Assyrian History

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

"And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel" 1 Kings 19:15-16

Assyrian History


Shalmaneser III came to the throne of Assyria in 859 BC. To understand the time period we need to go back several hundred years. During the time of Abraham, Babylonia was the dominant power in the East. The great Hammurabi ruled Babylon around 1700 BC. A few hundred years later, around the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, Assyria overcame Babylon. For about the next 700 years, Assyria was the dominant power in the East.

Tiglath-pileser I

During the 12th century BC King Tiglath-pileser I greatly expanded the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire. He led great war campaigns against the Hittites who dwelt in the upper Euphrates Valley. He defeated the Arameans (Syrians) to the West, and made his presence known all the way to the Mediterranean. In fact he became so powerful that the Pharaoh of Egypt was forced to pay tribute to Assyria, the same way previous Pharaohs had exacted tribute from Assyria.

Interesting Note: Throughout the time of David and Solomon, known as Israel's Golden Age, Assyria was busy at home with their own affairs, thus they left Israel alone. The Assyrians began their largest war campaigns against Israel once Solomon had died, and the following Kings led Israel into idolatry. This is all according to Bible History, as well as Assyrian records.

Assurnasirpal II

It was not until 883 BC that the Assyrians began their great war campaigns again. The great king who ascended the throne of Assyria at that time was Assurnasirpal II. He was a brilliant military strategist, relentless, and ruthless. Every land he conquered went up in flames, and the people were forced to pay heavy tribute. Assurnasirpal was also a great builder, and during the 24 years that he ruled there were magnificent palaces erected, as well as temples, a ziggurat, and other buildings. He also built a huge library with carefully kept records, all inscribed in cuneiform. He made Calah his capital, one of the most powerful and beautiful cities in the history of the world.

It was Assurnasirpal's chief objective to conquer the peoples between Assyria and Egypt. He wanted a pathway to their greatest threat, the Egyptians. This is the reason that the Assyrians were constantly at war with the nations directly to the North and to the West of Assyria. In Assurnasirpal's records of his war campaigns he boasts:

"From Aleppo (Syria) I launched the attack and crossed the Orontes...I marched from the Orontes...I conquered other cities...I caused much slaughter, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned. I took their fighting men prisoners and impaled them on sharpened stakes in full view of their cities. I settled Assyrians in place of them...I bathed my weapons in the Great Sea." - Assurnasirpal II Inscription

Assurnasirpal was a plunderer, as the Bible describes of the Assyrians, collecting huge amounts of gold, silver, copper, lead them whatever they could. Every city in the West paid huge tribute to Assyria. Cities like Damascus in Syria, and coastal cities like Tyre and Sidon of the Phoenicians. King Omri of Israel also paid tribute to the King of Assyria, but at the same time he was fortifying a stronghold in his rich and powerful capital, Samaria.

Shalmanessar III

Assurnasirpal's son Shalmaneser became King of Assyria in 859 BC. His reign lasted a long 35 years, and almost all of them were filled with war campaigns. He violently attacked Syria and Israel in 853 BC at Qarqar, where he claimed a great victory. It was at this time that the Syrians, the Phoenicians, and the Israelites formed a Confederacy to oppose Shalmaneser, as recorded in the Bible. Shalmaneser also mentions this in his records, including Ahab the Israelite who fought against him in this war.

I Kings 16:30-33 "Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him."

Shalmaneser III Stele which records the Qarqar battle.

Assyria Conquers Syria

During this time Hazael king of Syria took over Gilead and Bashan of the land of Israel in the east of the Jordan River. Assyria was starting to move westward in their war campaigns and collecting tribute from anyone un-submissive.

Archaeological Note: It is interesting that the Bible mentions Ben-hadad and Hazael of Damascus, Syria. An inscription by Shalmaneser III says "I fought with Ben-hadad. I accomplished his defeat. Hazael, son of a nobody, seized his throne."

Jehu Pays Tribute to Shalmaneser

Jehu became the next king over Israel. When Jehu heard that Hazael and Syria had been defeated by Shalmaneser III of Assyria, he immediately came and brought tribute, as seen on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser.

Assyria is the Lord's Instrument

The Lord called for a nation far away, a ruthless nation, a conquering nation, to come and destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and put an end to their idolatry.

Isaiah 10

5 - O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.
6 - I will send him (Assyria) against a hypocritical nation (Israel), and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 - Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.
8 - For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings?
9 - [Is] not Calno as Carchemish? [is] not Hamath as Arpad? [is] not Samaria as Damascus?
10 - As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;
11 - Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?

Afterward the Lord Will Destroy Assyria

The Lord also predicted the total destruction of Assyria which would be carried out by Babylon in 612 BC.

Isaiah 10

12 - Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.

Also see Chart of Hebrew Kings and Prophets