THE BLOODY EMPIRE: Assyria’s Historical Records and the Bible

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Assyria ə-sirʹe-ə. The upper Tigris region took its name from its capital city Asshur (Heb. ’saššûr, Gen. 10:11). From the first millennium B.C. until its subjugation by Babylonia, its inhabitants (Assyrians) were the major opponents of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

I. Geography

The fertile heartland of Assyria lay between the Syrian desert, Anatolia, and the Kurdish hills, and was separated from its southern neighbor Babylonia by the Hamrin hills. It was well watered by the swiftflowing river Tigris (Heb. ḥiddeqel, Gen. 2:14), which flowed E of the first capital Asshur and past the other capitals of Nineveh and Calah (Gen. 10:11f), which is situated near its confluence with the upper Zab.


II. People

Assyria’s mixed population was predominantly Semitic. They had many of the strong characteristics of the hill people who surrounded them. Their language, a dialect related to Babylonian, was written in the cuneiform script following the first use of that script at Uruk (modern Warka; see Erech) by the Babylonians, who thereafter influenced them culturally.

III. History

  1. Sources In addition to archeological evidence, the history can be reconstructed from king lists, royal annals, building inscriptions, and many references in correspondence and other texts. The Assyrians dated by eponym of an official (limmu), using his name to mark a year, and by regnal years.
  2. Early History The land seems to have been inhabited from early prehistoric times. Middle Paleolithic finds from Barda-Balka (about 120,000 years ago), the Mousterian culture in the Shanidar Cave, and evidence of the early Neolithic and Chalcolithic from the Barodost caves overlooking the upper Zab continue the history. The Neolithic revolution ca 7000 B.C. can be seen in the agricultural village life of ancient Jarmo. The subsequent prehistoric periods Hassuna-Samarra, Halâf (first known from Assyria), the later Ubaid, Uruk, and Proto-literate (or Early Dynastic but not Jemdet Nasr) similar to those known from the south have been traced at Nineveh, Arpachiyah, Tepe Gawra and the Jebel Sinjar and Kirkûk areas.

The king-list tradition is of early nomads under Ušpia who founded a settlement at Asshur ca 2800 B.C. in the Early Dynastic period. Sargon of Agade (Akkad) (ca 2350 B.C.) built at Nineveh, and his son Maništusu at Asshur. A successor Naram-Sin continued to control the region for the Babylonians. Gen. 10:11f records the foundation of Asshur, Nineveh, and Calah (modern Nimrûd) by immigrants from Babylonia (see Nimrod; attested by archeological discoveries at Nimrûd). Amar-Sin of Ur and his dynasty mastered Assyria until their own city fell and Assyria won its independence during the Puzur-Ashur dynasty.

Ashurnasirpal II and protective genius, a human figure with eagle head and wings. The spirit, representing the king’s vitality and potency, holds a bucket and cone, symbols associated with the Tree of Life. Gypsum relief from Nimrûd (Trustees of the British Museum)
  1. Old Assyrian Period By 1900 B.C. the individual cities had established caravan links with Cappadocia (Kanish), trading copper for tin. They were also closely associated with the tribes of the west desert. Following a brief domination by Eshnunna (Diyala region), a strong family under its energetic head Šamši-Adad I (ca 1814–1782) controlled even distant Mari through his son Yasmaḫ-Adad. On the latter’s death Zimri-Lim of Mari reasserted his authority with the help of the peoples of Yamḫad (Aleppo), Eshnunna, and Babylon. Hammurabi of Babylon warred with Assyria until Mari was taken. Assyria broke up into small city-states under the Hurrians (see Horites), though its agricultural prosperity continued, as attested by the documents from Nuzi (Yorgan Tepe, near Kirkûk).
  2. Middle Assyrian Period (1300–900 B.C.) Aššuruballi (1365–1330) reunited Assyria under a strong central control. He corresponded with Amenhotep IV of Egypt, much to the objection of Burnaburiaš II of Babylon, who reckoned him a vassal (so Am. Tab.). With the recession of Mitannian power, trade routes to the west were reopened and Arik-dēn-īli (1319–1308) and Adadnirari I (1307–1275) regained land westward to Carchemish which had been lost since the days of Šamši-Adad. Further rapid expansions followed, and Assyria became one of the most powerful states in the ancient Near East.

Shalmaneser I (1274–1245) had to battle to keep his northern and eastern frontiers against recurrent Hurrian attacks. These he thwarted by conquering Ḫanigalbat. A new capital was established at Calah (Nimrûd). His son Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244–1208) was primarily engaged against Babylon, which he overcame; so it was left to Tiglath-pileser I (1115–1077) to settle the dynastic disputes that had meanwhile weakened Assyria. He struck first against the Muški (see Meshech) and Subarian tribes. With these nearer frontiers secure, he was the first Assyrian king to march to the Mediterranean. He received tribute from Byblos (Gebal), Sidon, and Arvad and imposed taxes on the king of Ḫatti (north Syria). He reached Tadmor (Palmyra) in his many campaigns against the emergent Aramean (Aḫlamu) tribes. These Assyrian preoccupations left David and Solomon free to extend their own territory into south Syria. The intruders from the Syrian desert impoverished Assyria under the aged Ashurnasirpal I, the uncle of Tiglath-pileser.

  1. Neo-Assyrian Period (900–612 B.C.)
  2. Ashurnasirpal II (885–860 B.C.) followed his father, Tukulti-Ninurta II, in taking strong military action that led to the reestablishment of the empire. His first move was to attack the Arameans in the upper and middle Euphrates Valley. In seven years he stopped their incursions by imposing tribute and taxes on the rulers of Laqe and Ḫindanu, while further north he struck at the people of Na’iri who had been attacking the Assyrian garrison town of Damdusa from their strong base at Kinabu. The whole region of the Kashiari hills (Tušḫan) was incorporated as an Assyrian province. Tribute was taken from Amme-Ba`al, who was, however, soon assassinated by local rebels; so the Assyrian army was dispatched to take revenge (879). Assyrian arms were carried as far as the land of Kummuḫ in the upper Tigris, where tribute was taken from the Muški.

In the east Zamua (modern Sulaimania) was taken over, and the rebels holding the Babite Pass, a key eastern trade route, were ousted. His ability to control the hill peoples enabled Ashurnasirpal to march beyond the rivers Habor (Ḫābûr) and Balîkh to the Euphrates, invade Bīt-Adini (the Beth-Eden of Am. 1:5; 2 K. 19:12; Isa. 37:12; Ezk. 27:23), and take tribute from the defeated ruler Aḫuni. This prepared the way for a major expedition to Syria in 877 to receive tribute from Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos and then march home via the Amanus Mountains, leaving reinforcements with his garrisons on the middle Euphrates and at Tušḫan (upper Tigris).

