3

The Rise and Decline of Assyria

The decline of Mitanni, followed by the sudden collapse of the Hittite Empire, created a power vacuum in Syria that a number of petty and local Aramaean states attempted to fill. None, however, was strong enough to dominate the area, a circumstance that made it a tempting target for Assyria, which was reemerging as a major force in the geopolitics of the Fertile Crescent.

From its earliest history, Assyria’s principal orientation was toward the west, even though it was often most preoccupied with problems in other directions. This orientation was dictated in great measure by its geostrategic position. East and north of the narrow Tigris Valley lay a mountainous region peopled by hardy raiding tribes such as the Guti and Lullubi, which always proved troublesome and difficult to restrain. To the south, of course, lay the rich Mesopotamian plain. But it was home to the more populous Akkadians, Sumerians, and Babylonians who had consistently sought to expand their kingdoms northward into Assyria, making it an imperative of Assyrian policy to fortify the frontier separating them. It was in the west, however, that both the greatest threat and greatest opportunity were to be found. The steppe of the Jazirah, which stretched westward for hundreds of miles, left Assyria exposed to attack by marauding armies or nomadic bands from the fringes of the vast Arabian Desert. Stability in this broad region was critical to Assyria’s security and, absent any natural formations that could serve as the basis for a fortified frontier, could be assured only through direct control.

Control of the Jazirah, however, would also bring Assyria within striking distance of the rich sources of copper, iron, lumber, silver, and stone that were to be found just a bit farther to the northwest in Anatolia. Moreover, it

-43-

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The Pre-Islamic Middle East
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Middle East in Early Antiquity 9
  • 2 - Egypt and Asia 25
  • 3 - The Rise and Decline of Assyria 43
  • 4 - The Rise and Fall of Media 63
  • 5 - The Empire of the Achaemenids 75
  • 6 - The Persian-Greek Wars 83
  • 7 - The Macedonian Conquest 97
  • 8 - The Dissolution of Alexander’s Empire 109
  • 9 - Reconfiguration of the Middle East 123
  • 10 - Rome Enters the Middle East 137
  • 11 - The Roman-Parthian Conflict 149
  • 12 - The Struggle over the Euphrates Frontier 161
  • 13 - The Roman-Persian Stalemate 173
  • 14 - The Era of Shapur II 183
  • Notes 192
  • 15 - The Struggle for Persia’s Frontiers 193
  • 16 - End of the Sassanid Empire 201
  • Afterword 211
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 221
  • About the Author 233
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