The Hierarchy of the Ancient Assyrian Military

The Assyrian Empire ruled large swaths of the Near and Middle East due to its structured military.
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One of the more powerful empires in ancient Mesopotamia, the Assyrian empire achieved its success and longevity by having a large and well-trained military force. Though the Assyrian military started out as a force similar to other militaries in the region, the reforms of King Tiglath-Pileser III resulted in a powerful standing military, which allowed Assyria to develop one of the first fully fledged empires in the Near East. These standing military relied on a relatively simple hierarchy that included a few ranks, both official and unofficial.

1 Official Command Structure

The command structure of the ancient Assyrian military started with the Assyrian king as the high commander of the entire military. When the king was unable or unwilling to participate in a battle, he would appoint an acting commander -- usually a close adviser or personal guard. Divisions in the standing military would be divided according to the region from which the soldiers lived. The regional governor would lead these forces according to orders he received from the military commander.

2 Differentiating Between Trained and Untrained Soldiers

When Tiglath-Pileser III took the Assyrian throne in 745 B.C., he noted that the majority of its soldiers were actually farmers, which weakened the Assyrian military. Consequently, trained soldiers -- often governors or royal guards -- were often killed in battles, resulting in a dearth of military experience. Further, the Assyrian military would also leave an engagement whenever its farmer-soldiers needed to return to their crops. Tiglath-Pileser III introduced a standing military comprised of professional soldiers and structured these forces in a similar hierarchy starting with the king/commander and moving down to governor/generals and professional soldiers.

3 Foreign Versus Native Soldiers

Because there were not enough Assyrian men to both work as farmers and as soldiers, many of the professional soldiers in the Assyrian military were not Assyrian. Men under Assyrian control such as Aramaeans, Israelis and even Greeks (sworn enemies of the Assyrians) comprised a large portion of the standing military, including both common soldiers as well as some governor/generals. While the Assyrian military command tried to incorporate these forces seamlessly into the larger military, foreign soldiers were often considered “lower” than native Assyrian soldiers. As such, they were often called on to engage in more dangerous or less glamorous military actions, such as frontal assaults.

4 The Lofted Cavalrymen

The ancient Assyrian military was one of the first standing military forces to use a cavalry in Mesopotamia. The Assyrian military incorporated a cavalry around the ninth century B.C. as a means to combat nomadic warriors from areas like Persia. Initially, Assyrian cavalry were strictly comprised of Assyrian soldiers, marking them as an elite branch of the entire military force. As the centuries wore on, however, and as the Assyrian empire suffered more and more defeats, foreign soldiers were allowed to join the cavalry squads.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.