ASSYRIA ə sĭr’ ə ə (אַשּׁ֑וּר, ̓Ασσούρ). One of the ancient kingdoms of Mesopotamia. While Babylonia, the southern kingdom, occupied the plain between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, Assyria was generally bounded on the west by the Syrian Desert, on the south by Babylonia and on the north and east by the Armenian and Persian hills. “Assyria” was also used to refer to the Assyrian empire which reached its zenith in the 8th to 7th centuries b.c. and included Babylonia, Elam, Media, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, along with South Anatolia, Cilicia and Egypt.

Both Assyria and Babylonia enjoyed a long and impressive history. They shared a common Semitic language known as Assyro-Babylonian or Akkadian. An advanced civilization developed in Babylonia around 3000 b.c. and Babylonia remained more or less the cultural center of Mesopotamia until the 6th century b.c. Thus the two civilizations have much in common and are, in some ways, inextricably linked. Politically, however, power oscillated back and forth between Assyria and Babylonia, Assyria being generally the leading power, especially in the period 900-600 b.c. This is the period in which Assyria figures prominently as an invader and oppressor in the Biblical narrative, and in the Bible, Assyria is always carefully distinguished from Babylonia.

Physical geography

The most important physical features of both Assyria and Babylonia are, of course, the Tigris and Euphrates River systems. Life in both kingdoms depended heavily upon the flow of the rivers and, in many cases was at the mercy of the rivers. They figured largely in economic, social and religious life. Vast irrigation and canal networks from ancient times are discernible in both areas.

Babylonia consists mainly of alluvial deposits from the two great rivers and in its more southerly parts near the Persian Gulf it is very marshy. Assyria, on the other hand, is on a higher, and therefore, drier, plateau. This plateau is broken by a number of ridges and secondary rivers. It lacks Water for a considerable part of the year, and were it not for the canals, little of the rich and varied plant life cultivated there in ancient times could have survived. The climate of Assyria is a strongly continental one, the summer heat being oppressive while the winter can bring frost and snow. Only a comparatively small portion of Assyria is habitable and the wilderness regions provided an abundance of wild animal life which, according to many of the ancient texts, was the object of many Hunting expeditions. The rivers provided a stock of Fish and the general landscape was suitable for grazing Sheep, goats and Cattle. The mountains of Assyria provided ample building materials and also contained rich mineral deposits which were more or less systematically exploited by the ancients.

The main cities of Assyria were Ashur (modern name: Qal’at Sharqat), the ancient capital, then Nineveh or Ninua (Quyunjiq), Kalakh or Kalhu (Nimrud), Arba’ilu (Irbil), Kakzu (Sadawah), Arrapkha (Kirkuk), Mari (Tell el Hariri), Harran (Harran) and Nasibina (Nesibin).


Prehistoric period

According to archeological evidence, villages based on agriculture and shepherding seem to have developed first in the foothills of the Zagros mountains in Assyria. One of the earliest sites is Jarmo (c. 5000 b.c.) whose earliest existence was prior to the invention of Pottery. A more advanced culture called Hassuna (after the site by that name) then spread over all of Assyria and this was followed by the Tell Halaf culture known for its use of Copper and beautifully painted pottery. The Tell Halaf culture spread through Assyria and as far west as the Mediterranean. Tell Halaf culture, along with the similar Samarra culture somewhat to the southeast, was replaced by the so-called Ubaid culture which extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. While actual human settlements appear to be earlier in Assyria than in Babylonia, Genesis 10:11, 12 does inform us that Ashur, Nineveh and Calah, where pottery from the Hassuna to the Ubaid periods (c. 5000-3000 b.c.) has been found, were founded by immigrants from Babylonia. The origin of the actual population of Assyria is disputed, but southern influence seems to be inescapable and there is also evidence of influence from the western deserts and the northern hills. There is little doubt that the Sumerians were present at Ashur by 2900 b.c.

Following the Ubaid period, the north and the south underwent different development. While the south took strong steps toward what is called the proto-literate period, the north passed through the Gawra and Ninevite stages of her pre-history with little innovation. Some building activity by kings of the Akkadian dynasty in the south took place in Assyria. In particular, we may mention that Sargon (c. 2350) built at Nineveh, and a building inscription of Amar-Su’en of Ur (c. 2040 b.c.) has been found in Ashur.

Early period (to 900 B.C.)

Not until the fall of the empire of Ur does Ashur really emerge from pre-history, however. According to an Assyrian king list, Assyria was now governed by independent rulers. Of the first thirty kings on this list, nothing is known from other sources, but beginning with the thirty-first king, Ilu-shuma, Assyria is brought to some measure of prominence. Outstanding among the various achievements was the establishment of trade colonies in Anatolia centered on Kültepe (near Caesarea Mazaca in Turkey). Tin and textiles were exported to Anatolia in exchange for Silver. These colonies continued for some seventy years, into the reign of Shar-rum-kin I, the thirty-fifth king on the list. The thirty-seventh king in the list is called Naramsin and is probably to be identified with the king of that name ruling over Eshnunna. The next king was dethroned by Shamshi-Adad (1813-1781 b.c.) who came from Terqa on the middle Euphrates and who had already conquered Mari. Shamshi-Adad built temples in Ashur and established Shubat-Enlil as a new Capital. The reigns of Shamshi-Adad in Assyria and Hammurabi in Babylon overlapped for a period of about ten years. The death of Shamshi-Adad was a setback for Assyria and was to the advantage of Hammurabi. Shamshi-Adad’s oldest Son, Ishme-Dagan, succeeded him as the fortieth king in the list and he evidently suffered defeat at the hands of neighboring peoples. Through various military operations, in fact, Hammurabi was, for the last ten years of his reign (c. 1800-c. 1760), able to rule over the entire area from the Persian Gulf to Mari and the Zagros mountains including Ashur. Hammurabi’s united kingdom continued more or less intact for five generations of the dynasty which he founded but eventually broke up and Ashur regained independence.

Little is known of Assyria for approximately the next two centuries except that probably part of it, at least, was under the rule of the Mitanni kingdom. The letters of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Ikhnaton) (c. 1360 b.c.) of Egypt found at Tell El Amarna speaks of a system of great powers including Egypt, Mitanni, the Hittite kingdom, Babylonia, and most probably also Assyria. Ashur-uballit I was the Assyrian king of the Amarna period, and together with the Hittites he destroyed the Mitanni kingdom and thereby established Assyrian rule in northern Mesopotamia. For the centuries following this time, rivalry between Assyria and Babylonia is characteristic. From Ashur-uballit down to about 1200 b.c., Assyria was the more powerful of the two and Ashur-uballit played an active role in Babylonian politics. Three very powerful kings followed Ashur-uballit in the 13th cent., namely Adad-nirari I (1308-1275 b.c.), Shalmaneser I (Shulman-asharid, 1275-1245 b.c.) and Tukulti-Ninurta I (1245-1208 b.c.). All three of these kings conducted significant military campaigns and each was, in his own way, an empire builder. Adad-nirari and Shalmaneser both fought against the western part of northern Mesopotamia and won these areas as part of their empires. Tukulti-Ninurta gained a decided victory over the Kassite kingdom in Babylonia and evidently ruled over Babylonia for a time himself. He built a new palace in Ashur and later established a new capital across the Tigris from Ashur.

