Iron Age Empires: Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian and Persian Empires

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Ancient Persian Art and Architecture: History & Style

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Iron Age Empires
  • 1:18 Neo-Assyrians
  • 6:37 Neo-Babylonians
  • 8:12 Persian (Archaemenid) Empire
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Max Pfingsten

Max has an MA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Behavioral Genetics, a Master of Education, and a BA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Evolutionary Psychology.

This lesson is a survey of the three empires that emerged after the Bronze Age collapse. Parts of the survey are viewed from the perspective of the Israelites, who found themselves the playthings of powerful empires. The lecture focuses on a few specific rulers and their impact on their empires. It also traces patterns of imperial tactics throughout this period and region.

Iron Age Empires

Following the Bronze Age collapse, the ancient world was in constant turmoil for nearly four centuries. Amid this chaos, kingdoms quickly rose and fell.

Perhaps the most famous of these short-lived kingdoms was the Kingdom of Israel. United under a single monarch, King Saul, the Israelites slowly conquered their neighboring Canaanites, Hittites and Philistines. By 1004 BCE, Saul's successor, King David, had carved out the borders of the kingdom of Israel and established Jerusalem as its capital. David's son, King Solomon the Wise, built an amazing temple to hold the Ark of the Covenant. After centuries of wandering, the Ark finally had a home.

Yet stability would prove short-lived. Around 950 BCE, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel rebelled against their extravagant kings, breaking the kingdom in two. To the north, the ten tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel, while to the south, Solomon's dynasty continued to rule the Kingdom of Judah. This division could not have come at a worse time, for it left the Israelites vulnerable to the new empires emerging to the east.


Around 935 BCE, the ancient civilization of Assyria had begun to stir once more. Due to its distance from the main centers of invasion and its own military might, Assyria had weathered the Bronze Age collapse better than most. In the interim, they had mastered the art of iron working. Iron tools enabled an explosion of building, in which the Assyrians made use of their ample supply of stone and began to establish their own artistic style. They continued to build ziggurats and to plan their cities along much the same lines as the Sumerians, with gardens and zoos, palaces and temples, and walls, of course. But stone allowed the Assyrians to build larger, more enduring structures, and their choice in decor was distinctly Assyrian.

Tiglath-Pileser III worked to reunite and expand the Assyrian Empire
Tiglath Pieser III

Yet the Assyrians were not as interested in architecture as they were in conquest. Their mastery of iron made Assyrian soldiers some of the most dangerous in the world. They had also begun the full-scale construction of siege equipment, which allowed their tide of conquest to flow quickly, without getting held up at fortified cities. Perhaps the most ruthless aspect of Assyrian conquest was their system of deportation. Under Assyrian rule, conquered peoples were forcibly relocated from their lands to other parts of the empire, while Assyrian colonists settled the newly conquered territory. By breaking people from their lands, the Assyrians smashed resistance before it could start and sought to assimilate the new peoples into their empires.

Within a century, the Assyrians had conquered most of the Fertile Crescent, and had begun to push against the Levant. Through alliance with their neighbors, the Israelites fought off the invading Assyrians for a while, but the closest they ever came to victory was a stalemate at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BCE.

Emboldened by instability in the Assyrian homeland, the Israelites spent the next century trying to throw off their Assyrian overlords, until 744 BCE, when Assyria finally found a leader to match their imperial ambitions. His name was Tiglath-Pileser III. Tiglath staged a military coup, reunited the Assyrian empire and recovered the lost territories. He reorganized these territories into imperial provinces which paid a set tribute and provided soldiers in war time. Well-organized and rich with tribute, Tiglath organized his soldiers into the world's first proper standing army and began a war of expansion.

The kingdom of Israel managed to hold off the Assyrian expansion until in 738 BCE, the King of Judah betrayed the Kingdom of Israel, allying his kingdom with the conquerors. With Judah's help, Tiglath wiped the Kingdom of Israel off the map, expelling its inhabitants from the land and spreading them within the empire. However, with the aid of allies as far flung as Egypt, the Israelites continued to resist Assyrian rule and refused to pay tribute.

Infuriated by this perpetual insurrection, Tiglath's successors would continue the practice of displacing the rebellious Israelites. His son Shalmanaser seems to have done little else in his three-year reign. He died besieging the Israelite capital of Samaria. His top general Sargon seized power and established himself by completely destroying Israel. Within 20 years, ten tribes of Israel were lost forever. Only the two tribes of the Kingdom of Judah remained. We call this mass displacement the First Israelite Diaspora and the ten tribes the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Map of the New-Babylonian Empire
Neo Babylonian Empire Map

With the Israelites finally quelled, Sargon turned east to smash the Elamites and bring the Babylonians back into the Assyrian empire. At home, he built a new capital at Dur Sharrukin, near the ancient city of Nineveh. His successors would do much the same, spending half their lives conquering and the other half erecting temples and palaces to commemorate their conquests.

The Sargonid dynasty would rule the Assyrian empire until its fall nearly a century later. Each successive generation added new lands to the empire, even conquering Egypt in 675 BCE. At its height, the Assyrian Empire spanned two continents and covered about 550,000 square miles.

Assyrian rule was incredibly savage. Assyrian Kings boast of their vicious cruelty in inscriptions and even commemorated some of their more vicious exploits in engravings. Though this excessive cruelty served the Assyrians well as they grew their empire, these same shock-and-awe tactics would bring about the downfall of the Assyrians. When the Babylonians decided to throw off Assyrian rule, they found ready allies throughout the empire. Medes, Scythians, Cimmerians and Judeans all rose up. The only land that remained faithful to Assyria was Egypt, at the other extreme of the empire. Between the two, lands broke into rebellion, until at last a combined force sacked the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BCE.


One thousand years after Hammurabi built the first Babylonian empire, Babylon had not forgotten its former primacy in all that time. Throughout Assyrian reign, Babylon was always the first to rebel - the first to take advantage of every weakness. Now, with the Assyrians out of the picture, Babylon attempted to reclaim its former glory. At the head of this expansion was the ambitious king Nebuchadnezzar II. Nebuchadnezzar conquered much of the previous Assyrian Empire, though he didn't make it all the way to Egypt.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account