History of the Neo -Assyrians - Part 4.

Sennacherib Nineveh and the Palace of Ninevah

Circa 705 – 681 BC


Nineveh is situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris at the confluence with the Khosr River. Founded in the mid-fourteenth century BC, Nineveh was an important Assyrian City at the centre of a wealthy Assyrian province. The goddess of Nineveh was Ishtar and Ishtar of Nineveh was considered to be so powerful that in the 14 th century BC, Amenhoptep II asked Kinh Mitanni, who controlled Nineveh at the time, if he would allow the statue of Ishtar to visit Egypt to bestow her blessings on the Egyptians.


Although famed for Ishtar it was not until Sennacherib chose Nineveh as his capital that the city grew to the largest in the ancient Middle East, expanding to a population of 120,000. Sennacherib brought together Nurrugum and Nineveh to form a vast urban metropolis. 7.5 miles (12 km) of wall surrounded a 1800 acres (750 ha) city that was accessed through 15 gigantic gates. Each gate was a two storey fortress with an inner and outer gate and its own garrison.


Sennacherib built his palace on Kuyunjik and called it “the palace without a rival” the buildings inscription reads: ”At that time Nineveh the noble metropolis the city beloved if Ishtar where in are all the meeting paces of gods and goddesses the everlasting structure, the eternal foundation whose plan had been designed from old along with the writing of the constellations and whose structure had been made beautiful. The beautiful artistic place, the abode of divine law. But I Sennacherib King of Assyria gave my though and brought my mind to accomplish this work according to the command, the will of the Gods. I cut down the reed marshes which are in Kaldia and had the men of the foe whom my hands had conquered drag their might reed to Assyria for the completion of its work. There in I them build a Place of Ivory. Maple, box wood, mulberry, cedar, cypress, spruce and pistachio. The Palace without a rival for my Royal abode”.


The excavated remains have revealed lavish relief orthostats that would have adorned the walls of a sumptuous palace. The population of the city was so great that the Assyrians had to use hydraulic engineering to draw water from springs in the mountains north if Nineveh. The water was fed down through tunnels and aqueducts to drainage systems that irrigated the vast amount of fields that were needed to feed the huge of Nineveh, as well as supply them with water. The state of art water technology used by the Assyrians demonstrates their sophistication as engineers. The water fed Royal Parks which surrounded a monumental palace decorated with fine art panel making Nineveh a centre of high civilisation. Nineveh was also recognised as the abode of Sennacherib in the Bible, (2nd Kings 1936). This was the last huge building project that would be undertaken by Assyrian Kings.


Sennacherib's father Sargon II and grandfather Tiglath-pileser III had both been dual monarchs of Babylon and Assur. Sennacherib seems to have had little interest in Babylon taking no part in the important Babylonian New Year ceremonies that he was meant to attend as ruler of Babylon. This could also be due to the fact that he was also apposed in Babylon by a strong coalition of Arameans, Elamites and native Babylonians in 691BC. A fifteen year siege ensued which led to the Assyrian destruction of Babylon. The Assyrian Annals read: “At the beginning of my Kingship I brought about the overthrow of the king Merodach King of Babylylonia together with the armies of Elam in the plain of Kish. In the midst of that battle he forsook his camp made his escape alone, fled to Guzamanu went into the swamp marshes and thus saved his life. The Chariots, wagons, horses, mules, asses, camels and bactrian camels which he had forsaken at the onset of Battle my hands seized. Into his Palace in Babylon I entered joyfully and I opened his treasure house. Gold, silver vessels of gold and silver, precious stones of all kinds, goods and property and enormous heavy treasure. His wife, His heir, his courtiers and attendants, all of his artisans as many as there were, his Palace servants I brought out. I counted as spoil. I seized.” Sennacherib's destruction of Babylon did not totally destroy the great city, in fact the Babylonians would later play a part in the destruct of the Assyrian Empire, but it did serve to pacify the city for some time.


