Tuesday, 11 July 2017

725-701BC in the Near East

Gateway from Dur-Sharrukin
The period begins with some chronological confusion and absence of sources. As usual, the main sources will be Assyrian inscriptions, Babylonian chronicles, occasional Greek legends, Egyptian records and Hebrew sacred writings, augmented by any other sources from surrounding states. Unfortunately the RINAP2 database, that contains the inscriptions of Sargon II is not yet publicly available so once this is online I may revisit this post. I would urge everyone to check out the wonderful Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period project online.

Shalmaneser V was on the throne of Assyria and his armies were in the Levant, besieging Samaria. Piye was king of Kush and held the Nile valley in his control, although the petty dynasts of the Nile Delta still ruled as semi-independent monarchs. Phrygia and Urartu lay to the west and north of the Assyrian empire and Elam to the southeast along the borders of Babylon. The kingdoms of the Levant had been devastated by the campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser III but many of their city states still had independent rulers.

Vase from the time of Bocchoris
It’s easy for all the years and wars and politics to merge into each. So let’s start this blog post with a talking sheep. Around 725 it seems that there was a son of Tefnakht who came to power in Sais, in the Nile Delta. His name was Bakenranef but he was known to the Greeks as Bocchoris. The messiness of Egyptian records at this time means that this date is not certain however. As his kingdom was on the Nile Delta he may well have been known to the Greek traders and thus the memory of his reign was preserved by the writers of classical antiquity. Poor Bocchoris is remembered in the Greek records as being rather ugly, which is an unfortunate attribute to be remembered in history. An Apis bull was recorded in his reign and Manetho writing centuries later, gives him an entire dynasty to himself. Manetho also records that during his reign a lamb spoke (and prophesied that Egypt would fall to the Assyrians). Bocchoris was also supposed to have given laws to Egypt, despite only ruling a small section of the Delta and is remembered as one of the great law givers of Egypt. Lastly he is supposed to have reigned for around five or six years but to also have been taken prisoner by Shabaka and burned alive by him. However, the dates do not match up. Shabaka did not rule until 714 at the earliest and more likely only ruled in 705. It is possible that Shabaka did in fact kill Bocchoris but that he did so during the reign of Piye, as a general rather than during his later reign as Pharoah. This combination of probable facts with confusing dates will continue throughout this blogpost.

The Egyptians assert (though they are far from convincing me), they assert, I say, that in the days of the far-famed Bocchoris a Lamb was born with eight feet and two tails, and that it spoke. They say also that this Lamb had two heads and four horns. It is right to forgive Homer who bestows speech upon Xanthus the horse, for Homer is a poet. And Alcman could not be censured for imitating Homer in such matters, for the first venture of Homer is a plea sufficient to justify forgiveness. But how can one pay any regard to Egyptians who exaggerate like this?
Aelian, De Natura Animalis 12:3

In 724, the Assyrians seem to have begun a siege of Tyre. Samaria was already under siege so the Assyrian army was in the region. Elulaeus or Lulli, the king of Tyre and Sidon had revolted against Assyria, possibly in concert with Hoshea of Israel. The states of the Levant were extremely unhappy with Assyrian rule and this period would see revolt after revolt. The Assyrians subdued the Phoenician rebellion but they were unable to capture the city of Tyre, as Tyre was partially built on an island out to sea and could not be attacked except with a fleet. However, the other Phoenician cities were much more vulnerable so they surrendered and their fleets joined the Assyrian armies. Sixty ships attacked the Tyrians only to be beaten back by twelve Tyrian ships. One suspects that the other Phoenicians were not trying very hard. The siege dragged on, with no easy victory for the Assyrians. To conduct two major sieges simultaneously must have been taxing for the army and the people and the army may have grown restless. The Assyrians needed victories and lots of them to sustain the army and to keep the urban populations of their homeland happy. Shalmaneser V had yet to win a single decisive victory. Besieging armies are also much more vulnerable to disease than an army on the march, so it is fair to assume that Shalmaneser’s reign was not popular.

One whose name was Elulaeus, but was called Pyas, reigned thirty-six years. This king, upon the revolt of the inhabitants of Citium, sailed to them, and reduced them again to a submission. Against these did the king of Assyria send an army, and in a hostile manner over-run all Phoenicia, but soon made peace with them all, and returned back; but Sidon, and Acra, and Palaityros, revolted; and many other cities there were which delivered themselves up to the king of Assyria. Accordingly, when the Tyrians would not submit to him, the king returned, and fell upon them again, while the Phoenicians had furnished him with threescore ships, and eight hundred men to row them; and when the Tyrians had come upon them in twelve ships, and the enemies ships were dispersed, they took five hundred men prisoners, and the reputation of all the citizens of Tyre was thereby increased: but the king of Assyria returned, and placed guards at their river, and aqueducts, who should hinder the Tyrians from drawing water. This continued for five years, and still the Tyrians bore the siege, and drank of the water they had out of the wells they dug.
Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 9:283-287 quoting Menander of Ephesus

Sargon II with emissary
There are almost no inscriptions from Shalmaneser V and even worse, the limmu lists are damaged for his years, so it is rather hard to see where the army is. So for the years 723 and 722 nothing definite can really be said. There is a fleeting reference to a character called Shalman in Hosea but the context of this piece suggests that this is more likely to refer to the Moabite king, Salamanu, from a slightly earlier period rather than the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V. It is a passing reference but a useful reminder of the savagery of warfare in this era. However, in 721 the record picks up again. 721 (or late 722) sees the fall of Samaria to the armies of Shalmaneser V. However, this belated victory did not bolster the reign of Shalmaneser, who died around the same time as the fall of Samaria and was succeeded by his (probable) half-brother Sargon II. The city had held out for three years but the lack of general destruction suggests that the city possibly surrendered due to hunger. Large sections of the population were rounded up and prepared for deportation. But the Assyrian army may not have actually deported anyone at that point and may have abruptly left the region to return to Assyria.

The roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated— as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.
Hosea 10:14

In King Hezekiah’s fourth year, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. At the end of three years the Assyrians took it. So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah’s sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel.
2 Kings 18:9-10

It is hard not to have the suspicion that Shalmaneser V was murdered by his half-brother. Shalmaneser was unpopular with the priests of Assyria and probably with the army. He leaves no inscriptions, suggesting that Sargon II destroyed them. Why did Sargon succeed rather than any of Shalmaneser’s children if he had any? Even the name Sargon, meaning “Legitimate ruler”, seems a little suspicious. In fact Sargon II writes about how Shalmaneser was a bad king and that the gods removed him for a more righteous replacement, which sounds almost close to a confession. But it is not proven. Perhaps Shalmaneser V was just an unlucky, childless and short-lived monarch who was not liked by his brother or his people. Regardless, Sargon II seems to have had an unorthodox path to power and to have faced opposition to his takeover of the throne.

Horses being brought as tribute to Sargon II
In 720, Sargon II had secured his hold on the throne of Assyria. But the provinces and neighbouring states had sensed weakness and Babylon and the cities of the Levant rebelled. In just under a year the conquests of Tiglath-Pileser III had been lost. Sargon II would have to act fast. In Syria, a usurper called Ia’ubidi had taken control of the city of Hamath, a once powerful state north of Damascus, murdering the Assyrian soldiers and civilians there. Tyre was probably still under siege (but probably not by the main army) and the Philistine cities joined Ia’ubidi’s revolt. Perhaps the fate of Samaria acted as a catalyst for the remaining cities. Judah seems to have joined in the revolt as well but probably did not provide troops. There was a more serious revolt to the south in Babylonia, where Merodach-Baladan, chief of the Bit-Yakin tribe, proclaimed himself as king of Babylon. Supported by Elam, the silent power of the region, the Assyrian fortress city of Der was attacked.

Mustering an army at Nimrud, Sargon II moved south to meet the threat. The Elamite and Assyrian armies clashed outside of the city of Der while the Babylonian troops did not arrive to join the battle in time. Perhaps Sargon was moving quickly or perhaps the Elamites were overconfident. Both the Babylonians and the Assyrians claimed victory (presumably the Elamites did as well but it is hard to know without their inscriptions). It was probably an Assyrian defeat but not a serious one. The Assyrians may well have defeated the Elamites but then withdrawn rather than face the Chaldean armies of Babylon. As the Assyrians withdrew it could be claimed as a victory for the coalition but Merodach-Baladan made no effort to take the city of Der after his victory. The main outcome was that the Assyrians held Der and could move their armies to deal with the western rebellion, while the Chaldean tribesmen could hold onto Babylonia, for now. Merodach-Baladan doubtless noted how lucky it was for Babylon that the Assyrians were preoccupied with a rebellion in the Levant.

The second year of Marduk-apla-iddina, Humban-Nikaš, king of Elam, did battle against Sargon, king of Assyria, in the district of Der, effected Assyria's retreat, and inflicted a major defeat upon it. Marduk-apla-iddina and his army, who to the aid of the king of Elam had gone, did not reach the battle in time so Marduk-apla-iddina withdrew.
Babylonian Chronicle

It seems that the Assyrian army then moved west to attack the coalition of Ia’ubidi. The rebel alliance met the Assyrians in battle at Qarqar, the site of a famous coalition battle against the Assyrians in the previous century. There they were utterly defeated and Ia’ubidi was captured to be sent to Ashur and flayed alive. Samaria was then retaken and its people deported. The Philistines, led by Hanuna of Gaza, tried to call the Egyptians, who sent a small army under the command of a general called Si’be (whether it was a Kushite army or an army of one of the princelings of the Delta is unclear). Si’be was unsuccessful and in the words of Sargon II, “fled alone and disappeared like a shepherd whose flock had been stolen.” Whether it was Bocchoris, Osorkon IV or Piye who had been supporting the rebellions is unclear but the Assyrians would remember it. The siege of Tyre was ended as well once peace was brought to the region. The rebellion in the west had been crushed.

