The origin of the Assyrian nation is involved in obscurity. The tenth chapter of Genesis in the Old Testament Bible says that the Assyrians are the descendants of Assur (Asshur) one of the sons of Sem (Shem -- Gen., x, 22). What we can say with a degree of certainty is that they are Semites, probably an offshoot of the Semitic Babylonians, or a Babylonian colony; although they have been looked upon by some scholars as an independent Semitic offshoot, who, around c. 3000-2500 B.C., migrated and settled in Assyria. Assyrian rulers bore the title of Ishshaku (probably "priest-prince", or "governor") and were certainly subject to some outside power, presumably that of Babylonia. Some of the earliest of these Ishshaki known to us are Ishmi-Dagan and his son Shamshi-Adad I (or Shamshi-Ramman). The exact date of these two princes is uncertain, although we may with reasonable certainty place them about 1840-1800 B.C. Other Ishshaki are Igur-Kapkapu, Shamshi-Adad II, Khallu, and Irishum. The two cities of Nineveh and Assur were certainly in existence at the time of Hammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.) for in one of his letters he makes mention of them. It is significant, however, that in the long inscription (300 lines) of Agumkakrime, one of the Kassic rulers of Babylonia (c. 1650 B.C.), in which he enumerates the various countries over which his rule extended, no mention is made of Assyria. Hence, it is probable that the beginning of an independent Assyrian kingdom may be placed towards the seventeenth century B.C.
Towards the fifteenth century B.C. we find Egytian supremacy extended over Syria and the Mesopotamian valley: and in one of the royal inscriptions of Thothmes III of Egypt (1480-1427 B.C.), we find Assyria among his tributary nations. From the Tel-el-Amarna letters also we know that diplomatic negotiations and correspondences were frequent among the rulers of Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Mitanni, and the Egyptian Pharaohs, especially Amenhotep IV. Towards this same period we find also the Kings of Assyria standing on an equal footing with those of Babylonia, and successfully contesting with the latter for the boundary-lines of their Kingdom. About 1450 B.C. Asshr-bel-nisheshu was King of Assyria. He settled the boundary-lines of his kingdom with his contemporary Karaindash, King of Babylonia. The same treaty was concluded again between his successor, Puzur-Asshur, and Burnaburiash I, King of Babylon. Puzur-Asshur was succeeded by Asshur-nadin-Ahhe, who is mentioned by his successor, Asshur-uballit, in one of his letters to Amenhotep IV, King of Egypt, as his father and predecessor.
During most of the long reign of Asshur-uballit, the relations between Assyria and Babylonia continued friendly, but towards the end of that reign the first open conflict between the two sister-countries broke out. The cause of the conflict was as follows: Asshur-uballit, in sign of friendship, had given his daughter, Muballitat-sherua, for wife to the King of Babylonia. The son born of this royal union, Kadashman-Charbe by name, succeeded his father on the throne, but was soon slain by a certaln Nazi-bugash (or Suzigash), the head of the discontented Kassite party, who ascended the throne in his stead. To avenge the death of his grandson the aged and valiant monarch, Asshur-uballit, invaded Babylonia, slew Nazi-bugash, and set the son of Kadashman-Charbe, who was still very young on the throne of Babylonia, as Kurigalzu II. However, towards the later part of his reign (c. 1380 B.C.), Kerizalu II became hostile to Assyria; in consequence of which, Belnirari, Assyhur-uballit's successor on the throne of Assyria, made war against him and defeated him at the city of Sugagu, annexing the northern part of Babylonia to Assyria. Belnirari was succeeded by his son, Pudi-ilu (c. 1360 B.C.), who undertook several successful military expeditions to the east and southeast of Assyria and built various temples, and of whom we possess few, but important, inscriptions. His successor was Ramman-nirari, who not only strengthened the newly-conquered territories of his two predecessors, but also made war and defeated Nazi-Maruttash, King of Babylonia, the successor of Kurigalzu II, adding a considerable Babylonian territory to the newly arisen, but powerful, Assyrian Empire.