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Assyrian relief of a horseman from Nimrud, now in the British Museum

The Iron Army: Assyria - Deadly and Effective Siege Machine - Part II

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Assyrian sappers (soldiers for building, demolitions, general construction) would approach the walls possibly under the cover of shield bears, the same type that protected the archers one could suspect. If they had no such protection, the Assyrian king made sure his specialized troop had the armor needed to get the job done. The sapper, particularly during the rule of Ashurnasirpal (883-859 BCE), were heavily armored and wore long padded mailed coverings along with a conical helmet with mail protecting the face and neck.  Once at the walls, they would aid in helping the battering rams dislodge blocks from the wall with special flat-topped crowbars, pick axes, hoes, and drills. If the sappers could not get near the walls, they tunneled under them and prop it up with wooden supports until the hole was rather large and deep, after which they would set fire to the structure causing the foundation to weaken and collapse. 

While the battering ram was effective, the Assyrians had a backup plan usually underway during the siege to aid the army if the rams failed to dislodge the walls, and that was siege towers. As these siege towers are pushed forward, archers would accompany them with the duty to pick off any enemy foe threatening to toss an incendiary weapon at the tower. Furthermore, the Assyrians placed hoses on the tower from which water poured over the leather sheets covering the wooden structure to prevent the tower from catching fire. If the water hoses failed and fire did catch, a man holding a large ladle with would extinguish the flames the best he could. 

Siege Tower on the Lachish, Relief in the British Museum.

Siege Tower on the Lachish, Relief in the British Museum. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

If the battering rams breached the walls, the Assyrian infantry behind the rams would pour through the hole under the cover of their archers and slingers. The Assyrian infantry were heavy spearmen armed with long, double-bladed spears, straight swords for close combat and they carried a small shield. The armor worn by the infantryman was a conical helmet, a knee-length coat of iron mail which was lined with wool to absorb the blows from weapons and allowed heat to dissipate. To protect his legs, he wore knee-high leather boots that had iron plates attached to the shins.

Heavy-armed archers in action. Assyrian, about 700-692 BC. From Nineveh, South-West Palace. These archers, the front one of whom is beardless, possibly an enuch, are each accompanied by a soldier whose duty it is to hold the tall shield in position and guard against any enemies who come too close.

Heavy-armed archers in action. Assyrian, about 700-692 BC. From Nineveh, South-West Palace. These archers, the front one of whom is beardless, possibly an enuch, are each accompanied by a soldier whose duty it is to hold the tall shield in position and guard against any enemies who come too close. (Mike Peel www.mikepeel.net/CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Plunder and Refugees

Inside the city, the Assyrian infantry would slash and plunder their way through. Once the slaughter and pillaging was over, those still alive (as at Samaria, which was sacked in 721 BCE), would feed the deported refugees during the journey back into Assyria, while also being treated by physicians to keep hygiene up and disease out. Furthermore, the Assyrians provided footwear if needed, along with carts for the longer journeys for women and children. Families were not separated for the most part. The Assyrians wanted to keep the families and communities together, as well as their national identity. Assyria was not a melting pot of nations. The Assyrians wanted to preserve the identity of the deportees for social and military strength and to lessen the possible acts of rebellion.

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Top Image: Assyrian relief of a horseman from Nimrud, now in the British Museum ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

By Cam Rea

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