Assyrian archers

For the Assyrians war was almost a business and they profited mightily from the rewards of conquest. The Assyrians began using iron weapons and armor in Mesopotamia around 1200 B.C. (After the Hittites but before the Egyptians) with deadly results. The also effectively employed war chariots. They were not the first to do this but they were the first to organize them into a cavalry.

The Assyrians established the largest army up to that time in the Mediterranean. Their armies had professional soldiers, infantry, charioteers, mounted archers, fast horses, engineers and wagoners. The most important unit was the royal bodyguard, perhaps the first regular army. The other units were amassed as need arose. In battles the Assyrians used bows, slings, iron swords and lances, battering rams, oil firebombs, but relied on iron javelins.

The Assyrians according to some scholars possessed the first long-range armies. They utilized supply depots, a sophisticated road network, transport columns, and bridging trains to campaigns as far away as 300 miles from their home base and moved as rapidly as armies during World War I (30 miles a day). To get across rivers they used boats made from inflated animals skins, and, while campaigning, they carried few supplies, living instead off of food captured in enemy territory. Artwork depicts Assyrian soldiers destroying buildings with pickaxes and crowbars and then, carrying off booty. [Source: History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Towns that refused to pay tribute were sacked. According to one tablet one town was “crushed like a clay pot” and the population and leaders were made prisoners “like a herd of sheep” as the Assyrian army carried away booty.

One image of an Assyrian army attacking a city shows some of the techniques the Assyrians used to capture a city. On the left side of the image some men scale the wall with a ladder. On the right side a wheeled battering ram is used to destroy the city walls. Three figures at the top next to the city have been impaled on spikes. The tall figure on the far right with the long clothes is Tiglath Pileser III, who is refered to in the Bible by his Babylonian name, Pul.

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site; British Museum ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia ; Louvre ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago ; Iraq Museum Database ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Assyrian Chariots

The Assyrians employed sophisticated siege tactics, and formed corps ancillary to the army's main fighting force but they were primarily a chariot-based force.

Fighting chariots often accommodated two people---one rider and one archer. Early charioteers often swept down out of the mountains, encircled their flat-footed and unarmored foes, and picked them off from 100 or 200 yards away with arrows fired from sophisticated bows.

The ruthless, formidable and well organized Assyrians were perhaps the greatest charioteers of the ancient world. They dominated the ancient world from the 9th century to 7th century B.C. , when they were replaced by the Persians, a people that used chariots to create a huge empire that stretched from Greece to India.

Chariots ruled the world until foot soldiers in Alexander the Great's army learned to withstand chariot advances by aiming their weapons at the horses first: wearing arrow-proof armor and shields; and organizing themselves into tight chariot-proof ranks.

Most of what is known about Assyrian chariots has been gleaned from alabaster reliefs now in the British Museum. Their chariots come in a lightweight two-horse model and a heavier four-horse version. They appear to have been made from wood and rawhide.


Assyrian Brutality

Lord Byron wrote that Assyrians went after their neighbors like a “wolf in the fold.” They forced captives to strip naked to show subservience to their captors and slaughtered those who dared to oppose them. Bas-reliefs from the Chaldean campaign (7th century B.C.) show Assyrian victors making piles of heads of their victims, using battering rams and impaling captives.

Stone friezes at Nimrud and Ninevah show war chariots crushing enemy soldiers, women and children and an Assyrian king and queen enjoying drinks in a garden decorated with the head of an enemy leader dangling from a tree.

After one of his victories Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal bragged, "I cut off their heads; I burned them with fire; a pile of living men and of heads over against the city gate I set up; men I impaled on stakes; the city I destroyed...I turned it into mounds and ruin heaps; the young men and maidens I burned." Another Assyrian king boasted in 691 BC: "I cut their throats like sheep...My prancing steeds, trained to harness, plunged into their welling blood as into a river; the wheels of battle chariots were bespattered with blood and filth. I filled the plain with corpses of their warriors like herbage.”

The Assyrians reserved their wrath for the people who opposed them. Those that joined their empire were treated well. Among those that resisted the men were killed and the women and children was abducted and resettled in foreign land. The women were encouraged to take new husbands. Cuneiform tables reveal that refugees were given food, shoes, oil and clothes.

