Major Ancient Near and Middle Eastern Kings

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Major Ancient Near and Middle Eastern Kings

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Created by West Point's History Department.

The West and Middle East (or Near East) have long been at odds. Before Mohammed and Islam, even before Christianity, ideological differences and desire for land and power led to conflict; first in the Greek-occupied territory of Ionia, in Asia Minor, and then, later, across the Aegean Sea and onto the Greek mainland. While the Greeks favored their small, local governments, the Persians were empire builders, with autocratic monarchs in charge. For the Greeks, banding together to fight a common foe presented challenges both for individual city-states (poleis) and collectively, since the poleis of Greece weren't unified; whereas Persian monarchs had the power to demand the support of however many able-bodied men they required.

The problems and different styles of recruiting and managing armies became important when the Persians and Greeks first came into conflict, during the Persian Wars. They came into contact again later, when the Macedonian Greek Alexander the Great began his own imperial expansion. By this time, however, the individualistic Greek poleis had fallen apart.

Empire Builders

Below you will find information on major empire building and consolidating monarchs of the area now described as the Middle East or Near East. Cyrus was the first of these monarchs to conquer the Ionian Greeks. He took control away from

Croesus

, King of Lydia, a rich local king who had demanded little more than tribute from the Ionian Greeks. Darius and Xerxes came into conflict with the Greeks during the Persian Wars, which soon followed. The other monarchs are earlier, belonging to the period before the conflict between Greeks and Persians.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings
Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

02
of 09

Ashurbanipal

Autobiography of Ashurbanipal
Autobiography of Ashurbanipal; Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhenry/2636577731/sizes/l/ Liz Henry at Flickr.com

Ashurbanipal ruled Assyria from about 669-627 B.C. Succeeding his father Esarhadon, Ashurbanipal expanded Assyria to its broadest, when its territory included Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, and Syria. Ashurbanipal was renowned also for his library at Ninevah containing more than 20,000 clay tablets written in the wedge-shaped letters called cuneiform.

The clay monument shown was written by Ashurbanipal before he became king. Usually scribes did the writing, so this was unusual.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

03
of 09

Cyrus

Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux, from Flavius Josephus, illuminated by Jean Fouquet.
Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux, from Flavius Josephus, illuminated by Jean Fouquet. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

From an ancient Iranian tribe, Cyrus formed and then ruled the Persian Empire (from c. 559 - c. 529), extending it from Lydia through Babylonia. He is also familiar to those who know the Hebrew Bible. The name Cyrus comes from an ancient Persian version of Kourosh (Kūruš)*, translated into Greek and then into Latin. Kou'rosh is still a popular Iranian name.

Cyrus was the son of Cambyses I, king of Anshan, a Persian kingdom, in Susiana (Elam), and a Median princess. At the time, as Jona Lendering explains it, the Persians were vassals of the Medes. Cyrus revolted against his Median overlord, Astyages.

Cyrus conquered the Median Empire, becoming the first Persian king and founder of the Achmaenid dynasty by 546 B.C. That was also the year he conquered Lydia, taking it from the famously wealthy Croesus. Cyrus defeated the Babylonians in 539, and is called the liberator of the Babylonian Jews. A decade later, Tomyris, Queen of the Massagetae, led an attack that killed Cyrus. He was succeeded by his son Cambyses II, who expanded the Persian empire into Egypt, before dying after 7 years as king. [See Herodotus on Cambyses' conquest of Egypt.]

A fragmented inscription on a cylinder written in Akkadian cuneiform, describes some of the deeds of Cyrus. [See The Cyrus Cylinder.] It was discovered in 1879 during a British Museum excavation in the area. For what may be modern political reasons, it has been used to champion Cyrus as the creator of the first human rights document. There is a translation deemed by many to be a false one that would lead to such an interpretation. The following is not from that translation, but, instead, from one that uses more circumspect language. It does not, for instance, say Cyrus freed all the slaves.

Read the British Museum's translated Cyrus Cylinder.

* Quick note: Similarly Shapur is known as Sapor from Greco-Roman texts.

More on Cyrus

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

04
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Darius

Relief sculpture from Tachara, Darius the Great's private palace at Persepolis.
Relief sculpture from Tachara, Darius the Great's private palace at Persepolis. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. dynamosquito

An in-law of Cyrus and a Zoroastrian, Darius ruled the Persian Empire from 521-486. He expanded the empire west into Thrace and east into the Indus River valley -- making the Achaemenid or Persian Empire the largest ancient empire. Darius attacked the Scythians, but he never conquered them or the Greeks. Darius suffered a defeat in the Battle of Marathon, which the Greeks won.

