The Ancient Assyrians
Reviewed by John Prigent
"The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold" - what an image the poem conjures up of a conquering aggressor, and what a story lies behind it. I have to say at the outset that this is another of Osprey's reprints, this time of Osprey Elite 39, The Assyrians, which was first published in 1996. Those who have that book won't need this version. However, if you weren't into modelling ancients or wargaming with them when it first appeared, you'll find this new library edition a very valuable book to have. Mark Healy takes us through Assyria's rise to empire from 1813 BC to its fall in 612 BC with the storming of Nineveh by the Medes and Babylonians- quite a history, which makes the Roman Empire look ephemeral!
The first section of the book concerns the early years, only up to 911 BC, and is relatively short both to make room for the great expansion from 911 BC onward and because less seems to be known about the early period. The rise of the "Late Empire" then gets the lion's share of space in the "history" section. Mr Healy doesn't shy away from the revolting cruelty known to us not only from the Bible record but also from Assyrian inscriptions boasting about it, and with some justice puts it down to a deliberate policy designed to intimidate possible rebellions - since the Assyrian believed that their god Ashur had called them to conquer all known lands any resistance was clearly a rebellion against him and to be punished accordingly.
The army reforms under Tiglath-Pileser III are described in some detail, and are followed by his campaigns and those of Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. Following the latter's death the Empire waned swiftly thanks to internal conflict between his heirs, and only a few years later the prophet Nahum was able to rejoice in the fall of Nineveh.
Angus McBride's excellent plates set off the narrative and come with good text describing the warriors, chariot types and siege engines shown. If you have a hankering for something a bit different to the usual run of figures this book will give you loads of ideas, and although there aren't many commercial figures of Assyrians available there are nude academy figurines in various scale which would be quite easy to clothe and armour appropriately. Anyone for a four-horse Assyrian chariot? Big, heavy, and designed to break through the opposing battle lines, this could be seen as the first "tank"!
Review Copyright © 2000 by John