West of Assyria (according to the extent which has here been given to it), the border countries were, towards the south, Arabia, and towards the north, Syria. A desert region, similar to that which bounds Chaldaea in this direction, extends along the Euphrates as far north as the 36th parallel, approaching commonly within a very short distance of the river. This has been at all times the country of the wandering Arabs. It is traversed in places by rocky ridges of a low elevation, and intercepted by occasional wadys, but otherwise it is a continuous gravelly or sandy plain, incapable of sustaining a settled population. Between the desert and the river intervenes commonly a narrow strip of fertile territory, which in Assyrian times was held by the Tsukhi or Shuhites, and the Aramaeans or Syrians. North of the 36th parallel, the general elevation of the country west of the Euphrates rises. There is an alternation of bare undulating hills and dry plains, producing wormwood and other aromatic plants. Permanent rivers are found, which either terminate in salt lakes or run into the Euphrates. In places the land is tolerably fertile, and produces good crops of grain, besides mulberries, pears, figs, pomegranates, olives, vines, and pistachio-nuts. Here dwelt, in the time of the Assyrian Empire, the Khatti, or Hittites, whose chief city, Carchemish, appears to have occupied the site of Hierapolis, now Bambuk. In a military point of view, the tract is very much less strong than either Armenia or Kurdistan, and presents but slight difficulties to invading armies.
The tract south of Assyria was Chaldaea, of which a description has been given in an earlier portion of this volume. Naturally it was at once the weakest of the border countries, and the one possessing the greatest attractions to a conqueror. Nature had indeed left it wholly without defence; and though art was probably soon called in to remedy this defect, yet it could not but continue the most open to attack of the various regions by which Assyria was surrounded. Syria was defended by the Euphrates—at all times a strong barrier; Arabia, not only by this great stream, but by her arid sands and burning climate; Armenia and Kurdistan had the protection of their lofty mountain ranges. Chaldaea was naturally without either land or water barrier; and the mounds and dykes whereby she strove to supply her wants were at the best poor substitutes for Nature’s bulwarks. Here again geographical features will be found to have had an important bearing on the course of history, the close connection of the two countries, in almost every age, resulting from their physical conformation.
Climate and productions.
“Assyria, celebritate et magnitudine, et multiformi feracitate ditissima.”—AMM. Marc. xxiii