Ia’ubidi from Hamath, a commoner without claim to the throne, a cursed Hittite, schemed to become king of Hamath, induced the cities Arvad, Simirra, Damascus and Samaria to desert me, made them collaborate and fitted out an army. I called up the masses of the soldiers of Ashur and besieged him and his warriors in Qarqar, his favourite city, I conquered it and burnt it. Himself I flayed; the rebels I killed in their cities and established again peace and harmony. A contingent of 200 chariots and 600 men on horseback I formed from among the inhabitants of Hamath and added them to my royal corps.
Inscription of Sargon II

Relief from Dur-Sharrukin
The chronology seems off here though. The book of Kings explicitly says that Samaria had been captured by Shalmaneser V and has no real reason to favour Shalmaneser. However Sargon II explicitly claims to have conquered Samaria and deported its population. While Assyrian rulers were usually extremely boastful they tended not to tell outright lies, merely stretch the truth as far as possible. But Sargon would have needed victories so would he have tried to claim the victories of a predecessor? It is hard to know. There is a Babylonian chronicle that states that Samaria was taken by Shalmaneser and again the Babylonians had no reason to lie. It is a chronological conundrum that has exercised many historians. I have described the version where there are effectively two sieges of Samaria, the main one by Shalmaneser V and a second, mopping up operation by Sargon II who then deports the survivors. Some assume that Sargon is simply lying. Some suspect that perhaps Sargon II had already began a rebellion while Samaria was falling, thus, even if it was taken by the armies of Shalmaneser it would still have been “his” triumph, as it occurred after his reign had technically started. The siege of Tyre does not fit nicely into the scheme either, as this assumes there was an Assyrian army in Phoenicia, continuing a siege after their lines of communication had been cut by the revolt in Hamath.

On the twenty-fifth of the month Tebêtu, Shalmaneser in Assyria and Akkad ascended the throne. He ravaged Samaria. The fifth year Shalmaneser went to his destiny in the month Tebêtu. For five years Shalmaneser ruled Akkad and Assyria. On the twelfth day of the month Tebêtu, Sargon ascended the throne in Assyria.
Babylonian Chronicle

A very clever solution to the problem (sadly not my own) suggests that Sargon II was actually Shalmaneser’s general in the west. The Ia’ubidi revolution would be dated to 721 instead of 720 and would be contemporary with the fall of Samaria and probably tied in with it. It would make sense that the other states would rise up while Israel still stood rather than after it fell. Also, it is hard to imagine that the city of Samaria, conquered after a three year siege, would immediately go to war a year later. If this theory is correct, the revolt of Ia’ubidi would predate the fall of Samaria and the battle of Der. Sargon could still claim the victory as he would have led the army. It would also tie in the Egyptian expedition of Si’be to the help that Hoshea was expecting from Egypt.

Alternatively, the Israelite refugees may have been encamped north of Samaria, preparing for deportation, when Sargon withdrew the armies to the Assyrian heartlands. In this case, some of them may have joined Yau-di’bi, assuming they had little left to lose and gambling one last chance for their homeland. Once the revolt failed they would have been deported as originally planned and Sargon could claim to have conquered and deported the Israelites; stretching the truth but not breaking it.

Regardless of the conundrums of time, by the year 720, Sargon II was king and the elites of Samaria were deported to various locations across the empire. Many of them were sent out to the east of the empire to the lands of the Medes, but other groups would have been split up and dispersed across the empire. The entire point of the policy was to discourage rebellion and break up hostile groups. It would not make sense to merely transplant a problem. Also, the sheer amount of people deported was not huge. Tiglath-Pileser III had deported people, presumably Shalmaneser V also did so and Sargon deported 27,290 Israelites.

At the beginning of my royal rule, I...the town of the Samarians I besieged, conquered … for the god... who let me achieve this my triumph... I led away as prisoners 27,290 inhabitants of it and equipped from among them 50 chariots for my royal corps... The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I had conquered. I placed an officer of mine as governor over them and imposed upon them tribute as is customary for Assyrian citizens.
Inscription of Sargon II

Many however probably stayed or hid in the countryside. Others fled south. The city of Jerusalem triples in size to around 25,000 inhabitants at this point, with a new wall having to be built on the western side of the city to include the new residents. All the cities in Judah see major growth at this time, so it is reasonable to expect that many of the Israelites were incorporated in the kingdom of Judah.

Golden Tablet of the foundation of Dur-Sharrukin
The lands of Israel were settled by some refugees from Hama and over six thousand Assyrians that Sargon was displeased with (rebels against his takeover?). Some Israelites were allowed to stay to teach them the religious rituals of the land and others may have drifted back over the years. The deportees and the returned became known as Samaritans and still exist today as a tiny community near Mount Gerizim. As for those who were deported and never returned, they have passed into legend as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and much nonsense has been written about them, including the frankly stupid idea that they went to the islands of Britain and Ireland. But in all probability they simply became assimilated to the populations around them like so many other groups have done over the course of history.

They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
2 Kings 17:33

Around this time, if the chronology is correct, the Kushite king moved against Bocchoris in the Nile Delta, captured him, and burned him alive. This suggests that the Kushites were consolidating their hold on the Nile Delta and would no longer tolerate the little Libyan kingdoms in that region. But Osorkon IV still seems to have reigned in Tanis, acting as a buffer gatekeeper state to the Levant and doubtless under strict supervision.

Sabacon, who, taking Bocchoris captive, burned him alive, and reigned for 8 years.
Manetho, quoted by Africanus

In 719 Sargon II moved north-east into Iran to the kingdom of Mannea, that was situated in north-western Iran. The next year, in 718 the armies turned west to Anatolia where the powerful Phrygian and Urartian kingdoms were interfering with Assyrian vassals.

Founding inscription of Dur-Sharrukin
The next year would see Sargon continue his wars but also found a new city called Dur-Sharrukin, which means, The Fortress of Sargon, around 20km north of Nineveh. This is known to us as Khorsabad and was excavated by the French in the 1800’s. However, many of the most important finds of Dur-Sharrukin were lost in the river due to pirates and bad handling. Some small sections of the remainder are housed in the Louvre Museum. This means that much of what we know of Khorsabad comes from the drawings that were made of the excavation rather than the items themselves. Daesh/IS took control of the site recently and have caused much devastation there.
When Sargon began to build the city in 717 he had it modelled on the mountains that he had seen in Lebanon and planted with cypress and cedar and thousands of fruit trees for the orchards. The city was nearly square and was very much a planned city, with its dimensions corresponding to Assyrian numerology. The construction of this new city of cities would consume large amounts of wealth but also make evident the power of the Assyrian king. But to the superstitious this may have seemed a bad omen. He was not the first Assyrian king to attempt to create a new ritual city. 500 years previously, Tukulti-Ninurta I had created a city called Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta. This had angered the people and his sons and Tukulti-Ninurta was murdered in the new city he had named after himself. Time would tell if Sargon’s grand enterprise would have more success.

This year also saw Humban-Nikash, king of Elam, die and Shutur-Nakhunte II take his place on the Elamite throne. It is possible that Shutur-Nakhunte was the son of Humban-Nikash’s sister, who may have been his wife. The Elamite royal family seems to have been quite incestuous (similar to some pharaohs) but it is unclear to what extent it affected the genetics of the Elamite kings.

Medieval picture of Gyges murdering Candaules
Around this time, Gyges overthrew Candaules of Lydia (in western Anatolia) and became king, founding the Mermnad Dynasty of Lydia. We will discuss him in greater detail in the next blog post but suffice it to say that Gyges unintentionally affected the culture of the world in strange and mysterious ways. He is the only person to my knowledge to be tangentially connected to the Book of Revelation, the Koran, Plato, Alexander the Great, the history of money, voyeurism, the One Ring of Sauron in Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian.

GYGES: Since you compel me to kill my master and my king, against my will, please let me hear in what way we shall attack him. 
QUEEN: The attack will be on the very spot where he showed me naked to you — a perfect retribution for what he has done; and let him be killed while he is sleeping. 
Herodotus describing the murder of Candaules by Gyges

The Assyrian war machine continued its conquests even while building work was ongoing for the new city. Carchemish was attacked, conquered and fully incorporated into the empire. Rather tragically, the kingdom of Sam’al, that had made such protestations of loyalty to Assyria, was also swallowed up and turned into a province. Even the loyalty of the small kings could not prevent their destruction if they were no longer deemed useful.

Bronze snake with gilded head found at Timna
In 716 Ahaz died and Hezekiah, who had been co-regent for some years, became sole king of Judah. He began a religious reform, destroying temples and religious centres around the country and centralising worship in the temple in Jerusalem. He also destroyed a snake statue in the temple that had been worshipped by the people. To minimise the importance of the snake it was referred to in later writings as Nehushtan (meaning “a bronze thing”). To the south of Judah, in the copper mines of Timna, where there was a Midanite sanctuary, a copper snake with a gilded head has actually been found and may have been a similar idol to the Nehushtan of Hezekiah. There seems to be some archaeological evidence for the religious reform, with the temple at Arad being dismantled around this time. The consolidation of worship in Jerusalem would have strengthened the state of Judah under the king, as everyone now had to visit Jerusalem annually, and it is recorded that Hezekiah reinstated the festival of Passover to this effect. There was a high level of cultural activity at this time, with the sections of the Book of Proverbs being compiled and the prophets Isaiah and Micah being active at this time, although their writings would not have been compiled in their current form until later. Judah was now the strongest state between Assyria and Egypt and Hezekiah would have known that a confrontation was inevitable.

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan).
2 Kings 18:4 

Rusa I of Urartu was not idle during this time. Urartu had been defeated by the Assyrians and to try strengthen his position Rusa attacked the kingdoms to the north, east and west of his state. He also was trying to have his candidate placed on the throne of Mannea. To counteract this Sargon II seems to have campaigned in the region around this time.
In 715 the scheming of Rusa I came to completion. Having secured his frontiers he had his candidate placed on the throne of Mannea, made an alliance with Mita of Mushki, whose kingdom lay to the west and an alliance with Daiakku of the Medes, whose tribes lay to the east. With his alliances in place Rusa began to raid the Assyrian frontier while the main Assyrian army had moved west to confront Mita of Mushki.

Massive tumulus at Gordion
It is probably worth taking some time to speak of Mita and Daiakku because both kings are remembered in later history. Mita is almost certainly Midas, the king who in Greek legend was cursed by having his wish granted and everything he touched turned to gold. Eventually he was freed of his curse by washing in the river, which was a folk explanation why the kingdom of Phrygia had so much gold in its rivers. Another, even less salutary tale suggests that Midas was deformed with donkey ears that he concealed from everyone but his barber. Eventually his barber was so consumed with the secret that he whispered it to the reeds, who now whisper the secret to all who listen to their murmuring in the wind. Strangely there is an almost identical legend from my own land, where the Irish king Labraid Lorc had donkey ears and killed his barbers for fear of the secret escaping until one barber whispered the secret to a willow tree. When the willow tree was cut down to make a harp the harp would sing the secret to all and sundry. A similar tale is told of a Welsh king but both stories almost certainly derive from the Greek tale of Midas. Mythology is strange in that a tale about one of Sargon’s foes would thus be told in a different continent over a thousand years later.

