(Sar’gon) [the king is legitimate, or, the constituted king].
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, being designated as Sargon I.
Sargon is mentioned by name but once in the Bible record. (Isa. 20:1) In the early part of the past century the Biblical reference to him was often discounted by critics as of no historical value. From 1843 onward, however, archaeological excavations produced the ruins of his palace at Khorsabad and the inscribed records of his royal annals. Though Sargon II is now one of the best known of the Assyrian kings, the picture presented by the ancient records is by no means complete.
There is, for example, considerable uncertainty as to the manner in which Sargon came to the throne and as to his lineage or parentage. Thus, some reference works view him as of common stock and a usurper who took the name of Sargon on assuming kingship. Others present him quite definitely as the son of Tiglath-pileser III and the legal successor to the throne. The diversity of opinion clearly derives from the fragmentary nature of the historical sources and their apparent inconsistency.
The beginning of Sargon’s reign is generally considered to coincide with the fall of Samaria in the sixth year of Judean King Hezekiah’s rule (740 B.C.E.), and Sargon is often credited with having completed the conquest of that city begun by Shalmaneser V. (2 Ki. 18:10) The Bible account of Samaria’s fall at 2 Kings 17:1-6 mentions only Shalmaneser (V) by name. However, while specifically referring to him at the time of his making Hoshea tributary to Assyria, Shalmaneser’s name is not repeated in the succeeding verses, reference simply being made to the “king of Assyria” in the description of the later siege and deportation of the Israelites. In the parallel account in 2 Kings 18:9, Shalmaneser is named as at least having initiated the siege of Samaria, but verse 10 states: “And they got to capture it at the end of three years.” Thus the Bible record does not specify that Shalmaneser completed the capture of Samaria and allows for the possibility of Sargon’s having done so.
As to secular records, the following inscription appears in Sargon’s annals: “At the beginning of my rule, in my first year of reign . . . Samerinai [that is, the people of Samaria] . . . 27,290 . . . who lived therein, I carried away . . . ” Due to the damaged condition of the inscription, it is a matter of conjecture whether Sargon is here claiming to have effected the conquest of Samaria in his first year. In another inscription, in which he summarized a fifteen-year period of rule, he stated: “I besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it. I formed from among them a contingent of 50 chariots and made remaining (inhabitants) assume their (social) positions. I installed over them an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king.” While this confirms the fact of the deportation of thousands of Israelites subsequent to the fall of Samaria, yet such summary does not provide a sure means of fixing the events chronologically. Thus we find some reference works suggesting that Sargon may have been a general in the Assyrian army at the time of the conquest and that he thereafter attributed to himself the victory of his predecessor, Shalmaneser V; while others, accepting Sargon’s kingship to have begun prior to Samaria’s fall, present the possibility that he may not even have been present at the conquest, entrusting the fight to the army chiefs instead. Unger’s Bible Dictionary (page 971) comments: “We know from other clear instances that the Assyrian kings were not careful to distinguish their own from the successes of their generals in the field.”
The uncertainty involved is indicated by this comment in the Oxford Bible Atlas (1962, pp. 27, 28): “Sargon’s own records are not consistent, and the claim for the destruction of Samaria in the first year of his reign comes from the final edition of his annals, found in the excavations of his capital city Dur-sharrukin (Khorsabad). It is thought by some scholars that not Sargon but Shalmanezer V, as the biblical text seems to imply (2 Kgs. 17.1-6), conquered Samaria.”
Summing up the matter, French scholar Georges Roux, in his book Ancient Iraq (1964, p. 257), frankly admits: “All we know for certain is that Hoshea, the puppet King of Israel, revolted and that Shalmaneser [V] besieged Samaria for three years; but whether it was he who captured the city or the next king of Assyria [Sargon II] is still a debated question.”
The reign of Sargon was one of continual struggle to maintain imperial domination by Assyria over its subject territories. 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. It may be noted that here again we have an illustration of the unwisdom of placing great confidence in these secular records, even to the point of equating them in value with the Biblical record. Sargon’s inscriptions show him claiming a complete victory in the above-mentioned 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 (p. 258) 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.”
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 Qarqar 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 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.
Assyrian records relate that the king of Ashdod, Azuri, engaged in rebellious conspiracy against the Assyrian yoke and 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.” 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 seventeen years. Since he is supposed to have begun his rule at or shortly after the fall of Samaria in Hezekiah’s sixth year (2 Ki. 18:10), and since his son and successor to the throne, Sennacherib, invaded Judah in Hezekiah’s fourteenth year (vs. 13), a seventeen-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 on 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 fifteen miles (24 kilometers) NE of Nineveh, near the present-day village of Khorsabad. On a virgin site he laid out the city called Dur Sharrukin (‘Sargonsburg’) and built a two-hundred-room royal palace on a raised platform some fifty feet (15 meters) high and covering an area of about two acres (.81 hectare). Colossal human-headed, winged bulls guarded the palace entrance, one pair being sixteen feet (4.9 meters) high. The walls were adorned with fresco paintings and carved reliefs depicting his campaigns and feats, the total wall space occupied by these reliefs equaling an overall distance of a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers). 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.” 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 1449]
Sargon II, as found at Khorsobad