Kings of Assyria
In the Middle Bronze Age Assyria was a region on the Upper Tigris river, named for its original capital, the ancient
city of Assur. Later, as a nation and empire that came to control all of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and much of
Anatolia, the term "Assyria proper" referred to roughly the northern half of Mesopotamia (the southern half being
Babylonia), with Nineveh as its capital.
The Assyrian kings controlled a large kingdom at three different times in history. These are called the Old (2000 to
1500 BC), Middle (1500 to 1000 BC), and Neo-Assyrian (911–612 BC) kingdoms, or periods, of which the last is the
most well known and best documented. The Assyrian homeland was located near a mountainous region, extending along the
Tigris as far as the high Gordiaean or Carduchian mountain range of Armenia, sometimes known as the "Mountains of Ashur".
Assyrians invented excavation to undermine city walls, battering rams to knock down walls and gates, concept of a
corps of engineers, who bridged rivers with pontoons or provided soldiers with inflatable skins for swimming.
The most neolithic site in Assyria is at Tell Hassuna, the center of the Hassuna culture. Of the early history of the
kingdom of Assyria, little is positively known. According to some Judeo-Christian traditions, the city of Ashur (also
spelled Assur or Aššur) was founded by Ashur the son of Shem, who was deified by later generations as the city's patron
god. The upper Tigris River valley seems to have been ruled by Sumer, Akkad, and northern Babylonia in its earliest
stages; once a part of Sargon the Great's empire, it was destroyed by barbarians in the Gutian period, then rebuilt, and
ended up being governed as part of the Empire of the 3rd dynasty of Ur.
Assyrian art preserved to the present day predominantly dates to the Neo-Assyrian period. Art depicting battle
scenes, and occasionally the impaling of whole villages in gory detail, was intended to show the power of the emperor,
and was generally made for propaganda purposes. These stone reliefs lined the walls in the royal palaces where
foreigners were received by the king. Other stone reliefs depict the king with different deities and conducting
religious ceremonies. A lot of stone reliefs were discovered in the royal palaces at Nimrud (Kalhu) and Khorsabad (Dur-Sharrukin).
A rare discovery of metal plates belonging to wooden doors was made at Balawat (Imgur-Enlil).
Assyrian sculpture reached a high level of refinement in the Neo-Assyrian period. One prominent example is the winged
bull Lamassu, or shedu that guard the entrances to the king's court. These were apotropaic meaning they were intended to
ward off evil. C. W. Ceram states in The March of Archaeology that Lamassi were typically sculpted with five legs so
that four legs were always visible, whether the image were viewed frontally or in profile.
The dates for the early Assyrian period are unknown. While the list is in the right order, the specific years reigned by
the kings are not certain. Listed in reverse order by the Assyrian King List.
|Old Assyrian Period
1781 BC overthrew Erishum II
||1598 - 1586 BC
1435 BC son of Enlil-nasir I
1407 BC son of Enlil-nasir II
1398 BC son of Ashur-nirari II
1390 BC son of Ashur-bel-nisheshu
Middle Assyrian Period
1330 BC - Amarna Tablets - contemporary of Akhenaten and
Suppiluliumas I of the Hittite
* Dates as
appearing in A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East volume I, 2006, p. 351
|Middle Assyrian Period
891 BC - contemporary of Tudhaliya IV (Hittite King) thorough the Battle of Nihriya
regent, 811 - 808 BC
|End of the document
known as Assyrian King List; the following kings reigned after the list had been composed.
705 BC (Co-regency with Shalmaneser V from 722 -
|The dates of the
last kings are not certain
||669 - between 631 BC and 627 BC
||c.631 BC -
Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, fell to the
Babylonians; supported by the
Egyptians, an Assyrian general continued
to rule for a few years from Harran.
612 - c.609
- Time-lines for contemporary
- Babylonians and Assyrians
- During the period when they were competing for dominance in Mesopotamia, the neighbouring
sister-states of Babylonia and Assyria differed essentially in character. Babylonia was a land of merchants and
agriculturists; Assyria became an organized military camp. The Assyrian dynasties were founded by successful generals;
in Babylonia it was the priests whom a revolution raised to the throne. The Babylonian king remained a priest to the
last, under the control of a powerful hierarchy; the Assyrian king was the autocratic general of an army, at whose side
stood in early days a feudal nobility, aided from the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III onwards by an elaborate bureaucracy.
