Easton's Bible Dictionary
name derived from the city Asshur on the Tigris, the original capital of the country,
was originally a colony from Babylonia, and was ruled by viceroys from that kingdom.
It was a mountainous region lying to the north of Babylonia, extending along the
Tigris as far as to the high mountain range of Armenia, the Gordiaean or Carduchian
mountains. It was founded in B.C. 1700 under Bel-kap-kapu, and became an independent
and a conquering power, and shook off the yoke of its Babylonian masters. It subdued
the whole of Northern Asia. The Assyrians were Semites ( Genesis 10:22 ), but
in process of time non-Semite tribes mingled with the inhabitants. They were a
military people, the "Romans of the East."
Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria little is positively known. In
B.C. 1120 Tiglath-pileser I., the greatest of the Assyrian kings, "crossed the
Euphrates, defeated the kings of the Hittites, captured the city of Carchemish,
and advanced as far as the shores of the Mediterranean." He may be regarded as
the founder of the first Assyrian empire. After this the Assyrians gradually extended
their power, subjugating the states of Northern Syria. In the reign of Ahab, king
of Israel, Shalmaneser II. marched an army against the Syrian states, whose allied
army he encountered and vanquished at Karkar. This led to Ahab's casting off the
yoke of Damascus and allying himself with Judah. Some years after this the Assyrian
king marched an army against Hazael, king of Damascus. He besieged and took that
city. He also brought under tribute Jehu, and the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
About a hundred years after this (B.C. 745) the crown was seized by a military
adventurer called Pul, who assumed the name of Tiglath-pileser III. He directed
his armies into Syria, which had by this time regained its independence, and took
(B.C. 740) Arpad, near Aleppo, after a siege of three years, and reduced Hamath.
was an ally of the king of Hamath, and thus was compelled by Tiglath-pileser to
do him homage and pay a yearly tribute.
In B.C. 738, in the reign of Menahem, king of Israel, Pul invaded Israel, and
imposed on it a heavy tribute ( 2 Kings 15:19 ). Ahaz, the king of Judah, when
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 ); who accordingly
"marched against Damascus, defeated and put Rezin to death, and besieged the city
itself." Leaving a portion of his army to continue the siege, "he advanced through
the province east of Jordan, spreading fire and sword," and became master of Philistia,
and took Samaria and Damascus. He died B.C. 727, and was succeeded by Shalmanezer
IV., who ruled till B.C. 722. He also invaded Syria ( 2 Kings 17:5 ), but was
deposed in favour of Sargon (q.v.) the Tartan, or commander-in-chief of the army,
who took Samaria (q.v.) after a siege of three years, and so put an end to the
kingdom of Israel, carrying the people away into captivity, B.C. 722 ( 2 Kings
17:1-6 , 17:24 ; 18:7 , 18:9 ). He also overran the land of Judah, and took the
city of Jerusalem ( Isaiah 10:6 , 10:12 , 10:22 , 10:24 , 10:34 ). Mention is
next made of Sennacherib (B.C. 705), the son and successor of Sargon ( 2 Kings
18:13 ; 19:37 ; Isaiah 7:17 , 7:18 ); and then of Esar-haddon, his son and successor,
who took Manasseh, king of Judah, captive, and kept him for some time a prisoner
at Babylon, which he alone of all the Assyrian kings made the seat of his government
( 2 Kings 19:37 ; Isaiah 37:38 ).
Assur-bani-pal, the son of Esarhaddon, became king, and in Ezra 4:10 is referred
to as Asnapper. From an early period Assyria had entered on a conquering career,
and having absorbed Babylon, the kingdoms of Hamath, Damascus, and Samaria, it
conquered Phoenicia, and made Judea feudatory, and subjected Philistia and Idumea.
At length, however, its power declined. In B.C. 727 the Babylonians threw off
the rule of the Assyrians, under the leadership of the powerful Chaldean prince
Merodach-baladan ( 2 Kings 20:12 ), who, after twelve years, was subdued by Sargon,
who now reunited the kingdom, and ruled over a vast empire. But on his death the
smouldering flames of rebellion again burst forth, and the Babylonians and Medes
successfully asserted their independence (B.C. 625), and Assyria fell according
to the prophecies of ( Isaiah 10:5-19 ), ( Nahum 3:19 ), and ( Zephaniah 3:13
), and the many separate kingdoms of which it was composed ceased to recognize
the "great king" ( 2 Kings 18:19 ; Isaiah 36:4 ). Ezekiel (31) attests (about
B.C. 586) how completely Assyria was overthrown. It ceases to be a nation. (See
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
country of Assur or Ashur
Smith's Bible Dictionary
was a great and powerful country lying on the Tigris,
( Genesis 2:14 ) the capital of which was Nineveh. ( Genesis 10:11 ) etc. It derived
its name apparently from Asshur, the son of Shem, ( Genesis 10:22 ) who in later
times was worshipped by the Assyrians as their chief god.
