The Ascendancy of Assyria
Assyrian greatness was to wait until the 9th cent., when Ashurnasirpal II came into power. He was not only a vigorous and barbarously cruel conqueror who pushed his conquests N to Urartu and W to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, but he was also a shrewd administrator. Instead of merely making conquered kings pay tribute, he installed Assyrian governors so that he could have more control over the empire.
Shalmaneser III (see under Shalmaneser I) attempted to continue this policy, but, although he exacted heavy tribute from Jehu of Israel and claimed many victories, he failed to establish hegemony over the Hebrews and their Aramaic-speaking allies. The basalt obelisk, called the Black Obelisk (British Mus.), describes the expeditions and conquests of Shalmaneser III. Raids from Urartu were resumed and grew more destructive after the death of Shalmaneser. Calah, the capital of Assyria during the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III, has been excavated.
In the 8th cent. B.C. conquest was pursued by Tiglathpileser III. He subdued Babylonia, defeated the king of Urartu, attacked the Medes, and established control over Syria. As an ally of Ahaz of Judah (who became his vassal), he defeated his Aramaic-speaking enemies centering at Damascus. His successor, Shalmaneser V, besieged Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722–721 B.C., but it was Sargon, his son, who completed the task of capturing Israel. Sargon's victory at Raphia (720 B.C.) and his invasions of Armenia, Arabia, and other lands made Assyria indisputably one of the greatest of ancient empires.
Sargon's son Sennacherib devoted himself to retaining the gains his father had made. He is particularly remembered for his warfare against his rebellious vassal, Hezekiah of Judah. Sennacherib's successor, Esar-Haddon, defeated the Chaldaeans, who threatened Assyria and carried his conquests (673–670) to Egypt, where he deposed Taharka and established Necho in power. Under Assurbanipal, Assyria reached its zenith and approached its fall. When Assurbanipal was fighting against the Chaldaeans and Elamites, an Egyptian revolt under Psamtik I was successful.
Assurbanipal's reign saw the Assyrian capital of Nineveh reach the height of its splendor. The library of cuneiform tablets he collected ultimately proved to be one of the most important historical sources of antiquity. The magnificent Assyrian bas-reliefs reached their peak. The royal court was luxurious. Assyrian culture owed much to earlier Babylonian civilization, and in religion Assyria seems to have taken much from its southern neighbor and subject (see Middle Eastern religions).
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