Archive for the ‘Ancient Near Eastern History’ Category


By 2300 BCE, Sargon’s Empire stretched from the Eastern Mediterranean (modern day Lebanon, Syria and south-east Turkey) through the fertile crescent to Sumer and the Persian Gulf. We know little about the reigns of Rimush, who reigned for 8 years and his brother Manishtushu whose reign lasted 14 years. It is recorded that the difficulties of the later years of Sargon continued after his death. Rimush was assassinated by one of his courtiers and  there is one record that Manishtushu fought a sea battle against the fleets of 32 Kings. It is thought this naval encounter may have been in the Persian Gulf against Arab Kings. Like his brother he was assassinated in a palace coup. Naram-Sin, the son of Manishtushu, succeded to the throne in 2254. His name means ‘ the beloved of Sin’, the Akkadian Moon God. Like his grandfather, he also collected titles including King of Kings; King of the four quarters or corners of the universe and he who will be deified to join the gods. Unlike his predecessors who had been regarded as agents of the Gods, Naram-Sim was actually addressed as ‘ the God of Agade’.  During his reign he invaded Elam, on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf, central Turkey and pushed South into the Levant. But this was not just a period of conquest, it was also a period of growing administration. From this time we have the first records of tax, mostly levied against conquered people, to pay for the bureaucracy and the Army. We also have a number of ambitious building projects in both the Akkadian cities and in those of their subject peoples. The great Ziggurat at Ur probably dates from this period. This newfound Akkadian wealth may have been based upon benign climatic conditions, huge agricultural surpluses and the confiscation of the wealth of other peoples.The economy was highly planned which in turn produced the huge agricultural surpluses. Rations of grain and oil were distributed in standardised vessels made by the city’s potters. Taxes were paid in produce and labour on public projects, including city walls, temples, irrigation canals and waterways


The chief threat to the empire seemed to be from the peoples of the northern Zagros Mountains, the Lulubis and the Gutians. A campaign against the Lullabi led to the carving of the “Victory Stele of Naram-Sin”. The Victory Stele depicts him as a god-king climbing a mountain above his soldiers, and his enemies, the defeated Lullabi. Although the stele was broken off at the top when it was stolen and carried off by the Elamites, it still reveals the pride, glory, and divinity of Naram-Sin. The stele was found at Susa, and is now in the LOuvre Museum.

Hittite sources claim Naram-Sin of Akkad ventured into Anatolia, battling the Hittite and Hurrian kings.

Naram-Sin reigned for 36 years and was succeeded by his son Shar-kali-Sharri who in turn reigned for 24 years. On his death there are two years unaccounted for before his son Dudu is recorded as King. Dudu reigned for 20 years and was succeeded by his son Shu-durul.  Little is known about this period. The empires control on its territories does seem to have weakened with a number of reports of rebellion.

The Sumerian King List, describing the Akkadian Empire after the death of Shar-kali-shari, states:

Who was king? Who was not king? Irgigi the king; Nanum, the king; Imi the king; Ilulu, the king—the four of them were kings but reigned only three years. Dudu reigned 21 years; Shu-Turul, the son of Dudu, reigned 15 years. … Agade was defeated and its kingship carried off to Uruk.

The line of Sargon the Great came to an end with the invasion, in 2154, of the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains. We know they captured and sacked the Akkadian capital although after this they almost vanish from our history. They may have stayed in the Akkadian regions as they are mentioned again in the reign of the Sumerian King Ur-Nammamu, who reigned from 2112-2095 who is recorded as droving them from Mesopotamian lands, but this may also relate to another invasion from the Zagros.

