In 883 bc, which was the year after Jehu had slain the kings of Israel and Judah, and Athaliah usurped the throne of David, a new king ascended the throne in Assyria. His name was Asshurnazirpal, and with his reign the most flourishing period of the Assyrian state begins.
This king led military expeditions against his neighbors on all sides in the course of his reign. If a city or province submitted at once without resistance, Asshurnazirpal merely imposed a heavy tribute. If any defense was mounted against him, however, the city, once taken, was first plundered, then its king and chiefs were taken prisoner and treated barbarously. The prisoners were tortured, then maimed for life, or executed in ways unsurpassed for cruelty. During this epoch in Assyria we have the first record of crucifixion, and burning at the stake, as a means of execution.
One such province initially submitted to the Assyrian tribute. But released from the immediate pressure of their conqueror’s arms, they rebelled, assisted by their neighbors, a people whom Asshurnazirpal had previously reduced, and who had been treated harshly. Together the rebellious provinces were able to field an army of twenty thousand men, with a great many chariots.
Asshurnazirpal took the first towns belonging to these people, which he completely destroyed, and made their fruitful district a desert.The chiefs of these towns were executed with the usual cruelty. Then the Assyrians engaged the main army, and defeated them with an excessive slaughter. The greatest of the rebellious cities were burnt to the ground, and much of their population perished by the Assyrian sword. Of those who survived, the men were killed, and the women and children were taken as slaves to Assyria. A rate of tribute was imposed on the remaining villages, which was unheard of for its severity, and Assyrian governors were installed in their provinces. Needless to say, the neighboring countries, after hearing of this fate, were quick to submit to Asshurnazirpal when his attention turned to them.
One of his last campaign’s was against Israel’s neighbors. In this expedition, Asshurnazirpal first reduced Carchemish, the proud capital of the Hittites, whose princes “came reverently and kissed his scepter.” Then he advanced toward Lebanon, took Antioch and Aleppo without resistance, and marched to the Mediterranean Sea, where he erected altars and offered sacrifices to his gods. Here he also received the submission of the principal Phoenician cities, Tyre and Sidon. He cut a great quantity of timber, which was carefully conveyed to Nineveh, besides the plunder.
With the wealth gained from these conquests, and the tribute which greatly increased to Assyria, Asshurnazirpal erected palaces and temples of unexcelled magnificence in the ancient world. He beautified his cities, Asshur and Nineveh, but his principal palace was at Calah (Gen 10:11); the walls of its courts and grand halls were decorated on every side with bas relief sculptures to a height of nine or ten feet, and enameled brick and frescoed paintings of brilliant colors finished the walls to the ceilings.
As Asshurnazirpal reigned for twenty- five years — until 858 bc — palace after palace, temple after temple, was erected at Calah, each succeeding edifice outshining its predecessors for the richness of its carved woodwork, gilding, painting, sculpture, and enamel. Thus the city of the Tigris, skirting its western base, must have seemed like a fairy land, when its stone lions, obelisks, shrines, temple towers, and magnificent palaces glittered golden and pink in the setting sun.
The successors on the Assyrian throne inherited the same spirit of military conquest with which Asshurnazirpal had been imbued. It would be wearisome indeed to recount in detail their numerous campaigns, where invasion, battle, flight, siege, submission and triumphant return succeeded one another with monotonous uniformity.
By the time Jeroboam II reigned in Israel (825 to 784 bc), the Assyrian monarch received tribute not only from his neighbors, but from many countries further away, eastward and westward. These countries included Media, a nation descended from Japheth’s son Madai; Chaldea, which was at the mouth of the two rivers beyond Babylon; as well as the Hittites, Phoenicians, and Syrians, and many other smaller tribes.
A king of Israel may have even sent tribute to an Assyrian king. Shalmaneser, the son and successor of Asshurnazirpal (858-810 bc), left an obelisk of black stone on which was carved a record of his conquests, which is in the British Museum. The inscription reads, “I marched as far as the mountains of Balirasi which is at the side of the sea and erected there a stela with my image as king. At that time I received the tribute of the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, and of Iaua mar Huumrii,” which may mean Jeho(ahaz), son of Omri,” who was king of Israel during this campaign.
The Assyrians only grew greater with each additional conquest. The new kings left Calah, and built their palaces at Nineveh; and as the wealth from tribute which poured into the city was so great, Nineveh was soon grander than Calah had been. Cruel Assyria was the proud mistress of the world, awash with every luxury, indulging every whim, while the nations around her groaned under her tribute.
During the reign of Jeroboam, while the prophets Joel, Jonah, Hosea, and Amos were speaking the word of the LORD to Israel to implore them to return to the LORD, the king of Assyria added Edom and Philistia to the long list of kingdoms which paid her tribute. The kingdom of Judah was a pocket of national independence surrounded on all sides by countries who bowed the knee before the mistress of Asia, or face the dire consequences.
Reposted from The Story of the Ancient World by Christine Miller