Survey of the Inscribed Objects Included in Part 2, Part 1

Clay Cylinders   Clay Prisms   Clay Cones   Clay Tablets  

The corpus of firmly identifiable Sennacherib inscriptions currently comprises two hundred and thirty-three texts; twenty-six late Neo-Assyrian inscriptions which may be attributed to Sennacherib, although some arbitrarily, are also edited here (text nos. 1001–1026). One text is ascribed to a wife of his, Tašmētu-šarrat (text no. 2002) and another to a woman close to him, possibly his mother (text no. 2001); eight inscriptions of another wife of his, Naqīʾa (Zakūtu), are known but all of these appear to have been written during the reign of his son and immediate successor, Esarhaddon, and have been edited in Leichty, RINAP 4. Inscriptions of Sennacherib, including those edited in Part 1, are presently found on a wide variety of clay, stone, and metal objects, specifically:

Object Type Text No.
Clay cylinders   1–13, 213
Clay prisms   14–33, 164–165
Clay cones   214
Clay tablets   135–163, 209, 1015–1023
Clay objects (prisms or tablets)    1024–1026
Bricks    88–101, 195–208, 216–217, 219–221
Horizontal stone prisms    166
Stone tablets    34–37, 168, 230–231
Stone human-headed bull colossi    39, 41–47, 49–50
Stone human-headed lion colossi    40, 48, 51 (ex. 3)
Wall slabs (including slabs with reliefs)    51 (exs. 1–2), 53–77, 80–85, 215
Threshold slabs   78–79, 218
Stone blocks (including horse troughs) and paving stones   132 (horse troughs), 169–189, 224–229, 232
Stone door sockets   86–87, 190–191
Sculpted stone water basin   192
Stone vessels (various types)    133–134, 1002–1010, 2002
Small stone objects, including cylinder-shaped beads   102–131, 210, 233, 1011–1014
Cylinder seals (including impressions)    212
Steles   38, 167, 1001, 2001
Rock faces   222–223
Stone (uncertain)    52
Metal platings   193–194
Bronze lion weight   211

Clay Cylinders

Two clay cylinders discovered in Egallammes ("Palace, Warrior of the Netherworld"), the Nergal temple at Tarbiṣu (modern Sherif Khan), are inscribed with one of the earliest known inscriptions of Sennacherib. The Tarbiṣu recension of the First Campaign Cylinder (text no. 213), although not dated, likely comes from the first half of 702, Sennacherib's 3rd regnal year, and describes in great detail a campaign against Marduk-apla-iddina II (biblical Merodach-baladan) and an account of the rebuilding of Egallammes, which was reported to have been in a dilapidated state. The prologue and military narration are nearly identical to the Nineveh version of the First Campaign Cylinder (text no. 1).

Clay Prisms

In addition to the octagonal clay prisms that are inscribed with copies of inscriptions commemorating Sennacherib's construction at Nineveh (text no. 15 exs. 6, 14, and 17, and text no. 16 exs. 23* and 28*–32*), there are at least two texts (text nos. 164–165) written on octagonal prisms discovered at Aššur that describe construction at Aššur. Unfortunately, both inscriptions are very badly damaged. The first inscription (text no. 164) is preserved on a complete but badly effaced octagonal prism, whose entire surface is very worn, making it nearly impossible to read most of the text inscribed upon it. However, enough of the text can be deciphered to be certain that it included a short prologue, reports of Sennacherib's first eight campaigns, and a short, fifteen-line building account. That passage records the renovation of the innermost part of one of palaces at Aššur (the so-called Old Palace), a royal residence previously worked on by Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076) and Ashurnasirpal II (883–859). The scribe who inscribed the prism did not date the object; this is unusual since the Nineveh prisms and the Aššur copies of those Nineveh texts were dated. Since its terminus post quem is the battle of Ḫalulê, during the king's eighth campaign (691), the date of composition is ca. 691–689, around the same time as the Chicago Prism (text no. 22 ex. 1), the Jerusalem Prism (text no. 23 ex. 1), and the Taylor Prism (text no. 22 ex. 2). The second inscription (text no. 165) is in even worse condition, with parts of only the first three columns and the eighth column still extant. Although only sections of the first three campaigns are preserved, we can be certain that the military narration of the inscription contained reports of at least Sennacherib's first four campaigns; the earliest prisms of this king date to 698, Sennacherib's 7th regnal year, the year after reports of the four campaigns were first included in the military narration of inscriptions. The final twenty-two lines of the inscription, part of the building report, are preserved, but they are very badly damaged and difficult to read. That passage may describe Sennacherib's restoration of Aššur's walls and gates.[5] The scribe of this prism did not put a date on the object and, therefore, it is not known with certainty when this octagonal prism was inscribed. Based on the amount of space available and on the assumption that the building report did not occupy more than the lower part of the eighth column, the military narration of this inscription may have ended with the sixth (694–693), seventh (late 693), or eighth (691) campaign. In addition to these two inscriptions, there were presumably other (no longer extant) texts of Sennacherib written on clay prisms that included military narration and a report of construction at Aššur.

