Ancient Assyria: Crafts, Industry & Technology

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

The ancient Assyrians focused heavily on warfare and defense in everything they did, from weaponry to architecture and even artwork. Learn more about this and their innovative technology from this lesson.

The Ancient Assyrians

Babylon was one of the centers of the ancient world, from the time the Babylonians conquered an extensive amount of the Ancient Near East. However, the neighboring empire of Assyria became a major power in Mesopotamia, eventually overthrowing Babylon because of the Assyrians' expertise and innovation in warfare. The Assyrians started out as a nomadic people, traveling from place to place without a permanent settlement, until they overtook Babylon. Their innovation and technology in weaponry and warfare, architecture, and agriculture helped them become and remain a major Mesopotamian power for several centuries.

Assyrian Architecture

Major architectural works in ancient Assyria did not deviate much from the Babylonians. The Assyrians built their temples and palaces primarily from stone and typically in a ziggurat, or platform structure. Unlike the Babylonians, however, the Assyrians' homes were built mostly from stone rather than clay or mudbrick. Homes were rectangular, with beams on top to support an earthen roof. This structure and the lack of openings besides a door made the homes great for defense - necessary for such a warring people.

Crafts and Art of Assyria

While the Assyrians were focused on warfare, they also made artwork as well, though the artwork mostly depicted warfare and soldiers. They primarily painted these scenes on ceramics, vases, and other wares made from clay. Stone was not used for sculptures often, but was frequently used for reliefs of various scenes - again, mostly of war - where images were carved into slabs. Some of the most intricate artwork of Assyria are the Nimrud ivories. Named for the city of Nimrud, these pieces had carvings on ivory or bone that were usually inlaid in a small wooden frame or box.

Winged sphinx from the Nimrud ivories
Winged sphinx from the Nimrud ivories

Agricultural Technology

The Assyrians were quite innovative when it came to agriculture, which was necessary since they lived in an area where it was either extremely dry or flooded most of the time. To make up for this, they built extensive canal systems out of mud. The canals would collect the rainwater, helping to prevent flooding in rainy seasons. In dry seasons, the farmers could release the stored water onto fields by digging into them. This was carried out by flood defense walls, which were used along the edges of the canals to guide the water to where it was needed. Because of the importance of agriculture to the society, canals were built along the edges of all farms and were well kept. Water systems were built to supply water to cities by building slopes to conduct water from the hills to the plains.

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