Assyria was an ancient kingdom on the upper reaches of the Tigris River. (The area is now divided between the countries of Turkey and Iraq.) At its height in the mid-600s B.C., the great Assyrian empire extended from the lowlands of Syria in the west, to the mountains of Persia (present-day Iran) in the east. The name Assyria— Greek for “country of Ashur”—came from Ashur (Assur), the name of both a god and the early capital city.

Arriving in the region about 2000 B.C., the Assyrians had formed a state by 1300 B.C. They began a period of expansion about 1000 B.C., building an ever-growing empire by a series of conquests. In 612 B.C., however, the Babylonians and Medes overwhelmed the Assyrians and destroyed their empire, including their last capital city, Nineveh.

Assyria became a battleground in the 300s B.C., first between the Persians and the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and then between the Romans and the Parthians. Although Alexander incorporated the region into his empire, it broke away after his death. The Roman emperor Trajanclaimed Assyria as a Roman province* in A.D. 116, but his successor, Hadrian, abandoned it a few years later. The Roman emperors who followed tried to regain control of Assyria. Instead, the country fell into the hands of the Parthians in the late A.D. 200s and then the Sasanians gained control. Assyria remained under Sasanian control until the Arabs conquered the region in the A.D. 600s. (See also Persian Empire; Rome, History of: Roman Empire.)

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

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