Joshua J. Mark
published on 05 March 2011
Zakutu was the Akkadian name of Naqia, a wife of King Sennacherib of Assyria (704-681 BCE). Though she was not Sennacherib's queen, she bore him a son, Esarhaddon, who would succeed him. She ruled as Queen after her son's death and was grandmother to his successor, King Ashurbanipal. Writings about Naqia-Zakutu come mainly from the reign of Esarhaddon and give evidence of a strong and clever woman who rose from obscurity to greatness.
Naqia-Zakutu is known to have been associated with Sennacherib as early as 713 BCE when he was the crown prince under Sargon II. Sennacherib would have at least eleven (possibly more) sons with his wives and, among these, Esarhaddon was the youngest. As Zakutu was considered merely a 'palace woman', not a noble woman, the elder brothers seem to have taken little notice of her or her son. It came as an unpleasant surprise then, in 683 BCE, when Sennacherib chose Esarhaddon as his successor (some scholars maintain that Zakutu's maneuvering was behind the decision but this has been contested). The brothers took great exception to his choice and murdered Sennacherib in 681 BCE. Esarhaddon then defeated his brothers and took the throne, ruling from 681 to 669 BCE, when he died while on campaign in Egypt. The throne then passed to his son, Ashurbanipal (685-627 BCE, reigned 668-627 BCE) the last king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire who, among other accomplishments, established the famous library at Nineveh.
Zakutu held an impressive place at court during the reign of Esarhaddon, carrying the title of 'Queen', drafting letters and receiving dignitaries even though she was not Assyrian ('Naqia' being either Aramaean or Hebrew in origin) and had never been queen to Senacherib (though, after Esarhaddon was named successor, she was known as 'mother of the crown prince'). Letters on important matters were addressed to her as "To the mother of the king, my lord" and began with salutations of, "Greetings to the mother of the king, my lord. May the gods Ashur, Shamash and Marduk keep the king my lord in health. May they decree well-being for the mother of the king my lord" before relating the matter at hand.
Her influence continued into the reign of Ashurbanipal. After Esarhaddon's death in 669 BCE, Zakuta issued the Loyalty Treaty of Naqia-Zakutu in 670 BCE to secure Ashurbanipal's succession, ordering the court and country recognize her grandson as their legitimate ruler. The treaty reads, in part:
Anyone who is in this treaty which Queen Zakutu has concluded with the whole nation concerning her favorite grandson Ashurbanipal shall not revolt against your lord Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, or in your hearts conceive and put into words an ugly scheme or an evil plot against your lord Ashurbanipal, or plot with another for the murder of your lord Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria. May Ashur, Sin, Shamash and Ishtar bear witness and curse violators of this treaty.
The Treaty clearly identifies Zakutu as Queen at this time and the fact that she could issue such a decree indicates she enjoyed sufficient power and support to be able to ensure the succession of her grandson as king. From a land purchase contract it is known that she had a sister, Abirami, but little other personal details of Zakutu's life have come to light. Even her birth and death dates are unknown; yet her influence on the reigns of these three great Mesopotamian kings was formidable and has yet to be fully acknowledged.
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c. 713 BCE