Rise of Assyria

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This article, Rise of Assyria covers the history of Assyria, including the 1st Assyrian empire, until about 747 BC.

The foundation of the Assyrian monarchy was ascribed to Zulilu, who is described as living after Bel-kapkapi or Belkabi (1900 BC), the ancestor of Shalmaneser I. Later, Shamshi-Adad I conquered Assyria and founded an empire that included Upper Mesopotamia. However, his conquests proved to be ephemeral. His son Ishme-Dagan succeeded him as King of Assyria, but the rest was lost to various rival kingdoms, and soon after the entire region formed part of the empire of Hammurabi.

Assyria grew in power at the expense of Babylonia, and a time came when the Kassite king in Babylon was glad to marry the daughter of Assur-uballit I of Assyria, whose letters to Akhenaten of Egypt form part of the Amarna letters. This marriage led to disastrous results, as the Kassite faction at court murdered the Babylonian king and placed a pretender on the throne. Assur-uballit promptly marched into Babylonia and avenged his son-in-law, making Burna-buryas of the royal line king in his stead. Burnaburyas, who reigned 22 years, also carried on a correspondence with Akhenaten.

After his death, the Assyrians, still nominal vassals of Babylonia, threw off all pretense, and Shalmaneser I (1300 BC), the great-great-grandson of Assur-uballit, openly claimed supremacy in western Asia. Shalmaneser was the founder of Calab, and his annals, discovered at Assur, show how widely-extended his empire was. Campaign after campaign was carried on against the Hittites and the tribes of the north-west, and Assyrian colonists were settled in Cappadocia.

His son Tukulti-Ninurta I conquered Babylon, putting its king Bitilyasu to death, and thereby made Assyria the mistress of the oriental world. Assyria had taken the place of Babylonia. For 7 years Tukulti-Ninurta ruled at Babylon with the old imperial title of "king of Sumer and Akkad." Then the Babylonians revolted.

The Assyrian king was murdered by his son, Assur-nasirpal I, and Hadad-nadin-akhi made king of Babylonia. But it was not until several years later, in the reign of the Assyrian king Tukulti-Assur, that a reconciliation was effected between the two rival kingdoms. The next Assyrian monarch, Bel-kudur-uzur, was thel last of the old royal line. He seems to have been slain fighting against the Babylonians, who were still under the rule of Hadad-nadin-akhi, and a new dynasty was established at Assur by in-aristi-pileser, who claimed to be a descendant of the ancient prince Erba-Raman.

[Note: the kings named in the above paragraph, coming between Tukulti-Ninurta I and Tiglath-Pileser I, do not match those given in other sources, including the Assyrian king list. This information comes from the 1911 Britannica article.]

His fourth successor was Tiglath-Pileser I, one of the greatest Assyrian conquerors, who carried his arms towards Urartu on the north and Cappadocia on the west; he hunted wild bulls in the Lebanon. However in 1107 BC, he sustained a temporary defeat at the hands of Marduk-nadin-ahhe of Babylonia, where the Kassites had finally succumbed to Elamite attacks and a new line of kings was on the throne.

Of the immediate successors of Tiglath-pileser I few details are known, but by the time of Ashurnasirpal II (883-858 BC) our knowledge of Assyrian history begins to be fairly full. The empire of Assyria was again extended in all directions, and the palaces, temples and other buildings raised by him bear witness to a considerable development of wealth and art. Calah became the favourite residence of a monarch who was distinguished even among Assyrian conquerors for his revolting cruelties.

His son Shalmaneser III had a long reign of 34 years, when the Assyrian capital was converted into an armed camp. Each year the Assyrian armies marched out of it to plunder and destroy. Babylon was occupied, and Babylonia reduced to vassalage. In the west, the confederacy of Syrian princes headed by Benhadad of Damascus, and including Ahab of Israel, was shattered in 853 BC, and twelve years later, the forces of Hazael were annihilated and the ambassadors of Jehu of Samaria brought tribute to "the great king." The last few years of his life, however, were disturbed by the rebellion of his eldest son, that nearly proved fatal. Assur, Arbela and other places joined the pretender, and the revolt was with difficulty put down by Shamshi-Adad V, Shalmaneser's second son, who soon afterwards succeeded him (824 BC). In 804 BC Damascus was captured by his successor Adad-nirari III, to whom tribute was paid by Samaria.

With Nabu-nazir, the Nabonassar of classical writers, the so-called Canon of Ptolemy begins. When he ascended the throne of Babylon in 747 BC Assyria was in the throes of a revolution. Civil war and pestilence were devastating the country, and its northern provinces had been wrested from it by Urartu. In 746 BC Calah joined the rebels, and on the 13th of Iyyar in the following year, Pul, who took the name of Tiglath-pileser III, seized the crown and inaugurated a vigorous new policy, establishing the Second Assyrian Empire.

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