The Curse of Akkad

One Mesopotamian myth, a historiographic poem entitled “The curse of Akkad: the Ekur avenged”, explains how the empire created by Sargon of Akkad fell and the city of Akkad was destroyed. The myth was written hundreds of years after the fall of Akkad and is the poet’s attempt to explain how the Gutians succeeded in conquering Sumer. After an opening passage describing the glory of Akkad before its destruction, the poem tells of how Naram-Sin angered the chief god Enlil by plundering the Ekur (Enlil’s temple in Nippur.) In his rage, Enlil summoned the Gutians down from the hills east of the Tigris, bringing plague, famine and death throughout Mesopotamia. Food prices became vastly inflated, with the poem stating that 1 lamb would buy only half a sila (about 425ml) of grain, half a sila of oil, or half a mina (about 250g) of wool. To prevent this destruction, eight of the gods decreed that the city of Akkad should be destroyed in order to spare the rest of Sumer and cursed it. This is exactly what happens, and the story ends with the poet writing of Akkad’s fate, mirroring the words of the gods’ curse earlier on:

For the first time since cities were built and founded,

The great agricultural tracts produced no grain,

The inundated tracts produced no ostriches,

The irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup,

The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow.

At that time, one shekel’s worth of oil was only one-half quart,

One shekel’s worth of grain was only one-half quart. . . .

These sold at such prices in the markets of all the cities!

He who slept on the roof, died on the roof,

He who slept in the house, had no burial,

People were flailing at themselves from hunger

And later it concludes:

“Its canal boat towpaths grew nothing but weeds,
Its chariot roads grew nothing but the ‘wailing plant,’
Moreover, on its canal boat towpaths and landings,
No human being walks because of the wild goats, vermin, snakes, and mountain scorpions,
The plains where grew the heart-soothing plants, grew nothing but the ‘reed of tears,’
Akkad, instead of its sweet-flowing water, there flowed bitter water,
Who said “I would dwell in that city” found not a good dwelling place,
Who said “I would lie down in Akkad” found not a good sleeping place.”

There is of course one major problem with this account as it misses out the 24 year reign of Shar-kali-Sharri, the 2 year gap, the 20year reign of Dudu and the 15 years of  Shu-Turul by setting the destruction in the reign of Naram-Sin.

Sargon was regarded as a model ruler by Mesopotamian kings for some two millennia after his death. The Assyrian and Babylonian kings who based their later empires in Mesopotamia saw themselves as the heirs of Sargon’s empire. Sargon may indeed have introduced the notion of “empire” as understood in the later Assyrian period; the Neo-Assyrian Sargon Text, written in the first person, has Sargon challenging later rulers to “govern the black-haired people” (i.e. the population of Mesopotamia) as he did. SArgon I was a king of the  Assyrian period presumably named after Sargon of Akkad. An important source for “Sargonic heroes” in oral tradition in the later Bronze Age is a Hittite (15th century BC) record of a Hurro-Hittite song, which calls upon Sargon and his immediate successors as “deified kings” . Sargon IIwas a Neo-Assyrian king also named after Sargon of Akkad. Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidas, in the 6th century, showed great interest in the history of the Sargonid dynasty, and even conducted excavations of Sargon’s palaces and those of his successors.

Sargon of Akkad is sometimes identified as the first person in recorded history to rule over an empire (in the sense of the central government of a multi-ethnic territory). His rule also heralds the history of Semetic empires in the Ancient Near East, which, following the Neo-Sumarian interruption in 20th centuries BCE, lasted for close to fifteen centuries, including the history of Assyria and Babylonia up to the Achaemenid conquest in 539BCEnaramsin

The Akkadian empire despite being the first empire in the ANE and despite any problems it may have had with holding in check the desperate national groupings and factions contained within it was ultimately a stable and successful one. Of its 6 Kings, the shortest reign was 9 years, 4 reigned for over 20 years and two reigned for over 50 years. It I many ways set up what was to follow in the ANE. Its amalgamation of single-city states into a large corporate empire changed history.

Over the preceding years the fortunes of individual cities had waxed and waned. As one and then another gained a dominance over the others. However one mark of this era seems to have been that even if beaten in battle, the city states remained independent and although tribute and concessions may have been the price of defeat it seems that rarely was the independence of a city forfeited. They had the concept of over-king or King of Kings but each city-state remained an independent viable entity, but all of that was about to change.


