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The Assyrians are the people of ancient Mesopotamia, succeeding the Sumero-Akkadians and the Babylonians as one continuous civilization. The core of the Assyrian Empire of antiquity encompasses the areas of Northern Iraq, North-Western Iran, South-Eastern Turkey and North-Eastern Syria, and Lebanon.



Old Assyrian Period


Assyria: Old Assyrian Period
Ushpia, Sulili c.2020,
not attested
Puzur-Ashur I c.1975-c.1939
Erishum I 1939-1900, or
Ikûnum 1900-1814
Sharu-kîn I,
Sargon I
Puzur-Ashur II
Erishum II
Shamshi-Adad I 1813-1781, or
Expands west and south
to the Eurphrates
Ishme-Dagan 1780-1741
Invasion by Hammurabi, 1760
[six kings]  
Adari c.1700


The city state of Ashur appears in history in the early days of the Isin-Larsa period. Its first distinguishing characteristic is as the center of a system of trade, with Assyrian merchant communities attested deep into Anatolia. The state briefly expands to empire proportions under Shamshi-Adad I -- himself of Amorite origin, like the contemporaneous Dynasty I of Babylon -- but then is rapidly reduced again. Subordination to Babylon and then domination by the Hurrians and Mitanni keep Assyrian within its limits, and its history unimpressive, for some time.



The invasion and domination or conquest of Ashur by Hammurabi's Babylon leads to one of the more obscure periods in Assyrian history. Thus, the Old Assyrian Period leaves us with little hint of the conquerors that the Assyrians would later become. Already, however, the Akkadian language of Assyria emerges as a distinct dialect, as it will continue until the fall of Nineveh. Beyond the expanse of traditional Sumer and Akkad, Assyria is a frontier region whose rigors at the crossroads of conquest perhaps explain the toughening of the people to a military discipline that later would seem unbeatable. In subsequent treatment here, Babylonian and Assyria history are separated. They do go their own ways, but it should be kept in mind that they represent two sides of the same civilization, with well remembered roots in Sumer. We might say that Babylon represents the Greek side of the tradition, with a sophistication that was passed down to, indeed, the Greeks, and Assyria the Roman, creating the first transcontinental empire (since it extended up the Nile) in the Middle East. i

Kings of Assyria


Kings of Assyria
Bęlu-bâni 1700-1691
Libaia 1690-1674
Hurrian occupation, c.1680
Sharma-Adad I 1673-1662
IPtar-Sîn 1661-1650
Bazaira 1649-1662
Lullaia 1621-1618
Kidin-Ninua 1615-1602
Sharma-Adad II 1601
Erishum III 1598-1586
Shamshi-Adad II 1585-1580
Erishum III  
Shamshi-Adad II  
Ishme-Dagan II  
Shamshi-Adad III  
Ashur-nirâri I 1547-1522
Puzur-Ashur III 1521-1498
Enlil-nas.ir I  
Control by Mitanni
Ashur-râbi I  
Ashur-nadin-ahhę I  
Enlil-nas.ir II  
Ashur-Nirâri II  
Ashur-nadin-ahhę II  
Independence of Mitanni, c.1400;
Middle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad I 1392-1336
Ashur-uballit. I 1365-1330
Overthrow of Mitanni, c.1330;
Conquest of
upper Mesopotamia, c.1300
Enlil-nirâri 1330-1319
Arik-den-ili 1319-1308
Adad-nirâri I 1307-1275
Salmanasar I 1274-1245
Tukulti-Ninurta I 1244-1208
Holds Babylon 1220-1213
Ashur-nirâri III  
Ninurta-apal-Ekur 1192-1180
Ashur-dân I 1179-1134
Ashur-ręsh-ishi I 1133-1116
Tiglathpileser I 1115-1077
Aramaeans appear c.1080
Asharid-apal-Ekur 1077-1074
Ashur-bęl-kala 1074-1057
Shamshi-Adad IV 1057-1050
Ashur-nas.ir-pal I 1050-1032
Shalmaneser II 1031-1020
Ashur-nirâri IV 1020-1016
Ashur-râbi II 1016-973
Ashur-ręsh-ishi II 973-967
Tiglathpileser II 967-935
Ashur-dân II 934-912



The list and dates here are from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin, 1966, 1992, pp.507-510], with some details added from the Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000-500 BC, by John Haywood [Barnes & Noble, 1998, 2000]. The chronology for the period before the Canon of Kings, 1400 down to 700, is secured by the "Assyrian Kinglist" and a reported eclipse of the sun that can be dated to 15 June 763 BC.

