ASSYRIA AND THE ASSYRIANS

THE ASSYRIANS

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The Assyrians established an empire in Mesopotamia about 700 years after departure of the Babylonians. They ruled Mesopotamia and much of the Near and Middle East from 883 to 612 B.C. At its height the Assyrian empire was centered in Nineveh, Iraq and encompassed what is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt and large parts of Turkey and Iran. They created the first international empire where trade, religion and artistic ideas flowed freely.

The Assyrians and their primary God Ashur are named after Ashur, a city in northern Iraq that lay at the center of their homeland. They were initially ruled by Babylonians and were strongly influenced by Babylonian culture.

The Assyrians were know for their fighting skill and brutality. The Old Testament describes Assyrian kings and armies that “laid waste to nations” and brought “calculated frightfulness.” The Assyrians are referred to on numerous occasions in the Bible. For the most part they and their kings are condemned for their cruelty and despotism. The prophet Isaiah assails the “the king of Assyria’s boastful heart and his arrogant insolence.” The prophet Nahum accuses another Assyrian king of “unrelenting cruelty.” The second Book of Kings warns that “the kings of Assyria have exterminated all the nation, they have thrown their gods on the fire.”

There are some who feel that Assyrians have gotten and undeserved bad rap. They were conquerors, yes, but so were a lot of other successful ancient empires. In the territories they ruled over the promoted peaceful trade and religious tolerance and employed skillful diplomacy and effective propaganda. They were able administrators and built massive structures that "were awesome in size and appearance" and "meant to impress the visitor with the power of the king."

See Separate Article Under Biblical history JUDAH’S CONQUEST BY ASSYRIA

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com 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 archaeology.org 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 archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : 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 archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Early Assyrian History

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Palace of Khorsabad
The Assyrians emerged around 2000 B.C., late by Mesopotamian terms. Around 1400 B.C., they ousted the invaders that occupied their land. Then they extended their rule northward. They established themselves as a regional power in 11th century B.C.

The Assyrian Empire was initially based in Ashur, which at its height was town of perhaps 30,000 people. Ashur lied at the center of strategic trade routes between Babylon, Turkey and Syria. It was the envy of invaders. To hold the city the Assyrians had to became strong and militarily and skilled diplomatically. See Ashur Below.

The local people of Ashur were more interested in making money than in politics and conquering until around 900 B.C. when the city’s trade routes were threatened by neighboring states and powerful families decided to build an army to protect those routes. The army that was established was quite fordable. Rival states were easily held off and victories gave the Assyrian rulers confidence and a taste for power and conquest. The capital of Assyria moved from Nimrud to Nineveh in 863 B.C.

The Assyrians learned to how make iron weapons and use chariots from the Hittites. They established a military state that drew strength and economic clout from conquest. They organized their society around warfare and boasted of their conquests to strike terror into their enemies and prey.

List of Rulers of Assyria

Old Assyrian dynasty: Shamshi-Adad: 1813–1781 B.C.; Dynasty of Mari: Zimri-Lim: 1775 B.C.

Middle Assyrian dynasty: Ashur-uballit I: 1365–1330 B.C.; Enlil-nirari: 1329–1320 B.C.; Adad-nirari I: 1307–1275 B.C.; Tukulti-Ninurta I: 1244–1208 B.C.; Ashur-dan I: 1179–1134 B.C.; Tiglath-pileser I: 1114–1076 B.C.; Ashur-bel-kala: 1073–1056 B.C.


