The Decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Did overpopulation and drought contribute to its collapse?


Assyrian King Sargon II (721–705 B.C.E.), holding the staff of kingship and wearing the royal conical crown, meets with a court official.

The mighty Neo-Assyrian Empire, which came to control the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Zagros Mountains as well as Egypt and part of Anatolia, collapsed at the end of the seventh century B.C.E. It is traditionally believed that the empire began to disintegrate due to a series of military conflicts as well as civil unrest. The destruction of the Assyrian capital Nineveh by a coalition of Babylonian and Median invaders in 612 B.C.E. marked the fall of the empire. A new study published in the scientific journal Climatic Change argues that a population boom and drought—two factors that have thus far been underexplored—may have contributed to the rapid demise of what some scholars consider the world’s first true empire.

The study, led by Adam W. Schneider of the University of California, San Diego, and Selim F. Adalı of Koç University, uses recently published paleoclimate data from various parts of the Near East as well as textual and archaeological evidence to suggest that the region experienced an episode of severe drought in the second half of the seventh century B.C.E. The Assyrian heartland had undergone a population explosion during the late eighth and early seventh centuries, largely due to the forced resettlement of conquered peoples into the empire. The researchers suggest that the major population growth may have greatly hindered the state’s ability to withstand the drought that plagued the region in the latter part of the seventh century.

“We strongly suspect that any economic damage inflicted upon the Assyrian Empire by drought would have served as a key stimulus for the increasing unrest which was to characterize its final decades,” Schneider and Adalı wrote in their paper.

“At a more global level,” the researchers caution, “the fate of the Assyrian Empire also teaches modern societies about the consequences of prioritizing policies intended to maximize short-term economic and political benefit over those which favor long-term economic security and risk mitigation.”

Read Schneider and Adalı’s paper in Climatic Change.

From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West examines the relationship between ancient Iraq and the origins of modern Western society. This free eBook, a collection of articles written by authoritative scholars, details some of the ways in which ancient Near Eastern civilizations have impressed themselves on Western culture. It examines the evolving relationship that modern scholarship has with this part of the world, and chronicles the present-day fight to preserve Iraq’s cultural heritage.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Bronze Age Collapse: Pollen Study Highlights Late Bronze Age Drought

Did Climate Change Bring Sumerian Civilization to an End?

The Last Days of Hattusa

ISIS Destroys Antiquities in Mosul, Iraq


6 Responses

  1. New Insight into Fall of Neo-Assyrian Empire The world of the bible - The world of the bible says:

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  2. Ed Morse says:

    And so, seven billion people, operating in a closed system, can make no difference. I’m sure the dinosaurs said, “We will rule forever.”
    Is what we’re doing good stewardship?
    And that is true; the planet will survive everything. Us? Not so sure.

  3. Helen Spalding says:

    Prolonged drought likely also caused the fall of the Mayan kingdoms and the kings of Angkor. We know that a warm up during the Middle Ages allowed populations to move northward and westward. We know that there were times in which the Sahara was a grassy region.

    None of these changes in climate was man-made. Yet they happened. Modern man has pride that he can change things, including the planet’s climate. This is hubris.

    God made a good planet that can withstand rambunctious teenagers like modern man. He planned for tectonic plates, volcanoes, and methane generation thru the decomposition process. Fear not, humanity, you are not a powerful as you think.

  4. Kurt says:

    Trustworthy Prophecy
    About a hundred years before the fall of the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah declared that Jehovah God would call those proud conquerors to account for their insolence toward his people. “I shall make an accounting for the fruitage of the insolence of the heart of the king of Assyria and for the self-importance of his loftiness of eyes,” Jehovah said. (Isaiah 10:12) Furthermore, God’s prophet Nahum foretold that Nineveh would be plundered, its gates would be opened to its enemies, and its guards would flee. (Nahum 2:8, 9; 3:7, 13, 17, 19) The Bible prophet Zephaniah wrote that the city would become “a desolate waste.”—Zephaniah 2:13-15.
    Those prophecies of destruction were fulfilled in 632 B.C.E. That is when Nineveh fell to the combined forces of the Babylonians and the Medes, bringing the Assyrian Empire to an inglorious end. A Babylonian chronicle of that event states that the conquerors “carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple” and turned Nineveh “into a ruin heap.” Today the desolate waste that was once Nineveh is marked by mounds of ruins on the east bank of the Tigris River, opposite the city of Mosul, in Iraq.
    Assyria’s destruction also contributed to the fulfillment of yet another Bible prophecy. Earlier, in 740 B.C.E., Assyria took the ten-tribe kingdom into exile. About the same time that Assyria did this, God’s prophet Isaiah foretold that Jehovah would “break the Assyrian,” “tread him down,” and bring Israel back to its homeland. Isaiah wrote: “The remnant of his people who will remain over from Assyria . . . , he [God] will collect together.” That is exactly what occurred—about two hundred years later!—Isaiah 11:11, 12; 14:25.
    The fall of the empire. The Babylonian Chronicle B.M. (British Museum) 21901 recounts the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, following a siege carried out by the combined forces of Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon, and of Cyaxares the Mede during the 14th year of Nabopolassar (632 B.C.E.): “The city [they turned] into ruin-hills and hea[ps (of debris)].” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 1974, p. 305; brackets and parentheses theirs.) Thus the fierce Assyrian Empire came to an ignominious end.—Isa 10:12, 24-26; 23:13; 30:30-33; 31:8, 9; Na 3:1-19; Zep 2:13.
    According to the same chronicle, in the 14th year of Nabopolassar (632 B.C.E.), Ashur-uballit II attempted to continue Assyrian rule from Haran as his capital city. This chronicle states, under the 17th year of Nabopolassar (629 B.C.E.): “In the month Duʼuzu, Ashur-uballit, king of Assyria, (and) a large [army of] E[gy]pt [who had come to his aid] crossed the river (Euphrates) and [marched on] to conquer Harran.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 305; brackets and parentheses theirs.) Actually, Ashur-uballit was trying to reconquer it after having been driven out. This record is in harmony with the account relative to the activity of Pharaoh Nechoh recorded at 2 Kings 23:29, which activity resulted in the death of King Josiah of Judah (c. 629 B.C.E.). This text states that “Pharaoh Nechoh the king of Egypt came up to the king of Assyria by the river Euphrates”—evidently to help him. “The king of Assyria” to whom Nechoh came may well have been Ashur-uballit II. Their campaign against Haran did not succeed. The Assyrian Empire had ended.
    The title “king of Assyria” was applied to the Persian king (Darius Hystaspis) who dominated the land of Assyria in the time of the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (completed in 515 B.C.E.).—Ezr 6:22.

  5. Kathryn Carmen says:

    Climate change?

  6. #SNRTG The Decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire – Biblical Archaeology Society | Talmidimblogging says:

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