Book Review: The Campaigns of Sargon II, King of Assyria, 721-705 B.C.


by Sarah C. Melville

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Pp. xvi, 302. Illus., maps, tables, chron., appends., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 0806154039

Diplomacy and Warfare in the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Prof. Melville (Clarkson), a specialist in the Neo-Assyrian period, has written an excellent account of the many wars of Sargon II, which throws much new light on the king, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and the conduct of diplomacy and war in the period.

Melville opens with a long introduction discussing the various types of documentary materials upon which she based the book. The main text begins with a chapter on the early history of Assyria and its military institutions, followed by discussion on Sargon’s rise to the throne, apparently in a coup that overthrew his older brother, leading  in 722 B.C. Three chapters cover Sargon’s role in the complex diplomacy of the region and his many largely successful campaigns (one or more a year for fifteen years, in the last of which he was killed in action), which culminated in Assyria becoming the dominant power in the ancient Middle East.

Melville offers considerable evidence that the Assyrians were by no means the brutal thugs of received wisdom, noting that Sargon offered both carrot and stick, as he changed a hegemonic empire into a territorial one, bringing to mind the ways in which the Romans – another people who often get a bad press – approached imperial expansion.

Melville is at times critical of the work of some earlier historians, noting that they were often not conversant with military history. Her text betrays an exhaustive perusal of the sources, and her notes are well worth reading as she uses them to unravel complex issues or to explain her interpretations of the evidence.

Despite her impressively scholarly approach, The Campaigns of Sargon II, a volume in the “Campaigns & Commanders” series, is quite readable, and will prove rewarding for anyone interested in ancient history or military history.

Note:  The Campaigns of Sargon II is also available as an e-book


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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