Introduction to the Assyrians: Who Were They and What Did They Do?
The Assyrians were a civilization that developed in Mesopotamia between 1950 BC and 612 BC. They were known for their military prowess and their empire reached its peak under the rule of King Ashurbanipal. In this article, we will delve into the history, culture, and achievements of the Assyrians.
Location and Origin of the Assyrians
The Assyrians lived in the northern part of Mesopotamia and had to defend themselves against neighboring peoples who frequently attacked them. This led to the strengthening of their army and the development of the Assyrians into skilled warriors.
The Rise of the Assyrian Empire
In 1375 BC, the Assyrians rebelled against the Babylonians who had occupied their territory and conquered Mesopotamia. The empire reached its maximum expansion under King Ashurbanipal who made the city of Nineveh his capital. Unfortunately, after King Ashurbanipal’s death, the conquered peoples revolted destroyed Nineveh, and brought an end to the Assyrian civilization.
Lifestyle and Economy
The territory of the Assyrians was mountainous and difficult to farm, which is why agriculture was not a significant part of their economy. Additionally, their region was poor in raw materials, leaving the Assyrians without any products to trade. Their most important activity was warfare, which required them to use iron weapons and horse-drawn chariots.
Organization and Administration
The king ordered the army and nobles assisted him in administering the conquered territories. The nobles often used force and intimidation to control the subjugated peoples. This rigid and violent administration prevented the Assyrian kings from unifying their subject peoples, ultimately leading to the decline of their civilization when their military strength ended.
The Assyrians were polytheists and believed in many deities. The most important god was Assur, a ruthless and violent god associated with war. The rulers were considered the chief priests of Assur and his representatives on earth. The Assyrians also believed in other gods related to natural phenomena and some of their deities derived from Babylonian gods, such as Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, and Shamash, the god of the sun and justice.
Inventions and Achievements
The Assyrians primarily focused on warfare, and their inventions reflected this. They devoted their time and resources to creating weapons and tactics that would allow them to conquer their enemies and maintain their empire. From chariots and battering rams to siege engines and caltrops, the Assyrians were always seeking ways to improve their military prowess. The result was a powerful army that dominated the ancient Near East for centuries.
They were the first to work iron, which they used to make weapons such as spears, swords, arrowheads, and protective gear like helmets, shields, and breastplates. They also built war chariots with spoked wheels and siege engines like rams and towers. The Assyrians also adopted a new attack strategy where they would explore the territory; surround their enemies, and then attack.
King Ashurbanipal and the Library of Nineveh
King Ashurbanipal was a great warrior but also a lover of culture. He created a library in his palace in Nineveh and sent scribes all over Mesopotamia to bring back interesting documents. The scribes returned with over 25,000 clay tablets containing religious, scientific, and literary texts. One of the most notable finds was the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known epic poem. King Ashurbanipal established one of the first and most crucial libraries in the ancient world that offers valuable insights into past civilizations.
The Assyrians had a rich cultural heritage demonstrated by King Ashurbanipal’s library, despite their rigid and violent administration. They were a powerful civilization known for their military strength and innovative weapons. Today, the history and achievements of the Assyrians serve as an important reminder of the civilizations that once thrived in Mesopotamia.