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88 Chapter 4

SETTING THE STAGE For more than two centuries, the Assyrian army advanced
across Southwest Asia. It overwhelmed foes with its military strength. After the
Assyrians seized control of Egypt, the Assyrian king Esarhaddon proclaimed, I tore
up the root of Kush, and not one therein escaped to submit to me. The last Kushite
pharaoh retreated to Napata, Kushs capital city.
A Mighty Military Machine
Beginning around 850 B.C., Assyria (uhSEEReeuh) acquired a large
empire. It accomplished this by means of a sophisticated military orga-
nization and state-of-the-art weaponry. For a time, this campaign of
conquest made Assyria the greatest power in Southwest Asia.
The Rise of a Warrior People The Assyrians came from the northern
part of Mesopotamia. Their at, exposed farmland made them easy to
attack. Invaders swept down from the nearby mountains. The Assyrians
may have developed their warlike behavior in response to these inva-
sions. Lacking natural barriers such as mountains or deserts, they
repelled invaders by developing a strong army. Through constant war-
fare, Assyrian kings built an empire that stretched from east and north
of the Tigris River all the way to central Egypt.
One of these Assyrian kings, Sennacherib (sih
NAKuhrihb),
bragged that he had sacked 89 cities and 820 villages, burned Babylon,
and ordered most of its inhabitants killed. Centuries later, in the 1800s,
the English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, romanticized the
Assyrians bloody exploits in a poem:
A V O I C E A B O U T T H E P A S T
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
GEORGE GORDON, LORD BYRON, The Destruction of Sennacherib
Military Organization and Conquest Assyria was a society which gloried military
strength. Its soldiers were well equipped for conquering an empire. Making use of the
iron-working technology of the time, the soldiers covered themselves in stiff leather
and metal armor. They wore copper or iron helmets, padded loincloths, and leather
skirts layered with metal scales. Their weapons were iron swords and iron-pointed
spears. Infantry, archers, and spear throwers protected themselves with huge shields.
Advance planning and technical skill allowed the Assyrians to lay siege to enemy
cities. When deep water blocked their passage, engineers would bridge the rivers with
pontoons, or oating structures used to support a bridge. Tying inated animal skins
Assyria Dominates
the Fertile Crescent
2
TERMS & NAMES
Assyria
Sennacherib
Nineveh
Ashurbanipal
Medes
Chaldeans
Nebuchadnezzar
MAIN IDEA
Assyria developed a military machine,
conquered an empire, and established
imperial administration.
WHY IT MATTERS NOW
Some leaders still use military force to
extend their rule, stamp out opposition,
and gain wealth and power.
This detail of a
sandstone relief
shows an Assyrian
soldier with a
shield and iron-
tipped spear.
Vocabulary
siege: a military
blockade to force a
city to surrender.
THINK THROUGH HISTORY
A. Analyzing
Causes What caused
the Assyrians to
develop a strong army
and large empire?
A. Possible Answer
No natural barriers
to invasion; needed
strong army to repel
invaders; constant
warfare produced
large empire.
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First Age of Empires 89
together, they connected these pontoons to the shore with beams. Then they erected
a raised dirt roadway at both ends. An armed guard protected the soldiers who
installed a support structure of stones, brush, and clay.
Before attacking, the Assyrians dug beneath the citys walls to weaken them. Then,
with disciplined organization, foot soldiers marched shoulder to shoulder. A trained
cavalry, or troops riding horses, galloped into battle, following their generals, who rode
in chariots. With courage and coordination, foot soldiers approached to within an
arrows shot of the city walls. At a signal from their commander, they stopped, strung
their bows, and released a shower of arrows. Wave upon wave of arrows hissed over the
walls of the besieged city. Meanwhile, another group of troops hammered the citys
gates with massive, iron-tipped battering rams. When at last the city gates splintered,
the Assyrians showed no mercy. They killed or enslaved their victims. Because soldiers
received a bounty for severed heads, many of the defeated were beheaded.
