Babylonia after Sargon's Conquest (710-705)

Sargon's annalists unfolded a magnificent picture of the blessings the Assyrian rule brought to Babylonia: Civil order, security, justice, infrastructure and agriculture – everything that the Babylonians had been deprived of in the reign of the "bad guy" Merodach-Baladan was restored and improved.[[40]] But these were future projects at best. Most of the Elysian descriptions were pure propaganda – or self-deceptions, if the Assyrian courtiers really believed in them. Most of the letters dealing with peaceful matters within Babylonia are from Šarru-emuranni but there are many more which cannot be assigned to a specific author. No coherent picture can be drawn from them, but they should be read with the result of Sargon's rule in mind, the result of which is apparent in the inscriptions of his son Sennacherib.

After Sargon's demise in 705 Babylonia arose in revolt and Merodach-Baladan was soon back on his former throne in Babylon. Sennacherib reacted almost at once, in 704.[[41]] First his campaign seemed to become a repetition of his father's attack in 710. Again a fortress, this time Cutha, was prepared by the enemy to block his advance.[[42]] During the siege Sennacherib imitated his father by likewise sending a detachment ahead to keep a close watch over Merodach-Baladan, but the results were different: In 710 Merodach-Baladan had been passive and the Chaldaeans of Bit-Dakkuri were ready to support Sargon's troops, but in 704 Sennacherib's detachment found no support at all. Instead it was put to flight near Kiš when Merodach-Baladan sallied forth from Babylon.[[41]] In 710 Merodach-Baladan fled without fight when the Assyrian main force invaded Babylonia but when Sennacherib advanced after the fall of Cutha he encountered the combined forces of the Elamites, Chaldaeans, Aramaeans and even Arabs, who awaited him at Kiš.[[44]] Sennacherib vanquished them and forced Merodach-Baladan once more to flee to the south.[[45]] Afterwards Sennacherib sat on Merodach-Baladan's throne as had Sargon in 710. At the same stage in 710 the Chaldaeans had submitted to his father[[46]] whereas now Sennacherib had to subdue every single Chaldaean and Aramaean tribe.[[47]]

Sargon's conquest had been rather easy because his enemies enabled him to defeat them piecemeal, mostly because they lacked cohesion and coordination and were indifferent, opportunistic and selfish. The mistakes of his enemies made him appear as a ruler brilliant in diplomacy as well as on the battlefield. But less than five years of Sargon's rule were enough to bring about what Merodach-Baladan had been unable to achieve in more than a decade: All of Merodach-Baladan's once unruly subjects were ready to flock to his side when he reappeared. In 704 the next Assyrian invader had to fight a battle in northern Babylonia. This time the tribes and cities all rallied to Merodach-Baladan, and Elam did send troops in time. Such a dramatic change – from a submissive, even cooperative attitude to stubborn resistance must be attributed to the circumstances of Sargon's rule of Babylonia. The activities of officials like the governor Šarru-emuranni or others lower in the hierarchy are to be blamed for the change. There are only very few direct hints in the letters: Nabû-taklak was probably a member of Bit-Dakkuri who joined the Assyrian side during the war against Merodach-Baladan (no. 180). It must have been disappointing for him that his ambitions to improve his position in Bit-Dakkuri were not satisfied afterwards (230).[[48]] Further south, the people of Bit-Amukani did "not obey Naṣib-Il regarding the king's work" (SAA 5 63 r.7-18).[[49]]

In any case the years between 710 and 705 had a lasting impression on Babylonia and left a heavy burden for Sargon's son as well. It was for Sennacherib to experience how carefully Assyria's enemies had analysed their blunders. And worst of all, most of them had survived the onslaught of 710 more or less unscathed. Both Sargon's annals and the letters agree that within northern Babylonia and among the Chaldean tribes except Bit-Yakin losses were comparatively low and destruction little, and that the Assyrian conquest in these areas was not followed by mass deportations. Therefore Babylonia was by no means weakened when the war started again.

