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Geographical Location of Assyria

Discuss about the Politic and culture in international history.

The article gives an overview of Assyrian Civilization. The Mesopotamian civilization was the pioneer of the first multinational empire in the world history during the first millennium BCE (Before Common Era). Assyrian Empire was the first of this multinational empire. This article focuses various aspects of the Assyrian Civilization.

The kingdom of ancient Assyria is a part of northern Iraq as on present day. The kingdom bordered southeastern Asia Minor and eastern Syria (Matney 2016.). The kingdom covered northern part of Mesopotamian plain that also had the course of flow of river Tigris. To the north as well as the east, the Zagros Mountain covered the land of Assyria while to its south and the west it was the desert covering it.

Assyrian society developed some distinct features of its own. The exposed position of the Assyrian society led its people to develop a firm military position. This helped the people to survive invasion and effectively conquer known as the largest empire in history of the world. The stretch of the empire was from the Egypt to Persian Gulf that overtook areas of the modern countries of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Israel along with parts of Turkey, Jordan and Armenia (Neumann 2014)

Figure 1: Geographical Location of Assyria

Source: (Matney 2016)

Assyrian civilization has been an integral portion of ancient world of Mesopotamia and influenced by the Sumerian civilization during fourth millennium. The second millennium saw the Assyrian civilization as one of the greatest power of the Bronze Age of the Middle East (Mark, 2017).

The period around 1000 BCE saw a general crisis in Middle East and Assyria being a part of it could not escape. The crisis also led shrinking of the former size of Assyria. However, it was during the middle of the ninth century that Assyria once again became offensive and after a struggle for little more than a century it was able to conquer an empire that covered entire Mesopotamia and Syria and also included parts of Asia Minor, Palestine, Iran, Taurus and Zagros region(Hall 2015). The Assyrian empire however, dominated the Middle East for over a century before getting destructed at the end of 7th century.

Similar to all the Mesopotamian states the Assyrian Civilization too ruled by a monarchy. The King appointed divinely and considered as powerful ruler for Assyrian people (Postgate 2014). The various titles of the king claimed for universal sovereignty. The king of Assyria was the primary lawmaker, chief administrator and the commander in chief of Assyrian army.

Ancient History of Assyrian Civilization

The King remains surrounded by large court of officials, servants and officials. Among his chief ministers were the chief of army and a chancellor responsible for heading a large administrative staff (Aina.org, 2017). There were also Palace officials who were responsible for running grounds, building and a huge royal household. The closeness of some of the officials towards the king lead to the blurring of domestic and public line thereby exercising some influence over the state matters. The royal officials recruited from Assyrian aristocracy of which somewhere some belonged to the slave whereas others were from humble origins. Eunuchs represented a huge number of palace officials.

The area belonging to the Middle East dominated by Assyria divided into the kingdom of Assyria along with a larger area that was in earlier times covered by the kingdoms of vassal (Morby 2014.). Later much of the kingdom governed directly by the Assyrian court with the help of provincial governors.

Figure2: Assyrian Empire

Source: (Morby 2014)

The Assyrian homeland stood at the centre in terms of political and social aspects and had magnificent parks, palaces and temples. Most of the people belonging to the Assyrian civilization were farmers similar to all the preindustrial people. The land belonged to king and he owned vast estates (Köro?lu 2015). The Assyrians kings shifted their capital overtime in order to reduce the influence at court. Every Assyrian tried to serve the king in some way or the other. They also formed a reserve while they are not campaigning from which recruitment of soldiers took place. However, younger men called on a majority basis under critical circumstances. People of the Assyrian Civilization also undertook other kind of service in the royal empire such as working on real estates and on projects related to royal construction that took place on a large-scale basis.

Figure 3: Assyrian Soldier Standing with the Shields

Source: (Köro?lu 2015)

The governing system of Assyrian civilization was quite unstable. A crucial weakness lay in the heart of the system that showed that after the death of a king there was emergence of potential trouble as most of the rival princes fought for the throne (Schneider and Adal? 2014). The way to the throne seemed difficult as it included fight amongst several kings that persisted for several years. The people of Assyria took advantage of the civil wars by freeing themselves from the heavy Assyrian yoke. Throughout the history despite merciless reprisals that they visited defeated rebels, the civilization of Assyria had to constantly deal with the rebels for retaining their position.

