8th Grade: He Who Lives by the Sword. . .


This week we looked at Assyrian civilization.  Their meteoric rise was surpassed only by their complete and total destruction at the hands of several enemies.  What made them who they were?

We first looked at their geography. . .

1. Assyria began in the north of the Fertile Crescent, in one of its less fertile areas, nestled in the Zagreb mountains.  We discussed how people who live in mountainous regions tend to display similar characteristics.  Necessity might force them to rely on hunting.  They grow to be tough and adaptive, and generally warlike, with built in mistrust of foreigners due to their relative isolation (think Afghanistan).  Assyrians had similar characteristics.

2. Their geography may have lent impetus to their expansionist desires.  These tough, warlike people were generally surrounded by more wealthy civilizations that might have been a bit ‘softer’ than the Assyrians.   Nomadic civilizations (those that have to/choose to follow ‘the herd’) can never be as wealthy as more agrarian civilizations, for they can never stay in one place long enough to produce anything.  Perhaps they could not resist all they saw around them.  Perhaps after a while, jealousy and envy took hold.

Then we looked at their army . . .

1. Mountainous regions generally are not as populous as other places, but the Assyrians managed to create a brilliant militia force.  Without the mass of other armies (nomadic hunting oriented civilizations inevitably have smaller populations) they had to rely on speed and movement.  But their citizens, used to hunting, would have been used to moving, tracking, and outwitting their prey.

In class I compared their army to the new ‘Blur Offense’ in football popularized by the University of Oregon.

2. The Assyrian army was a lightning fast ‘light infantry’ force, overwhelming their opponents by swift and brutal assaults.  Of course the makeup of the army impacted their foreign policy, which

  • Usually did not emphasize diplomacy.  They could not integrate their conquered foes into their army (think about how the effectiveness of a Navy Seal platoon would be diminished by adding army regulars into their ranks).
  • So – how do you hold onto your territory?  The Assyrian army was not generally interested in occupation. They wanted movement.  If ‘you are what you worship,’ we would expect the Assyrians to use terror as a weapon, and so they did.  My guess is that the students will remember the various forms of torture and death the Assyrians inflicted if you are curious enough to ask them.
  • With the conquered cowed into submission the Assyrians could move on.  We looked at Paul Kennedy’s concept of ‘Imperial Overstretch,’ when size becomes a disadvantage as opposed to an advantage.  Clearly the Assyrians suffered from this, for as we discussed, fear is a wasting asset.  It tends to be a very effective short term, but disastrous long term policy.

Some of you may remember the boxer Mike Tyson, and I think he is a good representation of the Assyrian army.  Tyson was almost always the smaller man in the ring, outweighed and outreached by his opponent.  But his lightning speed confused his opponent, and he hit with such devastating force that he surely “ruled by fear” over his foes.

The students had fun with excerpts from these clips in class.

Then we looked at their religion. . .

The Assyrians were polytheistic, but tended to emphasize the worship of their war god Ashur.  Ashur demanded blood, as the Assyrians obliged, presenting large amounts of the severed heads of their enemies at worship services.  Interestingly, apparently the most common way of representing Ashur was on his winged disc, which hearkens back to the dominance of “movement” in Assyrian civilization.

Friday we looked at some texts of Assyrian king records.  Most of these from the ancient Near East  look similar, but there are noticeable differences.  For the Assyrians, death and slaughter get top billing.  There is almost nothing about building, peace, harvests, temples, etc.  Their lives were consumed with inflicting destruction on others.  I include a long text of just this below if you are interested to skim it.  On Friday we will have a contest to see who can find the nastiest bits.  Students should note the repetition, the blandness, the obsession with violence and conquest.  For the Assyrians, as for all of us, you are what you worship.
Thanks so much,

the cities of Khatu, Khalaru, Nistun, Irbidi,

[1.60] Mitkie, Arzanie, Zila, Khalue, cities of Gilhi situated in the environs of Uzie and Arue

[1.61] and Arardi powerful lands, I occupied: their soldiers in numbers I slew; their spoil, their riches I carried off;

[1.62] their soldiers were discouraged; the summits projecting over against the city of Nistun which were menacing like the storms of heaven, I captured;

[1.63] into which no one among the Princes my sires had ever penetrated; my soldiers like birds (of prey) rushed upon them;

