What country did they live in?
The Assyrians were fierce warriors who lived in northern Mesopotamia from 1900 – 612 BC. Their kingdom was upstream on the Tigris River, across from their enemies, the Babylonians. The Assyrians were a much more warlike people than the Babylonians. They were also known as great traders. Their caravans traveled all over the place, bringing goods to trade as well as food and wine to various cities in Mesopotamia.
About 1200 BC, the Assyrians finally conquered Babylon, the greatest city of the time. The Assyrians leveled the city. They turned it into rubble. After they leveled the city, the Assyrians began to worry about Marduk, the chief of all the Babylonian gods. They were afraid Marduk might punish them for destroying his city. The Assyrians decided the smartest thing to do would be to rebuild the city, and to return the statue of Marduk to his temple. They really did not have any use for the city. So, they rebuilt Babylon, but left it an empty city. Eventually, people returned to the city and Babylon rose again.
During the height of its power (8th – 6th centuries BC), the Assyrian civilization expanded to cover the whole of Mesopotamia (including Babylon, Syria, Palestine and Cyprus) as well as northern Arabia and north-eastern Egypt.
The History of Assyria
The history of the Assyrian Empire can be divided into three segments (or parts), the Old Assyrian Empire, the Middle Assyrian Empire, and the New Assyrian Empire. The Old Assyrian Empire was formed around 1900 B.C. and lasted until around 1363B.C. It was a time of conquest. The Assyrians attacked their neighbors, such as Sumer and Akkad, and grew more powerful, though still not as powerful as some of their other neighbors.
During Middle Assyrian Empire, the Empire was very powerful and still growing. This stage in the life of the empire lasted from 4000 - 1000 B.C. Iron swords, lances, and armor strengthened the Assyrian army because iron weapons were stronger than the bronze weapons used by other civilizations of that era. The Assyrians used iron to create powerful battering rams. A battering ram is a large, heavy log carried by several men and propelled with enough force to break down city walls. The Assyrians added wheels and canopies to their battering rams. A canopy is a small roof that protected Assyrian soldiers from rocks and spears thrown down at them.
The invention of spoke wheels made Assyrian chariots lighter, faster, and better prepared to outrun soldiers and other chariots. Arrows from their deadly crossbows could penetrate the armor of rival soldiers. About 1000 B.C., the Assyrians introduced the first cavalry. A cavalry is an army that fights on horseback. The saddle had not yet been invented, so the Assyrian cavalry fought on the bare backs of their horses.
The New Assyrian Empire occurred during the pinnacle, or top, of the empire's power. The Assyrians owned most of their known world. In fact, the kings thought that the gods chose them to rule, and that made them representatives of the gods on earth. This was a form of what is known as Theocracy. Theocracy is a form of Government where ruler's power comes from religion. The kings were given titles and names like, "King of the Universe." Because of their power they were not only in charge of the army but the temples too. During this time magnificent palaces and temples were constructed, partly to show off the wealth (or money) of the kings. The last great king during the was Ashurbanipal (pronounced Ash-er-ban-ee-pol). He ruled from 668-627 B.C. After his rule the country soon fell. The Medes and Babylonians invaded and finally defeated the nation in 612 B.C.
What did their buildings look like?
Assyrians built magnificent temples and palaces, decorated with beautiful reliefs and statues of winged bulls, known as cherubs (though you must be careful not to confuse these with angels of the same name).
The Assyrians built in rectangles. Their rectangular homes were built of stone. They had doors but no windows. The roofs were flat with layers of earth on sturdy beams. This made their homes nearly fireproof. They built walled towns with huge rectangular buildings. They decorated their buildings with huge demons to protect the building, and possible the town residents, from evil influence. First and foremost, the Assyrians were deeply religious warriors, and their construction reflected this.
What did they eat?
