Although the Assyrians were recognized for their cruelty as warriors, their culture is full of feats and progress. Its long history is divided into three great periods, each with its own peculiarities. The Assyrian people succeeded in establishing a great Empire that led events throughout the East for centuries.
In this article we will see more about the Assyrians, who, based on trade and warrior activity, managed to remain in the history of mankind.
Who were the Assyrians?
It was the civilization that stayed north of Mesopotamia . Its name came from Assur, its god and main city. Its original language was Akkadian . In the millennium II a. C., became an empire that controlled the territories that today are known as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria . The Assyrians are remembered for their skill in commerce, their fearsome army, and the great power that their rulers managed to amass.
Nomadic populations were arriving near the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates who settled and formed large groups called city-states, when they became large enough they were divided into two parts: Assyria , which populated the northern area and Babylon that was to the south side. After the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur, a period of armed conflict was generated throughout the region from which the Assyrians began to build their power. Assur, is the name of the main city-state of the Assyrians (now northern Iraq). Assyrian history has been divided into three main stages with approximate dates:
- Ancient Assyrian or Paleo-Assyrian Period : It goes from the 20th to the 16th centuries BC, a period that is located in the Middle Bronze Age , the capital Assur was ruled by Mesopotamia.
- Middle Assyrian or Mesoassyrian Period : Covers six centuries, from the 16th to the 10th BC, in the Late Bronze Age. During this time Assyria becomes independent from Mesopotamia and its kings begin to win battles that allow them to gain territories and wealth. Throughout the region there are various poles of power, and the entire area of present-day Syria is disputed terrain; Thus arises a certain type of diplomacy between the courts of the different kingdoms. This period ends with a crisis (1050-900 BC) where the relations of domination are lost, which are reestablished in the new period.
- Neo-Assyrian Period : Period of time from 912 BC to 609 BC, the date of the end of the Assyrian Kingdom in the Iron Age . The great Assyrian Empire falls in just twenty years into the hands of an enemy coalition. During this stage the limits of Assyria were extended, turning it into an immense empire. The relationship with nearby Babylon was one of great tension. Thanks to his important army, his control reached as far as Susa, Thebes and Egypt.
Form of government of the Assyrians
The way the Assyrian people were governed was the monarchy. In this the king had the duty and the right to represent the nation , and although the subjects did not perceive him as a god, he played a very important role in the religious life of the people. The king stood as sovereign in the nation, being the master of what the citizens of Assyria did and had.
Because the empire was made up of organized groups called satrapies, there were prefects or satraps. These royal representatives fulfilled military, administrative and legislative functions. A capturing nations that were weaker than them, exercised vassalage over them demanding submit men to fight over them.
Thanks to the large amount of information we have about the Assyrian Empire, from clay tablets with inscriptions that were buried under the ruins of the palaces of the Empire, we know that women belonging to the royal family occupied an important place in society. These women came to control the armies and other matters of administration, autonomy enjoyed far superior to all other women of Mesopotamia
Social organization of the Assyrians
The Assyrian population was divided into family clans with the patriarch as the main figure . He had full authority in everything, he was responsible for making decisions at the family and religious level. For the Assyrians there were no social classes since they were dominated to an absolute degree by the king, in fact, all were considered his slaves.
During the Neo-Assyrian period, the objective was to re-conquer the territories controlled during the Middle Kingdom, this is achieved and is overcome by extending the limits of the Empire to regions never reached before. The basis for this operation was a destructive army and a state administration that functioned as a power consolidation machine; the previous is destroyed and the new is established from the State under the command of the king. Thus each kingdom of the outer fringe of the Empire becomes a province, extending direct control over the territory .
The populations that were outside the limits of the provinces were dominated through pacts of fidelity.
They were governed by a code of justice in which the punishment of the aggressor was equivalent to the evil that he had carried out. In addition, the less favored such as the poor, orphans and widows were protected . A legal document was made for those who were getting married, determining the spouse’s assets and what they would leave as an inheritance to their offspring.
The language of the Assyrians
This aspect can be divided into two important points:
- The writing : It consisted of a set of expressions or pictograms that symbolized concepts, objects and words, called cuneiform. These inscriptions were carried out on the hard but carved surface of the clay with a reed bevel. Because this writing method did not strictly define the value of each symbol, each region had its own series of pictograms, meaning that there was no standard for the entire nation.
- The language : The Assyrians communicated using a form of Akkadian speech, which came to spread in those times as the most used language in all of Mesopotamia . However, as Assyrian culture evolved, so did their language and over time their dialect leaned more towards Aramaic. This is because the Assyrians destroyed the kingdom of the Arameans. However, those people who were taken to Assyrian territory as deportees became a numerous people, eventually even becoming part of royalty. As a consequence, Aramaic had spread to such an extent that it became the language of the empire.
The Assyrians practiced polytheism , so the number of gods they worshiped was numerous. Their deities had a body made up of human and animal parts at the same time . One characteristic that the Assyrian religion imprinted on its gods was limitless power, so people lived in constant fear of the actions they would take against them if they did not obey them. It is for this reason that the cities had around them large temples in which a representative called a priest made sacrifices. In this way, the gods would be satisfied.
Unlike the other nations around him, the Assyrians lived in fear of death. For them, this moment in the life of the human being meant the departure of his soul to an existence of shadows, in which he would suffer . On the other hand, evil spirits, such as demons and jinn, were believed to be able to punish and reward people.
The main gods for the Assyrians were:
- Adad : God to whom the storms were attributed.
- Anu : God of the stars and everything that is in the sky. He was regarded as supreme and creator.
- Dagon : Deity to whom the gift of fertility was imputed.
- Nabu : Lord of writing and wisdom.
- Utu : Deity that represented the sun.
- Tammuz : God who blessed the production of the field and the abundance of food.
- Assur: Main God for the Assyrians (same name as their capital city, hence the name Assyrians). He was considered the king of the gods and the God of kings, he represented all existence.
The Assyrians were avid lovers of beauty, therefore their constructions were full of beautiful details . The furniture, sculptures and palaces they built were of excellent quality, with designs containing reliefs and delicately carved. They used ivory, brick, and glass tiles in different colors .
The designs they created chronicled the feats they had accomplished in battle and were generally displayed at the entrances to their palaces . The colors used under the theme of military feats were red, yellow and blue. Because most of these artistic demonstrations have been found in palaces and monuments that belonged to kings, it has been concluded that art was a characteristic attributed to those who had a high social position.
The dress and adornment of the Assyrians
The best quality textiles belonged to the king and all those who were part of the royal palace. During royal functions, Assyrian high society had the opportunity to display their best outfits. The materials that were most used to make clothing were marine silk, cotton, linen, goat hair, and sheep’s wool .
Typical men’s clothing consisted of at least two pieces, an interior that was a simple short-sleeved garment that was placed over a coat. Generally, this part of the garment was colored with bands or with symbols that resembled the deity that was denominated Ishtar.
On the other hand, the use of large pieces of jewelry was common. Turbans, crowns, tiaras and bracelets of glass, silver and gold were used, as well as precious stones such as amethyst, agate, carnelian, lapis lazuli, among others .