About 1,000 years before Hammurabi's reign, the Assyrian civilization rose to power in Mesopotamia. Assyria was in the upper part of the Tigris River valet. The Assyrians spoke the same language as the Babylonians and wrote in cuneiform.
The Assyrians were warriors. Experts believe that their liking for war was influenced by geography. The rolling hill and valleys provided no protection against invaders. Assyrians had to fight to survive, so in time, fighting was the way of life.
The Assyrians had a powerful army. By 1100 B. C., they had defeated their neighboring enemies. By 800 B. C., they had taken over cities, trading routes and fortresses all over Mesopotamia. Their capital, Nineveh, was then the center of Mesopotamian civilization.
The Assyrian army well organized. It was divided into groups of foot soldiers armed with shields, helmets, spears, and daggers. It also had chariots, cavalry, and archers.
In the beginning, the Assyrians fought only in the summer when they did not have to be concerned about planting or harvesting crops. Later, soldiering became a year round job.
Assyrian power was partly due to their weapons, which were made of iron. Iron was harder and stronger than copper or tin. Iron had been used in the Middle East for many centuries, but until 1400 B. C., it was too soft to be made into weapons. Then, the Hittites developed the process of smelting. The Assyrians borrowed this skill from them.
The Assyrian warriors were very cruel. For hundreds of years, their armies spread death and destruction throughout the Middle East. They were proficient at attacking cities. They made tunnels under walls or climbed over them on ladders. They used battering rams to break down city walls, just like the Romans. Once a city was captured, the Assyrians set fire to it and carried away the citizens and goods.
Anyone that resisted Assyrian rule was severely punished. Those who did not resist were heavily taxed. But, the ingenious Assyrians had found a way to conquer without fighting. They spread stories of their cruelty. Others were so frightened they surrendered outright.
Assyrian kings were strong leaders. They had to have been to rule an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Nile River. Most Assyrian kings spent a lot of time fighting. However, some were involved in more peaceful activities. A great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, started one of the world's first libraries. It held 25, 000 tablets of hymns, stories, and biographies.
Assyrian kings had to control many people spread over a large area. They divided their empire into provinces. Then, officials were chosen to govern each province. The officials collected taxes, and he also made sure rules were obeyed by everyone.
Roads connected all provinces. Although only the roads near major cities were paved, all were flat enough for chariots and carts. The trade of the empire moved over these roads. Government soldiers were stationed along them. Messengers used them to relay messages.
In time, the empire became too large to govern. After Ashurbanipal
died, various peoples worked to end Assyrian rule. One group
was the Chaldeans. In 612 B. C., they captured Nineveh.
The Assyrian Empire crumbled soon after.