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Sargon II

Biography of Sargon II

Scholars generally believe that as Shalmaneser V's younger brother, Sargon II took over the throne in a violent coup (Kuhrt pg. 497). In a fragmentary document called the Ashur Charter, the reason Sargon himself offers for the regime change was the unpopular decision of Shalmaneser to tax and impose corvee labor upon the traditionally exempt cities of Ashur and Harran. The fact that Sargon constructed a new capital Dur-Sharrukin which was used only in his reign, and that he made the unusual step of naming himself after the ancient, quasi-mythical figure Sargon of Akkad, suggests that Sargon's claim to the throne was weak (Grayson, CAH III/2 pg. 88).

The above initial dynastic disruption led a number of small states, particularly in northern Syria, to revolt against the Assyrians. The internal dissent in the early part of his reign hampered Sargon's ability to rule. Nevertheless he defeated the coalition and had its leader, the king of Hamath, flayed as punishment, having the scene depicted on the walls of his new palace at Dur-Sharrukin.

Sargon also had dealings with the Mushkian (or Phrygian) kingdom in eastern Anatolia, and in particular with a king believed to be the famous tyrant Midas of Greek myth. The Phyrgians had been in league with the dangerous state of Urartu, one of Assyria's most powerful rivals from the Neo-Assyrian period. Together they had been putting pressure on some of the vassal kingdoms bordering on Assyrian provinces to switch allegiance. However in 714 Sargon undertook a campaign into Urartu, defeating the Urartian king and his Mannean allies, and ultimately sacking the border state of Musasir. This move, along with an aggressive push down the Levantine coast to Judah and Philistia, ensured Assyria the fear and respect it had enjoyed under Tiglath-pileser III (Kuhrt pg. 498). In fact in 709 Midas made friendly overtures to its southern rival, and the two states exchanged ambassadors between their capitals of Gordion and Kalhu.

An equally troubling development for Sargon was the takeover of the Babylonian throne by the rebel Marduk-apli-iddina II of the Chaldean tribe Bit Yakin (Merodach-Baladan of biblical fame), upon the death of Shalmaneser V. His first attempt at suppressing the revolt led to a battle in 720 at Der against a combined army of Babylonians and Elamites, resulting in the loss Assyria's southern holdings (Kuhrt pg. 498). Ten years later, however, Sargon managed to defeat Marduk-apli-iddina, forcing him to flee Babylon and seek refuge in Elam. The triumph this reclamation represented was celebrated by the inauguration of Sargon's new capital of Dur-Sharrukin (Kuhrt, pg. 499).

As with the Middle Assyrian kings and the Aramaeans, Sargon found himself threatened by an incoming tribal group usually equated with the Cimmerians. Here the Assyrian king met his end, as the limmu chronicle for 705 reports that while on campaign the Cimmerians killed him and captured his camp (Kuhrt, pg. 499).

Matthew Ong

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