Dismayed by this strange misfortune, rich and unhappy, he tries to flee his riches, and hates what he wished for a moment ago. No abundance can relieve his famine: his throat is parched with burning thirst, and, justly, he is tortured by the hateful gold.
Ovid, Metamorphoses XI: 85-145

Decorated wood from Gordion tomb
Apart from mythology there are rather more tangible remains at the time. There are a series of huge tumuli in Gordion that date from this time; the tombs of kings. Most of the precious metals and such like have been looted but archaeologists have excavated the tombs from this time. The largest of these tombs is a mound rising 150 feet off the plain. When excavated it was found to contain a skeleton, probably that of a king, and a large variety of wooden, iron, bronze and textile goods testifying to the great sophistication of the Phrygian kingdom at this time. It was likely to be the tomb of Midas’ predecessor but is possibly the tomb of Midas himself. If the legends about Gordias are correct it may be that this is the tomb of Gordias but it is probable that if Gordias existed that he was much earlier. Excavations are still ongoing in the city and we may learn more of the Phrygian kingdom soon.

Daiakku has less stories around him but is probably the same as Deioces, who is remembered by Herodotus for being the first to unite the Median tribes. A ceremonial capital was founded at Ecbatana in north-western Iran for the tribes to gather. The horse riders who spoke an Iranian tongue and worshipped Indo-European gods were relative newcomers to the region but this showed that they were moving from a vague tribal confederacy to a real organised threat to other states in the region. If this identification is correct it would make Daiakku the first Shah.

The question was at once propounded: Whom should they make king? Then every man was loud in putting Deioces forward and praising Deioces, until they agreed that he should be their king. He ordered them to build him houses worthy of his royal power, and strengthen him with a bodyguard. The Medes did so.
Herodotus describing the rise of Deioces

Inscription of Sargon describing 8th campaign
In 714 Sargon II moved decisively against Rusa I of Urartu. Gathering a force in Nimrud he moved against Ullusunu, who had usurped the throne of Mannea from the previous ruler Iranzu. Ullusunu was deposed and Daiakku was captured and deported to the region of Hamath in Syria. Having stabilised the situation in Mannea, Sargon now marched on Urartu. He was encouraged by unexpected news. Rusa’s campaigns against his neighbours had been intended to strengthen Urartu but had in fact merely destroyed the buffer states between him and his foes. A hitherto unknown tribe known as the Gimirri, who are almost certainly the Cimmerians, had risen up and were now attacking the north of Urartu. They had had great success and had completely wiped out one of Rusa’s armies. The Assyrians excitedly noted this and made their move.

Sargon took a forced march through the mountains, marching swiftly and taking an unpredictable course to try and confuse the Urartian scouts, who were lighting beacons along the mountaintops to warn the Urartian king of the march of the invaders. This was a gamble, as the Assyrians were exhausted when they were brought to battle by Rusa and refused to fight. Deep in enemy territory and unable to retreat, Sargon precipitated a battle anyway, by launching an attack with his bodyguard on the Urartian army. Fearful of what might befall if their king fell the Assyrians joined battle and won a hard fought, but decisive victory. Rusa I fled and his troops retreated to their mountain fastnesses. A series of revolutions broke out among Rusa's commanders but these were crushed and Rusa carried out purges among his governors and generals to root out rebellion. The Urartians were confident that they had been defeated but that the Assyrians could not destroy all their fortresses and that there was nothing more Sargon could do against them. They were wrong.

I could not relieve their fatigue, nor strengthen the wall of the camp. What was right or left could not be brought to my side, I could not watch the rear. ... I plunged into [the enemy's] midst like a swift javelin
Inscription of Sargon II

The taking of Musasir, note the architecture of the temple
Sargon had taken a desperate gamble in his attack on Urartu and was determined to make it pay off. He had been victorious but there was little tribute or loot from this campaign. So he decided to attack the holy city of Musasir. Today, Musasir is a lost city, the capital of the tiny kingdom of Hubuskia. We know that it was a buffer city-state between Urartu and Assyria, the name itself is an Assyrian name but the Urartians called it Ardini, meaning “the city”, as it was their foremost sanctuary. We know that it was in the mountains but very close to the plains. It contained the great temple of Haldi, the main god of Urartu. Technically it had been subservient to both Urartu and Assyria but the Urartian kings had laden it with gifts over the years and the king of Musasir, Urzana, had been playing a dangerous and difficult double game, finally choosing the wrong side by backing Urartu.

Sargon made a surprise march through the mountains on his return from Urartu and took the city by sudden storm, losing only a handful of men. The loot of the city was immense, with Sargon reporting over 300,000 objects looted, including a ton of gold and six tons of silver. Religion was deeply, crucially important to the lives of people in this era and Sargon boasts that when Rusa I heard the news that not only had he been defeated by the Cimmerians and Assyrians but that the city of his god had been taken, he took an iron dagger from his belt and ended his own life in despair.

Around the time Sargon II was campaigning against Urartu, Piye of Kush died and was succeeded by Shebitku (or possibly Shabaka, but more likely Shebitku) as king of Kush and Egypt. Before we finish speaking of the year 714 it is worth mentioning the architecture of the temple of Musasir. The actual carving lies at the bottom of the Tigris River after the attack on the excavation, but a drawing of it was made and we can still view it today. The inscription shows Assyrian soldiers looting the temple but the architecture is unusual. Rather than a ziggurat or other type, the inscription shows a façade with pillars and a pediment. In fact the temple looks almost Greek. It has been theorised that the ruined temple of Haldi, which must have been centuries older than the destruction by the Assyrians, is in fact the prototype for all the later Greek and Roman temples of the Mediterranean, but this is far too speculative to say for sure.

In 713 the Assyrians campaigned in Tabal, in Anatolia, while Argishti II became king of Urartu. Sargon’s priorities would have been to capitalise on Urartu’s defeat by fending off the Phrygian kingdom and curbing the rebellious state of Tabal. Argishti’s priorities would have been to weather the storm of the Cimmerian invasion and rebuild his armies. At this stage the Cimmerians were probably roving through his lands unchecked. In 712 Sargon’s armies campaigned again in the Anatolian region, this time moving against the Neo-Hittite state of Melid. Sargon II was probably not with his armies at this point, as he was supervising the construction of Dur-Sharrukin.

Transporting timber for Dur-Sharrukin
Around 711, King Iamanni of Ashdod in Philistia rose up against the Assyrians. Strangely Iamanni may have not been a Philistine but was possibly a Greek usurper from Ionia. This was a suicidal revolt and it is not clear if he was expecting assistance from Egypt or Judah or both. No assistance from either was forthcoming and Iamanni fled into Egypt where the Kushite kings now ruled supreme (Osorkon IV appears to have died by this point and there was no successor king of Tanis). Not feeling ready to provoke a war with Sargon, the Pharaoh extradited Iamanni to the Assyrians, where he was taken as a prisoner to the heart of the empire to face execution. Interestingly this episode shows an instance where the Hebrew writings are more accurate than the Assyrian ones. Sargon claims to have conquered Iamanni personally, but Isaiah and the Limmu Lists suggest that the conquest was carried out by his Turtannu, (highest general).

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it— at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz.
Isaiah 20:1-2

During this time the Assyrians seem to have taken an interest in the island of Cyprus and forced it to pay tribute, probably forcing the Phoenicians to act as a navy for their troops. How much real control was had is unclear but they had sufficient authority to be able to set up stelas of conquest near the harbour of Citium. The kings of Assyria could now claim to have conquered lands in midst of the western sea.

Palace complex at Dur-Sharrukin
Iamani from Ashdod, afraid of my armed force left his wife and children and fled to the frontier of Musru (Egypt) which belongs to Meluhha (Ethiopia) and hid there like a thief. I installed an officer of mine as governor over his entire large country and its prosperous inhabitants, thus aggrandizing again territory belonging to Ashur, the king of the gods. The terror inspiring glamor of the Ashur, my lord, overpowered the king of Meluhha and he threw him (i.e. Iamani) in fetters on hands and feet, and sent him to me, at Assyria.
Inscription of Sargon II

In 710 Sargon II was now prepared to retake the full conquests of Tiglath-Pileser III. He moved south with the armies against Babylon and drove Merodach-Baladan II from the throne. Part of the loot of Babylonia was taken to Dur-Sharrukin, including the victory stela that Merodach-Baladan had erected to celebrate his triumph over the Assyrians. Merodach-Baladan viewed himself as the true king however and continued to fight from his tribal heartlands in the south of Babylonia.

Despite the continued fighting in Chaldea, possibly secretly aided by the Elamites, Sargon now crowned himself king of Babylon and in 709 celebrated the New Year’s Festival (Akitu) there, as his father Tiglath-Pileser had done. While Sargon was in Babylon, his generals continued to fight in the troublesome Anatolian states and there seem to have been small battles against the armies of Midas.

The twelfth year of Marduk-apla-iddina: Sargon went down to Akkad and did battle against Marduk-apla-iddina. Marduk-apla-iddina retreated before him and fled to Elam
Babylonian Chronicle

Transporting timber for Dur-Sharrukin
In 708 Sargon II tried to close down Merodach-Baladan who continued to fight from his ancestral city of Dur-Yakin (the fortress of Yakin: Merodach-Baladan was a ruler of the Bit-Yakin tribe of Chaldeans). There was a long and bloody siege for around a year but eventually the fortress surrendered. Merodach-Baladan however had escaped to the land of Elam where he was not extradited and where he doubtless continued to scheme to regain his fallen throne. Sargon II had now recovered the full empire of his father and made it stronger. While he was campaigning in Babylonia in 708/707, his son, the Crown Prince Sin-ahhe-ribe, better known by the Hebrew version of his name, Sennacherib, was back in Assyria and passing on reports of the empire to his father. There was a plague in Assyria and Sargon may have not wished to tempt fate by returning there. Around this time, the dating is uncertain, there is an excited letter exchange between Sargon and his generals about Midas, who now wanted to become the ally of Assyria. Possibly by this point Argishti II had managed to buy off the Cimmerian tribes ravaging Urartu. The Cimmerians were moving west into Phrygia and Midas, not wishing to face the two threats at once, decided to make peace with Assyria.

In 707-706 Sargon returned to Assyria and dedicated the new city of Dur-Sharrukin, moving the statues of the gods into their new temples. The city was still not fully complete but had been turned from almost nothing to being the nearly completed capital of an empire in just over a decade. Rome wasn’t built in a day but that is because it was not built by the Assyrians.

707: Sha-Ashur-dubbu, governor of Tushhan, the king returned from Babylon; the chief vizier and the nobles, the booty of Dur-Yakin carried off, Dur-Yakin destroyed. On 22nd Teshrit, the gods of Dur-Sharruken entered their temples.
Assyrian Eponym List

Stela of Shabaka
In 705 in Egypt, it seems that Shebitku died and was succeeded by Shabaka, who was possibly another son or brother of Piye. The policy of Kushite appeasement towards the Assyrians would not last for long.

