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King of Assyria
Sennacherib during his Babylonian war, relief from his palace in Nineveh
Reign 705–681 BCE
Predecessor Sargon II
Successor Esarhaddon
Akkadian Sîn-ahhī-erība
Greek Σενναχηριμ (Sennacherim)
Hebrew Sanherib
Father Sargon II
Died 681 BCE

Sennacherib (/səˈnækərɪb/; Akkadian: Sîn-ahhī-erība, "Sîn has increased the brothers"), was the king of Assyria from 705 BCE until 681 BCE. He succeeded his father Sargon II and was followed by his youngest son, Esarhaddon.[1] Much of his reign was spent dealing with rebellion in Babylonia,[2] and in 689 BCE Sennacherib razed the city and transported its chief god to his own capital, an act which was regarded as barbarous.[1] He was murdered by his sons in 681 BCE.[1]

Background: the Neo-Assyrian empire, 911-612 BCE[edit]

Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and its expansions - dark green shows the empire in 824 BCE, light green in 671 BCE.

Assyria began as a Bronze Age city-state or small kingdom on the middle-Tigris.[3] The kingdom collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age, but was reconstituted at the beginning of the Iron Age, and under Tiglath-pileser III and his sons Shalmaneser V and Sargon II (combined reigns 744–705 BCE), Assyria extended its rule over Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Syria-Palestine, making its capital Nineveh, one of the richest cities of the ancient world.[4][5] The empire's rise aroused the fear and hatred of its neighbours, notably Babylon, Elam and Egypt, and the many smaller kingdoms of the region such as Judah. Any perceived weakness on the part of Assyria led inevitably to rebellion, particularly by the Babylonians.[6] Solving the so-called "Babylonian problem" was Sennacherib's primary preoccupation.[2]

Accession and military campaigns[edit]


Sennacherib was probably not the first-born son of Sargon II (his name implies a compensation for dead brothers), but he was groomed for royal succession and entrusted with administrative duties from an early age.[7] Sargon died in battle, and ancient sources give three different years for Sennacherib's first reign-year—705 BCE, 704 BCE, and 703 BCE—suggesting that the succession was not smooth.[2] The transition from one king to another sparked uprisings in Syria-Palestine, where the Egyptians incited the kings of Sidon, Ashkelon and Judah to rebel, and more seriously in Babylon, where Marduk-apla-iddina II (the Merodach-baladan of the Bible) assumed the throne and assembled a large army of Chaldeans, Aramaeans, Arabs and Elamites.[7] Sennacherib took personal command of the campaign against Babylon, while sending his chief general to deal with the rebels in Palestine.[8]

Campaigns in Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine[edit]

Assyrian warriors armed with slings from the palace of Sennacherib, 7th century BCE

Sennacherib's first campaign began late in 703 BCE against Marduk-apla-iddina II, who had seized the throne of Babylon.[9] The rebellion was defeated, Marduk-apla-iddina fled, and Babylon was taken and the palace plundered, although the citizens were not harmed.[9] A puppet king named Bel-ibni was placed on the throne and for the next two years Babylon was left in peace.[9]

In 701 BCE, Sennacherib turned from Babylonia to the western part of the empire, where Hezekiah of Judah, incited by Marduk-apla-iddina of Babylon and with encouragement from Egypt and Nubia, had renounced Assyrian allegiance. The rebellion involved various small states in the area: Sidon and Ashkelon were taken by force and a string of other cities and states, including Byblos, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab and Edom then paid tribute without resistance. Ekron called on Egypt and Nubia for help but their forces were defeated. Sennacherib then turned himself to Jerusalem, Hezekiah's capital. He besieged the city and gave its surrounding towns to Assyrian vassal rulers in Ekron, Gaza and Ashdod. There is no description of how the siege ended, but the annals record a list of booty sent from Jerusalem to Nineveh.[10] Hezekiah remained on his throne as a vassal ruler.[11] (The campaign is recorded in Assyrian sources and in the biblical Books of Kings; there is general agreement that the Assyrian records should be given priority.)[12]

Throughout these years Marduk-apla-iddina continued his anti-Assyrian activities with the help of the king of Elam. In 699 BCE, Bel-ibni was replaced by Sennacherib's eldest son, Ashur-nadin-shumi.[13] In 694 BCE, Sennacherib took a fleet of Phoenician ships down the Tigris River to destroy the Elamite base on the shore of the Persian Gulf. At the same time, the Elamites made a surprise attack in the north, capturing Ashur-nadin-shumi and putting Nergal-ushezib, the son of Marduk-apla-iddina, on the throne of Babylon.[14]

In 693 BCE, Nergal-ushezib was captured and taken to Nineveh, and Sennacherib followed this with another campaign into Elam. The Elamite king fled to the mountains and Sennacherib plundered his kingdom. When Sennacherib withdrew, Elam put another rebel leader, Mushezib-Marduk, on the Babylonian throne. A campaign in 691 BCE failed to remove Mushezib-Marduk, but Sennacherib eventually returned and Babylon fell in 689 BCE after a lengthy seige. Sennacherib boasted that he utterly destroyed the city and even the mound on which it stood by diverting the canals over its buildings.[15] The destruction of Babylon caused consternation in Assyria, where the city and its gods were held in high esteem. [14] In Babylon itself, it sparked an intense hatred that would eventually lead to a war for independence and the destruction of Assyria.[15]

