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The Assyrians were an ancient people, possibly related to the Akkadians, who, at their greatest period of power - between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C. - controlled an empire that covered most of civilised south western Asia and Egypt. They are known for their military might, administrative efficiency, architecture and sculpture , and were feared for their brutality.

They entered history as a Bronze Age trading people, based around their capital Assur, (south of what is now Mosul in northern Iraq and part of the hegemony of their southern cousins based in Babylon. Assyrian trading posts from this period have been found as far a-field a western Turkey. In the later Bronze Age they were at various times within the ambit of Mitanni and Hittite influence; and when the folk-migrations known as the movement of the Sea Peoples in the late 12th century overturned the Hittites and weakened Egypt, the Assyrians – using iron weapons - began to move into the vacuum. Ninevah and Nimrud became co-capitals, although Assur remained the religious centre.

Their period of rapid expansion and widespread control began in the early 9th century with the military campaigns of Ashurnasipal II (r.883-859 B.C.) and at its greatest extent included present day Iraq, western Iran, all of Syria and the lands of the Hebrews, eastern Turkey and Egypt. They developed the art of siege craft (including the first recorded use of the battering ram) to levels not improved on until the Romans and organised their army in a way not seen before (including the use of demountable chariots for transportation over rough terrain. They used terror, capable administration, and enforced migration to control their vassals. Their domination was an endless succession of wars as they expanded or maintained their empire.

They were defeated by a revolt by a coalition of Chaldean-Mede vassals in 612 B.C. and their cities and war machine completely annihilated.

Modern Usage

The Modern Assyrians began as a Nestorian Christian sect, closely related to Chaldeans and speaking a dialect of Aramaic, found mainly in northern Iraq and Iran, whose members claimed to be ascended from the ancient Assyrians. They became involved in the political turbulence in the area in the 1920s and 1930s caused by Soviet Russian expansion, and new nationalism in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. This was to bring about a diaspora of Assyrians to many parts of the globe including U.S.A. and various parts of the British Commonwealth.

See Also

The following entries pertain to the antecedents of the modern Assyrians and the Aramaic Church of the East and derivatives:

References: Chambers Encyclopedia|Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology]]