THE ASSYRIANS: THE "APACHES" OF ANTIQUITY

THE most bloodthirsty and savage nation who ever lived had their home in the highlands of the Upper Tigris. In the eighth century B.C. they overran the countries from the Tigris to the Nile. Their success was due to a combination of grim ferocity with supremacy in the art of war. They were the first nation to adopt iron weapons exclusively. The land was an armed camp, the nation a standing army of archers and heavy-armed infantry, supported by horsemen and charioteers. Few walls could withstand their battering-rams and siege towers. Their art matched their character. The animals in their hunting scenes snarl with tigerish ferocity, and the human-headed bulls glare intimidatingly from the glazed bricks of their palace walls. Grim bearded warriors, these people stand out from their reliefs, pitiless and unrelenting, as they flay or blind their victims, or carry off whole nations into captivity. In repeated campaigns, the Assyrians devastated the fairest countries of Western Asia, and exhausted their own population. Some of their kings showed an interest in the learning of the Babylonians, and one of them collected a large library. But their chief literary interest was to write boastful chronicles of their terrorism. Towards the end of the seventh century they were caught between raiding tribes on the North and the rising powers of the Medes and the Chaldeans on the South, and in 612 B.C., Nineveh, their capital, was captured and destroyed. Nahum, the Hebrew prophet, voiced the universal delight when he cried, " Nineveh is laid waste. Who will bemoan her ? " The Medes and Persians were kindred tribes on the eastern bank of the Tigris who had helped to destroy Assyria and had taken the largest share of the spoils. The Medes were the ruling tribe until overthrown by the Persians under Cyrus (558-529 B.C.) who founded the first great empire built on a firm basis. Crcesus, the wealthy ruler of Lydia, a kingdom of Western Asia Minor, tried in vain to resist Cyrus. A great believer in oracles, Croesus had, on this occasion, consulted the famous oracle at Delphi in Greece. The ambiguous reply said that if he crossed the river Halys, which was the eastern boundary of his kingdom, he would destroy a mighty empire. Croesus took this as an answer favourable to himself. He crossed the river, but the empire which he destroyed was his own, for he was defeated and slain by Cyrus in 546 B.C.