The Neo-Assyrian War Machine: Effective and Cruel


The Bronze Age Collapse (c. 1200 BC) had brought the cataclysmic demise of many of the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. Historians and archaeologists are still at a loss as to what exactly caused the phenomenon, but foreign invasions (e.g. from the mysterious “Sea Peoples”), mass migration, climate change (e.g. drought), famine, and social unrest are all proffered as explanations, some with greater explanatory scope and some with lesser. Whatever the cause or causes, one imperial player, the Assyrians, remained relatively unscathed in the collapse, and came through it as the dominant regional power.

The Assyrian Empire (c. 911-612 BC, and which historians dub “Neo-Assyrian” post-Bronze Age Collapse) is particularly known for its effective war machine. In terms of both military technology (e.g. the use of siege engines and iron weapons) and doctrine (e.g. the use of combat engineers), it was the most advanced of its time and thus was able to conquer the most territory of any empire to date. Assyrians had a penchant for cruelty as well, of which they were proud: the leaders of those who resisted conquest were often impaled or flayed.

This, along with the Bronze Age Collapse in greater detail, is one example of what was covered in class this week. The students took an open-note quiz on Friday. Be advised: next Friday is their first (not open-note) test. display-117