Area 7.5 km²
|Abandoned 612 BC|
|Location Mosul, Nineveh Governorate, Iraq|
Events Battle of Nineveh (612 BC)
Nineveh (/ˈnɪnɪvə/ or /ˈnɪnəvə/; Akkadian: Ninua) was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq. It is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
- Early history
- Ninevite 5 period
- Old Assyrian period
- Neo Assyrians
- After Ashurbanipal
- Biblical Nineveh
- Classical history
- Excavation history
- Archaeological remains
- City wall and gates
- Threats to the site
- Rogation of the Ninevites Ninevehs Wish
- Popular culture
It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked by a coalition of its former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq. The two main tells, or mound-ruins, within the walls are Kouyunjik (Kuyuncuk), the Northern Palace, and Tell Nabī Yūnus.
Large amounts of Assyrian sculpture and other artifacts have been excavated and are now located in museums around the world. Site remains have suffered since the occupation by the United States in 2003. Iraqi forces recaptured the area from Daesh in January 2017.
The English placename Nineveh comes from Latin Ninive and Septuagint Greek Nineuḗ (Νινευή) under influence of the Biblical Hebrew Nīnewēh (נִינְוֶה), from the Akkadian Ninua (var. Ninâ) or Old Babylonian Ninuwā. The original meaning of the name is unclear but may have referred to a patron goddess. The cuneiform for Ninâ is a fish within a house (cf. Aramaic nuna, "fish"). This may have simply intended "Place of Fish" or may have indicated a goddess associated with fish or the Tigris, possibly originally of Hurrian origin. The city was later said to be devoted to "the Ishtar of Nineveh" and Nina was one of the Sumerian and Assyrian names of that goddess.
The city was also known as Ninii or Ni in Ancient Egyptian; Ninuwa in Mari; Ninawa in Aramaic; ܢܸܢܘܵܐ in Syriac; and Nainavā (نینوا) in Persian.
Nabī Yūnus is the Arabic for "Prophet Jonah". Kouyunjik was, according to Layard, a Turkish name, and it was known as Armousheeah by the Arabs, and is thought to have some connection with the Kara Koyunlu dynasty.
The remains of ancient Nineveh, the mound-ruins of Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus, are located on a level part of the plain near the junction of the Tigris and the Khosr Rivers within an area of 750 hectares (1,900 acres) circumscribed by a 12-kilometre (7.5 mi) brick rampart. This whole extensive space is now one immense area of ruins overlaid in parts by new suburbs of the city of Mosul.
Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, it received wealth from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region's ancient cities, and the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and, by 3000 BC, had become an important religious center for the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) was constructed on a fault line and, consequently, suffered damage from a number of earthquakes. One such event destroyed the first temple of Ishtar, which was then rebuilt in 2260 BC by the Akkadian king Manishtushu.
Texts from the Hellenistic period later offered an eponymous Ninus as the founder of Nineveh, although there is no historical basis for this.
Ninevite 5 period
The regional influence of Nineveh became particularly pronounced during the archaeological period known as Ninevite 5, or Ninevite V (2900–2600 BC). This period is defined primarily by the characteristic pottery that is found widely throughout northern Mesopotamia. Also, for the northern Mesopotamian region, the Early Jezirah chronology has been developed by archaeologists. According to this regional chronology, 'Ninevite 5' is equivalent to the Early Jezirah I–II period.
Ninevite 5 was preceded by the Late Uruk period. Ninevite 5 pottery is roughly contemporary to the Early Transcaucasian culture ware, and the Jemdet Nasr ware. Iraqi Scarlet Ware culture also belongs to this period; this colourful painted pottery is somewhat similar to Jemdet Nasr ware. Scarlet Ware was first documented in the Diyala River basin in Iraq. Later, it was also found in the nearby Hamrin Basin, and in Luristan.
Old Assyrian period
The historic Nineveh is mentioned in the Old Assyrian Empire during reign of Shamshi-Adad I in about 1800 BC as a centre of worship of Ishtar, whose cult was responsible for the city's early importance. The goddess's statue was sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep III of Egypt in the 14th century BC, by orders of the king of Mitanni. The Assyrian city of Nineveh became one of Mitanni's vassals for half a century until the early 14th century BC, when the Assyrian king Ashur-uballit I reclaimed it in 1365 BC while overthrowing the Mitanni Empire and creating the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC).
