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The Neo-Assyrian Empire was a period of Mesopotamian history which began in 934 BC and ended in 609 BC. During this period, Assyria assumed a position as a great regional power, vying with Babylonia and other lesser powers for dominance of the region, though not until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BC, did it become a powerful and vast empire. In the Middle Assyrian period of the Late Bronze Age, Assyria had been a minor kingdom of northern Mesopotamia (modern-day northern Iraqmarker), competing for dominance with its southern Mesopotamian rival Babylonia. Beginning with the campaign of Adad-nirari II, it became a great regional power, growing to be a serious threat to 25th dynasty Egypt.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire succeeded the Middle Assyrian period (14th to 10th century BC). Some scholars, such as Richard Nelson Frye, regard the Neo-Assyrian Empire to be the first real empire in human history. During this period, Aramaic was also made an official language of the empire, alongside the Akkadian language.

Assyria finally succumbed to the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, with the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. More than half a century later, the Babylonians and Assyrians both became provinces of the Persian Empire. Though the Assyrians during the reign of Ashurbanipal destroyed the Elamitemarker civilization, the Assyrians' culture did influence the succeeding empires of the Indo-Iranian tribes of the Medes and the Persiansmarker.

Pre-reform Assyria


After Tiglath-Pileser I, the Assyrians were in decline for nearly two centuries, a time of weak and ineffective rulers, wars with neighboring Urartu, and encroachments by Aramaean nomads. This long period of weakness ended with the accession in 911 BC of Adad-nirari II. He firmly subjugated the areas previously under nominal Assyrian vassalage, deporting populations in the north to far-off places. Apart from pushing the boundary with Babylonia slightly southward, he did not engage in actual expansion, and the borders of the empire he consolidated reached only as far west as the Khabur. He was succeeded by Tukulti-Ninurta II, who made some gains in the north during his short reign.

The next king, Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), embarked on a vast program of expansion, first conquering the peoples to the north as far as Nairi, then conquering the Aramaeans between the Khabur and the Euphrates. His harshness prompted a revolt that was crushed decisively in a pitched, two-day battle. Following this victory, he advanced without opposition as far as the Mediterranean and exacted tribute from Phoeniciamarker. Unlike any before, the Assyrians began boasting in their ruthlessness around this time. Ashurnasirpal II also moved his capital to the city of Kalhu (Nimrudmarker). The palaces, temples and other buildings raised by him bear witness to a considerable development of wealth and art.

Ashurnasirpal's son, Shalmaneser III (858–823 BC), had a long reign of 34 years, when the capital was converted into an armed camp. Each year the Assyrian armies marched out to campaign. Babylon was occupied, and Babylonia reduced to vassalage. He fought against Urartu, and marched an army against an alliance of Syrian states headed by Hadadezer of Damascusmarker, and including Ahab, king of Israel, at the Battle of Qarqarmarker in 853 BC. Despite Shalmaneser's description of 'vanquishing the opposition', it seems that the battle ended in a deadlock, as the Assyrian forces were withdrawn soon afterwards.

Shalmaneser retook Carchemish in 849 BC, and in 841 BC marched an army against Hazael, King of Damascus, besieging that city but not taking it. He also brought under tribute Jehu of Israel, Tyremarker, and Sidonmarker. His black obelisk, discovered at Kalhu, records many military exploits of his reign. [532973] The last few years of his life were disturbed by the rebellion of his eldest son that nearly proved fatal. Assur, Arbela and other places joined the pretender, and the revolt was quashed with difficulty by Shamshi-Adad V, Shalmaneser's second son, who soon afterwards succeeded him (824 BC).

Period of weakness, 823–745 BC

In the following 80 years or so, Assyria again experienced a relative decline, owing to weaker rulers (including Queen Semiramis) and a resurgence in expansion by Urartu. The notable exception was Adad-nirari III (810–782 BC), who captured Damascus in 804, bringing Syria under tribute as far south as Samariamarker and Edom, and who advanced against the Medes, perhaps even penetrating to the Caspian Seamarker.

