Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) (Part 5); Assyrian

Sennacherib decided to march his force to the mouth of the Euphrates, and, embarking it there, to bring it to bear suddenly on the portion of Elamite territory nearest to Nagitu: if all went well, he would thus have time to crush the rising power of Merodach-baladan and regain his own port of departure before Khalludush could muster a sufficient army to render efficient succor to his vassal.

More than a year was consumed in preparations. The united cities of Chaldaea being unable to furnish the transports required to convey such a large host across the Nar-Marratum, it was necessary to construct a fleet, and to do so in such a way that the enemy should have no suspicion of danger. Sennacherib accordingly set up his dockyards at Tul-barsip on the Euphrates and at Nineveh on the Tigris, and Syrian shipwrights built him a fleet of vessels after two distinct types. Some were galleys identical in build and equipment with those which the Mediterranean natives used for their traffic with distant lands. The others followed the old Babylonian model, with stem and stern both raised, the bows being sometimes distinguished by the carving of a horse’s head, which justified the name of “sea-horse” given to a vessel of this kind. They had no masts, but propelling power was provided by two banks of oars one above the other, as in the galleys. The two divisions of the fleet were ready at the beginning of 694 B.C., and it was arranged that they should meet at Bit-Dakkuri, to the south of Babylon.

The fleet from Tul-barsip had merely to descend the Euphrates to reach the meeting-place,{Note: 5-1} but that from Nineveh had to make a more complicated journey. By following the course of the Tigris to its mouth it would have had to skirt the coast of Elam for a considerable distance, and would inevitably have aroused the suspicions of Khalludush; the passage of such a strong squadron must have revealed to him the importance of the enterprise, and put him on his guard. The vessels therefore stayed their course at Upi, where they were drawn ashore and transported on rollers across the narrow isthmus which separates the Tigris from the Arakhtu canal, on which they were then relaunched. Either the canal had not been well kept, or else it never had the necessary depth at certain places; but the crews managed to overcome all obstacles and rejoined their comrades in due time. Sennacherib was ready waiting for them with all his troops–foot-soldiers, charioteers, and horsemen–and with supplies of food for the men, and of barley and oats for the horses; as soon as the last contingent had arrived, he gave the signal for departure, and all advanced together, the army marching along the southern bank, the fleet descending the current, to the little port of Bab-Salimeti, some twelve miles below the mouth of the river.{Note: 5-2}

There they halted in order to proceed to the final embarkation, but at the last moment their inexperience of the sea nearly compromised the success of the expedition. Even if they were not absolutely ignorant of the ebb and flow of the tide, they certainly did not know how dangerous the spring tide could prove at the equinox under the influence of a south wind. The rising tide then comes into conflict with the volume of water brought down by the stream, and in the encounter the banks are broken down, and sometimes large districts are inundated: this is what happened that year, to the terror of the Assyrians.

Their camp was invaded and completely flooded by the waves; the king and his soldiers took refuge in haste on the galleys, where they were kept prisoners for five days “as in a huge cage.” As soon as the waters abated, they completed their preparations and started on their voyage. At the point where the Euphrates enters the lagoon, Sennacherib pushed forward to the front of the line, and, standing in the bows of his flag-ship, offered a sacrifice to Ea, the god of the Ocean. Having made a solemn libation, he threw into the water a gold model of a ship, a golden fish, and an image of the god himself, likewise in gold; this ceremony performed, he returned to the port of Bab-Salimeti with his guard, while the bulk of his forces continued their voyage eastward. The passage took place without mishap, but they could not disembark on the shore of the gulf itself, which was unapproachable by reason of the deposits of semi-liquid mud which girdled it; they therefore put into the mouth of the Ulai, and ascended the river till they reached a spot where the slimy reed-beds gave place to firm ground, which permitted them to draw their ships to land.{Note 5-3}

The inhabitants assembled hastily at sight of the enemy, and the news, spreading through the neighbouring tribes, brought together for their defence a confused crowd of archers, chariots, and horsemen. The Assyrians, leaping into the stream and climbing up the bank, easily overpowered these undisciplined troops. They captured at the first onset Nagitu, Nagitu-Dibina, Khilmu, Pillatu, and Khupapanu; and raiding the Kalda, forced them on board the fleet with their gods, their families, their flocks, and household possessions, and beat a hurried retreat with their booty.

Merodach-baladan himself and his children once more escaped their clutches, but the State he had tried to create was annihilated, and his power utterly crushed. Sennacherib received his generals with great demonstrations of joy at Bab-Salimeti, and carried the spoil in triumph to Nineveh. Khalludush, exasperated by the affront put upon him, instantly retaliated by invading Karduniash, where he pushed forward as far as Sippara, pillaging and destroying the inhabitants without opposition. The Babylonians who had accompanied Merodach-baladan into exile, returned in the train of the Elamites, and, secretly stealing back to their homes, stirred up a general revolt: Assur-nadin-shumu, taken prisoner by his own subjects, was put in chains and dispatched to Susa, his throne being bestowed on a Babylonian named Nergal-ushezib,{Note: 5-4} who at once took the field (694 B.C.).

His preliminary efforts were successful: he ravaged the frontier along the Turnat with the help of the Elamites, and took by assault the city of Nipur, which refused to desert the cause of Sennacherib (693 B.C.). Meanwhile the Assyrian generals had captured Uruk (Erech) on the 1st of Tisri, after the retreat of Khalludush; and having sacked the city, were retreating northwards with their spoil when they were defeated on the 7th near Nipur by Nergal-ushezib. He had already rescued the statues of the gods and the treasure, when his horse fell in the midst of the fray, and he could not disengage himself. His vanquished foes led him captive to Nineveh, where Sennacherib exposed him in chains at the principal gateway of his palace: the Babylonians, who owed to him their latest success, summoned a Kaldu prince, Mushezib-marduk, son of Gahut, to take command. He hastened to comply, and with the assistance of Blamite troops offered such a determined resistance to all attack, that he was finally left in undisturbed possession of his kingdom (692 B.C.): the actual result to Assyria, therefore, of the ephemeral victory gained by the fleet had been the loss of Babylon.

{NOTE 5-1: The story of the preparations, as it has been transmitted to us in Sennacherib’s inscriptions, is curiously similar to the accounts given by the Greek historians of the vessels Alexander had built at Babylon and Thap-sacus by Phoenician workmen, which descended the Euphrates to join the fleet in the Persian Gulf. This fleet consisted of quinquiremos, according to Aristobulus, who was present at their construction: Quintus-Curtius makes them all vessels with seven banks of oars, but he evidently confuses the galleys built at Thapsacus with those which came in sections from Phoenicia and which Alexander had put together at Babylon.}

{NOTE 5-2: The mouth of the Euphrates being at that time not far from the site of Kornah, Bab-Salimeti, which was about twelve miles distant, must have been somewhere near the present village of Abu-Hatira, on the south bank of the river.}

{NOTE 5-3: Billerbeck recognizes in the narrative of Sennacherib the indication of two attempts at debarcation, of which the second only can have been successful; I can distinguish only one crossing.}

{NOTE 5-4: This is the prince whom the Assyrian documents name Shuzub, and whom we might call Shuzub the Babylonian, in contradistinction to Mushezib-marduk, who is Shuzub the Kaldu.}

History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 8 (of 12), by G. Maspero/Translated by M. L. McClure

Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.); (Part 6)Assyrian

SENNACHERIB (705-681 B.C.) (Part 4); Assyrian

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