Assyria, Asshur. The region between the Armenian mountains on the N., Elam or Susiana, now the country near Bagdad, on the S., and beyond it Babylonia, the mountains of Kurdistan, the ancient Lagres chain and Media on the E., the Mesopotamian desert (between Tigris and Euphrates), or else the Euphrates, on the W.; a length of about 500 miles, a breadth of from 350 to 100. W. of the Euphrates was Arabia, higher up Syria, and the country of the Hittites. Kurdistan and the pachalik of Mosul nearly answer to Assyria. Named from Asshur, Shem's son, latterly made the Assyrian god. Its capital was Nineveh on the Tigris (a name meaning "arrow", implying "rapidity", but see Hiddekel). Genesis 10:11-12; Genesis 10:22; Genesis 2:14. All over the vast flat on both sides of the Tigris rise "grass covered heaps, marking the site of ancient habitations" (Layard). They are numbered by hundreds, and when examined exhibit traces of their Assyrian origin. They are on the left bank of the Tigris, and on the right abound both on the N. and the S. of the Sinyar (a limestone range extending from Iwan in Luristan nearly to Rakkah on the Euphrates), and eastward beyond the Khabour, northward to Mardie, and southward to near Bagdad.
Huzzab (Nahum 2:7), answering to Adiabene, the richest region of all, lying on the rivers Zab or Diab, tributaries of the Tigris, whence it is named, is the only district name which occurs in Scripture. The chief cities were Nineveh, answering to the mounds opposite Mosul (Nebi Yunus and Koyunjik), Calah or Hulah, now Nimrud Asshur, now Kilek Sherghent; Sargina, now Khorsabad; Arbela, Arbil (G. Rawlinson). Others identify Kileh Sherghat on the right bank of the Tigris with the ancient Calah, Nimrud with Resen. Erech is the modern Warka; Accad, now Akkerkuf. Calneh answers to the classical Ctesiphon on the Tigris, 18 miles below Bagdad, the region round being named by the Greeks Calonitis. Rehoboth answers to ruins still so named on the right of the Euphrates, N.W. of the Shinar plain, and three and half miles S.W. of the town Mayadin (Chesney): Genesis 10:10-12.
G. Smith thinks the ridges enclosing Koyunjik and Nebi Yunus were only the wall of inner Nineveh, the city itself extending much beyond this, namely, to the mound Yarenijah. Nineveh was at first only a fort to keep the Babylonian conquests in that quarter; but even then a temple was founded to the goddess at Koyunjik. Samsivul, prince of the city Assur, 60 miles S. of Nineveh, rebuilt the temple; the region round Nineveh in the 19th century being under Assyria's rulers. Again Assurubalid, 1400 B.C., rebuilt, and a century later Shalmaneser, one of whose brick inscriptions G. Smith found. Classical tradition and the Assyrian monuments confirm Scripture, that Assyria was peopled from Babylon. In Herodotus Ninus the founder of Nineveh is the son of Belus, the founder of Babylon.
The remains prove that Babylon's civilization was anterior to Assyria's. The cuneiform writing is rapidly punched on moist clay, and so naturally took its rise in Babylonia, where they used "brick for stone" (Genesis 11:3), and passed thence to Assyria, where chiseling characters on rock is not so easy. In Assyria too the writing is of a more advanced kind; in early Babylonia of a ruder stage. Babylon is Hamitic in origin; Assyria Shemitic. The vocabulary of Ur, or S. Babylonia, is Cushite or Ethiopian, of which the modern Galla of Abyssinia gives the best idea. At the same time traces exist in the Babylonian language of the other three great divisions of human speech, Shemitic, Aryan, and Turanian, showing in that primitive stage traces of the original unity of tongues.
Rehoboth Ir (i.e. city markets), Calah, Resen, and Nineveh (in the restricted sense), formed one great composite city, Nineveh (in the larger sense): Jonah 3:3. The monuments confirm Genesis 10:9-12, that the Shemitic Assyrians proceeding out of Babylonia founded Nineveh long after the Cushite foundation of Babylon. The Babylonian shrines were those at which the Assyrians thought the gods most accessible, regarding Babylon as the true home of their gods (Arrian, Exp. Alex., 7). Moses knew Assyria (Genesis 2:14; Genesis 25:18; Numbers 24:22; Numbers 24:24), but not as a kingdom; had it been a kingdom in Abraham's time, it must have appeared among Chedorlaomer's confederates (Genesis 14). Chushan-Rishathaim (Judges 3:8), the first foreign oppressor of Israel, was master of the whole of Syria between the rivers (Aram Naharaim) or Mesopotamia, in the time of the judges, so that at that time (about 1400 B.C.) Assyria can have had no great power.
