Monday, January 26, 2015

Assyrian Empire: Neo-Assyria

The Assyrian Empire had experienced three period of greatness. They took control much of Mesopotamia and parts of Egypt as well as Asia Minor. The Old and Middle Assyria rose and resided. But the last of the three periods, the New Assyria or the Neo Assyrian Empire the apex and the greatest of the three periods of Assyrian ancient history.

The return of the Third and last Assyrian Empire came during the 9th century BCE. King Adadnirari II ruled the Assyrians from 911 to 891 BCE. He led the Assyrians back to glory and prominence by driving the conquering Arameans out of the Assyrian heartland – the Tigris River Valley. Besides the Arameans, King Adadnirari II also defeated the formidable Babylonian and drove them back south.

After the reign of King Adadnirari II, the next great act in the Neo-Assyrian history was the reign of Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled from 884 to 859 BCE. He was known for brutality as well as his decadence. He rebuilt the city of Calah and made it his capital. In its palaces, Ashurnasirpal II brag about hosting grand parties with thousands of guests attending. A testament to the wealth and power of the Assyrian Empire.

In 859 BCE, King Ashurnasirpal passed away and the throne fell in the hands of Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 859 to 824 BCE. His reign saw victories and expansion. In the north he fought and won against the Urartians. In the south, he won victories against the Chaldeans of Babylonia. In 853 BCE, he struck a victory at the Battle of Qarqar against a combine force of Phoenicians and Israelites under King Ahab of Israel. In 828 BCE, a civil war began. Shalmaneser III’s son. The internal strife weakened the whole Empire. Babylonians, Israelites, and Phoenicians began once more to assert their independence.

The reign of Shamshi-Adad V, who succeeded Shalmaneser II, saw the continuation of the civil war. Also, his reign was famous for the rise of his wife Sammuramat. A woman that possessed great beauty as well as brutality. She became the subject of Greek mythology and in the 19th century, became the focus of the opera Semmiramide.

But the dark age of the Neo-Assyrian ended in 745 BCE. Tiglath-Pileser III rose to the Assyrian throne and ruled until his death in 727 BCE. His reign once more the expansion of Assyrian territory. Under his command, Babylon fell. Egypt also fell in the hands of the Assyrians. He widely practice the deportation of conquered people into new areas to prevent any revolt from the vanquished. He set up an administrative system to govern the vast lands he conquered. Governors were appointed for each province. Each provinces were mandated to send tribute in form of silver, food, and textile. The Phoenicians, in particular, were made to send pieces of their renowned cedar tree to the Assyrian King. At the peak of his greatness, Tiglath-Pileser took the title of King of Sumer and Akkad, invoking the greatness of the great conqueror and founder of the Akkadian Empire – Sargon the Great.

After Tiglath-Pileser III passed away in 727 BCE, he was succeeded by his son. But the rule was brief. In 722 BCE, Sargon II usurped the throne and ruled with an iron fist until his last breath in 705 BCE. Like the previous Kings, he embarked in expanding the territories of the Assyrians. He defeated the Samarins and Urartians. He also took Judah but failed to capture Jerusalem. The reign of Sargon also saw the first deportation of the Jewish people. In 717 BCE, with his wealth from his conquest, Sargon was able to make a new capital. He moved it from Calah to Dur-Sharrukin, just north of the former capital. In 705 BCE, he launched a campaign against the Cimmerians. However, during the time of the campaign, King Sargon II passed away in the hands of assassins.

But the glory and power of the Assyrians did not died with Sargon II. His successor, Sennacherib, who ruled from 705 to 681 BCE. He saw continuous victory in battlefield. He defeated the rebelling Babylonians and took the image of their great deity Marduk as a sign of their defeat. He also attacked the city of Jerusalem, which was depicted at the book of Isaiah. The outcome of the siege had two contradicting views. At the eyes of the Israelites, written in the Book of Kings, numerous death succumbed the Assyrians to retreat. On the other hand, in the eyes of the Assyrians, Israelite King Hezekiah paid them a huge ransom to spare the city. By the start of the 7th century, the Neo-Assyrian Empire encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and parts of Egypt, Iran, and Asia Minor.

In 681 BCE, Sennacherib passed away and the empire fell to his son, Esarhaddon. He saw a familiar brutality of his predecessors. A legend told that when three lunar eclipses happened during his reign, he placed three Kings to substitute for him. Politically, it was to avoid the interpretation that eclipse meant the fall of the Empire under his reign. As the cosmic phenomena ended, he had his substitute killed. Indeed, Assyrian power was not to wane under his rule. In fact, Assyria continued to make victories and Egypt and even captured the city of Memphis. It was also under his rule that the capital was once again moved and placed at the city of Nineveh.

And in 669 BCE, the most renowned ruler of the Neo-Assryrian Empire ascended to the throne. King Ashurbanipal II ruled until 626 BCE. He completed the conquest of Egypt. He defeated the Elamites and the Babylonians. He created an effective communication system, by setting up relay stations for messengers. The improvement in communication also allowed better administration of the vast holdings of the Empire.

However, Ashurbanipal II was the last great ruler of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. After he passed away, his successors proved to be weak and incompetent. They were no much to the growing power of the Chaldeans in Babylon and the Medes in the east. The two powerful armies combined forces and in 612 BCE, the capital city of Niniveh fell and plundered by the invaders. By 605 BCE, the Assyrian Empire was divided among the victors.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire saw the pinnacle but also the end of a powerful Assyrian people. Strong and brutal leaders brought land and wealth to the empire. With wealth they made cultural contributions to mankind. Libraries were one. They created a system of communication that would be used later by future empire. The Neo-Assyrian Empire was the last resurgence and the finale of a people that helped to shaped history. 

See also:
Ashurbanipal's Royal Library in Nineveh
Assyrian Empire: Old and Middle Empire

Duiker, W. & J. Spielvogel. World History v. 1. Massachusetts: Wadsworth, 2010.

Grimbly, S. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Leick, G. Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.

Starr, C. A History of the Ancient World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Stokes, J. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the People of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts On File, Inc, 2009.


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.