Mesopotamian Superpowers Laying Waste To The Ancient Near East
Call it Canaan, the Levant or the Ancient Near East; the region has always had a troubled history of warfare and invasions. For 400 years from 732 to 332 BC, this region incorporating Philistia, Judea and Israel has been the epicenter of the battlefields between the superpowers of Mesopotamia; the Assyrians (732 to 604 BC); the Babylonians (604 to 539 BC) and finally the Persians (539 to 332 BC). Its harbor cities on the eastern Mediterranean Sea elevated it as an important link in the sea-trade with Europe and Africa, and it also lay on the over-land spice-trade route towards Egypt.
Map of the region in the ninth century BC, the Kingdom of Israel is in blue, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah is in yellow, with Philistia to its left, on the Mediterranean coast. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Due to its prime location, it became a coveted prize possession of whichever nation or dynasty that had envisioned expanding its empire during the first millennium BC. The Levant was a pawn at the mercy of the conquerors; its cities and villages ravaged and pillaged, raised to the ground, rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, only to be destroyed once more. Its populations were massacred, deported, exiled, enslaved, supplemented with foreigners, and repatriated. Foreign cultural influences impacted on the material legacy of the region and trade fluctuated like the eb and flow of the ocean, depending on who was the master at the time.
Judean people being deported into exile after the fall of Lachish to the Assyrians (Palace at Nineveh, Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, currently housed in the British Museum, London. (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Assyrians 732 – 604 BC
The Assyrian conquest of the Levant encompassed three phases: In the period 734 to 722 BC, the region north of the trans-Jordan, part of Israel, the coast of southern Phoenicia and Philistia was destroyed; from 721 to 700 BC the rest of Philistia and Judea (excluding Jerusalem) fell and from 700 to 663 BC Assyrian fortresses were built along the Via Maris. The Assyrian domination ended with the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC.
Assyrian administration of the conquered region consisted of provinces under the authority of a governor, autonomous vassal kingdoms, the Phoenician and Philistine cities along the coast and the nomads in the desert.
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Dr Micki Pistorius has an Honours Degree in Biblical Archaeology
Top Image: The Flight of the Prisoners; The exile of the Jews from Canaan to Babylon by James Tissot (1896) (Public Domain)