THE FALL OF ASSYRIA
ASSHURBANIPAL had maintained internal peace in his empire, and the prosperity which Nineveh had enjoyed was conducive to a quiet passing of the succession. He was followed by his son, Asshur Etil Ili Ukinni, who is also known by the shortened form of his name as Asshur Etil Ili. Of his reign we possess only two inscriptions. The first occurs in a number of copies, and reads only: "I am Asshur Etil Ili, king of Kisshati, king of Assyria, son of Ashurbanipal, king of Kisshati, king of Assyria. I caused bricks to be made for the building of E-Zida in Calah, for the life of my soul I caused them to be made". The second gives his titles and genealogy in the same manner, and adds a note concerning the beginning of his reign, but it is not now legible. Besides these two texts there remain only a few tablets found at Nippur dated in the second and the fourth years of his reign. These latter show that as late as the fourth year of his reign he still held the title of king of Sumer and Accad, and therefore continued to rule over a large portion of Babylonia, if not over the city of Babylon itself.
The ruined remains of his palace at Calah have been found, and it forms a strange contrast to the imposing work of Sargon. Its rooms are small and their ceilings low; the wainscoting, instead of fine alabaster richly carved, was formed only of slabs of roughly cut limestone, and it bears every mark of hasty construction.
We have no other remains of his reign, nor do we know how long it continued. Assyrian records terminate suddenly in the reign of Ashurbanipal, in which we reach at once the summit and the end of Assyrian carefulness in recording the events of reigns and the passage of time. It is, of course, possible that there may be buried somewhere some records yet unfound of this reign, but it is certain that they must be few and unimportant, else would they have been found in the thoroughly explored chambers in which so many royal historical inscriptions have been discovered. It may seem strange at first that an abundant mass of inscription material for this reign should not have been produced; that, in other words, a period of extraordinary literary activity should be suddenly followed by a period in which scarcely anything beyond bare titles should be written. But this is not a correct statement of the case. The literary productivity did not cease with Asshur Etil Ili Ukinni. It had already ceased while Ashurbanipal was still reigning. The story, as above set forth, shows that we have no knowledge of the later years of his reign. The reign of Asshur Etil Ili Ukinni only continued the dearth of record which the later years of Ashurbanipal had begun. As in some other periods of Assyrian history, there was indeed but little to tell. In his later days Ashurbanipal had remained quietly in Nineveh, interested more in luxury and in his tablets or books than in the salvation of his empire. In quietness somewhat similar the reign of his successor probably passed away. He had no enthusiasm and no ability for any new conquests. He could not really defend that which he already had. The air must have been filled with rumors of rebellion and with murmurs of dread concerning the future. The future was out of his power, and he could only await, and not avert, the fate of Assyria. It did not come in his reign, and the helpless empire was handed on to his successor.
There is doubt as to who the next king of Assyria may have been. Mention is found of a certain king whose name was Sin Chum Lishir, who must have reigned during this period, and perhaps it was he who followed the son of Ashurbanipal upon the throne. Whether that be true or not, we have no word of his doings.
The next king of Assyria known to us was Sin Shar Ishkun. He had come to the throne in sorry times, and that he managed for some years to keep some sort of hold upon the falling empire is at least surprising. No historical inscription, in the proper sense of the word, has come down to us from his reign. One badly broken cylinder, for which there are some fragmentary duplicates, has been found in which there are the titles and some words of empty boasting concerning the king's deeds. Besides this we have only three brief business documents found in Babylonia. These are, however, very interesting because they are dated two of them in Sippar and the third in Uruk. The former belong to the second year of the king's reign and the latter to the seventh year. From this interesting discovery it appears that for seven years at least Sin Shar Ishkun was acknowledged as king over a portion of Babylonia, though the city of Babylon was not included in this district.
