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Ancient Near East - Esarhaddon

Updated: Jul 19, 2021


Esarhaddon took the throne and defeated his brothers' factions during a six-week civil war. The two brothers themselves, after the assassination, fled Nineveh and sought refuge with the king of Urartu, Rusas II. He then had his brothers' families and associates executed. Once his rule was secure, he issued new decrees and proclamations. Among the first of these was that Babylon should be restored. Although the prophecies concerning the rebuilding of Babylon had said that the city would not be restored for 70 years, Esarhaddon manipulated the priests to read the cuneiform backwards, thus making 70 the number 11. In those eleven years, Esarhaddon rebuilt the entire city, from the temples to the homes of the people. To make sure everyone would remember their benefactor, he inscribed the bricks and stones with his name.

With Babylon restored, Esarhaddon set out expanding and improving upon his empire. The Cimmerians, a nomadic tribe to the north, were threatening his western borders and the Kingdom of Urartu, which his grandfather had defeated in 714 B.C., had risen again. His two brothers, who had killed their father, were still there under the protection of King Rusas II who, like the Urartu kings before him, had no love for the Assyrians. In order to keep the Cimmerians at bay, Esarhaddon entered into a treaty with the Scythians, another nomadic tribe known for their skill in cavalry warfare. Although he felt he needed their help, he did not trust them as allies.

In 679 B.C., the Cimmerians invaded from the west. By 676 B.C., they had fought their way into Assyria-held lands and conquered Phrygia in Anatolia, destroying the cities and temples. Esarhaddon met them in battle at Cilicia, and defeated them. He claims in his inscriptions to have killed their king, Teushpa, with his sword.

Esarhaddon then moved against the city of Sidon in the Levant which had rebelled at about the same time the Cimmerians had invaded. Esarhaddon marched down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, defeated and executed the rebel king. He then turned about and marched against the allies of Urartu, the Mannaeans, to the north-east and, by 673 B.C., was at war with Urartu itself. What happened to his brothers is unknown, but Urartu was again beaten back by the Assyrian army and, if his brothers had still been alive, he would no doubt have had them executed.

Having now secured his borders, Esarhaddon launched his first military campaign against Egypt. Egypt had been a problem for the Assyrians in his father's reign and was still encouraging dissent and revolt. Thinking to storm Egypt in one furious push, Esarhaddon marched his army at great speed and met the Egyptian forces under the Kushite Pharaoh Taharqa outside the city of Ashkelon. This Nubian king of the 25th Dynasty quickly defeated the Assyrians, and Esarhaddon withdrew from the field and his army limped back to Nineveh.

In 671 B.C., Esarhaddon launched an all out invasion against Egypt, this time bringing a much larger force. He captured the capital city of Memphis and Taharqa fled south leaving his family and royal court behind. They were captured and transported, along with much of the population of Memphis, back to Assyria. Esarhaddon erected a victory stele in Nineveh showing the son of Taharqa in chains.

Almost as soon as the king left, southern Egypt rebelled against Assyrian rule, and Esarhaddon was forced to send further forces to quell the rebellion. In 669 B.C., Esarhaddon mobilized his army and marched out against Egypt, but he died in Haran before he reached the border. Prior to leaving on campaign, however, he had fortunately decided to set his affairs in order. His eldest son had died early, and in his place the third son, Assurbanipal, was made crown prince. His second son, Shamash-shum-ukin, remained crown prince of Babylon. This arrangement caused some dissension, and at least one civil servant wrote the king warning against it. This warning should have been taken more seriously...


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