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.

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4 Responses to The Fall of Babylon

  1. slaveofone says:

    Loved that post! So if the “tower of babel” actually existed and it was based in Babylon, it probably met a permenant end at that time… Considering, of course, that we can trust the extent of Sennacherib’s boasting. I’ve played with thoughts that maybe the Esagilla or Etenmenanki were based on remnants of the Tower if it existed. Yes, I am ignorant. Don’t hate.

    It is interesting not only that Sennacherib mentions “the flood” alongside his own activities as if they shared a common reality, but that he attempted to do likewise… Of course, he probably wouldn’t identify with the Biblical tradition… But it does share the idea of judgment and dominion which is not (to my limited and pathetic knowledge) in the other flood accounts like Atra-hasis, Gilgamesh, or Enuma Elish.

  2. G.M. Grena says:

    I’m missing something here. Your post quotes, “In my second campaign, I marched quickly against Babylon,” then reiterates “Sennacherib’s Second Campaign is dated to 689 BC.” Sennacherib’s infamous campaign to Judah against King Hezekiah was his 3rd campaign, traditionally dated to 701 BC. What am I missing here? Are we going backwards in time?

  3. Goodness, no hate here! You ask good questions. There’s no reason to demean yourself.

    If we look at how long the ziggurat at Ur survived, from the late third millennium to before its remodelling by Nabonidus in the mid to late 6th century, then it’s possible to say that a much earlier ziggurat in Babylon too could have survived up until Sennacherib tore it down. The ziggurat is gone now because Alexander the Great ordered it to be rebuilt, so it was completely taken down, but not rebuilt because he died prematurely, and apparently the Seleucids didn’t care to rebuild it. The good, oven-baked bricks were then taken and used in building elsewhere around town, apparently. Someone will undoubtedly find them all over digs of the Hellenistic city. Visitors to the site have written of tiny chips of colored glaze lying around the site of the ziggurat. But the earlier one is undoubtedly inaccessible, even if there were any remains. The water table has risen in that area so that it’s currently impossible to excavate any deeper than the early first millennium or so.

    It’s definitely interesting that Sennacherib would compare his destruction to that of “the Flood.” He certainly seems to have thought it was a real event that bore comparison with his own work. But we also have to remember that there’s no definite article in Akkadian, so he might have been meaning to say “a flood,” that the destruction was just like the result of the most destructive natural force known to Mesopotamians, whether he meant The Big One or not. I’d still lean toward “the Flood” as the referent though, simply based upon the consistent braggadocio found in Assyrian royal inscriptions.

    Thanks for writing!

  4. Oops. I should’ve said, this event dates to 689. It’s listed in his eighth campaign, I think it was, elsewhere than in this particular text. But 689 is definitely the year. I’ve changed the text above.

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