Clay Cones

It has been remarked that clay cones "are certainly the most unusual of the variety of objects upon which Assyrian royal inscriptions were inscribed. Unlike bricks, statues, reliefs, and even clay tablets, the form and function of which are immediately recognizable, the clay cones do not fit any pattern to our modern minds."[6] Moreover, "cone" — or "knob," "boss," "peg" or "nail" as used in other scholarly literature — is not really an adequate translation of the Akkadian word sikkatu, the term for these objects that appears regularly in the corpus of Assyrian royal inscriptions. Although there is quite a diversity in the shape of these sikkatu, the cones all have a tapered shaft that comes almost to a point and a large, hollow, semi-spherical head; the shaft was sometimes inserted into the center of a decorated clay plate and the combined cone and plate were placed in the interior room of a building with the plate flat against the wall and the head of the cone protruding.[7] The cones themselves, like their companion plates, could be enameled with a variety of colors (black, white, yellow, brown, red, green, and blue).

Fragments of the heads of two cones of Sennacherib (text no. 214) are known and both pieces are presumed to have come from Tarbiṣu. Both cones were inscribed with the same short, two-line text stating that Sennacherib rebuilt the Nergal temple Egallammes in that city from its foundations to its crenellations and that the king deposited clay cones in the structure of that temple. Although these cones do not bear dates, the text written upon them was composed very early in Sennacherib's reign, around the time the Tarbiṣu recension of the First Campaign Cylinder (text no. 213) was being written on clay cylinders (ca. early 702); the date is suggested by the fact that this is when Sennacherib was renovating Nergal's temple.

Clay Tablets

Of all of the known objects inscribed with the inscriptions of Sennacherib, those written on tablets (text nos. 135–163 and 209) are in some ways the most difficult to assess. Specifically, what were the immediate circumstances that led to them being written on this clay medium? Were they intended to be drafts of texts written on other media, including clay cylinders, clay prisms, stone tablets, stone human-headed colossi, niches in rock cliffs, or metal plating? Were they intended to be archival copies or a record of texts deposited or found in the mud-brick structure of buildings or walls? Were they scribal training exercises? Or did they have some other purpose? Given the fragmentary state of preservation of the known tablets with inscriptions of Sennacherib, this is not always an easy question to answer; in a few instances, however, it is. Moreover, it is uncertain how many tablets of his are extant; there could be as few as twenty-two tablets, if certain non-physical joins prove correct, or as many as thirty different tablets. All but one of these, text no. 209, which originates from Aššur, are presumed to have come from Nineveh.[8] The size, shape, and format of the tablets vary. The following types are known: (1) narrow single-column tablets (text nos. 135, 142, 153–155, 158–159, 161, and 163); (2) short, wide single-column tablets (text nos. 140–141 and 146–148); (3) uʾiltu-tablets, with rounded corners (text nos. 149–150, 152, 156–157, and 160);[9] and (4) multi-column tablets, with two (text nos. 143–145, 151, and 162) or three (text nos. 136–139) columns per side.

