The Later Campaigns
of Sennacherib

In the last century scholars became aware that there were two invasions of Palestine by Sennacherib and that it is possible to discern in the scriptural record an early and a late campaign against Hezekiah.(1) The first campaign to Palestine took place about -701. The second campaign is dated by modern historians to -687 or -686.(2)

The annals of Sennacherib record only eight campaigns. The second march into Palestine, which ended disastrously and which probably was his last military undertaking, was not recorded by the Assyrian king, who had no intention of preserving for posterity the story of his reverses.

The last two campaigns memorialized by Sennacherib on the eight-faced Taylor Prism were against Elam. Elam, occupying roughly the territory of modern Iran, was already the goal of earlier Assyrian kings, Sargon II, father of Sennacherib among them. During the seventh campaign Sennacherib succeeded to invade only a marginal part of the country; he recorded reducing to ashes thirty-four strong cities together with their “countless” surrounding towns. “I besieged, I conquered, I despoiled, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire; with the smoke of their conflagration I covered the wide heavens like a hurricane.”

But “extreme cold” and heavy storms with “rain upon rain and snow” set in. “I was afraid of the swollen mountain streams; the front of my yoke I turned and took the road to Nineveh.” (3)

But before long Sennacherib returned to Elam to continue the orgy of destruction. To the king and people of Elam went an alarm from the people of Babylon, who still warred for independence, asking for aid. Without delay Sennacherib set out on his eighth campaign: “My great battle chariot . . . I hurriedly mounted.” Defeating the Elamites in battle,

I cut their throats like lambs . . . My prancing steeds, harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of their blood. . . . The wheels of my war chariot . . . were bespattered with blood and filth. . . . Their testicles I cut off and tore out their privates . . . their hands I cut off . . .
Next Sennacherib turned towards Elam’s allies, the Babylonians, and brought them to a panicky flight: “They held back their urine, but let their dung go into their chariots” and in hot pursuit “150,000 of their warriors I cut down with the sword.”

After this feast of carnage Sennacherib again, as before the campaign against Elam, seized “the mighty bow which Assur had given me . . . in my hands; the javelin I grasped” and faced to road to Jerusalem.


  1. The first to realize that there were two Palestinian campaigns by Sennacherib was Henry Rawlinson. While some scholars continued to maintain a one-campaign hypothesis, recent studies by Albright (Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research no. 141, Feb. 1956, pp. 23-26) and John Bright, (A History of Israel [Philadelphia, 1962], Excursus I, “The Problem of Sennacherib’s Campaigns to Palestine,” pp. 296-308) support the view that there were indeed two campaigns. Bright’s conclusion is that “a two-campaign theory seems at present to satisfy the evidence best.” He suggests a date ca. -688 for the second (unrecorded) campaign of Sennacherib.

  2. H. R. Hall, The Ancient History of the Near East (New York, 1913), pp. 490f.; D. N. Freedman, “The Chronology of Israel and the Ancient Near East,” Essays in honor of William Foxwell Albright (New York, 1961); Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Chicago, 1951), p. 156.

  3. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria II. 260.