Assyrian power waned for a time after the death of Tukulti-Ninurta but was revived again by the rise of Tiglath-pileser I (Tukulti-apil-Esvarra, 1116-1076 b.c.). Tiglath-pileser expanded the bounds of the Assyrian empire further than any other leader before him, reaching as far west as the coast of Syria, having successfully defeated various Aramean tribes. After the death of Tiglath-pileser, Assyrian power once again declined, and during this time the Arameans in the west were able to found a kingdom centered on Damascus and were even able to put pressure on the borders of Assyria.

Neo-Assyria period (c. 900-612 B.C.)

Assyria rises again, however, under the leadership of Ashur-dan II (933-910), Adad-nirari II (910-889) and Tukulti-Ninurta II (889-884). Ashurnasirpal II (Ashur-nasir-apli II, 884-859) and Shalmaneser III (Shalman-Asharid II, 859-824), in particular, led Assyria in a new period of expansion.

Ashurnasirpal subjugated the Aramean tribes of Mesopotamia and campaigned not only to the Mediterranean coast but also northward and into the Zagros mountains in the E. From this point on, Assyria exerted a continuous pressure on the W and this eventually (see below) brought her into conflict with Israel. Ashurnasirpal built a new capital at Calah (Nimrud) and his palace, decorated with the first known Assyrian relief art, was one of the first to be excavated in the 19th cent. More than 50,000 captives were used for the building of Calah and besides artists, trained men also were employed in maintaining a park and various gardens.

Shalmaneser, Ashurnasirpal’s son was able to hold the gains previously made and to advance the empire further. Of particular interest for OT studies is his confrontation with a coalition of ten kings headed by Bar Hadad I (Biblical Ben Hadad II [?]; throne name Hadadezer; Akkadian, Adad-idri) of Damascus at Qarqar in 853 b.c. The Assyrian annals note that Ahab of Israel supplied 2,000 chariots and 14,000 men for the battle (ANET, 278-281). Not until after the death of Ben Hadad and Ahab was Damascus seriously besieged and even then it was not taken. Jehu of Israel, along with other rulers had to pay tribute to Shalmaneser (ANET, 281). Shalmaneser also conducted campaigns in the N and seized an opportunity to meddle in Babylonian affairs, making tributary the Arameans dwelling near the Persian Gulf.

Near the end of Shalmaneser’s reign, his eldest son led a revolt against him, but the revolt was suppressed by his second son, Shamshi-Adad V who ruled for a time (824-810 b.c.). Shamshi-Adad died young and his widow, Sammuramat, the Classical Semiramis, assumed control until their son, Adad-nirari III (810-782), was of age. Assyria made little real advance under the leadership of Adad-nirari. He built a new palace at Calah and affairs were generally peaceful there. By attacking Hazael of Damascus in 804 b.c., Adad-nirari relieved Israel of the attacks of Aram (2 Kings 12:17; 2 Chron 24:23f.) and also prob. enabled Joash to recover certain towns previously lost to Hazael (2 Kings 13:25).

Adad-nirari died young and without descendants, which created some difficulty over succession. Thus there was some internal dissension in Assyria during the reign of Shalmaneser IV (781-772 b.c.) whose control was thereby weakened. He continued the policy of pressure against Damascus and this may have contributed to Jeroboam II’s ability to expand the border of Israel to the “entrance of Hamath” (see 2 Kings 14:25-28). Asshur-Dan III suffered a painful defeat in the N, an event marked by an ominous eclipse of the sun in 763 b.c., a date which therefore became important in Assyrian chronology.

In 745 b.c., Tiglath-pileser III (2 Kings 15:29; 16:7-10), otherwise known as Tukultiapil-Ešarra III (“my trust is in the son of Esharra”) or Tiglath-pilneser (1 Chron 5:6; 2 Chron 28:20) or Pul(u) (2 Kings 15:19; 1 Chron 5:26) usurped the Assyrian throne and ruled for eighteen years. He was the son of Adad-nirari III and was able to establish a vast empire reaching from the Persian Gulf to the Armenian mountains and including Syria and Palestine. In a manner more or less typical of various Assyrian rulers, Pul deported conquered peoples and thereby established a strong central administration. The history of Pul’s exploits is somewhat fragmentary, but the Assyrian Eponym canon lists for us the primary events.

Pul’s first expedition was directed against the Arameans in Babylonia, and with some struggle, the Chaldean chief, Marduk-aplaiddina (Merodach-baladan) submitted.

The N Syrian city states under Urartian rule were campaigned against beginning in 743 b.c. Arpad was besieged for three years and during this time, Tiglath-pileser collected tribute money from Carchemish, Hamath, Tyre, Byblos, Rezin of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria (see 2 Kings 15:19, 20) and other rulers. Interestingly, Menahem hoped his vassalage to Assyria would strengthen his own position but, in fact, because of it, Israel was eventually annexed to Assyria. Northern Syria was eventually organized as an Assyrian province called Unqi and “Judeans” are mentioned as captives settled in Ullubu. They were prob. taken after the death of Azariah of Judah who, for a time, controlled some Aramean states in S. Syria (2 Kings 15:7).

With mounting opposition to Assyria, Tiglath-pileser again marched into the W (734 b.c.) and plundered various Phoen. seaports and imposed heavy tribute payments on Ashkelon and Gaza. The army stopped only at the “River of Egypt” and Rezin of Damascus, Ammon, Edom, Moab, and Ahaz of Judah all paid tribute (2 Chron 28:19-21).

Judah began to receive attacks from Rezin and Pekah of Israel along with Edomites and Philistines (2 Kings 16:5, 6; 2 Chron 28:17, 18), but received little help from Assyria. When Damascus fell to the Assyrians in 732 b.c., Metenna of Tyre capitulated, and all of Israel was taken. Tiglath-pileser evidently arranged for the replacement of Pekah by Hoshea on the throne of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 15:30).

Tiglath-pileser lent some assistance to Ahaz, for which he prob. had to make some concessions (2 Kings 16:7-16). He extended his rule over Arabia, the Sabaeans, and Idiba’il (cf. Gen 25:13) and built a palace for himself at Calah.

