The Assyrians in Israel

I published several blog posts on the Assyrian rule of the Levant, especially of the Philistine cities and parts of Judah. see here, here, here, and here. There is a debate among scholars to what extent the Assyrians exploited the areas they conquered and to what extent they encouraged trade, commerce and peace in the area. Most scholars tend towards seeing Assyria as an exploiting empire.

The Iron Age gate at Megiddo

K. Lawson Younger Jr, however, maintains that in their interest in maximal profit
from the lands that they controlled or bordered, the Assyrians’ goal was šulmu, “a
state of peace and order,” that eventually resulted in a type of pax Assyriaca. The bad reputation of Assyria was due to an “ideology of terror,” both in reality and in their textual and visual propaganda. This was a means of ensuring the complete submission of their enemies (K. Lawson Younger Jr, Assyria’s Expansion West of the Euphrates (ca. 870–701 BCE), in Archaeology and History of eighth century Judah: Festschrift for Oded Borowski, edited by Zev I. Faber and Jacob L. Wright, Atlanta: SBL Press, 2018. pp. 17-34.).

A sigma bowl, an imitation of Assyrian pottery. This one was found in Judah (Tell Halif)

In the same book, Gilad Itach has published an article on the effect of the Assyrian invasion on the Kingdom of Israel. The northern kingdom had enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in the early 8th century BCE. But with the arrival of the Assyrians, the whole society was threatened. In 733/732 BCE the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser III conquered the Galilee, Gilead and the western part of the kingdom. Just a small rump state in the vicinity of Samaria survived. Samaria was finally captured in 722 BCE under Shalmaneser V or Sargon II.

Most of the population of Israel was killed or exiled. Assyrian documents and the Bible tell us that exiles from other parts of the Assyrian Empire were settled in the conquered territories. This is supported by the archaeological remains: many cities, towns and villages were destroyed around the time of the Assyrian invasion. Many were not settled again for centuries. The land was quite empty, it seems. Only in the western reaches near the roads important for troop movements some settlements sprang up. These settlements did not use the characteristic four-room house, characteristic of Israel and Judah. While some material culture was similar to that used before in Israel, there was noticeable foreign influence. All this indicates that indeed, people from a different culture arrived in the new Assyrian provinces.

Gilad Itach concludes:

The area of the former kingdom
of Israel was transformed into provinces in a matter of decades, and all the signs
of the once independent state disappeared. Many people died in wars and others
were deported. The Assyrian empire did not invest in rebuilding the provinces.
While some deportees were brought in as settlers, joining the existing population,
most of Israel’s land lay desolate.

It seems that in the case of this area at least, the Assyrian policy was an elimination of threat and of exploitation. There is little indication that Assyria sought to foster prosperity by increasing economic activity. Any settlements were strategically located to support the supply of the military, but not for general economic activity.




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