Tiglath-pileser III Rules Assyria Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Tiglath-pileser III reorganized Assyria, its foreign policy, and its army, thus creating an empire that would dominate the Fertile Crescent for the next century.

Summary of Event

The accession of Tiglath-pileser III to the throne in 745 b.c.e. brought Assyria out of a century-long period of relative weakness. Internal revolt and stagnation had followed Assyria’s spectacular military successes of the mid-ninth century b.c.e. In addition, the emergence of Urartu as a large and powerful kingdom in modern-day Armenia had stymied Assyria throughout the first half of the eighth century b.c.e. Tiglath-pileser (whose name means “my trust is in the son of Esharra [Ashur]”) was a vigorous and intelligent ruler who changed his nation’s fortunes. Some inscriptions imply he was of royal blood, but Tiglath-pileser seized the throne after a rebellion killed his weak predecessor, Ashur-nirâri V. As king, he brought about an administrative reform, modified Assyrian policy toward subjugated areas, and reorganized the army. The successes of these actions coupled with his successful military campaigns made Tiglath-pileser the true founder of the Assyrian Empire. Tiglath-pileser III

Before Tiglath-pileser III, administrative districts had operated semi-independently under old noble families that treated their governorships as hereditary in nature. Tiglath-pileser reduced these districts in size and multiplied their number, placing them under governors responsible directly to the king. This system and an efficient communications network increased royal authority and control within Assyria proper. Other changes affected the oversight of conquered territory.

The glorified campaigns of the Assyrian kings Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III in the ninth century b.c.e. had resulted in tribute but only minimal territorial gains. Tiglath-pileser organized his conquests into an efficient empire. Conquered nations beyond Assyria itself were made vassals under native rule but placed under the watchful eye of an “overseer.” As long as the imposed tribute was paid and the “overseer” was accepted, the local ruling families were left independent with regard to internal matters and protected against external attack or rebellion. For example, an Aramean king of Sam’al described in his own inscription how Tiglath-pileser III had reinstalled his father after quelling a rebellion. For more troublesome territories in which local rule did not produce the desired result, however, Tiglath-pileser instituted a policy of incorporating them as Assyrian provinces. War was waged against more distant states that had not yet submitted to the Assyrian yoke. As was the case with his predecessors, scenes of the Assyrian army in action—besieging and conquering cities and dispatching leaders of resistance—remained the primary subject of Assyrian royal bas-reliefs.

Tiglath-pileser III also initiated the practice of mass deportation from conquered territories. Entire towns and even districts of subjugated lands were emptied, the former inhabitants were resettled in distant parts of the empire, and other populations were moved in to take their place. This practice served to limit continued nationalism and dedication to old ruling families on the part of the deportees. Occasional scenes in the royal bas-reliefs show long lines of deportees carrying small bundles of belongings, holding the hands of pitiful children, with women sometimes riding in carts alongside. Despite the fact that this practice was in part to punish recalcitrant states, the deportees themselves were cared for on their journey and were not considered slaves. At their destination, they were regular citizens of Assyria, with the same status as the original Assyrian population. Tens of thousands of persons were deported by Tiglath-pileser on single campaigns. Subsequent rulers of both Assyria and Babylon continued this practice, and one estimate puts the number of displaced over a three-century span in the Near East at about 4.5 million.

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Before Tiglath-pileser III, the Assyrian army had been composed primarily of peasants and slaves conscripted by noble landowners of Assyria and men doing military service in exchange for royal grants of land and provisions—an institution called ilkum, introduced by Hammurabi of Babylon centuries earlier. Tiglath-pileser added to this a permanent professional army recruited mainly in the peripheral provinces. He developed cavalry in addition to the traditional chariotry, perhaps because of the necessity of fighting the Urartu and other mountain peoples on their ground.

The particular details and chronology of Tiglath-pileser’s campaigns are far from certain, as the annals and bas-reliefs from his capital Calah (modern Nimrud) are very badly preserved. Their condition results from their removal from his palace walls for reuse in a successor’s building project and the recovery methods used by nineteenth century excavators. Work by scholar Hayim Tadmor in collating the available material permits the following general overview.

