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The Might That Was Assyria by H. W. F. Saggs
Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages
University College in Cardiff Wales 1984
Library of Congress # DS 73.2 S23

Assyria: Background and Beginnings

(The Geographical Framework)

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

The Central Assyrian homeland, from which so much of the Ancient Near East came to be controlled (first half of the First Millenium BC), was a very small country. Basically Assyria was the land along the Middle Tigris River. Its northern limit was just north of modern Mosul (near Nineveh), where the foothills of the Kurdish Taurus Mountains gave way to plain. Southward it extended to the region where the Tigris breaks through a range of hills called Jebel Makhul west of the Tigris and Jebel Hamrin to the east.

The Tigris itself cuts Assyria down the middle. To the west of the Tigris is an extensive plain, the Jazirah, with a mountain range called Jebel Sinjar at its northern end. The Jazirah stretches westward as far as the Habur River. To the east, the Tigris is fed within the region of Assyria by two major tributaries, the Great (Upper) Zab and the Lesser (lower) Zab Rivers. High mountain ranges, in which the two Zabs rise, form a rough quarter-circle east and north of Assyria.

Thus, while there is a single plain west of the Tigris River (Jazirah), eastern Assyria is cut into three. One sector is the plain between the Great Zab and the northern mountains; for this, Nineveh was always the most significant city in ancient times, as nearby Mosul is today. The second sector is the area between the two Zabs, centered on Erbil. These two sectors were always, from the time that one can speak of a country Assyria, elements of it. The third sector is the country south of the Lesser Zab as far as the Jebel Hamrin; this area includes Kirkuk, in ancient times the city Arrapha. Assyria at its most limited did not control this region. Arrapkha, Erbil, and Nineveh, with Ashur on the west bank of the Tigris, were the only major cities, for Assyria was predominantly a land of country towns.

Comprising these four main divisions, Assyria is far from being one uniform geographical unit; significant differences both of terrain and of climate exist between one part and another. But on the other hand, the constituent parts are sufficiently alike to make the whole region recognizably a single country in its own right, and to set it apart as distinct from what lies to the south of it. In most of the land rainfall is sufficient for agriculture without irrigation, at least in good years, although in the extreme south of Assyria the situation does become marginal, with crop failures in bad seasons. Further south still, beyond the latitude of Jebel Hamrin, the rainfall becomes definitely too low for cereal growing without recourse to irrigation. It is in much the same latitude that there is a change of soil; the mainly gravelly plains of Assyria here give way to alluvium laid down by the Tigris. These two features combine to create a geographical boundary between Assyria and the neighboring land to the south. In the first and second millennia BC that southern land was known as Babylonia, and earlier still as Akkad and Sumer (its northern and southern halves) ...

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium