(934–610 B.C.)
   This historical phase derives its name from a linguistic category of the Assyrianlanguageas expressed in the documents of the time. According to the Assyrian King List, there was no break between the rulers of the mid-second millennium and those of the first millennium.
   The first phase (c. 934–745) was marked by the resurgence of Assyrian assertiveness after the political turmoil associated with the Aramean invasions in the 12th and 11th centuries. Kings such as Adad-nirari II, Tukulti-Ninurta II, and Ashurnasirpal II were primarily concerned to regain control over the old Assyrian-held territories in northeast Syria and Upper Mesopotamia; local rulers were forced to submit to Assyrian authority and treated as subjects of the king. They also began to expand gradually northward into southern Anatolia to secure a hold over the metal resources that were traded in this region. Equally important were the foothills of the Zagros in the east—prime horse-breeding country and straddling the trade routes from and to the Iranian plateau.
   Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883–859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser III (reigned 858–824) were to consolidate the Assyrian presence in all those regions. They initiated systematic exploitation for their resources: manpower, horses, raw materials, and provisions for the Assyrian army, as well as regular tribute. Treaties assured exclusive rights over trade commodities. Much of the revenue was used to construct and embellish new residential and administrative centers. Ashurnasirpal founded a new capital, Kalhu (ancient Nimrud), and Shalmaneser III concentrated on fortified provincial control points in northern Syria.
   Relations with Babylonia were generally good; the two countries were allied by treaties and fought a common cause in subduing trou blesome nomads on the western fringes of their realms. Babylonia lent support against various internal revolts that shook Assyria in the late ninth century.
   This pattern only changed when Shamshi-Adad V (reigned 823–811) challenged the succession of Baba-aha-iddina. He invaded and ravaged the country, plunging it into chaos for the next 10 years. The situation in Assyria remained difficult. There were rebellions in the provinces, and kings had to rely on the compliance of their (native) governors. In the time between 745 and 705 B.C., the Assyrian empire took shape. This was the result not only of renewed military expansion but also of new administrative structures that ensured much tighter political and fiscal control. When Tiglath-pileser III (reigned 744–727) acceded to the throne, Assyria’s prestige in Syria had weakened, and there was a new powerful state in eastern Anatolia, that of Urartu, which contested Assyrian influence in Anatolia and the Zagros foothills. In Babylonia, Chaldean chieftains were asserting their independence and allied themselves with Elam against the Assyrians. Tiglath-pileser III campaigned in all these areas. He defeated Urartu, took direct control of Babylon, and one by one coerced the Syrian polities to submit.
   The empire now consisted of the heartland of Assyria, the provinces in Upper Mesopotamia, and northern and southern Syria, with a further ring of client states ranging from southern Anatolia to the borders of Egypt, with tight control over the eastern trade routes. Tiglath-pileser III was succeeded by Shalmaneser V (reigned 726–722), chiefly known for his conquest of the Israelite capital Samaria. He was ousted by Sargon II (reigned 721–705), whose accession was widely contested in Assyria. This triggered a concerted effort among the imperial dependencies to launch a collective revolt, led by the ruler of Hamath, which Sargon managed to defeat. He also had to counter the renewed threat of Urartu and to contend with the challenge of Merodach-baladan in Babylonia. By means of incessant campaigns, Sargon succeeded in holding Tiglath-pileser’s empire together; he defeated the Urartians and their Mannaean allies and drove Merodach-baladan into exile. He even had time to build another vast palatial complex, Dur-Sharruken, north of Nineveh. He was killed on campaign against the Cimmerians in Anatolia.
   The reigns of his successors—Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal—were also dictated by the need to quell numerous insurrections, police the frontiers of the empire, and confront coalitions by the enemies of the Assyrian imperial state. Although their military machine was the most formidable in the whole of the Near East, it could not be employed simultaneously in many different places. Sennacherib (reigned 704–681) concentrated his efforts on solving the Babylonian problem in a long, drawn-out war that ended in the destruction of Babylon. Esarhaddon (reigned 680–669) had to counter Egyptian interference in the Levant and even mounted a successful campaign into the Egyptian heartland that culminated in the sack of Memphis.
   Esarhaddon’s policy of trying to secure the succession of his younger son Ashurbanipal to the Assyrian throne proved calamitous when the latter became embroiled in a war against his older brother Shamash-shumu-ukin, whom Esarhaddon had appointed as king of Babylon. Ashurbanipal was to prevail in this conflict, and he was also successful in annihilating the power of Elam, whose provocative and opportunistic policies toward Assyria had long been a thorn in his side. However, serious problems beset his later reign; it is not clear when and under what circumstances he died, and the empire received its mortal blow by a combined onslaught of Median and Babylonian forces between 612 and 610 B.C. when the cities of Nineveh, Assur, and the last capital, Harran, were conquered.
   See also NEO-ASSYRIAN.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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