In his first campaign, Tiglath-pileser marched to southern Mesopotamia, removing Aramean threats and reminding Babylon of Assyrian superiority. Then Tiglath-pileser led his army in a protracted six-year campaign to the west (probably 743-738 b.c.e.). He first faced Neo-Hittite and Aramean princes loyal to Sarduri II, king of Urartu. Sarduri attempted to intervene but was defeated and fled. Arpad, capital of the Aramean leader Mati’il, was besieged for three years. After its fall, about 741 b.c.e., Arpad became the chief town of an Assyrian province. Before Arpad’s fall, Tiglath-pileser had annexed the territory of enemies on the Syrian coast and probably Phoenicia as well. By the end of the campaign (about 738 b.c.e.), several kings of neighboring states took fright and brought “presents” and tribute to Tiglath-pileser at Arpad. According to the annals, tributaries included Zabibê, queen of the Arabs; Rezin, king of Aram-Damascus; and Menachem, king of Israel. The tribute of the latter is recorded in 2 Kings 15:19-20, in which Tiglath-pileser is called Pul, derived from his nickname, Pulu.

For the next few years, Tiglath-pileser III concentrated his efforts in the east in moves against the interests of Urartu. The temporary withdrawal of the main Assyrian army from Syria perhaps encouraged anti-Assyrian coalitions there. The best known of these is the alliance reported in the Bible between Rezin of Aram-Damascus and the usurper Pekah of Israel. Ahaz, king of Judah, apparently refused to join the effort, causing the coalition to turn against him in an attempt to effect a regime change (2 Kings 16:5-9; Isaiah 7). Ahaz called on Tiglath-pileser for assistance, sending a “present” to the Assyrian. In 734 b.c.e., Tiglath-pileser campaigned to Philistia, capturing Gaza and receiving tribute from neighboring states. The following year, he reduced Israel to the area surrounding Samaria and confirmed Hosea as a vassal king in place of the deposed Pekah. In 732, Damascus was destroyed, and Assyrian provinces were created from its territory and that taken from Israel. This episode illustrates various levels of Tiglath-pileser’s policy toward conquered areas. Judah willingly entered into a vassal relationship and was protected, but with the yoke of Assyrian domination (cf. 2 Kings 16:10-18). Israel, where a coup had replaced a dynasty loyal to Assyria with a rebellious king, was reduced, returned to local rule, and saddled with tribute. It was the last straw, however, for Damascus, where the former vassal king himself rebelled.

In the meantime, a Chaldean tribal leader had seized the throne in Babylon. Assyrian intervention there was met with mixed feelings. One preserved letter gives an account of negotiations at the gates of Babylon between Assyrian officials and the people of the city. Just as in the later negotiation at Jerusalem reported in the Bible (2 Kings 18:17-36; Isaiah 36), the Assyrian officers attempted to appeal to the people directly, bypassing the rebel leaders. It took Tiglath-pileser three years to settle the situation in Babylon through a combination of diplomacy and force. In the end, the Chaldean usurper fled and Tiglath-pileser “took the hand of Marduk” in the Akitu (New Year) Festival of Babylon. Tiglath-pileser thus assumed the throne of Babylon for himself, the first Assyrian king to do so for more than four centuries.

Significance

In 727 b.c.e., Tiglath-pileser died, leaving Assyria with an empire stretching from the Persian Gulf in the east to the border of Egypt in the west and extending north into Cilicia and Anatolia. The western expansion brought Assyria into conflict with Egyptian interests; this conflict lies behind Egypt’s role in fomenting rebellion against Assyria in Palestine and Syria in the following years. Because of the Bible, the best-known consequence of this interference is the Assyrian investment of Samaria and subsequent fall of the remnant of Israel (722-720 b.c.e.; cf. 2 Kings 17:3-5). These Egyptian efforts notwithstanding, Tiglath-pileser had reestablished Assyria as the dominant power of the Near East, a position it retained for the next century. His policies of keeping vassal states under native rule where possible, incorporating recalcitrant regions, and mass deportation were followed by subsequent rulers in the region, setting the tone for the great empires of the later Iron Age.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barnett, R. D., and M. Falkner. The Sculptures of Tiglath-pileser III, 745-727 b.c. London: British Museum, 1962. Relevant objects in the British Museum.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grayson, A. K. “Assyria: Tiglath-pileser III to Sargon II (744-705 b.c.).” In Vol. 3 of The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by J. Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, N. G. L. Hammond, and S. Sollberger. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A standard history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallo, William W. “From Qarqar to Carchemish: Assyria and Israel in the Light of New Discoveries.” Biblical Archaeologist 23, no. 2 (May, 1960): 33-61. A review of Assyrian influence in Palestine with a special reference to biblical data.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Saggs, H. W. F. The Might That Was Assyria. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984. An excellent general treatment of Assyria with a helpful section on Tiglath-pileser.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tadmor, Hayim. The Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994. A modern critical edition of known inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser with introductory essays, translation, and commentary.
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