History Podcasts

Assyrian Daily Life - History

Assyrian Daily Life - History

Daily life in the assyrian empire

The Assyrians were a mixed group of Semitic peoples, using one language and with a capital in Nineveh. The largely rural population were mostly farmers. Their agricultural success was such that there was no need for large-scale irrigation to maintain farming.

Church of God News

Assyrian Relief from Nineveh, 645-635 B.C.

Where do the Germanic peoples come from? The male ancestors of all those currently on planet earth are listed in Genesis chapter 10.

In that portion of the Bible we see that one of the sons of Shem and grandson of Noah was named Assur/Ashur/Asshur:

1 Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood󈻭 And children were born also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder. 22 The sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. (Genesis 10:1,21-22, NKJV).

Throughout the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) there are various mentions of a people called the Assyrians (e.g. 2 Kings 19:35 Isaiah 37:36). The old area of Assyria is first listed in scripture in Genesis 2:14 and apparently was near where Eden was:

10 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. 11 The name of the first is Pishon it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Hiddekel it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14)

The first century Jewish historian Josephus tied this son Asshur/Ashur in with Assyria as did the late fourth/early fifth century Catholic doctor and saint Augustine:

Shem, the third son of Noah, had five sons, who inhabited the land that began at the Euphrates, and reached to the Indian Ocean. Elam left behind him the Elamites, the ancestors of the Persians. Ashur lived in Ninevah and named his descendants Assyrians, who became the most fortunate nation, beyond others. (Josephus. Josephus Complete Works. Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Chapter VI, Verse 4. Translated by William Whiston in 1867. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 1960, p. 31)

Assur, father of the Assyrian…Of these nations the names have partly survived, so that at this day we can see from whom they have sprung, as the Assyrians from Assur…(Augustine. The City of God (Book XVI). Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series , Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. ( Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887. ) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120116.htm> )

So, the term Assyria has long been considered to be a derivative term for descendant of Assur/Ashur/Asshur, grandson of Noah. Some Assyrian kings were named a version of Ashur (Rines GE. The Encyclopedia Americana: a library of universal knowledge, Volume 2. Encyclopedia Americana Corp., 1918 Original from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Digitized Nov 9, 2007, pp. 428-439).

The Catholic saint Jerome (late fourth/early fifth century) seems to have indicated that the descendants of the biblical Asshur (Genesis 10:22) which seems to be Assyria (Radmacher Concordance in. Nelson Study Bible, p. 11), ended up in parts of Europe, like Germany:

He that lets is taken out of the way, and yet we do not realize that Antichrist is near. Yes, Antichrist is near…The whole country between the Alps and the Pyrenees, between the Rhine and the Ocean, has been laid waste by hordes of Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians, Allemanni and— alas! For the commonweal!— even Pannonians. For Assur also is joined with them. The once noble city of Moguntiacum has been captured and destroyed. In its church many thousands have been massacred. The people of Vangium after standing a long siege have been extirpated. The powerful city of Rheims, the Ambiani, the Altrebatæ, the Belgians on the skirts of the world, Tournay, Spires, and Strasburg have fallen to Germany: while the provinces of Aquitaine and of the Nine Nations, of Lyons and of Narbonne are with the exception of a few cities one universal scene of desolation. (Jerome. Letter CXXIII to Ageruchia, Chapter 16. Translated by W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001123.htm>).

The late scholar and evangelist Dr. Herman Hoeh wrote the following:

Ninus (his Bible name was Nimrod), according to Genesis 10, led the ancient Assyrians from Babylon and supervised their building of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria. (In 1957 Dr. C. Paul Meredith and I viewed in Iraq, the ancient Mesopotamia, the very cities originally settled with the Assyrians by Nimrod.) From there the Assyrians began their conquest of the ancient world. They, too, called themselves “the Master Race.” But why do the German records speak of the son of an ASSYRIAN King as the builder of their first city? What connection have the German tribes WITH THE ASSYRIANS of history?

Jerome, who lived at the time when the Indo-Germanic tribes were invading Europe, gives the answer: “For ‘Assur (the Assyrian) also is joined with them'”! (Letter 123, § 16, quoted from Psalm 83:8 from “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers”.)

Did the Assyrians Invade Europe?

Yes! Jerome said so! But how did he know?

He saw them! He was an EYEWITNESS to their migrations from Mesopotamia and the shores of the Black and Caspian seas!

Only 300 years before Jerome, the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder declared the “Assyriani” — the Assyrians — were dwelling north of the Black Sea (“Natural History”, IV, § 12, page 183). But the Assyrians did not remain there! They are not there today! Of course not — they migrated into Central Europe — where the Germans live today! (Hoeh H. Germany in Prophecy! – Part 1. Plain Truth, December 1962)

Various other scholars have noted similarities between ancient Assyria and modern Germany:

Assyria is interesting on account of the close parallel between her methods and morals and those of modern Germany. In politics, Germany has been an imitator of Assyria. (Vestal SC. The maintenance of peace, or, The foundations of domestic and international peace as deduced from a study of the history of nations. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920 Original from Harvard University Digitized Dec 15, 2008, p. 118)

Similarities between Assyria and Germany have been noted by several (Oswalt JN, Oswalt J. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986, p. 226)

There is a relatively new report that concluded that certain modern ancestors of the Germans came from the Near East:

A study of remains from Central Europe suggests the foundations of the modern gene pool were laid down between 4,000 and 2,000 BC – in Neolithic times…a wave of migration by Near Eastern farmers some 6,000 years ago. (in the early Neolithic)

But the extent to which present-day people are descended from the indigenous hunters versus the newcomers that arrived in the Neolithic has been a matter of some debate…

Haplogroup H dominates mtDNA variation in Europe. Today, more than 40% of Europeans belong to this genetic “clan”, with frequencies much higher in the west of the continent than in the east.

The team selected 39 human remains from the Mitelelbe Saale region of Germany, all of whom belonged to the “H” clan…The remains investigated here span 3,500 years of European prehistory, from the Early Neolithic to the Bronze Age…

And only about 19% of the Early Neolithic remains from Central Europe belonged to this genetic clan.

But, from the Middle Neolithic onwards, DNA patterns more closely resembled those of people living in the area today, pointing to a major – and previously unrecognised – population upheaval around 4,000 BC…

“We have established that the genetic foundations for modern Europe were only established in the Mid-Neolithic, after this major genetic transition around 4000 years ago,” said co-author Dr Wolfgang Haak. (Ricon P. Making of Europe unlocked by DNA. BBC, April 23, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22252099)

People coming from the Near East is consistent with Assyrian migrations from that area. And there are also various facts and legends.

A while back, World News Daily reported the following:

…Babylonian artifacts. Ancient tablets describe “Alla” as a deity of “violence and revolution.”… The…find…links the name to the Epic of Atrahasis, chiseled on tablets sometime around 1700 B.C. in Babylon…“The beginning of the Epic of Atrahasis describes Allah as how all of the gods labored endlessly in grueling work, under the rule of the patron deity Enlil or Elil. But soon revolt of the gods had erupted, and one deity of ‘violence and revolution’ [was] named Allah (spelled by the experts as Alla),” he wrote….“The question remains as to why no expert on Assyriology or Sumerology had even suspected that ‘Alla’ had a connection with the Arabian ‘Allah,’” he wrote. http://www.wnd.com/2012/09/1700-b-c-alla-god-of-violence-and-revolution/

While the above article attempts to connect that to modern Islam, various scholars likely have their doubts. But there is no doubt that the names Alla and Allah certainly seem similar. Whether or not Islam is tied to ancient Assyrian deities, Islam is not a religion of peace as some claim, but often a religion that promotes war (see also Differences Between Islam and the Continuing Church of God).

But could there be any Germanic ties?

Well clearly this research shows a connection between the ancient Assyrians and a warring deity.

Other sources have demonstrated that the ancient Assyrians used the term Alla for some of their deities:

Al-sarru, if Al had been an Assyrian god. We may set down Alman as a possible reading, or even Alnis, but there seems no meaning to either. Now we have a similar name Alla-MAN, this can hardly be phonetic. I venture therefore to read Alla-sarru and Al-sarru, ‘Alla is king.’ As MAN means king…Mannu-ki-Alla shows the same divine name. (Johns CHW. An Assyrian doomsday book, or, Liber censualis of the district round Harran in the seventh century B.C.: copied from the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum, Volume 17 of Assyriologische Bibliothek. J. C. Hinrichs, 1901. Original from Princeton University, Digitized May 28, 2009, p. 15)

They also had other warring deities.

Here are two other references:

ON THE ORIGINAL ASSYRIA. WE proceed to consider the character of another country, noticed as marking… by the Hebrews and Chaldeans, was either Syr, Shur, or Tyr so that the compound word might be Ai-syria, or Ai-shyria…which is here rendered Assyria. (Clamet A, Taylor Calmet’s dictionary of the Holy Bible: with the Biblical fragments, Volume 4, 5th edition. Holdsworth and Ball, 1830. Original from the New York Public Library, Digitized Oct 20, 2010, p. 60)

Men prayed to Tyr…In some places he was called Tiwaz and was associated with the Roman God, Mars, the Celtic God, Nadu, as well as the Indian God, Mitra…Tyr was the original God of war, and the precursor of Odin…The name Tiwaz is also related to the Roman God Jupiter, and the Greek God, Zeus. All three names are descended from Dyaus Piter or Father Dyaus, and are all descended from the name Dieus…

A helmet was found in Negau in Austria which bears an inscription…translated as Teiwa, which is an archaic form of Tyr’s name…Tyr was worshipped…in Bavaria (Blumetti R. The Book of Balder Rising. iUniverse, 2004, pp. 142, 143).

