Assyrian Empire: Wars, Expansion & Foreign Relations

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

The Assyrian civilization existed from circa 3000 BC and extended in some form until the late 600s BC. While the empire was marked with violence and difficulty on many fronts, a great deal of artistic, cultural, and political development also took place during its existence.

Inside the Assyrian Empire

At the height of its power, the Assyrian Empire reached from modern day Iraq, west to modern day Turkey, and south into modern day Egypt. That's an area that would encompass all the way from Virginia in the United States to the southern tip of Florida! Throughout its storied history, the Assyrian Empire has seen bloody wars that led to expansion into several highly contested areas of the Middle East and North Africa. While foreign relations in the Assyrian Empire were not always seen as just, the shrewd political and social maneuvers used to accomplish the empire's ends are still cited in social and political studies into the modern era. In this lesson, we will analyze these various areas of Assyrian Imperial movement and see how ruthless and powerful this empire really was.

The Assyrian Empire covered vast tracts of highly contested Middle Eastern trade routes and resources.
Map of Assyria

Assyrian Wars

Wars in the Middle East aren't at all like what we see today. Precision bombing and laws like the Geneva Conventions were not considerations at all in most cultures, leaving the warfighters to battle it out street fighter style: no holds barred. Basically all battles were of attrition, or to the last man, and ended when one side saw that it could no longer defend its borders or people. Swords and spears punctured and dismembered human bodies allowing gallons of blood to be emptied onto the landscape, leaving literal ponds and rivers of blood.

In the midst of all this brutality there was only one truth: the warriors who won the day would take all the spoils! The Assyrian Army was one of the most efficient of ancient history, taking and holding huge areas throughout the Middle East until Alexander the Great came along and ended their reign. The most cited phrase of Assyrian kings was I destroyed, devastated, and burned with fire! The truth of this phrase can be seen again and again in the historical record.

The Assyrian army arose as a formidable regional force under the reign of Shamashi-Adad (1813-1791 BC) and continued to grow, eventually taking on the policy of mass deportations of their enemies following extensive military campaigns. People were usually sorted by their talents and sent to places within the Empire where their particular knowledge, skill, or ability was most needed. For instance, a great stone mason would likely be sent to Ninevah or another great city in the Empire to ply his skills in the construction of great palaces and temples. His family would also be sent with him, another policy that ensured more peaceful and dedicated workers. These practices were continued until the fall of the Assyrian war machine and Empire in 621 BC.

A relief depicting the destruction of Susa. Notice the deportation of the citizens in the bottom right of the relief.
Assyrian Warfare

Assyrian Expansion

The growth of the Assyrian Empire coincided with its military might, branching into even the most contested areas of the known world including Babylon in modern day Iraq and the Egyptian Empire. The initial expansion took place early in the Empire's history with movements into several areas of the Middle East. However, borders moved regularly as other regional powers made way into Assyrian territories.

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