Neo-Assyrian dynasty: Ashurnasirpal II: 883–859 B.C.; Shalmaneser III: 858–824 B.C.; Shamshi-Adad V: 823–811 B.C.; Adad-nirari III: 810–783 B.C.; Shalmaneser IV: 782–773 B.C.; Ashur-dan III: 772–755 B.C.; Ashur-nirari V: 754–745 B.C.; Tiglath-pileser III: 745–727 B.C.; Shalmaneser V: 726–722 B.C.; Sargon II: 721–705 B.C.; Sennacherib: 704–681 B.C.; Esarhaddon: 680–669 B.C.; Ashurbanipal: 668–627 B.C.; Ashur-etel-ilani: 626–623 B.C.; Sin-shar-ishkun: 622–612 B.C.; Ashur-uballit II: 611–609 B.C.; Mesopotamia United [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "List of Rulers of Mesopotamia", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/meru/hd_meru.htm (October 2004)

Early Assyrian Period: Rise of the Assyrians

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The ancient city of Ashur (Assur) was located on the west bank of the river Tigris in northern Mesopotamia. Although it had controlled an extensive trading network in the early second millennium B.C. and formed a core area of the empire of Shamshi-Adad I (r. 1813–1781 B.C.), the city had slipped into the shadows in the following centuries. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Assyria, 1365–609 B.C.", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, originally published October 2004, last revised April 2010 metmuseum.org \^/]

“After several centuries of obscurity and even loss of independence from around 1400 B.C. under the powerful northern Mesopotamian state of Mitanni, Assyria's fortunes revived in the reign of Ashur-uballit I (1365–1330 B.C.). From his capital at Ashur, Ashur-uballit extended Assyrian control over the rich farming lands of Nineveh and Arbela to the north. The new conquests were consolidated by succeeding kings and, under Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.), the remnants of the state of Mitanni were conquered and Assyrian control stretched to the Euphrates and the borders of the Hittite empire.” \^/


Morris Jastrow said: “The first result of the rise of Assyria was to limit the further extension of Babylonia. The successors of Hammurabi, partly under the influence of the loftier spirit which he had introduced into the country during the closing years of his reign, partly under the stress of necessity, became promoters of peace. Instead of further territorial expansion we find the growth of commerce, which, however, did not hinder Babylonia itself from becoming a prey to a conquering nation that came (as did the Sumerians) from the mountainous regions on the east. Native rulers are replaced by Kassites who, as we have already indicated, retain control of the Euphrates Valley for more than half a millennium. It is significant of the strength which Assyria had meanwhile acquired, that it held the Kassites in check.

"Alliances between Assyrians and Kassites alternated with conflicts in which, on the whole, the Assyrians gained a steady advantage. But the Assyrian empire also had its varying fortunes before it assumed, in the 12th century, a position of decided superiority over the south. The chief adversaries of the Assyarian rulers were the Hittite groups, who continued to maintain a strong kingdom in north-western Mesopotamia. In addition, there were other groups farther north in the mountain recesses of Asia Minor, which from time to time made serious inroads on Assyria, abetted no doubt by the Hittites or by the Mitanni elements in Assyria, which had probably not been entirely absorbed as yet by the Semitic Assyrians. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

See Kassites

Middle Assyrian Period

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Sargon I
IAccording to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Assyria reached its greatest extent during this so-called Middle Assyrian period under the warrior king Tukulti-Ninurta I (r. 1244–1208 B.C.), who defeated the ruler of Babylonia to the south and installed puppet kings to govern the region for some thirty-two years. Tukulti-Ninurta established a new royal city on the opposite side of the Tigris from Ashur and named it Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta. Struggles for the throne led to the king's assassination and a series of short-lived reigns.[Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, revised April 2010 metmuseum.org \^/]

“Nonetheless, apart from the loss of Babylonia, the Assyrian empire did not disintegrate. Under Tiglath-pileser I (r. 1114–1076 B.C.), campaigns were conducted north as far as Lake Van and the king even journeyed to the Mediterranean, where he received royal gifts. Much campaigning by Tiglath-pileser and succeeding kings was directed against Aramaean pastoralist groups in Syria, some of whom where moving against Assyrian centers. By the end of the second millennium B.C., the Aramaean expansion had resulted in the loss of much Assyrian territory in Upper Mesopotamia.” \^/

Middle Assyrian Dynasty Rulers: Ashur-uballit I: 1365–1330 B.C.; Enlil-nirari: 1329–1320 B.C.; Adad-nirari I: 1307–1275 B.C.; Tukulti-Ninurta I: 1244–1208 B.C.; Ashur-dan I: 1179–1134 B.C.; Tiglath-pileser I: 1114–1076 B.C.; Ashur-bel-kala: 1073–1056 B.C.

