Assyria first rose to prominence in the second millennium BC (roughly the period of the patriarchal stories of Gen 12ff.).

However it was during the period of the Israelite kingdoms that Assyria moved out of its heartland around the Upper Tigris river (Nineveh and Assur) to control the Mesopotamian region from the mid ninth century until late in the seventh century BC.

The Aramean kingdoms (especially Arpad, Hamath and Damascus) in the West were major rivals and obstacles to Assyrian expansion. From the death of Shalmaneser III (in 824BC) till the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (from 744BC) internal rebellion and the strength of Uratu in the North reduced Assyria's threat to the West.

During this period Israel and Judah were both small kingdoms giving support either to the Assyrians or the Arameans (Syrians) and prospering or suffering according to the relative strength of these more major powers. Israel in particular often used Assyrian power to retain independence from Damascus.

Following the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III (744BC) a series of powerful kings gained control and thus ended Aramean threats to Mesopotamian stability. This control of a large part of the region created the first "real" empire. Prisoners and loot from these campaigns were used in extensive building projects "at home".

Tiglath-Pileser III and his equally powerful successors, with their standing army, began systematic expansion. Sometimes they annexed territory directly as provinces of the empire, they also encouraged client states. Rulers of such states held power only through Assyrian influence and acknowledged Assyrian authority with tribute.

It was at this time that deportation became a major element in the control of occupied territory. The skills of these exiles were used in service of the empire. The artisans contributed to the splendid building projects in the cities of the "homeland" and the elite served in the growing bureaucracy needed for imperial administration. (The role of Aramean captives as scribes and administrators accounts for the eventual dominance of their language in the region).

This drain of resources to the center encouraged increasing revolts which, together with power struggles and eventual civil war, led to the collapse of Assyrian power and the rise of Babylon between 614 and 609BC.

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