The situation in the eastern fertile crescent started to change around the year 2340 BCE  when the Akkadian Empire began to take shape and grow. It takes its name from the region and city of Akkad, both of which were localised in the general confluence area of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Its policy showed a marked change from the preceding era as the Akkadians under their leader  Sargon began to take direct control over a number of the city states in the Sumerian region. We know little about Sargon’s background. He is referenced in the Sumerian King List and in much later Assyrian documents which were discovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. In fact his name in Akkadian was Sarru-ukin or Sarru-ken. The name Sargon comes from the Hebrew or Aramaic version of the name of a much later Assyrian King, Sargon the second, who was named after his predecessor. The Akkadian name means ‘the established King’ or ‘the king who has established stability’ and is unlikely to have been his real name. As with many ancient regal names they seem to be more descriptions of kingly roles or titles than actual personal names. But for the purpose of this paper I will continue to use the name we are familiar with.

Sargon, according to the available sources, was born the son of a gardener, La’ibum and according to one 7th century Assyrian document, his mother was a priestess. He became the cupbearer to Ur-Zababa, the King of Kish, one of the Sumerian city states. Details of his early story are rather sparse – One Sumerian source records that after he had grown he went to Kish and Ur-Zababa appointed Sargon as his cup-bearer. One night Ur-Zababa invited Sargon to his chambers to discuss a dream of Sargon’s, involving the favour of the goddess Inanna and a vision of the drowning of Ur-Zababa by the goddess. Deeply frightened by the portents of this dream, Ur-Zababa orders Sargon murdered, but the Goddess Inanna prevented it. When Sargon returned to Ur-Zababa, the king became even more frightened and decided to send Sargon to the king of Uruk with a message on a clay tablet asking him to slay Sargon.  Unfortunately, the next section of the story which describes how Sargon came to be the ruler of Kish is missing, but from other sources it seems at some point he assassinated his master, recruited an army of Akkadians and proceeded to start to conquer the other cities of Sumer. He also had a liking for collecting titles: some were fairly straightforward – King of Kish; King of Sumer; King of Akkad, but others represented his connection to the gods: Ensi of Enlil, the God of winds or appointed of Auo, God of the heavens or Lord of the Universe.

At some date during his reign of around 55 years he moved the capital of his empire from Kish to the city of Akkad. There has been much discussion about where this city actually was and whether or not it pre-dated the arrival of Sargon or whether it was a new city built by Sargon. If it was a pre-existing city was it originally called Akkad or was it renamed. These are all questions to which there is no definite answer. The only clues are inscriptions that have been found claim that Sargon ‘built Babylon in front of Akkad’ or that Sargon ‘dug up the soil in the pit of Babylon and made a counterpart next to Agade’ but these were written much later in the time of the Neo-Assyrian empire. Although the location of the city of Akkad has not yet been identified, it is known from various textual sources. Among these is at least one text predating the reign of Sargon. This together with the fact that the name Akkad is of non-Akkadian origin, may suggest that the city of Akkad was already occupied in pre-Sargonic times.


Contemporary sources are rare. Two inscriptions can be seen in the Louve in Paris which are considered contemporary. In these, he is referred to as ‘ King of Akkad, overseer of Innana, King of Kish, anointed of Anu, King of the land, Governor of Enlil’. This description is also found on an inscription found at Nippur which celebrates the conquest of Uruk and the defeat of King Lugal-zagesi, whom Sargon, it informs us brought in a collar to the gate of Enlil. This is believed to have been one of the earliest victories as Sargon’s forces enlarged the boundaries of his new empire.