THE BIBLE AS HISTORY: Assyria the Second World Power

Assyria was essentially a military power, and the historical picture left of its exploits is one of great cruelty and rapaciousness. One of their warrior monarchs, Ashurnasirpal, describes his punishment of several rebellious cities in this way:

“I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, . . . and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. . . . Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire . . . Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace. . . . The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.”—Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

Reliefs often show their captives being led by cords attached to hooks that pierced the nose or the lips or having their eyes put out at the point of a spear. Thus, sadistic torture was a frequent feature of Assyrian warfare, about which they shamelessly boasted and which they carefully recorded. The knowledge of their cruelty doubtless served them to an advantage militarily, striking terror into the hearts of those in their line of attack and often causing resistance to crumble. Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, was aptly described by the prophet Nahum as a “lair of lions” and as “the city of bloodshed.”—Na 2:11, 12; 3:1.

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Much of the booty from these campaigns, as well as prisoner labor force, was devoted to the rebuilding of the capital at Calah about 875 B.C. Here a temple to Ninurta, a royal palace decorated with sculptured reliefs, irrigation works, and botanical and zoological gardens, was constructed. The new population (50,000) and 19,574 guests were entertained for ten days (cf. 1 K. 8:65f). A statue of this king stands in the British Museum.

  1. Shalmaneser III continued his father’s policy during a long and active reign (859–824 B.C.). Thirty-one years were spent in campaigning to extend Assyrian rule to Cilicia, Palestine, and the Persian Gulf. His first three campaigns were directed to the capture of Carchemish (857) and the incorporation of Bīt-Adini, whose capital Til-Barsip (Tell el-Aḥmar) was captured in 856 and renamed Kār-Šulmanašaridu (“Shalmaneserburg”). The alarmed Syrian states were ready to oppose his return in force in 853. Irḫuleni of Hamath and Adad-’idri (Hadadezer, possibly the Ben-hadad II of 1 K. 20) massed a coalition of “twelve kings of the sea-coast” with 62,900 infantry, 1,900 cavalry, 3,900 chariots, and 1,000 Arabian fighting camels at Karkara (Qarqar). “Ahab the Israelite” (Akk. A-ḫa-ab-bu mātSir-ʾi-la-a-a) supplied 10,000 men and 2,000 chariots according to the first reference to Israel in Assyrian annals (See ANET, pp. 278f). The clash was so fierce that the Assyrians did not return for three years (1 K. 16:29; 20:20; 22:1). Neither Hamath nor Damascus was taken, and it was a few years before the Assyrian attacks were resumed; and even then Hadadezer held firm.
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When Hadadezer was assassinated (842), Shalmaneser took the opportunity to march against his successor Hazael, “the son of a nobody” (i.e., a usurper), whose army was routed at Mt. Senir (Hermon). While claiming the defeat of Hazael, the Assyrians failed to capture either him or Damascus, where he had taken refuge. They ravaged the surrounding countryside, plundered the rich Hauran plain, and marched to the Mediterranean coast at Carmel (Ba‘li-ra’si), where tribute was received from Tyre, Sidon, and “Jehu son of Omri” (Yaua mār Ḫumri); the event is not recorded in the OT but was perhaps induced by Israel’s need of support against Hazael’s raids into their territory (2 K. 10:32). If this was Jehu’s plan, it was unsuccessful. The submission of the Israelite is depicted on the Black Obelisk (British Museum). JEHU, or his ambassador, is portrayed kneeling before Shalmaneser while porters bring “silver, gold, golden bowls, vases, cups, buckets” and other objects as tribute. After a further attempt to take Damascus in 838 Shalmaneser undertook no further campaign in the west, a sure witness to the growing power of the Syrian city-states.

To the north Shalmaneser had to continue pressure on the Urarṭian kingdom of Van. He had reached Tarsus in Cilicia in 858 and captured the silver and salt mines of Tabal (Tubal). In the east he held Zamua. In Babylonia his contemporary Nabû-apla-iddina (885–852) had repaired the damage caused by Aramean invaders, but dissension following his death led one Marduk-zākir-šumi to call for Assyrian aid. Shalmaneser defeated the rebels, entered Babylon, and made a parity treaty with Marduk-zākir-šumi (shown on the Nimrûd throne bas-relief by their shaking hands), who was now confirmed on the throne.


Shalmaneser moved against the Chaldeans (Kaldu) and took tribute from two of their tribal chiefs (Mušallim-Marduk and Adini), but this was merely a police operation combined with a show of force as far as the Persian Gulf. The end of his reign was saddened by domestic revolution. One son, Aššur-danin-apli, stirred up Asshur, Nineveh, Arbela (Erbil), and Arrapḫa (Kirkûk) so that the aged king was confined to Calah, where he had built a palace and arsenal. For four years another son Šamši-Adad V fought the rebels and then succeeded his father (824/3–811 B.C.).

  1. Adadnirari III (810–783 B.C.) took five years to quell the widespread revolt led by nobles, high officials, and some provincial governors who, like Dayan-Aššur, the army commander of Shalmaneser, had accumulated much local power. He had to reassert Assyrian authority also over tribes to the north and east who had meanwhile withheld their taxes. This was the beginning of the internal resistance to the central authority of the king which was to recur and ultimately lead to Assyrian weakness in the following century.

When Šamši-Adad died, his queen Sammu-ramat (in part the legendary Semiramis) took over command as co-regent for five years during the minority of her son Adadnirari. In 806 B.C. the young king undertook an expedition to north Syria, reaching the Mediterranean (Arpad), and another the following year, when he took Hazazu and broke up the powerful coalition developing between Damascus and states as far afield as Malatya. In 804, he struck further southwest to Tyre and Sidon. Joash of Israel, anxious to annul the burdensome treaty imposed on him by Hazael, seems to have taken this opportunity, as had Jehu before him, to obtain Assyrian help. The evidence for this is a royal stele (from Tell ar Rimah, Iraq) in which Adadnirari lists tribute from “Joash of Samaria” (Yu’ asu mātSamerinā) before that of Tyre and Sidon. When the Assyrian entered Damascus and took spoil from Ben-hadad it is likely that Israel was allowed to strengthen trade relations with that city and recover some lost territory (2 K. 13:25).