There is no large body of evidence to show that Assyrian monarchs built at all extensively in Nineveh during the late 3rd and 2nd millenniums BC; it appears to have been originally an "Assyrian provincial town". Later monarchs whose inscriptions have appeared on the high city include the Middle Assyrian Empire kings Shalmaneser I (1274-1245 BC) and Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 BC), both of whom were active builders in Assur (Ashur).
During the Neo-Assyrian Empire, particularly from the time of Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883–859 BC) onward, there was considerable architectural expansion. Successive monarchs such as Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal kept in repair and founded new palaces, as well as temples to Sîn, Ashur, Nergal, Shamash, Ninurta, Ishtar, Tammuz, Nisroch and Nabiu.
It was Sennacherib who made Nineveh a truly magnificent city (c. 700 BC). He laid out new streets and squares and built within it the South West Palace, or "palace without a rival", the plan of which has been mostly recovered and has overall dimensions of about 503 by 242 metres (1,650 ft × 794 ft). It comprised at least 80 rooms, many of which were lined with sculpture. A large number of cuneiform tablets were found in the palace. The solid foundation was made out of limestone blocks and mud bricks; it was 22 metres (72 ft) tall. In total, the foundation is made of roughly 2,680,000 cubic metres (3,505,308 cu yd) of brick (approximately 160 million bricks). The walls on top, made out of mud brick, were an additional 20 metres (66 ft) tall.
Some of the principal doorways were flanked by colossal stone lamassu door figures weighing up to 30,000 kilograms (30 t); these were winged lions or bulls with a man's head. These were transported 50 kilometres (31 mi) from quarries at Balatai, and they had to be lifted up 20 metres (66 ft) once they arrived at the site, presumably by a ramp. There are also 3,000 metres (9,843 ft) of stone Assyrian palace reliefs, that include pictorial records documenting every construction step including carving the statues and transporting them on a barge. One picture shows 44 men towing a colossal statue. The carving shows three men directing the operation while standing on the Colossus. Once the statues arrived at their destination, the final carving was done. Most of the statues weigh between 9,000 and 27,000 kilograms (19,842 and 59,525 lb).
The stone carvings in the walls include many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib's men parading the spoils of war before him. The inscriptions boasted of his conquests: he wrote of Babylon: "Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city." A full and characteristic set shows the campaign leading up to the siege of Lachish in 701; it is the "finest" from the reign of Sennacherib, and now in the British Museum. He later wrote about a battle in Lachish: "And Hezekiah of Judah who had not submitted to my yoke...him I shut up in Jerusalem his royal city like a caged bird. Earthworks I threw up against him, and anyone coming out of his city gate I made pay for his crime. His cities which I had plundered I had cut off from his land."
At this time, the total area of Nineveh comprised about 7 square kilometres (1,730 acres), and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls. An elaborate system of eighteen canals brought water from the hills to Nineveh, and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct erected by Sennacherib were discovered at Jerwan, about 65 kilometres (40 mi) distant. The enclosed area had more than 100,000 inhabitants (maybe closer to 150,000), about twice as many as Babylon at the time, placing it among the largest settlements worldwide.
Some scholars believe that the garden which Sennacherib built next to his palace, with its associated irrigation works, comprised the original Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Nineveh's greatness was short-lived. In around 627 BC, after the death of its last great king Ashurbanipal, the Neo-Assyrian empire began to unravel through a series of bitter civil wars between rival claimants for the throne, and in 616 BC Assyria was attacked by its own former vassals, the Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians. In about 616 BC Kalhu was sacked, the allied forces eventually reached Nineveh, besieging and sacking the city in 612 BC, following bitter house-to-house fighting, after which it was razed to the ground. Most of the people in the city who could not escape to the last Assyrian strongholds in the north and west were either massacred or deported out of the city and into the countryside where they founded new settlements. Many unburied skeletons were found by the archaeologists at the site. The Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC; the Medes and Babylonians dividing its colonies between them.
Assyria, including the Nineveh region, continued to exist as a geo-political entity (Achaemenid Assyria, Athura, Assuristan etc.) under the rule of various empires until its dissolution in the mid-7th century AD.
Following the defeat in 612 BC, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries and the ruins remained largely intact during Achaemenid rule, though the library of Ashurbanipal may still be in use until around the time of Alexander the Great. The city is mentioned again in the Battle of Nineveh in 627 AD, which was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire of Persia near the ancient city. From the Arab Islamic Conquest in 637 AD until the modern period, the city of Mosul on the opposite bank of the Tigris became the successor of ancient Nineveh.
