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Rise to power
As the crown prince, Sennacherib was placed in charge of the Assyrian Empire while his father, Sargon II, was on campaign. Unlike his predecessors, the 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. During his reign, he moved the empire's capital from his father's newly-constructed city of Dur-Sharrukin to the old city and former capital of Nineveh. It is considered to be striking that Sennacherib not only left his father's city, but also doesn’t name him in any official inscription during his reign.
War with Judah
In 701 BC, a rebellion backed by Egypt and Babylonia broke out in Judah, led by King Hezekiah. In response 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 put down an attempted coup. This event was recorded by Sennacherib himself, by Herodotus, and by several Biblical writers.
Some of the Assyrian chronicles, such as the baked-clay Taylor prism now preserved in the Oriental Institute, Chicago, date from very close to the time. (see also: Military history of the Neo-Assyrian Empire) (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 indeed confirmed 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.
Sennacherib first recounts several of his previous victories, and how his enemies had become overwhelmed by his presence. He was able to do this to Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit-Zitti, Zaribtu, Mahalliba, Ushu, Akzib and Akko. After taking each of these cities, Sennacherib installed a puppet leader named Ethbaal as ruler over the entire region. Sennacherib then turned his attention to Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banai-Barqa, and Azjuru, cities that were ruled by Sidqia and also fell to Sennacherib.
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 he 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 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:
|“||Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape... Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and diverse treasures, a rich and immense booty... All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government.||”|
The Biblical account of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem begins with the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria. This is how the ten northern tribes came to be known as the Ten Lost Tribes, because 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 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 hailing insults so the people of the city could hear, blaspheming Judah and particularly God. 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 he would return to his own lands. That night, the angel of the Lord killed the entire Assyrian camp consisting of 185,000 troops. Jewish tradition maintains that archangel 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. 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, thus God protected His people and sent judgment upon him who had previously blasphemed God. Some commentators 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
|“||when Sanacharib, king of the Arabians and Assyrians, marched his vast army into Egypt, the warriors one and all refused to come to his (i.e., the Pharaoh Sethos) aid. On this the monarch, greatly distressed, entered into the inner sanctuary, and, before the image of the god, bewailed the fate which impended over him. As he wept he fell asleep, and dreamed that the god came and stood at his side, bidding him be of good cheer, and go boldly forth to meet the Arabian host, which would do him no hurt, as he himself would send those who should help him. Sethos, then, relying on the dream, collected such of the Egyptians as were willing to follow him, who were none of them warriors, but traders, artisans, and market people; and with these marched to Pelusium, which commands the entrance into Egypt, and there pitched his camp. As the two armies lay here opposite one another, there came in the night, a multitude of field-mice, which devoured all the quivers and bowstrings of the enemy, and ate the thongs by which they managed their shields. Next morning they commenced their fight, and great multitudes fell, as they had no arms with which to defend themselves. There stands to this day in the temple of Vulcan, a stone statue of Sethos, with a mouse in his hand, and an inscription to this effect - "Look on me, and learn to reverence the gods."||”|
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 Palestine 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.
During Sennacherib's reign, Nineveh evolved into the leading Metropolis of the empire. His building projects started almost as soon as he became king. Already in 703 BC he had built a palace complete with park and 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, 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 (god) and the new year (Akitu) temples. He also expanded the city defences which included a moat surrounding the city walls. Some of his city walls have been restored and can still be seen nowadays. The labour for his giant building project was performed by people of Que, Cilicia, Philistia, Tyre, and Chaldeans, Aramaeans, and Mannaeans who were there involuntarily.
Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons.  He was ultimately succeeded by another son Esarhaddon. One part tells of one of Sennacherib's sons toppling a giant statue of a bull with a mans head, thus crushing him to death.
In popular culture
A 1813 poem by Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib, commemorates Sennacherib's campaign in Judea from the Hebrew point of view. Written in anapestic tetrameter, the poem was popular in school recitations.
In the 1992 Virgin New Adventures novel Doctor Who: Love and War by Paul Cornell, the human space-ship captain — Shiranka Hall — who discovers the planet Heaven at first briefly considers naming the planet Sennacherib (spelt in the novel "Senacharib") after a character in a book (presumably the Bible) he had read a long time ago. He eventually rejects the idea because the name would be a private joke.
- ↑ (http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/sennprism1.html)
- ↑ ["Wesley's Notes on the Bible" II Chronicles 32 http://wes.biblecommenter.com/2_chronicles/32.htm]
- ↑ The legends of the Jews, Volume 6 By Louis Ginzberg, Henrietta Szold, Paul Radin
- ↑ [Adam Clarke's Commentary - 2 Chronicles 32 http://www.godrules.net/library/clarke/clarke2chr32.htm]
- ↑ 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.
- ↑ 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).
- ↑ The British Museum: Sennacherib, king of Assyria (704-681 BC)
- Edwards – The Cambridge ancient history volume III part 2, 2nd edition, pp. 103–119
- Prism of Sennacherib
- The murderer of Sennacherib - by Simo Parpola
- Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah - by Craig C. Broyles
- Interactive Map of Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah, including the accounts of Sennacherib, Herodotus, 2 Kings, Isaiah and Micah
- http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/meso/sennprism1.html — States that the prism is preserved in the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.
- A site on the study of King Sennacherib by Jack Taylor, II
|King of Babylon|
705 – 703 BC
| Succeeded by|
|King of Assyria|
705 – 681 BC
| Succeeded by|
|King of Babylon|
689 – 681 BC
| Succeeded by|