Adadnirari received the submission of all the Chaldean chiefs; but his early death led to disturbed conditions, since his eldest son Shalmaneser IV (782–772) seems to have had limited authority, his general Šamši-ilu claiming credit for successes against the Urarṭians. A second son (Aššur-dân III, 771–754) campaigned unsuccessfully in Syria, the event being marked by the ominous sign of a solar eclipse on June 15, 763 B.C. (which serves as a check on Assyrian chronology). At home there was a plague and revolt in the cities of Asshur, Gozan, and Arrapḫa. The third son, Aššur-nirari V (753–746), was probably killed in a palace revolution, and years of ineffectual rule ended when his younger brother Tiglath-pileser mounted the throne.

  1. Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 B.C.) took immediate and vigorous action to strengthen the central royal authority by subdividing provinces, thereby giving them the same direct allegiance as the home districts had to the king in person. By reestablishing control over outlying regions he aimed at bringing conquered territories into a close-knit empire. He first marched to the Karûn River, reminding Nabû-naṣir (Nabonassar) of Babylon and the Chaldean chiefs of his superior military power. Sacrifices were offered in their principal shrines. However, the growing might of a new Syro-Urarṭian coalition under Mati’-ilu of Arpad demanded his attention. Sardur III of Urarṭu was defeated at Samosata (Samsat) on the Euphrates, and Arpad was besieged for three years until it was finally incorporated as an Assyrian provincial capital in 741. Tiglath-pileser next campaigned against a south Syrian group whose revolt had been instigated by Azriyau of Yaudi, more likely to be identified with Azariah of Judah than with a king of the same name ruling at Ya’diya (Sam’al, modern Zenjirli). If so, it shows that Judah was strong before Azariah’s death (2 K. 15:7). Judeans are named among prisoners settled at Ullabu (near Bitlis). This victory opened the way for Assyrian arms to reach Phoenicia and for north Syria to be counted as the Assyrian province of Unqi and Ḫatarikka (738). During the siege of Arpad, Raṣunu (or Raḫianni, biblical Rezin) of Damascus and Meniḫimme (Menahem) of Samaria brought tribute. The 1,000 Israelite talents were calculated on the number of males of military age at the current Assyrian value of a slave (50 shekels.) This action was sufficient for Tiglath-pileser to confirm Menahem in power (2 K. 15:19f).

The Assyrian was now free to turn to the east, where a series of expeditions led to the subjugation of the Zamua (Zagros) region as a new province. Some detachments sent against the Medes penetrated as far as the desert of Teheran. An unsuccessful siege of Tušpa, Sardur’s capital on Lake Van, implies further intrigues in the north.

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In 734, Tiglath-pileser intervened again in Palestine, where Hiram of Tyre was allied with Rezin of Damascus. Tyre, Sidon, and neighboring Maḫalib (Ahlab of Jgs. 1:31) were laid under tribute. The latter, with Kashpuna, was included in a new province of Ṣimirra, and the whole area W of Damascus (Bīt-Ḫazael) to Samaria (Bīt-Humria) including Gilead was overrun. Ḫanunu (Ḫanno) of Gaza fled to Egypt as the Assyrian advanced to Naḫal-muṣur (“Wadi of Egypt”; RSV “Brook of Egypt”) and set up a golden image of the king there and in Gaza itself. Idi-bi’li was made local governor to watch the Egyptian frontier. When the king of Ashkelon was killed, his successor with Sanipu of Amman, Quaš (Chemosh)-Malaku of Edom, Salamanu of Moab, and Jehoahaz of Judah (Yauḫaszi mātYaudaya) sent tribute. It may have been on this basis that Ahaz appealed for Assyrian aid against Rezin and Pekah of Israel. Despite his acceptance of vassal status (2 K. 16:7), Ahaz received little help and Judah was invaded, Jerusalem itself being besieged (2 K. 16:5f; 2 Ch. 28:17). Two years later Tiglath-pileser captured Damascus (732), annexed part of Israel (2 K. 15:29), and, according to his annals, set up Hoshea (Ausi’) as king there after the removal of Pekah (Paqaḫa) by assassination (2 K. 15:30).


Meanwhile in Babylonia disturbances followed the death of Nabû-naṣir (Nabonassar) in 734. An Aramean chief claimed the throne, and the Assyrian tried hard to persuade the Babylonians to rise against him, with promises of tax exemption. When this failed, Tiglath-pileser himself marched to defeat the usurper and lay the tribal lands waste. He took over personal rule in Babylon in 729, participating in the New Year Festival under his native name of Pul (u) (so 2 K. 15:19; 1 Ch. 5:26).

  1. Shalmaneser V (727–722). The reign of Tiglath-pileser’s son is obscure, since no annals survive. His actions have to be reconstructed from a broken Assyrian eponym list and references in the Babylonian Chronicle. The former states that he besieged Samaria for three years (see also 2 K. 18:9) in reprisal for Hoshea’s failure to pay tribute (also 2 K. 17:3–6). The Babylonian Chronicle tells how Shalmaneser “broke [the resistance of] the city of Šamara’in [Samaria].” 2 K. 17:6 does not name the king of Assyria to whom Samaria fell; and though this might be Shalmaneser, it could equally well apply to his successor Sargon, who claimed to be the conqueror of Samaria in his accession year. He may have taken over the army on the premature death of his father, or there may have been joint participation in the siege (so the plural “they took it,” 2 K. 18:10). The matter must remain in debate, since Sargon makes no claim to be the conqueror of Samaria in his earlier annals from Asshur, Nineveh, and Calah. It is certain that when the citizens of Samaria refused to pay their tribute, encouraged by Yau-bi’di (Ilu-bi’di) of Hamath, Sargon marched against the city in 722/1 B.C. and claimed 27,270 (or 27,290) prisoners.
  2. Sargon II (722–705 B.C.). Sargon had to counter the increasing interference of Egypt in Palestinian affairs and of Elam in Babylonia. Both were the result of Assyrian expansion that had cut them off from trade with their neighbors. Whenever there were dissidents among these peoples they could now turn to these outside powers for help. But first Sargon had to settle disturbances among his own citizens, who had reacted against his father’s heavy demands for men and taxes for military service.

In Babylonia Marduk-apla-iddina (see Merodach-baladan) took the opportunity of these changes in Assyria to mount the throne in Babylon with the help of Humbanigaṣ̌ I of Elam. In 720 Sargon’s forces clashed with the rebels at Dēr and claimed a victory, though the Babylonian Chronicle marks it as an Elamite and Chaldean success. Marduk-apla-iddina certainly remained in control of the main Babylonian cities for the next ten years.


