People > Sennacherib

Sennacherib

Background

Sennacherib was the first great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and ruled between 705 BCE and 681 BCE when he was murdered by his sons. He is best remembered for being a ruthless conqueror and subduing both Babylonia but the Kingdom of Judah as well and ushering in a new golden age for the civilization of Assyria.

He is also known for moving the capital of Assyria from Ashur to the new one at Nineveh along with instituting massive building projects across the empire. This new city would grow to become one of the greatest in all of Mesopotamia, even eclipsing neighboring Babylon. Throughout his reign he was known to have dealt with constant problems from Babylonia and their refusal to accept outside rule. Sennacherib would get so fed up with this that he would simply raze the city in 689 BCE.

Sennacherib would be assassinated by his own sons, some say as divine justice for razing Babylon but others say for jealousy and power. Regardless the precedents that Sennacherib set would be carried on through his son and grandson who both expanded Assyria and build on his achievements. They would follow many of the same practices and initiatives that Sennacherib did and this entire period would come to represent a great golden age in the civilization of Assyria in which culture and life flourished.

Early Life

Sennacherib was the son of Sargon II who seized the throne of Assyria from his brother Shalmaneser V and established the Neo-Assyrian dynasty of great kings. He was the grandson of Tiglath-Pileser III who created the Neo-Assyrian Empire and was involved from an early life in the inner workings of the empire.

During his grandfathers reign the Assyrians would grant Babylonia regional independence and in exchange they paid tribute. The Babylonians were never satisfied with this deal and the Chaldean tribal leader named Marduk-apla-iddina II rebelled against Sennacherib's father Sargon II after he overthrew Shalmeneser V. Rebellion from Babylon was a common theme and would have repercussions all throughout Sennacherib's reign.

Becoming King

When Sargon II would die on a military campaign against the Cimmerians the rule over Assyria would pass to Sennacherib. Upon the death of Sargon many vassal states such as Babylonia revolted under the reign of Marduk-apla-iddina II. Backed by Chaldea, Aram, Arabs and Elam they tried to refuse Assyrian subjugation and would not give tribute.

Sennacherib was going to have none of this however, and he was a brilliant and capable military commander. He helped reorganize and upgrade the army to use iron weapons more so than in the past and was able to ruthlessly conquer many of the civilizations that opposed him. This tendency for brutal military conquest was part of Assyrian tradition with each successive king building on the military victories of his predecessor.

While his father Sargon II tried to relate to the Babylonians through their culture Sennacherib was a conquerer and could care little for their customs. He never participated in the daily Babylonian rituals or the famous New Years Day ritual. He instead only cared about expanding the empire and bringing Assyrian rule as far as he could. This caused a lot of political unrest in many of the territories and overtime would alienate many of the provinces and give them reasons to rebel against Assyrian hegemony.

Military Campaigns

Sennacherib launched his first military campaign in 703 BCE against the Babylonians and was successful. Marduk-apla-iddina II was forced to flee and the palace was plundered. No citizens were harmed during this invasion and a puppet king named Bel-ibni was put on the throne. By 701 BCE he focused his attention on the Kingdom of Judah which was being ruled by Hezekiah. Inspired by Egypt and the previous Babylonian revolt the Kingdom of Judah decided to stop paying the Assyrians tribute and revolted against their rule.

The rebellion grew to encompass all of the city-states in the region such as Sidon, Ashkelon which had to be taken by force. Following their defeat the cities of Byblos, Ashdod, and Gaza, along with the civilizations of Ammon, Moab and Edom all surrendered and decided to pay tribute to the Assyrians and became vassal states. The city of Ekron requested the aid of the Egyptians to come to their aid. This force would later by defeated by the Assyrians as well.

After putting down all of the other cities and territories within the region Sennacherib focused his attention on the city of Jerusalem itself. The Assyrians were eventually victories and according to Sennacherib's Prism there was a lot of treasure sent back to Nineveh from the city. There is a difference between the Bible and the Assyrian records on how much was actually taken but given the Assyrians usual credibility we are gonna go with their opinion.

Babylonian Revolt

In 699 BCE Sennacherib replaced Bel-ibni with his son Ashur-nadin-apli who was to rule over the city and the province of Babylonia. However, the Elamites decided to try and make a move for the Babylonian throne and sponsored Marduk-apla-iddina II. In 694 BCE Sennacherib marshaled a Phoenician fleet and sailed down the Tigris River to lay waste to the Elamites. However, before he could reach them they killed his son and installed Nergal-ushezib on the throne.

Outraged, Sennacherib launched in invasion of Babylon and killed Nergal-ushezib in 693 BCE. Following this Sennacherib attacked Elam as well and the Assyrians plundered the entire kingdom. The Elamite king initially fled when the Assyrians invaded but as soon as they returned to Nineveh he launched another invasion of Babylon and put Mushezib-Marduk on the throne. Having enough of Babylon the Assyrians sieged the city and in 689 BCE it fell after a long siege. Enraged over his son and the constant problems Babylon caused Sennacherib destroyed the city utterly and completely. He threw the stones throughout the desert and diverted the water of the cities canals and waterworks over the ruins. According to Sennacherib's Prism:

"Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city."