In the Hebrew Bible, Nineveh is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11: "Ashur left that land, and built Nineveh". Some modern English translations interpret "Ashur" in the Hebrew of this verse as the country "Assyria" rather than a person, thus making Nimrod, rather than Ashur, the founder of Nineveh.
Nineveh was the flourishing capital of the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 19:36) and was the home of King Sennacherib, King of Assyria, during the Biblical reign of King Hezekiah (יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ) and the lifetime of Judean prophet Isaiah (ישעיה). As recorded in Hebrew scripture, Nineveh was also the place where Sennacherib died at the hands of his two sons, who then fled to the vassal land of `rrt Urartu. (Isa. 37:37–38). The book of the prophet Nahum is almost exclusively taken up with prophetic denunciations against Nineveh. Its ruin and utter desolation are foretold (Nahum 1:14; 3:19, etc.). Its end was strange, sudden, and tragic. (Nahum 2:6–11) According to the Bible, it was God's doing, His judgment on Assyria's pride (Isaiah 10:5-19). In fulfillment of prophecy, God made "an utter end of the place". It became a "desolation". The prophet Zephaniah also (2:13–15) predicts its destruction along with the fall of the empire of which it was the capital. Nineveh is also the setting of the Book of Tobit.
The Book of Jonah, set in the days of the Assyrian empire, describes it (Jonah 3:3ff; 4:11) as an "exceedingly great city of three days journey in breadth", whose population at that time is given as "more than 120,000". But it is also possible that it took three days to cover all its neighborhoods by walking, which would match the size of ancient Nineveh. The ruins of Kouyunjik, Nimrud, Karamles and Khorsabad form the four corners of an irregular quadrangle. The ruins of Nineveh, with the whole area included within the parallelogram they form by lines drawn from the one to the other, are generally regarded as consisting of these four sites. The Book of Jonah depicts Nineveh as a wicked city worthy of destruction. God sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites of their coming destruction, and they fasted and repented because of this. As a result, God spared the city; when Jonah protests against this, God states He is showing mercy for the population who are ignorant of the difference between right and wrong ("who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand" ) and mercy for the animals in the city.
Nineveh's repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon's Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, Syriac and Oriental Orthodox churches commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drink. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.
Before the great archaeological excavations in the 19th century, there was almost no historical knowledge of the great Assyrian empire and of its magnificent capital. Other cities that had perished, such as Palmyra, Persepolis, and Thebes, had left ruins to mark their sites and tell of their former greatness; but of this city, imperial Nineveh, no vestige seemed to remain, and the very place on which it had stood became only a matter of conjecture.
In the days of the Greek historians Ctesias and Herodotus, 400 BC, Nineveh had become a thing of the past; and when Xenophon the historian passed the place in the Retreat of the Ten Thousand the very memory of its name had been lost. It was buried out of sight.
In his History of the World (written c. 1616) Sir Walter Raleigh erroneously asserted (attributing the information to Johannes Nauclerus c. 1425–1510) that Nineveh had originally had the name Campsor before Ninus supposedly rebuilt it. This was still regarded as correct information when news of Layard's discoveries (see below) reached the west.
The site was first identified by Europeans following Carsten Niebuhr's 1761–1768 Danish expedition. Niebuhr wrote afterwards that "I did not learn that I was at so remarkable a spot, till near the river. Then they showed me a village on a great hill, which they call Nunia, and a mosque, in which the prophet Jonah was buried. Another hill in this district is called Kalla Nunia, or the Castle of Nineveh. On that lies a village Koindsjug."
In 1842, the French Consul General at Mosul, Paul-Émile Botta, began to search the vast mounds that lay along the opposite bank of the river. The locals whom he employed in these excavations, to their great surprise, came upon the ruins of a building at the mound of Khorsabad, which, on further exploration, turned out to be the royal palace of Sargon II, in which large numbers of reliefs were found and recorded, though they had been damaged by fire and were mostly too fragile to remove.
In 1847 the young British diplomat Austen Henry Layard explored the ruins. In the Kuyunjik mound, Layard rediscovered in 1849 the lost palace of Sennacherib with its 71 rooms and colossal bas-reliefs. He also unearthed the palace and famous library of Ashurbanipal with 22,000 cuneiform clay tablets. Most of Layard's material was sent to the British Museum, but two large pieces were given to Lady Charlotte Guest and eventually found their way to the Metropolitan Museum. The study of the archaeology of Nineveh reveals the wealth and glory of ancient Assyria under kings such as Esarhaddon (681–669 BC) and Ashurbanipal (669–626 BC).
