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King Sennacherib: Facts, Accomplishments & Death

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about King Sennacherib. We will explore his building accomplishments, his foreign policy toward Babylon and Judah, and we will learn about his death. We will also highlight key themes and developments associated with him.

Who Was King Sennacherib?

Some of you may have attended Sunday School as a child. Perhaps you may remember the name ''King Sennacherib'' from lessons related to ancient Israel. References to this man are found in the Bible, and his name is sometimes mentioned in connection to the biblical account of the Hebrew people. So who was this guy? King Sennacherib was the king of Assyria between 705 B.C. to 681 B.C.. He is known for his military campaigns against Babylon and the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, as well as for his building projects, especially in the city of Nineveh. Tension between Assyria and Babylon was on-going throughout the reign of Sennacherib, ultimately culminating in Sennacherib's decision to destroy the city. Sennacherib was assassinated in 681 B.C., possibly by his sons.

King Sennacherib is depicted in his chariot in this ancient engraving.
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Sennacherib and the ''Babylonian Problem''

Sennacherib was born around 740 B.C. The son of Sargon II, it is believed Sennacherib became king around 705 B.C. when his father was killed in battle. Sennacherib had been groomed for ascension to the throne: as part of his education, he would have received instruction in handling royal affairs. Throughout the reigns of both father and son, conflict with the kingdom of Babylon was on-going. See, Babylon at this time was under Assyrian control, but at various points in time it was given semi-autonomy. The tension between these two fluctuated as Babylonian rebellions became common. The complex question of how to govern Babylon is referred to as the ''Babylonian Problem''.

Whereas his father went to great lengths to win the hearts of the Babylonian people, Sennacherib did not. His religious policy toward Babylon involved a complete lack of respect for their gods and customs. He destroyed Babylonian idols and even insulted the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. Instead, he tried to promote the Assyrian god, Ashur. This made Sennacherib many enemies in Babylon and led to widespread protests.

Sennacherib took a firm stance against Babylonian uprisings against Assyrian authority. In 703 B.C. an uprising resulted in a new Babylonian king, Marduk-apla-iddina. This prompted a Assyrian invasion in which Sennacherib installed a new puppet-king, Bel-ibni. However, Bel-ibni turned out to be not as loyal as Sennacherib had hoped, and he was replaced by Sennacherib's son, Ashur-nadin-shumi, in 699 B.C. Within a few years, however, he was captured and replaced by another king. Sennacherib had had enough of the endless rotation of kings and the cycle of rebellion and occupation, and in 689 B.C. completely laid waste to the city, thus ending the ''Babylonian Problem.''

Sennacherib and the Siege of Jerusalem

In 722 B.C. Assyria captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel, leaving only the Southern Kingdom of Israel (Judah) as independent. However, Judah was required to pay tribute to Assyria. Around 701 B.C. King Hezekiah of the Hebrew kingdom of Judah renounced Assyrian allegiance, refusing to pay tribute to Sennacherib. This angered the Assyrian King, causing him to march on the capital city of Jerusalem. The Siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. failed to capture the capital of Jerusalem. However, because of the siege, Hezekiah once again agreed to pay tribute to Assyria.

Building Projects in Nineveh and Assassination

Sennacherib was also known for his building projects, especially in the city of Nineveh. He made Nineveh the capital city of his empire, and went to great lengths to beautify the city, building new roads and laying out a more efficient infrastructure. In Nineveh he built a royal palace: a palace that he intended to be unmatched in beauty and splendor. It was a technological and engineering marvel for its day. Some historians have speculated that Sennacherib's palace gardens may have actually been the inspiration for the famous and mythical ''Hanging Gardens of Babylon''.

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