The Assyrians - World History

The Assyrians - World History
Posted on 28-12-2022

The Assyrians ( 900 ) Assyria becomes the greatest power in the Near East.

Around 900 the first civilization comparable to the oriental ones arose in Italy. It was a town that called itself Rasena. The Greeks called them Tyrrhenians, while we know them by the name the Romans gave them: the Etruscans. We do not know the Etruscan culture very well, since their language has not been deciphered. It is ruled out that the Etruscans were Indo-Europeans. The Romans said they came from Asia Minor, and they may have been right, for with the commotions of the preceding centuries it is plausible that some group of men decided to go a long way in search of peace, and Italy was probably the nearest land that could provide it. They came by land from the north, and it seems that they were few. They formed an oligarchy that gradually organized and dominated more cities, empowering, assimilating, and developing local cultures. Their culture was matriarchal (as were many early Mediterranean and Eastern cultures, and in opposition to the marked patriarchal character of the Indo-European peoples). Their religion focused on funeral rites and the cult of the dead. His belief in various techniques for predicting the future was also deeply rooted, especially through the examination of the entrails of birds, or their flight. Etruscan art presents very original features, perhaps of oriental influence. In the statues, the forced curvature of the mouth stands out, the so-called Etruscan art presents very original features, perhaps of oriental influence. In the statues, the forced curvature of the mouth stands out, the so-called Etruscan art presents very original features, perhaps of oriental influence. In the statues, the forced curvature of the mouth stands out, the so-called"Etruscan smile", which gives them a strange, almost comical expression.

The Etruscans spread along the northwest coast of Italy, from the Arno River to the Tiber River . Its eastern border was marked by the Apennine Mountains. The rest of Italy was populated by various Indo-European cultures. To the south of Etruria there was a territory known as Lazio, in which some thirty independent city-states with a related culture and a common language ( Latin ) were distributed. After the arrival of the Etruscans they allied themselves in a Latin League, headed by the city of Alba Longa.

Meanwhile, a new Aryan tribe descended on Mesopotamia. They were the Medes. They came from the north and settled in the northwest of modern Iran, southwest of the Caspian Sea. This area was renamed Media. The Medes brought an innovation: the domesticated horses until then were small, capable of pulling a chariot, alone or in pairs, but not directly supporting the weight of a rider. The Medes domesticated a breed of large horses, similar to the current ones, and learned to ride them, becoming the most skilled horsemen of antiquity.

In 897 the king of China awarded land to a barbarian horse-breeding chief named Feizi, in exchange for his supply of mounts. Thus the state of Qin was formed. The word "China" derives from it.

In 889 the Assyrian king Adad-Narari II died and was succeeded by his son Tukulti-Ninurta II, who for the first time had an army fully equipped with iron weapons. This made it the most powerful army on the planet. In addition, the Assyrians revolutionized the siege technique. Until then, the strategy of a besieged city was to resist while waiting for the besiegers to despair or fall victim to the diseases that inevitably arose from the total lack of hygiene in the military camps. With the Assyrians, the siege ceased to be a simple attempt to starve the besieged. They devised machines to demolish walls, equipped them with wheels to bring them closer and armored them to protect the men who moved them. Using heavy battering rams, they opened a breach through which the besieging army entered the fortification and found the entire population at its mercy, trapped by its own walls. The Assyrians earned a reputation for cruelty never before heard. Little by little, Assyria grew and rebuilt its ancient empire.

Meanwhile, Canaan remained oblivious to these events. In 887 a conspiracy overthrew the last king of the line of Hiram of Tyre. The ringleader was the high priest Etbaal, who occupied the throne. At the same time, the Syrian king Benhadad I attacked Israel, reaching the Sea of ​​Galilee and annexing its eastern shores. The city of Dan was destroyed, apparently forever, since it is no longer mentioned in the Bible. King Basa of Israel had to make peace with Judah in order to deal with Syria. Thus his attempt to consolidate his dynasty by military conquest, as David had done years before, failed. When he died, in 886, a civil war broke out and his sonEla was deposed and executed. Before the year was out, a skillful general named Omri seized the throne,that he managed to repel the Syrians and strengthen his hold on Moab. Omri understood well what were the weak points of the kingdom of Israel. One was the lack of a well-placed capital, capable of withstanding sieges with dignity. Judah had Jerusalem, but Tirzah was completely inadequate. Jeroboam had chosen it mainly to leave Shechem, to avoid suspicions about an Ephraimite hegemony that could have been frowned upon by a considerable part of the Israelites. A little to the west of Tirzah was a hill well situated halfway between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. It belonged to the family of Shemer, but the king bought it and fortified it. In time it would become the largest city in Israel. He named her Shomron,Samaria. Omri made it the capital of Israel, and it remained so until the kingdom's demise.

