Religion and Culture

Assyrian relief (c. 865-860 BCE) with cuneiform script, and depiction of a royal helper carrying a bucket

The Assyrian religion was heavily influenced by that of its Mesopotamian predecessors—mainly the Sumerian culture. The chief god of the Assyrians was Ashur, from whom both their culture and capital derive their names. Their temples were large ziggurats built of mud bricks, like those of their neighbors to the south.

Assyrian relief (c.700-692 BCE) from the Nineveh Palace showing a pair of protective spirits

The principal activity of the rich was hunting from chariots—a pastime appropriate for such a warlike culture. Despite their fearsome reputation, the Assyrians embraced civilization. They wrote using cuneiform and decorated their cities liberally with reliefs, painted stonework, and sculpture.


Modern day Assyrians are descendants of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, which has traditionally occupied parts of northern Mesopotamia (referred to as the area of Ancient Assyria). This ancestral Assyrian homeland spanned across the northern parts of modern-day Iraq, northwestern Iran, northeastern parts of Syria, and southeastern Turkey. The Assyrian empire thrived between 900 and 600 BC, with Nineveh being one of the most historically important, and flourishing, capitals of this empire. The Assyrians speak a language that could be referred to as a modern version of a blend of Mesopotamian Aramaic and Akkadian, both of which served as the official languages of the Assyrian empire. Presently, a good deal of the Assyrian ethnic population does not continue to live within their traditional homeland, with many of them having migrated to North America, Western Europe, and Australia for permanent settlement abroad.


In ancient times, the Assyrian Empire was a powerful and influential one, which is quite evident in the existing examples of Assyrian art and architecture that can still be found today. With the use of iron tools, the Assyrians built massive palaces constructed from mud-based bricks. Each new king of the empire displayed his power through his palaces, and tried to build larger or newer palaces than those before to prove his worth. The use of orthostats, or stone slabs, to stabilize the base walls, was a unique feature of Assyrian architecture. Dazzling colourings and decorations were used to augment the aura of these structures as well. The palace at Khorsabad, built by the ancient Assyrian ruler Sargon II between 717 and 706 BC, was an excellent example of Assyrian architecture. It featured repeated motifs, represent by arches, mythical animal figures, and gigantic engraved readings upon the walls.


Assyrians have their own delectable cuisine, which is primarily based on rice, meats, tomato, and potato. Boushala is one of the staple Assyrian recipes, which is a soup comprising of rice and yogurt, with possible additions of different combinations of herbs and vegetables. Rezza Smooqah is another rice dish prepared with chicken or meat, and is often accompanied with shirwah, a stew with a tomato base. Thlokheh (lentil curry), kofta (ground meat balls in a delicious stew), tashreep (chick pea and lamb meat soup), and shamakhshi (eggplant fried and rolled with cooked beef in tomato paste inside), are only a few of the examples of the sumptuous Assyrian cuisine. Tea is a favourite beverage of most people, and is usually consumed with sugar and evaporated milk. During Lent, a religious observance day for Assyrian Christians, meat and dairy products are usually avoided.

Cultural Significance

The cultural practices of Assyrians is often governed by their religion, Christianity, as opposed to the Islamic dominance of the areas in and around their traditional homeland. There are very few records of the contributions of this civilization towards the global knowledge base, which could be due to the destruction of evidence at the hands of violent vandals and art thieves across the ancient Assyrian homeland. However, it is also true that the ancient Assyrians were predominantly a heavily militarized group, famous for their warlike attitude directed towards the growth of their ancient empire. Some examples of Assyrian festivals and significant days include Kha B’Nisan (New Year), Som Baoutha (Nineveh Feast), Premta d’Simele (Martyr’s Day) and Somikka (Holy Halloween). Assyrian weddings in the ancient world used to be a week-long affair, heavily laden with numerous rituals and ceremonies. One such ritual involved a neighborhood's women gifting the bride a blanket that they had sewn together with their own hands. Dances by the younger women and songs by the older, together with sweets and food, often complete the matrimonial jamborees.


The greatest threat to the Assyrian culture was probably levied by the Ottoman troops in the early 20th Century, just after the end of the First World War. This resulted in what is now infamously known as the Assyrian Genocide. Around 750,000 of their people were killed during this time, dwindling their population to extremely low numbers. However, the violence against these people did not stop, and in fact has continued to the present day. The persecution has forced many modern Assyrians to flee their homeland and take refuge elsewhere. Recent news is filled with reports of Assyrians in Syria under repeated attacks by Islamic extremist groups, which are wreaking havoc on the lives of those Christian Assyrians still choosing to live in their native homeland.

Ancient relief of an Assyrian mythological genie. Today, many Assyrian Christians have fled the Middle East due to religious persecution.