Neo-Assyrian Period

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Sargon II
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: From the ninth to the seventh centuries B.C., Assyria prospered under a series of exceptionally effective rulers who expanded its borders far beyond the northern plains. Beginning in the ninth century B.C., the Assyrian armies controlled the major trade routes and dominated the surrounding states in Babylonia, western Iran, Anatolia, and the Levant. The city of Ashur continued to be important as the ancient and religious capital, but the Assyrian kings also founded and expanded other cities. Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.) established Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) as his capital and undertook impressive building works, including the Northwest Palace. During Ashurnasirpal's rule, Assyria recovered much of the territory that it had lost around 1100 B.C. at the end of the Middle Assyrian period. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, revised April 2010 metmuseum.org\^/]

“Shalmaneser III (r. 858–824 B.C.) succeeded his father, Ashurnasirpal, as king and attempted to consolidate earlier military successes both to the west in Syria and the Levant and to the north in Anatolia. After a series of kings, Sargon II (r. 721–705 B.C.) founded Khorsabad (ancient Dur Sharrukin), where he built a great palace. Sargon appears to have seized the throne in a violent coup and, after dealing with resistance inside Assyria, spent much of his rule in battle. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Sennacherib (r. 704–681 B.C.), who chose the ancient city of Nineveh as his capital. Here he built the palace, named the "Palace without Rival," and created a vast library. During Sennacherib's rule, the city of Babylon was captured and sacked as well as the city of Lachish in Judah, an incident recorded in the Bible. After Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons, another son, Esarhaddon (r. 680–669 B.C.), came to the throne. He extended Assyrian activity into Egypt, capturing Memphis in 671 B.C., but died en route to a second campaign in Egypt in 669 B.C. Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627 B.C.) succeeded his father as king and during his reign attacked Egypt, Babylonia, and Elam in western Iran.. \^/

“Assyria was at the height of its power, but persistent difficulties controlling Babylonia would soon develop into a major conflict. At the end of the seventh century, the Assyrian empire collapsed under the assault of Babylonians from southern Mesopotamia and Medes, newcomers who were to establish a kingdom in Iran. Nimrud was destroyed twice, first in 614 and again in 612 B.C. In that final year, Ashur and Nineveh also fell, and Assyrian rule in the Near East came to an end.” \^/

Neo-Assyrian Dynasty Rulers: Ashurnasirpal II: 883–859 B.C.; Shalmaneser III: 858–824 B.C.; Shamshi-Adad V: 823–811 B.C.; Adad-nirari III: 810–783 B.C.; Shalmaneser IV: 782–773 B.C.; Ashur-dan III: 772–755 B.C.; Ashur-nirari V: 754–745 B.C.; Tiglath-pileser III: 745–727 B.C.; Shalmaneser V: 726–722 B.C.; Sargon II: 721–705 B.C.; Sennacherib: 704–681 B.C.; Esarhaddon: 680–669 B.C.; Ashurbanipal: 668–627 B.C.; Ashur-etel-ilani: 626–623 B.C.; Sin-shar-ishkun: 622–612 B.C.; Ashur-uballit II: 611–609 B.C.; Mesopotamia United

Assyrian Empire

The Assyrians destroyed the fortified town of Lachish in Judea after a long siege in 701 B.C. They threatened tribes on the Iranian plateau and overwhelmed the Nubian rulers of Egypt. By the 7th century the Assyrians had established the largest empire in the ancient world. Around 700 B.C. Ninevah was regarded as the largest city on the world. Sennacherob’s palace was among the grandest in the world.

