Ancient Assyria (Peeps At Many Lands), by James Baikie
For those who care about the history of Mesopotamia as much as I do in the ancient world, the Assyrian empire is one whose history has a great deal of meaning. Often I feel the longing to behave towards my enemies the way that the Assyrians do, and it requires an act of conscious restraint not to think of myself as needing to emulate the example of the brutal scholar Assurbanipal who was able to rage against his many enemies with ferocious acts of violence while simultaneously cultivating his intellect with a fine library in a city that was unfortunately close to being destroyed. Suffice it to say that whatever anyone else may say about the history of the region, it has a great deal of relevance to the contemporary period. If this book is not quite as informative about Assyria as one would wish, it is certainly is interesting as an early effort in explaining the history and culture of Assyria and its literature to readers who likely had never heard of the area unless they were familiar with biblical history. And unfortunately, far too few people are aware of such important matters.
Overall this book is short and pretty good. The materials are less than 100 pages and are quite varied in nature. The author begins with a discussion of the area of Mesopotamia as being the cradle of mankind (1). After that there is an account of the buried ruins that have existed and that long defeated the efforts of people to confirm the history about the area that had survived from other sources (like the Bible) (2). After that there is a look at Assyria 2800 years ago, with a story of an Egyptian merchant buying a house in the city and how the city would have looked and felt to someone who lived there at the time (3). Then there is a discussion of the king going hunting and how dangerous it was to do so and the rules and protocols for those who went hunting along with the king, who alone was permitted to strike the lions even though bodyguards were around for his protection (4). After that the author discusses the wars of Assyria as being those of a robber nation (5). There is then a look at a king’s library (6) and then a couple of chapters on the hero stories that have survived from the area (7, 8). This leads to a look at the gods and their temples (9) as well as a closing chapter on legends about the Assyrian gods (10).
Is this book a worthwhile one? Much depends on your own purposes for it. If you are already well-versed in the history of Assyria, this book will likely add little to one’s knowledge. Again, this is a product of an earlier age where readers may not have been expected to be familiar with Assyria’s bad reputation as a bully and tyrant in the Middle East and where the heroic tales of Gilgamesh were not widely known. And admittedly they are still not widely known to many readers, but those readers would not be likely to pick up a book on the subject and read a couple hundred pages on it. So much remains to be seen about whether this book is likely to be read at this point by anyone who would be sufficiently unaware of the history of the region to appreciate what this book has to offer. Perhaps it may be said that this book is easiest to respect as a historical artifact rather than to appreciate as the source of new information and insight.