Assyrian Empire: Military Strength, Feats & Decline

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  • 0:02 Rise of the Assyrians
  • 2:38 Achievements
  • 4:01 Downfall
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Assyrians rightfully earned their reputation as ferocious in battle, but their success was possible only because of their developments in warfare. Also, the Assyrians helped to create cultural change in Mesopotamia that is still felt today.

Rise of the Assyrians

The Assyrians first became known to history once they managed to rid themselves of the rule of the nearby Sumerians and from that time strived to establish themselves as a major player in Mesopotamian politics. Assyrian history can largely be divided into three periods: the Kingdom, the Imperial Period, and the Neo-Assyrian Period. For the purposes of this lesson, we will stick to describing wider attributes that could apply to all three, unless otherwise mentioned.

The first Assyrians were from the city of Ashur, which was ruled by both the Akkadian and the Neo-Sumerian Empires. In ridding themselves of their overlords, the Assyrians adopted a system of government in which a king shared power with a council of elders as well as a randomly selected prime minister. The king's power to control the military gave him considerable power, and it was the military of Assyria that won them both their empire and a legacy.

However, the greatest inspiration to Assyrian would-be conquerors was not an Assyrian king, but was instead one who had once ruled Assyria as a foreign leader, named Sargon of Akkad. Sargon established one of the first professional armies in history, and it was upon this history that the Assyrians sought to build their name.

With such an impressive reputation to surpass, the Assyrians wasted little time in building their own military. The Assyrians would be most remembered for their use of chariots in warfare. Earlier cultures had used chariots largely as mobile platforms from which to throw javelins or shoot arrows. The Assyrians transformed them into the equivalent of today's heavy tanks, designed to punch through an enemy's lines, carrying heavily armored men with spears and swords. The resulting holes in an enemy's lines could then be overrun with Assyrian infantry.

However, chariots did little good against city walls. Instead, the Assyrians invented the battering ram, which allowed soldiers to directly attack an enemy's walls and gates rather than having to find a way to climb over them. Additionally, the Assyrians pioneered the idea of mining, digging a big underground cave under an enemy's wall and then setting fire to the supports, causing the cave to collapse and the wall to fall.

Achievements of the Assyrian Empire

That said, the Assyrians were not all war and no substance. If your settlement managed to survive the onslaught of the Assyrians, chances are you would find a real increase in quality of life. Trade would boom, as the Assyrians had a shockingly efficient civil administration that limited barriers to commerce. Additionally, astronomical events were predicted with shocking clarity. However, it wasn't just far away events that Assyrian scientists were busy studying. In fact, there is some evidence that Assyrians built the world's first magnifying glasses to help jewelers build more intricate pieces.

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