ashur, assur (Ancient)

1. The eras
2. Geography
3. Society and Economy
4. Kings
5. Administration
6. Culture
7. Religion
8. History
Old Assyria
Lasting more than 600 years, ca. 2000-1380 BCE.
Middle Assyria
470 years, ca. 1380-912 BCE.
300 years, 912-609 BCE.

King Sennacherib and his crown prince Arda-Mullissi after the battle of Lachish in 701 BC. From the palace at Nineveh.

From the palace gate at Calah, with human-headed winged bull and winged lion. 9th century BCE. Photo: Chez Casver

7th century BCE statue of noble woman (Ashur, Iraqi Museum, Baghdad, Iraq)

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

Decorations from royal palace at Nineveh.

Ancient country in the Middle East, with centre in modern Iraq along the Tigris river. At its height in the 7th century BCE, Assyria also covered areas in modern eastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, western Iran, Kuwait and Egypt.
Assyria is roughly defined as an entity since around 2000 BCE, lasting until 609 BCE, but the periods defining Assyria’s fame are relatively short, during the Middle period, ca. 1300-1197, ca. 100 years, and ca. 1115-1076 , ca. 40 years, and during the Neo period ca. 884-824, ca. 60 years, and ca. 745-631, ca. 130 years.
The most ancient name used for the region was Subartu (in Akkadian), or Shubir in Sumerian. The first occurrence of “Assyria”, or rather “Land of Ashur”, came in the 14th century.

The eras of Assyria
Assyria’s history have by experts been defined to three eras: Old; Middle; and Neo, all fluctuating. The definition used is quite different from the catagorization of Ancient Egyptian history, where the term “Intermediate” is used for periods of division and military and administrative weakness.
The intermediate periods of Egyptian history has its Assyrian correlations. LookLex uses the standard categorization, but should the Egyptian pattern be imposed on Assyrian history, it would roughly be like this:

Old AssyrianEarly
500 years, ca. 2000-ca. 1529
50 years, ca. 1529-1479
1st Intermediate
180 years, ca. 1479-1300 (100 years)
Middle Assyrian1st Intermediate
Continues (80 years)
First Middle
100 years, ca. 1300-1197
2nd Intermediate
80 years, ca. 1197-1115
Second Middle
40 years, ca. 1115-1076
3rd Intermediate
190 years, ca. 1076-884 (160 years)
Neo-Assyrian3rd Intermediate
Continues (30 years)
First Empire
60 years, ca. 884-824
4th Intermediate
80 years, ca. 824-745
Second Empire
130 years, ca. 745-631
20 years, ca. 631-609

The core region of Assyria was a land on the Tigris river, limited by the mountains in the north and east. The earliest cities of Assyria were Ashur, Nineveh and Urbilum. In modern terms, Assyria is largely the region of Kurdish Iraq: Nineveh corresponds with Mosul, Urbilum with Irbil.
In ancient times, Assyria bordered Urartu to the north, Elam to the east and Babylonia to the south. The western region was largely uninhabited, before Ancient Syria.

Society and Economy
Basic to the central region of Assyria was farming, fed by both the Tigris river and water from the Armenian mountains in the north, and the Zagros mountains in the east. With the expansion of Assyria, more land brought other economies, like mining and forestry.
It is believed that Assyria’s civilization resulted from the immigration of an unknown people into the area around 6000 BCE. This was followed by Semitic immigration about 3 millenia later.
Life was confined to small villages, and there was an intricate system of irrigation that fed the agriculture. There were few larger cities, and these served as trade and craft centres. Assyria had some slaves, but these played only a small part in the economy.
The Assyrians were noted for their vast knowledge in warfare and organization.

Assyria had a traditional form of monarchy, in which the king answered only to his court. The king’s son would normally take over as the new ruler at the old king’s death. Local administration was organized around area rulers who paid taxes to the king as well as provided men for the army.
As Assyria extended its territories through military campaigns, local rulers were allowed to continue to govern their old regions, as long as they fulfilled their duties to the Assyrian king.
Under Sargon 2, Assyria was divided into 70 provinces.

