In his new book Assyria: The Rise and Fall of the Initially Planet Empire (Necessary Books), Yale Professor Eckhart Frahm delivers a complete history of the ancient civilization (about 2025 BC to 609 BC) that would come to be a model for the world’s later empires.
Emerging from the city-state of Ashur, positioned in present-day Iraq, Assyria undertook a quantity of normally violent military campaigns to expand its rule more than Babylon and other regions but its kings also developed a transportation network that permitted the totally free flow of concepts and goods and established the initial universal library, says Frahm, professor of Assyriology in the Division of Close to Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the Yale College of Arts and Sciences.
For the book, Frahm draws on findings from current archaeological excavations, cuneiform tablets, and biblical and classical texts to describe what is identified about life in the empire—for each royal and non-royal Assyrians—and the situations that contributed to its speedy demise. .
In an interview with Yale News, Frahm talks about what inspired his interest in this ancient empire, what is identified about its people today and why it matters right now. The interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you come to be interested in Assyria as a scholarly subject?
Eckhart Fram I initial became interested in Mesopotamia when I was in higher college. I took a small Hebrew, just due to the fact I wanted to study a language that was unique, and I started to understand that there was a entire planet beyond the biblical narrative. The history of Mesopotamian civilization spans three,500 years, of which Assyrian history is an essential element.
It is feasible to paint a pretty detailed, normally fascinating and sometimes entertaining image of Assyrian history.
Later, I had numerous university teachers who had been specialists in the linguistic study of the Assyrian language and who edited different Assyrian texts. I’ve completed my fair share of editorial operate myself, but at some point I believed I may well go beyond philology and alternatively bring collectively several unique sources on Assyrian history.
There are actually tens and tens of thousands of Assyrian cuneiform texts, from royal inscriptions in which kings describe their military activities or creating projects, to letters to the royal household from officials or spies that speak about the military and political challenges the empire knowledgeable. It is feasible to paint a pretty detailed, normally fascinating and sometimes entertaining image of Assyrian history.
What is the legacy of the Assyrian Empire?
Frahm: The most essential legacy of Assyria is in all probability the notion of an empire as such. “Empires” have a terrible reputation right now and I never want to downplay their dark side. Generally, “empire” indicates that there is some center that guidelines more than a substantial and somewhat diverse periphery, which is largely unfree. Empire, having said that, also delivers some positive aspects, like, for instance, higher ease of flow of concepts and goods.
Certainly, the Assyrians started mainly as traders. When they ruled their city-state at the starting of the second millennium BC, extended just before the imperial period, it was a territorially pretty tiny entity. But the geographical horizon of the Assyrian people today of that time was currently wide: they engaged in extended-distance trade, importing tin from Central Asia and textiles from Babylonia, and trading each for silver in Anatolia.
Later, throughout the so-referred to as Neo-Assyrian period [ca. 900 BCE to 600 BCE], the Assyrians developed a pretty sophisticated communication network. The so-referred to as Royal Road is normally related with the Persian Empire, which started in 539 BC, but existed currently in Assyrian instances.
I assume it is essential to emphasize that, in contrast to later empires, the Assyrians did not attempt to impose their personal culture, their personal language, or their personal religion on any of their subjects. Folks on the imperial periphery had to spend taxes to the crown and provide labor, but they had been permitted and anticipated to just continue worshiping their gods and speaking their personal languages. In that sense, you could say that the Assyrians had been not super-repressive.
What is identified about the day-to-day life of non-royal Assyrians?
Frahm: A lot is identified, specifically about these who reside in cities, but also about the rural population, who are engaged in agriculture, with barley as the primary crop. Most people today in the countryside had been in all probability semi-totally free. These who grew crops could hold a share. The other element went to the state, and from time to time to landowners, several of whom had been members of the army.
There had been also shepherds in the steppe, who looked soon after herds of sheep and goats. The cuneiform writing reveals that for some seven years some of these shepherds failed to send element of their flock to the Temple of Ashur in Ashur. This causes a complaint from the temple official, who tells the king, “If you do practically nothing about it, then your rule is in danger.” The episode shows us that though the Assyrian kings had been pretty highly effective, they could not be absolutely in charge of anything.
We also know a lot about how husbands and wives interacted, from time to time seemingly not harmoniously. Cuneiform texts speak about husbands and wives getting fantasies of killing their spouses and marrying a person else and so on. But there are also stories of wonderful affection and sadness when a beloved kid dies.
Households had been basically, as they are right now, monogamous, with numerous kids living with their parents in the house, from time to time with their grandparents. They would bury the dead actually below their feet in vaults below homes. Households would go down there to make sacrifices for the dead for holidays and other specific occasions. Folks also had pets. Some texts consist of omens about cats, which predict what occurs when a cat sits on someone’s chest or urinates on that particular person. The latter was regarded a very good sign, indicating that the person in query would come to be wealthy.