Tyr, Mars, etc. were gods of war. And Tyr was worshiped in Bavaria (essentially southern Germany).

Ishtar was a favorite goddess of the Assyrian kings, who styled her as “their lady,” and sometimes coupled her with Asshur, “the Great Lord,” in their invocations. Ishtar had a very old temple at Asshur, the primitive Assyrian capital, and this temple, Tiglath-Pileser I, repaired and beautified. (Clare IS. Ancient oriental nations, Volume 1 of The Unrivaled History of the World: Containing a Full and Complete Record of the Human Race from the Earliest Historical Period to the Present Time, Embracing a General Survey of the Progress of Mankind in National and Social Life, Civil Government, Religion, Literature, Science and Art. Unrivaled Publishing Co., 1889. Original from Indiana University, Digitized Feb 3, 2010p. 225).

Ishtar, also known as Easter/Oster/Ostern (the Germanic goddess of Springtime), long influenced the Assyrians and as well the modern Germans. Ishtar was the goddess of fertility and war. Ishtar also has ties to the ancient Babylonian mystery religion and Nimrod. She was also called Beltis. Beltis was the wife of Bel-Nimrod. She was called “the Queen of Fertility” and also known as “the Great Mother” (similar to how some revere Mary, the mother of Jesus today) and essentially was also Ishtar in the Assyrian triad (Clare, pp. 222-223).

Bel, or Bel-Nimrod, according to the testimony of the Assyrian monuments, was worshiped as extensively in Assyria as in Chaldaea, and Babylonia. (Clare, p. 222)

What is the possible relevance of any of this?

The tying together of violent deities from Babylon to Assyria in the past suggests a possible connection in the future.

The Bible tells of a time where a leader with Assyrian ties (Isaiah 10:5-7) will rise up and destroy not a few nations. This leader is also the one called the King of the North. This final such leader will, according to the Bible, honor a violent god and he also will destroy many:

38 But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things. 39 Thus he shall act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory and he shall cause them to rule over many, and divide the land for gain. 40 “At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. 41 He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown…(Daniel 11:38-41)

What’s the Alla, Tyr, and Ishtar connection?

Precisely the distinguishing in Daniel 11:38 between the “god of fortresses” and “a god his fathers did not know.” The implication, to me at least, is that the “god of fortresses” is related to a “god” of violence that his fathers did know, like Alla, Tyr, and Ishtar.

And while there will also be a new “god” that the King of the North will honor, there will be some difference between his empire (Daniel 2:41-43) and the Babylonian one (Daniel 2:24, 36-37). It may be important to realize that the empire of this final King of the North is also called the “daughter Babylon” in scripture (Jeremiah 50:41-43), thus it must be somehow different, but with some Babylonian connections.

So, this information about the Babylonian warring connection of ancient deities tied in with biblical prophecy shows an additional apparent connection between ancient Babylon and the coming King of the North power.

It should be understood that although the coming King of the North will likely claim to be some type of Christian, the reality is that the historical record shows that the early professors of Christ would not participate in carnal warfare. It is only those whose faiths have stronger ties to warring deities than the true Christian God that do that.

For details on those and other prophecies, check out the following:

Differences Between Islam and the Continuing Church of God What are some of the main differences? Are there any similarities? A video of related interest is titled: Islam: Any Christian Concerns or Similarities?
Germany’s Assyrian Roots Throughout History Are the Germanic peoples descended from Asshur of the Bible? Have there been real Christians in Germanic history? What about the “Holy Roman Empire”? There is also a You-Tube video sermon on this titled Germany’s Biblical Origins.
Germany in Biblical and Catholic Prophecy Does Assyria in the Bible equate to an end time power inhabiting the area of the old Roman Empire? What does prophecy say Germany will do and what does it say will happen to most of the German people? Here are links to two English language sermon videos Germany in Bible Prophecy and The Rise of the Germanic Beast Power of Prophecy. Here is a link to a video Is the USA Pushing Germany to Start WWIII?
Who is the King of the North? Is there one? Do biblical and Roman Catholic prophecies for the Great Monarch point to the same leader? Should he be followed? Who will be the King of the North discussed in Daniel 11? Is a nuclear attack prophesied to happen to the English-speaking peoples of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand? When do the 1335 days, 1290 days, and 1260 days (the time, times, and half a time) of Daniel 12 begin? When does the Bible show that economic collapse will affect the United States? In the Spanish language check out ¿Quién es el Rey del Norte? Here is a link to a video titled: The Future King of the North.
Europa, the Beast, and Revelation Where did Europe get its name? What might Europe have to do with the Book of Revelation? What about “the Beast”? Is an emerging European power “the daughter of Babylon”? What is ahead for Europe? Here is a link to a video titled: Can You Prove that the Beast to Come is European?
European Technology and the Beast of Revelation Will the coming European Beast power would use and develop technology that will result in the taking over of the USA and its Anglo-Saxon allies? Is this possible? What does the Bible teach? Here is a related YouTube video: Military Technology and the Beast of Revelation.
Must the Ten Kings of Revelation 17:12 Rule over Ten Currently Existing Nations? Some claim that these passages refer to a gathering of 10 currently existing nations together, while one group teaches that this is referring to 11 nations getting together. Is that what Revelation 17:12-13 refers to? The ramifications of misunderstanding this are enormous. A related sermon is titled Ten Kings of Revelation and the Great Tribulation.
Might German Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg become the King of the North? Is the former German Defense Minister (who is also the former German Minister for Economics and Technology) one to watch? What do Catholic, Byzantine, and biblical prophecies suggest? A video of related interest would be: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Europe’s Future.
Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare or Encourage Violence? Here are current and historical perspectives on a matter which show the beliefs of the true church on military participation. Is war proper for Christians? A related sermon would be: Christians, Violence, and Military Service .

The Origin of Assyrians

The story of the Assyrian people originates with the emergence of Akkadian speaking peoples in Mesopotamia sometime between 3500 and 3000 BC. This then led to the development of Assyria in the 25th century BC.

During the early bronze age era, Sargon of Akkad joined all the native Semitic-speakers and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, including the Assyrians, under the Akkadian Empire from 2335–2154 BC. Assyria was for most of this time a strong and relatively advanced nation and a primary center of the Mesopotamian civilization and religion.


Bynum, Joyce (1991). "Oral History and Modern Identity: A Case Study." Et Cetera 48:220-227.

Grimes, Barbara F., ed. (1988). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 406, 411, 418-419. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Ishaya, Arian, and Eden Naby (1980). "Assyrians." In Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, edited by Stephan Thernstrom, 160-163. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.

Nisan, Mordechai (1991). Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Severy, Merle (1991). "Iraq: Crucible of Civilization." National Geographic 179(5): 102-115.


Babylonia was founded as an independent state by an Amorite chieftain named Sumu-abum c. 1894 BC. For over a century after its founding, it was a minor and relatively weak state, overshadowed by older and more powerful states such as Isin, Larsa, Assyria and Elam. However, Hammurabi ( r . c. 1792–1750 BC), turned Babylon into a major power and eventually conquered Mesopotamia and beyond, founding the Old or First Babylonian Empire. After the death of Hammurabi, his dynasty lasted for another century and a half, but the Babylonian Empire quickly collapsed, and Babylon once more became a small state. [8] Babylonia fell to the Hittite king Mursili I c. 1595 BC, after which the Kassites took control and ruled for almost five centuries before being deposed by native Babylonian rulers, who continued to rule the Babylonian rump state. [9]

The population of Babylonia in this so-called Post-Kassite or Middle Babylonian period was composed of two main groups the native Babylonians themselves (composed of the descendants of the Sumerians and Akkadians and the assimilated Amorites and Kassites) and recently arrived, unassimilated tribesmen from the Levant (Suteans, Arameans and Chaldeans). By the 8th century, the constituent groups of the native Babylonians, the main population in the large cities, had lost their old identities and had assimilated into a unified "Babylonian" culture. [10] At the same time, the Chaldeans, though retaining their tribal structure and way of life, were becoming more "babylonized", many Chaldeans adopting traditional Babylonian names. These Babylonized Chaldeans became important players in the Babylonian political scene and by 730 BC, all of the major Chaldean tribes had produced at least one Babylonian king. [11]

The 9th to 8th century BC was catastrophic for the independent Babylonian kingdom, with many weak kings either failing to control all the groups composing Babylonia's population, failing to defeat rivals or failing to maintain important trade routes. This collapse eventually resulted in Babylonia's powerful northern neighbor, the Neo-Assyrian Empire (whose people also spoke Akkadian), intervening militarily in 745 BC [12] and incorporating Babylonia into its empire in 729 BC. [13] The Assyrian conquest began a century-long struggle for Babylonian independence against Assyria. Although the Assyrians incorporated the region into their empire and used the title of King of Babylon in addition to the title King of Assyria, Assyrian control of Babylonia wasn't stable or entirely continuous and the century of Assyrian rule included several unsuccessful Babylonian revolts. [14]

Foundation and the fall of Assyria Edit

Early in the reign of the Neo-Assyrian king Sinsharishkun, the southern [d] official or general Nabopolassar used ongoing political instability in Assyria, caused by an earlier brief civil war between Sinsharishkun and the general Sin-shumu-lishir, to revolt. In 626 BC, Nabopolassar assaulted and successfully seized the cities of Babylon and Nippur. [16] Sinsharishkun's response was quick and decisive by October of that same year the Assyrians had recaptured Nippur and besieged Nabopolassar at the city of Uruk. Sinsharishkun failed to capture Babylon and Nabopolassar endured the Assyrian siege of Uruk, repulsing the Assyrian army. [17]

