Ancient Assyria: Social Structure & Political Organization

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  • 0:03 Assyria
  • 1:06 Centralized Government
  • 2:50 The Military
  • 3:49 Social Structure
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the political organization and social structures that helped make the Assyrian Empire one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.


After years of being controlled by Babylonia, a warlike people called the Assyrians took control of the northern area of Mesopotamia. During their reign, they became known for their centralized government rule and feared for their military strength.

The kings of Assyria were responsible for the day-to-day operations of the kingdom and waging war to expand their empire. For centuries, the emperors conquered land and expanded Assyrian power until their control reached from the Zagros Mountains in the East to Egypt in the West. The empire was connected by a network of roads, known as the King's Road, which aided in the speed of messengers and the army.

To prevent possible uprisings by conquered groups, Assyria practiced a policy of deportation. The deportees were chosen for their talents and sent out to the areas where their skills were best suited. Often, those chosen were the specialists and scholars who were used as experts to design and build magnificent buildings. For those who resisted Assyrian rule, they were often killed or sold into slavery.

Centralized Government

At first, the rulers of Assyria allowed the hereditary kings of each conquered land to still rule but forced them to pay tributes to Assyria and to supplement their military force. Soon, however, this system was replaced with a more centralized bureaucratic rule made up of governors and civil servants.

The empire was divided into provinces, and each had a governor chosen by the king. Choosing the governors by merit instead of birthright ensured their loyalty to the king. The governors had full political control at the local level.

The king and his high ranking officials had scribes who acted as their scholars and advisers and were responsible for all correspondence and for documenting all work. The palace scribe was considered the most trusted official to the king and was in control of all state records.

Other civil positions held in the Assyrian bureaucracy included a treasurer to control the finances and delegates that controlled foreign diplomacy. Because of the empire's strength, even those who were independent still concerned themselves with the wishes of Assyria. The delegates acted as advisers to the rulers of these allied peoples.

Most high officials had a deputy, or second in command, including the king. His chief deputy served as the commander-in-chief of the military. The empire was built around a standing regular army, which made the Assyrian Empire the first true military society.

In all, nearly 120 civil servants helped the king control the massive empire. To ensure that his civil servants' authority was respected, a seal was used. If someone had this seal, then he was working on behalf of the king and his commands were to be followed. The seal was also used on official correspondence to ensure its instructions were carried out.

The Military

The commander-in-chief of the military was officially called a tartan, and there were two in the Assyrian Empire. The tartan imni was the 'tartan of the right, ' and the tartan shumeli was the 'tartan of the left.' Their titles reflected which region of the empire they served.

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