Assyrians ate a platter of ground lamb, wheat, pine nuts, and other middle eastern spices. This was called Kidbei (Kid-be). Their bread was called lehmo or pita. Yogurt was a main part of the Assyrians diet. Assyrians had two main desserts. One is a pastry filled with a buttery paste. This is called Kadee. The other dessert is called Baklava. Baklava is a dessert found in many other middle eastern civilizations. Richta, an Assyrian rice dish is tasty. Booshala is a creamy soup with many delicious ingredients one of which is ground lamb.
What did they wear?
The men wore long coatlike garments and were bearded. Women wore a sleeved tunic and a shawl over their shoulders. Knee-length and full-length tunics (a garment like a shirt) with short sleeves were the most common types of clothing worn. They were worn along with some type headdress. Shawls were also worn. The two were generally worn together, but sometimes not.
The Assyrian cavalry was well outfitted for war, with chain mail and leather boots. Chainmail is a type of armor consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh. While other armies fought in sandals, leather boots protected Assyrian soldiers while they were around horses, and prepared the Assyrian army to fight in rough terrain and in cold weather, rain, and snow.
Though there are no actual pieces of clothing around today, archeologists can still infer with some help from the Old Testament of the Bible that rich coloring was prominent. Colors probably included:
- Blue: dark indigo, though sometimes lighter.
- Red: A lot Indian red.
- Purple: Dark, and a little brownish.
What did their writing look like?
Assyrian writing was called cuneiform (kU-nee-u-form).The cuneiform is one of the oldest known forms of writing. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. Over time, however, its letters simplified and became less of a picture.
Cuneiform was written upon clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed called a stylus. The indentations left by the stylus were wedge shaped, which gave rise to its name, cuneiform ("wedge shaped").
Around 600 BCE, before the people of ancient Mesopotamia were conquered by the great Persian Empire, the last Assyrian king started a project. He began collecting a library of clay tablets of all the literature of Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria. When discovered in modern times, over 30,000 tablets still remained in the great library in his capital city of Nineveh. These tablets are our single most important source of knowledge about ancient Mesopotamia.
What did they believe?
The Assyrian king was believed to be the earthy representative of the gods. His enemies were punished with violence. The message was simple – mess with Assyria and you will face the consequences. Like the Babylonians, the Assyrians believed that there were many gods that ruled different parts of the universe. They built each of their gods a primary temple that was considered the home of the god. People would bring sacrifices to the gods and the priests would try to attend to the needs of the gods through ceremonies and festivals.
The Assyrians did not believe in a happy, busy afterlife. They believed that after death every soul went to the underworld. The underworld was considered a dark and dismal place. This made death a dreadful event as there was no hope of ever having anything better.
In the funeral ceremony itself, they would place the hand of the deceased on a plate of food, so that they would have something for the trip. They would bury their dead with a few of their favorite possession. The Assyrians, however, liked to keep their dead at home. The poor would dig a hole somewhere in the house, and bury their dead at home. The rich would build a room just for the burial. In both cases, an oil lamp would be kept burning near or at the gravesite, to remind everyone that this person is near and cares for them.
Babylonian and Assyrian religion had much in common: most of the myths and the gods were the same. One difference though was that in Assyria the king of gods was Assur, the patron god of the city of Assur, unlike Babylonian Marduk, the patron of Babylon.
The following is a list of gods worshipped by the Assyrians:
- Ishtar, the goddess of love
- Adramelech, A sun god
- Anshar, the national God
- As Shalla, the Assyrian goddess of grain
- Anasas, God of medicine
- Nisroch, god of farming
- Nabu, god of Wisdom and Writing
- Ashur/Assur, king of the gods
Are some of them famous even today?
King Ashurbanipal is known for his library of cuneiform tablets. It was the largest collection of the books in the ancient world. Many masterpieces of ancient literature and many facts from ancient history are known to us from the documents of Ashurbanipal’s library. Also, the Assyrians are mentioned in the Bible as the people who conquered Israel over a hundred years before Judah's conquest. We can also see, in the Bible, that the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians, who conquered Judah later on.
What is left of them today?
Assyrian people still live in northern Iraq, Iran, Syria, Palestine (specially Jerusalem) Jordan (Medaba), Australia, and the US. They speak Aramaic language and most of them are Christians.