The Iron Age

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While the use of iron predates the period depicted here, widespread knowledge of iron founding supplanted bronze in the period between 1200-600 B.C., though this distribution was considerably hampered by the collapse of numerous societies for the first half of this period (the so-called Ancient Dark Age). With the restoration of civilisation in the Mediterranean circa 850-650, a very different world came into being, as the global focus of power moved west from the Fertile Crescent to the Aegean.


Following the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisation of Mycenae (c.1100 B.C.) and the destruction of palaces and cities, the Hellenic peninsula and islands was ravaged by famine, leading to depopulation. Amongst the political instability, raiding of coastal settlements from the sea became commonplace. Education and writing ceased and vital trade links were lost, while towns and villages were abandoned. Greece became isolated and backward for three centuries.

For a century prior to the collapse, Arcadian and Achaean peoples had already settled in the central Peloponnese; occupying Mycenae, they used the coast as a base for raiding Crete, Anatolia and the Levant. Ionians occupied Attica and Euboea, while the Boeotians settled in central Greece. The Thracians seized the north coast of the Aegean. Aeolians spread throughout the islands of the Aegean, notably Lesbos and Chios. Far to the north, the Illyrians occupied the east coast of the Adriatic. The greatest of these people were the Dorians, who were a backward warlike people who had first settled in Epirus. Between 1100-1000 B.C., the Dorians spread outwards to the south, diplacing peoples in the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Megara and the Argolid. The most powerful Dorian tribe would settle in Lacedaemon and Laconia, where they would later become the Spartans. From these places they built ships and raided Crete, Cos, Rhodes and Cyprus, destroying as they went and settling the lands with their own numbers. The many tribes, each occupying a small valley, plain or coastal part of the Greek peninsula, would dispute one another over territory ceaselessly for the next eight hundred years.

Aristocracy & Colonisation

By 900 B.C., monarchies were increasingly replaced throughout Greece by aristocracies, as kings vanished or were reduced to a titular office (save in Sparta). The nobles became the dominant power in the state through the possession of iron weapons and the acquisition of property, at the expense of poorer farmers. This led to renewed food shortages and distress, so that after 800 B.C., colonisation — encouraged first by the aristocrats to get rid of discontent — by Greek city states scattered Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean. Important colonies were founded in along the Anatolian coast, in Libya, on the Nile (Naucratis, 640 B.C.), and even on the Gaulish and Iberian coasts, and along the northern shore of the Black Sea. Trade from these colonies reunited the Mediterranean, while at home there grew a culture surrounding myths and legends voiced by bards such as Homer (c.750-800 B.C.).

The import of luxury goods (oils, wine, ivories, gold and silver) encouraged greater skill in technological processes like metallurgy and pottery; this enabled the Greeks to compete favorably with the Phoenicians and encouraged the growth of a cultivated, educated populace. Slavery increased and coinage was introduced from Lydia; minting by individual city states also became a competitive practice. Lyric poetry flourished; geometric art was replaced by the oriental, or animal style. Philosophy began with the Milesian School: Thales, Anaximenes and Anaximander investigated mathematics and expanded an understanding of logic.

The Early Peloponnese

By 800 B.C., Sparta had consolidated its control over the central peninsula and had colonized the coast of Messenia. She warred with Teges, chief city of the backward and disunited Arcadians, who maintained a loose religious union centering about the primitive worship on Mt. Lycaeum. Corinth had become commercially important and, until 720, dominated its smaller neighbour Megara. Argos, though claiming the hegemony of Greece as heir of Mycenae, remained a weak state.

In the First Messenian War (736-716 B.C.), Sparta, led by King Theopompus, conquered Messenia and divided the rich plain into lots, which the Messenians, as helots (serfs), worked for their Spartan masters. Besides helots and Spartans, there was a third class of Laconians, the periocci, who were free but not possessed of citizen rights. Sparta still, however, had an artistic and intellectual life equal to any in Greece, especially in respect to choral poetry.

King Pheidon of Argos (c.680 B.C.) made Argos powerful, for a brief time. He defeated the coalition of Sparta and Tegea in the battle of Hysiae (669) and, in support of rebellious Aegina, crushed Epidaurus and her ally Athens. Pheidon introduced coinage into Greece with a mint at Aegina. After his death, the powers held by rulers was curtailed. The city-state of Argos declined.

During the Second Messenian War, Sparta — with difficulty — crushed her rebellious subjects, who were led by Aristomenes, master of Arcandia, who afterwards took refuge on Mt. Eira. By the so-called Eunomia, the Spartans, fearing further revolts, completely reorganized the state to make it more severely military.

Rise of Tyranny

By 650 B.C., the aristocracies felt the pressure of landless traders and artisans, who wished a say in their political futures. To maintain their authority, and supported by the rich, various tyrants arose; in some cases, ambitious individuals, bent on overthrowing their masters, organized rebellions and installed themselves as tyrants also. On the whole, these tyrants were successful with the population, as they kept the people happy with festivals and public works. Nevertheless, the power of the nobility diminished, class and racial distinctions were abolished and many city states moved towards a more democratic model of government. Important tyrants included Theagenes of Megara (640 B.C.), Thrasybulus of Miletus (620); and Cleistenes of Sicyon (600).


