The chronology of Ancient Mesopotamia can be difficult to trace as there were several important players, whose histories intertwine to create the history of the area. This article covers the history from the end of the Akkadian empire in 2154 BCE through the First Babylonian Dynasty or Amorite Dynasty (1894-1595 BCE) and the Old Assyrian Kingdom (2025 BCE-1392 BCE). For history before this period, see The Stone Age, Sumeria and Ancient Mesopotamia, and the Akkadian Empire.
The End of the Akkadian Empire
The Akkadian Empire ended in 2154 BCE due to internal economic decline, civil war and external attacks from the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains, about whom little is known. The Sumerians, who had previously been part of the Akkadian Empire, ejected the Gutians and ascended to power, starting the Neo-Sumerian Empire, also known as the Third Dynasty of Ur, in the late 22nd century BCE. This dynasty was largely characterized by the cooperative rule of Ur’s larger city states.
The Elamites, a people from the area known as eastern-Iran today, attacked the Sumerians in 2002 BCE, ending the Third Dynasty of Ur and the Neo-Sumerian Empire. After this attack, the Amorites, a people from ancient Syria in southern Mesopotamia, began migrating into the area.
Important locations in the Ancient Near East
The earliest Neolithic civilizations in Assyria were the Jarmo culture c. 7100 BCE and the Hassuna culture c. 6000 BCE. The cities of Assur and Nineveh were established in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE (c. 2600 BCE) and were ruled by Sumerians during the Sumerian and Akkadian empires. The first fourteen kings of Assur were pastoral nomads about whom little is known. We have their names from the Assyrian king list, but know little more about them.
Assyria After the Akkadian Empire
Assyria became independent after the Gutians ended the Akkadian empire. The Gutians ruled the southern portion of Mesopotamia, but did not interfere in Northern Mesopotamia. This left the Assyrians to govern themselves from 2154 BCE to 2112 BCE. Unfortunately, the king list, is the only information we have about Assyria from this time.
Assyria in the Third Dynasty of Ur and Assyrian Religion
In 2112 BCE, most of Assyria became part of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Sumerian domination included Assur, but did not reach Nineveh, which is in the northern portion of the Assyrian kingdom. This domination lasted until about 2050 BCE, from which time we find the first inscriptions from urbanized Assyrian Kings that we have.
This is also the time that the first major temple was built in Assur to Ashur. It is believed it was built by King Ushpia who reigned about that time. Ashur was the king of the Gods of the Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian empires. The Assyrians believed that the king was Ashur’s regent and as long as conquests continued, the world would continue. However, if the conquests stopped, the king would fall out of favor with Ashur and the world would end. This propaganda was spread and much plundering and pilfering was done in the name of Ashur.
Assyria's Assyrian and Amoritish Leaders
About 2025 BC, Puzur-Ashur I is believed to have started a native Assyrian dynasty that endured for 8 generations until Shamshi-Adad, an Amorite, overthrew the Assyrian government about 1809 BCE. During Puzur’s reign, he finished building the protective walls his predecessor had started and built gods to Ashur, Adad and Ishtar in Assyria. Puzur-Ashur’s successors were some of the first rulers to write law. They also built fortifying walls and erected temples to Ashur, Ishtar, and Ningal.
Shamshi-Adad usurped the throne and ruled from 1802-1776 BCE. He claimed proper inheritance to the throne through descendancy from Ushpia (c. 2050). Shamshi-Adad expanded the Assyrian empire by conquering the kingdom of Mari, in modern Syria. This put the Assyrian empire in control of the entire northern portion of Mesopotamia in addition to holds in Asia Minor, Central Mesopotamia and Northern Syria.
Assyrian under Babylonian Control
Shamshi-Adad’s successor, Ishme-Dagan I held off Hammurabi, King of Babylon, but, unfortunately for Assyria, Ishme-Dagan I’s successor, Mut Ashkur, did not. The monarchy survived, but the three kings following Ishme-Dagan, were vassals to Hammurabi’s Babylonian empire.