You Might Also Like:

Ancient Cultures related image
Read More

Ancient Cultures

The ancient cultures section features many of the world's ancient cultures/empires. Presented with each is a brief history, a glossary, myths, rulers, and more. The Oriental Institute Museum is a showcase of the history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East. An integral part of the Universit...
Read More


Quick FactsTypeLogophoneticGenealogyCuneiformLocationWest Asia > MesopotamiaTime~2500 BCE to 100 CEDirectionVariable While the cuneiform writing system was created and used at first only by the Sumerians, it did not take long before neighboring groups adopted it for their own use. By about 2500...
Read More


Axum, also known as Aksum, was an ancient kingdom located in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea. The civilization of Axum is believed to have emerged around the 4th century BCE and reached its peak between the 1st and 7th centuries AD. It is widely considered to be one of the most important and influe...
Read More

Ancient Nineveh

Nergal Gate - history location of the Nergal Gate The Nergal Gate is located in the western part of the northern section of the Nineveh city wall (see the city map at the left). The gate was built by King Sennacherib around 700 BCE as one of between 15 and 18 gates he built around his new administra...
Read More

Human-Headed Winged Bull

Iraq: Khorsabad, Palace, Court VIII Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C. Gypsum (?) 495.3 cm H, 491.4 cm W Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1929 OIM A7369 This colossal sculpture was one of a pair that guarded the entrance to the throne room of King Sargon II. A protective spir...
Read More

Assyrian Soldiers Towing a Boat

Iraq: Khorsabad, Palace, Throneroom Debris Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C. Gypsum 43.0 cm H, 119.5 cm W Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1930 OIM A11258 Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute discovered this relief fragment in the debris of the throne room of King Sarg...
Read More

Two Assyrian Officials

Iraq: Khorsabad, Palace, Court VIII Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C. Gypsum 308.0 cm H, 249.7 cm W Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1928-9 OIM A7366 This relief comes from a wall just outside the throne room of Sargon II's palace. Two court officials - who are beardless and...
Read More

Deity Holding a Flowing Vase

Iraq: Khorsabad, Nabu Temple Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C. Gypsum (?) 151.2 cm H, 45.3 cm W Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1932-33 OIM A11808 and OIM A11809 These two statues once flanked a doorway leading into the temple of Nabu, the god of writing and of knowledge. N...
Read More

Bronze Band

Iraq: Khorsabad, Shamash Temple Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C. Bronze 61.0 cm H Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1931-2 OIM A12468 The fortress of Sargon II at Khorsabad included a complex of temples, one of which was devoted to the sun god Shamash. This bronze band encir...
Read More

King Ashurnasirpal II

Iraq: Nimrud, N.W. Palace, Room G Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Ashurnasirpal II, ca. 883-859 B.C. Gypsum (?) 61.2 cm H, 58.0 cm W Exchange with the British Museum, 1974 OIM A34979 Room G in Ashurnasirpal II's palace may have served as the setting for a ritual by which weapons were purified. The wa...
Read More

Clay Prism of Sennacherib

Iraq: Nineveh (?) Neo-Assyrian Period Reign of Sennacherib, ca. 689 B.C. Baked clay, inscribed 38.0 cm H, 14.0 cm W Purchased in Baghdad, 1919 OIM A2793 On the six inscribed sides of this clay prism, King Sennacherib recorded eight military campaigns undertaken against various peoples who refused t...
Read More

Major Events related image
Read More

Major Events

The Bible is a collection of texts that span thousands of years and covers a wide range of historical events. Some of the major events that are recounted in the Bible include: The Creation: The Bible begins with the story of the creation of the world, as described in the book of Genesis. This story...
Read More

Journal of Cuneiform Studies related image
Read More

Journal of Cuneiform Studies

The Journal of Cuneiform Studies (JCS) is a scholarly journal that publishes articles on the history and languages of the ancient Mesopotamian and Anatolian literate cultures. It was founded in 1947 by the Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research, and is currently published by the...
Read More

Unveiling the Mysteries of The Temple of Diana related image
Read More

Unveiling the Mysteries of The Temple of Diana

Welcome to a fascinating journey through time as we delve into the intriguing world of historical archaeology! In this post, we'll explore the enigmatic Temple of Diana, a captivating relic from antiquity that continues to inspire wonder and curiosity. Temple of Diana: A Brief Overview The Temple o...
Read More

The Temple of Diana: A Symbol of Ephesus' Power and Wealth related image
Read More

The Temple of Diana: A Symbol of Ephesus' Power and Wealth

The Temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and a symbol of the city of Ephesus' power and wealth. It was built in the 6th century BC and was dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana, who was also known as Artemis. The temple was massive, measuring 120 meters long and 69 meter...
Read More