The greatest period of Assyrian conquest took place after the Hittite and Egyptian Empires weakened and lost their grip of power over Syria and Palestine. By 728 B.C., the Assyrians had established an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean.

The Assyrian Empire was at its height from 668 to 627 B.C. Conquered territories were forced to pay tribute to the Assyrian court. To prevent rebellions, the Assyrians deported thousands of captives to the ancient Assyrian homelands north of Akkad and installed governors in conquered regions.



The Assyrians arguably created the world’s first multi-cultural empire. They brought a number of different ethnic groups into the kingdom. Among their rivals were the Urartians, a people that flourished in the mountainous highlands around Lake Van from the late 9th century to the early 6th century B.C. They borrowed heavily from the Assyrians, plundered their neighbors for cattle and prisoners and were one of Assyria’s main rivals. After a violent and mysterious collapse, their kingdom later became the homeland of the Armenians.

Assyrian Attack on Jerusalem and the Lost Tribes of Israel

The revived Assyrian empire, conquered Israel’s northern empire in 722 B.C. After the prophet Hosea predicted that "The calf of Samaria shall be broken into pieces; for they have sown the wind, and the shall reap the whirlwind," the Assyrian king Tiglath-pilese III sacked Damascus and invaded northern Israel. In 722 B.C. northern Israel was conquered by Tiglath-pilese III's successor Shalmanseser V. Sargon recorded: "The city of Samaria I besieged. I took. I carried away 27,290 of the people that dwelt therein."

Sennacherib (705 to 681 B.C.), the Assyrian ruler of Ninevah, launched an unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. The siege was cut short, according to the Bible, by intervention by angels. An inscription on a statue found in the doorway of Sennacherib’s throne room recounts a story of bribery from the Bible, the first known independent written account corresponding to a story in the Bible.

According to Assyrian empire records, Israel was a powerful kingdom that posed a threat to Assyrian control of the region. One inscription described an army by Ahab, the husband of biblical Jezebel, as possessing 2,000 chariots, a formidable number at that time. When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, Israelite chariot units were incorporated into the Assyrian army.

The northern kingdom of Israel was occupied by 12 tribes, who were said to have descended from the Patriarch Jacob. Ten of these tribes---the Reuben, Gad, Zebulon, Simeon, Dan, Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh, Naphtali and Isaachar---became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel when they disappeared after northern Israel was conquered by the Assyrians.

In accord with Assyrian policy of deporting the local population to prevent rebellions, the 200,000 Jews living in the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled. After that nothing was heard from them again. The only clues in the Bible were from II Kings 17:6: "...the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes." This puts them in northern Mesopotamia.


Jehu king of Israel submitting to Shalmaneser III of Assyria


End of the Assyrians

The Assyrians eventually overextended themselves as the empire became mired in corruption and cities within the empire came under attack from the Babylonians and other rivals. Recently a clay table written by an official for the Assyrian leader Mannu-ki-Labbali---who is making a desperate cry for reinforcements as he is being besieged by a Babylonian force at the ancient city of Tushan before it is sacked, plundered and burned---was unearthed by a team lead by Cambridge archaeologist John MacGinnis working at Tushan, a rich trading city under the Assyrians located near Diyarbakir in present-day Turkey.

In the 30-line letter, a city treasurer in charge of raising an army to defend the city, despairs over a lack of equipment and manpower to stave off the attack. Speaking for Mannu-ki-Labbali the author of tablet described how coppersmiths, blacksmiths, bow-makers and arrow makers---necessary to keeping an army maintained---have fled the city, “Not one of them is here!” he laments, “How can I command?” he also lists shortages of horses, chariots, bandage boxes and containers. The letter ends with an anguished cry: “No one will come out of it! No one will escape. I am done!” Some historians regard the fall of Tushan as the beginning of the end of the Assyrian empire and if nothing else it shows how unprepared the Assyrians were for attacks by rivals.