Sargon’s forces went on to conquer the city states of Ur, Ninmar, Umma, Mari and Elam. Ancient records claim he conquered more than 34 cities. A group of four Babylonian texts, known as the “Sargon Epos” show Sargon as a military commander asking the advice of a number of subordinates before going on campaign. The narrative of Sargon, the Conquering Hero is set at Sargon’s court, in a situation of crisis. Sargon addresses his warriors, praising the virtue of heroism, and a lecture by a courtier on the glory achieved by a champion of the army, a narrative relating a campaign of Sargon and a concluding oration by Sargon listing his conquests.

The narrative of King of Battle relates Sargon’s campaign, or perhaps a raid, against the Anatolian city of Purushanda in order to protect the rights of Akkadian merchants. Interestingly versions of this narrative have been found in both Hittite and Akkadian script. The narrative is anachronistic however, portraying  Sargon in a 19th-century setting. The same text mentions that Sargon crossed the Sea of the West (most likely the Mediterranian) and ended up in Kuppara, which some authors have interpreted as the Akkadian word for Keftiu, an ancient locale usually associated with Crete or Cyprus.

The Chronicle of Early Kings, which dates from around 1500 BCE tells us that:

He had neither rival nor equal. His splendour, over the lands it diffused. He crossed the sea in the east. In the eleventh year he conquered the western land to its farthest point. He brought it under one authority. He set up his statues there and ferried the west’s body across on barges. He stationed his court officials at intervals of five double hours and ruled in unity the tribes of the lands. He marched to Kazallu and turned Kazallu into a ruin heap, so that there was not even a perch for a bird left.

We know that his queen was called Tashlultum and he had a number of children including his son’s Rimush and Manishtushu, who would in turn inherit his throne and his daughter, Enheduannaa who became an important priestess

However, there was a flip side to the hero-myths of Sargon’s conquest, it also seems that this was not an easy empire to control. The Chronicle of Early Kings tells us ‘Afterward in his old age all the lands revolted against him, and they besieged him in Akkad; and Sargon went onward to battle and defeated them; he accomplished their overthrow, and their wide spreading host he destroyed. Afterward he attacked the land of Subartu in his might, and they submitted to his arms, and Sargon settled that revolt, and defeated them; he accomplished their overthrow, and their wide spreading host he destroyed, and he brought their possessions into Akkad. The soil from the trenches of Babylon he removed, and the boundaries of Akkad he made like those of Babylon. But because of the evil which he had committed, the great lord Marduk was angry, and he destroyed his people by famine. From the rising of the sun unto the setting of the sun they opposed him and gave him no rest.


Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Nebuchadrezzar died in 562 he was followed by his son Evil-Merodach but his reign was short. According to one source ‘he managed affairs in a lawless and outrageous fashion’. Another says he paid little heed to his counsellors or the temples. He was certainly deposed and probably murdered within the year at the behest of his Sisters Husband Neriglissar, who took the throne. He died a few years later following a military campaign and was succeeded by his son, who in turn was killed by Nabonidas who came to the throne in 556. His claim to the throne is not clear as his heritage was Assyrian, having been born in the city of Harran, once briefly the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Inscriptions imply that he came from a lowly background. The records do however, suggest that he might have been married to a daughter of Nebuchadrezzar and so although he had no claim to the throne, his son did as a grandson of the great King. This could be borne out by the fact that Nabonidas reigned in a power-sharing arrangement with his son Belshazzar (of the feast and writing on the wall fame). Belshazzar was noted as being a good soldier, but a poor politician who had a knack of upsetting people by his actions. Amongst these were the religious and military elites of the kingdom. The reason for the former is clear as he and his father suppressed the worship of Marduk, the traditional god of Babylon in favour of the moon god. The most likely reason for this is that Nabonidas’ mother was the high priestess of the Moon God Temple in Harran.

