The Assyrians will always be remembered both for their antiquity as a civilization, and for their brutal military methods that terrorize the entire Middle East and part of the West. Their armies, their soldiers, and their ferocity on the battlefield brought them resounding and respected success during the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. in the region of Mesopotamia. They extended their dominions from the Turkish side through Iran to Egypt.
But it wasn’t all blood and violence with the Assyrian people. They had a great predilection for art and architecture, stamping great works wherever they set foot. They wanted to impose their regional hegemony by confronting the Babylonian Empire, which was the power of the moment and which managed to survive by joining forces with another competitor, the Medes, who formed a coalition to wipe out the Assyrians.
In this article we will give a brief review of the history of the Assyrian people , one of the most important elements that occurred in the cradle of civilizations.
The origin of the Assyrians
The Assyrians were a group of nomadic peoples of Semitic origin who moved around what is known today as the Middle East . The origin of its name corresponds to what was the main capital of the Assyrian people, Assura or Ashura in Arabic. This word was dedicated to the god Assur, which according to ancient mythology means “the God of Life”, represented in its beginnings in the form of a tree.
Although a priori the God Assur represented the creation of the whole, of vegetation, of life, of order and of the infinite, as the Assyrian empire expanded, his figure was distorted, until it was given a more perverse and warlike meaning to encourage the soldiers to promote new conquests. He was the king of gods and God of kings, and every Assyrian citizen or ruler had to proceed with a ritual to obtain his blessing.
According to the archaeological discoveries made in the city of Assura, al-Charquat in present-day Iraq, on the banks of the splendid Tigris River, this was a colony of the Babylonians that became one of the Assyrians after its total destruction. This ancient city was revealed in 2003 and was declared an endangered World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Like any other empire of antiquity, the Assyrian passed through the cycle of life that they all share: birth, splendor and decline. Here are three moments that explain the existence of the Assyrian Empire.
First Assyrian Empire
It was in this period (1814-1781 B.C.) that the Assyrian Empire was consolidated with such status. The increase in the Assyrian population outside their regions caused the first tensions and battles with neighbouring nations to break out . Under the rule of King Shamshi Adad I until 1760 BC, as in that year he was defeated by the Babylonian Empire.
Middle Assyrian Empire
This was a tumultuous moment of great confusion throughout the Mesopotamian region, especially for the Assyrians. Once they were annexed to the Babylonian Empire, they began to suffer invasions by other emerging powers such as the Hittites and the so-called People of the Sea from the Balkan peninsula.
It is here that the Assyrians began to carve out their legacy, a legacy feared for years to come. They resisted against all attacks suffered on all fronts before the Hittites, Egyptians, Arameans or the Mitani . So they extended their domains territorially, and established the practice of terror as a weapon of war, burning, killing and razing the conquered regions.
The Neoasyrian Empire
Curiously, just as the Assyrians seemed to be more ruthless militarily, they wanted to lay the foundations of an administrative system for the assimilation of peoples, preventing their destruction and caring for their fellow citizens. In each region a province was established with a governor and their respective representative buildings (usually temples).
King Sargon II, of the Sargonid dynasty , was in charge of bringing another less warlike element to his empire: art, architecture and urban modernization. The gardens and plants are one of the shining attributes of the period, making the capital Nineveh one of the most beautiful in Mesopotamia.
However, all this – even with the accommodation of the masses – was done with an iron hand and in a despotic way. The inequality and cruelty with which the second-class inhabitants were treated caused the empire to fall into a spiral of weakness and lack of control, which would culminate in the reconquest of the Babylonians around 609 BC.
The artistic legacy
We have had a great influence on the conquests and military battles of the Assyrian Empire. In their cruelty and political administration. However, it was not all fights and skirmishes between ethnic groups and archaic nations. There was also an artistic brilliance of which invaluable remains are still discovered today.
As for architecture, the Assyrians assimilated part of the Chaldean art, improving and enlarging the palaces and temples they built to demonstrate their power and greatness. A differential detail were the identification plates that decorated the facades of the buildings: baked brick and glass was the material used to give beauty to the monuments. Art historians agree that the Assyrian temples are the most spectacular in Mesopotamia, with the temple of Sargon II from the 8th century BC standing out.
The Assyrians were brilliant in the descriptive reliefs, carved with special care and finesse. Basically, they represented the battles they had won, the heroic characters who carried them out and the rulers who subdued the people. Firmness, power and hierarchy were the themes present in all Assyrian representations. In the paintings there is no variation in the narrative, but the colors most used were blue, yellow and red. Vibrant colors that told of the everyday life of Assyrian culture. The remains that remain today bear witness to the greatness of this civilization.