Mesopotamia: The Collapse of the Assyrian Empire

Episode 22: The Assyrian Empire, Warfare and Collapse

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

At the time of its collapse the Assyrian empire, the largest the world had known, extended across Mesopotamia, Syria, Levant and parts of Anatolia.

Assyria became more unstable during the last century before its final collapse in 612 BC. Provincial kings had allowed provincial governors to become too independent, and civil rebellions were widespread. King Tiglath-Pilesur III (745-727 BC) temporarily increased the king’s power by making provinces smaller, appointing governors who directly accountable to the king and improved provincial communication (with horses and teams of rides). However he proved unable to prevent Assyria’s eventual downfall.

The province of Babylonia enjoyed special privileges under Assyrian rule (see The Special Status of Babylonia Under Assyrian Rule), with the whole empire adopting its language (Akkadian) and religion. In fact, it was common for either the king or his son to rule Babylonia directly. This changed after the death of Tiglath-Pilesur III, with the Babylonian throne changing hands 20 times in 100 years.

Under the reign of Sennacherib (704-681 BC), the Elamites supported a Babylonian revolt against Assyria and installation of their own king. Sennacherib’s army invaded to suppress the revolt and put his own son on the Babylonian thrown. A second invasion became necessary when the son was “disappeared” and a coalition of Babylonian. This time Elamite and Chaldean [1] forces fought Sennacherib’s army to a standstill.

In 689 BC, Sennacherib laid siege to the city of Babylon for 15 months, eventually decimating it palaces and temples. Worse still the the statue of the king of the gods Marduk was moved to the capitol of Assyria. Until it was returned in 668 BC, the annual reconsecration ceremony ceased to occur and Babylonia lacked (in the view of the population) a true king,

In 687 BC Sennacherib was assassinated by his sons, resulting in the first of many Assyrian civil wars.

In 671 Assyria conquered Egypt for the first time. They ruled the the country until 669 BC, when southern Egypt rebelled. Subsequent campaigns to retake southern Egypt were expensive and unsuccessful.

In 663 Assyrian king Asherbanipal (669 – 631 BC) [2] successfully conquered and occupied Elam.

Following his death, his son Ashur-etil-ilani became king of Assyria and installed his brother on the throne of Babylonia. Assisted by the Elamites, his brother led an uprising against Assyrian rule in 640 BC.

In 617 BC, the Babylonian king, with the support of Elamites and the Medes, [3] Babylonia invaded Assyria proper and conquered several regions west of the Euphrates.

In 612 BC, this coalition sacked Nineveh, [4] the new capitol of Assyria, with Babylonia taking control of much of Assyria – forming the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

[1] Chaldea was a small country that between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BC, whose population was assimilated into the indigenous population of Babylonia

[2] Ruled a loose coalition of city states in Media.

[3]See History of Assyria: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

[4] Ashurbanipal moved the capitol of Assyria to Nineveh around 700 BC. At time it was sacked, it was the largest city in the world (est pop 230,000).

Mesopotamia: The Third Dynasty of Ur


Episode 11: Ur III, Household Accounts and Zyggurats

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

The Third Dynasty of Ur lasted between 2112 and 2004 BC. It’s renowned for the 120,000 written tablets it left behind, shared among 545 contempory museums.

Its residents created dozens of new tablets everyday, recording the receipt and distribution of all economic goods, as well as all worker payments and taxes paid. Types of workers included soldiers, farmers, artisans, administrators, scribes and priests/priestesses. Ur III employed many immigrant workers, including Amarites, Martu and Indus Valley natives,

King Ur-Namma built the first large central government after the fall of the Arkaddian Empire. By 2100 BC, military rulers were already using the phony language of “liberating” the kingdoms they conquered. They portrayed themselves as “kind shepherds” whose main motivation was to protect conquered peoples from other powerful institutions that might exploit them.

Ur-Namma’s Law Code included specific provisions to protect orphans, widows and the indebted. It also prescribed specific penalties for criminal behavior. Homicide was punished with death, and a man who divorced his first ranking wife was required to pay her 60 shekels of silver. This Law Code was based on legal precedents from well-established law courts in existence for centuries.

During his reign, Ur-Namma also standardized weights and measures, the calendar, the size of bricks and norms of building construction. He also commissioned giant pyramid-shaped temples called zygurrats and massive royal tombs. It’s estimated that 1000 laborers worked for five months to complete the first story of one of Ur-Namma’s zygurrats. Under the Ur III dynasty, temples continued to to farm large plots of land and run community workshops producing leather, wool, and boats.

Mesopotamia was very decentralized during this time. Provincial governors, who lived in smaller palaces, also ran workshops to meet the material needs of their communities. The king allowed generals to run their own armies, rather than the king. Twenty merchants in Umma controlled nearly all the trade. They oversaw the import of copper and gold from Magan (modern day Oman). They also provided credit, especially to farmers, in the form of seed grain or silver.

The Ur III dynasty had political control over Susa (west of the Euprhates in modern day Iran) and princesses of Ur sere sent to marry Elamite princes.

The film can be viewed free with a library card at Kanopy.