The Military Campaigns of Tiglath-pileser III: Sieges on Kingdoms – Part 2

The storm was on the horizon and it was time to pay financially, for King Menahem gave a thousand talents of silver (about 37 tons, or 34 metric tons, of silver) toTiglath-pileser by extracting 50 shekels from each wealthy man. An enormous 60,000 citizens of wealth gave up their money to the Assyrian coffers. This makes one wonder how many poor people in turn had to repay those wealthy citizens for their lost monies.

After receiving his tribute, Tiglath-pileser left the outskirts of Israel, leaving the kingdom intact and still in the hands of Menahem. One can only speculate if this was a one-time tribute deal, or it was performed multiple times, year after year. In either case, Menahem had just made his kingdom look impotent before the king of Assyria.

[Read Part 1]

Menahem was a king of the northern Israelite Kingdom of Israel.

Menahem was a king of the northern Israelite Kingdom of Israel. (Public Domain)

King Menahem remained on the throne six more years before he died. His son Pekahiah took the throne and reigned for only two years before he was murdered inside the palace by Pekah and 50 Gileadites in Samaria (II Kings 15:23-26). It seems Pekah murdered Pekahiah because he had continued to let Assyria dominate Israel. This made the people of Israel mad, and the result was a murdered king by a man of the military. The prophet Hosea mentions many reasons as to why Israel acted the way it and these four verses sum up the situation well.

They have set up kings, but not by me:
they have made princes, and I knew it not:
of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.

I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled.

I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled.

Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou hast gone a whoring from thy God, thou hast loved a reward upon every cornfloor.

Israel was in a state of revolt both politically and spiritually and there is no way out for them, except the way of the sword:

They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me.– Hosea 7:7

King Pekah quickly made an alliance with King Rezin of Damascus. This move indicated that Pekah was cutting the Assyrian yoke from Israel’s neck. Pekah also went to the Edomites and the Philistines for their support of a joint coalition to stop Tiglath-pileser from further expansion into their respective territories. In a way, this alliance was really an attempt to counter-balance the Assyrian power to the east. Pekah may have sent emissaries to King Jotham at the time, asking him to join the alliance against Assyria, but we have no word of it, and one can only speculate.

It seems that Jotham would have known of this alliance but decided not to join it, and probably for good reason. Jotham may have questioned why fight two enemies when I can easily just face one? There was no telling what Israel and Syria had in store, for Judah was not popular with either Israel or Syria. This might be the reason for the attack on Judah by King Pekah and King Rezin.

When King Jotham died, his son Ahaz took the throne but, unlike his father, it’s written Yahweh considered King Ahaz an evil king for worshipping ‘other’ gods (he even passed his own children through the fire to Baal). Israel and Syria then invaded Judah, most likely to set up a puppet King. The man whom they wanted in power was the son of Tabeal; he was possibly also a Syrian (Isaiah 7:6). If the placing of this ‘king’ were accomplished it would give the family of Tabeal reason to join them, and to unify in the war against Assyria. This invasion into Judah by the combined forces of Israel and Syria is discussed in the books of II King 16:5-6 & II Chronicles 28:5-9.

King Rezin of Syria attacked Judah first. As King Rezin was moving his forces south, he began pillaging the local villages on his way and most likely destroyed or occupied the garrisons on the eastern borders of Judah. He also took captives until he reached Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba, an area connected to the Red Sea. The King’s Highway ran through Elath.

King's Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE

King’s Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The King’s Highway, in ancient times, started from Heliopolis, Egypt. The road continued through Elath and progressed forward, hugging the borders of eastern Judah and Israel. It then climbed its way up to Damascus and from there went on to Resafa, located on the upper Euphrates. This was a tactical military highway mentioned in the book of Numbers 20:17 & 21:22, and King Rezin now controlled it. This meant that the king of Syria could now deploy his forces up and down the eastern borders of Israel and Judah and allowed King Rezin the upper hand over Judah, in tactical terms.

While King Rezin battled, King Ahaz of Judah most likely assembled his forces and sent them against the Syrian attacker to retake the city of Elath. Nevertheless, the forces of King Ahaz came under attack from the forces of King Pekah of Israel who possibly also had the use of Syrian forces. In that engagement, the forces of King Pekah killed 120,000 men of Judah (men of King Ahaz) in one day and captured 200,000. The capture of 200,000 people was most likely over time, and not in one day as some may speculate and even suggest (II Chronicles 28:6).

After the battle, King Ahaz returned to Jerusalem to seal up the gates and prepare for a siege. But before this happened, it was most likely that he immediately sent messengers with treasure from the house of the Lord, as a gift to the king of Assyria. By doing this, he had just made the kingdom of Judah a vassal of the Assyrian Empire (II Kings 16:7-8). King Ahaz had ignored the prophet Isaiah and ignored the warnings about trusting Assyria for help. Ahaz had just created a bigger burden than that which was outside Jerusalem’s gate besieging the city. The forces of Israel and Syria besieged the city of Jerusalem. It is unknown as to how long the siege of Jerusalem lasted, but we know that it could not have taken long, for II Chronicles 28:20 mentions that the Tiglath-pileser was on his way.

