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Vale to Babylon - Part I

Stirling Newberry's picture

Desire, that lithe prelate of our affections,
Has called me here, to the open plain
Of that fiction which is our history.
She is always Babylon, that weighted wash of time,
That hangs upon her shoulders as a cloak translucent
Which denies detail and yet accents the curves
That draw the eye ever onward.

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She was here when brick gave way to stone,
When memory's fragile ex-stasis was first confirmed in cuniform,
So that scribes might spend their dreary days dreaming
Of the warm of hidden flesh.

Four great kings of Assyrian rose up.
The first built empire, and drew all to his command.
The second made war for trade, and scattered power to the corners of the realm.
It was the third who slaughtered and gave new meaning
To words which did not yet exist when he enacted them.
And then came the last, the fourth.
And fourth he went, the bearer of his sun God's name,
To encompass all the world that was, from the Nile to the Indus.

But first to rule and reign in Babylon, and draw his shaft

The armies of this Assyrian king, meant for Egypt,
But destined to bleed upon this, the more ancient river,
Assaulted the walls three times. Each time to take her,
The history that she was, and was as living.
So he did strut before the walls, and claimed to encompass
The living city of eternity
As he claimed in broken syllables to have mastered the ancient tongue of Sumer.

But the wave that was his passion, though it washed aside that Babylon
Was in turn dashed in other lands, as repeated victories and defeats
Had dulled the lord of Nineveh to the realities of his realm.

And still, after, yet and so.
She remained, and remained Babylon.
Even as Ashur wept his golden sun god tears for his lost sons.

So am I standing before these, the opened gates
That both lead down into the distant revenants of our half forgiven past,
And upwards towards our unforgiven future.
Each stepped embossed with half-remembered names,
Of undead kings.

And in the echos that feint and faintly dwell in the shadows of my steps,
I know that as once the chariots of Assyria did turn and turn,
Never to find rest as they reached for control of this fertile crescent –
So too have we come to grief, striving to command
That black river upon which our history depends,
And which our future denies.

The weight of water, sand and time hunt us down,
and ancient errors wait, waiting to be reborn
from out of crypts laid down by washing waves
of people, power, place, wind and will.

The area between the two rivers in what is now Iraq was an ancient land even by the time the Greeks gave it the name "mesopotamia" – meso, for middle or between, potamia, for rivers, as we call the river that Washington sits on "Potomac". There were a series of cities, empires and cultures which rose and fell over the course of thousands of years, inventing, reinventing or coöpting many of the basic developments of civilization – writing, accounting, trigonometry, currency, administration and architecture.

This history, of Iraq in our time, is a reflection of the importance of the region which is now partially covered by Iraq. In our age it is oil, in another, water and arable land. The history of the region goes back to the dawn of written records, and its prehistory is spreads roots back to the dawn of human inhabitation. The lands and rivers were not what we think of as farms, but, instead, were, as with many early farming societies, a flood plain that had to be carefully managed. Waters brought in fresh soil, which allowed agricultural systems which could not afford to let land lie fallow, nor had the ability to engage in massive fertilization projects, nor break heavy soils with later metal plows to function over long periods of time. This was different from earlier agricultural systems which burned through land in an area and then moved on.

The complexity of managing the irrigation system and the need for a trading system to supply metals and woods used in the growing civilization would lead to trade, trade to symbolic representation, and this to that great dividing line: writing.

Around this cultural center grew up a series of religious festivals and ceremonies designed to track time, and to allow the assimilation of progressive waves of invaders and traders into the basic cultural matrix. At the center of this religious complex came to be the city of Babylon, and at the pinnacle of this, the festivals of new year and selection of kings that confered legitimacy.

This combination - control of the basic material substance of prosperity, a fragile matrix of production which could be destroyed and rebuilt, but which had to be managed - and a system of legitimacy which allowed the production and management of resources - made Babylon sit at the crucial point of the fertile crescent for an almost unimaginable period of time. One could drop all of modern history into the era of Babylon's centrality, and still have more than a millenium to either side. The intersection of writing, religion, mathematics and production is attested to in early texts.

It is far too complex to analogize the present conflict between the United States and various power factions in Iraq to any specific conflict, at the same time, it is almost impossible not to notice the parallels to many of the conflict periods in the past. One leaps out as being of particular interest to me, partially because it is of interest to people in the present: what we now call the "Neo-Assyrian" empire.

The empire is traditionally divided into a pre-imperial period, where Assyria began organizing into a single state, roughly in line with Kurdistan today. It is a natural state area, bounded by mountains, with a single agricultural system which is effective. Assyria's major cities were along the upper end of the Tigris river, including the city whose name will be forever associated with violent empire: Ninuwa, or Nineveh.

The simple list of kings and their dates is important for clarity, so often obscured:

Tukulti-Apil-Esarra 745-727
Shulmanu-asharid 727-722 (Son of Tukulti)
Sharru-kinu 722-705 probably took the throne.
Sîn-ahhe-eriba 705-681 son of Sharru-kinu
Assur-aha-iddina 681-669 son of Sîn-ahhe-eriba
Ashurbanipal 669-627 Son of Assur aha iddina

Rivals in civil war:
Ashur-etil-ilani 627 623 Probably son of Ashurbanipal
Sinsharishkun 672-612 Proably son of Ashurbanipal

Ashur-uballit 612-609 Last king of Assyria

Many of these kings are known by other names to us, from biblical and other sources. They also had Sumerian names, but I have chosen, in general, to refer to them by their Akkadian names, since it is as Akkadians that they faced the need to reach outward and place their stamp on the world. By giving them old names, I hope we will see them in a new light. There are accents and diacriticals that do not reproduce well, for which, to pedants everywhere, I apologize.