As is to be expected from the number of tablets/fragments, their contents vary. Five tablets are inscribed with a text containing (1) a prologue (which includes the king's name, titles/epithets, and a statement of the god Aššur's support for his earthly representative), (2) military narration, (3) a building report, and (4) concluding formulae (text nos. 135, 136–139, 140–141, 142, 143–145, and 151).[10] Text nos. 146–148, assuming all three fragments belong to the same tablet and that tablet is not part of a series of two or more tablets, appear to contain (1) military narration, (2) a building report, and (3) concluding formulae. Two tablets (text nos. 149–150) contain copies, mostly likely drafts, of epigraphs; some of the epigraphs on these tablets are written in Neo-Assyrian, rather than Standard Babylonian. One tablet (text no. 152) contains a copy of a text comprising (1) a prologue and (2) a building report. Text nos. 153–155, assuming all three fragments come from the same tablet which is either an archival copy or a draft of an inscription written on a rock cliff, include (1) an invocation of deities; (2) Sennacherib's name, titles, and epithets; (3) a statement about the god Aššur supporting Sennacherib as his earthly representative; (4) a building account; and (5) concluding formulae. Due to the fragmentary nature of that tablet, it is not known if that inscription also contained military narration; compare the contents of the Bavian Inscription (text no. 223), which is discussed below in the section on steles and rock reliefs. One tablet (text no. 156) contains copies of three texts that were written on a lapis lazuli cylinder seal, while another tablet (text no. 157) contains drafts of two texts that were to be inscribed on small cylinder-shaped beads; see below for details on those tablets' contents. Two tablets (text nos. 158 and 160) contain texts that are probably epigraphs that accompanied images. One of those tablets (text no. 158) also has a narrative inscription written on it; that text is a prayer to the god Aššur to ensure the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of Sennacherib's reign. Lastly, three tablets (text nos. 159 and 161–162) contain dedicatory inscriptions. Although these texts are all fragmentarily preserved, they contain: (1) a dedication to the god Aššur (listing his titles and epithets); (2) Sennacherib's name, titles, and epithets; (3) a building report describing the object being dedicated; and (4) concluding formulae. There is one other tablet (text no. 163), but it is not sufficiently preserved for us to be able to confidently remark on its contents, other than that they are similar to those of the "Sin of Sargon" text (Livingstone, SAA 3 pp. 77–79 no. 33; and Tadmor, Landsberger, and Parpola, SAAB 3 [1989] pp. 3–52).

The function/purpose of these tablets, as mentioned above, is not always clear. The contents of some texts, especially those written on uʾiltu-tablets with rounded corners (text nos. 149–150, 152, 156–157, and 160), appear to have been drafts of inscriptions that were to be written on other media, including sculpted wall slabs. The crudely-made nature of some of the tablets, as well as the use of Neo-Assyrian in the case of one text (text no. 149), are the principal pieces of evidence that suggest that some texts were first or early drafts of inscriptions. Probably numerous drafts were not approved by the king (or by his chief scribe, who may have vetted compositions before they were presented to Sennacherib) to be used on clay, stone, or metal objects deposited or displayed in temples, royal residences, walls, or open-air (public) venues. The best example is perhaps K 1280 (text no. 149), which is a crudely-made uʾiltu-tablet inscribed with six epigraphs, including one written in Neo-Assyrian (obv. 1–9). Because Neo-Assyrian is not used for epigraphs on Sargonid palace reliefs, it is very doubtful that that text was used as an epigraph on a sculpted wall slab in the "Palace Without a Rival";[11] if it was used, it probably would have been reworked, including being rewritten in Standard Babylonian. Some of the other drafts may have been final revisions that were approved to be inscribed on other objects. Sm 1893 (text no. 157), a small horizontal tablet which contains the draft of two texts to be inscribed on small cylinder-shaped beads, best illustrates this. The opening lines of the tablet (obv. 1–2) clearly indicate that Sennacherib had ordered that the texts on that tablet were to be inscribed on other objects (beads). Because the king is ordering the writing of those texts, the drafts must have been regarded as final drafts; the language and content are consistent with other inscriptions written on cylinder-shaped beads (see the discussion below).[12] K 1356 (text no. 160), which contains an extremely interesting text recording the construction of an akītu-house outside the western wall of the city Aššur and several epigraphs that were to accompany images on the temple's bronze gate (a work of art depicting an epic battle between Aššur and his entourage on the one hand and Tiāmat and her horde of monsters on the other hand), may have also been a final or near final draft. Because relatively few metal objects inscribed with texts of Assyrian kings survive today, there is no way to know if the texts written on K 1356 were copied verbatim on that akītu-house's elaborately decorated bronze gate or if later, revised versions of those texts were copied there. Given the lack of evidence, we can only speculate on this matter. It is noteworthy that these tablets containing drafts have survived; they appear to have been archived rather than destroyed.

