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

Sennacherib was the son of Sargon II, whom he succeeded on the throne of Assyria (705 – 681 BC). (reign name: /səˈnækərɪb/; Akkadian: Sîn-ahhī-erība; meaning, "Sîn has replaced (lost) brothers for me")

Rise to power[edit]

As the crown prince, Sennacherib was placed in charge of the Assyrian Empire while his father, Sargon II, was on campaign. Unlike his predecessors, Sennacherib's reign was not largely marked by military campaigns, but mainly by architectural renovations, constructions and expansions. After the violent death of his father, Sennacherib encountered numerous problems in establishing his power and faced threats to his domain. However, he was able to overcome these power struggles and ultimately carry out his building projects.

War with Babylon[edit]

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

Sennacherib was preoccupied with trying to resolve the political situation in Babylonia, a region that had only recently been retaken by his father Sargon II. His first campaign took place in 703 BC against Marduk-apla-iddina II who had seized the throne of Babylon and gathered an alliance supported by Chaldeans, Aramaeans and Elamites.[1] The allies wanted to make use of the unrest that arose at the accession of Sennacherib. Sennacherib split his army and had one part attack the enemy stationed at Kish while he and the rest of the army proceeded to capture the city Cutha. Completing that, the king turned to aid the rest of his army. The rebellion was defeated and Marduk-apla-iddina II fled. Babylon was taken and its palace plundered. The Assyrians searched for Marduk-apla-iddina II, especially in the southern marshes, but he was not found. The rebel forces in the Babylonian cities were wiped out and a Babylonian named Bel-ibni who was raised at the Assyrian court was placed on the throne.[2]

Bel-ibni proved to be disloyal or incompetent and in 699 BC was replaced by Sennacherib's eldest son, Ashur-nadin-shumi.[3] Six years later, in 694 BC, Sennacherib again campaigned in the south, this time to destroy the Elamite base on the shore of the Persian Gulf. To accomplish this, he had obtained Phoenician and Syrian boats which sailed with the rest of his army down the Tigris to the sea. The Phoenicians were not used to the tide of the Persian Gulf, which caused a delay. The Assyrians battled the Chaldeans at the river Ulaya, and won. However, while they were occupied at the Persian Gulf, the Elamites made a surprise attack on northern Babylonia. Sennacherib's son was captured and taken to Elam and the Elamites put Nergal-ushezib on the throne. The Assyrians fought their way back north and captured various cities; a year passed in the meantime, as it was now 693 BC.

In 693 BC a large battle was fought against the Babylonian rebels at Nippur; Nergal-ushezib was captured and taken to Nineveh. For the loss of his son, Sennacherib launched another campaign into Elam, where his army started to plunder cities. The Elamite king fled to the mountains and Sennacherib was forced to return home because of the coming winter. Another rebel leader, named Mushezib-Marduk, claimed the Babylonian throne and was supported by Elam. The last great battle was fought in 691 BC, with an indecisive outcome that enabled Mushezib-Marduk to remain on the throne for another two years. This was only a brief respite, because shortly afterwards, Babylon was besieged, which led to its fall in 689 BC.[2] Sennacherib claimed to have destroyed the city, and indeed the city was unoccupied for several years.

War with Judah[edit]

Sennacherib's campaign in Judah
Part of Sennacherib's campaigns
Lachish relief showing the siege of Lachish.
Date 701 BC
Location Judah
Result Jewish victory, disputed by the Assyrians, Judah remains independent.
Menora Titus.jpg Kingdom of Judah
Supported by
Kushite empire 700bc.jpg Kushite Egypt
Map of Assyria.png Neo-Assyrian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Menora Titus.jpg King Hezekiah
Menora Titus.jpg Isaiah Ben-Amotz
Menora Titus.jpg Eliakim Ben-Hilkiah
Menora Titus.jpg Joahe Ben-Asaph
Menora Titus.jpg Shebna
Supported by
Kushite empire 700bc.jpg Taharqa
Map of Assyria.png Sennacherib
Map of Assyria.png Rabshakeh
Map of Assyria.png Rabsaris
Map of Assyria.png Tartan
Unknown Over 185,000 soldiers
Casualties and losses
unknown unknown


A rebellion backed by Egypt broke out in western territories subject to Assyria. In 701 BC Sennacherib turned from his activities in Babylonia and moved first against the Phoenician cities along the coast. Sennacherib's forces overwhelmed Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit-Zitti, Zaribtu, Mahalliba, Ushu, Akzib and Akko. The king of Tyre fled to Cyprus and Sennacherib installed a puppet leader named Ethbaal as ruler over a new kingdom of Sidon.[4]

Sennacherib then turned his attention to Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banai-Barqa and Azjuru, cities that were ruled by Sidqia of Ashkelon, and they also fell.[4]

Sennacherib sacked a number of cities in Judah. He laid siege to Jerusalem, but soon returned to Nineveh, with Jerusalem not having been sacked, in order to address renewed trouble in Babylon.[4] This event was recorded by Sennacherib himself, by Herodotus, Josephus and by several Biblical writers.

