Family, Succession Arrangement, and Sennacherib's Murder in 681

Sennacherib was the son of Sargon II by one of the latter's wives.[83][84] His paternal grandfather was Tiglath-pileser III, and his paternal grandmother may have been Yabâ; his uncles were Shalmaneser V and Sîn-aḫu-uṣur, and one of his aunts by marriages was Bānītu.[85] Sennacherib had several older and younger brothers and at least one sister, but almost nothing is known about them, for most of them not even their names. A sister of his, Aḫat-abīša, was married to king Ambaris of Tabal. His older brothers, as can be inferred from his name "The god Sîn has replaced the brothers" (Akk. Sîn-aḫḫē-erība), had died by the time Sennacherib was born. Several of his younger brothers appear to have survived him. Sennacherib had at least two wives: Tašmētu-šarrat and Naqīʾa (Zakūtu).[86] It is not clear whether or not the position of queen could be held simultaneously by more than one woman.[87] These women, and perhaps other women in the harem, bore Sennacherib at least six sons and one daughter.

The names of these seven children are known. Aššur-nādin-šumi was Sennacherib's eldest son or eldest living son when Sennacherib became king in 705. It has sometimes been suggested that he may have been a son of Sennacherib and Tašmētu-šarrat. Aššur-nādin-šumi was probably born ca. 720 (or slightly earlier) since his father made him king of Babylon in 700 (Sennacherib's 5th regnal year). In 694 (Sennacherib's 11th regnal year), the Babylonians handed Aššur-nādin-šumi over to the Elamites, who carried him off and presumably killed him. Before sending him to Babylon, Sennacherib had had a house built for Aššur-nādin-šumi at Aššur (text no. 205). Aššur-ilī-muballissu was probably his second eldest son (or second eldest living son), as his father called him māru terdennu in inscriptions recording the construction of a house for him at Aššur (text nos. 179–185). He appears to have been destined for some important priestly office at birth or as a youth. Aššur-šumu-ušabši was a third son for whom Sennacherib had a house built; unlike those of his older brothers, his house was located at Nineveh (text nos. 98–100). His place in the sequence of royal children is not known, as is the case for most of the other children. Since bricks for this prince's house were also discovered at Aššur (text no. 99), it is possible that Aššur-šumu-ušabši died before his Nineveh residence had been completed. Two other sons of Sennacherib, Urdu-Mullissu (Arad/Arda-Mullissu in earlier scholarly literature) and Nergal-šumu-[...], are mentioned in documents from Nineveh dated to 694 and 693 respectively. The former is thought to have been younger than Aššur-ilī-muballissu — although this cannot be proven — and older than Esarhaddon (see below).[88] The mother(s) of all six of these sons is (are) not known, but it is often thought that she was Tašmētu-šarrat.

It is known that Esarhaddon, Sennacherib's immediate successor as king of Assyria, was the son of Naqīʾa (Zakūtu). It is generally believed that that Naqīʾa was not the mother of Sennacherib's elder children and that Esarhaddon was his youngest son since Esarhaddon claims to have been ša ŠEŠ.MEŠ-ia GAL.MEŠ ŠEŠ-šú-nu ṣe-eḫ-ru a-na-ku "I am the younger brother of my older brothers."[89] Esarhaddon may not necessarily have been the youngest son of Sennacherib, but rather the youngest of the sons that were eligible to be designated as heir to the Assyrian throne ca. 683 (or slightly earlier). One daughter of Sennacherib is known by name. Šadditu is explicitly called "[daug]hter of Sennacherib (and) sister of Es[arh]addon, king of Assyria"; Naqīʾa is generally considered to have been her mother, although this cannot be proven from extant textual sources.[90]

A small tablet with draft epigraphs on one side and a list of names on the other (K 6109; text no. 150) may name other sons of Sennacherib. The names of those children are: Ileʾʾi-bulluṭ-Aššur, Ilu-bulluṭ-[...], Aššur-mukanniš-ilīya, Ana-Aššur-taklāk?, Aššur-DÙ-EN-NA (Aššur-bāni?-bēli?), Šamaš-andullašu (or Šamaš-ṣalamšu), and Aššur-šākin-līti. The relationship of these individuals to Sennacherib is not certain, but the mention of Aššur-ilī-muballissu — a rare enough name and a known son of the king — in the list suggests that these individuals could be children of Sennacherib.