The art historian John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art believes the Assyrian were no more warlike and brutal than other people of their time they were just better at it. He says that the brutal images are found mostly in throne room of Ashurnasirpal’s palace and were intended to intimidate visiting dignitaries. The rooms occupied by kings and queen had no such art. The adornments found there seemed to be there to ward off evil spirits.


Isaiah on Judah and the Assyrians

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Isaiah's oracles are so intricately related to happenings of his era, that the history of the period must be understood. The following outline is drawn from accounts in II Kings, supplemented by information from Chronicles and Assyrian king records. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, <=>]

“Because there was no outside power strong enough or interested enough to provide any real threat, Israel and Judah prospered in the eighth century. King Adad-nirari III of Assyria in 805 took tribute from Damascus, but Israel, a few miles to the south of the Aramaean capital, was unaffected. A succession of weak rulers reduced the Assyrian threat. Jeroboam II (786-746) expanded his kingdom into the Transjordan area and worked in economic harmony with Phoenician cities. Prosperity and social inequalities graphically pictured by Amos brought hardship and suffering for the underprivileged. Parallel economic growth took place in Judah in Uzziah's time (783-742). Edom was recaptured; trade with Arabia developed through the Red Sea; two cities of Philistia, Gath and Ashdod, became vassals (II Chron. 26:6 f.), and despite the absence of a prophetic record comparable to the book of Amos, conditions condemned by Isaiah when he begins his prophetic work at the King's death suggest that the situation in Judah and Israel was the same.<=>

“746. Jeroboam II died and a period of decline in Israel began. Lack of stability in Israelite leadership, resulting in the assassination of four kings within twenty years, produced a national policy that fluctuated between pro-Egyptian and pro-Assyrian alliances. A sense of aimlessness or lack of direction, clearly reflected in Hosea, made Israel an easy target when Assyrian forces began to move westward and southward.<=>

“745. Tiglath Pileser III (called "Pul" in II Kings 15:19 after "Pulu," the name under which he controlled Babylon) became ruler of Assyria and began an expansionist program. Up to this time, Assyria had periodically raided northern Syria for bounty and to maintain open channels for exploitation of minerals, timber and trade. Assyria's new program included conquest and rule. In addition to subduing Mesopotamian neighbors in the immediate vicinity of Assyria, Tiglath Pileser began subjugation of the west, starting in 743. A coalition of small nations, led by Azriau of Iuda, undoubtedly Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah, opposed him. The Assyrian account, taken from slabs found at Calah, has many lacunae, but it is clear that Tiglath Pileser subdued his opposition. The records list tribute received from frightened rulers of smaller kingdoms, including Rezin of Damascus and Menahem of Samaria.9<=>

“742. Uzziah died and Jotham became king. Because of his father's long illness, Jotham had administrative experience as regent of Judah and was able to give Judah governmental stability that is in complete contrast with the situation in Israel. Uzziah's military program was continued and the Chronicler reports a Judaean victory over Ammonites who paid tribute for three years.<=>

20120208-Assyrian-Arabian-Battle 2.jpg
Assyrian-Arabian Battle

Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Women and Violence

I.2. If a woman, whether the wife of a man or the daughter of a man, utter vulgarity or indulge in low talk, that woman bears her own sin; against her husband, her sons, or her daughter they shall have no claim. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]

I.7. If a woman bring her hand against a man, they shall prosecute her; 30 manas of lead shall she pay, 20 blows shall they inflict on her.

I.8. If a woman in a quarrel injure the testicle of a man, one of her fingers they shall cut off. And if a physician bind it up and the other testicle which is beside it be infected thereby, or take harm; or in a quarrel she injure the other testicle, they shall destroy both of her eyes.

I.9. If a man bring his hand against the wife of a man, treating her like a little child, and they prove it against him, and convict him, one of his fingers they shall cut off. If he kiss her, his lower lip with the blade of an axe they shall draw down and they shall cut off.

I.40. If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads.

I.21. If a man strike the daughter of a man and cause her to drop what is in her, they shall prosecute him, they shall convict him, two talents and thirty manas of lead shall he pay, fifty blows they shall inflict on him, one month shall he toil.

I.47. If a man or a woman practice sorcery, and they be caught with it in their hands, they shall prosecute them, they shall convict them. The practicer of magic they shall put to death.

I.50. If a man strike the wife of a man, in her first stage of pregnancy, and cause her to drop that which is in her, it is a crime; two talents of lead he shall pay.