Relief of Cyrus at the gate of Pasargadae. "Olympic Park Cyrus-3" by Siamax. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Relief of Cyrus at the gate of Pasargadae. “Olympic Park Cyrus-3” by Siamax. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The Persians King Cyrus was becoming very popular in Babylon. In contrast to Nabonidus and Balthasar, Cyrus portrayed himself as the saviour of the true Babylonian religion, chosen by Marduk to restore order and justice and the worship of Marduk to the people of Babylon.
Cyrus invaded Babylon in 539 and within a few years the whole Neo-Babylonian empire was under Persian rule.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Nebuchadrezzar was not just a mighty warrior, he was also a patron of cities and a spectacular builder. He rebuilt all of Babylonia’s major cities on a lavish scale. The city of Babylon during his reign covered more than three square miles, surrounded by moats and ringed by a double circuit of walls. The Euphrates flowed through the centre of the city, spanned by a beautiful stone bridge. At the centre of the city rose the giant ziggurat called Etemenanki, “House of the Frontier Between Heaven and Earth,” next to the Temple of Marduk. He is also credited with building the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to one legend, he built the Gardens for his Median wife, Queen Amytis, because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. He also built a grand palace that came to be known as ‘The Marvel of the Mankind’.

"Die schwebenden Gärten von Babylon 1726" by Unknown - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Die schwebenden Gärten von Babylon 1726” by Unknown – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In 601 BC, Nebuchadrezzar was involved in a major, but inconclusive battle, against the Egyptians, probably somewhere in the southern Levant. In 599 BC, he invaded Arabia and routed the Arabs at Qedar. In 597 BC, he invaded Judah and captured Jerusalem and deposed its king Jehoiachin. Egypt and Babylon continued to vie with each other for control of the southern Levant throughout much of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign. Egypt’s policy was usually to do this by proxy, by encouraging the Levantine states to rebel and promising them aid. It is not always clear from the accounts whether these promises were actually fulfilled. It was probably these promises, and a civil war in Babylon, which encouraged king Zedekiah of Judah to revolt. It took the Babylonians two years to sort out their problems at home but in 586 the might of the Babylonian army descended into Judah culminating in the siege of Jerusalem. This time the Egyptians did mobilise an army to support the Judaean revolt, but Nebuchadrezzar merely broke off the siege , gave battle, defeated the Egyptian army and then returned to the besieging Jerusalem. After an 18-month siege, Jerusalem was captured, and thousands of Jews were deported to Babylon, and the city, including Solomon’s Temple and Palace was razed to the ground.
By 572 Nebuchadrezzar was in full control of Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Judah, Israel, Philistia, northern Arabia, and parts of Asia Minor. In 568 BC during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis, he invaded Egypt. A clay tablet, now in the British Museum, states: “In the 37th year of Nebuchaddrezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Mitzraim (Egypt) to wage war. Amasis, king of Mitzraim, collected his army, and marched and spread abroad.” Unfortunately there appears to be no record of the aims or outcome of this campaign, but it does not seem as though the Babylonians were able to establish any territory in Egypt.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Once the capital Nineveh had fallen the Assyrians began to withdraw west and moved their capital west to Harran. When Harran was captured by the Babylonians in 610 BC the capital was once again moved, this time to Carchemish, on the Euphrates river. Egypt had by this time realised that the rising Neo-Babylonian empire was ever expanding in their direction and therefore at sometime around 610 they entered into an alliance with the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II, and in 609 BC sent an army north to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians. It is interesting to consider how late they left this decision. Carchemish was the Assyrians last stand, their last hope of survival and even if they had won there was little left of the Assyrian empire. To my mind the most likely scenario would be that by this time the end was inevitable even if they escaped it in 609.
The Egyptian army of Pharaoh Necho II marching north to aid the Assyrians was delayed at Megiddo by the forces of King Josiah of Judah. During the battle Josiah was killed and his army was defeated. But why did Josiah attack the much larger army of the Egyptians? Did he think that if the Assyrians were defeated then Judah would be freed from subjugation? Was this attack a deliberate delaying tactic to slow the Egyptian reinforcements down?
If so it partially worked as by the time the Egyptians arrived the Babylonians had forced the Assyrian army to withdraw across the Euphrates. The Egyptians and Assyrians came together on the west side of the river, crossed it and laid siege to Harran, which they failed to retake. They then retreated back towards Carchemish and the river Euphrates.
The Egyptian / Assyrian army met the might of the Babylonian army led by Nebuchadrezzar II, the son of Neblopolassor, near Carchemish where the combined Egyptian and Assyrian forces were soundly defeated. Assyria ceased to exist as an independent power, and Egypt retreated and would never again be a significant force in the Fertile Crescent.

