In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Assyrian Warfare

  • Introduction
  • Histories of Assyria
  • Surveys of Assyrian Warfare
  • Ancient Documentary Sources for Assyrian Warfare
  • Pictorial Sources for Assyrian Warfare
  • War and Religion
  • Studies Focused on Specific Kings or Campaigns

Military History Assyrian Warfare
Sarah C. Melville
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0235


From the earliest periods ancient Near Eastern leaders considered war a legitimate way to acquire resources, territory, and security, though they always sought the gods’ approval before going to war. Assyria’s location in what is now northern Iraq put it at the center of trade routes and surrounded by enemies. From the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE the reality of their geopolitical situation compelled the Assyrians to develop into a formidable military power. At its height in the Sargonid period (8th and 7th centuries BCE), the empire stretched from the Zagros Mountains in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and the Taurus Mountains in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south. During the 7th century, it included Egypt for a brief period. The Assyrians outmatched their rivals in resources, military organization, administrative ability, intelligence gathering, and political finesse, yet in terms of tactics (including violent punishment), army unit types, and military technology they were not significantly different from their contemporaries. Soldiers wore bronze or iron armor, used shields, hand-held weapons, and simple technology such as chariots, siege towers, and battering rams. Artillery had not yet been invented. What made the Assyrians stand out from their contemporaries was their imperial vision and the fact that they had the economic resources and will to carry it out. Although this article includes material dealing with the Middle Assyrian period (15th-11th centuries BCE), it concentrates on the Neo-Assyrian period (10th-7th centuries BCE), when the empire reached its pinnacle and the Assyrian army flourished.

Histories of Assyria

The second edition of The Cambridge Ancient History, Boardman, et al. 1992, includes chapters on Assyrian history by giants in the field of Assyriology, and although it came out thirty years ago, it remains relevant. Frahm 2017 offers a comprehensive overview of Assyrian culture and history, including warfare. Here too, the contributing scholars are among the best in the field, and their work represents the most up-to-date information, theories, and methodological trends. Published in the same year, Liverani 2017 focuses on Assyrian imperialism as a dynamic force that grew out of geographical, economic, cultural, and political processes. These volumes provide essential context for Assyrian warfare.

  • Boardman, John, I. E. S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N. G. L. Hammond, eds. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    Chapters 21–26 by J. A. Brinkman, A. K. Grayson, and Joan Oates cover the Neo-Assyrian Empire at the height of its power. Some of the details need updating but the analysis remains extremely valuable.

  • Frahm, Eckart, ed. A Companion to Assyria. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2017.

    This book is divided into four sections with contributions by top scholars who cover geography and history, Assyria’s relationship with neighboring states, Assyrian civilization (including a chapter on Assyrian warfare), and its survival in the histories of other cultures, both ancient and modern.

  • Liverani, Mario. Assyria: The Imperial Mission. Mesopotamian Civilizations. College Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, 2017.

    A leading Assyriologist, Liverani puts the Assyrians’ constant warring in its cultural, political, and economic contexts. The book argues that ideology simultaneously called for territorial expansion and gave meaning to the warfare it mandated. Comparisons to later empires shed light on the imperial process.

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