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Assyrians facts and history

The Assyrians were a Semitic people living in the north of Mesopotamia. Their chief city was Assur. They were merchants and soldiers. First they threw off Sumerian rule and then between 1726-1694 B.C., they conquered neighboring tribes and built up an empire. But it was short lived. Assyria became a subject state of Babylonia after 1679 B.C. and did not begin to expand again for many centuries.

Under Tiglath-Pileser I, the Assyrians began to conquer other tribes again and in 1097 B.C. they sacked Babylon. Tiglath-Pileser's successors, in spite of many revolts by the people they conquered, pushed the frontiers of the Assyrian empire as far as Egypt. In 673 B.C. King Esarhaddon launched a successful attack on Egypt and brought it under his control. During the reign of his son Ashurbanipal (669-626 B.C.) Assyria's empire reached its greatest extent. Then, it collapsed even more swiftly than it had risen. The Babylonians first broke away from Assyrian rule in 626 B.C. and in 612 B.C., in alliance with the Chaldeans, they captured Nineveh. In 610 B.C. an Egyptian army arrived too late to save Harran, the last Assyrian city to be subdued.

Assyrians facts and history - Winged figures

Assyrians facts and history

Winged figures like this one were made by the skillful Assyrian sculptors

The Assyrian empire was above all a military one. They were a nation of warriors and the king's main task was to lead the army. The officers were Assyrians, as fact, but the ordinary soldiers were mercenaries (men who were paid to fight) drawn from the various tribes within the empire. They fought in war chariots and on foot and they had skilled engineers to conduct sieges. The ruins of the splendid temples and palaces which the Kings of Assyria built are covered with sculptures and bas reliefs (raised pictures cut in stone) showing incidents from their battles. Ashurbanipal's library has also been preserved, so providing written records of the empire. Two great weaknesses that seem to have helped to bring down the empire were its failure to make Assyrian rule popular with the conquered peoples and the extravagant sums spent on building.

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