Shalmaneser V (727-722 b.c.; throne name, Ululai) continued the same policy of war in the W as did his father, Tiglath-pileser III. The most oustanding event of his reign was the failure of Hoshea of Israel to pay tribute after listening to promises of help from Egypt (2 Kings 17:4). This resulted in the siege of Samaria by Shalmaneser, and according to the Babylonian Chronicle, the resistance of the city of Shamar’in (Samaria?) was broken after three years (cf. v. 5). 2 Kings 17:6 tells that the king of Assyria who defeated Samaria took Israelite captives to the region of the upper Euphrates and Media. Interestingly, Sargon II, the successor of Shalmaneser V, claims the fall of Samaria in 722 b.c. as his own victory and it may be that Shalmaneser and Sargon together completed the capture of Samaria. Verse 6 seems to permit this.

Sargon II (722-705 b.c.), who succeeded Shalmaneser V, begins the last dynasty of Assyria. This dynasty is referred to as the Sargonid dynasty and besides Sargon, includes Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. These four kings were outstandingly gifted and under their rule, the Assyrian empire reached its absolute zenith. The annals of the kings, the Babylonian Chronicle, and certain state letters found at Nineveh, serve as sources for the history of the Sargonids.

Sargon fought many wars to enlarge the empire and in particular he records that over 27,000 people were deported from the region of Samaria. The exact date cannot be determined but the event broke Israel as an independent nation. The southern kingdom of Judah under Hezekiah was able to survive longer by paying tribute.

Sargon met the Egyp. armies of Raphia and defeated them there. Nevertheless, the Palestinians continued to lean on Egypt for support and the events of this time figure largely in the prophecies of Isaiah. The Philistine towns of Ashdod and Gath were sacked by Sargon in 715 b.c. and he claims also to have subjugated Judah, though the OT does not refer to this. Sargon campaigned further in Syria and Cilicia and also against the Mannai. In the S, Sargon invaded Elam and sacked Susa and called himself “governor” of Babylon.

Sargon first lived at Calah in Assyria, but in 713 he began building a new palace at Dur-Šarrukin, “fortress of Sargon” (Khorsabad). Before he could complete the palace, however, he died in a campaign in Iran in 705. The palace with its many reliefs and inscrs. has been excavated.

Sennacherib (Sin-ahhe-eriba; 705-681 b.c.) succeeded to the throne upon his father’s death and immediately became involved in suppressing revolts within Assyria itself. His other expeditions reached as far W as Cilicia where Tarsus was captured in 698 b.c.

Sennacherib differed from his father mainly in his attitude toward Babylonia. Merodach-baladan (Marduk-apla-iddina) seized power in Babylonia in 703 b.c. with the help of Elam, but within a short time Sennacherib was able to defeat the coalition of Elamites, Babylonians, and Chaldeans, and Merodach-baladan fled. Sennacherib then installed a man of his own choosing on the Babylonian throne. It was prob. during his short reign that Merodach-baladan asked Hezekiah for help, a suggestion which Isaiah deplored (2 Kings 20:2-19). In 701 b.c. Sennacherib marched W through Syria to besiege Sidon and then S to attack Ashkelon. He also conquered Lakhish (Lachish) at this time (2 Kings 18:13, 14). The date of his attack on Jerusalem is not certain, but it seems probable that it was also at this time. According to both the Biblical evidence (2 Kings 19:35), and Herodotus (2. 141), the Assyrians attacked suddenly and withdrew. It may have been this siege to which the Biblical writer refers when he says that Hezekiah was shut up “as a bird in a cage” (2 Kings 18:17-19:9). In any case, at some time in the period, Hezekiah paid tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 18:14-16) and Jerusalem was saved, at least for a time.

Further operations were carried out in Babylonia in the years following 700 b.c. Sennacherib had to suppress revolts there, and, in order to punish the Elamites for the help they had given the Babylonians, he had Phoenician and Ionian sailors manning Syrian-and Assyrian-built ships as they sailed down the Tigris and Euphrates for the attack on Elam. The war went on for several years with varying fortunes until Babylon was finally conquered in 689 b.c. The city was looted, destroyed, and flooded by a diversion of the river. It remained a wasteland for the remainder of Sennacherib’s reign and the god, Marduk, was taken to Ashur.

Early in his reign, Sennacherib abandoned Dur-Šarrukin and lived first in Ashur, then in Nineveh. Nineveh remained the capital of Assyria from this time onward. Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh was elaborately adorned with lively reliefs. The engineering skills of the time are also shown in the dams and aqueducts (esp. at Jerwan) which were built to insure a good water supply for the large parks and gardens around the city. Many captives, including Jews, were employed in these projects.

In 681 b.c. Sennacherib was murdered by one or more of his sons. The details of the event are not clear and there appears to be some discrepancy between the OT and the Assyrian accounts. (On this, see DOTT, pp. 70-73.)

Esarhaddon (680-669 b.c.), Sennacherib’s son, had served as viceroy in Babylon, and when he followed his father on the Assyrian throne he immediately began to rebuild Babylon and restore the temples in other Babylonian cities.

In the N, Esarhaddon came into considerable conflict, not only with the Cimmerians, but also with another Asian peoples, the Scythians (Ishkuzza). The Cimmerians posed such a threat that Esarhaddon gave his daughter as a wife to Bartatua (Herodotus: Protothyas), the king of the Scythians, in order to obtain help.

In the W, Esarhaddon continued to exact tribute from the various city states, but with increasing difficulty. It was Tirhakah of Egypt who promoted opposition to Esarhaddon, but he swiftly replied with increased levies which he used for his constructions at Calah and Babylon. Assyrian records name Manasseh (Menasi), as being obliged to pay tribute to Esarhaddon and the OT indicates that he was taken captive to Babylon for a time (2 Chron 33:11).

The way was now open for a full scale attack on Egypt itself. The first campaign in 673 b.c. failed, but in 672 b.c. the Egyptians under Tirhakah (Taharqa, Tarku) were defeated, Memphis and Thebes were taken, and Assyrian governors were installed. Thus, for a time at least, Assyria’s dream of controlling the Nile Delta was fulfilled.

Esarhaddon then sought to consolidate and secure his power. He appointed Ashurbanipal as crown prince of Assyria and Shamashshumukin as crown prince of Babylonia. He spelled out his terms of vassalage and all of the rulers, no doubt including Manasseh, had to swear eternal allegiance to Ashur (cf. 2 Kings 21:2-7, 9). Nevertheless, revolts did break out in the empire, and it was while Esarhaddon was on his way to Egypt to suppress a revolt there that he died and was succeeded by his sons.

Language and literature


The language of ancient Assyria and Babylonia, called Assyro-Babylonian or Akkadian, belongs to the E Sem. group of languages. The Akkad. system of writing was borrowed from Sumer. the world’s oldest written language. This “cuneiform” script is not alphabetic but is ideographic and phonetic. There were over 600 characters, each of which had one or more values. The combination of two characters could also have several values. The characters were inscribed in the soft clay of the writing tablets with a wedge-shaped instrument.