Thus from foundation to collapse of this order, dominated by one short dynasty and one long dynasty, was 136 years, and the pinnacle under Ashurbanipal was very quickly followed by an implosion. If one is looking for a story of imperial collapse from cultural failure, Assyria has provided the model of millennia to do it. For myself I have thought of them as the second and third Neo-Assyrian dynasties, even though scholarship has avoided the use of clear systematic terms.

The empire breaks into three phases, the foundational phase of the first dynasty through Sharru-jinu's reign, the conquest phase which peaks under Ashurbanipal, and the civil war phase which begins even as conquest is occurring and then consumes the empire.

The first phase begins from a monarch known to us as Tiglath-Pileser, in 1115 BC, called the Second Assyrian Empire, it runs until Ashur-dan II establishes a new order which some scholarship calls the beginning of "Neo-Assyria" in 934 BC. Neo-Assyria can be divided into a first dynastic period, often called the second Assyrian empire, though this is not the conventional usage, and runs until it is overthrown by a general who styles himself Tiglath-Pileser III. As a someone who overthrew a long running dynasty, even one in its death throes, he was extremely concerned with unification of power, and legitimacy. By taking the name of the founder of the state, he was declaring, in effect, a reactionary revolution in internal affairs. He changed the taxation system and system of military levies. His name in Akkadian, the official language of his state was Tukulti-Apil-Esarra, and his reign begins in 745 BC. His refoundation is also often called the beginning of Neo-Assyria, so I will leave the argument of demarcation to those more ensconced in the texts and who have real expertise, as opposed to my own mere lay learning.

However for the purposes of the analogy, the story begins with an old weak dynasty overthrown by a new active king.

This period is of interest to the present, and as such much of the material present in the present is corrupted by present groups seeking legitimacy in themselves. You see, the Neo-Assyrian conquests of Judah are important in what Christians call "the old testament", and in the founding religious texts of Judaism. Hence, the conquests of Neo-Assyrian are taken as proof of various claims of legitimacy of many present stories of how the world is. Sources such as wikipedia are corrupted with various literalist narratives, and many of the free sites are explicitly fundamentalist Christianist in their orientation. This is interesting, and I will return to the point, but it clouds the narrative that Assyria itself was locked within.

The Neo-Assyrians had their own legitimacy problems, and constructed their own stories around dealing with those problems. Tukulti had three basic legitimacy problems. The first was internal – he had to level the power of various independent power centers, religious, economic and political – in order to keep power and organize armies for the conquest of the regions around Assyria proper – that is the area in the northern part of what is now Iraq. The dynasty he replaced was spectacular at hurling armies outwards, but not very good at holding areas they attacked. A map of the areas where campaigns took place, matched with the area of actual control tells a stark story of a people who were very good at invading and not very good at occupying or incorporating.

Tukulti's first problem is seen in taking an old regnal name, and in his actions to simultaneously centralize administration. This allowed him to come to power, but not retain it, he was, in turn, overthrown by the individual who would found the major dynasty that would rule over the brief, bright, brilliant and brutal tear through history that is Assyria in the modern mind.

It is important to realize that Assyria was one of many white hot imperial runs, that their brutality, while worse than many others, was not absurdly worse. They spent a great deal of time being the target of other military powers, including various waxing Hittite kingdoms and subordinate to southern kingdoms. Assyria, before it was an empire, was treated as a road by powers attempting to reach north from Babylon and the south, from what is now Iran, from the West, and from the North. The militarization of Assyrian culture is a response to this reality.

The dynastic legitimacy problem was not trivial – the Neo-Assyrian empire would be wracked by civil war, intra-dynasty conflict, assassination and rebellion – their strategies for dealing with this were successful enough to keep the core of the empire together, but only at the cost of being on the perpetual verge of collapse. In the end it would, probably, be civil war which imploded the military apparatus and allowed conquest by their former subject peoples and the Medes.

The second legitimacy problem is related to the first, it was the problem of Sumerian. In that time and place, Sumerian was the great ancient language, and much as waves of European states have looked to Rome as the legitimizer of their system – including the United States, but also including Germany, Russia, The Holy Roman Empire, France, Britian in its imperial mode, the Catholic Church, various Italian based states including Fascist Italy and so on – states of that time looked to Babylon and Sumerian the language as the sources of legitimacy for a cultural complex rooted in the southern region..

The south itself was not the original continuous religion, but, instead, a reconstruction of it, termed "Neo-Babylonian". This is important, because the Assyrians worshiped a single monotheistic sun god, Ashur, a god who influenced the Greek construction of Apollo. Neo-Babylonian mythology had reconstructed Marduk to be a pinnacle pantheon leader, in a mold which is far more hierarchical than the original mythology was in most of its incarnations. Thus Assyria wanted legitimacy from a southern cultural sphere which was, itself, in a legitimacy crisis mode, and which had come to its own way of dealing with the great breaks in continuity that it had suffered.