I.51. If a man strike a harlot and cause her to drop that which is in her, blows for blows they shall lay upon him; he shall make restitution for a life.

I.52. If a woman of her own accord drop that which is in her, they shall prosecute her, they shall convict her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her. If she die from dropping that which is in her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her.

I.55. If a virgin of her own accord give herself to a man, the man shall take oath, against his wife they shall not draw nigh. Threefold the price of a virgin the ravisher shall pay. The father shall do with his daughter what he pleases.

I.58. Unless it is forbidden in the tablets, a man may strike his wife, pull her hair, her ear he may bruise or pierce. He commits no misdeed thereby.


Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Rape and Adultery

I.12. If the wife of a man be walking on the highway, and a man seize her, say to her "I will surely have intercourse with you," if she be not willing and defend herself, and he seize her by force and rape her, whether they catch him upon the wife of a man, or whether at the word of the woman whom he has raped, the elders shall prosecute him, they shall put him to death. There is no punishment for the woman. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]

I.13. If the wife of a man go out from her house and visit a man where he lives, and he have intercourse with her, knowing that she is a man's wife, the man and also the woman they shall put to death.

I.14. If a man have intercourse with the wife of a man either in an inn or on the highway, knowing that she is a man's wife, according as the man, whose wife she is, orders to be done, they shall do to the adulterer. If not knowing that she is a man's wife he rapes her, the adulterer goes free. The man shall prosecute his wife, doing to her as he likes.

I.15. If a man catch a man with his wife, both of them shall they put to death. If the husband of the woman put his wife to death, he shall also put the man to death. If he cut off the nose of his wife, he shall turn the man into a eunuch, and they shall disfigure the whole of his face.

I.16. If a man have relations with the wife of a man at her wish, there is no penalty for that man. The man shall lay upon the woman, his wife, the penalty he wishes.

I.18. If a man say to his companion, "They have had intercourse with they wife; I will prove it," and he be not able to prove it, and do not prove it, on that man they shall inflict forty blows, a month of days he shall perform the king's work, they shall mutilate him, and one talent of lead he shall pay.

I.20. If a man have intercourse with his brother-in-arms, they shall turn him into a eunuch.

I.57. In the case of every crime for which there is the penalty of the cutting-off of ear or nose or ruining or reputation or condition, as it is written it shall be carried out.

Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Inheritance and Debt

I.26. If a woman be dwelling in the house of her father, and her husband have died, any gift which her husband settled upon her---if there be any sons of her husband's, they shall receive it. If there be no sons of her husband's she receives it. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]

I.32. If a woman be dwelling in the house of father, but has been given to her husband, whether she has been taken to the house of her husband or not, all debts, misdemeanors, and crimes of her husband shall she bear as if she too committed them. Likewise if she be dwelling with her husband, all crimes of his shall she bear as well.

I.35. If a woman, who is a widow, enter into the house of a man, whatsoever she brings with her---all is her husband's. But if a man enter in to a woman, whatsoever he brings---all is the woman's.

I.37. If a man divorce his wife, if he wish, he may give her something; if he does not wish, he need not give her anything. Empty shall she go out.

I.46. If a woman whose husband is dead on the death of her husband do not go out from her house, if her husband did not leave her anything, she shall dwell in the house of one of her sons. The sons of her husband shall support her; her food and her drink, as for a fiancee whom they are courting, they shall agree to provide for her. If she be a second wife, and have no sons of her own, with one of her husband's sons she shall dwell and the group shall support her. If she have sons of her own, her own sons shall support her, and she shall do their work. But if there be one among the sons of her husband who marries her, the other sons need not support her.

II.2. If a man among brothers who have not yet divided the paternal estate commit a killing, to the avenger of blood they shall give him. If he choose, he may be spared. His portion in the paternal estate he may seize.

II.6. Before he takes field or house for silver, three times in a month of days the buyer shall make proclamation in the city of Ashur, and three times he shall have proclamation made in the city in which he would buy the field and house. Thus: "Field and house of so-and-so, son of so-and-so, situated in the cultivable area of this city I am buying. Such as are in possession or have no objection, or have any claims on the property, let them bring their tablets, let them lay before the magistrates, let them present their claims, let them prove their title, and let them take what is theirs. Those whl during this month of days cannot bring even one of their tablets to me, lay them before the magistrates, receive in full what belongs to him." If the buyer shall have made proclamation, they shall write their tablets, the magistrates shall give them to him, saying: "In this month of days, the buyer made proclamation three times, >He who in this month of days brought not his tablets to me, did not lay them before me, shall forfeit his claim to share in field and house.' To the one making the proclamation, who is a buyer, it shall be free."

