1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nineveh

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NINEVEH (Heb. נִינְוֵה, in classical authors Νῖνος, Ninus; LXX. Νινευή, Νηνευη; Assyrian Ninā or Ninūa), the best known and highly renowned capital of the Assyrian empire. There was a quarter or suburb of the old Babylonian city of Lagash whose name was written in the same way; this may possibly have been the home of those settlers from Babylonia who gave its name to the Assyrian city. The name was carried elsewhere, probably by Assyrian settlers, and we meet with Ninoe in Asia Minor (Th. Nöldeke, Hermes, v. 464, n. 2). Philostratus calls a Hierapolis, ἡ ἀρχαῖα Νῖνος but it must not be confounded with the Egyptian Nï-y, Assur-bani-pal Nï, the frontier city to the east of Egypt’s greatest extension, where Tethmosis (Thothmes) III. hunted elephants, probably situated on the Euphrates. This, however, may be the origin of Ctesias’s statement (ap. Diod. ii. 3) that Nineveh stood on the Euphrates; the Arabic geographer Yaqut places a Nineveh on the, lower Euphrates near Babylon, and this may be a colony from the great Nineveh, or possibly the Ninā of Lagash.

The derivation of the name is uncertain. The name Ninā was borne also by the goddess Ishtar, whose worship was the special cult of Nineveh, and Ninūa may well be a hypocoristicon of Ninā. The ideogram for Nineveh, as also for the Lagash city, , is a fish enclosed in the sign for house, possibly indicating a fish-pond, sacred to Ishtar. As the Semitic nūnu means a fish, a play upon nūnu and Ninā is suggested, but the name may be pre-Semitic. A derivation from the root נוי with a meaning like “lowland” is doubtful, unless we are sure that the name is Semitic, and that the Lagash city also lay low.

Nineveh was situated at the N.W. angle of an irregular trapezium of land which lay between the rivers Husur (Khausar, Choser) on the N.W., Gōmal on the N.E. and E., Upper Zāb on the S.E. and S. and Tigris on the S. and W. In extent this plain is 25 m. by 15 m., and contains the ruins of Nineveh at Kuyunjik and Nebi Yūnus, of Dūr Sargon at Khorsabad to the N.E. of Calah at Nimrud to the S. as well as of other towns not yet identified. The whole plain has a gradual slope from the low range of Jebel Maqtub and the hill of Ain-es-safra on the N.E. to the Tigris on the S.W. This Plain was, for those days, amply protected on three sides by the two rapid broad streams of the Tigris and its tributary Zāb, by the hills on the N.E. and the river Gōmal at their base. The Weak N.W. side was partly covered by the Husur, an impassable flood in winter but easily fordable in summer. The floods caused by the Husur were frequent and destructive, on one occasion sweeping away the palace terrace at Nineveh and exposing the tombs of the kings, on another isolating Khorsabad. A great series of dams was therefore constructed (mapped and described in “Topography of Nineveh,” J.R.A.S. xiv. 318 ff.) which controlled the floods and filled the ditches and moats of Nineveh. One of these ditches can be traced over 2 m. with a breadth of 200 ft., and was lined with a rampart on the city side.

The city on the river side of the Tigris extended about 21/2 m., its north wall measured 7000 ft., the eastern wall was nearly 3 m. long and the southern about 1000 ft. The city thus formed a long narrow strip along the Tigris, pierced at right angles by the Husur, the waters of which, by closing the great dam in the eastern wall, could be sent round the moats to the N. and S. The Tigris may have swept the western wall, though now a wide belt of sand has accumulated between the ruins and its present channel which is perpetually shifting. The actual extent of the city may be reckoned at about 1800 acres, or about two-thirds the size of Rome within Aurelian’s Wall. At the rate of 50 sq. yds. to a person, it would have held a population of 175,000; but the extent of the palaces, gardens, &c., forbid us to imagine any such multitude except as refugees during a siege. Outside this city proper lay wide outskirts (kablu) which were divided into quarters each with a separate governor (šaknu). Further afield lay the Rēbit-Ninūa, in which some have recognized the Rehoboth-Ir of Gen. x. 11 (Ninūa is often replaced by ir or alu in the inscriptions), a less closely populated area which extended to and included the site of Khorsabad, before Sargon II. built his city of Dūr-Sargon there. Across the Tigris, connected by a bridge, lay an extensive district, probably now replaced by Mōsul. As Esarhaddon entered Nineveh, on his triumphal return from Sidon, through Rēbit-Ninūa, it is probable that this name covered the western suburbs. The walled city formed a sort of Acropolis, and it is difficult to say exactly how far the name of Nineveh should be extended. Few traces of private houses have been found within the walls, but as deeds of sale speak of houses in Nineveh, which were bounded on three sides by other houses, there must have been continuous streets within the area denoted by that name. Great emphasis has been laid on the agreement of a tetrapolis, formed by Nineveh, Khorsabad, Calah and Keramlis, with the dimensions given by Diodorus and with the phrase “an exceeding great city of three days’ journey” (Jonah iii. 3). Admitting that this whole area was thickly inhabited and might be regarded by those at a distance as one city, and that the district may well have had a common name, which could hardly be Assur, there is yet no native evidence that Nineveh extended so far. There is no trace of a common wall, each city was as strongly fortified towards the interior as on the outside. Each had its own šaknu, and the governor of Nineveh stands below the governors of Assur and Calah in official lists. In deeds of sale “the road to Calah” is as often named as the “king’s highway” to Arbela or Assur.

