NORTHERN MESOPOTAMIA AND THE RISE AND FALL OF ASSYRIA

   Northern Mesopotamia, whose geographical conditions were more like those of its western and northern neighbors than the southern alluvial plains, also had different political and cultural patterns than the south. Small-holding farmers, large landowners, and seminomadic pastoralists, rather than inhabitants of urban centers, were in charge of the agricultural exploitation. Tribal organization under the leadership of a patriarchal sheikh was the common pattern. Cities were primarily centers of trading as opposed to agricultural production. Charismatic kingship played an important role in political development. The north also experienced the influx of different ethnicities. Of great importance were the Hurrians, for instance, who brought their own religious customs to northern Mesopotamia, as well as an expertise with horses and metalworking. The kings of Akkad and the Third Dynasty of Ur claimed hegemony over the north and built temples and public buildings in cities such as Nineveh and Assur. The Ur administration introduced literacy and sparked a local development of writing. The early Assyrian period, from the early second millennium, is mainly known from texts found in the trading centers of Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) since the residential levels of Assur have not been excavated. Assyrian traders brought tin and textiles to Anatolia and carried back silver. The first important ruler of the north was the Amorite leader Shamshi-Adad I, who operated from a base in the Habur valley and obtained control over the Assyrian cities. He became a powerful king whose influence reached deep into Babylonia, but he did not leave a lasting legacy.
   The Hurrians, governed by an Indo-European elite, established their own state—Mitanni—in the mid-second millennium that was engaged in intense rivalry with the Hittites of Anatolia. In the 14th century, Assyria began to grow into a strong and expansionist state under such kings as Ashur-uballit I and Adad-nirari I. They began to intervene in the affairs of Babylonia, and this started a long period of tenuous relations between the two countries in which Assyria emerged the stronger. Both countries suffered a decline from the 12th to the 10th centuries B.C., experiencing massive immigration of tribal groups from the west and ecological disasters. Assyria recovered more quickly than the south, and a number of energetic warrior kings established the basis of what was to become the most powerful state in the whole of the Middle East. The Neo-Assyrian empire was built on a highly efficient, wellequipped, and professional army, a well-trained civil service, and the principle of co-opting subjugated local rulers as allies. The symbolic center of the state was the capital city, which housed the royal residence, the administrative center, the arsenal, and the sanctuaries of the main deities. Different kings preferred different cities as their capital. The expansionist policies of the Assyrian kings brought enormous revenue but also exacted constant campaigns to repress rebellions and defend dependent regions from outside aggression. The expansionist imperial regime of Assyria collapsed partly as a result of the kings’own policies, such as the practice of dislocating rebellious populations, and the reliance on punitive campaigns to impose their rule over an ever widening territory. The efforts to maintain control over Babylonia also proved to provoke increasingly fierce resistance, and in the end it was a Babylonian Median coalition that destroyed Nineveh and the other Assyrian cities and thus brought Assyrian power to an end.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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