On the twentieth of Ṭebētu (X) 681, near the end of his twenty-fourth year as king of Assyria, the sixty-something-year-old Sennacherib was murdered by one or more of his sons and the latter's accomplices.[1] The king's violent death, which threw Assyria briefly into civil war, has been a subject of debate in Assyriology even though numerous contemporary and later sources (including the Bible and classical authors) record the event. Cuneiform sources (inscriptions of Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal, and Nabonidus, and Babylonian chronicles) do not name the culprit(s), stating only that the king was killed by his son, and the biblical (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38; and 2 Chronicles 32:21) and classical (Berossus, Babyloniaca and Josephus, Ant. Jud.) accounts provide the name of the murderer(s) in garbled/distorted forms; see the section Family, Succession Arrangement, and Sennacherib's Murder in 681 below.[2]Those involved in the regicide profited for only a short time, as by the beginning of Addaru (XII), less than two months later, the heir designate, Esarhaddon, entered Nineveh, chased off the remaining plotters and insurgents, and ascended the throne of Assyria, just as his father had arranged a few years earlier (683 or slightly earlier).[3] Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon, grandson Ashurbanipal, and great-grandsons Aššur-etel-ilāni and Sîn-šarru-iškun ruled over Assyria (and occasionally Babylonia) until 612, when forces led by the Neo-Babylonian king Nabopolassar and the Median ruler Cyaxares (Umakištar) besieged Nineveh and after three months sacked and destroyed it, thus effectively bringing Assyrian kingship to an end.[4] Although Assyria disappeared as a political entity ca. 609, Sennacherib's name and deeds lived on, never to be forgotten.

Some aspects of Sennacherib's reign and his inscriptions have already been discussed in the introduction to Part 1 and that information will not be addressed here. For a survey of the inscribed objects included in Part 1, an overview of previous editions, studies of his military campaigns and building activities at Nineveh, information on the chronology of the reign, and translations of relevant passages in king lists and chronicles, see Grayson and Novotny, RINAP 3/1 pp. 1–27. The introduction to Part 2 will include information on texts included in Part 2 and texts excluded from RINAP 3; a survey of the inscribed objects included in Part 2; tables providing information on the king's military campaign; a study of Sennacherib's numerous building activities (especially his waterworks and work undertaken at Aššur); a study of Sennacherib's family, succession arrangement(s), and murder in 681; and a chart giving the dates or proposed dates of the inscriptions edited in this volume. For information about his character, innovations (in metal-working, hydrology, art, etc.), and (military and religious) reforms, see in particular Dalley and Oleson, Technology and Culture 44 (2003) pp. 1–26; Frahm, Sanherib pp. 19–20 and 277–288; Frahm, PNA 3/1 pp. 1123–1124 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība III; and Frahm, RLA 12/1–2 (2009) pp. 18–19 §§6, 6.1.2 and p. 21 §8; Grayson, CAH2 3/2 pp. 117–119; and Vera Chamaza, Omnipotenz, pp. 111–167 §2.3.


1 The date of the king's murder is provided in a Babylonian chronicle (Grayson, Chronicles p. 81 no. 1 iii 34–35a). Because his eldest son Aššur-nādin-šumi was old enough to become king of Babylon in 700, S. Parpola (LAS 2 p. 231 n. 390) and E. Frahm (PNA 3/1 p. 1113 I.1) suggest that Sennacherib was born around 745. A. Fuchs (RLA 12/1–2 [2009] p. 53 §3) suggests the year 740 as his approximate date of birth.

2 Grayson (CAH2 3/2 pp. 119 and 121) has stated earlier that the "identity of the murderer or murderers is not certain, and the circumstances of the assassination remain one of the great mysteries of ancient history" and that "the murder of Sennacherib, the circumstances surrounding it, and the causes leading up to it, are unsolved puzzles."

3 In his own inscriptions, Esarhaddon states that he entered Nineveh on the eighth of Addaru (XII), but a Babylonian chronicle records that the unrest in Assyria ended on the second of that month and that Esarhaddon ascended the throne of Assyria on either the eighteenth or twenty-eighth of Addaru. See respectively Leichty, RINAP 4 p. 14 Esarhaddon 1 i 87–ii 2; and Grayson, Chronicles pp. 81–82 no. 1 iii 36–38.

4 Assyria remained as a (weak) political entity until ca. 609. According to a Babylonian chronicle, Aššur-uballiṭ II declared himself king of Assyria in the city Ḫarrān after the death or capture of Sîn-šarru-iškun. Apart from the information provided in that chronographic text, which records a few battles between him and Babylonian and Median armies, nothing about Assyria's last king is known. After the chronicle entry for the year 609 (the seventh year of Nabopolassar), Aššur-uballiṭ disappears from the written record. See Grayson, Chronicles pp. 94–96 no. 3 lines 49b–75.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Introduction', 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.