At its height, the ancient Assyrian Empire stretched from the north in the upper Tigris river valley, south to the northern tip of the Persian Gulf including Babylon, along the Mediterranean Sea from Tarsus to Jerusalem and all the way down into Egypt to the city of Thebes. This vast empire took several thousand years to build. Early settlements can be traced back to the northern city of Nineveh around 5000 B.C.
The success of this nearly 2000 year empire had a lot to do with the way the rulers divided up the empire into states with local governors; a radical idea during that time. The advances they made in the area of science and architecture were extremely important as well.
Unfortunately, the great Assyrian Empire (as history has shown time and time again) collapsed under a massive attack and the city of Nineveh burned to the ground. This fascinating history is worth a serious look since it is one of the first Empires to expand the entire Fertile Crescent.
Concentrated in the upper Tigris Valley, the cities of Ashur, Arbel and Nineveh were thriving Assyrian culture centers around 2500 B.C. Out of these cities, came vast improvements in farming, pottery, domestication of animals and fortification. Writing and language were also advancing quite well as the clay tablets left behind give us a glimpse of the daily life and record keeping of the Assyrian people.
The empire started to expand around 2371 B.C. when Sargon of Akkad (an area just south of modern day Baghdad), setup a kingdom outside of the original northern location of Assyria. Sargon gradually expanded all the way to the Mediterranean Sea setting the seed for the vast expansion to come.
As the Assyrians expanded over a period of 1800 years, they would assimilate entire societies and civilizations. These newly acquired Assyrian citizens would sometimes be transported en masse to other parts of the empire to work together for the greater good of Assyria. For the most part, these common people felt that their lives improved greatly under Assyrian rule.
The Assyrians were considered brutal conquerors that conducted their wars with shocking ferocity. The leaders of these conquered cities were often interrogated, tortured, mutilated and then finally killed. Everyone seemed to be generally frightened by the Assyrians when they saw them on the horizon.
Although their military and usurping tactics were greatly feared, they never conquered a civilization to destroy it. They were in the business of acquiring cultures to enrich their dynasty. They would conquer an area, secure it and start setting up local government. The government would be responsible for re-educating the subjects in their newly acquired heritage. This gave these subjects a sense of belonging and pride. This also allowed for the greatest achievement of the Assyrian Empire; the cultural unification of the Middle East. Not an easy task...