The Assyrian Continuity
Posted: Thursday, June 10, 1999 at 01:44 PM UT
Some rather suspicious claims from certain groups questioning the linkage of today’s Assyrians to those of antiquity had been rumored around lately. We hear of claims hinting that the Assyrians of antiquity simply disappeared and vanished from the face of the earth after the fall of their last heartland capital in 612 BC. Meanwhile, others are implying that today’s Assyrians are different peoples, it just happened that they coincidentally acquired that name some 150 years ago!
To those who claim that the Assyrian name re-surfaced in mid 1800’s, during the excavation of Botta and Layard in Nineveh, I say, historically, that is absolutely a false statement. Such claims point to one of two things; the people behind them are either ill informed or they are serving a certain agenda. The Western re-discovery of the Assyrian name and civilization began with the adventures of a Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, in the 12th century, who recognized the two large mounts or tells across the river from Mosul, it was not Layard. In reality, people living in Mosul have never forgotten that their city had a glorious past. Documents show that when Hurmizd Rassam was negotiating with the authorities to excavate one of those two tells at Nineveh, he was told that its legal name was Ninua.
The way it seems to me is that the attempts to rewrite the Assyrian history to serve some hidden purpose is part of a wider conspiracy which is directed at wiping everything original connected to the Assyrians in Bet Nahrain, and to undermine the Assyrian progress in the international community. These plans are attempts to preoccupy Assyrians with internal quarrels and divert their attention from pursuing their historic national dreams. Rewriting history is not something accidental which happened the other day, it is a well planned scheme to Arabize the Assyrian/Babylonian culture. One example is the Iraqi government’s decree some years ago to proclaim First of April as ‘The Tree Day’ (A’eed al-Shajara) and a national holiday to coincide with the Assyrian/Babylonian New Year Festival (a celebration for the arrival of Spring, and the agricultural connection to that). We do not want to get into the details of the subject of the Arabization here.
Yes, wars are portrayed as humanity’s nightmare, they could change the government system completely or modify its ideology, and they could give the economy a facelift to better or worse depending on few factors . Wars could destroy cities, landmarks and they could be fierce enough to cause damage to the country’s infrastructure and hence the way of life among other things. But to assume that the entire people of a kingdom disappeared because their capital fell, that is hard to accept under any logical theory. It has been said that the Mongols’ (Tartars) destructive waves across Asia in the 13th. century were considered as the deadliest history had ever seen, yet we do not hear of the disappearance of the Persian people whom the Mongols swept across their country Persia like a thunder! Anybody who believes in the theory that the Assyrians ceased to exist after the fall of Nineveh is either naive or playing a certain political scheme. This fact could be grasped easily knowing how widely the Assyrian empire was spread throughout the entire region of the Middle East, hence when their heartland capitals fell in 612 BC, that did not lead to the demise of the entire population. I hope that the historical accounts mentioned in this modest work will prove contrary to the claims of the disappearance of the Assyrians.
What other names are used to refer to the Assyrians?
The Assyrians of today always referred to themselves, as confirmed by many historians, as Atourayeh, to their land in the plains of Nineveh as the land of Atour, and to their God as Ashur, hence their neighbors called them Ashuriyeen (singular Ashuri) reference to their God Ashur. Assyrians were known too as Athouriyeen and Athour for the people and the land respectively in Aramaic and Arabic. When the Greek under Alexander the Great passed by the land of Atour in 337 BC, he called the inhabitants ‘Assyrians’ instead of ‘Ashurians’ since the Greek DO NOT have the letter ‘Sh’ in their alphabet. Later the Greek modified the term to Syrians in a wider range to refer to Assyrians and when used with "The" as the definite article (al, in Arabic), it appeared as ‘The Syrians’, in Arabic it read ‘al-Syrian’ or as truly pronounced ‘al-Sir-yan’ (‘Sir-ya-ni’ in singular form) and in our mother language Syriac ‘Su-ra-yeh’ and the singular ‘Su-ra-ya’.
The Assyrians alive after the fall of Nineveh
The plains of the Assyrian heartland were called "Beth Athurayeh" and that appears in historical manuscripts of King Kurish [Cyrus] II indicating that the Assyrian prisoners returned to their homes some 66 years after the fall of their empire. Another manuscript shows that the Assyrians paid tax to King Qambiz, Cyrus’ son. The fact that years after the fall of Nineveh, the Assyrians began to return to their original lands was confirmed by S. Lloyd the British Historian and Archaeologist in his book "The Truth about Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria".