Unfortunately we lack the letters necessary to shed additional light on those fifteen years, during which the tribes and cities in Babylonia resumed the war with almost suicidal stubborness following successive defeats until Sennacherib's final but unhappy victory in 689.[[50]]

40 Ann. 316-320 and Ann. 373-378. For the prisms from Nimrud see Gadd, Iraq 16 186 vi 63-79, 192 vii 45-76.

41 For Sennacherib's first years the sources present contradictory chronological statements (Brinkman, Studies Oppenheim p. 22f, cf. Frahm Sanherib p. 9 with references to the studies of Brinkman and Levine). The following reconstruction relies on the Eponym Chronicle B6 and on the account of Sennacherib's first campaign as given in his earliest inscription (Frahm Sanherib T 1). Sennacherib ascended the throne on the 12th of Ab (Jul.-Aug.) 705 (Millard Eponyms p.48). In his accession year (705/704) Babylonia revolted and Merodach-Baladan reappeared (Luckenbill Senn. p. 48f:5-15). Sennacherib set out for his first campaign at the end of his accession year, on the 20th of Shebat (Jan.-Feb.) 704 (Luckenbill Senn. p. 50:16-19). In his first year of reign (704/703) the main battles of the first campaign took place (Luckenbill Senn. p. 50ff lI. 20ff; Millard Eponyms p. 49 B6 r.13; Grayson Chronicles p. 77:19-23). At the same time the magnates campaigned without success in the northwest against the Kulumaeans (Frahm, NABU 1998 No. 116). In the second year of Sennacherib's reign (703/702) his first campaign proceeded and ended in an attack on Hararati and Hirimmu (Luckenbill Senn. p. 54:57-62; Grayson Chronicles p. 77:24f). In his third year (702/701) in the month of Sibuti (Sep.-Oct. 702) his second campaign was over (Frahm Sanherib pp. 10 and 111: date of BM 123412+). According to Kingslist A Sennacherib reigned 2 years over Babylonia, followed by 1 month of Marduk-zakir-šumi and 9 months of Merodach-Baladan (RlA 6 p. 93). Accordingly Sennacherib's first campaign must have started in Shebat of 702. It is very unlikely that two large campaigns against different regions took place in a few months between Shebat (Jan.-Feb.) and Sibuti (approx. Sep.-Oct.) of 702. Moreover if the second campaign had come shortly after the first it would be difficult to explain why Sennacherib's scribes composed two: separate inscriptions, one dealing exclusively with the first campaign (Frahm Sanherib T 1), and a second one including both campaigns (Frahm Sanherib T 2-3). Therefore I have chosen to disregard the evidence from Kinglist A. For the debatable entry "MU II x" in the Babylonian Chronicle (Grayson Chronicles p. 76:12) see Levine, JCS 34 32 n. 14.

42 In 704 Cutha functioned in a way very similar to Dur-Abihara in 710. Compare Luckenbill Senn. p. 50:17-18 to Ann. 265-271 (Sargon).

43 Luckenbill Senn. p. 50:20-22 and Brinkman Prelude p. 57 n. 270. See above for Sargon's detachment which took Dur-Ladinni as a base to watch Merodach-Baladan's moves.

44 Luckenbill Senn. p. 51:23-27.

45 Luckenbill Senn. p. 51:27-35.

46 Ann . 313-316.

47 Luckenbill Senn. p. 52-54:36-53, 55-56. Note especially that Dur-Ladini, once so useful to Sargon, appears now among the enemy towns (l. 37).

48 Likewise a certain Bel-iddina whose nephew provided the Assyrians with news on the moves of Merodach-Baladan (no. 186) was surely pro-Assyrian, but later got involved in a dispute over a prebend (no. 270). Depending on how the king settled his question, the outcome could have very well changed Bel-iddina's attitude. Of course only if both letters refer to the same Bel-iddina.

49 For Naṣib-Il cf. nos. 51, 52 and 104.

50 Frahm Sanherib p. 16.

Andreas Fuchs

Andreas Fuchs, 'Babylonia after Sargon's Conquest (710-705)', The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part III: Letters from Babylonia and the Eastern Provinces, SAA 15. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 2001; online contents: SAAo/SAA15 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

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