Middle Assyrian Empire
Middle Assyrian Empire is the period in the history of Assyria
between the fall of the
Old Assyrian Empire
Old Assyrian Empire in the 14th century BC and
the establishment of the
Neo-Assyrian Empire in the 10th century BC.
1 Assyrian expansion and empire, 1392–1056 BC
Assyria during the
Bronze Age Collapse, 1055–936 BC
3 Society in the Middle Assyrian period
4 See also
Assyrian expansion and empire, 1392–1056 BC
See also: Military history of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
By the reign of
Eriba-Adad I (1392–1366 BC)
Mitanni influence over
Assyria was on the wane.
Eriba-Adad I became involved in a dynastic
Tushratta and his brother
Artatama II and after this
his son Shuttarna III, who called himself king of the Hurri while
seeking support from the Assyrians. A pro-
Assyria faction appeared at
Eriba-Adad I had thus finally broken Mitanni
influence over Assyria, and in turn had now made
Assyria an influence
Ashur-uballit I (1365–1330 BC) succeeded the throne of
1365 BC, and proved to be a fierce, ambitious and powerful ruler.
Assyrian pressure from the southeast and Hittite pressure from the
Ashur-uballit I to break
Mitanni power. He met and
decisively defeated Shuttarna II, the
Mitanni king in battle, making
Assyria once more an imperial power at the expense of not only the
Mitanni themselves, but also Kassite Babylonia, the
Hurrians and the
Hittites; and a time came when the Kassite king in Babylon was glad to
marry Muballiṭat-Šērūa, the daughter of Ashur-uballit, whose
Akhenaten of Egypt form part of the Amarna letters.
This marriage led to disastrous results for Babylonia, as the Kassite
faction at court murdered the half Assyrian Babylonian king and placed
a pretender on the throne. Assur-uballit I promptly invaded Babylonia
to avenge his son-in-law, entering Babylon, deposing the king and
Kurigalzu II of the royal line king there.
Ashur-uballit I then attacked and defeated Mattiwaza, the Mitanni
king, despite attempts by the Hittite king Suppiluliumas, now fearful
of growing Assyrian power, to help the Mitanni. The lands of the
Hurrians were duly appropriated by Assyria, making it a
large and powerful empire.
Enlil-nirari (1329–1308 BC) succeeded Ashur-uballit I. He described
himself as a "Great-King" (Sharru rabû) in letters to the Hittite
kings. He was immediately attacked by
Kurigalzu II of Babylon who had
been installed by his father, but succeeded in defeating him,
repelling Babylonian attempts to invade Assyria, counterattacking and
appropriating Babylonian territory in the process, thus further
The successor of Enlil-nirari,
Arik-den-ili (c. 1307–1296 BC),
consolidated Assyrian power, and successfully campaigned in the Zagros
Mountains to the east, subjugating the Lullubi and Gutians. In Syria,
he defeated Semitic tribes of the so-called
Ahlamu group, who were
possibly predecessors of the
Arameans or an Aramean tribe.
He was followed by
Adad-nirari I (1295–1275 BC) who made Kalhu
(Biblical Calah/Nimrud) his capital, and continued expansion to the
northwest, mainly at the expense of the
Hittites and Hurrians,
conquering Hittite territories such as
Carchemish and beyond. He then
moved into north eastern Asia Minor, conquering Shupria. Adad-nirari I
made further gains to the south, annexing Babylonian territory and
forcing the Kassite rulers of Babylon into accepting a new frontier
agreement in Assyria's favor.
Adad-nirari's inscriptions are more detailed than any of his
predecessors. He declares that the gods of
Mesopotamia called him to
war, a statement used by most subsequent Assyrian kings. He referred
to himself again as Sharru Rabi (meaning "The Great King" in the
Akkadian language) and conducted extensive building projects in Ashur
and the provinces.