One Assyrian king bragged of burning 3,000 captives to death. Another told how
all the chiefs who had revolted I ayed, with their skins I covered the pillar, some in
the midst I walled up, others on stakes I impaled, still others I arranged around the
pillar on stakes. To prevent later rebellions, the Assyrians forced groups of captives to
leave their homelands. They were forced to settle far away as exiles in the empires
distant provinces and dependent states.
An Expanding Empire
Between 850 and 650 B.C., the kings of Assyria defeated Syria, Palestine, and
Babylonia. Reaching beyond the Fertile Crescent, Assyrian rule extended into Egypt
and Anatolia. With the conquest of Egypt, the Assyrian Empire had established itself
in North Africa.
Background
Assyrian archers
served as a kind of
early form of artillery,
clearing the enemys
walls of defenders
so Assyrian troops
could storm them.
Assyrian warriors were ferocious in combat. In this
reliefsculpture that has gures standing out from a at
backgroundthey are shown launching an assault on a
fortied city. The Assyrian war machine included a variety
of weapons and methods of attack.
Assyrian Military Power
Ladders
While Assyrian archers launched waves of arrows
against their opponents defending the city walls,
Assyrian troops threw their ladders up against the walls
and began their climb into the enemys stronghold.
Weapons
Troops were armed with the best weapons of the time,
iron-tipped spears, as well as iron daggers and swords.
They were also protected with armor and large shields.
Tactics
The Assyrians were savage in their treatment of defeated
opponents. Those who werent slaughtered in the initial
attack were often impaled or beheaded, while women and
children were sometimes murdered or sold into slavery.
Tunnels
The Assyrian army used sapperssoldiers who dug
tunnels to sap, or undermine, the foundations of the
enemys walls so that they would fall.
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90 Chapter 4
Assyrian Rule At its peak around 650
B.C., this empire included almost all of
the old centers of civilization and power
in Southwest Asia. With great efficiency,
the Assyrians organized their conquered
territories into an empire. Assyrian offi-
cials governed lands closest to Assyria as
provinces and made them dependent ter-
ritories. Assyrian kings inuenced these
dependent regions by choosing their
rulers. Or, they supported kings who
aligned themselves with Assyria. Assyrian
armies protected the dependent territo-
ries from invasion by other enemies.
In addition, the military campaigns
added new territory to the empire.
This brought in taxes and tribute to the
Assyrian treasury. These became an
instrument of control. If a conquered
people refused to pay, the Assyrians
destroyed their cities and sent the
people into exile. By these means the
Assyrians developed an effective method
of governing an extended empire.
Assyrian Culture Some of Assyrias
most fearsome warriors earned a repu-
tation as great builders. For example,
the same King Sennacherib who had burned Babylon also established Assyrias capital
at Nineveh (NIHN
uhvuh) along the Tigris River. This great walled city, about three
miles long and a mile wide, was famous as the largest city of its day. In the ruins of
Nineveh and other Assyrian cities, archaeologists found nely carved sculptures. Two
artistic subjects particularly fascinated the Assyrians: brutal military campaigns and
the lion hunt.
In addition to the treasures of empire, Nineveh also held one of the ancient worlds
largest libraries. King Ashurbanipal (ah
shurBAHnuhpahl) prided himself on his
ability to read in several languages: The beautiful writings in Sumerian that are
obscure, in Akkadian that are difficult to bear in mind, it was my joy to repeat. This
kingly reader collected more than 25,000 clay tablets from throughout the Fertile
Crescent. Some were dictionaries containing the same words in several languages.
When archaeologists uncovered the librarys remains in the mid-1800s, the dictionary
tablets enabled scholars to better understand Mesopotamian writing.
The Empire Crumbles
Ashurbanipal proved to be one of the last of the mighty Assyrian kings. Assyrian
power had spread itself too thin. Also, the cruelty displayed by the Assyrians had
earned them many enemies. Shortly after Ashurbanipals death, Nineveh fell.
Decline and Fall Just as Assyrians had destroyed so many cities, Assyrias enemies
demolished Nineveh. In 612 B.C., a combined army of Medes (meedz), Chaldeans
(kal
DEEuhnz), and others rammed open the citys gates. Their armies burned and
leveled Nineveh. The re glazed the tablets in the library, which preserved them for
archaeologists to study centuries later. So thoroughly did the armies destroy Nineveh
that two centuries later only mounds remained.