Sennacherib appears to have had several viable choices for a successor, but it is unclear who exactly was his first choice as heir. Furthermore, it is not certain how many times during his twenty-four years on the throne he nominated an heir, only later to appoint another son in his stead. Aššur-nādin-šumi, the king's eldest son (or eldest living son in 705), may have been groomed for the role of ruler shortly after Sennacherib became king, just as his own father Sargon had done with him when he ascended the Assyrian throne in 722. Although there is no proof that Aššur-nādin-šumi was ever officially proclaimed heir apparent, it is likely that Sennacherib had him trained for kingship since he installed him as king of Babylon in 700 (his 5th regnal year). If Aššur-nādin-šumi had officially been regarded as the heir designate, then that position may have come to an end when his father made him king in Babylon. It is not known whether Sennacherib regarded Aššur-nādin-šumi's tenure as king of Babylon a permanent or a temporary post and whether he intended for him to succeed him on the Assyrian throne when he died. Whether or not Aššur-nādin-šumi had ever been considered Sennacherib's heir apparent, the matter of a successor must have weighed on the king's mind throughout his reign. It is now generally assumed that Urdu-Mullissu, one of the king's elder sons, was appointed, or at least was expected to be, Sennacherib's heir in 698.[91] However, there is no evidence that he was ever officially proclaimed as heir designate, unless the one known reference to Urdu-Mullissu as mār šarri refers to him being "crown prince," rather than to him simply being "a son of the king."[92]

The choice of an heir appears to have become an issue (again) around the king's twenty-first (684) or twenty-second (683) year on the throne, when Sennacherib was over sixty years of age. The events or motives leading up to the official nomination of a younger son of his, Esarhaddon, in early 683 (or slightly earlier) are not recorded in extant sources, although it is sometimes assumed that Naqīʾa, Esarhaddon's mother, played a key role in his appointment. If later, non-cuneiform sources present reliable information (although in a garbled form), it appears that the appointment came as a shock to some of Sennacherib's sons, especially to Urdu-Mullissu who expected to be the next king of Assyria. The choice of a younger son must have ruffled more than a few feathers since Sennacherib made members of the royal family and the Assyrian population at large swear oaths of loyalty to Esarhaddon. In order to commemorate the occasion, the new heir designate was given the name Aššur-etel-ilāni-mukīn-apli ("The god Aššur, the prince of the gods, is the one who establishes the heir!").[93] The oaths, however, did not prevent Esarhaddon's older brothers from conspiring against him by slandering him and telling lies about him to their father. Trusting that his father would not be influenced by the machinations of his older brothers, Esarhaddon went into exile in the western part of the kingdom. According to Esarhaddon, if he is in fact telling the complete truth, Sennacherib did not change his mind regarding the succession. That decision may have cost him his life.[94]

On the twentieth of Ṭebētu (X) 681, near the end of his twenty-fourth year as king, Sennacherib was murdered by one or more of his sons; shortly thereafter, civil war broke out, with several brothers vying for the Assyrian throne. Later cuneiform sources (a Babylonian chronicle and an inscription of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus) pin the murder on one of the king's sons, but which one?[95] Biblical sources (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38; and 2 Chronicles 32:21) name ʾdrmlk (Adrammelek) and śrʾṣr (Sharezar) as the culprits, while classical sources (Berossus, Babyloniaca Book 3 § 3 [= Burstein, SANE 1/5 (1978) p. 24]; and Josephus, Ant. Jud. X 23) name Adramelos (fragment of Abydenos), Ardumuzan (fragment of Polyhistor), or Adrammelech (Josephus) as the principal murderer; Josephus also names Sarasar in connection with the murder. A damaged letter that may have recounted the events of Ṭebētu (X) 681 gives the Akkadian name of Sennacherib's murderer: Urdu-Mullissu (mARAD-dNIN.LÍL, SAA 18 no. 100 obv. 10', rev. 1, 4, 6, and 11 [name not fully preserved in any of the five places]), presumably, the son of the king who is generally thought to have had the most to lose when Esarhaddon was officially nominated as heir designate.[96] Of course, contrary to the available evidence, Esarhaddon (and his mother Naqīʾa) may have been complicit in the murder, especially if his elder brother(s) had managed to turn Sennacherib against him. Esarhaddon and Naqīʾa had the most to lose if that were the case and they would have needed to act quickly to ensure that the succession arrangement remained in their favor. Although the evidence implicates Urdu-Mullissu more than it does Esarhaddon, the identity of Sennacherib's murderer cannot be definitively proven at the present time. Moreover, exactly where the regicide occurred is also uncertain; Babylon, Dūr-Šarrukīn, Kalḫu, and Nineveh have been proposed as possible locations.[97] Biblical accounts state that the murder took place in the temple of nsrk (that is, Nusku or Ninurta). An inscription of Ashurbanipal records that he offered slaughtered Babylonians as a kispu-offering at the place where Sennacherib was murdered, which was between (a pair of) human-headed winged bull colossi (aladlammû); and the city in which the aladlammû were placed, Nineveh, can be inferred from a Neo-Assyrian literary text describing the god Aššur's response to a report of Ashurbanipal's concerning the Šamaš-šuma-ukīn rebellion.[98]

