In Iron Age II, record keeping was much better. The Assyrians would take artists into battle and chronicle what went on upon stone slabs. They were a very war-like people. The Babylonians were a scientific people, a center of culture. Assyria would rob them of the knowledge and culture (like what Russia does today). With the Assyrian king Asshur- Nasirpal II things change. He brings Assyria into the Iron Age II. Carved “orthostats” and wall paintings told of their victories, some can still be seen in museums around the world.
We have very little on Judean or Israeli armies at the time because they could not make images. As a result, we go to the Assyrian kings and look at the battles they had with them and take our impressions on their warfare, armor, fortifications from that. The accuracy of these wall paintings and the orthostats are amazing. You can see Assyrians in 6-spoked chariots while their enemies were in 8-spoked chariots. The excavations at Lachish verified their drawings, tracing the development of weapons and methods of warfare.
The Assyrians were constantly experimenting because they specialized in war. They went from two horse chariots, to three horse, then back to two. They also changed shields. Conquered nations sent auxiliary troops to fight with the Assyrian regulars, resulting in a huge army. They did not have the armor or protection on these orthostats because they were expendable. You could tell the elite troops from the others. A whole unit of study resulted called “Assyriology” because there was so much information. We will deal with them in the 8th century BC.
Israel has built great fortifications but they are having spiritual battles. They were not totally into idolatry yet, but they go up and down, depending on who was the king. Their enemies, like the Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites and the Arameans (Syrians) are reorganizing to the Assyrian model. Asshur-Nasurpal will reign from 883 to 859 BC, followed by his son Shalmanser III from 858 to 824 BC. Then they went through 80 years of “remissions”, then Tiglat-Pileser III reigns from 745 to 727 and he brings Assyria up to its greatest height.
There was six years where the throne was contested, then Sargon II came to power from 721 to 705 BC. He never was as great as Tiglat-Pileser, but was powerful and he is mentioned in Isa 20. He was succeeded by Sennacharib from 704 to 681 and he is also mentioned in Scripture. He will relate most to Judah because he defeated all the cities except Jerusalem, and was killed by his own children. After 13 years of civil war, he is succeeded by Ashur-Banipal, Sennacharib’s grandson,and reigns from 668 to 630 BC, and mentioned in Ezra 4.10. These are the primary Assyrian kings. They left behind massive palaces and cities that were built to “overshadow” a previous king and his city.
These kings were very vain. From 883 to 630 BC Assyria was a dominating force. The reason we are going to spend so much detail on Assyria is because they are a picture of Russia in the last days. The invasion of Gog and Magog is a Russian invasion of Israel, and it was predicted and talked about many times through the prophets as they prophesied about Assyria (Ezek 38.17). The only nation that fits these prophecies is Russia, and the Lord gave us much detail about Russia in the last days through what Assyria did and how they invaded Israel.
A huge library was found in the palace of one of these kings and it tells us of war victories, supplies, the pay of soldiers and details on conquered peoples, including Israel. They reached their peak and eventually were conquered by the Babylonians, who never reached the military strength of Assyria. The Assyrian army was divided according to the method of warfare each provided. They would attack in three “prongs” using auxiliary troops as “bullet absorbers.”
Sargon II wrote of conquering Samaria after three years. This tells us that there was political stability at home and a massive operation to field an army of that size for so long. According to an archeologist, part of the assault troops against Lachish was Judean. Spiritually, ever notice how those close to us are used, or join with others against us. But, we also know that these Judeans may have been forced to fight their own people, much like the Egyptians, Syrians and Iraqi’s did by chaining soldiers to their post.
The size of each formation varied on the terrain, enemy size and other factors. Supplies were taken from conquered areas to feed or arm this massive military machine. Russia has used these same techniques since World War II. To help Shalmanser III, the king of Karkar brought along 1200 chariots, 1200 outriggers, 20,000 infantry. The king of Hamat brought 700 chariots, 700 outriggers and 10,000 infantry. Ahab, king of Israel, brought 2000 chariots and 10,000 infantry.
Much smaller armies like Urkatu brought 10 chariots and 10,000 soldiers, Orbad brought 200 soldiers, and so on. From these records, you start to get the idea of just how massive the size of the Assyrian army was. They were fielding 250,000 infantry and 1000’s of chariots. The infantry was broken into three units of spearman, archers and sling-men, all armed with a sword. The spearmen were “shock” troops in close combat, with heavy coat of mail. This hampered their movement so the other hand held a shield. Later, another man held the shield. Spearmen were always helmeted with a point and crest. The shape helped deflect arrows. These uniforms, nice helmets and structured military was a recruiting tool. People wanted to join, like the Marines of today.
This “propaganda” was done by many of the Assyrian kings as they “decorated” their armies. There was also a psychological impact on the enemy when they looked on the splendor of it all.
At Lachish, they found crests from either Sargon or Sennacharib’s army, and this became the standard for the Assyrian army. Spearmen were used in the open field and assaults on cities. Shields were constantly being experimented with, and the people fighting the Assyrians will follow their example. Archers were the main power outside of chariots. They were the back-bone of the army and used in open terrain and cities. They were protected by a shield bearer to protect the face.
A magen was used in short range, a tzinah at long range. Spiritually, we know we have the shield of faith, but you need to know what shield to use in what situation. If you have small faith and confidence, use a magen and don’t get into a long range battle. But having “overconfidence” (a tzinah, a big shield) can be the wrong shield to use in certain battles as well.
