Assyria was the ancient name of the area surrounding the upper Tigris River and its principal tributaries, the Greater Zab and the Lesser Zab, in northern Iraq.
Assyria was the ancient name of the area surrounding the upper Tigris River and its principal tributaries, the Greater Zab and the Lesser Zab, in northern Iraq. From an early period the people living there, the Assyrians, adopted many cultural features of the more civilized Sumerians of the lower Tigris and Euphrates River valleys, including cuneiform writing and a “hydraulic
Assyrian history can be divided into three periods. The empire first rose to power during the Old Empire period (1950-1500
Assyria’s greatest era of military expansion came during the late imperial period (c. 900-600
After eighty years of domestic turmoil, Tiglath-pileser
An Assyrian battle scene at the palace of Ashurnasirpal.
The first record of Assyrian cavalry units is found in the ninth century
Assyria and Babylonia, 600-500
The bow and arrow and the lance were the most common weapons among infantry units, but slings, knives, and swords were also utilized. In the late imperial period,
In an age during which the art of fortification was highly developed, the Assyrians were innovators in siegecraft and siege
Assyrian military success owed much to superior preparation, which allowed large
Despite successes, more extensive campaigns, attrition, and battle losses made campaigning under the old system difficult. Tiglath-pileser III initiated important military reforms that created the most efficient army of the ancient world until the rise of Rome, enabling emperors to vastly increase the size of the empire. Instead of calling up agricultural workers during the summer, he introduced a standing army and personal bodyguard that was augmented as necessary by contingents raised in the provinces and levies drawn from vassal states. The Assyrian army may have been the first in which ethnic units were integrated largely on a basis of equality, though they frequently performed functions for which they were already expertly prepared.
On campaign, the Assyrian king frequently led the army, but sometimes he delegated authority to senior field marshals, known as
Assyria’s unmatched striking capability was based upon its chariot force, which enabled it to wage lightning attacks across the plains of Mesopotamia and Syria, shocking enemy troops and paving the way for the lancers and archers of the infantry. From the ninth century onward, the cavalry became increasingly important, sometimes operating in units of 1,000 or more and eventually replacing the charioteers as the mobile arm of the military. This dependence upon cavalry forced the Assyrians to remain militarily aggressive in order to provide a continuous stream of remounts that could come only from capture, tribute payments, or taxation.
Given the lack of geographical barriers, Assyria’s grand strategy was to wage offensive wars that would push Assyrian boundaries far beyond the cities of the Tigris River Valley. As a part of this plan, terror was used as a deliberate tactic. The ultimate goal was to secure
Although all the Assyrian commanders were undoubtedly ferocious, some were recorded as being far more so than others.
As the power of the state grew, Assyrian strategy involved building a series of
In terms of
There are extensive written records on campaigns of the late imperial period. The most important Assyrian sources include the annals of the Assyrian kings, which provide campaigning records; and many inscribed carvings and palace reliefs uncovered principally in Nineveh, Lachish, and other cities of the Assyrian homeland. Outside Assyria, victorious kings erected
One of the most accessible sources of ancient information regarding the Assyrians is from the Old Testament of the Bible, principally in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, and Hosea. There are also scattered references to Assyrian warfare in Sumerian and Greek sources, including those of
However, the most important sources on the Assyrian armies are not written, but bas-reliefs from
Bradley, James Parker. The Mechanics of Empire: The Northern Frontier of Assyria as a Case Study in Imperial Dynamics. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2001. Chapman, Cynthia R. The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004. Gallagher, William R. Sennacherib’s Campaign in Judah. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1999. Gwaltney, William C., Jr. “Assyrians.” In Peoples of the Old Testament World, edited by Alfred J. Hoerth et al. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994. Healy, Mark. The Ancient Assyrians. New York: Osprey, 1991. Postgate, Nicholas. The Land of Assur and the Yoke of Assur: Studies on Assyria, 1971-2005. Oxford: Oxbow, 2007. Saggs, Harry W. F. The Might That Was Assyria. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984. Yamada, Shigeo. The Construction of the Assyrian Empire: A Historical Study of the Inscriptions of Shalmaneser II Relating to the Campaigns in the West. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2000. Iraq: Stairway to the Gods. Documentary. Coronet Films and Video, 1973.
Violence in the Precivilized World