Meanwhile in Assyria, with his capital now nearing completion Sargon campaigned personally against the rebellious state of Tabal. But despite being a bold and innovative military commander Sargon II over-reached himself and died in a disastrous battle. This was a defeat so terrible that his body was never recovered. The news stunned the empire. The Urartians would have been exultant that their oppressor had been slain near to their kingdom (although not by their hand). They would probably also have seen this as divine vengeance for the assault on their holy city of Musasir. The Assyrians would have been devastated. Sennacherib took the throne and was crowned the next year. They would have searched for what sin or broken taboo would have led to this defeat. Sargon’s ambitious new capital of Dur-Sharrukin was immediately abandoned and the capital was moved to Nineveh, where it would stay until the fall of the empire. There would be no new cities built. In Armenian legend there is a tale of the founder of the Armenian legend, where the ruler of Armenia, Hayk after whom the Armenians are named (in their language Armenia is named Hayasdan) slew a giant from Babylon named Bel. I have always wondered if the foundation of the legend could be the unexpected death of Sargon, an invader from the south and king of Babylon as well as Assyria. But this is speculation on my part. Sargon was dead and his son Sennacherib was now king.

705 Nashur-bel, governor of Amedi, the king [...] against Qurdi the Kulummaean; the king was killed; the camp of the king of Assyria [...]; on 12th Ab, Sennacherib [became] king.
Assyrian Eponym List

In 704 the Assyrian capital moved to Nineveh, as Sennacherib tried to restore order to his domains. The problem with a system of monarchy is that it is always weakest when at the moment of succession, when there is temporary uncertainty over the ruler and this case was no different. Having heard of the Assyrian defeat the nations of the empire began to plot rebellion once more.

Kudurru of Marduk-Baladan
In 703 by the time Sennacherib had stabilised his hold on the Assyrian heartland rebellion had already broken out. Merodach-Baladan II of Babylon had returned and cast the Assyrians out of the sacred city of Babylon. Meanwhile Argishti II of Urartu took advantage of the Assyrian weakness to begin raids on their northern borders again, retaking many of the conquests of Sargon. On the Egyptian border Hezekiah king of Judah seems to have fallen ill around this time. The court prophets assured him that he would survive and after he had recovered he received an embassy from Babylon ostensibly to congratulate him on his recovery. Hezekiah showed the envoys the strength and wealth of his kingdom and it is possible that an alliance was formed between Merodach-Baladan and Hezekiah to raise the flag of revolt against Assyria in the east and the west.

At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery. Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil—his entire armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
Isaiah 39:1-2

Gateway of Lachish
Hezekiah now began preparations for war. The major towns of Judah were given new fortifications and archaeology has discovered a series of jars placed throughout the fortress towns bearing the seal “LMLK” meaning “the property of the king”. It seems that Hezekiah was laying up supplies for a war. The walls surrounding Jerusalem were strengthened and Hezekiah reached out to the rulers of the Philistine cities and coming to arrangements with the others. The citizens of Ekron imprisoned their pro-Assyrian king, Padi and handed him over to Hezekiah to be imprisoned in Jerusalem. The Philistines and Hebrews were traditional foes but the threat of Assyria brought them together. They also rose in rebellion against Assyria and alliances were forged with the Kushites of Egypt, to the great dismay of the prophets. If we remember that Palestine is named after the Philistines and that Hezekiah was now the only Israelite king, this makes this moment one of the few times in history that Israel and Palestine cooperated together against a common foe.

The kingdom was not entirely united. Different factions had differing ideas on how best to meet the threat, with some advocating reliance on Egypt. There is a section of Isaiah dedicated to ridiculing Shebna, a scribe and treasurer who built an ostentatious tomb for himself while yet living. This seems to reflect some of the tensions of the time, with Shebna possibly being a member of the pro-Egyptian faction. Strangely, a tomb inscription has been found from this time that some have thought to be from Shebna’s tomb. But the inscription is damaged and I am not convinced.

Go, say to this steward, to Shebna the palace administrator: What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiselling your resting place in the rock?
Isaiah 22:16

Shebna Inscription
This is ... [... ...] ...iah, the royal steward. There is no silver or gold here, only ... [his bones] ... and the bones of his maidservant with him. Cursed be the man who opens this.
Possible Shebna Inscription

Jerusalem had been besieged in the time of Ahaz and not done well despite its commanding position on the hills. The reason for this was that, in a water scarce region the water system of Jerusalem flowed outside the city walls, thus supplying any invaders with a plentiful water supply. Hezekiah’s engineers launched an ambitious project to protect the city by digging through nearly half a kilometre of solid rock in a tunnel deep underground to divert the Gihon Springs to the newly constructed Pool of Siloam and away from the outer walls. While not unprecedented this was surely an impressive feat of engineering and was thought worthy of record in the Hebrew Scriptures. The tunnel itself was discovered by archaeologists in the Ottoman period, complete with an inscription describing how the tunnel diggers, working simultaneously from both sides suddenly heard the sound of the pickaxes and dug towards each other, completing the join. It is an impressive piece of work and the inscription commemorating it can be viewed in a museum in Istanbul. Hezekiah continued his preparations for war, in particular fortifying the second and third strongest cities of Judah (Lachish and Azekah).

Siloam Tunnel
… He consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?”
2 Chronicles 32:3-4

... the tunnel ... and this is the story of the tunnel while ... the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to (cut?) ... the voice of a man ... called to his counterpart, (for) there was ZADA in the rock, on the right ... and on the day of the tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, axe against axe and flowed water from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits. and (100?) cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters ...
Siloam Inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Sennacherib was now under pressure from the west, north and south and once again the Assyrian empire lost many of its most recent conquests. Sennacherib’s first move was to the south. Merodach-Baladan had allied with the kingdom of Elam and Sennacherib records that the Elamite king had sent his field marshal with 80,000 troops to augment the forces of Babylon. Sennacherib correctly estimated that Judah had nowhere near this amount of troops, even with Egyptian help and that the main threat to Assyria was in Babylon.

Siloam Inscription
The Assyrian army had not been much diminished by its defeat in Tabal and they mustered at Nimrud. Merodach-Baladan won an initial victory over the Assyrian commanders of the advance guard at Kish and the Assyrians fell back northwards to Cutha (about thirty miles north of Babylon) to await the main army. Sennacherib attacked Cutha and captured it, taking large amounts of prisoners (who were forced to join the Assyrian army) including high-ranking prisoners such as the nephew of Merodach-Baladan and a brother of Iati’e, Queen of the Arabs. As an aside it seems that the Arabs known to the Assyrians were actually a matriarchy at this time, as we see three queens in a row appear in the Assyrian records. Times have certainly changed.

On my first campaign, I brought about the defeat of Merodach-baladan, king of Babylonia together with the troops of the land Elam, his allies, in the plain of Kish. In the midst of that battle he abandoned his camp, fled alone, and thereby saved his life. I seized the chariot, horses, wagons, and mules that he had abandoned in the thick of battle.
Inscription of Sennacherib

Sennacherib was moving swiftly. After his victory at the rapid siege of Cutha he sent a body of troops to chase Merodach-Baladan who was in Kish rather than Babylon. As a Chaldean from the marshlands, Merodach-Baladan may not have trusted the citizens of Babylon to fight for him, as they had abandoned his predecessors in times of trouble. The Elamites were defeated, as Sennacherib split his foes and destroyed them piecemeal and in 702 Merodach-Baladan was already defeated and Sennacherib had triumphantly marched into the undefended city of Babylon and plundered the palace. As for Merodach-Baladan, like a wily fox hunted by hounds he had slipped away to the marshes and days of searching by the Assyrians were fruitless. He may have fled from there to Elam and probably died there shortly afterwards, as he was now quite old. A puppet king called Bel-ibni was placed on the throne of Babylon and Sennacherib deported thousands of people to Assyria, where they were set to work on building a splendid new palace in Nineveh. Rather than building a new city as his father had done, Sennacherib would try to turn his existing capital Nineveh into a wonder of the world.

I hastened after him to the land Guzummānu and ordered my warriors into the midst of swamps and marshes. For five days they sought him out, but his hiding place could not be found.
Inscription of Sennacherib

Defenders of Lachish hurling firebrands against the ramp
In 701 with Babylon seemingly pacified and Merodach-Baladan defeated, Sennacherib turned his attention to the revolt in Philistia and Judah. Ten years earlier, when the Assyrians had defeated the revolt in Ashdod, they had only sent a portion of their army under the Turtannu (chief general). Now the full weight of the Assyrian war machine was hurled against the region. Hezekiah’s preparations for war had been thorough but not nearly thorough enough. First Sennacherib marched past Phoenicia, where Lulli of Tyre seems to have fled across the sea rather than risk another siege. The rapid capitulation of Tyre must have been a bitter blow to the alliance. Sennacherib then passed through Philistia, subduing the five Philistine cities. The citizens of Ekron who had handed their king over to Hezekiah were captured and their corpses hung on the towers of the city. From here Sennacherib moved inland from the coast against Jerusalem. Azekah and Lachish, the two main fortress cities, second only to Jerusalem, were besieged, while Sennacherib mentions that 44 other smaller towns were taken by storm and destroyed. First Azekah fell, then the main army concentrated at Lachish.

I approached the city Ekron and I killed the governors (and) nobles who had committed crime(s) and hung their corpses on towers around the city;
Inscription of Sennacherib

While Sennacherib was besieging Lachish it became obvious to Hezekiah that the war was lost. Like Urartu, Judah had a system of watchers in the hills who would send fire signals (possibly in a type of code) and the messages coming to Jerusalem must have been dire. Hezekiah tried to buy off the Assyrians by presenting a huge tribute of tons of silver and gold, effectively stripping the city of all valuables. Probably handed over as well was Padi, the king of Ekron who had been loyal to the Assyrians. Sennacherib took the tribute but the siege of Lachish continued. Meanwhile, like the commanders of Tiglath-Pileser III against Babylon, Assyrian officials were sent to Jerusalem to try and cajole and threaten the city into surrendering by telling of the power of Assyria and its inevitable victory.

