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The first part of this volume deals with the rivalries and triumphs of the Assyrians and the Babylonians in the period of their greatest achievements and fame. Babylonia slowly recovered from a long economic decline and under the leadership of Chaldaean tribal chieftains began the attempt to assert its independence from the overshadowing power of Assyria, but while Assyria's energy remained, the struggle was an unequal one.
Assyria appeared to move from strength to strength. The old enemy in the north, Urartu, was defeated by Sargon in a spectacular campaign. Expansion in the west led to the capture of Samaria and the elimination of Israel by Sargon in the eighth century, and to the invasion of Egypt by Ashurbanipal in the seventh century. In the east, Elam was crushed. The great palaces built by Tiglath-pileser III at Calah (Nimrud), by Sargon at Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad), and by Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (Kouyunjik) are public monuments to Assyrian success, and the libraries, sculptures and ornament found in them are the epitome of Mesopotamian culture. In contrast, the internecine struggle between Ashurbanipal and his brother Shamash-shuma-ukin, appointed as King of Babylon, proved to be the beginning of a fatal weakness. The sudden arrival on the international scene of the Medes and the Scythians and their alliance with the Babylonians led to the unexpected defeat and collapse of Assyria in 612 B.C., and its almost total disappearance from the historical record.
Volume III Part II carries on the history of the Near East from the close of Volume III Part I and covers roughly the same chronological period as Volume III Part III. During this period the dominant powers in the East were Assyria and then Babylonia. Each established an extensive empire which was based on Mesopotamia, and each in turn fell largely through internal strife. Assyrian might was reflected in the imposing palaces, libraries and sculptures of the Assyrian kings. Babylonian culture was outstanding in literature, mathematics and astronomy, and the great buildings of Nebuchadnezzar II surpassed even those of the Assyrian kings. Israel and Judah suffered at the hands of both imperial powers, Jerusalem being destroyed and part of the population deported to Babylon; and Egypt was weakened by an Assyrian invasion. The Phoenicians found a new outlet in colonising and founded Carthage. A number of small, vigorous kingdoms developed in Asia Minor, while from the north and north east the Scythian nomadic tribes pressed down upon Turkey and the Danube valley, but found their match in the Thracian tribes which held south-eastern Europe and parts of western Turkey. The burials of the chieftains of both peoples were remarkable for the great wealth of offerings.