The Fall of Babylon

In my second campaign, I marched quickly against Babylon which I was set upon conquering. Like the onset of a storm I swept, (and) like a fog I enveloped it. I laid seige to that city; with mines and siege engines, I personally took it—the spoil of his mighty men, small and great. I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses. Shuzubu, king of Babylon, together with his family and his [ ], I brought alive to my land. I handed out the wealth of that city—silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods—to my people and they made it their own. My men took the (images of the) gods who dwell there and smashed them. They took their property and their wealth. Adad and Shala, the gods of Ekallate, which Marduk-nadin-ahhe, king of Babylon had taken and carried off to Babylon during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser (I), King of Assyria, I brought out of Babylon and returned them to their place in Ekallate.

I destroyed and tore down and burned with fire the city (and) it houses, from its foundations to its parapets. I tore out the inner and outer walls, temples, the ziggurat of brick and earth, as many as there were, and threw them into the Arahu river. I dug canals through the city and flooded its place with water, destroying the structure of its foundation. I made its devastation greater than that of “the Flood.” So that in future days, the site of that city, its temples and its gods, would not be identifiable, I completely destroyed it with water and annihilated it like inundated territory. (text: COS 2.119E)

Sennacherib’s destruction of Babylon is dated to 689 BC. “Shuzubu” is Mushezib-Marduk from the southwestern Aramean/Chaldean tribal area Bīt-Dakkuri, king of Babylon from 693, and one of several usurpers in those troubled years. Taking a captive ruler and family alive back to Assyria was not necessarily a good thing. Earlier Assyrian kings did the same, with dire results: with an audience of Assyrians, the captive king’s family was slaughtered before his eyes, followed by his being skinned alive. Tiglath-Pileser I reigned 1115-1077, and Marduk-nadin-ahhe 1098-1081. Ekallate was a city near Asshur. The recovery of the images of these two gods, 400 years after their capture and removal, displays the length of historical memory possible in ancient Near Eastern cultures.

When Sennacherib was assassinated in 681, the new Assyrian king, his son Esarhaddon, almost immediately set about rebuilding Babylon, at great expense. Not only the Babylonians had been scandalized by the destruction of such an ancient city, recognized and respected especially as the home to Marduk, but many Assyrians were also quite distressed by it, most especially by its apparent consequences. Sennacherib’s assassination was attributed to this perceived act of impiety. The destruction was noted throughout the known world, even among the Hebrews. The city lay in ruins for only 11 years. Esarhaddon began its rebuilding, but Babylon reached its most glorious condition under Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562). Babylon never again experienced such destruction. Though it was occupied, attacked, and looted numerous times, it was never subjected to an obliteration like that of Sennacherib. While most of today’s ancient Babylon is in ruins, a local population has continued there since ancient times, as still in the modern village Hillah, itself partially situated in the residential district of the ancient Babylon.