Government and Administration of Assyrian Civilization

The prestige and wealth of the region of Babylon played a vital role in determining the dynamics of the political system of Assyrian civilization. The appointment of the younger brother of the king of Assyria as the king of Babylon had a different impact.  Through this attempt, the king of Assyria thought to have a tighter control over the area that unfortunately did not happen despite the close relationships they shared with Babylon and the kings of Babylon turned hostile towards the king of (Assyria Oppenheim 2013)

Figure 4: Depiction of King Besieging a Town

Source: (Schneider and Adal? 2014)

The imperial power of the Assyrian civilization squarely based on the army. Although the military practice of Assyria had its roots in earlier Mesopotamian, warfare but it later implemented major innovations (Mark and Mark, 2017). Assyrian army represented major military forces in the history of the world that benefitted from weapons and armor. Under the Assyrians, the Iron not only became cheaper but also tougher that helped in arming more number of ordinary people. The army was thus composed of larger bodies of cavalry and infantry. The cavalry represented soldiers who rode horses instead of chariots. This new style of cavalry warfare learnt from the Scythians and Cimmerians who represented the horse riding nomads of Central Asia. The horses during those times were rode without the saddles or stirrups but this did not hinder their ability of controlling the mounts.

Figure 5: Stone Inscription of Soldiers on Horseback

Source: (Mark and Mark, 2017)

Before middle of the eighth century, the army was citizen army that comprised of the ordinary Assyrian farmers who performed the military service. The men before sent for campaign remained stationed in the camps (Dezs? 2012). Some men not called at the start of the year selected later for replacing loss or meeting the need of additional troops.  

This army later supplemented by the standing army of the foreign troops that comprised of contingents of the conquered people (Mark and Mark, 2017). However, the citizen army served the Assyrian civilization for many years and attained highest level of training and experience that freed them from the need of returning to their farms for harvesting. The citizen army also earned the expertise of serving longer wars. There were also permanent garrison stationed at the key points of the Assyrian Empire that helped in keeping a check on the neighboring kingdom and the subject people. 

A Brief Overview of the King’s Court

The long service professional troops led to the formation of royal guard and elite troops of the Assyrian army. The inscriptions of the Assyrian manuscripts testified the importance of the accorded logistics of the commanders (Dezs? 2012). The military and food supplies gathered and transported with the help of camels along with the marching army. In addition, a siege train travelled with the army and remained staffed with corps of engineers who had the aim of digging tunnels, filling in moats and constructing earthworks against walls. The siege engines were equipped with assault ladders, battering rams and siege towers that helped in scaling city walls made of mud brick of ancient Middle East.

The imperialism followed by the Assyrian civilization was of a harsh variety. There were no steps undertaken for the promotion of economic welfare of the people that remained visible in the impoverished remains of the many of the cities and towns. This resulted in the provocation of repeated revolts (Aberbach 2013). There is a contrasting view revealed through the remains of the Assyrian homeland that indicates that imperial system of Assyria acted as an engine for increasing the wealth of the provinces for benefiting the ruling class.

Assyrian from the middle of the eight century practiced the policy of mass deportation. The inhabitants of the conquered districts and towns resettled in some distant land so that people forcefully bought from some other countries can replace it. The policy primarily focused on punishing rebels, preventing rebellions through undermining of local loyalties and in populating newer towns for development of agriculture in the under populated regions(Berlejung 2012). The policy also focused on providing the Assyrian civilization with the required troops, artisans, laborers and civil servants

Assyria witnessed the relocation of around four and half million people and the deportations primarily comprised of Aramaic speakers. Therefore, Aramaic remained the most widely spoken language in the region for centuries (Wansborough 2013). The people, government and administration belonging to the Assyrian civilization also spoke Aramaic. During the 752 BCE, Aramaic became the official language of the administration.

The religion followed by the Assyrian civilization was similar to that of Mesopotamia. The people of Assyria worshipped many Gods with God Ashur taking the chief position. Like the civilization of Mesopotamia, they also had an embracing and deep belief in the omens and signs. They had the belief that the Gods always tried to communicate wishes to the people through the movements of moon, stars, sun and the flight of the birds.