The field commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah: “‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh, king of Egypt to all who depend on him.
2 Kings 18:19-21

While the army was at Lachish word finally came that the Kushites of Egypt were on the march. Led by their general Taharqa, who would later be Pharaoh, their belated armies (who may have had to travel all the way from Sudan) came to the plains of Eltekeh and prepared to face Sennacherib. Sennacherib drew his armies away from Lachish, leaving a small force to keep it under siege and met the conquerors of Egypt in battle. The Kushites had long avoided facing the Assyrians in direct combat but when they were tried in battle they were no match for the Assyrians. The Assyrians won a great victory at Eltekeh forcing the Kushites to flee before returning to the siege of doomed Lachish. Now the last hope faded for Hezekiah and the kingdom of Judah.

Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word:  “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’  Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered?...”
Isaiah 37:9-11

In the plain of the city Eltekeh, they sharpened their weapons while drawing up in battleline before me. With the support of the god Aššur, my lord, I fought with them and defeated them. In the thick of battle, I captured alive the Egyptian charioteers and princes …
Inscription of Sennacherib

Nineveh relief of the siege of Lachish
We can still see the site of Lachish today, a ruined and abandoned city on a hill, now no more than a pile of rocks. Remnants of the strong walls and gates remain on the higher side of the hill. On the lower, weaker side, the Assyrians began to build a siege ramp of stone and mud with a walkway of planks for war machines and soldiers to ascend on. At the base of the ramp are found arrowheads and sling stones fired by the defenders. The upper areas of the ramp appear scorched with fire and there are heavy stones found with holes in them, probably used as pendulums to destroy siege rams. At the top of the ramp we can find the remains of a counter-ramp, where the defenders made a new rubble wall to rise above the siege ramp and fire down on the attackers. But all their defences were to no avail. The city was taken, the leaders were tortured and impaled and the remaining survivors forced to join the Assyrian army or marched off into captivity. Now only Jerusalem remained, a single city standing alone as the remains of the kingdom.

So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 18:14-16

Remains of the Assyrian siege ramp at Lachish
Sennacherib’s victory was nearly complete and once again he tried to bully Hezekiah into surrender but the prophets of Hezekiah were adamant that Jerusalem would be saved and would not fall. The Assyrians may have been reluctant to attack a city that was seen as sacred, but they had done so before and would do so again. They had not hesitated to conquer and loot Musasir. It is here that the Assyrian and Biblical records diverge considerably. The Assyrians treat the campaign as a series of unbroken victories. The book of Kings reports that an Assyrian army moved against Jerusalem to finish the campaign. Before they had a chance to actually begin to besiege the city, 185,000 people died, slain by the messengers of the god of Israel and Sennacherib withdrew to Assyria. Sennacherib mentions nothing of this.

That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
2 Kings 19:35-36

This episode has attracted a lot of scholarly attention, if for no other reason than that it is one of the few conflicts of the period that has sources from both sides. The thoughts that follow are my own. Firstly, the figure of 185,000 seems very high; too high. The Assyrian army might well have numbered over 200,000 at this point so it could technically be true, but the Assyrian army campaigns for years afterwards without showing any sign of loss of strength. Also their field armies would tend to be smaller, probably around 50-100,000 strong. Perhaps such a figure might include captives and camp followers in the region. Or it might be a scribal error. But the figure is implausibly high.

Sennacherib Prism describing siege of Lachish
Secondly, even the boastful inscriptions of Sennacherib sound a little strange. The Assyrians tended not to outright lie in their inscriptions (although they sometimes did, particularly with kings claiming the achievements of their generals) but they would regularly leave out facts that were seen as unlucky or adverse. Even from the Assyrian inscriptions Hezekiah never actually comes to pay homage to Sennacherib. The campaign ends with Hezekiah still in possession of his capital, which the Assyrians do not have access to. Instead of a triumphant assault on Jerusalem, which was well within the capability of the army, Sennacherib boasts about the conquest of Lachish, the second city of Judah. In fact, the siege of Lachish is given such prominence that it adorns the throne room of Sennacherib in Nineveh. Given that Hezekiah was a rebel it seems strange that Sennacherib was content to leave him penned up in Jerusalem rather than finishing him off.

Thirdly, there is a strange story in a much later source (Herodotus) that records an Assyrian invasion against the Kushites in Egypt around this time. Here Herodotus speaks of the Assyrians being thwarted by mice that ate the bowstrings of the Assyrians, forcing them to withdraw. This is a silly story but might be an Egyptian folk memory of a plague (rats and mice were seen as symbols of plague).

Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defence of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: "Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods."
Herodotus describing the defeat of the Assyrians in their march on Egypt

Assyrian slingers at Lachish
Fourthly, with restricted water sources any army outside Jerusalem would have suffered from thirst and certainly had issues with waste disposal, particularly if they had large amounts of starving and sick captives from previous sieges in their camps.

My own assumption is that the Assyrians moved against Jerusalem, it seems too strange that they would leave a rebel unscathed, without even paying homage, but that something happened outside Jerusalem, probably an outbreak of some epidemic. Rather than stay in an arid land and continuing the siege against an already defeated enemy and fearing omens, more Egyptian armies and outbreaks of rebellion elsewhere in the empire, they simply decided to declare victory and return to Assyria, where they documented their victory in such a way as to explain why they left Jerusalem standing. This is of course a theory. It is possible that Sennacherib is lying in his inscriptions, or that the book of Kings invents the whole story of the death of the Assyrians. But it is an odd story to invent out of nothing. I like to think that my favoured explanation (not entirely my own of course: a lot of people have written about this) harmonises the sources as best as possible but others of course disagree.

Slingstones found at Lachish
This is as good a place as any to leave the account of this quarter century. We began the period with a tale of a talking sheep and end it with a tale of bowstring eating mice. I will leave the reader with an inscription from Sennacherib, an excerpt from Isaiah and a poem of Lord Byron writing about the event around 2500 years later.

Description of Sennacherib’s Victory
As for him (Hezekiah), I confined him inside the city Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage. I set up blockades against him and made him dread exiting his city gate.
Inscription of Sennacherib

Prophecy of the Salvation of Jerusalem
 “Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria:
“He will not enter this city
    or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
    or build a siege ramp against it.
By the way that he came he will return;
    he will not enter this city,”
declares the Lord.
“I will defend this city and save it,
    for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!”
Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
Isaiah 37:33-37

Captives being paraded before Sennacherib
(note that Sennacherib's head has been defaced)
The Destruction of Sennacherib
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron

Thursday, 29 June 2017

750-725BC in the Near East

Urartian statue
This blog post will look at the Near East from 750-725BC. Because so much is happening and each region affects the regions around it, I will try and tell a chronological story as best as I can. The source material for this period includes Greek legends, Assyrian records, later Hebrew sacred writings and contemporary Hebrew inscriptions and artefacts, Egyptian and Nubian records and occasional inscriptions from Urartu and other smaller kingdoms.

When we left off from the last blog post about the Near East, Urartu was ascendant, Kush was threatening a weakened Egypt, the smaller kingdoms in the Levant were thriving and Assyria and Babylonia were weak.

In 750 BC Urartu was at the peak of its strength, under the rule of Sarduri II, with heavily developed irrigation systems and fertile lands. The Urartian military led frequent and successful campaigns against their neighbours, taking captives, either for slaves or conscripts for their armies depending on the situation. With their strong network of well-supplied fortresses, large stocks of war horses and military predominance among their neightbours there was little reason to fear that their hegemony was about to end.

Further to the west, in Anatolia, the small kingdom of Lydia was ruled by Alyattes I, of whom we know little save the name. He was succeeded by Meles, who was succeeded by Candaules (also referred to as Myrsilus and Sadyattes), who is one of the few people to have the odd distinction of having a type of voyeurism named after him. But that is a story for the next blog post and will be dealt with there. All that can be said of Lydia at this time is that it exists and was probably subject to Phrygia. Speaking of the Phrygians, if the identification of the later Mita with Midas is correct than this would place the mythical figure of Gordias at this time.

The legend of Gordias states that the Phrygians were ordered by an oracle to crown as their new king the one who would arrive in their city in an oxcart. Gordias, who had been sent with his wife and son by supernatural guidance to the city unsuspectingly fulfilled the prophecy. Upon being hailed as king (or his son as king), he sacrificed the oxen and left the cart as a memorial in the temple, tying the cart to the temple with an elaborate knot. There was then a prophecy that whoever could undo the knot would rule all Asia. Many tried; all failed, until Alexander the Great arrived in the city many centuries later. Slashing the knot with the sword he was held to have fulfilled the prophecy.

Ruins of Gordion in Phrygia
The Phrygians interpreted the oracle to mean that this was the man whom the gods had told them would come in a wagon; so they made Midas king, and he brought an end to the civil strife, and he placed his father’s wagon on the acropolis as an offering to Zeus the King for sending the eagle.
In addition to this, there was a story about the wagon, that whoever undid the knot of the yoke of the wagon was destined to rule Asia.

Arrian: Anabasis of Alexander 2:3

This is actually one of my favourite legends but it should be noted that Gordias is entirely legendary at this point, that if he existed he probably existed much earlier and also that the entire legend is probably late and either exaggerated or outright invented by the many biographers of Alexander. But it is a good story. Either way, Phrygia existed as a powerful kingdom in Anatolia at this time period, even if they had no wagons laden with omens of destiny.

I appointed Marduk-šarra-usur to the governorship of …
One of the very few fragmentary inscriptions of Ashur-Nirari V, of whom we know so little

In Assyria, in the year 750, Ashur-Nirari V reigned. There are few records of his rule, however there are fascinating documents that are known as limmu lists. Limmu roughly corresponded to the Greek Eponym or Roman consular years, in that the Assyrians would appoint an official to take charge of the New Year ceremonies in the capital. This person’s name would then be used to describe the name of the year in Assyrian documents (although the king’s reign would also be used for chronologIn y). The limmu lists give the names of these individuals and tiny scraps of information of what the king and army were doing for that year. We can see that for the year 752 Shamshi-ilu the general was the limmu. Presuming that this was the same Shamshi-ilu who had been so influential under Adad-Nirari III this means that Shamshi-ilu must have been very old at this point (likely to have been at least 80 years old). A general who was this long-lived and powerful would have left a major power vacuum in Assyrian politics when he died and he is likely to have died shortly after this date.

752: Shamshi-ilu, commander, in the land.

750: Bel-dan, chief butler, in the land.

747: Sin-shallimanni, of Rasappa, in the land.

Limmu lists showing the names of the officials who named the year, their place of command and where the army was at that time

The Limmu lists show that rather than going on campaign for the years 750 and 747 the king (and probably the army) stayed in the land and accomplished nothing. It was customary for there to be a campaign or large building project every year so this speaks to weakness in the Assyrian military.