In November of 626 BC, Nabopolassar was formally crowned as King of Babylon, restoring Babylonia as an independent kingdom after more than a century of direct Assyrian rule. [17] With only small successes during campaigns in northern Babylonia from 625 to 623 BC and more southern cities, such as Der, joining Nabopolassar, Sinsharishkun led a massive counterattack in 623 BC. Though this counterattack was initially successful and Sinsharishkun might have been ultimately victorious, he had to abandon the campaign due to a revolt in Assyria threatening his position as king. [18]

The absence of the Assyrian army allowed the Babylonians to conquer the last remaining Assyrian seats of power in Babylonia from 622 BC to 620 BC. [18] Both Uruk and Nippur, the cities who had shifted the most between Assyrian and Babylonian control were firmly in Babylonian hands by 620 BC and Nabopolassar had consolidated his rule over all of Babylonia. [19] Following further Babylonian conquests and further failures by Sinsharishkun to stop Nabopolassar, despite receiving military aid from Egypt, the Assyrian Empire quickly began to fall apart. [20]

In October or November 615 BC, the Medes, also ancient enemies of Assyria, under King Cyaxares entered Assyria and conquered the region around the city of Arrapha. [20] In July or August of 614 BC, the Medes began attacking the cities of Kalhu and Nineveh. They then besieged Assur, the ancient political (and still religious) heart of Assyria. The siege was successful and the city endured a brutal sack. Nabopolassar only arrived at Assur after the plunder had already begun and met with Cyaxares, allying with him and signing an anti-Assyrian pact. [21] In April or May 612 BC, at the start of Nabopolassar's fourteenth year as King of Babylon, the combined Medo-Babylonian army marched on Nineveh. From June to August of that year, they besieged the Assyrian capital and in August the walls were breached, leading to another lengthy and brutal sack during which Sinsharishkun is assumed to have died. [21] Sinsharishkun's successor Ashur-uballit II, the final king of Assyria, was defeated at Harran in 609 BC. [22] Egypt, Assyria's ally, continued the war against Babylon for a few years before being decisively defeated by Nabopolassar's crown prince Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish in 605 BC. [23]

Reign of Nebuchadnezzar II Edit

Nebuchadnezzar II succeeded Nabopolassar in 605 BC following the death of his father. [24] The empire Nebuchadnezzar inherited was among the most powerful in the world and he quickly reinforced his father's alliance with the Medes by marrying Cyaxares's daughter or granddaughter, Amytis. Some sources suggest that the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were built by Nebuchadnezzar for his wife as to remind her of her homeland (though the existence of these gardens is debated). Nebuchadnezzar's 43-year reign would bring with it a golden age for Babylon, which was to become the most powerful kingdom in the Middle East. [25]

Nebuchadnezzar's most famous campaigns today are his wars in the Levant. These campaigns began relatively early in his reign and were chiefly conducted to stabilize his reign and consolidate his empire (most of the newly independent kingdoms and city-states in the Levant previously having been vassals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire). His 587 BC destruction of Jerusalem ended the Kingdom of Judah and scattered its populace, with many of its elite citizens being sent back to Babylon, initiating a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. [25]

In addition to his military exploits, Nebuchadnezzar was also a great builder, famous for his monuments and building works throughout Mesopotamia (such as Babylon's Ishtar Gate and the city's Processional Street). In total, he is known to have completely renovated at least thirteen cities but he spent most of his time and resources on the capital, Babylon. By 600 BC, Babylon was seen by the Babylonians and possibly by their subject peoples as being the literal and figurative center of the world. Nebuchadnezzar widened the city's Processional Street and fitted it with new decorations, making the annual New Year's Festival, celebrated in honor of the city's patron deity Marduk, more spectacular than ever before. [25]

Later history Edit

After the long reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, the empire fell into a period of political turmoil and instability. Nebuchadnezzar's son and successor, Amel-Marduk, reigned for only two years before being assassinated in a coup by the influential courtier Neriglissar. [26] Neriglissar was a simmagir, a governor of one of the eastern provinces, and had been present during several of Nebuchadnezzar's campaigns. Importantly, Neriglissar was also married to one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters and he was as such linked to the royal family. Possibly due to old age, Neriglissar's reign would also be short with some of the few recorded activities being the restoration of some monuments in Babylon and a campaign in Cilicia. Neriglissar died in 556 BC and was succeeded by his underage son, Labashi-Marduk. Labashi-Marduk's reign was even briefer, being assassinated in the same year after reigning for just nine months. [27]

The perpetrators of the assassination, the influential courtier Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, then took power. Despite the turmoil that had surrounded his rise to the throne, the empire itself had remained relatively calm through the difficult period. Nabonidus began his reign with the traditional activities associated with the king renovating buildings and monuments, worshipping the gods and waging war (also campaigning in Cilicia). Nabonidus wasn't of Babylonian ancestry, but rather originated from Harran in former Assyria, one of the main places of worship of the god Sîn (associated with the moon). The new king worked to elevate Sîn's status in the empire, seemingly dedicating more attention to this god than to Babylon's national god Marduk. For this, Nabonidus may have faced opposition from the Babylonian clergy. Nabonidus was also opposed by the clergy when he increased governmental control over the temples in an attempt to solve ongoing management problems with the empire's religious institutions. [27]

Nabonidus left Babylonia to campaign in the Levant and then settled for ten years in Tayma (which he had conquered during the campaign) in northern Arabia. His son Belshazzar was left to govern Babylonia (though with the title crown prince rather than king, a title Nabonidus continued to hold). Why Nabonidus spent a decade away from his capital there is unknown. Nabonidus’ return c. 543 BC was accompanied with a reorganization of his court and the removal of some of its more influential members. [27]

Fall of Babylon Edit

In 549 BC Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid king of Persia, revolted against his suzerain Astyages, king of Media, at Ecbatana. Astyages' army betrayed him and Cyrus established himself as ruler of all the Iranic peoples, as well as the pre-Iranian Elamites and Gutians, ending the Median Empire and establishing the Achaemenid Empire. Ten years after his victory against the Medes, Cyrus invaded Babylon. Nabonidus sent his son Belshazzar to head off the huge Persian army but the Babylonian forces were overwhelmed at the Battle of Opis. On 12 October, after Cyrus' engineers had diverted the waters of the Euphrates, the soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without the need for a battle. Nabonidus surrendered and was deported. Gutian guards were placed at the gates of the great temple of Marduk, where the services continued without interruption. [28]

Cyrus claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancient Babylonian kings and the avenger of Marduk, who Cyrus claimed to be wrathful at the supposed impiety of Nabonidus. Cyrus' conquest was welcomed by the Babylonian populace, though whether it was because he was genuinely seen as a liberator, or out of fear, is unknown. The invasion of Babylonia by Cyrus may have been helped along by the presence of foreign exiles such as the Jews. Accordingly, one of Cyrus' first acts was to allow these exiles to return to their homelands, carrying with them the images of their gods and their sacred vessels. The permission to do so was explicitly written in a proclamation, today called the Cyrus Cylinder, wherein Cyrus also justified his conquest of Babylonia as having been the will of Marduk. [28]

Babylon under foreign rule Edit

The early Achaemenid rulers had great respect for Babylonia, regarding the region as a separate entity or kingdom united with their own kingdom in something akin to a personal union. [29] The region was a major economical asset and provided as much as a third of the entire Achaemenid Empire's tribute. [30] Despite Achaemenid attention and the recognition of the Achaemenid rulers as Kings of Babylon, Babylonia resented the Achaemenids, like the Assyrians had been resented a century prior. At least five rebels proclaimed themselves King of Babylon and revolted during the time of Achaemenid rule in attempts at restoring native rule Nebuchadnezzar III (522 BC), Nebuchadnezzar IV (521–520 BC), Bel-shimanni (484 BC), Shamash-eriba (482–481 BC) and Nidin-Bel (336 BC). [31] [32] [33] The revolt of Shamash-eriba against Xerxes I in particular is suggested by ancient sources to have had dire consequences for the city itself. Though no direct evidence exists [34] , Babylon appears to have been punished severely for the revolt. Its fortifications were destroyed and its temples were damaged as Xerxes ravaged the city. It is possible that the sacred statue of Marduk, which represented the physical manifestation of Babylon's patron deity Marduk, was removed by Xerxes from Babylon's main temple, the Esagila, at this time. Xerxes also divided the previously large Babylonian satrapy (composing virtually all of the Neo-Babylonian Empire's territory) into smaller sub-units. [32]

Babylonian culture endured for centuries under the Achaemenids and survived under the rule of the later Hellenic Macedonian and Seleucid Empires as well, with the rulers of these empires also being listed as Kings of Babylon in Babylonian king lists and civil documents. [35] It was first under the rule of the Parthian Empire that Babylon was gradually abandoned as a major urban center and the old Akkadian culture truly disappeared. In the first century or so of Parthian rule, Babylonian culture was still alive, and there are records of individuals in the city with traditional Babylonian names, such as Bel-aḫḫe-uṣur and Nabu-mušetiq-uddi (mentioned as the receivers of silver in a 127 BC legal document). [36] At this time, there were two major recognized groups living in Babylon: the Babylonians themselves and the Greeks, having settled there during the centuries of Macedonian and Seleucid rule. These groups were governed by separate local (e.g. pertaining to just the city) administrative councils the Babylonian citizens were governed by the šatammu and the kiništu and the Greeks by the epistates. Although no king lists younger than the Seleucid Empire survive, documents from the early years of Parthian rule suggest a continued recognition of at least the early Parthian kings as Kings of Babylon. [37]