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century B.C. (about 1330-1320 B.C.,) Ramman-nirari was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser I. During, or about the time of this ruler, the once powerful Egyptian supremacy over Syria and Mesopotamia, thanks to the brilliant military raids and resistance of the Hittites, a powerful horde of tribes in Northern Syria and Asia Minor, was successfully withstood and confined to the Nile Valley. With the Egyptian pressure thus removed from Mesopotamia, and the accession of Shalmaneser I, an ambitious and energetic monarch, to the throne of Assyria, the Assyrian empire began to extend its power westwards. Following the course of the Tigris, Shalmaneser I marched northwards and subjugated many northern tribes; then, turning westwards, invaded part of northeastern Syria and conquered the Arami, or Aramaeans, of Western Mesopotamia. From there he marched against the land of Musri, in Northern Arabia, adding a considerable territory to his empire. For strategic reasons he transferred the seat of his kingdom from the city of Asshur to that of Kalkhi (the Chale, or Calah, of Genesis) forty miles to the north, on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and eighteen miles south of Nineveh. Shalmaneser I was succeeded by his son Tukulti-Ninib (c. 1290 B.C.) whose records and inscriptions have been collected and edited by L.W. King of the British Museum. He was a valiant warrior and conqueror, for he not only preserved the integrity of the empire but also extended it towards the north and northwest. He invaded and conquered Babylonia, where he established the seat of his government for fully seven years, during which he became obnoxious to the Babylonians, who plotted and rebelled against him, proclaiming a certain Ramman shur-usur king in his stead. The Assyrians themselves also became dissatisfied on account of his long absence from Assyria, and he was slain by his own nobles, who proclaimed his son, Asshur-nasir-pal, king in his stead. After the death of this prince, two kings, Asshur-narrara and Nabudayan by name, reigned over Assyria, of whom, however, we know nothing. Towards 1210-1200 B.C. we find Bel-Kudur-usur and his successor, Ninib-pal-Eshara, reigning over Assyria. These, however, were attacked and defeated by the Babylonians who thus regained possession of a considerable part of their former territory. The next Assyrian monarch was Asshur-dan, Ninib-pal-Eshara's son. He avenged his father's defeat by invading Babylonia and capturing the cities of Zaban, lrria, and Akarsallu. In 1150 B.C., Asshur-dan was succeeded by his son, Mutakkil-Nusku; in 1140 B.C., by the latter's son Asshur-resb-ishi, who subjugated the peoples of Ahlami, Lullumi, Kuti (or Guti) and other countries, and administered a crushing defeat to his rival and contemporary, Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) I, King of Babylonia.
About 1120-1110 B.C. Asshur-resh-ishi was succeeded by his son, Tiglath-pileser I, one of the greatest Assyrian monarchs, under whose reign of only ten years duration Assyria rose to the apex of its military success and glory. He has left us a very detailed and circumstantial account of his military achievements, written on four octagonal cylinders which he placed at the four corners of the temple built by him to the god Ramman. According to these, he undertook, in the first five years of his reign, several successful military expeditions against Mushku, against the Shubari, against the Hittites, and into the mountains, of Zagros, against the people of Nairi and twenty-three kings, who were chased by him as far north as Lake Van in Armenia; against the people of Musri in Northern Arabia, and against the Aramaens, or Syrians. "In all", he tells us, forty-two countries and their kings, from beyond the Lower Zab, from the border of the distant mountains as far as the farther side of the Euphrates, up to the land of Hatti [Hittites] and as far as the upper sea of the setting sun [i.e. Lake Van], from the beginning of my sovereignty until my fifth year, has my hand conquered. I carried away their possessions, burned their cities with fire, demanded from their hostages tribute and contributions, and laid on them the heavy yoke of my rule." He crossed the Euprates several times, and even reached the Mediterranean, upon the waters of which he embarked. He also invaded Babylonia, inflicting a heavy blow on the Babylonian king, Marduk-nadin-ahhe and his army, and capturing several important cities, such as Dur-Kurigalzu, Sippar, Babylon, and Opis. He pushed his triumphal march even as far as EIam. Tiglath-pileser I was also a daring hunter, for in one of his campaigns, he tells us, he killed no fewer than one hundred and twenty lions on foot, and eight hundred with spears while in his chariot, caught elephants alive, and killed ten in his chariot. He kept at the city of Asshur a park of animals suitable for the chase. At Nineveh he had a botanical garden, in which he planted specimens of foreign trees gathered during his campaigns. He built also many temples, palaces, and canals. It may be of interest to add that his reign coincides with that of Heli (Eli), one of the ten judges who ruled over Israel prior to the establishment of the monarchy. At the time of Tiglath-pileser's death, Assyria was enjoying a period of tranquillity, which did not last, however, very long; for we find his two sons and successors, Asshur-bel-Kala and Shamshi-Ramman, seeking offensive and defensive alliances with the Kings of Babylonia.