The third great legitimacy problem is a combination of these two: in order to run their military trading system, the Assyrians needed to have military influence and control to their east – over the Medes, and to their North and West, outward to Hittite, Phoenecian and Egyptian spheres – even though their cultural focus looked south. We have great volumes of the conflict between the religious adherents of northern Ashur type worship and various Babylonian factions, but little worry about the conflict between Ashur worship and northern and western peoples. When the Assyrians went to conquer and colonize these areas, they built cities named after Babylonian gods, populated with Assyrian nationals, and attempted to eradicate the local populations. There are bluntly depictive reliefs of mass impalements from the period.

Part of the reason that it is easy to write about the Assyrians as an example is the deep cultural resonance – both the Hellenes and the Hebrews took this empire as an example of vast over reach. The image of evil in our own culture has, as one of its roots, the stories from Assyria which early second literate age Hellenes wrote down, and which the Hebrews recorded. We know their names in other forms, because those names have become attached to stories in biblical and ancient Ionian and Doric stories.

And it is also true that the Neo-Assyrian empire offers one of the fastest cleanest cycles of foundation, growth and destruction in history. If one is telling a story of imperial over reach, the Assyrians, along with Modern Imperial Japan and a few other states, offer one of the clearest schematics of organized brutality and belief taking control over a large fraction of their world, and then falling, without being so clearly tied to the rise and fall of a man – the way Alexander, Hitler and Napoleon are imperialists of a man, and not a system.

The second part of this post will delve into the basic subject of how a cultural complex centered in Assyria – dominant over organization, military, monotheistic solar conquest and imperial trade systems – repeatedly failed to deal with both its own internal problems of legitimacy, and with their relationship with the ancient source of legitimacy, and a fundamentally different, polytheistic/henotheistic literate assimilationist complex that was the neo-Babylonian south-east. Assyrian geo-politics is complex because it is three dimensional – one axis along the river North-West to South-East, another along the trade engine of East-West from Medean regions to the Mediterranean, and a North-South axis from Anatolia, through Assyria and the Levant down to Egypt. Each axis made competing demands on the empire, and it was the failure to find a center which could manage this three dimensional geo-politics.

The heart of the story is a series of outward conquests on the East-West and North-South axises, against internal struggles which played out as North-West/South-East. So important is this last axis, that it is known to scholars in the field as "north/south" because of their focus on it for the development of text and language structures as well as the focus of cultural conflict. The Egypt-Levant/Assyria-Hittite axis is almost invisible, because the Assyrians wasted little time in attempting to coöpt it, instead, their purpose was to overwhelm and subjugate into their own system.

In the case of the Levant, they had greater success, but failed because history encountered them in the form of the Ionic and Doric peoples, who were far greater masters at absorbing cultural and religious matrixes. The Zeus cult - the Indo-European sky god, was able to envelope older sects of the fertility religions. That we often say this in the reverse, calling them fertility cults, when in fact they were branches of a single idea, while it was Zeus that represted the break with previous practice that defines a cult. The Greeks absorbed Ashur as Apollo, Marduk as Xronos, and other features of the neo-Babylonian and neo-Assyrian world so thoroughly, that even 50 years ago it was not an embarassment for one scholar to declare that Apollo was "the most Greek of Gods" even though he represented an amalgamation of Egyptian, neo-Assyrian, neo-Babylonian and Phoenecian metropolitian influences.

The story turns however, not on this fact, but on the Akkadian/Sumerian conflict, the Ashur/neo-Babylonian conflict, and the Assyrian/Babylonian conflicts, and how the Assyrians internalized and then were destroyed by, these conflicts between their cultural model, and the cultural model that they wanted to absorb, but could not find a means to do so.

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On June 19, 2006 - 7:03pm JPF311 said:

coupel of minor quibbles:

"Potomac" is an Algonquin word, unrelated to Greek "potamos"

Also, by the time Assyria came along, Sumerian was as dead and forgotten a language as Etruscan is today.

On June 19, 2006 - 7:44pm chicago dyke said:

not true JPF. sumerian was still used in ritual forms and national productive texts into as late as the conquest by the medes. while not spoken, it was as "alive" in the latest periods as latin remained until our age.

On June 19, 2006 - 7:46pm Stirling Newberry said:
"Potomac" is an Algonquin word, unrelated to Greek "potamos"

It is an anglicized version of an original word, which was matched to an existing lexeme.

Stirling Newberry

On June 19, 2006 - 8:00pm chicago dyke said:

furthermore, we have texts from the period after the birth of christ in akkadian, which itself contains a significan sumerian component and requires a working knowledge of sumerian to properly percieve. these texts may not have even been produced by "mesopotamians," but instead the latest wave of invading/migrating peoples.

thanks to bush's war, and the subsequent destruction in the south, we will never know exactly just how long sumerian was an active language.

On June 19, 2006 - 8:02pm chicago dyke said:

and jeebus forgive me for my spelling today. teach me to keep open four comment windows at the same time.

On June 19, 2006 - 11:45pm gilgamesh said:


 Cruelty of Nations and the Holier than thou preaching'
Or double standard of Judgement

By William Warda

It has become trendy to describe the ancient Assyrians as cruel to whitewash the sins of other nations who have done much worst. War is by its nature a cruel human enterprise often justified by its perpetrator as a necessity. Those who blame the ancient Assyrians of being cruel are either ignorant of what other nations have done or are not willing to blame them. Recently A&E TV [History Channel] showed a program to portray the ancient Assyrians as ruthless.

