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Esarhaddon (680–669 BC)


When news of his father's murder reached Esarhaddon (Akk. Aššur-aḫu-iddina "The god Aššur has given a brother") in his place of refuge in the land Ḫanigalbat, Sennacherib's chosen successor mustered his supporters and quickly marched east, towards the Assyrian capital. En route, he met the armed forces of his rebel brothers, but those troops quickly changed sides. Before his arrival at Nineveh, his father's murderer(s) had already fled (probably to the land Urarṭu and then to the land Šubria).

During his twelve years as king, Esarhaddon was active both on and off the battlefield. In Babylonia, he defeated the insubmissive Gambulu and Bīt-Dakkūri tribes and a recalcitrant governor of the Sealand. He also sponsored major building projects at Babylon, Borsippa, Nippur, Sippar, and Uruk. Esarhaddon's public works in southern Mesopotamia sought to bolster good relations between Assyria and Babylonia; that was not an easy task, as Sennacherib's Babylonian policies left many Babylonians with a feeling of resentment towards Assyria. Further south, along the west coast of the Persian Gulf, the Assyrian army marched deep into the desert, conquered the land Bāzu, and defeated eight local rulers. To the east and northeast, Esarhaddon fought with the land Elam, Median rulers, and the Manneans. Esarhaddon also states that he killed a few Cimmerian and Scythian rulers. To the northwest, the Assyrian army invaded the land Šubria. The objective was likely to capture or kill the fugitive brother(s) of his who had taken refuge there. After the Šubrian king refused Esarhaddon's extradition request, the Assyrian army besieged and conquered the heavily fortified city Uppume and eliminated any potential threat to his own succession plan. Shortly thereafter, in 672 BC, a grand assembly was convened to declare Ashurbanipal heir to the throne of Assyria and Šamaš-šumu-ukīn as heir to that of Babylonia. The royal family, the nobles and inhabitants of Assyria, and vassal rulers swore oaths to uphold Esarhaddon's succession plan.

To the west, Esarhaddon marched to the Levantine coast and into the Arabian desert. He also invaded Egypt. At Sidon, he put down a rebellion, captured and executed its chief conspirator Abdi-Milkūti, and reorganized the city as an Assyrian center. Sidon's Cilician ally Sanda-uarri was also captured and beheaded. At Nineveh, the severed heads of those two rulers were hung around the necks of their nobles and paraded through the city's squares while people chanted "In Tašrītu (VII) - the head of Abdi-Milkūti! In Addaru (XII) - the head of Sanda-uarri!" In the Arabian peninsula, Esarhaddon put down a rebellion incited against a ruler loyal to Assyrian interests. The Assyrian army marched to Egypt three times. The first expedition failed miserably, but the second was successful, as Egyptian forces were thrice defeated, the city Memphis captured, and the pharaoh Taharqa driven into exile. On his third trip, in 669 BC, Esarhaddon died en route to Egypt. As had been carefully planned, Ashurbanipal and Šamaš-šumu-ukīn ascended their respective thrones, the former in 669 BC and the latter in 668 BC.

Further reading

A. Kirk Grayson, "Assyria: Sennacherib and Esarhaddon (704-669 B.C.)," pp. 122-141 in J. Boardman et al. (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, second edition, vol. 3/2. Cambridge, 1991.

E. Leichty, "Esarhaddon, king of Assyria," pp. 949-958 in J.M. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. New York, 1995.

E. Leichty, The Royal Inscriptions of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria (680-669 BC) (The Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period 4). Winona Lake, 2011. [] BUY THE BOOK. []

K. Radner, "The Trials of Esarhaddon: The Conspiracy of 670 BC," pp. 165-184 in P. Miglus and J.M. Cordoba (eds.), Assur und sein Umland (Isimu: Revista sobre Oriente Proximo y Egipto en la antiguedad 6). Madrid, 2003 (published 2007).

K. Radner, "Esarhaddon, king of Assyria (681-669)," [] Knowledge and Power. London, 2010.

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The RINAP 4 sub-project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Updates to the editions were made with funding provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation through the establishment of the Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East.

Jamie Novotny

Jamie Novotny, 'Esarhaddon (680–669 BC)', RINAP 4: Esarhaddon, The RINAP 4 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2021 []

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