The boundaries of Assyria differed greatly at different periods, Probably in the
earliest times it was confined to a small tract of low country lying chiefly on
the left bank of the Tigris. Gradually its limits were extended, until it came
to be regarded as comprising the whole region between the Armenian mountains (lat.
37 30) upon the north, and upon the south the country about Baghdad (lat. 33 30).
Eastward its boundary was the high range of Zagros, or mountains of Kurdistan;
westward it was, according to the views of some, bounded by the Mesopotamian desert,
while according to others it reached the Euphrates.
General character of the country. --
On the north and east the high mountain-chains of Armenia and Kurdistan are succeeded
by low ranges of limestone hills of a somewhat arid aspect. To these ridges there
succeeds at first an undulating zone of country, well watered and fairly productive,
which extends in length for 250 miles, and is interrupted only by a single limestone
range. Above and below this barrier is an immense level tract, now for the most
part a wilderness, which bears marks of having been in early times well cultivated
and thickly peopled throughout.
Original peopling. --
Scripture informs us that Assyria was peopled from Babylon, ( Genesis 10:11 )
and both classical tradition and the monuments of the country agree in this representation.
Date of the foundation of the kingdom. --
As a country, Assyria was evidently known to Moses. ( Genesis 2:14 ; 25:18 ; Numbers
24:22 , 24:24 ) The foundation of the Assyrian empire was probably not very greatly
anterior to B.C. 1228.
The Mesopotamian researches have rendered it apparent that the original seat of
government was not at Nineveh, but at Kileh-Sherghat, on the right bank of the
Tigris. The most remarkable monarch of the earlier kings was called Tiglath-pileser.
He appears to have been king towards the close of the twelfth century, and thus
to have been contemporary with Samuel. Afterwards followed Pul, who invaded Israel
in the reign of Menahem ( 2 Kings 15:29 ) about B.C. 770, and Shalmaneser who
besieged Samaria three years, and destroyed the kingdom of Israel B.C. 721, himself
or by his successor Sargon, who usurped the throne at that time. Under Sargon
the empire was as great as at any former era, and Nineveh became a most beautiful
city. Sargons son Sennacherib became the most famous of the Assyrian kings. He
began to reign 704 B.C. He invaded the kingdom of Judea in the reign of Hezekiah.
He was followed by Esarhaddon, and he by a noted warrior and builder, Sardanapalus.
In Scripture it is remarkable that we hear nothing of Assyria after the reign
of Esarhaddon, and profane history is equally silent until the attacks began which
brought about her downfall. The fall of Assyria, long previously prophesied by
Isaiah, ( Isaiah 10:5-19 ) was effected by the growing strength and boldness of
the Medes, about 625 B.C. The prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah ( Zephaniah 2:13-15
) against Assyria were probably delivered shortly before the catastrophe.
General character of the empire. --
The Assyrian monarchs bore sway over a number of petty kings through the entire
extent of their dominions. These native princes were feudatories of the great
monarch, of whom they held their crown by the double tenure of homage and tribute.
It is not quite certain how far Assyria required a religious conformity from the
subject people. Her religion was a gross and complex polytheism, comprising the
worship of thirteen principal and numerous minor divinities, at the head of all
of whom stood the chief god, Asshur, who seems to be the deified patriarch of
the nation. ( Genesis 10:22 )
Civilization of the Assyrians. --
The civilization of the Assyrians was derived originally from the Babylonians.
They were a Shemitic race originally resident in Babylonia (which at that time
was Cushite) and thus acquainted with the Babylonian inventions and discoveries,
who ascended the valley of the Tigris and established in the tract immediately
below the Armenian mountains a separate and distinct nationality. Still, as their
civilization developed it became in many respects peculiar. Their art is of home
growth. But they were still in the most important points barbarians. Their government
was rude and inartificial, their religion coarse and sensual, and their conduct
of war cruel.
Modern discoveries in Assyria. --
(Much interest has been excited in reference to Assyria by the discoveries lately
made there, which confirm and illustrate the Bible. The most important of them
is the finding of the stone tablets or books which formed the great library at
Nineveh, founded by Shalmaneser B.C. 860, but embodying tablets written 2000 years
B.C. This library was more than doubled by Sardanapalus. These tablets were broken
into fragments, but many of them have been put together and deciphered by the
late Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum. All these discoveries of things
hidden for ages, but now come to light, confirm the Bible.--ED.)
