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Ca. 1380-912 BCE

Ancient World / Mesopotamia / Assyria /
Middle Assyria
Akkadian: assur

1. Society and Economy
2. Administration
3. Kings
4. Culture
5. Religion
6. Language
7. History

Assyria around 1100 BCE

Cult pedestal of the god Nuska. Temple of Ishtar in Ashur, Temple of Ishtar. 13th century BCE.
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Cult pedestal of the god Nuska. Temple of Ishtar in Ashur, Temple of Ishtar. 13th century BCE.

Era of Assyria, defined to last from ca. 1380, transferring into the Neo period in 912 BCE, ca. 470 years. It followed the period called "Old", preceeding the period called "Neo". This period is noted for being a period in which Assyria rose to become one of the strongest kingdoms in the region. It is mainly two periods in which Assyria distinguishes itself, ca. 1300-1197, ca. 100 years, and ca. 1115-1076 , ca. 40 years. This means that a powerful Assyria only fills a quarter of the entire Middle period.
Early in this period, Assyria got the name we know it by now. The old name, Subartu (in Akkadian), was changed into the Akkadian form for "Land of Ashur".
What distinguishes the Middle period is that Assyria emerged from small states in between other states of similar nature and strength. In the beginning of this period, Assyria was a vassal state of Mitanni and Babylonia. The king listed as the second king of this specific period, Ashur-uballit 1, was in effect the first king to again rule over an independent Assyria around 1350. By his own efforts, as well as fortune, he formed the first large Assyrian kingdom, being the first effective ruler of the Middle Assyrian period.
The legacy of Ashur-uballit allowed further advances and from around 1300 Assyria emerged as the strongest state of Mesopotamia, having conquered Mitanni, thereafter taking full control over Babylonia around 1230. Over the next 40 to 50 years, the luck of Assyria changed, it even became a vassal under Babylonia around 1180. Again, things changed and towards 1120, Assyria would again emerge, reaching its Middle period zenith with king Tiglath-Pileser 1. It is with him that Assyria reaches a size and status that can be considered an empire. Carchemish was conquered, the Phrygians and Hittites defeated, then marching on to Aramea and Phoenicia.
Despite almost 40 years as king, the empire he left his successors proved fragile and its conquered lands were soon lost.
From the last 100 years of this period, very little is known. This both reflects Assyria's own weakness in that little was documented, as well as a weak regional standing in that neighbouring states fail to mention Assyria.

Society and Economy
Assyria remained a feudal society.
Foreign trade had become more controlled by local peoples than before. The Hittites and Hurrians controlled themselves the metal trade of Asia Minor,, the Kasites controlled the lower Euphrates and Tigris rivers south to the Persian Gulf. Important import products were tin from Iran and lumber from the west.
The opening of new trade routes was often the cause for the Assyrian king to launch war.
Agriculture was of great importance for the state, agriculture used aritificial irrigation.
Laws from the time of Tiglath-Pileser 1, shows that the Assyrian woman was far inferior compared to other societies: a man could close to do as he pleased with his wife. He could divorce her without compensation, and discovering adultery, he was permitted to kill or mutilate her. In public, women were obliged to wear a veil.

The king role developed more of a religious dimension, the king emerged gradually as High Priest of Ashur. This was less to create legitimacy than it was to control the strong religious elite.
The Assyrian king rested his position on the alliance he maintained with the citizen class and the priesthood, as well as on the landed nobility.
Ashur remained capital, or rather the royal residence, throughout the entire Middle period. There was great development of other ciites, mainly Calah and Nineveh, important to creating a solid kingdom beyond the limitations of the city-state.
The three largest cities had each up to 30 to 40,000 inhabitants.
The landed nobility provided the king with war-chariot troops.

Literature was shaped according to Babylonian ideals, often using the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian. The Assyrian dialect was used for legal documents, court and temple rituals and other practical texts.
A new art form emerged in these times, square stelas telling a tale over several continuous pictures. Quality of Assyrian art reached a high level, gradually surpassing Babylonian art.
Assyrian temples were now built as ziggurats, the facades were decorated with colourful enameled tiles.
Around 1000 BCE, Assyria went into cultural decline.

Religion of this era was typically Assyrian-Babylonian in nature. A development towards greater association of higher gods and the king came about, the king becoming the High Priest of Ashur. This had apparently little influence on the larger aspects of the religion.
Kings attribute wars to the will of the gods, this comes first with the inscriptions of Adad-nirari 1.

The language of Middle Assyria was the same as before; Akkadian. Clay tablet written in cuneiform was used for all official documents.

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By Tore Kjeilen