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Sargon II


Sargon II, also known as Šarru-ukin was a king of Assyria during the Neo-Assyrian Empire between 722 BCE and 705 BCE and responsible for ushering in a new age of Assyrian prosperity and wealth. He named himself after Sargon the Great who had established the Akkadian Empire many, many centuries before. He is responsible for building a short lived beautiful capital city at Dur-Sharrukin, now known as Khorsabad in modern day Iraq.

Sargon II was the son of the previous king Tiglath-Pileser III and is believed to have seized power from his brother named Shalmaneser V in a political coup. It is believed that Sargon II was already middle aged when he seized power in Assyria and was assisted by his son and future king named Sennacherib. Following his ascension to the throne he also made his brother Sinahusur his grand vizier.

Military Campaign

Sargon was beset with wide-spread rebellions by at the beginning of his rule. Marduk-apla-iddina II, a chieftain of the Chaldean tribes in the marshes of the south, declared himself king of Babylon and was crowned king in 721 BC. In 720 BC, Sargon and Marduk-apla-iddina met in battle on the plains east of Babylon. Marduk-apla-iddina was supported by Elam. The Elamite troops were able to push back the Assyrian army, and he retained control of the south and the title of king of Babylon.[2] In 717 BC, the Syro-Hittite city of Carchemish on the Upper Euphrates. Carchemish was a small kingdom situated at an important Euphrates crossing. Sargon violated existing treaties in attacking the city, but with the wealth seized was able to continue to fund his army.[2] In 716 BC he moved against the Mannaeans, where the ruler Aza, son of Iranzu, had been deposed by Ullusunu with the help of the Urartuans. Sargon took the capital Izirtu, and stationed troops in Parsuash (the original home of the Persian tribe, on lake Urmia) and Kar-Nergal (Kishesim). He built new bases in Media as well, the main one being Harhar which he renamed Kar-Sharrukin. In 715 BC, others were to follow: Kar-Nabu, Kar-Sin and Kar-Ishtar — all named after Babylonian gods and resettled by Assyrian subjects.

Urartu-Assyria War

The eighth campaign of Sargon against Urartu in 714 BC is well known from a letter from Sargon to the god Ashur (found in the town of Assur, now in the Louvre) and the bas-reliefs in the palace of Dur-Sharrukin. The reliefs show the difficulties of the terrain: the war-chariots had to be dismantled and carried by soldiers (with the king still in the chariot); the letter describes how paths had to be cut into the intractable forests. The campaign was probably motivated by the fact that the Urartians had been weakened by incursions of the Cimmerians, a nomadic steppe tribe. One Urartian army had been completely annihilated, and the general Qaqqadanu taken prisoner.[4] The Inscription of Sargon II at Tang-i Var pass near the village of Tang-i Var, Hawraman, Zagros After reaching Lake Urmia, he turned east and entered Zikirtu and Andia on the Caspian slopes of the Caucasus. When news reached him that king Rusas I of Urartu was moving against him, he turned back to Lake Urmia in forced marches and defeated a Urartian army in a steep valley of the Uaush (probably the Sahend, east of Lake Urmia, or further to the south, in Mannaea country), a steep mountain that reached the clouds and whose flanks were covered by snow. The battle is described as the usual carnage, but King Rusas managed to escape. The horses of his chariot had been killed by Assyrian spears, forcing him to ride a mare in order to get away, very unbecoming for a king. Sargon plundered the fertile lands at the southern and western shore of Lake Urmia, felling orchards and burning the harvest. In the royal resort of Ulhu, the wine-cellar of the Urartian kings was plundered; wine was scooped up like water. The Assyrian army then plundered Sangibuti and marched north to Van without meeting resistance, the people having retreated to their castles or fled into the mountains, having been warned by fire-signals. Sargon claims to have destroyed 430 empty villages. After reaching Lake Van, Sargon left Urartu via Uaiaish. In Hubushkia he received the tribute of the "Nairi" lands. While most of the army returned to Assyria, Sargon went on to sack the Urartian temple of the god Haldi and his wife Bagbartu at Musasir (Ardini). The loot must have been impressive; its description takes up fifty columns in the letter to Ashur. More than one ton of gold and five tons of silver fell into the hands of the Assyrians; 334,000 objects in total. A relief from Dur-Sharrukin depicted the sack of Musasir as well (which fell into the Tigris in 1846 when the archaeologist Paul-Émile Botta was transporting his artifacts to Paris). Musasir was annexed. Sargon claims to have lost only one charioteer, two horsemen and three couriers on this occasion. King Rusa was said to be despondent when he heard of the loss of Musasir, and fell ill. According to the imperial annals, he took his own life with his own iron sword. In 713 BC, Sargon stayed at home; his troops took, among others, Karalla, Tabal and Cilicia. Persian and Mede rulers offered tribute. In 711 BC, Gurgum was conquered. An uprising in the Philistine city of Ashdod, supported by Judah, Moab, Edom and Egypt, was suppressed, and Philistia became an Assyrian province.