[1.64] 260 of their warriors by the sword I smote down; their heads cut off in heaps I arranged; the rest of them like birds

[1.65] in a nest, in the rocks of the mountains nestled; their spoil, their riches from the midst of the mountains I brought down; cities which were in the midst

[1.66] of vast forests situated I overthrew, destroyed, burned in fire; the rebellious soldiers fled from before my arms; they came down; my yoke

[1.67] they received; impost tribute and a Viceroy I set over them. Bubu son of Bubua son of the Prefect of Nistun

[1.68] in the city of Arbela I flayed; his skin I stretched in contempt upon the wall. At that time an image of my person I made; a history of my supremacy

[1.69] upon it I wrote, and (on) a mountain of the land of Ikin(?) in the city of Assur-nasir-pal at the foot I erected (it). In my own eponym in the month of July and the 24th day (probably B.C. 882).

[1.70] in honor of Assur and Istar the great gods my Lords, I quitted the city of Nineveh: to cities situated below Nipur and Pazate powerful countries

1.71] I proceeded; Atkun, Nithu, Pilazi and 20 other cities in their environs I captured; many of their soldiers I slew;

[1.72] their spoil, their riches I carried off; the cities I burned with fire; the rebel soldiers fled from before my arms, submitted,

[1.73] and took my yoke; I left them in possession of their land. From the cities below Nipur and Pazate I withdrew; the Tigris I passed;

[1.74] to the land of Commagene I approached; the tribute of Commagene and of the Moschi in kams of copper, sheep and goats I received; while in Commagene

[1.75] I was stationed, they brought me intelligence that the city Suri in Bit-Khalupe had revolted. The people of Hamath had slain their governor

[1.76] Ahiyababa the son of Lamamana they brought from Bit-Adini and made him their King. By help of Assur and Yav

[1.77] the great gods who aggrandize my royalty, chariots, (and) an army, I collected: the banks of the Chaboras I occupied; in my passage tribute

[1.78] in abundance from Salman-haman-ilin of the city of Sadikannai and of Il-yav of the city of Sunai, silver, gold,

[1.79] tin, kam of copper, vestments of wool, vestments of linen I received. To Suri which is in Bit-Halupe I drew near;

[1.80] the fear of the approach of Assur my Lord overwhelmed them; the great men and the multitudes of the city, for the saving of their lives, coming up after me,

[1.81] submitted to my yoke; some slain, some living, some tongue-less I made: Ahiyababa son of Lamamana

[1.82] whom from Bit-Adini they had fetched, I captured; in the valor of my heart and the steadfastness of my soldiers I besieged the city; the soldiers, rebels all,

[1.83] were taken prisoners; the nobles to the principal palace of his land I caused to send; his silver, his gold, his treasure, his riches, copper

[1.84] (?)tin, kams, tabhani, hariati of copper, choice copper in abundance, alabaster and iron-stone of large size

[1.85] the treasures of his harem, his daughters and the wives of the rebels with their treasures, and the gods with their treasures,

[1.86] precious stones of the land of . . . , his swift chariot, his horses, the harness, his chariot-yoke, trappings for horses, coverings for men,

[1.87] vestments of wool, vestments of linen, handsome altars of cedar, handsome . . . , bowls of cedar-wood

[1.88] beautiful black coverings, beautiful purple coverings, carpets, his oxen, his sheep, his abundant spoil, which like the stars of heaven could not be reckoned,

[1.89] I carried off; Aziel as my lieutenant over them I placed; a trophy along the length of the great gate I erected: the rebellious nobles

[1.90] who had revolted against me and whose skins I had stripped off, I made into a trophy: some in the middle of the pile I left to decay; some on the top

[1.91] of the pile on stakes I impaled; some by the side of the pile I placed in order on stakes; many within view of my land

[1.92] I flayed; their skins on the walls I arranged; of the officers of the King’s officer, rebels, the limbs I cut off;

[1.93] I brought Ahiyababa to Nineveh; I flayed, him and fastened his skin to the wall; laws and edicts

[1.94] over Lakie I established. While I was staying in Suri the tribute of the Princes of Lakie throughout the whole of them,