Assyro-Babylonian is the earliest recorded Sem. language and extends from c. 2400 b.c. into the 1st cent. a.d. and has been found anywhere from Persepolis to Egypt. Akkadian replaced Sumer. as a spoken language in the 3rd millennium b.c., though Sumer., a non-Sem. language, continued as a written language esp. for religious purposes almost as long as Akkad. survived.


Among the vast quantity of tablets found, interesting types of word lists from the protoliterate period occur frequently. These are more or less standardized lists of the names of gods as well as of other words and concepts. The purpose seems to have been encyclopedic, as well as, perhaps, to provide spelling guides to pupils. From Old Babylonian times and on, these lists evidently served as vocabularies, Akkad. trs. being added. Many of these vocabularies were arranged in three columns: the pictograph was in the middle column, the Sumer. pronounciation was given in syllabic form on the left and the Akkad. equivalent, also in syllabic form, was given on the right. Some tablets contained a fourth column explaining the Akkad. word. Lists of Akkad. synonyms have also been found, as have paradigms of Sumer. words with Akkad. trs. Much of this lit. must have been used for instruction in schools, though the actual encyclopedic character of the lists should not be forgotten.

Out of the earliest royal inscrs. which were very simple, the Assyrians in particular developed a kind of literary form known as “annals.” The annals give detailed records of a king’s exploits for any particular year. These are given in the third person and indicate that the Assyrians were able to take a more or less “objective” approach to historiography. The “chronicles” are similar to the king lists in their objectivity, but are more characteristic of Babylonia than of Assyria.

In Assyria there are, as well, certain chronological works referred to as “date lists” or “limmu lists.” The chronological system of Assyria consisted in naming each year after a person who held the position of limmu or eponym. The king usually served as limmu for one year of his reign, but various other high officials in the government could also hold this office. For this system to be usable, it was, of course, necessary to keep a record of the sequence of limmus. Thus, various limmu lists have been found in addition to the king lists. One problem posed by these lists is that contemporary and overlapping dynasties are given as though they were successive.

Religious lit. is also well represented by various sets of tablets. These tablets usually contain omens gained from the inspection of such things as the liver of animals, or the movements and appearances of men, birds, animals, and planets. Along with these, are texts recording observations concerning medicine, botany, chemistry, mathematics, geology and law.

In addition to the materials noted above, a large quantity of literary compositions, in the true sense of the term, have been found. This includes myths, epics concerning the early kings, lamentations, hymns, tales, parables and wisdom lit. One of the outstanding mythological texts is the so-called “Epic of Gilgamesh” which tells of the search Gilgamesh made for eternal life and refers to the survival of Uta-napishtim through a flood by means of a specially built boat. There is also the “Epic of Creation,” called enuma elish (“when the gods”) after its opening words, which tells of how Marduk slew the monster Tiamat and created the world out of her body. An epic giving the Descent of Ishtar into the underworld also exists. There are also a number of legends including that of Sargon of Agade who was saved at birth by means of a reed basket placed on the Euphrates River. (This account has been compared with the OT record of Moses’ survival.) There is also a legend of Etana who flew to heaven on an eagle and the legend of Ena, the god who fought against Babylon. The wisdom lit. includes the poem of the righteous sufferer, the so-called “Babylonian Job” as well as many other works.


In most respects, Assyrian and Babylonian religion differed little. Indeed, Assyrian religion was derived from Babylonian, and the reader is referred, for details, to Babylonia. This article will contain a general review of the basic features, a survey of the Mesopotamian pantheon, and a brief discussion of Ashur, the Assyrian national god.

General features

The most basic feature of Mesopotamian religion in general was its pluralistic conception of deity. The many divine powers were seen in connection with various physical and natural phenomena. Each spirit was seen as constituting the will and the life force of the phenomenon with which it was associated. It was named according to its particular phenomenon and was pictured in terms of it. Thus, the thunder was seen as coming from the mouth of a giant lion-headed bird. Those divine powers associated with such things as the earth, grain, flocks and herds—that is, those things necessary for the economy—were of special importance and the various images, temples, and rituals were designed to insure the “presence” of the god and to express man’s solidarity with nature.

As this primitive religious consciousness developed, the forms of the divine powers gradually became more and more anthropomorphic. At first, some of the powers could be pictured in both human and non-human form but the latter came to be more and more suppressed or even denied and the anthropomorphic view became predominant. In a similar fashion, the god came to be more and more divorced from its natural phenomenon. That is to say, the phenomenon was seen as a distinct, non-divine entity, and the god was seen as the owner and controller of the phenomenon rather than as part of it. As further development took place in this same direction, the powers came to be seen as performing certain human functions and activities, particularly that of “ruler.” The development of Mesopotamian society and government which shifted power from relatively insignificant local chiefs and headmen to a more centralized government and a more imposing sovereign which were then the subject of feelings of reverence and awe, provided the model upon which these religious developments could take place. Thus, from the late protoliterate period, the term en, which means “lord” or “manager,” came to be applied to the gods (e.g. En-lil: “Lord of wind”). Similarly, lugal, meaning “king,” was used in the formation of the names of deities (e.g. Lugalbanda, Lugalmarada etc.). The gods were now in a position to declare war on one another, to be responsible for the social and economic welfare of citizens, and to live in manor houses (i.e. temples). This development had the effect of reducing man to a position of absolute dependence upon, and servility to, the gods. The maintenance and protection of the temples then became imperative, lest the relationship between the gods and men should be broken.

The last major development to take place in Mesopotamian religion in general was the rise of the national gods, Marduk of Babylonia and Ashur of Assyria. This development began to take place (c. 1800 b.c.). The old pantheon still remained, but Marduk and Ashur were seen as supreme. The other gods were subservient and, in fact, they were sometimes seen as being only aspects of the one, unified, supreme, god. Thus, for example, Nabu is “Marduk” of accounting while Adad is “Marduk” of rain. The national gods, besides being responsible for internal matters, served also as the defenders of the nation against external attack. The absolute authority ascribed to these national gods tended toward the complete subservience, self-abasement, and humble submission, of man to the (sometimes inscrutable) will of the gods.

The pantheon

The Sumer. pantheon contained some 3,000 to 4,000 gods making it impossible to mention any but the most prominent ones here. There was a large group of deities associated with the marshy regions between Sumer and the Persian Gulf. These all represented powers vital to the livelihood of marsh dwellers and all belonged to the family of Enki. Enki was the god of fresh water and therefore also the god of ablutions and lustrations. Enki was married and had a very large number of offspring. Asalluhe, the city-god of Kv’or was Enki’s son and was also active in lustrations though he was evidently the god of thunder showers originally. Dumuzi-abzu was the god of fertility and new life while Nanshe was goddess of fish and fishing, and Ninmar was prob. bird-goddess.

