Sinsharishkun

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Sinsharishkun
Cuneiform tablet- letter of Sin-sharra-ishkun to Nabopolassar MET DP360670.jpg
Letter written by Sinsharishkun to his primary enemy, Nabopolassar of Babylon, in which he recognizes him as King of Babylon and pleads to be allowed to retain his kingdom. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
Reign627–612 BC[1]
PredecessorAshur-etil-ilani
SuccessorAshur-uballit II
Nabopolassar (Neo-Babylonian Empire)
DiedAugust 612 BC[2]
Nineveh
IssueAshur-uballit II[3] (?)
AkkadianSîn-šar-iškun
Sîn-šarru-iškun
DynastySargonid dynasty
FatherAshurbanipal
MotherLibbali-sharrat
ReligionAncient Mesopotamian religion

Sinsharishkun or Sin-shar-ishkun (Akkadian: Sîn-šar-iškun[4] or Sîn-šarru-iškun[5], meaning "Sin has established the king"[4]) was the penultimate king of Assyria, reigning from the death of his brother and predecessor Ashur-etil-ilani in 627 BC to his own death at the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.

Succeeding his brother in uncertain, but not necessarily violent, circumstances, Sinsharishkun was immediately faced by the revolt of one of his brother's chief generals, Sin-shumu-lishir, who attempted to usurp the throne for himself. Though this threat was dealt with relatively quickly, the instability caused by the brief civil war may be what made it possible for another general, Nabopolassar, to rise up and seize power in Babylonia. Sinsharishkun's inability to defeat Nabopolassar, despite repeated attempts over the course of several years, allowed Nabopolassar to conslidate power and form the Neo-Babylonian Empire, restoring Babylonian independence after more than a century of Assyrian rule.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the newly formed Median Empire under King Cyaxares, then invaded the Assyrian heartland. In 614 BC, the Medes captured and sacked Assur, the ceremonial and religious heart of the Assyrian Empire, and in 612 BC their combined armies attacked and razed Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Sinsharishkun's fate is unknown but it is assumed that he died in the defense of his capital. He was succeeded as king only by Ashur-uballit II, possibly his son, who rallied what remained of the Assyrian army at the city of Harran.

He has also historically and erroneously sometimes been known as Esarhaddon II after a king once believed to have existed on account of a letter written by Serua-eterat, daughter of King Esarhaddon, who was assumed to have been too young to refer to the famous Esarhaddon. The idea of a separate Esarhaddon II as king has been abandoned by Assyriologists since the late 19th century,[6] but the name sometimes appears as a synonym for Sinsharishkun.[7][8]

Background and chronology[edit]

The period from a few years before the death of King Ashurbanipal to the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC suffers from a distinct lack of surviving sources. The annals of Ashurbanipal, the primary sources for his reign, go no further than 636 BC.[9] Although Ashurbanipal's final year is often repeated as 627 BC[10][11], this follows an inscription at Harran made by the mother of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus nearly a century later. The final contemporary evidence for Ashurbanipal being alive and reigning as king is a contract from the city of Nippur made in 631 BC.[12] To get the attested lengths of the reigns of his successors to match, most scholars agree that Ashurbanipal either died, abdicated or was deposed in 631 BC.[13] Of the three options, a death in 631 BC is the most accepted.[14] If Ashurbanipal's reign would have ended in 627 BC, the inscriptions of his successors Ashur-etil-ilani and Sinsharishkun in Babylon, covering several years, would have been impossible since the city was seized by the Neo-Babylonian king Nabopolassar in 626 BC to never again fall into Assyrian hands.[15]

Ashurbanipal had named his successor as early as 660 BC, when documents referencing a crown prince (probably Ashur-etil-ilani) were written. He had been the father of at least one son, and probably two, early on in his reign. These early sons were likely Ashur-etil-ilani and Sinsharishkun.[16] Ashur-etil-ilani succeeded Ashurbanipal as king in 631 BC and ruled until his own death in 627 BC. It is frequently assumed, without any supporting evidence, that Sinsharishkun fought with Ashur-etil-ilani for the throne.[17]

Reign[edit]

Rise to the throne and revolt of Sin-shumu-lishir[edit]

In the middle of 627 BC, King Ashurbanipal's son and successor Ashur-etil-ilani died, leading to Ashur-etil-ilani's brother Sinsharishkun ascending to the Assyrian throne.[18] Although it has been suggested by several historians, there is no evidence to prove the idea that Ashur-etil-ilani was deposed in a coup by his brother. Sinsharishkun's inscriptions state that he was selected for the kingship from among several of "his equals" (e.g. brothers) by the gods.[19]

Also dying at roughy the same time as Ashur-etil-ilani was the vassal king of Babylon, Kandalanu, which led to Sinsharishkun also becoming the king of Babylon, as proven by inscriptions by him in southern cities such as Nippur, Uruk, Sippar and Babylon itself.[20] Sinsharishkun's rule of Babylon did not last long, and almost immediately in the wake of him coming to the throne, the general Sin-shumu-lishir rebelled.[18] Sin-shumu-lishir had been a key figure in Assyria during Ashur-etil-ilani's reign, putting down several revolts and possibly being the de facto leader of the country. The rise of another king might have endangered his position and as such led him to revolt and attempt to seize power for himself.[20]

Sin-shumu-lishir successfully seized control of some cities in northern Babylonia, including Nippur and Babylon itself and would rule there for three months before Sinsharishkun defeated him.[18]

Rise of Babylon[edit]

Locations of some major Mesopotamian cities.