The work of exploration was carried on by George Smith, Hormuzd Rassam (a modern Assyrian), and others, and a vast treasury of specimens of Assyria was incrementally exhumed for European museums. Palace after palace was discovered, with their decorations and their sculptured slabs, revealing the life and manners of this ancient people, their arts of war and peace, the forms of their religion, the style of their architecture, and the magnificence of their monarchs.
The mound of Kouyunjik was excavated again by the archaeologists of the British Museum, led by Leonard William King, at the beginning of the 20th century. Their efforts concentrated on the site of the Temple of Nabu, the god of writing, where another cuneiform library was supposed to exist. However, no such library was ever found: most likely, it had been destroyed by the activities of later residents.
The excavations started again in 1927, under the direction of Campbell Thompson, who had taken part in King's expeditions. Some works were carried out outside Kouyunjik, for instance on the mound of Nebi Yunus, which was the ancient arsenal of Nineveh, or along the outside walls. Here, near the northwestern corner of the walls, beyond the pavement of a later building, the archaeologists found almost 300 fragments of prisms recording the royal annals of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal, beside a prism of Esarhaddon which was almost perfect.
After the Second World War, several excavations were carried out by Iraqi archaeologists. From 1951 to 1958 Mohammed Ali Mustafa worked the site. The work was continued from 1967 through 1971 by Tariq Madhloom. Some additional excavation occurred by Manhal Jabur in 1980, and Manhal Jabur in 1987. For the most part, these digs focused on Nebi Yunus.
Most recently, British archaeologist and Assyriologist Professor David Stronach of the University of California, Berkeley conducted a series of surveys and digs at the site from 1987 to 1990, focusing his attentions on the several gates and the existent mudbrick walls, as well as the system that supplied water to the city in times of siege. The excavation reports are in progress.
Today, Nineveh's location is marked by two large mounds, Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus "Prophet Jonah", and the remains of the city walls (about 12 kilometres (7 mi) in circumference). The Neo-Assyrian levels of Kouyunjik have been extensively explored. The other mound, Nabī Yūnus, has not been as extensively explored because there was an Arab Muslim shrine dedicated to that prophet on the site. On July 24, 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant destroyed the shrine as part of a campaign to destroy religious sanctuaries it deems "un-Islamic."
The ruin mound of Kuyunjik rises about 20 metres (66 ft) above the surrounding plain of the ancient city. It is quite broad, measuring about 800 by 500 metres (2,625 ft × 1,640 ft). Its upper layers have been extensively excavated, and several Neo-Assyrian palaces and temples have been found there. A deep sounding by Max Mallowan revealed evidence of habitation as early as the 6th millennium BC. Today, there is little evidence of these old excavations other than weathered pits and earth piles. In 1990, the only Assyrian remains visible were those of the entry court and the first few chambers of the Palace of Sennacherib. Since that time, the palace chambers have received significant damage by looters. Portions of relief sculptures that were in the palace chambers in 1990 were seen on the antiquities market by 1996. Photographs of the chambers made in 2003 show that many of the fine relief sculptures there have been reduced to piles of rubble.
Nebi Yunus is located about 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) south of Kuyunjik and is the secondary ruin mound at Nineveh. On the basis of texts of Sennacherib, the site has traditionally been identified as the "armory" of Nineveh, and a gate and pavements excavated by Iraqis in 1954 have been considered to be part of the "armory" complex. Excavations in 1990 revealed a monumental entryway consisting of a number of large inscribed orthostats and "bull-man" sculptures, some apparently unfinished.
City wall and gates
The ruins of Nineveh are surrounded by the remains of a massive stone and mudbrick wall dating from about 700 BC. About 12 km in length, the wall system consisted of an ashlar stone retaining wall about 6 metres (20 ft) high surmounted by a mudbrick wall about 10 metres (33 ft) high and 15 metres (49 ft) thick. The stone retaining wall had projecting stone towers spaced about every 18 metres (59 ft). The stone wall and towers were topped by three-step merlons.
Five of the gateways have been explored to some extent by archaeologists:
Translated "Gate of the Watering Places", it was perhaps used to take livestock to water from the Tigris which currently flows about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) to the west. It has been reconstructed in fortified mudbrick to the height of the top of the vaulted passageway. The Assyrian original may have been plastered and ornamented.