In 1274 BC,
Shalmaneser I (1274–1244 BC) ascended the throne. He
proved to be a great warrior king. During his reign he conquered the
Hurrian kingdom of
Urartu that would have encompassed most of Eastern
Anatolia and the
Caucasus Mountains in the 9th century BC, and the
Gutians of the Zagros. He then attacked the Mitanni-Hurrians,
defeating both King
Shattuara and his Hittite and Aramaean allies,
finally completely destroying the Hurri-
Mitanni kingdom in the
During the campaign against the Hittites,
Shattuara cut off the
Assyrian army from their supply of food and water, but the Assyrians
broke free in a desperate battle, counterattacked, and conquered and
annexed what remained of the
Shalmaneser I installed
an Assyrian prince, Ilu-ippada as ruler of Mitanni, with Assyrian
governors such as Meli-sah, installed to rule individual cities.
The Hittites, having failed to save Mitanni, allied with Babylon in an
unsuccessful economic war against
Assyria for many years.
now a large and powerful empire, and a major threat to Egyptian and
Hittite interests in the region, and was perhaps the reason that these
two powers, fearful of Assyrian might, made peace with one another.
Like his father, Shalmaneser was a great builder and he further
expanded the city of
Kalhu at the juncture of the
Tigris and Zab
Shalmaneser's son and successor,
Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244–1207 BC),
won a major victory against the
Hittites and their king Tudhaliya IV
Battle of Nihriya and took thousands of prisoners. He then
conquered Babylonia, taking
Kashtiliash IV as a captive and ruled
there himself as king for seven years, taking on the old title "King
Sumer and Akkad" first used by Sargon of Akkad. Tukulti-Ninurta I
thus became the first
Akkadian speaking native Mesopotamian to rule
the state of Babylonia, its founders having been foreign Amorites,
succeeded by equally foreign Kassites. Tukulti-Ninurta petitioned the
Shamash before beginning his counter offensive. Kashtiliash IV
was captured, single-handed by Tukulti-Ninurta according to his
account, who "trod with my feet upon his lordly neck as though it were
a footstool" and deported him ignominiously in chains to Assyria.
The victorious Assyrians demolished the walls of Babylon, massacred
many of the inhabitants, pillaged and plundered his way across the
city to the
Esagila temple, where he made off with the statue of
Marduk. He then proclaimed himself "king of Karduniash, king of
Sumer and Akkad, king of
Sippar and Babylon, king of Tilmun and
Meluhha." Middle Assyrian texts recovered at ancient Dūr-Katlimmu,
include a letter from Tukulti-Ninurta to his sukkal rabi'u, or grand
vizier, Ashur-iddin advising him of the approach of his general
Shulman-mushabshu escorting the captive Kashtiliash, his wife, and his
retinue which incorporated a large number of women, on his way to
exile after his defeat. In the process he defeated the Elamites, who
had themselves coveted Babylon. He also wrote an epic poem documenting
his wars against Babylon and Elam. After a Babylonian revolt, he
raided and plundered the temples in Babylon, regarded as an act of
sacrilege. As relations with the priesthood in Ashur began
deteriorating, Tukulti-Ninurta built a new capital city;
A number of historians, including Julian Jaynes, identify
Tukulti-Ninurta I and his deeds as the historical origin for the
fictional biblical character
Nimrod in the Old Testament.
However, Tukulti-Ninurta's sons rebelled and besieged the ageing king
in his capital. He was murdered and then succeeded by Ashur-nadin-apli
(1206–1203 BC) who left the running of his empire to Assyrian
regional governors such as Adad-bēl-gabbe. Another unstable period
Assyria followed, it was riven by periods of internal strife and
the new king only made token and unsuccessful attempts to recapture
Babylon, whose Kassite kings had taken advantage of the upheavals in
Assyria and freed themselves from Assyrian rule. However, Assyria
itself was not threatened by foreign powers during the reigns of
Ashur-nirari III (1202–1197 BC),
Enlil-kudurri-usur (1196–1193 BC)
Ninurta-apal-Ekur (1192–1180 BC), although Ninurta-apal-Ekur
usurped the throne from Enlil-kudurri-usur.
