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The Taylor Prism and the Sennacherib Prism (689 BCE – 691 BCE)


The Taylor Prism, ME 91032 of the British Library. (View Larger)

The Taylor Prism, a six-sided baked clay document (or prism) was discovered at the Assyrian capital Nineveh, in an area known today as Nebi Yunus, now Iraq. It was acquired by Colonel R. Taylor, British Consul General at Baghdad, in 1830, after whom it is named. The British Museum purchased it from Taylor's widow in 1855.

One of the first major Assyrian documents discovered, the Taylor Prism played an important part in the decipherment of cuneiform script.

"The prism is a foundation record, intended to preserve King Sennacherib's achievements for posterity and the gods. The record of his account of his third campaign (701 BC) is particularly interesting to scholars. It involved the destruction of forty-six cities of the state of Judah and the deportation of 200,150 people. Hezekiah, king of Judah, is said to have sent tribute to Sennacherib. This event is described from another point of view in the Old Testament books of 2 Kings and Isaiah. Interestingly, the text on the prism makes no mention of the siege of Lachish which took place during the same campaign and is illustrated in a series of panels from Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh" (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/the_taylor_prism.aspx, accessed 12-26-2009).

♦ Another version of the same text, produced in the same prism format, and known as the Sennacherib Prism, was purchased by James Henry Breasted from a Baghdad antiques dealer in 1919 for the Oriental Institute of Chicago, where it is preserved. The two known complete examples of Sennacherib's inscription are nearly identical, although the dates on the prisms show that they were written sixteen months apart, the Taylor Prism in 691 BCE and the Oriental Institute prism in 689 BCE. There are also at least eight other fragmentary prisms preserving parts of this text, all in the British Museum, and most of them containing just a few lines.