II.8. If a man meddle with the field of his neighbor, they shall convict him. Threefold shall he restore. One of his fingers they shall cut off, a hundred blows they shall inflict upon him, one month of days he shall do the king's work.

III.2. If a man sell the son or daughter of a man, who on account of debt was dwelling in his house, they shall convict him, he shall lose his money; and he shall give his minor son to the owner of the property; one hundred lashes shall they inflict upon him, twenty days shall he do the king's work.

Ahikar the Wise: His Legend and Proverbs

The story of Ahikar (Ahiqar) the Wise is one of the most popular and often translated in the ancient Middle East. While it is thought that the original was written in Assyrian language, the story exists in many versions. These include Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Slavonic, Georgian, Old Turkish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and English. The story of Ahikar is made up of two parts. The first part is the story of Ahikar, a wise and respected official of the Assyrian Empire. As he grows old. Ahikar becomes upset by the fact that he has no son to pass his wisdom onto. As time goes on, and all else fails, he decides to adopt his nephew Nadan and instruct him to take his place at court. Nadan, however, turns out to be disloyal and plots against his uncle. Eventually, Nadan is found out and punished. Within the framework of this story. Ahikar has two opportunities to instruct Nadan in the wisdom he has acquired. Here is the second part of the story which is made of series of proverbs, and wise sayings. Scholars agree that there is a true historical basis to Ahikar and his proverbs. An Assyrian tablet from the Seleucid era relates that " In the time of king Esarhaddon, Aba-enlil-dari whom the Arameans call Ahikar was ummanu (court scholar). [Source: Internet Archive]

Ahikar and the celestial town

Selected Proverbs of Ahikar The Wise:
1. Hear, O my son Nadan, and come to the understanding of me, and be mindful of my words, as the words of God.
2. My son Nadan, if thou hast heard a word, let it die in thy heart, and reveal it to no man; lest it become a hot coal in thy mouth and burn thee, and thou lay a blemish on thy soul, and be angered against God.
3. My son, do not tell all that thou hearest, and do not disclose all that thou seest.
4. My son, do not loose a knot that is sealed, and do not seal one that is loosed. Televison 5. My son, commit not adultery with the wife of thy neighbor; lest others should commit adultery with thy wife.
6. My son, be not in a hurry, like the almond tree whose blossom is the first to appear, but whose fruit is the last to be eaten; but be equal and sensible, like the mulberry tree whose blossom is the last to appear, but whose fruit is the first to be eaten.

7. My son, it is better to remove stones with a wise man that to drink wine with a fool.
8. My son, with a wise man thou wilt not be depraved, and with a depraved man thou wilt not become wise.
9. My son, the rich man eats a snake, and they say, he ate it for medicine. And the poor man eats it, and they say, for his hunger he ate it.
10 My son, if thine enemy meet thee with evil, meet thou him with wisdom.
11. My son, walk not in the way unarmed; because thou knowest not when thy enemy shall come upon thee.
12. My son, let thy words be true, in order that thy lord may say to thee, 'Draw near me,' and thou shalt live.
13. My son, lie not in thy speech before thy lord, lest thou be convicted, and he shall say to thee, 'Away from my sight!'

14. My son, smite with stones the dog that has left his own master and followed after thee.
15. My son, the flock that makes many tracks becomes the portion of the wolves.
16. My son, test thy son with bread and water, and then thou canst leave in his hands thy possessions and thy wealth.
17. My son, I have carried iron and removed stones; and they were not heavier on me than a man who settles in the house of his father-in-law.
18. My son, I have carried salt and removed lead; and I have not seen anything heavier than that a man should pay back a debt which he did not borrow.
19. My son, better is he that is blind of eye than he that is blind of heart; for the blind of eye straightway learneth the road and walketh in it: but the blind of heart leaveth the right way and goeth into the desert.
20. My son, let not a word go forth from thy mouth until thou hast taken counsel within thy heart: because it is better for a man to stumble in his heart than to stumble with his tongue.
21. My son, put not a gold ring on thy finger, when thou hast not wealth [ or ' when it is not thine. ']; lest fools make mock of thee.