Ashur-Dan I (1179–1133 BC) stabilised the internal unrest in Assyria
during his unusually long reign, quelling instability. During the
twilight years of the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia, he records that
he seized northern Babylonia, including the cities of Zaban, Irriya
and Ugar-sallu during the reigns of
Marduk-apla-iddina I and
Zababa-shuma-iddin, plundering them and "taking their vast booty to
Assyria." However, the conquest of northern
Babylonia brought Assyria
into direct conflict with
Elam which had taken the remainder of
Babylonia. The powerful Elamites, under king Shutruk-Nahhunte, fresh
from sacking Babylon, entered into a protracted war with Assyria, they
briefly took the Assyrian city of Arrapkha, which
Ashur-Dan I then
retook, eventually defeating the Elamites and forcing a treaty upon
them in the process.
Another very brief period of internal upheaval followed the death of
Ashur-Dan I when his son and successor
Ninurta-tukulti-Ashur (1133 BC)
was deposed in his first year of rule by his own brother
Mutakkil-Nusku and forced to flee to Babylonia.
died in the same year (1133 BC).
A third brother,
Ashur-resh-ishi I (1133–1116 BC) took the throne.
This was to lead to a renewed period of Assyrian expansion and empire.
As the Hittite empire collapsed from the onslaught of the
Mushki in Assyrian annals), Babylon
Assyria began to vie for Aramaean regions (in modern Syria),
formerly under firm Hittite control. When their forces encountered one
another in this region, the Assyrian king
Ashur-resh-ishi I met and
Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon on a number of occasions. Assyria
then invaded and annexed Hittite-controlled lands in Asia Minor, Aram
Gutians and Kassite regions in the Zagros, marking an
upsurge in imperian expansion.
Tiglath-Pileser I (1115–1077 BC), vies with
Shamshi-Adad I and
Ashur-uballit I among historians as being regarded as the founder of
the first Assyrian empire. The son of Ashur-resh-ishi I, he ascended
to the throne upon his father's death, and became one of the greatest
of Assyrian conquerors during his 38-year reign.
His first campaign in 1112 BC was against the
Phrygians who had
attempted to occupy certain Assyrian districts in the Upper Euphrates
region of Asia Minor; after defeating and driving out the
then overran the
Luwian kingdoms of Commagene, Cilicia and Cappadocia
in western Asia Minor, and drove the Neo-
Hittites from the Assyrian
province of Subartu, northeast of Malatia.
In a subsequent campaign, the Assyrian forces penetrated Urartu, into
the mountains south of
Lake Van and then turned westward to receive
the submission of Malatia. In his fifth year, Tiglath-Pileser again
attacked Commagene, Cilicia and Cappadocia, and placed a record of his
victories engraved on copper plates in a fortress he built to secure
his Anatolian conquests.
The Aramaeans of northern and central
Syria were the next targets of
the Assyrian king, who made his way as far as the sources of the
Tigris. The control of the high road to the
secured by the possession of the Hittite town of Pitru at the
junction between the
Euphrates and Sajur; thence he proceeded to
conquer the Canaanite/Phoenician city-states of Byblos, Tyre, Sidon,
Aradus and finally
Arvad where he embarked
onto a ship to sail the Mediterranean, on which he killed a nahiru or
A. Leo Oppenheim translates as a narwhal) in the
sea. He was passionately fond of hunting and was also a great
builder. The general view is that the restoration of the temple of the
gods Ashur and
Hadad at the Assyrian capital of
Assur (Ashur) was one
of his initiatives. He also invaded and defeated Babylon twice,
assuming the old title "King of
Sumer and Akkad", forcing tribute from
Babylon, although he did not actually depose the actual king in
Babylonia, where the old Kassite Dynasty had now succumbed to an
He was succeeded by
Asharid-apal-Ekur (1076–1074 BC) who reigned for
just two years. His reign marked the elevation of the office of
ummânu (royal scribe) in importance.
Ashur-bel-kala (1073–1056 BC) kept the vast empire together,
campaigning successfully against
Urartu and Phrygia to the north and
Arameans to the west. He maintained friendly relations with
Marduk-shapik-zeri of Babylon, however upon the death of that king, he
Babylonia and deposed the new ruler Kadašman-Buriaš,
Adad-apla-iddina as his vassal in Babylon. He built some of
the earliest examples of both
Zoological Gardens and Botanical Gardens
in Ashur, collecting all manner of animals and plants from his empire,
and receiving a collection of exotic animals as tributes from Egypt.