So, the Assyrian (Atourayeh or Ashurayeh) did not disappear all of a sudden after the fall of their empire, they continued to live in and around Nineveh and those other regions they lived in before. Dariush (Dara), the Persian King, mentions of the execution of an Assyrian leader who revolted against him and recorded too about the Assyrian labors who transferred Timber for him from the mountains of Lebanon to the Persian city Susa to build his castle with. [Read The Assyrians ‘al-Ashoriyoon’ (in Arabic) by Aziz Barkho Aziz] (translated by the author of this article from Arabic)
The Babylonian Chronicle mentions something very interesting, after the fall of Nineveh, Nabopolassar marched as far as Nisibis and then returned to Nineveh and received booty. Farther down we read " till the month of ......[the king of Akkad stayed] in Nineveh. The focus here should be on two things; first, "till the month of ..." which is an indication of several months; second, "the king of Akkad [Nabopolassar] stayed in Nineveh." Putting it together, Nabopolassar , after having claimed to ‘destroy’ Nineveh, stays there for several months before he returned to Babylon few months later as his agreement with the Medes stated, the Medes to control the north while the Chaldean King to control the south part of Mesopotamia. The point is that it was not completely destroyed, it was fit enough to accommodate Nabopolassar and his army, matter of fact, Nineveh continued to be inhabited for many centuries.
The same Babylonian chronicle indicates that after the war Median garrisons remained in Nineveh, Ashur, Arrapha (Kirkuk) and Harran. Clearly the region was not depopulated . In fact records indicate that Neo Babylonian King Neriglisar (559-556 BC) brought back to the Assyrian city of Arrapha (modern Kirkuk) the statue of the goddess Anunitum, which was looted at an earlier time.
It is only natural that the Babylonian chronicles will have no more entries on the Assyrian army or anything that is related to Assyria, after the last war officially fought by the Assyrian Army in the west in 609 BC, since the Babylonians has recorded that the Assyrian Empire had been destroyed.
We read that by the late fourth century BC,
Another matter of interest is a report by Xenophone about a large city called Mespila near a large undefended fortification. By careful examination of the typography described by Xenephone, scholars have determined based on narratives in Ktesias, as preserved in Diodorus Siculus II 26-27, that the fortification was the city of Nineveh, though under the eponymic name of Ninos. Mespila, on the other hand, as suggested by H. Tadmor and S.A. Kaufman, is the Aramaic ‘mashplah’ as heard by Xenophon from the local population, which means "the fallen one". "The Persian Expedition," by Xenophon.
In an article by William Warda titled "The Heritage of the Contemporary Assyrians", JAAS, Vol.VIII, we read the following;
She goes on to comment about the descendants of the Assyrian kings who were living in Harran at that time. She notes that Assyrian kings, whom she had served had treated her as their daughter but after their death;
Until the 8th century AD the Sin temple in Harran contained three ancient documents in the form of Steles. These depicted a person in ancient dress, holding a ringed staff in one hand while raising the other to the three divine symbols of Sin (the moon god), Shamash (the sun god) and Ishtar ( the morning star). The cuneiform on one stele, provides a new list of the Assyrian kings and describes details of the funeral of Nabunid's mother. The other two steles describe Nabunid's attempts to rebuild the temple of Sin in Harran and his disagreement with the priests of Marduk. When the temple was confiscated by the Arabs in the 8th century AD, a mosque was built on its site. The three Steles were buried under the entrances of the mosque so that people would walk over them as they entered and exited. Presumably, this was to symbolize the triumph of Islam over paganism.
Harran had been an Assyrian city for almost a millennium before the fall of imperial Assyria. It's inhabitants spoke the same language as the Assyrians, their religion was more or less the same, and other aspects of their culture were the same as Assyrians, yet contemporary writers have been reluctant to acknowledge Harran as an Assyrian city after 612 BC. As if with the fall of the military and political system in Assyria, its inhabitants suddenly lost their national and cultural identity and became people of unknown nationality. The role of Biblical teaching is readily obvious when it comes to Harran. Despite a history spanning several thousands of years, it is often identified only as the city Abraham (a Mesopotamian born in Ur and the patriarch of the Jewish religion) passed through before his migration from Ur to Egypt. Harranians continued to practice their pagan religion even though they were pressured to convert first by their Christian brothers and later by the Moslems. In fact to this date their descendants continue to revere the sun, which they call Sheikh Shamas (the ancient Assyrian god Shamash), the moon, Sheikh Sin (the ancient Assyrian God Sin) and Malik Taous (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tammuz). The Harranian religion has slowly evolved into a mixture of ancient Assyrian, Christian and Moslem beliefs. They have been also known as Sabians and Yezidis.