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Assyria, a Greek name formed from Asshur ('ashshur; 'Assour;
The primitive capital of the country.
The origin of the city (now Kala'at Shergat), which was built on the western bank
of the Tigris between the Upper and Lower Zab, went back to pre-Sem times, and
the meaning of the name was forgotten (see Genesis 2:14, where the Hiddekel or
Tigris is said to flow on the eastern side of Asshur). To the North of the junction
of the Tigris and Upper Zab, and opposite the modern Mossul, was a shrine of the
goddess Ishtar, around which grew up the town of Nina, Ninua or Nineveh (now Kouyunjik
and Nebi Yunus). Another early sanctuary of Ishtar was at Urbillu, Arbailu or
Arbela, East of the Upper Zab. North of Nineveh was Dur-Sargina (now Khorsabad)
where Sargon built his palace (720 BC). All this district was embraced in the
kingdom of Assyria which extended from Babylonia northward to the Kurdish mountains
and at times included the country westward to the Euphrates and the Khabur.
II. Early History.
The whole region was known to the early Babylonians as Subartu. Its possession
was disputed between Semitic Amurru or [AMORITES] (which see) and a non-Semitic
people from the North called Mitannians. The earlier high priests of Assur known
to us bear Mitannian names. About 2500 BC the country was occupied by Babylonian
Semites, who brought with them the religion, law, customs, script and Semitic
language of Babylonia (Genesis 10:11 , 12, where we should read "He went forth
to Asshur"; see Micah 5:6). The foundation of Nineveh, Rehoboth-'Ir (Assyrian
Rebit-Ali, "the suburbs of the city"), Calah and Resen (Assyrian Res- eni, "head
of the spring") is ascribed to them. The triangle formed by the Tigris and Zab,
which enclosed these cities, was in later times included within the fortifications
of the "great city" (Genesis 10:12 ; Jonah 3:3). Assyria is always distinguished
from Babylonia in the Old Testament, and not confounded with it as by Herodotus
and other classical writers.
III. Climate and Productions.
Assyria, speaking generally, was a limestone plateau with a temperate climate,
cold and wet in winter, but warm during the summer months. On the banks of the
rivers there was abundant cultivation, besides pasture-land. The apple of the
North grew by the side of the palm-tree of the South. Figs, olives, pomegranates,
almonds, mulberries and vines were also cultivated as well as all kinds of grain.
Cotton is mentioned by Sennacherib (King, PSBA, December, 1909). The forests were
tenanted by lions, and the plains by wild bulls (rimi, Hebrew re'emim), wild asses,
wild goats and gazelles. Horses were imported from Cappadocia; ducks were kept,
and mastiffs were employed in hunting.
The dominant type was Semitic, with full lips, somewhat hooked nose, high forehead,
black hair and eyes, fresh complexion and abundance of beard. In character the
Assyrians were cruel and ferocious in war, keen traders, stern disciplinarians,
and where religion was concerned, intense and intolerant. Like the Ottoman Turks
they formed a military state, at the head of which was the king, who was both
leader in war and chief priest, and which offered a striking contrast to theocratic
state of theBabylonians. It seems probable that every male was liable to conscription,
and under the Second Empire, if not earlier, there was a large standing army,
part of which consisted of mercenaries and recruits from the subject races. One
result of this was the necessity for constant war in order to occupy the soldiery
and satisfy their demands with captured booty; and the result, as in the Northern
Kingdom of Israel, was military revolution, with the seizure of the throne by
the successful general. As might be expected, education was confined to the upper
classes, more especially to the priests and scribes.
V. Trade and Law.
As far back as the age of Abraham, when Assyria was still a dependency of Babylonia,
trade was carried on with Cappadocia and an Assyrian colony of merchants settled
at Kara Eyuk near Kaisariyeh. Down the Euphrates came the silver, copper and bronze
of Asia Minor, together with horses. Cedar wood was brought from Mount Amanus,
and there was already trade, through Syria, with the Mediterranean. Nineveh itself
was probably founded in the interests of the trade with the North. In later days
commercial reasons had much to do with the efforts of the Assyrian kings to conquer
eastern Asia Minor and the Mediterranean coast of Syria and Pal: under the Second
Empire no pains were spared to obtain possession of the Phoenician cities and
divert their commerce into Assyrian hands. Hence the importance of the capture
of the Hittite stronghold, Carchemish, by Sargon in 717 BC, as it commanded the
road to Syria and the passage across the Euphrates. Nineveh had at that time already
become a great resort of merchants, among whom the Semitic Arameans were the most
numerous. Aramaic, accordingly, became the language of trade, and then of diplomacy
(compare 2 Kings 18:26), and commercial documents written in cuneiform were provided
with Aramaic dockets. As in Babylonia, land and houses were leased knd sold, money
was lent at interest, and the leading firms employed numerous damgari or commercial
agents. Assyrian law was, in general, derived from Babylonia and much of it was
connected with trade. The code of Khammu-rabi (Code of Hammurabi) or [AMRAPHEL]
(which see) underlay it, and the same system of judicial procedure, with pleading
before judges, the hearing of witnesses, and an appeal to the king, prevailed
in both countries.