The Assyrians were defeated by an alliance of Babylonians to south and Medes (former vassals of the Assyrians), Cimmerians (sometimes confused with Scythians) and Chaldeans from the Iranian plateau who besieged and destroyed Nimrud and the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, burning it to the ground.

The Medes, a people from Iran, laid siege on Ashur in 614 B.C. After a long standoff they managed to force the city gates open. Medes fighters fought hand and hand with city guards in the narrow streets. In 612 B.C. they took Nimrud. In 606 B.C. the Assyrian empire collapsed.

Neo-Baylonians Defeat the Assyrians and Egyptians


Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Not all of the old Assyrian empire bowed to Babylon. A young Assyrian prince was made king and an invitation was sent to Pharaoh Necho of Egypt to join in stopping the growth of the new Babylonian empire. As Necho moved northward to join his allies, Josiah, perhaps in an attempt to protect Judah from both Assyrian and Egyptian control, attempted to stop him and was killed in the battle of Megiddo. Necho proceeded into Syria and Josiah's son Shallum, or Jehoahaz (possibly his throne name), took the throne, supported by the free men of Judah. Within three months he was deposed by Necho and taken as a hostage to Egypt. His brother Eliakim was appointed king and his name changed to Jehoiakim. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“The Babylonian army, led by Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadrezzar (the Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible), defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish in 605. Fleeing Egyptians were pursued to their own borders and only saved from invasion by the death of Nabopolassar which necessitated Nebuchadrezzar's return to Babylon. He was crowned king in April, 604.<=>

“In Judah, Jehoiakim, having promised allegiance to Babylon, retained the crown. He was an unpopular ruler and Jeremiah makes reference to his extravagance in building a new summer palace at Bethhaccerem (Ramat Rahel), a hill site a few miles south of Jerusalem.7 Jeremiah also refers to the brutal and tyrannical role that Jehoiakim played, thus suggesting that he was anything but esteemed.<=>

“The Egyptian-Babylonian power struggle had not been completely settled and in 601 the two nations met again. Apparently the battle was a stalemate, and Nebuchadrezzar returned to Babylon to strengthen his forces. Possibly the failure of Nebuchadrezzar to win a decisive victory encouraged Jehoiakim to make a fatal error and rebel against Babylon. At the time, Nebuchadrezzar was engaged in a frontier struggle and it was not until late in 598 that Babylonian armies moved on Jerusalem. During that same month Jehoiakim died, passing his problems to his 18-year-old son Jehoiachin. <=>

Fall of Nineveh

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “For three years Ashurbanipal's successor held the Assyrian throne and at his death Sin-shar-ishkin became king. In the summer of 612, Nabopolassar, a Chaldean leader, aided by Medes and northern nomads, attacked, looted and destroyed Nineveh, an event that marked the crumbling of the last vestiges of power in Assyria and established the foundations for the Neo-Babylonian Empire. There is some evidence that the defeat of Nineveh was the occasion of rejoicing in Judah, although the Assyrians established a new capital at Harran. Within a few years Harran was conquered by the Medes. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]


“The reaction of at least one individual to the fall of Nineveh is preserved in a poem echoing sheer mocking joy in the defeat of Assyria. The book of the prophet Nahum falls into two parts: Chapter 1 contains an incomplete poem in an alphabetic acrostic form,1 and Chapters 2 and 3 are concerned with Nineveh. Attempts have been made to read out of this short poem something of the writer's status and personality, but there is really no way of learning much about the man for, in his jubilant mood, he treats only one theme-Nineveh. His words form a triumphant shout of praise to Yahweh that the enemy has fallen. His native village of Elkosh (1:1) has not been located.2 The prophet may have been a Judaean who reacted with intense pleasure at the news of Nineveh's defeat or he may have been a descendant of the exiles of Israel living in a village near enough to Nineveh to enable him to witness the siege, thus accounting for the graphic descriptions in his poem. He may have been a cult prophet in Jerusalem.<=>

