An Introduction to the Ancient Middle East

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Part 4: Assyrians and Chaldeans

The area of Mesopotamia once ruled by the Sumerians and the Akkadians continued to be ruled by one empire after another. About 1100 B.C., this began to change, with the arrival of the Assyrian Empire.

The Assyrians brought with them iron weapons and a will to fight and win not seen before. The iron weapons were particularly effective because iron was stronger than any other metal. The Assyrians had taken the Hittite process of smelting and applied it to iron. They also trained their warriors to fight in divisions called infantries. The result was a well-trained fighting machine armed with top-grade weapons. By 665, the Assyrians controlled most of Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Canaan.

The Assyrians had many kings; the most famous was Ashurbanipal, who started a library that eventually contained 25,000 tablets of hymns, stories, and biographies. Among these tablets was the story of Gilgamesh, one of the world's first epic adventure stories.

In time, however, the Assyrian Empire grew too large and was taken over bit by bit, mostly by a people called the Chaldeans, who captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 B.C.

The Chaldeans' most famous ruler was Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled from 605 to 562 B.C., and who had built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. He also conquered Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews to move to Babylon. (This is known in the Jewish and Christian traditions as the Babylonian Captivity.)

The Chaldean Empire was one of several empires that had Babylon as its capital. In time the Chaldeans called themselves the Babylonians. They were one of the first people to come up with ideas that shaped our modern understanding of mathematics, and they beliefs formed the basis of what we now call astronomy.

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David White