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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


History of explorations and discoveries in Assyria

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Assyria.—In treating of Assyria it is extremely difficult not to speak at the same time of its sister or rather mother, country, Babylonia, as the peoples of these two countries, the Semitic Babylonians and the Assyrians, are both ethnographically and linguistically the same race, with identical religion, language, literature, and civilization. Hence Assyro-Babylonian religion, mythology, and religious literature, especially in their relation to the Old Testament, will be treated in the article Babylonia. while the history of the modern explorations and discoveries in these two countries will be given in the present article.


—Geographically, Assyria occupies the northern and middle part of Mesopotamia, situated between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris; while the southern half, extending as far south as the Persian Gulf, constitutes the countries of Babylonia and Chaldea. Assyria originally occupied but a scant geographical area, comprising the small triangular-shaped land lying between the Tigris and Zab Rivers, but in later times, owing to its wonderful conquests, its boundaries extended as far north as Armenia; to Media on the east; to northern Syria, and to the country of the Hittites, on the west; and to Babylonia and Elam on the south and southeast, occupying almost the entire Mesopotamian valley. By the Hebrews it was known under the name of Aram-Naharaim, i. e. “Aram [or Syria] of the two rivers”, to distinguish it from Syria proper, although it is doubtful whether the Hebrew name should be read as dual, or rather as a plural; i.e. Aram-Naharïm, “Aram of the many rivers”, or “of the great river”—the Euphrates. In later Old Testament times, it was known under the name of Asshur. By the Greeks and Romans it was called Mesopotamia, and Assyria; by the Aramaeans, Beth-naharin, “the country of the rivers”; by the Egyptians, Nahrina; by the Arabs, Athàr, or Al-Gezirah, “the island”, or Bain-al-nahrain, “the country between the two rivers”—Mesopotamia. Whether the name Assyria is derived from that of the god Asshur, or vice versa, or whether Asshur was originally the name of a particular city and afterwards applied to the whole country, cannot be determined.

The area of Assyria is about fifty thousand square miles. In physical character it is mountainous and well watered, especially in the northern part. Limestone and, in some places, volcanic rock form the basis of its fertile soil. Its southern part is more level, alluvial, and fertile. Its principal rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates, which have their source in the Armenian mountains and run almost parallel as far south as Babylonia and Chaldea, flowing into the Persian Gulf. There are other, minor rivers and tributaries, such as the Khabur, the Balikh, the Upper and Lower Zab, the Khoser, the Turnat, the Radanu, and the Subnat. Assyria owes to these rivers, and especially to the Tigris and Euphrates, somewhat as Egypt owes to the Nile, its existence, life, and prosperity.

The principal cities of Assyria are: (I) Asshur, whose site is now rnarked by the mound of Kalah-Shergat, on the right bank of the Tigris. (2) Calah, on the eastern bank of the Tigris and at its junction with the Upper Zab, a city built (c. 1280 B.C.) by Shalmaneser I, who made it the capital of Assyria, in place of Asshur. Its site is nowadays marked by the ruins of Nimroud. (3) Nineveh (in the Douay Version, Ninive), represented by the villages and ruins of the modern Kujunjik and Nebi-Yunus, on the eastern bank of the Tigris, opposite Mosul. Nineveh was undoubtedly one of the most ancient cities of Assyria, and in the time of Sennacherib (7th cent. B.c.) it became the capital of the empire, and the center of the worship of Ishtar, the Assyro-Babylonian Venus, who was called Ishtar of Nineveh, to distinguish her from Ishtar of Arbela. In the Old

Testament the city of Nineveh is well known in connection with the prophets, and especially as the theatre of Jonah‘s mission. (4) Dur-Sharrukin, or Dur-Sargon (i.e. Sargonsburg), built by Sargon II (8th cent. B.C.), the founder of the famous Sargonid dynasty. It was made first the royal residence of Sargon, and afterwards became the rival of Nineveh. Its site is represented by the modern Khorsabad. (5) Arbailu, or Arbela, famous in Greek and Persian annals for the decisive victory won by Alexander the Great over the formidable army of Darius, King of Persia and Babylon (331 B.C.). (6) Nasibina, or Nisibis, famous in the annals of Nestorian Christianity. (7) Harran, well known for the worship of Sin, the moon-god. (8) Ingur-Bel, corresponding to the modern Tell-Balawat. (9) Tarbis, corresponding to the modern Sherif-Khan. The sites and ruins of all these cities have been explored.


—These may be grouped as: (1) the Old Testament; (2) the Greek, Latin, and Oriental writers; and (3) the monumental records and remains of the Assyrians and Babylonians themselves.

In the first division belong the Fourth (in Authorized Version, Second) Book of Kings, Paralipomenon (Chronicles), the writings of the prophets Isaias, Nahum, Jeremias, Jonas, Ezechiel, and Daniel, as well as the laconic but extremely valuable fragments of information contained in Genesis, x, xi, and xiv. To the second group of sources belong the Chaldeo-Babylonian priest and historian Berosus, who lived in the days of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) and continued to live at least as late as Antiochus I, Soter (280-261 B.C.). He wrote in Greek a great work on Babylonian history, under the title of “Babyloniaca”, or “Chaldaica”. This valuable work, which was based on contemporary Babylonian monuments and inscriptions, has unfortunately perished, and only a few excerpts from it have been preserved in later Greek and Latin writers. Then we have the writings of Polyhistor, Ctesias, Herodotus, Abydenus, Apollodorus, Alexander of Miletus, Josephus, Georgius Syncellus, Diodorus Siculus, Eusebius, and others. With the exception of Berosus, the information derived from all the abovementioned historians is mostly legendary and unreliable, and even their quotations from Berosus are to be used with caution. This is especially true in the case of Ctesias, who lived at the Persian court in Babylonia. To the third category belong the numerous contemporary monuments and inscriptions discovered during the last fifty years in Babylonia, Assyria, Elam, and Egypt, which form an excellent and a most authoritative collection of historical documents.

For the chronology of Assyria we have some very valuable means of information. These are (I) The “Eponym List”, which covers the entire period from the reign of Ramman-nirari II (911-890 B.C.) down to that of Asshurbanipal (669-625 B.C.). The eponyms, or limmu, were like the eponymous archons at Athens and the consuls at Rome. They were officers, or governors, whose term of office lasted but one year, to which year they gave their name; so that if any event was to be recorded, or a contract drawn in the year, e.g. 763 B.C., the number of the year would not be mentioned, but instead we are told that such and such an event took place in the year of Pur-Shagli, who was the limmu, or governor, in that year. (2) Another source is found in the chronological notices scattered throughout the historical inscriptions, such as Sennacherib’s inscription engraved on the rock at Bavian, in which he tells us that one of his predecessors, Tiglath-pileser (Douay Version, Theglathphalasar) reigned about 418 years before him, i.e. about 1107 B.C.; or that of Tiglath-pileser himself, who tells us that he rebuilt the temple of Anu and Ramman, which sixty years previously had been pulled down by King Asshurdan because it had fallen into decay in the course of the 641 years since its foundation by King Shamshi-Ramman. This notice, therefore, proves that Asshur-dan must have reigned about the years 1170 or 1180 B.C. So also Sennacherib tells us that a seal of King Tukulti-Ninib I had been brought from Assyria to Babylon, where after 600 years he found it on his conquest of that city. As Sennacherib conquered Babylon twice, once in 702 and again in 689 B.C., it follows that Tukulti-Ninib I must have reigned over Assyria in any case before 1289 B.C., and possibly a few years before 1302 B.C. (3) Another chronological source is to be found in the genealogies of the kings, which they give of themselves and of their ancestors and predecessors. (4) Further valuable help may be obtained from the so-called “Synchronous History” of Babylonia and Assyria, which consists of a brief summary of the relations between the two countries from the earliest times in regard to their respective boundary lines. The usefulness of this document consists mainly in the fact that it gives the list of many Babylonian and Assyrian kings who ruled over their respective countries contemporaneously.


