Ancient Assyrians Illustration

Ancient Mesopotamia for Kids

At the same time that Babylon was rising to greatness in southern Mesopotamia, in Northern Mesopotamia, towards the mountains, another group was growing strong.  The Assyrians were a much more warlike people than the Babylonians.  They were also known as great traders.  Their caravans traveled all over the place, bringing goods to trade as well as food and wine to various cities in Mesopotamia. They had their own language, and their own lifestyle. Their religion was similar to that of Sumer, and then Babylonia, and they worshiped many of the same gods. They did try to take over the south, but they were not successful. The warriors of Babylon were too strong. The Assyrians were much more successful conquering the tribes to the east and west.

Military Camp: The Assyrians were forever at war with somebody. This was expensive. Taxes were terrible in ancient Assyria. But, their geographic expansion was impressive. They advanced quickly in art and sculpture, which they created to tell their stories of battles and to honor their war heroes.  Because so many of the scenes painted on their ceramics and carved on their reliefs show pictures of military camp life, we know a lot about daily life in the military camps. Many pieces of art picture a royal canopy in the center of the military camp. The king’s face is usually shown. The chariot of the time was mounted on six wheels. Some art features a camp bakery or soldiers at meals. Others show a servant holding a scoop from which a soldier is taking a drink. A lot of the arts features horses and grooms. And some art show men guarding the entrance to the camp wearing sandals and carrying shields.   

Burial Ceremonies: Ceremonies changed over the many thousands of years that this civilization flourished. Bodies were put to rest in cemeteries, and in jars with tight lids, or buried in the desert. The ancient Mesopotamians did not believe in a happy busy afterlife. In the funeral ceremony itself, they would place the deceased hand on a plate of food, so that they would have something for the trip. They would bury their dead with a few of their favorite possessions – weapons, favorite drinking cups, and other small personal items. The Assyrians, however, liked to keep their dead at home. The poor would dig a hole somewhere in the house, and bury their dead at home. The rich would build a room just for the burial. In both cases, an oil lamp would be kept burning near or at the gravesite, to remind everyone that this person is near and cares for them. 

Buildings: The Assyrians built huge buildings. Historians are not quite sure what these buildings were for as the Assyrians were nomads. But they do know that the buildings were decorated with huge demons to protect these buildings from evil influence.

The Assyrians sack Babylon!  About 1200 BC, the Assyrians finally conquered Babylon. This was a total shock to the people of the time, probably even a shock to the Assyrians. Babylon was the prize – the greatest city of the time. The Assyrians leveled the city. They turned it into rubble.  As was their habit, they made all the people in Babylonia move to other parts of the Assyrian Empire. That’s what they always did when they conquered people. That way, conquered people had to learn new ways in a new place, and were much less likely to revolt as a group, as they had no group. 

After they leveled the city, the Assyrians began to worry. They were not worried about the people they had scattered all over their empire. They were worried about Marduk, chief of all the Babylonian gods. After thinking it over, it occurred to them that Marduk might be a bit upset with them for leveling his city. They were afraid Marduk might punish them. The Assyrians decided the smartest thing to do would be to rebuild the city, and to return the statue of Marduk to his temple. They really did not have any use for the city. And they really hated the Babylonians and everything they built, especially the Babylon. But they were more afraid of the god Marduk than they were filled with hate for the Babylonians. They rebuilt Babylon, but left it an empty city. Eventually people returned to the city and Babylon rose again.  

The Great Library of Nineveh. The Assyrian Empire lasted for about 600 years. Around 600 BC, before the people of ancient Mesopotamia were absorbed into the great Persian Empire, the last Assyrian king started a project. He began collecting a library of clay tablets of all the literature of ancient Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. No one knows how many tablets he actually collected, but, when discovered in modern times, over 30,000 tablets still remained in the great library in his capital city of Nineveh. These tablets are our single most important source of knowledge about ancient Mesopotamia.

Daily Life in Ancient Assyria

Assyrian Government - the king's word was law

Rise and Fall of the Assyrian Empire (animated, video)

The Library at Nineveh

Palaces of Assyria

Assyrian Warfare

Art & Craftsmen

Free Powerpoints about Ancient Assyria