The nobles in Athens gradually restricted the power of the king, first by giving his military functions to a polemarch and then his civil functions to an archon. The hereditary kingship was abolished (683 B.C.) and made into an annual office. Nine archons were chosen from the nobles by the areopagus, a council of nobles which was the greatest power in the state. The ecclesia, or assembly of all freemen, had either gone out of use or was completely without power.

Cylon, a noble related to the tyrant Theagenes attempted to establish a tyranny in Athens (632 B.C.), but was foiled. Many of his followers were tricked into surrendering and then slaughtered by Megacles of the Alcmaeonid clan. In 621, Drako replaced the prevailing system of oral law and blood feud by a written code to be enforced only by a court of law; though it laid the foundation for Athens' democracy, the harshness of these laws displeased the citizens and led to the use of "draconian" to describe an unforgiving set of rules.

Phrygia & Lydia

The Phrygians (as well as the Mysians) occupied a minor vassal state of the Hittites, in central Anatolia upon the Sakarya River. The capital was located at Gordium, that was founded by King Gordius (c.1250 B.C.). Gordius' son, Midas, is remembered in mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. They participated on the side of Troy in the Trojan War; King Priam of Troy married a Phrygian princess, Hecuba. With the collapse of the Hittite Empire, the Phrygians established their independence (c.1175 B.C.). The kingdom, acting as a barrier between Greece and the east, would steadily expand, reaching its height in the 8th century B.C.. By this time, it would dominate most of central and western Anatolia. The Phrygians developed a system of writing, maintained close trade with the Greeks and produced a distinctive pottery called Polished Ware. The chief deities of the Phrygians were Cybele (the Great Mother riding in a chariot drawn by lions), whose orgiastic cult would long outlive the kingdom; and Attis, the god who died by castration but came back to life; his priests, Galli, were eunuchs.

However, the kingdom was overwhelmed by the Cimmerians, a nomadic people from the north, related culturally to the Scythians. In 714 B.C., the Cimmerians invaded the Assyrian state of Urartu; following a defeat by the Assyrians under Sargon II in 705, they turned west and completed the conquest of Phrygia by 696-695 B.C..

Lydia had also been a vassal of the Hittites, achieving its independence in 1192 B.C.. Located between Phrygia in the east and the Aegean, Lydia became a link between east and west, culturally and commercially. The Lydians were great merchants and expert craftsmen; they reinvented coinage as an alternative to the use of precious metals for exchange and were fond of horsemanship. Later, they contributed to the development of music and the dance. The writer Aesop was a Lydian. They worshipped the gods Santas and Bacchus. The capital was Sardis.

Lydia was ruled by 22 successive generations of the Heraclid Dynasty; the last, Candaules, was assassinated (687 B.C.) and succeeded by his former friend Gyges, founder of the Myrmnadae Dynasty. Gyges would form an alliance with the Assyrians, defeat the Cimmerians (685 B.C.) and extend the borders of Lydia. But after sending Carian and Ionian mercenaries to the aid of Psamtik, who drove the Assyrians out of Egypt, the Cimmerians invaded Lydia. Gyges fell in battle against them in 652, after which Sardis was razed. His son, Ardys, would wage an ongoing war with the Cimmerians, who occupied the former lands of Phrygia and eastern Lydia, for 33 years. After the Cimmerians were defeated by the Assyrians in the 620s B.C., Ardy's annihilated them in 619. Nothing else would be heard of the Cimmerians afterwards. Between 619 and Ardys death in 603, the Lydians would occupy Phrygia and carry forth a conquest of Greek cities (begun by Gyges) on the Anatolian coast.


The early Italian peoples, the Terramare, expanded into the Italian Peninsula from the Rhone and upper Danube valleys, coming into contact with the maritime people of the Aegean world. These included the Samnite, Sabine and Latin tribes. A more advanced culture, the Umbrians and Oscans, entered northeastern Italy from the middle Danube basin, bringing with them a knowledge of iron.


The earliest evidence of an Etruscan culture begins about 900 B.C. Influenced by the Greeks, the Etruscan civilisation reached its height around 750, during Rome's foundational period. The culture flourished in Etruria, the Po Valley and Campania, although these were not united under a single ruler. Writing based on Greek script, the ability to work iron and a political system that favoured authority distributed among individual small cities and prominent important families were important contributions to later Roman civics. The peasant of today identifies with his neighboring city, as did generations of Italians before him. Italian history has always been municipal. Thereafter they declined, leaving little evidence that would withstand the dramatic violence that would take hold of the peninsula over two thousand years.

Foundation of Rome

Destined to rule the ancient Mediterranean world, Rome showed no early promise of greatness. Though the Italian peninsula was populous in prehistoric times, the site of Rome was without inhabitants before the 1st millennium B.C. Even after the first settlement was made, the future imperial city was little more than a hamlet situated at a ford on the Tiber River, traditionally founded by Romulus, the son of a princess of Alba Longa. The kings of Alba Longa, in turn, were descended from Aeneas, a fugitive of the Trojan War. During the 8th and following centuries, small settlements on the Palatine, Esquiline, Quirinal and Capitoline hills, united into the one "Rome," with a common meeting-place in the valley between the Forum. These peoples were of different racial stocks, chiefly Latin but partly Sabine, Etruscan and pre-Italic. The importance of Rome is less likely to have been economic than military — an outpost of the Latins against the encroaching Etruscans.