—As late as 1849, Sir Henry Layard, the foremost pioneer of Assyro-Babylonian explorations, in the preface to his classical work entitled “Nineveh and Its Remains”, remarked how, previously, with the exception of a few cylinders and gems preserved elsewhere, a case, hardly three feet square, in the British Museum, enclosed all that remained not only of the great city, Nineveh, but of Babylon itself. At that time few indeed would have had the presumption even to imagine that within fifty years the exploration of Assyria and Babylonia would have given us the most primitive literature of the ancient world. What fifty years ago belonged to the world of dreams is at the present time a striking reality; for we are now in possession of the priceless libraries of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, of their historical annals, civil and military records, State archives, diplomatic correspondences, textbooks and school exercises, grammars and dictionaries, hymns, bank accounts and business transactions, laws and contracts, and an extensive collection of geographical, astronomical, mythological, magical, and astrological texts and inscriptions. These precious monuments are actually scattered in all the public and private museums and art collections of Europe, America, and Turkey. The total number of tablets, cylinders, and cuneiform inscriptions so far discovered is approximately estimated at more than three hundred thousand, which, if published, would easily cover 400 octavo volumes of 400 pages each. Unfortunately, only about one-fifth of all the inscriptions discovered have been published so far; but even this contains more than eight times as much literature as is contained in the Old Testament. The British Museum alone has published 440 folio, and over 700 quarto, pages, and about one-half as much more has appeared in various archaeological publications. The British Museum has more than 40,000 cuneiform tablets, the Louvre more than 10,000, the Imperial Museum of Berlin more than 7,000, that of the University of Pennsylvania more than 20,000, and that of Constantinople many thousands more, awaiting the patient toil of our Assyriologists. The period of time covered by these documents is more surprising than their number. They occur from prehistoric times, or about 5000 B.C., down to the first century before the Christian Era. But this is not all, for, according to the unanimous opinion of all modern Assyriologists, by far the largest part of the Assyro-Babylonian literature and inscriptions are still buried under the fertile soil of these wonderful regions, which have ever been the land of surprises, awaiting further explorers and decipherers.

As has already been remarked, the meagre and often unreliable information concerning Assyria and Babylonia which has come down to us through the Persian, Greek, Latin, and Arabic writers—historians and geographers—has contributed little or nothing to the advancement of our knowledge of these wonderful countries. The early European travellers in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates valley, such as Benjamin of Tudela (1160), John Eldred (1583), Anthony Shirley (1599), Pietro della Valle (1614-26), John Cartwright (1610), Gasparo Balbi (1590), John Otter (1734), Niebuhr (1765), Beauchamp, Olivier, Hagers, and others at the end of the eighteenth century, have left us a rather vague and superficial account of their personal visits and impressions. Later travellers, however, such as Claudius James Rich (1811, 1821-22), J. S. Buckingham (1816), Sir Robert Ker Porter (1817-20), Captain Robert Mignan (1826-28), G. Baillie-Fraser (1834-35), the Euphrates Expedition under Colonel Chesney (1835-37), James Felix Jones, Lynch, Selby, Collingwood, Bewsher, and others of the first half of the nineteenth century made a far more searching and scientific study of the Mesopotamian region. But the real founders and pioneers of Assyro-Babylonian explorations are Emile Botta (1842-45), Sir Henry Austen Layard (1840-52), Victor Place (1851-55), H. Rassam (1850, 1878-82), Loftus (1850), Jules Oppert, Fresnel and Thomas (1851-52), Taylor (1851), Sir Henry Rawlinson, G. Smith, and others who have not only opened, but paved, the way for future researches and explorations. The first methodical and scientific explorations in Babylonia, however, were inaugurated and most successfully carried out by the intrepid French consul at Bassora and Bagdad, M. de Sarzec, who, from about 1877 until 1899, discovered at Tell8 some of the earliest and most precious remains and inscriptions of the pre-Semitic and Semitic dynasties of Southern Babylonia. Contemporaneously with de Sarzec there came other explorers, such as Rassam, already mentioned above, who was to continue George Smith’s excavations; the American Wolf expedition, under the direction of Dr. Ward, of New York (1884-85); and, above all, the various expeditions to Nippur, under Peters, Haynes, and Hilprecht, respectively, sent by the University of Pennsylvania (1888-1900). The Turkish Government itself has not altogether stood aloof from this praiseworthy emulation, sending an expedition to Abu Habba, or Sippar, under the direction of the well-known Dominican scholar, Father F. Scheil of Paris, in 1894 and the following years. Several German, French, and American expeditions have later been busily engaged in excavating important mounds and ruins in Babylonia. One of these is the German expedition under Moritz and Koldewey, with the assistance of Dr. Meissner, Delitzsch, and others, at Shurgul, El-Hibba, Al-Kasr, Tell-ibrahim, etc. The expedition of the University of Chicago, under the direction of Dr. Banks, at Bismaya, in South Babylonia, came unfortunately to an early termination.


—All these wonderful archaeological researches and discoveries would have been useless and destitute of interest, had not the language of Assyro-Babylonian inscriptions been deciphered and studied. These inscriptions were all written in a language, and by means of characters, which seemed for a while to defy all human skill and ingenuity. The very existence of such a language had been forgotten, and its writing seemed so capricious and bewildering that the earlier European travelers mistook the characters for fantastic and bizarre ornamental decorations; their dagger—or arrow-headed shape (from which their name of cuneiform) presenting a difficult puzzle. However, the discovery, and tentative decipherment, of the old Persian inscriptions (especially those of Persepolis and of the Behistun rock, not far from Hamadan, in Persia), by Grotefend, Heeren, the Abbe Saint Martin, Rask, Bournouf, Lassen, Westergaard, de Saulcy, and Rawlinson, all taking place at about the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, opened the way for the decipherment of the Assyro-Babylonian inscriptions. The principal credit unquestionably belongs to Rawlinson, Norris, J. Oppert, Fox Talbot, and especially to Dr. Hinks of Dublin. The acute and original researches of these scholars were successfully carried out by other Semitic scholars and linguists no less competent, such as E. Schrader and Fred. Delitzsch, in Germany; Menant, Halevy, and Lenormant, in France; Sayce and G. Smith, in England.

The Assyro-Babylonian language belongs to the so-called Semitic family of languages, and in respect to grammar and lexicography offers no more difficulty to the interpreter than either Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Arabic. It is more closely allied to Hebrew and Aramaic than to Arabic and the other dialects of the South-Semitic group. The principal difficulty of Assyrian consists in its extremely complicated system of writing. For, unlike all other Semitic dialects, Assyrian is written not alphabetically, but either syllabically or ideographically, which means that Assyrian characters represent not consonants, but syllables, open or closed, simple or compound, and ideas or words, such as ka, bar, ilu, zikaru, etc. These same characters may also have both a syllabic and an ideographic value, and nearly always more than one syllabic value and as many as five or six; so that a sign like the following may be read syllabically as ud, ut, u, tu. tam, bir, par, pir, lah, lih, hish, and his; and ideographically as “ilmu, “day”; pisu, “white”; Shamash, the Sungod; etc. The shape of these signs is that of a wedge, hence the name cuneiform (from the Latin cuneus, “a wedge”). The wedges, arranged singly or in groups, either are called “ideograms” and stand for complete ideas, or they stand for syllables. In course of time the same ideographic signs came to have also the phonetic value of syllables, without losing, however, their primitive ideographic value, as can be seen from the example quoted above. This naturally caused a great difficulty and embarrassment even to the Assyro-Babylonians themselves, and is still the principal obstacle to the correct and final reading of many cuneiform words and inscriptions. To remedy this great inconvenience, the Assyro-Babylonians themselves placed other characters (called determinatives) before many of these signs in order to determine their use and value in certain particular cases and sentences. Before all names of gods, for example, either a sign meaning “divine being” was prefixed, or a syllabic character (phonetic complement), which indicated the proper phonetic value with which the word in question should end, was added after it. In spite of these and other devices, many signs and collocations of signs have so many possible syllabic values as to render exactness in the reading very difficult. There are about five hundred of these different signs used to represent words or syllables. Their origin is still a subject of discussion among scholars. The prevailing theory is that they were originally picture-signs, representing the ideas to be conveyed; but at present only about sixty of these 500 signs can be with certainty traced back to their original picture-meanings.

