Assyria/Neo-Babylonian Empires


·        Based in what is now Northern Iraq around the banks of the Tigris River

o       Hot winters, very cold winters

·        Establish empire in 8th and 7th centuries B.C. centered at Nineveh

·        Culture

o       Excellent writers and story-tellers (best copies of the Gilgamesh Epic)

o       Kept detailed historical records (name to each year)

o       Recorded solar eclipses

o       Nearly accurate diagrams of the constellations, stars, and planets by 1000 B.C.

o       Also some evidence that they invented the first telescope

1.      According to Professor Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome, a rock crystal lens, currently on show in the British museum, could rewrite the history of science. He believes that it could explain why the ancient Assyrians knew so much about astronomy. But experts on Assyrian archaeology are unconvinced. They say that the lens is of such low quality that it would have been a poor aid to vision.”

2.      “Used as a magnifying glass, it could have been useful to Assyrian craftsman who often made intricate seals and produced minuscule texts on clay tablets using a wedge-shaped script. It is a theory many scientists might be prepared to accept, but the idea that the rock crystal was part of a telescope is something else. To get from a lens to a telescope, they say, is an enormous leap.”

3.      “Professor Pettinato counters by asking for an explanation of how the ancient Assyrians regarded the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents? Could they not have seen Saturn's rings through their telescope and interpreted them as serpents? An unconvincing argument, say experts. The Assyrians saw serpents everywhere. And why is it in their many astronomical reports on clay tablets there is no mention of such a device? ”(source)


·        Military

o       Renown for military skill

o       100,000-200,000 men strong

o       “[Their] arrows are sharpened, and all their bows bent, their horeses’ hoofs are like flint, their chariot wheels like the whirlwind. Their growling is like that of a lion” (Isaiah 5:28-29).

o       Schooled by 1,000 years of constant warfare

o       Foot soldiers: bow & arrow; sword; iron-tipped lance (javelin)

o       Chariots: usually only for nobility; not as widely used as with Hittites

o       Calvary: mounted archers and swordsmen

o       Terror tactics: enemies submit rather than fight, but tactic often backfires

o       Assyrian king details some atrocities:

"I built a pillar over against his city gate and I flayed all the chief men... and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes... and I cut off the limbs of the officers... Many captives from among them I burned with fire... From some I cut off their hands and their fingers and from others I cut off their noses, their ears…of many I put out their eyes... their young men and maidens I burned in the fire." – Assurnasipal (reigned 668-627 B.C.)

·        Notable Kings of Assyria

1.                                          Tiglath-Pileser I (1116-1076): Conquered most of Syria, Urartu and Babylon

2.                                          Shamshi-Adad V (824-810): Jonah revival?

3.                                          Adad-Nirari III (810-783): Assyrian trend toward monotheism (brought about by Jonah?). Besieged Damascus, but did not take the city. These attacks on Syria were beneficial to Israel and allowed Jeroboam II to expand his kingdom.

4.                                          Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727): His name was originally "Pul." He gained the throne via assassination. Conquered Merodach-baladan of Babylon. Raided Galilee (2 Kings 15:29). Bribed by Ahaz of Judah to attack Aram (2 Kings 16:7-10). Inaugurated regular system of deportation of conquered peoples.

5.                                          Shalmaneser V (726-722): At the beginning of his reign, Hoshea of Israel entered into an alliance with Egypt against Assyria. Shalmaneser besieged Samaria for three years.

6.                                          Sargon II (721-705): Younger brother of Shalmaneser V. Completed conquest of Samaria and deported 10 tribes into captivity.

7.                                          Sennacherib (705-681): Younger brother of Sargon II, took throne when his brother was assassinated. Besieged Jerusalem, but failed to capture it in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19), despite loss of 185,000 Assyrian troops (2 Kings 18:13-19:36). Assassinated (2 Kings 19:37)

a.       Accounts of the Campaign of Sennacherib, 701 B.C.   

                                    From The Sennacherib Prism:

            As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to his strong cities, walled forts, and countless small villages, and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps and battering-rams brought near the walls with an attack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches as well as trenches. I drove out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them slaves. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were his city's gate. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the presents to me as overlord which I imposed upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually. Hezekiah himself, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches inlaid with ivory, nimedu-chairs inlaid with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, boxwood and all kinds of valuable treasures, his own daughters and concubines. . .