Unlike Babylonia, Assyria abounded in stone; the brick buildings of Babylonia,
accordingly, were replaced by stone, and the painted or tiled walls by sculptured
slabs. In the bas-reliefs discovered at Nineveh three periods of artistic progress
may be traced. Under Assur-nazir-pal the sculpture is bold and vigorous, but the
work is immature and the perspective faulty. From the beginning of the Second
Empire to the reign of Esar-haddon the bas-reliefs often remind us of embroidery
in stone. Attempts are made to imitate the rich detail and delicate finish of
the ivory carvings; the background is filled in with a profusion of subjects,
and there is a marked realism in the delineation of them. The third period is
that of Assur-bani-pal, when the overcrowding is avoided by once more leaving
the background bare, while the animal and vegetable forms are distinguished by
a certain softness, if not effeminacy of tone. Sculpture in the round, however,
lagged far behind that in relief, and the statuary of Assyria is very inferior
to that of Babylonia. It is only the human-headed bulls and winged lions that
can be called successful: they were set on either side of a gate to prevent the
entrance of evil spirits, and their majestic proportions were calculated to strike
the observer with awe (compare the description of the four cherubim in Ezekiel
In bronze work the Assyrians excelled, much of the work being cast. But in general
it was hammered, and the scenes hammered in relief on the bronze gates discovered
by Mr. Rassam at Balawat near Nineveh are among the best examples of ancient oriental
metallurgy at present known. Gold and silver were also worked into artistic forms;
iron was reserved for more utilitarian purposes. The beautiful ivory carvings
found at Nineveh were probably the work of foreign artificers, but gems and seal
cylinders were engraved by native artists in imitation of those of Babylonia,
and the Babylonian art of painting and glazing tiles was also practiced. The terra-cotta
figures which can be assigned to the Assyrian period are poor. Glass was also
The Assyrians were skilled in the transport of large blocks of stone, whether
sculptured or otherwise. They understood the use of the lever, the pulley and
the roller, and they had invented various engines of war for demolishing or undermining
the walls of a city or for protecting the assailants. A crystal lens, turned on
the lathe, has been found at Kouyunjik: it must have been useful to the scribes,
the cuneiform characters inscribed on the tablets being frequently very minute.
Water was raised from the river by means of a shaduf.
VIII. Furniture, Pottery and Embroidery.
The furniture even of the palace was scanty, consisting mainly of couches, chairs,
stools, tables, rugs and curtains. The chairs and couches were frequently of an
artistic shape, and were provided with feet in the form of the legs of an ox.
All kinds of vases, bowls and dishes were made of earthenware, but they were rarely
decorated. Clothes, curtains and rugs, on the other hand, were richly dyed and
embroidered, and were manufactured from wool and flax, and (in the age of the
Second Empire) from cotton. The rug, of which the Persian rug is the modern representative,
was a Babylonian invention.
IX. Language, Literature and Science.
The Assyrian language was Semitic, and differed only dialectically from Semitic
Babylonian. In course of time, however, differences grew up between the spoken
language and the language of literature, which had incorporated many Summerian
words, and retained grammatical terminations that the vernacular had lost, though
these differences were never very great. Assyrian literature, moreover, was mainly
derived from Babylonia. Assur-bani-pal employed agents to ransack the libraries
of Babylonia and send their contents to Nineveh, where his library was filled
with scribes who busied themselves in copying and editing ancient texts. Commentaries
were often written upon these, and grammars, vocabularies and interlinear translations
were compiled to enable the student to understand the extinct Sumerian, which
had long been the Latin of Semitic Babylonia. The writing material was clay, upon
which the cuneiform characters were impressed with a stylus while it was still
moist: the tablet was afterward baked in the sun or (in Assyria) in a kiln. The
contents of the library of Nineveh were very various; religion, mythology, law,
history, geography, zoology, philology, mathematics, astronomy, astrology and
the pseudo-science of omens were all represented in it, as well as poetry and
legendary romance. See NINEVEH, LIBRARY OF.