Although Akkadian-language legal documents continued in a slightly reduced number through the rule of the Hellenic kings, Akkadian-language legal documents are rare from the period of Parthian rule. The astronomical diaries which had been written since the days of ancient Babylon and had survived through Persian and Hellenic rule stopped being written in the middle of the 1st century BC. [38] It is likely that only a small number of scholars knew how to write Akkadian by the time of the Parthian kings and the old Babylonian temples became increasingly undermanned and underfunded as people were drawn to the new Mesopotamian capitals, such as Seleucia and Ctesiphon. [39]

The latest dated document written in accordance with the old scribal tradition in Akkadian cuneiform is from 35 BC and contains a prayer to the god Marduk. The latest known other documents written in Akkadian are astronomic predictions (e.g. planetary movements) for the year 75 AD. The way the signs are written in these astronomic texts means that readers would not have to be familiar with the Akkadian language in order to understand them. [39] If the Akkadian language and Babylonian culture survived beyond these sparse documents, it was decisively wiped out c. 230 AD with the religious reforms introduced in the Sasanian Empire. By this time, the ancient Babylonian cult centres had already been closed and razed. Some temples had been closed during the early Parthian period, such as many temples in Uruk, whilst others lingered on to near the end of the Parthian Empire, such as the Esagila in Babylon. [40]

Legacy of Babylon Edit

Before modern archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia, the political history, society and appearance of ancient Babylonia was largely a mystery. Western artists typically envisioned the city and its empire as a combination of known ancient cultures – typically a mixture of ancient Greek and Egyptian culture – with some influence from the then-contemporary Middle Eastern empire, the Ottoman Empire. Early depictions of the city depict it with long colonnades, sometimes built on more than a level, completely unlike the actual architecture of the real ancient Mesopotamian cities, with obelisks and sphinxes inspired by those of Egypt. Ottoman influence came in the shape of cupolas and minarets dotted through the imagined appearances of the ancient city. [41]

Babylon is perhaps most famous today due to its repeated appearances in the Bible, where Babylon appears both literally (in reference to historical events) and allegorically (symbolizing other things). The Neo-Babylonian Empire is featured in several prophecies and in descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent Babylonian captivity. Consequently, in Jewish tradition, Babylon symbolizes an oppressor. In Christianity, Babylon symbolizes worldliness and evil. Prophecies sometimes symbolically link the kings of Babylon with Lucifer. Nebuchadnezzar II, sometimes conflated with Nabonidus, appears as the foremost ruler in this narrative. [42]

The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible refers to Babylon many centuries after it ceased to be a major political center. The city is personified by the "Whore of Babylon", riding on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, and drunk on the blood of the righteous. Some scholars of apocalyptic literature believe this New Testament "Babylon" to be a dysphemism for the Roman Empire. [43]

Religion Edit

Babylon, like the rest of ancient Mesopotamia, followed the Ancient Mesopotamian religion, wherein there was a general accepted hierarchy and dynasty of gods and localized gods who acted as patron deities for specific cities. Marduk was the patron deity of the city Babylon, having held this position since the reign of Hammurabi (18th century BC) in Babylon's first dynasty. Although Babylonian worship of Marduk never meant the denial of the existence of the other gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, it has sometimes been compared to monotheism. [45] The history of worship of Marduk is intimately tied to the history of Babylon itself and as Babylon's power increased, so did the position of Marduk relative to that of other Mesopotamian gods. By the end of the second millennium BC, Marduk was sometimes just referred to as Bêl, meaning "lord". [46]

In Mesopotamian religion, Marduk was a creator god. Going by the Enûma Eliš, the Babylonian creation myth, Marduk was the son of Enki, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, and rose to prominence during a great battle between the gods. The myth tells how the universe originated as a chaotic realm of water, in which there originally were two primordial deities Tiamat (salt water, female) and Abzu (sweet water, male). These two gods gave birth to other deities. These deities (including gods such as Enki) had little to do in these early stages of existence and as such occupied themselves with various activities. [45]

Eventually, their children began to annoy the elder gods and Abzu decided to rid himself of them by killing them. Alarmed by this, Tiamat revealed Abzu's plan to Enki, who killed his father before the plot could be enacted. Although Tiamat had revealed the plot to Enki to warn him, the death of Abzu horrified her and she too attempted to kill her children, rising an army together with her new consort Kingu. Every battle in the war was a victory for Tiamat until Marduk convinced the other gods to proclaim him as their leader and king. The gods agreed, and Marduk was victorious, capturing and executing Kingu and firing a great arrow at Tiamat, killing her and splitting her in two. With these chaotic primordial forces defeated, Marduk created the world and ordered the heavens. Marduk is also described as the creator of human beings, which were meant to help the gods in defeating and holding off the forces of chaos and thus maintain order on Earth. [45]

The Statue of Marduk was the physical representation of Marduk housed in Babylon's main temple, the Esagila. [45] Although there were actually seven separate statues of Marduk in Babylon four in the Esagila, one in the Etemenanki (the ziggurat dedicated to Marduk) and two in temples dedicated to other deities, the statue of Marduk usually refers to Marduk's primary statue, placed prominently in the Esagila and used in the city's rituals. [47]

The Babylonians themselves conflated the statue with the actual god Marduk – the god was understood as living in the temple, among the people of his city, and not in the heavens. As such, Marduk was not seen as some distant entity, but a friend and protector who lived nearby. This was no different from other Mesopotamian cities, who similarly conflated their gods with the representations used for them in their temples. During the religiously important New Year's festival at Babylon, the statue was removed from the temple and paraded through Babylon before being placed in a smaller building outside the city walls, where the statue received fresh air and could enjoy a different view from the one it had from inside the temple. [45] The statue was traditionally incorporated into the coronation rituals for the Babylonian kings, who received the Babylonian crown "out of the hands" of Marduk during the New Year's festival, symbolizing them being bestowed with kingship by the patron deity of the city. [29]

The temples of southern Mesopotamia were important as both religious and economic centers. The temples were chiefly institutions for caring for the gods and for conducting various rituals. Because of their religious significance, temples were present in all major cities, with trade and population growth being stimulated by the presence of a temple. Workers within the temples had to be "fit" for service and were not slaves or temple dependents (unlike those who served the temples by cultivating food and other supplies). These temple workers, who created the clothes used by the deity's cult, cleaned and moved around the statues of the deities, maintained the rooms within the temple and performed the important rituals, represented the skilled and free urban elite of Babylonian society and were paid through leftovers from meals intended for the gods, barley and beer. [48]

Justice Edit

The surviving sources suggest that the justice system of the Neo-Babylonian Empire had changed little from the one which functioned during the Old Babylonian Empire a thousand years prior. Throughout Babylonia, there were local assemblies (called puhru) of elders and other notables from society which among other local roles served as local courts of justice (though there were also higher "royal" and "temple courts" with greater legal prerogatives). In these courts, judges would be assisted by scribes and several of the local courts would be headed by royal representatives, usually titled sartennu or šukallu. [49] [50]

For the most part, surviving sources related to the Neo-Babylonian justice system are tablets containing letters and lawsuits. These tablets document various legal disputes and crimes, such as embezzlement, disputes over property, theft, family affairs, debts and inheritance and often offer considerable insight into daily life in the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The punishment for these types of crimes and disputes appears, for the most part, to have been money-related, with the guilty party paying a specified amount of silver as compensation. Crimes such as adultery and lèse-majesté were apparently punishable by death, but little surviving evidence exists for the death penalty actually being carried out. [51]

Art Edit

Artists in the Neo-Babylonian period continued the artistic trends of previous periods, showing similarities with the artwork of the Neo-Assyrian period in particular. Cylinder seals of the period are less detailed than in previous times and shows definite Assyrian influence in the themes depicted. One of the most common scenes depicted in such seals are heroes, sometimes depicted with wings, about to strike beasts with their curved swords. Other common scenes include purification of a sacred tree or mythological animals and creatures. Cylinder seals increasingly fell into disuse over the course of the Neo-Babylonian century, eventually being entirely replaced by stamp seals. [52]

Terracotta figurines and reliefs, made using molds, were common during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Preserved figurines usually represent protective demons (such as Pazuzu) or deities but there are also examples of horsemen, naked women, boats, men carrying vases and various types of furniture. Terracotta figurines could be sacred objects intended to be kept in people's homes for magical protection or as decorations, but they could also be objects offered to deities in the temples. [53] [54]

The technique of colored glaze was improved and perfected by Neo-Babylonian artists. In reliefs, such as the ones on the Ishtar Gate in Babylon and along the city's Processional Street (where parades passed through during religious festivals in the city), colored glaze was combined with bricks molded in various shapes to create decorations in color. Most of these decorations are symbols of lions (associated with the goddess Ishtar) flowers, mušḫuššu (a mythological creature associated with the god Marduk) and oxen (associated with the god Adad). [55] [56]

Revival of old traditions Edit

After Babylonia regained its independence, Neo-Babylonian rulers were deeply conscious of the antiquity of their kingdom and pursued a highly traditionalist policy, reviving much of the ancient Sumero-Akkadian culture. Even though Aramaic had become the everyday tongue, Akkadian was retained as the language of administration and culture. [57]

Ancient artworks from the heyday of Babylonia's imperial glory were treated with near-religious reverence and were painstakingly preserved. For example, when a statue of Sargon the Great was found during construction work, a temple was built for it, and it was given offerings. The story is told of how Nebuchadnezzar II, in his efforts to restore the Temple at Sippar, had to make repeated excavations until he found the foundation deposit of Naram-Sin of Akkad. The discovery then allowed him to rebuild the temple properly. Neo-Babylonians also revived the ancient Sargonic practice of appointing a royal daughter to serve as priestess of the moon-god Sîn. [58] [59]

