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Ancient Assyria

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Tribute Bearers: Palaces of Assyria (The British Museum) ..........

Selected Excerpts on Assyria

(1) Might That Was Assyria (2) The Advent of the Era of Townships in Northern Mesopotamia
(3) Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times

The continuous history of the geographical region (not the political state) of Assyria -- in the earliest period known as Subartu -- goes back at least to the period of the Halaf Culture of which it was the centre and probably the cradle ...

Assyria was the name of three different empires dating from about 2000-600 BC as well as the city-state of Assur and also the people inhabiting this northeastern area of Mesopotamia. Originally Semitic nomads in northern Mesopotamia they finally settled around Assur and accepted its tutelary god as their own. After the fall of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (2004 BC) Assyria seems to have become an independent city-state and important as middleman in international trade (1).

Middle Assyrian: A period in the history of the Assyrian empire extending from the 14th-12th centuries BC. In the Late Bronze Age Assyria was dominated by the Mitanni state but in the 14th century BC Assyria became dominant. Ashur-uballit I (reigned 1365 -- 1330 BC) created the first Assyrian empire and initiated the Middle Assyrian period. With the help of the Hittites he destroyed the dominion of the Aryan Mitanni (a non-Semitic people from upper Iran and Syria) and ravaged Nineveh. Later, allied with the Kassite successors in Babylonia, Ashur-uballit ended Hittite and Hurrian rule. By intermarriage he then influenced the Kassite dynasty and eventually dominated all of Babylonia thus paving the way for the Neo-Assyrian mastery during the Sargonid dynasty. The succeeding Assyrian kings expanded the empire through northern Mesopotamia and the mountains to the north and briefly occupied Babylonia. Several kings weakened Assyria but then others brought back its dominion. Middle Assyrian is also the name of a form of cuneiform that was used extensively in writing law code and other documents.

Neo-Assyrian: A political period of the Assyrian empire in the Iron Age and an extension of the Middle Assyrian. It lasted from Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) until Sargon II -- Sennacherib -- Esarhaddon and finally Assurbanipal (668-627 BC). The Assyrian empire was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians (Chaldeans) and Medes in 612 BC.

Language: One of the two main dialects of ancient Mesopotamia, this one used in the north. A Semitic language very close to Babylonian from which it is thought to have diverged at the end of the 2nd millennium. Assyrian probably disappeared with the destruction of Assyria in 7th century BC. Old Assyrian cuneiform is attested mostly in the records of Assyrian trading colonists in central Asia Minor (circa 1950 BC; the so-called Cappadocian tablets) and Middle Assyrian in an extensive Law Code and other documents. The Neo-Assyrian period was the great era of Assyrian power and the writing culminated in the extensive records from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (circa 650 BC).

The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land
by Mogens Trolle Larsen (Routledge, June 2014)

The Conquest of Assyria tells what must surely be one of the most romantic tales of archaeological endeavour. The great cities and ancient palaces of Mesopotamia had lain buried for over two millenia and were all but forgotten; half remembered in the Hebrew Bible and Classical texts. This volume records the dramatic finds, the decipherment of the cuneiform system of writing and the rediscovery of a lost civilisation.

Copyright 1897 by the Chicago Record

The country known to history as Assyria included the upper portion of the Tigris-Euphrates plain though for the most part it was made up of a hilly or mountainous region that lay to the north of this. Though all this country Is now little other than a wilderness, it was in ancient times very fertile and capable of sustaining large populations. As has already been said, Assyria owes its origin to Babylonian colonization. This colonization began about 1900 years before the Christian era. For 400 years the colonists remained subject to their parent State, being ruled over by governors appointed by the Babylonian kings. But about 1500 B. C. Assyria became independent of Babylonia. During the earlier centuries of its existence as an Independent State Assyria was almost constantly at war with Babylonia. One of its kings, Tiglath-Adar I, succeeded in conquering Babylon and establishing a dynasty there. But for some time (from about 1300 B. C. to about 1220 B. C.) Assyria was again subject to Babylonian lordship. However during the most part of its existence Assyria was a great and wide ruling power having under its authority nearly all neighboring countries and kingdoms including at last its own parent State and rival Babylonia (710 B. C). Not long after its final conquest of Babylonia however its own power was broken. The Babylonians under Nabopolassar and the Medians under Cyaxares rose up in rebellion and conquered it. After a long siege Nineveh, its capital, was taken and destroyed (B. C. 605?). Then for a time Assyria was in part subject to Media and in part subject to Babylonia; but when the Persian monarchy rose to greatness Assyria and Babylonia were made one Persian province.

The Earlier Epochs ot Assyria's Greatness

The history of Assyria during its epochs of greatness is known to us principally in the history of its great kings. Tiglath-Pileser I (B. C. 1115-1105) was one of the greatest of the earlier Assyrian kings. His conquests extended north, south and west and included Bagdad and even Babylon. His empire reached from the Caspian sea and the Persian gulf on the one side to the Mediterranean sea on the other. After his death however his conquests were all lost and Assyria sunk to a condition of comparative powerlessness.

