Mesopotamia and the Rise of the Assyrian Empire

Episode 19: Assyria Ascending

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

Prior to the 14th century BC (when it achieved independence from from Hatti – see How Civilization Collapsed in the Late Bronze Age), Assyria was merely one kingdom among many in Mesopotamia. Centered along the Tigris River, it produced one of the most stable dynasties in human history, persisting over 700 years. Favored by sufficient rainfall to farm without irrigation, it also intersected several international trade routes. We know more about it than other Mesopotamian civilizations because it was immortalized in the Bible and by ancient Greek and Roman authors.

Podany divides Assyrian history into three distinct periods:

  • The Early Assyrian Period (1974-1807 BC) – when Assyrian merchants set up trading colonies in Anatolia.
  • The Middle Assyrian Period (1807-971 BC) – when the kingdom expanded its boundaries to the Euphrates River
  • The Neo-Assyrian Period (971-610 BC)

Unlike other Mesopotamian kings, the king of Assyria was also high priest of the (Babylonian) god Assur.*

In 1200-1100 BC, Assyria collapsed along with other Near East kingdoms. However in the ninth century BC, Adadd Narari II set up recapturing Assyria’s former territories. In no way the “kind shepherd” like earlier Mesopotamian kings. He deliberately employed violence and terror to subdue captive territories and discourage rebellion.

Under Adadd Narari II and successive kings, the farmer-based army serving three months a year gradually transitions into a professional standing army. In addition to introducing mounted cavalry and battering rams, it refined the use of sieges to starve targeted cities into submission, as well as forcibly relocating captured prisoners away from their home territory.

The Israelites engaged in numerous rebellions in their efforts to break free of the Assyrian empire. The rebellions ended when the Assyrian king forced mass relocation of their population to scattered regions around the empire.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

*After conquering Babylonia, Assyria adopted the Babylonian gods.

Mesopotamia and the Birth of Modern Diplomacy

Episode 16: Princes Hadu-Hepa, Diplomacy and Marriage

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture is devoted to the intricate system of Near East diplomatic relations in the second millenium BC. The major kingdoms Podany discusses includes Mittani kingdom (in Syria), the Hatti Kingdom (home to the Hittites), Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt.

From 1550-1100 BC, Egypt occupied the Levant. When they began a military campaign against Mittani in the 14th century BC, the latter allied with Assyria, Hatti, and and Babylon in trying to draw Egypt into a regional peace treaty by showering the pharaoh with lavish gifts. Although Egypt war more powerful than the other four kingdoms, he eventually agreed to the treaty and the raids into Mittani ceased.

The pharaohs began sending messages written in Akkadian*, exchanging lavish gifts** with the Mesopotamian kingdoms, and even accepting Mesopotamian princesses as wives. Pharaoh Akhenaten (1372-1335 BC) archived numerous Akkadian clay tablets in Armana, much to the surprise of the nineteenth century archeologists who first uncovered them.

Thanks to this elaborate diplomatic system, the period 1500-1300 BC was one of unprecedented peace.

Podany gives special emphasis to the correspondence of king Tushratta of Mittani (died 1340 BC) and pharaoh Amenhautep III. Tushratta’s daughter Tadu-Hepe was engaged to marry the pharaoh (who already had numerous wives, including Tushratta’s sister). One letter Podany reads out chides the pharaoh for embarrassing Tushratta in front of foreign guests for sending an inferior gift consisting of worked gold (gold vessels and jewelry) rather than the gold bars he needed for a building project.

*Akkadian was the official language of all four Mesopotamian kingdoms.

**Egypt’s best gifts were gold, Babylon sent horses and lapus lazuli, Mittani glass and textiles, and the Hatti silver. All of them also sent jewelry, luxury clothing, furniture and tapestries as gifts.

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