About this time Yau-bi’di (Ilu-bi’di) of Hamath, the sole remaining independent Syrian prince, attempted to meet the Assyrian in another battle at Qarqar. Despite Egyptian help sponsored by the exile Ḫanunu of Gaza, he was unsuccessful and Hamath was reduced to provincial status. Isaiah saw the lesson to be drawn from this (Isa. 10:5f). Gaza, aided by an Egyptian, So (perhaps Sib’e, a general, 2 K. 17:4), was involved in this rising. In a battle near Raphia (Rapihu) on the Egyptian border they were defeated, Ḫanunu was captured with 9,053 prisoners, and the Egyptian fled. Eight years later the Egyptian pharaoh (pi’ru)—probably Bocchoris—stirred up Ashdod. Once again the Assyrian won and “the rulers of Palestine, Judah, Edom, and Moab brought tribute and gifts for the god Ashur.” Though Judah (Yaudi) is named, this does not necessarily imply that Sargon entered their territory. Isaiah again interpreted the defeat of Ashdod by the Assyrian (Isa. 20:1–6). Even the Egyptian king (Šilḫanni)—either Osorkon III or IV—sent tribute. It was certainly vain for Judah to look to Egypt for help, for that king simply handed over Yamani of Ashdod, who had fled to him for refuge to the Assyrians.

It was probably the Elamites who stirred up the Zagros hill-peoples. In 713 Sargon raided the region of Hamadân and Kermanshah and took booty from the Medes. Further north a revival of Urartian intrigue was reported to Sargon by his ever watchful local officials. Ursâ (Rusas I) continually harassed the Assyrian garrisons until in 714 Sargon directed his eighth campaign as a major offensive to capture Muṣaṣir (where Ursâ committed suicide) and defeat the Manneans (the Minni of Jer. 51:27). The expedition is reported in detail both in the Annals and in a letter to the god, which was perhaps read at a victory parade at Asshur. In 717–712 Sargon kept the pressure on Carchemish (now another Assyrian province), Cilicia, and all the neo-Hittite states in the Taurus (Melid, Kummuh, and Tabal) which had been influenced by Ursâ and Mida (Midas) of Phrygia but now turned to him for help against the westward thrust of the Cimmerians (Assyr Gimirraya; Gomer of Ezk. 38:6).

It was now time for Sargon to try to bring Babylonia under his sway. He marched down the eastern bank of the Tigris, forcing the Chaldean tribes to retreat southward. In their wake the cities, tired of ten years of rule under tribesmen, opened their gates and welcomed the deliverers. Sargon, as “vice-regent of Babylon,” celebrated the New Year Festival, showing that this act of itself was no mark of kingship. Marduk-apla-iddina’s land of Bīt-Yakin was overrun after two years of hard struggle, but on Sargon’s withdrawal he was left in charge. Upēri of Dilmun (modern Bahrain) sent Sargon gifts.

Sargon himself lived at Calah until ca 706, when he moved to a new capital Dūr-Šarrukin (Khorsabad) 15 mi (ca. 24 km) NE of Nineveh,on which he had spent eleven years labor. He did not enjoy it long, for in the next year he was killed at war in Tabal (see also Sargon).

  1. Sennacherib (705–681 B.C.). While crown-prince, Sennacherib had served his father as a military advisor on the northern frontier. This knowledge served him well, for he was to enjoy calm there and to the east. This enabled him to concentrate on other fields, except for brief displays of strength in Zagros, Cilicia, and Tabal. His work on the restoration of Nineveh was soon interrupted by the need to go to Babylonia, where Marduk-apla-iddina, faithful to Sargon since 710, now made another bid for the kingship. He had the support of the Arameans, Elamites, and Arabs, and had made overtures for support to Hezekiah (Isa. 39; 2 K. 20:12–19). Marduk-apla-iddina, following the disappearance of a little-known Marduk-zākir-šumi II, held the throne with the title “King of Babylon” until defeated with his allies by Sennacherib near Kish in 703 B.C. (J. A. Brinkman, in Studies Presented to A. L. Oppenheim [1964], p. 24). Sennacherib plundered Babylon, deported 208,000 prisoners to Nineveh, and set up a young friend Bēl-ibni as ruler. He had to move into the southern marshes to follow up Marduk-apla-iddina, who had reappeared in Bīt-Yakin. The latter was this time driven to flee to Elam. An expedition was mounted with ships built at Nineveh, carried overland from Opis on the Tigris, and manned by Phoenicians. It embarked with troops at Bab-Salimeti; but it was too late, for by then the wily old Chaldean had died in exile (694). The Elamites invaded Babylonia, captured Sippar, and removed the pro-Assyrian Aššur-nadin-šumi from the throne in Babylon. For seven years the struggle continued until the Babylonians, again with Elamite auxiliaries, met the Assyrian army at Ḫalule. Though the Arameans and their allies were defeated, Assyrian casualties were heavy. Angered, Sennacherib laid siege to the Chaldeans within the sacred city of Babylon for nine months before he sacked it. The statue of the god Marduk was carried off to Assyria. Sennacherib took the ancient title “King of Sumer and Akkad” and resistance ceased.
Six-sided clay prism containing the final edition of Sennacherib’s annals. Included is an account of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem and “forty-six of [Hezekiah’s] strong cities, walled forts, and countless small villages.” (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

In Palestine also rebellion had broken out. Sennacherib marched in 701 to the Phoenician coast and reimposed control and taxation on Little Sidon, Ṣariptu (Zarephath), Maḫalib (Mahalab, Ahlab), Ušk, and Akku (Acco). Luli of Sidon fled and was replaced by Tuba’lu (Ethba‘al, 1 K. 16:31). Tyre was bypassed but the rulers of Arvad, Byblos, Beth-Ammon, Moab, and Edom submitted. Since Ashkelon and the neighboring towns of Beth-Dagon and Joppa resisted, they were sacked. The Assyrian claimed the defeat of the Egyptian army at Eltekeh and the slaughter of the elders of Ekron. At this time they ravaged Judah, taking forty-six towns and villages with 200,150 captives and thus isolating Hezekiah in Jerusalem. The Judean capital may well have been left under blockade while the Assyrians protected their flank against a possible Egyptian capture of Lachish. From there Sennacherib sent to Hezekiah demanding the release of Padi, the pro-Assyrian ruler of Ekron. Hezekiah appears to have paid some tribute (2 K. 18:13–16; Isa. 36:1; 2 Ch. 32:9; Assyrian Taylor prism dated 691 b.c.). Padi was freed and Hezekiah “besieged in his capital city of Jerusalem like a bird in a cage” (Sennacherib prism), though the Assyrians soon raised the siege (cf. 2 K. 19:32–34). The reason given for this is “the angel of the Lord” (v 35) or, by Herodotus (ii. 141), a plague of mice devouring the Assyrian bow strings and shield-straps, interpreted usually as descriptive of a plague. The Assyrian annals are noticeably silent as to the cause for their withdrawal, which might also have been precipitated by the troubles in Babylonia.