Romulus was Rome's first king (753-715 B.C.), who thereafter became elective rather than hereditary. The king's power was limited by a senate of 100 elders (patres), which was advisory, not compulsory, and by a popular assembly of the clans (curiae), the comitia curiata, which conferred upon the newly elected king his powers. There were two classes in the state, patricians, who alone could belong to the senate, and plebians. Most probably the patricians were simply the most prosperous farmers, who for their own advantage organized themselves in curiae, set themselves up as a superior class and usurped privileges for themselves.

Numa Pompilius (715-673 B.C.) succeeded Romulus. A Sabine, he organized the religious and political institutions: the Roman Calendar; Vestal Virgins; the cults of Mars, Jupiter and Romulus; and the office of Pontifex Maximus. Tullius Hostilius (673-641) defeated Alba Longa, which became Rome's vassal state. Ancus Marcius (641-616) waged war successfully against the Latins, resettling those he conquered onto lands surrounding the Aventine Hill.


Following the collapse of Dynasty XX, the growing power of the high priests of Amon wrested the power away from the descendants of Ramses II, establishing Dynasty XXI amid the collapse of Egyptian power over its empire. Hrihor (1080-1074 B.C.) established his capital at Thebes, striving for authority against the nobles led by Smedes. This initiated what is called the 3rd Intermediate Period, an era of decline and political instability coinciding with the collapse of other civilisations in the Near East.

The Libyan Sheshonk would raze Egypt in 945 B.C., founding Dynasty XXII. This brought stability to the country for more than a century after a long factional power struggle. The capital was established at Bubastis; however, after the reign of Osorkon II (837 B.C.), the country had split into two states, with the priestly family of Amon founding an independent southern Nubian kingdom with its capital at Napata (Dynasty XXIII). Anarchy and civil war prevailed through the unification of the kingdom (718) and during the brief interim period between 718-712 B.C., during which time the Nubian king Kashta marched north and defeated the combined might of several native Egyptian rulers.

Shabaka, king of Napata, conquered Egypt in 712 and founded Dynasty XXV. Pharoahs of the dynasty built or restored monuments throughout the Nile Valley, including at Memphis, Karnak, Kawa and Jebel Barkal. The prestige of Egypt had declined considerably by this time, with an ever-present threat from the Assyrian Empire in the east. Essarhaddon of Assyria defeated the pharoah Taharka, occupying the country as far as Thebes over the period of 671-663 B.C., killing Taharqa while his successor Tantamani withdrew to the south. In 664 the Assyrians delivered a mortal blow, sacking Thebes and Memphis.

In 663, Tantamani launched a full-scale invasion of Lower Egypt, but the campaign was short-lived; the Kushite king withdrew to Nubia, while Assyrian influence faded quickly in Upper Egypt. The new leader of the Egyptians was Psammeticus of Sais (663-609 B.C.), in the western Delta, who had been appointed governor by the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal. After the Assyrian yoke had been cast off (652), Psammeticus unified Egypt once more and became the first ruler of the XXVI, inaugurating the Saitic revival.


Following the collapse of societies surrounding the eastern Mediterranean, there arose various great cities of Phoenicia, a disunited collective culture arising from traders, expert seafarers and colonist explorers. An expansive sea trade network had existed for more than a millennium, becoming the dominant commercial power in antiquity. Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos flourished as independent kingdoms for centuries after the collapse of Egyptian power along the Levant coast after 1225 B.C. Ugarit was destroyed in 1200 from the sea; Beirut fell to the Assyrians (c.1100 B.C.).

King Abibaal of Tyre (969-936) established the kingdom, which became a hegemony over other Phoenician trade cities in the Mediterranean. His son, Hiram I (936-918 B.C.), son of Abibaal, established the Hegemony of Tyre, subjugating the colony of Utica after it had rebelled. King Hiram of Tyre employed his craftsmen to provide King Solomon with a fleet for his operations on the Red Sea. Hiram was succeeded by his son Beleazarus (920-918) and his grandson Abstartus (918-909).

Abstartus was assassinated by the first of four brothers, the sons of Abstartus' nurse, who reigned in succession between 909-887 B.C.. These were Astartus, Deleastartus, Astarymus and Phelles. These were followed by Ittobaal of Tyre (887-856 B.C.), formerly a priest of Baal, established a new dynasty that would rule the Phoenician Kingdom independently for a century. Lands and privileges were lost to the Assyrians, as Tyre was forced to pay heavy tributes to survive. As a means of building solidarity against the Assyrians, Ittobaal's daughter Jezebel would marry Ahab and bring the religion of Baal to Isreal. Her brother Balbazer would become king (846-841) would pay tribute the Assyrians. He would be succeeded by Mattan I (840-832).

The last king of Tyre, Pygmalion (820-774 B.C.), shifted the focus of Phoenician trading from Mesopotamia and the Levant towards Cyprus, Greece and Sardinia, as these regions gained stability. Pygmalion's sister, Dido, fled Tyre in 925 to escape her brother's dominance, eventually founding the city of Carthage in 814 B.C.. Thereafter, Tyre fell into a period of disorder, where the city (and other Phoenician trade cities) lacked a king, until Ittobaal II (750-739).