Tiglath-Pileser III

Deportation of Israelites by the Assyrian Empire
When Nabonassar began the Neo-Babylonian dynasty in 747 BC Assyria was in the throes of a revolution. Civil war and pestilence were devastating the country, and its northern provinces had been wrested from it by Urartu. In 746 BC Kalhu joined the rebels, and on the 13th of Iyyar in the following year, a general named Pulu, who took the name of Tiglath-pileser III, seized the crown, and made sweeping changes to the Assyrian government, considerably improving its efficiency and security.

The conquered provinces were organized under an elaborate bureaucracy, with the king at the head — each district paying a fixed tribute and providing a military contingent. The Assyrian forces at this time became a standing army, that by successive improvements became an irresistible fighting machine; and Assyrian policy was henceforth directed toward reducing the whole civilized world into a single empire, throwing its trade and wealth into Assyrian hands. These changes are often identified as the beginning of the "Second Assyrian Empire".

When Tiglath-Pileser III had ascended the throne of Assyria, he went down to Babylonia and abducted the gods of Šapazza; the Assyrian-Babylonian Chronicle informs us (ABC 1 Col.1:5).After subjecting Babylon to tribute, severely punishing Urartu, and defeating the Medes and Neo-Hittite polities, Tiglath-Pileser III directed his armies into Syria, which had regained its independence, and the commercially successful Mediterranean seaports of Phoenicia. He took Arpadmarker near Aleppomarker in 740 BC after a siege of three years, and reduced Hamathmarker. Azariah (Uzziah) had been an ally of the king of Hamath, and thus was compelled by Tiglath-Pileser to do him homage and pay yearly tribute.

In 738 BC, in the reign of Menahem, king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser III occupied Philistia and invaded Israel, imposing on it a heavy tribute (2 Kings 15:19). Ahaz, king of Judah, engaged in a war against Israel and Syria, appealed for help to this Assyrian king by means of a present of gold and silver (2 Kings 16:8); he accordingly "marched against Damascus, defeated and put Rezin to death, and besieged the city itself". Leaving part of his army to continue the siege, he advanced, ravaging with fire and sword the province east of the Jordan, Philistia, and Samariamarker (northern Israel; and in 732 BC he took Damascus, deporting its inhabitants and those of Samaria to Assyria. In 729 BC, Tiglath-Pileser III went to Babylonia and captured Nabu-mukin-zeri, the king of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.1:21). He had himself crowned as King Pul of Babylon. Tiglath-Pileser III died in 727 BC, and was succeeded by Shalmaneser V. However, King Hoshea of Israel suspended paying tribute, and allied himself with Egyptmarker against Assyria in 725 BC. This led Shalmaneser to invade Syria (2 Kings 17:5) and besiege Samaria (capital city of Israel) for three years (ABC 1 Col.1:27).

Sargonid dynasty

Sargon II

Shalmaneser V died suddenly in 722 BC while laying siege to Samaria, and the throne was seized by Sargon II, the Turtanu (commander-in-chief of the army, which the Old Testament refers to as Tartan), who then quickly took Samaria, effectively ending the northern Kingdom of Israel and carrying 27,000 people away into captivity into the Israelite Diaspora. (2 Kings 17:1–6, 24; 18:7, 9). Sargon II waged war in his second year (721 BC) against the king of Elammarker, Humban-Nikaš, and his ally Marduk-apal-iddina II of Babylon, who had thrown off Assyrian rule (2 Kings 20:12), but Sargon was defeated as told in ABC 1 Col.1:31-37. Sargon, unable to contain the revolt, turned his attention again to Urartu and Syriamarker, taking Carchemishmarker in 717, as well as the Medes, penetrating the Iranian Plateau as far as Mt. Bikni and building several fortresses. Assyria was belligerent towards Babylonia for ten years while Marduk-apla-iddina ruled Babylon (ABC 1 Col.1:41-42). In 710 BC, Sargon attacked Babylonia and defeated Marduk-apla-iddina, who fled to his allies in Elam (ABC 1 Col.2:1-3). Sargon also built a new capital at Dur Sharrukinmarker ("Sargon's City") near Nineveh, with all the tribute Assyria had collected from various nations.