[1.95] silver, gold, tin, copper, kam of copper, oxen, sheep, vestments of wool and linen, as tribute

[1.96] and gift, I defined and imposed upon them. In those days, the tribute of Khayani of the city of Hindanai, silver,

[1.97] gold, tin, copper, amu-stone, alabaster blocks, beautiful black (and) lustrous coverings I received as tribute from him. In those days an enlarged image

[1.98] of my Royalty I made; edicts and decrees upon it I wrote; in the midst of his palace I put it up; of stone my tablets I made;

[1.99] the decrees of my throne upon it I wrote; in the great gate I fixed them, in the date of this year which takes its name from me, in honor of Assur my Lord and Ninip who uplifts my feet.

[1.100] Whereas in the times of the Kings my fathers no man of Suhi to Assyria had ever come, Il-bani Prince of Suhi together with his soldiers

[1.101] (and) his son, silver, gold as his tribute to Nineveh in abundance brought: in my own eponym at the city of Nineveh I stayed: news

[1.102] they brought me that men of the land of Assyria, (and) Hulai the governor of their city which Shalmaneser King of Assyria my predecessor

[1.103] to the city of Hasiluha had united, had revolted: Dandamusa a city of my dominion marched out to subdue (them );

[1.104] in honor of Assur, the Sun-god and Yav, the gods in whom I trust, my chariots and army I collected at the head of the river Zupnat, the place of an image

[1.105] which Tiglath-Pileser and Tiglath-Adar, Kings of Assyria my fathers had raised; an image of My Majesty I constructed and put up with theirs.

[1.106] In those days I renewed the tribute of the land of Izala, oxen, sheep, goats: to the land of Kasyari I proceeded, and to Kinabu

[1.107] the fortified city of the province of Hulai. I drew near; with the impetuosity of my formidable attack I besieged and took the town; 600 of their fighting men

[1.108] with (my) arms I destroyed; 3,000 of their captives I consigned to the flames; as hostages I left not one of them alive; Hulai

[1.109] the governor of their town I captured by (my) hand alive; their corpses into piles I built; their boys and maidens I dishonored;

[1.110] Hulai the governor of their city I flayed: his skin on the walls of Damdamusa I placed in contempt; the city I overthrew demolished, burned with fire;

[1.111] the city of Mariru within their territory I took; 50 warrior fighting men by ( my ) weapons I destroyed; 200 of their captives in the flame I burned;

[1.112] the soldiers of the land of Nirbi I slew in fight in the desert; their spoil, their oxen, their sheep, I brought away; Nirbu which is at the foot of mount Ukhira

[1.113] I boldly took; I then passed over to Tila their fortified city; from Kinabu I withdrew; to Tila I drew near;

[1.114] a strong city with three forts facing each other: the soldiers to their strong forts and numerous army trusted and would not submit;

[1.115] my yoke they would not accept; (then,) with onset and attack I besieged the city; their fighting men with my weapons I destroyed; of their spoil,

[1.116] their riches, oxen and sheep, I made plunder; much booty I burned with fire; many soldiers I captured alive;

[1.117] of some I chopped off the hands and feet; of others the noses and ears I cut off; of many soldiers I destroyed the eyes;

[1.118] one pile of bodies while yet alive, and one of heads I reared up on the heights within their town; their heads in the midst I hoisted; their boys (Continued on Column 2)

Column 2 – Covered in pages 175 – 186

[2.1] and their maidens I dishonored, the city I overthrew, razed and burned with fire, In those days the cities of the land of Nirbi

[2.2] (and) their strong fortresses, I overthrew, demolished, burned with fire: from Nirbi I withdrew and to the city Tuskha

[2.3] I approached; the city of Tuskha I again occupied; its old fort I threw down: its place I prepared, its dimensions I took; a new castle

[2.4] from its foundation to its roof I built, I completed, I reared: a palace for the residence of My Royalty with doors of iki wood I made;

[2.5] a palace of brick from its foundations to its roof I made, I completed: a complete image of my person of polished stone I made; the history

[2.6] of my surpassing nation and an account of my conquests which in the country of Nairi I had accomplished I wrote upon it; in the city of Tuskha

[2.7] I raised it; on suitable stone I wrote and upon the wall I fixed it; (then) the men of Assyria, those who from the privation of food to various countries