Building Activities at Aššur, Part 2

The City Walls and Their Gates   Royal Palaces   Sennacherib's Royal Tomb  

The Zababa Temple

As indicated by texts on several stone blocks and by two royal grants, Sennacherib constructed a temple/sanctuary for the god Zababa; that structure was either part of the Aššur temple or a separate structure located in the vicinity of the Aššur temple and the Tabira Gate.[63] The work was probably a small part of the king's building program that took place in Aššur after the destruction of Babylon in 689.

The Sîn-Šamaš Temple

There is some archaeological evidence to suggest that Sennacherib worked on the Sîn-Šamaš temple sometime after 689, when the king was engaged in work on the Aššur temple, the akītu-house, and the processional way. Textual evidence, however, is lacking and, therefore, little can be said about this project.[64]

The Old Palace

Sennacherib renovated sections of the Old Palace, including the Step Gate (mušlālu).[65] A complete, but very badly damaged, octagonal clay prism (text no. 164) that was inscribed ca. 691–689 (Sennacherib's 14th–16th regnal years) records the renovation of the innermost part of that palace, the kummu-room (possibly Room 21 or Room 22) and its cella (kiṣṣu). The Middle Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076) and the early Neo-Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859) are named as previous builders and, as is typical for Sennacherib's inscriptions, the king mentions that the earlier workmanship on the building of the palace was not skillfully executed.[66] The superstructure of that part of the building is reported to have been completely rebuilt, roofed with cedar beams from Mount Amanus (the principal source for roof beams at this time), and had metal-banded doors made from white cedar hung in its gateways. Sennacherib also worked on the Step Gate, a project recorded in inscriptions written on stone blocks and bricks. As one expects from texts written on these two mediums, Sennacherib states that he used limestone blocks for the foundation and raised the structure of the mušlālu "as high as a mountain."

The City Walls and Their Gates

The building report of a badly damaged and difficult-to-read octagonal clay prism (text no. 165) may describe Sennacherib's restoration of Aššur's city walls and their gates.[67] Nothing of substance can be said about this project at present.

Royal Palaces

Sennacherib built palaces for at least two of his sons at Aššur. A single brick attests to the construction of a house for his eldest son Aššur-nādin-šumi (text no. 205). The location of the building is not known, but the work must have taken place prior to 700 since Sennacherib made Aššur-nādin-šumi king of Babylon in that year. Numerous stone blocks attest to Sennacherib building a house for another of his sons, Aššur-ilī-muballissu; that house was located near the city wall in the southeastern part of Aššur, near the bank of the Tigris River (city plan quadrants l8/l9; the "Crown Prince's Palace" in Figure 2).[68] The dates for the building of that house are not known.

Sennacherib's Royal Tomb

As is clear from numerous bricks discovered throughout Aššur, Sennacherib appears to have had his own tomb built during his lifetime; that structure may have included both above-ground and underground components.[69] Like other royal tombs at Aššur (including those of Aššur-bēl-kala, Ashurnasirpal II, and Šamšī-Adad V), this tomb, which he calls the "Palace of Rest" (ekal tapšuḫti) on one occasion (text no. 203) and the "Palace of Sleep" (ekal ṣalāli) on another (text no. 204), may have been situated under the Old Palace. Its location is not known and this may in part be due to the fact that it was intentionally destroyed at a later date.[70] It is uncertain whether or not Sennacherib was buried in it after he was murdered in late 681.[71]


63 Text no. 177; and Kataja and Whiting, SAA 12 pp. 49–50 no. 48 and pp. 108–109 no. 87. The precise location of the structure is not known. See Deller and Donbaz, Bagh. Mitt. 18 (1987) pp. 221–228.