We have no knowledge of the events of his reign based on a careful record, as we have had before, and what little we do know is learned chiefly from the Babylonian inscriptions. The Greeks and Latins contradict each other so sharply, and are so commonly at variance with facts, amply substantiated in Babylonian documents, that very little can be made out of them. It is a fair inference from the records of Nabonidus, whose historiographers have written carefully of this period, that Sin Shar Ishkun was a man of greater force than his predecessor. He already possessed a part of Babylonia, and desired to make his dominion more strong and compact, and also wished to increase it by taking from the new Chaldean empire, of which there is much to be told later, some of its fairest portions. Nabopolassar was now king of Babylon, and Sin Shar Ishkun invaded the territory of Babylonia when Nabopolassar was absent from his capital city carrying on some kind of campaign in northern Mesopotamia directed against the Subaru. This cut off the return of Nabopolassar, and brought even Babylon itself into danger. What was to be done in order to save his capital but secure allies from some quarter who could assist in driving out the Assyrians? The campaign of Nabopolassar had won for him the title of king of Kisshati, which he uses in 609, at which time he was in possession of northern Mesopotamia. It was probably this year or the year before (610 or 609) that Sin Shar Ishkun attacked the Babylonian provinces. Nabopolassar found it very difficult to secure an ally who would give aid without exacting too heavy a price. If Elam had still been a strong country, it would have formed the natural ally, as it had been traditionally the friend of the Chaldeans. But Elam was a waste land. The only possible hope was in the north and west. To the Umman Mandy must he go for help. At the time of Nabopolassar, and also as late as Nabonidus, the word Manda was used generally as a term for the nomadic peoples of Kurdistan and the far northeastern lands. The Babylonians, indeed, knew very little of these peoples. The Assyrians had come very closely into touch with them at several times since the days of Esarhaddon. They had felt the danger which was threatened by the growth of a new power on their borders, and they had suffered the loss of a number of fine provinces through it. This new power was Indo-European, and the people who founded and led it are confused by the Greek historians of a later day with the Medes. To appeal to the Manda for help in driving out the Assyrians from Babylonia was nothing short of madness. There were many points of approach between Babylonia and Assyria, there were many between Assyria and Chaldea. There was no good reason why these two peoples should not unite in friendship and prepare to oppose the further extension of the power of the Manda. The Assyrians certainly knew that the Manda coveted Assyria and the great Mesopotamian valley, and the Babylonians might easily have learned this if they did not already know it.
But Nabopolassar either did not know of the plans and hopes of the Manda, or, knowing them, hoped to divert them from himself against Assyria, and he ventured to invite their assistance. They came not for the profit of Nabopolassar, the Chaldeans, and Babylonia, but for their own aggrandizement. Sin Shar Ishkun and his Assyrian army were driven back from northern Babylonia into Assyria, and Nabopolassar at once possessed himself of the new provinces. The Manda pushed on after the Assyrians, retreating toward Nineveh. Between them there could only be the deepest hostility. In the forces of the Manda or Scythians there must be inhabitants of provinces which had been ruthlessly ravaged by Assyrian conquerors. They had certainly old grievances to revenge, and were likely to spare not. There is evidence in abundance that Assyria was hated all over western Asia, and probably also in Egypt. For ages she had plundered all peoples within the range of her possible influence. Everywhere that her name was known it was execrated. The voice of the Phoenician cities is not heard as it is lifted in wrath and hatred against the great city of Nineveh, but a Hebrew prophet, Nahum, utters the undoubted feeling of the whole Western world when, in speaking of the ruin of Assyria, he says: "All that hear the bruit of thee the report of thy fall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom bath not thy wickedness passed continually?"
Nabopolassar did not join with the Manda in the pursuit of the Assyrians, for he was anxious to settle and fix his own throne and attend to the reorganization of the provinces which were now added to the empire. If the Manda had needed help, they might easily have obtained it, for many a small or great people would gladly have joined in the undoing of Nineveh for hatred's sake or for the sake of the vast plunder which must have been stored in the city. For centuries the whole civilized world had paid unwilling tribute to the great city, and the treasure thus poured into it had not all been spent in the maintenance of the standing army. Plunder beyond dreams of avarice was there heaped up awaiting the despoiler. The Manda would be willing to dare single-handed an attack on a city which thus promised to enrich the successful. The Babylonians, or rather the Chaldeans, had given up the race, content to secure what might fall to them when Assyria was broken by the onslaught of the Manda. It will later appear in this narrative that Egypt was anxious to share in the division of the spoil of Assyria, and actually dispatched an expedition northward. This step was, however, taken too late, and the Egyptians were not on the ground until the last great scene was over. The unwillingness of Nabopolassar and the hesitancy or delay of other states left the Manda alone to take vengeance upon Assyria. Whether the fleeing Assyrians made a stand at any point before falling back upon the capital or not we do not know. If they did, they were defeated and at last were compelled to take refuge in the capital city. The Manda began a siege. (The memory which the Greeks and Latins handed down from that day represented the Assyrians as so weak that they would fall an easy prey to any people. This was certainly erroneous. There is a basis of truth for the story of weakness, for there were evident signs of decay during the reign of Ashurbanipal. These had, however, not gone so far as to make the power of Assyria contemptible. Weakened though the empire had been by the loss of the northern provinces through the great migrations, and weakened though it had been by the loss of Egypt, and weakened though it had been by the terrible civil war between Ashurbanipal and Shamash Shumukin, it was still the greatest single power in the world. It had, indeed, lost the power of aggression which had swept over mountain and valley, but in defense it would still be a dangerous antagonist).
