Ancient empire, southwestern Asia. It grew from a small region around Ashur (in modern northern Iraq) to encompass an area stretching from Egypt to Anatolia. Assyria may have originated in the 2nd millennium BC, but it came to power gradually. Its greatest period began in the 9th century BC, when its conquests reached the Mediterranean Sea under Ashurnasirpal II (883–859), and again c. 746–609 BC, during the Neo-Assyrian empire, when it conquered much of the Middle East. Its greatest rulers during the latter period were Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal. Famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess, the Assyrians were also monumental builders, as shown by archaeological finds at Nineveh, Ashur, and Calah. The opulence of Ashurbanipal's court at Nineveh became legendary. Artistically, the Assyrians were particularly noted for their stone bas-reliefs. The kingdom was finally vanquished in 612–609 BC by a coalition of Media and Babylonia (Chaldea).