According to the majority of Assyriologists, the cuneiform system of writing originated with the Sumerians, the primitive non-Semitic inhabitants of Babylonia, from whom it was borrowed by the Semitic Babylonians and Assyrians, and applied to their own language. In the same way the Greeks adopted the Semitic Phoenician alphabet, and the Germans adopted the Latin. The Semitic language of Babylonia and Assyria was, therefore, written in Sumerian characters, just as Hebrew can be written in English letters, or Turkish in Armenian, or Arabic in Syriac (Karshuni). This same cuneiform system of writing was afterwards adopted by the Medians, Persians, Mitannians, Cappadocians, ancient Armenians, and others. Hence five or six different styles of cuneiform writings may be distinguished. The “Persian” style, which is a direct, but simplified, derivative of the Babylonian, was introduced in the times of the Achaimenians. “Instead of a combination of as many as ten and fifteen wedges to make one sign, we have in the Persian style never more than five, and frequently only three; and instead of writing words by syllables, sounds alone were employed, and the syllabary of several hundred signs reduced to forty-two, while the ideographic style was fractionally abolished.” The second style of cuneiform, generally known as “Median”, or “Susian”, is, again, a slight modification of the “Persian”. “Besides these two, there is a third language (spoken in the northwestern district of Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and the Orontes), known as `Mitanni’, the exact status of which has not been clearly ascertained, but which has been adapted to cuneiform characters. A fourth variety, found on tablets from Cappadocia, represents again a modification of the ordinary writing met with in Babylonia. In the inscriptions of Mitanni, the writing is a mixture of ideographs and syllables, just as in Mesopotamia, while the so-called `Cappadocian’ tablets are written in a corrupt Babylonian, corresponding in degree to the `corrupt’ forms that the signs take on. In Mesopotamia itself quite a number of signs exist, some due to local influences, others the result of changes that took place in the course of time. In the oldest period known, that is, from 4000 to 3000 B.C., the writing is linear rather than wedge-shaped. The linear writing is the modification that the original pictures underwent in being adapted for engraving on stone; the wedges are the modification natural to the use of clay, though when once the wedges became the standard method, the greater frequency with which clay, as against stone, came to be used led to an imitation of the wedges by those who cut out the characters on stone. In consequence, there developed two varieties of wedge-writing: the one that may be termed lapidary, used for the stone inscriptions, the official historical records, and such legal documents as were prepared with especial care; the other cursive, occurring only on legal and commercial clay tablets, and becoming more frequent as we approach the latest period of Babylonian writing, which extends to within a few decades of our era. In Assyria, finally, a special variety of cuneiform developed that is easily distinguished from the Babylonian by its greater neatness and the more vertical position of its wedges” (Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1898, p. 20).

The material on which the Assyro-Babylonians wrote their inscriptions was sometimes stone or metal, but usually clay of a fine quality most abundant in Babylonia, whence the use spread all over Western Asia. “The clay was very carefully prepared, sometimes ground to an exceeding fineness, moistened, and moulded into various forms, ordinarily into a tablet whose average size is about six by two and one-half inches in superficial area by one inch in thickness, its sides curving slightly outwards. On the surface thus prepared, and while still soft, the characters were impressed with a stylus, the writing often standing in columns, and carried over upon the back and sides of the tablet. The clay was quite frequently moulded also into cones and barrel-shaped cylinders, having from six to ten sides on which writing could be inscribed. These tablets were then dried in the sun, or baked in a furnace—a process which rendered the writing practically indestructible, unless the tablet itself was shattered” (G. S. Goodspeed, History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, p. 28).

Unlike all other Semitic systems of writing (except the Ethiopic, which is an adaptation of the Greek), that of the Assyro-Babylonians generally runs from left to right in horizontal lines, although in some very early inscriptions the lines run vertically from top to bottom like the Chinese. These two facts evidence the non-Semitic origin of the cuneiform system of writing.


—The part played by these Assyro-Babylonian discoveries in the exegesis and interpretation of the Old Testament has been important in direct proportion to the immense and hitherto unsuspected influence exercised by the Assyro-Babylonian religion, civilization, and literature upon the origin and gradual development of the literature and the religious and social institutions of the ancient Hebrews. This Babylonian influence, indeed, can be equally traced in its different forms and manifestations through all Western Asia, many centuries before that conquest of Palestine by the twelve Israelitish tribes which put an end to the Canaanitish dominion and supremacy. The triumph of Assyriology, consequently, must be regarded as a triumph for Biblical exegesis and criticism, not in the sense that it has strikingly confirmed the strict veracity of the Biblical narratives, or that it has demonstrated the fallacies of the “higher criticism”, as Sayce, Hommel, and others have contended, but in the sense that it has opened a new and certain path whereby we can study the writings of the Old Testament with their correct historical background, and trace them through their successive evolutions and transformations. Assyriology, in fact, has given us such excellent and unexpected results as to completely revolutionize our former exegetical methods and conclusions. The study, it is true, has been often abused by ultra-radical and enthusiastic Assyriologists and critics. These have sought to build up groundless theories and illogical conclusions; they have forced the texts to say what they do not say, and to support conclusions which they do not support; but such an abuse, which is due to a perfectly natural enthusiasm and scientific ador, can never vitiate the permanent value of sober Assyriological researches, which have demonstrably provided sources of the first importance for the study of the Old Testament. These few abuses can be discerned and in due time corrected by a more temperate and judicious criticism. If the value of Assyriology in its bearing upon the Old Testament has been too often exaggerated, the exaggeration is at least partly excusable, considering the comparatively recent date of these researches and their startling results in the way of discovery. On the other hand, that school of critics and theologians which disregards the genuine merits and the great value of Assyriological researches for the interpretation of the Old Testament is open to the double charge of unfairness and ignorance.


—The origin of the Assyrian nation is involved in great obscurity. According to the author of the tenth chapter of Genesis, the Assyrians are the descendants of Assur (Asshur) one of the sons of Sem (Shem—Gen., x, 22). According to Gen., x, 11, “Out of that land [Sennaar] came forth Assur, and built Ninive, and the streets of the city, and Chale. Resen also between Ninive and Chale”, where the Authorized Version reads: “builded Nineveh, and the city of Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah”. Till quite recently the most commonly accepted interpretation of this passage was that Assur left Babylonia, where Nemrod (Nimrod) the terrible was reigning, and settled in Assyria, where he built the cities of Nineveh, Rehoboth, Chale (Calah), and Resen. Nowadays, however, this interpretation, which is mainly based on the Vulgate version, is abandoned in favor of the more probable one, according to which Nemrod himself, the beginning of whose kingdom was Babylon (Babel), Arach (Erech), Achad (Accad), and Chalanne (Calneh), in Southern Babylonia (Gen., x, 10), went up to Assyria (Assur in this case being a geographical name, i.e. Assyria, and not ethnographical or personal), and there he built the four above-mentioned cities and founded the Assyrian colony. Whichever of these two interpretations be held as correct, one thing is certain: that the Assyrians are not only Semites, but in all probability an offshoot of the Semitic Babylonians, or a Babylonian colony; although, on account of their apparently purer Semitic blood, they have been looked upon by some scholars as an independent Semitic offshoot, which, at the time of the great Semitic migration from Arabia (c. 3000-2500 B.C.), migrated and settled in Assyria. The first Assyrian rulers known to us bore the title of Ishshaku (probably “priest-prince”, or “governor”) and were certainly subject to some outside power, presumably that of Babylonia. Some of the earliest of these Ishshaki known to us are Ishmi-Dagan and his son Shamshi-Adad I (or Shamshi-Ramman). The exact date of these two princes is uncertain, although we may with reasonable certainty place them about 1840-1800 B.C. Other Ishshaki are Igur-Kapkapu, Shamshi-Adad II, Khallu, and Irishum. The two cities of Nineveh and Assur were certainly in existence at the time of Hammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.), for in one of his letters he makes mention of them. It is significant, however, that in the long inscription (300 lines) of Agumkakrime, one of the Kassite rulers of Babylonia (c. 1650 B.C.), in which he enumerates the various countries over which his rule extended, no mention is made of Assyria. Hence, it is probable that the beginning of an independent Assyrian kingdom may be placed towards the seventeenth century B.C. According to an inscription of King Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.), the first Assyrian Ishshaku to assume the title of King was a certain Bel-bani, an inscription of whom, written in archaic Babylonian, was found by Father Scheil. His date, however, cannot be determined.

