Episode 19: Assyria Ascending
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Dr Amanda H Podany
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.
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*After conquering Babylonia, Assyria adopted the Babylonian gods.