Empires are analysed more often than villages, in the same way that temples are analysed more eagerly than houses – both because they are more impressive, and because they are usually better preserved. This means that what we know about rural settlement is substantially less in comparison to other areas of archaeology, but not that rural settlement is therefore less meaningful. Due to the relations between rural and urban development our understanding of rural settlement in the Neo-Assyrian Empire can contribute to our view of the Neo-Assyrian Empire as a whole.
For the purpose of this essay – which debates rural settlement rather than Empire – the Neo-Assyrian Empire is an area within ...view middle of the document...
Finally debates regarding the interpretations of these case studies will be addressed. Often sources do not distinguish between ‘Neo-Assyrian’ and ‘Iron Age’ and while we have access to excellent landscape surveys pottery has not yet been fully analysed. This essay seeks to give a concise overview of Neo-Assyrian rural settlement and address the present gaps in our knowledge.
Rural settlement changed over time; therefore it is important to place the Neo-Assyrian Empire in its temporal and geographical context. The area of Mesopotamia has a long history of occupation, evolving from agricultural communities into city-states into great Empires. The first small Empire was Akkad in the 3rd millennium, followed by an era of development of administration, exchange and internationalisation. In the 2nd millennium Old Assyria began to create an extensive trading network although it did not become a powerful international Empire until the beginning of the Iron Age in the 1st millennium (Ataç 2010, 14). Then the central authorities started a programme of determined expansion (figure 2) and at its height the Assyrian Empire stretched from Egypt in the west to Iran in the east (Parpola 2003, 99).
At the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire there were no other great Empires in the East: the Babylonians had shrunk back temporarily and the Egyptians had entered their Third Intermediate Period. The new Imperial structure in Assyria gave cause to the expansion of rural settlement (Wilkinson 2003, 162). The number of small villages and farmsteads increased dramatically in the Iron Age compared to the Bronze Age (figure 3); for example, in the Iron Age Nineveh required over 200 km² to sustain its population, while previously the needs of Upper Mesopotamian cities could have been satisfied by an area of 5 - 20 km² (Wilkinson 2003, 129). While the Bronze Age was dominated by tells, the Neo-Assyrian Empire was characterised by a widespread dispersal of rural settlement (Wilkinson et al 2005, 49).
In 612 BC the Neo-Assyrian Empire was overthrown by a Babylonian coalition (Thomason 2005, 50) and in the centuries that followed the rural areas of the Near East reached their full potential, with the Romans and Byzantines draining swamps and installing new water-diversion structures (Wilkinson 2003, 137). During a process of three millennia, dry desert areas were populated and agricultural techniques improved. Since raw materials and products of craft manufacture were traded, rural settlement does not necessarily equal agriculture. Rural settlement was not only a geographical aspect of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but also technical, economic and social.
Evidence of art from Neo-Assyrian rural areas is largely absent or un-discussed, but some artworks found in urban areas may reveal hints about rural settlement. Mesopotamian rulers frequently portrayed themselves as bringers of abundance, thus agricultural themes are not unfamiliar in impressive works of art – for example,...