Assyrian Identity in Ancient Times and Today
The Neo-Assyrian Empire was a multi-ethnic state composed of many peoples and tribes of different origins (cf. Postgate 1989). Its ethnic diversity notwithstanding, it was a uniformly structured political entity with well-defined and well-guarded borders,2 and the Assyrian kings certainly regarded it as a unified whole, "the land of Aššur", whose territory they constantly strove to expand (Tadmor 1999; see also below). To the outside world, it likewise was a unified, monolithic whole, whose inhabitants were unhesitatingly identified as Assyrians regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.3
However, just how far did the masses of the Empire's population actually share the Assyrian identity? Did they consider themselves as members of the Assyrian nation, identifying with the ideals and ways of life of the Assyrian ruling class, or did they rather identify themselves in terms of their diverse ethnic origins, loathing and resenting the Assyrian rule and way of life? I shall try to answer these questions by first considering the matter briefly from a theoretical perspective and then reviewing the available evidence, both Assyrian and post-Assyrian, in detail.
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