According to Herodotus and the Babylonian historian Berosus, we can infer the empire began about 1228 B.C., 520 years before its decay through the revolt of subject nations, the Medes, etc.; or else 526 years from 1273 B.C. (as others suggest) to the reign of Pul. He first brought Assyria into contact with Israelite history by making Menahem his tributary vassal (2 Kings 15:19). Under Tiglath Pileser the Assyrian empire included Media, Syria, and N. Israel, besides Assyria proper. Shalmaneser added Israel, Zidon, Acre, and Cyprus. Assyrian monuments, pillars, boundary tablets, and inscriptions are found as far as in Cyprus at Larnaka (a portrait of a king with a tablet, now in Berlin), and in the desert between the Nile and the Red Sea. Their alabaster quarries furnished a material better than the Babylonian bricks for portraying scenes. Their pictures partake more of the actual than the ideal; but in the realistic school they stand high and show a progressive power unknown in stationary Egyptian art .
The sculptures in Sardanapalus II.'s palace are the best, and the animal forms, the groupings, the attitudes most lifelike. The Assyrians knew the arch, the lever, the roller, gem engraving, tunneling, drainage. Their vases, bronze and ivory ornaments, bells, and earrings, show considerable taste and skill. But their religion was sensual and their government rude. No funeral ceremonies are represented. They served as God's scourge of Israel (Isaiah 10:5-6), and they prepared the way for a more centralized and better organized government, and a more spiritual religion, such as the Medo-Persians possessed. The apocryphal book of Baruch describes the Assyrian deities exactly as the ancient monuments do.
Asshur, the deified patriarch, was the chief god (Genesis 10:22). Ahaz' idolatrous altar set up from a pattern at Damascus, where lie had just given his submission to Tiglath Pileser, may have been required as a token of allegiance, for the inscriptions say that wherever they established their supremacy they set up "the laws of Asshur," and "altars to the great gods." But this rule was not always enforced and in no case required the supplanting of the local worship, but merely the superaddition of the Assyrian rite. Athur, on the Tigris, five hours N.E. of Mosul, still represents the name Assyria. Syria (properly called Aram) N. of Israel is probably a shortened form of Assyria, the name being extended by the Greeks to the country which they found subject to Assyria. Ctesias' list of Assyrian kings is evidently unhistorical. However the inscriptions of Sargon, king of Agane near Sippars (Sepharvaim), describe his conquests in Elam and Syria, and his advance to the Mediterranean coast, where he set up a monument 1600 B.C. He records that his mother placed him at his birth in an ark of rushes and set it afloat on the Euphrates; seemingly copied from the account of Moses.
The oldest Assyrian remains are found at Kileh Sherghat on the right bank of the Tigris, 60 miles S. of the later capital; here therefore, at this city then called Asshur, not at Nineveh, was the early seat of government. 14 kings reigned there during 350 years, from 1273 to 930 B.C., divisible into three groups. Tiglath Pileser I. was contemporary with Samuel about the close of the 12th century B.C. Cylinders of clay, (resembling a small keg diminishing in size from the middle to the ends, more durable for records than the hardest metals.) are now in the British Museum. which had lain under the four grainer stones of the great temple of Assyria at Kileh Sherghat for 3000 years, and which relate the five successive campaigns of Tiglath Pileser I., 1130 B.C. He is the first Assyrian king of whose exploits we have full details; two duplicate cylinders in the British Museum were deciphered by Sir H. Rawlinson. Fox Talbot, Hincks, and Oppert, furnished simultaneously with lithographed copies and working independently. The agreement substantially of their readings proves the truth of the decipherment. Asshur-buni-pal (the Greek Sardanapalus) is the only monarch who keenly patronized literature.
A royal library of clay tablets, numbering probably 10,000, was made by him at Nineveh, from which the British Museum has got its most precious treasures. They filled the chambers to the height of a foot or more from the floor. A religious character appears in all the Assyrian kings' names. Tiglath Pileser I. ("Be worship given to Nin" or "Hercules") claims to have conquered in the first five years of his reign "42 countries from the Lower Zab to the Upper Sea of the setting sun," the region from Assyria proper to the Euphrates, from Babylon's borders to mount Taurus, and to have fought the Hittites in northern Syria, and invaded Armenia and Cappadocia. Later on he was defeated by the Babylonian king, who carried captive several Assyrian idols.
Sardanapalus I. (Asshur-izir-pal) transferred the seat of government from Kileh Sherghat (Assur) to Nimrud (Calah), where he built the gorgeous palace lately discovered. Most, of the Assyrian sculptures in the British Museum are from it; and from them we learn that Sardanapalus I. (Asshu-izir-pal) warred in Lower Babylonia and Chaldsea, as well as in Syria and upon the Mediterranean coast. Shalmaneser II., or Shalmanubar, his son, set up the black obelisk now in the British Museum to commemorate his father's victories. He himself overran Cappadocia, Armenia, Azerbijan, Media Magna, the Kurd mountains, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia. Cuneiform scholars all agree that Benhadad and Hazael, of Damascus, are mentioned as opposed to him in his Syrian wars, and that he took tribute from Jehu of Israel. In 854 B.C. his advance into Hamath was interrupted by the leagued forces of Syria and Israel, 85,000 in all, under Benhadad. Among them inscriptions mention 2000 chariots and 10,000 footmen of Ahab of Israel.
