This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Assyria at Its Height.
Assyria was one of the great empires of the earliest age of civilization. It’s use of terror to keep subjugated nations docile managed to generate hated by all. In the end, a grand coalition brought the Assyrian Empire down.
Note that throughout this series the authors’ dating were off by about 160 years. Events were around 160 years more recent than the authors statements.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Francois Lenormant (1837-1883) was an early archeologist specializing on ancient Assyria.
The greater part of the expeditions of Shalmaneser IV, succeeding each other year after year, were directed, like those of his father, sometimes to the north, into Armenia and Pontus; sometimes to the east, into Media, never completely subdued; sometimes to the south, into Chaldea, where revolts were of constant occurrence; and finally westward, toward Syria and the region of Amanus. In this direction he advanced farther than his predecessors, and came into contact with some personages mentioned in Bible history. The part of his annals relating to the campaigns that brought him into collision with the kings of Damascus and Israel possesses peculiar interest for us, much greater than that attaching to the narrative of any other wars.
The sixteenth campaign of Shalmaneser IV (B.C. 890) commenced a new series of wars; the King crossed the Zab, or Zabat; to make war on the mountain people of Upper Media, and afterward on the Scythian tribes around the Caspian Sea. He did not, however, abandon the western countries, where he soon found himself opposed by the new King whom the revolution arising from the influence of Elisha the prophet had placed on the throne of Damascus in the room of Benhidai.
“In my eighteenth campaign” (886), we read on the Nimrud obelisk, “I crossed the Euphrates for the sixteenth time. Hazael, king of Damascus, came toward me to give battle. I took from him eleven hundred and twenty-one chariots and four hundred and seventy horsemen, with his camp.
“In my nineteenth campaign (885) I crossed the Euphrates for the eighteenth time. I marched toward Mount Amanus, and there cut beams of cedar.
“In my twenty-first campaign (883) I crossed the Euphrates for the twenty-second time. I marched to the cities of Hazael of Damascus. I received tribute from Tyre, Sidon, and Byblus.”
It evidently was at the end of this campaign that Jehu, king of Israel, whose territory Hazael had ravaged, appealed to Shalmaneser for help against his powerful enemy. The inscription on the obelisk says that the Assyrian King received tribute from Jehu, whom it names “son of Omri,” for the great renown of the founder of Samaria had made the Assyrians consider all the kings of Israel as his descendants. One of the bas-reliefs of the same monument represents Jehu prostrating himself before Shalmaneser, as if acknowledging himself a vassal.
The annals of Shalmaneser say no more after this, either of the king of Damascus or of Israel. They record, as his twenty-seventh campaign, a great war in Armenia that brought about the submission of all the districts of that country that still resisted the Assyrian monarch. In the thirty-first campaign (873), the last mentioned on the obelisk, the King sent the general-in-chief of his armies, Tartan, again into Armenia, where he gave up to pillage fifty cities, among them Van; and during this time he himself went into Media, subjected part of the northern districts of that country, which were in a state of rebellion, chastised the people in the neighborhood of Mount Elwand, where in after-times Ecbatana was built, and finally made war on the Scythians of the Caspian Sea.
The official chronology of the Assyrians dates the termination of the reign of Shalmaneser IV in 870, the period of his death. But during the last two years his power was entirely lost, and he was reduced to the possession of two cities, Nineveh and Calah. His second son, Asshurdaninpal, in consequence of circumstances unknown to us, raised the standard of revolt against his father, assumed the royal title, and was supported by twenty-seven of the most important cities in the empire. One of the monuments has preserved a list of these cities, and among them we find Arrapkha, capital of the province of Arrapachitis, Amida (now Diarbekr), Arbela, Ellasar, and all the towns of the banks of the Tigris. War broke out between the father and his rebellious son; the army embraced the cause of the latter; he was recognized by all the provinces, and kept Shalmaneser until his death shut up and closely blockaded in his capital.
Shalmaneser died in B.C. 870; his son, Shamash-Bin, continued the legitimate line. He succeeded in repressing the revolt of his brother Asshurdaninpal and in depriving him of the authority he had usurped. The monument recording the exploits of his first years gives no details, however, of the civil war; it merely records, after enumerating the cities that had joined the revolt of Asshurdaninpal, “With the aid of the great gods, my masters, I subjected them to my scepter.”
The usurpation of the second son of Shalmaneser and a civil war of five years had introduced many disorders into the empire and shaken the fidelity of many provinces. The early years of Shamash-Bin were occupied in reducing the whole to order. In the narrative which has been preserved, extending only to his fourth year, we find that the King overran and chastised with terrible severity Osrhoene or Aramaean Mesopotamia, where the people had been in rebellion, and reduced to obedience the mountainous districts, where are the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates, and finally Armenia proper. In his fourth year he marched against Mardukbalatirib, king of Babylon, who had taken advantage of the disorders in Assyria to assert his independence, and who was supported by the Susianians or Elamites. He completely defeated him and compelled him to fly to the desert, killed very many of his army in the battle, took two hundred war chariots, and made seven thousand prisoners, of whom five thousand were put to death on the field of battle as an example. Unfortunately, our information ceases at that period and we know absolutely nothing of the greater part of the reign of Shamash-Bin, or of the expeditions to the west of Asia, Syria, and Palestine, that must have been made after the termination of the campaigns by which the royal authority was reestablished in all the ancient provinces of the empire. This King remained on the throne until 857. In 859 and 858 he had to repress a great revolt in Babylon and Chaldea.
Binlikhish [or Binnirari] III, the next king, reigned twenty-nine years, from 857 to 828. An inscription of his, engraved in the first years of his reign, describing the extent of the empire, says that he governed on one side “From the land of Siluna, toward the rising sun, the countries of Elam, Albania (at the foot of Caucasus), Kharkhar, Araziash, Misu, Media, Giratbunda (a portion of Atropatene, frequently mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions), the lands of Munna, Parsua (Parthia), Allabria (Hyrcania), Abdadana (Hecatompyla), Namri (the Caspian Scythians), even to all the tribes of the Andiu (a Turanian or Scythian people, whose country is far off), the whole of the mountainous country as far as the sea of the rising sun, the Caspian Sea; on the other side from the Euphrates, Syria, all Phoenicia, the land of Tyre, of Sidon, the land of Omri (Samaria), Edom, the Philistines, as far as the sea of the setting sun (the Mediterranean)”; on all these countries he says that “he imposed tribute.”
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