Carved walls from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carved walls from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Nebuchadrezzar Chronicle, now housed in the British Museum, claims that Nebuchadrezzar “crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Karchemiš. They fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and beat them to non-existence. As for the rest of the Egyptian army which had escaped from the defeat so quickly that no weapon had reached them, in the district of Hamath the Babylonian troops overtook and defeated them so that not a single man escaped to his own country. At that time Nebuchadrezzar conquered the whole area of Hamath.”

Carved panels from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public

Carved panels from the Palace of Carchemish (c1910) [Public

Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddan , who reigned from 681 to 669 is noted for two events. In 680, he commenced the rebuilding of the city of Babylon and re-established it as a client kingdom. From 675 to 671 he launched a campaign into Egypt, which resulted in the Assyrians occupying Memphis, the Nile Delta and the lower valley. [map4].  However, these gains were to be short lived as in 669 the Egyptians rebelled and Ashurbanipal II, who had succeeded his father, fought a six-year campaign before the Assyrians were forced to admit defeat and withdraw back to their border at the southern end of the Levant.

Ashurbanipal on Horseback "Nineveh Ashurbanipal on horseback" by Anonymous (Nineveh) - Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Ashurbanipal on Horseback
“Nineveh Ashurbanipal on horseback” by Anonymous (Nineveh) – Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

 His reign was also marked by continued rebellion in Babylonia. Ashurbanipal is best remembered for the building of the great library at Nineveh from the contents of which much of our knowledge of the ancient near East comes.

Tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal. "1911 Britannica - Babylonia-Tablet" by Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 - Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 3, Plate II. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal.
“1911 Britannica – Babylonia-Tablet” by Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 – Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 3, Plate II. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – 

Following his death, his sons waged Civil War for the throne of Assyria. Nablopolassar, the client King of Babylon took advantage of this situation and declared himself King of an independent Babylonian kingdom in 620. It seems that the weakened Assyrians were unable to respond. In 615 Nablopolassar made an Alliance with the Medes, and their clients, the Persians, and declared war on Assyria. A 5 year campaign followed as the Allies gradually gained territory from the Assyrians. Nineveh finally fell in 612 following a three-year siege and the Babylonian forces completely destroyed the city to ground level. It seems likely that this was payback for the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689.

In 853 BCE Shalmaneser III was defeated by a Levantine Alliance, led by Aram and Israel. However, the campaigns of Tiglath-Pilessar III from 745 expanded the Assyrian empire further west with the inclusion of the Phoenician port cities as client kingdoms. This gave the Empire access to the trade routes of the Mediterranean. Sargon the second (721 to 705) continued the expansion taking into the Empire parts of the old Hittite kingdom; This brought under Assyrian control parts of the Hittite kingdom; Phoenicia and Israel and established client kingdoms in Judah, Philistia and Babylonia. The reign of Sennacherib is one of mixed fortunes for the Empire. Perhaps best remembered for his campaign in Judah, notably the siege and sack of Lachish and the siege of Jerusalem.

Battle scene from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

Battle scene from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum


He also faced major rebellions in Babylonia and in 689, Babylon was sacked and razed to the ground and the province of Babylonia was annexed into the Assyrian Empire. In the North of the Empire, a great deal of effort was needed to contain the raids of peoples from the Caucuses down the land corridor between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In the North West the Assyrians encountered, with less than successful results, the Phrygian Kingdom, who had by this time annexed the western part of the old Hittite Empire.

