Seljuk, Zengi, and the neo-Assyrians

Published May 18, 2016 by amaic

seljuk ha


 Damien F. Mackey



Considers the Assyrian-like C12th AD Seljuk ruler, Zengi.



Wikipedia article, “Zengi”: “Imad ad-Din Zengi Imad ad-Din Atabeg Zengi al-Malik al-Mansur, or Zengi (var. Zangi, Zengui, Zenki or Zanki) for short; in Turkish İmadeddin Zengi, in Arabic: عماد الدین زنكي)”.

According to standard history, Zengi was a Seljuk Turk of 1127–1146 AD.


That Zengi, who became ruler of (Assyrian) Mosul, was actually called “Assyrian” is apparent from this same Wikipedia article:


Zengi against Damascus


Zengi became atabeg of Mosul in 1127, and of Aleppo in 1128, uniting the two cities under his personal rule, and was formally invested as their ruler by the Sultan Mahmud II of Great Seljuk. Zengi had supported the young sultan against his rival, the caliph Al-Mustarshid. The Syriac Orthodox patriarch Michael the Great (also known as Michael The Syrian) [1126-1199 A.D.] called him “Hziro Othuroyo/Hzira Athuraya” (literally “swinish Assyrian”). The term “Assyrian” (Othuroyo/Athuraya) in Syriac has homonymous meanings. So in this sentence it meant barbarian and not that he was ethnically Assyrian. Out of an Old Testamental perspective the Assyrians were viewed as barbarians, evil, etc.

[End of quote]


The common Saracen name, ad-Din, seems to be most strongly reminiscent of the common Assyrian one, iddina- (‘given’): e.g. Esarhaddon, the Greek and Biblical form of the Akkadian name, Aššur-ahhe-iddina “Ashur has given a brother to me”.

Imad ad-Din Zengi Zengi was the son of Aq Sunqur al-Hajib, the element Aq Sunqur being somewhat reminiscent, in turn, of Sennacherib (Sin-ahhê-eriba in Akkadian), who was the father of Esarhaddon.

These neo-Assyrian kings, like Zengi, controlled Damascus.


Most interestingly, too, in light of my massive historical query:


Two Supposed Nehemiahs: BC time and AD time


an “Heraclius” appears to get a re-run. Firstly, king Chosroes II (said to have been a Persian king) of c. 600 AD was opposed to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. Then, incredibly – or is it, anymore? – one named Heraclius (var. Eraclius) emerges in c. 1128-1190/91 AD, now as Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the time of Zengi.

We may also find a striking similarity between the death of Zengi and the gory demise of “Holofernes” in the Book of Judith, where he is beheaded by Judith in his tent, while lying drunk on his bed (12:16-13:8) This is frightfully similar (except for the actual perpetrator of the deed) to Wikipedia’s account of the violent death of Zengi:




Though he continued his attempts to take Damascus in 1145, Zengi was assassinated by a Frankish slave named Yarankash in 1146. The Christian chronicler William of Tyre said that he was killed by a number of his retinue while he lay drunk in his bed. William reports that the news of his death was welcomed with the remarks “What a happy coincidence! A guilty murderer, which the bloody name Sanguinus, has become ensanguined with his own blood”, playing on the similarity between the Latin word for blood (sanguis) and the Latin rendering of Zengi’s name.

[End of quote]


Could “Zengi” indicate, then, not a personal name, but an epithet: “the bloody one”?

The prophet Nahum had similarly referred to the Assyrian city of Nineveh: “Ah! City of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty …” (Nahum 3:1).

Zengi’s father would suffer the same fate as had his son, to be assassinated – reminiscent of Sennacherib again.

Just as in the case of Zengi, the “Holofernes” of the Book of Judith had recently passed through the territory of Damascus (Judith 2:27), before he, too, was assassinated whilst in a drunken stupor. Obviously the perpetrator of the bloody deed is obscure to history, “a Frankish slave”, “a number of [Zengi’s] retinue”.

In the Book of Judith, the entire “retinue” of Holofernes’ had in fact retired for the night, leaving Judith alone with the drunken Assyrian commander-in-chief (Judith 13:1).

The jubilation of William of Tyre at the death of Zengi “the bloody one”, above, is reminiscent of the joy of the Israelites at Judith’s victory (Judith 13:17-20; 14:7-10, 18-20; 15:8-12), most especially as conveyed in Judith’s “Victory Song” (16:14-17). Moreover, the effects of the slaying of the enemy leader were exactly the same for the invading army as were those recorded in the Book of Judith: namely, panic and flight.

Zengi’s sudden death threw his forces into a panic. His army disintegrated, the treasury was looted, and the crusader princes, made bold by Zengi’s demise, plotted to attack Aleppo and Edessa. Mu’in ad-Din immediately recaptured Baalbek, Hims, and other territories lost to Zengi over the years.

Compare Judith 15:1-7, imagining Israelite leaders taking the place of “the crusader princes”; “Baalbek”, the Book of Judith’s “Bectileth” (2:21); “Aleppo” and “Edessa”, the Book of Judith’s “beyond Damascus and it borders”.

Wikipedia’s account of the character of Zengi could easily recall the tyrannical “Holofernes” (ibid.):


Zengi was courageous, strong in leadership and a very skilled warrior according to all of the Islam chroniclers of his day. The conquest of Edessa being his greatest achievement. These same chroniclers however, also relate Zengi as being a very violent, cruel, and brutal man. Muslims, Byzantines, and Franks all suffered at his hands.


