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Organising an Empire: The Assyrian Way

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München via Coursera


Discover the mighty kingdom of Assyria, which came to be the world’s first great empire three thousand years ago. From the 9th to the 7th centuries BC, during the imperial phase of Assyria’s long history, modern day northern Iraq was the central region of a state reaching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, and incorporating what is now Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as half of Israel, and wide parts of south-eastern Turkey, and Western Iran.

In its geographical extent, this state was unprecedentedly large, and the distinct geography of the Middle East, with deserts and high mountain ranges, posed challenges to communication and cohesion. What were the mechanisms that kept the Empire running? This course explores the methods the Assyrian government employed to ensure unity and maintain loyalty across vast distances, using traditional as well as innovative strategies. Some of these imperial techniques have marked parallels in the ways modern multi-national corporations are operating, others will strike you as profoundly alien.

This course focusses on how the Assyrians organised their empire by analysing key aspects, namely:

· The CEO – the king, a religious, political and military leader, who is charged to govern by his master, the god Assur;

· Home Office – the royal palace in the central region and the royal court that form the administrative centre of the state;

· The Regional Managers – the governors and client-rulers to whom local power is delegated;

· Human Resources – the Empire’s people are its most precious assets, its consumers and its key product, as the goal of the imperial project was to create “Assyrians”; an approach with lasting repercussions that still reverberate in the Middle East today; and finally

· The Fruits of Empire – it takes a lot of effort, so what are the rewards?

When we explore these topics we will contextualise them with information about the lives led by ordinary Assyrian families.

Taking this course will provide you with an overview of the political, social, religious, and military history of the world’s first superpower. It will give you insight into the geography and climatic conditions of the Middle East and contribute to your understanding of the opportunities and challenges of that region. It will present you with a vision of the Middle East at a time when its political and religious structures were very different from today.


  • Introducing Ancient Assyria
  • Meet the CEO: The Assyrian King
  • A Visit to the Head Office: The Royal Capital and Court
  • Regional Managers: Outsourcing Power
  • Human Resources: Commodities, Consumers, and Product
  • The Fruits of Empire: Expenses and Revenue

Taught by

Karen Radner

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5.0 rating, based on 2 reviews

Start your review of Organising an Empire: The Assyrian Way

  • Dave Rawlings completed this course, spending 6 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    A most enjoyable course. It covers an ancient civilisation that receives far less attention than others in the region (i.e. Egypt, Athens and Rome). And a civilisation that has many elements that operate today (they invented the postal service) with some strange features (the fish skin coats is one that will stay with me for some time). The presentation is good and uses a mix of approaches. I found it fairly engaging and the quizzes are around the right level. The only downside is the lack of engagement in the discussion forums - perhaps inevitable after the initial running of a course. It has prompted me to seek further information about the Assyrian Empire.

    It is a course I'd recommend.
  • Ronald Hesson completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    I really enjoyed this course.

    My experience with Assyrian history is through the study of the Old Testament. This course corrected many misconceptions about the Assyrians, especial with regard to the reason for the re-population of conquered territories and the decline of the Assyrian Empire. This course would be beneficial whether or not one has any biblical knowledge about interaction between the Israel/Judah and Assyria.

    The quizzes were just tough enough to challenge me. Great job.

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