Whenever the atrocities of other nations are mentioned only those who committed them are blamed, never the entire nation. For example the Nazi's are condemned for what happened during world war II but not the Germans, Communism or Stalin are blamed for the twenty millions who died in Russia's labor camps and the rest of the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution but not the Russian Nation. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. is blamed on Truman and not the Americans, however the entire Assyrian nation is branded as cruel and ruthless for what one or more of its kings may have done. It is amazing that the 'blame the Assyrians crowd' is so oblivious to its double standard of judgement. 

Reasonable scholars who have a well rounded knowledge of human history do not believe that ancient Assyrians were any more or less cruel than other nations and there is plenty of evidence to prove it.

H.W.Saggs argues that the ancient Assyrian actions should be judged by the standards of their contemporaries and "not by the highest Christian ideals which even nations of the 20th century have failed to live up to during wars. All things considered Assyrian practices were no more brutal than those of their contemporaries or others who followed them. Similar acts of cruelty ascribed to them can be found in many ancient and modern cultures both eastern and western."
He contends; 'I actually like the Assyrians, warts and all: I make no apology for this. Though the Assyrians, like the people of every other nation ancient and modern, were sometimes less than kind to their fellow humans, I feel no compulsion to be continually advertising my own right mindedness by offering judgment upon their every action or attitude in terms of current liberal orthodoxy....Assyrians have been maligned. Certainly they could be rough and tough to maintain order, but they were defenders of civilization, not barbarian destroyers.'

For the last 2,000 years the Old Testament was the most important source of information about the ancient Assyrians. Its Jewish writers vilified them for their wars with the Israelites, A tradition which has continued by the Jewish and Christian writers up to now. Not a day passes by without one article or another portraying the ancient Assyrians as example of a cruel people. These writings are obviously tainted by the religious prejudices of their writers. Imagine if the United States was judged primarily by the writings of the Iranian Ayatolahs and the Islamists who often wish its death, branding it as the "Great Satan" and "world devourer".

Jews are so used to blaming the ancient Assyrians, for any reason, that they often accuse them of what they did not do. For example the origin of Haunakka is described by many as "a celebration commemorating an ancient miracle, when the Jewish people took the central temple of Jerusalem back from their Assyrian persecutors." dony127holiday tour/dony127holidaytour3.html

In reality it was the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanies who had conquered Israel and had imposed the Hellenistic pagan practices in the temple of Jerusalem and not the Assyrians who had no military in the 2nd century B.C. when the incident happened..
One has to wonder why what happened to a single Temple in Jerusalem is more important than tens of thousands of churches in the Middle East which were taken over by Muslims and turned into stables during the last 14 centuries.

The story of Judith is another example of how Assyrians are wrongly blamed by the Jews. According to popular legend she beheaded "the foremost general of the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar when in "the second century B.C.E., the powerful Assyrian army invades the Near East, the town of Bethulia is besieged by the cruel and domineering Holofernes." The fact is Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian king, of Chaldean ancestry, and not Assyrian, furthermore he ruled during the 6th and the 7th century B.C. and not in the 2nd.

Often readers of the Old Testament are eager to to condemn the ancient Assyrians for having gone to war against Israel but prefer to cast a blind eye on the atrocities of the Jews against others. The Book of Deuteronomy lists the names of 39 nations which Joshua destroyed when his people arrived in Israel from Egypt. Joshua is a hero to the Christians and the Jews who glorify him by calling their sons by his name.

"Deuteronomy 3 "So the Lord helped us fight against King Og and his people and we killed them all. We conquered all sixty of his cities, the entire Argob region of Bashan.These were wall-fortified cities with high walls and barred gates. Of course we also took all of the un-walled towns. We utterly destroyed the kingdom of Bashan just as we had destroyed King Sihon's kingdom at Heshbon, killing the entire population-men, women and children alike. But we kept the cattle and loot for ourselves."

Joshua's treatment of the defeated enemy was not an anomaly in Jewish history. According to one Biblical source; a defeated enemy by Israelites could expect no mercy. The killing did not end with the slaughter of the fugitives. All the males in a besieged city might be killed when the city fell, the women and children were taken as slaves.

Moses commands to his soldiers can be cited as another example of such atrocities:"Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." --Numbers31:17-18.

Here is how King David treated the enemy "After this David subdued and humbled the Philistines by conquering Gath,their largest city. He also devastated the land of Moab. He divided his victims by making them lie down side by side in rows. Two thirds of each row, as measured with a tape, were butchered and one third were spared to become David.s servants-they paid him tribute each year. ....And he (David) brought out the people that were in it and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon."

Persians are seldom accused of Cruelty but it does not mean they were any kinder.In an inscriptions by Dariush he claims to have punished Pravartish a Median rebel by cutting his nose, ears, and tongue, his eyes were putout and he was paraded around in front of the multitude before Dariush was ready to impale him and to hang his allies in the fortress of Ecbatan. (A.T.Olmsted, "History of the Persian Empire" university of Chicago Press 1970, p.114) During the Sassanian period the persecuted Christians were subjected to similar forms of torture according to the Syriac Book of Martyrs.