Some months after Sin-shumu-lishir's revolt, another revolt began in Babylon. A general called Nabopolassar, possibly using the political instability caused by the previous revolt,[18] assaulted both Nippur and Babylon.[n 1] Nabopolassar's armies took the cities from the garrisons left there by Sinsharishkun but the Assyrian response was swift and in October of 626 BC, the Assyrian army recaptured Nippur and besieged Nabopolassar at Uruk. A simultaneous Assyrian attempt at recapturing Babylon itself, the last ever Assyrian action against the city, was repulsed by Nabopolassar's garrison and the attack at Uruk also failed.[21]

In the aftermath of the failed Assyrian counterattack, Nabopolassar was formally crowned King of Babylon on November 22/23 626 BC, restoring Babylonia as an independent kingdom.[21] In 625–623 BC, Sinsharishkun's forces again attempted to defeat Nabopolassar, campaigning in northern Babylonia. Initially, these campaigns were successful; in 625 BC the Assyrians took the city of Sippar and Nabopolassar's attempted reconquest of Nippur failed. Another of Assyria's vassals, Elam, also stopped paying tribute to Assyria during this time and several Babylonian cities, such as Der, revolted and joined Nabopolassar. Realizing the threat this posed, Sinsharishkun led a massive counterattack himself which saw the successful recapture of Uruk in 623 BC.[22]

Sinsharishkun might have ultimately been victorious had it not been for another revolt, led by an Assyrian general in the empire's western provinces in 622 BC.[22] This general, whose name remains unknown, took advantage of the absence of Sinsharishkun and the Assyrian army to march on Nineveh, met a hastily organized army which surrendered without fighting and successfully seized the Assyrian throne. The surrender of the army indicates that the usurper was an Assyrian and possibly even a member of the royal family, or at least a person that would be acceptable as king.[23] Understandably alarmed by this development, Sinsharishkun abandoned his Babylonian campaign and though he successfully defeated the usurper after a hundred days of civil war, the absence of the Assyrian army saw the Babylonians conquer the last remaining Assyrian outposts in Babylonia in 622–620 BC.[22] The Babylonian siege of Uruk had begun by October 622 BC and though control of the ancient city would shift between Assyria and Babylon, it was firmly in Nabopolassar's hands by 620 BC. Nippur was also conquered in 620 BC and Nabopolassar consolidated his rule over the entirity of Babylonia.[24]

Fall of the Assyrian Empire[edit]

Fall of Nineveh by John Martin (1829).

The next few years saw repeated Babylonian victories against the Assyrians. By 616 BC, Nabopolassar's armies had reached as far north as the Balikh River. Realizing that the situation was dire, Assyria's ally, Pharaoh Psamtik I of Egypt, marched his troops to aid Sinsharishkun. Psamtik had over the last few years campaigned to establish dominance over the small city-states of the Levant and it was in his interests that Assyria survived as a buffer state between his own empire and those of the Babylonians and Medes in the east.[24] A joint Egyptian-Assyrian campaign to capture the city of Gablinu was undertaken in October of 616 BC, but ended in failure after which the Egyptian allies kept to the west of the Euphrates, only offering limited support.[25]

Following this failure, Assyria quickly collapsed. In March 615 BC, Nabopolassar inflicted a crushing defeat at the Assyrian army at the banks of the Tigris, pushing them back to the Little Zab. Although Nabopolassar's attempt at taking the city of Assur, the ceremonial and religious center of Assyria, in May of that same year failed and he retreated to the city of Takrit, the Assyrians also failed to assault Takrit and put an end to him. After yet another failure, the Assyrian army returned to Assur. In October or November 615 BC, the Medes under King Cyaxares entered Assyria and conquered the region around the city Arrapha in preparation for a great final campaign against Sinsharishkun.[25]

In July or August of 614 BC, the Medes mounted attacks on the cities of Kalhu and Nineveh and successfully conquered the city Tarbisu. They then besieged Assur. This siege was successful and the Medes captured the ancient heart of Assyria, plundering it and killing many of its inhabitants. Nabopolassar only arrived at Assur after the plunder had already begun and met with Cyaxares, allying with him and signing an anti-Assyrian pact. Shortly after Assur's fall, Sinsharishkun made his last attempt at a counterattack, rushing to rescue the besieged city of Rahilu, but Nabopolassar's army had retreated before a battle could take place.[2]

In April or May 612 BC, at the start of Nabopolassar's fourteenth year as King of Babylon, the combined Medo-Babylonian army marched on Nineveh. From June to August of that year, they besieged the Assyrian capital and in August the walls were breached, leading to a lengthy and brutal sack.[2] Sinsharishkun's fate is not entirely certain but it is commonly accepted that he died in the defense of Nineveh.[26][27]

Legacy[edit]

Succession[edit]

Political map of the Near East ~600 BC. In the aftermath of its fall, the territory of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was divided between the Neo-Babylonian and Median Empires.