Sennacherib "Sanherib-tr-4271" by Timo Roller - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Sanherib-tr-4271” by Timo Roller – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

If you ever thought spin was a modern invention then here are two accounts of Sennacherib’s campaign in Judea. The Hebrew account says little if anything about the campaign leading up to the siege of Jerusalem but focuses on the outcome and the successful breaking of the siege ‘Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh.’

However if we look at Sennacherib’s version as seen on the Taylor Prism it reads very differently “As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong walled cities, as well as the small cities in their neighborhood, which were without number, by escalade and bringing up siege engines (did I destroy)…  Himself, like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. ‘ He then goes on to tell that he extracted a huge tribute from him which when paid he took back to Nineveh, which was why he lifted the siege. What we do know is that Sennacherib made far more of his campaign against Lachish than he did of the siege of Jerusalem as witness the wall murals from his palace at Nineveh, which are in the British Museum.

The King recieves tribute  from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

The King receives tribute from Lachish reliefs Nineveh. Now in British Museum

Sennacherib died in 681. What is clear is that he was assassinated. What is less clear is the why and the how. There is a story that this happened whilst he was praying in the temple. Some sources in the later Babylonian Chronicles name his son as the guilty party although other sources give different identities to the killer.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Between 1206 and 1150 BC, the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and northern Syria and the New Kingdom of Egypt in southern Syria and Canaan interrupted trade routes and severely reduced literacy. In the first phase of this period, there is evidence that many cities were violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter: examples include Hattusa, Mycenae, and Ugarit. The civilisations of the eastern fertile crescent fared only a little better. The  Assyrian Empire came under attack from the Mushki, a people who had moved into Anatolia following the collapse of the Hittite Empire. It is thought that they were probably from the area of modern-day Georgia or Armenia. However, the Assyrians were able to defeat and repel these attacks. Thus, the Assyrian Empire survived, if in a somewhat reduced state, throughout much of this period. Assyria retained a stable monarchy, the best army in the world and an efficient civil administration, thus enabling it to survive the Late Bronze Age Collapse relatively intact and this put them in the prime position to rebound from this dark age. From the late 10th Century BC onwards, it began to assert itself internationally once again.

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Around the year 910, the kingdom of Ashur or Assyria once again began to expand south-east into Babylonia and West to the Mediterranean coast. This would eventually become known as the neo-Assyrian Empire. They encountered very little resistance. In Babylon,  the Kassites had been replaced by a Chaldean or Aramaean ruling class. These were people had come east out of the desert and taken control of the kingdom possibly sometime between 1100-1000 BC. Records show that there was a constant tension between the native Babylonians and their Chaldean rulers. It has been suggested that this made the ruling class inward looking, concentrating on the prevention of internal rebellion and so not reacting till it was too late to the advances of Assyria. In the lands to the West, the population now consisted of Aramean tribesman who had moved into the grasslands of Syria. There is no evidence of any pan-tribal organisation and it is probable that the Assyrian army were able to pick them off individually. In Egypt, the Libyan rulers of the 22nd to 24th dynasties had little interest in what was happening in the Levant and Mesopotamia, regarding Egypt as merely as a buffer state to their own homelands in north Africa. In addition to these political reasons, there was also one overriding practical reason, which may explain the speed at which the neo-Assyrian Empire was able to expand. Babylon, Egypt and the tribes of the Syrian grasslands all lacked access to the new wonder material of weapon making – iron. In contrast, Assyria had access to rich deposits, both in the Armenian highlands to the North and in the Zagros mountains to the East. Their relationship to these lands is unknown, but there clearly was some relationship, both in the supply of resource materials and from the fact that it is recorded that tribesman from these areas formed part of the Assyrian military force from an early stage. Relatively quickly, we also find records of Aramean forces fighting for the Assyrian Empire. This may be reminiscent of the Roman use of foreign troops or perhaps the Gurkhas in the British army. What was the advantage to these troops? – well certainly employment and the prospect of loot, but it may have gone farther than that.  It has been speculated that, unlike in other kingdoms of the fertile crescent, the definition of being Assyrian was a political designation rather than an ethnic one. Thus, if you spoke Akkadian, were loyal to the Assyrian king and fought in the army or were loyal and diligent in royal service then you were defined as an Assyrian citizen with the benefits that may have brought.