X. Government and Army.
Assyria was a military kingdom which, like the Northern Kingdom of Israel, had
established itself by a successful revolt from Babylonia. In contradistinction
to Babylonia, which was a theocratic state, the king being subordinate to the
priest, the Assyrian king was supreme. Whereas in Babylonia the temple was the
chief public building, in Assyria the royal palace dominated everything, the temple
being merely a royal chapel attached to the palace. The king, in fact, was the
commander of an army, and this army was the Assyrian people. How far the whole
male population was liable to conscription is still uncertain; but the fact that
the wars of Assur- bani-pal so exhausted the fighting strength of the nation as
to render it unable to resist the invaders from the North shows that the majority
of the males must have been soldiers. Hence the constant wars partly to occupy
the army and prevent revolts, partly for the sake of booty with which to pay it.
Hence too, the military revolutions, which, as in the kingdom of Israel, resulted
in changes of dynasty and the seizure of the throne by successful generals. The
turtannu or commander-in-chief, who took the place of the king when the latter
was unable or unwilling to lead his forces, ranked next to the sovereign. From
the reign of Tiglath-pileser IV onward, however, the autocracy was tempered by
a centralized bureaucracy, and in the provinces a civil governor was appointed
by the side of the military commander. Among the high officials at court were
the rab-saki or "vizier," and the rab-sa-risi or "controller," the rabhcaric [RAB-SARIS
(which see)] of the Old Testament.
The army consisted of cavalry, infantry, bowmen and slingers, as well as of a
corps of charioteers. After the rise of the Second Empire the cavalry were increased
at the expense of the chariotry, and were provided with saddles and boots, while
the unarmed groom who had run by the side of the horse became a mounted archer.
Sennacherib further clothed the horseman in a coat of mail. The infantry were
about ten times as numerous as the calvary, and under Sargon were divided into
bowmen and spearmen, the bowmen again being subdivided into heavy-armed and light-armed,
the latter being apparently of foreign origin. Sennacherib introduced a corps
of slingers, clad in helmet and cuirass, leather drawers and boots. He also deprived
the heavy-armed bowmen of the long robes they used to wear, and established a
body of pioneers with double-headed axes, helmets and buskins. Shields were also
worn by all classes of soldiers, and the army carried with it standards, tents,
battering-rams and baggage-carts. The royal sleeping-tent was accompanied by tents
for cooking and dining. No pains, in fact, were spared to make the army both in
equipment and discipline an irresistible engine of war. The terror it excited
in western Asia is therefore easily intelligible (Isaiah 10:5 - 14 ; Nahum 2:11
- 13 ; 3:1-4).
The state religion of Assyria was derived from BABYLONIA (which see) and in its
main outlines is Babylonian. But it differed from the religion of Babylonia in
two important respects:
the king, and not the high priest, was supreme, and
(2) at the head of it was the national god Asur or Assur, whose high priest and
representative was the king. Asur was originally Asir, "the leader" in war, who
is accordingly depicted as a warrior-god armed with a bow and who in the age when
solar worship became general in Babylonia was identified with the sun-god. But
the similarity of the name caused him to be also identified with the city of Asur,
where he was worshipped, at a time when the cities of northern Babylonia came
to be deified, probably under Hittite influence. Later still, the scribes explained
his name as a corruption of that of the primeval cosmogonic deity An-sar, the
upper firmament, which in the neo-Babylonian age was pronounced Assor. The combination
of the attributes of the warrior-god, who was the peculiar god of the commander
of the army, with the deified city to which the army belonged, caused Assur to
become the national deity of a military nation in a way of which no Babylonian
divinity was capable. The army were "the troops of Assur," the enemies were "the
enemies of Assur" who required that they should acknowledge his supremacy or be
destroyed. Assur was not only supreme over the other gods, he was also, in fact,
unlike them, without father or wife. Originally, it is true, his feminine counterpart,
Asirtu, the ASHERAH (which see) of the Old Testament, had stood at his side, and
later literary pedants endeavored to find a wife for him in Belit, "the Lady,"
or Ishtar, or some other Babylonian goddess, but the attempts remained purely
literary. When Nineveh took the place of Assur as the capital of the kingdom,
Ishtar, around whose sanctuary Nineveh had grown up, began to share with him some
of the honor of worship, though her position continued to be secondary to the
end. This was also the case with the war-god Nin-ip, called Mas in Assyria, whose
cult was specially patronized by the Assyrian kings. See BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA,
Rich, who had first visited Mossul in 1811, examined the mounds opposite in 1820
and concluded that they represented the site of Nineveh. The few antiquities he
discovered were contained in a single case in the British Museum, but the results
of his researches were not published until 1836. In 1843-45 the Frenchman Botta
disinterred the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, 15 miles North of Nineveh, while
at Nimrud (Calah) and Kouyunjik (Nineveh) Layard (1845-51) brought to light the
ruins of the great Assyrian palaces and the library of Assur-bani-pal. His work
was continued by Rassam (1851-54). Nothing more was done until 1873-75 when George
Smith resumed excavations on the site of Assur-bani-pal's library; this was followed
in 1877-79 by the excavations of Rassam, who discovered among other things the
bronze gates of Balawat. At present a German expedition under Andrae is working
at Kala'at Shergat (Assur) where the English excavators had already found the
cylinder-inscription of Tiglath-pileser I (see SHERGHAT).
