Ancient Assyrian empire



Assyrian arms were then turned against the one independent nation remaining in their world, the Elamites. Stubborn and bitter was the resistance of these ancient mountaineers, and when at last Susa, their capital, was taken and destroyed, the captured land lay empty, swept wholly clear of men and of all their possessions. The Elamites, with their civilization as old as that of Sumer, ceased to exist. When next we read of their land, it is as the residence of the Persians, a new race who had taken unchallenged possession of its ruined homes.

Assyria herself was drained of soldiers by this bloody Elamite struggle. She was almost at the point of exhaustion. Outwardly she was at the zenith of her power. No foe was left to face her. Embassies came even from the borders of Europe to honor her and entreat her favor. But the Babylonians and the Arabians and the Egyptians knew her real weakness. Presently all three rebelled; and though the first two were painfully reconquered after years of feeble effort, Egypt had escaped forever.

There was not even an attempt to hold her, for a new and appalling danger threatened. A second horde of savages, the Scyths, coming from the great plains beyond the Caspian Sea, had burst like a cyclone into the land; and there was no Esarhaddon now to check them. When Assurbanipal's long reign of over forty years ended, the doom of Assyria had already sounded.

There are no writings, no carefully carved inscriptions to guide us through the few terrible years that remained. There was no time for such arts of peace; the people were struggling for life against the barbarians. Among the ruins of the great royal enclosure in one of the Assyrian capitals there has been uncovered in one corner a little, poorly built, crumbling shanty of a palace, looking queer enough in the company of the majestic ruins around it. It was the work of a shadowy king, otherwise almost unknown, who must have ruled during those last years of terror. It typifies well the falling nation.

Assyria's provinces deserted her. One of her generals, Nabopolassar, being sent to govern Babylon, usurped supreme power there. He strengthened the city, ingratiated himself with the people, and then led them back in an assault against Nineveh. It was the death-struggle, and the Assyrians knew it. They rose grandly in the might of despair. Again and again they beat back their ancient foes. Nabopolassar began to look anxiously around for assistance. Egypt, which had seized on Palestine and Syria in the confusion, promised help; but it was slow in coming. A nearer and more eager ally was found in the barbarian king who had seized the mountainous region of Media. He gave his daughter to be the wife of Nabopolassar's son; and the wild Scyths and Medes joined the Babylonians in the final siege of Nineveh.

Civilization and barbarism were arrayed together against the royal city; and even the elements joined in the assault; for, according to legend, after a two years' siege the river rose in the night and carried away a portion of the walls. The assailants entered at the breach, and the city fell (607 B.C.).

Babylon was triumphant at last; and her people took full-revenge on their ancient foe. Nineveh was destroyed so completely that men forgot even where it had stood. The very completeness of its desolation left the apparently worthless ruins untouched through all the centuries; and it is at Nineveh that modern investigation has reaped its richest harvest of relics for the study of the past.

Glancing back for a moment over the history of these two ancient states, we can see that it forms a curious parallel to that other history which we commonly call ancient, the tale of Greece and Rome. Greece, which became the European heir of all this Asiatic civilization, was like Babylon, an intellectual power. The Grecian rule was older than that of Rome, and when the Romans, strong like the Assyrians in youth and brute force, conquered Greece, the older power's culture established its sway over them, as did that of Babylon upon the ruder Assyrians. Assyria was overwhelmed by barbarians, even as Rome was; and over these second conquerors also did Babylon extend a temporary influence, as did the Greek-Roman empire of Constantinople after Rome had fallen. History has thus strikingly repeated itself.






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