Assyrian Dominance

From the time of Pygmalion, the Assyrians would receive tribute from Phoenician cities without subjecting them. These cities paid an especially heavy levy to Tiglath Pileser after 738 B.C.. Hiram II (739-730 B.C.) and Mattan II (730-729 B.C.) would see the subjugation of the hinterland. During that period, Elulaios of Tyre (729-694 B.C.) would reconquer Cyprus after it had been taken from Sargon II; Elulaios would flee to Cyprus during the campaigns of Sennacherib. Phoenicia and Cyprus would then be subjected by Essarhaddon and remain under Assyrian rulership. Essarhaddon destroyed Sidon in 675 B.C.. Tyre survived, though only in name, as it paid tribute to Ashurbanipal.

Following the collapse of Assyria in 612 B.C., the cities of Phoenicia would experience a brief period of independence.

Israel & Judah

In the 11th century B.C., the ten tribes of Israel were living in Palestine among the Canaanites, without unity — though they continued to regard themselves as Israelites. Three other tribes, Simeon, Levi and Judah, were living in the extreme south of Palestine. Jabin, the king of Canaan, oppressed the ten tribes, six of whom answered the summons of the prophet Deborah (1107 B.C.) and fought victoriously against the Canaanites in the Valley of Jezreel. The Judges, victorious tribal leaders, ruled over the tribes. Gideon was followed by seventy sons who ruled jointly; Ehud killed Eglon, King of Moab; Jephtah, a Gileadite, defeated the Ammorites; but these Judges founded no dynasty. The tribe of Benjamin was nearly destroyed in a civil war (1170 B.C.). Samson of Dan, a heroic figure of legend, defined the beginning of the conflict with the Philistines in the 1140s B.C., the result of which would be the migration of the tribe of Dan to the extreme north of Palestine.

First Kings

Pressure from Philistine domination induced the Israelites to name a king, Saul (1028-1013 B.C.), after his spectacular deliverance of Jabesh in Gilead. Saul defeated the Philistines at Michmash, but took his own life after his defeat at the Battle of Gilboa. Following his death, the kingship split in twain, with Ishbaal the son of Saul ruling in Mahanaim, east of the Jordan, and David ruling as King of Judah (1013-973). David united the two kingdoms in 1006; he conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital, broke the power of the Philistines and fought successfully against the Ammonites and Edomites. However, the jealousy between Judah and Israel provoked the rebellions of Absalom (son of David) and of Queen Sheba (Bathsheba).

King Solomon (973-933 B.C.), son of Sheba, in alliance with the Pharoah of Egypt (Dynasty XXI) and with Hiram, King of Tyre, undertook far-reaching trading operations by land and sea. He introduced taxation and forced labour, built a great temple, the royal palace and the city wall of Jerusalem, along with public buildings elsewhere. The magnificence of his reign became proverbial. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, refused the demand of the northern tribes for relief from taxation and they seceded, making Jeroboam their king. Israel and Judah would remain split thereafter.

Kingdom of Israel

Jeroboam I (933-901 B.C.) chose Shechem as his capital. His son Nadab (912-911) was slain by Baasha (911-888), who made himself King of Israel and resided at Tirzah. Baasha had been a captain in Nadab's army; he fought against Judah and endeavoured to strangle Judah's trade by fortifying Ramah, a city north of Jerusalem. His son Elam (888-887) was murdered by his chariot commander Zimri, whose reign lasted only one year (887).

The troops abandoned Zimri and named Omri King (887-875 B.C.). He built a new capital, Samaria, inaugurating a period of expansion and power of the northern kingdom. He placed northern Moab under tribute, but failed to subdue the Arameans of Damascus. His son, Ahab, allowed his wife Jezebel to establish the religion of Baal in Samaria, provoking a reaction from the prophets Elijah and Elisha. As king, Ahab failed against Mesha, King of Moab, but imposed peace terms on Ben-Hadad II of Damascus and allied with him at Qarqar (854) against Shalmaneser III of Assyria. His sons Azahiah of Israel (853) and Joram (852) would be the last kings of Omri's dynasty.

Jehu (843-816 B.C.), son of Jehoshaphat of Judaea, exterminated the last vestiges of Omni's line, as well as those of Judah that were within his reach. For a time, until 837, Jehu ruled both Israel and Judaea. He paid tribute to the Assyrians and cleansed Israel of the worship of Baal, putting its worshippers to death. In revenge, Hazael of Damascus raided his Transjordanian provinces. Succeeded by his son Johoahaz (816-800) and grandson Joash (800-785), Israel was likewise helpless against Damascus. However, Jeroboam II (785-744), the son of Joash, reconquered the lost provinces while Damascus was under assault by Assyria (773). Jeroboam rules over the kingdom at the height of its power and prosperity, though the prophets Amos and Hosea foresaw the impending rule of Israel. The last king of the dynasty of Jehu, Zechariah, would be assassinated by Shallum, a captain from his own army.

While Shallum would become king, he would reign for one month before being put to death by another captain of Zechariah's army, Menahem (744-738 B.C.). During his reign, and that of his son Pekahiah (738-735), Israel would be forced to pay tribute to Assyria, even hopelessly allying themselves with Damascus as the kingdom was devastated. Pekah (735-732), a usurper who was captain of Pekahiah's army, was overthrown by Hoshea (732-722), the last king of Israel. Hoshea refused to pay tribute to the Assyrians, holding out against them as well as he could. After a siege of three years (725-722), the last province, Samaria, fell and Israel ceased to exist.