After Sennacherib was murdered, civil war broke out in Assyria for a brief time. Esarhaddon, who appears to have had popular support, rushed home from exile, entered Nineveh, chased off the other pretenders to the throne, and ascended the throne of Assyria, just as his father had arranged a few years earlier.


83 Frahm, Sanherib pp. 3–4 and 18–19; Frahm, PNA 3/1 pp. 1113–1115 and 1121 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība I and II.3.b.16'; Frahm, RLA 12/1–2 (2009) pp. 13–14 §2.3; Frahm, Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem pp. 173–194 and 218–220; Fuchs, RLA 12/1–2 (2009) p. 53 §3; Fuchs, PNA 3/2 p. 1240 sub Šarru-kēnu 2.II; Grayson, CAH2 3/2 pp. 119–121; Liverani in Lippolis, Sennacherib Wall Reliefs pp. 15–17; Kwasman and Parpola, SAA 6 pp. xxvii–xxxiv; Parpola, CRRA 26 pp. 171–182; and Porter, Images, Power, and Politics pp. 13–26.

84 E. Frahm and E. Weissert (Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem p. 174 fig. 1 and pp. 179–182) suggest that Sennacherib's mother was a woman named Raʾīmâ, and not Ataliya as generally thought. That suggestion is tentatively followed here; see the introduction to text no. 2001 for further details.

85 As pointed out by A.R. George (Minerva 1/1 [1990] p. 31), the name Atalia and possibly the name Yabâ are northwest Semitic, suggesting that Sargon II's and Tiglath-pileser III's wives "were thus probably of Syrian or Levantine birth, entering the Assyrian harem as a result of diplomatic marriages or as spoils of the many western campaigns undertaken by the Assyrian armies of this period." S. Dalley believes that Yabâ and Atalia were members of the Judean royal family (e.g., SAAB 12/2 [1998] pp. 83–98); however, there is no certain evidence for a connection between the Assyrian and Judean royal families. For reservations about Dalley's proposal, see for example Frahm, PNA 3/1 p. 1114 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība I.1 and Younger Jr., VT 52 (2002) pp. 207–218. Dalley (New Light on Nimrud pp. 171–175; and JSOT 28 [2004] p. 395) has also suggested that Shalmaneser V's wife Banītu (an alternative interpretation of the name Bānītu) is an Akkadian translation of West-Semitic Yabâ (meaning "beautiful") and that Yabâ and Banītu (that is, Bānītu) are one and the same person.

86 E. Frahm (Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem p. 191 n. 124) suggests that Ana-Tašmētu-taklāk, a new queen identified by I. Finkel (NABU 2000 p. 12 no. 8), could be a wife of Sennacherib, perhaps even his first wife, but there is no firm evidence to support this proposal. That text will be included with those of Ashurbanipal and his successors. Furthermore, Frahm and Weissert (Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem p. 179) think that VA Ass 1203 (Ass 16043; text no. 2001), a stele erected in one of the row of steles at Aššur, belonged to Sennacherib's mother (a certain Raʾīmâ) rather than one of his wives (Tašmētu-šarrat, Naqīʾa, or a woman whose name might be read as fDÙG-x-dNIN.LÍL or fx-x-(x)-x-la-a).

87 It is often assumed that during the reign of Sennacherib there was only one queen at any given time. For a few recent studies on Neo-Assyrian queens — including whether Tašmētu-šarrat and Naqīʾa held the post of queen simultaneously or successively — see, for example, Frahm, Sennacherib at the Gates of Jerusalem pp. 178–192; Kertai, AoF 40 (2013) pp. 108–124; Melville, SAAS 9; and Svärd, Power and Women.