Towards the fifteenth century B.C. we find Egyptian supremacy extended over Syria and the Mesopotamian valley; and in one of the royal inscriptions of Thothmes III of Egypt (1480-27 B.C.), we find Assyria among his tributary nations. From the Tel-el-Amarna letters also we know that diplomatic negotiations and correspondences were frequent among the rulers of Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Mitanni, and the Egyptian Pharaohs, especially Amenhotep IV. Towards this same period we find also the Kings of Assyria standing on an equal footing with those of Babylonia, and successfully contesting with the latter for the boundary-lines of their kingdom. About 1450 B.C. Asshur-bel-nisheshu was King of Assyria. He settled the boundary-lines of his kingdom with his contemporary Karaindash, King of Babylonia. The same treaty was concluded again between his successor, Puzur-Asshur, and Burnaburiash I, King of Babylon. Puzur-Asshur was succeeded by Asshur-nadin-Ahhe, who is mentioned by his successor, Asshur-uballit, in one of his letters to Amenhotep IV, King of Egypt, as his father and predecessor. During most of the long reign of Asshur-uballit, the relations between Assyria and Babylonia continued friendly, but towards the end of that reign the first open conflict between the two sister-countries broke out. The cause of the conflict was as follows: Asshuruballit, in sign of friendship, had given his daughter, Muballitat-sherua, for wife to the King of Babylonia. The son born of this royal union, Kadashman-Charbe by name, succeeded his father on the throne, but was soon slain by a certain Nazi-bugash (or Suzigash), the head of the discontented Kassite party, who ascended the throne in his stead. To avenge the death of his grandson the aged and valiant monarch, Asshur-uballit, invaded Babylonia, slew Nazi-bugash, and set the son of Kadashman-Charbe, who was still very young, on the throne of Babylonia, as Kurigalzu II. However, towards the latter part of his reign (c. 1380 B.C.), Kurigalzu II became hostile to Assyria; in consequence of which, Belnirari, Asshur-uballit’s successor on the throne of Assyria, made war against him and defeated him at the city of Sugagu, annexing the northern part of Babylonia to Assyria. Belnirari was succeeded by his son, Pudi-ilu (c. 1360 B.C.), who undertook several successful military expeditions to the east and southeast of Assyria and built various temples, and of whom we possess few, but important, inscriptions.. His successor was Ramman-nirari, who not only strengthened the newly-conquered territories of his two predecessors, but also made war and defeated Nazi-Maruttash, King of Babylonia, the successor of Kurigalzu II, adding a considerable Babylonian territory to the newly arisen, but powerful, Assyrian Empire.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century B.C. (about 1330-20 B.C.) Ramman-nirari was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser I. During, or about the time of this ruler, the once powerful Egyptian supremacy over Syria and Mesopotamia, thanks to the brilliant military raids and resistance of the Hittites, a powerful horde of tribes in Northern Syria and Asia Minor, was successfully withstood and confined to the Nile Valley. With the Egyptian pressure thus removed from Mesopotamia, and the accession of Shalmaneser I, an ambitious and energetic monarch, to the throne of Assyria, the Assyrian Empire began to extend its power westwards. Following the course of the Tigris, Shalmaneser I marched northwards and subjugated many northern tribes; then, turning westwards, invaded part of northeastern Syria and conquered the Arami, or Aramaeans, of Western Mesopotamia. From there he marched against the land of Musri, in Northern Arabia, adding a considerable territory to!) his empire. For strategic reasons he transferred the seat of his kingdom from the city of Asshur to that of Kalkhi (the Chale, or Calah, of Genesis), forty miles to the north, on the eastern bank of the Tigris, and eighteen miles south of Nineveh. Shalmaneser I was succeeded by his son Tukulti-Ninib (c. 1290 B.C.), whose records and inscriptions have been collected and edited by L. W. King of the British Museum. He was a valiant warrior and conqueror, for he not only preserved the integrity of the empire but also extended it towards the north and northwest. He invaded and conquered Babylonia, where he established the seat of his government for fully seven years, during which he became obnoxious to the Babylonians, who plotted and rebelled against him, proclaiming a certain Ramman-shur-usur king in his stead. The Assyrians themselves also became dissatisfied on account of his long absence from Assyria, and he was slain by his own nobles, who proclaimed his son, Asshur-nasir-pal, king in his stead. After the death of this prince, two kings, Asshur-narrara and Nahudayan by name, reigned over Assyria, of whom, however, we know nothing. Towards 1210-1200 B.C. we find Bel-Kudur-usur and his successor, Ninib-pal-Eshara, reigning over Assyria. These, however, were attacked and defeated by the Babylonians, who thus regained possession of a considerable part of their former territory. The next Assyrian monarch was Asshur-dan, Ninib-pal-Eshara’s son. He avenged his father’s defeat by invading Babylonia and capturing the cities of Zaban, Irria, and Akarsallu. In 1150 B.C., Asshur-dan was succeeded by his son, Mutakkil-Nusku; and in 1140 B.C., by the latter’s son Asshur-resh-ishi, who subjugated the peoples of Ahlami, Lullumi, Kuti (or Guti), and other countries, and administered a crushing defeat to his rival and contemporary, Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) I, King of Babylonia.

About 1120-10 B.C. Asshur-resh-ishi was succeeded by his son, Tiglath-pileser I, one of the greatest Assyrian monarchs, under whose reign of only ten years duration Assyria rose to the apex of its military success and glory. He has left us a very detailed and circumstantial account of his military achievements, written on four octagonal cylinders which he placed at the four corners of the temple built by him to the god Ramman. According to these, he undertook, in the first five years of his reign, several successful military expeditions against Mushku, against the Shubari, against the Hittites, and into the mountains of Zagros, against the people of Nairi and their twenty-three kings, who were chased by him as far north as Lake Van in Armenia; against the people of Musri in Northern Arabia, and against the Arameans, or Syrians. “In all”, he tells us, “forty-two countries and their kings, from beyond the Lower Zab, from the border of the distant mountains as far as the farther side of the Euphrates, up to the land of Hatti [Hittites] and as far as the upper sea of the setting sun [i.e. Lake Van], from the beginning of my sovereignty until my fifth year, has my hand conquered. I carried away their possessions, burned their cities with fire, demanded from their hostages tribute and contributions, and laid on them the heavy yoke of my rule.” He crossed the Euphrates several times, and even reached the Mediterranean, upon the waters of which he embarked. He also invaded Babylonia, inflicting a heavy blow on the Babylonian king, Marduk-nadin-ahhe and his army, and capturing several important cities, such as Ihnr-Kurigalzu, Sippar, Babylon, and Opis. He pushed his triumphal march even as far as Elam. Tiglath-pileser I was also a daring hunter, for in one of his campaigns, he tells us, he killed no fewer than one hundred and twenty lions on foot, and eight hundred with spears while in his chariot, caught four elephants alive, and killed ten in his chariot. He kept at the city of Asshur a park of animals suitable for the chase. At Nineveh he had a botanical garden, in which he planted specimens of foreign trees gathered during his campaigns. He built also many temples, palaces, and canals. It may be of interest to add that his reign coincides with that of Hell (Eli), one of the ten judges who ruled over Israel prior to the establishment of the monarchy. At the time of Tiglath-pileser’s death, Assyria was enjoying a period of tranquility, which did not last, however, very long; for we find his two sons and successors, Asshur-bel-Kala and Shamshi-Ramman, seeking offensive and defensive alliances with the Kings of Babylonia.

