King Sennacherib profile. (Source)
And we continue with the story of Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, who made Nineveh his capital and turned it into one of the greatest metropolises the ancient world has ever known. You can read about his other accomplishments in part one of our two-part intro to Sennacherib.
I mentioned that his reign ended abruptly, and it’s quite abrupt for anyone to meet their death while praying–that was when death came for Sennacherib.
He was standing there, praying in a temple, no doubt praying for more power and conquest, when either a colossal winged bull statue fell on him, or someone came out of nowhere and stabbed him, no one’s exactly sure.
An Assyrian winged bull, possibly like the one that might’ve fallen on King Sennacherib. (Source)
The British poet Lord Byron wrote a poem about the Assyrian king’s end in 1832, The Destruction of Sennacherib.
What everyone seems to agree on is the fact that King Sennacherib’s end was indeed a homicide, and that the mastermind behind it was his own flesh and blood.
And this is where a mystery unravels that has survived for thousands of years, and continues to mystify scholars today; which of Sennacherib’s sons murdered him?
Most of the sources I looked at state that the king was murdered by his son, Arda-Mulissi, who must’ve been upset after finding out that although he was the legitimate heir to the throne, he would not succeed his father.
It is believed that Sennacherib fathered at least eleven sons with his wives, not all of who were eligible as heirs to their father’s throne of Assyria. This makes it understood that his eldest son, Assur-nadin-sumi, already installed as king of Babylon by Sennacherib himself, would be his heir to the Assyrian throne. But when Assur-nadin-sumi was murdered by the Elamites in 694 BC, Sennacherib had to find someone else he trusted to succeed him, and Arda-Mulissi either did not fit the bill in Sennacherib’s mind, or a woman influenced him…
Arda-Mulissi is the second-eldest son of Sennacherib eligible for the Assyrian throne, but the controlling king did not think this natural succession was best, so he looked elsewhere, and his eye landed on his youngest son, Esarhaddon.
Esarhaddon was not eligible for the Assyrian throne, mainly because his mother, Zakutu-Naqia, was merely a palace woman and not a noble. What is known about Esarhaddon’s mother paints her as capable of perhaps swaying a powerful man like Sennacherib. Zakutu-Naqia is found to be associated with Sennacherib as far back as 713 BC, while he was still the crown prince of Assyria. Holding the title of queen alongside her son while he reigned as king further proves her abilities to manipulate any situation in her favor. You can read about her in more detail here.
So, Sennacherib chose Esarhaddon, his son with Zakutu-Naqia, as his successor. He a made that announcement in 683 BC. Naturally, such an announcement must not have washed well with Arda-Mulissi or his brothers.
Sennacherib must’ve known very well how vindictive his son could be, because he sent Esarhaddon away on campaigns following his announcement, and kept him away for the two years before Arda-Mulissi is believed to have put together a “Treaty of Rebellion” with his brothers that resulted in the murder of King Sennacherib.
The name of the murderer of King Sennacherib still remains a mystery, even though there are complete sources that name him, but they are not considered reliable considering who wrote them, or are simply too strategically damaged to incriminate any specific person.
You can read one scholar’s theory about the identity of The Murderer of Sennacherib here, which according to the author is not as elusive as everyone thinks.
And the mystery continues about who killed King Sennacherib.