Sargon II ( Akkadian Šarru-kên "legitimate king", reigned 722 – 705 BC) was an Assyrian king. Sargon II became co-regent with Shalmaneser V in 722 BC, and became the sole ruler of the kingdom of Assyria in 722 BC after the death of Shalmaneser V. It is not clear whether he was the son of Tiglath-Pileser III or a usurper unrelated to the royal family. In his inscriptions, he styles himself as a new man, rarely referring to his predecessors; however he took the name Sharru-kinu ("true king"), after Sargon of Akkad - who had founded the first Semitic Empire in the region some 16 centuries earlier. Sargon is the Biblical form of the name.
Beset by difficulties at the beginning of his rule, Sargon II made a pact with the Babylonian king Marduk-apla-iddina II. He was able to free all temples, as well as the inhabitants of the towns of Assur and Harran from taxes. While Sargon was thus trying to gain support in Assyria, Marduk-apla-iddina II conquered Babylon with the help of the new Elamite king Ummanigash and was crowned king in 721 BC.
A lamassu from the palace of Sargon II at Dur-Sharrukin.
Palace of Khorsabad
In 720 BC Sargon moved against Elam, but the Assyrian army was defeated near Der. Later that year, Sargon defeated an Aramean coalition at Qarqar, thereby gaining control of Arpad, Simirra, and Damascus. Sargon conquered Gaza in Philistia, destroyed Rafah, and won a victory over Egyptian troops. On his return, he had Samaria rebuilt as the capital of the new province of Samerina and settled it with Assyrians.
In 717 BC he conquered parts of the Zagros mountains and the Syro-Hittite city of Carchemish on the Upper Euphrates. In 716 BC he moved against the Mannaeans, where the ruler Aza, son of Iranzu, had been deposed by Ullusunu with the help of the Urartuans. Sargon took the capital Izirtu, and stationed troops in Parsuash (the original home of the Persian tribe, on lake Urmia) and Kar-Nergal (Kishesim). He built new bases in Media as well, the main one being Harhar which he renamed Kar-Sharrukin. In 715 BC, others were to follow: Kar-Nabu, Kar-Sin and Kar-Ishtar - all named after Babylonian gods and resettled by Assyrian subjects.
The eighth campaign of Sargon against Urartu in 714 BC is well known from a letter from Sargon to the god Ashur (found in the town of Assur, now in the Louvre) and the bas-reliefs in the palace of Dur-Sharrukin. The reliefs show the difficulties of the terrain: the war-chariots had to be dismantled and carried by soldiers (with the king still in the chariot); the letter describes how paths had to be cut into the intractable forests. The campaign was probably motivated by the fact that the Urartians had been weakened by incursions of the Cimmerians, a nomadic steppe tribe. One Urartian army had been completely annihilated, and the general Qaqqadanu taken prisoner.
After reaching Lake Urmia he turned east and entered Zikirtu and Andia on the Caspian slopes of the Caucasus. When news reached him that king Rusas I of Urartu was moving against him, he turned back to Lake Urmia in forced marches and defeated a Urartian army in a steep valley of the Uaush (probably the Sahend, east of Lake Urmia, or further to the south, in Mannaea country), a steep mountain that reached the clouds and whose flanks were covered by snow. The battle is described as the usual carnage, but King Rusas managed to escape. The horses of his chariot had been killed by Assyrian spears, forcing him to ride a mare in order to get away, very unbecoming for a king.
Sargon plundered the fertile lands at the southern and western shore of Lake Urmia, felling orchards and burning the harvest. In the royal resort of Ulhu, the wine-cellar of the Urartian kings was plundered; wine was scooped up like water. The Assyrian army then plundered Sangibuti and marched north to Van without meeting resistance, the people having retreated to their castles or fled into the mountains, having been warned by fire-signals. Sargon claims to have destroyed 430 empty villages.
