Daily Life in Ancient Assyria

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.

What was it like to be an ancient Assyrian? In this lesson, learn about the daily lives of ancient Assyrians, including their housing, food, work, and play.

Life as an Ancient Assyrian

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in one of the largest kingdoms of ancient Mesopotamia? The ancient Assyrian kingdom was one of the largest and most influential nations of its day. Because of the advent of writing and records in ancient Assyria, as well as modern-day archaeology, we actually know a lot about what everyday life was like in ancient Assyria, from how people lived and what they ate to where they worked.

Off to Work

Ancient Assyrians had a variety of occupations, but only certain classes could have certain positions. The roles of king and priests were unattainable except to a select few. Members of the upper class were able to have many different well-paying and respected jobs, like being a merchant, who owned a store or business, or a scribe, who assisted in the court and temples as well as taught writing to students.

Citizens in the lower class had more options for occupations, but less respect and pay and more labor. They had positions that kept the society running smoothly, like shop and tavern workers, who would be employed by the merchants or tavern owners; farmers; construction workers, who built houses and canals, among other things; and artisans, who did leather and jewelry working. While men held most of these positions, regardless of class, women could actually hold some of these jobs as well.

Time to Eat

The ancient Assyrians may not have had the wide array of food we have available today, but they had a decent variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, and other foods. One of their most important supplies was the grain barley, so it is not surprising that the Assyrians were some of the first to make and drink beer. In addition to barley, the Assyrians also grew tree fruits like dates, apples, and plums, and vegetables like carrots, lettuce, and beets. For protein, they relied on fish and wild game obtained through hunting, as well as livestock they raised - typically goats and pigs.

Life at Home

The homes of the ancient Assyrians also varied by social class. The royals would, of course, have the best houses, which were usually made of clay or mud bricks that were baked in a furnace. The firing process took time and money, but allowed the bricks to stand up to the elements better. The upper class also had homes made of bricks, but theirs were typically sun-dried, which meant they didn't stand up to the elements as well as oven-baked bricks.

The lower class - which was probably the majority of the nation - lived in houses made from reeds, which are tall, fibrous plants that grow in marshes. These types of houses were relatively cheap and easy to build, but would not be ideal for standing up to the elements.

The amount and luxury of the furnishings of the houses was also reliant upon class. All homes had furniture for basic needs: beds, tables, chairs, and lights. While the upper class had bed frames, mattresses, and sheets, the lower class had reed mats that were laid directly on the floor. Tables and chairs were relatively the same among classes, although the upper class added arms to chairs and tablecloths to tables. Lighting was provided by small lamps that were fueled by sesame oil.

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