Stone prism of Esarhaddon

Neo-Assyrian, 680-669 BC
From Mesopotamia

This small stone monument records the restoration of the walls and the temples of the city of Babylon by King Esarhaddon (reigned 680-669 BC). The cuneiform inscription is written in archaic characters to suggest antiquity and authenticity. The top of the stone is covered with symbols of the gods, and other elements designed to protect and authorize the message.

Babylon had been destroyed in 689 BC by Easarhaddon’s father Sennacherib (reigned 704-681 BC) after he had tried for years to govern this politically divided region. The statue of Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon, was removed to Assyria. From that time, local records considered the region to be kingless. The concept of kingship was so tightly intertwined with the appropriate care for the gods that the great festivals and regular daily cult acts, which involved many of the citizens and around which so much civic activity revolved, ceased.

Although Sennacherib claims to have destroyed the entire city and turned it into a meadow, this must have been exaggeration, and it is possible that he began to restore the buildings towards the end of his reign. Under Esarhaddon the ancient rights and privileges of Babylon’s citizens were restored and an efficient administration established. This policy was continued by his son Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BC) who returned the statue of Marduk.

I.L. Finkel and J.E. Reade, ‘Assyrian hieroglyphs’, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie-1, 86 (1996), pp. 244-68