Slavery Edit

As in most ancient empires, slaves were an accepted part of Neo-Babylonian society. In contrast to slavery in ancient Rome, where slave-owners often worked their slaves to death at an early age, slaves in the Neo-Babylonian Empire were valuable resources, typically sold for money matching several years of income for a paid worker. Slaves were typically from lands outside of Babylonia, becoming slaves through the slave trade or through being captured in times of war. Slave women were often given as part of a dowry to help daughters of free men and women in their household or in raising children. Slaves were not cheap to maintain as they had to be clothed and fed. Because they were expensive to begin with, many Neo-Babylonian slave-owners trained their slaves in professions to raise their value or rented them out to others. Sometimes slaves who showed good business sense were allowed to serve in trade or through managing part of a family business. Slaves families were most often sold as a unit, children only being separated from their parents once they reached adulthood (or working age). [60]

Though slaves probably endured harsh living conditions and poor treatment from others, it would not have been equivalent to the brutal form of slavery in the Roman Empire and in later times. [60] Though there are occasional mentions of slaves escaping, there are no records of slave rebellions in the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Slaves mentioned in connection to farming and agriculture are usually not forced laborers. As farming required diligence and care, slaves at farms were typically given contracts and were allowed to work independently, which would make the slaves more interested in the result of their labor. Some slaves acted as proxies or junior partners of their masters. Slaves were also allowed to pay a fee called the mandattu to their masters, which allowed them to work and live independently, essentially "renting" themselves from their master. There are records of slaves paying the mandattu for themselves and for their wives so that they could live freely. There are, however, no records of slaves completely buying their freedom, Babylonian slaves could only be freed by their masters. [61]

The establishment of the Neo-Babylonian Empire meant that for the first time since the Assyrian conquest, tribute flowed into Babylonia rather than being drained from it. This reversal, combined with building projects and the relocation of subjugated peoples stimulated both population and economic growth in the region. [30]

Although the soil in Mesopotamia was fertile, the average rainfall in the region was not enough to sustain regular crops. As such, water had to be drawn from the two major rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, for use in irrigation. These rivers tended to flood at inconvenient times, such as at grain harvest time. To solve these issues and allow for efficient farming, Mesopotamia required a sophisticated large-scale system of canals, dams and dikes, both to protect from floods and to supply water. These structures required constant maintenance and supervision to function. [62] Digging and maintaining the canals was seen as a royal task and the resources required to construct and maintain the infrastructure necessary, and the manpower itself, was provided by the many temples which dotted the region. [63]

The most detailed economical records from Neo-Babylonian times are from these temples. The people who cultivated the temple lands of Babylonia were mostly unfree personnel, so-called temple dependents (širāku [64] ), which were usually given larger work assignments than they could accomplish. In later times, to increase productivity, the temples began hiring "rent farmers". These rent farmers were given a portion or all of a temple's farming grounds and fields, including the temple dependents and equipment there, in exchange for money and a fixed quota of commodities to supply to the temple. [63] Rent farmers were personally liable for accidents and falling short of the quota and there are many records of rent farmers giving up or sometimes being required to sell their own possessions and assets to the temple as compensation. [65]

Although animal husbandry was practiced throughout Mesopotamia, it was the most common form of farming in the south. In Uruk, animals, rather than some type of plant, were the main cash crop. Shepherds could be temple dependents or independent contractors and were entrusted with herds of either sheep or goats. Similar to other farmers working in connection to the temples, these shepherds had a set quota of lambs to provide for sacrificial purposes, with wool and hides also being used in the temples for various purposes. [65] Dairy products were less important since the animals would be unavailable for most of the year as the shepherds drove them across the land. Cows and oxen, rare in Mesopotamia due to being difficult to feed and maintain through the summer months, were mainly used as draft animals for plowing. Regions with a swampy environment, unsuited for farming, were used to hunt birds and fish. [48]

The most common form of business partnership recorded from Neo-Babylonian sources is called the harrānu, which involved a senior financing partner and a junior working partner (who did all the work, using the money provided by the senior partner). Profit from such business ventures were divided equally between the two partners. The idea allowed rich individuals to use their money to finance businesses by capable individuals who might not otherwise have had the means to carry out their trade (for instance second sons who hadn't inherited as much money as first-born sons). Records show that some junior partners worked their way up through their businesses to eventually become senior partners in new harrānu arrangements. [66]

The Neo-Babylonian period saw marked population growth in Babylonia, with the number of known settlements increasing from the previous 134 to the Neo-Babylonian 182, with the average size of these settlements also increasing. This population growth was probably because of increasing prosperity in Babylonia, combined with the resettlement of subjugated peoples and the possible return of peoples that had been resettled under the Neo-Assyrian Empire. [67] The Neo-Babylonian period also saw a dramatic increase in urbanization, reversing a trend of ruralization which southern Mesopotamia had experienced since the fall of the Old Babylonian Empire. [68]

Administration and extent Edit

At the top of the Neo-Babylonian Empire social ladder was the king (šar) his subjects took an oath of loyalty called the ade to him, a tradition inherited from the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Neo-Babylonian kings used the titles King of Babylon and King of Sumer and Akkad. They abandoned many of the boastful Neo-Assyrian titles that claimed universal rule (though some of these would be reintroduced under Nabonidus), possibly because the Assyrians had been resented by the Babylonians as impious and warlike and the Neo-Babylonian kings preferred to present themselves as devout kings. [69]

The king was also the single most important landowner within the empire, with there being several large swaths of land placed under direct royal control throughout Babylonia. There were also large domains placed under other members of the royal family (for instance, there are mentions of a "house of the crown prince" distinct from the "house of the king" in inscriptions) and under other high officials (such as the royal treasurer). [63]

The exact administrative structure of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and its government remains somewhat unclear due to a lack of relevant sources. Although the Neo-Babylonian Empire supplanted the Neo-Assyrian Empire as the major Mesopotamian empire of its time, the exact extent to which Babylon inherited and retained the lands of this preceding empire is unknown. After the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, the territory of the Neo-Assyrian Empire had been split between Babylon and the Medes, with the Medes being granted the northern Zagros mountains while Babylon took Transpotamia (the countries west of the Euphrates) and the Levant, but the precise border between the two empires and the degree to which the former Assyrian heartland was divided between them is unknown. Babylonia itself, the heartland of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, was ruled as an intricate network of provinces and tribal regions with varying degrees of autonomy. The administrative structure used outside of this heartland is unknown. [70]

From building inscriptions it is clear that some parts of the heartland of the former Neo-Assyrian Empire were under Babylonian control. A building inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II refers to the workmen responsible for the renovation of the Etemenanki in Babylon as hailing from "the whole of the land of Akkad and the land of Assyria, the kings of Eber-Nāri, the governors of Ḫatti, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea". [71] Documents from the reign of Neriglissar confirms the existence of a Babylonian governor in the city Assur, meaning that it was located within the empire's borders. No evidence has yet been found that would place the Neo-Assyrian capital, Nineveh, within the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The empire evidently enjoyed direct rule in Syria, as indicated in Nebuchadnezzar's building inscription ("governors of Hatti", "Hatti" referring to the Syro-Hittite city-states in the region) and other inscriptions referencing a governor in the city Arpad. [72]

Although some scholars have suggested that the Assyrian provincial system collapsed with the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and that the Neo-Babylonian Empire was simply a zone of dominance from which Babylon's kings exacted tribute, it is likely that the Neo-Babylonian Empire retained the provincial system in some capacity. The former Assyrian heartland was probably divided between the Babylonians and the Medes, with the Babylonians incorporating the south into their empire and the Medes gaining the north. It is probable that the actual control Babylon held over these territories was variable. After Assyria's collapse, many of the coastal cities and states in the Levant regained independence, but were placed under Babylonian rule as vassal kingdoms (rather than incorporated provinces). [73]

Military Edit

For the Neo-Babylonian kings, war was a means to obtain tribute, plunder (in particular sought after materials such as various metals and quality wood) and prisoners of war which could be put to work as slaves in the temples. Like their predecessors, the Assyrians, the Neo-Babylonian kings also used deportation as a means of control. The Assyrians had displaced populations throughout their vast empire, but the practice under the Babylonian kings seems to have been more limited, only being used to establish new populations in Babylonia itself. Though royal inscriptions from the Neo-Babylonian period don't speak of acts of destruction and deportation in the same boastful way royal inscriptions from the Neo-Assyrian period do, this does not prove that the practice ceased or that the Babylonians were less brutal than the Assyrians. There is for instance evidence that the city Ashkelon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 604 BC. [74] [75]

The troops of the Neo-Babylonian Empire would have been supplied by all parts of its complex administrative structure – from the various cities of Babylonia, from the provinces in Syria and Assyria, from the tribal confederations under Babylonian rule and from the various client kingdoms and city-states in the Levant. [73] The most detailed sources preserved from the Neo-Babylonian period concerning the army are from the temples, which supplied a portion of the temple dependents (called širāku) as soldiers in times of war. These dependents were mostly farmers (ikkaru) but some were also shepherds, gardeners and craftsmen. The vast majority of these levies from the temples seved in the army as archers, equipped with bows, arrows (each archer was supplied with 40–60 arrows), bow-cases and daggers. The bows, made in both distinct Akkadian and Cimmerian styles, were manufactured and repaired at the temples by trained bowmakers and arrows and daggers were made by temple smiths. [64] Inscriptions from the Ebabbara temple in Sippar suggests that temples could field as many as 14% of their dependents in times of crisis (for the Ebabbara this would account for 180 soldiers), but that the number was usually much lower (with the most common number of soldiers supplied by the Ebabbara being 50 soldiers). The archers fielded by these temples were divided into contingents or decuries (ešertu) by profession, each led by a commander (rab eširti). These commanders were in turn under the command of the rab qašti, who answered to the qīpu (a local high official). Cavalry and chariots were also supplied by the temples, but there are few known inscriptions detailing their equipment, relative number or leadership structure. [76]