His palace was more sumptuous than the temples of the gods, from which it was quite separate. The people were soldiers
and little else; even the sailor belonged to the state. Hence the sudden collapse of Assyria when drained of its
fighting population in the age of Ashurbanipal (ruled 669 to between 631 and 627 BC).
- Assur and Babylon
The chronology of Babylon and Assur can be aligned by the list of wars and treaties between the two cities from the time
of king Ashurbanipal. Hittite chronology is dependent on Assyria and Egypt. For times earlier than 1500 BC, various
systems based on the Venus tablets of Ammisaduqa have been proposed. The death of Shamshi-Adad I of Assur in the 17th
year of the reign of Hammurabi (1712 BC) is another synchronism which is helpful. The Palace at Acemhöyük burned to the
ground, allowing for Dendochronological dating of the seal impression of Shamshi-Adad I found in the ruins. While the
stratigraphy of the connection between the burnt beams and the seal impression is not 100% clear, it does support the
- The entries of the Synchronistic Chronicle, mentioned above, record which Assyrian king was ruling during which
Babylonian king's reign, and vice versa.
- Mesopotamia and Egypt
It is possible that mutual influences existed between the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia since very early times. Some
authorities believed that Mesopotamian influence affected predynastic Upper Egypt (also known as the Mesopotamian
Stimulation) between 3400–3100 BC. As of this date, the evidence is not conclusive. On the other hand Iron age Hama (Hamath)
shows strong Egyptian influence.
- The Amarna letters provide the earliest known synchronisms between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. They provide clear
evidence that the New Kingdom kings Amenhotep III and Akhenaten were contemporaries of Kadashman-Enlil I and
Burnaburiash II of Babylon, Ashur-uballit I of Assyria, and Suppiluliumas I of the Hittite empire.
- Other synchronisms between Mesopotamia and Egypt are indirect, depending on synchronisms between Egypt and the
Hittite empire. For example, because Ramesses II signed a peace treaty with Hattusili III in Ramesses' 21st regnal year,
and letters from Hattusili III to Kadashman-Turgu and Adad-nirari I of Assyria exist, one can argue that the reign of
Ramesses overlapped the reigns of Kadashman-Turgu and Adad-nirari I. Direct synchronisms between Egypt and Assyria
return in the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt (Dynasty 25), when Assyrian armies attacked and conquered Egypt.
- Mesopotamia and the Hittite Empire
The sack of Babylon by the Hittite King Mursilis I, which ended the reign of Samsu-Ditana, provides an anchor for the
earliest dates in Hittite history. The Battle of Nihriya links Tudhaliya IV and Adad-nirari I as contemporaries. The
correspondence of the Hittite kings Hattusili III and Tudhaliya IV with the Assyrian chancellor Babu-ahu-iddina
conclusively proves that they were the contemporaries of Adad-nirari I, Shalmaneser I and Tukulti-Ninurta I, not their
- City of Ur
- Ur was an ancient city in southern Mesopotamia, located near the mouth (at the time) of the
Euphrates and Tigris rivers on the Persian Gulf and close to Eridu. It is considered to be one of the earliest known
civilizations in world history. Because of marine regression, the remains are now well inland in present-day Iraq, south
of the Euphrates on its right bank, and named Tell el-Mukayyar, near the city of Nasiriyah south of Baghdad.
The site is marked by the ruins of a ziggurat, still largely intact, and by a settlement mound.
The ziggurat is a temple of Nanna, the moon deity in Sumerian mythology, and has two stages constructed from brick: in
the lower stage the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the upper stage they are joined with mortar. The
Sumerian name for this city was Urim.
- Ur was inhabited in the earliest stage of village settlement in southern Mesopotamia, the Ubaid
period. However, it later appears to have been abandoned for a time. Scholars believe that, as the climate changed from
relatively moist to drought in the early 3rd millennium BC, the small farming villages of the Ubaid culture consolidated
into larger settlements, arising from the need for large-scale, centralized irrigation works to survive the dry spell.
Ur became one such centre, and by around 2600 BC, in the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period III, the city was again
thriving. Ur by this time was considered sacred to Nanna.
