911 BC – 727 BC
Probably the Empire most associated with the Assyrian name, seeing as it came the latest and expanded Assyria’s power the furthest it had ever been, Neo-Assyria, as we now call it to distinguish it from the older Assyrian Empires, was one of the first big Iron Age empires and one of the first empires overall to really put their mark on the ground they claimed to own. People knew they were living under the Assyrians. At its height, Assyria was easily the largest empire in the world and was always looking to expand. Up until now, Assyria has been one of the last ones in that particular period I did, here, it’s going to be one of the first because where we left off in the Middle Assyrian Empire, we’re going straight on from there for the Neo-Assyrian.
Assyria, of course, where do you think?
Actually there was quite a bit more to Neo-Assyria, particularly as they conquered nearly the entirety of the Fertile Crescent at one point. They pushed into Egypt, they conquered Babylon and pushed back what remained of Elam, they made inroads into Anatolia and the Armenian uplands and they certainly took over the lands of Samaria, Judaea and all those minor kingdoms surrounding them. Even Phoenicia had to pay tribute to them. You name a Bronze/Iron Age Middle Eastern people and they conquered them. This was, for Assyria, their crowning glory of an empire, their true moment in the spotlight after centuries of having to watch Egyptians, Babylonians, ‘barbarians’, Hittites, and others take the spotlight (never mind that Assyria had quite a few spotlights themselves).
Long ago at the end of middle Assyria, king Ashur-Dan II conquered and restored a waning Assyria its original natural borders through repeat and almost nonstop military campaigns. He was followed by his son, Adad-Nirari II, who solidified this power, made Assyrian power in their local area a reality rather than something intangible. He finished up his reign with an unexpected conquering of Babylonia, which was going through a period of chaos following the collapse of Kassite rule.
The next significant king was Adad’s grandson, Ashurnasirpal II (not to be confused with the famous Assyrian king I’ll get to later on), who had a huge fascination with expanding his borders, conducting tons of campaigns far into Asia Minor, specifically Phrygia, and by the end of his reign, even the Phoenicians were paying tribute to him.
Shalmaneser III took over and ruled for a good long 35 years. He had lots of minor campaigns against all of the people on his Eastern border and it’s from his annals that we first get the word ‘Arab’ as a state claiming to be of the Arabs is part of a coalition against Shalmaneser, to deal with all his restless conquering. It got so military at this point that the capital had a huge armed camp by it, from which every year the Assyrian army marched out to campaign. It seems like they ‘drew’ against the coalition, led by the small kingdom of Aram Damascus, but Shalmaneser recorded it as a victory anyway, while he was ordering his forces to gobble up the tiny state of Karkemish. Unfortunately, towards the end of Shalmaneser’s reign, one of his sons took control of Nineveh and revolted against him, which caused a civil war. Thankfully, the other son, Shamshi-Adad V, the namesake of the first Shamshi Adad who had conquered so much for Old Assyria nearly a millennium prior, won and restabilised the realm as his father passed away. Due to this civil war, some of the outer terrritories like Babylon broke from Assyrian rule, undoing some of Shalameneser’s conquests, which Shamshi could not repeat. Shamshi ruled for 13 years, then died.
His son was too young to take the throne immediately, so Shamshi’s wife might have taken the reigns to rule as regnant but this is disputed, the Assyrians being a warrior society, a female ruling would be very unusual for them. When the son, Adad-Nirari took the throne, he was quite diligent about taking back what had been lost, particularly Aram Damascus, but his successors, Shalmaneser IV, Ashur-Dan III and Ashur-Nirari V were not so strong and for half a century Assyria basically slept.
This was brought back when Tiglath-Pileser III, a noble from outside the royal family, formed an army and, as all good nobles do when they believe they can rule better, killed the royal family in a civil war. Tiglath proved this was the right choice, as he streamlined Assyria’s killing capabilities and made necessary changes to the Assyrian government. He, by the end of his reign, brought Assyria nearly to what you see on the map, solidfying Assyria’s hold on all of the Middle East, subduing the Babylonians, the Arabians, in the East, old Elam, and some young tribes known as Persia and Media…
He also took on the Armenians to the north, pushing back Urartu, subjugated the Greeks on Cyprus, made inroads into Asia Minor, quashed the Judeans and Samarian Kingdoms and, according to the Bible, demanded heavy tribute from them and made a version of Aramaic one of the two official languages of the Assyrian Empire as so many of his conquests spoke it. By the time Tiglath was done, Assyria was no longer an empire that would wax and wane with the fortunes of the wind, but, for a good century at least, had ensured the rule of a vast Assyrian empire, and future vast empires would be prevalent in the region for several centuries after Tiglath’s death.
And that’s it for now, part 2 will be coming soon. I’ll actually make that what I do next so I don’t leave it for months, while I’m on this Assyrian theme.