64 See Haller, Heiligtümer p. 89; and Werner, Sîn-Šamaš-Tempel p. 18.

65 Text nos. 164, 178, and 199–202. Frahm, Sanherib p. 276; Frahm, PNA 3/1 p. 1123 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3.c.2'.d'–e'. For information on the Old Palace, see in particular Preusser, Paläste pp. 6–27; and Pedde and Lundström, Palast, esp. pp. 182–184 §III.23. For the Step Gate (mušlālu), see Andrae, Festungswerke pp. 63–92; van Driel, Aššur pp. 29–31; Edzard, RLA 8/7–8 (1997) pp. 495–496; Hrouda, RLA 8/7–8 (1997) p. 496; Miglus, ZA 72 (1982) pp. 271–272; Miglus in Maul and Heeßel, Assur-Forschungen p. 232; and Pedde and Lundström, Palast pp. 183–187 §§III.23.3 and III.24.2. Akk. mušlālu is not an easy word to translate and has been interpreted in a variety of ways in scholarly literature, for example, "monumental staircase," "monumental gate entrance," "processional staircase," "city gate with free(standing) staircase," "Step Gate," "gate," "gatehouse," and "a temple or palace gate with free(standing) staircase in Aššur." For a short survey of the relevant scholarly material, see Miglus in Maul and Heeßel, Assur-Forschungen p. 232 n. 8. Following Grayson, RIMA 1, mušlālu is translated in RINAP 3 as "Step Gate"; E. Leichty (RINAP 4), however, opted to translate the word as "gatehouse."

66 For details on Room 21 and Room 22, and the evidence for Tiglath-pileser I's and Ashurnasirpal II's work on the Old Palace, see Pedde and Lundström, Palast pp. 56–57 §§III.21–22, pp. 166–173 §III.13 and pp. 179–181 §III.18.

67 See Frahm, KAL 3 p. 33 for a suggestion on the contents of the building report. For information on the Aššur's city walls and gates, see in particular Andrae, Festungswerke; Miglus, ZA 72 (1982) pp. 266–279; and Miglus in Maul and Heeßel, Assur-Forschungen pp. 229–243.

68 Text nos. 179–185. For the archaeological evidence, see Preusser, Paläste p. 32 and pls. 10–11.

69 For a detailed study of the dates the bricks were discovered and their find spots, see Lundström, Königsgrüfte pp. 206–213 (with tables 77–79); and Lundström, CRRA 52 (forthcoming). Note that S. Parpola (SAAB 3/1 [1989] p. 24) suggests that Esarhaddon, rather than Sennacherib himself, built this royal tomb.

70 For possible locations, see in particular Frahm, Sanherib p. 181; Nasrabadi, Bestattungssitten p. 20 II.2.4; Lundström, WZKM 91 (2001) pp. 216–218; Pedde and Lundström, Palast p. 183; and Lundström, Königsgrüfte pp. 141–145 §II.6 and pp. 206–213 (with references to previous literature). It is uncertain whether Sennacherib's tomb was located in the area of the other royal tombs or in another part of the Old Palace. E. Heinrich (Paläste pp. 112–113) and R. Hachmann (Kāmid el-Lōz 16 pp. 257–263 §9.1, especially pp. 261–262) propose that Sennacherib's tomb was Tomb IV, while B. Hrouda (Andrae, WEA2 p. 311 n. 173) suggests Tomb VI. E. Weidner (AfO 13 [1939–1941] p. 216 n. 74) and P. Miglus (ISIMU 6 [2003] pp. 267–268) suggest that Sennacherib's tomb, along with the other royal tombs (those of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal), was located in another part of the Old Palace. On the assumption that text no. 203 does not deal with the grave itself, but rather with an above-ground structure in the Old Palace in which ancestor worship was carried out, while text no. 204 concerns itself with the underground tomb itself, S. Lundström (Königsgrüfte pp. 207 and 209–210) suggests that the above-ground structure was located in the southeastern part of the Old Palace, in the vicinity of the other royal tombs.

71 Frahm, Sanherib p. 181; and Frahm, PNA 3/1 p. 1123 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3.c.2'.h'. Frahm points out that his grandson Ashurbanipal offered slaughtered Babylonians as a kispu-offering at the place where Sennacherib was murdered, and not at the royal tomb; see Borger, BIWA p. 44 Prism A iv 70–73. Frahm (Sanherib p. 181) suggests that there is a possibility that the tomb was destroyed in 681, just after his murder; of course, he rightly suggests that it may instead have been destroyed in 614, when the city was conquered and destroyed by the Medes.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Building Activities at Aššur, Part 2', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

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