But Omri knew that a strong capital was not everything. The Israelite monarchy did not enjoy all the popular support that would be desirable. Furthermore, the people did not have a feeling of national unity similar to that which existed in Judah. In large part, Judah's advantage resided in a strong religion, the cult of Yahveh, which, while identifying all the people in a common cause, legitimized the house of David as ruler by divine design. The cult of Yahveh was a minority in Israel, and it did not seem a good idea to encourage it either, since this could leave Israel defenseless against Judah. There was also the risk that a good part of the people would not accept it out of contempt for the Jews. Omri allied himself with the Tyrian king Etbaal. Both were usurpers so it must have been easy for both of them to support each other to consolidate their thrones. Etbaal had been high priest, and his strategy was to spread the worship of his gods, mainly the goddess Astarte. Omri considered that such a cult might also be suitable for his people, and decided to support it. To seal his deal,Ahab, the son of Omri, married Jezebel, the daughter of Etbaal.

In 883 Osorkon I, the king of Egypt, died. If he had barely managed to maintain the authority that his father had bequeathed to him, after his death the disorganization increased and the army became increasingly uncontrollable. The same year Tukulti-Ninurta II died, after a brief reign of five years. He was succeeded by his he son of him Ashurnasirpal II,who destroyed the Aramean principalities (except Syria), restored Assyria's prosperity, and rebuilt the ancient city of Calach, making it again the capital of the kingdom. There he built a large palace of about 24,000 square meters, decorated with highly realistic bas-reliefs, many of which represent the king in hunting scenes. Ashurnasirpal II is remembered as the cruelest of the Assyrian kings. He imposed a policy of terror that made the subjugated peoples desist from the slightest attempt at rebellion, but which left an indelible mark of hatred for Assyria throughout the Middle East. In his chronicles the Chaldeans are mentioned for the first time , another group of Semitic tribes coming from Arabia and harassing the borders of Mesopotamia.

In 879 Omri died, and was succeeded peacefully by his son Ahab, who continued his father's policy of spreading the cult of Astarte throughout Israel.

In 878 King Li took the Chinese throne. Disturbances arose under his reign, probably due to natural causes. By this time China had a class of merchants and artisans, but they did not work independently, but were at the service of the nobles. The farmers supplemented their economy with the cultivation of the silkworm.

In 873 Asa of Judah died, and was succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat.The political-religious alliance between Israel and Tire gave good economic results. Israel got the necessary wealth to fortify the north facing Syria as well as to beautify Samaria. Israel achieved some degree of dominance over Judah, so Ahab and Jehoshaphat reached an agreement whereby Judah agreed to let Israel conduct a joint foreign policy, while Jehoshaphat retained full authority in internal affairs. The only opposition came from the Israelite minority that defended the cult of Yahveh. Astarte was a fertility goddess and, according to the narrow sexual morality of the most conservative Israelites, she was the spitting image of sin. The opposition found an energetic leader in the prophet Elijah.The part of the Bible that describes this time (written centuries later) presents Omri and Ahab as wicked kings, while Elijah turns out to be almost divine: the waters of the rivers parted in his path, he caused a three-year drought, he made that a daggerboard and a flask belonging to a widow permanently contained flour and oil during those three years, without ever running out, raised a dead person, etc. It was also said that he did not die, but ascended to heaven body and soul.