Greeks and Romans certainly were not kinder or more charitable to their enemies.When Alexander the Great qonquered the city of Tyre the slaughter of the fleeing Tyrian army according to Arrian was terrible . Some reports indicate that Seven thousand of Tyrians were crucified and the remaining inhabitants were sold in slavery, separating family members and sending each to a different direction. Alexander's treatment of Tyrians panicked other cities in the region and brought them into submission except for the city of Gaza in Egypt where the population decided to fight it out. Gaza was easily defeated and all its men numbering about 10,000 were killed, their women and children about 30,000 were sold into slavery.

The war between the Persians and Alexander's army ended very soon after it had started, when Dariush the Persian King deserted his army and fled with his calvary, what followed according to Arrian was the slaughter of the Persian army. He reported Greeks loses of about 100 killed, over 1000 horses perished either from wounds or from exhaustion of pursuit. 172-173 compared to the "300, 000 Persian dead which seems more like a massacre rather than war. This may be an exaggeration but, for years after, the unburied bones of the dead Persians empire's soldiers littered the former battlefield, the entire region was known as 'Bet Garmi' (region of bones) in the Assyrian language. Later the magnificent Persian capital city of Persepolis was burned to the ground by Alexander's army after it was plundered and its inhabitants were massacred.

In 146 B.C. Romans slew the men of Cartage, took the surviving women captive, the town was pillaged and set on fire, the walls were razed.".. for 17 days the city [of 400,000] was in flames that devoured all, the living and the dead and all that grew and once flourished...the land was cursed and strewn with salt and forbidden to all mankind henceforth. "

During the Roman war of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the city was destroyed, most citizens including the old and the feeble were put to sword.The survivors were paraded in the Temple forecourt, the "Seditious and brignds" were executed. A great number were sent to labor in egyptian mines, the rest were dispatched to various Roman provinces to be thrown to wild beast in the theaters. The Children were sold as salves.

Josephus Flavius (Antiquities of the Jews 13:394) describes the conquest of the Jewish city of Gamala on the Golan by the Romans in 67 AD as follows. Under the command of Vespians "Romans attempted to take the city by means of a siege ramp, but were turned back by the defenders; only on the second attempt did they succeed in penetrating the fortifications and conquering the city. Thousands of inhabitants were slaughtered, while others chose to jump to their deaths from the top of the cliff (Josephus, The Jewish War IV,"

Here is how the  Catholic Encyclopedia describes the fate of the Jews at the hand of the Romans in 70 AD: "The weak and sickly prisoners were at once put to death. The rest of the concourse were gathered in the Gentile's Court of the ruined Temple and sold off into various classes. All those recognized or reported as active in the rebellion were set aside for slaughter, except seven hundred young men of the finest presence, who were spared to grace the triumph at Rome. The remainder of the captives were divided into those over and those under seventeen. Of the former, part were put in chains and sent to labor in the Egyptian mines; others, including thousands of the female sex, were dispersed among the Roman cities to be victims of the inhuman public games.Those below seventeen were sold as slaves."

"During that period the Romans were crucifying about 500 people a day on the Mount of Olives,... They finally ran out of wood and space," according to Josephus Romans had crucified half the Jewish population of Jerusalem."

The modern long distance warfare has made hand to hand battles obsolete but contrary to popular belief it has not made wars more humane.When thousands of missile are launched from hundreds of miles away the video shows crumbling buildings but not the horrors of dying people; half burned men,women children, young and old shredded to pieces, torn from limb to limb, disfigured beyond belief. it is easy to blame the Bomb and not the military which launched it, not the scientists who designed it, or workers who built it , neither tax payers who paid for it, or the government responsible for using it. Corpses On the modern battle fields are cut into pieces, strewn everywhere, pictures and video of dead are always hidden so that no one can see the horrors.

During world war II some 50,000,000 people were killed in Europe and elsewhere. Imagine if every Book about Germans, other European nations, Americans, and Japanese started by detailing the cruel and extensive death and destruction they inflicted on their enemies during many wars. Realizing the unfairness of such condemnations writers do not declare these nations as ruthless, blood thirsty, cruel or barbaric. Atrocities committed by the contemporary nations are customarily blamed on the rulers responsible for them but never the entire nation. The Nazis are blamed for the death and destruction resulting from world war II and not all Germans, the Communists rulers are blamed for the death of millions in Russia but never the Russian nation. When it comes to the ancient Assyrians however the entire nation is labeled as cruel as if the entire nation was guilty for the sins of few.

In reality Assyrian treatment of the defeated enemy was far more humane than that of most other nations. They seldom engaged in wholesale massacres. They are accused of shifting the population of the cities which rebelled repeatedly from one location to another rather than selling them into slavery as other nations did . Their sculptures show no act of brutality against the exiled, The entire family; father, mother and children are shown together, women and children are often traveling on carts and domesticated animals. There were no death camps for the defeated as there were in Germany and Russia of world war II.

The exiled were treated as the citizens of the empire and provided with land and other implements to help them survive financially. The population transfer policy was neither invented by the Assyrians nor they were the only nation that practiced it. The European slave trade, marching the native Americans, in sub zero tempratures, out of their homeland are obvious examples of such practices in the West. Philip Hittie wrote the Arab empire was flooded with salves brought from the conquered regions; the Far East, Middle East, Africa, spain and southern Europe. In World War I Turks and Kurds murdered two million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks to wipe out christianity in Turkey, the mountains north of Mosul, and the plain of Urmia in northwest Iran.