Kingdom of Israel

Under the command of Sargon II the Assyrians were able to defeat and subdue the Kingdom of Israel by capturing the city of Samaria. Following the three year siege of the city Sargon II exiled all of the inhabitants of Israel and the incident became the basis for the legend of the Ten Lost Tribes.

According to the Bible, other people were brought to Samaria, the Samaritans, under his predecessor Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 18). Sargon's name actually appears in the Bible only once, at Isaiah 20:1, which records the Assyrian capture of Ashdod in 711 BC.


In 710 BCE Sargon II believed Assyria was strong enough to conquer the other regional power of Babylonia under the leadership of Marduk-apla-iddina II. He first moved one of his armies against the civilization of Elam under king Shutur-Nahhunte II to prevent them from assisting the Babylonians in the upcoming invasion. A second army under the command of Sargon II himself marched on the city of Babylon. First Sargon II moved against the city of Dūr-Athara which was renamed Dūr-Nabû and made the new capital of the province of Gambalu.

Following this victory he laid siege to Babylon and Marduk-apla-iddina II was forced to flee in 710 BCE. The priests and civil servants all submited to Sargon II and he was able to restore control over Babylonia by Assyria. The following year in 709 BCE Sargon II led the famous New Years Day Procession as the king of Babylon and he would continue to rule over the city until 707 BCE.

Marduk-apla-iddina II fled Babylonia for Elam where he was forbidden entry. From here he took hostages in the ancient Sumerian cities of Ur and Uruk along with smaller other towns and villages before capturing his ancestral home at Dūr-Jakin. Here he reinforced the city by adding walls and digging a defensive canal to the Euphrates River. Sargon II pursued him to the fortified city and in 709 BCE the Assyrians were victorious against the rebel forces but were unable to siege the city.

Sargon II offered an agreement to Marduk-apla-iddina II where he would spare his life if he demolished the walls and submitted to his rule. It is not known if the agreement was fulfilled since Sargon II returned two years later in 707 BCE to take them down himself. Following the victory over Marduk-apla-iddina II, Sargon II and his son Sennacherib stayed in Babylonia in order to subdue the local Suti nomads, Aramaic tribes and the Chaldeans along with territories in Elam. During this whole time in the north the Cimmerians were growing in power and Assyria used this to gain many vassal kingdoms and states into their empire.

In 710 BCE the seven Greek kings of Ia', also known as Cyprus submitted to Assyrian rule and the following year in 709 BCE the famous king Midas of Phrygia became an Assyrian vassal to help ward off the invading Cimmerians. The next year in 708 BCE the territory of Kummuhu (Commagene) became an Assyrian province and at this point Assyria had reached a new height of power and influence in the region.

708 BC, Kummuhu (Commagene) became an Assyrian province. Assyria was at the apogee of its power. Urartu had almost succumbed to the Cimmerians, Elam was weakened, Marduk-apla-iddina II was powerless, and the Egyptian influence in the Levant had been thwarted.

Building Projects

Human-headed winged bull, found during Botta's excavation. A lamassu from the palace of Sargon II at Dur-Sharrukin.


Dur-Sharrukin ("Fort Sargon") was constructed as a new capital city by Sargon II shortly after he came to the throne in 721 B.C.[3] The city measured about a square mile in area. It was enclosed within a great wall of unbaked brick pierced by seven gates. Protective genies were placed on either side of these entrances to act as guardians.[6] The palace was richly decorated with relief-carved stone slabs. The land in the environs of the town was taken under cultivation, and olive groves were planted to increase Assyria's deficient oil production. The town was of rectangular layout and measured 1760 by 1635 m. The length of the walls was 16,280 Assyrian units, corresponding to the numerical value of Sargon's name. The town was partly settled by prisoners of war and deportees under the control of Assyrian officials, who had to ensure they were paying sufficient respect to the gods and the king. The court moved to Dur-Sharrukin in 706 BC, although it was not completely finished.

Death in Battle

In 705 BCE while on a military campaign to help push the Cimmerians out of his vassal kings territories in Media and Persia Sargon II died in battle. Following his defeat the Cimmerians were able to advance all throughout the region and continued to plunder both Urartu and Phrygia. Following his death he was succeeded in rule over the Neo-Assyrian Empire by his son named Sennacherib.

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


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources