The Assyrian empire dominates Mesopotamia and all of the Near East for the first half of the first millennium, lead by a series of highly ambitious and aggressive warrior kings. Assyrian society was entirely military, with men obliged to fight in the army at any time and all state offices were under the purview of the military.
Indeed, the culture of the Assyrians was brutal, the army seldom marching on the field but rather terrorizing opponents into submission who, once conquered, were tortured, raped, beheaded, flayed and their corpses and heads or skins publicly displayed. Houses were burned down, salt was spread on their fields and orchards cut down.
As a result of these fierce and successful campaigns, the Assyrians acquired massive resources from all over the Near East and made the Assyrian kings very rich. Some of this wealth was expended on the construction of several gigantic and luxurious palaces spread throughout the region.
The palaces were on an entirely new scale of size and glamor; one contemporary text describes the inauguration of the palace of Kalhu, built by Assurnasirpal II (early 9th c.), to which almost 70,000 people were invited to banquet. The interior public reception rooms of Assyrian palaces were lined with large scale carved limestone reliefs which offer beautiful and terrifying images of the power and wealth of the Assyrian kings and some of the most beautiful and captivating images of all of ancient Near Eastern art.
Royal Lion Hunt, North Palace, Nineveh, 645-635 B.C.E. (British Museum)
Like all Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal decorated the public walls of his palace with images of him performing great feats of bravery, strength and skill.
Among these he included a lion hunt in which we see him coolly taking aim at a lion in front of his charging chariot, which his assistants fend off another lion attacking at the rear.
Sacking of Susa by Ashurbanipal, North Palace, Nineveh, 647 B.C.E.
One of the accomplishments Ashurbanipal was most proud of was the total destruction of the city of Susa.
In this relief, we see Ashurbanipal’s troops literally destroying the walls of Susa with picks and hammers and fire raging within.
Wall relief from Nimrud, the sieging of a city, likely in Mesopotamia, c. 728 B.C.E. (British Museum)
In the Central Palace at Nimrud, the Neo-Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III illustrates his royal victories and exploits, including his army sieging a city, in great detail.
In this scene we see one soldier holding a large screen to protect two archers who are taking aim. The topography includes three different trees and a roaring river, most likely setting the scene in and around the Tigris or Euphrates rivers