Usurper. In 722 b.c.e. Sargon, whose Akkadian name (Sharrukin) means “the king is legitimate,” overthrew the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V (726-722 b.c.e.), who may have been his brother, at the moment the king’s troops were besieging Samaria, the capital of ancient Israel. Although in his later years, Sargon claimed that on taking the throne, he completed the conquest of Samaria and the deportation of its population; the Hebrew Bible, which is probably correct, mentions only Shalmaneser in this regard. In reality, after staging his coup, Sargon faced rebellion and belligerent adversaries on virtually all the borders of Assyria. Sargon spent practically his entire reign in military campaigns suppressing rebellions and attempting to complete the strategy of expansion and consolidation initiated during the reign of Shalmaneser’s father, Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 b.c.e.). Yet, Sargon also managed to have built a magnificent new capital city named after himself, Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad). Sargon’s artisans adorned the walls of his palace with large carved blocks of stone, many of them vividly depicting his military victories.
Rebellions in the South. Immediately after Sargon’s coup, Marduk-apla-iddina II (the biblical Merodoch-baladan), the leader of Bit-Yakin, a local Chaldaean tribe, seized the throne in Babylon, which had previously been occupied by the Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V. The defeat of the Assyrian army by the Elamites of Iran, allies of the Babylonians, during an otherwise unsuccessful Elamite attack on the city of Der, forced Sargon to concentrate his efforts in areas other than Babylonia for a full ten years. He returned to Babylonia in 710 b.c.e. and managed to isolate the Babylonians from their erstwhile Elamite allies, driving Merodoch-baladan to flee for his life.
Rebellions in the West. Following the initial stalemate in the south, Sargon immediately turned his attention to the west. Among the rebellious former vassal states was Hamath on the Orontes in Syria. The king of Hamath, Yau-bidi, led a coalition of neighboring states in revolt. In an inscription, Sargon called Yau-bidi “a hupshu (a Hurrian loanword that originally designated a member of one of the lower classes and later became a term of abuse) without claim to the throne, a cursed Hittite.” Sargon fitted out an army and besieged Yau-bidi in the city of Qarqar. The city was captured and burned; Yaubidi was captured and flayed alive. Sargon then continued south, retaking Gaza and defeating an Egyptian force at Raphia on the Egyptian border. Later, an Assyrian garrison was posted at the border, and the Egyptian king sent diplomatic gifts to Sargon. In 712 b.c.e., Sargon successfully pacified the Philistine city-states. Sargon’s power was felt as far west as the island of Cyprus, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) off the north Syrian coast. An Assyrian royal inscription excavated on Cyprus records the gifts of seven local kings sent to Sargon.
Enemies to the North. Two major powers on Assyria’s northern and northwestern frontiers presented Sargon with further difficulties: Phrygia and Urartu, in central and eastern Anatolia respectively, attempted together and individually to pressure border states into allying themselves with either of them. In the annals of his Eighth Campaign (714 b.c.e.), Sargon vividly described the difficult march into the highlands, where he defeated the Urartians and their allies. With the movement of the nomadic Cimmerians across the Caucasus Mountains into Anatolia, and the general threat they posed to all, the Phrygian king Mita (Midas) sought to bring hostilities with Assyria to a close; eventually the two states exchanged ambassadors. In 705 b.c.e. troubles in the border state of Tabal took Sargon into the northwest on one last campaign, in which he was killed in battle.
Pauline Albenda, The Palace of Sargon of Assyria: Monumental Wall Reliefs at Dur-Sharrukin, from Original Drawings Made at the Time of Their Discovery in 1843–1844 by Botta and Flandin, Synthèse, no. 22 (Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilizations, 1986).
J. A. Brinkman, Prelude to Empire: Babylonian Society and Politics, 747—626 B.C., Occasional Publications of the Babylonian Fund, 7 (Philadelphia: Babylonian Fund, University Museum, 1984).
A. Kirk Grayson, “Assyria: Tiglath-pileser III to Sargon II (744–705 B.C.),” in The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States to the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.C., edited by John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, N. G. L. Hammond, and E. Sollberger, volume 3, part 2 of The Cambridge Ancient History, second edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 71–102.
The Assyrian king Sargon II (reigned 722-705 B.C.) was one of the chief architects of the late Assyrian Empire and the founder of its greatest line of kings.
Sargon II, upon his accession, took the name Sharrukin (Sargon is the biblical form), after the illustrious founder of the Akkadian dynasty, who had died 1,600 years before. This name and the fact that his predecessor, Shalmaneser V, reigned very briefly suggest that Sargon may have been a usurper. His first task was to restore order and overcome opposition at home; he then turned to the problems facing his army on the frontiers of the empire. He captured Samaria, the Israelite capital, and deported its inhabitants; next he defeated the rebel Syrian vassels at Qarqar. In the northeast, the turbulent Iranian tribes had been stirred into revolt by Assyria's old enemy, the Kingdom of Urartu. Punitive campaigns between 719 and 717 B.C. restored order, but trouble broke out again, and in 715 Sargon, in a demonstration of strength, marched round Lake Urmia to Van, Urartu's capital. Van held out, however, creating a stalemate on Assyria's northern frontier.