                        2 Kings 18-19:

            In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, went on an expedition against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Hezekiah, king of Judah, sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: "I have done wrong. Leave me, and I will pay whatever tribute you impose on me." The king of Assyria exacted three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold from Hezekiah, king of Judah. Hezekiah paid him all the funds there were in the temple of the Lord and in the palace treasuries...That night the angel of the Lord went forth and struck down 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. Early the next morning, there they were, all the corpses of the dead. So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, broke camp and went back home to Nineveh. When he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adram-melech and Sharezer slew him with the sword and fled into the land of Ararat.

                        2 Chronicles 32:

            But after he had proved his [Hezekiah's] fidelity by such deeds, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came. He invaded Judah, besieged the fortified cities, and proposed to take them by storm. . . .His officials said still more against the Lord God and against his servant Hezekiah, for he had written letters to deride the Lord, the God of Israel. . . They spoke of the God of Israel as though he were one of the gods of the other peoples of the earth, a work of human hands. But because of this, King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah, son of Amos, prayed and called out to him. Then the Lord sent an angel, who destroyed every valiant warrior, leader and commander in the camp of the Assyrian king, so that he had to return shamefaced to his own country. And when he entered the temple of his own god, some of his own offspring struck him down there with the sword.


8.                                          Esarhaddon (681-669): Invaded Egypt. Imprisoned Manasseh, king of Judah.

9.                                          Assurbanipal (669-626): Scholar-king; collected a library of over 6000 cuneiform texts.


The Fall of Assyria

·        The Old Testament prophets foretold the fall of Assyria, predicting that their capital city of Nineveh would be so completely destroyed that even her location would be forgotten.

·        "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation." (Isaiah 10:5).

·        “And He will stretch out His hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and He will make Nineveh a desolation, parched like the wilderness. And flocks will lie down in her midst, all beasts which range in herds; both the pelican and the hedgehog will lodge in the tops of her pillars; birds will sing in the window, desolation will be on the threshold; for He has laid bare the cedar work. This is the exultant city which dwells securely, who says in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’ How she has become a desolation, a resting place for beasts! For everyone who passes by her will hiss and wave his hand in contempt.” (Zephaniah 2:13-15).

·        Entire Book of Nahum in the Bible gives details of God’s judgment on Ninevah

·        This fall which was promised by the prophets came to pass within a single generation. It began with an alliance of two of Assyria’s traditional enemies, Nabopolassar of Babylon and Cyaxeres of the Medes. In 614 B.C. they sealed their alliance by the marriage of their children.

·        The Assyrians sought aid from the Scythians to the north and the Scythians initially agreed to attack the Medes. But when Cyaxeres offered them a portion of the spoils of Nineveh, the Scythians changed sides and all three groups converged on the Assyrians. The city fell to this coalition in the summer of 612 B.C. Remnants of the Assyrian military retreated westward to Haran and from there to Carchemish.

·        The Assyrians formed an alliance with Pharaoh Necho of Egypt who agreed to come to their aid at Carchemish. Josiah was ruling in Jerusalem at this time and he was determined to stop help from coming to the beleaguered Assyrians. Going against the advice of Jeremiah, he intercepted Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo, but was defeated and killed in the ensuing battle. Pharaoh Necho continued unimpeded to link up with the Assyrians at Carchemish. The battle which was fought there in 605 B.C. is one of the classic military engagements of history. The winner of this conflict was the young Babylonian prince Nebuchadnezzar.



Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.)

·        Name is Akkadian, Nebo-kudurri-ussur, meaning "Nebo has protected my inheritance."

·        Described as a very tall, very strong man.

·        Chased Egyptian armies from Euphrates River into Palestine

·        Jehoiakim, king of Judah, to swear allegiance to him and pay a tribute. Jehoiakim complied and was permitted to retain his throne.

·        Nebuchadnezzar also took hostages from among the Hebrew nobility at this time. Among these hostages were Daniel and his three friends, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah. We know them by their Babylonian names: Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego. His plan in taking these hostages was that they be indoctrinated into Chaldean culture so that they could he future leaders of their people who would be loyal to Chaldean rule

·        War with Egypt (601 B.C.) - After several years of fighting, the Syrian frontier was thoroughly subdued, leaving Nebuchadnezzar free to invade Egypt. The two armies clashed on the Egyptian frontier and the outcome of the battle was indecisive with each side inflicting heavy casualties upon the other. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to regroup and strengthen his forces.

·        Jehoiakim of Judah saw this and interpreted it as a defeat for Nebuchadnezzar. He promptly rebelled and allied himself with the Egyptians. Retribution from Babylon was quick in coming.

