An Introduction to the Assyrian Empire

Historians divide the time of the Assyrians into three different eras. The first is the “Old Assyrian” era which goes from about 2000 Before the Common Era (BCE) to about 1550 BCE. Next is the so-called “Middle Assyrian” period which ran from about 1550 BCE to about 1200 BCE. The last period is called the New Assyrian or Neo-Assyrian which lasted from about 1200 BCE to around 600 BCE. The Neo-Assyrian era is sometimes also called the last Assyrian Empire.

The Old (2000 BCE to 1550 BCE) and Middle (1550 BCE to 1200 BCE) Assyrian periods

The name Assyrians comes from the name of the city Ashur or Assur.  The three major cities of Ashur, Nineveh and Irbil defined the central homeland of the Assyrians. Assyria’s early history was one of frequent conquest by outside powers. Finally Assyria regained independence around 2000 BCE.  At this same time the Assyrians began to establish trading colony cities throughout the Middle East, particularly in what is now Turkey. These trading cities were then abandoned about 1750 BCE as the Assyrians withdrew to their homeland. Assyria was soon conquered by an Babylon he then took control of Assyria. With the fall of Old Babylon, Assyria soon fell under the control of the Mitanni, until they were defeated by theand land of Hittites about 1350 BCE.

The Neo-Assyrian Period (c.1200-600 BC)

After the fall of the Mittanni, Assyria along with a number of other minor states regained their independence.  For about 400 years Assyria was just one of many of small countries struggling to survive.   During this time the chief enemies of the Assyrians werewere the Aramaeans, who established a series of kingdoms in the upper Tigris and the Euphrates river valleys. Finally in the 800s BCE Kings Shalmaneser III finally managed to overcome the most dominant Aramaen state of Bit-Adini (Beth-Eden) on the upper Euphrates. Shalmaneser III then attacked south pushing into the Syrian highlands. This invasion met with serious opposition from an alliance of small local kings that included Ahab of Israel. This coalition of kings defeated Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Karkar in 853 BC. With this defeat Assyrian power began to wane again.

In about 745 BCE, King Tiglath-Peleser III took the throne. He embarked on a number of organizational improvements meant to increase royal authority. Districts were reduced in size and their governors made directly accountable to the king. Assyria also seized client states and made them into provinces of the empire. Tiglath-Pileser III then defeated a number of anti-Assyrian coalitions. In 732 BCE he destroyed Damascus and deported the population to Assyria.  In 729 BCE Tiglath-Pileser III captured Babylon and had himself declared king of Babylon under the name Pulu (or Pul). Tiglath-Pileser III reforms and victories created the Assyrian Empire. Tiglath-Peleser’s son, Shalmaneser V is best remembered for his attack on Samaria,2 Kings: 17-18). Shalmaneser V died and his successor, Sargon II, completed the conquest of Samaria and exiled of its people in 722 BCE.

The end of the Assyrian Empire

The Assyrian Empire faced many problems in its final years.  Babylon revolted many time and it took a great military effort to finally defeat the rebellion.  King Sennacherib finally conquered the city and razed it in 689 BC. King Sennacherib was then assassinated by a member of his family.

King Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib, faced raids and attacked by the chariot riding Cimmerians and Scythians into the Assyrian possessions in Anatolia.  Esarhaddon’s son, King Ashurbanipal was the last great king of Assyria. He captured Susa the Elamite capital.  However, after his death the empire started to decline.

Babylonian broke away again and allied itself with the Medes. In 614 BCE Ashur was captured by the Medes and in 609 BCE so was Nineveh, ending the Assyrian Empire forever.