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Ancient Near East - Sennacherib

Updated: Feb 28, 2022


During the reign of Sargon II, Sennacherib had effectively maintained the administration of the empire while his father was away on military campaigns. Sargon II trusted his son to handle the daily affairs of the state, but did not think highly of him as a man or future king. He must have openly shared this opinion with others. When Sennacherib came to the throne, the provinces quickly rebelled. As mentioned in the previous episode, Sennacherib seems to have regarded his father with similar disdain.

Shortly after Sennacherib came to the throne, Merodach-Baladan returned to Babylon at the head of an army comprised of his tribesman and Elamite warriors, assassinated the sitting ruler of the city, and again took the throne. Sennacherib had not endeared himself to the Babylonians, and had further insulted them by not visiting the city or acknowledging the chief god Marduk as the god of Babylon after he became king. The Babylonians, therefore, welcomed the arrival of Merodach-Baladan and felt they had nothing to fear from the new Assyrian king. Their confidence was strengthened, in 703 B.C., when Sennacherib sent an army, led by his commander-in-chief, to drive the invaders out of Babylon and restore Assyrian rule. This army was swiftly defeated by the combined forces of the Elamites, Chaldeans, and Aramaeans. But the Babylonians would soon realize they underestimated this new Assyrian king.

In response, Sennacherib himself came sweeping down and defeated the allied force. Merodach-Baladan fled from the battlefield and hid in the marshes of the Sealand, which he knew well. Sennacherib marched the rest of the way to Babylon, and the city quickly opened its gates as soon as they observed the Assyrian king approaching. He arrived and chose to send Babylon a message. The city was ransacked, the palace was plundered, and almost a quarter-million captives were taken prisoner. An Assyrian puppet king, named Bel-ibni, was placed on the throne and Babylon was left in peace.

Merodach-Baladan fled to Elam, but did not remain idle there. He encouraged others to revolt against Assyrian rule. Among these was King Hezekiah of Judah who was told that, if he stood against Assyria, aid would come from Egypt, who was currently under the rule of the Nubians who had created the 25th Dynasty.

In 701 B.C., Sennacherib turned from Babylonia to the western part of the empire which had now rebelled. These small Canaanite and Phoenician states in the area included Sidon and Ashkelon, who were taken by force. Byblos, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab, and Edom then paid tribute without resistance – Ekron rebelled and the Assyrian-appointed king of Ekron was captured, taken to Jerusalem in chains, and handed over to Hezekiah who imprisoned him. Ekron then called on Egypt for help, but the Egyptians were defeated by Assyria who took the city by storm, put to death the leaders of the rebellion, and carried their followers into captivity. Sennacherib then turned on Jerusalem.

“As to Hezekiah, the Jew. He did not submit to my yoke. I laid

siege to his strong cities, walled forts, and countless small villages,

and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps

and battering rams brought near the walls with an attack by

foot soldiers, using mines, breeches, and trenches. I drove out

200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules,

donkeys, camels, and cattle beyond counting, and considered

them slaves. Himself, I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal

residence, like a bird in a cage... Thus I reduced his country,

but I still increased the tribute and the presents to me as overlord