The history of Nineveh is, of course, bound up with that of Assyria in general. Later Assyrian writers professed to carry back its foundation to the creation of the world, but we lack any historical evidence of its age or early history. We may conjecture that it was founded by settlers from Babylonia Ninā, and the statement that Nimrod founded it from Babylonia, along with Calah, Rehoboth-Ir and Resen, shows that this opinion was early held. We are, however, still without evidence that this was its first occupation. The mention of Gudea’s building a temple for Ishtar in Ninā (2800 B.C.) may refer to the Lagash city and an inscription of Dungi, king of Ur (2700 B.C.), said to have been found at Nineveh, might have been carried there by some antiquary king. We reach firm ground with the statement of Khammurabi (2285 B.C.) that he “made the waters of Ishtar to be glorious in Nineveh in Ē-meš-meš,” the temple of Ishtar there (Code IV. 60-62). As he had just spoken of “returning the gracious protecting god to Assur,” and spells the name Ni-nu-a, there can be no doubt that Nineveh is meant. Shalmaneser I., in his zikāti inscriptions (L. W. King, Records of the Reign of Tukulti-Ninib I. p. 131), c. 1300 B.C., records his restoration of the temple of Ishtar of Nineveh, which had been built by Samsi-Hadad (Shamshi-Adad) and restored once before by Assur-uballit. Which Samsi-Hadad (out of six at least) this was, and which Assur-uballit we are not told; the first of the former name known to us was a contemporary of Khammurabi and, if he built the temple first, Khammurabi may have plundered it and then restored it again; but an even earlier Samsi-Hadad may be meant. Dushratta, king of Mitanni, about 1400 B.C., in the Tell el-Amarna letters offers to send to the king of Egypt an image of Ishtar of Nineveh; from which it has been inferred that Nineveh was then under foreign rule. The same letters mention Shaushbi as goddess of Nineveh. A statue of a female nude figure found at Nineveh bears an inscription showing it to have been in the palace of Assur-bēl-kala (1080 B.C.), who is therefore supposed to have resided in Nineveh. Assur-rĕsh-ishi, Mutakkil Nusku and Tiglath-pileser I. restored a temple of Ishtar, probably in Nineveh. Assur-narsin-apli (885 B.C.) restored the temple Ē-maš-maš of Ishtar at Nineveh, but removed his residence to Calah. Shalmaneser II. set out on several of his expeditions from Nineveh, but in the latter part of his reign resided at Calah, and when rebellion broke out under his son Assur-daninapli Nineveh sided with the rebel prince. Sennacherib records that several of his royal ancestors had been buried in Nineveh and they presumably had resided there. At the commencement of his reign Sennacherib found Nineveh a poor place. A storehouse, the ancient and renowned temple, an armoury or storehouse, were the chief buildings. Two lofty platforms along the Tigris front had served as foundations of the palaces hitherto built, but the platforms had been wrecked and the palaces were in decay. Sennacherib restored and enlarged the northern platform now covered by the Kuyunjik mound and built his palace on the south-western portion of it. It has been only partially excavated, though seventy-one rooms were opened, and it is the grandest architectural effort of Assyria. The bas-reliefs with which the walls are adorned are unrivalled in antiquity, for variety of subject, breadth of composition, truth of presentation and artistic treatment. The accuracy with which building operations are portrayed, and a sense of landscape, are great advances even on the superb work of Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad. On the adjoining platform to the south, now Nebi-Yunus, Sennacherib erected an arsenal for military supplies. Nineveh was badly supplied with water for drinking; the inhabitants had to “turn their eyes to heaven for the rain,” but Sennacherib conducted water by eighteen canals from the hills into the Husur and distributed its waters round the moats and into store tanks, or ponds, within the city. He laid out a fine park or Paradise, for pleasure and the chase, to the east of his palaces, and built up a magnificent “triumphal Way” sixty-two cubits broad and forbade any householder to encroach upon the street. Sennacherib made Nineveh his court residence and, after his destruction of Babylon and the influx of the enormous booty brought back from his conquests, it must have been the most magnificent and wealthiest city of the East.