Kingdom of Judah

Following the succession of northern Israel, Reheboam (933-917 B.C.) would fight against the Israel with small success. In the 5th year of his reign, the Libyan Sheshonk of Egypt would bring a huge army and take many cities in the west. His son Abijah (917-915) and grandson Asa (915-875) would continue the struggle against Israel. Asa turned back the army of Zerah the Kushite in the Valley of Zephathah (905) and imposed strict national observance to the Laws of Moses, so that he was considered a righteous man at his death.

His son, Jehoshaphat (875-851 B.C.) made peace with Ahab of Israel and destroyed a confederacy of the Moabites, preserving Judaea. He was succeeded by Jehoram of Judaea (851-844), son of Jehoshaphat and Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel. Jehoram failed to put down the rebellion of the Edomites and was forced to acknowledge their independence. Jehoram was succeeded by Ahaziah of Judah (844); but Ahaziah was killed by his brother Jehu, a daughter of Jezebel. Jehu held control in Judaea and Israel until he was driven out by a palace revolution.

Jehoash (837-798 B.C.) he abandoned Judaism and turned instead to idols. For this, he was rebuked by the prophet Zechariah, which ended in Jehoash ordering the execution of Zechariah by stoning. When Damascus marched on Jerusalem, Jehoash was said to have emptied the royal treasuries to pay off King Hazael and end the attack; but the Syrians took the city, executed the leaders of the people and marched away with the spoils. Jehoash would be assassinated by his own servants.

Amaziah (798-780 B.C.) was the son of Jehoash. In his fifth year he named his son Uzziah as his co-ruler. Amaziah revenged his father and made an attempt to reconquer Edom; after an initial success, his pride inflated, he rushed into a disastrous battle with Joash of Israel at Beth-shemesh. The humiliating defeat ended in his capture, the destruction of 400 cubits of the wall of Jerusalem and the looting of the city, temple and palace. Anger for bringing such disasters upon the kingdom resulted in a conspiracy that ended in Amaziah's assassination. Uzziah would rule from 780-740 B.C., enjoying a prosperous reign owing to Israel's revival under Jeroboam II.

Uzziah's son Jotham (740-735 B.C.) would fight a war against the kings Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus. His son Ahaz (735-720), contrary to the advice of the prophet Isaiah, turned to the Assyrian Tiglath-pileser III for aid. This would contribute to the destruction of Israel as a kingdom. Ahaz's son Hezekiah (720-692) would defy the Assyrian Sennacherib, but after a disastrous war and the siege of Jerusalem in 701, Hezekiah came to terms. His son Manasseh (692-630) would remain a faithful vassal of Assyria throughout his reign, even to the point of encouraging the people to worship Assyrian gods. Amon (639 B.C.), the son of Manasseh, would fully indulge in idolatrous practices, leading to his assassination.

Reforming the Kingdom of Judah, Amon's son Josiah (638-609 B.C.) would reform the Jewish worship, centralizing it in the temple at Jerusalem. He was able to do this largely due to the rapid decline of Assyrian power during his reign, leading to the destruction of Ninevah in 612 B.C.


After the destruction of the Hittite capital of Hattusa in 1180 B.C., Syria saw a dispersal of settlements and ruralisation, with the appearance of large numbers of hamlets, villages and farmsteads. Some former Hittite principalities continued to preserve their identity in the midst of the flood of Aramaic migrations, bringing Arameans, Amorites, Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites and Israelites to the Levant. Chief among these principalities was Carchemish, a lost city in the vicinity of present-day Jarabulus.


The city became an important trading center. Kuzi-Tesup I, son of the last Hittite king Talmi-Teshub, founded a dynasty that ruled over a small kingdom surrounding the West Bend of the Euphrates. The city held sway over the northern Fertile Crescent from 1175-975 B.C., when it began to lose control over its farther possessions. Steadily, by the 9th century, Carchemish was reduced to little more than a city state (849), when it was forced to pay tribute to the kings of Syria. It would be conquered by Sargon II in 717 B.C., during the reign of the last Carchemish king, Pisiri. The city would be turned into an important Assyrian capital.

Aramean Kingdoms

The emergence of Aramean kingdoms in Syria and upper Mesopotamia arose after 1000 B.C.. East of the Euphrates, these included Beth-Eden, with Til Barsip as its capital; the city-state of Gozan; and Hadippe with its capital Suru, among others. These eastern lands would be forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians in the early 9th century B.C.. Til Barsip would be devastated by the Assyrian Shalmaneser III (857).

West of the Euphrates, the small kingdoms of Gargum (capital, Marash), Samal, Hattin, Hamath, Zobah and Aram-Damascus. Of these, the most important was Aram-Damascus; the remainder would exist as vassal states until they, too, were conquered by Sargon II between 720 and 719 B.C..