A second great king was Assur-natsir-pal (B. C. 886-858). His empire was even wider than that of Tiglath-Pileser. Under his rule the Assyrian people became not only great and powerful but rich, cultured and refined. Their palaces and public buildings, remains of which are still existent, were adorned with magnificent sculptures and elaborate paintings that testify not only to the massiveness and grandeur but also to the opulence and splendor of their art. A third great king was Shalmaneser II (B. C. 858-823). Shalmaneser exacted tribute from Ahab and Jehu of Israel, destroyed the armies of Ben-hadad and Hazael of Damascus and brought Tyre and Sidon under his sway. He also subjected Babylon to a condition of vassalage.

A fourth great king was Tiglath-Pileser II (B. C. 745-727). This Tiglath-Pileser was a usurper, but he became a very powerful monarch. He reorganized the empire and greatly consolidated it. His conquests were wider than those of any previous Assyrian king. His empire practically extended from the Indus on the east to the Nile on the west. But his principal achievements were the subjection and incorporation with the empire of the rich and populous countries near about him including Judah, Israel, Syria and Babylon -- though the complete subjection of Babylon was not effected until some time later. Tiglath-Pileser II is the Pul of Scripture. Great as his power was however he was finally deposed by another usurper. This was Shalmaneser IV; the Shalmaneser of Scripture who imprisoned Hoshea, king of Samaria (II Kings xvii 4).

Sargon (B. C. 722-705), the successor of Shalmaneser, was a fifth great king of Assyria. It was he who took Samaria and "carried Israel away captive" (II Kings xvii 6). It was he too who defeated the Egyptians In the great battle of Raphia (719 B. C). It was he too who defeated Merodach-Baladan the heroic king of Babylon (710 B. C.) and thus prepared the way for the complete subjugation of the Babylonian empire by the Assyrians under Sennacherib a few years later. Sargon called himself "king of Assyria and Babylon" but his empire included all the countries round about the great Tigris-Euphrates plain and an Inscription shows that he had even taken possession of Cyprus.

Sennacherib, the son of Sargon, was another pf the great Assyrian kings (B. C. 705-681). It was Sennacherib who finally reduced Babylon. He also "wasted with fire and sword" Elam, a kingdom to the southeast of Assyria that once had been very powerful even to a supremacy over Babylon. In the west however Sennacherib was less successful. Although at first he had reduced Tyre and Sidon and had defeated Hezekiah, king of Judah, and his Egyptian and Ethiopian allies, in a second expedition (recorded in II Kings xix) he lost his supremacy over Syria and the army with which he Intended to capture Jerusalem was suddenly destroyed (II Kings xix 35). But Sennacherib's greatness showed itself in works of peace rather than of war. He was the great builder and engineer of his age. He constructed great canals and aqueducts, made great embankments along the Tigris and built great palaces at Nineveh on a scale of magnificence never before attempted. He also built and maintained a navy upon the Persian gulf.

Assyria's Greatest Epoch

The two last great kings of Assyria were Esar-haddon, the son of Sennacherib, and Assur-bani-pal, the son of Esar-haddon. Esar-haddon (B. C. 681-668) made Babylon his capital. He reconquered successfully Syria, Judea, Phoenicia etcetera but his greatest achievement was his conquest of Egypt which he divided among twenty governors, most of whom were natives.

Assur-bani-pal (B. C. 668-626), who succeeded Esar-haddon, was the greatest of all the Assyrian monarchs. Though in the end he lost Egypt, in every other part of his kingdom he made Assyrian power stronger than it had ever been before. Not only Syria, Arabia, Cilicia, and Babylonia but also Elam and Lydia were subject to his authority. Wherever rebellion showed itself fire, sword arid famine soon effected submission. Under his reign Assyria rose to the top-most height of its greatness. From the frontiers of India to the Aegean sea his name was feared, his rule was supreme. Assur-bani-pal was also a zealous patron of the arts and of learning. He adorned Nineveh with splendid palaces that glittered with gold, silver and precious stones and were embellished with the largest and stateliest of Assyrian sculpture. He founded for his people a magnificent library, the richest, the most perfectly equipped, the most extensive the world has ever known. He invited learned men to his court and treated them with honor and encouraged them to extend the literature of the nation. But the very completeness of his glory proved to be his ruin. The treasures of the world flowed Into his capital and his people became not only luxurious but effeminate. He himself desisted from conducting his wars in person and entrusted them to generals. Province after province rose in revolt and though the rebellions were for the time suppressed the suppression lasted only during his lifetime. At his death there was a general revolt and in a short time Assyria, shorn of its empire and reduced to its original dimensions, was engaged in a death struggle with the Medes and Babylonians. Nineveh was a strongly walled city and it held out against the besiegers for a long time. But at last (B. C. 605?) it was taken and burned with fire and the kingdom of Assyria came to an end.