The Assyrians reckoned time by means of limmi, certain officials appointed every
New Year's day, after whom their year of office was named. The lists of limmi
or "Eponyms" which have come down to us form the basis of Assyrian chronology.
Portions of a "synchronous" history of Assyria and Babylonia have also been discovered,
as well as fragments of two "Babylonian Chronicles" written from a Babylonian
point of view. The "Eponym" lists carry back an exact dating of time to the beginning
of the 10th century BC. Before that period Sennacherib states that Tiglath-pileser
I reigned 418 years before himself. Tiglath-pileser, moreover, tells us that Samas-Ramman
son of Isme-Dagon had built a temple at Assur 641 years earlier, while Shalmaneser
I places Samas-Ramman 580 years before his own reign and Erisu 159 years before
Samas-Ramman, though Esar-haddon gives the dates differently. Apart from the native
documents, the only trustworthy sources for the chronology (as for the history)
of Assyria are the Old Testament records. In return the "Eponym" lists have enabled
us to correct the chronology of the Books of Kings (see KINGS,
|1. Early Period:
Assyrian history begins with the high priests (patesis) of Assur. The earliest
known to us are Auspia and Kikia, who bear Mitannian names. The early Semitic
rulers, however, were subject to Babylonia, and under Khammurabi (\AMRAPHEL\)
Assyria was still a Babylonian province. According to Esar-haddon the kingdom
was founded by Bel-bani son of Adasi, who first made himself independent; Hadad-nirari,
however, ascribes its foundation to Zulili. Assyrian merchants and soldiers had
already made their way as far as Cappadocia, from whence copper and silver were
brought to Assyria, and an Assyrian colony was established at Kara Eyuk near Kaisariyeh,
where the Assyrian mode of reckoning time by means of limmi was in use. In the
age of Tell el-Amarna Letters (1400 BC) Assur-uballid was king of Assyria. He
corresponded with the Egyptian Pharaoh and married his daughter to the Bah king,
thereby providing for himself a pretext for interfering in the affairs of Babylonia.
The result was that his son-in-law was murdered, and Assur-uballid sent troops
to Babylonia who put the murderers to death and placed the grandson of the Assyrian
king on the Babylonian throne.
Babylonia had fallen into decay and been forced to protect herself from the rising
power of Assyria by forming an alliance with Mitanni (Mesopotamia) and Egypt,
and subsequently, when Mitanni had been absorbed by the Hittites, by practically
becoming dependent on the Hittite king. Shalmaneser I (1300 BC), accordingly,
devoted himself to crippling the Hittite power and cutting it off from communication
with Babylonia. Campaign after campaign was undertaken against the Syrian and
more eastern provinces of the Hittite empire, Malatiyeh was destroyed, and Carehemish
threatened. Shalmaneser's son and successor Tukulti-Mas entered into the fruits
of his father's labors. The Hittites had been rendered powerless by an invasion
of the northern barbarians, and the Assyrian king was thus left free to crush
Babylonia. Babylon was taken by storm, and for seven years Tukulti-Mas was master
of all the lands watered by the Tigris and Euphrates. The image of Merodach was
carried to Assur as a sign that the scepter had passed from Babylon to the parvenu
Assyria. A successful revolt, however, finally drove the Assyrian conqueror back
to his own country, and when he was murdered soon afterward by his own son, the
Babylonians saw in the deed a punishment inflicted by the god of Babylon.
2. The Older Empire:
A few years later the Assyrian king Bel-kudur-uzur lost his life in battle against
the Babylonians, and a new dynasty appears to have mounted the Assyrian throne.
About 1120 BC the Assyrian king was Tiglath-pileser I, whose successful wars extended
the Assyrian empire as far westward as Cappadocia. In one of his campaigns he
made his way to the Mediterranean, and received presents from the king of Egypt,
which included a crocodile. At Assur he planted a botanical garden stocked with
trees from the conquered provinces. After his death the Assyrian power declined;
Pitru (Pethor, Numbers 22:5) fell into the hands of the Arameans and the road
to the Mediterranean was blocked.