From about 1070 to 950 B.C., a gap of more than one hundred years presents itself in the history of Assyria. But from 950 B.C. down to the fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire (606 n. c.) the history of Assyria is very completely represented in documents. Towards 950 B.C., Tiglath-pileser II was king over Assyria. In 930 B.C. he was succeeded by his son, Asshur-dan II, and about 910 B.C. by the latter’s son, Ramman-nirari II, who, in 890, was succeeded by his son, Tukulti-Ninib II. The last two monarchs appear to have undertaken several successful expeditions against Babylonia and the regions north of Assyria. Tukulti-Ninib’s successor was his son Asshur-nasir-pal (885-860 B.C.), with whose accession to the throne began a long career of victory that placed Assyria at the head of the great powers of that age. He was a great conqueror, soldier, organizer, hunter, and builder, but fierce and cruel. In his eleven military campaigns he invaded, subdued, and conquered, after a series of devastations and raids, all the regions north, south, east, and west of Assyria, from the mountains of Armenia down to Babylon, and from the mountains of Kurdistan and Lake Urmi (Urumyah) to the Mediterranean. He crossed the Euphrates and the Orontes, penetrated into the Lebanon region, attacked Karkemish, the capital of the Hittites, invaded Syria, and compelled the cities of the Mediterranean coast (such as Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Armad) to pay tribute. But the chief interest in the history of Asshur-nasir-pal lies in the fact that it was in his reign that Assyria first came into touch with Israel. In his expedition against Karkemish and Syria, which took place in 878 B.C., he undoubtedly exacted tribute from Amri (Omri), King of Israel; although the latter’s name is not explicitly mentioned in this sense, either in Asshurnasir-pal’s inscriptions, or in the Old Testament. The fact, however, seems certain, for in the Assyrian inscriptions from about this time down to the time of Sargon—nearly 150 years—the land of Israel is frequently mentioned as the “land of Omri”; and Jehu, a later King of Israel, but not of the dynasty of Amri, is also called the “son of Omri”. This seems to show that the land of Israel was known to the Assyrians as the land of that king who happened to be reigning when they were first brought into political relations with it, and we know that this king was Amri, for in 878, the year of Asshur-nasir-pal’s expedition to Syria, he had been king over Israel for some nine years.

Asshur-nasir-pal was succeeded by his son, Shalmaneser II, who in the sixth year of his reign (854 B.C.) made an expedition to the West with the object of subduing Damascus. In this memorable campaign he came into direct touch with Israel and their king Achab (Ahab), who happened to be one of the allies of Benhadad, King of Damascus. In describing this expedition the Assyrian monarch goes on to say that he approached Karkar, a town to the southwest of Karkemish, and the royal residence of Irhulini.—”I desolated and destroyed, I burnt it: 1,200 chariots, 1,200 horsemen, 20,000 men of Biridri of Damascus; 700 chariots, 700 horsemen, 10,000 men of Irhulini of Hamath; 2,000 chariots, 10,000 men of Ahab of Israel… these twelve kings he [i.e. Irhulini] took to his assistance. To offer battle they marched against me. With the noble might which Asshur, the Lord, granted, with the powerful weapons which Nergal, who walks before me, gave, I fought with them, from Karkar into Gilzan I smote them. Of their soldiers I slew 14,000.”—The Old Testament is silent on the presence of Achab in the battle of Karkar, which took place in the same year in which Achab died fighting in the battle of Ramoth Galaad (III Kings, xxii).

Eleven years after this event Jehu was proclaimed king over Israel, and one of his first acts was to pay tribute to Shalmaneser II. This incident is commemorated in the latter’s well-known “black obelisk”, in the British Museum, in which Jehu himself, “the son of Omri”, is sculptured as paying tribute to the king. In another inscription the same king records the same fact, saying: “At that time I received the tribute of the Tyrians, Sidonians, and Jehu the son of Omri.” This act of hcmage took place in 842 B.C., in the eighteenth year of Shalmaneser’s reign.

After Shalmaneser II came his son Shamshi-Ramman II (824 B.C.), who, in order to quell the rebellion caused by his elder son, Asshur-danin-pal, undertook four campaigns. He also fought and defeated the Babylonian King, Marduk-balatsuiqbi, and his powerful army. Shamshi-Ramman II was succeeded by his son, Ramman-nirari III (812 B.C.). This king undertook several expeditions against Media, Armenia, the land of Nairi, and the region around Lake Urmi, and subjugated all the coastlands of the West, including Tyre, Sidon, Edom, Philistia, and the “land of Omri”, i.e. Israel. The chief object of this expedition was again to subdue Damascus, which he did by compelling Mari’, its king, to pay a heavy tribute in silver, gold, copper, and iron, besides quantities of cloth and furniture. Joachaz (Jehoahaz) was then king over Israel, and he welcomed with open arms Ramman-nirari’s advance, inasmuch as this monarch’s conquest of Damascus relieved Israel from the heavy yoke of the Syrians. Ramman-nirari III also claimed sovereignty over Babylonia. His name is often given as that of Adad-nirari, and he reigned from 812 to 783 B.C. In one of his inscriptions, which are unfortunately scarce and laconic, he mentions the name of his wife, Sammuramat, which is the only Assyrian or Babylonian name discovered so far having any phonetic resemblance to that of the famous legendary queen, Semiramis. The personal identity of the two queens, however, is not admissible. Ramman-nirari III was succeeded by Shalmaneser III (783-773 B.C.), and the latter by Asshurdan III (773-755 B.C.), who in turn was followed by Asshur-nirari II (755-745 B.C.). Of these three kings we know little, as no adequate inscriptions of their reigns have come down to us.

In the year 745 B.C. Tiglath-pileser III (in the Douay Version, Theglathphalasar) seized the throne of Assyria, at Nineveh. He is said to have begun life as a gardener, to have distinguished himself as a soldier, and to have been elevated to the throne by the army. He was a most capable monarch, enterprising, energetic, wise, and daring. His military ability saved the Assyrian Empire from the utter ruin and decay which had begun to threaten its existence, and for this he is fitly spoken of as the founder of the Second Assyrian Empire. Tiglathpileser’s methods differed from those of his predecessors, who had been mere raiders and plunderers. He organized the empire and divided it into provinces, each of which had to pay a fixed tribute to the exchequer. He was thus able to extend Assyrian supremacy over almost all of Western Asia, from Armenia to Egypt, and from Persia to the Mediterranean. During his reign Assyria came into close contact with the Hebrews, as is shown by his own inscriptions, as well as by the Old Testament records, where he is mentioned under the name of Phul (Pul). In the Assyrian inscriptions his name occurs only as that of Tiglath-pileser, but in the “List of Babylonian Kings” he is also called Pul, which settles his identity with the Phul, or Pul, of the Bible. He reigned for eighteen years (745-727 B.C.). In his annals he mentions the payment of tribute by several kings, amongst whom is “Menahem of Samaria“, a fact confirmed by IV Kings, xv, 19, 20. During his reign, Achaz was King of Juda. This prince, having been hard pressed and harassed by Rasin (Rezin) of Damascus, and Phacee (Pekah) of Israel, entreated protection from Tiglath-pileser (Theglathphalasar), who, nothing loath, marched westward and attacked Rasin, whom he overthrew and shut up in Damascus. Two years later, the city surrendered, Rasin was slain, and the inhabitants were carried away captives (IV Kings, xvi, 7, 8, 9). Meanwhile Israel also was overrun by the Assyrian monarch, the country reduced to the condition of a desert, and the trans-Jordanic tribes carried into captivity. At the same time the Philistines, the Edomites, the Arabians, and many other tribes were subdued; and after the fall of Damascus, Tiglath-pileser held a durbar which was attended by many princes, amongst whom was Achaz himself. His next expedition to Palestine was in 734, the objective this time being Gaza, an important town on the seacoast. Achaz hastened to make, or, rather, to renew, his submission to the Assyrian monarch; as we find his name mentioned again with several other tributary kings on one of Tiglath-pileser’s inscriptions. In 733 the Assyrian monarch carried off the population from large portions of the Kingdom of Israel, sparing, however, the capital, Samaria. Tiglath-pileser was the first Assyrian king to come into contact with the Kingdom of Juda, and also the first Assyrian monarch to begin on a large scale the system of transplanting peoples from one country to another, with the object of breaking down their national spirit, unity, and independence. According to many scholars, it was during Tiglath-pileser’s reign that Jonas (Jonah) preached in Nineveh, although others prefer to locate the date of this Hebrew prophet a century later, i.e. in the reign of Asshurbanipal (see below).