In 859 Ashurnasirpal II died and was succeeded by his son Salmanesar III, who decided to extend the domains of the already extensive empire that his father had bequeathed to him. His first move was the complete annexation of the Aramean principalities that Ashurnasirpal II had made tributaries. The only Aramaic state to have escaped Assyrian rule was Syria, now under the reign of Benhadad II. While Salmanesar III took care of his neighbors, Benhadad continued the war against Israel started by his father. in 856the Syrian army entered Israel and besieged Samaria. As Omri had foreseen, Samaria proved impregnable. The Syrian army was weakened and the Israelites had a chance to come out and drive it out. In 855 Israel reconquered part of the northern territory that Syria had taken from it years before. However, at this point Benhadad II began to be aware of the terrible threat that hung over his kingdom and had to abruptly change his policy. He made Israel see that the most dangerous army in the world was looming over them and thus, he sealed an alliance with Ahab. Both kings led a coalition of Canaanite states that faced the Assyrians at Karkar,an unidentified location, but certainly in northern Syria, probably near the Mediterranean coast. The battle took place in 854.Inexplicably, it seems, the Canaanite army won a victory notable enough for Assyria to withdraw for some time. We do not know the details, since the Assyrian chronicles speak of an Assyrian victory, but that it was not followed by any annexation or tribute, which suggests rather that these chronicles are an official version that is not very credible. For its part, the Bible does not mention the battle, which is also logical, since the biblical authors would never have recognized a merit to the impious king Ahab. It is probable that Shalmaneser III was forced to withdraw by pressures in another part of his empire. The kingdom of Urartu, for example, had not stopped rebelling against Assyria since the time of Teglatfalasar I.

Be that as it may, Israel and Syria had a chance to fight each other again. In 850 Ahab tried once more to recover the northern part of Israel's former domains lost during Basa's reign. During the battle, an arrow severely wounded Ahab. Fighting broke off and Syria annexed some more territories. The king died and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah from him. Moab immediately took the opportunity to fight for its independence. The Moabite leader was Mesha, who had previously led an attempt at rebellion that Ahab was able to put down, and now he wanted to try his luck against the new king.

Meanwhile Salmanesar III directed his armies towards Babylon, to protect it from the Chaldean incursions. The same thing happened with the Chaldeans as with the Urartians, that there was no difficulty in dispersing them, but they recovered as soon as the Assyrian armies withdrew. Shalmaneser III never won a definitive victory. Ahaziah died in 849, after a single year of reign (according to the Bible, God punished him for his impiety). He was succeeded by his brother Joram from him, who hastened to lead a coalition expedition with Jehoshaphat of Judah to suppress the Moabite rebellion. We do not know the details, but the expedition failed and Moab retained a precarious independence. Mesa commemorated his victory with an inscription, the Mesa Stela, which happens to be the oldest long surviving text in the Hebrew language. Its style is similar to that of the Bible, except that Kemósh, the Moabite god, replaces Yahveh. Jehoshaphat died that same year, and was succeeded by his son Jehoram, who was married to Athaliah,sister of King Joram of Israel. The queen mother Jezebel had great influence in this period: her son ruled Israel and her son-in-law Judah. This allowed the Tyrian religion to penetrate Judah. Joram of Judah resisted, but died in 842 and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, who was totally dominated by his mother Athaliah, so Jezebel had a son as king of Israel and a grandson as king of Judah, both supporters of the cult tyrian.

The cult of Yahveh experienced its most difficult moments at this time. Elijah had died, but his place was taken by Elisha, also of great personality. The Bible attributes even greater miracles to him than to Elijah: he healed lepers, raised the dead, fed a crowd with only twenty loaves of bread, made barren women conceive children, predicted the plans of the Syrians on several occasions, etc. To defend his religion, Elisha opted for conspiracy. The Israelite army faced the Syrian in Ramot de Gilead, precisely where Ahab had been mortally wounded and again the king, this time Joram, received a wound and withdrew to the city of Jezrael,north of Samaria. There he received a visit from his nephew Ahaziah, and meanwhile the Jewish-Israelite army was commanded by General Jehu. Elisha saw the possibility of reaching an agreement with Jehu and so he did, either the general was a Yahwist or he was willing to be to gain power. The fact is that he had the army proclaim himself king with the support of Elisha, marched against Jezrael, attacked by surprise and managed to kill all the male members of the royal house of Israel, including Ahaziah of Judah. He then he killed Jezebel. Meanwhile, the Syrian king Benhadad II was the victim of a coup, which gave the throne to Hazael, a court official. It seems that Elisha had something to do with it.

Shalmaneser III saw in the confusion that was engulfing Syria, Israel and Judah a good moment to settle pending accounts. He returned to Syria, devastated it, and laid siege to Damascus. The capital resisted desperately and was lucky that Shalmaneser III was urged to go to another part of his empire. So he just agreed to a tribute with Hazael and withdrew. He raised an obelisk to commemorate his victory, listing the defeated kings and the tribute assigned to each. Tributaries also include Jehu of Israel and various Phoenician kings.