This shield situation will change with Tiglat-Pileser. A huge shield allowed them to get rid of the coat of mail because it was curved, high, made of reed and light. Sennacharib used long shields. The archers were the elite and the best archers of the auxiliaries (conquered enemies). The Assyrians were heavily protected at all times, but the auxiliaries were lightly equipped, without armor and shield bearers. The helmets of Asshur-Nasurpal and Shalmanser were pointed and conical.
The helmets of Tiglat-Pileser were round, inverted tunnel shaped, and the same with Sargon. Sennacharib went back to the pointed shape. The Assyrian composite bow remained the same. Some of their enemies still used a simple bow, and in the case of the Arabs, they were trampled and had no armor or helmets.
Sling-men were very effective against a city. Stones were large, about the size of a golf ball. They practiced many hours, like at a shooting range. They worked in cooperation with other units. They fired in volleys, four sling-men at a time, in patterns and working with the archers. They were called in to keep up a heavy barrage to certain areas and pockets of resistance. Sling-men came into the army with Tiglat-Pileser and were not Assyrian, but auxiliary, picking this tactic up from other armies.
Auxiliary troops did not have very expensive equipment. They did not spend much money on them. In the modern Russian army, they do not trust the army around them, even their own troops. Their officers were not even taught how to read maps until reaching higher ranks.
We are going to look in detail at the Assyrians because it will give us background into the prophetical books of the 8th century BC and those books contain some of the most important prophecies in Scripture. A trademark of the Assyrians was to cut the hands or feet off a captive. They also tortured, impaled or deported their captives. You knew how you would be treated if captured, and you also knew Assyria would probably win. This brought fear (psychological warfare) on their enemies.
So, going into a battle with the Assyrians meant that you better count the cost. Their cavalry was divided into two groups according to the weapon and function. They used bow or spear, and used for long range or short range combat. They did not participate in attacks on cities, or hilly, wooded areas. Mounted archers operated from the flanks or in the rear. Assyria employs horsemen because the saddle has been developed, which gave them a stable firing platform. Up to Asshur-Nasurpal, cavalry and archers moved in teams of two, operating around the chariots.
This will change later (2 Kings 9.25). Non-bowed horsemen were scouts, searching terrain for passage, water sources and the first to make contact with the enemy. The three fighting formations of infantry, cavalry and chariots worked together. Asshur-Banipal, the grandson of Sennacharib, was the last powerful king before they were broken by the Egyptians. It is possible that Asshur-Banipal’s move to a chariot crew of four led to this defeat because the Egyptians were swifter and more mobile than the Assyrians. Assyrian power on open terrain forced other countries to rely on forts. If you fought them in open terrain, you never defeated them. Your only hope was to have a strong fortification and pray that something happens to draw them away from your walls.
Assyria destroyed Babylon once because they killed the son of Sennacharib. Judea rebelled against Sennacharib, so he wants to move south. However, he needs to destroy Babylon first, which will allow him to concentrate on the rebellion in Judea. So, Sennacharib destroys Babylon, then moves on Jerusalem.
Spiritually, Russia will do the same thing. Babylon is a picture of the United States in prophecy. Before Russian can invade Israel (Ezek 38-39), they must get the United States out of the way. When the rapture (natzal) happens on Tishri 1, year 6001 from creation, the United States will be in chaos. Russia sees this, and strikes the United States with a nuclear attack. Europe, (Egypt in prophecy) sees what has happened and gives power to a man who will eventually reveal himself as the False Messiah in one day. He immediately mounts a defense of Europe, and they engage Russia for three years, and losing. Once Russia feels they have Europe under control, they will invade Israel just like Assyria did, probably using the same basic battle plan, with a three-pronged attack.
Assyria destroys Babylon, but in time, Nebuchadnezzar restores Babylon to greatness, while Assyria never reached this peak again. However, Babylon never was as great as Assyria either. From Asshur-Nasurpal downward, the conquest of cities was emphasized and open terrain battles was usually a mop-up situation. One tactic they would use was to push the enemy toward a river. Then they would advance in-line, abreast, and then push them backward. Small units would finish off the wounded of the enemy, and spearmen would advance in wooded areas, and in hilly areas the cavalry was used.
The Assyrian army was notorious for their skill in hostile territory. Sennacharib launched amphibious assaults and had the first “marine” force recorded in history to fight on land or water. Pontoon bridges, suspension bridges and boats were used in marshes or rivers, and ramps and war machines were built on the spot. They were the first to field a corps of engineers. They also had the ability to carry chariots through narrow mountain passes and up mountains, moving fast all the while.
Spiritually, how do you know you are fighting an “Assyrian” battle? It is when you realize you can’t win. You are surrounded, frozen with fear and have a domino affect of problems. You need strong forts to hold up in. The battles will be costly, nasty and hard. They come in and “decapitate” you and “cut your hands off.” They will try to “impale” you and they are high in casualties. They will “run over” and “knock down” anyone in their way. You can have this type of battle in your congregation, family or business. They are long and drawn out, and if the Lord doesn’t intervene on your behalf, you are finished.
In Part 17, we will look at the battle of Samaria, and two major battles in 1917 and 1948 will relate to this. Remember, the ancient battles and enemies of Israel teach us about future battles, and will be fought again, so it is important to know them, and the tactics used against them. These concepts can also be applied in our own spiritual warfare. This is called the “moreshet karav” meaning the “heritage of war.” So, we will pick up here in Part 17 and learn more valuable concepts related to spiritual warfare.