Ancient Egypt: The Assyrian Expansion
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Sanherib ending siege of Livna to meet the Egyptian army
Sanherib ends the siege of Livna
to meet the Egyptian army
and retreats without giving battle

The Assyrian Expansion

By 732 Tiglat-Pileser III had conquered Damaskus, after subjugating the Philistines and northern Israel. Samaria and Judea came under his indirect rule and their connection to their southern allies were broken. Egypt promised support and the Samarian king Hosea rebelled when Tiglat-Pileser died, but his successor, Salmanassar V, took Samaria after a three year siege.

Sargon who succeeded him, turned Samaria into a province, but unrest prevailed in the region. In 720, he defeated an Egyptian expeditionary corps near Rafiah, which had come in succour of Gaza and extracted tribute from the Egyptians.

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah knew about the Egyptian domestic troubles

2   And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.

Isaiah 19 [1]

and he was not impressed with Egyptian power
21   Now behold, thou trusteth upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.

2 Kings 18 [1]

1   So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners and the Ethipians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot,even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
2   And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.

Isaiah 20 [1]

In 712 Ashdod rebelled supported by Shabaka, a pharaoh of Ethiopian descent and founder of the 25th Dynasty. Ashdod became an Assyrian province and Sargon extended his domain to the Sinai. Shabaka gave asylum to Iamani, king of Khattu and Azuri, king of Ashdod.
1   In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod and took it.

Isaiah 20 [1]

Shabaka entered upon negociations with Edom and Judea in an attempt to block Sargon's expansionist policies on the one hand, on the other he exchanged gifts with the Assyrian king.

In 701 Sanherib conquered (according to his own records) 46 towns in Judea, among them Lakhish, and demanded the complete surrender of Jerusalem, but never achieved it. Sanherib abandoned the siege of Livna and marched towards Eltake to meet an Egyptian army.

8   So Rab-shakeh returned and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
9   And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying,
10   Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trusteth deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.

2 Kings 19 [1]

The Assyrians, instead of opposing the Egyptians, retreated, for an unknown reason, possibly a disease.
35   And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpes.
36   So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed , and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

2 Kings 19 [1]

An Assyrian attack on Pelusium (Migdol) failed as well according to Herodotus. Taharka was at the head of King Shebitku's army.
After him there came to the throne the priest of Hephaistos, whose name was Sethos. This man, they said, neglected and held in no regard the warrior class of the Egyptians, considering that he would have no need of them; and besides other slights which he put upon them, he also took from them the yokes of corn-land which had been given to them as a special gift in the reigns of the former kings, twelve yokes to each man. After this, Sanacharib king of the Arabians and of the Assyrians marched a great host against Egypt. Then the warriors of the Egyptians refused to come to the rescue, and the priest, being driven into a strait, entered into the sanctuary of the temple and bewailed to the image of the god the danger which was impending over him; and as he was thus lamenting, sleep came upon him, and it seemed to him in his vision that the god came and stood by him and encouraged him, saying that he should suffer no evil if he went forth to meet the army of the Arabians; for he would himself send him helpers. Trusting in these things seen in sleep, he took with him, they said, those of the Egyptians who were willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusion, for by this way the invasion came: and not one of the warrior class followed him, but shop-keepers and artisans and men of the market. Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defence of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: "Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods."

Herodotus, Histories 2.141; [2]
Translated by Macaulay
Gutenberg Project

In 681 BCE Sanherib was assassinated at the door of the temple of Marduk
37   And it came to pass as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son ruled in his stead.

2 Kings 19 [1]

The conquest of Memphis
The conquest of Memphis
Taharka deposed and murdered Shebitku, was enthroned with the support of the priests of Amen and resided at Tanis.
The first attempt Asarhaddon's to conquer Egypt brought his armies to the River of Sinai but before he could cross the desert he was recalled to Urartu because an invasion of the Medes. When he had countered this threat, he got desert troops from Arabia and naval support from Tyre. But the Tyrian king changed his mind and placed his trust in Tarku, king of Kush and Asarhaddon tried and failed to take Tyre.

With the help of the Arab troops, Asarhaddon crossed the Sinai. Taharka waited for him at Iskhupri on the eastern frontier. Asarhaddon came

...to Memphis, his royal capital, a fifteen days' march, every day I killed many warriors and him (Taharka) I wounded five times, with arrow, with spear, incurable wounds. Then, his royal capital Memphis by sapping, with rams .... I besieged it, I took it and destroyed it with fire. His royal spouse, his palace ladies, his own son Washenhor, his other sons, daughters, his wealth, his treasury, his horses, his oxen, his livestock without number, I carried off to the land of Assur. I pulled out of the land of Egypt the root of Ethiopia.
According to the Babylonian chronicles, Asarhaddon after three massacres on the 3rd, 16th and 18th of the month of Tammuz (June, 671), took Memphis on the 22nd Tammuz.

Taharka escaped to Thebes.


[1]     The bible is not the most reliable source for historic events, so care should be taken.
[2]     Herodotus wrote his "Histories" centuries after the events, relying on hearsay.

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