Assyria: An Introduction to the Ancient Empire

Assyrian Winged Bull

A Semitic people, the Assyrians lived in the northern area of Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers at the city-state of Ashur. Under the leadership of Shamshi-Adad, the Assyrians tried to create their own empire, but they were squashed by the Babylonian king, Hammurabi. Then the Asiatic Hurrians (Mitanni) invaded, but they were, in turn, overcome by the growing Hittite Empire. The Hittites gave up control of Ashur because it was too far away; thereby granting the Assyrians their long-sought independence (c. 1400 B.C.).

Leaders of Assyria

The Assyrians didn't just want independence, though. They wanted control and so, under their leader Tukulti-Ninurta (c. 1233-c. 1197 B.C.), known in legend as Ninus, the Assyrians set out to conquer Babylonia. Under their ruler Tiglat-Pileser (1116-1090), the Assyrians extended their empire into Syria and Armenia. Between 883 and 824, under Ashurnazirpal II (883-859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.) the Assyrians conquered all of Syria and Armenia, Palestine, Babylon, and southern Mesopotamia. At its greatest extent, the Assyrian empire extended to the Mediterranean Sea from the western part of modern Iran, including Anatolia, and southward to the Nile delta.

For the sake of control, the Assyrians forced their conquered subjects into exile, including the Hebrews who were exiled to Babylon.

The Assyrians and Babylon

The Assyrians were right to be fearful of the Babylonians because, in the end, the Babylonians—with help from the Medes—destroyed the Assyrian Empire and burned Nineveh.

Babylon was a problem having nothing to do with the Jewish diaspora since it resisted Assyrian rule. Tukulti-Ninurta destroyed the city and set up an Assyrian capital at Nineveh where the last great Assyrian monarch, Ashurbanipal, later established his great library. But then, out of religious fear (because Babylon was Marduk's territory), the Assyrians rebuilt Babylon.

What happened to Ashurbanipal's great library? Because the books were clay, 30,000 fire-hardened tablets remain today providing a wealth of information on Mesopotamian culture, myth, and literature.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Assyria: An Introduction to the Ancient Empire." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Assyria: An Introduction to the Ancient Empire. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Assyria: An Introduction to the Ancient Empire." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).