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Assyria (Roman province)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Provincia Assyria
Province of the Roman Empire
Rome assyria picture 1 edited.jpg

The Roman province of Assyria.
Historical eraAntiquity
• Established by Trajan
• Evacuated by Hadrian
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Parthian Empire
Parthian Empire
Today part of Iraq

Assyria (/əˈsɪəriə/) was reputedly a Roman province that lasted only two years (116–118 AD).

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Before the sun never set on the British Empire, before Genghis Khan swept the steppe, before Rome extended its influence to encircle the Mediterranean Sea, there was ancient Assyria. Considered by historians to be the first true empire, Assyria’s innovations laid the groundwork for every superpower that’s followed. At its height, in the 7th century BCE, the Assyrian Empire stretched across modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and parts of Turkey, Iran, and Egypt. Its wonders included a vast library and large botanical and zoological park. But the story of Assyria’s rise to dominance began many centuries earlier, in the Late Bronze Age, in a city called Ashur. Ashur was a tin and textiles trading center located along the Tigris River in northern Iraq. It shared its name with a god thought to be an embodiment of the city and later of the entire empire. For the administration-minded Assyrians, politics and religion were closely linked. Around 1300 BCE, a high priest named Ashur-uballit I took the title of king and initiated a tradition of military campaigns, effectively transforming Assyria from a city-state to a territorial state. This meant that a single administrative entity oversaw many places, cultures, and peoples. For the next 150 years, Assyria extended its reach and thrived. In the 12th century BCE, a mysterious catastrophe that still bewilders archaeologists caused the Assyrians to lose much of their territory. A few hundred years later, however, Assyrian kings began a new round of conquests. This time, they honed their administrative system into an empire that would last generations. Assyrians were military innovators and merciless conquerors. During their conquests, they used siege tactics and cruel punishments for those who opposed them, including impalement and flaying. The growth of their empire was due, in part, to their strategy of deporting local populations, then shifting them around the empire to fulfill different needs. This broke peoples’ bonds with their homelands and severed loyalties among local groups. Once the Assyrians conquered an area, they built cities connected by well-maintained royal roads. Often, when a new king came to power, he would build a new capital. With each move, new palaces and temples were erected and lavishly decorated. Although kings claimed absolute power, we know that an extensive system of courtiers, provincial officials, and scholars influenced affairs. At least one woman, Sammuramat, ruled the kingdom. Assyrian rulers celebrated their military excursions by having representations of their exploits carved into the walls of their newly built palaces. But despite the picture of a ruthless war state projected by these records, the Assyrian kings were also interested in the cultural traditions of the region, especially those of Babylonia, a separate state to the south. Babylonia had been a cultural leader for millennia, stretching back to the beginning of writing at the end of the 4th millennium BCE. Assyria saw itself as the inheritor and protector of this tradition. Assyrian rulers supported scholars in specialties ranging from medicine to magic, and the capital cities, like Ninevah, were home to elaborate parks and gardens that housed plants and animals from around the empire. One of Assyria’s final rulers, Ashurbanipal, sent scholars throughout Babylonia to gather up and copy ancient literary works. Ashurbanipal’s library took the form of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform in the languages of Akkadian and Sumerian. The library was lost during the final sack of Ninevah in 612 BCE. But thanks to a 19th century archaeological excavation, many masterpieces of ancient literature, including the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian Creation Epic, survive today. After centuries of rule, the Assyrian Empire fell to the Babylonians and Medes between 612 and 609 BCE. Yet the innovations that the Assyrians  pioneered live on. Their emphasis on constant innovation, efficient administration, and excellent infrastructure set the standard for every empire that’s followed them in the region and across the globe.



According to Eutropius and Festus, who in the second half of the 4th century historians, at a time when the Roman emperor Trajan was perceived as "a valuable paradigm for contemporary events and figures", wrote under the direction of the Emperor Valens, Assyria was one of three provinces (with Armenia and Mesopotamia) created by Trajan in AD 116 following a successful military campaign against Parthia that in that year saw him cross the River Tigris from Mesopotamia and take possession, in spite of resistance, of the territory of Adiabene and then march south to the Parthian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and to Babylon.[1]

There is numismatic evidence for the Trajanic provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia, but none for that of Assyria, whose existence is questioned by C.S. Lightfoot and F. Miller.[2][3][4]

Despite Rome's military victory, Trajan's 116 conquest was plagued with difficulties. From the start, a Parthian prince named Santruces organized an armed revolt by the native peoples, during which Roman garrisons were driven from their posts and a Roman general was killed as his troops tried to stop the rebellion.[5] Trajan overcame the revolt, capturing and burning Seleucia and Edessa, and even setting up a puppet Parthian king; but then, on his journey homeward in triumph, he fell sick and died on 8 August 117.[1]

Trajan's successor, Hadrian, implemented a new policy with respect to the recently acquired territories in the east. Believing that they overextended the empire, he withdrew to the more easily defensible borders.[6][7] He left unfinished the work of overcoming the Parthians, which he saw would require an excessive increase in military spending. He sent the puppet Parthian king elsewhere and restored to the former ruler the lands east of the Euphrates, together with his daughter who had been captured, preferring to live with him in peace and friendship.[8]


