Assyria, Fall of (616–612 B.C.E.)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Babylonia, Media, and the
Scythians vs. Assyria
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Most of the present-day Middle
DECLARATION: None known
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The rebellions leading to
the wars that destroyed Assyria began with a war for
succession to the Assyrian throne between twin brothers;
vassal states fought for their freedom from Assyrian rule,
then to destroy Assyria itself; and Assyria fought at first
to put down the revolts, then for its survival.
OUTCOME: The Assyrian Empire vanished.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
The Assyrian Empire, which began around 3000 B.C.E., had
disappeared from history by 612 B.C.E. Once the most dominant
and feared power in the Middle East, the empire selfdestructed
in a crippling civil war that prompted Assyria’s
adversaries to unite and destroy the weakened empire.
During the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal
(668–627 B.C.E.), his twin sons, Ashur-etel-ilani and
Sin-shar-ishkin, fought over succession. The struggle began
as a low-key affair during Ashurbanipal’s lifetime when he
announced that Ashur-etel-ilani was the legitimate heir, but
after Ashurbanipal’s death, it erupted into the open with
immediate and dire consequences.
Though Ashur-etel-ilani ascended to the throne in
625, his brother declared himself counter king and split
the kingdom. Numerous Assyrian vassal states rebelled: In
southern Babylonia, Nabopolassar (fl. 625–605), leader of
the Chaldeans, took advantage of the situation and drove
the Assyrians out of Uruk, proclaiming himself king of
Babylon (see BABYLONIAN REVOLT) and launching the Neo-
Babylonian Empire (626–539); Palestine seceded from the
empire; the Phoenicians staged an uprising; and Media
united under King Cyaxares (d. 585 B.C.E.) and broke free
from Assyrian rule.
Within a year, Ashur-etel-ilani was dead, and Assyria
was in rapid decay. His brother gained the throne, but he,
too, was quickly deposed by Ashur-etel-ilani’s son Sinshar-
ishkun. With Uruk, Media, Syria, and Palestine all
lost, the Assyrians were placed on the defensive, fighting
now not for empire but for survival. Nabopolassar and
Sin-shar-ishkun fought several wars between 625 and 623,
the net result of which was Assyria’s expulsion from all of
Around 616, Cyaxares of Media, like Nabopolassar
trained by Assyrian generals, attacked the Assyrian capital
of Nineveh. The Scythians, however, remained loyal to
Assyria and prevented the Medes from destroying Nineveh.
Nabopolassar, in alliance with Cyaxares, diverted
Assyrian troops along the Euphrates and defeated them at
Kablinu, and in 615 the Medes were able to conquer
Arrapkha and, the following year, Ashur. Given their victories,
Cyaxares and Nabopolassar managed to convince
the Scythian leader to join their coalition, which proved
fatal for Assyria.
In 612 the powerful coalition crushed the Assyrians at
Nineveh and decimated the population. Sin-shar-ishkun
was burned to death in his palace, and the Assyrian
Empire collapsed. After 609 all record of the once-mighty
Assyrian Empire and its people simply vanished.
Further reading: Robert W. Rogers, A History of Babylonia
and Assyria (Santa Clarita, Calif.: Books for Libraries,
1971); Nigel Tallis, Assyria at War, 1000–610 B.C. (London: