Assyria: The Rise and Fall of the World’s First Empire

by Eckart Frahm

Hardcover, 2023



Call number



Basic Books (2023), 528 pages


"In Assyria, historian Eckart Frahm tells the epic story of one of the ancient world's most accomplished civilizations, the Assyrian Empire. Tracing its origins to a minor city state in present-day Iraq, Assyria at its height, around 660 BCE, stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, the first empire the world had seen. Breath-taking, belligerent conquest-epitomized in the motto of the seventh-century king Esarhaddon, "Before me, cities; behind me, ruins"- fuelled much of Assyria's growth. But as their power increased, the Assyrians accomplished stunning achievements off the battlefield, too, commissioning the world's first universal library, creating monumental sculpture, and building an elaborate "Royal Road" throughout the empire that allowed the Assyrian metropole, Ashur, to stay in regular contact with its provinces. For three centuries, Assyria reigned preeminent before it suddenly collapsed in 609 BCE, destroyed by the combined armies of the Babylonians and the Medes. Drawing on deep research into Assyrian archaeology, art, and literature, Frahm reveals the enduring influence of Assyria in world history. The empire established a long tradition of war-prone, multi-ethnic conqueror-states, organized into separate provinces and geared towards moving resources on a massive scale from the periphery to the political center. The government of Assyria served, first directly and then indirectly, as a model for future Eurasian empires, from the Babylonian and Persian Empires of antiquity to the Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates of the Islamic period. And its impact extended far beyond politics. For instance, one of the main roots of Israelite monotheism-from which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all emerged-was the traumatic encounter of the Israelites and Judeans with the autocratic rulers of Assyria. While Assyria ultimately fell rapidly within the span of only a decade, the empire left behind a centuries-long legacy that transformed global civilization. An utterly definitive history, this is the breathtaking story of Assyria, told as never before. It will completely reshape our understanding of the ancient world"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ritaer
This appears to be a comprehensive history of the Assyrian Empire" its growth, changes and destruction. I would have wished for more information about everyday life--the legal code, daily routines, economic levels and effects on health, illness and its treatment, marriage and family law and so
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forth. Divorce is mentioned, but with no details. Could either party initiate a divorce? Could women inherit, own and manage property. In short, this book adheres in large part to the old-fashioned list of kings and battles model. The epilogue did include an interesting analysis of the way that the archeological monuments and recovered art were used in the shaping of secular nation states such as Iraq caused ISIS to regard the destruction of these remains as an important step in their vision of an international Islamic empire.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
Not quite everything you ever wanted to know about the Assyrians, but didn't know where to start, Frahm's virtue is that where our existing knowledge is thin, he is forthright about saying so. What really concerns him is the subtitle, as he works on building up his argument that the Assyrian state
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was the first empire, and an inspiration to those that followed. Where Frahm might be weak is when it comes to military history, as while the Assyrians very much intended to make war pay, and were ultimately brought down by military action, Frahm does remarkably little to integrate this aspect into his story. Even if the nuts and bolts of army organization and military strategy are not a matter that Frahm is comfortable with, I would have liked to have seen his critique of our existing understanding of what made the Assyrian military special, as they get great credit for creating cavalry units and for their skill at conducting siege warfare. Be that as it may, after the collapse of the Assyrian state, Frahm spends a significant amount of time musing on the long twilight of Assyrian culture and the Assyrian people, and what that means today.
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Original language


Physical description

528 p.; 9.5 inches


1541674405 / 9781541674400

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