Naqia-Zakutu: Assyria’s Last Great Queen – Part 1

🧿 Research for Quest for Gryphon Gold turned up some interesting stories that did not make it into my book. This one about Assyria’s queen Naqia-Zakutu I especially like.

For their magnificence, ancient Babylon and Nineveh are largely indebted to Assyria’s last great queen. Yet, her stellar rise to power from palace woman to queen and her long, devoted service in the court of the king have been mostly treated as a footnote in history.

Map of Neo-Assyrian Empire 911 BC to 609 BC

In the BC world of ancient Assyria, the 77 years between 704 and 627 witnessed the rise and rule of three prominent kings: Sennacherib (son of famed king Sargon II), Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, creator of the superb library of Nineveh. Behind them all was one powerful, yet quiet force: a woman name Naqia.

She hailed from the ancient land of Canaan—an imprecise geographical term, though most sources agree that it included the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. This area is roughly equivalent to the modern states of Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Transjordan, Lebanon and coastal Syria).

When Naqia arrived (or more likely was brought) to the royal court, she took the Akkadian name of Zakutu and began life as a “palace woman.” But clearly, she had brains as well as beauty and quickly demonstrated a talent for ladder-climbing.

Stone carving of Assyrian King Sennacherib who ruled from 705 BC to 681 BC
King Sennacherib (705-681 BC)

By 713 BC, she was associated with Assyria’s crown prince, Sennacherib, and soon bore him a son, Esarhaddon. The exact date of his birth is uncertain— apparently no one was paying attention to this low-born woman or her child. However, by 683 BC, odds are they were taking plenty of notice. Sennacherib, now king of Assyria, had named Esarhaddon as his successor, to the shock and dismay of his more nobly-born sons. 

Several military campaigns marked Sennacherib’s reign (705-681 BC), but he still had sufficient time for some impressive building projects. Under his reign and the influence of now-wife Zakutu, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was transformed into a dazzling showcase city, with broad avenues, public and private gardens, plentiful water, new and restored temples, and “The Palace Without Rival” for the crowning touch.Horse-drawn chariot crossing stone-paved courtyard before palaces of Nineveh

Yet the king could not ignore the larger world for long. There were lands to be conquered and rebellions to be quashed. It was during these times, when Sennacherib was off to war, that Zakutu could really show what she was made of. Throughout the king’s absences, she acted as de facto ruler, doing so with singular efficiency.

As it turned out, Zakutu was destined to outlive her husband. In 681 BC, as Sennacherib prayed in a temple, he was stabbed to death by one or more of his sons (or, according to another version, crushed by the winged bulls that protected the sanctuary). The motivation for murder is open to discussion. Some believe it was Esarhaddon himself who did the dirty deed—with Zakutu’s approval. Others say that it was divine retribution for Sennacherib’s destruction and defilement of Babylon eight years earlier (689 BC). Whatever the case, the king was dead, and Esarhaddon was next in line.

What followed was a was a stroke of pure diplomatic genius. In my next post, Naqia-Zakutu: Assyria’s Last Great Queen – Part 2, I’ll tell you what that was and how it exalted Babylon.

In the meantime, visit  my Pinterest “Ancient Journeys” boards to visually explore the roads and realms in Quest for Gryphon Gold.

Comments? Questions? Delighted to hear from you, and I promise to respond.


Gold gryphon image for Quest for Gryphon Gold
Quest for Gryphon Gold


  1. Pingback:Naqia-Zakutu: Assyria’s Last Great Queen—Part 2 – Patricia Peirson

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