The destruction of all the temples within Babylon along with the images of their gods was a big issue in the ancient world at the time. Many people grew discontent with Assyrian rule following the destruction of this great holy city and Sennacherib was forced to make up a religious myth that said Marduk was found guilty in a trial by Ashur and was clearly an attempt to placate the population. Regardless, these events would ultimately lead to a growing discontent within the population that would cause them to revolt upon the last real strong king of Assyria, the grandson of Sennacherib.

Sennacherib - Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE)

Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE) - Historical Atlas (1923)

In 702 BCE and from 699 BCE until 697 BCE Sennacherib launched minor military campaigns that saw the subjugation of Media. Between 696 BCE and 695 BCE he sent a few military units to Anatolia and in 690 BCE he sent some to the northern Arabian desert. Here they conquered the city of Dumat al-Jandal and the Arabs where their Queen had fled.

Sennacherib organized his military conquests and the other territories of Assyria into provinces and each province was given a governor. The governor was responsible for maintaining public services such as roads and buildings, along with running the day to day affairs.

One thing that Sennacherib was known for like his predecessors was the relocation of people who rebelled within the empire. It is believed that between 745 BCE and 612 BCE over 4.5 million people could have been displaced by the Assyrians with 470,000 of them under Sennacherib's reign alone. Now this is not as violent and brutal as it sounds because there was no concept of superiority in the sense of ethnicity, most of the relocations were done in order to maintain internal stability of the empire.

Building Projects

Sennacherib is responsible for moving the capital of Assyria from Ashur to the city of Nineveh and built it up to be one of the grandest in all of Mesopotamia. He laid out new streets and built a massive new "Palace without Rival" that may have housed a precursor to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Sennacherib expanded the territory of Nineveh to encompass about 7 km2 (1,730 acres) and there were fifteen massive gates that guarded the defensive walls of the city.

Live giving water was brought to the city through a system of eighteen canals in the surrounding hills and there was also a massive aqueduct that Sennacherib built that went all the way to Jerwan about 65 km (40 mi) away. It is believed the population of the city grew to about 100,000 to 150,000 people under the rule of Sennacherib and this was twice the size of Babylon at the time. The city would continue to grow in prosperity and size all throughout the reigns of the successive kings.

Death & Legacy

In 681 BCE Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons in the royal palace while Esarhaddon was away. According to inscriptions left behind, the brothers were fighting in the streets with their armies so he quickly raised his own and returned home to crush them all. He executed all of the supporters and assumed the throne. The general circumstances of the murder itself are generally unknown with some wondering why the brothers were fighting.

It is believed the murderer was the prince Ardi-Mulishi or Arda-Mulissi who was the oldest son and therefore he believed he should have gotten to be the heir to the king. Esarhaddon generally did not mention this incident because he needed to maintain control over the region. After his father destroyed Babylon there was much social unrest as it was.

According to some ancient historians the assassination of Sennacherib was divine justice for the destruction he brought to Babylon and the Bible mentions this incident as well. Overall Esarhaddon was able to successfully claim rule over Assyria and followed through on many of his fathers policies and initiatives.

Assyrian King List

King Name Years of Rule Kingdom
Eriba-Adad I 1380–1353 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit I 1353–1318 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-nirari 1317–1308 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Arik-den-ili 1307–1296 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari I 1295–1264 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser I 1263–1234 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta I 1233–1197 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nadin-apli 1196–1194 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari III 1193–1188 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-kudurri-usur 1187–1183 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-apal-Ekur 1182–1180 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan I 1179-1133 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-tukulti-Ashur 1333 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Mutakkil-nusku 1333 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi I 1133-1115 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser I 1115-1076 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Asharid-apal-Ekur 1076-1074 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-bel-kala 1074-1056 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad II 1056-1054 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-Adad IV 1054-1050 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal I 1050-1031 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser II 1031-1019 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari IV 1019-1013 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-rabi II 1013-972 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi II 972-967 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser II 967-935 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan II 935-912 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari II 912-891 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta II 891-884 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal II 884-859 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser III 859-824 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-adad V 824-811 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shammu-ramat 811-808 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari III 811-783 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmeneser IV 783-773 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-dan III 773-755 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari V 755-745 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser III 745-727 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser V 727-722 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sargon II 722–705 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sennacherib 705–681 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Esarhaddon 681–669 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashurbanipal 669–631 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-etli-ilani 631-627 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shumu-lishir 626 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shar-ishkun 627-612 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit II 612-608 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire

Sources

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