When the Scythian forces came up to the walls of Nineveh they found before them a city better prepared for defense than any had probably ever been in the world before. The vast walls might seem to defy any engines that the semi-barbaric hordes of the new power could bring to bear. Within was the remnant of an army which had won a thousand fields. If the army was well managed and the city had had some warning of the approaching siege, it would be safe to predict that the contest must be long and bloody. The people of Nineveh must feel that not only the supremacy of western Asia, but their very existence as an independent people, was at stake. The Assyrians would certainly fight with the intensity of despair. We do not know, unfortunately, the story of that memorable siege. A people civilized for centuries was walled in by the forces of a new people fresh, strong, invincible. Then, as often in later days, civilization went down before barbarism. Nineveh fell into the hands of the Scythians. Later times preserved a memory that Sin Shar Ishkun perished in the flames of his palace, to which he had committed himself when he foresaw the end.
The city was plundered of everything of value which it contained, and then given to the torch. The houses of the poor, built probably of unburnt bricks, would soon be a ruin. The great palaces, when the cedar beams which supported the upper stories had been burnt off, fell in heaps. Their great, thick walls, built of unburnt bricks with the outer covering of beautiful burnt bricks, cracked open, and when the rains descended the unburnt bricks soon dissolved away into the clay of which they had been made. The inhabitants had fled to the four winds of heaven and returned no more to inhabit the ruins. A Hebrew prophet, Zephaniah, a contemporary of the great event, has described this desolation as none other: "And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like the wilderness. And herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the chapiters thereof: their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he hath laid bare the cedar work. This is the joyous city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none else beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in everyone that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand". Nineveh fell in the year 607 or 606, and the waters out of heaven, or from the overflowing river made the soft clay into a covering over the great palaces and their records. The winds bore seeds into the mass, and a carpet of grass covered the mounds, and stunted trees grew out of them. Year by year the mound bore less and less resemblance to the site of a city, until no trace remained above ground of the magnificence that once had been.
In 401 BC a cultivated Greek leading homeward the fragment of his gallant army of ten thousand men passed by the mounds and never knew that beneath them lay the palaces of the great Assyrian kings. In later ages the Parthians built a fortress on the spot, which they called Ninus, and other communities settled either above the ruins or near to them. Men must have homes, and the ground bore no trace of the great city upon which dire and irreparable vengeance had fallen. But, though cities might be built upon the soil and men congregate where the Assyrian cities had been, there was in reality no healing of the wound which the Manda had given. The Assyrian empire had come to a final end. As they had done unto others so had it been done unto them. For more than a thousand years of time the Assyrian empire had endured. During nearly all of this vast period it had been building and increasing. The best of the resources of the world had been poured into it. The leadership of the Semitic race had belonged to it, and this was now yielded up to the Chaldeans, who had become the heirs of the Babylonians, from whom the Assyrians had taken it. It remained only to parcel out, along with the rest of the plunder, the Assyrian territory. The Manda secured at this one stroke the old territory of Assyria, together with all the northern provinces as far west as the river Halys, in Asia Minor. To the Chaldeans, who were now masters in Babylonia, there came the Mesopotamian possessions and, as we shall later see, the Syro-Phoenician likewise. By this change of ownership the Semites retained the larger part of the territory over which they had long been masters, but the Indo-Europeans had made great gains. (A life-and-death struggle would soon begin between them for the possession of western Asia)