Temple at Jebel Barkal near Napata, Piye's capital
In Egypt the fractured and divided Libyan dynasties of the delta and Thebes were faced with the powerful Kushite kingdom from the south. The Kushites were led by Kashta (this may well not have been his actual name, as it seems to just mean “Kushite”). Around 747 Kashta was succeeded by his son Piye (referred to as Piankhi in older scholarly works) who continued the conquest, encroaching further north up the river Nile and cementing the hold on Thebes. Thebes was the sacred city of Amun, and the temple establishment was powerful enough to be a political force in Egypt. Piye appear to have made additions to a temple in Kush to honour Amun, at the sanctuary of Jebel Barkal. Whether this was done to weaken the temple of Thebes or as an act of devotion cannot be known. As often happened in the ancient world it might simply be that devotion and desire for personal power were identical and without contradiction.

In 747 we see Nabonassar coming to the throne of Babylon. Nabonassar is best known for the calendrical reforms that took place during his reign. Thus we can say with some confidence (or as much confidence as one can have with history) that the date of Nabonassar’s reign began in 747, on what would be for us February 26, at noon, which is a level of precision that is extremely unusual for this period of history, where chronology is so disordered.

From the reign of Nabonassar only are the Chaldeans (from whom the Greek mathematicians copy) accurately acquainted with the heavenly motions: for Nabonassar collected all the mementos of the kings prior to himself, and destroyed them, that the enumeration of the Chaldean kings might commence with him.
Fragment of Berossus Caldaeus —Syncel. Chron. 207.

In the year 746 the Limmu lists of Assyria record that there was a revolt at Calah. This revolt was almost certainly the work of Pul. Pul, or Pulu as he was known, was a commander of the Assyrian army and had had enough of the reign of Ashur-Nirari V. If Shamshi-ilu died around 750, Marduk-sharra-usur may have replaced him as Turtanu (chief general) and this may have triggered a coup by those unhappy with the replacement. All of this is speculation but we do know that in 746 there was a rebellion and that it seems to have been successful.

746: Nergal-nasir, of Nisibin, revolt in Kalah.
Limmu list

Tiglath-Pileser III
In 745 Pulu had dethroned Ashur-nirari V and had declared himself king of Assyria, taking the throne name Tiglath-Pileser III. He kept his old name though for matters pertaining to Babylon. He claimed to be a son of Adad-Nirari III, a rather unlikely, though theoretically possible claim, and seems to have erased the records for the three kings who had preceded him, to maximise his own legitimacy.

At the beginning of my reign, in my first palû, in the fifth month after I sat in greatness on the throne of kingship, the god Aššur, my lord, encouraged me and I marched against the Aramean tribes
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

The new king faced challenges on every front and quickly went into action. His first year saw him fight the Aramean tribes that had been at the south-western edges of Assyria for centuries, thus securing his border against these foes, as well as pushing southwards into the troubled region of Babylonia on his southern border and annexing the regions adjoining Assyria. To repopulate certain regions and to punish rebellious subjects, Tiglath-Pileser III immediately began the policy of deportations, where thousands of conquered subjects were forcibly removed from their homelands and moved hundreds of kilometres away to new regions where they would be less likely to rebel. While he had attacked Babylonian territory and taken away statues of some of the gods, Nabonassar of Babylon seems to have acquiesced in this. Tiglath-Pileser never attacked Nabonassar and his attacks were directed against the tribes and clans of Arameans and Chaldeans who had taken control of the Babylonian hinterlands. The crushing of these clans actually seems to have strengthened Nabonassar in Babylon, who in turn remained at peace with Assyria.

The third year of Nabonassar king of Babylon: Tiglath-Pileser ascended the throne in Assyria. In that same year the king of Assyria went down to Akkad, plundered Rabbilu and Hamranu and abducted the gods of Šapazza.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

In 744 Tiglath-Pileser III moved to strengthen his eastern borders and led an expedition into the Iranian mountains. Here he fought against the kingdom of Namri, burning and destroying and annexing wherever he went.

In my second palû, I marched to the lands of Namri … I cut them down with the sword and carried off their booty. I placed a eunuch of mine as provincial governor over the land Parsua…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Helmet from the period of Sarduri II
In 743, with his southern, western and eastern borders secured the Assyrian monarch then turned to his main rival, Sarduri II of Urartu. Sarduri was confident enough in his strength that he had styled himself as King of the Universe, and his father had raided within 30 miles of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. A showdown between the two kings was inevitable. Strengthened by promises of aid from Urartu, the kingdom of Melid (near present day Malatya in Turkey) made an alliance with a number of other kings and awaited the Assyrian assault. The Assyrians circled around the mountains to the west in a forced march and attacked the Urartian force that had crossed the bridge over the Euphrates. The Urartians were heavily defeated and Tiglath-Pileser boasts of capturing the royal emblems of Sarduri, who had had to flee ignominiously across the bridge to safety. The balance of power had shifted back to Assyria. Tiglath-Pileser III followed up his crushing victory by wheeling to the south and attacking the strong fortress city of Arpad. The siege would last around three years, with the city finally falling in 740, during which time Tiglath-Pileser III had consolidated his empire and began to seek tribute submissions from the kings further south. The fall of Arpad would be a brutal warning to the other kings of the region of the fate that awaited those who resisted.

I marched for a distance of seven leagues, day and night, and I did not allow the troops of Assyria to rest, did not give them water to drink, and did not pitch camp nor bivouac my soldiers allowing them to recover from their weariness. I fought with them, defeated them, and took their camps away from them.
They fled to save their lives and Sarduri of the land Urarṭu rode off alone on a mare and escaped during the night. … who like a crawling creature … crawled away and vanished. He returned to his land.

Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Drawing of an Assyrian weight
In Israel, a bloody series of coups had seen Jehu’s descendants wiped out and his dynasty ended. Menahem had become king, after annihilating the city of Tiphsah that had refused to open its gates to him after he had killed the previous pretender to the throne. The dates are a little confused for the Israelite kings (mainly because they have a tendency to count their regencies oddly and also because of the high number of coups). Notwithstanding this confusion, Menahem appears to have been king when Tiglath-Pileser became interested in the region. Israel had enjoyed might and prosperity under the reign of Jeroboam II and had controlled a lot of the trade of the region, amassing large quantities of silver bullion through trade, as the kingdom had no silver mines.

Then Menahem son of Gadi went from Tirzah up to Samaria. He attacked Shallum son of Jabesh in Samaria, assassinated him and succeeded him as king. The other events of Shallum’s reign, and the conspiracy he led, are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tiphsah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women.
2 Kings 15:14-16

In 739 Tiglath-Pileser III moved into the Levant, attacking and conquering cities and annexing large sections of the kingdom of Hamath. The kings of the region were forced to pay tribute, with the book of Kings recording that Menahem of Israel was forced to pay around 34 metric tons of silver as tribute. Judah did not as yet pay tribute but was probably forced to contribute by the Israelite kingdom. Menahem was insecure in his kingdom and may have used this tribute to gain a promise of Assyrian support for his rule, although he died shortly after this and was succeeded by his son Pekahiah. Tiglath-Pileser stayed in the region for another year to conquer Kullani (Calneh) along the Euphrates River, while his generals attacked Urartu. The generals brought the spoils of Urartu straight to the king rather than the capital, suggesting that large amounts of treasure were needed to pay the army, which at this point was well over one hundred thousand strong.

Then Pul (Tiglath-Pileser III) king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom. Menahem exacted this money from Israel. Every wealthy person had to contribute fifty shekels of silver to be given to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.
2 Kings 15:19-20

Assyrian relief showing cavalry battle
In 737 and 736 the Assyrians moved away from the Levant and threw their armies against the Medes, who at this point were in north-western Iran. The campaign was successful, forcing the Mannean kingdom (an Iranian kingdom to the east of Urartu) to submit to the Assyrians, depriving the Urartians of allies to both the east and west. This submission was followed up by a campaign striking against Urartu itself, with Sarduri II fleeing to the safety of the fortress of Van and Tiglath-Pileser marching unopposed through the land. It seems that around the time and possibly because of the invasion, that Sarduri II either died or was deposed and Rusa I became king of Urartu in his stead.

Iranzu of the land Mannea heard about the glorious valour of the god Aššur, my lord, and all that I had accomplished again and again throughout all of the mountain regions, and the terrifying radiance of the god Aššur, my lord, overwhelmed him. … He came before me and kissed my feet.
Sarduri, I confined to the city Ṭurušpâ, his city, and inflicted a great defeat upon him before his city gates. I erected my royal image in front of the city Ṭurušpâ.

Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III

The kingdoms of Syro-Palestine had been shocked by the speed and power of the revived Assyrian armies and were unsure how to deal with the new balance of power. As Menahem and his son Pekahiah had proved so incapable of responding to the threat it seems that a rebellion took place, with Pekah setting himself up as king and presumably having a civil war take place. As part of this conflict it seems that Pekah began to raid Judah and may have set himself up as a rebel against Assyrian power in the region. Pekahiah was assassinated by Pekah, who became sole king and probably sought alliances with the other kingdoms in the region to resist the Assyrians on their return.

One of his chief officers, Pekah son of Remaliah, conspired against him. Taking fifty men of Gilead with him, he assassinated Pekahiah, along with Argob and Arieh, in the citadel of the royal palace at Samaria. So Pekah killed Pekahiah and succeeded him as king.
2 Kings 15:25

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah now had parties that either favoured following Assyria, seeking help from Egypt or maintaining independence. The problem was that there was no clear counterpart to Assyria, with the Egyptian kings divided against each other and now under the suzerainty of the Kushite Pharaoh to the south. In 735 (possibly, the dates are very unclear) Ahaz was appointed co-regent with Jotham of Judah. Ahaz followed the pro-Assyrian faction and may have been appointed as a method of appeasing that party. Shortly afterwards Jotham died and Ahaz became sole king.

Ephraim (Israel) has been like a dove, easily deceived and lacking discernment. They called to Egypt for help; they turned to Assyria for protection.
Hosea 7:11

A later cuneiform tablet showing astronomical calculations
In 734 Nabonassar died after a reign of around thirteen years having accomplished little of note, apart from his keeping his subjects safe and prosperous, passing on the kingdom peacefully to his son and having been a patron of the arts and sciences. I suppose there are worse epitaphs for a king. A peaceful transition of power in Babylon had not been had for sixty years so the work of Nabonassar was actually quite impressive. He was succeeded by his son Nabu-nadin-zeri, who leaves few records.

