Prism of Sennacherib

from N. M. Bailkey and R. Lim, Readings in Ancient History (Boston, 2002), pp. 59-66.

An Assyrian King's Wars

In the middle of the ninth century B.C.E., a new conquest state, the Assyrian Empire, emerged in the northern Mesopotamia. From that time on, powerful Assyrian armies invaded neighboring countries almost every year so that, a century and a half later, the Assyrians laid claim to a large empire that made its presence felt in Asia Minor, Egypt, and Iran. Nineveh, its capital, became one of the most important cities in western Asia during that time. Their impact there was reflected in many books from the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), such as II Kings and the Book of Isaiah.

After the Assyrian king Sennacherib came to the throne in 705 B.C.E., he struggled to put down resistance to his and Assyrian rule. The peoples of Syria and Palestine had counted on Egyptian help to throw off the Assyrian yoke, but Sennacherib brought them all under control. In 701 B.C.E., he laid siege to Jerusalem, seat of the Kingdom of Judah, then ruled by King Hezekiah, who was confined "like a bird in a cage." Although the Assyrians finally left without taking the city, they took large quantities of plunder and numerous captives. The following texts come from a series of inscribed prisms on which the kings of Assyria recorded the warlike deeds by which they wished to be remembered.


how does Sennacherib describe the process of acquiring an empire? how are new territories and peoples incorporated under Assyrian control? how (and why) do different groups receive different treatment?

how is the power of the Assyrian king represented?

Column I

Sennacherib, the great king, the mighty king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, king of the four quarters (of the earth); the wise ruler (lit. shepherd, "pastor"), favorite of the great gods, guardian of the right, lover of justice; who lends support, who comes to the aid of the needy, who turns (his thoughts) to pious deeds; perfect hero, mighty man; first among all princes, the powerful one who consumes the insubmissive, who strikes the wicked with the thunderbolt; the god Assur, the great mountain, an unrivaled kingship has entrusted to me, and above all those who dwell in palaces, has made powerful my weapons; from the upper sea of the setting sun to the lower sea of the rising sun, all humankind (the black-headed race) he has brought in submission at my feet and mighty kings feared my warfare -- leaving their abodes and flying alone, like the sudinnu, the bird of the cave (? cliffs), to (some) inaccessible place.

In my first campaign I accomplished the defeat of Merodach-baladan, king of Babylonia, together with the army of Elam, his ally, in the plain of Kish. In the midst of that battle he forsook his camp, and made his escape alone; (so) he saved his life. The chariots, horses, wagons, mules, which he left behind at the onset of battle, my hands seized. Into his palace, which is in Babylon, joyfully I entered. I opened his treasure-house:-gold, silver, vessels of gold and silver, precious stones of every kind (name) goods and property without limit (number), heavy tribute, his harem, (his) courtiers and officials, singers, male and female, all of his artisans, as many as there were, the servants of his palace, I brought out, I counted as spoil. In the might of Assur my lord, 75 of his strong walled cities, of Chaldea, and 420 small cities of their environs (within their borders), I surrounded, I conquered, their spoil I carried off. The Arabs, Aramaeans, and Chaldeans, who were in Erech, Nippur, Kish, Harsagkalamma, Kutha and Sippar, together with the citizens, the rebels (lit. sinners), I brought out, as booty I counted. On my return (march) the Tu'muna Rihihu, Yadakku, Ubudu Kibre, Malahu, Gurumu, Ubulu, Damunu, Gambulu Hindaru, Ru'ua, Bukudu, Hamranu, Hagaranu, Nabatu, Li'tau, Aramaeans (who were) not submissive, all of them I conquered. 208,000 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep, without number, a heavy booty, I carried off to Assyria. In the course of my campaign, I received from Nabu-belshumate, governor of the city of Hararate, gold, silver, great musukkani-trees, asses, camels, cattle and sheep, as his onerous contribution. The warriors of Hirimme, wicked enemies, I cut down with the sword. Not one escaped. Their corpses I hung on stakes, surrounding the city (with them). That district (province) I reorganized: One ox, 10 lambs, 10 homers of wine, 20 homers of dates, its choicest, (as gifts) for the gods of Assyria, my lords, I established for all time.

