The Campaigns of Sargon II, King of Assyria, 721–705 BC, by Sarah C. Melville, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2016, $32.95
In this Neo-Assyrian history Clarkson University professor Sarah Melville presents a critical interpretation of available sources for Sargon II’s reign, using military, political, economic and cultural context to shed light on the methods of Assyrian imperialism and contemporary geopolitics. “Above all,” the author notes, “it establishes Sargon II as an exceptional military leader and visionary ruler.”
Although Melville uses the chronology of Sargon’s campaigns as a means of organizing the book’s material, the work itself is more a political, cultural, economic and diplomatic history of the Sargonid dynasty than pure military history, as its title implies. Drawing on surviving original written sources, palace reliefs and archaeological finds, she offers an insightful, multifaceted analysis of the period. The recent establishment of large academic repositories for Assyriological materials, many of which are searchable online, afforded the author access to materials that would have been impossible for almost any scholar to reference a decade ago. Melville has made good use of these materials, as her extensive bibliography bears witness.
For the military historian, however, this is somewhat of a disappointment, as it offers little new material about the Assyrian military or its field operations. The author’s strict reliance on original sources may have led her to ignore previous histories that offered important insights into Sargon’s army and his military operations. That said, the military historian has much to gain from reading Melville’s book, in that it provides the all-important broader context in which military events must always be understood, especially in the ancient period.
The work is well written, well organized and strongly footnoted, the latter always an important factor among dedicated readers and researchers. Unfortunately, the publisher chose to place Melville’s illuminating footnotes at the back of the book instead of at the bottom of each relevant page and to group maps in one folio rather than inserting them where relevant. The need for the reader to switch back and forth is a disservice to a very competent author and her fine book. Highly recommended.
—Richard A. Gabriel