Sennacherib Biography

Sennacherib was the second king of the Sargonid Dynasty of Assyria, and ruled from 705 B.C. to 681 B.C.

Quick Facts

Born: 740 BC

Nationality: Iraqi

Famous: Emperors & Kings Military Leaders

Died At Age: 59

Born Country: Iraq

Born in: Nimrud

Famous as: Military Commander, King

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Died on: December 31, 681 BC

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Sennacherib was the second king of the Sargonid Dynasty of Assyria, who ruled from 705 B.C. to 681 B.C. His name appears in the ‘Old Testament’ of the ‘Bible.’ He is primarily remembered for his military campaigns in Babylon and Jerusalem. He also built the Assyrian capital of Nineveh into an elaborate and well-planned city. He built canals to bring waters from the hills to Nineveh. He was also the brain behind the "palace without a rival,” a magnificent building that had a garden which is said to be the legendary “Hanging Gardens of Babylon.” Sennacherib was killed under mysterious circumstances. It is assumed by some scholars that the killer might have been his second-eldest son, Arda-Mulišši. Sennacherib was succeeded by Esarhaddon, his youngest son.

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Early Life & Background
The Babylonian Question & the Siege of Jerusalem
  • Tiglath-Pileser III, Sennacherib's grandfather, unlike his predecessors who had made puppet kings in charge of the kingdom of Babylon, had declared himself the real ruler of Babylon. This gave rise to a dual monarchy, and the Babylonians had nominal independence.
  • Many local leaders, most importantly, Chaldean tribal chief Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach-baladan in the ‘Bible’), did not accept this situation. Marduk-apla-iddina was ready to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, but when Tiglath-Pileser's successor, Shalmaneser V, was defeated by Sennacherib's father, Sargon II, he made himself the king of Babylon.
  • Sargon was busy fighting the Cimmerians in Persia and Media. Rebellions continued for the next 30 years.
  • Sargon approached the Babylonians with a moderate mindset. Sennacherib, however, did not care much about their opinions.
  • Though Marduk-apal-iddina continued to receive military help from Elam, Sennacherib annexed northern Babylonia and installed a Babylonian puppet-ruler named Bel-ibni.
  • In 701 B.C., Sennacherib focused on the western part of his kingdom, where Hezekiah of Judah had rejected Assyria’s dominance, provoked by the rulers of Egypt and Marduk-apla-iddina. The rebellion involved states such as Sidon and Ashkelon and other regions such as Byblos, Ammon, Ashdod, Moab, and Edom, who then agreed to pay tribute without resistance. Ekron requested Egypt for help, but Egypt was already crushed by Assyria. Sennacherib annexed more than 46 cities.
  • Sennacherib soon focused on Jerusalem, the capital of Hezekiah. After besieging the city, he gave its neighboring towns to the vassals of Assyria in Ekron, Gaza and Ashdod. However, Hezekiah continued to rule as a vassal.
  • In 699 B.C., Bel-ibni was replaced by Ashur-nadin-shumi (or Ashur-nadin-shum). Sennacherib's eldest son. Marduk-apla-iddina continued to rebel with Elam’s assistance.
  • In 694 B.C., Sennacherib led some Phoenician ships on the Tigris River to crush the Elamite base at the Persian Gulf. However, the Elamites imprisoned Ashur-nadin-shumi and installed Nergal-ushezib, Marduk-apla-iddina’s son, as the new king of Babylon.
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  • In 693 B.C., Nergal-ushezib was imprisoned and taken to Nineveh. Sennacherib clashed with Elam again. The king of Elam escaped, and Sennacherib crushed his kingdom.
  • After his retreat, the Elamites went back to Babylon and put rebel leader Mushezib-Marduk on the throne.
  • In 689 B.C., Babylon finally fell to the Assyrian forces. Sennacherib destroyed southern Babylonia but did not touch the major Babylonian cities. He thus crushed Babylon after following up with six campaigns since 703.
  • Sennacherib destroyed all temples in Babylon but carried a statue of Marduk, the god-like creator of Babylon, to Assyria. This created issues in Assyria, too, as its people considered Babylon and its gods holy.
  • Sennacherib launched a religious campaign. He spread a myth that Marduk had been put on trial before Ashur, the god of Assyria. Marduk was replaced by Ashur in the New Year Festival, thus creating religious tension in his kingdom.
Other Campaigns
  • Sennacherib was part of many minor campaigns, too, but without any significant annexation. He launched numerous military campaigns toward the east of Assyria, in 702 B.C. and between 699 and 697 B.C.
  • Medes decided to pay tribute to him. He sent forces to Anatolia in 696 B.C. and 695 B.C., as many vassals had revolted after Sargon’s death.
  • He also launched a campaign in the deserts of northern Arabia in 690 B.C. Following this, he conquered Dumat al-Jandal, where the Arab queen had taken refuge.
  • The Assyrian kingdom was segmented into several provinces, with a governor in each province. The governors were in charge of the maintenance of the city.
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  • The kingdom deported or moved a huge number of people, for various reasons, such as punishments or repopulation of near-empty parts. It is assumed Sennacherib may have displaced 470,000 people.
  • Sennacherib’s capital, Nineveh, was built with the help of forced labor by people from Chaldea, the Mannai, the Araamaeans, and many others.
  • He wished to build a "palace without a rival” and made an elaborate plan for its construction. The foundation was made of limestone and mud bricks.
  • Back then, Nineveh spread up to 1,700 acres, with 15 great gates leading to it. About 18 canals supplied water to the capital, from the hills.
  • Parts of an elaborate aqueduct made by Sennacherib were found at Jerwan, about 65 km away. The area probably housed around 100,000 people, thus making it one of the largest settlements in the world.
  • Some assume that a garden adjacent to Sennacherib’s palace was the original “Hanging Gardens of Babylon.”
Family, Personal Life, & Death
  • It is believed Sennacherib had married twice, and his two wives were Naqī'ā (or Zakūtu) and Tašmētu-šarrat. Some sources claim that Tašmētu was probably his second wife or was part of a harem that also included Naqī'ā.
  • It is also believed by some scholars that Naqī'ā was one of the women sent to Sennacherib by Hezekiah in 701 B.C.
  • Naqī'ā and Sennacherib had a son, Esarhaddon, in 713 B.C. Following the murder of Sennacherib's eldest son, Ashur, in 694, Sennacherib waited for almost 11 years before he decided on another heir.
  • Finally, he named Esarhaddon, his youngest son, as his heir, thus disappointing his second-eldest son, Arda-Mulišši (or Arda-Mulissu, and Adrammelech in the ‘Bible’), who had expected the succession. Esarhaddon was the crown prince for 2 years but was eventually forced to flee.
  • In 681 B.C., Sennacherib was killed under mysterious circumstances. An inscription attributed to Esarhaddon explained how Esarhaddon heard his brothers were fighting in Nineveh, defeated them, and ascended to the throne.
  • The Babylonian chronicles and the ‘Bible’ both hint that Sennacherib was probably killed by one of his sons. Esarhaddon, however, did not comment on the issue.
  • Professor Simo Parpola believed Arda-Mulišši had killed the king in the hope of succeeding him.
  • Sennacherib was either stabbed by his son or was crushed while he prayed to Nisroch.
  • Sennacherib has been mentioned in the ‘Old Testament’ of the ‘Bible’ (II Kings, II Chronicles, and Isaiah). He was also the subject of the poem ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ by renowned English poet Lord Byron.

How To Cite

Article Title
- Sennacherib Biography
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Last Updated
- January 10, 2020

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