Saggs writes:While there were certainly no abstract Assyrian principles about rights of prisoners, it was equally the case that there was no principle that a prisoner, by the mere fact of being an enemy, deserved to die. "Assyrian Prisoners of War and the Right to Live / by H. W. F. Saggs (Cardiff)"

Volumes can be written about the curelty and the ruthlessnes of most nations, but it is doubtfull that the 'blame the Assyrians' crowd would be interested in reading any of it.

Some Assyrian inscriptions reveal examples of kind treatment of the resettled people.

An official named Ashur-matka-gur reported to the king that some Arameans whom he was responsible for settling, shortly before their departure, were provided with provisions; clothing, shoes and oil but they complained that ladies are not willing to marry them because they do not have the required bride-price. Ashur-matka-gur's solution was to give them the necessary money to find favor with the ladies. The Greatness That was Babylon p. 238

In another letter an Assyrian official, Qurdi-Ashur-lamur, in charge of affairs at Tyre and Sidon reported to the king that another Assyrian official had cut the canal carrying Sidon's water supply; but Qurdi-Ashur-lamur had overruled the predecessor and restored the water supply to the city.

"Another official, possibly the governor of the city and province of Kakzu in the east of Assyria, had been accused of settling farmers on the land subject to flooding but he hastened to defend his record; 'The harvest' he wrote is in fact very good one' and he went o to justify his claim. " Saggs pp-241-2

When there was complaints about the conducts of a senior official, an investigator known as (gurbuti) "intimates' was sent by the King to find out the truth. Ashipo was sent to find out why grain intended for the city of Sippar had not arrived. He reported that rab alani the official in charge was not to be blamed because the grain could not be delivered until the canal has been opened. He assured the king "that work on the canal was being carried on with all possible speed." Saggs p. 244

Saggs writes:
"Far from being simply a despotic militarism holding down conquered races by mere brutal harshness, Assyrian imperialism owed much to its success to a highly developed and efficient administrative system, and to the attention of an energetic bureaucracy to the day-today trifles of government."Saggs p. 237

The editors of the, "Art and Empire, Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum" wrote: Biblical prophets, gave the Assyrians a reputation of cruelty but now that we read the Assyrian inscriptions we realize that "Assyrians were no worst than other men in this respect.... By their policies of centralization and deportation Assyrians united much of the Middle East, the Persian empire, reaching from India to Greece, was a grander version of what Assyrians had put together, and owed much to their example. Assyrian art, science, literature and technology, integrated from many sources and revealed by excavation, represent a synthesis of ancient Middle Eastern civilization as a whole, to which much of the European tradition owes its origin.("Editors; J.E.Curtis

The O.T. Ezkeil's description of Assyria seems more realistic than we were led to believe until recently. "Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about its plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth all the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations. Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the lenght of his branches; for his root  was by great water. The Cedars in the garden of God could not hide him ...nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty."(Ezekiel xxxi. 3-8; Authorised version).

The Jewsish prophets did not consider the fall of Assyria as a punishment for any paricular form of injustice, but for its arrogance in usurping the power which they believed belonged to the God of Israel, very much like today's Islamists who consider the rule of none Islamic governments illegitimate because it is not sanctioned by Allah.

See cruelty todaly:




On June 19, 2006 - 11:57pm Stirling Newberry said:

So the impalement reliefs are just some ancient sport we don't know the rules to right?

I knew we were going to get an Assyrian apologist, next will come the biblical literalist I imagine.

The Assyrians were better at organized atrocity than their contemporaries, this does not mean that other states and periods were not brutal and vicious, by their standards or ours. But the broad blanket apologia that the article presents, and the attack on the morals of those of us who stick to the facts of Assyria's rather well documented slices of history, is the kind of intellectually dishonest propaganda which prevents people from clearly understanding this region and its history.

In brief, a large number of rather unstable minds draw their legitimacy narratives from this period, and have every reason to lie, or make excuses for, the particular empire or empires which they want to present in pristine light.

The Assyrian empire did not unify a large section of the world, and this is seen by the rather rapid collapse of their empire. Their artwork is interesting, but pales in comparison to the Chaldean empire that followed with its graceful depictions of the human form.

Stirling Newberry

On June 20, 2006 - 3:22am gilgamesh said:


I am not an appologists. One can only judge nations by comparing them with others which I did. Which nation who has been attacked or gone to war has killed its enemies with love? Even after 2,500 years after the fall of the Assyrians, nations are still killing each other. About 20 millions died during world war one, fifty millions died during world war two and people are still dying in wars. This at a time when man considers himslef more civilized than those who lived a couple of millenium ago.

There is no reason to believe that Assyrians were more organized at atrocities than any other nation ancient or contemporary. They certainly were not more organized than the Germans, yet there were no concentration camps in Assyria for the Jews. It was not the Assyrians who scattered the Jews around the world it was the Romans, yet there is no condemnation of them by the Jews and the Christians because they are not mentioned in the Old Testament.

Unlike the Greeks and the Romans Assyrians did not sell members of the vanquished nations into slavery scattering them into the wind, or slaughter them so that they will never come back to fight them. If they had done so the Medes and the Chaldeans would not be around to defeat them.