Sennacherib, 705–681 BC

In 705 BC, Sargon was slain while fighting the Cimmerians, and was succeeded by his son Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13; 19:37; Isa. 7:17, 18), who moved the capital to Nineveh and made the deported peoples work on improving Nineveh's system of irrigation canals. In 701 BC, Hezekiah of Judah formed an alliance with Egypt against Assyria, so Sennacherib accordingly marched toward Jerusalem, destroying 46 villages in his path. This is graphically described in Isaiah 10; exactly what happened next is unclear (the Bible says an Angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers at Jerusalem after Hezekiah prayed in the temple; Sennacherib's account says Judah paid him tribute and he left. The Hebrew Bible states that Hezekiah did pay tribute once, and the Assyrians left, but returned a second time when the soldiers were then killed); however what is certain is that Sennacherib failed to capture Jerusalem. Marduk-apla-iddina had returned to Babylonia during the reign of Sennacherib. The Assyrian king made battle with him in 703 BC outside Kish and defeated him. Sennacherib plundered Babylonia and pursued Marduk-apla-iddina through the land. At his return to Assyria, Sennacherib installed Bel-ibni as king of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:12-23). Bel-ibni however committed hostilities, so Sennacherib returned to Babylon in 700 BC and captured him and his officers. Sennacherib instead installed his son Aššur-nadin-šumi on the throne of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:26-31).
Sennacherib launched a campaign against Elam in 694 BC and ravaged the land. In retaliation the king of Elam ordered to attack Babylonia. Aššur-nadin-šumi was captured and brought back to Elam and a new king called Nergal-ušezib was installed as ruler of Babylon (ABC 1 Col.2:36–45). The Assyrians returned the next year to Babylonia and plundered the gods of Uruk. Nergal-ušezib did battle against the army of Assyria, but was taken prisoner and transported to Assyria (ABC 1 Col.2:46 – Col.3:6). Another native ruler, called Mušezib-Marduk, soon seized the throne of Babylon. He held it with help of his Elamite allies for four years until 689 BC, when the Assyrians retook the city (ABC 1 Col.3:13–24). Sennacherib responded swiftly by opening the canals around Babylon and flooding the outside of the city until it became a swamp, resulting in its destruction, and its inhabitants were scattered. In 681 BC, Sennacherib was murdered, most likely by one of his sons (according to 2 Kings 19:37, while praying to the god Nisroch, he was killed by two of his sons, Adramalech and Sharezer, and both of these sons subsequently fled to Armenia; repeated in Isaiah 37:38 and alluded to in 2 Chronicles 32:21).

Esarhaddon, 681–669 BC

Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon (Ashur-aha-iddina), who had been governor of Babylonia, and was campaigning in Urartu at the time of his father's murder, where he won a victory at Malatia (Milid). During the first year of Esarhaddon, a rebellion broke out in the south of Babylonia. Nabu-zer-kitti-lišir, a governor of the mat Tamti, laid siege to Ur. This governor did not capture the city, but fled to his kinsmen in Elam (Hal-Tamti); however, "the king of Elam took him prisoner and put him to the sword" (ABC 1 Col.3:39–42); also in (ABC 14:1–4).

As king of Assyria, Esarhaddon immediately had Babylon rebuilt, and made it his capital. Defeating the Cimmerians and Medes (again penetrating to Mt. Bikni), but unable to maintain order in these areas, he turned his attention westward to Phoeniciamarker—now allying itself with Egypt against him—and sacked Sidonmarker in 677 BC. He also captured King Manasseh of Judah and kept him prisoner for some time in Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). Having had enough of Egyptian meddling, Esarhaddon attempted to conquer Egypt in 673 BC, but was defeated (ABC 1 Col.4:16). Two years later he made a new attempt and was successful. The Babylonian Chronicle retells how Egypt "was sacked and its gods were abducted" (ABC 1 Col.4:25); also in ABC 14:28–29. The pharaoh Tirhakah fled Egypt, and a stele commemorating the victory, and representing Tirhakah with black African features, was set up at Sinjirli (north of the Gulf of Antioch), and is now in the Pergamon Museummarker, Berlin.