He was also a great hunter, describing his exploits "at the city of
Araziqu which is before the land of Hatti and at the foot of Mount
Lebanon." These locations show that well into his reign
controlled a vast empire.
Late in his reign, the
Middle Assyrian Empire
Middle Assyrian Empire erupted into civil war,
when a rebellion was orchestrated by Tukulti-Mer, a pretender to the
throne of Assyria.
Ashur-bel-kala eventually crushed Tukulti-Mer and
his allies, however the civil war in
Assyria had allowed hordes of
Arameans to take advantage of the situation, and press in on Assyrian
controlled territory from the west.
them, and conquered as far as
Carchemish and the source of the Khabur
river, but by the end of his reign many of the areas of
Phoenicia-Canaan to the west of these regions as far as the
Mediterranean, previously under firm Assyrian control, were eventually
lost by the Assyrian Empire.
Assyria during the
Bronze Age Collapse, 1055–936 BC
Bronze Age Collapse from 1200 BC to 900 BC was a dark age for the
entire Near East, North Africa, Asia Minor, Caucasus, Mediterranean,
Balkan regions, with great upheavals and mass movements of people.
Assyria and its empire were not unduly affected by these tumultuous
events for 150 years, perhaps the only ancient power that was not.
However, upon the death of
Ashur-bel-kala in 1056 BC,
into a comparative decline for the next 100 or so years. The empire
shrank significantly, and by 1020 BC
Assyria appears to have
controlled only areas close to
Assyria itself, essential to keeping
trade routes open in eastern Aramea, south eastern Asia Minor, central
Mesopotamia and north western Iran.
New West Semitic peoples such as the Arameans, Chaldeans, and Suteans
moved into areas to the west and south of Assyria, including
overrunning much of
Babylonia to the south. Indo-European speaking
Iranic peoples such as the Medes, Persians, and
Parthians moved into
the lands to the east of Assyria, displacing the native
Mannea (which were all ancient non Indo-European
civilizations of Iran). To the north, the
Phrygians overran the
Hittites, and a new Hurrian state named
Urartu arose in eastern
Anatolia and the Caucasus. Cimmerians,
Colchians (Georgians), and
Scythians were around the Black Sea and Caucasus. Egypt was divided
and in disarray. Israelites were battling with other fellow Semitic
Canaanite peoples such as the Amalekites, Moabites, Edomites, and
Ammonites, and the non-Semitic Peleset/
Philistines (who were probably
one of the so-called Sea Peoples) for the control of southern Canaan.
Assyrian horsemen pursue defeated Arabs.
Despite the apparent weakness of
Assyria in comparison to its former
might, at heart it in fact remained a solid, well defended nation
whose warriors were the best in the world. Assyria, with its
stable monarchy, powerful army and secure borders was in a stronger
position during this time than potential rivals such as Egypt,
Babylonia, Elam, Phrygia, Urartu, Persia, and Media. Kings such as
Ashur-bel-kala, Eriba-Adad II, Ashur-rabi II, Ashurnasirpal I,
Tiglath-Pileser II, and
Ashur-Dan II successfully defended Assyria's
borders and upheld stability during this tumultuous time.
Assyrian kings during this period appear to have adopted a policy of
maintaining and defending a compact, secure nation and satellite
colonies immediately surrounding it, and interspersed this with
sporadic punitive raids and invasions of neighboring territories when
the need arose.
Eriba-Adad II ruled for only two years, and in that time continued to
campaign against the
Arameans and neo-
Hittites before he was deposed
by his elderly uncle
Shamshi-Adad IV (1053–1050 BC) who appears to
have had an uneventful reign.
Ashurnasirpal I (1049–1031 BC)
succeeded him, and during his reign he continued to campaign endlessly
Arameans to the west.
Assyria was also afflicted by famine
during this period.
Shalmaneser II (1030–1019 BC) appears to have
lost territory in the Levant to the Arameans, who also appear to have
Nairi in southeast Asia Minor, hitherto an Assyrian
Ashur-nirari IV took the throne in 1018 BC, and captured the
Babylonian city of Atlila from Simbar-Shipak and continued Assyrian
campaigns against the Arameans. He was eventually deposed by his uncle
Ashur-rabi II in 1013 BC.