For the majority of the tablets with Sennacherib inscriptions (text nos. 142, 146–148, 151, 153–155, 158, 159, and 163), it is not clear if they were archival copies of texts on objects officially commissioned by the king or whether they were final drafts that were archived after the objects for which those texts were intended were inscribed; thus, those tablets may have been either archival copies or final drafts that were archived. Subscripts (Abschriftvermerke) preserved on some of these tablets are useful in that they provide information about the location and sometimes the object upon which the text was to be written. Unfortunately, most of the subscripts that are regarded as being written during Sennacherib's own reign are either completely destroyed (text no. 142, 151, 158, and 159) or are poorly preserved (text nos. 146–148 and 153–155).[13] The one intact subscript (K 4732 + Sm 1081 = text no. 163 rev. 1'–4') records that that text was to be written on stone slabs placed in the Aššur temple at Aššur, slabs upon which the king was to stand while kissing the ground. It is not clear, however, if the contents of the tablet were copied from those slabs and then archived or whether K 4732+ was used to inscribe those now-lost slabs and then archived. Another example illustrating the ambiguity of archival copy or draft (and then archival copy) is K 100 (+)? DT 166 (+)? Rm 403 (text nos. 153–155), a fragmentarily preserved single-column tablet inscribed with a text that is similar in passages to the Bavian Inscription (text no. 223; see below). Since a copy of that text has not yet been discovered written in a niche carved into the face of a rock cliff, it is possible that the text on K 100+ was: (1) a rejected (near) final draft that was supplanted by another text; (2) a (near) final draft that was to be written in niches carved into the face of a cliff, but the actual task of carving them was never executed; or (3) a final draft that was archived after Sennacherib had rock relief panels inscribed with that text.[14] In sum, we can only speculate on the original reason for K 100+ being inscribed.

One tablet, K 2673 (text no. 156), was probably intended to be an archival copy of the three texts that were inscribed on a royal seal of lapis lazuli. Certainly two of the inscriptions (the ones of the Babylonian king Šagarakti-Šuriaš and the Middle Assyrian ruler Tukultī-Ninurta I) were copied directly from the object itself; see the section on other stone objects below for further details. The circumstances that led to the Sennacherib inscription being written on K 2655 + K 2800 + Sm 318 (+)? K 4507 (+)? Bu 89-4-26,150 (text nos. 143–145) are very uncertain since that tablet also has royal decrees of Šamšī-Adad V and Adad-nārārī III written on it. Was this tablet a scribal practice tablet or was there some other reason that most of an inscription of Sennacherib was written on the same tablet as decrees of earlier Assyrian kings?[15] Unfortunately, we simply do not know the answer to this question and the purpose of K 2655+ remains illusive.

It is clear from orthography, slips in phraseology, writing peculiarities and the use of expressions not typical of, or otherwise known in, inscriptions composed during the reign of Sennacherib that some texts of Sennacherib were copied onto tablets (text nos. 135, 136-139, 140-141, and 161-162) during the reigns of Esarhaddon and/or Ashurbanipal; the scribes did not always faithfully copy the original inscriptions.[16] The reason that many of these texts were copied is not obvious, apart from the fact that the scribes of Esarhaddon and/or Ashurbanipal deemed it necessary to keep a record of (some) texts of Sennacherib that had been discovered by workmen in the structure of buildings/walls they were rebuilding or renovating. The fate of the originals, whether they were returned to where they were found and placed alongside Esarhaddon's and/or Ashurbanipal's own inscriptions (as is claimed in the concluding formulae of numerous texts) or deposited in an archive after they were copied (that is, not returned to their original location), is not certain. An example of this is the text written on K 2662 (+)? K 3752 (+)? K 11718 (+)? DT 200 (text nos. 136-139). The inscription appears to have been originally inscribed on clay cylinders or clay prisms that were deposited in the structure of the citadel wall of Nineveh. When Ashurbanipal (or Esarhaddon) rebuilt sections of that wall, those inscribed objects were discovered. The text was copied more or less verbatim from one of those cylinders/prisms and K 2662+ is the resulting copy, as noted by the subscript, which reads "that which is upon the inscribed object that [...]; belonging to Senn[acherib, ...]."[17] Ashurbanipal claims to have placed inscriptions of his grandfather back where his workman had discovered them; whether or not this is true remains to be proven by the archaeological record.

On at least two occasions, Ashurbanipal had inscriptions of his grandfather removed from objects before having those same objects refurbished and reinscribed with his own texts. Those texts were copied onto tablets before the inscriptions were destroyed. K 8664 (text no. 161) and K 2411 (text no. 162) are the products of those events, as indicated by their subscripts. The subscript of K 8664 (rev. 9'–11') reads:

"Wording (of the inscription) that (is) on the bed (and) the throne at the footend. It is a single (text). The one on the chest was not copied."

The subscript of K 2411 (iii 36'–40'), which provides information about the texts themselves, reads:

"Wording (of the inscription) that was cut off (and) erased from the bed (and) the throne of the god Bēl (Marduk) that were in the temple of (the god) Aššur (and that of the inscription) written upon (them) in the name of Ashurbanipal. Simānu (III), twenty-seventh day, eponymy of Awiānu (655), [they were] re[turned [to] Ba[byl]on."