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By scan by ru:user:Кучумов Андрей [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

We left our story around the year 1200 BC with the collapse of the Late Bronze Age civilisations. This was a period of immense transition in the Aegean Region, Southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean that historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. Indeed, this was such a traumatic event that some Historians have referred to it as the Ancient Dark Ages. The Historian Robert Drews describes this collapse as “the worst disaster in ancient history, even more calamitous than the collapse of the Western Roman Empire”

As I said last time the causes of this collapse have long puzzled historians. All-around it certainly seems as though it was a time of change and great population movements since at this same time we see the first evidence of the arrival of Iranian speakers east of the Zagros Mountains; these are the people who would later be known as the Persians and the Medes, the rise of the Chaldeans and Arameans in the central desert areas which are enclosed by the Fertile Crescent and the arrival of the Mushki in Anatolia.  It also sees the arrival in surrounding areas of a number of other new peoples. Theories include environmental causes such as climate change, volcanic action or drought. It may be that these are linked since it has been suggested that the migration of people seen at this time may well have been caused by environmental disasters in lands to the north of the area.

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Fertile Crescent (By 92bari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

By 1400 BCE Egypt had established control over most of the coastal lands and began to move north conquering the Hurrian-Mittani held territory between the Mediterranean and Euphrates. This expansion north soon brought them into conflict with the Hittites, who under the Emperor Suppiliaumas I captured some of the Egyptian held northern Laventine territories from the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton.

Around 1370 a new wind blew through the Fertile Crescent. Ashur or Assyria, which until then had been a fairly minor player on the political scene began campaigns moving both Northwest into the remains of the Hurrian-Mittani kingdom and South into Kassite controlled Babylonia. Ashur-uballit I titled himself ‘Lord of the universe’ following these victories. The use of this title, first used by Sargon of Akkad is obviously deliberate, creating a link between the new Assyrian rulers and the old Akkadian Empire. Their expansion was limited by the Egyptians and Hittites to the West and although in 1230 they managed to capture the city of Babylon, they were unable to hold onto the territory.

"Statue of Ramesses II in Karnak Temple in Luxor Egypt" by MusikAnimal - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Statue of Ramesses II in Karnak Temple in Luxor Egypt” by MusikAnimal – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

In the West 1275 saw the battle of Kadesh (in modern day Syria) at which the forces of Rameses II of Egypt clashed with those of either Hattusillas II or Muwatalli II, the Hittite Emperor. It has been suggested that this battle was probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000–6,000 chariots. The Hittites using their traditional 3 man chariots against the lighter and faster Egyptian 2 man chariots.

3 man chariot Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

3 man chariot
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – 

Initially the battle went heavily in favour of the Hittites, who managed to ambush the Egyptian army, but Rameses skilfully managed to extract his forces from the ambush and counter attack against the Hittite forces. The most likely outcome is that it was a draw or maybe a slight victory for the Hittites. This battle is primarily recorded in reliefs at the Abu-Simbel temples and in Egyptian documentation, which all describe the battle as a great Egyptian victory.

Abu Simbel Relief by Olaf Tausch - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Abu Simbel Relief by Olaf Tausch – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

However it must be noted that within a year, Rameses had signed a treaty with the Hittite Empire, which acknowledged the loss of the Egyptian northern Levantine territory seeding it to the Hittites.

Around the year 1200, there is a major civilisation collapse in the Fertile Crescent and in adjacent areas. This period, marked a significant decline for the Hittites, Egypt, the Kassite kingdoms, Assyria and for the remnant of the Hurrian-Mittani kingdom. The reasons for this decline are unexplained and puzzle historians to this day.