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

A revolution in Elam speedily afforded Assyria an opportunity for revenge. When Nergal-ushezib was taken prisoner, the people of Susa, dissatisfied with the want of activity displayed by Khalludush, conspired to depose him: on hearing, therefore, the news of the revolutions in Chaldaea, they rose in revolt on the 26th of Tisri, and, besieging him in his palace, put him to death, and elected a certain Kutur-nakhunta as his successor. Sennacherib, without a moment’s hesitation, crossed the frontier at Durilu, before order was re-established at Susa, and recovered, after very slight resistance, Baza and Bit-khairi which Shutruk-nakhunta had taken from Sargon. This preliminary success laid the lower plain of Susiana at his mercy, and he ravaged it pitilessly from Baza to Bit-bunaki. “Thirty-four strongholds and the townships depending on them, whose number is unequalled, I besieged and took by assault, their inhabitants I led into captivity, I demolished them and reduced them to ashes: I caused the smoke of their burning to rise into the wide heaven, like the smoke of one great sacrifice.” Kutur-nakhunta, still insecurely seated on the throne of Susa, retreated with his army towards Khaidalu, in the almost unexplored regions which bordered the Banian plateau,{6-1} and entrenched himself strongly in the heart of the mountains.

{NOTE 6-1: Khaidalu is very probably the present Dis Malkan.}

The season was already well advanced when the Assyrians set out on this expedition, and November set in while they were ravaging the plain: but the weather was still so fine that Sennacherib determined to take advantage of it to march upon Madaktu. Hardly had he scaled the heights when winter fell upon him with its accompaniment of cold and squally weather. “Violent storms broke out, it rained and snowed incessantly, the torrents and streams overflowed their banks,” so that hostilities had to be suspended and the troops ordered back to Nineveh. The effect produced, however, by these bold measures was in no way diminished: though Kutur-nakhunta had not had the necessary time to prepare for the contest, he was nevertheless discredited among his subjects for failing to bring them out of it with glory, and three months after the retreat of the Assyrians he was assassinated in a riot on the 20th of Ab, 692 B.C.

[Note 6-2: The Assyrian documents merely mention the death of Kuturnakhunta less than three months after the return of     Sennacherib to Nineveh. Pinches’ “Babylonian Chronicle” only mentions the revolution in which he perished, and informs us that he had reigned ten months. It contracts Umman-minanu, the name of the Elamite king, to Minanu.]

His younger brother, Umman-minanu, assumed the crown, and though his enemies disdainfully refused to credit him with either prudence or judgment, he soon restored his kingdom to such a formidable degree of power that Mushezib-marduk thought the opportunity a favourable one for striking a blow at Assyria, from which she could never recover. Elam had plenty of troops, but was deficient in the resources necessary to pay the men and their chiefs, and to induce the tribes of the table-land to furnish their contingents. Mushezib-marduk, therefore, emptied the sacred treasury of E-sagilla, and sent the gold and silver of Bel and Zarpanit to Umman-minanu with a message which ran thus: “Assemble thine army, and prepare thy camp, come to Babylon and strengthen our hands, for thou art our help.” The Elamite asked nothing better than to avenge the provinces so cruelly harassed, and the cities consumed in the course of the last campaign: he summoned all his nobles, from the least to the greatest, and enlisted the help of the troops of Parsuas, Ellipi, and Anzan, the Aramaean Puqudu and Gambulu of the Tigris, as well as the Aramaeans of the Euphrates, and the peoples of Bit-Adini and Bit-Amukkani, who had rallied round Sam una, son of Merodach-baladan, and joined forces with the soldiers of Mushezib-marduk in Babylon. “Like an invasion of countless locusts swooping down upon the land, they assembled, resolved to give me battle, and the dust of their feet rose before me, like a thick cloud which darkens the copper-coloured dome of the sky.” The conflict took place near the township of Khalule, on the banks of the Tigris, not far from the confluence of this river with the Turnat.