The fourth-century historians Eutropius and Festus assume that the supposed Roman province of Assyria was situated "east of the Tigris and usually identified with Adiabene".[3] But some modern scholars argue that the Assyria Provincia was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in present-day central Iraq, a location that is corroborated by the text of the 4th-century Roman historian Festus.[9] Archaeologist André Maricq "convincingly equates it with the Āsurestān of the 3rd century Šāpur inscription".[3] However, other sources contend that the province was located near Armenia and east of the Tigris, in a region formerly known as Adiabene,[10] which was a Neo-Assyrian kingdom.[citation needed]

Further Roman activity in Mesopotamia

Hadrian's withdrawal in 118 did not mark the end of Roman rule in Mesopotamia. A second Parthian campaign was launched from 161-165 under the command of Lucius Verus, with the Roman army once more conquering territory east of the Euphrates.[11] Rome pursued military action against the Parthians again in 197-8 under the command of emperor Septimius Severus.[12]

Following his successful campaign, Septimius Severus instituted two new Roman provinces: Mesopotamia and Osroene, a Neo-Assyrian kingdom[citation needed] or, according to Matthew Bunson, a kingdom that began only in the 2nd century BC,[13] centered on Edessa. He also stationed two Roman legions in the new provinces to ensure stability and prevent against first Parthian, and later Sassanian attacks.[14] Roman influence in the area came to an end under Jovian in 363, who abandoned the region after concluding a hasty peace agreement with the Sassanians and retreating to Constantinople to consolidate his political power.[15]

Despite continued Roman activity in the region, no further reference is made to a Roman province of Assyria following Hadrian's evacuation in 118 AD. When Septimus Severus created the provinces of Osroene and Mesopotamia at the end of the 2nd century, no mention is made of a Roman province of Assyria.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330 − c. 391) says that the district of Adiabene was formerly called Assyria, with no indication that either ever was a Roman province.[16] He says that Assyria was the nearest to Rome of the chief Persian provinces and that in his time it was known by a single name, though previously divided among several peoples and tribes.[17] He lists among the cities of Assyria Babylon, Seleucia and Ctesiphon.[18] He speaks of the Emperor Julian as, in his campaign against the Sasanian Empire, attacking Assyrians shortly before crossing the Euphrates into Osroene,[19] as living near the Euphrates to the south of Carrhae,[20]

Thus, it seems that the province of Assyria only existed during Trajan's reign, if even then, and was not reinstated during later Roman occupations of the region. The general area coincided with ancient Assyria;[citation needed] however, and the Medes, Achaemenid Persians, Seleucid Greeks, Sassanids and Parthians all had similar names for the area (Ashur, Athura, Assuristan).

The Assyrian people of the region had already begun to adopt Christianity by Trajan's time,[citation needed] and still retained an Akkadian-infused Eastern Aramaic as a spoken and literary tongue, as they do to this day.

See also


  1. ^ a b Theodore Mommsen, Römische Geschichte (Berlin 1885), vol. V (Die Provinzen von Caesar bis Diocletian), pp. 400−401
  2. ^ C. S. Lightfoot, "Trajan's Parthian War and the Fourth-Century Perspective" in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 80 (1990), pp. 115-126
  3. ^ a b c Erich Kettenhofen, "Trajan" in Encyclopædia Iranica (2004)
  4. ^ Simon Grote, "Another look at the Breviarium of Festus" in The Classical Quarterly, Volume 61, Issue 2 (December 2011), pp. 704-721
  5. ^ David Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor to the End of the Third Century After Christ, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950: p. 609.
  6. ^ Charles Freeman, The World of the Romans, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993: p. 62.
  7. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XI, London: Cambridge University Press, 1970: p. 640.
  8. ^ Theodore Mommsen, Römische Geschichte (Berlin 1885), vol. V (Die Provinzen von Caesar bis Diocletian), p. 403
  9. ^ C.S. Lightfoot, "Trajan's Parthian War and the Fourth-Century Perspective," The Journal of Roman Studies, Volume 80, (1990), p. 121-122.
  10. ^ Lightfoot p. 121; Magie p. 608.
  11. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History p. 640.
  12. ^ Magie p. 674-5; Fergus Millar, The Roman Empire and its Neighbors, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967: p. 211.
  13. ^ Matthew Bunson, A Dictionary of the Roman Empire (Oxford University Press 1995), p. 303
  14. ^ Magie p. 674-5; Fergus Millar, The Roman Empire and its Neighbors, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967: p. 211.
  15. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus The Later Roman Empire (354-378) A shameful peace concluded by Jovian 6.7 pg.303, Penguin Classics, Translated by Walter Hamilton 1986
  16. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum gestarum libri 23.6.20
  17. ^ Ammianus 23.6.14−15
  18. ^ Ammianus, 23.6.23
  19. ^ Ammianus 23.2.6
  20. ^ Ammianus 23.3.1

This page was last edited on 18 November 2019, at 09:50
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