Assyrian kings

Among the finest cultural achievements of Assyria was literature, which initially used a cuneiform alphabet from the Babylonians written on clay tablets. Later an Aramaic script written on parchment predominated. The literature dealt with a number of subjects like legal issues, medicine and history.
Assyrian architecture used mud bricks, and occasionally stone. Houses and buildings never exceeded one storey and had flat roofs. While most houses were modest, palaces and temples could cover large areas inside the cities.
Sculptures and wall carvings were another central part of Assyrian culture, and showed high skill in craftsmanship. Document cylinder seals became an art form in itself, as intricate patterns and shapes were given to these.

The central religion was Assyrian religion, a part of the larger Assyrian-Babylonian relgious structure. This underwent several stages of influence from neighbouring religions. During the era of Neo-Assyria, the entire state would encompass many other religions, but tas provinces were largely autonomous, no forced changes to local religions were imposed by the central Assyrian royal court.

Throughout Assyrian history, Akkadian is the language of the society. During the expansions of Neo-Assyria, Aramaic would gradually replace Akkadian even in the Assyrian heartland.

Around 6500 BCE: First traces of agriculture in this region.
3rd millennium: Immigration of Semitic nomads, whose language becomes the leading one in the region.
— Strong influence from the Sumerian civilization in southern Mesopotamia.
Around 2300: Assyria is part of the Sumer-Akkadian Empire.

Old Assyria
Around 2000: Heavy immigration of the Amorites, a Semitic people from Arabia. Around this time, the Old Assyrian period is defined to begin.
Around 1850: Assyrian merchants colonize parts of central Anatolia.
Around 1810: The Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad gets control over the territory from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean (from western modern Iran to Syria/Lebanon). He establishes an administrative system, dividing the kingdom into districts with couriers bringing information between the different parts.
1760: Shamshi-Adad’s son, Ishme-Dagan, is defeated by King Hammurabi of Babylonia, and Assyria once again becomes a province of another Mesopotamian Empire.
Around 1500: Assyria comes under control of the kingdom of Mitanni.

Middle Assyria
Around 1380: Times and fate of Assyria makes the changes by which the smaller city-state is transferred into kingdom; Old Assyrian period shifts into Middle Assyrian period.
Around 1350: Assyria regains its independence from Mitanni under the ruler Ashur-uballit 1. A period of territorial expansions that stretches over 2 centuries starts.

912: Adad-nirari 2 becomes king, with that the start of the Neo-Assyrian period is defined.
Around 910: Adad-nirari 2 conquers the state Nisibis.
884-859: King Ashurnasirpal 2 conducts several campaigns that extend the territory of Assyria. The campaigns led to heavy destruction in the defeated regions. He also establishes Calah as the new capital.
Around 830: King Shalmaneser 3 gets control over the Mediterranean trade routes.
Around 820: Following a revolt in the royal court, a year long civil war starts. This civil war results in a decline of Assyrian power.
Around 745: King Tiglath-Pileser 3 conquers Syria and Israel, and he becomes king of Babylonia. Under him the power of the king grew stronger and an army was established. He conducted a policy of deporting peoples from their homelands in order to reduce their national identity.
722-705: Under Sargon 2, Assyrian territory is extended to southern Anatolia and the Persian Gulf. He also has the population of Israel deported. In order to get better control over his territory, he has Assyria divided into 70 provinces.
Around 717: King Sargon 2 has Dur-Sharrukin built to become his new capital.
689: King Sennacherib destroys Babylon after several attacks. He later makes Nineveh capital of Assyria.
Around 680: King Esarhaddon has Babylon rebuilt.
671: Esarhaddon conquers Memphis, the capital of Egypt.
627: With the death of king Ashurbanipal, there is a court revolution, which results in heavy weakening of Assyria’s power.
614: The Medes conquer Ashur.
612: The Medes and the Babylonians conquers Nineveh, and the Assyrian Empire comes to its final end.


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