The location of Ur was favourable for trade, by both sea and land routes, into Arabia. Many
elaborate tombs, including that of Queen Puabi, were constructed. In this cemetery were also found artifacts bearing the
names of kings Meskalamdug and Akalamdug. Eventually, the kings of Ur became the effective rulers of Sumer, in the first
dynasty of Ur established by the king Mesannepada (or Mesanepada, Mes-Anni-Padda), who is on the king-list and is named
as a son of Meskalamdug on one artefact.
The first dynasty was ended by an attack of Sargon of Akkad around 2340 BC. Not much is known
about the following second dynasty, when the city was in eclipse.
The third dynasty was established when the king Ur-Nammu (or Urnammu) came to power, ruling
between c.2112-2094 BC. During his rule, temples, including the ziggurat, were built, and agriculture was improved
through irrigation. His code of laws, the Code of Ur-Nammu (a fragment was identified in Istanbul in 1952) is one of the
oldest such documents known, preceding the code of Hammurabi by 300 years. He and his successor Shulgi were both deified
during their reigns, and after his death, he continued as a hero-figure: one of the surviving works of Sumerian
literature describes the death of Ur-Nammu and his journey to the underworld. According to one estimate, Ur was the
largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000. The third dynasty fell
around 1950 BC to the Elamites; the Lament for Ur commemorates this event. Later, Babylon captured the city.
In the 6th century BC there was new construction in Ur under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II of
Babylon. The last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, improved the ziggurat. However the city started to decline from around 550
BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC, perhaps owing to drought, changing river patterns, and the silting of
the outlet to the Persian Gulf.
Ziggurat and the Ruins of Ur, Southern Iraq. In the mid-17th century BC, the site was visited by Pietro della Valle,
who recorded the presence of ancient bricks stamped with strange symbols, cemented together with bitumen, as well as
inscribed pieces of black marble that appeared to be seals.
The first excavation was made by British consul J. E. Taylor, who partly uncovered the ziggurat.
Clay cylinders found in the four corners of the top stage of the ziggurat bore an inscription of Nabonidus (Nabuna`id),
the last king of Babylon (539 BC), closing with a prayer for his son Belshar-uzur (Bel-ŝarra-Uzur), the Belshazzar of
the Book of Daniel. Evidence was found of prior restorations of the ziggurat by Ishme-Dagan of Isin and Gimil-Sin of Ur,
and by Kuri-galzu, a Kassite king of Babylon in the 14th century BC. Nebuchadnezzar also claims to have rebuilt the
temple. Taylor further excavated an interesting Babylonian building, not far from the temple, part of an ancient
Babylonian necropolis. All about the city he found abundant remains of burials of later periods. Apparently, in later
times, owing to its sanctity, Ur became a favourite place of sepulchres, so that even after it had ceased to be
inhabited, it continued to be used as a necropolis. After Taylor's time the site was visited by numerous travellers,
almost all of whom have found ancient Babylonian remains, inscribed stones and the like, lying upon the surface. The
site was considered rich in remains, and relatively easy to explore.
Excavations from 1922 to 1934 were funded by the British Museum and the University of
Pennsylvania and led by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that
were described as "royal tombs" containing many valuable artifacts, including the Standard of Ur. Most of the royal
tombs were dated to about 2600 BC. The finds included the un-looted tomb of a queen thought to be Queen Puabi – the name
is known from a cylinder seal found in the tomb, although there were two other different and unnamed seals found in the
tomb. Many other people had been buried with her, in a form of human sacrifice. Near the ziggurat were uncovered the
temple E-nun-mah and buildings E-dub-lal-mah (built for a king), E-gi-par (residence of the high priestess) and E-hur-sag
(a temple building). Outside the temple area, many houses used in everyday life were found. Excavations were also made
below the royal tombs layer: a 3.5 meters thick layer of alluvial clay covered the remains of earlier habitation,
including pottery from the Ubaid period, the first stage of settlement in southern Mesopotamia. Woolley later wrote many
articles and books about the discoveries.
Most of the treasures excavated at Ur are in the British Museum and the University of
Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
- Archaeological names of periods of habitation include:
- Ubaid period
- Sumerian Early Dynastic period III
- Ur-III, c. 2100 BC–2000 BC