A revival came under Assur-nazir-pal III (884-860 BC) who rebuilt [CALAH] (which
see) and established the seat of the government at Nineveh, where he erected a
palace. Various campaigns were carried on in the direction of Armenia and Comagene,
the brutalities executed upon the enemy being described in detail by their conqueror.
He then turned westward, and after receiving homage from the Hittite king of Carchemish,
laid the Phoenicians under tribute. The road to the West was thus again secured
for the merchants of Assyria. Assur-nazir-pal was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser
II (859-825 BC), who, instead of contenting himself, like his father, with mere
raids for the sake of booty, endeavored to organize and administer the countries
which his armies had subdued. The famous bronze gates of Balawat were erected
by him in commemoration of his victories.
In his reign the Israelites and Syrians of Damascus first came into direct relation
with the Assyrians. In 854 BC he attacked Hamath and at Qarqar defeated an army
which included 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry and 20,000 infantry from Ben-hadad
of Damascus, 2,000 chariots, and 10,000 infantry from. "Ahab of Israel," besides
considerable contingents from Ammon, Arvad, Arabia and elsewhere. In 842 BC Shalmaneser
penetrated to Damascus where Hazael, the successor of Ben-hadad, who had already
been defeated in the open field, was closely besieged. The surrounding country
was ravaged, and "Jehu son of Omri" hastened to offer tribute to the conqueror.
The scene is represented on the Black Obelisk found at Nimrud and now in the British
Museum. Shalmaneser's campaigns were not confined to the West. He overran Armenia,
where the kingdom of Van had just been established, made his way to Tarsus in
Cilicia, took possession of the mines of silver, salt and alabaster in the Taurus
mountains among the Tabal or Tubal, and obliged the Babylonian king to acknowledge
In his later days, when too old to take the field himself, his armies were led
by the turtannu or commander-in-chief, and a rebellion, headed by his son Assur-danin-pal
(Sardanapalus) broke out at home, where Nineveh and Assur were jealous of the
preference shown for Calah. Nineveh, however, was captured and the revolt suppressed
after two years' duration by another son, Samas-Ramman IV, who shortly afterward,
on his father's death, succeeded to the throne (824-812 BC). His chief campaigns
were directed against Media. His son Hadad-nirari III (811-783 BC) was the next
king, whose mother was Sammu-ramat (Semiramis). He claims to have reduced to subjection
the whole of Syria, including Phoenicia, Edom and Philistia, and to have taken
Mari'a, king of Damascus, prisoner in his capital city. After this, however, Assyria
once more fell into a state of decay, from which it was delivered by the successful
revolt of a military officer Pulu (Pul), who put an end to the old line of kings
and took the name of Tiglath-pileser IV (745-727 BC).
3. The Second Empire:
Tiglath-pileser founded the second Assyrian empire, and made Assyria the dominant
power in western Asia. The army was reorganized and made irresistible, and a new
administrative system was introduced, the empire being centralized at Nineveh
and governed by a bureaucracy at the head of which was the king. Tiglath-pileser's
policy was twofold:
to weld western Asia into a single empire, held together by military force and
fiscal laws, and to secure the trade of the world for the merchants of Nineveh.
These objects were steadily kept in view throughout the reigns of Tiglath-pileser
and his successors. For the history of his reign, see [TIGLATH-PILESER]. In 738
BC Tiglath-pileser put an end to the independent existence of the kingdom of Hamath,
Menahem of Samaria becoming his tributary, and in 733 BC he commenced a campaign
against Rezin of Damascus which ended in the fall of Damascus, the city being
placed under an Assyrian governor. At the same time the land of Naphtali was annexed
to Assyria, and Yahu- khazi (Ahaz) of Judah became an Assyrian vassal, while in
731 BC, after the murder of Pekah, Hoshea was appointed king of Israel (compare
2 Kings 15-17).
In 728 BC Tiglath-pileser was solemnly crowned at Babylon and the following year
he died. His successor was another military adventurer, Shalmaneser IV (727-722
BC), whose original name was Ulula. While engaged in the siege of Samaria Shalmaneser
died or was murdered, and the throne was seized by another general who took the
name of Sargon (722-705 BC). Sargon, for whose history see SARGON, captured Samaria
in 722 BC, carrying 27,290 of its inhabitants into captivity. A large part of
his reign was spent in combating a great confederation of the northern nations
(Armenia, Manna, etc.) against Assyria. Carchemish, the Hittite capital, was captured
in 717 BC, a revolt of the states in southern Palestine was suppressed in 711
BC and Merodach-Baladan, the Chaldean, who had possessed himself of Babylonia
in 722 BC, was driven back to the marshlands at the head of the Persian Gulf.
