- For the modern-day peoples in northern Iraq and neighboring areas, see Assyrian.
Assyria, a country named after its original capital city, Asshur on the Tigris, was originally a colony of Babylonia, and was ruled by viceroys from that kingdom.
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Assyria was located in a mountainous region lying to the north of Babylonia, extending along the Tigris as far as to the high mountain range of Armenia, the Gordiaean or Carduchian mountains.
Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria little is positively known. It was founded in 1700 BC under Bel-kap-kapu. In the 15th century, Saushtatar, king of Hanilgalbat sacked Assur and made Assyria a vassal. It paid tribute to Hanilgalbat up to the time of Ashur-uballit I. Later, it became an independent and a conquering power, and shook off the yoke of its Babylonian masters. Hanilgalbat was conquered under Adad-nirari. After that, Adad-nirari I described himself as a Great-King (Sharru rabű) in letters to the Hittite rulers. Assyria later subdued most of Western Asia.
The city-state of Assur had extensive contact with cities in the Anatolian plateau. The Assyrians established "merchant colonies" in Anatolia, e.g., at Kültepe circa 1920 BC – 1840 BC and 1798 BC – 1740 BC. These colonies were called karum, the akkadian word for 'port'. These colonies were attached to Anatolian cities but physically separate, and had special tax status. These colonies must have arisen from a long tradition of trade between Assur and the Anatolian cities, but no archaeological or written records show this. The trade consisted in metal (perhaps lead or tin, the terminology here is not entirely clear) and textiles from Assyria which were traded for precious metals in Anatolia. The city of Assur was conquered by Shamshi-Adad in the expansion of Amorite tribes from the Khabur delta. He put his son Ishme-Dagan on the throne of nearby Ekallatum, and allowed trade to continue. Only after the death of Shamshi-Adad and the fall of his sons did Hammurabi of Babylon conquer Assur. With Hammurabi the various karum in Anatolia ceased trade activity, probably because the goods of Assyria were traded with the Babylonians' partners.
In 1120 BC, Tiglath-Pileser I, the greatest of the Assyrian kings, "crossed the Euphrates, defeated the kings of the Hittites, captured the city of Carchemish, and advanced as far as the shores of the Mediterranean." He may be regarded as the founder of the first Assyrian empire. After this the Assyrians gradually extended their power, subjugating the states of Northern Syria. In the reign of Ahab, king of Israel, Shalmaneser III marched an army against the Syrian states, whose allied army he encountered and vanquished at Karkar. This led to Ahab's casting off the yoke of Damascus and allying himself with Judah. Some years after this the Assyrian king marched an army against Hazael, king of Damascus. He besieged and took that city. He also brought under tribute Jehu, and the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
About a hundred years after this (745 BC) the crown was seized by a military adventurer called Pul, who assumed the name of Tiglath-Pileser III. He directed his armies into Syria, which had by this time regained its independence, and took (740 BC) Arpad, near Aleppo, after a siege of three years, and reduced Hamath. Azariah (Uzziah) was an ally of the king of Hamath, and thus was compelled by Tiglath-Pileser to do him homage and pay a yearly tribute.
In 738 BC, in the reign of Menahem, king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser invaded Israel, and imposed on it a heavy tribute (2 Kings 15:19). Ahaz, the king of Judah, when engaged in a war against Israel and Syria, appealed for help to this Assyrian king by means of a present of gold and silver (2 Kings 16:8); who accordingly "marched against Damascus, defeated and put Rezin to death, and besieged the city itself." Leaving a portion of his army to continue the siege, "he advanced through the province east of Jordan, spreading fire and sword," and became master of Philistia, and took Samaria and Damascus. He died 727 BC, and was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV, who ruled till 722 BC. He also invaded Syria (2 Kings 17:5), but was deposed in favour of Sargon the Tartan, or commander-in-chief of the army, who took Samaria after a siege of three years, and so put an end to the kingdom of Israel, carrying the people away into captivity, 722 BC (2 Kings 17:1–6, 24; 18:7, 9). He also overran the land of Judah, and took the city of Jerusalem (Isa. 10:6, 12, 22, 24, 34). Mention is next made of Sennacherib (705 BC), the son and successor of Sargon (2 Kings 18:13; 19:37; Isa. 7:17, 18); and then of Esarhaddon, his son and successor, who took Manasseh, king of Judah, captive, and kept him for some time a prisoner at Babylon, which he alone of all the Assyrian kings made the seat of his government (2 Kings 19:37; Isa. 37:38).
Assur-bani-pal or Ashurbanipal (Ashurbanapli), the son of Esarhaddon, became king, and in Ezra 4:10 is referred to as Asnapper or Osnappar. From an early period Assyria had entered on a conquering career, and having absorbed Babylon, the kingdoms of Hamath, Damascus, and Samaria, it conquered Phoenicia, and made Judea feudatory, and subjected Philistia and Idumea. At length, however, its power declined. In 727 BC the Babylonians threw off the rule of the Assyrians, under the leadership of the powerful Chaldean prince Merodach-baladan (2 Kings 20:12), who, after twelve years, was subdued by Sargon, who now reunited the kingdom, and ruled over a vast empire. But on his death the smouldering flames of rebellion again burst forth, and the Babylonians and Medes successfully asserted their independence (625 BC), and Assyria fell according to the prophecies of Isaiah (10:5–19), Nahum (3:19), and Zephaniah (3:13), and the many separate kingdoms of which it was composed ceased to recognize the "great king" (2 Kings 18:19; Isa. 36:4). Ezekiel (31) attests (about 586 BC) how completely Assyria was overthrown. After that, it ceased to be an independent nation. However, Assyrians have managed to keep their identity, and still exist as a discrete ethnic group, mainly in northern Iraq, where they are distinguished from their Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen neighbors by their Christian religion.
There is ongoing discussion among academics over the nature of the Nimrud lens , a piece of rock crystal unearthed by John Layard in 1850 in the Nimrud palace complex in northern Iraq. A small minority believe that it is evidence for the existence of ancient Assyrian telescopes, which could explain the great accuracy of Assyrian astronomy.