During the reign of
Ashur-rabi II (1013–972 BC) Aramaean tribes took
the cities of
Pitru and Mutkinu (which had been taken and colonized by
Tiglath Pileser I). This event showed how far
Assyria could assert
itself militarily when the need arose. The Assyrian king attacked the
Arameans, forced his way to the far off
Mediterranean and constructed
a stele in the area of Mount Atalur.
Ashur-resh-ishi II (971–968 BC) in all likelihood a fairly elderly
man due to the length of his father's reign, had a largely uneventful
period of rule, concerning himself with defending Assyria's borders
and conducting various rebuilding projects within Assyria.
Tiglath-Pileser II (967–936 BC) succeeded him, and reigned for 28
years. He maintained the policies of his recent predecessors, but
appears to have had an uneventful reign.
Society in the Middle Assyrian period
Assyrian troops return after victory.
Assyria had difficulties with keeping the trade routes open. Unlike
the situation in the Old Assyrian period, the Anatolian metal trade
was effectively dominated by the
Hittites and the Hurrians. These
people now controlled the
Mediterranean ports, while the Kassites
controlled the river route south to the Persian Gulf.
The Middle Assyrian kingdom was well organized, and in the firm
control of the king, who also functioned as the high priest of Ashur,
the state god. He had certain obligations to fulfill in the cult, and
had to provide resources for the temples. The priesthood became a
major power in Assyrian society. Conflicts with the priesthood are
thought to have been behind the murder of king Tukulti-Ninurta I.
The main Assyrian cities of the middle period were Ashur, Kalhu
(Nimrud) and Nineveh, all situated in the
Tigris River valley. At the
end of the Bronze Age,
Nineveh was much smaller than Babylon, but
still one of the world's major cities (population c. 33,000). By the
end of the Neo-Assyrian period, it had grown to a population of
120,000, and was possibly the largest city in the world at that
Assyrians skinning or flaying their prisoners alive
The Middle Assyrian Period is marked by the long wars fought during
this period that helped build
Assyria into a warrior society. The king
depended on both the citizen class and priests in his capital, and the
landed nobility who supplied the horses needed by Assyria's military.
Documents and letters illustrate the importance of the latter to
Assyria needed less artificial irrigation than
Babylon, and horse-breeding was extensive. Portions of elaborate texts
about the care and training of them have been found. Trade was carried
out in all directions. The mountain country to the north and west of
Assyria was a major source of metal ore, as well as lumber. Economic
factors were a common casus belli.
Assyrian architecture, like that of Babylonia, was influenced by
Sumero-Akkadian styles (and to some degree Mitanni), but early on
developed its own distinctive style. Palaces sported colorful wall
decorations, and seal-cutting (an art learned from Mittani) developed
apace. Schools for scribes taught both the Babylonian and Assyrian
dialects of Akkadian, and Sumerian and
Akkadian literary works were
often copied with an Assyrian flavor. The Assyrian dialect of Akkadian
was used in legal, official, religious, and practical texts such as
medicine or instructions on manufacturing items. During the 13th to
10th centuries, picture tales appeared as a new art form: a continuous
series of images carved on square stone steles. Somewhat reminiscent
of a comic book, these show events such as warfare or hunting, placed
in order from the upper left to the lower right corner of the stele
with captions written underneath them. These and the excellent cut
seals show that Assyrian art was beginning to surpass that of Babylon.
Architecture saw the introduction of a new style of ziggurat, with two
towers and colorful enameled tiles.
All free male citizens were obliged to serve in the army for a time, a
system which was called the ilku-service. A legal code was produced
during the 14th and 13th centuries which, among other things, clearly
shows that the social position of women in
Assyria was lower than that
of neighboring societies. Men were permitted to divorce their wives
with no compensation paid to the latter. If a woman committed
adultery, she could be beaten or put to death. It's not certain if
these laws were seriously enforced, but they appear to be a backlash
against some older documents that granted things like equal
compensation to both partners in divorce. The women of the king's
harem and their servants were also subject to harsh punishments, such
as beatings, mutilation, and death.