There was also a large group of deities belonging to the fruit-growers in the S along the Euphrates. Thus, Ningishzida was throne-bearer though it appears he was originally a tree-god while Damu was god of the sap.

There were also gods of the herding and farming regions lying further to the N. Thus Nanna often is pictured as driving his herd of cows across the sky and the emblem of Utu is the bison’s head. Ninsun (“Lady wild cow”) was the embodiment of all that was thought to be good in a herd of cows. Similarly, Inanna, Shara and Ishkur, for example, served as the gods of the shepherds while Ninhursaga served as the god of the donkey-herders.

As to the gods of the farmers, Enlil, “Lord wind” was the most prominent. His breath or word was thus not only the raging storm but also the moisture laden breezes as well as the wind which drives away the chaff at harvest time. Also serving as gods for the farmers were Ninlil, goddess of the grain, Ninunta, god of thunder and lightning and Bau, goddess of the dog, besides many others.

The Akkad. pantheon is less well known than the Sumer., though the general features were the same. There were gods of rain and thunder showers just as in the Sumer. herdsman’s pantheon. There were also many gods of war and battle. The most significant feature of the Akkad. pantheon, however, was the existence of Il, the major god, and the triad of astral gods viz. Sin (god of the moon), Shamash (god of the sun) and Ashtar or Ishtar (goddess of the morning and evening star). Ea, prob. the river god, occurs frequently as well.

Ashur, the national god

Ashur was not only the city-god of Ashur, but also the national god of Assyria. As mentioned above, he came into prominence in the 2nd millennium b.c. along with his counterpart, Marduk, in Babylon. From the time of Shamshi-Adad I (1813-1781 b.c.) and onward, he was often identified with the Sumer. Enlil. Under Sargon II, Ashur often was identified with Anshar, while under Sennacherib, the achievements of Marduk were foisted upon him, a situation which reflects the changing political fortunes of the two countries in relationship to each other. As a result of all this, Ashur is not a truly distinctive god, nor does he have a real character of his own. He merely personifies the interests of Assyria as a nation.

The priesthood

The state cult, whose function it was not only to represent itself to the gods but also the citizens of the country, was directed by the priesthood. The priesthood consisted of a large class of officials living in and around the various temple complexes and organized according to rank. Urigallu was evidently the “high priest” and chief director of the temple and the cult while Shangammokhu was the chief sacrificing priest. A whole college of priests were in charge of the daily ritual and there were several classes of priests responsible for the recital of hymns, prayers and laments. Other classes of priests performed the various libations, ablutions and anointings. There were also exorcists and the seers with whom the populace came into contact. Many women also worked on the temple staff as assistants in fertility ceremonies, as wailers and as interpreters of dreams.

The sacrifices made were generally of two types. First, there were the regular sacrifices offered daily, weekly, monthly or yearly and second, there were special sacrifices at special times such as during war or other calamities. It was the king’s duty to supply the offerings for the regular sacrifices though the people could also add their private contributions. Various lists of offerings make it plain that large numbers of animals were slaughtered for sacrifice. Large quantities of fruit and vegetables also were offered.

Archeological finds

Though interest in the ancient cities of Mesopotamia had not been lacking earlier, it was not until 1820 that the mounds of Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunus were given serious consideration as the possible site of the ancient city of Nineveh. In that year, C. J. Rich planned these mounds and in 1842 P. E. Botta began excavations there. In the following year, however, he transferred his search for Nineveh to Khorsabad where he excavated Sargon’s palace. The work was continued there by V. Place and later (1929-35) by the Oriental Institute of Chicago. In the meantime, A. H. Layard and H. Rossam carried out excavations at Kuyunjik and uncovered Ashurbanipal’s palace there (1853-54). Layard had already unearthed four palaces at Calah. Excavations also were carried out at Ashur by the German school (1903-14). Many other archeological expeditions have been carried out in Mesopotamia up until the present time and a mass of material has been turned up which elucidates practically every phase of Mesopotamian life. (For details of the various expeditions, see S. A. Pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq [1956], 46-64; 266-384.)


From the earliest site excavated, Jarmo in the N, comes a vast array of human and animal figurines. Most of the human figurines are nude females in a sitting or squatting position. A similar type of figurine is found in the Hassuna and Halaf cultures as well as in the Ubaid period. The figurines are of clay and represent the first Mesopotamian attempts at sculpturing.

Also from prehistoric times large numbers of small carvings in stone have been found. Most of these represent animals, including sheep, goats, pigs, birds, fish, scorpions, lions and panthers. From the way in which these small sculptures were perforated, and, in one case, attached to a piece of string, it is probable that they were used as amulets.

From the 3rd millennium, large numbers of stone statuettes have been uncovered. Though coming mostly from southern Mesopotamia, many were also found at Ashur and at Mari. Some of these figures are seated while some are standing and both male and female are represented. They appear in a great variety of dress and vary in height from a few inches to about three feet. The hands of the statuettes display an attitude of worship and, the majority of them being found in temples, it is probable that they were meant to represent the worshiper in the presence of the deity.

From the Old Babylonian period, sculpture in the round is rare. Perhaps the most outstanding example is a heavily bearded head, prob. representing Hammurabi. Only a few statues of Assyrian kings are known.

Another variety of art work occuring in abundance in northern Mesopotamia is the glyptic, represented esp. by stamp seals in prehistoric times. Geometric motifs are the most common though plant, animal, and human, figures also appear. Glyptic art reached a peak in the Middle Assyrian period. The scenes were arranged with delicacy and balance and portrayed religious as well as secular activities. There was some tendency toward astrological and divine symbolism in some of the outstanding works still being produced in the Neo-Assyrian period.

Various inlays and engravings are common in Mesopotamia as early as the proto-literate period. Vases, for example, were decorated with colored inlays held in place with bitumen or a kind of paste. For the decoration of buildings, mosaics were created using small colored cones of terra-cotta. The inlays were usually of stone, shell, mother-of-pearl or paste. Statues were almost always provided with inlaid eyes and eyebrows, the details of which were made prominent by pigment filled engravings. This kind of art is known from periods later than the early dynastic.

While there are some finds of ivory carvings from the early periods, the majority of ivory objects come from the Assyrian imperial period. These are widespread, and the excavations of Nimrud, in particular, turned up a large quantity of them. Many of the ivories have distinctively western motifs, and it seems probable that not only was ivory itself imported, but also that many of the objects are the product of craftsmen from the W.

There is also a vast array of art work in metal from the prehistoric and early dynastic periods. These include beads, pins, needles, tools, weapons, vessels, jewelry, and figures. The metals used include copper, gold, silver and lead. From Nineveh there is an outstanding bronze head assigned to the Akkad. period. Little is known of metal-work in subsequent periods until the period of the Assyrian empire from which major works have been recovered. The Assyrian palace gates, for example, were decorated with bronze reliefs containing motifs similar to the stone reliefs, for which Assyrian art is esp. famous (see below). Various iron objects also were found in Assyrian palaces.