Empire and Kingdom

Figure 6: Depiction of Assyrian Religion

Source: (Noll 2012)

The Assyrian civilization divided into three groups that included free Assyrians who represented free citizens, the serfs, who were dependents on the royal and other estates and the slaves (Bozeman 2017). The three categories however had defined rights in the law of Assyria. The other end of social scale comprised of the royal family of Assyria that not only headed the landed aristocracy but also dominated the Assyrian society. The cities and towns however had the usual population of workers and artisans along with an elite group of citizens that included merchants, scribes, priests and leading artisans.

During the Assyrian civilization, Iron put to wide use. Iron tools that made farming more productive (Liverani 2013) replaced bone and stone implements. The use of Iron has a huge impact on agriculture thereby helping in transforming the economy of later times. However, implications from the excavated sites indicated that destruction, massacre and spoil of the royal annals pointed towards stagnation and impoverishment.

The Assyrian civilization largely inherited the culture of Mesopotamia (Oppenheim 2013). There were various documents written on the clay tablets that showed that the Assyria culture followed legends and myths belonging to ancient Mesopotamia. There also existed Assyrian monarchs who were not only the representation of refinement and culture but also fearsome warriors.

The artisans and the artist under the Assyrian patronage were at the peak of reaching the perfection in the work they do. The royal tombs of Nimrud and Nineveh yielded jewels that astonished the archaeologist in terms of quantity and quality.

The monarchs of Assyria possess a passion for building that represented the mark for great king. They not only built magnificent temples and palaces but also other public buildings like the beautiful royal park (Neumann 2014). Some of the kings belonging to the Assyrian civilization built newer capital cities while there were others who simply beautified and extended the existing capitals.

Under the Assyrian civilization, the landscape gardening reached newer heights through the laying out the vast gardens and parks near the palaces and ensuring diversion of whole rivers for watering them.

Figure 7: Gardening Landscape

Source: (Neumann 2014)

Conclusion

The legacy of the Assyrian Civilization is quite significant in the history of the world. The Assyrian empire acted as a conduit of the Mesopotamian culture for the people.  The article discusses about the Assyrian Kingdom, its political stability and its army. There is also discussion on the impact of imperialism, religion, societal norms, economy and the culture.

References:

Aberbach, D., 2013. Imperialism and Biblical Prophecy: 750-500 BCE. Routledge.

Aina.org. 2017. Brief History of Assyrians. [online] Available at: https://www.aina.org/brief.html [Accessed 25 Dec. 2017].

Berlejung, A., 2012, January. The Assyrians in the West: Assyrianization, Colonialism, Indifference, or Development Policy?. In Congress Volume Helsinki 2010 (Vol. 148, p. 21). Brill.

Bozeman, A.B., 2017. Politics and culture in international history: from the ancient Near East to the opening of the modern age. Routledge.

Dezs?, T., 2012. The Assyrian Army. ELTE-Ókortörténeti Tanszék.

Hall, H.R., 2015. The ancient history of the Near East: from the earliest times to the battle of Salamis. Routledge.

Köro?lu, K., 2015. Conflict and Interaction in the Iron Age: The Origins of Urartian–Assyrian Relations. European Journal of Archaeology, 18(1), pp.111-127.

Liverani, M., 2013. The ancient Near East: History, society and economy. Routledge.

Mark, J. 2017. Assyria. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/assyria/ [Accessed 25 Dec. 2017].

Mark, J. and Mark, J. 2017. Assyrian Warfare. [online] Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at: https://www.ancient.eu/Assyrian_Warfare/ [Accessed 25 Dec. 2017].

Matney, T., 2016. Assyrians, Aramaeans, and the Indigenous Peoples of Iron Age Southeastern Anatolia*-. Agency and Identity in the Ancient Near East: New Paths Forward.

Morby, J., 2014. Dynasties of the World. Oxford University Press.

Neumann, K.A., 2014. Resurrected and Reevaluated: The Neo-Assyrian Temple as a Ritualized and Ritualizing Built Environment. University of California, Berkeley.

Noll, K.L., 2012. Canaan and Israel in antiquity: A textbook on history and religion. A&C Black.

Oppenheim, A.L., 2013. Ancient Mesopotamia: portrait of a dead civilization. University of Chicago Press.

Postgate, N., 2014. Bronze Age Bureaucracy: Writing and the practice of government in Assyria. Cambridge University Press.

Schneider, A.W. and Adal?, S.F., 2014. “No harvest was reaped”: demographic and climatic factors in the decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Climatic change, 127(3-4), pp.435-446

Wansborough, J.E., 2013. Lingua franca in the Mediterranean. Routledge.

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