The Assyrian empire began in what is now Iraq, as a small community of traders in the city of Ashur. But to protect themselves and their fertile lands from their jealous neighbors, they were forced to become warriors who could respond quickly to aggression and raids. As a result, between 1115-612 BC, the Assyrians became the aggressors, building the greatest ancient empire before that of Alexander the Great and the Romans, with their lands encompassing Egypt, the Levant, and Mesopotamia.
Expansion began with King Tiglath Pileser III. Tiglath used many of the tactics pioneered by earlier warrior cultures. He formed a full-time, professional army consisting of infantry, cavalry and special units of slingers and archers. The iron pioneered by the Hittites was now commonly accepted as the metal of choice for weapons. But the Assyrian’s had the edge over their enemies as their trade networks ensured a plentiful supply. The Assyrians used Iron liberally, for swords, spears, and arrowheads, as well as for their helmets and armor.
Instead of sandals, Tiglath had Assyrian soldiers issued with knee length, thick-soled boots suitable for all terrains, hobnailed and metal coated on the shins: the first military boots. But the Assyrians also pioneered the use of engineering in the military. They developed siege engines- mobile multi-story towers with battering rams at the base. Assyrian engineers pioneered the use of ramps, siege ladders, and tunnels under city walls. The Assyrians even invented the ancient prototype of the tank: the mobile missile platform. These military machines could be used to weaken city defenses to allow infantry to take the city.
But the Assyrians were also masters of psychological warfare. The Assyrians used their reputation for terror as a first assault. It was a known fact that all who defied the Assyrians would die horribly. After the city of Suru, near the Euphrates was taken, the Assyrian King order a pillar built “at the city gate.” Here he “I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Many cities would capitulate before the fighting even began to avoid such a fate.
Once a territory was conquered, the Assyrian’s employed intelligent policy to preserve the peace. Those who left alive were either enslaved- or relocated. The Assyrians transferred former occupants of conquered lands to areas of the empire where their skills were in demand. This ensured that the empire was well serviced, conquered peoples integrated and deprived of their compatriots so no pockets of resistance could develop.