A considerable amount of wall painting also is known, esp. from late Assyrian times. The usual colors are white, black, red and blue, and much of the work is representational and even geometric. Wall paintings were arranged in elaborately bordered panels which give the effect of tapestry and the various elements making up the panel were stylized in such a way as to suggest the use of templates or other such devices. It may be that wall paintings were seen as a less expensive substitute for relief art.

Perhaps the best known, and in many ways the most impressive of all Assyrian art, are the bas reliefs. These come mostly from between the 9th and 7th centuries b.c., though many lesser examples are known from earlier times. From the 3rd millennium b.c., examples of relief art on stelae, vases and plaques are known. The stelae usually depict a victory scene of some ruler or, in some of the earliest examples, hunting scenes. The reliefs on vases, of various kinds of stone, most often consist of scenes involving animals, plants and humans and often appear to have religious significance. Some of the earliest plaques are square or nearly square and the relief work on them is divided into three registers. The top register almost always depicts a seated man and woman attended by musicians and other servants at a banquet. The middle register usually depicts bearers of various gifts while the lower register, though varying considerably, usually consists of a war chariot drawn by horse-like animals. From the Old Babylonian period, a large number of other plaques made of clay have been found. These were made in molds and the usual nude female provides the commonest subject. Various gods, goddesses, and mythological figures are depicted as well, however. Since these plaques could be produced in mass they represented a kind of popular art.

The real high point of artistic achievement in Assyria, however, is seen in the vast array of reliefs decorating the walls of the palaces in Nineveh, Nimrud and Khorsabad. Most of these reliefs are unabashedly secular in content and tone, in contrast to the earlier, Babylonian works which generally had religious connotations. Surprisingly lifelike details of practically every area of life are depicted, including landscape, cities, buildings, animals, chariots, weapons and dress. A fairly common scene is that of king banqueting with queen while music is played, and while the gardens are decorated with severed human heads. Deities appear in some of the reliefs usually in symbolic form.

Of particular interest to students of the Bible are the stele and obelisk of Shalmaneser III from Nimrud which mention Israel, and depict Jehu, followed by Israelite tribute bearers, bowing before Shalmaneser. The siege of Lachish and the use of Judean captives to work on Sennacherib’s building projects is depicted on palace reliefs at Nineveh. (For fuller details on this and related topics, see R. D. Barnett, Assyrian Palace Reliefs [1959]; H. H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient [1954].)


Jarmo is the earliest site excavated in Mesopotamia and several layers of houses have been uncovered. They generally have thin mud walls, sometimes with foundations of stone. It is difficult to detect any general plan or guiding principle in the arrangement of the dwellings. The various enclosures seem to be almost randomly arranged. Finds from the Tell Halaf period, however, indicate a fairly orderly arrangement of quadrangular rooms. Some round structures also were found.

At Tepe Gawra, buildings designed with a large oblong central room with smaller rooms flanking it on two sides were found. This “tripartite” structure came to be a persistent feature in much temple architecture in later periods. Even at Tepe Gawra, the central room contained certain furniture used in sacrifice and religious ritual. Several tripartite temples were discovered at Warka (Biblical Erech). They were usually built at ground level or on a slightly raised platform. One of the temples which came to be known as the White Temple was built on a high platform and was reached by a series of stairs or ramps.

While still in the proto-literate periods, the temple architecture began to change from the tripartite form to a form in which the cultic chamber was located at the end of the building complex rather than in the center. This inner chamber was reached through a series of outer courts and rooms. The cult room itself was oblong and contained an offering table, a hearth and a structure usually referred to as an altar.

In the later proto-literate period, the houses at Khafajah were larger and more substantial and were planned around a large central court. There was only one entrance from outside, the court providing, in turn, access to the other rooms. The number of rooms varies and various utilitarian objects found in the rooms suggest their various usages. There was usually one large room, prob. the “master’s room.”

In the early historical periods, perhaps the most outstanding feature of architecture is the ziggurat or temple tower, the best example of which is at Ur. This is a solid mass of sun-dried bricks measuring 190 by 130 ft. at the base. The mortar between these bricks was strengthened by fibrous mats and the outer surface of the entire structure was faced with smooth kiln-dried bricks. It appears that the ziggurat consisted originally of three stages with a shrine on top. Stairways gave access from one level to the other.

A phenomenal amount of building activity took place with the rise of Ashur as the capital of Assryia. Many temples from the period have been discovered, some with ziggurats attached. In Ashur, for instance, a double temple with a double ziggurat was found. This architectural activity continued into the neo-Assyrian period and is seen not only in Ashur but also in Nineveh, Calah and Khorsabad. Khorsabad is of particular interest, built by Sargon II, and a town planned almost in a square. It covered about 740 acres of land and was surrounded by thick walls. Two palaces were found within the city, one built on a twenty-five acre platform which stood at a height of about forty-five ft. Within this palace there were a number of temples and a ziggurat, and several courts with many rooms attached.

With the fall of Assyria, the main architectural activity shifted to the S again and a number of monuments from the period have been excavated there.

Functional objects

It appears that in all periods of history and even pre-history, musical instruments were abundant. The earliest instruments actually preserved are a kind of bone pipe of the Ubaid period. Besides this, however, the various vases, plaques and reliefs discovered in many periods often depict elaborately decorated musical instruments. It is evident that not only wind, but also string and percussion instruments were used, sometimes individually and sometimes in concert.

Large numbers of beads and other personal ornaments evidently were used in all periods. Beads of shell and stone were found in all periods, and in the royal tombs at Ur, many gold and silver ornaments were found. Though little actual jewelry from some of the later periods has been found, the various representations, esp. on plaques, show the use of bracelets, armlets, beads and earrings, not only on both men and women but also on animals. From the early periods esp., large amounts of cosmetic materials and toiletries have been found. Various small containers of copper, gold, silver or of seashell have been found containing lumps of orange, red and black paint for cosmetic use. Copper razors and fine inlaid ivory combs and hairpins also have been turned up. Toilet sets containing a pointed and a chisel-like tool with a pair of tweezers and a small spoon have been found. The tools resemble manicuring tools and the spoon may be an ear scoop.

The usual dress of men was a short skirt reaching to the knees, though a longer skirt was worn by dignitaries. Female costumes, on the other hand, covered the left shoulder and were fastened under the right arm. No outer garments are indicated and in the pre-Akkad. period no shoes are known. At the high point of the Assyrian empire (9th to 7th centuries b.c.), these early traditions were basically followed and a large variety of garments for the various dignitaries are shown. Sandals are, by this time, very common.

