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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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. So, they rebuilt Babylon,
but left it an empty city. Eventually, people returned to the
city and Babylon rose again.
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.