Compare and contrast the Assyrian and Persian empires.

Similarities between the Assyrian and Persian empires include that both empires ruled in Mesopotamia at different times, that both had advanced weapons and military techniques, and that both were monarchies. Differences between them include that the Assyrians were brutal, making slaves of captors and not allowing them to rule themselves, while the Persians appointed local satraps over the people and ruled with tolerance.

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We should first establish what we mean by the Assyrian and Persian Empires, since those names have been used to describe some very different cultures over the course of about 4,000 years. For the purposes of comparison, it seems reasonable to select the Neo-Assyrian Empire which began with Adad-nirari II in 911 BC and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, since these are the closest in time. Both these reigns began with extensive new conquests which raised the empire in question to the status of a great power. The Neo-Assyrian Empire fell in 609 BC and eventually became a province of the Achaemenid Empire. The Achaemenids lasted until 330 BC, when Alexander the Great captured Persepolis.

Although the Neo-Assyrians lasted longer than the Achaemenids, their rule was less secure and was maintained by terror. The massive fortifications of Nineveh were there for a reason: the conquering Assyrians ruled their subjects very harshly and were widely hated. The Persians were more tolerant and were able to rule a much larger empire. Their ceremonial capital at Persepolis required no fortress around it. Although the Achaemenids were in most respects much more civilized rulers than the Assyrians, they had nothing to equal the great library of Ashurbanipal, one of the largest and most important repositories of texts in the ancient world, which contained over 30,000 cuneiform tablets. This library, however, was only amassed in the declining years of the empire, by its last great king.

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The Assyrian Empire controlled its territory through a centralized government. Conquered people were not allowed to govern themselves. The Assyrians ruled with terror and antagonized their neighbors. This style of leadership led to a growing number of enemies within, and around, the empire.

On the other hand, the Persian Empire controlled its territory through a decentralized government. The administration under Cyrus the Great established provinces governed by governors or "satraps" derived from the local population. The provinces were granted an autonomous government and were free to practice their local religion. The Persians ruled with tolerance, and their style of governance was well received by the different groups within the territory.

Both the Persian and Assyrian Empires held significant standing armies. The empires were also advanced with regard to weapons and military strategies.  

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The Assyrians and Persians both ruled in roughly the same place, namely, Mesopotamia; however, they ruled in very different ways. The Assyrians were mainly a military power and practiced particularly effective military tactics such as digging beneath a city's walls to weaken them before attempting to conquer the people within the city walls. The Assyrians conquered people and collected tribute. They kept conquered people in check by using brutality, including slavery. The Assyrian armies were renowned for their brutal tactics. The Assyrians did not allow conquered people to govern themselves and punished them mercilessly if they did not provide tribute. They were so hated that other people celebrated when their capital, Nineveh, was eventually destroyed.

The Persians, on the other hand, ruled over an organized empire with a benevolent form of government. Once they conquered another territory, they ruled with tolerance for other cultures and traditions. For example, the Persian leader Cyrus did not allow his armies to burn and loot conquered cities, and he allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem, their capital. The Persians placed local governors called "satraps" in positions of power and subdued conquered people by offering them peace and an efficient system of government. 

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The Assyrian Empire and the Persian Empire were two of the earliest major empires in the world.  The Assyrians were powerful from about 900 to about 600 BC.  The Persian Empire came afterwards, holding power beginning around 550 BC.  Both were empires in what we now call the Middle East.  Both were monarchies.  However, there were very important differences between the two.

A good way to express these differences is to say that, from our perspective, the Persian Empire was more enlightened.  Because of this, it was possible for them to rule a much larger empire than the Assyrians could.  The Assyrians had a much more autocratic and centralized system of government.  The king of Assyria was seen as all-powerful.  Everyone else in their society was seen as a slave of the king.  When the Assyrians conquered other peoples, they tried to dominate them and exploit them.  The Assyrians essentially used the outer parts of their kingdom as colonies to be exploited, not as valued parts of their own society.

By contrast, the Persian Empire was more enlightened.  The king did not portray himself as a completely dominant figure.  The people of the empire were portrayed as strong and important members of society.  The empire was not exploited as ruthlessly for the benefit of the center.  Instead, each part of the empire had its own governor and was seen as an equal part of the empire.  Tribute was demanded from each region, but not as ruthlessly as in the Assyrian Empire.

Thus, the Assyrians and the Persians were both empires, but they ran in rather different ways. 

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