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Sennacherib (704-681 BC)

Sennacherib at Lachish

Sennacherib after the battle of Lachish in 701 BC; detail from a stone orthostat that once decorated Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh (BM ANE 124911-3). © Trustees of the British Museum.

Amid the tragedy of Sargon II's death, Sennacherib (Akk. Sîn-aḫḫē-erība, "The god Sin has replaced the brothers") took control of Assyria and Babylonia, and immediately made Nineveh his capital. He was well suited for the task, as he had performed numerous important military and administrative duties while his father was king. Sennacherib's training served him well during his twenty-four-year reign, both at home and on the battlefield. He personally led the Assyrian army into battle no fewer than ten times and sponsored many large-scale building projects. One of his greatest achievements was the transformation of Nineveh into the premier Assyrian city, with a magnificent palace, a large and well-equipped armory, imposing inner and outer city walls, a royal road, and exotic and well-stocked botanical gardens and game parks.

He accompanied and sent his armies on far-flung campaigns in every direction. To the north, Sennacherib defeated the inhabitants of cities located near and on Mount Nipur (modern Judi Dagh) and the defiant ruler of the city Ukku. To the northwest, where his father had been killed, Assyrian officials led campaigns against anti-Assyrian rulers. To the west, Sennacherib personally led his armies along the Mediterranean coast. Some rulers submitted without a fight, but others, including Hezekiah of Judah, fought back with support from Egypt and Nubia. The Assyrians defeated Egyptian and Nubian auxiliary forces, returned the pro-Assyrian ruler of the city Ekron to his throne, captured forty-six Judean cities (including Lachish), and laid siege to the city Jerusalem; this event is also described in the Bible (2 Kings 18:13-19:36 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-22). The defenses of the Judean capital held firm, but Hezekiah, whom the Assyrians confined "like a bird in a cage," was forced to strike a costly deal with Sennacherib before the siege was lifted; the bribe worked, as Hezekiah was permitted to remain in power. Later in his reign, the Assyrian army marched into the Arabian desert and captured the city Adummatu.

Throughout his reign, Sennacherib wrestled with the problem of ruling southern Mesopotamia, and attempted various solutions, none of which worked. He undertook military action against Babylonia and Elam no fewer than six times. By 693 BC, Sennacherib was completely fed up with Babylon, especially after the king of Elam had carried off into exile his eldest son Aššur-nādin-šumi, whom he had appointed king of Babylon. In 691 BC, the Assyrians fought a heated battle against the Babylonians and Elamites at the city Ḫalule. After suffering a setback, Sennacherib made his way to Babylon and besieged that city. Babylon held out for fifteen months before falling to the Assyrians. Sennacherib plundered and destroyed the city and its temples; the city's tutelary deity Marduk was smashed or carried off to the city Aššur. According to several texts, Babylon was left "kingless."

Late in his reign, Sennacherib nominated Esarhaddon, a younger son of his, as his successor. That decision, however, was not universally accepted by his family and Esarhaddon was forced into exile. In late 681 BC, Sennacherib was murdered in Nineveh, possibly between bull colossi in one of its temples; his son Urdu-Mullissu appears to have been one of the chief conspirators. With their father dead and the designated successor in exile, Sennacherib's sons and their supporters vied for control of Assyria.

Further reading

E. Frahm, Einleitung in die Sanherib-Inschriften (Archiv für Orientforschung Beiheft 26). Vienna, 1997.

E. Frahm, "Sanherib," pp. 12-22 in M.P. Streck et al. (eds.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 12/1-2. Berlin, 2009.

A. Kirk Grayson, "Assyria: Sennacherib and Esarhaddon (704-669 B.C.)," pp. 103-122 in J. Boardman et al. (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, second edition, vol. 3/2. Cambridge, 1991.

A.K. Grayson and J. Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC), Part 1 (The Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period 3/1). Winona Lake, 2012. [http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/GRA1ROYAL] BUY THE BOOK. [http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/GRA1ROYAL]

A.K. Grayson and J. Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC), Part 2 (The Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period 3/2). Winona Lake, 2014. [http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/GRA2ROYAL] BUY THE BOOK. [http://www.eisenbrauns.com/item/GRA2ROYAL]

K. Radner, "Nineveh, Assyria's capital in the 7th century BC," [http://oracc.iaas.upenn.edu/saao/knpp/essentials/nineveh/index.html] Knowledge and Power. London, 2011.

K. Radner, "Sennacherib, king of Assyria (704-681)," [http://oracc.iaas.upenn.edu/saao/knpp/essentials/sennacherib/index.html] Knowledge and Power. London, 2011.

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Jamie Novotny

Jamie Novotny, 'Sennacherib (704-681 BC)', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2016 [http://oracc.org/]

 
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