The reference to the approach of Egyptian forces under “Tirhakah [Akk. Tarqû] King of Ethiopia” (2 K. 19:9; Isa. 37:9) is considered by many scholars to be an anachronism, since his regnal dates were taken to be ca 690–664 B.C. They thus postulate a second Assyrian campaign in Palestine ca 688 B.C. This is not attested by any extant source and it is preferable to envisage a single campaign in 701. Some Egyptologists assume an earlier co-regency for Tirhakah since there is no certain evidence for his precise regnal years in Cush. The two-campaign theory is sometimes supported by the presumption that Sennacherib’s death followed immediately, or soon, after his return from Palestine (2 K. 19:36; Isa. 27:13). The time between the events recorded in 2 K. 19:36 and v 37 is of unspecified duration.

Sennacherib attacked the kingdom of Judah during Hezekiah’s 14th year (732 B.C.E.). (2Ki 18:13; Isa 36:1) Hezekiah had rebelled against the Assyrian yoke imposed as a result of the action of his father Ahaz. (2Ki 18:7) Sennacherib reacted by sweeping through Judah, reportedly conquering 46 cities (compare Isa 36:1, 2), and then, from his camp at Lachish, he demanded of Hezekiah a tribute of 30 gold talents (c. $11,560,000) and 300 silver talents (c. $1,982,000). (2Ki 18:14-16; 2Ch 32:1; compare Isa 8:5-8.) Though this sum was paid, Sennacherib sent his spokesmen to demand unconditional surrender of Jerusalem. (2Ki 18:17–19:34; 2Ch 32:2-20) Jehovah’s subsequently causing the destruction of 185,000 of his troops in one night obliged the boasting Assyrian to withdraw and return to Nineveh. (2Ki 19:35, 36) There he was later assassinated by two of his sons and replaced on the throne by another son, Esar-haddon. (2Ki 19:37; 2Ch 32:21, 22; Isa 37:36-38) These events, with the exception of the destruction of the Assyrian troops, are also recorded on a prism of Sennacherib and one of Esar-haddon.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Sennacherib’s death was interpreted by the Babylonians as divine punishment for his action against their capital. The Babylonian Chronicle states that he was murdered by a son, 2 K. 19:36f by two sons in the temple of Nisroch (Ninurta’). He died on 20th Tebītu (January, 681 B.C.) and was succeeded by his youngest son Esarhaddon.

  1. Esarhaddon (681–669 B.C.). Sennacherib’s death plunged Assyria into a dynastic crisis. Esarhaddon had earlier taken refuge in Cilicia or Tabal to escape his brothers while they fought for the throne. His supporters called for his return to Nineveh, where he was crowned in 681. He immediately restored Babylon, which his gods had earlier decreed should lie in ruins for 70 years. This involved a reversal of destiny (whereby the Babylonian numeral for 60 + 10 became 10 + 1 years). The work, which was not completed till 669, won over the Babylonians. They repulsed an Elamite attack in 675 and helped Assyria against the son of Marduk-apla-iddina, who attempted to recapture Ur, and against the Bīt-Dak-kuri tribe, which siezed land near Babylon. Their chief was replaced by a pro-Assyrian.

The major pressures against Assyria proper came from the nomadic Scythians (Assyr Iškuzai), who drove through Tabal and Cilicia towards Šupria. At first Esarhaddon warred successfully against Teušpa and his hordes, diverting them against the Phrygians. An Assyrian princess may have been given in marriage to the Scythian Bartatua, but by the end of the reign Assyria had lost Ḫilakku (Cilicia) and Tabal and had made little headway in the east, where the Manneans were largely independent despite many punitive raids. Some Medean chiefs were made vassals and the central Zagros and Gambulū tribes quieted to form a buffer between Assyria and Elam, where on the death of Ḫumba-Ḫaldaš II a pro-Assyrian, Urtaki, ascended the throne (675).

Phoenicia was quelled by strong reprisal action against rebels in Sidon. The king Abdi-Milkuti was executed (677), the city.sacked, and its land given to Tyre. The border garrison near Egypt at Arzani had been reinforced in 679, and three years later Esarhaddon quelled the Arabs in a series of raids.

In public ceremonies in May 672, Esarhaddon, mindful of the trouble at his own accession, appointed Aššur-bāni-apli (Ashurbanipal) as crown-prince of Assyria and Šamaš-šum-ukīn, his twin or a brother of equal status by a different mother, as crown-prince of Babylonia. The vassal-rulers present were given an oral and written confirmatory treaty listing the conditions they had to fulfil to maintain this arrangement, on pain of curse for default. As well as the eastern vassals, rulers of Syria and the west whom Esarhaddon names in his annals must have been present. These included Manasseh (Menasī) of Judah (cf. 2 Ch. 36:11), Baʿlu of Tyre, Quaš-gabri of Edom, Musuri of Moab, Ṣilli-Bēl of Gaza, Metinti of Ashkelon, Ikausu of Ekron, Pudu-il of Beth-Ammon, Aḫimilki of Ashdod, and the rulers of Cyprus and the Greek islands. A list of payments from Palestine about this time tells of gold sent from Beth-Ammon and Moab, silver from Edom, and “ten minas of silver from the people of Judah.”

The way was thus open by the spring of 671 for Esarhaddon’s ambitious project: the subjugation of Egypt. Avoiding rebellious Tyre, which was contained by a siege force, the Assyrian army marched via Raphia (S of Gaza) across the Sinai desert to Memphis. Despite the defense by Tarqū (Taharqa), Memphis fell and the Ethiopians were deported, leaving local native princes (among them Neco of Sais) to be appointed as governors, officers, harbor overseers, and other officials under the surveillance of Assyrians.

Tribute and taxes were imposed and some statuary and other Egyptian treasures removed before the army withdrew to Nineveh. Soon Taharqa reappeared, stirred the native princes to declare their independence of Assyria, and retook Memphis. Esarhaddon was on his way to remedy this when he died at Ḫarran in December, 669 B.C., and was succeeded by his sons as planned.