Similarly, Judith will laud the renowned skill of the Assyrian commander-in-Chief, “Holofernes”, including in her words the statement (probably a true one) that he had no military peer: ‘For we have heard of your wisdom and skill, and it is reported throughout the whole world that you alone are the best in the whole kingdom, the most informed and the most astounding in military strategy’.

According to Wikipedia, Zengi was deceitful and vengeful (ibid.):


Unlike Saladin at Jerusalem in 1187, Zengi did not keep his word to protect his captives at Baalbek in 1139. According to Ibn al-‘Adim, “He (Zengi) had sworn to the people of the citadel with strong oaths and on the Qur’an and divorcing (his wives). When they came down from the citadel he betrayed them, flayed its governor and hanged the rest.” (Source: Ibid. Also, Ibn Wasil, Mufarrij al-Kurub, p. 86)

“The atebeg was violent, powerful, awe-inspiring and liable to attack suddenly… When he rode, the troops used to walk behind him as if they were between two threads, out of fear they would trample over crops, and nobody out of fear dared to trample on a single stem (of them) nor march his horse on them… If anyone transgressed, he was crucified. He (Zengi) used to say: ‘It does not happen that there is more than one tyrant (meaning himself) at one time.’” By Ibn al-‘Adim (Source: Ibn al-‘Adim, Zubda, vol. 2, p. 471)

“He (Zengi) was tyrannical and he would strike with indiscriminate recklessness. He was like a leopard in character, like a lion in fury, not renouncing any severity, not knowing any kindness… He was feared for his sudden attacking; shunned for his roughness; aggressive, insolent, death to enemies and citizens.” By Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani (Source: Al-Bundari, Zubdat al-nusra, ed. M.Y. Houtsma (Leiden, 1889), p. 205)

“When he (Zengi) was unhappy with an emir, he would kill him or banish him and leave that individual’s children alive but castrate them. Whenever one of his pages pleased him by his beauty he would treat him in the same way so that the characteristics of youth would last longer in him.” By Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani (Source: The Second Crusade – Scope & Consequences Edited by Jonathan Phillips & Martin Hoch).

[End of quote]


Compare Zengi’s presumed reputation for deception, of going back on his word, with an incident of deception pertaining to Sennacherib:

Isaiah 33:7, where we learn that the “ambassadors of peace”, apparently those who had taken the tribute to Sennacherib, then returned “weeping bitterly”.

And 24:16 (cf. 21:2): “For the treacherous deal treacherously, the treacherous deal very treacherously”. …


Sennacherib, marked as “treacherous” according to C. Boutflower (on Isaiah), received the tribute, but now demands the surrender of the city!




The Muslim chronicler Ibn al-Qalanisi gives Zengi’s full list of titles – reminiscent of the many of the neo-Assyrian kings – as:


The emir, the general, the great, the just, the aid of God, the triumphant, the unique, the pillar of religion, the cornerstone of Islam, ornament of Islam, protector of God’s creatures, associate of the dynasty, auxiliary of doctrine, grandeur of the nation, honour of kings, supporter of sultans, victor over the infidels, rebels, and atheists, commander of the Muslim armies, the victorious king, the king of princes, the sun of the deserving, emir of the two Iraqs and Syria, conqueror of Iran, Bahlawan, Jihan Alp Inassaj Kotlogh Toghrulbeg atabeg Abu Sa’id Zangi Ibn Aq Sunqur, protector of the prince of the faithful.


[End of quote]


The neo-Assyrian kings, too, could boast a multitude of grand titles, including Zengi’s “the sun”. Whilst the latter’s “the two Iraqs” above could remind one of the typical Assyrian claim of “king of Sumer and Accad”. The neo-Assyrian kings’ likening of themselves to the sun – and their megalomania in general – could also remind one of the Lucifer (‘the Day Star’) of Isaiah 14; pride going before a very big fall. In regard to this poem’s historical basis, Boutflower is helpful when favourably recalling Sir Edward Strachey’s “belief that the king of Babylon, against whom the “parable” of Isa. xiv was hurled, was a king of Assyria” – a king of Assyria, that is, who ruled over Babylon. Compare the king of Isaiah 14’s self-deifying boast: ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High’ (vv. 13-14), with e.g. Esarhaddon’s own god-like statement: “I am powerful, I am all powerful, I am a hero, I am gigantic, I am colossal, I am honored, I am magnified, I am without an equal among all kings …”.

Considerable ego-mania on display here.

This might indicate that these verses of Isaiah are no mere poetic exaggeration, but poetically pertain to the boasts of a real king. And they could also answer criticisms of [Judith] 3:8, that the Assyrian kings were not inclined to self-deification.

One might even imagine the Bethulians, staring at the lifeless head of “Holofernes” as it was lifted from Judith’s food bag – or when it was later hanging on the parapet of the city’s wall (14:1, 11), “those who see you will stare at you” (Isaiah 14:16) – and asking themselves, in Isaian terms: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms … who … who …?’. We gather from Isaiah’s poem that all of the king’s glory came to an end in a moment, like the fall of a star from heaven. Moreover, the end was to come on the field of battle (vv. 12-20). A few verses later, Isaiah will nominate this ill-fated invader as an “Assyrian”, who will die on the mountains of Israel (vv. 24, 25):


The Lord of hosts has sworn:

… I will break the Assyrian in my land.

and on my mountains trample

him under foot.


So, too, did the bloody Zengi come crashing down.



Judith 16:17:


‘Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worms into their flesh; they shall weep in pain forever’.


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