In 705 BC Sargon was murdered, and succeeded by his son [SENNACHERIB] (which see).
Sennacherib (705-681 BC) had neither the military skill nor the administrative
abilities of his father. His campaign against Hezekiah of Judah in 701 BC was
a failure; so, also, was his policy in Babylonia which was in a constant state
of revolt against his rule, and which ended in his razing the sacred city of Babylon
to the ground in 689 BC. Nine years previously his troops had been called upon
to suppress a revolt in Cilicia, where a battle was fought with the Greeks.
4. Last Period and Fall of the Empire:
His son Esar-haddon, who succeeded him (681-669 BC) after his murder by two other
sons on the 20th Tebet (compare 2 Kings 19:37), was as distinguished a general
and administrator as his father had been the reverse. For his history see [ESARHADDON].
Under him the Second Empire reached the acme of its power and prosperity. Babylon
was rebuilt and made the second capital of the empire, Palestine became an obedient
province, and Egypt was conquered (674 and 671 BC), while an invasion of the Cimmerians
(Gomer) was repelled, and campaigns were made into the heart of both Media and
Arabia. Esar-haddon died while on his way to repress a revolt in Egypt, and his
son Assur-bani-pal succeeded him in the empire (669-626 BC), while another son
Samas-sum-ukin was appointed viceroy of Babylonia. Assur-bani-pal was a munificent
patron of learning, and the library of Nineveh owed most of its treasures to him,
but extravagant luxury had now invaded the court, and the king conducted his wars
through his' generals, while he himself remained at home.
The great palace at Kouyunjik (Nineveh) was built by him. Egypt demanded his first
attention. Tirhakah the Ethiopian who had headed its revolt was driven back to
his own country, and for a time there was peace. Then under Tandamane, Tirhakah's
successor, Egypt revolted again. This time the Assyrian punishment was merciless.
Thebes--"No-amon" (Nahum 3:8)--was destroyed, its booty carried away and two obelisks
transported to Nineveh as trophies of victory. Meanwhile Tyre, which had rebelled,
was forced to sue for peace, and ambassadors arrived from Gyges of Lydia asking
for help against the Cimmerians. Elam still remained independent and endeavored
to stir up disaffection in Babylonia. Against his will, therefore, Assur-bani-pal
was obliged to interfere in the internal affairs of that country, with the result
that the Elamites were finally overthrown in a battle on the Eulaeus beneath the
walls of Susa, and the conquered land divided between two vassal kings.
Then suddenly a revolt broke out throughout the greater part of the Assyrian empire,
headed by Assur-bani-pal's brother, the viceroy of Babylonia. For a time the issue
was doubtful. Egypt recovered its independence under Psammetichus, the founder
of the XXVIth Dynasty (660 BC) who had received help from Lydia, but Babylonia
was reconquered and Babylon after a long siege was starved out, Samas-sum-ukin
burning himself in the ruins of his palace. Elam remained to be dealt with, and
an Assyrian army made its way to Susa, which was leveled to the ground, the shrines
of its gods profaned and the bones of its ancient kings torn from their graves.
Then came the turn of northern Arabia, where the rebel sheikhs were compelled
to submit. But the struggle had exhausted Assyria; its exchequer was empty, and
its fighting population killed. When the Cimmerians descended upon the empire
shortly afterward, it was no longer in a condition to resist them. Under Assur-etil-ilani,
the son and successor of Assur-bani-pal, Calah was taken and sacked, and two reigns
later, Sin-sar-iskun, the last king of Assyria, fell fighting against the Scythians
(606 BC). Nineveh was utterly destroyed, never again to be inhabited, and northern
Babylonia passed into the hands of Nabopolassar, the viceroy of Babylon, who had
joined the northern invaders. Assur, the old capital of the country, was still
standing in the age of Cyrus, but it had become a small provincial town; as for
Nineveh and Calah, their very sites were forgotten.
See G. Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies of the Eastern World, 1862-67;
Perrot and Chipiez, Histoire de l'art dans l'antiquite, II, 1884; Maspero, Struggle
of the Nations, and Passing of the Empires, 3 volumes, 1894-1900; Rogers, A History
of Babylonia and Assyria, 1900; Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents, 1898; Schrader,
KAT, English translation by Whitehouse, 1885; Pinches, The Old Testament in the
Light of the Historical Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1902.
A. H. Sayce
asshur, assyria, assyrian, babylonian, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, calah, define, kouyunjik, land of nimrod, nineveh, sargon, sennacherib, shalmaneser IV, sin-sar-iskun, tiglath-pileser, tigris