The Taylor Prism and its Remarkable Assyrian History
Moshe Pearlman, one of Israel’s most prolific writers, described the discovery of Sennacherib’s Prism, among the ruins of Nineveh, as “stupendous.”
The Prism, now in the British Museum in London, is also known as the Taylor Prism after Colonel R Taylor the British Consul General at Baghdad, who acquired it in 1830.
The Taylor Prism, a simple clay cylinder, gives in cuneiform script, a detailed account of some of the Assyrian king’s military campaigns. It is a small, yet important part of Sennacherib’s legacy to modern historians.
The British Museum highlights the significance of the Taylor Prism but not simply as a stunning record of the day. As one of the first Assyrian documents rediscovered, it played an important part in the development of cuneiform translation.
Assyrian civilisation was concentrated around the Tigris Valley, in what is now modern Iraq, and can be traced back to the third millennium BCE. Sennacherib, son of Sargon II, came to the Assyrian throne in 704 BCE.
Sennacherib’s Military Campaigns
Sennacherib spent much of his reign conducting military campaigns and won famous victories at Babylon and Lachish in Judah, however he failed to take Jerusalem in 701 BCE.
Although the Prism tells the story of the Siege of Jerusalem, strangely there is no mention of Lachish. However a series of wall reliefs found among the ruins of his palace at Nineveh do tell the story of his victory at Lachish. One of the panels is inscribed with these words, “Sennacherib, king of the Universe, king of Assyria sat upon a throne and passed in review the booty taken from the city of Lachish…”
Siege of Jerusalem
The Prism tells of the destruction of, “Many strong cities of Judah” but Jerusalem was not among them.
Pearlman describes Sennacherib’s account of the Siege of Jerusalem as “fulsome”. It seems his failure to take Jerusalem was not a matter of military defeat but one of negotiation with its ruler King Hezekiah.
Sennacherib claims to have made “Hezekiah the Jew” a prisoner,” like a bird in a cage” before exacting a long list of tribute.
The list is impressive “In addition to the thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, gems, antimony, jewels, large carnelians, ivory-inlaid couches, ivory-inlaid chairs, elephant hides, elephant tusks, ebony, boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians.”
Sennacherib’s remarkable primary evidence doesn’t stand in isolation, other sources offer some corroboration.
The Old Testament, 2 Kings 18: 13, says, “In the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib, the Emperor of Assyria attacked the fortified cities of Judah and conquered them…” Josephus and Herodotus both also offered their own unique perspective on events.
Sacking of Nineveh
The Assyrian empire remained the dominant force in the region until 612 BCE when the Medes led by Cyaxares and the Babylonians under Nabopolassar sacked Nineveh bringing to an end a remarkable period in the region’s history.