The battle was at the Orontes. Shalmaneser claims the victory, but he was forced, to return to Nineveh. In 842 B.C., when Moab had revolted from Israel and the league of Syria and Israel was dissolved, Shalmaneser attacked Hazael, Benhadad's successor, at the mountains of Saniru (Shenir) in Lebanon, and completely defeated him. Unable to take Damascus, Shalmaneser marched to the Mediterranean coast, where he set up a pillar at the mouth of the Dog River commemorating his victories. Jehu, called in the inscription "son (i.e. successor) of Omri," gave him tribute. (G. Smith in Pal. Expl. Qy. Stat.) Jonah's mission to Ninevah was shortly before Pul's reign. Pul, Phul, or Phaloch, supposed to be his grandson, is the first Assyrian king mentioned in Scripture. Identified by some with Vul-lush of the Assyrian lists, who reigned at Calah (Nimrud) from 800 to 750 B.C., and who married Semiramis of Babylon (whose son Nabonassar Pul is supposed to have sat on the Babylonian throne). But as it is impossible to identify Tiglath Pileser's predecessor Asshut-lush with Pul, and as Assyria was then in a depressed state through internal troubles, Pul was probably monarch at Babylon (Berosus, the Babylonian historian, calls him "king of the Chaldoeans") while Asshur-lush reigned at Nineveh.
In the disturbed 10 years before Tiglath Pileser's accession, he probably deprived Assyria of her western province and invaded Israel from the Assyrian direction, and so was loosely designated "king of Assyria" instead of "Babylon." Tiglath Pileser II., 745 B.C., founded a new dynasty. He was an usurper, for he makes no mention of his father or ancestors. He conquered Rezin, king of Damascus, at Ahaz' solicitation, also Israel, whom he deprived of much territory. The captives he carried to Kir, a river flowing into the Caspian Sea. In the inscriptions mention is made of Menahem of Syria paying him tribute, also Jahuhazi (Ahaz), of Judah, and of his setting Hoshea on the Israelite throne on Pekah's death. The Assyrian monuments dear the seeming discrepancy of Isaiah 20 mentioning Sargon, while he is ignored in 2 Kings. Sargon is by them proved to have been successor of Shalmaneser II. (Tiglath Pileser's successor), and father of Sennacherib, and grandfather of Esarhaddon.
The siege of Samaria for three years, under Hoshea, was begun by Shalmaneser and was ended by Sargon (2 Kings 17). About the middle of the eighth century B.C. there is a break in the line of Assyrian kings and a loosening of the He which held together the subject nations under Assyria, so that 23 years after Pul, 747 B.C., the Babylonians reckon as the era of their independence. At this time Tiglath Pileser II. seems to have been the founder of the "lower empire." This more than revived the glories of the former empire, and recovered the supremacy over Babylon. The magnificent palace of Sennacherib (the assailant of frontHEZEKIA) at Nineveh, as also the buildings erected by Sargon and Esarhaddon (the carrier away of Manasseh to Babylon, 2 Chronicles 33:11) show the power and wealth of Assyria at this period. The remains at Koyunjik and Khorsabad are the work of these later kings alone; at Nimrud the earlier kings shared in the erections.
By the end of Esarhaddon's reign Hamath, Damascus, and Samaria had been absorbed, Judaea made tributary, Philistia and Idumea subjected, Babylon recovered, and cities planted in Media. Sardanapalus II. succeeded, who was wholly given to the chase, and who decorated his palace walls at Nineveh with sculptures representing its triumphs. The growing power of the Medes gave the final blow (foretold long ago, Isaiah 10:5-19) to Assyria, already enervated by luxury and having lost in prosperous ease its military spirit. Long before Arbaces the Mede (804 B.C.) is said to have made himself king of Assyria. About 633 B.C. they began attacking Assyria, at first unsuccessfully; but Cyaxares the Mede having gained the Babylonians under Nabopolassar, the Assyrian viceroy of Babylon, as allies, about 625 B.C. besieged Nineveh. Saracus, probably Esarhaddon's grandson, after a brave resistance set fire with his own hand to his palace with its treasures, and himself and his wives perished amidst the flames.
Nab. 2 and Zephaniah 2:13-15 shortly before the catastrophe foretold it; and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 31) shortly afterward about 586 B.C. attests how completely Assyria was overthrown, as a warning of the fatal end of pride. Never again did Assyria rise as a nation, for God had said (Nahum 3:19) "there is no healing of thy bruise." The only revolt attempted by her along with Media and Armenia was crushed. The political cause of her downfall was probably the non-fusion of the subject kingdoms into one organic whole. These kingdoms were. feudatories, rendering homage and tribute to the great monarch; as Menahem (2 Kings 15:19), Hoshea (2 Kings 17:4), Ahaz (2 Kings 16:8), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:14), Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11); and ready therefore at the first opportunity, whether the king's death or some Assyrian disaster or the promise of some antagonistic ally, to revolt.