For a few centuries after the death of Shamshi-Adad I, Assyrian cities were subjugated by a succession of outsiders: Babylonians under Hammurabi, Hittites and Mitanni-Hurrians. From 1791 to 1360 B.C. control over Assyria passed back and forth, although Assyria itself remained more or less stable. After a power struggle between the Hittites and Mitanni, the Hittites successfully broke the power of the Mitanni in the region. Assyria then began to take control over territories that had belonged to Mitanni. The Hittites battled with the Assyrians, but the Assyrian king Ashur-Uballit stamped out any remaining Mitanni or Hittite control over northern Mesopotamia.

The Middle Empire

King Ashur-Uballit, who ruled from c. 1353 to 1318 B.C., succeeded in gathering all former Mitanni regions under his control. He also battled the Hurrians, Hittites and the Kassite king of Babylon. Ashur-Uballit married his daughter to the Babylonian king, angering the Babylonian people. They promptly slew the king and replaced him with a pretender to the throne. King Ashur-Uballit then invaded Babylon, killed the pretender and placed another Kassite royal on the throne. King Ashur-Uballit solidified his power by conquering any remaining Hittite or Mitanni rulers, finally taking control of the entire region for Assyria.

King Adad-Nirari I (1307 to 1275 B.C.) expanded the Assyrian empire in contrast to two proceeding kings who merely maintained control. King Adad-Nirari implemented the policy of deportation of segments of the population from one region to another, which remained a standard Assyrian policy from then on. This policy was meant to head off any uprisings by moving the potentially rebellious to other regions of the Assyrian empire. Although the deportees found their lives disrupted, the Assyrian intention was not to harm the people, but to make the best use of their talents where their skills were needed. The empire moved entire families along with their belongings and provided transportation and food.

Tiglath Pileser I

While Adad-Nirari’s son Shalmaneser and grandson Tukulti-Ninurta were cultured, competent and resourceful kings, after their reigns, the Assyrian empire simply maintained, neither growing nor declining. The entire Mesopotamian and Near East region entered what’s called the Bronze Age Collapse. For 150 years, from 1250 to 1100 B.C. all the Near East civilizations—the Egyptians, Greeks, Cyprians, Syrians, Mesopotamians—all disintegrated to a certain extent, except for the Assyrians who held steady. Scholars believe that drought and climate change caused this collapse, along with the attendant ills of famine, disruption of trade, wars and disease.

Tiglath Pileser I took the Assyrian throne in c. 1115 B.C. at the end of the collapse. An energetic king, Tiglath Pileser revitalized the Assyrian empire. He took military campaigns to Anatolia, conquering many regions there. He began lavish building projects in Ashur and established a library to contain his collection of scholarly cuneiform tablets. Under this king, culture, arts and trade all flourished. After King Tiglath Pileser’s death in 1076 B.C., later kings fought incursions by Amorites and Aramaeans, but managed to maintain Assyria’s borders. The empire once again entered a period of stasis, gradually shrinking due to internal rebellions and outside attacks.