Sennacherib, whose name (Sin-ahhe-criba) means ‘the god Sin has replaced the brothers’, came to the throne of Assyria in 704 BCE. Unlike his predecessors, the Sennacherib’s reign was not largely marked by military campaigns, but mainly by architectural renovations, constructions, and expansions. The new king shifted the capital from Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad) to the ancient city of Nineveh, which he rebuilt in unparalleled splendour. This great palace, which Sennacherib describes in his inscriptions as ‘without rival’, is known today as the South-West Palace. Many rooms were decorated with alabaster wall reliefs.
Sennacherib laid out several parks around his capital (Nineveh) and imported trees and other plants. He also re-created a southern Babylonian marsh environment when he had a swamp created and populated with animals and plants imported from the actual marsh habitat he admired.
During his military campaigns Sennacherib was mainly preoccupied with trying to resolve the political situation in Babylonia, a region that had only recently been retaken by his father Sargon II. From 703 – 689 BCE Sennacherib fought to control south Mesopotamia until finally, after a fifteen-month siege, the city of Babylon was captured and sacked. In 701 BC Sennacherib sacked the city of Lachish in Judah but failed to take the capital Jerusalem. In 681 BCE Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons while he prayed in a temple. He was succeeded by another son, Esarhaddon.
Sennacherib’s predecessors kept a variety of animals in parks. Herds of deer, gazelle and ibex for instance were transported from conquered territories to Assyria, and species like lions, apes, ostriches and falcons of which some species were never before seen in Assyria. Not only animals were imported, also foreign trees and fruiting plants. But, Sennacherib was the first to create dedicated areas for these exotic animals and plants as an ecosystem exhibit. He is also believed to be the creator of the famous hanging gardens of Babylon, which were actually at the palace garden of Sennacherib located at Nineveh.
- Website of the British museum; http://www.britishmuseum.org/
- Kisling, V.N. (2001) Zoo and Aquarium History: ancient animal collections to zoological gardens, New York, CRC Press.