It has become trendy to describe the ancient Assyrians as cruel to whitewash the sins of other nations who have done much worst. War is by its nature a cruel human enterprise often justified by its perpetrator as a necessity. Those who blame the ancient Assyrians of being cruel are either ignorant of what other nations have done or are not willing to blame them. Recently A&E TV [History Channel] showed a program to portray the ancient Assyrians as ruthless.
Whenever the atrocities of other nations are mentioned only those who committed them are blamed, never the entire nation. For example the Nazi's are condemned for what happened during world war II but not the Germans, Communism or Stalin are blamed for the twenty millions who died in Russia's labor camps and the rest of the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution but not the Russian Nation. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Negosakii is blamed on Truman and not the Americans, however the entire Assyrian nation is branded as cruel and ruthless for what one or more of its kings may have done. It is amazing that the 'blame the Assyrians crowd' is so oblivious to its double standard of judgement.
Reasonable scholars who have a well rounded knowledge of human history do not believe that ancient Assyrians were any more or less cruel than other nations and there is plenty of evidence to prove it.
H.W.Saggs argues that the ancient Assyrian actions should be judged by the standards of their contemporaries and "not by the highest Christian ideals which even nations of the 20th century have failed to live up to during wars. "All things considered Assyrian practices were no more brutal than those of their contemporaries or others who followed them. Similar acts of cruelty ascribed to them can be found in many ancient and modern cultures both eastern and western." He contends; 'I actually like the Assyrians, warts and all: I make no apology for this. Though the Assyrians, like the people of every other nation ancient and modern, were sometimes less than kind to their fellow humans, I feel no compulsion to be continually advertising my own right mindedness by offering judgment upon their every action or attitude in terms of current liberal orthodoxy....Assyrians have been maligned. Certainly they could be rough and tough to maintain order, but they were defenders of civilization, not barbarian destroyers.'
For the last 2,000 years the Old Testament was the most important source of information about the ancient Assyrians. Its Jewish writers vilified them for their wars with the Israelites, A tradition which has continued by the Jewish and Christian writers up to now. Not a day passes by without one article or another portraying the ancient Assyrians as example of a cruel people. These writings are obviously tainted by the religious prejudices of their writers. Imagine if the United States was judged primarily by the writings of the Iranian Ayatolahs and the Islamists who often wish its death, branding it as the "Great Satan" and "world devourer".
Jews are so used to blaming the ancient Assyrians, for any reason, that they often accuse them of what they did not do. For example the origin of Haunakka is described by many as "a celebration commemorating an ancient miracle, when the Jewish people took the central temple of Jerusalem back from their Assyrian persecutors." http://familyfun.go.com/parenting/learn/activities/feature/dony127holiday tour/dony127holidaytour3.html
In reality it was the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanies who had conquered Israel and had imposed the Hellenistic pagan practices in the temple of Jerusalem and not the Assyrians who had no military in the 2nd century B.C. when the incident happened.. http://www.cantorforcongress.com/news/2004/hanukkah.htm One has to wonder why what happened to a single Temple in Jerusalem is more important that tens of thousands of churches in the Middle East which were taken over by Muslims and turned into stables during the last 14 centuries.
The story of Judith is another example of how Assyrians are wrongly blamed by the Jews. According to popular legend she beheaded "the foremost general of the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar when in "the second century B.C.E., the powerful Assyrian army invades the Near East, the town of Bethulia is besieged by the cruel and domineering Holofernes." The fact is Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian king, of Chaldean ancestry and not Assyrian, furthermore he ruled during the 6th and the 7th century B.C. and not in the 2nd.
Often readers of the Old Testament are eager to to condemn the ancient Assyrians for having gone to war against Israel but prefer to cast a blind eye on the atrocities of the Jews against others. The Book of Deuteronomy lists the names of 39 nations which Joshua destroyed when his people arrived in Israel from Egypt. Joshua is a hero to the Christians and the Jews who glorify him by calling their sons by his name.
"Deuteronomy 3 "So the Lord helped us fight against King Og and his people and we killed them all. We conquered all sixty of his cities, the entire Argob region of Bashan.These were wall-fortified cities with high walls and barred gates. Of course we also took all of the un-walled towns. We utterly destroyed the kingdom of Bashan just as we had destroyed King Sihon's kingdom at Heshbon, killing the entire population-men, women and children alike. But we kept the cattle and loot for ourselves."