Vast amounts of pottery from all periods of Mesopotamian history have been uncovered. There is a continual change of shapes and decorations and this fact is invaluable in dating the finds. The earliest Mesopotamian pottery was found in the sixth archeological level at Jarmo. Pottery of the Hassuna period displays a more or less sophisticated decoration incised into, or painted onto, the surface. The Halaf period produced polychrome decorations in black and red on buff or white backgrounds. The patterns are geometrical and abstract. The Ubaid pottery is monochromatic though with a large variety of forms and patterns. A whole group of pottery belonging to the Old Assyrian period and known as Habur ware was found in the N and a white-painted Mitannian ware originating farther to the W is known.

Lamps of various kinds have been found, though it is impossible to say when the portable lamp first came into use in Mesopotamia. Two vessels with seven spouts from the proto-literate period have been found and may have served as lamps. Sea shells and shell-like objects of clay, stone and metal with a special provision for the wick are common. Some of the lamps were decorated in relief.

Flint and stone tools, mostly blades of various kinds are common in the earliest Mesopotamian periods. At Jarmo, bowls and cups of stone were present in levels antecedent to the introduction of pottery. Bone tools also were found at Jarmo and continue into the historical periods. Not until the Ubaid period do considerable amounts of metal tools appear. Copper chisels and axes are found here, along with stone club and hammer heads and terra-cotta sickles. The bow and arrow also was used in this period. In the later periods various metals, as well as flint, were exploited more fully for use in harpoons, spears, swords, knives and adzes. In the Akkad. period the plow often is represented and various other tools for tilling the ground, like hoes and shovels, are known from later periods. The Assyrian reliefs show various shields, battering rams and swords.

The Tigris and Euphrates were exploited as means of transportation and many boats are known, mostly from models. Sails never are actually shown, though part of the hull structure in some boats suggests the presence of a mast. Oars with very wide blades are shown as are holes for punting. Sometimes the gods are represented as traveling in boats and even as operating the boat. The Assyrian reliefs show large numbers of boats in a form virtually unchanged from earliest times.

Chariots also played an important part in Mesopotamian transportation. Two and four-wheeled models are known as is a type of covered wagon.

Social structure and social life

Social organizations

Organizations and associations within Mesopotamian society were generally either of a political or politico-religious nature or else of a professional nature. The two main politico-religious organizations in the cities were the temple and the palace. Both temple and palace were based on a kind of “household” concept. The palace was the household of the king while the temple was the household of the god who, in a similar fashion to the king, had to be clothed and cared for. Members of these “households” were generally either slaves or persons of restricted freedom and their numbers could easily be augmented esp. in the later periods by the addition of foreign captives. As temple or palace had need of particular skills, craftsmen of various kinds could easily be brought into service. Both temple and palace were highly organized and their economic systems were maintained through taxation, land holdings, trade and war.

While both temple and palace functioned on more or less the same basis, there were still differences between them. There was also a considerable amount of variation in both temple organization and in palace organization depending on the period or location in question.

The size and make-up of the palace depended mainly on royal decree while the fortunes of the temple depended more upon the piety and generosity of the worshipers. In fact, from at least the time of Hammurabi and on, the social and economic importance of the temple was on the decline in spite of some lavish examples of sanctuaries from later times. The palace, on the other hand, steadily increased in importance and prominence over the same period and reached all time highs in the Neo-Assyrian empire and under the Neo-Babylonian kings.

The function of the temple generally was to provide sufficient material evidence of the divine presence and thereby to stimulate devotion. The anthropomorphic god and his “household” were maintained mostly by offerings of various kinds. The temple’s own workshops provided the manpower not only for the embellishment of the sanctuary directly but also for the manufacture of materials which could be bartered and used for the beautification of the god’s house. Dedication to the temple of some of the spoils of war, including prisoners of war, was expected of the kings. Also, kings were encouraged to restore and embellish the many sanctuaries as special royal duties or privileges. On the other hand, however, in the late periods, representatives of the kings also were placed on the administrative boards of the temples, in order to insure the payment of taxes to the king. In fact, beginning at the end of the 2nd millennium b.c., the Assyrian king was also the high priest and special representative of the god Ashur. The Assyrian situation after this time, therefore, was theocratic in a way that the Babylonian was not.

Outside of the temple and palace precincts was, of course, the city as a whole. Those who lived within the city, but outside the walls of both temple and palace were of more or less equal social status. Most appear to have been farmers who worked their plots of ground outside the cities during the day and returned at night. The city was self-governed, its affairs being managed by an assembly under a presiding officer. The wisdom and leadership of the wealthy and/or older men seems to have been accepted happily. The influence of the presence of either temple or palace, or both in a city could not of course be avoided, but from earliest times, a workable co-existence between the more or less independent city and the more or less independent temple or palace seems to have existed.

Among the professional organizations were various guild-like associations of merchants and craftsmen. These were most common before the end of the Old Babylonian period, though some survived much longer than that to judge by some family names referring to various vocations. Members of certain guilds seem to have been restricted to certain areas of the cities. Membership in associations of exorcists and diviners seems to have been tightly controlled, requiring the passing of certain examinations and fitness tests. The scribes seem to have been organized in families as well and had to undergo extensive formal training for membership.


While prisoners of war played a significant role in the national and royal interests under the Assyrian empire, there were never very many slaves in private possession. Slaves were usually debtors or children of the same; but those born in the house of a family enjoyed a special status, at least in the earliest periods, and later, slaves were allowed to work out in return for monthly payments to the master. Sometimes the master would even send the slave out for special training which would, of course, increase his own returns.

A lesser degree of servility was imposed upon certain “persons of restricted freedom,” and these were attached only to the temple or palace. Little is known of their status, otherwise, however.

The family

In general, the concept of the family was small and restricted. In the later periods, however, family consciousness was more highly developed as is indicated by the use of family names, and by some emphasis on gentility and descent. Monogamy was the rule for the householder except in the Old Babylonian period. The oldest son received a larger portion of the father’s estate, though normally the entire estate was worked in common by all the sons to avoid extreme subdivision.

Social life

In general, it appears that kings and certain other rich people were able to live luxuriously and make their lives a veritable feast if they so desired. The Assyrian reliefs make this esp. clear. For the humbler classes of citizens, whose days were spent in tilling the ground or doing other manual labor, however, life was generally very different.

Nevertheless, the monotony of their existence could still be relieved by two popular institutions, namely the beer houses and the brothels.

The beer houses were generally quite small but abundant and were usually managed by women. A large variety of beers and esp. of wines were available and seem to have produced the same corruption and drunkenness that are evidenced in some modern societies. The Code of Hammurabi, for example, makes provision for the protection of (drunken) customers against extortion by the management.

Free love was practiced everywhere, including the streets, parks and public squares. The first tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic describes in dramatic detail such an affair between Enkidu and the harlot. The Babylonians in particular were acquainted with a number of devices designed to prevent pregnancy in such liaisons.

