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Shamash-shum-ukin on Wikipedia

Detail of a stone monument of Shamash-shum-ukin as a basket-bearer. 668-655 BCE. From the temple of Nabu at Borsippa, Iraq and is currently housed in the British Museum.jpg
Detail of a stone monument of Shamash-shum-ukin as a basket-bearer. 668–655 BC, from the temple of Nabu at Borsippa. Currently housed in the British Museum.
King of Babylon
Reign668–648 BC
Died648 BC
DynastySargonid dynasty
MotherUnknown,[1] possibly of Babylonian origin.[2]
ReligionAncient Mesopotamian religion

Shamash-shum-ukin or Shamashshumukin[3] (Akkadian: Šamaš-šuma-ukin[4] or Šamaš-šumu-ukīn,[5] meaning "Shamash has established the name = an heir"[5]), also known as Saulmugina[6] and Sarmuge,[7] was the son of the Neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon and his appointed successor as King of Babylon, ruling Babylonia from 668 BC to his death in 648 BC.

Despite being the eldest living son of Esarhaddon at the time, Shamash-shum-ukin was designated as the heir to Babylon in 672 BC and in his stead his younger brother Ashurbanipal was designated as the heir to Assyria. Despite documents from Esarhaddon suggesting that the two brothers were intended to have equal power, Shamash-shum-ukin only ascended to the Babylonian throne months after Ashubanipal had become king and throughout his reign could only make decisions and issue orders if these were also approved and verified by Ashurbanipal.

Eventually, Shamash-shum-ukin grew tired of this predicament and in 652 BC he rebelled against his younger brother. Despite successfully raising several allies, a coalition of enemies of Assyria, to his cause, Shamash-shum-ukin's rebellion proved disastrous. After enduring a two-year siege by Ashurbanipal of Babylon, Shamash-shum-ukin committed suicide by burning himself alive.


Shamash-shum-ukin was probably the second eldest son of King Esarhaddon, younger only than the crown prince, Sin-nadin-apli.[4] Sin-nadin-apli died unexpectedly in 674 BC and Esarhaddon, who was keen to avoid a succession crisis as he himself had only ascended to the throne with great difficulty, soon started making new succession plans.[8] Esarhaddon entirely bypassed the third eldest son, Shamash-metu-uballit, possibly because this prince suffered from poor health.[9]

In May 672 BC, Ashurbanipal, probably Esarhaddon's fourth eldest son (and definitely younger than Shamash-shum-ukin), was appointed by Esarhaddon as the heir to Assyria and Shamash-shum-ukin was appointed as the heir to Babylonia.[10] The two princes arrived at the capital of Nineveh together and partook in a celebration with foreign representatives and Assyrian nobles and soldiers.[11] Promoting one of his sons as the heir to Assyria and another as the heir to Babylon was a new idea, for the past decades the Assyrian king had simultaneously been the King of Babylon.[12]

The choice to name a younger son as crown prince of Assyria, which was clearly Esarhaddon's primary title, and an older son as crown prince of Babylon might be explained by the mothers of the two sons. While Ashurbanipal's mother was likely Assyrian in origin, Shamash-shum-ukin was the son of a woman from Babylon (though this is uncertain, Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin may have shared the same mother[1]) which would probably have had problematic consequences if Shamash-shum-ukin was to ascend to the Assyrian throne. Since Ashubanipal was the next oldest son, he then was the superior candidate to the throne. Esarhaddon probably surmised that the Babylonians would be content with someone of Babylonian heritage as their king and as such set Shamash-shum-ukin to inherit Babylon and the southern parts of his empire instead.[2] Treaties drawn up by Esarhaddon are somewhat unclear as to the relationship he intended his two sons to have. It is clear that Ashurbanipal was the primary heir to the empire and that Shamash-shum-ukin was to swear him an oath of allegiance but other parts also specify that Ashurbanipal was not to interfere in Shamash-shum-ukin's affairs which indicates a more equal standing.[13]

Because Esarhaddon was constantly ill, much of the administrative duties of the empire fell upon Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin during the last few years of their father's reign.[12]


Early reign

Confirmation by Shamash-shum-ukin of a grant originally made by Ashur-nadin-shumi. 670–650 BC. The tablet is currently housed in the British Museum.