The citizens of the cities in Babylonia were obliged to perform military service, often as archers, as a civil duty. These citizen militias were, just like the archers raised by the temples, divided and organized by profession. Citizens who served as soldiers were paid in silver, probably at a rate of 1 mina per year. [77] The Neo-Babylonian army is also likely to have bolstered its numbers through conscripting soldiers from the tribal confederacies within the empire's territory and through hiring mercenaries (the presence of Greek mercenaries in the army of Nebuchadnezzar II is known from a poem). In times of war, the entire Babylonian army would have been assembled by an official called the dēkû ("mobilizer") sending word to the many rab qašti, who then organized all the ešertu. Soldiers on campaigns (which could last anywhere from three months to a full year) were supplied with rations (including barley and sheep), silver as payment, salt, oil and water bottles and were also equipped with blankets, tents, sacks, shoes, jerkins and donkeys or horses. [78]

Monumental architecture Edit

Monumental architecture encompasses building works such as temples, palaces, ziggurats (a massive structure with religious connections, composed of a massive stepped tower with a shrine on top), city walls, processional streets, artificial waterways and cross-country defensive structures. [79] The Babylonian king was traditionally a builder and restorer, and as such large-scale building projects were important as a legitimizing factor for Babylonian rulers. [80] Due to the interests of early excavators of the ancient cities in Babylonia, most of the archaeological knowledge regarding the Neo-Babylonian Empire is related to the vast monumental buildings that were located in the hearts of Babylonia's major cities. This early bias has resulted in that the makeup of the cities themselves (such as residential areas) and the structure of smaller settlements remains under-researched. [81]

Although inscriptions discuss the presence of royal palaces at several cities throughout southern Mesopotamia, the only Neo-Babylonian royal palaces yet found and excavated are those in Babylon itself. The South Palace, occupying a corner formed by the city wall to the north and the Euphrates to the west, was built under kings Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II and was composed of five units, each with its own courtyard. The central of these units housed the residential suites and the actual throne room whilst the other units were for administrative and storage purposes. The palace adjoined the central Processional Street on its eastern side and was heavily fortified at its western side (the side facing the Euphrates). [82]

Nebuchadnezzar II also built a second palace, the North Palace, on the other side of the inner city wall. This palace also adjoined the Processional Street on its eastern side, but its ruins are poorly preserved and as such its structure and appearance are not entirely understood. There was also a third royal palace in the city, the Summer Palace, built some distance north of the inner city walls in the northernmost corner of the outer walls (also constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II). Non-royal palaces, such as the palace of a local governor at Ur, share design features with Babylon's South Palace but were considerably smaller in size. [82]

The temples of the Neo-Babylonian Empire are divided into two categories by archaeologists smaller freestanding temples scattered throughout a city (often in residential quarters) and the large main temples of a city, dedicated to that city's patron deity and often located within its own set of walls. [82] In most cities, the ziggurat was located within the temple complex but the ziggurat in Babylon, called the Etemenanki, had its own complex and set of walls separate from those of the city's main temple, the Esagila. Neo-Babylonian temples combined features of palaces and residential houses. They had a central courtyard, completely enclosed on all sides, with the principal room, dedicated to the deity, often being located towards the south and the temple's entrance being located on the side opposite to this principal room. Some temples, such as Babylon's Ninurta temple, had a single courtyard, while others, such as Babylon's Ishhara temple, had smaller courtyards in addition to the main courtyard. [83]

Though many processional streets are described in inscriptions from the Neo-Babylonian period, the only such street excavated yet is the main Processional Street of Babylon. This street ran along the eastern walls of the South Palace and exited the inner city walls at the Ishtar Gate, running past the North Palace. To the south, this street went by the Etemenanki, turning to the west and going over a bridge constructed either under the reign of Nabopolassar or Nebuchadnezzar II. Some of the bricks of the Processional Street bear the name of the Neo-Assyrian king Sennacherib on their underside, suggesting that construction of the street had begun already during his reign, but the fact that the upper side of the bricks all bear the name of Nebuchadnezzar II, suggesting that construction of the street had been completed during his reign. [83]

Nebuchadnezzar II also constructed two great cross-country walls, built with baked brick, to aid in Babylonia's defense. The only one of the two have been confidently located is known as the Habl al-Shar and stretched from Euphrates to the Tigris at the point the two rivers were the closest, some distance north of the city Sippar. The other wall, as of yet not found, was located to the east near the city Kish. [83] Nebuchadnezzar focused his defensive building projects on northern Babylonia, believing this region to be the most likely point of attack for his enemies, and also rebuilt the walls of northern cities such as Kish, Borsippa and Babylon itself while leaving the walls of southern cities, such as Ur and Uruk, as they were. [84]

Domestic architecture Edit

Typical residential houses from the Neo-Babylonian period were composed of a central unroofed courtyard surrounded on all four sides by suites of rooms. Some larger houses contained two or (rarely, in exceptionally large houses) three courtyards. Each of the sides of the courtyard had a central door, leading into the main room of each side, from which one could access the other smaller rooms of the houses. Most houses appear to have been oriented from the southeast to the northwest, with the main living area (the largest room) being located at the southeastern side. The exterior walls of houses were unadorned, blank and windowless. The main entrance was typically located on the end of the house furthest away from the main living area. Houses of people of higher status were generally free-standing, while houses of lower status could share an outer wall with a neighboring house. [84]

Houses in the Neo-Babylonian period were constructed mostly of sundried mudbrick. Baked bricks, such as the ones used in Nebuchadnezzar's great walls, were used for certain parts, such as the paving in rooms which were to be exposed to water and in the courtyard. Roofs were composed of straw-tempered murd overlaying reeds or reed matting, which in turn overlaid local timbers. [84]

The Assyrians and Jews: 3,000 years of common history

[5] Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years.

[6] In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

[18] Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.

Most Americans are aware of the term “Assyria,” if they are, through the Bible. The above quotation is of some interest because it alludes to the scattering of the ten northern tribes of Israel during their conquest and assimilation into the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Neo because the Assyrian polity, based around a cluster of cities in the upper Tigris valley in northern Mesopotamia, pre-dates what is described in the Hebrew Bible by nearly 1,000 years. During the first half of the first millennium before Christ they were arguably the most antique society with a coherent self-conception still flourishing aside from their Babylonian cousins to the south and the Egyptians (other groups like the Hittites who may have been rivals in antiquity had disappeared in the late Bronze Age). The period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in particular under Ashurbanipal , was arguably the apogee of the tradition of statecraft which matured during the long simmer of civilization after the invention of literacy and the end of the Bronze Age. The Neo-Assyrian Empire marked the transition from cuneiform to the alphabet, from chariots to cavalry. Assyria’s political evisceration by its vassals and enemies was inevitable, as a agricultural society on the Malthusian margin can squeeze only so much marginal product out of so many for so long. Once social and cultural capital is gone, there’s a “run on the bank,” so to speak.

Eight men carrying handguns and steel pipes raided a Christian nongovernmental organization here on Thursday night, grabbing computers, cellphones and documents, and threatening the people inside, according to members of the group.

“They came in and said, ‘You are criminals. This is not your country. Leave immediately,’ ” said Sharif Aso, a board member of the organization, the Ashurbanipal Cultural Association. “They said, ‘This is an Islamic state.’ ”

The intruders wore civilian clothes, said Mr. Aso and others at the organization, but their arrival was preceded by three police vehicles that blocked off the street. He said the men stole his ring and bashed him on the leg with a pistol.

First, a little etymology. It turns out that the term Syrian likely has a root in As syria. That term itself deriving from Assur , the primary god and city of ancient Assyria. After the conquest and dismemberment of the Assyrian Empire the core Semitic lands between the Mediterranean and the Zagros mountains became the cultural domain of the Syrian people. That is, those who spoke one of the Syrian dialects. Politically Assyria never arose independently again after its conquest by the Persians. Despite the dialect continuum, and deep roots in the Assyrian Empire and Near Eastern polities preceding it, for nearly one thousand years the eastern and western segments of the Syriac domains were divided by politically, and to some extent culturally, between the Classical Greco-Roman spheres and the Iranian orbit. People of Syrian origin became prominent in Roman life, such as the emperor Elagabalus and the writer Lucian . In the east, under Persian rule, Assyrians such as Mani were also culturally and socially prominent, though marginalized politically by the dominant Zoroastrian Persian ruling caste. The division between east and west was also evident among the Jews in Late Antiquity ergo, the two Talmuds .

The coming of Islam changed this dynamic: the eastern and western Syrian world were reunited into one political and cultural order. Even though there always existed connections across the Roman-Persian frontier (which in any case periodically shifted), it is notable that the ancient historical divisions persist down to the present day among those who consider themselves the descendants of the (As)Syrians of that era: the Middle Eastern Christians . The Christians of Syria and Lebanon divide between those who are aligned with the Syrian Orthodox Church , or Christians affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. In Iraq the majority of Christians come from a different stream, the ancient Church of the East which grew out of the Christian communities of pre-Islamic Iran and Iraq. Today the majority of Iraqi Christians are in communion with the Pope of Rome, while the Assyrian community of the Church of the East is predominantly found abroad (this is due to 20th century politics). But whatever the current configuration, it remains true that to this day these churches can root their lineage back to the Roman and Sassanid period.

