), the last king of the Assyrian empire of Ninus or Nineveh, according to Ctesias.
This writer related that the Assyrian empire lasted 1306 years 1
; that the first king was Ninus, who was succeeded by his wife Semiramis, and she by her son Ninyas, and that he was followed by thirty kings, son succeeding father in uninterrupted order. All these kings, from Ninyas downwards, were sunk in luxury and sloth, till their degradation reached its deepest point in the person of their last king Sardanapalus, who passed his time in his palace unseen by any of his subjects, dressed in female apparel, surrounded by concubines, and indulging in every species of licentiousness and effeminacy.
At length Arbaces, satrap of Media, was admitted into the presence of the sovereign, and was so disgusted with what he saw, that he resolved to throw off his allegiance to such a worthless monarch. Supported by Belesys, the noblest of the Chaldaean priests, Arbaces advanced at the head of a formidable army against Sardanapalus.
But all of a sudden the effeminate prince threw off his luxurious habits, and appeared an undaunted warrior. Placing himself at the head of his troops, he twice defeated the rebels, but was at length worsted and obliged to shut himself up in Nineveh. Here he sustained a siege for two years, till at length, finding it impossible to hold out any longer, he collected all his treasures, wives, and concubines, and placing them on an immense pile which he had constructed, set it on fire, and thus destroyed both himself and them.
The eneinies then obtained possession of the city.
The account of Ctesias has been given at some length in Diodorus Siculus (2.23-27), and his statements respecting the Assyrian monarchy were followed by most subsequent writers and chronologists. (Comp. Justin, 1.1
; Athen. xii. pp. 529, 530.) Justin places the death of Sardanapalus in the first half of the ninth century before the Christian aera, and according to his chronology Ninus therefore falls in the twenty-second century. Clinton gives B. C. 2182 for the commencement, and B. C. 876 for the close of the Assyrian empire.
Owing to the detailed accounts in Diodorus, many modern writers have repeated his history with full confidence, though they have been not a little puzzled to reconcile it with the conflicting statements of other authorities.
But the whole narrative of Ctesias is purely mythical, and cannot for one moment be received as a genuine history. Ctesias, it must be recollected, is the only authority on which the whole rests, and as he lived at the beginning of the fourth century before the Christian aera, that is, nearly 500 years after the events which he professes to describe, his account will not appear of much value to those who are acquainted with the laws of historical evidence.
The fact of thirty effeminate kings reigning in succession, from father to son, for such an immense period of time, is of itself sufficient to prove the fabulous nature of the account; and the legend of Sardanapalus, who so strangely appears at one time sunk in the lowest effeminacy, and immediately afterwards an heroic warrior, has probably arisen from his being the same with the god Sandon, who was worshipped extensively in Asia, both as an heroic and a female divinity.
The identity between the god Sandon and the king Sardanapalus was first asserted by K. O. Miller, in a very ingenious essay (Sandon und Sardanapal
in Rheinisches Museum
for 1829, pp. 22-39, reprinted in Kleine Schriften,
vol. ii. pp. 100-113), and has been supported with further arguments by Movers (Die Phönizier,
p. 458, &c.).
The account of Ctesias, besides its inherent improbability, is in direct contradiction to Herodotus and the writers of the Old Testament. We have seen that Ctesias makes the Assyrian empire to have lasted 1306 years; but Herodotus says (1.95) that the Assyrians had ruled over Upper Asia for 520 years, when the Medes revolted from them.
This statement is in accordance with that in the Armenian translation of Eusebius, in which it is recorded that Assyrian kings ruled over Babylon for 526 years. Herodotus says, in the passage already referred to, that other nations imitated the example of the Medes, and revolted from the Assyrians, and among these other nations we are doubtless to understand the Babylonians.
This revolt of the Medes occurred in the latter half of the eighth century, probably about B. C. 7 10.
According to Herodotus, however, an Assyrian kingdom, of which Nineveh was the capital, still continued to exist, and was not destroyed till the capture of Nineveh by the Median king Cyaxares, about B. C. 606, that is, nearly three hundred years after the date assigned to its overthrow by Ctesias (Hdt. 1.106
; Clinton, F. H.
vol i. p. 218). Further, the writers of the Old Testament represent the Assyrian empire in its glory in the eighth century before the Christian aera.
It was during this period that Pul, Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, and Sennacherib, appear as powerful kings of Assyria, who, not contented with their previous dominions, subdued Israel, Phoenicia, and the surrounding countries.
In order to reconcile these statements with those of Ctesias, modern writers have invented two Assyrian kingdoms at Nineveh, one which was destroyed on the death of Sardanapalus, and another which was established after that event, and fell on the capture of Nineveh by Cyaxares.
But this is a purely gratuitous assumption, unsupported by any evidence. We have only records of one Assyrian empire, and of one destruction of Nineveh. On this point some good remarks are made by Loebell, Weltgeschichte,
vol. i. pp. 152, 555-558.