Aside from few pictures on glazed tiles Chaldeans did not leave behind any specific Art other than what Babylonians already had. The socalled Chaldeans empire was nothing more than what they inherited from the Assyrians.

In reality the Chaldeans, a minority living in southern marshes of Mesopotamia, were a subversive element who in alliance with the Elamites and the Medes succeeded in destroying a great civilization which had survived for thousands of years.

By inciting decades of civil war between the babylonians and the Assyrians and siding first with the Elamite and later with the Medes against the Assyrians they helped its defeat. by doing so they also doomed Babylon because there was no longer Assyria to protect its northern borers. It took only 73 years of Chaldean rule to destroy a civilization which has lasted for a long time.

Babylonians do not seem to have been enamored by their kings of the Chaldean ancestry. "In the tenth year of Nabuchadressar's rule (C. 595) there was a serious rebellion which appears to have been suppressed only after the slaughter of many of his troops."(24) When Nebuchadressar died in 562 B.C. his son Amel-Marduk took the throne. Less than a year later he was killed in a revolution. Nabuchadressar's son in law Nerigalissar a prominent general who succeeded Amel-Marduk in 559 B.C. died under suspicious circumstances three years later, (556 B.C.) . His young son Labashi-Marduk, a child, assumed the throne but after three months a rebellion by the chief state officers removed him from power in 555 B.C.. Nabu-naid replaced him and ruled for 16 years (555-539). By then the Babylonians disgusted with the Chaldean dynasty opened the gates of Babylon in 539 and welcomed the Persian army into their city as liberators. "On the third day of Arahshamnu (nov.) Kurash (Cyrus) entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him - the state of "peace" (shulmu) was imposed upon the city." In later Persian inscriptions Babylonians are identified as "Baburish" and not Chaldean.(25)

When Alexander the great entered Babylon 200 years later he found the city mostly in ruins. His Greek successors abandoned it because it was not considered worthy of being saved.

Could it be that it was the Assyrians who protected the region from the onslaught of the invaders determent to take over the land and destroy its civilization ?

This is what happened to Mesopotamia after the fall of the Assyrians and all the invaders who have since ruled the land. The babylonians were defeated by the persians, 200 year later the Persians were defeated by the by the Greeks, 200 years later the Greeks were defeated by the Parthians, 400 years later the Parthians were defeated by the persians, 400 years later the Persians were defeated by the Arabs, 700 years later the Mongols, conquered the land, followed by the devastation of the Tamur lang. Finally the turks became its rulers, Turks were defeated by the British. New Arab rule was established for Iraq, it was defeated by the US. 80 years later, Now thanks to the Americans the Kurds rule northern Iraq and God know what will happen next.

wm warda

On June 20, 2006 - 9:45am Stirling Newberry said:

"Could it be that it was the Assyrians who protected the region from the onslaught of the invaders determent to take over the land and destroy its civilization ?"

No, this historical record does not admit of this interpretation.

Though I have to admit, your long dishonest rants do in fact buttress my point - that the the United States, in the present, is filled with people who have taken on the cultural complex of the Assyrians, and with similar results.

Stirling Newberry

On June 24, 2006 - 8:53pm piotr said:

Actually, it is possible that official propaganda was exagerating the atrocities the way it exagerated the number of lions killed during the royal hunts.

In which the chief offence was that Assyrians regarded massacres, mass expultions and plunder as a "good thing".

In which they were not unique. The sack of Troy was one of the favorite themes in Greek arts and it was a rather grizzly affair. The Conquest of Canaan was definitely for the squimish. In both cases we deal with fiction, inventing "good old times" to cement the nation with an attractive myth. (In case of Canaan, archeology proves that Joshua demolished a bunch of cities with ruins familiar to Jewish writers, but which were abandoned/destroyed at various times over more than 500 years. Writers of Iliad were not aware that the forbears of Lydians were Hittites who run a large empire much more powerful than all Greek statelets taken together, so the historico-political part of the story does not make much sense).

Back to Assyrians. Perhaps while every culture of the period had boasted cruelty to strangers, an attractive and lasting culture had to have other prominent elements as well. From that point of view, the gravest sins of Assyrians were that of omission.

On June 20, 2006 - 10:53am Crissie said:

I am grateful for these posts; however, in addition to a deconstruction of the Assyrians and Mesopotamia, it seems to me that similar efforts to understand the Ottoman Empire and how it ruled the same and greater areas may have application that would be useful, given what appears to be a current American imperial notion in the "modern" Middle East. 

On June 20, 2006 - 1:28pm BevD said:

I commend you for tackling this subject in a prose poem form. There are a few allusions and metaphors which are very nice. Verse 6 works particularly well. Having said that, I offer this well meaning criticism.

In your first verse, you call desire "a prelate to our affections". I wonder why you would give desire a religious and authoritarian characterization when it would seem that desire is more an ungovernable passion. It would seem that affection would be a better "prelate" to desire. Why would desire call you to an "open plain of fiction that is our history"? Firstly, an "open plain" would connote visibility and plain sightedness, not history hidden by fiction and obfuscation. It doesn't work as irony, either because if it is meant as an ironic tone, it stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of your poem, which isn't told in an ironic voice.

