The reconstructed Mashki Gate of Nineveh
|Location||Mosul, Ninawa Governorate, Iraq|
|Area||7.5 km2 (2.9 sq mi)|
|Events||Battle of Nineveh (612 BC)|
It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria itself, it was sacked by an unusual coalition of former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians in 612 BC. 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.
- 1 Name
- 2 Geography
- 3 History
- 4 Archaeology
- 5 Threats to Nineveh
- 6 Rogation of the Ninevites (Nineveh's Wish)
- 7 Nineveh in popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The English placename Nineveh comes from Latin Ninive and Septuagint Greek Nineyḗ (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 river itself, possibly originally of Hurrian origin. The city was later said to be devoted to "the Ishtar of Nineveh" and Nina was one of the Babylonian names of that goddess's Babylonian names.
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.
Ancient Nineveh's 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. Occupying a central position 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 worship of the Akkadian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) were 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 Manishtusu.
Texts from the Hellenistic period and later offered an eponymous Ninus as the founder of Nineveh, although there is no historical basis for this. The historic Nineveh is mentioned during the 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 2nd millennium BC; it appears to have been originally an "Assyrian provincial town". Later monarchs whose inscriptions have appeared on the high city include Shalmaneser I and Tiglath-Pileser I, both of whom were active builders in Assur (Ashur). Nineveh had to wait for the Neo-Assyrian Empire, particularly from the time of Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883–859 BC) onward, for a considerable architectural expansion. Thereafter successive monarchs such as Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal kept in repair and founded new palaces, temples to Sîn, Ashur, Nergal, Shamash, Ninurta, Ishtar, and Nabiu of Borsippa.
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 famous "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 door figures weighing up to 30,000 kilograms (30 t); they included many 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 panels carved in bas-relief, 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. He also bragged about 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." 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.
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 due to a series of bitter civil wars, and in 616 BC Assyria was attacked by its 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. 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.
Following the defeat in 612 BC, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries with only a scattering of Assyrians living amid the ruins until the Sassanian period, although Assyrians continue to live in the surrounding area to this day. 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 conquest in 637 AD until the modern period, the city of Mosul on the opposite bank of the river 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 (Jonah Nah). 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, oriental churches of the Middle East 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 drinks. 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, not a single 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 Arabs 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, which was largely explored for sculptures and other precious relics.
In 1847 the young British adventurer Sir 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 (himself an 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 already 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."
- Kuyunjik – The ruin mound 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 due to the turmoil in the area. 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 – located about 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) south of Kuyunjik, 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.
The city wall was fitted with fifteen monumental gateways. In addition to serving as checkpoints on entering and exiting the city, these structures were probably used as barracks and armories. With the inner and outer doors shut, the gateways were virtual fortresses. The bases of the walls of the vaulted passages and interior chambers of the gateway were lined with finely cut stone orthostats about 1 metre (3 ft) high. A stairway led from one of the interior chambers to the top of the mudbrick wall.
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 River 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 is named for the god Adad. A reconstruction was begun in the 1960s by Iraqis, but was not completed. The result is a mixture of concrete and eroding mudbrick, which nonetheless does give one 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 is well exposed, as is the entrance of the vaulted stairway to the upper levels. The actions of Nineveh's last defenders can be seen in the hastily built mudbrick construction which narrows the passageway from 4 to 2 metres (13 to 7 ft).
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 Nineveh
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 constantly expanding suburbs.
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 1900, with the other 1600 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 Wish. Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox also maintain this fast.
Nineveh in popular culture
"Ode", the 1874 poem by Arthur O'Shaughnessy, includes the line
'We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;'
Rudyard Kipling's 1897 poem "Recessional" expresses the potential transience of the British Empire's dominance with the lines, "Far-called our navies melt away-/On dune and headland sinks the fire-/Lo, all our pomp of yesterday/ is one with Nineveh and Tyre."
"Cargoes", the poem by John Masefield starts with the line 'Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir.'
The 1953 Broadway musical Kismet, and the subsequent 1955 film version, featured a song entitled "Not Since Nineveh".
The opening scenes of the film The Exorcist depict an archaeological excavation in the ruins on Nineveh.
Thrash Metal band Tourniquet refer to Nineveh in the song "Healing waters of the Tigris" from their 2003 album Where Moth and Rust Destroy. The lyrics refer to the Battle of Nineveh in 612 BC, giving reference to an alleged flood of the River Tigris during the battle.
Hymns from Nineveh is a Danish folk/rock band, formed in 2007 by Danish singer/guitarist Jonas Petersen.
The 1997 game Age of Empires features a campaign within Nineveh.
- Cities of the ancient Near East
- Destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL
- Historical urban community sizes
- Isaac of Nineveh
- List of megalithic sites
- Short chronology timeline
- Tel Keppe
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- Shelby White - Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications - Nineveh Publication Grant
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- article about the Roagation of the Ninevites
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- W. G. Lambert, Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets in the Kouyunjik Collection of the British Museum: Supplement III, British Museum, 1992, ISBN 0-7141-1131-7
- M. Louise Scott and John MacGinnis, Notes on Nineveh, Iraq, vol. 52, pp. 63–73, 1990
- C. Trümpler (ed.), Agatha Christie and Archaeology (London, The British Museum Press, 2001) - Nineveh 5, Vessel Pottery 2900 BC ISBN 978-0714111483
- Gwendolyn Leick. The A to Z of Mesopotamia. Scarecrow Press, 2010. - Early worship of Ishtar, Early / Prehistoric Nineveh
- Will Durant. Our oriental heritage. Simon & Schuster, 1954. - Early / Prehistoric Nineveh
|Look up Nineveh in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nineveh.|
- Joanne Farchakh-Bajjaly photos of Nineveh taken in May 2003 showing damage from looters
- John Malcolm Russell, "Stolen stones: the modern sack of Nineveh" in Archaeology; looting of sculptures in the 1990s
- Nineveh page at the British Museum's website. Includes photographs of items from their collection.
- University of California Digital Nineveh Archives A teaching and research tool presenting a comprehensive picture of Nineveh within the history of archaeology in the Near East, including a searchable data repository for meaningful analysis of currently unlinked sets of data from different areas of the site and different episodes in the 160-year history of excavations
- CyArk Digital Nineveh Archives, publicly accessible, free depository of the data from the previously linked UC Berkeley Nineveh Archives project, fully linked and georeferenced in a UC Berkeley/CyArk research partnership to develop the archive for open web use. Includes creative commons-licensed media items.
- Photos of Nineveh, 1989-1990
- ABC 3: Babylonian Chronicle Concerning the Fall of Nineveh
- Layard's Nineveh and its Remains- full text
- A history
- Austen Henry Layard - Nineveh and Its Remains full book readable