From about 1070 to 950 B.C., a gap of more than one hundred years presents itself in the history of Assyria. But from 950 B.C. down to the fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire (606 B.C.) the history of Assyria is very completely represented in documents. Towards 950 B.C., Tiglath-pileser II was king over Assyria. In 930 B.C. he was succeeded by his son, Assuhr-dan II, and about 910 B.C. by the latter's son, Ramman-nirari II, who, in 890, was succeeded by his son, Tukulti-Ninib II. Kings of Babylonia.
The last two monarchs appear to have undertaken several successful expeditions against Babylonia and the regions north of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninib's successor was his son Asshur-nasir-pal (885-860 B.C.), with whose accession to the throne began a long career of victory that placed Assyria at the head of the great powers of that age. He was a great conqueror, soldier, organizer, hunter, builder and also very fierce. In his eleven military campaigns he invaded, subdued, and conquered, after a series of raids, all the regions north, south, east, and west of Assyria, from the mountains of Armenia down to Babylon, and from the mountains of Kurdistan and Lake Urmi (Urum-yah) to the Mediterranean. He crossed the Euphrates and the Orontes, penetrated into the Lebanon region, attacked Karkemish, the capital of the Hittites, invaded Syria, and compelled the cities of the Mediterranean coast (such as Tyre, Sidon, Bylos, and Armad) to pay tribute. Asshur-nasir-pal was succeeded by his son, Shalmaneser II, who in the sixth year of his reign (854 B.C.) made an expedition to the West with the object of subduing Damascus. In this memorable campaign he came into direct touch with Israel and their king Achab (Ahab), who happened to be one of the allies of Benhadad, King of Damascus.
The Old Testament is silent on the presence of Achab in the battle of Karkar, which took place in the same year in which Achab died fighting in the battle of Ramoth Galaad (III Kings, xxii). Eleven years after this event Jehu was proclaimed king over Israel, and one of his first acts was to pay tribute to Shalmaneser II. This incident is commemorated in the latter's well-known "black obelisk", in the British Museum, in which Jehu himself, "the son of Omri", is sculptured as paying tribute to the king. In another inscription the same king records the same fact, saying: At that time I received the tribute of the Tyrians, Sidonians, and Jehu the son of Omri". This act of homage took place in 842 B.C., in the eighteenth year of Shalmaneser's reign.
After Shalmneser II came his son Shamshi-Ramman II (824 B.C.), who, in order to quell the rebellion caused by his elder son, Asshur-danin-pal, undertook four campaigns. He also fought and defeated the Babylonian King, Marduk-balatsuiqbi, and his powerful army. Shamshi-Ramman II was succeeded by his son, Ramman-nirari III (812 B.C.). This king undertook several expeditions against Media, Armenia, the land of Nairi, and the region around Lake Urmi, and subjugated all the coastlands of the West, including Tyre, Sidon, Edom, Philistia, and the "land of Omri", i.e. Israel. The chief object of this expedition was again to subdue Damascus which he did by compelling Mari', its king, to pay a heavy tribute in silver, gold, copper, and iron, besides quantities of cloth and furniture. Joachaz (Jehoahaz) was then king over Israel, and he welcomed with open arms Ramman-nirari's advance, in as much as this monarch's conquest of Damascus relieved Israel from the heavy yoke of the Syrians. Ramman-nirari III also claimed sovereignty over Babylonia. His name is often given as that of Adad-nirari, and he reigned from 812 to 783 B.C. Ramman-ni-rari III was succeeded by Shalmaneser III (783-773 B.C.), and the latter by Asshurdan III (773-755 B.C.). Of these three kings we know little, as no adequate inscriptions of their reigns have come down to us.
