Shalmaneser Names Ahab and Benhadad 853 BC

Three similar monuments stand together in Room 6 (the Assyrian Sculpture Gallery), one of which (in the mid­dle commemorates Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), the Assyrian king who began the policy of expansion and empire building. He introduced new siege techniques to Assyrian warfare, particularly the use of earth ramparts and battering engines, supported by sling­-shooters and archers.

To the left of him is a sandy-coloured monument of tremendous importance. It is known as the Stela of Shalmaneser III (also called the Kurkh Stele). This shows Shalmaneser III (who ruled Assyria from 859-824 BC) saluting his gods symbolised in the small pictures above his hand. Writing appears all over the king's picture and also on the back of the monument. This text describes Shalmaneser's first six military campaigns, including specific mention of Ahab (king of Israel) and Benhadad I (king of Syria).

He records how (in 853 BC) he ventured west threatening many kingdoms, but the king of Hamath organised a mighty defence force supplied by twelve kings (Ahab and Benhadad being among them). These two spent most of their time at war with each other, but during a three-year peace (mentioned in 1 KIN 22:1) they joined forces with Hamath to repel Shalmaneser. (This was during the ministry of the prophet Elisha.) An engagement was fought at Karkara (also spelt Qarqara) near Hamath. In this monument, Shalmaneser describes it in these words:

‘I approached Karkara. I destroyed, tore down, and bound Kar­kara, his royal residence. He brought along to help him 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalrymen, 20,000 foot soldiers belonging to Hadadezer [Benhadad I] of Damascus,... 2,000 chariots, 10,000 foot soldiers belonging to Ahab the Israelite . . .'

The text records that the whole confederate army had 50,000 infantry, 14,000 cavalry and nearly 4,000 chariots. Shalmaneser boasts that he won such a great victory that the rivers were dammed with corpses and the valleys flowed with blood, but his victory could not have been quite as dramatic as this because his advance was effectively halted and he never took possession of his enemy’s territory. Nor does the Bible mention that either Ahab or Benhadad suffered a military set-back on such a scale. Shortly after this event Ahab returned to the offensive against Benhadad and died on the battlefield (1 KIN 22:34-35).