, Parthians etc. For a brief period under Trajan, it was ruled by Rome.
Assyria survived as an entity, a subject province. The name survived also in various forms (Athura, Asuristan, Roman Province of Assyria, Seleucid Syria etc.) and the land was recognised as such by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Armenians, Georgians and Byzantines. After the Arab conquest of the late 7th century AD the province of Assyria was finally dissolved.
Assyrian culture survived, Assyrio-Babylonian gods were worshipped well into Christian times, as late as the 4th century AD , and temples were still being dedicated to the god Ashur in his home city in the late 3rd century AD. A number of kingdoms that were at least in part Neo Assyrian such as Hatra, Osroene and Adiabene sprung up in Assyria. Christianity took hold between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, and Parthian and Sassanid Assyria (Asuristan) became the center of the Church of the East, Syriac Christianity and Syriac Literature, (the term "Syria" and "syriac" being early Indo-European and Greek corruptions of "Assyria".) where it still survives.
Assyrian people survive to this day (sometimes known as Chaldo-Assyrian). They began to convert to Christianity as early as the 1st century AD, and remain so today. Assyrian personal names are still given, and the modern day Assyrians still speak dialects of eastern Aramaic, modern evolutions of the Aramaic that replaced Akkadian. An Assyrian Calendar is still used, dating to the founding of the city of Ashur.
Some historians dispute the continued existence of Assyrians to the present day, but this view has now been discarded as false by Assyriologists such as H.W.F. Saggs, Robert D. Biggs, Giorgi Tsereteli and Simo Parpola,and Iranologists like Richard Nelson Frye, not to mention the Assyrian people themselves. In conclusion, Assyrian still excite to this day in few millions distributed around the world.
The role of the Aramaic language
From the 8th century, the Aramaic language had gradually established itself as a lingua franca of the Empire. By the 6th century, it had marginalized the Akkadian language so much that Aramaic came to be the imperial language of Achaemenid Assyria. One of key factors contributing to the use of Aramaic was the rise and fall of Assyria; during her rule, deportations, colonizations and interbreeding increased contact between Aramean and Assyrians.
In effect the populations of both Assyria and Babylonia had become an ethnic mix of native Akkadians and Arameans. As the Empire fell, only the elite knew how to read and write the Akkadian script. The savage sacking of Ninevah and Assur, as well as numerous other Assyrian cities ensured that few of these elite survived to pass the language on. It is known however that some cities such as Arrapkha were spared the destruction.
The Akkadian language did survive the fall of Assyria; the last recorded writings in Akkadian cuneiform date from the 1st century AD, and writings in the Akkadian language (but in Aramaic/Syriac script) date as late as the 3rd century AD.
Several of the most ancient works of Mesopotamian literature are best preserved in Neo-Assyrian copies. Thus, there are 7th-century copies of both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Enûma Eliš from Ashurbanipal's library in Nineveh, as well as Neo-Assyrian versions of the Atra-Hasis.
Neo-Assyrian cuneiform is the final stage of the long evolution of the cuneiform script. The number of glyphs was reduced, and the glyph shapes were standardized and simplified, so that modern cuneiform sign inventories are usually based on the Neo-Assyrian glyph shapes. Neo-Assyrian cuneiform remained in use alongside the Aramaic alphabet well into Parthian times. The Aramaic language from the 8th century BC was adopted as the Lingua Franca of the Assyrian Empire and continued by the Achaemenid Empire. Assyrian scribes are often depicted in pairs: one writing in Akkadian on the cuneiform tablet, the other writing in Aramaic on the parchment or papyrus.
The main cities that existed in Assyria itself were Nineveh, Ashur, Kalhu (Calah, Nimrud), Sippar, Opis, Arrapkha (Kirkuk), Harran, Arbela (Erbil) and Ekallatum. Outside of Assyria proper, major cities at various times under Assyrian domination were Babylon, Damascus (Dimashq), Thebes, Memphis, Tyre, Sidon, Ecbatana, Hattusa, Jerusalem, Susa, Persepolis, Carchemish, Sardis, Ur, Uruk, Nippur and Antioch.
At the end of the Bronze Age, Nineveh was much smaller than Babylon, but still one of the world's major cities (population about 33,000). By the end of the Neo-Assyrian period, it had grown to a population of some 120,000, and was possibly the largest city of that time.
All free male citizens were obliged to serve in the army for a time, a system which was called the ilku-service. The Assyrian law code was compiled during this period.
- Iron Age
- Ancient Near East
- Assyrian law
- Military history of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
- Assyrian People
- Adad-nirari I (ca 1300 BC)
- Parpola, Simo (2004). "National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times" (PDF). Assyriology. Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Vol 18, N0. 2. "The Neo-Assyrian Empire (934-609 BC) was a multi-ethnic state composed of many peoples and tribes of different origins."
- Assyrian Eponym List
- Tadmor, H. (1994). The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria.pp.29
- Frye, Richard N. (1992). "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms". PhD., Harvard University. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. "And the ancient Assyrian empire, was the first real, empire in history. What do I mean, it had many different peoples included in the empire, all speaking Aramaic, and becoming what may be called, "Assyrian citizens." That was the first time in history, that we have this. For example, Elamite musicians, were brought to Nineveh, and they were 'made Assyrians' which means, that Assyria, was more than a small country, it was the empire, the whole Fertile Crescent."
- Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
- Hirad Dinavari. "More alike than different". The Iranian. "The cultural give and take influenced the many things some of which are the cuneiform writing and the building of ziggurats which the later Assyrians and the Achaemenid (Hakhamaneshi) Persians inherited. The Assyrians for the most part were responsible for the destruction of the Elamite civilization but the Assyrians influenced the cultures of Media and Urartu and the influence of Elam lived on among the Medes and Persians. The various Iranian speaking peoples who had been coming into what is now Caucasus Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia since around 4 thousand BCE were heavily influenced by the aboriginal Elamites and the Semitic Babylonians and Assyrians. This difference can be most noticed when one compares other Iranian speaking peoples who lived in Eurasia like the Scything and Sarmatians whose culture was very different with that of Iranian tribes who settled in the Iranian Plateau and became more intertwined with Slavic peoples. So from that far back Iran (the geographic location) has been multi-ethnic."
- According to George Roux p282-283.
- I Kings 18-19
- Dalley, Stephanie (2007-11-29). Esther's revenge at Susa. pp. 63–66. ISBN 9780199216635.
- According to 2 Kings 19:37, while praying to the god Nisroch, he was killed by two of his sons, Adramalech and Sharezer, and both of these sons subsequently fled to Ararat; this is repeated in Isaiah 37:38 and alluded to in 2 Chronicles 32:21.
- Grant, R G. Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005 pg 19
- Women and their Agency in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Saana Teppo, Master's Thesis, April 2005. University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Institute for Asian and African Studies, Assyriology.
- Decline of the Assyrian empire
- Chart of World Kingdoms, Nations and Empires - All Empires