Joshua's treatment of the defeated enemy was not an anomaly in Jewish history. According to one Biblical source; a defeated enemy by Israelites could expect no mercy. The killing did not end with the slaughter of the fugitives. All the males in a besieged city might be killed when the city fell, the women and children were taken a slaves.
Moses commands to his soldiers can be cited as another example of such atrocities:"Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." --Numbers31:17-18.
Here is how King David treated the enemies"After this David subdued and humbled the Philistines by conquering Gath,their largest city. He also devastated the land of Moab. He divided his victims by making them lie down side by side in rows. Two thirds of each row, as measured with a tape, were butchered and one third were spared to become David.s servants-they paid him tribute each year. ....And he (David) brought out the people that were in it and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon." --1 Chronicles 20:3. David is almost worshiped by both Christians and the Jews.
Persians are seldom accused of Cruelty but it does not mean they were any kinder.In an inscriptions by Dariush he claims to have punished Pravartish a Median rebel by cutting his nose, ears, and tongue, his eyes were putout and he was paraded around in front of the multitude before Dariush was ready to impale him and to hang his allies in the fortress of Ecbatan. (A.T.Olmsted, "History of the Persian Empire" university of Chicago Press 1970, p.114)During the Sassanian period the persecuted Christians were subjected to similar forms of torture according to the Syriac Book of Martyrs. Greeks and Romans certainly were not kinder or more charitable to their enemies.When the city of Tyre was defeated the slaughter of the fleeing Tyrian army according to Arrian was terrible . Some reports indicate that Seven thousand of Tyrians were crucified and the remaining inhabitants were sold in slavery separating family members and sending each to a different direction. Alexander's treatment of Tyrians panicked other cities in the region and brought them into submission except for the city of Gaza where the population decided to fight it out. Gaza was easily defeated and all its men numbering about 10,000 were killed, their women and children about 30,000 were sold into slavery.
The war between the Persians and Alexander's army ended very soon after it had started, when Dariush the Persian King deserted his army and fled with his calvary, what followed according to Arrian was the slaughter of the Persian army. He reported Greeks loses of about 100 killed, over 1000 horses perished either from wounds or from exhaustion of pursuit. 172-173 compared to the "300, 000 Persian dead which seems more like a massacre rather than war. This may be an exaggeration but, for years after, the unburied bones of the dead Persians empire's soldiers littered the former battlefield, the entire region was known as 'Bet Garmi' (region of bones) in the Assyrian language. Later the magnificent Persian capital city of Persepolis was burned to the ground by Alexander's army after its inhabitants were massacred.
During the Roman war of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the city was destroyed, most citizens including the old and the feeble were put to sword.The survivors were paraded in the Temple forecourt, the "Seditious and brignds" were executed. A great number were sent to labor in egyptian mines, the rest were dispatched to various Roman provinces to be thrown to wild beast in the theaters. The Children were sold as salves.
Josephus Flavius (Antiquities of the Jews 13:394) describes the conquest of the Jewish city of Gamala on the Golan by the Romans in 67 AD as follows. Under the command of Vespians "Romans attempted to take the city by means of a siege ramp, but were turned back by the defenders; only on the second attempt did they succeed in penetrating the fortifications and conquering the city. Thousands of inhabitants were slaughtered, while others chose to jump to their deaths from the top of the cliff (Josephus, The Jewish War IV," Here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes the fate of the Jews at the hand of the Romans in 70 AD
"The weak and sickly prisoners were at once put to death. The rest of the concourse were gathered in the Gentile's Court of the ruined Temple and sold off into various classes. All those recognized or reported as active in the rebellion were set aside for slaughter, except seven hundred young men of the finest presence, who were spared to grace the triumph at Rome. The remainder of the captives were divided into those over and those under seventeen. Of the former, part were put in chains and sent to labor in the Egyptian mines; others, including thousands of the female sex, were dispersed among the Roman cities to be victims of the inhuman public games.Those below seventeen were sold as slaves."
"During that period the Romans were crucifying about 500 people a day on the Mount of Olives,... They finally ran out of wood and space," according to Josephus Romans had crucified half the Jewish population of Jerusalem."
