Sennacherib: the Year - 701

The empire Sennacherib, son of Sargon, inherited was enormous: “The god Assur has intrusted in me an unrivalled kingship . . . from the upper sea of the setting sun to the lower sea of the rising sun, all mankind he has brought in submission at my feet—and mighty kings feared my warfare, leaving their abodes and fleeing. . . .” On climbing the throne, Sennacherib embarked on a series of campaigns aimed at expanding it further still. He wrote of his marching troops: “With the dust of their feet they covered the wide heavens like a mighty storm with masses of dense clouds,” and he boasted: “The tents of the steppe . . . I turned into a mass of flames . . . I swept like a hurricane. I besieged, I captured, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.”

After two campaigns against his enemies in the north, and still early in his reign, Sennacherib led his forces toward Syria and Palestine. The Assyrian army swept along the coast. It attacked Sidon and Luli, its king, fled into the sea and perished. Sennacherib appointed a new king and received tribute from him. Arvad and Ashdod, Ammon and Edom, brought him gifts and “kissed [his] feet.”

Sennacherib encircled Beth-Dagon, Jaffa, and Bne-Brak and conquered them. “The people of Ekron became afraid and called upon the Egyptian king, the bowmen, chariots and horses of the king of Melukha [Ethiopia], a boundless host, and these came to their aid.” The Assyrian army met them at Eltekeh, a small town on Palestine’s Mediterranean coast. “In the plain of Eltkekeh (Al-ta-qu-u), their battle lines were drawn up against me, and they sharpened their weapons.” Sennacherib “fought with them and brought about their defeat. The Egyptian charioteers and princes, together with the charioteers of the Ethiopian king my hands took alive in the midst of battle.” the Egyptian-Ethiopian army was defeated at the walls of Eltekeh; neighboring Ekron was stormed and its inhabitants killed, their corpses hung on poles around the town.

“As to Hezekiah, the Judean (Ha-za-qi-(i)a-u Ia-u-da-ai), he did not submit to my yoke.” Sennacherib besieged the “strong cities” of Judah and the “walled forts” and “countless small villages in their vicinity,” and took them by assault, sending the surviving population into exile: “200,150 people, young and old, male and female.” Then he turned against the capital: “I made (Hezekiah) a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Nevertheless, Jerusalem held out and Sennacherib withdrew, though not before exacting a heavy ransom. “Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring filendor of my lordship had overwhelmed . . . did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones . . . couches (inlaid) with ivory . . . elephants hides . . . and all kinds of valuable treasures, his own daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.” Having agreed to the ransom, Jerusalem was not entered by the Assyrian army. The corresponding Biblical record in the Second Book of Kings (18:14) differs only in the quantity of silver in the ransom. It, too, mentions thirty talents of gold, but only three hundred talents of silver.

Besides this record on a clay prism, Assyrian bas-reliefs show the siege of Lachish in southern Palestine, on the way from Jerusalem to Egypt. From the Biblical narrative (II Kings 18:14) we know that Sennacherib was at Lachish, pressing the siege, when he received Hezekiah’s submission. Lachish must have fallen not long afterwards; the reliefs depict the fall of th city and a procession of its inhabitants being taken away to Assyria, some on donkeys, some on foot, carrying their meagre possessions.

Did Sennacherib press further south toward Egypt? In the extant inscriptions Sennacherib did not mention a specific campaign in Egypt and Ethiopia. Since early times the question has occupied the historians: Did Sennacherib subdue Egypt, or did he not?

Herodotos wrote that Sennacherib came against the land of Egypt “with a great host” and encamped at Pelusium near its northeastern frontier.(1) Berosus, who wrote a history of Chaldea, said that Sennacherib conducted an expedition against “all Asia and Egypt.” (2) Jewish tradition tells of the conquest of Egypt by Sennacherib and of his march towards Ethiopia: “Sennacherib was forced to stop his campaign against Hezekiah for a short time, as he had to move hurriedly against Ethiopia. Having conquered this ‘pearl of all countries’ he returned to Judea.” (3)

It appears that after the battle of Eltekeh in southern Palestine, where he was victorious over the Ethiopian-Egyptian army, and having broken the resistance of Hezekiah and reduced the fortified city of Lachish on the approaches to Egypt, Sennacherib crossed the border of Egypt proper and at Pelusium received a declaration of submission.


  1. Herodotos II. 141.

  2. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews X. i. 4.

  3. L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 19xx), vol. VI, p. 365; cf. Seder ‘Olam 23. Talmudic sources also relate that after conquering Egypt Sennacherib carried away from there the throne of Solomon (Ginzberg, Legends, IV, p. 160.