The Assyrians

Isakhan, Benjamin 2012, The Assyrians, in The Edinburgh companion to the history of democracy, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland, pp.40-49.

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Title The Assyrians
Author(s) Isakhan, Benjamin
Title of book The Edinburgh companion to the history of democracy
Editor(s) Isakhan, Benjamin
Stockwell, Stephen
Publication date 2012
Chapter number 2
Total chapters 43
Start page 40
End page 49
Total pages 10
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Place of Publication Edinburgh, Scotland
Keyword(s) democracy
history
politics
Summary This chapter seeks to extend earlier works on Mesopotamian democracy to a civilisation that is not only typically excluded from such discussions of democracy in the ancient Near East, but generally considered to be among the region’s most bloodthirsty and bellicose: the Assyrians. On the one hand it cannot be denied that the Assyrians went through periods of aggressive expansion, that they were cruel to at least some of their enemies and that the more militant Assyrian kings struck fear into the hearts of men and women across the region (I:106-110, 113; II:1, 54-6 in: Grayson 1991: 201). On the other hand, however, it is peculiar that the intermittent war-mongering of the Assyrians is seen not only as ‘a modern myth exaggerated beyond all proportion’ (Parpola 2003: 1060), but also seen to exclude them from practicing any form of democracy. This is starkly inconsistent with the contemporary assessment of other societies of the ancient world, such as the Greeks or Romans who were both belligerent and at least nominally democratic. To give one example of this double standard, Jana Pecirkova argues that while the Greek polis enabled the birth of science, philosophy and the rule of law, the Assyrians were not able to distinguish ‘between the rational and the irrational, between reality and illusion’ (Pecirkova 1985: 155). The reason for this, according to Pecrikova, is simple: their ‘only alternative to monarchy … was anarchy … Political decisions were arbitrary in character and not governed by any laws or generally acknowledged and accepted rules’ and the ‘people were the passive subjects of political decision-making’ (Pecirkova 1985: 166-8). This chapter, while cautious not to over-state the democratic tendencies of the Assyrians, takes Pecirkova’s argument to task by examining the complex functioning of power and politics, the checks and balances on monarchical authority, the rule of law and the sophisticated intellectual scene of the three key epochs of ancient Assyrian civilisation.
ISBN 0748640754
9780748640751
Language eng
Field of Research 160699 Political Science not elsewhere classified
Socio Economic Objective 940299 Government and Politics not elsewhere classified
HERDC Research category B1 Book chapter
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30050873

Document type: Book Chapter
Collection: Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation
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