“The two chapters dealing with the siege (chs. 2-3) appear to have been written near the time of the battle. The reference to the sack of Thebes (3:8) guarantees a date after 663, the date of Ashurbanipal's successful attack. The context of the poem suggests a date close to 612. The opening chapter is a separate work which employs theophanic imagery (1:3b-5) and depicts Yahweh as an avenger (1:2-3, 9-11), a wrathful deity (1:6), a refuge for his people (1:7-8), and a deliverer (1:12-13). While it cannot be determined for certain, it seems that someone other than Nahum wrote this chapter. The liturgical or hymnic quality of this section has led to the suggestion that the first chapter was combined with the last two to form a liturgy for use in the New Year festival in the autumn of 612 after the fall of Nineveh. <=>

“The last chapters employ forceful, descriptive terminology to create a compact, vivid word picture of the confusion and horror during the Babylonian attack. In Nahum's thought, God acts against an enemy who has earned punishment and wrath. The closing, mocking verses, indicate that the battle was over and the quietness of death and desolation had descended upon the city and its leaders. All who suffered the cruelty of Assyrian tyranny clap their hands in rejoicing (3:18-19).<=>

“It has also been proposed that the book was developed to propagandize, to encourage a strong stand against Assyria and to extend hopes for the restoration of the nation of Judah.4 It seems better and simpler to recognize the book of Nahum as consisting of genuine oracles by the prophet concerning the fall of Nineveh, to which an introductory poem was added to adapt the total work to liturgical usage. <=>

Herodotus on the Battle Between Persians and Assyrians

Herodotus wrote in 430 B.C.:“The expedition of Cyrus was undertaken against the son of this princess, who bore the same name as his father Labynetus, and was king of the Assyrians. The Great King, when he goes to the wars, is always supplied with provisions carefully prepared at home, and with cattle of his own. Water too from the river Choaspes, which flows by Susa, is taken with him for his drink, as that is the only water which the kings of Persia taste. Wherever he travels, he is attended by a number of four-wheeled cars drawn by mules, in which the Choaspes water, ready boiled for use, and stored in flagons of silver, is moved with him from place to place.I.189: Cyrus on his way to Babylon came to the banks of the Gyndes, a stream which, rising in the Matienian mountains, runs through the country of the Dardanians, and empties itself into the river Tigris. The Tigris, after receiving the Gyndes, flows on by the city of Opis, and discharges its waters into the Erythraean sea. [Source: Herodotus, “The History”, translated by George Rawlinson, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862]


Fall of Ninevah


“When Cyrus reached this stream, which could only be passed in boats, one of the sacred white horses accompanying his march, full of spirit and high mettle, walked into the water, and tried to cross by himself; but the current seized him, swept him along with it, and drowned him in its depths. Cyrus, enraged at the insolence of the river, threatened so to break its strength that in future even women should cross it easily without wetting their knees. Accordingly he put off for a time his attack on Babylon, and, dividing his army into two parts, he marked out by ropes one hundred and eighty trenches on each side of the Gyndes, leading off from it in all directions, and setting his army to dig, some on one side of the river, some on the other, he accomplished his threat by the aid of so great a number of hands, but not without losing thereby the whole summer season. I.190: Having, however, thus wreaked his vengeance on the Gyndes, by dispersing it through three hundred and sixty channels, Cyrus, with the first approach of the ensuing spring, marched forward against Babylon.