Settled first under the Hittites, the region was occupied by the Arameans (1000-965 B.C.), discovering the agricultural potential of what was a sparsely populated area. A dynasty was founded in 970 by Rezon, whose father Eliada had been a general under Hadadezer, King of Zobah. The new state of Damascus would expand southward, preventing the northward spread of the Kingdom of Israel. The two kingdoms would clash repeatedly for more than a century. King Ahab of Israel would ally with Ben-Hadad II of Damascus against the Assyrians at the battle of Qarqar (854). Religiously, Damascus worshipped Baal; Israel's repudiation of the god would remain a source of contention between the two states.

However, the growing presence of Assyria would prevent a resolution being reached between the two states. In 805 B.C., the Assyrians would besiege Damascus during the reign of Ben-Hadad III. Further in-fighting between the Aramean states, such as the failed coalition led by Damascus against Zakir of Hamath, would weaken the divided states of Syria. King Rezin of Damascus would be executed by Tiglath-pileser III in 732 B.C.. Thereafter, Damascus would lose all importance and remain subject to the Kings of Assyria until 625, and thereafter Babylonia.


Urartu was a kingdom located in the large basin surrounding Lake Van, where the headwaters of the Araxes, Tigris and Arzanias begin. The kingdom includes the principalities of Kurshi, Suhni, Qaria and Gilzan. In population, the people were Hurrian, the same who descended into the upper Eurphates in the 17th century B.C. to found the Mitanni Kingdom. The descendents who remained behind in Urartu would learn to found iron and build with stone. The great temple of Haldi, located in the lost city of Musasir somewhere between Lake Urmia and Lake Van, was dedicated to the god Haldi and his consort. Tesheba, the god of storms, and Ardini, goddess of the sun, were part of the Urartan pantheon.

The numerous Hurrian principalities raided the Assyrians from the 13th century B.C. onwards. In the years 1113-1110 B.C., these Hurrian groups were united under a single king against the Assyrian Tiglath-pileser I. Further wars would be waged against Assyrian in 1070 B.C.; Adad-nirari II in 900; Tukulti II in 890; and with Ashurnasirpal II throughout his reign. These wars resulted in little gain on either side, but each viewed the other as a blood enemy.

Dynastic Period

During the reign of Arame (860-843 B.C.), the kingdom was threatened by the Assyrian Shalmaneser III, who defeated the Urartans and seized the capital Arzashkun (844). Arame was deposed by Lutipri (844-832), who paid tribute to the Assyrians. Lutipri was murdered by his son Sardur I (832-820), who re-established his capital at Tushpa and fortified it. Calling himself the King of the Four Quarters, he renewed raiding on Assyria during the kingship of the Assyrian Shamshi-Adad V.

Ishpuini (820-800 B.C.), son of Sardur I, reconquered Musasir, restored the temple and appointed his son Sardur the viceroy there. Following an attack by Shamshi-Adad V, this Sardur was killed and the kingdom fell to his younger brother Menua (800-785), who enlarged the kingdom considerably, restoring some lands the Assyrians had conquered to the kingdom and increasing the Urartu's power considerably in the time of Semiramis. Thereafter, Urartu would remain a serious threat on the flank of Assyria.

Argishtish (785-760 B.C.), son of Menua, annexed the territory along the Araxes and extended the boundaries of Urartu to the shores of Lake Erivan. He defeated Shalmaneser IV, conquered the lands of the Diauehi and the Ararat, making Urartu the most powerful state in Asia Minor. He built two great fortresses to maintain authority over these conquests. His son, Sardur II (760-733) was the last great king of Urartu, maintaining the kingdom at the height of its power. He fought Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria to a standstill; but this broke the expansion of Urartu.


Between 733-612 B.C., the kings of Urartu steadily lost the territory gained by their forefathers; the primary reason was the Cimmerians, who migrated from the north beginning after 715 B.C.. This, coupled with the raid of Sargon II of Assyria, weakened the kingdom. By the reign of Sardur III (650-625), Urartu had lost its eastern lands. Phrygia had fallen under the control of the Cimmerians, who occupied that country and were under continuous assault from Lydia after the 640s B.C.. However, during the reign of the last king, Rusas III (625-612), Urartu was invaded by Scythians and their vassals, the Medes. This massive raid would also lead to the destruction of Ninevah (612 B.C.) and the fall of the Assyrian Empire.


Assyria lay in the highlands north of Babylon, along the upper Tigris River and the waters of the Great and Little Zab Rivers. It's culture was deeply indebted to the Babylonian, to the Hittite and to the Hurrian. Except for the Assyrian roayl annals, which are historical sources of the greatest value and are inspired by Hittite models, for the most part Assyrian literature consisted of new editions of the ancient Babylonian works. In sculpture (particularly in the bas-reliefs depicting realistically religious scenes, hunts and military operations) and in architecture (influenced by the Hittite styles) the Assyrians surpassed the Babylonians, as also in the fields in which they made their greatest contribution: military equipment and imperial administration. In religion the Assyrians worshipped their national god, Ashur, along with Ishtar of Nineveh.


By 1232 B.C., Assyria had become a strong kingdom, occupying what remained of the old Mitanni Kingdom. The fall of the Hittites hurt their trade, in particular diminishing their source of wrought iron. Additionally, Kassite power (1220-1116 B.C.) threatened their southern frontier. Assyria recovered slowly, learning to work iron themselves. Surrounded by the Urartu to the north (Lake Van), Elamites to the east and the Kassites to the south, the Assyrians fought their enemies in order to secure their borders. After the fall of the Kassites, the native Babylonians in the south established the Middle Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzer I (1146-1123). After an attempt by the Babylonians to engage Assyria (1125 B.C.), king Assurresh I of Assyria (1133-1116) turned him back.