Sennacherib's account[edit]

Assyrian siege ramp at Lachish.

Some of the Assyrian chronicles, such as the baked-clay Taylor prism now preserved in the British Museum, and the similar Sennacherib prism, preserved in the Oriental Institute, Chicago, date from very close to the time.[5] (The Taylor Prism itself bears the date "the month of Tammuz; eponym of Galihu, governor of Hatarikka" which is Tammuz in the year 689 BC, according to the Assyrian Eponym List). Assyrian accounts do not treat it as a disaster, but a great victory — they maintain that the siege was so successful that Hezekiah was forced to give a monetary tribute, and the Assyrians left victoriously, without losses of thousands of men, and without sacking Jerusalem. Part of this is contained in the Biblical account, but it is still debated fiercely by historians. In the Taylor Prism, Sennacherib states that he had shut up Hezekiah the Judahite within Jerusalem, his own royal city, like a caged bird.

Egypt and Nubia then came to the aid of the stricken cities. Sennacherib defeated the Egyptians and, by his own account, single-handedly captured the Egyptian and Nubian charioteers. Sennacherib captured and sacked several other cities, including Lachish (the second most-strongly fortified city in the Kingdom of Judah). He punished the "criminal" citizens of the cities, and reinstalled Padi, their leader, who had been held as a hostage in Jerusalem.

After this, Sennacherib turned to King Hezekiah of Judah, who refused to submit to him. Forty-six of Hezekiah's cities ("cities" in 1st millennium BC terms ranged in size from large modern-day towns to villages) were conquered by Sennacherib, but Jerusalem did not fall. His own account of this invasion, as given in the Taylor prism, is as follows:

Biblical account[edit]

The Biblical account of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem begins with the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria. According to one interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the ten northern tribes came to be known as the Ten Lost Tribes (there is, however, no biblical reference to them as "lost tribes" and postexilic texts like Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra[6] and Nehemiah[7] as well as the New Testament text Luke[8] and Acts[9] do not support the lost tribes theory).

As recorded in II Kings 17, they were carried off and settled with other peoples as was the Assyrian policy. II Kings 18-19 (and parallel passage II Chronicles 32:1-23) details Sennacherib's attack on Judah and its capital Jerusalem. Hezekiah had rebelled against the Assyrians, so they had captured all of the towns in Judah. Hezekiah realized his error and sent great tribute to Sennacherib. But the Assyrians nevertheless marched toward Jerusalem. Sennacherib sent his supreme commander with an army to besiege Jerusalem while he himself went to fight with the Egyptians. The supreme commander met with Hezekiah's officials and threatened them to surrender; while hurling insults, so the people of the city could hear, blaspheming Judah and particularly Jehovah, the God of Israel.

When the King Hezekiah heard of this, he tore his clothes (as was the custom of the day for displaying deep anguish) and prayed to God in the Temple. Isaiah the prophet told the king that God would take care of the whole matter and that the enemy would return to his own lands. That night, the Angel of Jehovah killed 185,000 Assyrian troops. Jewish tradition maintains that the angel Gabriel (along with Michael in the Targum's version) was the angel sent to destroy the Assyrian troops, and that the destruction occurred on Passover night.[10][11][12] Other Christian scholars suggest that the "Angel of the Lord" is a reference to Jesus himself.[13] Sennacherib soon returned to Nineveh in disgrace. Some years later, while Sennacherib was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, two of his sons killed him and fled to Armenia. Some[who?] suggest that Psalm 46 was composed as a Song of Deliverance that was led by the Korahite Levitical singers and accompanied by the Alamoth (maidens with tambourines) and sung by the inhabitants of Jerusalem after their successful defense of the city from the siege.

Disaster in Egypt according to Herodotus[edit]

The Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote his Histories ca. 450 BC, speaks of a divinely-appointed disaster destroying an army of Sennacherib (2:141):

According to F. Ll. Griffith, an attractive hypothesis is to identify the Pharaoh as Taharqa before his succession, and Sethos as his Memphitic priestly title, "supposing that he was then governor of Lower Egypt and high-priest of Ptah, and that in his office of governor he prepared to move on the defensive against a threatened attack by Sennacherib. While Taharqa was still in the neighbourhood of Pelusium, some unexpected disaster may have befallen the Assyrian host on the borders of the Kingdom of Judah and arrested their march on Egypt." (Stories of the High Priests of Memphis: The Sethon of Herodotus and the Demotic Tales of Khamuas (1900), p. 11.

As recorded by Josephus[edit]

Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, book ten, verses 21-23 relate an account by the Babylonian historian Berossus, in which Berosus claims a disease befell an Assyrian army led by the Rabshakeh (not a name of a person, but a title of a high-ranking member of the army), and one hundred and eighty-five thousand men were lost. Earlier in the book, the account of Herodotus is also mentioned.[14]

Other theories[edit]

In What If?, a collection of essays on counterfactual history, historian William Hardy McNeill speculates that the accounts of mass death among the Assyrian army in the Bible might be explained by an outbreak of cholera (or other water-borne diseases) due to the springs beyond the city walls having been blocked, thus depriving the besieging force of a safe water supply. In McNeill's speculative essay, the Assyrians were forced to withdraw by disease, an event which in McNeill's opinion served to support Judaism's then-new monotheistic tradition.