B. Possible Answer
Efficient organiza-
tion; military power;
taxes; tribute;
system of provinces
made dependent
territories.
THINK THROUGH HISTORY
B. Recognizing
Causes What meth-
ods enabled the
Assyrians to rule their
empire effectively?
THINK THROUGH HISTORY
C. Making
Inferences Why
might the Assyrian
warrior kings have
had such a great
interest in writing and
reading?
C. Possible Answer
They may have
envisioned the writ-
ing of their history
as a way to impress
future generations
with their military
achievements.
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Medes
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2,000 Kilometers
Assyrian Empire, 650 B.C.
GEOGRAPHY SKI LLBUI LDER: Interpreting Maps
1. Location What is the approximate distance between Nineveh
and Thebes?
2. Location What is the southernmost part of the Assyrian Empire
and to what other empire did it previously belong?
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Many people in the region rejoiced at Ninevehs destruction. The Hebrew prophet
Nahum (NAY
huhm) gave voice to the feelings of many:
T H E B I B L E
And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall ee from thee, and
say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? Whence shall I seek comforters for
thee? . . . Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust:
thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them.
NAHUM 3:7,18
Rebirth of Babylon Under the Chaldeans After defeating the Assyrians, the
Chaldeans made Babylon their capital. Around 600 B.C., Babylon became the center of a
new empire, more than 1,000 years after Hammurabi had ruled there. A Chaldean king
named Nebuchadnezzar (nehb
uhkuhdNEHZuhr) restored Babylon. The most
impressive part of his palace may
have been the famous hanging
gardens. Greek scholars later listed
them as one of the Seven Wonders
of the World. According to legend,
one of Nebuchadnezzars wives
missed the owering shrubs of her
mountain homeland. To please
her, the king had fragrant trees
and mountain shrubs planted on
terraces. They rose 75 feet above
Babylons at, dry plain. Slaves
watered the plants from hidden
pumps.
Indeed, the entire city was a
wonder. Its walls were so thick that, according to one report, a four-horse chariot
could wheel around on top of them. To ensure that the world knew who ruled
Babylon, even the bricks were inscribed, I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
The highest building in Babylon was a great, seven-tiered ziggurat more than 300
feet high. It was visible for miles. At night, priests observed the stars from the top of
this tower and others in the city. They kept detailed records of how the stars and plan-
ets seemed to change position in the night sky. The Chaldeans observations formed
the basis for both astronomy and astrology.
Nebuchadnezzars empire fell shortly after his death. The Persians who next came to
power adopted many Assyrian military, political, and artistic inventions. The Persians
would use the organization the Assyrians had developed to stabilize the region.
Lions made
of glazed bricks
decorated walls
along the broad
road that passed
the Ishtar Gate of
Nebuchadnezzar
in Babylon.
2. TAKING NOTES
Create a diagram showing the
causes of the rise and of the
decline of Assyrian power.
3. FORMING AND
SUPPORTING OPINIONS
The Assyrians relied almost
exclusively on military power in
building, maintaining, and ruling
their empire. Explain whether you
think this was a good strategy.
THINK ABOUT
the causes of Assyrian
military power
the stability of the empire
the methods that empires use
to become stronger
4. THEME ACTIVITY
Science and Technology
Work with a partner to draw
a mural highlighting how
developments in technology
inuenced the rise and decline
of the Assyrian Empire.
1. TERMS & NAMES
Identify
Assyria
Sennacherib
Nineveh
Ashurbanipal
Medes
Chaldeans
Nebuchadnezzar
Section Assessment 2
Assyrian
Military
Power
Causes of
Declining
Power
1.
2.
3.
Causes of
Increasing
Power
1.
2.
3.
First Age of Empires 91
THINK THROUGH HISTORY
D. Clarifying What
was Nahums opinion
about the collapse of
the Assyrian Empire?
D. Possible Answer
This cruel empire
would have no
mourners; it would
be dispersed and no
one would care.
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