The 9th century BC saw a novel use of the horse in warfare. While horses had been used to draw war chariots for hundreds of years, it was only now that the first cavalry units were formed. They quickly proved much more versatile and efficient than the traditional infantry and chariot troops. But imagine fighting on horseback with bow and arrow or with a spear at a time when stirrups had not yet been invented and the rider was sitting on a blanket rather than a saddle. This skill set required constant training and was, therefore, exclusively a job for professionals. That is also true of fighting by chariot, but this had always been the preserve of members of the noble families, whose leisurely lifestyle meant that they could make time for practice. With the rise of the cavalry's importance in Assyrian warfare and the need to muster large numbers of horseback fighters, the army's character shifted from being predominantly a conscript army to a largely professional army. Conscript fighters fulfilled their obligation to serve the state by providing their labour and only served for part of the year. But professional warriors had to be paid all year round. And so, the Assyrian armed forces morphed into a standing army that was supplemented by seasonal conscripts and specialised mercenaries procured from the client states. The professional fighters were soldiers in the literal sense, as they drew a salary. Our word, soldier, after all, derives from a Latin term that means one who has pay. And so, once the Assyrian state no longer cost-effectively relied on its subjects' duty to provide conscript army service, it was faced with a rather large bill to maintain its armed forces. How to foot the bill? How to balance expenses with revenue? An easy solution was to make the expensive army pay for itself by raiding the surrounding regions, or at least threaten to do so and demand payment to desist. There's no doubt that this was a key reason why the Assyrian rulers of the first millennium BC tended to send their forces beyond their borders every year. The threat of the Assyrian forces kept the client rulers in line and made sure that they honoured their treaties. And these treaties guaranteed income in the form of tribute to the Assyrian crown. But the Assyrian troops, despite their formidable numbers, were not the only armed forces to be reckoned with. Remember, that in the 11th century BC, Assyria had lost half of its former holdings to invaders. The shock of that loss had fuelled the reconquest in the 10th century. Subsequently, the danger of invasion still felt real, especially as Assyria knew the threat of Urartu, its northern rival in the Armenian Highlands. In the 9th century, the imperial Assyrian army was, therefore, not only an instrument to raise revenue from the neighbouring regions, but also tasked with the protection of the kingdom against its enemies. Most of the standing army was stationed in four strategically located border marches. These heavily militarised zones were under the control of the four most powerful officials of the realm. They held ancient court titles, “Cup Bearer”, “Palace Herald”, “Treasurer”, and “Second-in-Command”, and were usually eunuchs. Seen in this light, the bulk of the army would primarily seem to serve defensive purposes. When we, therefore, ask ourselves, why bother with the burden of empire? Why claim not just the provinces, but also sovereignty over the neighbouring regions? Then, we have already touched on two aspects. On the one hand, there is the security aspect. Faced by serious regional alternatives such as Urartu in Syria, Anatolia and northern Iran, and the Nubian kingdom of Kush in the southern Assyria sought to keep its allies categorically in line, by exercising invasive control, by creating unequal power relationships that turned treaty partners into master and servant. On the other hand, there is the profit aspect. Forcing the neighbouring regions into these unequal relationships meant that, while Assyria offered protection from its own forces and those of its rivals, the client states had to pay tribute. Depending on their natural resources and their location, this could be animals, especially horses and cattle, raw materials, such as gold, silver and copper, timber and building stone, or finished goods, such as dyed textiles and luxury vessels. The client state was obliged to deliver the tribute to wherever the Assyrian king stipulated, so transportation costs did not cut into the profit. There is no question that the Assyrian kings were very conscious of the vast material benefits that they were reaping from the empire. When King Tiglath-pileser III built a new palace in the capital city of Kalḫu, he gave this building and its gate a name as tradition demanded. The names he chose make the advantages of empire very clear. He says, “I named it the Palatial Halls of Joy, which bear abundance, which bless the king, and which make the builder long lived. I named the gates, Gates of Justice, which give the correct judgment for the rulers of the four quarters of the world, which offer the yield of the mountains and the seas, and which admit the produce of mankind before the King, their Lord.” But were there any altruistic motives at play? We have already stressed, in another context, that there was no attempt to proselytise the cult of the god Aššur, although he was the overlord of the Assyrian king who was thought to act on his behalf. However, it is clear that the Assyrian states sincerely believed that the fruits of empire were not only reaped by the king and his court, by the capital and Assyrian heartland, all of whom greatly benefitted from the distribution of people, wares, and wealth into the imperial centre. A key strategy of the Assyrian state was to put unused or underused land under the plow. Therefore, large scale infrastructural measures were taken to improve water provisions in marginal agricultural regions, such as in the Syrian steppe, especially by implementing artificial irrigation. Moreover, new agricultural techniques were introduced wherever suitable. These included bee keeping, and the cultivation and processing of flax, fruit, wine, and olive oil. All this was linked to the extensive centrally-directed resettlement program that saw population groups moved across great distances in order to best serve the needs of the “land of Assur”. The explicit goal was the creation of an integrated, economically highly developed culture and society of Assyrians. Was the Assyrian imperial project a mission to civilise the world? Perhaps, it is clear, in any case, that the Assyrian idea of civilisation was based on a lifestyle that favoured agriculture and a sedentary existence in well-appointed houses with the city at the heart of the community and its civic institutions. And it was this lifestyle that was disseminated all across the regions of the empire. If we focus on this aspect, the Assyrian empire, undoubtedly an avaricious exploitative entity, can almost seem benevolent.