A cuneiform letter addressed by a nearby spy to the Assyrian king Esarhaddon about a rebellion in the city of Ashur, ca. 671 BC. The Yale Babylonian Collection / Yale Peabody Museum. (Image: Klaus Wagensonner)
The fall of the Assyrian Empire occurred speedily. What brought on it?
Frahm: That is the million dollar query, and the answer is nevertheless not totally clear. Two current theories have attempted to recognize forces bigger than politics on the a single hand, climate alter, and on the other, migration. Even so, I am not totally certain that these components had been totally decisive.
In my opinion, it was the excellent storm that brought down an empire. One particular concern was that throughout the final decades of the empire, the Assyrian crown knowledgeable a crisis of legitimacy. This was encouraged by Ashurbanipal, whose extended reign [669-631 BCE] it marked a cultural higher point for Assyria—it developed the initial universal library and is also renowned for the sculpted reliefs that lined the walls of its palaces. But Ashurbanipal did not reside up to the image he attempted to project he wanted to be noticed as a wonderful warrior, for instance, but he by no means went to war. Alternatively, he stayed at house in his palace, exactly where, according to his personal texts and later tradition, he “ate, drank and produced merry.”
This, I assume, had currently sown some doubt amongst his subjects about the capacity of their imperial rulers. Then Ashurbanipal dies, and several internal and external conflicts adhere to. In the south, there is a rebellion of the Babylonians, who essentially handle to expel the Assyrians from Babylonia. At the exact same time, the territories in the Levant, in the west, regain their independence. And in the east, the Medes, united in response to the stress previously exerted on them by the Assyrians, join the Babylonians in their struggle against the empire.
In 615 BC, the Medes and Babylonians launch their final attack on Assyria. It is the initial time in hundreds of years that Assyrian cities are below siege. For a whilst the Assyrians have some allies, like, unexpectedly, the Egyptians. The conflict escalates into what could be described as the initial “planet war”, with a cataclysmic series of battles that sooner or later lead to the collapse of Assyria.
What went incorrect?
Frahm: Assyrian cities proved not effortless to defend. For instance, Nineveh—the biggest of all Assyrian cities and capitals at the time—was constructed with 18 gigantic gates. This was a strategic liability: the gates had been so substantial that they presented small protection against enemy attacks. Archaeologists have essentially identified the bodies of Assyrian soldiers killed at these pretty gates when the Medes and Babylonians passed via them in 612 BC. Two years earlier, in 614 BC, the Medes had currently conquered the city of Ashur, the religious and spiritual center of Assyria. And with the fall of these cities, and the city of Haran in 609 BC, came the fall of the empire and the royal dynasty.
Why is Assyria essential right now?
Frahm: One particular of the causes is that the “empire” is nevertheless with us right now. Today’s empires no longer contact themselves empires. But the imperial ideologies are, of course, nevertheless in location. So I assume Assyria can be stated to mark the pretty starting of the chain that runs from the initial millennium BC to contemporary instances.
I assume Assyria can be stated to mark the pretty starting of the chain that runs from the initial millennium BC to contemporary instances.
In the Middle East, the Assyrian Empire was followed by other folks, from the Persian to the Ottoman Empire. While empire is a shape-shifting phenomenon, all of these geopolitical entities had been basically primarily based on the blueprint that the Assyrians initial developed.
Assyria also teaches us one thing about how incorrect it is to “essentialize” the people today of the Middle East. I assume it really is truly fascinating to see how Assyria begins out not as a war-prone nation, but as a pretty peaceful a single, with a mixed constitution and even some democratic institutions. Later he becomes a great deal far more bellicose and autocratic. When you appear at that story, you can see that the peoples of the Middle East can alter, and that people today in basic can alter — that social and political alter is feasible.
Ultimately, as we come out of numerous plague years with the COVID crisis, it is fascinating to think about what influence the epidemics had in ancient Assyria. In the book, I argue that, surprisingly, the rise of the Assyrian empire, not its fall, is linked to the plague. Just soon after two bouts of pestilence—and the financial and demographic contraction they caused—the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III [744–727 BCE] embarked on a series of conquests and annexations at the finish of which the Assyrian state was far more than twice as substantial as it had been just before.
So the wonderful mystery is how is it feasible for the phoenix of the empire to rise from the ashes of numerous dark years of the plague? I would argue that history is not one thing predetermined by deterministic guidelines. If the challenges are not as well wonderful, then people today can essentially adapt to them and discover methods out of the crisis. This is what Tiglath-Pileser did when he compensated for the loss of life and wealth Assyria had suffered by implementing a new grand approach centered on annexing foreign lands, extracting their home for the higher very good of the Assyrian center, and deporting hundreds of thousands of people today to fill the workforce exactly where it was the most urgent.
This is not a story for us to emulate. Rather, I assume of it as a warning that terrible actors could take benefit of the organic disasters that have a tendency to befall humanity and have befallen us, of course, in current years with COVID. And it is much better to be conscious and watch out for what other folks may perhaps do in such situations. Assyria teaches us that there are unique methods to respond to historical challenges.
One thought on “Assyria: A Chronicle of the Rise and Fall of the Initially Planet Empire”