The Conquest of Ashdod

With Samaria’s fall, the last stronghold of opposition to Assyria was extirpated; not only did Egypt lose all of its remaining influence in Asia—its last Libyan rulers were themselves compelled to submit to Assyrian overlordship. By Sargon’s seventh year “Pir’u the king of Musru” (Pharaoh, king of Egypt) is listed among those sending tribute to Assyria. Later in the same year a certain Yamani(1) seized power in Ashdod, an independent principality next to Judah on the coast; trying to organize and anti-Assyrian league and to enroll the help of Egypt, he, as Sargon recounts in his annals, “sent bribes to Pir’u king of Musru, a potentate incapable to save him—and asked him to be an ally.” The rebellious prince tried also to involve Judah (Ia-u-di) in the conspiracy: but Hezekiah, probably at Isaiah’s urging, refused to risk the nation’s fate on so doubtful a venture. Informed of Yamani’s revolt, Sargon gathered chosen troops and sent them against the rebel: “In a sudden rage I marched quickly . . . against Ashdod, his royal residence.”(2) Without Egyptian help, the outcome was not long in doubt—the Assyrian king looted the rebellious city, along with other towns on the Philistine coast. Yamani “fled into the territory of Musru [Egypt] which belongs (now) to Ethiopia.”(3)

The rebel king of Ashdod, however, did not find a safe haven with the Ethiopian king: “The king of Ethiopia, who lives in a distant country, in an inapproachable region . . . whose fathers never—from remote days until now—had sent messengers to inquire after the health of my royal forefathers, he did hear, even that far away, of the might of Ashur, Nebo, and Marduk. The awe-inspiring glamor of my kingship blinded him and terror overcame him.” The Ethiopian king, anxious to conciliate the powerful king of the north, extradited the rebel Yamani: “He threw him in fetters, shackles and iron bands, and they brought him to Assyria, a long journey.” No mention is made of “Pir’u king of Musru” whose aid Yamani had sought only a few months earlier, and it must be assumed that he had been deposed by the king of Ethiopia.(4)

This episode marks the first appearance of the Ethiopians in the Assyrian annals.

The same events are described by Isaiah, a contemporary. The short twentieth chapter of Isaiah opens with the verse: “In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and fought against Ashdod, and took it.” Isaiah continued and warned: “So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian prisoners and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.”

It is not spelled out whom the prophet had in mind by saying “they”: Israel had already been exiled in Sargon’s first year; Isaiah apparently had in mind a party in Judah which saw rays of hope in the recent replacement of the Libyan masters of Egypt by an Ethiopian overlordship.

Displaying a sense of statesmanship, Isaiah, in the manner of a dervish, walked unclothed and barefoot to emphasize the significance and possible consequences of an erroneous orientation.

The quoted first verse of the twentieth chapter of Isaiah contains the only mention of Sargon in the Scriptures. Tartan, sent by Sargon to fight against Ashdod, is not a private name; it is a high military and administrative title.(5)

We have already read of the circumstances of the fall of Ashdod in the cuneiform inscriptions of Sargon II.


  1. The name Yamani was understood by several scholars as meaning “The Greek.”

  2. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, vol. II, par. 62.

  3. Ibid., II.

  4. A. Spalinger, “The Year 712 B.C. and its Impications for Egyptian History,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 10 (1973), pp. 95-101.

  5. See J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, 1950), p. 285, n. 4: “The Assyrian word [‘turtan’] refers to a high military and administrative official second in rank only to the king. . . . Besides ‘turtannu’ also ‘tartanu’ is attested.