The Assyrian kings presented themselves in the official inscriptions as the sole creators and maintainers of the Assyrian Empire. But contemporary archival texts such as letters and reports show that they were supported by administrative, military, and cultural elites who were involved in building and running the Assyrian Empire at every level. We will now focus on those who supported the king in governing the empire in the provinces, and in the client states. 3,000 years ago, the kingdom of Assyria was merely one of many states organized as a monarchy. But while this was a common form of rule, it was not the only one. Most importantly, city assemblies that represented the citizen body controlled the ancient Babylonian cities in what is today southern Iraq, continuing a mode of government that we have encountered also in Assyrian history. Nevertheless, hereditary rulers with titles such as “king”, “city-lord”, or “clan leader”, led the governments of most states adjoining Assyria. After Assyria had reestablished itself as the dominant power of the Middle East in the course of the tenth century BC, the states in its orbit were obliged to accept and follow whatever course of action it stipulated, both in regard to internal affairs and foreign policy. Although these states were nominally independent, their leaders were required to “pull the yoke of “Aššur” to use the Assyrian phrase and accept the Assyrian king as their master. The client rulers were bound to the Assyrian king by means of treaties and oaths sworn by the gods. And this holy link was secured by dynastic marriages and the placing of family members as hostages at the Assyrian Royal Court. Moreover, the client would have to accept the presence and authority of the Assyrian king's personal delegates. The Assyrian term is qēpu, “trusted one” and they represented Assyrian interests in the client states' governing bodies, while communicating directly back to their own master, the Assyrian king. The client ruler was held personally responsible for his country. In turn, if there was resistance against his rule from his subjects, the Assyrian overlord would support him. This and the existing family ties, often forged over generations, provided good guarantees of loyalty and cooperation. Until the mid-eighth century BC, the sacred bond between overlord and client was a serious preferred relationship with the regions outside of the territory traditionally claimed by the Assyrian crown, that is, the land between the Euphrates River and the western flanks of the Zagros Mountains. This changed with the emergence of competing powers that threatened the client states’ loyalty to Assyria. Especially in what is today Syria, many defected and joined the interest sphere of Urartu, a serious rival centred on the Armenian highlands. In some cases, the client rulers stayed loyal to Assyria, but were ousted by their people. King Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria restored Assyrian supremacy on the battlefield. But rather than giving the chastened client's states another chance, he integrated their territories into the provincial system. His successors followed his lead causing the lands under direct Assyrian control to triple in size over the course of a few decades. The new regions were not new to Assyrian political influence, but for the first time, they were no longer governed by traditional local government structures. Those regions formerly incorporated into Assyria were organised as provinces and administered by governors. The Assyrian term is pāhutu or bēl pīhāti, which means “proxy”. The governors were appointed at the king's discretion and had no other claim to their office. Whenever a new king came to the throne, it was his right to appoint also new governors in contrast to the client rulers, who inherited their power from their predecessors. Yet despite the drastic change in the distribution of direct and indirect control in the Assyrian influence sphere in the 8th century BC, the dichotomy between provinces and client states continued to exist until the end of the empire. Despite the expansion and integration of territories into the Assyrian administrative system, many states were allowed their nominal independence, especially when they were situated in locations that made effecting and maintaining direct Assyrian control difficult. This was the case with islands such as Cyprus, Tyre, and Arwad in the Mediterranean or Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and with polities situated in the mountain regions of the Taurus and the Zagros or the North Arabian Desert. Some of these political entities were even situated in peripheral regions inside the Assyrian provincial system, such as clans headed by Aramean clan leaders or Median city lords. The governors in the provinces and the delegates at the client rulers’ courts constituted the “Great Ones” of Assyria along with a small group of high officials with traditional court titles such as the “Palace Herald”, and the “Chief Cupbearer” who were in fact the most senior Assyrian state officials. It was of paramount importance to Assyria’s cohesion that the king could rely on the loyalty of the Great Ones and trust him absolutely. Together this group of about 120 men formed the backbone of the Assyrian Empire. Each of them was formally appointed to his office by the king, and swore an oath of loyalty. Equipped with the royal seal, they governed in the king's stead, and on the king's behalf. The royal seal, as a token of the king's trust, and as a manifestation of royal authorisation, was an innovation that coincided with a serious transformation from kingdom to empire in the ninth century, BC. It was an administrative instrument developed to to run the swiftly expanding state, intimately connected to the need to delegate power from the king to his officials. Whenever the bearer of a copy of this seal used it, for example, to seal an order, or to seal a contract, he acted for the king, and as the king. But he did not even need to impress the seal; simply by being in its possession he was able to issue commands in the king's stead, and on the king's behalf. Whoever held a copy of the royal seal was acting on behalf of the king who had issued it to him. His commands could not be refused. At the same time, the royal scene was designed to stress that its bearer was acting not on his own personal authority but by the power vested in him by the king. Already the design of the seal made this clear. It was engraved on the face of a golden finger ring that bound its holder to the king. Its image was known throughout the empire and showed the king killing a lion in close combat, symbolising his power and his obligation to keep all evil in check. But while their subjects were meant to understand that despite their power, the Great Ones were merely the instruments of the king, who had chosen them, the relationship between them and their master was portrayed as one of mutual trust. Within the former constraints of appropriateness and politeness required by protocol, each Great One was able to approach the king on an almost equal footing. A depiction of King Sargon II in conversation with a high official gives us an idea of the personal encounter between the king and the Great Ones. The official wears his sword as a sign of distinction and royal trust and faces the king without his bodyguards and attendants, eye to eye. As their surviving correspondence reveals, the relationship of the Great Ones with the king was based on rules meant to ensure autonomy and fair treatment. This was essential to the success and survival of the Assyrian Empire with its far flung holdings. An able king managed to delegate power in such a way between his Great Ones that their influence balanced each other, stabilising the state and the power of the central authority. From the early ninth century BC onwards, the Great Ones were drafted by preference from a set of professional, palace-educated bureaucrats rather than from the ancient noble families who had previously held hereditary positions of power within the Assyrian state. This policy was designed to secure the king's position while ensuring that posts were awarded on merit rather than through family ties- a key strategy for stabilising the expanding state. As a consequence, many of the Great Ones were now chosen from a group of people who had traditionally served the king at court: the eunuchs. The Assyrian word is ša rēši, “he of the head”, an ancient term for a personal attendant. But now the eunuchs were sent out into the empire where their physical inability to father children prevented them from ever developing dynastic ambitions. Having no family of their own, their allegiance belonged first and foremost to their king. We have already mentioned that many client rulers were linked to the royal house of Assyria by marriage. On the other hand, the eunuch governors who had entered the palace in their infancy were regarded akin to adopted children. In that way, running the Assyrian Empire can be described very much as a family affair.