Sennacherib (reigned 705-681 B.C.), a king of Assyria, was one of the four great kings of the late Assyrian Empire. He rebuilt Nineveh and destroyed Babylon.

Sennacherib is the biblical form of the name Sin-akheeriba. Though a younger son, he was chosen as heir by his father, Sargon II. As crown prince, he gained experience fighting on the northern frontier. On hearing of Sargon's death, he hastened back to Nineveh, but rebellion broke out. In Babylonia, a Chaldean, Merodach-Baladan, seized the throne, supported by the Elamites, but he was put to flight and the Chaldean tribes surrendered. The city-states and kingdoms of Syria and Palestine, encouraged by Egypt, refused tribute. In 701 B.C. Sennacherib marched to the coast and occupied Ascalon and Sidon; Judah was next invaded, Lachish captured by assault, and Jerusalem invested. Hezekiah, King of Judah, defied the Assyrians and was forced to pay a heavy indemnity. Sennacherib then attempted to invade Egypt, but disaster, perhaps plague, struck his army and he was forced to turn back.

A second rebellion in Babylonia was foiled, and Sennacherib made his son, Assur-nadin-shum, king of Babylon. Merodach-Baladan took refuge in the marshes of southern Elam. Seven years later, after repeated provocation, Sennacherib decided to seek him out; building a fleet at Nineveh, he sailed the ships downriver to Opis, then dragged them overland to the Euphrates, and thence to the Persian Gulf. After a sea battle, Elamite coastal towns were destroyed. Meanwhile, Assur-nadin-shum was murdered and replaced by an Elamite nominee. In 689 Sennacherib avenged his son. Marching to Babylon, he took the city by storm and mercilessly destroyed it, deporting the inhabitants and flooding the ruins. This sacrilege to a holy city shocked the ancient world but effectively discouraged further rebellion.

The war annals of Sennacherib depict him as a ruthless destroyer, "the flame that consumes those who will not submit." In his building inscriptions, however, he appears as "he who cares for the welfare of Assyria." His greatest achievement was the rebuilding of Nineveh, the ancient capital. He strengthened the walls, cut new streets, and replanned the water system. Water was brought from the hills 50 miles away and carried over a valley on a stone aqueduct—one of the engineering feats of antiquity. His palace, built on an artificial platform, covered 8 acres and was surrounded by parks and orchards stocked with exotic plants and animals. In January 681, while at prayer, Sennacherib was murdered by his own sons.


Further Reading on Sennacherib

The events of Sennacherib's reign are recounted in volume 3 of the Cambridge Ancient History (1925), as well as in A. T. Olmstead, History of Assyria (1923), and H. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (1962). Daniel D. Luckenbill collected the inscriptions in Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, vol. 2 (1927). For Sennacherib's rebuilding of Nineveh see R. Campbell Thompson, A Century of Exploration at Nineveh (1929). On the reliefs from his palace, most of which are in the British Museum, consult C. J. Gadd, The Stones of Assyria (1936) and Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum, from Shalmaneser III to Sennacherib (1938). See also T. Jacobsen and S. Lloyd, Sennacherib's Aqueduct at Jerwan (1935).