Tiglath-pileser III was succeeded by his son (?), Shalmaneser IV, who reigned but five years (727-722 B.C.). No historical inscriptions relating to this king have as yet been found. Nevertheless, the “Babylonian Chronicle” (which gives a list of the principal events occurring in Babylonia and Assyria between 744 and 688 B.C.) has the following statement: “On the 25th of Thebet [December-January] Shalmaneser [in D. V. Salmanasar] ascended the throne of Assyria, and the city of Shamara’in [Samaria] was destroyed. In the fifth year of his reign he died in the month of Thebet. “The Assyrian “Eponym Canon” (see above) also informs us that the first two years of Shalmaneser’s reign passed without an expedition, but in the remaining three his armies were engaged. In what direction the armies of Shalmaneser (Salmanasar) were engaged, the “Canon” does not say, but the “Babylonian Chronicle” (quoted above) and the Old Testament (IV Kings, xviii) explicitly point to Palestine, and particularly to Samaria, the capital of the Israelitish Kingdom. In the second or third year of Shalmaneser’s reign, Osee (Hoshea) King of Israel, together with the King of Tyre, rebelled against Assyria; and in order to crush the rebellion the Assyrian monarch marched against both kings and laid siege to their capitals. The Biblical account (Douay Version, IV Kings, xvii, 3 sqq.) of this expedition is as follows: “Against him came up Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, and Osee became his servant, and paid him tribute. And when the king of the Assyrians found that Osee endeavoring to rebel had sent messengers to Sua the king of Egypt, that he might not pay tribute to the king of the Assyrians, as he had done every year, he besieged him, bound him, and cast him into prison. And he went through all the land: and going up to Samaria, he besieged it three years. And in the ninth year of Osee, the king of the Assyrians took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria; and he placed them in Hala and Habor by the river of Gozan, in the cities of the Medes.”—See also the parallel account in IV Kings, xviii, 9-11, which is one and the same as that here given. The two Biblical accounts, however, leave undecided the question, whether Shalmaneser himself or his successor conquered Samaria; while, from the Assyrian inscriptions, it appears that Shalmaneser died, or was murdered, before he could personally carry his victory to an end. He was succeeded by Sargon II.

Sargon, a man of commanding ability, was, notwithstanding his claim to royal ancestry, in all probability a usurper. He is one of the greatest figures in Assyrian history, and the founder of the famous Sargonid dynasty, which held sway in Assyria for more than a century, i.e. until the fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire. He himself reigned for seventeen years (722-705 B.C.) and proved a most successful warrior and organizer. In every battle he was victor, and in every difficulty a man of resource. He was also a great builder and patron of the arts. His greatest work was the building of Dur-Sharrukin, or the Castle of Sargon, the modern Khorsabad, which was thoroughly explored in 1844-55 by Botta, Flandin, and Place. It was a large city, situated about ten miles from Nineveh, and capable of accommodating 80,000 inhabitants. His palace there was a wonder of architecture, panelled in alabaster, adorned with sculpture, and inscribed with the records of his exploits. In the same year in which he ascended the throne, Samaria fell (722 B.C.), and the Kingdom of Israel was brought to an end. “In the beginning o my reign”, he tells us in his annals, “and in the first year of my reign … Samaria I besieged and conquered … 27,290 inhabitants I carried off…I restored it again and made it as before. People from all lands, my prisoners, I settled there. My officials I set over them as governors. Tribute and tax I laid on them, as on the Assyrians.” Sargon’s second campaign was against the Elamites, whom he subdued. From Elam he marched westward, laid Hamath in ruins, and afterwards utterly defeated the combined forces of the Philistines and the Egyptians, at Raphia. He made Hanum, King of Gaza, prisoner, and carried several thousand captives, with very rich booty, into Assyria. Two years later, he attacked Karkemish, the capital of the Hittites, and conquered it, capturing its king, officers, and treasures, and deporting them into Assyria. He then for fully six years harassed, and finally subdued, all the northern and northwestern tribes of Kurdistan, of Armenia (Urartu, or Ararat), and of Cilicia: the Mannai, the Mushki, the Kummukhi, the Milidi, the Kammani, the Gamgumi, the Samali, and many others who lived in those wild and inaccessible regions. Soon after this he subdued several Arabian tribes and, afterwards, the Medians, with their forty-two chiefs, or princes.

During the first eleven years of Sargon’s reign, the Kingdom of Juda remained peacefully subject to Assyria, paying the stipulated annual tribute. In 711 B.C., however, Ezechias (Hezekiah), King of Juda, partly influenced by Merodach-baladan, of Babylonia, and partly by promises of help from Egypt, rebelled against the Assyrian monarch, and in this revolt he was heartily joined by the Phcenicians, the Philistines, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. Sargon was ever quick to act; he collected a powerful army, marched against the rebels, and dealt them a crushing blow. The fact is recorded in Isaias, xx, 1, where the name of Sargon is expressly mentioned as that of the invader and conqueror. With Palestine and the West pacified and subdued, Sargon, ever energetic and prompt, turned his attention to Babylonia, where Merodach-baladan was ruling. The Babylonian army was easily routed, and Merodach-baladan himself abandoned Babylon and fled in terror to Beth-Yakin, his ancestral stronghold. Sargon entered Babylonia in triumph, and in the following year he pursued the fleeing king, stormed the city of Beth-Yakin, deported its people, and compelled all the Babylonians and Elamites to pay him tribute, homage, and obedience. In 705, in the flower of his age and at the zenith of his glory, Sargon was assassinated. He was succeeded by his son, Sennacherib (705 to 681 B.C.), whose name is so well known to Bible students. He was an exceptionally cruel, arrogant, revengeful, and despotic ruler, but, at the same time, a monarch of wonderful power and ability. His first military expedition was directed against Merodach-baladan, of Babylonia, who, at the news of Sargon’s death, had returned to Babylonia, assuming the title of king, and murdering Merodach-zakir-shumi, the viceroy appointed by Sargon. Merodach-baladan was, however, easily routed by Sennacherib; fleeing again to Elam and hiding himself in the marshes, but always ready to take advantage of Sennacherib’s absence to return to Babylon. In 701, Sennacherib marched eastward over the Zagros mountains and towards the Caspian Sea. There he attacked, defeated, and subdued the Medians and all the neighboring tribes. In the same year he marched on the Mediterranean coast and received the submission of the Phoenicians, the Ammonites, the Moabites, and the Edomites. He conquered Sidon, but was unable to lay hands on Tyre, on account of its impregnable position. Thence he hurried down the coast road, captured Askalon and its king, Sidqa; turning to the north, he struck Ekron and Lachish, and dispersed the Ethiopian-Egyptian forces, which had assembled to oppose his march. Ezechias (Hezekiah), King of Juda, who together with the abovementioned kings had rebelled against Sennacherib, was thus completely isolated, and Sennacherib, finding his way clear, marched against Juda, dealing a terrific blow at the little kingdom. Here is Sennacherib’s own account of the event: “But as for Hezekiah of Judah, who had not submitted to my yoke, forty-six of his strong walled cities and the smaller cities round about them without number, by the battering of rams, and the attack of war-engines [?], by making breaches, by cutting through, and the use of axes, I besieged and captured. Two hundred thousand one hundred and fifty people, small and great, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, and sheep without number I brought forth from their midst and reckoned as spoil. Himself [Hezekiah] I shut up like a caged bird in Jerusalem, his royal city. I threw up fortifications against him, and whosoever came out of the gates of his city I punished. His cities, which I had plundered, I cut off from his land and gave to Mitinti, King of Ashdod, to Padi, King of Ekron, and to Cil-Bel, King of Gaza, and [thus] made his territory smaller. To the former taxes, paid yearly, tribute, a present for my lordship, I added and imposed on him. Hezekiah himself was overwhelmed by the fear of the brilliancy of my lordship, and the Arabians and faithful soldiers whom he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him. Thirty talents of gold, eight hundred talents of silver, precious stones, guhli daggassi, large lapis lazuli, couches of ivory, thrones of elephant skin and ivory, ivory, ushu and urkarinu woods of every kind, a heavy treasure, and his daughters, his palace women, male and female singers, to Nineveh, my lordship’s city, I caused to be brought after me, and he sent his ambassador to give tribute and to pay homage.”

The same event is also recorded in IV Kings, xviii and xix, and in Isaias, xxxvi and xxxvii, but in somewhat different manner. According to the Biblical account, Sennacherib, not satisfied with the payment of tribute, demanded from Ezechias the unconditional surrender of Jerusalem, which the Judean king refused. Terrified and bewildered, Ezechias called the prophet Isaias and laid the matter before him, asking him for advice and counsel.