Darius created royal residences at Susa, in Elam and Persepolis, in Persia. He built the Persian Empire's religious and administrative center in Persepolis and completed the administrative divisions of the Persian Empire into the units known as satrapies, with the royal road to quickly route messages from Sardis to Susa. He built irrigation systems and canals, including one from the Nile in Egypt to the Red Sea.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings
Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

05
of 09

Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder Seal
Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder Seal. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. CC Tiffany Silva http://www.flickr.com/photos/tiffanysilva/3035460102/sizes/l/

Nebuchadnezzar was the most important Chaldean king. [See Map showing Chaldean, Median, Lydian, and Egyptian Empires.] Nebuchadnezzar ruled from 605-562. Nebuchadnezzar was best remembered for turning Judah into a province of the Babylonian empire, sending the Jews into the Babylonian captivity, and destroying Jerusalem, as well as his hanging gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. He also expanded the empire and rebuilt Babylon. Its monumental walls contain the famous Ishtar Gate. Within Babylon was an impressive ziggurat to Marduk.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings
Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

06
of 09

Sargon II

Colossal Human-Headed Winged Bull Outside the Throne Room of Sargon II
Colossal Human-Headed Winged Bull Outside the Throne Room of Sargon II. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. Getty Images/Scott Olson/Staff

King of Assyria from 722-705, Sargon II consolidated the conquests of his father, Tiglath-pileser III, including Babylonia, Armenia, the area of the Philistines, and Israel.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings
Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

07
of 09

Sennacherib

Sennacherib and His Queen Copied From 7th Century BC Art From Nineveh.
Sennacherib and His Queen Copied From 7th Century BC Art From Nineveh. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. unforth at Flickr.com

An Assyrian king and son of Sargon II, Sennacherib spent his rule (705-681) defending the kingdom his father had built. He was renowned for enlarging and building up the capital (Ninevah). He extended the city wall and built an irrigation canal.

In November-December 689 B.C., following a 15-month siege, Sennacherib did almost exactly the opposite of what he did at Ninevah. He sacked and razed Babylon, destroying buildings and temples, and carrying off the king and the statues of the gods they didn't smash (Adad and Shala are named specifically, but probably also Marduk), as was inscribed in the cliffs of the Bavian gorge near Ninevah. The details include filling the Arahtu canal (a branch of the Euphrates that ran through Babylon) with bricks torn from the Babylonian temples and ziggurat, and then digging canals through the city and flooding it.

Marc Van de Mieroop says that the rubble that went down the Euphrates into the Persian Gulf terrified the residents of Bahrain to the point of volunteering submission to Sennacherib.

Sennacherib's son Arda-Mulissi assassinated him. Babylonians reported this as an act of revenge by the god Marduk. In 680, when a different son, Esarhaddon, took the throne, he reversed his father's policy towards Babylon.

Reference: "Revenge, Assyrian Style," by Marc Van de Mieroop Past and Present 2003.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

08
of 09

Tiglath-Pileser III

From the Palace of Tiglath-Pileser III at Kalhu, Nimrud.
"Assyrian warriors attacking an enemy city" Limestone, 8th century BC. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. Detail from a relief from the palace of Tiglath-Pileser III at Kalhu, Nimrud. CC at Flickr.com

Tiglath-Pileser III, predecessor of Sargon II, was the Assyrian king who subjected Syria and Palestine and merged the kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria. He introduced a policy of transplanting the populations of conquered territories.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes

09
of 09

Xerxes

Xerxes the Great
Xerxes the Great. Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings | Ashurbanipal | Cyrus | Darius | Nebuchadnezzar | Sargon | Sennacherib | Tiglath-Pileser | Xerxes. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Xerxes, son of Darius the Great, ruled Persia from 485-465 when he was killed by his son. He is well known for his attempted conquest of Greece, including his unusual crossing of the Hellespont, a successful attack on Thermopylae and a failed attempt at Salamis. Darius also suppressed revolts in other parts of his empire: in Egypt and Babylonia.

Major Ancient and Near Eastern Kings Ashurbanipal
Cyrus
Darius
Nebuchadnezzar
Sargon
Sennacherib
Tiglath-Pileser
Xerxes