The restless desire of Babylonia and Chaldea to form a state separate from Assyria grew more decided as time went on.
Continuing Assyrian Empire Destroyed,
our selection from Ancient History of the East by Francois Lenormant and by Emile Chevallier published in 1881. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Assyrian Empire Destroyed
Time: 849-794 BC
“I marched,” he says again, “against the land of Syria, and I took Marih, king of Syria, in Damascus, the city of his kingdom. The great dread of Asshur, my master, persuaded him; he embraced my knees and made submission.”
Binlikhish III was a warlike prince; every year of his reign was marked by an expedition. We have a summary of these in a chronological tablet in the British Museum, containing a fragment — from the end of the reign of Shamash-Bin to that of Tiglath-pileser II — of a canon of eponymes mentioning the principal events year by year. They nearly all occurred in Southern Armenia and in the land of Van, where obedience was only maintained by incessant military demonstrations, and subsequently in the countries to the north of Media as far as the Caspian Sea. Other expeditions were also made as far as Parthia, toward Ariana and the various countries that, to the Assyrians, were the extreme East. We do not, however, know what that region was called by them, as it is always designated by a group of ideographic characters of unknown pronunciation. By the defeat of Marih, king of Damascus, the submission of the western provinces was secured for the remainder of this reign, for there is no record of any other campaign there.
The year 849 was marked by a great plague in Assyria; 834 by a religious festival, of which unfortunately no particulars are known; and, lastly, 833 by the solemn inauguration of a new temple to the god Nebo, in the capital.
But the most interesting monument of the reign of Binlikhish III is the statue of Nebo, one of the great gods of Babylon, discovered by Mr. Loftus and now in the British Museum; the inscription on the base of the statue mentions the wife of the King, and calls her “the queen Sammuramat”; this is the only historical Semiramis, the one mentioned by Herodotus. He places her correctly about a century and a half before Nitocris, the wife of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon. “Semiramis,” says the father of history, “raised magnificent embankments to restrain the river (Euphrates), which till then used to overflow and flood the whole country round Babylon.” But why did Herodotus, and the Babylonian tradition he has so faithfully reported, attribute these useful works to the queen and not to her husband, Binlikhish? It was once supposed, as a solution of this problem, that Sammuramat had governed alone for some time, as queen regnant, after the death of her husband. But this conjecture is absolutely contradicted by the table of eponymes in the British Museum, where it can be seen that Sammuramat never reigned alone. In our opinion the only possible explanation will be found in regarding Binlikhish and Sammuramat as the Ferdinand and Isabella of Mesopotamia. The restless desire of Babylonia and Chaldea to form a state separate from Assyria grew more decided as time went on; in the time of Binlikhish it had already gained great strength, and the day was not far distant when the separation was definitely to take place, and to occasion the utter ruin of Nineveh. In this position of affairs it was natural for a king of Assyria to seek to strengthen his authority in Chaldea by a marriage with a daughter of the royal line of that country, who were his vassals, and thus, in the opinion of the people of Babylon, acquire a legitimate right to the possession of the country by means of his wife, as well as the advantages to be derived from the attachment of the people to their own legitimate sovereign. We shall therefore consider Sammuramat as a Babylonian princess married by Binlikhish, and as reigning nominally at Babylon while her husband occupied the throne at Nineveh, and as being the only sovereign registered by the Babylonians in their national annals. In fact, her position must have been a peculiar one; she must have been considered the rightful queen in one part of the empire, to have been named as queen, and in the same rank as the king, in such an official document as the inscription on the statue of the god Nebo. She is the only princess mentioned in any of the Assyrian texts, as we might naturally suppose; for unless under such very exceptional circumstances as we imagine in the case of Sammuramat, there can have been no queens, but only favorite concubines, under the organization of harem life, such as it was under the Assyrian kings, and as it still is in our days.
The exaggerated development of the Assyrian empire was quite unnatural; the kings of Nineveh had never succeeded in welding into one nation the numerous tribes whom they subdued by force of arms, or in checking in them the spirit of independence; they had not even attempted to do so. The empire was absolutely without cohesion; the administrative system was so imperfect, the bond attaching the various provinces to each other, and to the center of the monarchy, so weak that at the commencement of almost every reign a revolt broke out, sometimes at one point, sometimes at another.
It was therefore easy to foresee that, so soon as the reins of government were no longer in a really strong hand — so soon as the king of Assyria should cease to be an active and warlike king, always in the field, always at the head of his troops — the great edifice laboriously built up by his predecessors of the tenth and ninth centuries would collapse, and the immense fabric of empire would vanish like smoke with such rapidity as to astonish the world. And this is exactly what occurred after the death of Binlikhish III.
The tablet in the British Museum allows us to follow year by year the events and the progress of the dissolution of the empire. Under Shalmaneser V, who reigned from B.C. 828 to 818, some foreign expeditions were still made, as, for instance, to Damascus in B.C. 819; but the forces of the empire were especially engaged during many following years in attempting to hold countries already subdued, such as Armenia, then in a chronic state of revolt; the wars in one and the same province were constant, and occupied some six successive campaigns — the Armenian war was from B.C. 827 to 822 — proving that no decisive results were obtained.
Under Asshur-edil-ilani II, who reigned from B.C. 818 to 800, we do not see any new conquests; insurrections constantly broke out, and were no longer confined to the extremities of the empire; they encroached on the heart of the country, and gradually approached nearer to Nineveh. The revolutionary spirit increased in the provinces, a great insurrection became imminent, and was ready to break out on the slightest excuse. At this period, B.C. 804, it is that the British Museum tablet registers, as a memorable fact in the column of events, “Peace in the land.” Two great plagues are also mentioned under this reign, in 811 and 805, and on the 13th of June, B.C. 809 — 30 Sivan in the eponymos of Bur-el-salkhi — an almost total eclipse of the sun, visible at Nineveh.
The revolution was not long in coming. Asshurlikhish [Assurbanipal] ascended the throne in B.C. 800, and fixed his residence at Nineveh, instead of Ellasar, where his predecessor had lived after quitting Nineveh; he is the Sardanapalus of the Greeks, the ever-famous prototype of the voluptuous and effeminate prince. The tablet in the British Museum only mentions two expeditions in his reign, both of small importance, in 795 and 794; to all the other years the only notice is “in the country,” proving that nothing was done and that all thought of war was abandoned.
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