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.
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.
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.
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.
The most significant period of expansion was during the reigns of Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon during the 9th through the 7th centuries BC. This is considered the height of expansion as the Assyrian Empire's borders swelled, reaching from the Persian Gulf and swept through modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. This wasn't only a time of property growth, but enormous and beautiful construction projects were also undertaken, adding to the majesty and power of the empire. However, the most well-known attribute of Assyrian expansion was its war machine and the abject cruelty and terror with which it was wielded. Nations were literally burnt to the ground. Entire cultures were uprooted, displaced, and absorbed into Assyrian society, never to be rebuilt. This is in stark contrast to the Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires which not only allowed their captives to retain their culture and religion, but even allowed them to return and rebuild their culture in their original homelands as tributaries to the Empire. No such benefit was afforded by Assyria.
Assyrian Foreign Relations
Foreign relations in the Assyrian Empire were fairly standard for the culture of that time. As the nations around them, they practiced common political unions and coercion such as royal weddings and ransom.
Imagine you're one of the 23 daughters of Sargon II, King of Assyria and you're suddenly told that you are going to be married to an Anatolian prince named Ambaris. You've never met Ambaris, but you must leave your home and go live in his land and home in a culture and religion unfamiliar to you. Then, to make matters worse, your husband turns on your father and rebels. But, Ambaris doesn't win. In fact, he loses his kingdom and freedom and you are deported back home in shame after years of learning to live in and rule a new land. This is the true story of Ahat-abiša, a daughter of Sargon II. These kinds of marriages of convenience and alliance were common in ancient political diplomacy. Unfortunately, they often failed and led to war, deportation, and slavery of a culture.
War, expansion, and foreign relations in the ancient Assyrian Empire were irrevocably linked. War was prosecuted to bring about expansion and expansion was linked to foreign relations through the joining of kingdoms though marriage which often led to war. This cycle of violence, intrigue, and betrayal was a consistent mark in the warrior empire of Assyria, bringing fame, fortune, and fear throughout. In the midst of the war and expansion, alliances were made and broken and entire cultures were absorbed and coerced into using their talents in the further expansion of the Empire. Eventually, the Assyrian Empire fell under its own weight and practices as the Grecian expansion of Alexander the Great moved into and overtook the known world.
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