700 - 600 BC

700 - 600 BC, the Middle East

The inexorable growth of Assyria continued. It lived by the sword; when it was not actively advancing to conquer new territory, it was busy putting down rebellion in tributary provinces. Sennecherib lifted his seige of Jerusalem; possibly the pressure of other events made little Judah seem unimportant. There was battle to do with Egypt and rebellious Chaldean Babylon to crush once again. Urartu was beaten back, then an army under Esarhaddon swung south to take Egypt. Assyria reached its peak of glory.

Yet the empire was a house of cards. Masters of the art of war, the Assyrians had not so highly developed the technique of governing. Rebellion was endemic. Around 625 BC, everything fell apart at once.

The fatal punch came from the steppes. For several centuries, the Iranian tribes had been perfecting the techniques of horseback riding and adapting them to a nomadic culture. The Scyths appeared from the north, driving the unmounted Cimmerians into Anatolia, where they soon learned to ride and began to harry their neighbors. During the last half of the century, Scythian raiders stabbed the Assyrian Empire repeatedly, reaching through the Holy Land as deep as Egypt. The dominant Iranian tribe to the east was the Medes, who swept in upon Assyria, demolishing Urartu as they came. The Chaldeans of Babylon were glad to join them as allies. Egypt rose in revolt. Even Assyria's fast-moving forces could not cope with so many wars at once.

Nineveh fell in 612 BC, leaving only a fragment of Assyria under attack in the land of Haran. A re-established Egypt went to its own aid; an Assyrian buffer state against Babylon would leave Egypt a free hand in Palestine and Syria. But Pharaoh Necho was delayed too long by the battle of Megiddo. In 605, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Necho at Carchemish on the Euphrates. Egypt slowly withdrew to the haven of the Nile.

The portents of the future were there, but only a seer could have read them. Though Babylon stood astride Mesopotamia, the Iranians had just begun their rise to greatness.

Far to the west, the whole Mediterranean world was stirring. The Greek world had given birth to the city-state of Sparta and a renewed Athens, where a vital culture had come into being. Canaanite Tyre had created an empire through its colony Carthage. In Italy, the states of Etruria and Latium, parents of the Roman Empire, were flourishing.

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