“The Babylonians, encamped without their walls, awaited his coming. A battle was fought at a short distance from the city, in which the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian king, whereupon they withdrew within their defenses. Here they shut themselves up, and made light of his siege, having laid in a store of provisions for many years in preparation against this attack; for when they saw Cyrus conquering nation after nation, they were convinced that he would never stop, and that their turn would come at last. I.191: Cyrus was now reduced to great perplexity, as time went on and he made no progress against the place. In this distress either some one made the suggestion to him, or he thought to himself of a plan, which he proceeded to put in execution. He placed a portion of his army at the point where the river enters the city, and another body at the back of the place where it issues forth, with orders to march into the town by the bed of the stream, as soon as the water became shallow enough: he then himself drew off with the unwarlike portion of his host, and made for the place where Nitocris dug the basin for the river, where he did exactly what she had done formerly: he turned the Euphrates by a canal into the basin, which was then a marsh, on which the river sank to such an extent that the natural bed of the stream became fordable.

“Hereupon the Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the, river-side, entered the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man's thigh, and thus got into the town. Had the Babylonians been apprised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they would have made fast all the street-gates which gave upon the river, and mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the enemy, as it were, in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learnt the capture but too certainly. Such, then, were the circumstances of the first taking of Babylon. I.192:

After the Assyrians

Nicholas Aljeloo of The Assyrian Australian Academic Society wrote: “It is safe to say that the ethnic, national, civic, administrative and other aspects of Assyrian daily life stopped being written and preserved by the Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C., with the exception of the few periods when the smaller Assyrian kingdoms of Adiabene, Haran and Osrhoene were in power. Thus, Assyrian history entered a national literary vacuum and began to live its long period of foreign manipulation.[Source: Nicholas Aljeloo, The Assyrian Australian Academic Society (TAAAS), Sydney, Australia July 2, 2000 \~\]


Persians and Assyrians


“The destruction of the Assyrian Empire did not wipe out its population. They were predominantly peasant farmers, and since Assyria contains some of the best wheat land in the Near East, descendants of the Assyrian peasants would, as opportunity permitted, build new villages over the old cities and carried on with agricultural life, remembering traditions of the former cities. After seven or eight centuries and after various vicissitudes, these people became Christians. These Christians, and the Jewish communities scattered amongst them, not only kept alive the memory of their Assyrian predecessors but also combined them with traditions from the Bible. The Bible, indeed, came to be a powerful factor in keeping alive the memory of Assyria and particularly of Nineveh. Nineveh was at the center of one of the most fascinating of the Old Testament legends, the story of the prophet Jonah who attempted in vain to escape the God-given duty of preaching to the great pagan capital. On part of the ruins of Nineveh there was a sacred mound, and this - probably originally an Assyrian temple - Christians and Jews came to identify with the spot where Jonah preached. A church was built on the site. When the Muslims conquered Mesopotamia in the seventh century AD, they adopted the local traditions of the Christians and Jews amongst whom they lived, and Jonah became significant to Muslims no less than to Jews and Christians. A mosque replaced the church but retained - and retains to this day - the association with Jonah.”

Dr. John A. Brinkman states that, “For several centuries people lived in Assyria after the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (614-610 B.C.) and followed the Assyrian religion and can be classified as Assyrians.”[34]When asked if there was racial continuity in Assyria after the empire Dr. Brinkman replied, “There is no reason to believe that there would be no racial or cultural continuity in Assyria since there is no evidence that the population of Assyria was removed.”

Herodotus clearly indicates that the word “Syrian” is merely a Greek corruption of the word “Assyrian”. He describes the Assyrian infantry in the Persian Army during the rule of King Xerxes (485-465 B.C.) as follows: “The Assyrians went to war with helmets upon their head, made of brass, and plated in strange fashion, which is not easy to describe... These people, whom Greeks call Syrian, are called Assyrian by the barbarians. The Babylonians serve at their rank” The last part of this passage has also been translated as, “The Greeks call these people Syrians, but others know them as Assyrians.” \~\

