Assyria was a civilization in Mesopotamia. It was on the upper Tigris River. Assyria lasted many centuries. It was greatest between 1600 and 612 B.C. The Assyrians were a Semitic-speaking people. They came to Mesopotamia in about 2000 B.C. Assyria was named after its original capital, Ashur. Ashur became a free city in about 1365 B.C.
Assyrian Advantages and Disadvantages
Life in Assyria was better than in Babylonia in several ways. Assyrians could farm without having to irrigate as was needed in Babylonia. The land got water from the Tigris River and other smaller streams and rivers. It also got a good amount of rainfall each year. Also, Assyria had rocks and stones that could be used for building. There were two disadvantages, however. The Assyrian land was harder to till for farming. It was also attacked often by barbarians who raided their villages.
Assyrians had a thriving trade in Anatolia (Asia Minor). Eventually, the Hittites drove the Assyrians out of Anatolia. During the time of the Babylonian Kingdom, the Assyrians grew weaker. By 1550 B.C., Assyria was part of the Mitanni Kingdom. The Mitanni Kingdom was known for introducing trained horses and chariots into this part of the world.
The Assyrian Army
Gradually, Assyrian power grew. It expanded by 1100 B.C. The Assyrians had a standing army. This is made up of soldiers who choose the army as their career. When the soldiers are not fighting, they are still in the army, training to fight. This was a new idea in this period. Other countries fought their wars with citizen-soldiers. A citizen-soldier fights a war for his king or nation. After the war is over, he returns home. He resumes his life working at his craft or career. The Assyrian soldiers were fierce and cruel warriors. They had weapons made of iron rather than copper or bronze. They also had battering rams. They had foot soldiers, archers, chariots, and a cavalry. Captured enemies would either be killed or made slaves.
Captured cities were looted. The defeated people had to pay taxes and tribute to the Assyrians. The Assyrians built forts close to these cities. A governor was appointed for each fort. The governor reported to the king. He sent reports by messengers on horseback. This was the first mail service.
The kingdom finally became too large to maintain. There were too few soldiers. Mercenaries were hired to serve in the army. A mercenary is a foreign soldier hired by another country to fight in its army. Eventually, the Assyrians were defeated by the Medes, Chaldeans, and the Babylonians. The capital city of Nineveh was destroyed.