And Syriac in the form of neo-Aramaic remains a living language in the Middle East among some Christians. In Syria it is almost extinct, but substantial numbers of Christians in the east still speak it. This is one reason that there is some debate as to whether “Arab Christians” are Arab at all. Ignoring the reality that whole Arab tribes were known to have been Christian even before Islam, it is probably correct to assume that almost all Arab Christians are Arabicized Aramaic or Coptic speakers. In the The Rise of Western Christendom Peter Brown claims that the conversion to Islam by subjects of the Arabs in the Fertile Crescent increased in pace only after the shift from Syriac and Greek to Arabic. In other words, Arab Christians were far more common than Syriac Muslims.

Even though the majority of the population of the core Middle Eastern nation is descended from the peoples of antiquity, they now consider themselves by and large Arab. The Arabs were also present in antiquity, and are mentioned early on as a group on the margins of the ancient world (and sometimes at the center ). But it seems implausible that the antique Arabs had the demographic heft to overrun so many peoples across the Fertile Crescent, let along Egypt. Though the Semitic populations of the Middle East now generally have an Arab self-identification in keeping with their dominant language, some among the Christians dissent. For speakers of neo-Aramaic in Iraq this makes total sense but Arabic speaking Lebanese Maronites also object to an Arab identity (though this gains some traction due to the common bilingualism of Maronites in French and Arabic). But even if most of the Christians of the Arab Middle East are no longer non-Arabs by speech, they preserve a direct link with the ancient pre-Arab Middle East in their liturgy. In the Fertile Crescent this would be a variant of Syriac, but in Egypt it would be Coptic, the language which descends from ancient Egyptian.

There are obviously many in the Middle East who take pride in their pre-Islamic past. Saddam Hussein liked to fashion himself a latter day Nebuchadnezzar II and Hammurabi, while the government of Egypt is a lavish funder of Egyptology. But the Christians seem particularly attached to the pre-Islamic past, because their religion is a tie back to antiquity, and its broad outlines were formed then. This has a bit of an ironic aspect, because in Late Antiquity the Christian Church was a powerful force in the destruction of the indigenous religious traditions of Syria and Egypt. In Syria it seems that a non-Christian culture and society made it down to the Islamic period around the city of Haran, showing up in history as the Sabians. This was probably just a coincidence of geography, as the forced conversion which Justinian the Great imposed on the non-Abrahamic minorities (and to a lesser extent on the Jews and Samaritans as well) in the 6th century was unfeasible so close to the border with the Sassanid Empire. Unfortunately the textual records from Persia are not so good. We don’t know how the Semitic population shifted religious identity from non-Christian to Christian (or Jewish), particularly in an environment where the political elites were not adherents to an Abrahamic religion (though if someone can post a literature reference I’d be very curious).

However it happened, what we do know that is that by the early Islamic centuries the Aramaic speaking populations of the Fertile Crescent were instrumental in being channels for the wisdom of the Classical Age. Many of the Syrians were trilingual, in their own language, as well as Greek and Arabic. For an overview of what transpired between then and now to the Christians of the Middle Eastern Orient, read my review of The Lost History of Christianity. Suffice it to say, by the year 1900 Westerners who were reacquainting themselves with Oriental Christianity observed that they had lost much of its cultural vitality, and been subject to involution. Over a thousand years of Muslim rule and domination meant that the Christians of the Middle East had been ground down into total marginality to such an extent that Western Orientalists had to “re-discover” them.

This marginality was an end consequence of the dhimmi system to which they’d been subjected to, a system that Christians had imposed upon Jews and Samaritans earlier. They were allowed to persist and exist, but only marginally tolerated. Debilities and indignities were their lot. One famous component of the modus vivendi between Muslim polities and the non-Muslims whom they dominate is that one can defect to Islam, but defection from Islam is not tolerated. The involution of dhimmis then is simply not cultural, it is genetic. By and large the cosmopolitan welter of the great Islamic Empires would have passed the dhimmis by. Eastern Christians then may given us an excellent window into the impact of the Arab conquests on the genomes of the peoples of the Middle East. For example, how much of the Sub-Saharan genetic load in modern Egyptians is post-Roman, and how much pre-Roman? A comparison of Copts to Muslims would establish this. It has clear political implications in the United States, where Afrocentrism is rooted in part on the presupposition that ancient Egypt was a black civilization.

But this post is not about Egypt. Rather, let’s go back to the Assyrians and the Middle East. I wrote up the historical introduction for perspective. But this is about genes. Nature on The rise of the genome bloggers :

David Wesolowski, a 31-year-old Australian who runs the Eurogenes ancestry project (http://bga101.blogspot.com), also focuses on understudied populations. “It’s a response, in a way, to the lack of formal work that’s been done in certain areas, so we’re doing it ourselves,” he says. Wesolowski and a colleague have drilled into the population history of people living in Iran and eastern Turkey who identify as descendants of ancient Assyrians, and who sent their DNA for analysis. Preliminary findings suggest their ancestors may have once mixed with local Jewish populations, and Wesolowski plans to submit these results to a peer-reviewed journal.

A few weeks ago Paul Givargidze, David’s colleague mentioned above, informed me that it didn’t look like the article would be published in the near future due to time constraints. But with all the energy invested Paul wanted something to come out of the project, so he forwarded me a link to a set of files, and suggested that if I found it of interest I could blog about. Here’s the link:

Additionally, Paul informed me that the background of the Assyrian samples were Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox?), Church of the East, and Chaldean. The latter two are the same for our purposes the the separation of the Chaldean Church from the main body of the Church of the East is a feature of the past 500 years. The Jacobites though presumably are from Syria, though I know that there were some Jacobites in the Assyrian lands as well. In any case, the key is this: these populations have been isolated from others since the rise of Islam 1,400 years ago. They give us an insight into the genomic landscape of the Late Antique Levant and Mesopotamia.

The slide show below has what I believe are the most pertinent figures (I’ve reedited them a bit). The first two are ADMIXTURE plots. So they’re showing you the breakdowns by population/individual for K ancestral quantum (8 and 10) respectively. The rest are MDS which relate individuals within populations on a two-dimensional surface.


If Mesopotamian pantheon and mythology were not simple and straightforward, the cosmology was. The universe was the heaven and earth, the term for which was an-ki or heaven-earth. Earth was flat, surrounded by a hollow space in which everything existed. A solid surface, thought to be made of tin, enclosed the an-ki. Within the space was lil, a word that means air or breath. All around the an-ki was the sea, abzu.

Nergal and Ereshkigal ruled the underworld, where people went when they died. People entered the underworld from their graves. First, they had to cross a river via a ferry. Once there, a soul was judged by Utu, another god. A positive judgment meant an afterlife of happiness however, most Mesopotamians thought the afterlife would be dreary.

Assyrian Daily Life - History

An Assyrian king, probably Sargon. Detail of an enamelled wall from Sargon’s palace in Dur-Sharrukin/Khorsabad. (Source: V. Place, Ninive et l’Assyrie III, Paris, 1867, pl. 27)

The Neo-Assyrian Empire was constructed over a period of about 300 years from the late 10th to the late 7th centuries BCE by powerful kings. It comprised a great part of the Middle East from the Taurus Mountains in the North to the fringes of the Arabian desert and the Persian Gulf in the South, from the Mediterranean in the West to the Zagros Mountains in the East. This wide region, administrated from a capital in the Assyrian heartland, subsequently Assur, Kalhu, Dur-Sharrukin and Nineveh, comprises nowadays Iraq, Syria, the Levant, South-Eastern Turkey, Western Iran, as well as the Northern and North-Eastern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The number of Neo-Assyrian geographical names is enormous, approximately 3500! Can these places be localized? How can ancient places be localized in the first place?

The river-side of Kalhu/Nimrud, artist’s reconstruction. (Source: A. H. Layard, A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh, London, 1853, plate 1)

The Assyrian kings campaigned almost every year in all directions and the accounts of their military achievements were recorded in long and detailed cuneiform inscriptions. These royal inscriptions, in some cases hidden under the foundation of palaces and temples, in other cases visible on the palace walls, mention a great number of cities, countries, rivers and mountains traversed or conquered by the Assyrian army. Furthermore, place, river and mountain names are also attested in a great number of written sources from the daily life, such as royal letters, legal and economic documents, and administrative texts. In addition, wall reliefs that decorated the Assyrian palaces are the visual version of the royal inscriptions. They show conquered cities placed in different geographical settings, in some cases with captions identifying them, as well as different landscapes.

Historical geography is the discipline dedicated to the study of ancient geographical names. Its main goal is the identification of the ancient toponyms, and, in the best case, to put them on a map. The method of the historical geographer combines three different approaches: the philological, the archaeological and the geographical approach. Starting with the information of the original written sources, he must consider the results of archaeological excavations and regional surveys and know the modern physical geography of the involved region.

The roots of the historical geography from the Ancient Near East go back to the very beginnings of Assyriology and even earlier, as scholars and adventurers travelled to the Middle East at the beginning of the 19th century searching for places mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The discovery and decipherment of Assyrian royal inscriptions in the middle of the same century boosted even more the interest of scholars. One of the first scientific works concerning the Assyrian and Babylonian place names was published in 1881 by one of the founders of Assyriology, the German scholar Friedrich Delitzsch, with the suggestive title Wo lag das Paradies? (Where Did the Paradise Lay?). When the amount of discovered and published texts (mainly from Nineveh) rose, Emil Forrer, another German scholar, published the first geographical study of the Neo-Assyrian empire in 1920, his seminal Die Provinzeinteilungdes assyrischen Reiches, on the provincial division of the Assyrian Empire, which remained a reference work for many decades.

