Joshua J. Mark
published on 05 March 2011
Zakutu (c. 701-c.668 BCE) was the Akkadian name of Naqia, a wife of King Sennacherib of Assyria, who reigned between 705-681 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. Sennacherib's favorite son and chosen heir, Ashur-nadin-shumi, was appointed ruler of Babylon from which he was kidnapped by the Elamites (Assyria's enemies) sometime around 695 BCE. He was most likely killed by his captors c. 694 BCE and Sennacherib needed to choose a son to replace him as heir. Sennacherib was busy with military campaigns and then building projects and seems to have taken his time making his decision regarding his successor. It is possible that he was evaluating his sons to see who was most fit to rule after him.
It would have come as an unpleasant surprise to Esarhaddon's older brothers when, in 683 BCE, Sennacherib chose his youngest son to succeed him. 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, in fear for his life, Zakutu sent Esarhaddon into hiding somewhere in the region formerly known as Mitanni. Two of Sennacherib's sons assassinated the king in 681 BCE, probably because of his sacrilege in destroying the city of Babylon and carrying off the statue of the great god Marduk, but possibly simply to gain the throne. Esarhaddon was then recalled from exile, probably by Zakutu, defeated his brothers in a six-week civil war, and took the throne. He then had his brother's families and associates executed. Esarhaddon ruled 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. The historian Wolfram von Soden describes Zakutu's continued importance at court: "The Syrian-born wife of Sennacherib, Naqiya-Zakutu, still possessed considerable influence during the first years of the reign of her grandson, Ashurbanipal, and was feared by the royal officials" (67).
Either just before, or just after, Esarhaddon's death in 669 BCE, Zakutu issued the Loyalty Treaty of Naqia-Zakutu in either 670 or 668 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 two great Mesopotamian kings was significant. Exactly how she was able to ascend to her position of power at court may be waiting in future archaeological finds in the region but, at present, it is at least clear she was instrumental in the rise of two of the most important kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
c. 713 BCE
681 BCESennacherib assassinated by two of his sons.