In 717 Sargon was faced with a revolt in the west encouraged by King Midas of Phrygia. Sargon's army over-ran northern Syria and the Taurus region, and by 710 all Syria and Palestine had submitted to Assyrian rule with the exception of Judah; Egypt was friendly. Only the Babylonians enjoyed virtual independence under their Chaldean leader, Merodach-Baladan; but when Sargon marched south in 708, Merodach-Baladan fled to Elam, and Sargon was crowned king of Babylon. The king of Bahrein sent gifts, and so did seven kings of Cyprus. Like his ancient namesake, Sargon could claim sway from the Upper Sea (the Mediterranean) to the Lower Sea (the Persian Gulf).
Sargon lived in Calah (modern Nimrud), the military capital, which he fortified and embellished. He also created a new residence city, Sargonsburg, 15 miles northeast of Nineveh, near modern Khorsabad. The city, which was inaugurated in 706, took 10 years to build. It was laid out in a rectangle, and its walls were pierced by eight gates. The great palace and temple, which stood on a 50-foot-high citadel platform, contained spacious halls decorated with stone reliefs. Colossal figures of man-headed bulls stood at the doorways. Early in 705 Sargon was called to the northwest, where he fell in battle against the nomadic Cimmerians.
Contemporary sources are collected in The Inscriptions of Sargon II, King of Assyria, translated and edited by A. G. Lie (1929). For the University of Chicago's excavation of Sargonsburg consult Gordon Loud, Khorsabad, vol. 1 (1936), in which references are given to the publications of the 19th-century French excavators. Many of the sculptures from Khorsabad are now in the Louvre in Paris. Volume 3 of The Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols., 1925) contains a reliable general account of Sargon's reign by Sidney Smith. A. T. Olmstead, Western Asia in the Days of Sargon of Assyria (1908), is still of use.
Kristensen, Anne K. G. (Anne Katrine Gade), Who were the Cimmerians, and where did they come from?: Sargon II, the Cimmerians, and Rusa I, Copenhagen: Det kongelige Danske videnskabernes selskab, 1988. □
SARGON II (Heb. סַרְגּוֹן), king of Assyria and Babylonia,(722–705 b.c.e.), successor of Shalmaneser v, and father of *Sennacherib. There are conflicting opinions among scholars as to whether or not he was a son of Tiglath-Pileser iii. The circumstances which brought Sargon to the throne are obscure; he may well have been an usurper, or a descendant of a secondary line of the royal house. His name, identical with that of Sargon of Akkad and Sargon i of Assyria, means: "the legitimate king" (see Tadmor, in bibl.). The beginning of his reign was marked by domestic difficulties, which he solved by giving the Assyrians and the settlers of *Haran a charter freeing them from taxes and military service. In 720 Sargon marched against *Merodach-Baladan, who had ascended the Babylonian throne the previous year. Supported by the Elamites, who were the chief opponents in the battle, Merodach-Baladan met Sargon at Dêr and defeated, or at least stopped, him. Engaged on practically all fronts in fighting rebellions – which he was able to suppress – Sargon could not take revenge against the Babylonian king until 710. This time his victory was complete. He entered Babylon, proclaiming himself king. Between 719 and 711 Sargon campaigned against the Medes, Mannai, and Ararat. In the "West" he completed the subjugation and conquest of Israel and Samaria, and, after quelling an Egyptian-sponsored revolt, rebuilt it and made it capital of his new province, Samerīna. Sargon's overall policy was the intermingling of the populations and the resources of the Near East under Assyrian leadership. For this purpose he went on to open the road to Egypt. In 716 he cleared and subjugated the western Sinai area and established an Assyrian kārum, a trade settlement, the purpose of this expedition being the opening up of Egyptian and Arabian trade to Assyria.
In approximately 713–712 Sargon conquered and organized Ashdod (Isa. 20:1 alludes to the first steps of this campaign). Then, under the commander in chief the tartan, Azuri, the plotting king of Ashdod, was deposed. Ashdod was supported by Egypt and very likely by *Hezekiah king of Judah; but the latter changed his mind after the Assyrian conquest of *Azekah. Remains of a stele of Sargon were discovered in Ashdod.
Near the modern Khorsabad he built a new capital city, Dûr-Sharrukin ("Sargon's fortress"). Sargon was killed in a campaign against the Cimmerians – newcomers in Urarṭu – and his encampment was sacked.
H. Tadmor, in: jaos, 12 (1955), 22–40; idem, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1959), 150–62; P. Artzi, ibid., 9 (1969) 28 n. 55; W.W. Hallo, in: ba, 23 (1960), 51–56.