Considering the importance of identifications for the reconstruction of historical processes and the increased number of published cuneiform texts (from all periods and cuneiform languages), French scholars decided in 1951 to start a project called Répertoire Géographique des Textes Cunéiformes (Geographical Register of Cuneiform Texts, abbreviated RGTC) with the aim to collect all cuneiform place and river names with their correspondent attestations. This colossal task was carried out in Tübingen (Germany) under the direction of Wolfgang Röllig in the framework called the Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients (TAVO) from 1971 on. Up to the end of the century 13 volumes were published in the series by different scholars, the last in 2001 (RGTC 12/2). Furthermore, historical maps of the Assyrian empire were published by K. Kessler in 1987 and 1991. However, the most ambitious volume of the series concerning the Neo-Assyrian geographical names, was repeatedly postponed, due to the great number of names and attestations, and to the state of publication of the sources at that time. Simo Parpola’s pioneering Neo-Assyrian Toponyms, a computer-aided collection of attestations published in 1970, remained the reference work for many decades.

As great projects concerning the publication of the Neo-Assyrian text corpus in specific series were highly advanced at the end of the past century (The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Assyrian Periods [Toronto], State Archives of Assyria [Helsinki], Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud [London], Studien zu den Assur-Texten), and an atlas of the Near East in the Neo-Assyrian period was in preparation (S. Parpola and M. Porter, The Helsinki Atlas, 2001), the time arrived to handle the last volume of the RGTC-Series. The project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Society, DFG) and the task entrusted to the author in 1999. In 2020 ‒ with some interruptions ‒ work was completed. The work comprising three parts in five volumes, all in all about 2400 pages and four maps, was progressively published by regions: RGTC 7/1 (2011) concerns the Levant, RGTC 7/2 (2017) Assyria proper, the neighbouring regions, and Egypt, and RGTC 7/3 (2020) Babylonia, Urartu, and the Eastern regions.

Following the concept of the series, but with more detailed commentaries, the work presents all the geographical names attested in non-literary, published Neo-Assyrian sources, with the corresponding attestations arranged first by spelling, then by reign and text genre. The first part of the commentary contains references to attestations in other historical periods and cuneiform, as well as West-Semitic languages. In the second part of the commentary, proposed identifications are critically treated with references to archaeological excavations, surveys, depictions on wall reliefs, and historical maps. Furthermore, the names are classified according to their linguistic affiliation and the corresponding etymologies are briefly commented on. Another important feature is that all the names of the known towns and villages in particular countries or provinces are listed, a further step in the detailed reconstruction of the imperial geography.

Leaving aside the difficulties resulting from managing an enormous amount of information, the time-consuming task of checking the attestations and the spellings with the cuneiform copies or photographs of the texts, and the equally time-consuming collecting and reading of the secondary literature, the historical geographer encounters many methodological problems. For instance, it is his task to distinguish if the same name corresponds to two different places, as the case of the land Bīt-Adini in North-Western Syria at the Upper Euphrates, and the homonymous land in Southern Babylonia. Another central point is to give a normalized form of the name according to its etymology, which conventionally encloses all the different spellings and can be quoted in the literature in a consequent way. Even as important is to follow a consistent convention to quote modern toponyms and to give their coordinates, in order that the reader can find them in a map.

The crucial point, after having collected all the references and information about a place, river or mountain, is to try to locate it. First, it must be located in relation with other names in the same region, second, and more difficult, identified with a modern place or region. This can be done only considering the information of the texts in relation with the archaeological data (if available) and with the physical geography. In many cases, no identification is possible. Some geographical names can be located certainly, while in most cases only proposals with different degrees of certitude, from certain to speculative, can be offer. In this last case, it is very important, that the difference between “certain or highly probable” and “probable or conjectural” is clearly shown in a map, for instance with a full and hollow dots. A common trap for scholars is to propose identifications based only in the similarity between a Neo-Assyrian and a later (Latin, Greek, Medieval, Islamic) or modern toponyms. If no continuity can be proved, and both names are separated by centuries or even millennia, no plausible identification can be guaranteed.

The historical geography of the Neo-Assyrian period is a fascinating field of research. The Assyrian kings claimed to rule over the world. A century after the pioneering work of Emil Forrer, this world is now available as a reference work for future research. Now the ball is on the field for the next generation of Assyriologists, archaeologists, and Biblical scholars.

Ariel M. Bagg is Professor at the Institute of Assyriology of the Ruprecht-Karls-University, Heidelberg.

Ashurbanipal's brother burned himself to death

Ashurbanipal was an Assyrian king who ruled like a serial killer from approximately 668 BBC until sometime between 631 and 627 BC. Reliefs from his reign contain "some of the most appalling images ever created," according to the Guardian. They capture beheadings, people being skinned alive, and prisoners being forced "to grind their fathers' bones before being executed in the streets." Ashurbanipal's brags made him sound like a sadistic trophy hunter who collected human pelts. Per Der Spiegel, he declared, "I will hack up the flesh [of my enemies] and then carry it with me, to show off in other countries." He also took great pride in killing lions for sport , apparently fighting them at close range to demonstrate his "superhuman virility."

Homicidal vitality wasn't Ashurbanipal's only superpower. He was also allegedly super literate. As the Ancient History Encyclopedia explained, the king claimed he could read Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform. He erected an impressive library, which held the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. That library would be buried under the rubble of Ashurbanipal's palace, which burned down during the collapse of the Assyrian Empire.

That collapse began with a civil war between Ashurbanipal and his twin brother, Sin-shar-ishkun. Sin-shar-ishkun mounted a failed uprising and fled to Babylon, where Ashurbanipal laid siege for four years. Things got so dire that starving residents ate their own children. Sin-shar-ishkun, fearing the torture that awaited him, set himself on fire.

Though the title proclaims it to be about one man – “I am Ashurbanipal, King of the World, King of Assyria” – the exhibition is more about the times and places in which this ruler lived, and waged war.

Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 669 to 626 BC, was a great destroyer of his enemies, but also a committed builder of monuments to his glory. His palace at Nineveh contains some of the ancient world’s most impressive and informative carvings, created during his lifetime, mainly to intimidate visitors. Many of these have been kept at the British Museum since the city’s ruins were discovered in the 19th century.

Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal, g ets the briefest of mentions in the Old Testament (Ezra 4:9-10). His kingdom, on the other hand, is everywhere in the Hebrew Bible. Nineveh was singled out as a place of consummate sin. Back in the 8th century BC, the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser had “carried off Israel’s inhabitants and its possessions to Assyria,” according to his own records. The people of Israel fared no better in their own accounts:”… King Tiglath-Pileser deported the people to Assyria.” [2 Kings 15:29].

The Assyrians created the greatest empire of their time, taking on all comers with ferocity. There were many points at which their conquests became part of the biblical story. One of the most prominent was Manessah of Judah, who appears to have picked the wrong side by backing rebels against Ashurbanipal. According to the Bible he had led his people into idolatry, for which there was bound to be retribution. His reward was capture by Ashurbanipal, who in characteristic fashion put a hook through his nose and dragged him away. It seems that the experience made Manessah repent and abandon his polytheism.

Ashurbanipal also received some Biblical justice when in 612 BC the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, was completely destroyed. The prophet Nahum had warned of this, and so it came to pass. The only detail Nahum got wrong was that Nineveh had walls too huge to burn, so it was abandoned instead, to be lost in the sand until discovered by Henry Layard in 1847. The son of the rival king who sacked Nineveh became one of the best-known names in the Old Testament, King Nebuchadnezzar II.

The vivid stories of the Bible are given historical life in highly visual fashion at the British Museum. Gypsum panels that normally sit unnoticed in permanent galleries have been lit so superbly that they breathe with the suffering that the Assyrians handed out. Even by the standards of the time, their cruelty was legendary. One especially gruesome panel shows military captives having their tongues cut out to reduce the screams when they were later skinned alive – also shown on the panel.

Viewers should be grateful that the full-color effect of the stonework has been lost over the millennia. Like ancient Greek sculptures that are admired for their pale, uncolored serenity, the Assyrians reveled in some of the most outrageous hues that existed before chemical paints were introduced. In one section of the exhibition there is a panel with colors added, in Assyrian taste. The effect is unsettling, but rest assured that the stones are not being harmed in the process it is an effect achieved with projectors.

What the carved stones reveal is not just the carefully administered butchery of the time, but also the more pleasant side of life. Biblical banquets are revived in wonderful carvings of servants carrying all manner of foodstuffs for the latest celebration. Dried locusts on sticks are perhaps the least appetizing delicacies on view.

Ashurbanipal’s palaces were in many ways similar to those described in the Bible. Grandeur and sensual luxury were the main ingredients in their interior design. As Ashurbanipal himself declared on clay tablets filed away by his highly efficient legions of bureaucrats: “I roofed the palace with long beams of cedar grown on Mount Sinara and Mount Lebanon. I fastened bands of bronze on doors of white cedar, whose scent is sweet, and fixed them in its gateways.”

He also installed vast numbers of graven images, all arranged according to long-forgotten rules of geomancy. The abundance of deities worshipped in that region tells us why the first two of the Ten Commandments are at the top of the list. The most frequently encountered is Lamassu, with the body of an eagle-winged bull or lion and a human head. Ezekial wrote about this ubiquitous symbol. So enduring was its legacy, the components ended up representing the Four Evangelists

Lamassu is less frightening to look at than some of the other divinities of Mesopotamia. Domestic animals could be truly alarming too. The dogs that feature in some of the Assyrian carvings are a double for the most vicious of modern-day breeds. Most terrifying of all are the humans, though. This was a time of constant warfare in which civilians were as much the victims as warriors. Whole populations, including the Jews, were moved from one land to another. In an echo of the present day on the Plains of Nineveh, the victors would regularly make slaves of all the captives they didn’t kill. Young women were especially prized.

It is no wonder that when Christianity emerged in that region its central message made a lasting impression by proclaiming peace and love.

Watch the video: Who were the Assyrians? History of the Assyrian Empire (January 2022).