Language and Literature: The Assyrians, like the Babylonians, were a Semitic race akin to the Hebrews, Phoenicians and modern Arabians. Their language, which differed little from that of the Babylonians, was closely allied to that of the Hebrews and Phoenicians and throughout the 1500 years during which it can be traced in the inscriptions it changed but little. Also, like that of the Babylonians, it was written in cuneiform characters. The literature of both Assyria and Babylonia has been for the most part preserved to us on baked bricks or tablets. The characters impressed upon these tablets (generally spoken of as "inscriptions") were very minute. The tablets were kept in libraries and were there arranged in order so that they could be easily found when wanted. The Assyrians however were not a literary people, although their libraries could show many original works on history, chronology, astrology, law, etcetera besides epic poems and hymns to the gods; but for the most part thev were content to adopt the original writings of the Babylonians. The Babylonians were the most cultured of the two races and in addition to public libraries had also academies and universities. Besides the great library at Nineveh the Assyrians had two other great libraries; one at Calah and one at Assur and no doubt there were others; but every great city of Babylonia had at least one library and sometimes there were more than one.

Religion: The religion of Assyria was almost the same as that of Babylonia and both were founded largely on the religion of the earlier Accadai. Every object had its spirit, good or bad; and the world swarmed with demons. Diseases especially were caused by demons and the sculptured cherubs, bulls, etcetera which were so frequently placed at the entrances of houses and palaces were believed to be efficacious in protecting the inmates from the demons that produced them. But the priests were thought to be the most efficacious protectors against evil spirits and in consequence priests were extremely numerous among both the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but especially among the Babylonians. But there were also spirits of a higher type and in course of time there came to be an officially recognized hierarchy of divine beings which included four supreme divinities and three inferior ones (the gods of sun -- moon and air), the whole forming "the seven magnificent deities" of whom perhaps Bel, the "lord of the world", was chief. Below these were "the fifty great gods" -- "the 300 spirits of heaven" -- "the 600 spirits of air" and so on. In Babylonia however the principal worship seems to have been paid to the god Bel-Merodach, the tutelary divinity of Babylon, originally the "sun god"; while in Assyria Assur, the personification of the city of Assur, was placed at the head of the pantheon. But conjoined with the religion of the two peoples was a vast system of astrology so that the priests were also astrologers. In fact augury, magic, soothsaying and sorcery were all functions of the priestly office. The priests also regulated the worship of both gods and lesser spirits and provided for the use of the people set forms of prayer inscribed on tablets. In short the religious system of the Babylonians and Assyrians was both elaborate and Intricate but in Assyria it was simpler and less rigorous than in Babylonia.

Art -- Science and Trade: The Assyrians were mainly a nation of soldiers and traders and their art and science, like their literature and religion, were obtained principally from the Babylonians who, though also a trading nation, were not during the main portion of their history in any considerable degree a military people. Assyrian art however differed from Babylonian art. Its sculpture was always bold and oftentimes colossal. Gigantic winged human-headed bulls were placed at the gateways of all Assyrian palaces to ward off evil spirits. Figures of lions were frequently used for similar purposes. Much of this sculpture was not "full round" but in "relief". And when scenes Involving life and action were represented the relief was colored. Assyrian coloring however was never brilliant. Assyrian architecture was usually columnar. No windows were ever used but upon the walls pillars were erected to support the roofs and let In light and air. Both the Assyrians and the Babylonians were engineers. They constructed tunnels, aqueducts and drains. They understood and applied the arch. They used the pulley, the lever and the roller. The Assyrians also rivaled the Babylonians in gem-cutting, terra cotta work and metallurgy although these were arts in which the southern nation particularly excelled.

Both the Babylonians and the Assyrians were quite far advanced as astronomers and meteorologists; but in all such matters the Assyrians, though less original than the Babylonians, were yet more practical. The Babylonians pursued these sciences for religious and astrological purposes. The Assyrians followed them largely because of their utility In the material concerns of life. Both peoples however had many observatories, presided over by astronomers and meteorologists who had to report to a chief astronomer and meteorologist twice a month. Both peoples could calculate eclipses with some exactness and also predict changes of weather. Both peoples also had numbered the stars, had formed a calendar and had divided the year into twelve months and the week into seven days, the seventh day being a day of rest. Both peoples had divided the day Into hours and the hours each into sixty minutes and the minutes each into sixty seconds. Both peoples used the dial and the water clock.

Both nations were traders but the Babylonians, being situated near the Persian gulf, traded largely by means of ships while the Assyrians pursued their traffic almost wholly overland. The trade of the two peoples extended from India on the one hand -- whence were brought teakwood and Ivory -- to the mines of Cornwall on the other whence was brought tin. Both Nineveh and Babylon were centres of busy trade; and both Assyrian and Babylonian law as well as Assyrian and Babylonian social custom indicate that the two peoples had developed a highly organized and effective commercial system ...

. Friday Oct 22 1897 – Page 7 · The Philadelphia Inquirer · Newspapers.com

(1) Assyria --- 2002-2018 Archaeology Wordsmith

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