The Assyrian empire controlled much of the land in the ancient Middle East. What earlier empires did the Assyrians conquer in order to build their large empire?
Among the many peoples who invaded the Fertile Crescent were the Assyrians. They were hardy nomads who had settled on the upper Tigris as early as 2000 B.C. There, they built a city-state named after their chief god, Assur, and acquired iron technology. Beginning about 1100 B.C., the Assyrians began expanding their empire across Mesopotamia. For 500 years, they spread terror among the peoples they conquered, earning a reputation as one of the most warlike people in history.
To frighten their enemies and ensure their power, Assyrian rulers boasted of their brutal treatment of the peoples they conquered. One told of capturing Babylon. He proclaimed, “The city and its houses, from top to bottom, I destroyed and burned with fire.” The Assyrians collected tribute, or payments from conquered people, amassing great riches in this way.
Despite their fierce reputation, Assyrian rulers encouraged a well-ordered society. Riches from trade, tribute, and loot from war paid for splendid palaces in the well-planned cities. Assyrians were also the first rulers to develop extensive laws regulating life within the royal household. Under these rules, women of the palace were confined to secluded quarters and had to be veiled when they appeared in public.
At Nineveh (NIN uh vuh), King Assurbanipal (ahs ur BAH nee pahl) founded one of the world's first libraries. There, he kept cuneiform tablets that he ordered scribes to collect from all over the Fertile Crescent. Those tablets have provided modern scholars with a wealth of information about the ancient Middle East. The Assyrians did more than simply amass information from other people; they are often credited with developing glassmaking technology and making the first lock and key device.
In 612 B.C., shortly after Assurbanipal's death, neighboring peoples joined forces to crush the once-dreaded Assyrian armies. Before long, an aggressive and ruthless king, Nebuchadnezzar (neb yuh kud NEZ ur), revived the power of Babylon. His new Babylonian empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
Nebuchadnezzar oversaw the rebuilding of the canals, temples, walls, and palaces of Babylon. Near his main palace, Nebuchadnezzar is said to have built the famous Hanging Gardens—known as one of the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” Although no remains have yet been found, the gardens were probably made by planting trees and flowering plants on the steps of a huge ziggurat. According to legend, Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens built to please his wife, who was homesick for the hills where she had grown up.