After Esarhaddon's death in late 669 BC, Ashurbanipal became the Assyrian king as per Esarhaddon's succession plans. In the spring of the next year, Shamash-shum-ukin was inaugurated as the king of Babylon and returned the statue of Marduk, Babylon's chief deity, to the city, stolen by his grandfather King Sennacherib twenty years prior. Shamash-shum-ukin would rule at Babylon for sixteen years, apparently mostly peacefully in regards to his younger brother, but there would be repeated disagreements on the exact extent of his control.[14] Although Esarhaddon's inscriptions suggest that Shamash-shum-ukin should have been granted the entirety of Babylonia to rule, contemporary records only definitely prove that Shamash-shum-ukin held Babylon itself and its vicinity. The governors of some Babylonian cities, such as Nippur, Uruk and Ur, and the rulers in the Sea Land, all ignored the existence of a king in Babylon and saw Ashurbanipal as their monarch.[15]

Shamash-shum-ukin is recorded as having participated in several traditional Babylonian royal activities. He rebuilt the walls of the city Sippar and is known to have participated in the Babylonian New Year's festival.[15] He gave considerable attention to the temples of his domain, confirming offerings in several temples in his inscriptions and increasing the land of the Ishtar temple in Uruk.[16]

Despite his kingship having been designated by Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal refers to himself in his inscriptions as the man who granted Shamash-shum-ukin rule over Babylon. This is possibly due to Shamash-shum-ukin only being formally crowned as king a few months after Ashurbanipal had become the Assyrian monarch and it would have been within Ashurbanipal's power to stop his coronation.[17]


Locations of some major Mesopotamian cities.

The exact reasons for Samash-shum-ukin's revolt against Ashurbanipal are unknown, but there are several possibilities. Perhaps the most commonly believed reason is that although Esarhaddon had designated Shamash-shum-ukin to inherit control of all of Babylonia, this had not been respected by Ashurbanipal once Esarhaddon was dead. Although business documents from Shamash-shum-ukin are known throughout Babylonia (suggesting that most of the region saw him as their king), similar documents dated to the reign of Ashurbanipal are also known from Babylonia, which suggests that Ashurbanipal had assumed the authority of a Babylonian monarch despite there already being a king in Babylon.[18]

The cities Babylon, Dilbat, Borsippa and Sippar all lack business documents from Ashurbanipal, suggesting that these cities were firmly under Shamash-shum-ukin's rule, but Ashurbanipal had agents throughout the south that reported directly to him (not to Shamash-shum-ukin) and inscriptions suggest that any orders Shamash-shum-ukin gave to his subjects first had to be verified and approved by Ashurbanipal before they could be carried out.[19] Ashurbanipal had a permanent garrison of troops and officials stationed at Borsippa, a city which would have been deep inside Shamash-shum-ukin's domain.[20] There are also preserved petitions sent by officials in Babylon directly to Ashurbanipal. Had Shamash-shum-ukin been the universally respected sovereign of Babylon, he would probably have been the receiver of such letters.[21]

Royal records from Babylonia during the time of peaceful coexistence between Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin mention the names of both monarchs, but contemporary documents from Assyria only mention Ashurbanipal, reinforcing that the two kings were not equal in status. Kudurru, who was the governor of Uruk, addressed Ashurbanipal in his letters with the title "King of the Lands", despite Uruk being located in Babylonia, indicating that Kudurru saw Ashurbanipal, and not Shamash-shum-ukin, as his overlord.[22] Shamash-shum-ukin himself seems to have seen himself as Ashurbanipal's equal, simply addressing him as "my brother" in his letters (unlike how he addressed his father Esarhaddon, "the king, my father"). Although there are several letters preserved from Shamash-shum-ukin to Ashurbanipal, there are no known replies preserved. It is possible that Ashurbanipal, on account of his network of informers, did not feel a need to write to his brother.[17]

Revolt against Ashurbanipal and death

By the 650s BC, the hostility between Shamash-shum-ukin and Ashurbanipal had grown. A letter from Zakir, a courtier at Shamash-shum-ukin's court, to Ashurbanipal described how visitors from the Sea Land had publicly criticized Ashurbanipal in front of Shamash-shum-ukin, using the phrase "this is not the word of a king!". Zakir reported that though Shamash-shum-ukin was angered, he and his governor of Babylon, Ubaru, chose to not take action against the visitors.[23] Perhaps the most important factors behind Shamash-shum-ukin's revolt was his dissatisfaction with his position relative to that of his brother, the constant resentment of Assyria in general by the Babylonians and the constant willingness of the ruler of Elam to join anyone who waged war against Assyria.[24]

Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against Ashurbanipal in 652 BC.[25] This civil war would last for three years.[14] Inscription evidence suggests that Shamash-shum-ukin addressed the citizens of Babylon to join him in his revolt. In Ashurbanipal's inscriptions, Shamash-shum-ukin is quoted to have said "Ashurbanipal will cover with shame the name of the Babylonians", which Ashurbanipal refers to as "wind" and "lies". Soon after Shamash-shum-ukin began his revolt, the rest of southern Mesopotamia rose up against Ashurbanipal alongside him.[26]