In the year 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III (in the Douay Version, Theglathphalasar) seized the throne of Assyria, at Nineveh. He is said to have begun life as gardener, to have distinguished himself as a soldier, and to have been elevated to the throne by the army. He was a most capable monarch, enterprising, energetic, wise, and daring. His military ability saved the Assyrian Empire from the utter ruin and decay which had begun to threaten its existence, and for this he is fitly spoken of as the founder of the Second Assyrian Empire. Tiglath-pileser's methods differed from those of his predecessors, who had been mere raiders and plunderers. He organized the empire and divided it into provinces, each of which had to pay a fixed tribute to the exchequer. He was thus able to extend Assyrian supremacy over almost all of Western Asia, from Armenia to Egypt, and from Persia to the Mediterranean. During his reign Assyria came into close contact with the Hebrews as is shown by his own inscriptions, as well as by the Old Testament records, where he is mentioned under the name of Phul (Pul). In the Assyrian inscriptions his name occurs only as that of Tiglath-pileser, but in the "List of Babylonian Kings" he is also called Pul, which settles his identity with the Phul, or Pul. of the Bible. He reigned for eighteen years (745-727 B.C.). In his annals he mentions the payment of tribute by several kings, among whom is "Menahem of Samaria", a fact confirmed by IV Kings, xv, 19. 20
Tiglath-pileser was the first Assyrian king to come into contact with Israel and was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser IV, who reigned for five years (727-722 B.C.). He was succeded by Sargon II.
Sargon II, a man of commanding ability, was, notwithstanding his claim to royal ancestry, in all probability a usurper. He is one of the greatest figures in Assyrian history, and the founder of the famous Sargonid dynasty, which held sway in Assyria for more than a century, i.e. until the fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire. He himself reigned for seventeen years (722-705 B.C.) and proved a most successful warrior and organizer. In every battle he was victor, and in every difficulty a man of resource. He was also a great builder and patron of the arts. His greatest work was the building of Dur-Sharrukin, or the Castle of Sargon, the modern Khorsabad, which was thoroughly explored in 1844-55 by Botta, Flandin, and Place. It was a large city, situated about ten miles from Nineveh, and capable of accommodating 80, 000 in habitants. His palace there was a wonder of architecture, panelled in alabaster, adorned with sculpture, and inscribed with the records of his exploits. In the same year in which he ascended the throne, Samaria fell (722 B.C.), and the Kingdom of Israel was brought to an end. "In the beginning of my reign", he tells us in his annals, "and in the first year of my reign . . . Samaria I besieged and conquered . . . 27, 290 inhabitants I carried off . . . I restored it again and made it as before. People from all lands, my prisoners, I settled there. My officials I set over them as governors. Tribute and tax I laid on them, as on the Assyrians." Sargon's second campaign was against the Elamites, whom he subdued. From Elam he marched westward, laid Hamath in ruins, and afterwards utterly defeated the combined forces of the Philistines and the Egyptians, at Raphia. He made Hanum, King of Gaza, prisoner, and carried several thousand captives, with very rich booty, into Assyria. Two years later, he attacked Karkemish, the capital of the Hittites, and conquered it, capturing its king, officers, and treasures, and deporting them into Assyria. He then for fully six years harassed, and finally subdued, all the northern and northwestern tribes of Kurdistan of Armenia (Urartu, or Ararat), and of Cilicia: the Mannai, the Mushki, the Kummukhi, the Milidi, the Kammani, the Gamgumi, the Samali, and many others who lived in those wild and inaccessible regions. Soon after this he subdued several Arabian tribes and, afterwards, the Medians, with their forty-two chiefs, or princes.
During the first eleven years of the reign of Sargon II, Israel remained peacefully subject to Assyria, paying the stipulated annual tribute. In 711 B.C., however, Ezechias (Hezekiah), partly influenced by Merodach-baladan, of Babylonia, and partly by promises of help from Egypt, rebelled against the Assyrian monarch, and in this revolt he was heartly joined by the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Moabites, and tbe Ammonites. Sargon II was ever quick to act; he collected a powerful army, marched against the rebels, and dealt them a crushing blow. The fact is recorded in Isaias, xx, 1, where the name of Sargon is expressly mentioned as that of the invader and conqueror. With Palestine and the West pacified and subdued Sargon, ever energetic and prompt, turned his attention to Babylonia, where Merodach-baladan ruling. The Babylonian army was easily routed and Merodach-balaclan himself abandoned Babylon and fled in terror to Beth-Yakin, his ancestral stronghold. Sargon entered Babylonia in triumph, and in the following year he pursued the fleeing king, stormed the city of Beth-Yakin, deported its people, and compelled all the Babylonias and Elamites, to pay him tribute, homage and obedience. In 705, in the flower of his age and at the zenith of his glory, Sargon was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son, Sennacherib.
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