Minor campaigns[edit]

Sennacherib conducted minor campaigns on his borders, but without significantly adding to the empire. In 702 BCE and from 699 BCE until 697 BCE, he made several campaigns in the mountains east of Assyria, on one of which he received tribute from the Medes. In 696 BCE and 695 BCE, he sent expeditions into Anatolia, where several vassals had rebelled following the death of Sargon. Around 690 BCE, he campaigned in the northern Arabian deserts, conquering Dumat al-Jandal, where the queen of the Arabs had taken refuge.[16]

Administration and building projects[edit]

View of ancient Nineveh, Description de L'Univers (Alain Manesson Mallet, 1719).

The Assyrian empire was divided into provinces, each provincial governor being responsible for matters such as the maintenance of roads and public buildings, and for the implementation of administrative policy. One major element of that policy was the massive deportation and redistribution of populations, which aimed to punish, prevent rebellion, and repopulate depopulated areas in order to maintain food production in the empire. As many as 4.5 million people may have been moved between 745 BCE and 612 BCE, and Sennacherib alone could have been responsible for displacing 470,000 people.[17]

Assyrian art reached its peak under Sennacherib.[18] He restored his capital to Nineveh, opposite modern Mosul in northern Iraq (his father had constructed a new city at Dur-Sharrukin),[19] and constructed a canal 50 kilometers long to bring water to the city, crossing the Jerwan river on an aqueduct 280 meters long.[20] His "Palace Without Rivals", decorated with scenes of his triumphs, symbolized his significance in the world.[21]

Royal propaganda was expressed in theological terms, as was typical of ancient nations. Sennacherib's extermination of Babylon was extremely unpopular; to counter this, he commissioned a myth in the form of a divine trial of Marduk, god of Babylon.[22] Elsewhere he described his defeat of the Babylonian rebels in the same language used in the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish, to describe the defeat of the evil demon-goddess Tiamat by the creator-god Marduk, thus identifying Sennacherib with Marduk, while his New Year Festival (Akitu) temple in Assur signaled that it had replaced the destroyed Babylon.[23]

In addition to his own large gardens, several small gardens were made for the citizens of Nineveh. The narrow alleys and squares of Nineveh were cleaned up and enlarged, and a royal road and avenue were constructed, which crossed a bridge on its approach to the park gate and which was lined on both sides with stelae.[citation needed] Temples were restored and built during his reign. Most notable is his work on the Assur and the new year (Akitu) temples. He also expanded the city defenses which included a moat surrounding the city walls. Some of his city walls have been restored and can still be seen today.[citation needed]


Sennacherib was assassinated in obscure circumstances in 681 BCE.[24] An inscription by his youngest son and successor, Esarhaddon, describes how Esarhaddon heard that his brothers were fighting in the streets of Nineveh, hurried back with an army, defeated them all, and took the throne.[25] The inscription does not mentioned that the brothers were fighting because one of them had just murdered Sennacherib, which is indicated in the Babylonian chronicles, the Bible, and in later Assyrian records.[25] It seems that the murderer was a prince named Arda-Mulissi, the eldest son before Esarhaddon's appointment as heir;[26] Esarhaddon's silence on the subject may have been to avoid a perception of instability among the people.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c McKenzie 1995, p. 786.
  2. ^ a b c Grayson 1991, p. 105.
  3. ^ Cline & Graham 2011, p. 37.
  4. ^ Bertman 2005, p. 57.
  5. ^ Cline & Graham 2011, p. 40.
  6. ^ Bertman 2005, p. 40.
  7. ^ a b Leick 2009, p. 155.
  8. ^ Leick 2009, p. 155-156.
  9. ^ a b c Grayson 1991, p. 106.
  10. ^ Grayson 1991, p. 110.
  11. ^ Grabbe 2003, p. 314.
  12. ^ Grabbe 2003, p. 308-309.
  13. ^ Grayson 1991, p. 107-108.
  14. ^ a b Leick 2009, p. 156.
  15. ^ a b Grayson 1991, p. 109.
  16. ^ Grayson 1991, p. 111-113.
  17. ^ Cline & Graham 2011, p. 50.
  18. ^ Von Solden 1994, p. 58.
  19. ^ McCormack 2002, p. 152.
  20. ^ Von Solden 1994, p. 58,100.
  21. ^ McCormick 2002, p. 150-151.
  22. ^ Von Solden 1994, p. 220.
  23. ^ McCormick 2002, p. 156,158.
  24. ^ Cline & Graham 2011, p. 252.
  25. ^ a b Porter 1994, p. 108.
  26. ^ Grayson 1991, p. 121.
  27. ^ Porter 1994, p. 108-109.


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Sargon II
King of Babylon
705 – 703 BCE
Succeeded by
Marduk-zakir-shumi II
King of Assyria
705 – 681 BCE
Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of Babylon
689–681 BCE
Succeeded by