The great king Tiglath-pileser I (1116-1093 B.C.), son of Assurresh, fought successful campaigns against Mushku and Mulatia, overrunning the upper Euphrates and penetrating into the northern mountains south of Van; razed the Aramaeans east of the Euphrates; and secured the trade route to the Mediterranean, granting him access to Byblos and Sidon. This control over trade, held jointly with Carchemish, produced much wealth, which Tiglath-pileser used to restore the temples of Ashur and Hadad at the Assyrian capital of Assur.

Hard pressed between 1093 and 911 B.C. by the Aramaean kingdoms to the west and its other enemies, Assyria's survival was put to the test. The kingdom remained a well-defended state, however, whose warriors were the best in the world, with a stable monarchy. In many ways, Assyria was more secure than its potential rivals; this military and political foundation would help establish the later empire when it rose.


The reduction of pressure by its neighbours encouraged Assyria to strike outwards, using the iron weapons and advanced military tactics that had been designed to withstand attacks for so long. Adad-ninari II (911-891 B.C.) regained former Assyrian territory that had been been seized by the Aramaeans (910) at the junction of the Khabur and Euphrates. After subduing Tabal and Kammunu (former Hittite provinces) to the north, Adad-ninari turned and twice attacked King Shamash of Babylonia (908 and 902 B.C.), annexing a large area of land north of the Diyala River and the towns of Hit and Zanqu. Campaigning in the west, he subjugated the Aramean cities of Kadmuh and Nisbin. Along with vast amounts of treasure acquired, he restored Phoenician trade routes to Assyria. His son Tukulti II (891-893 B.C.) continued his father's conquests, reducing the Hurrians to the northeast and the Urartians of Van.

Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), son of Tukulti, embarked on a vast program of expansion. He was ruthless in war. An army using heavy & light cavalry and chariots was organized, including foreigners pressed into service. Advanced military equipment, such as battering-rams and siege engines, greatly increased the Assyrians' power. Ashurnasirpal campaigned successfully in the northeast and in Phyrgia. He reached the Mediterranean and compelled the Phoenician cities (siege of Tyre) to pay him tribute. Aram and the land between the Khabur and Euphrates rivers were conquered. Under him, the provincial administration was improved and the palace at Calah was adorned with remarkable bas-reliefs. With his death, the First Empire had been firmly established.

Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.), son of Ashurnasirpal II, fought against the kingdom of Urartu and against Ben-Hadad of Damascus and his allies. He campaigned against Ahab of Israel, fighting the battle of Qarqar against eleven kings, at which no clear victory was achieved by either side. He reduced Carchemish (849), forcing the city to pay tribute. He sacked Babylon in 843 B.C.. Defeating Hazael of Damacus (841), he spared the city rather than plunder it. Shalmaneser forced Tyre and Sidon to pay tribute, and exacted tribute from King Jehu of Israel also. This gave control of the Mediterranean trade to the Assyrians, making the empire very wealthy.

The Middle Period

Little further expansion took place under Shamshi-Adad V (824-810 B.C.) and his successor, the regent queen Semiramis. She reigned as queen regent for 42 years, during which time monuments were built throughout Assyria, a history of Assyria was written and many rituals of the Assyrian religion were established. Semiramis introduced the practice of castrating male youths, that she would be surrounded by eunuch servants and guards. Her son, Adad-nirari III, reigned as her puppet until 782 B.C. Semiramis continued to dominate the throne through the reigns of her grandson Shalmaneser IV (782-773) and his brother Ashur-dan III (773-755), until her death in 768. During the ceremony of her great funeral, Semiramis is said to have been resurrected as a demi-god; thereafter shrines appeared in her name throughout the empire, though the location of these shrines is today unknown.

Amidst plagues, rebellions and the expansion of Urartu, the empire would remain in disarray after Semiramis' death until Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.) rebuilt the empire and restored the army. Tiglath broke the expansion of Urartu, conquered Arpad and forced tribute from the Israelites and the Syrians. In 734 B.C., following a treaty with Ahaz of Judaea, he forced the submission of King Pekah of Israel and waged a campaign against Syria that would end in the occupation of that kingdom and the execution of King Rezin of Damascus, the last in his line. He deported the Reubenites, Gadites and people of Manasseh, exiling them to the lands of Halah, Habor and Hara. Finally, in 729 B.C., his army achieved the conquest of Babylon, whereupon Tiglath became King of Babylon as well as King of Assyria.

Tiglath-pileser's son, Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.), following a hopeless campaign against Sumeria, was succeeded to the throne by Sargon II (722-705 B.C.), the unacknowledged son of Tiglath. Sargon killed his half-brother Shalmaneser and ended the campaign in Samaria, destroying the Kingdom of Isreal. Soon after (720), Babylonia rose up in revolt against him, calling forward the Elamites as allies. The Elamites met Sargon's army on the Plains of Der, where Sargon was defeated, allowing King Marduk of Babylon to secure control of southern Mesopotamia.