In the seventh year, the month of kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to Hatti-land, and encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Adar he seized the city and captured the king. (Chronicles Tablet 21946, British Museum).

In 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar marched west into Syria and down into Judah. He captured Jerusalem, threw Jehoiakim into chains, and placed his 16 year old son Jehoiachin on the throne. Then he marched south to deal with Egypt. While Nebuchadnezzar was in Egypt, the young Jewish King Jehoiachin foolishly rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar returned, took Jerusalem, and took Jehoiachin, his family, servants and princes, threw them into chains, and marched them away to Babylon. This second deportation was made up of about 10, 000 of the nobles of Judah. Among them was the prophet Ezekiel.

·        The Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.) -On July 10, 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces broke through the northern wall of Jerusalem. It would be another month before the southern wall could be taken. During this siege, Zedekiah and the remnants of his army broke out of Jerusalem and fled east toward Jericho, only to be captured and brought to Riblah where Nehuchadnezzar still maintained his headquarters.

Zedekiah... fled out of the city, through the fortified ditch, and through the desert; and when certain of the deserters had informed the Babylonians of this, at break of day, they made haste to pursue after Zedekiah and overtook him not far from Jericho... When he was come, Nebuchadnezzar began to call him a wicked wretch and a covenant-breaker and one that had forgotten his former words, when he promised to keep the country for himi (Antiquities 10:8:2).

·        Zedekiah was forced to watch his sons being executed and then his eyes were put out. He was thrown into chains to be dragged back to Babylon where he would die in prison.

·        By August of 586 B.C. Jerusalem belonged to the Babylonians. The vast majority of survivors were herded together and led across the Syrian Desert in a 22-day death march. One Jewish tradition has it that the 22 divisions of Psalm 119 correspond to these 22 days.

·        The Southern Kingdom of Judah had ceased to exist. Jerusalem was burned and the walls of the city were torn down. All military, civil and religious leaders were either executed or carried away into captivity. Only the poorest of the peasants of Judah were allowed to remain in the land that was by now completely desolate.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon

1. Physical Description of the City

·        Herodotus, writing 150 years after Nebuchadnezzar, tells us that the city of Babylon was a vast square in design, each side having a length of 14 miles and making a complete circuit of 56 miles. He adds that the walls of the city were 300 feet high and were so wide that three chariots could race along the top side by side.

·        The Euphrates River ran straight through the center of the city. The banks of the river were lined with brick and large gates crossed the river where it entered and exited from the city.

·        A large part of the city was given over to farmland. With both a food and water supply, Babylon could withstand a siege indefinitely.

2. The Defenses of the City.

·        Herodotus states that the outer wall of the city was 300 feet high and 80 feet thick. Surrounding this outer wall was a huge moat which was fed through canals from both the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers.

·        Around the center of the city was a second double-wall. If an invader managed to pass the outer wall and thcn also passed through the inner wall, he would find himself within a narrow space between the first and second inner wall which could be flooded in times of emergency.

3. The Hanging Gardens.

·        The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were considered by the Greeks to be one of the seven wonders of the world. They were 400 feet square and were raised on terraces one above the other to the height of the city wall. Viewed from a distance, they had the appearance of a forest-covered mountain, standing in marked contrast to the level plains of the Mesopotamian Valley.

·        It is said that Nebuchadnezzar built the Gardens for his wife, Amyhia, the daughter of Cyaxeres, the king of the Medes. The Gardens were to relieve her homesickness for the mountains of her native Media.

·        In order to maintain the exotic plants of the Gardens under the blazing sun of the Babylonian plains, a powerful pump was built inside the terraced wall which kept a steady flow of water, insuring that the soil was always moist.

4. Temples.

·        Under Nebuchadnezzar, every temple in Babylon was rebuilt. He lists eight which were built within the city itself.

·        The greatest of all was the Temple of Bal-Merodach. It stood in a square enclosure with each side measuring 1200 feet and entered by 12 gates. In the middle rose a tower of solid brick, like a pyramid. The sanctuary on the top rose in eight stories and was 300 feet high.



[Some text for this lesson is excerpted from, and based in part upon, John T. Stevenson, Mesopotamia In The Age Of The Empires]



1.      What is the most effective way to earn the allegiance of conquered peoples? Compare the methods of the Assyrians and Babylonians with those of the Hittites. Defend your answers.

2.      Use your Bible to look up references to Assyria. Does the biblical testimony square with evidence from other sources?


TOMORROW: Cyrus lays siege to Babylon…