  1. Ashurbanipal (669-ca 627 B.C.) had already held responsibility at court and in state building projects as well as in the appointment of governors and prefects. His assumption of the royal powers was vigorous and complete. Before he could take over the punitive expedition against the Egyptian rebels he settled the Tyrian confrontation with a treaty whereby the king became his vassal again, led an expedition into the eastern hills, and installed his brother on the Babylonian throne. In 667 B.C., backed by contingents from the twenty-two vassals in Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Cyprus, the Assyrian marched into Egypt and defeated Taharqa, who again withdrew from Memphis. Egypt was again in Assyrian hands. The twenty native kings, governors, and regents who had left their office under Taharqa’s threats were now reinstated. Those who connived with Taharqa in his exile were removed to Nineveh. Yet Ashurbanipal followed his father’s policy, choosing among others Neco I of Sais as an important local ruler. Taharqa’s successor and son-in-law Ta-net-Amon (Tandamane) made a further bid to retake the Delta in 664. Memphis was retaken by the Assyrians and Thebes was sacked (Nah. 3:8). Psamtik I was appointed to succeed Neco who died in 663. A few years later, with the backing of Greek mercenaries and troops from Lydia, he forced the Assyrian garrisons to withdraw to Ashdod.

These upheavals in Egypt encouraged Ba‘lu of Tyre and Yakinlu of Arvad to make bids for independence, but these failed after sieges (665). A campaign against the Manneans and an alliance with Madyes the Scythian helped to relieve the pressure of the Cimmerians on the Assyrian border tribes. Nonetheless, when Gyges of Lydia asked for assistance against these Cimmerians he was refused because of his support for Egypt.


In the south Ashurbanipal fought against Urtaki of Elam, who had invaded Babylonia. Assyria had long had some direct control in that area (e.g., Nippur) and had worked in harmony with Urtaki’s brother for sixteen years before the Elamites fomented trouble. Tept-Humban, the Elamite usurper of Urtaki, was killed, and Ashurbanipal supported the claims of Humbanigaš II and Tammaritu, sons of Urtaki who had earlier taken refuge in Nineveh. They were given separate regions to govern within the reconquered Elamite borderlands. Ashurbanipal may have directed this action in part to assist his own brother in Babylon. The citizens of Babylonia sent a deputation professing loyalty, while the Gambulū tribe E of the Tigris was punished for its part in the Elamite troubles.

Šamaš-šum-ukīn seems to have succumbed to the local spirit of nationalism and independence, perhaps interpreting Ashurbanipal’s action as weakness. He seems to have plotted with Elam, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Judah, as well as with the local Arab and Chaldaean tribes to move against Assyria. Ashurbanipal appealed for loyalty and only when this was refused began war with Babylonia, a war that was to continue for three years. Elam, divided in its internal politics, was of no assistance, and famine led the Arabs within Babylon to desert. Seeing the hopelessness of further resistance, Šamaš-šum-ukīn committed suicide in the conflagration which swept his palace (648). A Chaldean, Kandalanu, was appointed as vice-regent of Babylon.

Ashurbanipal followed up the fall of Babylon with action against the Arabs, especially the Qedar (Kedar) and Nabatean tribes. The booty taken was so plentiful that the current market price for a camel fell to one silver shekel in Nineveh. War against Elam dragged on until Susa was sacked in 639 B.C., the year in which Ashurbanipal celebrated a triumph in Nineveh. The last years of his life are obscure, due to a lack of direct historical sources after 639 B.C. He may have associated his sons Aššur-etil-ilāni and Sin-šar-iškun as governors and later as co-regents. Under these rulers Assyria lost territory. According to Herodotus, Phraortes the Mede made an attack on the Assyrians. Certainly by 626 b.c. the Chaldean Nabǔ-apla-usur (Nabopolassar) had won independence for Babylon and was recognised as king there; by 617, the Assyrian garrison had withdrawn. Assyrian affairs in the south seem to have been the responsibility of Sin-šar-iškun, who commanded the army against Babylon. Aššur-etil-ilāni (627–623 B.C.) may have been coregent in Assyria proper, succeeded briefly by Sin-šum-lišir before the last king of Assyria ruling at Ninveh, Sin-šar-iškun, held sole sway (627–612).

THE BIBLE AS HISTORY: The Bloody City of Nineveh

  1. The Fall of Nineveh In 616 Assyria began to lose further territory to Nabopolassar, who defeated them at Qablinu and took over the middle Euphrates and raided the Balîkh. A Babylonian raid against Madanu (near Kirkûk) was repulsed. In 615 Asshur was raided and the Medes overran the Arrapha province; in the following year they moved against Tarbiṣu in alliance with the Babylonians and against Nineveh. The siege may have been raised by some sort of Scythian intervention. Nabopolassar suppressed a rebellion in the middle Euphrates by the Suḫu tribe but withdrew from ‘Anah when the Assyrian army approached. In 614 Asshur fell, and by 612 the Medes and Babylonians marched up the Tigris to Nineveh. They laid siege to the city for the months Simānu-Abu (ca June–Aug., 612), making only slight progress. The final breach seems to have been the result of flooding (Nah. 1:8; Xenophon Anabasis iii.4.7–12; Diodorus ii.27.1). Sin-šar-iškun (classical Sardanapalus) threw himself into the flames. Some escaping Assyrians were followed as far as Nisibin by the Babylonians, while Cyaxares (son of Phraortes) and the Medes withdrew with their loot.

The Assyrian supporters under Aššur-uballi II raised the banners of an independent Assyria at Ḫarran. In 609 B.C. the Babylonians and the Umman-manda peoples forced him and his Egyptian allies to withdraw W of the Euphrates. The Egyptian army under Neco II which marched to support these Assyrian remnants was too late. Josiah’s fatal intervention at Megiddo marked his own siding with the enemies of Assyria (2 K. 23:29f). Assyria as a political unit now ceased to exist. From this point on it formed part of the Persian, Seleucid, and Parthian empires. But the name (Pers Athura) continued as a designation of Assyria’s former homelands (Ezk. 16:28; 23:5–23).

IV Exploration and Excavation

Early travelers reported the site of biblical Nineveh opposite Mosul. C. J. Rich was the first to examine its ruins (Kuyunjik and Nebi Yûnus) in 1820. The Frenchman P. E. Botta excavated there briefly (1842) before working at Dūr-Šarrukin (Khorsabad) 15 mi (25 km) NE, thinking the latter to be Nineveh. A. H. Layard worked at both Nineveh and Nimrûd (Calah) 22 mi (35 km) S in 1845–1851. His work was continued by H. Rassam (1851–1854), W. K. Loftus 1854/55), British Museum expeditions (1927–1931), and recently the Iraqi Department of Antiquities (1957, 1967–). The British School of Archaeology continued work at Nimrûd (1949–1963), finding a remarkable series of ivories and tablets in the palaces and arsenal. Further work has been done there by the Iraqis and Poles (1967–). Prehistoric sites cleared include Arpachiyah, Hassuna, and Thalthat. The Deutsche Orientgesellschaft excavated Asshur (Qal‘ât Sherqâ) in 1903–1904. Other sites dug include Imgur-Bēl (Balawat, 1956–1957); Shibaniba (Tell Billa, 1846, 1930–1931), Karanā (Tell ar Rimah, 1964–1971), and Tell Taya (1968–). (See also Archeology of Mesopotamia.)