The modern long distance warfare has made hand to hand battles obsolete but contrary to popular belief it has not made wars more humane.When thousands of missile are launched from hundreds of miles away the video shows crumbling buildings but not the horrors of dying people; half burned men,women children, young and old shredded to pieces torn from limb from limb, disfigured beyond belief. it is easy to blame the Bomb and not the military which launched it, not the scientists who designed it, or workers who built it , neither tax payers who paid for it or the government responsible for using it. Corpses On the modern battle fields are cut into pieces, strewn everywhere, pictures and video of dead are always hidden so that no one can see the horrors.
During world war II some 50,000,000 people were killed in Europe and elsewhere. Imagine if every Book about Germans, other European nations, Americans, and Japanese started by detailing the cruel and extensive death and destruction they inflicted on their enemies during many wars. Realizing the unfairness of such an approach writers do not declare these nations as ruthless, blood thirsty, cruel or barbaric. Atrocities committed by the contemporary nations are customarily blamed on the rulers responsible for them but never the entire nation. The Nazis are blamed for the death and destruction resulting from world war II and not all Germans, the communists rulers are blamed for the death of millions in Russia but never the Russian nation. When it comes to the ancient Assyrians however the entire nation is labeled as cruel as if the entire nation was guilty for the sins of few.
In reality Assyrian treatment of the defeated enemy was far more humane than that of most other nations. They seldom engaged in wholesale massacres. They are accused of shifting the population of the cities which rebelled repeatedly from one location to another rather than selling them into slavery as other nations did . Their sculptures show no act of brutality against the exiled, The entire family father, mother and children are shown together, women and children are often traveling on carts and domesticated animals. There were no death camps for the defeated as there were in Germany and Russia of world war II.
The exiled were treated as the citizens of the empire and provided with land and other implements to help them survive financially. The population transfer policy was neither invented by the Assyrians nor they were the only nation that practiced it. The European slave trade, marching out the native Americans in the dead winter from their homeland are obvious examples of such practices in the west. Philip Hittie wrote the Arab empire was flooded with salves brought from the conquered regions; the Far East, Middle East, Africa, spain and southern Europe.
Saggs writes:While there were certainly no abstract Assyrian principles about rights of prisoners, it was equally the case that there was no principle that a prisoner, by the mere fact of being an enemy, deserved to die. Assyrian Prisoners of War and the Right to Live / by H. W. F. Saggs (Cardiff) Some Assyrian inscriptions reveal examples of kind treatment of the resettled people.
An official named Ashur-matka-gur reported to the king that some Arameans whom he was responsible for settling, shortly before their departure, were provided with provisions; clothing, shoes and oil but they complained that ladies are not willing to marry them because they do not have the required bride-price. Ashur-matka-gur's solution was to give them the necessary money to find favor with the ladies. The Greatness That was Babylon p. 238
In another letter an Assyrian official, Qurdi-Ashur-lamur, in charge of affairs at Tyre and Sidon reported to the king that another Assyrian official had cut the canal carrying Sidon's water supply; but Qurdi-Ashur-lamur had overruled the predecessor and restored the water supply to the city. "Another official, possibly the governor of the city and province of Kakzu in the east of Assyria, had been accused of settling farmers on the land subject to flooding but he hastened to defend his record; 'The harvest' he wrote is in fact very good one' and he went o to justify his claim. " Saggs pp-241-2
.When there was complaints about the conducts of a senior official, an investigator known as (gurbuti) "intimates' was sent by the King to find out the truth. Ashipo was sent to find out why grain intended for the city of Sippar had not arrived. He reported that rab alani the official in charge was not to be blamed because the grain could not be delivered until the canal has been opened. He assured the king "that work on the canal was being carried on with all possible speed." Saggs p. 244
Saggs writes: "Far from being simply a despotic militarism holding down conquered races by mere brutal harshness, Assyrian imperialism owed much to its success to a highly developed and efficient administrative system, and to the attention of an energetic bureaucracy to the day-today trifles of government."Saggs p. 237
The editors of the, "Art and Empire, Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum" wrote: Biblical prophets, gave the Assyrians a reputation of cruelty but now that we read the Assyrian inscriptions we realize that "Assyrians were no worst than other men in this respect.... By their policies of centralization and deportation Assyrians united much of the Middle East, the Persian empire, reaching form India to Greece, was a grander version of what Assyrians had put together, and owed much to their example. Assyrian art, science, literature and technology, integrated from many sources and revealed by excavation, represent a synthesis of ancient Middle Eastern civilization as a whole, to which much of the European tradition owes its origin.("Editors; J.E.Curtis and J.e.Reade p. 31)
By William Warda