Modern Assyrians

Nicholas Aljeloo of The Assyrian Australian Academic Society wrote: ““The Political Dictionary of the Modern Middle East[1] defines Assyrians as, “Remnants of the people of ancient Mesopotamia, succeeding the Sumero-Akkadians and the Babylonians as one continuous civilization. They are among the first nations who accepted Christianity. They belong to one of the four churches: the Chaldean Uniate, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Due to the ethnic-political conflict in the Middle East, they are better known by these ecclesiastical designations. The Assyrians use classical Syriac in their liturgies while the majority of them speak and write a modern dialect of this language. They constitute the third largest ethnic group in Iraq with their communities in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Russia and Armenia. Today they remain stateless and great numbers of them have left their homeland and settled in Western Europe, the United States and Australia.” The author of this fails to mention the members of the Syriac Maronite Church as Assyrians or to recognise the existence of non-Christian Assyrians. [Source: Nicholas Aljeloo, The Assyrian Australian Academic Society (TAAAS), Sydney, Australia July 2, 2000 \~\]

“The Assyrian homeland encompasses what was once the core of the Assyrian Empire of antiquity and are now the areas of northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey and northeastern Syria, although there are Assyrian communities all over the Middle East, especially Lebanon. Northern Iraq includes the regions of Mosul, Dohuk, ‘Aqra and Zibar, Mezuriyeh, Gourzan (Gahra), Supna (Amadiya), Zakho and Adiabene (Arbil and Kirkuk). Southeastern Turkey includes the Assyrian regions of Hakkiari (Hakkari), Van, Bohtan (Cizre), Bedlis (Bitlis), ‘Ayn-Sliwa / ‘Ayn-Slibo (Siirt), Amed / Omed (Diyarbakir), Lagga / Lago (Lice), Tur-‘Abdin (Jebel Toor), Mirda / Merdo (Mardin), Siverek, Tella-Shleela (Viransehir), Kharput (Harput), Malatya, Perin (Adiyaman), Palu, Gerger, Shmeishat (Samsat), Urhay / Urhoy (Sanliurfa), and ‘Ayn-Tawa / ‘Ayn-Towo (Gaziantep). Northwestern Iran includes the Assyrian region of Urmia and Salamast and northeastern Syria includes the Khabour region, the Euphrates valley and the villages around Aleppo. Now, though, Assyrians no longer inhabit many of these places as a result of the persecutions that are the topic of today’s seminar. \~\

“The Assyrians, whatever their region of origin, call themselves “Surayeh / Suroyeh” and their language “Surit / Surayt” according to their plentiful dialects[4]. Those of the Nineveh Plains and those of the southern and eastern regions of Hakkiari in southeastern Turkey call themselves “Sorayeh” and their language “Surath”, those of the northern and central regions of Hakkiari and Van in southeast Turkey and Salamast in northwestern Iran call themselves “Su-reh” and their language “Soorit”, those of the Urmian regions of northwestern Iran call themselves “Surayi” or “Suryayi” and their language “Suyrit” or “Suyrayi”, and those of the regions to west of the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, call themselves “Suroyeh” or “Suryoyeh” and their language “Surayt” or “Suryoyo”. To be sure, many opinions have been expressed about this name, but relatively few of them have approached the truth.\~\

“Although uniting the children of one nation through their ancestral language, the term “Syriac-speaking” also allows much space for them to divide themselves into Assyrians, Chaldeans, Aramaeans, Syriacs, Syrians, Maronites, and the list goes on. It does not allow for one national designation for one people. Some may disagree but the people that call themselves any of the above things today are Syriac-Speaking or of a Syriac-Speaking background and heritage and hence are of Assyrian origin. Many issues disputing whether they are Assyrian, apart from the concept of self determination, can be answered by some statements and research made by eminent historians and scholars, purely from a historical and scholarly perspective. In this paper I shall set out to demonstrate first of all about whom we can say are Assyrians, the regions inhabited by Assyrians in the Middle East and what Assyrians have always called themselves. I have gathered and shall be using the opinions of eminent scholars to back up these arguments and using them I shall make apparent the origin of the word Syriac itself, linking to the ancient Assyrians. Although the research has not yet been exhausted, it has been proven without a doubt that all “Syriacs” are Assyrians.” \~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , 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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