V. Texts

  1. Libraries Babylonian literature was much used and influential in Assyria. Because of the importance of tradition, kings used to accumulate collections of texts in their palace libraries for use by specialists. In this way Tiglath-pileser I and his successors at Asshur and Sargon II and his family at Calah amassed libraries, part of which were transferred to Nineveh by Ashurbanipal. The latter also sent scribes to Babylon to copy texts not already in his hands. Of the approximately eighteen thousand tablets and fragments (perhaps representing more than five thousand individual works), the majority are reference works used by scribes in divination and related “sciences.” Catalogues (especially of myths, epics, tables, and incantations) were kept, and some texts have labels or the royal library colophon added or bear library notes in Aramaic. The whole range of classical Babylonian literature is represented, as well as some texts only known from Assyrian copies (“The Poor Man of Nippur”) or versions. The extant texts probably represent only a part of the original collection of tablets, papyri, writing-boards, and other documents.
  2. Rituals Some cultic rituals known only from Assyrian relate to operations requiring the royal person and his purification in a ritual bath (bīt rimki) and cleansing (bīt mesēri) or sprinkling with water (solaˊ me). The appropriate actions, prayers, and incantations to be recited in each room of the palace are given. The rites for the manufacture, consecration, and induction of divine statues, whose mouths were “opened” to give them existence, are followed by rules for their feeding (tākultu) and service. Details of the cult at Asshur imply that the main New Year Festival (akītu) differed in time and style from that at Babylon.
  3. Letters Apart from the libraries’ literary texts, a large number of letters have survived both from the early Assyrian period of Šamši-Adad I and from the last ruling Sargonid dynasty. Some are royal correspondence or palace edicts, but most are administrative documents which give valuable insights into personal histories. More than three hundred reports from the astrologers advise the king of the implications of astronomical or other omens thought to affect affairs of state. Among these are warnings (e.g., of a solar eclipse) that the royal person was endangered. In this event a substitute king (šar pūḫi) was appointed for a hundred days while the king remained in his palace. It is assumed, but by no means certain, that the substitute was then killed.
  4. Laws Surviving fragments of middle Assyrian laws from the 14th-13th cents are drafted in a form similar to those from Babylon itself (see Babylonia VII). This may indicate an independent collection of local cases rather than any mere supplementation of general precedents compiled by earlier kings (see Hammurabi). Most legal clauses relate to the rights and duties of women, marriage (including a type of erēbu-marriage by which the wife visits her husband’s family), levirate marriage (less restricted than the Hebrew), veiling, and widows. Some fragments deal with theft, assault, murder, sexual offenses, slander, trial by ordeal, and witchcraft; others with pledges for debt, the control of corporal and other punishments, and the classification and inheritance of land. A few of the latter correspond directly to certain royal decrees and grants, the legal procedure by which they were effected.

Assyria maintained interstate relations with her neighbors by means of treaties or covenants made with equals (parity) or subordinates (vassal). Part of a parity agreement between Šamši-Adad V (824–815) and Marduk-zākir-šumi I of Babylon survives (cf. that made by his predecessor Shalmaneser; see III.E.2 above). Vassal treaties between Aššur-nirari VI (753–746) and a ruler in north Syria (Mati’-ilu) and between Esarhaddon and Ba‘lu king of Tyre can be compared with additional stipulations imposed by Esarhaddon on his existing vassals when he made his son Ashurbanipal crown prince in 672. Manasseh of Judah would have been among those present to reaffirm their trust in Assyria and her gods, declare their loyalty, and promise support under oath and supernatural sanction (including the threat of invasion). Many curses are recorded in these texts, inviting self-judgment in case of rejection of Assyrian physical and spiritual overlordship.

VI Institutions

  1. King The Assyrian king, like his Babylonian counterpart, acted as representative of man to the gods and was also responsible to the god, as his steward, for the welfare of the land and people. Accordingly he made reports to the national god of the way he had exercised wisdom, ruled, and extended the god’s fame (e.g., Sargon II’s report to Aššur on his eighth campaign). This was one basis of Assyrian historiography; these reports were often incorporated in inscriptions. In the cult of Aššur the king played a leading role, though probably different from that of the Babylonian king, especially in the New Year Festival. Though not high priest, he was a prime participant in rituals that may have included the royal hunt.
  2. Government The king was served by his palace household under a vizier, majordomo, and chief secretary, supported by specialists in foreign affairs (and languages) and many nobles and courtiers. The army commander (turtānu, the Tartan of 2 K. 18:18; Isa. 20:1), chief butler (see Rabshakeh), and other high officials were responsible to the king. Like the city and district governors, among whom they were included, they were required to make an oath of loyalty and report any subversive activities directly to the king. He was usually careful not to alienate these dignitaries upon whom his throne depended. There are relatively few instances of rebellion against the highly developed Assyrian administration.

The royal harem was controlled by the queen (“she of the palace”) who, like the queen-mother Sammu-ramat (Semiramis) and Adad-guppi’, mother of Nabonidus, was sometimes influential in state affairs. It was governed by strict protocol and guarded by eunuchs.

Assyrian Helmets

Assyria annexed territories adjacent to her homeland when this was necessary for defense, security, or safeguarding trade routes. The gradual assimilation of these areas under provincial governors was the basis of the Assyrian empire. Such governors gave their names to the years by turn as eponyms (limmi). To prevent power from falling into the hands of any of the twenty-eight provinces formed by Ashurnasirpal II, Tiglath-pileser III subdivided them into smaller areas. Each governor had to collect local taxes and to store supplies for military operations. Syria was so subdivided in 738–734 B.C., and this prepared the way for expansion toward Israel and Egypt.

Beginning with Shalmaneser I (1264–1245 B.C.), Assyrian rulers often deported conquered peoples and resettled their lands with their own or other conquered peoples, a tactic apparently adopted from the 3rd Dynasty of Ur. Such “colonization” was employed most extensively by Tiglath-pileser III, who carried away portions of the Israelite population of Galilee and the Transjordan ca 733 B.C. After the fall of Samaria, Sargon II claims to have deported the inhabitants, and it was he who repopulated the area with the captives of other campaigns.

