The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

ISIS prehistory

The Assyrians publicized their atrocities in reports and
illustrations for propaganda purposes. In the tenth and ninth
centuries BCE, official inscriptions told of cruelty to those
captured. Most were killed or blinded; others were impaled on
stakes around city walls as a warning. The bodies were
mutilated; heads, hands, and even lower lips were cut off so
that counting the dead would be easier. These horrifying
illustrations, texts, and reliefs were designed to frighten the
population into submission.

[...] When surrounding the capital city and shouting to the
people inside failed, the Assyrians' next tactic was to select
one or more small cities to attack, usually ones that could be
easily conquered. Then the Assyrians committed extreme acts of
cruelty to show how the entire region would be treated if the
inhabitants refused to surrender peacefully. Houses were looted
and burned to the round, and the people were murdered, raped,
mutilated, or enslaved - acts all vividly portrayed in the
Assyrian stone reliefs and royal inscriptions in the palaces.
The Assyrian troops regarded looting and rape of a conquered
city as partial compensation. [...]

The annals of Assurnasirpal II vividly described such tactics:

"In strife and conflict I besieged (and) conquered the city. I
felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword. I carried off
prisoners, possessions, oxen, (and) cattle from them. I burnt
many captives from them. I captured many troops alive: I cut off
of some their arms (and) hands; I cut off of others their noses,
ears, (and) extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I
made one pile of the living (and) one of the heads. I hung their
heads on tress around the city. I burnt their adolescent boys
(and) girls. I razed, destroyed, burned (and) consumed the

This type of "psychological" warfare was especially convincing,
and the inhabitants, "overwhelmed by the fearful splendor of the
god Assur," surrendered.

From Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat,
Hendrickson, 2008

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