published on 18 January 2012
The heart of the original Assyrian civilization was located off the western coast of the Tigris River in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). At its height, the Assyrian empire stretched far and wide, encompassing several territories and uniting the Near Eastern region for the very first time. This included territories in modern Iran, Egypt, Kuwait, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.
The fertile soil of the region allowed the Assyrians to have a booming farming economy. As the empire grew into new lands, other industries were explored and exploited, including mining and forestry. This only aided in buffering the coffers of the empire, and afforded them the ability to conquer yet more lands.
Originally, Assyria was made up of groups of immigrants from other Near Eastern regions, beginning in the third millennium B.C. Other nomadic people, mostly of Semitic origin, began to enter region a little later, around 2500 B.C., and they greatly influenced the language and culture. At this time, Assyria was part of the Sumer-Akkad Empire that was dominating. This didn’t hinder Assyrian cultural and military development, however.
The Assyrians were known for their vast knowledge and prowess when it came to warfare and military methods. They used this proficiency to invade and conquer other empires and territories, and build their empire to heights that had not yet been seen.
Assyria was an empire that was ruled by a single king. In the early 19th century B.C., King Shamshi-Adad began to divide the expanding kingdom into local regions that were governed by local rulers. These rulers were required to collect taxes and pay them to the king, and were to make sure that he could provide suitable soldiers for his army. At the height of the Assyrian Empire, under King Sargon II, there were 70 provinces.
The Assyrians used their architecture and expertise in the art of sculpture to display their conquests and cultural celebrations. Using mudbrick construction technique common to the region, they built massive palace complexes featuring narrative relief sculpture that detailed various battles and victories. The palaces were maze-like centers that were built to both impress and intimidate.
Assyrian cities were contained within massive walls, the product of an aggressive society schooled in the psychology of war. The cities contained the palace complexes, as well as temples and housing for the common people. Nowhere near as elaborate as the royal residences, basic Assyrian homes were characterized by single storeys and flat roofs, and were also made of mudbrick.
Assyria had several capital cities during its time of dominance in the Near East. Beginning with the city of Ashur as the center of all official affairs in Assyria, the capital city was moved around by different kings, including to Calah by King Ashurnasirpal II in the ninth century B.C., the construction of a whole new capital city of Dar Sharrukin by Sargon II in the early eighth century B.C., and the establishment of Nineveh as the capital of the empire by King Sennacherib in the early seventh century B.C.
The Assyrian Empire, despite suffering a few military setbacks, including falling to King Hammurabi of Babylonia and becoming part of that territory for a time, continued to expand through the eighth century B.C. In 612 B.C, following the death of Assyria’s last king, Ashurbanipal, the last Assyrian capital cities of Nimrud and Nineveh was captured by the Babylonians.