1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Assur (city)

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15670971911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Assur (city)Archibald Henry Sayce

ASSUR, the primitive capital of Assyria, now represented by the mounds of Kaleh Sherghat (Qal’at Shergat) on the west bank of the Tigris, nearly midway between the Upper and Lower Zab. It is still doubtful (see discussion on the name in the preceding article) whether the national god of Assyria took his name from that of the city or whether the converse was the case. It is most probable, however, that it was the city which was deified (see Sayce, Religion of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia, 1902, pp. 366, 367). Sir A. H. Layard, through his assistant Hormuzd Rassam, devoted two or three days to excavating on the site, but owing to the want of pasturage and the fear of Bedouin attacks he left the spot after finding a broken clay cylinder containing the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I., and for many years no subsequent efforts were made to explore it. In 1904, however, a German expedition under Dr W. Andrae began systematic excavations, which have led to important results. The city originally grew up round the great temple of the god Assur, the foundation of which was ascribed to the High-priest Uspia. For many centuries Assur and the surrounding district, which came accordingly to be called the land of Assur (Assyria), were governed by high-priests under the suzerainty of Babylonia. With the decay of the Babylonian power the high-priests succeeded in making themselves independent kings, and Assur became the capital of an important kingdom. It was already surrounded by a wall of crude brick, which rested on stone foundations and was strengthened at certain points by courses of burnt brick. A deep moat was dug outside it by Tukulti-Inaristi or Tukulti-Masu (about 1270 B.C.), and it was further defended on the land side by a salkhu or outwork. In the 15th century B.C. it was considerably extended to the south in order to include a “new town” which had grown up there. The wall was pierced by “the gate of Assur,” “the gate of the Sun-god,” “the gate of the Tigris,” &c., and on the river side was a quay of burnt brick and limestone cemented with bitumen. The temples were in the northern part of the city, together with their lofty towers, one of which has been excavated. Besides the temple of Assur there was another great temple dedicated to Anu and Hadad, as well as the smaller sanctuaries of Bel, Ishtar, Merodach and other deities. After the rise of the kingdom, palaces were erected separate from the temples; the sites of those of Hadad-nirari I., Shalmaneser I., and Assur-nazir-pal have been discovered by the German excavators, and about a dozen more are referred to in the inscriptions. Even after the rise of Nineveh as the capital of the kingdom and the seat of the civil power, Assur continued to be the religious centre of the country, where the king was called on to reside when performing his priestly functions. The city survived the fall of Assyria, and extensive buildings as well as tombs of the Parthian age have been found upon the site.

See Mitteilungen der deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft (1904–1906).  (A. H. S.)