Updated: Jun 19, 2021
Ashurnasirpal II’s son and successor, Shalmaneser III, had a 35-year reign that was filled with military campaigns, especially in the west and the north. In the west, political fragmentation made Syria militarily weak and thus an easy target, but under the leadership of Damascus it formed a major coalition against the advance of Shalmaneser’s forces. In 853 B.C., it fielded an army of 40,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, and 4,000 chariots, according to Assyrian sources. The troops came from Damascus, Hamath, Israel, and the Phoenician cities, with the help from the Arabs and Egyptians, and they seem to have been able to push the Assyrians back in a battle near Qarqar. The exact details about this battle are unknown, and no information is available on the number of Assyrian forces involved.
In the next few years, the Damascus coalition fell apart on the death of the king of Damascus, Hadad-ezer, and by 841 B.C., Shalmaneser III was able to remove all Syrian opposition. This enabled him to turn his attention to the north, where he subdued the Neo-Hittite States and gained access to southern Anatolian mines. The states there remained independent, and they had to only provide tribute, while keeping their original rulers.
Assyria was now a large empire, and the king, who was personally responsible for the proper functioning of the state, had to rely on an extensive bureaucracy. The power of the higher administrators and military officers were considerable and they became more independent as Shalmaneser III grew older.
Following his reign, a civil war began as King Shamshi-Adad V fought with his brother for control. Although the rebellion was put down, expansion of the empire halted. The dominance over Syria disappeared and states refused to pay tribute. Shamshi-Adad V was forced by the Babylonians to accept a treaty on unfavorable terms. During this time, local governors and officials within Assyria became virtually independent. They commissioned inscriptions, some of them bilingual Assyrian and Aramaic, in which they portrayed themselves kings. The king, in order to keep them on his side, granted them large estates. These internal problems put an end to the emergence of Assyria as a major power in the ninth century. The dynasty survived, with rule passing from father to son, but the kings had to buy favor with the nobles in order to remain in place. In order to properly succeed, Assyria needed to develop another approach. They would do this through systematic expansion, which would characterize the second phase of its empire.
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