Assyria

Definition

by Jan van der Crabben
published on 28 April 2011

Assyria was a Mesopotamian empire that grew out of the city-state of Ashur. It was one of the greatest empires in Mesopotamia, together with the Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great and the Babylonian Empire under Hammurabi. At its height, the Assyrian Empire extended from Anatolia in the west, to Armenia in the north, to Media in the east, and to Egypt in the south. Among the great warrior-kings of Assyria are the famous names of Ashurnasirpal, Shalmaneser III, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Esarhaddon, and, famous both for his political and military accomplishments as well as his vast library at Nineveh, Ashurbanipal.

In the Old Assyrian period (20th to 15th centuries BCE), Assyria controlled much of Upper Mesopotamia. Assyria grew out of the economically powerful city-state of Ashur, which established merchant colonies (called karum, Akkadian for "port") in Cappadocia. Ashur was an oligarchical city state, with the power divided between the ruler ("Steward of Ashur"), the assembly of elders, and the high priest. Shamshi-Adad I (1813-1791 BCE) conquered Ashur, made it his capital, and conquered the wealthy kingdom of Mari. His empire now encompassed northern Mesopotamia. Hammurabi (of Ammorite descent) King of Babylon, soon after defeated Shamshi-Adad's successor and made Assyria a vassal state. As the Amorites were thought to have contributed to the destruction of the great empire of Akkad, Hammurabi very purposefully called his region `Mat Accadi' - the country of Akkad - in an attempt to link his reign to the legendary grandeur of the past.

The Middle Assyrian period (15th to 10th centuries BCE) started with Assyria as a vassal of Mitanni, until Ashur-uballit I (1365-1330 BCE) seized the throne of Assyria, and conquered lands at the expense of Babylonia. Assyria conquered Babylon and expanded at the expense of the Hittites, reaching Carchemish and beyond. Tiglath-Pileser I added the Phoenician ports at the Mediterranean sea to the empire. Like most empires at the time, the Assyrian power waned during the Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BCE. Unlike many other kingdoms and empires, though, Assyria survived.

The Neo-Assyrian period is usually considered to have begun with the ascension of Adad-ninari II in 911 BCE, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians in 612 BCE. During this period Assyria grew from being a kingdom of northern Mesopotamia to being an empire. Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BCE) expanded Assyrian control to Judaea, Sumeria, and southern Anatolia. The Assyrian power further expanded to incorporate the kingdom of the Medes, Elam, and Egypt. Under the reign of Ashurbanipal (669-627 BCE) Assyria was at the peak of its power, but then slowly collapsed under the reigns of his successors. Rebellions occurred in Babylonia, Media, and Egypt. With Lydian help, Egypt declared its independence and, after, Cimmerians invaded from the north. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar, along with Cyaxares of the Medes finally destroyed Nineveh in 612 BCE, marking the end of the Assyrian empire.

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

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