Assyrian troops attacking a besieged city using a battering ram on a siege ramp. Enemy archers are returning fire. Headless corpses lie at the foot of the city walls.

Assyrian troops attacking a besieged city using a battering ram on a siege ramp. Enemy archers are returning fire. Headless corpses lie at the foot of the city walls. (Public Domain)

Shortly after the siege lifted, two more enemies of the Syrian-Israelite alliance came forth for their share. In II Chronicles 28:17-19, the Edomites came to pillage and take captives in the surrounding countryside of Judah while the invading Philistines took many cities and villages. The event stripped Judah naked and left it to rot in the sun.

In II Chronicles 28:5 & 28:9, mentions the captives which Syria and Israel took back to their kingdoms. What is interesting is that II Chronicles 28:5 & 28:9 describe a brief scenario regarding the siege of Jerusalem, which was lifted in haste due to the Assyrian war machine approaching fast to the kingdoms of Israel and Syria. Kings Pekah and Rezin meanwhile had returned quickly to their capitals with their spoils and captives to prepare their defenses.


Around 734 BCE, Tiglath-pileser III was at the head of his army when they entered Syria on their way to besiege Damascus (II Kings 16:9). King Rezin of Syria and his army would meet the Assyrian forces head on.

Assyrian attack on a town with archers and a wheeled battering ram, 865–860 BC.

Assyrian attack on a town with archers and a wheeled battering ram, 865–860 BC. (Public Domain)

Details about the battle are unknown, but what is known is that King Rezin almost lost his life in the battle and quickly fled back to Damascus with remnants of his army. Once the gates were shut, the siege was on. This event mentioned by Tiglath-pileser on his inscriptions state:

That one (Rezin of Damascus) fled alone to save his life— and like a mouse he entered the gate of his city. His nobles I captured alive with my own hands, and hanged them on stakes and let his land gaze on them. 45 soldiers of my camp— I selected, and like a bird in a cage I shut him up. His gardens and— plantations without number I cut down, not one escaped—.

Tiglath-pileser boasts that he destroyed 591 cities in Syria and took many captive back into Assyria, with the possibility of the inclusion of Jews that were previously taken captive by King Rezin when he invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem along with King Pekah of Israel. Tiglath-pileser says:

Hadaru the house of the father of Rezin of Syria where he was born, I besieged, I captured… captives I carried off. 16 districts of Syria I destroyed like mounds left by a flood.

The siege took two years to complete, and it is most likely that during the siege Tiglath-pileser assembled and sent his forces to the regions conspiring against Assyria. It is uncertain if he stayed with his army at the siege of Damascus, spearheaded the invasion into Israel, or attacked along the coastline of Palestine. We do know that two Assyrian armies were sent to subdue and incorporate the regions hostile to Assyria. From Damascus, the Assyrian army forked out like a snake’s tongue.

Assyrian chariot with charioteer and archer protected from enemy attack by shield bearers. Assyrian relief from Nineveh. Alabaster relief, made about 650 BC.

Assyrian chariot with charioteer and archer protected from enemy attack by shield bearers. Assyrian relief from Nineveh. Alabaster relief, made about 650 BC. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

To the Coast!

While part of the Assyrian army was busy fighting in Syria, Tiglath-pileser sent another army to spearhead an attack and subdue the every-so-often rebellious Phoenician cities, along with the Philistines on the coastline of the Levant. The Assyrians captured the cities of Sumer, Arka, Byblos, and Sidon. Next was Tyre, forcing them to pay tribute, and give part of their population over as captives. The Assyrian army continued to march south, sacking Accho and burning it to ashes. Next was Dor, a port city of the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 17:11), then Aphek a city belonging to the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:30-31). The Assyrian army also destroyed the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza, and continued until it reached the river El Arish that borders Egypt. Tiglath-pileser mentions “Hanno of Gaza fled before my weapons.”

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia c. 1450 BC

Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia c. 1450 BC (Public Domain)

It seems that by taking the coastline, the Assyrians were cutting Israel off from their Phoenician allies, preventing them from fleeing by across water. This coastal takeover by Assyria almost certainly had an economic impact. Many Phoenician cities along with the Israelite cities on the coast were destroyed or occupied by the invading force. Because of Assyrian depredations, many of the surrounding nations (whether free or vassal to Assyria) now depended on Assyria for their economic prosperity as well as military security.After Tiglath-pileser campaign through the Levant was finished, he headed home. In 727 BCE, Tiglath-pileser died at his grand palace in Nineveh. His son Ulylaya would succeed him and his throne name would be Shalmaneser V. Tiglath-pileser came from obscure origins but his impact upon the reconstruction of Assyria was paramount on both domestic and foreign affairs and his ability to lead men into battle demonstrated his charisma and leadership both on and off the battlefield. Overall, Tiglath-pileser was a capable general and king who is sometimes forgotten in the annals of military history.

Illustration of an Assyrian High Priest and an Assyrian King.

Illustration of an Assyrian High Priest and an Assyrian King. (Public Domain)

Top Image: Deriv; Head of winged bull, 9th c. BC, Assyrian (Public Domain) and bronze relief decorated the gate at the palace of the Assyrian ruler Shalmanesar III (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea


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