Is there any evidence that Assyrian or Babylonian kings took their captive/conquered enemies and actually ate their bodies (dead or alive)?

EDIT I apologize for not explaining where I am coming from with this question. There is a Rabbinic tradition (see Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 10:2, Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (ch. 43) and others) which states that when Manasseh, the king of Judah, was captured by the Assyrian king (a story cited in the Biblical book of Chronicles), he was put into a pot in order to be cooked, ostensibly to be eaten. Similarly, a Midrashic tradition (cited in Yalkut Shimoni to Ezekiel, §367) relates that when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered Tyre, he captured Hiram, the king Tyre and would cut off the size of two-fingers of Hiram's skin every day and dip it into vinegar and eat it until Hiram died. These sources suggest that the kings of Assyria and Babylonia practiced some form of cannibalism against their victims and I was wondering if there is any historical or archeological/epigraphical evidence to back up these assertions. Thank you!

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    Citation needed to prove the base-premise of the question. Do we have any respectable source mentioning this? Evidence for or against comes after that
    – NSNoob
    Jul 11, 2017 at 9:39
  • @MarkC.Wallace: what is the "existing narrative" that the question questions? That they "ate their enemies" or that they did not? I never heard of Assyrian or Babylonian cannibalism. You seem to be suggesting that it is an established fact. (I am not a native english speaker, I may be mis-reading your comment)
    – sds
    Jul 11, 2017 at 17:16
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    @MarkC.Wallace I have edited my OP to explain where I am coming from with the question. Jul 11, 2017 at 18:52
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    @NSNoob see updated version of the question. Jul 11, 2017 at 18:52
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    Should be on Skeptics instead of here - the entire tale is patently false Jul 12, 2017 at 3:41

3 Answers 3


There is a relevant 2022 thesis entitled Eating People Is Might: Power and the Representation of Anthropophagy in Antiquity by Christopher Weimer.

If we had any direct historical evidence of cannibal kings in Mesopotamia, I suspect he would have found it. What he finds instead is a certain "cannibal curse" tradition tracing back to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, in which treaties state that violators will be punished by the gods in all kinds of gruesome ways including horrible famines that will lead parents to eat their children and so on. Weimer interprets a direct connection between this and the way in which cannibalism is depicted in the Hebrew tradition.

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    Chapter IV is also relevant here. There is a tradition of powerful gods consuming their enemies, but that's different from what the Assyrians were doing with the malediction section of their treaties. You're right that what they were threatening was a population being reduced to cannibalism, and although they included many horrific things the king would do to the people in retaliation, those kings aren't the ones actually doing the eating.
    – cmw
    Aug 20 at 20:20

Lots of examples of cannibalism with regards to sieges. Lev,26:29; Deut, 26:53-57; 2 Kgs. 6:28-29: Per. 19:9; Ezek. 5:10; Larn. 2:20; 4:10; It's used as a metaphor in the Bible. A metaphor for how bad things were.

Political treaties record parents eating their offspring without any explicit mention of siege, see SA A II 6:449-450, 547-550, 568-569 (Esarhaddon's succession on treaty). Treaties written by the victors, express how the folks who resisted them were punished. None of the cannibalistic cities actually won. Likewise, if you happened to be in the sieged city without family, then you ate each other(mercenaries).. supports the metaphor.

I don't know about you but logically, I would eat a stranger before I would eat my kid, next a neighbor, next maybe disobedient kids.. Jumping right to the dessert seems contrived to me.

The formulation of the motif of cannibalism in the treaties and in the least some of the literary sources displays a clear relationship: the view that the necessity of eating one's relatives is a punishment explicitly mentioned in the covenant, imposed on those who violated a solemn oath, occurs in Deut 29:23

This supports Nebuchadnezzar's cannibalism also being a metaphor. Doesn't prove it, but suggests it. As does the fact that in the Bible Nebuchadnezzar goes back to Babylon after he conquers Juduh, and goes insane. God was upset with him, so he sends him out in the fields to eat grass for 7 years. A punishment from god for being a bad boy. The cannibalism suggests that Nebuchadnezzar is advancing his people in both wealth and possessions by conquest, and suggests God's not ok with that; Thus the salad diet post Jerusalem siege.

As for evidence of actual cannibalism in the ancient ME; lots in treaties.. Babylon, Assyrians, Canaanites, Persians, Egyptians and Israelites. But that's largely dismissed as explained above.

Found no reasonable evidence of it as a religious practices.


There were two Babylonian kings named Nebuchadnezzar, accepted to have ruled respectively c. 1125–1104 BCE and c. 605-562 BCE, and three Kings of Tyre named Hiram who are accepted to have rules respectively 980 – 947 BCE, 739–730 BCE, and 551–532 BCE.

The only overlap or close between these dates is of Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605-562 BCE) and Hiram III (551–532 BCE), but the accepted chronology has Hiram III ascending the throne a decade after the Nebuchadnezzar II and ruling for another two decades. This significant discrepancy in the dates is sufficient for me to discredit the cannibalism tales as being apocryphal.

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    -1 That wasn't the question. I only cited the anecdote about Nebuchadnezzar to buttress the supposition that Babylonian/Assyrian kings ate their opponents (or at least rabbinic tradition understood such to be true). I wasn't asking about the historicity of that specific anecdote. Jul 11, 2017 at 21:44
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    @RebChaimHaQoton: You asked the question on History - so I refuted all resemblance of the claim to "history". If you're not interested in historical veracity of the claim, ask elsewhere. Aug 19 at 20:21

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