The prophet strongly advised the vacillating king to oppose the outrageous demands of the Assyrian, promising him Yahweh’s help and protection. Accordingly, Ezechias refused to surrender, and Sennacherib, enraged and revengeful, resolved to storm and destroy the city. But in that same night the whole Assyrian army, gathered under the walls of Jerusalem, was stricken by the angel of the Lord, who slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers. At the sight of this terrible calamity, Sennacherib, in terror and confusion, departed and returned to Assyria. The Assyrian and the Biblical accounts are prima facie conflicting, but many more or less plausible solutions have been suggested. In the first place we must not expect to find in Sennacherib’s own annals mention of, or allusion to, any reverse he may have suffered; such allusions would be clearly incompatible with the monarch’s pride, as well as with the purpose of annals inscribed only to glorify his exploits and victories. In the second place, it is not improbable that Sennacherib undertook two different campaigns against Juda: in the first, to which his annals refer, he contented himself with exacting and receiving submission and tribute from Ezechias (Hezekiah); but in a later expedition, which he does not mention, he insisted on the surrender of Jerusalem, and in this latter expedition he met with the awful disaster. It is to this expedition that the Biblical account refers. Hence, there is no real contradiction between the two narratives, as they speak of two different events. Furthermore, the disaster which overtook the Assyrian army may have been, after all, quite a natural one. It may have been a sudden attack of the plague, a disease to which Oriental armies, from their utter neglect of sanitation, are extremely subject, and before which they quickly succumb. Josephus explicitly affirms that it was a flagellum prodigiosum (Antiq. Jud., X, i, n. 5); while, according to an Egyptian tradition preserved to us by Herodotus (Lib. II, cxli), Sennacherib’s army was attacked and destroyed by a kind of poisonous wild mice, which suddenly broke into the Assyrian camp, completely demoralizing the army. At any rate Sennacherib’s campaign came to an abrupt end, and he was forced to retreat to Nineveh. It is noteworthy, however, that for the rest of his life Sennacherib undertook no more military expeditions to the West, or to Palestine. This fact, interpreted in the light of the Assyrian monuments, would be the result of the complete submission of Syria and Palestine; while in the light of the Biblical narrative it would signify that Sennacherib, after his disastrous defeat, dared not attack Palestine again.

While laying siege to Jerusalem, Sennacherib received the disquieting news of Merodach-baladan’s sudden appearance in Babylonia. A portion of the Assyrian army was detached and hurriedly sent to Babylonia against the restless and indomitable foe of Assyria. In a fierce battle, Merodach-baladan was for the third time defeated and compelled to flee to Elam, where, worn and broken down by old age and misfortunes, he ended his troubled life, and Asshur-nadin-shum, the eldesi, son of Sennacherib, was appointed king over Babylonia. After his return from the West, and after the final defeat of Merodach-baladan, Sennacherib began lengthy and active preparations for an effective expedition against Babylonia, which was ever rebellious and restless.—”The expedition was as unique in its methods as it was audacious in its conception.”—With a powerful army and navy, he moved southward and, in a terrific battle near Khalulu, utterly routed the rebellious Chaldeans, Babylonians, and Elamites, and executed their two chiefs, Nergal-usezib and Musezib-Merodach. Elam was ravaged, “the smoke of burning towns obscuring the heavens”. He next attacked Babylon, which was stormed, sacked, burnt, flooded, and so mercilessly punished that it was reduced to a mass of ruins, and almost obliterated. On his return to Assyria, Sennacherib appears to have spent the last years of his reign in building his magnificent palace at Nineveh, and in embellishing the city with temples, palaces, gardens, arsenals, and fortifications. After a long, stormy, and glorious reign, he died by the hand of one of his own sons (681 B.C.). The Bible tells us that “as he [Sennacherib] was worshipping in the temple of Nesroch his god, Adramelech and Sarasar his sons slew him with the sword, and they fled into the land of the Armenians, and Asarhaddon [Esarhaddon] his son reigned in his stead” (IV Kings, xix, 37). The “Babylonian Chronicle”, however, has “On 20 Thebet [December-January] Sennacherib, King of Assyria, was slain by his son in a rebellion…years reigned Sennacherib in Assyria. From 20 Thebet to 2 Adar [March-April] was the rebellion in Assyria maintained. On 18 Adar his son, Esarhaddon, ascended the throne of Assyria.” If the murderer of Sennacherib was, as the “Babylonian Chronicle” tells us, one of his own sons, no son of Sennacherib by the name of Adrammelech or Sharezer has as yet been found in the Assyrian monuments; and while the Biblical narrative seems to indicate that the murder took place in Nineveh, on the other hand an inscription of Asshurbanipal, Sennacherib’s grandson, clearly affirms that the tragedy took place in Babylon, in the temple of Marduk (of which Nesroch, or Nisroch, is probably a corruption).

Sennacherib was succeeded by his younger son, Esarhaddon, who reigned from 681 to 668 B.C. At the time of his father’s death, Esarhaddon was in Armenia with the Assyrian army, but on hearing the sad news he promptly set out for Nineveh, first to avenge his father’s death by punishing the perpetrators of the crime, and then to ascend the throne. On his way home he met the assassins and their army near Cappadocia, and in a decisive battle routed them with tremendous loss, thus becoming the sole and undisputed lord of Assyria. Esarhaddon’s first campaign was against Babylonia, where a fresh revolt, caused by the son of the late Merodach-baladan, had broken out. The pretender was easily defeated and compelled to flee to Elam. Esarhaddon, unlike his father, determined to build up Babylon and to restore its ruined temples, palaces, and walls. He gave back to the people their property, which had been taken away from them as spoils of war during Sennacherib’s destructive campaign, and succeeded in restoring peace and harmony among the people. He determined, furthermore, to make Babylon his residence for part of the year, thus restoring its ancient splendor and religious supremacy. Esarhaddon’s second campaign was directed against the West, i.e. Syria, where a fresh rebellion, having for its center the great maritime city of Sidon, had broken out. He captured the city and completely destroyed it, ordering a new city, with the name of Kar-Esarhaddon, to be built on its ruins. The King of Sidon was caught and beheaded, and the surrounding country devastated. Twenty-two Syrian princes, among them Manasses, King of Juda, surrendered and submitted to Esarhaddon. Scarcely, however, had he retired when these same princes, including Manasses, revolted. But the great Esarhaddon utterly crushed the rebellion, taking numerous cities, captives, and treasures, and ordering Manasses to be carried to Babylon, where the king was then residing. A few years later Esarhaddon had mercy on Manasses and allowed him to return to his own kingdom. In a third campaign, Esarhaddon blockaded the impregnable Tyre, and set out to conquer Egypt, which he successfully accomplished by defeating its king, Tirhakah. In order to effectively establish Assyrian supremacy over Egypt, he divided the country into twenty provinces, and over each of these he appointed a governor; sometimes a native, sometimes an Assyrian. He exacted heavy annual tribute from every one of these twenty provinces, and returned in triumph to Assyria. “As for Tarqu [Tirhakah], King of Egypt and Cush, who was under the curse of their great divinity, from Ishupri as far as Memphis, his royal city—a march of fifteen days—every day without exception I killed his warriors in great number, and as for him, five times with the point of the spear I struck him with a deadly stroke. Memphis, his royal city, in half a day, by cutting through and scaling, I besieged, I conquered, I tore down, I destroyed, I burned with fire, and the wife of his palace, his palace women, Ushanahuru, his own son, and the rest of his sons, his daughters, his property and possessions, his horses, his oxen, his sheep without number, I carried away as spoil to Assyria. I tore up the root of Cush from Egypt, a single one—even to the suppliant—I did not leave behind. Over all Egypt I appointed kings, prefects, governors, grain-inspectors, mayors, and secretaries. I instituted regular offerings to Asshur and the great gods, my lords, for all time. I placed on them the tribute and taxes of my lordship, regularly and without fail.” Esarhaddon also invaded Arabia, penetrating to its very center, through hundreds of miles of sandy lands which no other Assyrian monarch had penetrated before. Another important campaign was that directed against the Cimmerians, near the Caucasus, and against many other tribes, in Armenia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Asia Minor, and Media. The monarch’s last expedition was a second campaign against Egypt. Before leaving Assyria, however, i.e. in the month of Iyyar (April-May), 668 B.C., as if forecasting future events, he constituted his son Asshurbanipal coregent and successor to the throne, leaving to his other son, Shamashshum-ukin, Babylonia. But, while on his way to Egypt, he fell sick, and on the 10th of Marsheshwan (October), in the year 668, he died.