Assyria, in general, had much harsher laws than most of the region.
Executions were not uncommon, nor were whippings followed by forced
labor. Some offenses allowed the accused a trial under torture/duress.
One tablet that covers property rights has brutal penalties for
violators. A creditor could force debtors to work for him, but not
Despite the harsh laws,
Assyria was open to homosexual relationships
between men. In the Middle Assyrian Laws, sex crimes were punished
identically whether they were homosexual or heterosexual. An
individual faced no punishment for penetrating someone of equal social
class, a cult prostitute or someone whose gender roles were not
considered solidly masculine. However, homosexual relationships
between fellow soldiers, with slaves or royal attendants, and with
those where a social better was submissive or penetrated, were treated
as rape and were seen as bad omens.
Omen texts referred to male
homosexual acts without moral judgement or affirmation. One
historian notes that the laws would not be so detailed "if homosexual
behavior were not a familiar aspect of daily life of early
Timeline of the Assyrian Empire
Neo-Assyrian Empire — successor of Middle Assyrian Empire.
Ancient Near East
^ Georges Roux (1964), Ancient Iraq, p. 263.
^ a b J. M. Munn-Rankin (1975). "Assyrian Military Power, 1300–1200
B.C.". In I. E. S. Edwards. Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 2, Part
2, History of the Middle East and the Aegean Region, c. 1380–1000
BC. Cambridge University Press. pp. 287–288, 298.
^ Albert Kirk Grayson (1972). Assyrian Royal Inscriptions: Volume I.
Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. p. 108. §716.
^ Christopher Morgan (2006). Mark William Chavalas, ed. The ancient
Near East: historical sources in translation. Blackwell Publishing.
^ Frederick Mario Fales (2010). "Production and Consumption at
Dūr-Katlimmu: A Survey of the Evidence". In Hartmut Kühne.
Dūr-Katlimmu 2008 and beyond. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 82.
^ Georges Roux (1964), Ancient Iraq, pp. 26–34.
^ Synchronistic History, ii 9–12.
^ a b c d The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts,
sciences, literature and general information, Volume 26, Edited by
Hugh Chrisholm, 1911, p. 968
^ Bryce, Trevor. The Routledge Handbook of The People and Places of
Ancient Western Asia: The
Near East from the Early
Bronze Age to the
fall of the Persians Empire, p.563
^ Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
^ According to Georges Roux (1964), Ancient Iraq, pp. 282–283.
^ Olmstead, A.T. (1918). The Calculated Frightfulness of Ashur Nasir
Pal. Journal of the American Oriental Society. 38.
^ see historical urban community sizes. Estimates are those of
^ a b Homosexuality in the Ancient World, by Wayne R. Dynes, Taylor
& Francis, 1992, p. 8 and 460
^ a b Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective,
by Martti Nissinen, Fortress Press, 2004, p. 24–28
^ The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies, by
James Neill, McFarland, 27 Oct 2008, p.83
Pre- / Protohistory
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)
Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)
Timeline of the Assyrian Empire
Culture / Society
Destruction by ISIL
Syria and Mesopotamia
c. 3500–2350 BCE
c. 2350–2200 BCE
c. 2200–2100 BCE
c. 2100–2000 BCE
Third Dynasty of Ur
Third Dynasty of Ur (Sumerian Renaissance)
c. 2000–1800 BCE
Mari and other
Old Assyrian Empire
Old Assyrian Empire (Northern Akkadians)
Larsa and other
c. 1800–1600 BCE
Old Hittite Kingdom
Old Babylonian Empire (Southern Akkadians)
c. 1600–1400 BCE
c. 1400–1200 BCE
New Hittite Kingdom
Middle Assyrian Empire
c. 1200–1150 BCE
Bronze Age collapse ("Sea Peoples")
c. 1150–911 BCE
Neo-Babylonian Empire (Chaldeans)
Achaemenid Empire (Persians)
Macedonian Empire (Ancient Greeks)
Parthian Empire (Iranians)
63 BCE – 243 CE
Byzantine Empire (Syria)
Sasanian Empire (Persians)
Timeline of the