The significance of this lies in the fact that there was an independent vassal kingdom in Assyria, proof of Assyrian continuity. It should be pointed here that, the capital of Adiabene, according to Encyclopedia Britannica CD98, and the map at the end of the book Ancient Iraq, was Arba-ilu (Arba-ilu : is Arbela: is modern Arbil).
According to few Assyriologists: "The Assyrian population can not have disappeared overnight, and there is in fact evidence from Kalhu (Nimrud) to suggest that some of the inhabitants of the city returned after its sack in 612 BC to seek shelter in its ruins."
Qostantine Matviev Bar Mattay in his book "The Assyrians and the Assyrian question" wrote;
These facts attests to what is mentioned in the Old Testament. Lets read through...
Although the subject of this article is not what Nahum had expressed in his words, but it is only interesting to show to the reader a precise--and, for the Hebrew Bible, unique--echo, and reversal,
Despite of the mixed interpretations of the Assyrians’ state of mind between Nahum and Isaiah, the above still is very important, since there could not be a better documentary to fall back upon better than the Bible and here the Bible is verifying that Assyrians were not wiped out rather they scattered on the mountains as Nahum had indicated.
Rev. W. A. Wigram in his book , "The Assyrians and Their Neighbors" wrote;
What Wigram is telling us is that Assyrians existed at least 200 years after the fall of Nineveh.
Let us read about Mesopotamia between 2nd century BC and 3rd century AD from authors Patricia Crone and Michael Cook from their book "Hagarism":
The 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia confirms the occupation of Nineveh:
Now, after the introduction of Christianity into Assyria, the following observations from the author of "Ancient Iraq" are clarifying: " We know that some of the ancient temples were restored, that Ashur was worshipped in his home town, that a cult was rendered to Nabu in Barsippa until, perhaps, the fourth century AD."
Here we see that in the early years of Christianity Ashur was still worshipped in his home town. This proves that Assyrians existed at least till AD 256 when Assur was destroyed by Shapur I as radically as it had been by the Medes earlier. Of course it was the Assyrians! Who else would have worshiped Ashur ?
Aubrey R. Vine in his book "Nestorian Churches" lists metropolitan provinces with their dependent bishoprics, here are couple of them; a) Province of Nisibis, Metropolitan at Nisibis, a bishop at Bakerda, and b) Province of Adiabene, Metropolitan at Erbil, bishops at Honita and Maalta. A little after AD 522, " Other bishoprics not yet under metropolitans included Maiperkat, Nineveh, Singara, Drangerda, Ispahan and Nishapur."
Living the 6th century, we find Nineveh, the heart of Assyria, alive and Christianized, and Syriac (Aramaic) being the spoken language throughout its region. This is of utmost importance, because of the existence of two essential factors which are meeting the criteria for the continuity of any nation, the land and the language.
Assyrians built other small kingdoms
The Assyrians [Ashurayeh or Aturayeh] did not vanish, they built smaller kingdoms for themselves in ‘Edessa’ [Urhai] which was ruled by 29 kings, 14 were known as Abgar and 15 as Mano. The Greek called it ‘Osrhoene’ while the Armenians called it ‘Asor-hones’ meaning Old Ashur. The Assyrians build other kingdoms like ‘Adiabene’ in Arbil and ‘Haran’ in Syria.
Philip Hitti, a professor of Semitic literature at Princeton University, in his book ‘History of Syria’, wrote;
Hitti continues later;
We read in "Edessa the Blessed City" by J.B. Segal that according to Moses of Chronene, classical Armenian historian Abgar UkKamma of the first century AD wrote a letter to Nerseh King of Assyria. Although Moses accounts are fanciful historical evidence indicates that Nerseh King of Adiabene also known as King of Assyria was a contemporary of the Abgar the Great 177-204 AD. Reportedly Nerseh was drowned in the Great Zab by the Parthians for his pro Roman sympathies.