[NOTE 6-3: Haupt attributes to the name the signification “holes, bogs”, and this interpretation agrees well enough with the state of the country round the mouths of the Diyala, in the low-lying district which separates that river from the Tigris; he compares it with the name Haulayeh, quoted by Arab geographers in this neighbourhood, and with that of the canton of Haleh, mentioned in Syrian texts as belonging to the district of Radhan, between the Adhem and the Diyala.

At this point the Turnat, flowing through the plain, divides into several branches, which ramify again and again, and form a kind of delta extending from the ruins of Nayan to those of Reshadeh. During the whole of the day the engagement between the two hosts raged on this unstable soil, and their leaders themselves sold their lives dearly in the struggle. Sennacherib invoked the help of Assur, Sin, Shamash, Nebo, Bel, Nergal, Ishtar of Nineveh, and Ishtar of Arbela, and the gods heard his prayers. “Like a lion I raged, I donned my harness, I covered my head with my casque, the badge of war; my powerful battle-chariot, which mows down the rebels, I ascended it in haste in the rage of my heart; the strong bow which Assur entrusted to me, I seized it, and the javelin, destroyer of life, I grasped it: the whole host of obdurate rebels I charged, shining like silver or like the day, and I roared as Kamman roareth.” Khumba-undash, the Elamite general, was killed in one of the first encounters, and many of his officers perished around him, “of those who wore golden daggers at their belts, and bracelets of gold on their wrists.” They fell one after the other, “like fat bulls chained” for the sacrifice, or like sheep, and their blood flowed on the broad plain as the water after a violent storm: the horses plunged in it up to their knees, and the body of the royal chariot was reddened with it. A son of Merodach-baladan, Nabu-shumishkun, was taken prisoner, but Umman-minanu and Mushezib-marduk escaped unhurt from the fatal field. It seems as if fortune had at last decided in favour of the Assyrians, and they proclaimed the fact loudly, but their success was not so evident as to preclude their adversaries also claiming the victory with some show of truth. In any case, the losses on both sides were so considerable as to force the two belligerents to suspend operations; they returned each to his capital, and matters remained much as they had been before the battle took place.

[ NOTE 6-4: “Pinches’ Babylonian Chronicle” attributes the victory to the Elamites, and says that the year in which the battle was fought was unknown. The testimony of this chronicle is so often marred by partiality, that to prefer it always to that of the Ninevite inscriptions shows deficiency of critical ability: the course of events seems to me to prove that the advantage remained with the Assyrians, though the victory was not decisive. The date, which necessarily falls between   692 and 689 B.C., has been decided by general considerations as 691 B.C., the very year in which the “Taylor Cylinder” was written.

Years might have elapsed before Sennacherib could have ventured to recommence hostilities: he was not deluded by the exaggerated estimate of his victory in the accounts given by his court historians, and he recognized the fact that the issue of the struggle must be uncertain as long as the alliance subsisted between Elam and Chaldaea. But fortune came to his aid sooner than he had expected. Umman-minanu was not absolute in his dominions any more than his predecessors had been, and the losses he had sustained at Khalule, without obtaining any compensating advantages in the form of prisoners or spoil, had lowered him in the estimation of his vassals; Mushezib-marduk, on the other hand, had emptied his treasuries, and though Karduniash was wealthy, it was hardly able, after such a short interval, to provide further subsidies to purchase the assistance of the mountain tribes. Sennacherib’s emissaries kept him well informed of all that occurred in the enemy’s court, and he accordingly took the field again at the beginning of 689 B.C., and on this occasion circumstances seemed likely to combine to give him an easy victory.

[NOTE 6-5: The Assyrian documents insert the account of the capture of Babylon directly after the battle of Khalule, and modern historians therefore concluded that the two events took place within a few months of each other. The information afforded by “Pinches’ Babylonian Chronicle” has enabled us to correct this mistake, and to bring down the date of the taking of Babylon to 689 B.C.]