This period begins with the domination of the Hurrians, already or soon to be led by a nobility of Indo-European horsemen, the Mitanni. Assyria was at first kept in check and then in vassalage to this power, one of the more obscure but more important of the Second Millennium BC.


Mitanni, however, set back by Egypt, weakened after 1400 and was soon crushed between the resurgent Hittites to the west and the Assyrians to the east. The plains east of the Euphrates occuied by the Hurrians, the Naharim (or Nahrin, "Rivers") or Jazirah ("Island"), then come under the control of the Assyrians, as they had briefly in the Old Assyrian Period. The Middle Empire reaches its height under Tukulti-Ninurta I, from 1243-1207, who holds Babylon 1220-1213 (or 1235-1227) and is the first King to use the title "King of Kings," which becomes familiar in subsequent states, down to the Persians. This time, migrations again reduce the state.

The Aramaeans are the ones who this time overwhelm the Jazirah and reduce Assyria to its heartland along and east of the Tigris. This is particularly fateful, since the language of the Aramaeans will eventually replace that of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the other Semitic speakers in the Levant and Mesopotamia. The Amorites had been absorbed without a trace by the older civilizations, but the Aramaeans would leave the mark of their language and alphabet on the region until the Arab conquest. i


Neo-Assyrian Empire and Political Events




The political event that still cast its shadow in the early days of Greek philosophy was the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Reduced to a small heartland by the Aramaean migrations in the 11th century, Assyria suddenly had reasserted itself under Adadnirâri II and Ashurnasirpal II. With most of the Levant and Mesopotamia taken up with small states, there was little to stand in the way of Assyria, and in short order it became the dominant power in the Middle East.



Kings of Assyria,
Neo-Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirâri II 911-891
Tukulti-Ninurta II 891-883
Ashurnasirpal II 883-859
Shalmaneser III 858-824
Shamshiadad V 823-811
Adadnirâri III 810-783
Shalmaneser IV 783-772
Ashurdân III 772-755
Ashurnirâri V 754-745
Tiglathpilesser III 744-727
Shalmaneser V 726-722
Sargon (Sharru-kîn) II 722-705
Sennacherib (Sin-ahhê-eriba) 705-681
Sack of Babylon, 689
Esarhaddon (Ashur-aha-iddin) 681-669
Ashurbanipal (Ashur-ban-aplu) 669-631
DFestroys Elam, 639
Ashur-etil-ilâni 631-629
Sin-shar-ishkun 629-612
Asshur falls, 614
Nineveh falls, 612
Ashur-uballit. II 612-609


This dominance lasted slightly less than 300 years, going into overdrive under the Sargonids in the last century. The kings used the title Shar-sharim, "king of kings," but their aspirations to universal rule, well served by the unprecedented extent of their conquests, foundered on the scale of the brutality and terror of their methods. Assyrian policy was to deal with rebellion by exemplary executions and forced relocations. By some estimates, over four million people were deported. The removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma in American history, called the "Trail of Tears," may give of sense of what this would have been like. Acts like the deportation of the Ten Tribes of Israel (by Shalmaneser V or Sargon II after the fall of Samaria in 722) culminated in Ashurbanipal's assault on and massacre of the Elamites, which approached in effect a genocide, since the Elamites shortly thereafter disappeared from history altogether (or were assimilated with the Persians, who styled themselves rulers of an Elamite kingdom, Anshan, and who used the Elamite language in inscriptions and some records). Although Ashurbanipal himself boasted that no Elamites were left, we know from Babylonian records that there actually were. These policies sustained a vast empire for more than a century, but many subject peoples were never reconciled to Assyrian rule, and the constant campaigns of defense and punishment ultimately exhausted the Assyrians, even though they had began assimilating conquered and imported Aramaeans into their own population and army. i


Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.





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