In my second campaign, Assur my lord, encouraged me, and against the land of the Kassites and the land of the Yasubigallai, who from of old had not been submissive to the kings, my fathers, I marched. In the midst of the high mountains I rode on horseback where the terrain was difficult, and had my chariot drawn up with ropes: where it became too steep, I clambered up on foot like the wild-ox. The cities of Bit-Kilamzah, Hardishpi and Bit-Kubatti, their strong, walled cities, I besieged, I captured. People, horses, mules, asses, cattle and sheep, I brought out from their midst and counted as booty. And their small cities, which were numberless, I destroyed, I devastated, I turned into ruins. The houses of the steppe, (namely) the tents, wherein they dwelt, I set on fire and turned them into (a mass of) flames. I turned round, and made that Bit-Kilamzah into a fortress, I made its walls stronger than they had ever been before,

Column II

and settled therein people of the lands my hands had conquered. The people of the land of the Kassites and the land of the Yasubigallai, who had fled before my arms, I brought down out of the mountains and settled them in Hardishpi and Bit-Kubatti. Into the hand(s) of my official, the governor of Arrapha, I placed (lit. counted) them. I had a stela made, and the might of my conquering hand which I had established upon them, I had inscribed thereon. In the midst of the city I set it up. The front of my yoke I turned (that is, I turned about) and took the road to the land of the Elippi. Before me (my approach) Ispabara, their king, forsook his strong cities, his treasure-houses (cities), and fled to distant (parts). Over the whole of his wide land I swept like a hurricane. The cities Marubishti and Akkuddu, his royal residence-cities, together with 34 small cities of their environs, I besieged, I captured, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep, without number, I carried off. I brought him to naught, I diminished his land. Sisirtu and Kummahlum, strong cities, together with the small cities of their environs, the district (province) of Bit-Barrfi in its totality, I cut off from his land and added it to the territory (lit. border) of Assyria. Elenzash I turned into the royal city and stronghold of that district. I changed its former name, calling its (new) name Kar-Sennacherib. Peoples of the lands my hands had conquered I settled therein. To my official, the governor of Harhar, I handed it over (counted it). Thus I extended my land. On my return, I received the heavy tribute of the distant Medes, whose name no one among the kings, my fathers, had (ever) heard. To the yoke of my rule I made them submit.

In my third campaign I went against the Hittite-land. Lule, king of Sidon, -the terrifying splendor (lit. terrors of splendors) of my sovereignty overcame him and far off into the midst of the sea he fled. (There) he died. Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit-Zitti, Zaribtu, Mahalliba, Ushu, Akzib, Akko, his strong, walled cities, where there were supplies (lit. fodder and drinking places), for his garrisons,-the terrors of the weapon of Assur, my lord, overpowered them and they bowed in submission at my feet. Tuba'lu I seated on the royal throne over them, and tribute, gifts) for my majesty, I imposed upon him for all time, without ceasing. From Menachem, the Shamsimurunite, Tuba'lu, the Sidonite, Abdi-liti, the Arvadite, Uru-milki, the Gublite, Mitinti, the Ashdodite, Budu-ilu, the Beth-Ammonite, Kammusu-nadbi, the Moabite, Malik-rammu, the Edomite, kings of Amurru, all of them, numerous presents, as their heavy tribute, they brought before me for the fourth time, and kissed my feet. But Sidka, king of Ashkelon, who had not submitted to my yoke,-the gods of his father-house, himself, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his brothers, the seed of his father-house, I tore away and brought to Assyria. Sharru-lu-dari, son of Rukibti, their former king, I set over the people of Ashkelon and I imposed upon him the payment of tribute (in the form of) presents to my majesty. He accepted (lit. bore) my yoke. In the course of my campaign, Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banaibarka, Asuru, cities of Sidka, who had not speedily bowed in submission at my feet, I besieged, I conquered, I carried off their spoil. The officials,` nobles and people of Ekron, who had thrown Padi, their king, bound by (lit. lord of) oath and curse of Assyria, into fetters of iron and had given him over to Hezekiah, the Jew,-he kept him in confinement like an enemy, they (lit. their heart) became afraid, and called upon the Egyptian kings, the bowmen, chariots and horses of the king of Meluhha (Ethiopia), a countless host, and these came to their aid. In the neighborhood of Eltekeh, their ranks being drawn up before me,

