The End of Nineveh

Seti, who, as an ally of Assyria, took it upon himself to attend to rebellious Syria, moved with his army along the Esdraelon Valley and came to the city of Beth-Shan not far from the Jordan. A stele of Seti was found in Beth-Shan, the inscription of which reads:

The wretched enemy who was in the city of Hamath, he had collected to himself many people, was taking away the town of Beth-Shan...(1)

The stele further states that the Egyptian army of Ra, called also “Many Braves,” captured the city of Beth Shan at the command of the pharaoh. The erection of the stele in that place indicates that Seti succeeded in conquering this city-fortress.

Beth-Shan guards the road from Gilead in Trans-Jordan and also from Galilee along the valley of the Jordan; consequently it is an important strategic point at a crossroads, protecting the eastern gate of the Esdraelon Valley against encroachment from the north and east.

In the days of Assurbanipal’s father, Esarhaddon, the Scythians came down from the steppes of Russia and, crossing the Caucasus, arrived at the lake of Urmia. Their king went to the help of Assur-banipal when the Medes and the Babylonians marched against Assyria.(2)

Herodotus(3) narrates that the Scythians descended from the slopes of the Caucasus, battled the Medes who were pressing on Nineveh, and, moving southward, reached Palestine. There they were met by Psammetichos, the pharaoh, who for a long time tarried in Palestine.

Chapters 4-6 of the young Jeremiah are generally regarded as expressing the fear of the people of Palestine at the approach of the Scythian hordes. The prophet spoke of the evil that would come down from the north and a great destruction (4:6), of whole cities that would “flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen” (4:29), of “a mighty nation . . . whose language thou knowest not” (5:15). “Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth” (6:22).

The Egyptian king, however, succeeded by persuasion in halting their advance toward Egypt. He, like the Scythians, was an ally of Assurbanipal. According to Herodotus, Psammetichos was besieging a city in Palestine when the Scythians reached that country.

I have identified Seti the Great with Psammetichos of Herodotus. Now we are bound to ask: What city was Psammetichos besieging when the Scythians descended from the north?

The translation of the Seventy (Septuagint) calls Beth-Shan by the name of Scythopolis;(4) so do Josephus(5) and Eusebius.(6) Georgius Syncellus,(7) the Byzantine chronologist, explained that the use of the name Scythopolis for Beth-Shan was due to the presence of Scythians, who had remained there from among the invading hordes in the days of Psammetichos.

As has been said above, Beth-Shan was besieged and occupied by Seti, and his steles and the graves of the Greek mercenaries who served with him were discovered there. Ramses II, his successor, also occupied Beth-Shan for some time, but no vestiges have been found there of Egyptian kings of later times. The conventional chronology compelled the archaeologists of Beth-Shan to conclude that after Seti and Ramses II the city was practically uninhabited until the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the seventh century, although from the Scriptures we know that Beth-Shan was an important city in the days of Judges and Kings.

Seti-meri-en-Ptah Men-maat-Re, who left his steles in Beth-Shan, was Psammetichos of Herodotus. It was the seventh century.

There is a mural that shows Seti capturing a city called Kadesh.(8) Modern scholars recognized that this Kadesh or Temple City was not the Kadesh mentioned in the annals of Thutmose.(9) Whereas the Kadesh of Thutmose was in southern Palestine, the Kadesh of Seti was in Coele-Syria. The position of the northern city suggested that it was Dunip, the site of an Amon temple built in the days of Thutmose III. Dunip, in its turn, was identified as Baalbek.(10)

Following the Orontes, which has its source not far from Baalbek, Seti occupied the site of Tell Nebi-Mend near the village of Riblah and built a fortress. A fragment of a stele of his was unearthed there.(11) Then he proceeded farther to the north and fought in the valley of the Euphrates. In his war record on the wall of the Karnak temple he wrote that he fought in Mesopotamia (Naharin), but with the destruction of the upper row of his bas-reliefs the illustrations of this part of the campaign were lost.(12)

The war in the valley of the Euphrates is described by Seti, king of Egypt, by Assurbanipal, king of Assyria, by Nabopolassar, king of Babylonia,(13) and by Greek authors.(14) But there is still another description of this war. We have documentary sources in the so-called Hittite annals. The Annals of Mursilis describe the very same conflict as the Chronicle of Nabopolassar, Nabopolassar and Mursilis being the same person. However, I leave the narration of this last phase of Seti’s long campaign for the volume Ramses II and His Time.