88 Kwasman and Parpola, SAA 6 pp. 40–44 and 93 nos. 37, 39–41, and 103. The full name of Nergal-šumu-[...] may have been, for example, Nergal-šumu-[ibni], Nergal-šumu-[iddin], Nergal-šumu-[iškun], or Nergal-šumu-[uṣur].

89 Leichty, RINAP 4 p. 11 Esarhaddon 1 i 8.

90 Kwasman and Parpola, SAA 6 pp. 200–201 no. 251. Whether Šadditu or another daughter of Sennacherib married an Egyptian called Šusanqu (Susinqu), a man referred to as ḫatna šarri, "son-in-law (or brother-in-law) of the king," is unclear (ibid. pp. 125–126 no. 142). Moreover, it is equally uncertain if the šarru referred to Sennacherib or some Egyptian ruler. For details and interpretations, see in particular Onasch, ÄAT 27/1 pp. 15–16; and Radner, Studies Roaf pp. 471–479.

91 Based on statements in several inscriptions (text nos. 181–182), Aššur-ilī-muballissu appears to have been designated from birth or at an early age for some important priestly office and since it is generally thought that Aššur-šumu-ušabši (although his place in the sequence of the king's children is not known) died before 700, Urdu-Mullissu appears to have been the most suitable candidate to succeed Sennacherib ca. 698, assuming Sennacherib made such an appointment at that time.

92 For the opinion that mār šarri in Neo-Assyrian texts always refers to the crown prince, rather than having its literal meaning, see Kwasman and Parpola, SAA 6 pp. xxvii–xxxiv. For reservations on the exclusive use of mār šarri for "crown prince," see, for example, Melville, SAAS 9 pp. 19–20.

93 As far as we can tell, the practice of nominating the eldest son as heir was by no means obligatory and, therefore, a king could choose any one of his sons. For copies of the loyalty oath, see Parpola and Watanabe, SAA 2 p. 18 no. 3; and Frahm, KAL 3 pp. 130–133 nos. 67–68.

94 According to an inscription of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus (Schaudig, Inschriften Nabonids pp. 515–516 no. 3.3a i 1'–41', esp. i 35'–41'), Sennacherib was murdered because he had sacked and destroyed Babylon in 689. Apart from that text, there is no other contemporary or later evidence to support that claim and, therefore, it is not known if the destruction of Babylon actually played any part in the murder of this Assyrian king; see Grayson, CAH2 3/2 p. 121.

95 Grayson, Chronicles pp. 81–82 no. 1 iii 34–35a; and Schaudig, Inschriften Nabonids p. 516 no. 3.3a i 35'–41'.

96 See Parpola, CRRA 26 pp. 171–182. For an edition of the letter 80-7-19,28, see Reynolds, SAA 18 p. 82 no. 100. The identity of śrʾṣr is less certain, but the writing clearly points to a hypocoristic form of an Akkadian name ending with –šarru-uṣur. E Frahm (Sanherib pp. 18–19; and PNA 3/1 p. 1115 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība I.3.b), following S.F. Schmidtke (AOTU 1/2 pp. 110–111), tentatively suggests that the biblical śrʾṣr is to be identified with Nabû-šarru-uṣur, the governor of Marqasi and eponym for the year 682. As already stated by Frahm, there is no evidence that Nabû-šarru-uṣur was a son of Sennacherib, but the possibility cannot be excluded.

97 See, for example, Frahm, Sanherib p. 19 (Nineveh); Lipiński, Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de la Bible pp. 208–209 sub Bet-Sarruk(in) (Dūr-Šarrukīn); Schmidtke, OLZ 21 (1918) cols. 169–171 (Babylon); von Soden, NABU 1990 pp. 16–17 no. 22 (Kalḫu); and Ungnad, ZA 35 (1924) pp. 50–51.

98 Borger, BIWA p. 44 Prism A iv 70–73; and Livingstone, SAA 3 p. 111 no. 44 obv. 24–25.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Family, Succession Arrangement, and Sennacherib's Murder in 681', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

Back to top ^^
© RINAP online, 2012–. RINAP 3 is a sub-project of the University of Pennsylvania-based RINAP Project, 2008-. Its contents of this website have been made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-14.
Oracc uses cookies only to collect Google Analytics data. Read more here []; see the stats here []; opt out here.