Building projects[edit]

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


During his reign, Sennacherib moved the empire's capital from his father's newly constructed city of Dur-Sharrukin to the old city and former capital of Nineveh.[1] He initiated a massive building project making Nineveh the largest city at the time.[15] In preparing the site, he re-routed the course of the Tebiltu River, which had undermined the foundation of a previous palace.[3] The ruins of Nineveh are across the river from the modern-day city of Mosul in Iraq.

During Sennacherib's reign, Nineveh evolved into the leading metropolis of the empire. His building projects started almost as soon as he became king. In 703 BC, he had already built a palace, complete with a park fitted with artificial irrigation. He called his new home ‘The palace without rival’. For this ambitious project, an old palace was torn down to make more room. In addition to his own large gardens, several small gardens were made for the citizens of Nineveh. He also constructed the first-ever aqueduct, at Jerwan in 690 BCE,[16] which supplied the large demand of water in 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. Temples were restored and built during his reign, as is the duty of the king. 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. The labor for his giant building project was performed by people of Que, Cilicia, Philistia, Tyre and Chaldeans, Aramaeans and Mannaeans who were there involuntarily.

Stephanie Dalley proposed that the combined works of the irrigation system, the palace gardens, and the Archimedes' screws used to water them, constitute the original "Hanging Gardens".[17] Some of the evidence for this is contentious.[18]


Sennacherib was killed by two of his sons for his desecration of Babylon.[19][20] One story tells of one of Sennacherib's sons toppling a giant lamassu onto him, crushing him to death. He was ultimately succeeded by another son, Esarhaddon.

The biblical prophet, Isaiah, describes the event with the following description, "One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king (Isaiah 37:38)."

In popular culture[edit]

An 1813 poem by Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib, commemorates Sennacherib's campaign in Judea from the Hebrew point of view. It is written in anapestic tetrameter.[21]

Sennacherib is mentioned in G. K. Chesterton's short story The Hammer of God when the blacksmith, Barnes, proposes that the deceased (his wife's lover) was killed by God in the same way that "the Lord smote Sennacherib."

Sennacherib is also mentioned in the science-fiction novel The War of the Worlds by author H. G. Wells. Chapter 8: "I believed that the destruction of Sennacherib had been repeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain them in the night."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Sennacherib", The Briish Museum
  2. ^ a b Luckenbill, David. The Annals of Sennacherib, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005, ISBN 9781597523721
  3. ^ a b McCormack, Clifford Mark. Palace and Temple, Walter de Gruyter, 2002, ISBN 9783110172775
  4. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Biblica, Vol.4, (Thomas Kelly Cheyne, John Sutherland Black, eds.), A. and C. Black, 1903
  5. ^ "K. C. Hanson's Collection of Mesopotamian Documents". K.C.Hanson. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  6. ^ 2:70, 6:17, 8:25, 10:5
  7. ^ 7:37, 12:47
  8. ^ 2:26
  9. ^ 2:14, 22 and 36
  10. ^ "Wesley's Notes on the Bible" II Chronicles 32
  11. ^ The legends of the Jews, Volume 6 By Louis Ginzberg, Henrietta Szold, Paul Radin. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "Adam Clarke's Commentary - 2 Chronicles 32". Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  13. ^ J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 5th ed., HarperOne, 1978, p. 11.
  14. ^ Jewish Antiquities. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  15. ^ Harmansah, Ömũr. "Sennacherib and Nineveh", The Archeology of Mesopatamia, The Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology, Brown University
  16. ^ von Soden, Wolfram. (1985). The Ancient Orient: An Introduction to the Study of the Ancient Near East. (pp.58). Grand Rapids: Erdman's Publishing Company.
  17. ^ Stephanie Dalley, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: an elusive World Wonder traced, OUP (2013) ISBN 978-0-19-966226-5
  18. ^ Stephanie Dalley and John Peter Oleson (January 2003). "Sennacherib, Archimedes, and the Water Screw: The Context of Invention in the Ancient World", Technology and Culture 44 (1).
  19. ^ Dalley, Stephanie (2008). Esther's revenge at Susa: from Sennacherib to Ahasuerus. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 64–66. ISBN 0-19-921663-0. 
  20. ^ "The British Museum: Sennacherib, king of Assyria (704-681 BC)". Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Destruction of Sennacherib", Poetry Foundation

Further reading[edit]

  • [1] Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, Oriental Institute Publications 2, University of Chicago Press, 1924
  • Edwards – The Cambridge ancient history volume III part 2, 2nd edition, pp. 103–119.
  • Faust, Avraham, "Settlement and Demography in Seventh-Century Judah and the Extent and Intensity of Sennacherib's Campaign," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 140,3 (2008), 168-194.

External links[edit]

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