The fourteenth year Nabonassar fell ill and went to his destiny in his palace. For fourteen years Nabonassar ruled Babylon. Nabu-nadin-zeri, his son, ascended the throne in Babylon.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

In 734 Tiglath-Pileser III moved against the coastal cities of Philistia, pushing down towards the borders of Egypt. This did not directly threaten Jerusalem but it meant that the main army was only around 50 kilometres away. It is extremely likely that Ahaz made some form of submission to Assyria at this point but without sending large tribute. In 733, Tiglath-Pileser returned northwards to begin to attack the Arameans of Damascus and the Arabs who lived in the region. The campaign against the Arabs was tough, with their queen Samsi offering spirited resistance before suing for peace.

I set the rest of Samsi’s possessions and her tents on fire.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

This attack on the kingdom of Damascus led to an alliance between Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus. The two kings wanted to have Judah as part of the alliance, however Ahaz was pro-Assyrian. To force his hand and possibly trigger a coup, the two kings of Samaria and Damascus moved against Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz was quite weak in comparison to the two kings and their soldiers stayed within their fortifications while their enemies besieged them. Despite pleas and prophecies from the court prophet Isaiah, who begged Ahaz to remain neutral, Ahaz sent a large tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III and proclaimed his submission to the Assyrian ruler, making Judah an Assyrian vassal state and bringing them under Assyrian protection.

Then Rezin king of Damascus and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. … Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Damascus and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”
2 Kings 16:5,7

This episode shows the desperation of all involved. It was almost suicidal for Rezin to move his armies away from Damascus while the Assyrians were nearby. They cannot have dared to risk a battle and could not have forced Jerusalem to surrender without a siege. It is hard to know what Pekah and Rezin were thinking when they made this decision to remove their armies south to try force Judah to join them. But they may have had no other options. The Biblical writers of Kings excoriate Ahaz for this decision, implying that this brought down the Assyrians to the region. In fairness to Ahaz, the Assyrians were already in the region and submission was quite a sensible policy. However, if he had waited, as Isaiah counselled, Damascus would have been attacked anyway and Rezin and Pekah would have had to retreat. Ahaz could then have submitted from a much stronger position. The messy events of this attempt to form an anti-Assyrian coalition benefited no one except the Assyrians. It is probable that similar events took place in different regions when the Assyrians attacked. In any event, Tiglath-Pileser accepted the tribute and moved against Damascus in late 733.

Assyrian troops assaulting a city (probably in Iran)
Note the siege ram and impaled prisoners
With the blood of his warriors I dyed the river… a raging torrent, red like a flower… I broke their weapons, captured their horses, his warriors, archers, shield bearers and lancers, dispersing their battle array. In order to save his life, Rahianu (Rezin) fled alone and entered the gate of his city… I impaled his foremost men alive while making the people of his land watch.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

The attack on Damascus was vicious. Damascus had been an enemy of Assyria for over a century and they were the last remaining kingdom of the hated Arameans, who had been enemies of Assyria for the previous five centuries. The last Assyrian attack on Damascus had been around seventy years previous but this time the Assyrians would not fail.

Like ruined cities washed over by the Deluge I destroyed 591 cities of 16 districts of the land of Damascus
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

Damascus was assaulted for forty-five days. The armies of Samaria and Damascus had apparently been broken and Rezin only had his bodyguards to defend the city as they watched the Aramean nobles being impaled by the Assyrians in front of the city. Damascus fell in 732 and Rezin was executed. Tiglath-Pileser III remained in the region for some months to receive the homage of the kings and chieftains of the region and to destroy the majority of the cities of Israel, forcing deportations of much of the populace and army, and only sparing the capital Samaria. In Israel, Pekah was dethroned and murdered by his people for his failed attempt to stand against Assyria. Hoshea was appointed as king of Israel by the Assyrians and made submission, along with every king south of Damascus to the borders of Egypt.

Mitinti of Ashkelon neglected the oath of loyalty, sworn to the great gods, and revolted against me. He saw the defeat of Rahianu (Rezin), and became afraid…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III

A king of Sam'al
Some off the kings who submitted seem to have done so willingly. A stela was set up by Barrakib, son of Panamuwa, king of Sam’al, recording how his father had “run at the chariot wheel of his lord, Tiglath-Pileser” and had fought and died at Damascus with the Assyrians. Sam’al had a history of submitting to the Assyrians. While other states tried to form coalitions against the Assyrians, the smaller states that were bullied into joining these coalitions would try to claim protection. For the rulers of Sam’al and Judah it was better to submit to a powerful ruler that was far away than to submit to a nearby enemy who had not the strength to protect them. Barrakib spoke of the monument set up for his father’s grave in Damascus and Ahaz copied altars from there to be used in Jerusalem. Neither the kingdom of Judah nor the kingdom of Sam’al were particularly important at the time but their surviving records are a good example of the smaller kingdoms currying favour with Assyria.

He ran at the wheel of his lord, Tiglath-pileser (III), king of Assyria, in campaigns from the east to the west and from the north to the south, over the four quarters of the earth. The population of the east he brought to the west; and the population of the west he brought to the east.
Inscription of Barrakib, king of Sam’al, commemorating his father Panamuwa who had submitted to Assyria

Assyrian soldiers, one archer, one shieldbearer
It is interesting that only the Assyrian record of Judah’s submission to Tiglath-Pileser III gives Ahaz’s true name (Jehoahaz, meaning “Jehovah has held”). The Biblical writers were so disgusted with his submission to Assyria that they dropped the name of the god from Jehoahaz’s name, leaving only Ahaz, by which he is known to posterity. In a reverse irony, the imperious conqueror of the Israelites is best known by an Israelite corruption of his name. Tiglath-Pileser’s real name was closer to Tukulti-apil-Esarra but, he is recorded as Tiglath-Pileser in the Bible. Thus he is renamed in death by the records of the peoples he had trampled underfoot in life.

…Sanīpu of the land Bīt-Ammon, Salāmānu of the land Moab, ...[... of ..., ... of ..., Mi]tinti of the land Ashkelon, Jehoahaz of the land Judah, Qauš-malaka of the land Edom,…
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III giving a list of the kings who submitted to him. This is only a small section of the list.

The taking of Damascus had far reaching effects. Damascus survived as a city but would not again be the capital of a state until AD 661. Most importantly however, the Arameans had been deported to various parts of the empire and their language was now spoken in all corners of the empire, more so even than Assyrian. Tiglath-Pileser allowed Aramaic to be used as a language of administration and commerce within his borders, making it the lingua franca of the Middle East (this took about fifty years to happen however). When the Persians took over the region, they too used Aramaic and it would spread even further, affecting the development of the Kharosthi script in India and being the language spoken by the disciples of Jesus over seven hundred years after Tiglath-Pileser. The taking of Damascus may have also allowed items from the treasury of Hazael to be looted by the Greeks and be taken to various shrines in Greece, suggesting that Tiglath-Pileser may have had Greek mercenaries in his army. The Greeks were trading with (and occasionally raiding) the coastal region north of Lebanon, which they named “Syroi”; their way of saying “Assyrian”. The very name of the region bears the hallmarks of the Assyrian conquest of the region to this day in the name of the country; Syria.

Ruins of the city of Nimrud
In Babylon, in the year 732, Nabu-nadin-zeri was deposed by Nabu-suma-ukin, whose usurpation of the throne only lasted for one month and two days before he too was overthrown by Nabu-mukin-zeri. As there had been peace between Nabonassar and Assyria, the destruction of his short-lived dynasty was a matter of grave concern to Tiglath-Pileser III. A vicious war broke out in the chaos of Babylonia, with the Assyrians playing off the various factions against each other. There were a large number of Aramean tribesmen who still lived in Babylonia, a number of powerful Chaldean tribes in the south of the region that occasionally acted together but were not organised, there were the native Akkadians/Babylonians of the city and countryside who disliked the Chaldean and Aramean tribes and the sacred cities of the south, such as Uruk and Nippur, that had large temples and substantial treasuries that could support any of the factions. Nabu-mukin-zeri was a Chaldean and Tiglath-Pileser III withdrew his forces from the west to step into the competing maelstrom of Babylonian politics.

Nabû-šuma-ukin, a district officer and leader of the rebellion, ascended the throne. For one month and two days, Nabû-šuma-ukin ruled Babylon. Nabû-mukin-zeri, the Amukanite, removed him from the throne and seized the throne for himself.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

Ring from the graves of the Assyrian Queens
Tiglath-Pileser III may have been growing old at this point and it appears that he did not accompany his army on campaign to Babylon. However, his generals sent him reports of the war. The army reached the gates of Babylon. Standing in front of the Marduk gate, they ignored the representatives of the Chaldeans and instead spoke to the Babylonians who were with them, offering them amnesty and privileges if they surrendered the city. Nabu-mukin-zeri had fled to the south but the people of Babylon would not surrender the city. They apparently were afraid of the Chaldeans and distrustful of the two Assyrian commanders, Shamash-bunaya and Nabu-nammir. However, even if Babylon did not surrender it seems to have remained neutral in the war. The Assyrian commanders moved south, using improvised boats to navigate the rivers, canals and marshes of the southern Mesopotamian plain, while their armies were supplied by hundreds of boats that were sent down the Tigris and Euphrates from Assyria.

We spoke many words with them, but some 10 powerful men refuse to come out and speak with us; they keep sending messages to us. We told them: “Open the city-gate, so we can enter Babylon.” They refused, saying: "If we let you enter Babylon, what can I say to the king, when the king himself comes?" They will open the gate only when the king comes, and they do not believe that the king will come.
Letter from Shamash-bunaya and Nabu-nammir to Tiglath-Pileser III

Nabu-mukin-zeri had fled south to his stronghold of Saqia, which was surrounded and besieged in 731. The other Chaldean chieftains were bought off, threatened or destroyed. The powerful Chaldean tribe of Bit-Yakin made peace with the Assyrians. Their leader is known to history as Merodach-Baladan and he will be mentioned again. Outmanoeuvred and outnumbered, Nabu-mukin-zeri was defeated, Babylon surrendered and the king of Assyria came to the conquered city to be enthroned in the sacred city of Babylon.