Assyria was also at war with Urartu and Dilmun at this time. This was Assyria's greatest territorial extent. However, the Assyrian governors Esarhaddon had appointed over Egypt were obliged to flee the restive populace, so a new campaign was launched by Esarhaddon in 669 BC. He became ill on the way and died. His son Šamaš-šuma-ukin became king of Babylon and his son Aššur-bani-pal became king of Assyria; see ABC 1 Col.4:30–33 and ABC 14:31–32, 37. Bel and the gods of Babylonia returned from their exile in Assur to Babylon in the first year of Šamaš-šuma-ukin, and the akitu festival could be celebrated for the first time in twenty years; ABC 1 14:34–39 and ABC 1 Col.4:34–36.

Ashurbanipal, 669–627 BC

Aššur-bāni-apli, or Ashurbanipal (Ashurbanapli, Osnapper), succeeded his father Esarhaddon to the throne. He continued to campaign in Egypt, when not distracted by pressures from the Medes to the east, and Cimmerians to the north of Assyria. Unable to contain Egypt, he installed Psammetichus as a vassal king in 664 BC. However, after Gyges of Lydia's appeal for Assyrian help against the Cimmerians was rejected, Lydian mercenaries were sent to Psammetichus. By 652 BC, this vassal king was strong enough to declare outright independence from Assyria with impunity, especially as Ashurbanipal's older brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, governor of Babylon, began a civil war in that year. This rebellion lasted until 648 BC, when Babylon was sacked, and Shamash-shum-ukin set fire to the palace, killing himself. Elam was completely devastated in 646 BC and 640 BC, and its capital Susamarker completely leveled.

Legacy of Ashurbanipal
had promoted art and culture, and had a vast library of cuneiform tablets at Nineveh. However, his long struggle with Babylonia and Elam left Assyria maimed and exhausted. It had been drained of wealth and fighting population; the devastated provinces could yield nothing to supply the needs of the imperial exchequer, and it was difficult to find sufficient troops to garrison the conquered populations. Assyria, therefore, was ill-prepared to face the hordes of Scythians and Medes who now began to harass the frontiers to the east; Asia Minor too was full of Cimmerians.

Assyria falls, 627–605 BC

Upon Ashurbanipal's death in 627 BC, the empire began to disintegrate rapidly. The Scythians, Cimmerians and Medes immediately penetrated the borders, marauding as far as Egypt, while Babylonia again became independent; Ashurbanipal's successor, Ashur-etil-ilani, seems to have exercised little real power. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar, along with Cyaxares the Mede, finally destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC, and Assyria fell. A general called Ashur-uballit II, with military support from the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, held out as a remnant of Assyrian power at Harranmarker until 608 BC. Egyptian aid continued to the Assyrians, who attempted to curb the increasing power of the Babylonians. In 609 BC at the Battle of Megiddo, an Egyptian force defeated a Judean force and managed to reach the last remnants of the Assyrian army. In a final battle the Babylonians crushed the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance, after which Assyria ceased to exist as an independent nation.

From the 8th century, the Aramaic language had gradually established itself as a lingua franca of the Empire. By the 6th century, it had marginalized the Assyrian language so much that Aramaic came to be the imperial language of Achaemenid Assyria. One of key factors contributing to the use of Aramaic was the rise and fall of Assyria; during her rule, deportations and colonizations increased contact between Aramean and Assyrians. As the Empire then fell, only the elite knew how to read and write the Akkadian script. The savage sacking of Ninevah and Assur, as well as numerous other Assyrian cities ensured that few, if any of these elite survived to pass the language on.


Several of the most ancient works of Babylonian literature are best preserved in Neo-Assyrian copies. Thus, there are 7th century copies of both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Enûma Eliš from Ashurbanipal's library in Ninevehmarker, as well as Neo-Assyrian versions of the Atra-Hasis.

Neo-Assyrian cuneiform is the final stage of the long evolution of the cuneiform script. The number of glyphs was reduced, and the glyph shapes were standardized and simplified, so that modern cuneiform sign inventories are usually based on the Neo-Assyrian glyph shapes. Neo-Assyrian cuneiform remained in use alongside the Aramaic alphabet well into Parthian times. The Aramaic language from the 8th century was adopted for correspondence with Aramaean provinces, and Assyrian scribes are often depicted in pairs. One writing in Akkadian on the cuneiform tablet, the other writing in Aramaic on the parchment or papyrus.

See also


  1. Assyrian Eponym List
  2. Tadmor, H. (1994). The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria.pp.29
  3. Grant, R G. Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005 pg 19

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