Chapter 1 - Section 6


    Another Semitic speaking people area of the ancient world were contemporary to the Middle Eastern and Fertile Crescent cultural the Aramaeans. They are sometimes referred to as ancient Syrians. They built many small kingdoms based upon city-states. Their most famous city-state was Damascus which was favorably located on overland trade routes. Their civilization dates from about 1200 BCE. The Aramaeans, like the Phoenicians, were great traders and merchants. They were not a sea power but nevertheless, traded with the Hittites to the north, the Hebrews, Phoenicians and Egyptians to the south and to the east with the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians. They were indeed found at the crossroads of commerce in the ancient world of the Middle East.

     However, their location made them a desirable target for aggressive conquerors and expansionist states. These aggressors defeated the Syrian states almost at will. Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians and in the sixth century BCE, the Persians took turns adding the Aramaeans to their empires. The Aramaeans may literally have had the last word, however. As a result of their extensive commerce, diplomacy and travel networks, their language, Aramaic, became the international language of choice for over a thousand years. Just as French and English have been international languages of modern times, Aramaic was the ancient equivalent before the coming of the Greeks and Romans to this area. For example, it was the language spoken by Jesus and was used in the writings of the people of the time even as the area came under control by the Romans.


     Around the second millennium BCE, more people appeared in north central Asia Minor. The Hittites soon created a powerful empire. It was based upon a central government led by a king who was supported by a class of wealthy warrior nobles. The area was fertile for agriculture and was located on overland trade routes. The Hittites soon extended their empire to the south at the expense of the Syrians and Egyptians. They even moved into the Mesopotamian river valleys and attacked Babylon. The Hittites were influenced by their interaction with other cultures. For example, they wrote in cuneiform which they adopted from the Babylonians.

Emperors of World

     In addition, they entered into many treaties with their neighbors and carried on extensive diplomatic relations with other nations. Ramesses II of Egypt was lucky to survive the battle of Kadesh in 1275 BCE, and later to make a peace treaty with the Hittites. Subsequently a Hittite prince was to marry the widow of King Tutankhamen only to be murdered along the way to Egypt. However, by approximately 1250 BCE, the Hittite Empire was subjected to a series of invasions from which it never recovered. The wars and turmoil were brought to an end almost five centuries of Hittite significance in this ancient period of Western Civilization.

     Contributions: The Hittites lived in a region that was rich in very pure iron ore, as they soon discovered for themselves. They were the first people to make products out of this new amazing metal. They first started with jewelry, then tools and finally weapons of iron. Iron, of course, is far stronger and lasts longer than the common copper or bronze implements of the time. Hittite warriors were soon slicing and chopping through the softer weapons of their enemies. It can be stated without too much hyperbole that the iron weapons of the Hittites were the first weapons of mass destruction in history.

     Similarly like other innovations and technological advancements, the knowledge of working in iron soon spread, by the process known as cultural diffusion, to the other nations of the Middle East, westward to Europe and to other lands. The Hittites lost their monopoly and their “edge” in advanced weaponry. However, the Iron Age had arrived thanks to the ingenuity of the Hittites. Civilization would never be quite the same with the new forms of militarism.

Ancient Assyrians

     The Assyrians came from the northern regions of Mesopotamia. They quickly adopted the use of iron weapons. They used these in the development of a very advanced military system. From about 800 BCE to 612 BCE, the Assyrians conquered most of the Middle East. They ruled an empire that stretched from the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean Sea and included Egypt. They made Nineveh the capital of their vast empire. They conquered the Hebrew kingdoms of Judah and Israel to the west and the lower Tigris-Euphrates River valley to the south. The Assyrians absorbed the Babylonian territories and the ancient homeland of the Sumerians into their kingdom.

     Political and Military Contributions: The Assyrians adopted policies that would facilitate the absolute domination and subjugation of conquered peoples. They divided the empire into provinces administered by a governor appointed by and solely responsible to the king. They built military highways for the rapid movement of troops and to promote communications with faraway provinces. These innovations were later used and greatly expanded by the Persians.

Assyrian Empire

Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria who created the 'the first systematically collected library' at Nineveh     The Assyrians are perhaps best known for their military organization and use of terror tactics against their enemies. They constructed siege engines of moveable towers, battering rams and catapults to storm the cities of their opponents. The army was organized into divisions or battle groups of specialized warriors such as archers, spearmen, charioteers and cavalry. These groups were highly trained professional soldiers, not citizen levies. They were fierce warriors and knew how to use their iron weapons. Well coordinated and mutually supporting in battle, they were very difficult to defeat. This form of militarism was later used to influence the Greeks and Romans. But the Assyrians were cruel and exceptionally violent even by ancient standards toward their enemies and to those who rebelled against their rule. Torture, deportations and slavery were used against those that crossed or challenged them.

     On the other hand, the Assyrian king, Assurbanipal in the seventh century BCE, built a great library in Nineveh. It consisted of thousands of cuneiform clay tablets detailing and explaining about all phases of life in the Middle East under Assyrian rule. This fabulous archeological find has provided scholars with much valuable information. It has enabled historians to recreate life as it was in the ancient Middle East.

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