He was the son of Ashurbanipal, and possibly the brother of the last Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit II (612-605 BC). He is the last king who has years attested in most Babylonian records. Little is known about this king due to the lack of sources for his time. It seems that he ascended the throne sometime around 622 BC. After the death of the all powerful Ashurbanipal, the vast Assyrian Empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter internal wars over who should rule. Sinsharishkun's rise to power was marred by severe violence, crippling internal civil war and upheaval within the Assyrian Empire. He had to unseat the usurper Sin-shumu-lishir (623 BC), and his older brother and predecessor Ashur-etil-ilani (626-624 BC) who had previously been deposed by Sin-shumu-lishir. During this confusion a host of Assyria's many colonies and puppet states took advantage of the anarchy to quietly free themselves from Assyrian rule, most significantly for Assyria these included the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Egyptians and Cimmerians.
Last Strike against Babylon
After temporarily defeating his rivals, Sinsharishkun faced a much larger threat. Babylon, a vassal state of Assyria for three centuries whose people were of the same ethnic stock as the Assyrians, took advantage of the anarchy within Assyria and rebelled under the previously unknown Nabopolassar, the leader of the Chaldean peoples of south eastern Mesopotamia, in 626 BC.
What followed was a long war fought in the Mesopotamian heartland. Nabopolassar tried to capture Nippur, the main Assyrian center of power in Babylonia, but was defeated by Assyrian reinforcements. However Nabopolassar did manage to take the city of Babylon itself with the help of the Babylonian citizens, and was crowned king in the city circa 621 BC.
Sinsharishkun, crippled by civil war in Assyria proper, then lost more ground before succeeded in recapturing Uruk in the far south in about 620 BC, only to quickly lose it again. Sin-shar-ishkun led a large army to Babylonia in 620 BC to finally crush the Babylonian and Chaldean rebels, however yet another major rebellion broke out in the Assyrian homeland. A relief army was sent back north, but promptly joined the rebels, so that the usurper could reach the capital Nineveh without interference, and claim the throne. Chronicles for the next few years are mostly absent due to the civil anarchy in Assyria, however eventually Sin-shar-ishkun was able to quell the latest homeland rebellion. Crucially, precious time was lost to solve the Babylonian problem, with Nabopolassar taking advantage to entrench himself as ruler of most of Babylonia. In 619 BC Nabopolassar successfully captured Nippur and so became the master of Babylonia. However, he was forced to contend with Sin-Shar-Ishkun's Assyrian armies encamped in the Babylonian heartlands attempting to unseat him for the next four years.
War in the Assyrian heartlands
This stalemate ended in 616 BC, when Nabopolassar entered into an alliance with Cyaxares, king of the Medes, who had also taken advantage of the unremitting civil wars in Assyria to free his Iranian peoples: the Medes, Persians and Parthians from the Assyrian yoke and form them into a powerful force. In 616 BC, this alliance of peoples, now also including the Scythians and Cimmerians felt strong enough to move the center of operations northward and launch an attack on the war ravaged Assyrian heartland. In the years that followed Ashur, Arbela, Guzana, Dur-Sharrukin, Arrapha, Kalhu (the Biblical Calah), and finally Nineveh were besieged and destroyed amid bitter fighting.
The fate of Sin-shar-ishkun is not certain, as the section of the Babylonian chronicle in which he is mentioned at the siege of Nineveh is damaged. It is highly likely that he was killed defending his capital during the street by street fighting in Battle of Nineveh (612 BC) by Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes/Persians and Scythians.
Despite the loss of its major cities, an independent Assyria endurded, centered around its last capital city of Harran under its last king Ashur-uballit II. Ashur-uballit II had taken the throne amid the fighting in Nineveh, refused a demand to bow in vassalage to the rulers of the alliance, and managed to fight his way out of Nineveh and all the way to Harran. However this too was eventually overrun by the alliance in 608 BC, and a final victory was achieved at Carchemish in 605 BC.
Sinsharishkun of Assyria
|King of Assyria
The fictional discovery of the tomb of Sinsharishkun just before the outbreak of the First World War is the central topic of the novel Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth.
- Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
- Na'aman, N., "Chronology and history in the late Assyrian empire"', Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 81 (1991), 243-267.
- Zawadzki, S., The fall of Assyria and Median-Babylonian relation in light of the Nabopolassar chronicle, Poznan 1988.
- Unsworth, B., Land of Marvels: a Novel, Hutchinson, London 2009.