Column III

they offered battle. (Trusting) in the aid of Assur, my lord, I fought with them and brought about their defeat. The Egyptian charioteers and princes, together with the charioteers of the Ethiopian king, my hands took alive in the midst of the battle. Eltekeh (and) Timnah I besieged, I captured and took away their spoil. I drew near to Ekron and slew the governors and nobles who had committed sin (that is, rebelled), and hung their bodies on stakes around the city. The citizens who sinned and treated (Assyria) lightly, I counted as spoil. The rest of them, who were not guilty (carriers) of sin and contempt, for whom there was no punishment, I spoke their pardon. Padi, their king, I brought out of Jerusalem, set him on the royal throne over them and imposed upon him my kingly tribute. As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small cities in their neighborhood, which were without number,-by levelling with battering-rams (?) and by bringing up siege-engines (?), by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels and breaches (?), I besieged and took (those cities). 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep, without number, I brought away from them and counted as spoil. Himself, like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem his royal city. Earthworks I threw up against him, the one coming out of the city-gate, I turned back to his misery. The cities of his, which I had despoiled, I cut off from his land and to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Silli-bel king of Gaza, I gave. And (thus) I diminished his land. I added to the former tribute, and laid upon him the giving (up) of their land, (as well as) imposts-gifts for my majesty. As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendor of my majesty overcame him, and the Urbi (Arabs) and his mercenary (?) troops which he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him (lit. took leave). In addition to the 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, (there were) gems, antimony, jewels (?), large sandu-stones, couches of ivory, house-chairs of ivory, elephant hide, ivory (lit. elephant's "teeth") ebony (?), boxwood (?), all kinds of valuable (heavy) treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians, (which) he had (them) bring after me to Nineveh, my royal city. To pay tribute and to accept (lit. do) servitude, he dispatched his messengers.

In my fourth campaign Assur, my lord, gave me courage, and I mustered my numerous armies and gave the command to proceed against Bit-Yakin. In the course of my campaign I accomplished the overthrow of Shuzubi, the Chaldean, -who sat in the midst of the swamps, - at Bitutu. That one,-the terror (lit. ague, chills) of my battle fell upon him, and broke his courage (lit. tore his heart); like a criminal (?) he fled alone, and his place was seen no more. The front of my yoke I turned and to Bit-Yakin I took the way. That (same) Merodach-baladan, whose defeat I had brought about in the course of my first campaign, and whose forces I had shattered, -the roar of my mighty arms and the onset of my terrible battle he feared and he gathered together the gods of his whole land in their shrines, and loaded them into ships and fled like a bird to Nagite-rakki, which is in the middle of the sea. His brothers, the seed of his father-house, whom he had left by the sea-shore, together with the rest of the people of his land, I brought out of Bit-Yakin, (from) the midst of the swamps and canebrakes, and counted as spoil. I turned about and ruined and devastated his cities: I made them like ruin-heaps. Upon his ally, the king of Elam, I poured out terror. On my return, I placed on his (Merodach-Baladan's) royal throne, Assur-nadin-shum, my oldest son, offspring of my loins (knees). I put him in charge of the wide land of Sumer and Akkad.

translation excerpted from The Annals of Sennacherib, Daniel David Luckenbill, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1924) pp. 23-35.