With the destructions of Assur in 614 BC and Nineveh in 612 BC, the Assyrian empire had essentially ceased to exist.[28] Sinsharishkun was succeeded by another Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit II, possibly his son and probably the same person as a crown prince mentioned in inscriptions at Nineveh from 626 and 623 BC. Ashur-uballit established himself in Harran in the west.[26] Because Assur had been destroyed, Ashur-uballit could not undergo the traditional coronation of the Assyrian monarchs and could thus not be invested with the kingship by the god Ashur and because of this, inscriptions from his brief reign indicate that he was viewed as the legitimate ruler by his subjects, but still with the title of crown prince and not king. To the Assyrians, Sinsharishkun was the last true king.[29]

Ashur-uballit's rule at Harran lasted just three years and he fled the city when Nabopolassar's army approached in 610 BC.[30][31] An attempt at recapturing Harran carried out with the remnants of the Assyrian army and Egyptian reinforcements in 609 BC failed, after which Ashur-uballit and the Assyrians he commanded disappear from history, never again to be mentioned in Babylonian sources.[32][33]

Reasons for the Fall of Assyria[edit]

Although it has been a commonly circulated idea that one of the primary reasons that led to the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was a civil war between Ashur-etil-ilani and Sinsharishkun over the throne which weakened Assyria, there is no contemporary text which suggests that this is true. No inscriptions mention a war or even a dispute between the two brothers. There were revolts at the beginnings of both the reign of Ashur-etil-ilani and Sinsharishkun, but these were minor and dealt with relatively quickly. As such, protacted civil war between contenders to the Assyrian throne was probably not the reason for Assyria's fall.[34]

The primary reason for Assyria's collapse in the reign of Sinsharishkun is more likely to be the failure to resolve the "Babylonian problem" which had plagued Assyrian kings since Assyria first conquered southern Mesopotamia. Despite the many attempts of the kings of the Sargonid dynasty to resolve the constant rebellions in the south in a variety of different ways; Sennacherib's destruction of Babylon and Esarhaddon's restoration of it, rebellions and insurrections remained common. Nabopolassar's revolt was the last in a long line of Babylonian uprisings against the Assyrians and Sinsharishkun's failure to stop it, despite trying for years, doomed his kingdom. The Neo-Babylonian threat, combined with the rise of the Median Empire (Assyria had for many years attempted to stop the formation of a unified Median state through repeated campaigns into Media) culminated in Assyria's destruction.[35]

Titles[edit]

From one of his inscriptions commemorating his building projects at Nineveh, Sinsharishkun's titles read as follows[36]:

In another inscription, commemorating his restoration of a temple, Sinsharishkun incorporates his ancestry[37]:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ It is also possible that Nabopolassar was an ally of Sin-shumu-lishir in the previous revolt and merely continued his rebellion, but this theory requires more assumptions without any concrete evidence.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 243.
  2. ^ a b c Lipschits 2005, p. 18.
  3. ^ Radner 2013.
  4. ^ a b Tallqvist 1914, p. 201.
  5. ^ Frahm 1999, p. 322.
  6. ^ Johnston 1899, p. 244.
  7. ^ Woodall 2018, p. 108.
  8. ^ Myers 1890, p. 51.
  9. ^ Ahmed 2018, p. 121.
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  11. ^ Mark 2009.
  12. ^ Reade 1970, p. 1.
  13. ^ Reade 1998, p. 263.
  14. ^ Ahmed 2018, p. 8.
  15. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 246.
  16. ^ Ahmed 2018, pp. 122–123.
  17. ^ Ahmed 2018, p. 126.
  18. ^ a b c d Lipschits 2005, p. 13.
  19. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 255.
  20. ^ a b c Na’aman 1991, p. 256.
  21. ^ a b Lipschits 2005, p. 14.
  22. ^ a b c Lipschits 2005, p. 15.
  23. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 263.
  24. ^ a b Lipschits 2005, p. 16.
  25. ^ a b Lipschits 2005, p. 17.
  26. ^ a b Yildirim 2017, p. 52.
  27. ^ Radner 2019, p. 135.
  28. ^ Lipschits 2005, p. 19.
  29. ^ Radner 2019, pp. 135–136.
  30. ^ Rowton 1951, p. 128.
  31. ^ Bassir 2018, p. 198.
  32. ^ Radner 2019, p. 141.
  33. ^ Lipschits 2005, p. 20.
  34. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 265.
  35. ^ Na’aman 1991, p. 266.
  36. ^ Luckenbill 1927, p. 410.
  37. ^ Luckenbill 1927, p. 413.

Cited bibliography[edit]

Cited web sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Sinsharishkun
 Died: August 612 BC
Preceded by
Ashur-etil-ilani
King of Assyria
627 – 612 BC
Succeeded by
Ashur-uballit II
Preceded by
Kandalanu
King of Babylon
627 – 626 BC
Succeeded by
Nabopolassar