Resettlement policy of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

A family being deported after the Siege of Lachish; wall relief from the South-West Palace at Nineveh

In the three centuries starting with the reign of Ashur-dan II[1] (934-912 BCE), the Neo-Assyrian Empire practiced a policy of resettlement (also called "deportation" or "mass deportation") of population groups in its territories. The majority of the resettlements were done with careful planning by the government in order to strengthen the empire. For example, a population might be moved around to spread agricultural techniques or develop new lands. It could also be done as punishment for political enemies, as an alternative to execution. In other cases, the selected elites of a conquered territory were moved to the Assyrian empire, to enrich and increase knowledge in the empire's centre.

Bustenay Oded in 1979 estimated that about 4.4 million people (± 900,000) were relocated over a 250-year period. One instance, the relocation of the Israelites in late eighth century BCE was described in Biblical passages and came to be known as the Assyrian captivity.


Resettlements could be done for different reasons. The scenario which affected the largest number of people was the "colonization" scenario, in which population groups were systematically transferred between different regions to strengthen the empire. Imperial administrators planned the population transfers, taking into account political, economic, and cultural considerations. For example, people might be moved to develop new lands or introduce agricultural techniques in other provinces. This type of planned resettlements began during the 9th century BCE and became widespread by the late 8th century BCE, continuing for the next several centuries.[2]

Resettlement could also be done as punishment for political enemies. For example, in 720 BCE Sargon II resettled 6,300 Assyrians who were involved in a power struggle against him from the heartland of the empire to the newly conquered city of Hamat (modern Hama, Syria). By ordering resettlement instead of execution of his enemies, the king displayed his mercy, political threats were removed from the empire's center, and the deportees were also beneficial in the reconstruction of the war-torn city.[3]

In other cases, Assyria also relocated people from newly conquered territories to its heartland. Typically, the elite section of the population was selected in a careful process. This group included highly skilled people: craftsmen, scholars and cultural elites, whose resettlement in the empire's heartland would bring knowledge and wealth. The empire's capitals, Nineveh, Kalhu and Assur were well-populated with people from throughout the empire, who were instrumental in the building of Assyria's lasting monuments, including the famous Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.[4]


The Assyrian state supervised and planned the move to be as safe and comfortable as possible.[5] The deportees were meant to arrive intact, ready to contribute to society in their destinations.[5] Surviving Assyrian art showed deportees travelling with their family and possessions.[5][6] Ride animals were used, as well as boxes and vessels to carry their belongings.[5][6] State officials were directly involved, for example a letter from an official to Tiglath-pileser III showed that the official provided the "food supplies, clothes, a waterskin, [...] shoes and oil" and was waiting for donkeys to be available before sending a convoy of deportees.[5]


A 1979 estimate by Bustenay Oded—extrapolating based on written documents—estimated that 4.4 million people, plus or minus 900,000, were relocated over a 250-year period. 85% of them were resettled in the Assyrian heartland.[7]

Status of deporteesEdit

Surviving documents do not talk directly about the social and legal status of deportees, but historians attempted to infer them indirectly, especially from documents mentioning people with non-Assyrian names in Assyrian heartlands—presumably many of such people were deportees.[8] The fate and status of the deportees varied from case to case and it is hard to generalize, but usually they were not enslaved and worked in various professions and trades—often in the same field as before their deportation.[9] Those who worked in agriculture were assigned lands, which they owned in the same way as the native inhabitants owned land.[2] Many worked in high-skilled jobs, including as craftsmen, scholars and businessmen.[10] Others served in the royal court,[11] and some others joined the Assyrian military.[12] The state encouraged the mixing of deportees and native inhabitants where they lived, partly to induce a shared "Assyrian" identity regardless of ethnic origins.[5]

Biblical referenceEdit

The resettlement of Israelites conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire were mentioned in the Old Testament, which came to be called the "Assyrian captivity". The first occurred in 734 BCE and is related in 2 Kings 15:29.[13] The Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III defeated an alliance which included King Pekah of Israel, occupied Northern Palestine and then ordered a large number of Israelites to relocate to Assyria proper.[13] The second deportation started after 722 BCE and related in 2 Kings 18:11–12. Pekah's successor King Hoshea rebelled against Assyria in 724 BCE.[14] King Shalmaneser V (Tiglath-Pileser's successor) besieged Samaria, which was finally captured in 722 BCE by Shalmaneser's successor Sargon II.[14] After the fall of Samaria, 27,280 people (according to Assyrian records)[13] were deported to various places throughout the empire, mainly to Guzana in the Assyrian heartland, as well as to the cities of the Medes in the eastern part of the empire (modern-day Iran).[7] The cities of Medes were only conquered by Assyria in 716 BCE, six years after the fall of Samaria, suggesting that the relocation took years to plan before it was implemented.[7] At the same time, people from other parts of the empire were resettled in the depopulated region.[14]



  1. ^ Radner 2012, 0:51, see the chart behind Radner.
  2. ^ a b Radner 2012, Improving the empire.
  3. ^ Radner 2012, Deporting political enemies.
  4. ^ Radner 2012, Like a diligent gardener repotting his plants.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Radner 2012, The implementation of the resettlement policy.
  6. ^ a b Radner 2018, 9:57.
  7. ^ a b c Radner 2018, 0:51.
  8. ^ Oded 1979, pp. 75–77.
  9. ^ Oded 1979, p. 77.
  10. ^ Oded 1979, p. 99.
  11. ^ Oded 1979, p. 104.
  12. ^ Oded 1979, p. 108.
  13. ^ a b c Reid 1908.
  14. ^ a b c Gottheil et al. 1906.

Works citedEdit

  • Gottheil, Richard; Ryssel, Victor; Jastrow, Marcus; Levias, Caspar (1906). "Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian". Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Oded, Bustenay (1979). Mass deportations and deportees in the Neo-Assyrian empire. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. ISBN 3882260432.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Radner, Karen (2012). "Mass deportation: the Assyrian resettlement policy". Assyrian empire builders. University College London.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Radner, Karen (2018). Focus on Population Management (video). Organising an Empire: The Assyrian Way. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Retrieved 2018-05-09 – via Coursera.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Reid, George (1908). "Captivities of the Israelites". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)