Sargon’s March: A New Translation

By: Grant Frame

Originally Published in 2014

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Cuneiform tablet with an account of Sargon’s campaign against Urartu and destruction of Musasir in 714 BC. AO 5372 (Louvre Museum). Naissance de l’écriture p. 199 no. 133.

In the eighth year of his reign (714 BC), the king of Assyria, Sargon II (721–705 BC), led a campaign into the Zagros mountains in order to aid his vassal Ullusunu, the ruler of Mannea. He then turned north, invading the powerful kingdom of Urartu, whose ruler Rusâ (or Ursâ) had been giving trouble to Mannea. The exact route of Sargon’s march is much debated, but he may well have gone all the way around Lake Urmiah. On the way back to Assyria, a lunar eclipse that occurred on October 24 was interpreted to mean that he should attack Musasir, an important religious center of the god Haldi. While most of his army continued on its way home, Sargon and 1,000 soldiers advanced on Musasir.

“I let the terrifying (war) cry of my troops resound [again]st that city (Musasir) like (the thunder of) the storm god…Its people, (even) old men (and) old women, climbed up onto the roofs of their houses, cry- ing bitterly[…]. In order to save their live(s), they crawled around on all fours…Because King Urzana, their ruler, had not respected the command of the god Ashur, but had (instead) thrown off the yoke of my overlord- ship and despised his position as a vassal to me, I planned to take the people of that city into captivity and I ordered the removal of the god Haldi, (the god) on whom the land Urartu relied (for protection). Triumphantly, I had (Urzana) sit in front of his city gate as I led away into captivity his wife, his sons, his daughters, his people, (and) the members of his paternal family. I reckoned (them) together with 6,110 people, 12 kūdanu-mules, 380 donkeys, 525 oxen, (and) 1,235 sheep (and) goats, and brought (them all) inside the wall(s) of my camp…”

“I took (all these things) as booty, as well as many, countless (other) valuables of his, (and) this does not take into account the objects of gold, silver, tin, iron, bronze, ivory, ebony, boxwood, and every other kind of wood that the troops of the gods Ashur (and) Marduk took in countless numbers as booty from the city, pal- ace, and temple. I loaded the property of the palace of Urzana and of the god Haldi, together with his (Urzana’s) many valuables that I had taken as booty from the city Musasir, on (the backs of) the massed troops of my ex- tensive army and I had (them) convey (it) to Assyria. I considered the people of the district of the city Musasir to be among the people of Assyria and I imposed on them (the performance of) labor duty (and) corvée duty as if they were Assyrians.”

“Rusâ heard (of this) and threw himself on the ground. He ripped his garments and bared his arms. He tore off his headdress, pulled out his hair, and beat his breast (liter- ally: heart) with both (fists). He lay flat (on the ground), face down. His mood became angry and his temper burned (hot). Woeful lamentations were on his lips. I caused cries of mourning to be uttered throughout the entire land Urartu and established wailing in the land Na’iri for all future time.”

(Selections from lines 343–349 and 405–414 of Sargon’s Eighth Campaign text)
The archaeological remains of an ancient burned village (notice the black layer on the cut) were exposed during the construction of a new building.
One of several rescue excavations conducted at Banahilk. Archaeological remains can be seen just above the trench.

A masonry structure is surveyed at the Islamic site of Qalat Lokhan.

In addition to RAP’s research objectives, our program is also charged with conducting rescue excavations and site assessments with the Soran Department of Antiquities, headed by Abdulwahhab Suleiman. Allison Cuneo (Boston University) works closely with the Soran Directorate in her ongoing study of cultural heritage management practices and policy in Iraqi Kurdistan. The rapid pace of development in Kurdistan, driven by oil exploration and tourism, jeopardizes many archaeological sites. In 2013, RAP conducted emergency excavations and site assessments at a number of locations. We completed one of the more interesting rescue projects at the Islamic site of Qalat Lokhan near modern Rowanduz. Here we completed test excavations and the mapping of a masonry structure that local history as- sociates with Mir Mohammad, the last ruler of an independent Kurdish state, the Sorani Emirate, that thrived here from AD 1530 to 1835 before being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Other rescue excavations and site assessments were completed at the early 6th millennium BC Halaf farming village of Banahilk where house construction in a suburb of Soran threatens the archaeological remains. RAP also documented the archaeological deposits of a burned village of the Achaemenid and Sasanian periods in modern Sidekan disturbed by the construction of a new bank building for the town.

Cite This Article

Frame, Grant. "Sargon’s March: A New Translation." Expedition Magazine 56, no. 3 (December, 2014): -. Accessed April 13, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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