Named for the god Nergal, it may have been used for some ceremonial purpose, as it is the only known gate flanked by stone sculptures of winged bull-men (lamassu). The reconstruction is conjectural, as the gate was excavated by Layard in the mid-19th century and reconstructed in the mid-20th century.
Adad Gate was named for the god Adad. A reconstruction was begun in the 1960s by Iraqis but was not completed. The result was a mixture of concrete and eroding mudbrick, which nonetheless does give some idea of the original structure. The excavator left some features unexcavated, allowing a view of the original Assyrian construction. The original brickwork of the outer vaulted passageway was well exposed, as was the entrance of the vaulted stairway to the upper levels. The actions of Nineveh's last defenders could be seen in the hastily built mudbrick construction which narrowed the passageway from 4 to 2 metres (13 to 7 ft). The gate and adjacent wall were leveled around April 13, 2016, with a bulldozer, supposedly by ISIS.
Named for the Sun god Shamash, it opens to the road to Arbil. It was excavated by Layard in the 19th century. The stone retaining wall and part of the mudbrick structure were reconstructed in the 1960s. The mudbrick reconstruction has deteriorated significantly. The stone wall projects outward about 20 metres (66 ft) from the line of main wall for a width of about 70 metres (230 ft). It is the only gate with such a significant projection. The mound of its remains towers above the surrounding terrain. Its size and design suggest it was the most important gate in Neo-Assyrian times.
Near the south end of the eastern city wall. Exploratory excavations were undertaken here by the University of California expedition of 1989–1990. There is an outward projection of the city wall, though not as pronounced as at the Shamash Gate. The entry passage had been narrowed with mudbrick to about 2 metres (7 ft) as at the Adad Gate. Human remains from the final battle of Nineveh were found in the passageway.
Threats to the site
The site of Nineveh is exposed to decay of its reliefs by a lack of proper protective roofing, vandalism and looting holes dug into chamber floors. Future preservation is further compromised by the site's proximity to expanding suburbs.
The ailing Mosul Dam is a persistent threat to Nineveh as well as the city of Mosul. This is in no small part due to years of disrepair (in 2006, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cited it as the most dangerous dam in the world), the cancellation of a second dam project in the 1980s to act as flood relief in case of failure, and occupation by ISIL in 2014 resulting in fleeing workers and stolen equipment. If the dam fails, the entire site could be as much as 45 feet underwater.
In an October 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund named Nineveh one of 12 sites most "on the verge" of irreparable destruction and loss, citing insufficient management, development pressures and looting as primary causes.
By far, however, the greatest threat to Nineveh has been purposeful human actions by ISIL, which occupied that area in mid-2010s. In early 2015 they announced their intention to destroy the walls of Nineveh if the Iraqis try to liberate the city. They also threatened to destroy artifacts. On February 26 they destroyed several items and statues in the Mosul Museum and are believed to have plundered others to sell overseas. The items were mostly from the Assyrian exhibit, which ISIL declared blasphemous and idolatrous. There were 300 items in the museum out of a total of 1,900, with the other 1,600 being taken to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad for security reasons prior to the 2014 Fall of Mosul. Some of the artifacts sold and/or destroyed were from Nineveh. Just a few days after the destruction of the museum pieces, they demolished remains at major UNESCO world heritage sites Khorsabad, Nimrud, and Hatra.
Rogation of the Ninevites (Nineveh's Wish)
Assyrians of the Ancient Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East and Saint Thomas Christians of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church observe a fast called Ba'uta d-Ninwe (ܒܥܘܬܐ ܕܢܝܢܘܐ) which means Nineveh's Prayer. Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox also maintain this fast.
English Romantic poet Edwin Atherstone wrote an epic poem The Fall of Nineveh. The work tells about an uprising of all nations that were dominated by the Assyrian empire against its king Sardanapalus. He is a great criminal. He had one hundred prisoners of war executed. After the long war the town is conquered by Median and Babylonian troops led by prince Arbaces and priest Belesis. The king sets his own palace on fire and dies inside together with all his concubines.
Atherstone's friend, painter John Martin created a painting of the same name inspired by the poem.
English poet John Masefield's well-known 1903 poem Cargoes mentions Nineveh in its first line. Nineveh is also mentioned in Rudyard Kipling's 1897 poem Recessional.
The 1962 Italian peplum movie, War Gods of Babylon, is based on the sacking and fall of Nineveh by the combined rebel armies led by the Babylonians.