Assyrian Civilization

Assyrian dominance of the Middle East lasted about 300 years, from the early ninth century B.C. to the end of the seventh. During this period, the Assyrians administered a vast and prosperous empire. They built splendid palaces, temples, and public buildings. Aqueducts, canals, and roads were constructed. The caravan trade of the world centered on the Assyrian capital, then the most magnificent city in the world.

The Assyrians were feared as ruthless warriors and oppressors. They treated conquered nations without mercy, exacting homage from them and enslaving or killing all who dared to oppose them. Yet the Assyrians were interested in learning and the arts. That they contributed little that was new to civilization was a result of their constant involvement in warfare.

Culturally, the Assyrians were greatly influenced first by the Sumerians, then by the Babylonians, and later by the peoples they conquered. The expressive bas-relief sculptures that adorned Assyrian palaces and temples were probably their most original artistic achievement. The Assyrians excelled in the art of war; and no other power could match them in military organization, quality of weapons, and expertise in siegecraft.

Assyria's major contribution to posterity, however, was the accumulation and preservation of the knowledge and culture of Mesopotamia. Archeological discoveries of more than 25,000 clay tablets in cuneiform script (wedge-shaped symbols), containing historical, religious, and literary works, and of many bas-relief sculptures have provided invaluable information about the ancient peoples of the Middle East.