One man’s green thumb and thirst for power

16 Nov

A relief showing King Sennacherib on a throne in camp during a conquest. (Source)

King Sennacherib (pronounced Sin-ahhe-criba) is one of the greatest Assyrian rulers, whose reign from 704 BC to 681 BC ended rather abruptly.

King Sennacherib was the son of Sargon II. Upon his father’s death, Sennacherib got right down to business without so much as a learning curve, thanks to his experience dealing with issues at home while his father was away on campaigns.

Much of Sennacherib’s rule consisted of him protecting what his father had acquired of land and power, but in the midst of all that maintenance, Sennacherib did manage a few substantial accomplishments of his own and established himself and his empire as a force to be reckoned with.

His greatest achievement is an achievement within an achievement.

Upon his father’s death, Sennacherib moved the Assyrian capital from Dur-Sharrukin (modern-day Khorsabad) to the city of Nineveh. Before its epic revamp, Nineveh had been the empire’s religious hub, waning in importance, despite its perfect location on the trade route between the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. Enter the visionary ruler, and it became the capital of a most powerful empire, a pulsating metropolis twice the size of Sargon’s capital, and suddenly the envy of the ancient world. Nineveh is believed to have been the first planned city.

And it was in Nineveh that Sennacherib’s greatest achievement and crowning glory took place. The building of the Southwest Palace, which he also called “the Palace with no Rival.”

Before King Sennacherib went about building his palace, he gave thought to what no one ever had before; the yearly floods of the river. But Sennacherib did not let anything stand in his way, not even a force of nature like the Tigris River, so he just changed its course. And so a palace of over 80 rooms, a forecourt and two throne suites lined with bas-reliefs that mesmerized those who found them thousands of years later, was built.

But the palace on its own was not the only thing that made it one with no rival.

Sennacherib surrounded his colossus with foreign plants and animals. He also built irrigated gardens and parks around the palace.

Another achievement that made him a contributor to the modernization of cities was the first aqueduct system for the people. Sennacherib also introduced irrigation for crops. You can read more about Sennacherib’s farming and irrigation techniques here.

Sennacherib’s Prism. Found in the mid-19th century in the ruins of Nineveh. It is now housed at the British Museum. (Source)

Now, Sennacherib may have had a green thumb, but he also had a taste for conquest and the destruction of his rivals.

Most of what is known about Sennacherib’s conquests comes from a six-sided clay tablet called Sennacherib’s Prism. The Prism describes the Assyrian king’s wars with the Babylonians, and the kingdoms of Judah and Elam, among others. You can read the details of Sennacherib’s Prism, including a translation of its writing, here.

King Sennacherib is probably mostly known for the destruction of Babylon in 689 BC, and his siege on Jerusalem, which was under the rule of the Hebrew king, Hezekiah, in 701 BC.

King Sennacherib was both loved and hated throughout Mesopotamia in equal measure.

Only his abrupt death could end his rule, and depending on who you might’ve been speaking to at the time of its occurrence, you might’ve been met with celebration or great grief.

Either way, King Sennacherib’s death is one of murder, and a great basis for perhaps an Agatha Christie style of murder mystery.

Part of what makes history so exciting to me is the drama within its pages. Stories of love, betrayal, murder…all that stuff we find so entertaining today and splattered in big capital letters on the cover of a bestselling novel at an airport bookstore–all of it can be found in history if we dig far enough.

Well, Mesopotamian history is not short on that kind of drama, and lucky for us, someone has dug deep enough to find it, especially in the case of King Sennacherib.

Stay tuned for the more juicy parts of King Sennacherib’s story.


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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Assyrian


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