A report by Reuters in 1987 was printed in the 1997 issue of Nabu magazine, which came out under vol. 3, issue 1, stated that;
The new evidence that Reuters is mentioning refers to Assyrian Tells (mounds) in Iraq dating to the third century BC, three centuries after the fall of their empire.
James Henry Breasted in his book; The Conquest of Civilization, said;
Later, he says;
so Assyrians did not disappear into thin air, but they were around.
By the end of 612 BC and according to The Babylonian Chronicle, Sin-Shar-ishkun, king of Assyria fled, without mentioning his fate. H.W.F. Saggs says that the Assyrians were not finished. Those of the Assyrians army who could escape from Nineveh fled hundred miles westward to Harran, where Ashur-Uballit of the Assyrian royal family was proclaimed king of Assyria.
Since the 9th century, Harran was part of the Assyrian Empire. The fact, that Harran is the only Assyrian city besides Assur to be given the kidinnutu stature in the time of Sargon II attests to its great political significance.
We read additionally from history books that the Parthians, a branch of the Scythians, were in Khorassan, Iran, and in southern Turkmenistan. Between 160 and 140 BC, the Parthians conquered the Iranian plateau in its entirety. These Parthians encouraged "the development of Hellenistic cities and tolerated the formation of independent vassal kingdoms, such as Osrhoene and Adiabene ...." Other military glacis is Der on the Elamite border which is mentioned explicitly in a letter of Mar-Ishtar to Esarhaddon. In this letter, he reports of the restoration of the temple of Der and asks for an Assyrian master-builder to come. In another letter to Esarhaddon, Marduk-shakin-shumi gives description to a ritual procedure for an Akitu celebrated for Anu which ends with this short remark to its similarity to the Assyrian rituals: "The ceremonies of the city of Der are conducted in the same way."
There were yet some other Vassal kingdoms Assyrians built like Edom (southern today’s Israel) which was newly fortified to help them with trade and its king Padi’s relations with Assyria is well documented. Other settlements like Buseirah, Umm el-Biyarah and Kheleifeh, among others were started to protect the trade route. In the northeastern region of Negev, new sites like Qitmit and Tamar were established. Assyrians helped to transform some of the cities which were losing their status like Ekron (identified with Tel Miqne) to a major urban and industrial centers. All these settlements were in a close relationship to Edom, which conducted business through political decisions made in Nineveh. Recent excavations of pottery, assemblage of four-horned altars, and other metal artifacts in all these sites prove a strong Assyrian connection.
The significance of this again lies in the fact that there were independent vassal kingdoms in Assyrian, and the fall of the capital Nineveh did not result in the disappearance of all Assyrians, hence a proof of Assyrian continuity. It is only fitting here to mention that there are texts called Sargonid Court Poetry which contains a passage of proud enthusiasm for the great cities of Assyria and this is how it runs:
Life went on as usual for Assyrians. During the Achaemenian period:
Thus, Assyria as a country, people, and small villages scattered throughout, were recognized until the end of the Achaemenian period.
Here is what Saggs wrote in his book "The Might That Was Assyria" about Assyrians in Christian era;
Other powers recognized Assyrians after the fall of Nineveh
Returning to what Xenophon said earlier, a very important testimony which I read in a passage by C.J. Gadd published in the book "The World of the Past" which was edited by Jacquetta Hawkes, an archaeologist, who holds two degrees from Cambridge University, attest to that fact when it states;
This was known to Aristotle from reports of Alexander’s companions. How could anybody then justify any claims of complete destruction of Nineveh if the inscriptions on a tomb of an Assyrian king were easily read and translated by the Greek after some 300 years of such claimed destruction?
What else do historians tell us? Well, Strabo (64 BC-21 AD) lists several of the traditional cities (including Nineveh and 'Calachene') in the Assyrian heartland, which he calls 'Aturia'.
We continue our investigation and find that...
This tells us that the Roman Emperor recognized Assyria in the 2nd century. We have another very important testimony attesting to the fact that Assyrians lived in Northern Bet Nahrain which comes from some one who lived the period, Youhanna al-Amidi, who was born in Amid (Diyar Baker). This Youhanna (John) became bishop over Ephesus, he mentions that the Roman Emperor Anastasius built a city which he called Dara in AD 505 and then delivered it to the Atourayeh (Assyrians). This city became part of the Persian Empire around AD 572 during the Roman-Persian war.
Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project Helsinki, September 7-11, 1995
Michael Grant, in his book; "A Guide To The Ancient World" says that at about AD 216
I do not know of any other large group of peoples who have lived longer in the district defined as the ‘land between the two rivers’ (Bet Nahrain) and spoke Syriac (Aramaic) besides the Assyrians.
According to an article by Leslie Saffer Thimming, titled The Assyrian People and the Legacy of the City of Harput’s Church of the Virgin Mary, posted in Nineveh magazine Third Quarter 1997, Vol. 20 No. 3, the above named Assyrian church was consecrated in AD 179 in this city which is within the area called Upper Mesopotamia and according to the historian Ragozin, ‘Har’ or ‘Khar’ is an Aramaic name meaning Fortress or outpost.
Aziz S. Atiya, a historian and professor of history, discusses the origin of our Christianity under the heading of "Age of Legend" thusly:
A reference from the Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98 will take us to the fourth century AD of Assyrian Christianity:
In Conclusion and final thoughts
I would like to bring to the reader’s attention one of the latest archaeological findings which prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Assyrians existed, even after the fall of Nineveh, through their writings as stated in this paragraph; An Assyriologist dealing with Assyria after the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC stated;
The history of the Assyrian Churches is overwhelmed with names of Martyrs who used the affix Atouraya [Assyrian] to their names from the early days of Christianity. We read of Tatian Atouraya , the philosopher, who was born in AD 130, and Mar Behnam and his sister Sarah, the children of Sennakherib, king of Ashur, who were martyred in AD 352 [This Sennakherib is not the famous Assyrian King Sennakherib, rather an Assyrian governor during the Persian rule who like every other good governor used to call himself king] (read Poutrus Nasri’s "History of Syriac Literature", Cairo, 1974). We read too of "Mar Qardakh the Assyrian" from Arbil who was martyred in 385 AD, the great poet Khamis Qardakhi Atouraya from Arbil during the fourteenth century and last but not least we know of Mar Aphram born in AD 306 who established the school of Edessa and who said in one of his Syriac poems;
which basically translates to;
And there is something very interesting brought up by Peter Machinist of Harvard University in his presentation; "The fall of Assyria in Comparative Ancient Perspective", a point worth discussing. Machinist indicates that the Babylonian’s focus was not on Assyria as a whole, rather on Nineveh itself, the pre-eminent Assyrian city, which by seeing it conquered balanced the earlier Assyrian conquest of their capital, Babylon, and its Esagila sanctuary.
Assyrians must understand what each of the different names forced upon them stands for and must realize that the inhabitants of the villages in and around today’s Mosul are the descendants of an ancient civilization blossomed in the land of Bet Nahrain who were known as Atourayeh or Ashurayeh who are known as Assyrians to the west. They must understand the many controversies which arose due to the flawed Western translations from the Greek ‘originals’ and what that had caused. Assyrians need to know that the Greek called them Syrians and hence the term Sir-yan and the Persians and Arabs called them Ashuri, while being known as Asori by Armenians, meanwhile the Turks refer to them as Asurlar. The Assyrian name was not a term discovered some 150 years ago by Assyriologists and Archaeologists, as few claim, rather a name mentioned even after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, by Roman Emperors in the 2nd century AD, Bishops in the 6th century AD, the Crusades of the 12th century, as Saggs tells us in "Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria". The Assyrian name is mentioned in the first English translated Bible in the 16th century and on authentic history maps dating back to the 17th century Turkey. Northern Mesopotamia has had many foreign rulers such as the Medes, Sassanides, Romans, Greek, Turks, and others. The one fact that can not be argued is that the only indigenous rulers of the land, i.e. Northern Mesopotamia, who lasted the longest, were the Assyrians.
Assyrians need to mature politically and clear their minds from years and years of brain washing by the Turks and the Arabs, mature enough to realize that nobody, I mean nobody, will be good for Assyria than an Assyrian so they need finally to look beyond the religious terminologies being Nestorians, Jacobites, and Chaldeans, to name few, since they have been a thorn in the Assyrian national flesh.
"The Syrian University" Fareed Elias Nuzha’s magazine