  1. Military Some kings prided themselves in leading their armies personally, while others left the hard campaigning to their field marshals (turtānu). By the time of Sargon II the earlier system of call-up for military or corvée service was replaced by a royal bodyguard and standing army divided into named units. These army groups (twenty thousand) were composed of armies (ten thousand) arranged in units of a hundred, fifty, and ten, with the bulk supplied by the district governors. Chariots, cavalry, pioneers, and sappers were supporting arms (see War). The Assyrian development of mobile warfare, siege, and psychological warfare (Isa. 36) accounts for their success. It was regularly backed up by a display of arms and organization which helped to maintain control of even the most distant province or source of supplies.

VII. Economy

The economy was basically agricultural, supplemented by imports of raw materials (iron, copper, silver) along routes dominated by military forces. Local taxes on grain, straw, and herds were imposed, as were other dues; exemption was given rarely by charter. By Neo-Assyrian times such exemptions, as for the city of Asshur, were highly prized. Taxes were supplemented by various dues and tribute (biltu u mandattu) imposed on the conquered territories. After an initial heavy exaction (as in 2 K. 18:14–16), annual dues were set which were usually payable in local produce or currency. Other payments included war indemnity (as tax instead of slave service; e.g., 2 K. 15:20) and gifts on appearing before a suzerain. Such income played a large part in the economy of the first millennium B.C.

Slaves played only a small part in the economy, being mainly in private hands and able to work for their release. Prisoners of war were employed on large-scale public works such as the construction of Calah (about fifty thousand were employed there in 879–865 B.C.). With the declining power of the central authority after 632 B.C., and rebellions in the outer empire that could not be controlled, most external sources of income dried up, and the Assyrian economy failed quickly.

VIII. Architecture and Art

Most attention was paid to the embellishment of the capital cities of Asshur, Nineveh, and Calah, where successive kings repaired and rebuilt the citadels in which were located the royal palaces, administrative buildings, public squares, and principal temples. The massive defense walls of the citadel were extended to include the town proper and an “arsenal,” or military barrack and store area (ekal māšarti). Some new foundations were attempted at Kār-Tukulti-Ninurta and Dūr-Šarrukin (Khorsabad, by Sargon II), but these did not outlive their founders. The basic forms were similar to the Babylonian, but the proximity of abundant stone and wood led to increasing use of these materials, and some innovations. The royal palaces, some temples, and facades were lined with stone orthostats or panels, which formed an integral part of the architectural design and construction. These stone slabs were carved in bas-relief depicting war and victory, the royal hunt, religious acts by priests or demons, or symbolic “sacred trees” or griffins. The style changed from the early open drawings to crowded attempts at perspective and detail (e.g., Sennacherib at Lachish). The doorways were built around large protective colossi or figures either in the round or in semi-relief. Sculptured stelae, obelisks, and columns were set up in public places and temples, where also stood statues of gods and kings made of decorated metal, stone, or wood.

The God Aššur with outstretched wings and drawn bow, encircled by an aura of flames, amidst rain clouds. Fragment of brick with colored glaze, from Asshur (reign of Tikulti-Ninurta II, 890–884 B.C.) (Trustees of the British Museum)

Though the temples were made of mud brick, they were often elaborately furnished. At Asshur the ziggurat (temple tower) was a twin construction; here and elsewhere access was directly from the court, from a roof, or by ramps. Some early temples (Rimah) had facades of mud brick shaped like palm trunks or other patterns. Roofs, domes, or vaulting made of large tree trunks were often gilded or painted. Some buildings were of the open portico style (bīt ḫilāni) adopted from Syria. Glazed panels or orthostats are also found, some of which were used as decorated walls or friezes above the stone sculptures, or as roof tiles.

In the applied arts the best furniture was of elaborate ivory or wood with gold overlaid, or of wood with bronze fittings. Thrones, couches, stools, screens, and smaller objects have been found in abundance. Doors were overlaid similarly or with sculptured bronze (Balawat). As depicted in the reliefs and paintings, doorsills were sometimes carved with intricate patterns similar to those used on carpets and embroidered garments.

As in Babylonia, stone or frit cylinder seals were carved with scenes in a local style reminiscent of the larger art forms. Sometimes they used the flowing style of outline figures made with a few carving strokes or the marks of a drill.

Colossal winged bull, a protective genius that guarded the doorway of Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrûd. Five legs are shown so the figure might be viewed from the front and side. (Trustees of the British Museum)

IX Technology

Assyria paralleled Babylonia in its development and applications of the wheel, glass-making, dyeing, refining, and other tools and crafts. Mathematics, medicine, tanning, and chemical technology played a large part in daily life. Military necessity led to experimentation in the development of weaponry, chariotry, siege engines, road-building, and other arts. Royal botanical and zoological gardens constructed at the capital cities housed plants and animals collected during campaigns. These gardens and the cities they served were watered by elaborate irrigation systems. Sennacherib constructed barrage and dam control of the rivers (Bavian, Jerwan, and Ageila) and an underground system (qana’at), as well as waterhoists (šaduf), for these purposes. He introduced cotton plants (“wool-bearing trees”) and new techniques of casting bronze. Earlier irrigation systems had brought water to Calah from the river Zab by tunnel and open canal (Negub).

By D. J. Wiseman

There is a tradition in the Assyrian Christian church that after the collapse of the Assyrian empire under the onslaught of the Medes and Neo-Babylonians, a remnant of the Assyrian people—chiefly princes, noblemen, and warriors—took refuge in the mountains of Kurdistan. There they built a number of armed fortresses. Alexander the Great (336–323 BC), his successors, and the Roman legions made no attempt to conquer these tribes. Trajan (AD 98–117) marched at the head of the Roman armies through Armenia, touching the northern region of Kurdistan, on his way to Persia. It is asserted that the wise men, or magi, who visited the newly born king in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus, came from Edessa. According to this tradition, the magi, on returning from Bethlehem, proclaimed the amazing things they had heard and seen on their visit to the king. A Christian church was founded among the Assyrians which has survived throughout the centuries. The number of these Assyrian Christians is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 at the present time. The region that was Assyria, including all of Mesopotamia, is within present-day Iraq, an Arabic-speaking country predominantly Muslim in religion.




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[1] D. J. Wiseman, “Assyria,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 332–341. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Assyria, Assyrians,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 223. E. Forrer, Die Provinzeinteilung des Assyrischen Reiches (1921); B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien (1925); R. C. Thompson, Dictionary of Assyrian Chemistry and Geology (1936); Dictionary of Assyrian Botany (1949); H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (1954); D. J. Wiseman, Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon (1959); H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon (1962); P. Garelli, Les Assyriens en Cappadoce (1963); A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964); G. Cardascia, Les lois assyriennes (1969); G. Van Driel, The Cult of Assur (1969); S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars (1970); E. Ebeling, et al., eds, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, I–IV (1932–1975); D. J. Wiseman, ed, Peoples of OT Times (1973); CAH; ANET.

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