“I can’t remember how I got here.” On the floor of a magnificent library lay a young man bruised and burned. His bright uniform in ruins, covered in blood. His conical helmet (huliam) lay somewhere amidst the piles of broken clay tablets on the ground. He tried to gather his thoughts as smoke slowly started to surround him.
“I must have hit my head, I can’t even remember my name,” thought the man and for no reason other than it being close by, he grabbed the first tablet and read the inscription in Arabic.
“Hammurabi, that bastard. I remember his name from our teachings,” It all started coming back to him. Anger began to swiftly overtake him. “Those damn Babylonians are attacking our city”.
“Do you know who I am!? I am not some Babylonian or Persian. I am Assyrian. I am a noble. How could you allow this to happen?” He screamed, trying to get up. There was no getting up for him now. He could not move his legs and he knew that he was losing a lot of blood quickly.
“I am sorry Ashur, I know it’s not your fault, we are the weak ones.” He said quietly. He knew his god, Ashur, would forgive him.
“How did we get here?” For some reason his thoughts came back to Hammurabi, “what does he have to do with anything?” he asked himself.
Probably due to loss of blood, or maybe something was replying to his questions, the world shook in front of this warrior and visions started to appear.
He saw the Tigress and Euphrates. Then he saw the tribes and kingdoms of the Sumerians and Akkadians. Then, as if swept away by a strong desert wind they disappeared and were replaced by another race. These people were nomadic and they traveled the land with their families in search of something. He knew who those people were. They were gathering and building a city. A city familiar to him, the city of Ashur.
He could feel his nostrils filling up with the smell of the market, or was it the smoke? “Karum Kanesh”(the trading city) then appeared in front of him, in its full glory. The people of Ashur were trading there, bringing home riches to their king.
“Ha!” He exclaimed, “I remember our scholars telling us about Shamashi Adad I, He pushed those Amorites back and expanded Assyria, our kingdom began with him.” Even so close to the end, the young warrior could not help but boast about his vast knowledge, and knowledgeable he was. Or maybe it wasn’t boasting, maybe he was just trying to hold on to whatever last bit of hope he still had. Proving to himself that he, maybe, is not that bad off, and he is still able to recover. For a second, his mind was back in the smoky library.
Only for a second though, because his vision started to blur again, and this time it was Hammurabi, king of Babylon himself, that was in front of him. He was laughing, he was in charge, Babylon has taken control of Assyria.
“You died long ago and we came back!” the young man yelled through the smoke. “After you died Adad Nirari I conquered Mitanni, they tried to oppress us, and we expanded our land. We deported people all over, and the ones who didn’t conform we killed and sold. How do you like that?” He laughed.
“Ashur, why do they not understand? They say that we are cruel, we aren’t. Death is different to us; our life is war, that is what you have taught us. Look at the other guys, look at Babylon. They are horrible, even the Persians… how many deaths at their hands. Even when we deported the conquered, we kept them with their families and we absorbed the lesser cities into our own. Calling the people Assyrians.” He knew time was running out for him and he started to feel a tinge of something that resembled regret. Not for himself, but for his people “Were we right?”
“Takutli Ninurta I, he came after” He remembered, “He was cruel. But he did write poems”. Visions of Brutality and death started to fill the weakening mind of the warrior. He was seeing how Takuli harshly dealt with uprising and how he selectively deported people everywhere with no regard for their well-being. Then he saw Babylon burning, he felt joy. After, he saw the Babylonian temples being looted and quickly his joy turned sour.
“I am glad that Takutli’s sons killed him. you cannot desecrate such a holy place!” He barely got the last sentence out before he went into a coughing fit. Regaining his voice, he softly said, “it was quiet for a while in Assyria, until Tiglath-Pileser came into power.”
Again the young noble Assyrian started to hallucinate. He saw his home grow under Tiglath’s reign. He saw the continued sacking of enemy cities and the growth of resources, skilled workers, art and literature. Then everything came to an end again: civil unrest and attacks made the empire weaker.
“Why do the conquered people hate us so? We gave them so much luxury and all we asked in return was loyalty… It was always war, never peace with us.” He knew that it has always been like this and always will be. Its just the way of his people.
“But wait… Adad Nirari II, he conquered our lands back. He also took over Babylon and made peace for 80 years… See, we are not that bad.” By now the man’s mind could not differentiate between reality and fiction and has created an entity in front of him from his ever growing regrets. It even started to answer him in his dialect. He was so far gone that he was able to accept this occurrence as ordinary and continued to argue with it.
“But you continued to wage war. More than ever. You built siege engines and expanded your empire even more. Because of that and also your cruelty there were rebellions.” The entity replied.
“Language and literature, look around you. Without us this would not be possible!” He was only able to answer very softly, losing his breath.
“The problem is that you seem to be repeating your mistakes over and over. Yes, Tiglath Pileser III reorganized the military and government. To what end, so you can fight again and regain the same lands. It seems to be a closed loop. He created the most effective army and made the empire bigger. Then Sennacherib took over, sacked Jerusalem and, again, not learning from prior mistakes, attacked Babylon and pillaged their temples. For that he was killed.” Came the reply through the smoke.
The dying man could not keep his eyes open anymore because the smoke has filled the room and was cutting his eyes with what felt like little grains of sand. Not like there was anything left to see anyway. “His son, Ashurbanipal was good though. He rebuilt the Babylon and brought Egypt to us, and what about Ashurbanipal? He built this library, collected a vast variety of works that will be read for generations to come.” He argued.
“Ashurbanipal was ruthless, almost one of the worst. Also, what good will come of this library if your enemies burn it to the ground?” Asked the entity.
“What now then? What do I do? What do you want from me?” The man had no more strength left, he was on his final breath.
“Nothing, you can rest now. The enemies of Assyria are here. All here. They got tired of your harsh ways. The Babylonians are here, the Persians are here, the Medes are here, and there are others too. They are here to destroy Nineveh which Sennacherib has built, and his “palace without rival” too,” said the entity in a severe way, but then added softly, “It is not your fault, it doesn’t matter now. These times are harsh, and they will get worse. People need to learn from their mistakes and grow, that’s just how they are. War is all you knew and that is sad, but people will read stories of Assyria and learn about the magnificent empire that once was and the mistakes that they made. And they will learn.” After these last words, the noble Assyrian warrior felt his body become lighter, and his mind clearer as he took his last breath.
“Nineveh, my home what will happen to you now?” was his last thought.
Nineveh was completely destroyed by the enemy forces (Babylon took over). The library miraculously stayed preserved for thousands of years. Historians were able to put together the story of Mesopotamia from the many clay tablets that were baked hard by the fire that burned this beautiful city down.