People > Sennacherib

Sennacherib

Background

Sennacherib was the first great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and ruled between 705 BC and 681 BC 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 BC.

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 BC 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 BC 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 BC 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 BC 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 BC. 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 BC 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 BC)

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

In 702 BC and from 699 BC until 697 BC Sennacherib launched minor military campaigns that saw the subjugation of Media. Between 696 BC and 695 BC he sent a few military units to Anatolia and in 690 BC 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 BC and 612 BC 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 BC 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 NameYears of RuleKingdom
Eriba-Adad I1380–1353 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit I1353–1318 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-nirari1317–1308 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Arik-den-ili1307–1296 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari I1295–1264 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser I1263–1234 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta I1233–1197 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nadin-apli1196–1194 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari III1193–1188 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-kudurri-usur1187–1183 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-apal-Ekur1182–1180 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan I1179-1133 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-tukulti-Ashur1333 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Mutakkil-nusku1333 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi I1133-1115 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser I1115-1076 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Asharid-apal-Ekur1076-1074 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-bel-kala1074-1056 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad II1056-1054 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-Adad IV1054-1050 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal I1050-1031 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser II1031-1019 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari IV1019-1013 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-rabi II1013-972 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi II972-967 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser II967-935 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan II935-912 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari II912-891 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta II891-884 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal II884-859 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser III859-824 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-adad V824-811 BCMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shammu-ramat811-808 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari III811-783 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmeneser IV783-773 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-dan III773-755 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari V755-745 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser III745-727 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser V727-722 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Sargon II722–705 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Sennacherib705–681 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Esarhaddon681–669 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashurbanipal669–631 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-etli-ilani631-627 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shumu-lishir626 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shar-ishkun627-612 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit II612-608 BCNeo-Assyrian Empire
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