Mushezib-marduk shut himself up in Babylon, not doubting that the Elamites would hasten to his succour as soon as they should hear of his distress; but his expectation was not fulfilled. Umman-minanu was struck down by apoplexy, on the 15th of Nisan, and though his illness did not at once terminate fatally, he was left paralysed with distorted mouth, and loss of speech, incapable of action, and almost unfit to govern. His seizure put a stop to his warlike preparations: and his ministers, preoccupied with the urgent question of the succession to the throne, had no desire to provoke a conflict with Assyria, the issue of which could not be foretold: they therefore left their ally to defend his own interests as best he might. Babylon, reduced to rely entirely on its own resources, does not seem to have held out long, and perhaps the remembrance of the treatment it had received on former occasions may account for the very slight resistance it now offered.

The Assyrian kings who had from time to time conquered Babylon, had always treated it with great consideration. They had looked upon it as a sacred city, whose caprices and outbreaks must always be pardoned; it was only with infinite precautions that they had imposed their commands upon it, and even when they had felt that severity was desirable, they had restrained themselves in using it, and humoured the idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants. Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmaneser V., and Sargon had all preferred to be legally crowned as sovereigns of Babylon instead of remaining merely its masters by right of conquest, and though Sennacherib had refused compliance with the traditions by which his predecessors had submitted to be bound, he had behaved with unwonted lenity after quelling the two previous revolts.

He now recognised that his clemency had been shown in vain, and his small stock of patience was completely exhausted just when fate threw the rebellious city into his power. If the inhabitants had expected to be once more let off easily, their illusions were speedily dissipated: they were slain by the sword as if they had been ordinary foes, such as Jews, Tibarenians, or Kalda of Bit-Yakin, and they were spared none of the horrors which custom then permitted the stronger to inflict upon the weaker. For several days the pitiless massacre lasted. Young and old, all who fell into the hands of the soldiery, perished by the sword; piles of corpses filled the streets and the approaches to the temples, especially the avenue of winged bulls which led to E-sagilla, and, even after the first fury of carnage had been appeased, it was only to be succeeded by more organised pillage. Mushezib-marduk was sent into exile with his family, and immense convoys of prisoners and spoil followed him.

The treasures carried off from the royal palace, the temples, and the houses of the rich nobles were divided among the conquerors: they comprised gold, silver, precious stones, costly stuffs, and provisions of all sorts. The sacred edifices were sacked, the images hacked to pieces or carried off to Nineveh: Bel-Marduk, introduced into the sanctuary of Assur, became subordinate to the rival deity amid a crowd of strange gods. In the inmost recess of a chapel were discovered some ancient statues of Kamman and Shala of E-kallati, which Marduk-nadin-akhe had carried off in the time of Tiglath-pileser I., and these were brought back in triumph to their own land, after an absence of four hundred and eighteen years. The buildings themselves suffered a like fate to that of their owners and their gods. “The city and its houses, from foundation to roof, I destroyed them, I demolished them, I burnt them with fire; walls, gateways, sacred chapels, and the towers of earth and tiles, I laid them all low and cast them into the Arakhtu.” The incessant revolts of the people justified this wholesale destruction. Babylon, as we have said before, was too powerful to be reduced for long to the second rank in a Mesopotamian empire: as soon as fate established the seat of empire in the districts bordering on the Euphrates and the middle course of the Tigris, its well-chosen situation, its size, its riches, the extent of its population, the number of its temples, and the beauty of its palaces, all conspired to make it the capital of the country.

In vain Assur, Calah, or Nineveh thrust themselves into the foremost rank, and by a strenuous effort made their princes rulers of Babylon; in a short time Babylon replenished her treasury, found allies, soldiers, and leaders, and in spite of reverses of fortune soon regained the upper hand. The only treatment which could effectually destroy her ascendency was that of leaving in her not one brick upon another, thus preventing her from being re-peopled for several generations, since a new city could not at once spring up from the ashes of the old; until she had been utterly destroyed her conquerors had still reason to fear her. This fact Sennacherib, or his councilors, knew well. If he merits any reproach, it is not for having seized the opportunity of destroying the city which Babylon offered him, but rather for not having persevered in his design to the end, and reduced her to a mere name.

SOURCE: 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 7; Assyrian

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

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