Assyria, Asshur. The region between the Armenian mountains on the N., Elam or Susiana, now the country near Bagdad, on the S., and beyond it Babylonia, the mountains of Kurdistan, the ancient Lagres chain and Media on the E., the Mesopotamian desert (between Tigris and Euphrates), or else the Euphrates, on the W.; a length of about 500 miles, a breadth of from 350 to 100. W. of the Euphrates was Arabia, higher up Syria, and the country of the Hittites. Kurdistan and the pachalik of Mosul nearly answer to Assyria. Named from Asshur, Shem's son, latterly made the Assyrian god. Its capital was Nineveh on the Tigris (a name meaning "arrow", implying "rapidity", but see Hiddekel). Ge 10:11-12,22; 2:14. All over the vast flat on both sides of the Tigris rise "grass covered heaps, marking the site of ancient habitations" (Layard). They are numbered by hundreds, and when examined exhibit traces of their Assyrian origin. They are on the left bank of the Tigris, and on the right abound both on the N. and the S. of the Sinyar (a limestone range extending from Iwan in Luristan nearly to Rakkah on the Euphrates), and eastward beyond the Khabour, northward to Mardie, and southward to near Bagdad.
Huzzab (Na 2:7), answering to Adiabene, the richest region of all, lying on the rivers Zab or Diab, tributaries of the Tigris, whence it is named, is the only district name which occurs in Scripture. The chief cities were Nineveh, answering to the mounds opposite Mosul (Nebi Yunus and Koyunjik), Calah or Hulah, now Nimrud Asshur, now Kilek Sherghent; Sargina, now Khorsabad; Arbela, Arbil (G. Rawlinson). Others identify Kileh Sherghat on the right bank of the Tigris with the ancient Calah, Nimrud with Resen. Erech is the modern Warka; Accad, now Akkerkuf. Calneh answers to the classical Ctesiphon on the Tigris, 18 miles below Bagdad, the region round being named by the Greeks Calonitis. Rehoboth answers to ruins still so named on the right of the Euphrates, N.W. of the Shinar plain, and three and half miles S.W. of the town Mayadin (Chesney): Ge 10:10-12.
G. Smith thinks the ridges enclosing Koyunjik and Nebi Yunus were only the wall of inner Nineveh, the city itself extending much beyond this, namely, to the mound Yarenijah. Nineveh was at first only a fort to keep the Babylonian conquests in that quarter; but even then a temple was founded to the goddess at Koyunjik. Samsivul, prince of the city Assur, 60 miles S. of Nineveh, rebuilt the temple; the region round Nineveh in the 19th century being under Assyria's rulers. Again Assurubalid, 1400 B.C., rebuilt, and a century later Shalmaneser, one of whose brick inscriptions G. Smith found. Classical tradition and the Assyrian monuments confirm Scripture, that Assyria was peopled from Babylon. In Herodotus Ninus the founder of Nineveh is the son of Belus, the founder of Babylon.
The remains prove that Babylon's civilization was anterior to Assyria's. The cuneiform writing is rapidly punched on moist clay, and so naturally took its rise in Babylonia, where they used "brick for stone" (Ge 11:3), and passed thence to Assyria, where chiseling characters on rock is not so easy. In Assyria too the writing is of a more advanced kind; in early Babylonia of a ruder stage. Babylon is Hamitic in origin; Assyria Shemitic. The vocabulary of Ur, or S. Babylonia, is Cushite or Ethiopian, of which the modern Galla of Abyssinia gives the best idea. At the same time traces exist in the Babylonian language of the other three great divisions of human speech, Shemitic, Aryan, and Turanian, showing in that primitive stage traces of the original unity of tongues.