The history as waves metaphor is wonderful, but it doesn't unite the verses, it appears disjointed and lost between the "assaults" with their sexual connotation and the "rivers" of blood, along with the scribes learning to write so that they can spend their "dreary days" taking comfort "in the warm of hidden flesh". How could their days be dreary if they're taking comfort from their writing? In the context of the poem, this verse doesn't add to the narrative, it confuses it, and while the invention of writing certainly advanced humankind, it doesn't advance the poem.

With the other verses, you again seem to have lost the focal point of your poem. You were called to an open plain, but then you seem to be opening gates, which would negate the very idea of an open field, and these gates go up and down - a neat literary trick if you can actually get gates to do that. Generally, gates open in or out. Certainly, these are your gates, and you can open them anyway you please, but again, in the context of the poem, it just doesn't work well.

The "black river" we're on is a wonderfully dark and portentious phrase, but I wonder about this "we". From the time you were called to the open plain, to the kings assaulting "she", to the "undead" kings, to "we" floating to our doom on a river of oil, the narrator seems as lost as a kid who wandered away in a crowd. By the end of the poem, the reader is just as lost.

This is a very ambitious undertaking and it is difficult to encompass thousands of years of history to the limit of verse. I admire you for it, frankly though, in this present draft, the poem doesn't scan, there's no alliteration, and the narrative while awkward, surprisingly seems conceited and pretentious at the same time. How that can be is a mystery, but still, it is.

With some objective and conscientious editing, this could be a good poem, and I look forward to the next part.

On June 20, 2006 - 5:29pm Stirling Newberry said:

"an ungovernable passion"

It is a governing, not governed passion - and yes, I assert that desire is that which governs our affections, and not the other way around, because affections are, after all, ultimately - affected.

"not history hidden by fiction "

I didn't say history was hidden. Why do you assume that fiction hides history? The poem says that fiction is our history, and hence it is open in any direction we care to go, but buffetted by winds and exposed from outside influences.

"So am I standing before these, the opened gates
That both lead down into the distant revenants of our half forgiven past,
And upwards towards our unforgiven future."

Where is the "in or out" problem that you have? I didn't say it.

It's at this point I have to ask - up/down versus in/out - which word has too many syllables for you to understand? How, exactly, can I engage someone who flunks kindergarden reading comprehension, and then presumes to tell me what does and doesn't work. You don't understand this poem, and yet you bombastically assert that you can tell what doesn't work.

Clarity is the authors responsibility, but basic mastery of a monosyllabic vocabularly, and reading the actual words is the readers responsibility, one that you have not met.

On June 20, 2006 - 7:21pm BevD said:

Now why can't you write like this in your poetry? There's no mistaking your meaning in this post. But hence and still, and but and yet, and we and I and she (and everyone else for that matter) and prelates lithe and kings but strutters before the walls of obtuse, pretentious verse, know a pile of stinking, steaming shit when we see it. And boy, is this it.

On June 21, 2006 - 10:24am flavius said:

pretentious verse, know a pile of stinking, steaming shit when we see it. And boy, is this it.

 Huh? One post back you referred to it as an interesting attempt. Which it certainly was.

On June 21, 2006 - 10:35am BevD said:

I was trying to be kind.

On June 21, 2006 - 10:27pm flavius said:

Ah, "the unkind,kind".

On June 22, 2006 - 12:07am BevD said:

Well actually I do think it's an interesting subject and I do admire his attempting it in this form. It's just at this point in his work, the poem stinks. There's no breath in it. It needs to be tightened up, he needs to find a focal point and he needs a coherent narration with a single voice. Unfortunately for Stirling Newberry, he appears to be snippily disdainful of others' opinions - which is somewhat ironic considering the fact that he posted the damn thing on an opinion board.

On June 24, 2006 - 9:24pm usmc0311 said:

Geez Bev, seems you didn’t like the poem. I did, very much. But there really are ways to critique something without being insulting. You can tell someone her “looks can make time stand still”. Or you could tell her “you have face that could stop a clock”. Which would you prefer?

Hey, here’s my Assyrian poem:

There was an old King from Assyria
Who said “Come, I’d like to have beer with ya”.
But instead of Bud Lite, He ran me through with a pike.
Now I wish I had stayed in Algeria.

Now, you could call this a “…a pile of stinking, steaming shit…”, and you would be right, but it would still hurt my feelings. And I think Mr. Newberry put a lot more work into his poem, and I must admit (though I don’t like to) that it shows.

Any way no hard feelings. As you can see from my verse even I am not perfect (yeah sure).

On June 21, 2006 - 4:45pm Freeman Presson said:

This is certainly fascinating.

I liked the poem very much. The device of reflecting a current situation against a historical one, especially with a fair amount of telling detail, makes a much richer statement.

It doesn't matter to me which of the ancient empires most institutionalized what we would now call war crimes, but I think the point was adequately made that they all did, up to differences of degree.

In particular, Alexander did it as part of a coherent policy: on a given campaign, the first city to resist his attack was destroyed to set an example, so that at each subsequent siege, he could offer humane surrender terms as an alternative to obliteration. Every time he was able to save his army a long siege and battle, he was able to extend the campaign accordingly. This is one of the keys to the staggering reach of his conquests.

[There should be a logical link back to the current situation here, but I'm going to cheat and leave it off, as work compels.]

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