Babylon, a small Akkadian city that was founded about 2300 BCE, gained its independence as a city-state under the rule of Sumu-Abum, an Amorite, in 1894 BCE. This began the First Babylonian Dynasty. Because of the high water table, little evidence has been found about this time period. What we know about this time period has been gleaned from the records of contemporary peoples.
The Babylonian Empire imported Silver from Anatolia, Cedar Wood from Lebanon, Copper from Arabia, Gold from Egypt, Tin from Persia, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan and semiprecious stone from northern India.
Relief of Hammurabi
Hammurabi's Code of Law
The sixth King of Babylon, Hammurabi, made Babylon the major empirical powerhouse from circa 1792-1750 BCE. He brought Assyria under vassalage and ruled all of Mesopotamia styling himself, “King of the four quarters of the world.” He improved on Sargon of Akkad’s rule by relying on centralized bureaucratic rule and regular taxation. He also provided Hammurabi’s Code of Law.
Hammurabi's Code of Law
Hammurabi’s code of law was the most extensive and complete Mesopotamian law code. It borrowed from previous Sumerian codes and demanded stern punishment for those who failed to live up to the high standard of behavior the code prescribed. It relied heavily on the principle of lex talionis, where offenders suffered punishments resembling their violations. Punishments were also dependent on social standing.
The First Fall of Babylon
After Hammurabi’s death, his son, Samsu-iluna (1749-1712 BCE), lost the far southern portion of Mesopotamia to a native Akkadian king, Illum-ma-ili, who started the Sealand Dynasty. This land remained free of Babylon for the next 272 years. Puzur-Sin drove the Babylonians and their Amorite leaders out of Assyria c. 1740 BCE. Five years later, after civil-unrest was ended and a stable leader found, that leader, Adasi, began appropriating Babylonian territory into Assyria.
Samsu-iluna had four Amorite successors, but eventually the Amorites were overthrown by the Hittites c. 1595. The Hitties didn’t stay long, but their destruction allowed the Kassites, natives of the Zagros Mountains, to gain control of Babylon.
Assyrian Unrest After Babylonian Control
After the death of Hammurabi, the short lived Babylonian Empire lost control of Assyria. Civil war ensued in Assyria. The last Amorite ruler, Asinum, was deposed in 1732 BCE, by Puzur-Sin, who disregarded Asinum as both a foreigner (Amorite) and as a former puppet of Babylon. With Puzur-Sin’s help, Ashur-dugul seized the throne. He was deposed and over the next six years four further kings briefly claimed the throne before being deposed as well. Finally, in 1726, Adasi came to the thrown and managed to end the civil unrest throughout Assyria.
Assyria is wooed by Egypt and Falls Vassal to the Mitanni Empire
Assyria managed to stay strong while Babylonia was sacked by the Hittites and then fell to the Kassites in 1595 BCE. Mutually beneficial treaties were signed between the first Kassite ruler of Babylon and the ruler of Assyria. However, the emergence of the Mitanni Empire, an Indo-European people, in the 16th century eventually lead to a short period of Mitanni domination over Assyria in the latter half of the 15th century. Ashur-nadin-ahhe I (1450-1431 BC) was approached by the Egyptians, who were the rivals of the Mitanni, to make a compact against the Mitanni. This agreement caused the Mitanni emperor, Saushtatar, to invade Assyria, making Assyria vassal to the Mitanni Empire.
As vassal to the Mitanni people, the Assyrian monarchy survived. The Mitanni influence seems to have been sporadic. Ashur-nadi-ahhe I was deposed by his brother, who also paid tribute to the Mitanni people. However, his successor (Ashur-bel-nisheshu 1417-1409 BCE) does not seem to have paid tribute, and was free to sign a mutually beneficial treaty with the Kassite King.
Egypt tried once again to get Assyrian military help against the Mitanni and Hittie rivals and sent a tribute during the reign of Ashur-nadin-ahhe II (1400-1393). It appears that the Assyrian king did not have the strength to help the Egyptians at that time. Ashur-nadin-ahhe II’s son, Eriba-Adad I (1392-1366 BCE) finally broke ties with the Mitanni Empire. This is roughly where scholars mark the end of the Old Assyrian Empire and the beginning of the Middle Assyrian Empire.