On the other hand, when Queen Athaliah found out in Jerusalem about what had happened in Jezrael, she understood that she was in grave danger and decided to take the initiative. She quickly ordered the murder of all the male members of David's house, including her own grandchildren, and set out to reign alone. She maybe she thought of finding a suitable husband, but she never got around to it. Her reign was precarious. Joyada was in Jerusalem , the high priest, who enjoyed great prestige and the queen never dared to attack him. This one, for his part, prudently waited until he found the right moment to overthrow Athalía. Meanwhile, Edom took advantage of the circumstances to rebel and gain independence from him, for the first time since he was subdued by David. The Philistine city-states also completely disassociated themselves from Judah, and even made incursions into its territory.

Finally, in 836 Joyada decided to act. He secretly gathered the military leaders of Judah and presented them with a seven-year-old boy. He claimed that he was Joash,son of Ahaziah, who six years earlier, when Athaliah had ordered the extermination of the royal house, had been saved by his wife (Ahaziah's sister) and hidden in the temple, where he had been cared for in the strictest secrecy ever since. The story is hardly credible, but the generals gladly accepted it, proclaimed Joash king, captured Athaliah, and murdered her. The people gladly accepted the restoration to the throne of the house of David. Phoenician influence came to an end in both Israel and Judah. However, both kingdoms were greatly weakened.

In 827 King Hsüan occupied the Chinese throne , who had to face the incursions of a barbarian people from the West: the Hsien-Yün. On the other hand, he extended the kingdom to the south, to the Yangtze River.

Around this time, Salmanaser III led an expedition against the Medes. The Assyrians learned from them the mastery of large horses, they incorporated them into their already fearsome war machine, but they also gave them civil uses. With them they expedited the postal and messenger system that had been in operation since Sumerian times, which allowed them to more efficiently administer the empire. They also used them for transportation and supplying the big cities, since Babilonia and Calach had about thirty thousand inhabitants each.

In 824 the eldest son of Shalmaneser III rebelled against his father, thus trying to secure the succession, as was common when an eastern monarch was already old. The king died before he could confront the rebel, but his youngest son fought on his father's behalf and put down the rebellion after several years of civil war. He reigned as Shamshi-Adad V, but was no match for his father, and Assyrian power declined.

In 822 the Hsien-yün barbarians sacked Hao, the Chinese capital, but they were finally repulsed. In 821, Feizi's fourth successor, Zhuang, Lord of Qin, was given the title of duke by the king.

The decline of Assyria allowed a certain recovery of Phoenicia and Syria. The Phoenicians reasserted their exclusive rule over the Mediterranean. In 814 they founded a new colony in Africa, near Utica, in what is now Tunisia, and called it Karthadasht (new city), as opposed to Utica, which must have been the old city. Today we know it with the Roman version of the name: Carthage.   This same year the Israelite king Jehu died, who was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz.The new king had to pay tribute to Syria. King Hazael had gradually wrested much of his territory from Israel and Judah, both east of the Jordan and on the Mediterranean coast, where he gained control of the Philistine city-states. After Jehu's death he could have seized Samaria itself, and Jehoahaz had no choice.

Things were no better in Judah. The boy king Joash had ruled under the tutelage of the priests, but when Jehoiada died and was succeeded as priest by his son, the king asserted his independence and schemed to have the new priest stoned to death. The Syrian king Hazael arrived in his raids to Jerusalem itself and, to get rid of his threat, Joash had to pay him a heavy tribute that came out of the temple treasury, which ended up earning the enmity of the clergy.

In 810 the Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad V died, leaving his widow Sammu-Rammat and a small child. The image of a woman who ruled the most powerful and fearsome empire in the world gave rise to many legends, spread mainly by the Greeks. We know the queen better precisely by the Greek version of her name: Semiramis. The Greeks made her the wife of Ninus, the first Assyrian king, according to her version of history, who founded the cities of Nineveh and Babylon. Nothing of this is true. Semiramis reigned alone for a brief period of time, taking advantage of the fear that Assyria still inspired in the surrounding peoples. in 806 Hazael of Syria died, and was succeeded by his son Benhadad III. Shortly after, an Assyrian army took Damascus, imposed a heavy tribute on it and left the country completely weakened, thus ending the ten years of splendor in which Syria dominated practically all of Canaan. Semiramis died in 802 after eight years of reign (and not forty-two, as the legend says). She was succeeded by his son and Assyria continued to slowly decline, thus testifying to the good results of the policy of terror that its powerful monarchs had practiced, which saved the country even when it would probably have been easy prey for its many enemies.

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