Thereafter, Sargon destroyed Carchemish (717 B.C.) and raided into Urartu (717-714). A full-scale assault was attempted in 715 by the Urartans; this was turned back and again the two empires proved unable to defeat the other. It was after this war that incursions by the Cimmerians would lead to the collapse of both empires. Turning south again, Sargon waged a second war with Babylon (710-709 B.C.), taking Babylon and capturing a fleeing King Marduk, who sought asylum in Elam and did not receive it. Sargon would spare Marduk's life in exchange for yielding Mesopotamia. Sargon built a new capital, Dur Sharrukinh (now lost) near Nineveh.

Collapse of Assyria

Though Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), son of Sargon II, ruled at the height of Assyria, the empire was too large to hold. Sennacherib faced insurrections in numerous provinces and especially in Babylonia, fomented by Egypt. Once again, Marduk claimed the Babylonia as his own; he held the city for 9 months (703-702) before fleeing before Sennacherib's Assyrians. Having settled with Babylonia, Sennacherib marched into the Levant (701) and reduced Judaea, forcing Hezekian of that kingdom to become a client of Assyria. He then seized the Phoenician trade cities of Sidon and Ashkalon (assuming their wealth), then defeated the Egyptians at Eltekeh. Therafter he returned to Babylon, where his hunt for Marduk led to an invasion of Elam, where the former Babylonian king was dwelling in exile. After a difficult campaign, the Elamites were defeated and Sennacherib destroyed Babylon (689). He lived the rest of his reign in relative peace.

His son Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.) had difficulty holding back the hordes of Cimmerians in the north. Rebuilding Babylon, Esarhaddon directed a campaign against Phoenician Tyre and Sidon (676) and then succeeded in entered Egypt in 671. Two campaigns against the Egyptians by Esarhaddon secured the eastern plain. Following his death (668), his son Ashurbanipal (668-625 B.C.) led two more campaigns into Egypt, sacking Thebes and Memphis (664) and securing Upper Egypt also.

This latter conquest soon faded; Ashurbanipal could not prevent Psammeticus of Sais from becoming master of Egypt. By 663 B.C., the Assyrian powers had withdrawn entirely from the Nile valley. Palestine and Syria after that would remain submissive, but Ashurbanipal's half brother Shamash-shumukin, appointed viceroy of Babylonia, rebelled; the resulting bloody civil war (652-648) severely weakened many of the empire's fortifications. After this, Ashurbanipal carried on campaigns against a newly established Babylonian kingdom (the Chaldaeans), the Arabs south of the Euphrates Valley and Elam. The Elamites were completely devastated over two campaigns in 646 and 640 B.C.. During his lifetime, Ashurbanipal was a patron of the arts and succeeded in assembling a great library at Ninevah.

The period between 625-605 B.C. saw a rapid disintigration of the Assyrian Empire. The Medians and Scythians, sweeping down from the north after the destruction of Urartu, devastated the northern provinces between 614-613 B.C.. Cyaxares, King of Media, made a pact with Nabopolassar, King of the Chaldaeans, and together they destroyed the city of Nineveh in 612 B.C. For a few years, an Assyrian general, Ashur-uballit, attempted to save a remnant of the empire with Harran as its capital, but he failed dismally (605) and the Assyrian Empire and nation ceased to exist.


With the waning of the Kassites, Nebuchadnezzar I (1146-1123 B.C.) defeated the Elamites and consolidated the Middle Babylonian kingdom. He broke the back of the Kassite nobility, conquered the Amorites and after a failed campaign against the Assyrians, made peace with them. He would be succeeded first by his son Enlilnadin (1103-1100 B.C.), then by his brother Marduknadin (1099-1082 B.C.), who with other members of the court would put Enlilnadin to the sword so as to end the latter's campaign against Assyria. Marduknadin would himself be assassinated by Mardukshapik (1082-1069 B.C.), his brother.

During this period of chaos, amidst a succession of unimportant kings, the Aramaeans would raid into Babylonia, while fractious wars with Assyria would continue. The Kassites would reassert themselves (100-984); Babylonia would be plundered by the Aramaeans (977) and the kingdom would be restored under Nabumukin (977-943 B.C.). King Shamash of Babylonia (917-900 B.C.) would be defeated by Adad-Ninari II in 902 B.C., but though territory was lost, would remain in control of the kingdom. Between 900 and 850 B.C., Mesopotamia would be overrun by nomads, the Chaldaeans, who would settle in the marshes of the southeast, along the Persian Gulf.

The wars with Assyria were disastrous for Babylonia. Shalmaneser III of Assyria sacked Babylon (843 B.C.), killing king Nabuapla. Later kings were reduced to vassalage; Adad-ninari III of Assyria ruled Babylon as a viceroy under Semiramis (808-800 B.C.). Later kings would become vassals until Babylon was finally subjugated by Tiglath-pileser III in 729.

Chaldaean Babylon

After a series of unsuccessful rebellions against the Assyria, though these would sometimes grant momentary periods of self-rule for Babylonia, King Nabopolassar of Chaldaea (625-605 B.C.) united Babylonia. Forming an alliance with Cyaxares of Medea, he confronted the Assyrians, seized the city of Nippur and took part in the destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Assyria collapsed and Nabopolassar established a dynasty that would last into the next century.

Scythia & Medea

See Also,
Ancient History
History (sage study)