The Assyrians begin to rise and spread roughly in the mid- 9th century, and eventually spread out and conquer just about everybody, including Egypt. This is when the kingdom of Israel in the N. gets destroyed, we get our ten so-called “lost tribes” (who are hauled off and resettled throughout the Assyrian empire), and the southern kingdom of Judah gets completely conquered except for Jerusalem. This is the time of Isaiah, and many of the other prophets.
Then the Babylonians become dominant around 612, and take over the Assyrian empire (but not Egypt.) This time, they take Jerusalem too, destroying the temple and hauling everyone important off to Babylon in the Exile. This is the time of Lehi, Ezekiel, and others.
This Babylonian empire is short-lived, less than 100 years. Cyrus the Persian (with a Persian-Mede alliance) conquers Babylon, and he institutes very different policies from the Assyrians/Babylonians. He sends the Jews back home from Babylon to rebuild their temple with royal Persian funding.This is the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and others. As you might imagine, the Israelites like Cyrus the Persian a good bit, and Cyrus is called God’s messiah or anointed one in Isaiah 45:1. (Sidenote: Cyrus in Hebrew is pronounced Koresh. David Koresh, of Waco Texas fame, took his name from two of God’s anointed and combined them, to show just how really super-anointed he was.)
Geographically speaking, Mesopotamia (Assyria/Babylon) today is mostly in Iraq, and Persia in Iran. (On some of the differences and how “Persia” is so much less threatening than “Iran,” check out this clip from an Iranian-American comic on the Axis of Evil Comedy tour. Minor language.)
So, as we move on in our reading, just remember ABC, Assyrians Babylonians Cyrus the Persian, and you’ll do fine.