In 655 (Ashurbanipal's 14th regnal year), Ashurbanipal returned to Babylon the pleasure bed of Marduk and Zarpanītu that his grandfather Sennacherib had taken to Assyria and dedicated to the god Aššur after he had looted Esagil in 689 (Sennacherib's 16th regnal year); the bed was placed in Kaḫilisu, the bed chamber of the goddess Zarpanītu. That musukkannu-wood bed needed to be refurbished before it was sent back from the city of Aššur. Ashurbanipal had his scribes copy onto tablets the inscription that Sennacherib had written on its gold plating before having that text removed from the metal plating and replaced with his own commemorative text. It would have been offensive to the god Marduk to have sent that bed back with an inscription dedicated to Aššur on it. Ashurbanipal did the same thing with Marduk's throne. In addition to making copies of his grandfather's inscriptions, Ashurbanipal had his scribes write out detailed descriptions of the objects. K 8664 is probably the original copy that Ashurbanipal had his scribe make before having Sennacherib's inscription removed from Marduk's pleasure bed and throne, while K 2411 is likely a later copy of the contents of K 8664, with the addition of Ashurbanipal's replacement inscription.


5 Frahm, KAL 3 p. 33.

6 Donbaz and Grayson, RICCA p. 1.

7 For further details on cones and plates (with references to earlier studies, photographs, and drawings), see Donbaz and Grayson, RICCA pp. 1–4; and Nunn, Knaufplatten. The majority of the known Assyrian clay cones come from Aššur.

8 The number of tablets cited above refers only to tablets with positively identified Sennacherib inscriptions. In addition, there are several other texts on clay tablets or fragments of clay tablets that might come from his reign (text nos. 1015–1023), but their attribution to Sennacherib is uncertain. R. Borger (BAL2 p. 88) and E. Frahm (Sanherib pp. 195–211 and 215–217 T 170–T 171, T 173–T 174, and T 179) suggest the following texts originate from a single tablet: (1) text nos. 136, 137, 138, and 139; (2) text nos. 140 and 141; (3) text nos. 143, 144, and 145; (4) text nos. 146, 147, and 148; and (5) text nos. 153, 154, and 155. Because one cannot be absolutely certain that the non-physically joined fragments all belong to the same tablet, the authors have tentatively edited the fragments individually. However, for the sake of clarity, in the discussion of clay tablets here we will treat text nos. 136–139, text nos. 140–141, text nos. 143–145, text nos. 146–148, and text nos. 153–155 as if they were from five different tablets, rather than from fifteen tablets.

9 For some details on this horizontal tablet format (1:2 ratio), see Radner, Nineveh 612 BC pp. 72–73 (with fig. 8).

10 The building reports and concluding formulae of the texts written on K 2655 + K 2800 + Sm 318 (+)? K 4507 (+)? Bu 89-4-26,150 (text nos. 143–145) and K 2627 + K 2666 + K 2676 (+)? DT 320 (text nos. 140–141) appear not to have been copied on the tablets.

11 For the same opinion, see also Frahm, Sanherib pp. 211–212 T 175.

12 For a discussion of this text, see Grayson and Ruby, Iraq 59 (1997) pp. 89–91.

13 See below for information on the subscripts written on K 2662 (+)? K 3752 (+)? K 11718 (+)? DT 200 (text nos. 136–139), K 8664 (text no. 161) and K 2411 (text no. 162).

14 See also Frahm, Sanherib p. 217. Note that there are at least eleven unfinished panels at Bavian.

15 The building report and the concluding formulae appear not to have been copied on the tablet. The same appears to be true with the inscription copied on K 2627 + K 2666 + K 2676 (+)? DT 320 (text nos. 140–141).

16 With regard to orthography, these later tablet copies regularly use the ÍA-sign, rather than the IA-sign, for the first person possessive suffix -ya; the ŠÁ-sign, rather than the ŠA-sign, is almost exclusively used for the relative-determinative ša; and AN.ŠÁR, rather than (d)aš-šur, is regularly used to write the god Aššur's name. As to phraseology, one notable slip is the use of the expression ana bēlūt māti u nišē ("for ruling over the land and people"), rather than the expected ana rēʾût māti u nišē ("for shepherding the land and people"), in the concluding formulae. For further information, see the commentaries and on-page notes to text nos. 135, 136–139, 140–141, and 161–162.

17 Text no. 7 may have been one of these. Ashurbanipal, rather than Esarhaddon, is suggested here as the king during whose reign the text was copied since Ashurbanipal is known to have rebuilt sections of the citadel wall; see Borger, BIWA pp. 118 Prism D viii 64–75 and p. 183 Prism E Stück 18 lines 4–8.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Survey of the Inscribed Objects Included in Part 2, Part 1', 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.