After reaching Lake Van, Sargon left Urartu via Uaiaish. In Hubushkia he received the tribute of the "Nairi" lands. While most of the army returned to Assyria, Sargon went on to sack the Urartian temple of the god Haldi and his wife Bagbartu at Musasir (Ardini). The loot must have been impressive; its description takes up fifty columns in the letter to Ashur. More than one ton of gold and five tons of silver fell into the hands of the Assyrians; 334,000 objects in total. A relief from Dur-Sharrukin depicted the sack of Musasir as well (which fell into the Tigris in 1846 when the archaeologist Paul-Émile Botta was transporting his artifacts to Paris). Musasir was annexed. Sargon claims to have lost only one charioteer, two horsemen and three couriers on this occasion. King Rusa was said to be despondent when he heard of the loss of Musasir, and fell ill. According to the imperial annals, he took his own life with his own iron sword.
In 713 BC Sargon stayed at home; his troops took, among others, Karalla, Tabal and Cilicia. Some Mede rulers offered tribute. In 711 BC, Gurgum was conquered. An uprising in the Philistine city of Ashdod, supported by Judah, Moab, Edom and Egypt, was suppressed, and Ashdod became an Assyrian province.
Under his rule, the Assyrians completed the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel, capturing Samaria after a siege of three years and exiling the inhabitants. This became the basis of the legends of the Lost Ten Tribes. According to the Bible, other people were brought to Samaria, the Samaritans, under his predecessor Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 18). Sargon's name actually appears in the Bible only once, at Isaiah 20:1, which records the Assyrian capture of Ashdod in 711 BC.
Campaign against Babylonia
In 710 BC Sargon felt safe enough in his rule to move against his Babylonian arch-enemy Marduk-apla-iddina II. One army moved against Elam and its new king Shutruk-Nahhunte II; the other, under Sargon himself, against Babylon. Sargon laid siege to Babylon, and Marduk-apla-iddina II fled. He was said to have been captured in the swamps of the Shatt al-Arab (though, as he seems to have proven a thorn in the side of Sennacherib later on, this might not have been quite true). Southern Babylonia, settled by nomadic Aramaean tribes, was conquered and turned into the province of Gambulu.
After the capture of Marduk-apla-iddina II, Babylon yielded to Sargon and he was proclaimed king of Babylonia in 710, thus restoring the dual monarchy of Babylonia and Assyria. He remained in Babylon for three years; in 709 BC, he led the new-year procession as king of Babylon. He had his son, crown-prince Sennacherib, married to the Aramaic noblewoman Naqi'a, and stayed in the south to pacify the Aramaic and Chaldean tribes of the lower Euphrates as well as the Suti nomads. Some areas at the border to Elam were occupied as well.
Human-headed winged bull, found during Botta's excavation.
In 710, the seven kings of Ia' (Cyprus) had accepted Assyrian sovereignty; in 709, Midas, king of Phrygia, beset by the nomadic Cimmerians, submitted to Assyrian rule and in 708, Kummuhu (Commagene) became an Assyrian province. Assyria was at the apogee of its power. Urartu had almost succumbed to the Cimmerians, Elam was weakened, Marduk-apla-iddina II was momentarily powerless, and the Egyptian influence in the Levant was temporarily waning as well.
Sargon preferred Nineveh to the traditional capital at Assur. In 713 BC he ordered the construction of a new palace and town called Dur-Sharrukin ("House of Sargon"), 20 km north of Nineveh at the foot of the Gebel Musri. Land was bought, and the debts of construction workers were nullified in order to attract a sufficient labor force. The land in the environs of the town was taken under cultivation, and olive groves were planted to increase Assyria's deficient oil production. The town was of rectangular layout and measured 1760 by 1635 m. The length of the walls was 16,280 Assyrian units, corresponding to the numerical value of Sargon's name. The town was partly settled by prisoners of war and deportees under the control of Assyrian officials, who had to ensure they were paying sufficient respect to the gods and the king. The court moved to Dur-Sharrukin in 706 BC, although it was not completely finished yet.
In 705 BC, Sargon fell in a campaign against the Cimmerians, who were later to destroy the kingdoms of Urartu and Phrygia before moving even further west. Sargon was succeeded by his son Sennacherib (Sin-ahhe-eriba, 705 – 681 BC).