Nabopolassar, the Chaldean, was allied with Cyaxares, the king of the Medes and the prince of Damascus; Assurbanipal and after him Sin-shar-ishkun of Assyria were aided by Pharaoh Seti and for some time by the king of the Scythians. Egyptian troops are mentioned for the first time in Napopolassar’s year 10 (-616). For many years the fortunes of war changed camps. Then Nabopolassar and Cyaxares, the Mede, brought the Scythians over to their side. Their armies advanced from three sides against Nineveh. In August of the year -612 The dam on the Tigris was breached, and Nineveh was stormed. In a single night the city that was the splendor of its epoch went up in flames, and the centuries-old empire that ceaselessly carried sword and fire to the four quarters of the ancient world—as far as Elam and Lydia, Sarmatia and Ethiopia—ceased to exist forever.

“The shield of [the] mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet; the chariots are fire of steel. . . . The chariots rush madly in the streets, they jostle one against another in the broad places; the appearance of them is like torches, they run to and fro like the lightnings. . . . Hark! the whip, and hark! the rattling of wheels; and prancing horses, and bounding chariots; the horsemen charging, and the flashing sword, and the glittering spear; and a multitude of slain, and a heap of carcasses . . . and they stumble upon their corpses. . . . Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?”

Thus did Nahum, a contemporary seer, describe the end of Nineveh and Assyria.(15)

The Assyrian king Sin-shar-ishkun perished in the flames of his own palace. His brother Ashuruballit succeeded in escaping and with Egyptian assistance resisted Nabopolassar for a few more years.

Nabopolassar founded the Neo-Babylonian Empire and defended and strengthened it in endless wars. When he was struck by illness and after a time died, the empire was threatened with disintegration. But his young sons successfully defended it against all enemies. The most formidable among the latter was the new king of Egypt, the successor to Seti.


  1. The stele was found by the expedition of the University of Pennsylvania in 1923. See Rowe, Topography and History of Beth-shan, p. 28.

  2. Bartatua, the king of the Scythians, proposed an alliance to Assyria and asked a daughter of Esarhaddon for wife. Madyas, the son of Bartatua (Madyas, son of Protothyas, according to Herodotus), came to the help of Assurbanipal when Cyaxares of the Medes marched against Assyria.

  3. I, 103 ff.

  4. Judges 1:27; see also II Maccabees 12:29 ff.

  5. Jewish Antiquities, V, 83 (“Beth Sana, now called Scythopolis” ), and XII, 348 (“Beth-Sane, by the Greeks called Scythopolis” ).

  6. Eusebius, Chronicle, 237, 55. See also Pliny, Natural History, V, 74: “Scythopolis-where a colony of Scythians are settled.”

  7. Chronographia,1,405.

  8. At Karnak, on the outside of the north wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall, top right hand register. Cf. Wreszinski, Atlas, II, pls. 34ff.

  9. Breasted, Records, Vol. III, Sec. 140, note. Cf. Ages in Chaos, Vol. I, “Kadesh in Judah.”

  10. Gauthier, Dictionnaire des noms géographiques.

  11. M. Pézard, Syria, III (1922), 108ff.

  12. Breasted, Records, Vol. III, Sec. 114 ff.

  13. D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings (London, 1956).

  14. See especially Diodorus Siculus, Bk. II.

  15. Nahum chs. 2 and 3 (transl. of the Holy Scriptures by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1917)