Story of Ahikar, Grand Vizier of Assyria

The First Chapter of the “Story of Ahikar, Grand Vizier of Assyria” — “ The story of Haiqar the Wise, Vizier of Sennacherib the King, and of Nadan, sister's son to Haiqar the Sage” --- goes: 2 There was a Vizier in the days of King Sennacherib, son of Sarhadum, King of Assyria and Nineveh, a wise man named Haiqar, and he was Vizier of the king Sennacherib.
3 He had a fine fortune and much goods, and he was skilful, wise, a philosopher, in knowledge, in opinion and in government, and he had married sixty women, and had built a castle for each of them.
4 But with it all he had no child by any of these women, who might be his heir.
5 And he was very sad on account of this, and one day he assembled the astrologers and the learned men and the wizards and explained to them his condition and the matter of his barrenness.
6 And they said to him, 'Go, sacrifice to the gods and beseech them that perchance they may provide thee with a boy.' [Source: Ahikar Aramaic papyrus of 500 B. C. in the ruins of Elephantine - the Jewish temple in Egypt, “The Lost Books of The Bible and The Forgotten Books of Eden,” Crane, Second Section, pgs 198-219, Alpha House]

7 And he did as they told him and offered sacrifices to the idols, and besought them and implored them with request and entreaty.
8 And they answered him not one word. And he went away sorrowful and dejected, departing with a pain at his heart.
9 And he returned, and implored the Most High God, and believed, beseeching Him with a burning in his heart, saying, '0 Most High God, 0 Creator of the Heavens and of the earth, o Creator of all created things!
10 I beseech Thee to give me a boy, that I may be consoled by him, that he may be present at my death, that he may close my eyes, and that he may bury me.'
11 Then there came to him a voice saying, 'Inasmuch as thou hast relied first of all on graven images, and hast offered sacrifices to them, for this reason thou Shalt remain childless thy life long.
12 But take Nadan thy sister's son, and make him thy child and teach him thy learning and thy good breeding, and at thy death he shall bury thee.'

13 Thereupon he took Nadan his sister's son, who was a little suckling. And he handed him over to eight wet-nurses, that they might suckle him and bring him up.
14 And they brought him up with good food and gentle training and silken clothing, and purple and crimson. And he was seated upon couches of silk.
15 And when Nadan grew big and walked, shooting up like a tall cedar, he taught him good manners and writing and science and philosophy.
16 And after many days King Sennacherib looked at Haiqar and saw that he had grown very old, and moreover he said to him.
17 '0 my honoured friend, the skilful, the trusty, the wise, the governor, my secretary, my vizier, my Chancellor and director; verily thou art grown very old and weighted with years; and thy departure from this world must be near.
18 Tell me who shall have a place in my service after thee.' And Haiqar said to him, '0 my lord, may thy head live for ever! There is Nadan my sister's son, I have made him my child.

19 And I have brought him up and taught him my wisdom and my knowledge.'
20 And the king said to him, '0 Haiqar ! bring him to my presence, that I may see him, and if I find him suitable, put him in thy place; and thou shalt go thy way, to take a rest and to live the remainder of thy life in sweet repose.'
21 Then Haiqar went and presented Nadan his sister's son. And he did homage and wished him power and honour.
22 And he looked at him and admired him and rejoiced in him and said to Haiqar: 'Is this thy son, 0 Haiqar? I pray that God may preserve him. And as thou hast served me and my father Sarhadum so may this boy of thine serve me and fulfil my undertakings, my needs, and my business, so that I may honour him and make him powerful for thy sake.'
23 And Haiqar did obeisance to the king and said to him 'May thy head live, 0 my lord the king, for ever! I seek from thee that thou mayst be patient with my boy Nadan and forgive his mistakes that he may serve thee as it is fitting.'
24 Then the king swore to him that he would make him the greatest of his favourites, and the most powerful of his friends, and that he should be with him in all honour and respect. And he kissed his hands and bade him farewell.
25 And he took Nadan his sister's son with him and seated him in a parlour and set about teaching him night and day till he had crammed him with wisdom and knowledge more than with bread and water.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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