Esarhaddon began to rebuild Babylon and so departed from his father’s purpose to make Nineveh the metropolis of the empire, but he did not altogether neglect the city. He rebuilt the temple of Assur at Nineveh, and a palace for himself now covered by the Nebi-Yunus mound and so inefficiently explored. Thither Assur-bani-pal brought the rebel Egyptian vassals Necho and Sharru-ludari, the Elamite kings, the booty and captives of his continual conquests. He rebuilt the temples and a palace for himself north of Sennacherib’s on the site of the latter’s harem; which was adorned with extraordinary variety and richness. His sculptures are at the highest range of original and effective delineation in antiquity. Especially is his palace famous for the celebrated library, of which Sennacherib had made a commencement. Tens of thousands of clay tablets, systematically arranged on shelves, contained the classics of the Babylonian literature for which his scribes ransacked and copied the treasures of all then known centres of literary life.

Very little trace is left of the fortunes of Nineveh during the reigns of the sons of Assur-bani-pal. Nineveh, according to Herodotus, was besieged by Cyaxares and the Medes but saved by Madyes and the Scythians some twenty or more years before the Medes in alliance with Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, finally took it, c. 606 B.C. Much conjecture has been lavished upon the varying accounts which have reached us of the capture, but it seems probable that a heavy flood or the besiegers burst the great dam and while thus emptying the moats launched a flood against the west wall on the inside and thus breached the defences.

It may be of interest to record the names of the governors of Nineveh: Nergal-mudammik. 835 B.C. ; Ninib-mukin-ahi, 790–761 B.C.; Mahdē, 725 B.C. ; Nabū-dini-epush, 704 B.C.; Ahi-ilai, 649 B.C., officiated as Eponyms for the year.

If, as generally admitted, the ruins of Mespila and Larissa “described” by Xenophon, Anab. iii. 4, 7 sq. were those of Kuyunjik and Nimrud, we may conclude that there was no inhabited city on the spot at the time of the march of the Greeks with Cyrus (cf. Strabo xvi. p. 245). The name of Nineveh (Syriac Nīnwē; Arabic Nīnawā, Nūnawā) continued, even in the middle ages, to be applied to a site opposite Mōsul on the east bank of the Tigris, where huge mounds and the traces of an ancient city wall bore witness of former greatness. Copious references to these mentions are collected in Tuch, De Nino Urbe (Leipzig, 1845). Ibn Jubair, p. 237 sq., followed by Ibn Batuta, ii. 137, gives a good description of the ruins and the great shrine of Jonah as existing in the 12th century. The name of Nīnawā applied, not to the ruins, but to the Rustak (fields and hamlets) on the site (Balādhurī, p. 331; Ibn Haukal, p. 145; Yaqut, ii. 694).

A very complete summary of the traditions will be found in Lincke, “Assyrien und Nineveh,” in Geschichte und Sage der Mittelmeervölker nach 607606.

The explorations of Sir A. H. Layard at Kuyunjik (1845–1847 and 1849–1851) definitely located the city, in confirmation of ancient tradition and the identifications of Rich and others. Excavations were carried on by Rawlinson, 1853–1855; H. Rassam, 1854; G. Smith, 1873–1874 and 1876; Rassam again, 1877–1883; E. A. Wallis Budge, 1888–1889; and King, 1902. The enormous mound of Kuyunjik now separated from that of Nebi-Yunus by the deep and rapid Khausar, marks the site of the palace of Sennacherib and Assur-bani-pal. The mound of Nebi-Yunus is crowned by the “Tomb of Jonah,” a sacred shrine to the modern inhabitants, and could not be explored; but by sinking a shaft within the walls of a private house, some sculptured slabs were recovered, and the Turkish government later opened out part of a palace of Esarhaddon. Excavations at two of the great city gates showed them to have been erected by Sennacherib.

Bibliography.—The architecture of these palaces is exhaustively treated in Ferguson’s Palaces of Nineveh and Persepolis Restored, and in Perrot and Chipiez, Art in Chaldea and Assyria. Each palace was in itself a fort, and the external walls are still 80 ft. high in places. The many topographical details furnished by exploration when compared with the building inscriptions and the indications given by deeds of sale will doubtless enable us ultimately to map out the principal features of the ancient city, but much more systematic exploration is needed, as well as further publication of existing documents.  (C. H. W. J.)