Esarhaddon was a truly remarkable ruler. Unlike his father, he was religious, generous, forgiving, less harsh and cruel, and very diplomatic. He ruled the various conquered countries with wisdom and toleration, while he established a rigorous system of administration. A great temple-builder and lover of art, he has left us many records and inscriptions. At Nineveh he rebuilt the temple of Asshur, and in Babylonia, the temples at Ukuk, Sippar, Dur-Ilu, Borsippa, and others, in all about thirty. In Nineveh he erected for himself a magnificent palace and arsenal, and at Kalkhi (Calah; Douay, Chale) another of smaller dimensions, which was still unfinished at the time of his death. Asshurbanipal, Esarhaddon’s successor, was undoubtedly the greatest of all Assyrian monarchs. For generalship, military conquests, diplomacy, love of splendor and luxury, and passion for the arts and letters, he has neither superior nor equal in the annals of that empire. To him we owe the greatest part of our knowledge of Assyro-Babylonian history, religion, literature, art, and civilization. Endowed with a rare taste for letters, he caused all the most important historical, religious, mythological, legal, astronomical, mathematical, grammatical, and lexicographical texts and inscriptions known to his day to be copied and placed in a magnificent library which he built in his own palace. “Tens of thousands of clay tablets systematically arranged on shelves for easy consultation contained, besides official dispatches and other archives, the choicest religious, historical, and scientific literature of the Babylonio-Assyrian world. Under the inspiration of the king’s literary zeal, scribes copied and translated the ancient sacred classics of primitive Babylonia for this library, so that, from its remains, can be reconstructed, not merely the details of the government and administration of the Assyria of his time, but the life and thought of the far distant Babylonian world.” (G. H. Goodspeed, Hist. of the Babylonians and Assyrians, pp. 315, 316.) Of this library, which must have contained over forty thousand clay tablets, a part was discovered by G. Smith and H. Rassam, part has been destroyed, and part yet remains to be explored. Here G. Smith first discovered the famous Babylonian accounts of the Creation and of the Deluge in which we find so many striking similarities with the parallel Biblical accounts. Asshurbanipal was also a great temple-builder—in Nineveh, Arbela, Tarbish, Babylon, Borsippa, Sippar, Nippur, and Uruk. He fortified Nineveh, repaired, enlarged, and embellished Sennacherib’s palace, and built next to it another palace of remarkable beauty. This he adorned with numerous magnificent statues, sculptures, bas-reliefs, inscriptions, and treasures. Assyrian art, especially sculpture and architecture, reached during his reign its golden age and its classical perfection, while Assyrian power and supremacy touched the extreme zenith of its height; for with Asshurbanipal’s death Assyrian power and glory sank into the deepest gloom, and perished, presumably, to rise no more.

Asshurbanipal’s military campaigns were very numerous. He ascended the throne in 668 B.C., and his first move was against Egypt, which he subdued, penetrating as far as Memphis and Thebes. On his way back, he exacted tribute from the Syrian and Phoenician kings, among whom was Manasses of Juda, who is expressly mentioned in one of the king’s inscriptions. He forced Tyre to surrender, and subdued the Kings of Arvad, of Tabal, and of Cilicia. In 655, he marched against Babylonia and drove away from it a newly organized, but powerful coalition of I lamites, Chaldeans, and Arameans. He afterwards marched into the very heart of Elam, as far as Susa, and in a decisive battle he shattered the Elamite forces. In 625, Shamash-shum-ukin, Asshurbanipal’s brother, who had been appointed by his father King of Babylonia, and who had till then worked in complete harmony with his brother, rebelled against Asshurbanipal. To this he was openly and secretly incited by many Babylonian, Elamite, and Arabian chiefs. Asshurbanipal, however, was quick to act. He marched against Babylonia, shut off all the rebels in their own fortresses, and forced them to a complete surrender. His brother set fire to his own palace and threw himself into the flames. The cities and fortresses were captured, the rebels slain, and Elam completely devastated. Temples, palaces, royal tombs, and shrines were destroyed. Treasures and booty were taken and carried away to Assyria, and several thousands of people, as well as all the princes of the royal family, were executed, so that, a few years later, Elam disappeared for ever from history. In another campaign, Asshurbanipal advanced against Arabia and subdued the Kedarenes, the Nabatwans, and a dozen other Arabian tribes, as far as Damascus. His attention was next attracted to Armenia, Cappadocia, Media, and the northwestern and northeastern regions. In all these he established his supremacy, so that from 640 till 626, the year of Asshurbanipal’s death, Assyria was at peace. However, most scholars incline to believe that during the last years of the monarch’s reign the Assyrian Empire began to decay.

Asshurbanipal is probably mentioned once in the Old Testament (I Esdras, iv, 10) under the name of Asenaphar, or, better, Ashenappar (Ashenappal) in connection with his deportation of many troublesome populations into Samaria. He is probably alluded to by the Second Isaias and Nahum, in connection with his campaigns against Egypt and Arabia. According to G. Brunengo, S.J. (Nabuchodnossor di Giuditta, Rome, 1886) and other scholars, Asshurbanipal is the Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) of the Book of Judith; others identify him with the Sardanapalus of Greek historians. In view, however, of the conflicting characters of the legendary Sardanapalus and the Asshurbanipal of the cuneiform inscriptions, this last identification seems impossible. Besides, Asshurbanipal was not the last king of Assyria, as Sardanapalus is supposed to have been.

Asshurbanipal was succeeded by his two sons, Asshur-etil-elani and Sin-shar-ishkun. Of their respective reigns and their exploits we know nothing, except that in their days Assyria began rapidly to lose its prestige and power. All the foreign provinces—Egypt, Phoenicia, Chanaan, Syria, Arabia, Armenia, Media, Babylonia, and Elam—broke away from Assyria, when the degenerate and feeble successors of the valiant Asshurbanipal proved unable to cope with the situation. They had probably abandoned themselves to effeminate luxury and debaucheries, caring little or nothing for military glory. In the meanwhile Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, and Cyaxares, King of Media, formed a family and political alliance, the latter giving his daughter in marriage to the former’s son, Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar). At the head of a powerful army, these two kings together marched against Nineveh and laid siege to it for fully two years, after which the city surrendered and was completely destroyed and demolished (606 B.C.), and Assyria became a province of Babylonia and Media.


—The religion and civilization of Assyria were almost identical with those of Babylonia, the former having been derived from the latter and developed along the same lines. For, although the Assyrians made notable contributions to architecture, art, science, and literature, these were with them essentially a Babylonian importation. Assyrian temples and palaces were modeled upon those of Babylonia, although in the building-material stone was far more liberally employed. In sculptural decorations and in statuary more richness and originality were displayed by the Assyrians than by the Babylonians. It seems to have been a hobby of Assyrian monarchs to build colossal palaces, adorned with gigantic statues and an infinite variety of bas-reliefs and inscriptions showing their warlike exploits. Asshurbanipal’s library shows that Assyrian religious literature was not only an imitation of that of Babylonia, but absolutely identical therewith. An examination of the religions of the two countries proves that the Assyrians adopted Babylonian doctrines, cults, and rites, with such slight modifications as were called for by the conditions prevailing in the northern country. The chief difference in the Assyrian pantheon, compared with that of Babylonia, is that, while in Semitic times the principal god of the latter was Marduk, that of the former was Asshur. The principal deities of both countries are: the three chief deities, Anu, the god of the heavenly expanse; Bel, the earth god and creator of mankind; and Ea, the god of humanity par excellence, and of the water. Next comes Ishtar, the mother of mankind and the consort of Bel; Sin, first-born son of Bel, the father of wisdom, personified in the moon; Shamash, the sun-god; Ninib, the hero of the heavenly and earthly spirits; Nergal, chief of the netherworld and of the subterranean demons, and god of pestilence and fevers; Marduk, originally a solar deity, conqueror of storms, and afterwards creator of mankind and the supreme god of Semitic Babylonia; Adad, or Ramman, the god of storms, thunders, and lightning; Nebo, the god of wisdom, to whom the art of writing and the sciences are ascribed; Girru-Nusku, ‚Ä¢ or, simply, Nusku, the god of fire, as driving away demons and evil spirits; Asshur, the consort of Belit, and the supreme god of Assyria. Besides these there were other minor deities.

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