Rehoboth Ir (i.e. city markets), Calah, Resen, and Nineveh (in the restricted sense), formed one great composite city, Nineveh (in the larger sense): Jon 3:3. The monuments confirm Ge 10:9-12, that the Shemitic Assyrians proceeding out of Babylonia founded Nineveh long after the Cushite foundation of Babylon. The Babylonian shrines were those at which the Assyrians thought the gods most accessible, regarding Babylon as the true home of their gods (Arrian, Exp. Alex., 7). Moses knew Assyria (Ge 2:14; 25:18; Nu 24:22,24), but not as a kingdom; had it been a kingdom in Abraham's time, it must have appeared among Chedorlaomer's confederates (Genesis 14). Chushan-Rishathaim (Jg 3:8), the first foreign oppressor of Israel, was master of the whole of Syria between the rivers (Aram Naharaim) or Mesopotamia, in the time of the judges, so that at that time (about 1400 B.C.) Assyria can have had no great power.
According to Herodotus and the Babylonian historian Berosus, we can infer the empire began about 1228 B.C., 520 years before its decay through the revolt of subject nations, the Medes, etc.; or else 526 years from 1273 B.C. (as others suggest) to the reign of Pul. He first brought Assyria into contact with Israelite history by making Menahem his tributary vassal (2Ki 15:19). Under Tiglath Pileser the Assyrian empire included Media, Syria, and N. Palestine, besides Assyria proper. Shalmaneser added Israel, Zidon, Acre, and Cyprus. Assyrian monuments, pillars, boundary tablets, and inscriptions are found as far as in Cyprus at Larnaka (a portrait of a king with a tablet, now in Berlin), and in the desert between the Nile and the Red Sea. Their alabaster quarries furnished a material better than the Babylonian bricks for portraying scenes. Their pictures partake more of the actual than the ideal; but in the realistic school they stand high and show a progressive power unknown in stationary Egyptian art .
The sculptures in Sardanapalus II.'s palace are the best, and the animal forms, the groupings, the attitudes most lifelike. The Assyrians knew the arch, the lever, the roller, gem engraving, tunneling, drainage. Their vases, bronze and ivory ornaments, bells, and earrings, show considerable taste and skill. But their religion was sensual and their government rude. No funeral ceremonies are represented. They served as God's scourge of Israel (Isa 10:5-6), and they prepared the way for a more centralized and better organized government, and a more spiritual religion, such as the Medo-Persians possessed. The apocryphal book of Baruch describes the Assyrian deities exactly as the ancient monuments do.
Asshur, the deified patriarch, was the chief god (Ge 10:22). Ahaz' idolatrous altar set up from a pattern at Damascus, where lie had just given his submission to Tiglath Pileser, may have been required as a token of allegiance, for the inscriptions say that wherever they established their supremacy they set up "the laws of Asshur," and "altars to the great gods." But this rule was not always enforced and in no case required the supplanting of the local worship, but merely the superaddition of the Assyrian rite. Athur, on the Tigris, five hours N.E. of Mosul, still represents the name Assyria. Syria (properly called Aram) N. of Palestine is probably a shortened form of Assyria, the name being extended by the Greeks to the country which they found subject to Assyria. Ctesias' list of Assyrian kings is evidently unhistorical. However the inscriptions of Sargon, king of Agane near Sippars (Sepharvaim), describe his conquests in Elam and Syria, and his advance to the Mediterranean coast, where he set up a monument 1600 B.C. He records that his mother placed him at his birth in an ark of rushes and set it afloat on the Euphrates; seemingly copied from the account of Moses.
The oldest Assyrian remains are found at Kileh Sherghat on the right bank of the Tigris, 60 miles S. of the later capital; here therefore, at this city then called Asshur, not at Nineveh, was the early seat of government. 14 kings reigned there during 350 years, from 1273 to 930 B.C., divisible into three groups. Tiglath Pileser I. was contemporary with Samuel about the close of the 12th century B.C. Cylinders of clay, (resembling a small keg diminishing in size from the middle to the ends, more durable for records than the hardest metals.) are now in the British Museum. which had lain under the four grainer stones of the great temple of Assyria at Kileh Sherghat for 3000 years, and which relate the five successive campaigns of Tiglath Pileser I.