According to the inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, Shamash-shum-ukin was very successful in finding allies against the Assyrians. Ashurbanipal identifies three groups which aided his brother, first and foremost there were the Chaldeans, Arameans and the other peoples of Babylonia, then there were the Elamites and lastly the kings of Gutium, Amurru and Meluhha. This last group of kings might refer to the Medes (as Gutium, Amurru and Meluhha no longer existed at this point) but this is uncertain. Meluhha might have referred to Egypt, which did not aid Shamash-shum-ukin in the war. Shamash-shum-ukin's ambassadors to the Elamites had offered gifts (called "bribes" by Ashurbanipal) and their king sent an army under the command of an Elamite prince to aid in the conflict.[27]

Despite the coalition of Assyrian enemies he had assembled, Shamash-shum-ukin's revolt would be unsuccessful. The Elamites, his primary ally, were defeated near Der and ceased to play a role in the conflict.[28] By 650 BC Shamash-shum-ukin's situation looked grim, with Ashubanipal's forces having besieged Sippar, Borsippa, Kutha and Babylon itself. Having endured starvation and disease over the course of the siege, Babylon finally fell in 648 BC and was plundered by Ashurbanipal. Shamash-shum-ukin committed suicide by setting himself on fire in his palace.[29] Thereafter, Ashubanipal placed one of his officials, Kandalanu, on the Babylonian throne as his vassal.[29] One of Shamash-shum-ukin's recorded prayers records his despair in the final stages of the war:

I moan like a dove night and day; I bemoan myself, I weep bitterly; Tears are forced from my eyes.[30]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Novotny & Singletary 2009, p. 174–176.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ahmed 2018, p. 65–66.
  3. Mullo-Weir 1929, p. 553.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Novotny & Singletary 2009, p. 168.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Frahm 2005, p. 47.
  6. Budge 2010, p. 52.
  7. Teppo 2007, p. 395.
  8. Ahmed 2018, p. 63.
  9. Novotny & Singletary 2009, p. 170.
  10. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  11. Ahmed 2018, p. 64.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Radner 2003, p. 170.
  13. Ahmed 2018, p. 68.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Ahmed 2018, p. 8.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ahmed 2018, p. 80.
  16. Ahmed 2018, p. 82.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ahmed 2018, p. 87.
  18. Ahmed 2018, pp. 82–83.
  19. Ahmed 2018, p. 83.
  20. Ahmed 2018, p. 84.
  21. Ahmed 2018, p. 85.
  22. Ahmed 2018, p. 86.
  23. Ahmed 2018, p. 88.
  24. Ahmed 2018, p. 90.
  25. MacGinnis 1988, p. 38.
  26. Ahmed 2018, p. 91.
  27. Ahmed 2018, p. 93.
  28. Carter & Stolper 1984, p. 51.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Johns 1913, p. 124–125.
  30. Ahmed 2018, p. 102.

Cited bibliography

  • Ahmed, Sami Said (2018). Southern Mesopotamia in the time of Ashurbanipal. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. ISBN 978-3111033587.
  • Budge, Ernest A. (2010) [1880]. The History of Esarhaddon, King of Assyria, B.C. 681-688: Translated from the Cuneiform Inscriptions Upon Cylinders and Tablets in the British Museum Collection, Together with Original Texts. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108017107.
  • Carter, Elizabeth; Stolper, Matthew W. (1984). Elam: Surveys of Political History and Archaeology. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520099500.
  • Frahm, Eckart (2005). "Observations on the Name and Age of Sargon II and on Some Patterns of Assyrian Royal Onomastics" (PDF). NABU. 2: 46–50.
  • Johns, C. H. W. (1913). Ancient Babylonia. Cambridge University Press. p. 124. Shamash-shum-ukin.
  • MacGinnis, J. D. A. (1988). "Ctesias and the Fall of Nineveh". Illinois Classical Studies. University of Illinois Press. 13 (1): 37–42. hdl:2142/12326.
  • Mullo-Weir, Cecil J. (1929). "The Return of Marduk to Babylon with Shamashshumukin". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 61 (3): 553–555. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00151561.
  • Novotny, Jamie; Singletary, Jennifer (2009). "Family Ties: Assurbanipal's Family Revisited". Studia Orientalia Electronica. 106: 167–177.
  • Radner, Karen (2003). "The Trials of Esarhaddon: The Conspiracy of 670 BC". ISIMU: Revista sobre Oriente Próximo y Egipto en la antigüedad. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. 6: 165–183.
  • Teppo, Saana (2007). "Agency and the Neo-Assyrian Women of the Palace". Studia Orientalia Electronica. 101: 381–420.
 Died: 648 BC
Preceded by
King of Babylon
668 – 648 BC
Succeeded by