For those who wished the privacy of such, there were the brothels (literally “Places of Pleasure,” or “Phallos-Houses”). Two kinds of prostitutes are known, those of the street and those of the brothels, and while we have no actual indication of the fees, it is plain that as an occupation, prostitution was financially satisfactory. See nodetitle,; nodetitle.


The older books are generally outdated for the early periods though they may be consulted for the later periods. See: A. T. Olmstead, History of Assyria (1923); “The Assyrian Empire,” CAH, III (1925); B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 vols (1920, 1925); S. Smith, Early History of Assyria to 1000 B.C. (1928). The best general handbook on Assyriology is S. A. Pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq (1956). See also H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (1962) and G. Roux, Ancient Iraq (1964). On religion see E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et d’Assyrie (1949). On archeological finds, see A. Parrot, Archaeologie Mesopotamienne, I (1946); H. H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (1954); M. E. L. Mallowan, Twenty-Five Years of Mesopotamian Discovery (1956); R. D. Barnett, Assyrian Palace Reliefs (1959). For ancient texts and materials see J. B. Pritchard, ed., ANET (2nd. ed. 1955); D. W. Thomas, ed., DOTT (1958); Herodotus, Histories; Xenophon, Anabasis, Persian Expedition. See also the Journals, Iraq, Sumer, Archiv fur Orientforschung, Orientalia. For further bibliography, see S. A. Pallis, op. cit. and H. Schmökel, Geschichte, des alten Vorderasien, Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol. II (1957).

Additional Material

Source 1

ASSYRIA (a-sĭr'ĭ-a, Heb. ’ashshûr). Originally a land between the upper Tigris and Zab rivers, with its capital first at Assur, later at Nineveh. Assyria was taken over in the third millennium b.c. by Semites from Arabia. First mentioned in the Bible in Gen.2.14, Assyria and the Assyrians are frequently named, sometimes as Asshur or Assur. By 1900 Assyrian traders had a colony in Hittite territory, at Kanish in Asia Minor. In the thirteenth century Assyrian military expeditions crossed the Euphrates, and by 1100 they reached the Mediterranean. But Assyria was not strong enough to maintain their advance. By 1000 the Aramean kingdom of Zobah reached the Euphrates, but David conquered Zobah and stopped its invasion of Assyria, an irony of history enabling Assyria to become strong. The tenth century was one of powerful and systematic advance. Assyria rounded out its borders north and east, conquered Babylonia, and advanced westward through Aramean territory to the Mediterranean. Under Shalmaneser III the Assyrians turned toward Palestine. In 853 they were defeated at Karkar but claimed a victory over Ben-Hadad of Damascus and a coalition incuding Ahab, king of Israel. They failed to follow up their effort.

After the religious revival under Elijah and Elisha, the coalition of Israel with Syria broke up. When Jehu gained the throne (2Kgs.9.1-2Kgs.9.37-2Kgs.10.1-2Kgs.10.36), Shalmaneser III seized the opportunity to claim tribute from Jehu and to weaken Damascus. Internal difficulties kept Assyria from further Palestinian inroads for nearly a century, until shortly after the middle of the eighth century b.c., when Tiglath-Pileser III invaded the west, divided the territory into subject provinces, and exchanged populations on a large scale to make rebellion more difficult. In 733-732 he conquered Galilee, the Plain of Sharon, and Gilead and made both Israel and Judah pay tribute (2Kgs.15.29; 2Kgs.16.9). Isaiah prophesied that this attempt to subjugate Judah would eventually fail. Shalmaneser V besieged Samaria for three years. He died during the siege, and his successor Sargon II (now called Sargon III) took the city in 721 and carried its more prosperous citizens into exile, replacing them with colonists from other provinces of his empire (2Kgs.17.6-2Kgs.17.41).

For nearly a century thereafter, Assyria was troubled from all sides—from Babylon, Elam, the Medes, Phrygia, and Egypt. Yet Sennacherib nearly captured Jerusalem in 701-700 b.c. (2Kgs.18.13-2Kgs.19.37; Isa.36.1-Isa.36.22-Isa.37.1-Isa.37.38), the danger ending only when “the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp” followed by the assassination of Sennacherib. Manasseh, king of Judah, paid tribute to Assyria, except during a short rebellion for which he was carried to Babylon but released after he sought the Lord (2Chr.33.11-2Chr.33.13). The last quarter of the seventh century saw the fall and decline of the Assyrian empire and its subjugation by the Chaldean conquerors of Babylonia with the Medes. Nineveh was taken in 612. For a short time Babylonia replaced Assyria as the great power. The prophets Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah are largely concerned with Assyria; several other prophets—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah—refer to it. Jonah was actually sent to prophesy to Nineveh, and the revival he unwillingly promoted saved the city from destruction for a long period of time.

Assyrian kings during the centuries in which Assyria had its closest contact with Israel and Judah, with approximate dates for their reigns (all b.c.) from the list found at Khorsabad in Mesopotamia, are as follows:

Shalmaneser III 859-824

Shamshi--Adad V


Adad-Nirari III 810-783

Shalmaneser IV


Ashur-dan III 771-754

Ashur-Nirari V


Tiglath-Pileser III 745-727

Shalmaneser V


Sargon III (II) 722-705



Esarhaddon 681-669



Ashur-eti-ilani 627-623



Sin-shar-ishkun 623-612



Assyrian art, architecture, and technology were successively influenced by Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians and early attained high levels, exciting the admiration and imitation of Ahaz, king of Judah (2Kgs.16.10-2Kgs.16.13). Literature was largely utilitarian—legal, historical, commercial, scientific, pseudo-scientific, and religious—but it exists in abundance, notably the library of Ashurbanipal, consisting of thousands of clay tablets. The Assyrians early added to their worship of the primitive national god Asshur the Babylonian deities with their cultic apparatus. Wherever they influenced Israel and Judah, the effort was demoralizing, as the historical books of the Bible and the prophets bear abundant witness.——ER

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)















XIV. HISTORY 1. Early Period

2. The Older Empire

3. The Second Empire

4. Last Period and Fall of Empire

LITERATURE Assyria, a Greek name formed from Asshur (’ashshur; ’Assour; Assyrian Assur): The primitive capital of the country.

I. Geography.

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 Ge 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 (Ge 10:11,12, where we should read "He went forth to Asshur"; see Mic 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" (Ge 10:12; Jon 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.

IV. Population.

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 2Ki 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 (nodetitle) 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.

VI. Art.

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 Eze 1).

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 manufactured.

VII. Mechanics.

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 Library of Nineveh.

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 (Isa 10:5-14; Na 2:11-13; 3:1-4).

XI. Religion.

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:

(1) 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 Religion of Babylonia and Assyria.

XII. Excavations.

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).

XIII. Chronology.

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 nodetitle).

XIV. History.

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, Nu 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 his supremacy.

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 2Ki 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 nodetitle, 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 2Ki 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" (Na 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.