The Assyrian empire and imperialism are the heirs and one of the latest manifestations, of an ancient Mesopotamian tradition and concept of power, elaborated during—or immediately after—the Akkadian period. From then on, political power—identified as kingship—was considered to exist, have a function and act in history. While, in the far away past, after descending from the heavens, it was supposed to wander from city to city, and from one dynasty to another without any particular reason, in later periods kingship is described as having settled down in one geographical place: Akkad (). From that moment on, its movements, formerly represented as linear segments, became a succession of concentric waves, expanding in all directions starting from the centre, its effects and final aims being to integrate and to unify the entire world represented as an endless periphery (; ). In this system, since there can be only one centre at a time, there can only be one (real) king/emperor in the world, without any rivals, and with whom the gods maintain a special, exclusive relationship. So, when, for the needs of administration and organized exploitation, new authorities must be imposed in lands far from the imperial centre, they can only represent the king’s rule, as lieutenants or governors of their provinces.
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So, Kar-Assurnasirpal, founded for the second time by Nergal-eresh as the centre of his domain, was later transformed by his local successors, maybe Assyrians who had become natives. They started a process of decolonization and developed a “creolized” culture, showing through their choices in architecture and their religious and literary tastes, their difference (maybe their pro-Babylonian feelings) and their respectful dissociation from the imperial civilization. The corresponding local dynasty’s policy must have been understood as a political and economic affirmation of autonomy by the central government of the empire, which reacted and stroke back, probably under the rule of Tiglat-pilezer III. Kar-Assurnasirpal was then attacked, the palace destroyed, all the symbols of local lords’ authority condemned to an evident damnatio memoriae. A new, monumental official residence, replacing the old one, was built in a close location on the acropolis, displaying all the signs of the imperial reconquista. The material associated with this new occupation is possibly even more Assyrian than before, and the painted decoration of the walls of the new residence, abandoning the local fashion of contrasting black and white lines and surfaces, became largely polychromous, as in the other Assyrian palaces (). We do not yet know exactly when the town was abandoned, maybe with the fall of Assyria or during the Neo-Babylonian period. The tell was only reoccupied over half a millennium later, when a late Roman village covered the last remains of the palaces.
hardly touches upon the economic aspect of imperialism
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Ifwe seem today to live in a world where colonialism has been superseded by aglobal modernity, in which the formerly colonized and dominated once againassert their own political and cultural claims to modernity, this globalmodernity is nevertheless one that has been marked indelibly by its origins incolonialism; as is quite apparent in its unevenness, as well as the unevendistributions of economic, social, political and cultural power that are thelegacies to it of modern colonialism and imperialism, distinguishedhistorically by their sources in capitalism and the nation-state.
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In the course of time, after the first Akkad episode, the real extension, the social composition, the administrative and economic structure of all these Mesopotamian states has obviously largely varied, and often quite quickly. However, these kingdoms have been coherently interpreted and historically recognized as “empires”, partially because of their own identification as such in the discourse developed by their leaders and in official communications—texts and art. A successful management of centripetal and centrifugal forces in the economic exchange system was definitely not enough, as they could depend, for example, on well developed commercial structures connecting markets. To have an empire, you need a conscious “imperial” project: This is the case with Assyrian kingship, supported by a well documented imperial archives administration, from the eighth century on (; ).
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For once, a modern judgement corresponds to an ancient opinion: The Old Akkadian empire’s political experience has been evaluated and kept as the model of an ideal and perfect rule, by politicians of later Mesopotamian states as well, and the reasons of its crisis have been extensively studied and meditated over. Proposing an administration having as its horizon the whole world, the Old Akkadian imperial project continued to appeal to the political programs of the states formed in Mesopotamia after its collapse. It provided them not only with an ideological and institutional base, but also with a military and strategic agenda. This is true of the Ur III kings and later, for some of the Amorite states, during the Middle Bronze Age II. After the collapse of the Mitannian federation, the Assyrian elites recreated an independent state, and started to build the Middle-Assyrian empire, adding new territories to the City and Land of Assur, mainly in the West. They conquered and then colonized Northern Syria, up to the Middle Euphrates Eastern bank, and finally attacking Babylonia as well.