The third year of Nabû-mukin-zeri: Tiglath-pileser, having come down to Akkad (Babylonia), ravaged Bit-Amukanu and captured Nabû-mukin-zeri. For three years Nabû-mukin-zeri ruled Babylon. Tiglath-pileser ascended the throne in Babylon.
Babylonian Chronicle from Nabonassar to Shamash-Shuma-ukin

Assyrian King
The Babylonian and Assyrian religions were almost identical. The main difference between them was that Assur was the main god of the Assyrian religion, while Marduk was the main god of the Babylonian religion. But they were effectively the same god. In many ways it resembled Greco-Roman paganism, where the Greeks and the Romans acknowledged and worshipped the same basic pantheon, acknowledged the validity of each other’s gods, oracles and prophets and had considerable respect for the older of the two religions. Babylon was a city sacred to Marduk and the Assyrians respected its sacred status. Thus, when Tiglath-Pileser III was crowned in Babylon he took care to observe the proper ceremonies, including the great New Year Festival (known as the Akitu). This was a twelve day ceremony where the statue of the god Marduk would be taken out from the Esagila sanctuary and lodged in the Etemenanki ziggurat to recreate the Babylonian creation myth. During this period the king would approach and be stripped of his finery and ritually humiliated before the god before rising having been imbued with the power and legitimacy of the god. For Tiglath-Pileser III to have conquered his enemies in all directions and then to have undertaken this ceremony for two years in succession must have been seen as the crowning glory of the new Assyrian world order.

730: Bel-lu-dari, of Tille, in the land.
729: Liphur-ilu, of Habruri, the king took the hands of Bel.
728: Dur-Ashur, of Tushhan,to Hi[...]; the king took the hands of Bel.

Eponym List of Assyria showing Tiglath-Pileser III observing ceremonies in Babylon

While Tiglath-Pileser was solidifying his control over Babylonia, another conquest was taking place elsewhere in the world. Piye, king of Kush, to the south of Egypt, had exercised a loose control over the Egyptian and Libyan princes to the north of Egypt.  While Thebes was under the effective control of the Kushites, the Nile Delta region was controlled by a number of tiny kingdoms that were often no more than city-states. Around the year 728, if the sources are to be believed, the kings of the Nile Delta formed a coalition to resist the Kushites. They followed a ruler of the city of Sais called Tefnakht who brought together the warring kings to attack the city of Heracleopolis. The war that followed between these kings and Piye is documented in an extraordinary stela that has been preserved so we can follow the events in great detail.

Tefnakht has seized the whole west from the back-lands to Ithtowe, coming southward with a numerous army, while the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) are united behind him, and the princes and rulers of walled towns are as dogs at his heels.
Piye Stela

The city of Hermopolis was loyal to Tefnakht so the commanders of the Kushite army in Egypt were ordered to move north past the city of Thebes, observe the rituals of Amun to strengthen the army and then attack the city of Hermopolis while Piye gathered troops in his capital of Napata. A river battle was fought with ships on the Nile north of Hermopolis where the Kushite commanders were victorious. They pushed further north, leaving Hermopolis behind to fight the rebels near Heracleopolis. They faced six rulers and a host of smaller chieftains in battle. The Kushites crossed the river early in the morning and routed their foes who fled along the river to the north and south.

They sailed down-stream upon the river, they found many ships coming up-streams bearing soldiers, sailors, and commanders, every valiant man of the Northland, equipped with weapons of war, to fight against the army of his majesty.
Piye Stela

Ruins of a temple at Thebes
Hearing of the successful yet incomplete victory of his generals, Piye himself went north. Early in the year 727 Piye celebrated the Opet festival in Thebes before sailing north to join his army in attacking Oxyrhynchus where they had slain Tefnakht’s son and taken a number of fortresses. The king and his army then turned south again to finish the siege of Hermopolis, where the people were no beginning to starve. The mobility of the Kushite armies along the river is very impressive. Piye accepted the surrender of Hermopolis after receiving deputations from its queen and mourned for the suffering of the starving horses that he saw in the royal stables when he entered the conquered city. After the fall off Hermopolis, Heracleopolis re-affirmed its loyalty and sent more tribute. The gateway to Lower Egypt was now open.

He set up for himself the camp on the southwest of Hermopolis and besieged it daily. An embankment was made, to enclose the wall; a tower was raised to elevate the archers while shooting, and the slingers while slinging stones, and slaying people among them daily.
Piye Stela

Piye moved further north, receiving the surrender of forts and cities along his route. Those who surrendered were not killed however and it seems that Piye even captured another of the sons of Tefnakht and did not put him to death. The victorious march continued until the king had reached the city of Memphis, which was strengthened by Tefnakht with 8000 troops who marched in secretly during the night, however Tefnakht himself left the city on horseback, leaving the garrison to fend for itself while he organised resistance among the cities of the Delta. Memphis was surrounded by high walls and arms of the river encompassed it on the eastern side. Some of his generals advocated a long siege however Piye decided on the element of speed and surprise, commandeering all boats available, plus his own fleet, and rushing against the river walls. The city was taken by siege and put to the sword. By the second day the looting and killing had stopped and Piye had taken full control of the city.

Then he sent forth his fleet and his army to assault the harbor of Memphis; they brought to him every ferry-boat, every cargo-boat, every transport, and the ships, as many as there were, which had moored in the harbor of Memphis, with the bow-rope fastened among its houses.
Piye Stela

The bloody siege of Memphis and the incredible speed it had been taken left the northern princes, chiefs and little kings no choice but to surrender. Osorkon of Tanis, probably the second strongest of the kings of the Delta after Tefnakht, surrendered in Heliopolis and gave tribute. The other kings followed suit shortly in the city of Athribis. While Piye organised his armies, a city in the western delta, called Mesed rose up against the Kushites, but was crushed by the Kushite armies and the forces of Pediese, a Libyan king who had submitted to Piye. After this final defeat Tefnakht finally surrendered but refused to come to meet Piye and bow down before him. Tefnakht had fled, perhaps to Crete or Cyprus, and refused to risk his life or humble his pride. The last remaining chieftains submitted to Piye, where they were humiliated by not being allowed inside the palace due to their ritual uncleanliness. Instead they had to kiss the ground at the feet of Piye outside the palace and were left outside once the surrender was complete.

Drawing of the Piye Stela showing the surrender of the rebels
Then came those kings and princes of the Northland, all the chiefs who wore the feather (meaning Libyans rather than Egyptians), every vizier, all chiefs, and every king's confidant, from the west, from the east, and from the islands in the midst, to see the beauty of his majesty.
Piye Stela

Piye had the stela written glorifying his exploits in the style of the great Egyptian warrior kings of old, like Tuthmosis III or Ramesses II. He stressed his reliance on the Egyptian gods and his ritual purity, the innovative tactics he had used, the mercy he showed to those who surrendered and the retribution he gave to those who did not, although his methods of waging war were humane by the standards of the day and almost humanitarian compared to the Assyrian methods. But most of all he stressed that this was not merely a civil war, nor an invasion from the south but that he, a true Egyptian, was finally ridding Egypt of the sway of unclean Libyan foreigners. His account has sometimes been compared to a religious crusade although that is probably overstating matters. Piye’s capital however was in Napata, in present day Sudan, so after having set the Delta in order and reconfirmed the now loyal sub-kings, he returned to Napata with all the spoils of victory. The sub-kings would not rise again against the Kushites.

Then the ships were laden with silver, gold, copper, clothing, and everything of the Northland, every product of Syria, and all sweet woods of God's Land. His majesty sailed up-stream, with glad heart
Piye Stela

Earrings from the graves of Assyrian Queens
In 727, while Piye was subjugating the northern regions of Egypt, Tiglath-Pileser III died. His son, Shalmaneser V took control of the Assyrian empire and the records of Assyria grow silent. His first name was Ululayu but he changed his name to Sulmanu-asarid, which is rendered in Hebrew as Shalmaneser. His reign is not well documented but it is possible that he married one of his father’s wives to secure legitimacy to the throne. The evidence for this is conjectural but there was an intriguing discovery of a grave site in Nimrud. It had almost miraculously survived looting and contained the bodies of several queens and substantial treasure (preserved with a curse on those who would disturb the tomb). There are many fascinating things about the discovery, including the fact that one of the queens had been “cooked” possibly as a means of preserving the body until burial. But some have suggested that Yaba, the queen of Tiglath-Pileser, and Banitu, the queen of Shalmaneser V are in fact the same person. This is all very conjectural but it is wonderful to have discovered the tombs of some of the people from this time.

…the great gods of the netherworld, the destiny of a mortal life, took Yaba, the queen, into death and she went the way of her ancestors
Inscription from the tomb of Taba, Tigath-Pileser’s queen

Item with name of Osorkon IV
When Tiglath-Pileser III died, Hoshea of Israel seems to have tried to rebel against Assyrian power. The book of Kings records that he negotiated with an Egyptian king called So. Some people have suggested that So is the Hebrew way of saying “Sais” and is a reference to Tefnakht, king of Sais but it is more likely that So is a shortened corruption for Osorkon IV, king of Tanis, who had recently submitted to Piye. It is possible that So refers to a general of Piye or another unknown king of the Delta region. Hoshea stopped paying tribute while sending envoys to the mysterious king So. His negotiations with Egypt were fruitless and Shalmaneser’s armies attacked, captured Hoshea (whose fate is unknown but unlikely to have been pleasant) and began a three year siege of Samaria, the capital of what remained of the state of Israel. The siege began in the year 725 where we shall leave the account of this time period. The next twenty-five years will be dealt with in a subsequent blog post.

Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years.
2 Kings 17:3-5

At the beginning of the twenty-five year period Urartu was in the ascendant, Assyria was in decline, Babylon was unstable, Egypt was only loosely controlled by the Kushites and the kingdoms of Syria and the Levant were thriving. At the end of the period, Urartu was in retreat, Assyria was triumphant, Babylon was conquered, Egypt was firmly controlled by the Kushites and the kingdoms of Syria and the Levant were tributary, under siege or destroyed.

Crown from the graves of Assyrian queens
The vast changes of these decades were due mainly to the ruthless character of Tiglath-Pileser III. He had reorganised the Assyrian army and administration and the empire is generally referred to as the Neo-Assyrian Empire after his time. Unlike the more ephemeral Mesopotamian dynasties, the Assyrians, who had already been strong for centuries, would remain the dominant force in the Middle East for over the next century. It is hard not to have some admiration for Tiglath-Pileser. While we don’t know much about the details of his battles, the respect and terror that he inspired in his foes is unmistakable. He was probably the finest general of his era and despite facing foe after foe, year after year, it is not recorded that he was ever defeated. His strategic insight into the weaknesses of his enemies was unparalleled and he could be treated as one of the great generals of all time. His successors would be more powerful still but all of them suffered defeats. But to his enemies this pitiless monarch was the epitome of evil and the Assyrian name would become a byword of hatred, so he should not be eulogised. Some have speculated that he was no worse than other conquerors of his day but the captives impaled by his armies to terrify cities under siege would not have appreciated the point. Having summarised the quarter century and given my synopsis of Tiglath-Pileser III I shall leave the post here.

I marched from the Great Sea of the Rising Sun to the cities Resi-suri and Byblos on the shore of the Great Sea of the Setting Sun and this I exercised authority over the four quarters of the world.
Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III