Later Esarhadden general followed the same policy towards Babylon as his predecessors when he gave his son Shamash-shum-ukin the kingship of Babylon. However Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against his younger brother Ashurbanipal, 668 – 627 BC, when he was King of Assyria in 652 BC. Ashurbanipal had to campaign for several years to pacify Babylon once more which drained the Royal coffers and was ultimately partly responsible for the Assyrians own demise.


Esarhadden saw the need to rebuild Babylon after the Sennacherib's destruction perhaps out of respect for the ancient city or sympathy at the Babylonians loss. He could not blame his father Sennacherib for the destruction of Babylon as this would have caused all sorts of theological and political questions, so the source of the destruction was attributed the Babylonians Greed. In his inscription the Assyrians were cast as the agents of the vengeful Babylonian God Marduk: “Before my time in the reign of an earlier King there befell evil days in Sumer and Akad. The people who dwelt in Babylon split into factions plotting rebellion the while. They stretched their hands into the Temple of the Gods and squandered its gold silver and precious stones to Elam in payment for aid. Anger seized the lord of the Gods, Marduk, for the overthrow of the land and the destruction of its people he decided evil plans. Seventy years as the period of its destruction he wrote down in the book of fate. But the merciful Marduk his anger lasted but a moment turned the book of fate upside down and orderer, the cities, restoration in the eleventh year. I summoned all of my artisans and the people of Babylonia in their totality. I made them carry the basket and laid the head pan upon them in choice oil, honey, butter, wine of the shining mountains I laid its foundation walls. Babylon the city under feudal protection. Its outer wall and its inner wall from their foundations to their turrets I built new”.


This text is clever piece of political massaging on the part of Esarhadden. He manages to leave Sennacherib's name out and texts and effectively blames the Babylonians for their own down fall. He then casts himself in the role as Marduk’s agent in carrying out his wishes to rebuild Babylon. Thus the Babylonians not only got the reassurance that Marduk was protecting them again but they also received a brand new city from their Assyrian overlords.


During his reign, Sennacherib had to deal with the normal round of conflicts required to maintain order in his Assyrian provinces. Egyptian diplomats though were always causing unrest wherever they could amongst the Assyrian provinces. In 701 BC Marduk-apla-iddina of Egypt incited Hezekiah of Judah to renounce his allegiance to Assyria. Other small states were brought into the rebellion of which Sidon and Ashkelon had to be retaken by force. Other rebellious states capitulated when Assyria threatened to attack them but Ekron asked the Egyptians for military assistance. The Egyptians duly sent an army and Sennacherib met the Egyptians, led by Taharqa, in Battle and defeated them. According to Sennacherib inscription; “ As to Hezekiah the Jew he did not submit to my yoke I lay siege to 46 of his strong cities walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity. I drove out of them 200,150 people. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem his Royal residence like a bird in a cage.” The city fell and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh with much booty.


Sennacherib's war against the Egyptians was short lived and he never made an all out Attack on Egypt. But just as Hezekiah had fatally misjudged the Assyrians so the Nubian Egyptians kept meddling with the Assyrian Provinces which would eventually lead to the ending of their Dynasty.


In 681 BC Sennacherib was murdered. The reason is uncertain and speculation points to Sennacherib's death as being at the hands of his sons as divine retribution for the sacking of Babylon. Some sources point to Sennacherib's eldest son Arda-Muliss being the murderer. In 612 BC Nineveh was attacked by a Meridian army which destroyed Nineveh's water engineering works during the siege. After the fall of Nineveh the water works were not repaired and the city was abandoned leaving Sennacherib's Palace undisturbed until it was re-discovered by archaeologists in the late 19 th century.





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Assyrian history In the Begining Sam'al Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures History of the Old Assyrian Kingdom History of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom History of the Neo-Assyrians History of Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal-II History of Assyrian King Sargon II History of Assyrian King Senacherib & Nineveh History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of Assyrian Warefare & Military Army History of the downfall of the Assyrian Empire History of the Assyrian Palace at Ninevah, Kalha History of the Assyrian Palace at Dur Sharrukin History of the Assyrian Palace at Neneveh