Assyria : The Imperial Mission

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In ancient traditions, Assyria was the first world empire in a series that continued with Persia, Macedonia, and Rome. After Rome, we imagine the series bifurcating into a Western trajectory (from Charlemagne to Napoleon and the Third Reich) and an Oriental trajectory (from the Parthians and Sasanians to the Abbasids until the modern Caliphate). Assyria, often overlooked or slighted by modern studies of empire, still maintains our interest because it provides an example of the "simple form" of empire and imperialism, before subsequent developments resulted in structures of greater complexity.

Most important among basic features of "empire" is the "imperial mission" -the mandate given by the gods or God to the emperor to extend, through conquest or persuasion, annexation or hegemony, the only legitimate power of the central state to the entire (known) world. This accomplishment can only be ideological, since in practice no empire, ancient or modern, could actually conquer the world. Nonetheless, ancient empires could come closer to the target, because their known world, the mental map of their oikoumene, was limited to their close surroundings. Assyria, by bringing the most populated and civilized countries of its time (surrounded by mountains, seas, deserts) into submission came close to fulfilling its mission. In our modern, Western perspective, however, the term empire is usually applied to alien and despotic (mainly Oriental) polities, while we in the West prefer to belong to more democratic "alliances."

Nevertheless, ancient Assyria still retains its value as a prototype of the "empire of evil" against which democracy fights and must resist. This book outlines the basic features of Assyrian imperialism within the framework of the general development of the imperial idea, all the while insisting on noting comparative material.

The intent is twofold: (1) to better understand Assyria through comparison with later empires, and (2) to underscore the relevance of the "Assyrian model" and its influence on later history. Although the first intention profits ancient historians, the second goal is addressed to modern and contemporary historians, who too often ignore (or at least disregard) the long historical background lying behind more recent developments. The world in general, in the present climate of globalization, deserves to be better informed about pre-modern and non-Western trajectories of world history.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 344 pages
  • 178 x 254 x 33mm | 930g
  • Indiana, United States
  • English
  • 1575067544
  • 9781575067544

Table of contents


1. Imperialism: Materiality and Ideology

2. God's Will

3. Communicating with God

4. Holy War and Just War

5. Exploring and Conquering

6. The Disposable Periphery

7. Collecting

8. Public Display

9. Marking Territory: The Steles

10. Celebrative Inscriptions

11. Royal Titulature

12. The Justification of Self-Defense

13. Battles and Sieges

14. Oaths and Their Transgression

15. Punishment and Forgiveness

16. Destruction and Reconstruction

17. Exporting Despotism

18. Organizing the Territory: (a) The City at the Center of the World

19. Organizing the Territory: (b) Provinces and Governors

20. Organizing the Territory: (c) From Tributaries to Deportees

21. Organizing the Territory: (d) The Communication Network

22. Becoming Assyrian

23. Imperial Prosperity

24. Cultural Unification: (a) Technology

25. Cultural Unification: (b) Religion

26. Cultural Unification: (c) Language

27. Conclusions: (a) The Prototype Empire

28. Conclusions: (b) Trajectories of Imperialism

29. Conclusions: (c) Celebration and Reality

30. The View of Others

31. Ancient and Modern Empires

Abbreviations and Bibliography

IndexesPlaces and Peoples

Temples and Palaces


Divine and Mythical Beings
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