(Sarʹgon) [from Akkadian, meaning “The King Is Legitimate”].
The successor of Shalmaneser V as king of Assyria. Historians refer to him as Sargon II. An earlier king, not of Assyria, but of Babylon is designated as Sargon I.
Sargon is mentioned by name but once in the Bible record. (Isa 20:1) In the early 1800’s the Biblical reference to him was often discounted by critics as of no historical value. However, from 1843 onward archaeological excavations uncovered the ruins of his palace at Khorsabad and the inscribed records of his royal annals.—PICTURE, Vol. 1, pp. 955, 960.
In his annals Sargon made the claim: “I besieged and conquered Samaria (Sa-me-ri-na).” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard, 1974, p. 284) However, that appears to be simply a boastful claim by Sargon or those who sought to glorify him, in which the accomplishment of the preceding ruler was claimed for the new monarch. A Babylonian chronicle, which may be more neutral, states concerning Shalmaneser V: “He ravaged Samaria.” (Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, by A. K. Grayson, 1975, p. 73) The Bible, at 2 Kings 18:9, 10, states simply that Shalmaneser ‘laid siege’ to Samaria and that “they got to capture it.” Compare 2 Kings 17:1-6, which says that Shalmaneser the king of Assyria imposed tribute on Hoshea, the king of Samaria, and then states that later “the king of Assyria captured Samaria.”
Inscriptions relating to Sargon illustrate the folly of placing great confidence in the ancient secular records, even to the point of equating them in value with the Biblical record. Following Sargon’s accession to the throne, the Babylonians under Merodach-baladan revolted, with the support of Elam. Sargon warred against them at Der but was evidently unable to smash the revolt. Sargon’s inscriptions show him claiming a complete victory in the battle, yet the Babylonian Chronicle states that the Elamites defeated the Assyrians, and a text of Merodach-baladan boasts that he ‘overthrew the Assyrian hosts and smashed their weapons.’ The book Ancient Iraq observes: “Amusing detail: Merodach-Baladan’s inscription was found at Nimrud, where Sargon had taken it from Uruk . . . , replacing it in that city with a clay cylinder bearing his own and, of course, radically different version of the event. This shows that political propaganda and ‘cold war’ methods are not the privilege of our epoch.”—By G. Roux, 1964, p. 258.
Sargon was more successful against a coalition formed by the kings of Hamath and Damascus and other allies, gaining the victory over them in a battle at Karkar on the Orontes River. Second Kings 17:24, 30 lists people from Hamath among those whom “the king of Assyria” settled in the cities of Samaria in place of the exiled Israelites.
According to Sargon’s records, in his fifth year he attacked and conquered Carchemish, a city of commercial and military importance on the upper Euphrates River. The standard Assyrian procedure of deportation of the city’s inhabitants and of their replacement by foreign elements followed. In Isaiah’s warning concerning the Assyrian menace (Isa 10:5-11), Carchemish, along with Hamath and other cities, is cited as an example of the crushing power of Assyria. Later, Sargon reports settling Arab tribes as colonists in Samaria.—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 285, 286.
Assyrian records relate that the king of Ashdod, Azuri, engaged in rebellious conspiracy against the Assyrian yoke and that Sargon removed him, putting Azuri’s younger brother in his place. Another revolt followed, and Sargon launched an attack against Philistia and “besieged and conquered the cities Ashdod, Gath . . . (and) Asdudimmu.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 286) It is apparently at this point that the Bible record mentions Sargon directly by name at Isaiah 20:1.
Following this, Sargon forced Merodach-baladan out of Babylon and conquered the city. Sargon’s name is listed on an inscription as king of Babylon for a period of five years.
Sargon’s aggressive reign brought the Assyrian Empire to a new peak of power and produced the last great Assyrian dynasty. Historians would credit Sargon with a rule of 17 years. Since he is supposed to have begun his rule at or shortly after the fall of Samaria in Hezekiah’s sixth year (2Ki 18:10), and since his son and successor to the throne, Sennacherib, invaded Judah in Hezekiah’s 14th year (2Ki 18:13), a 17-year rule for Sargon could be possible only if Sennacherib were a coregent at the time of his attacking Judah. It seems equally likely that the historians’ figure is in error. They certainly cannot rely on the eponym lists to establish these reigns, as is shown in the article CHRONOLOGY. The general unreliability of the Assyrian scribes and their practice of “adjusting” the different editions of the annals to suit the ruler’s ego are also discussed there.
During his reign Sargon erected a new capital city about 20 km (12 mi) NE of Nineveh, near the present-day village of Khorsabad. On a virgin site he laid out the city called Dur Sharrukin (what might be called Sargonsburg) and built a 200-room royal palace on a raised platform that was 7.5 m (25 ft) high and that covered an area of nearly 10 ha (25 acres). Colossal human-headed, winged bulls guarded the palace entrance, one pair being about 5 m (16 ft) high. The walls were adorned with frescoes as well as carved reliefs depicting his campaigns and feats, the total wall space occupied by these reliefs equaling an overall distance of about 2.5 km (1.5 mi). In one of his inscriptions Sargon says: “For me, Sargon, who dwells in this palace, may he [that is, the god Asshur] decree as my destiny long life, health of body, joy of heart, brightness of soul.” (Ancient Iraq, p. 262) Yet the records indicate that a year or so after the palace inauguration Sargon was killed, the manner of his death not being certain. His son Sennacherib replaced him.
[Picture on page 865]
Nimrud Prism, which boasts of conquests by Sargon; but some of those conquests may actually have been made by his predecessor