History of The Downfall of the Assyrian Empire

The End of the Assyrian Empire

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Final Shift of Power

In the 7th century BC female relatives of the Kings of Assyria began to weald more power and influence the King which led to unrest amongst the Assyrians. During the reign of Esarhadden the queens mother, Naqi’a, the queen Essara-hammet and the kings eldest daughter, Serua-etirat began to openly become part of the political decision making process.


Ashurbanipal then appointed member of his court staff, such as his chief singer and cook, to prominent positions in his government. Ashurbanipal also stopped leading his army into battle distancing the crown from the military. His administration showed signs of paranoia leading to several mass executions of members of his administration which may or may not have been justified. This led to a succession of administrations that was slowly lost control that became crippled by the constant fear of conspiracies.


In 627 BC on the death of Ashurbanipal his son, Ashur-et-ililani ascended to the throne. He was a minor at the time and his chief eunuch Sin-sumu-lisir was appointed his guardian. Sin-sumu-lisir had some success in commanding the Assyrian troops and achieved some victories. In 624 BC though Ashur-et-ililani died from unknown causes. Claiming to be Ashurbanipal’s son Sin-sumu-lisir ascended to the throne unopposed.


In 623 BC Nabopolassar proclaimed himself king of Babylon and ruled for 14 years until 612 BC. Nabopolassar came from a new tribe of Chaldeans in Babylon referred to by some academics as Neo-Babylonians. Along with the Medes the Neo-Babylonians represented new forces that were growing in the region. In 616 BC Nabopolassar attacked Assyrian territory in the Euphrates which encouraged the Meridian king Cyaxeres to attack Assyria from the east. This lead to his capture of Assur in 614 BC where Nabopolassar and Cyaxeres concluded a treaty. Once Assur was captured and the Temple of Assur destroyed the heart of the Assyrian Empire was lost. It was written in Neo Babylonian inscriptions “ Twelfth year. When in the month of Abu the Medians went against Ninevehthey rushed and ceased the town of Tarbisu a town belonging to the province of Nineveh. They went down stream along the embankment of the Tigris and pitched camp against Assur. They made an attack against the town and took the town. The wall of the town was torn down, a terrible defeat, massacre they inflicted upon the entire population. They took booty and carried prisoners away. The king of Vakad and his army who went to the aid of the Medians did not come in time for the battle. Thus ironically but fittingly the Assyrians were brutalised in the same way as they had employed by many of the same people that they had previously massacred and enslaved. The passage of time would commit the final act of cruelty on the once great Empire”.


By 612 BC Nineveh was under siege with King Sin-sumu-lisir trapped inside. The heaps of skeletons excavated around the walls of Nineveh show the brutality its fall brought on its inhabitants. Bodies of the dead of Nineveh were piled in heaps against the city walls and were never buried. The enemies of the Assyrians who has suffered at their hand after defeat now meted out the same justice the Assyrians and gave no quarter.


Within a few years the Assyrian state administration disappeared and Assyria fell apart being divided between the Babylonians, the Medes and the Egyptians.


The last ruler of Assyria was Ashuruballit II who was crowned in 612 BC in the temple of the moon god, sin , in Haran because the Temple of Assur, where the kings of Assyria had always been crowned, was under enemy rule. In 609 BC the Assyrians also lost Haran and never regained the strength to be a power in the region again.


After many battles particularly with the Egyptians who claimed all Assyrian lands west of the Euphrates, the Babylonians eventually took the lions share of the Assyrian lands. Josiah, king of Judah tried to conqueror lands but he was defeated by the Babylonians at the battle of Megiddo, which is where we get the term “Armageddon” from. Egyptian attempts to conquer Assyrian land was thwarted at the battle Carchemis and Hama, both of which they lost.


Two hundred years after the fall of the Assyrian Empire Xenophon, a Greek Mercenary, led army into the Acemenid Empire to support a rival claimant to the throne. During their march back to Greece Xenophon came across the ruins of Kalu. He marvelled at the height, width and length of the walls of the ruined city which he knew used to be inhabited by the Medes. In his writings he marvelled and praised the Medes for their building skills. So less than 200 hundred years after their demise Xenophon, a Greek historian, had no idea that Kalu had been built by the rulers of A great Empire known as Assyria.


So ended the Assyrian civilisation that had dominated and influenced the ancient Middle East for 2000 years. Its reputation for aggressive brutality is not without foundation, but its skills at diplomacy and trade have been overlooked in favour of the blood thirsty inscriptions of Assyrian conquests. The Assyrians were incredibly well organised and meticulous in the way they portrayed their history in their artefacts and writings. This attention to detail underpinned their civilisation and allowed it to flourish for so long. It finally fell when to new tribes that rose to power in the Middle East who took advantage of weaker Assyrian rulers who allowed others to influence them to make misguided fatal decisions on their behalf.




Fall of Assyrian Empire Lecture


Published on Apr 8, 2014

Hartmut Kühne, University Professor at the Institut für Vorderasiatische Archäologie, presents "The Collapse of the Assyrian Empire and the Evidence of Dur-Katlimmu".



Related MuseoPics Pages

Museopics the free online historical museum links to resources


Assyrian history In the Begining Sam'al Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures History of the Old Assyrian Kingdom History of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom History of the Neo-Assyrians History of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal-II History of Assyrian King Sargon II History of Assyrian King Senacherib & Nineveh History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of the downfall of the Assyrian Empire History of the Assyrian Palace at Ninevah, Kalha History of the Assyrian Palace at Dur Sharrukin History of the Assyrian Palace at Neneveh