It seems commonly accepted that Xenophon saw the ruins of Nineveh during the Ten Thousand Retreat.
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 (Wiki)
But why is it assumed that what he saw was Nineveh specifically? Is it really that unambiguous from Xenophon's text?
From this place they marched one stage, six parasangs, to a great stronghold, deserted and lying in ruins. The name of this city was Mespila and it was once inhabited by the Medes. The foundation of its wall was made of polished stone full of shells, and was fifty feet in breadth and fifty in height. Upon this foundation was built a wall of brick, fifty feet in breadth and a hundred in height; and the circuit of the wall was six parasangs. Here, as the story goes, Medea, the king's wife, took refuge at the time when the Medes were deprived of their empire by the Persians. To this city also the king of the Persians laid siege, but he was unable to capture it either by length of siege or by storm; Zeus, however, terrified the inhabitants with thunder, and thus the city was taken.
The identity of Xenophon's Mespila is actually debated. Whereas early researchers took for granted that it was the same place as Nineveh, more recent studies have suggested that it is more likely to have been located in or near Mosul, and it has even been suggested that the modern name Mosul (al-Mawṣil) derives from the name Mespila. Xenophon's actual description of the place (which you have quoted) does not contain anything that compels us to identify it with Nineveh.
There is some discussion here: http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/jhs/article/viewFile/5690/4743
(Page 1) During the autumn of 1839 and winter of 1840, I had been wandering through Asia Minor and Syria, scarcely leaving untrod one spot hallowed by tradition, or unvisited one ruin consecrated by history. I was accompanied by one no less curious and enthusiastic than myself.[1.1] We were both equally careless of comfort and unmindful of danger. We rode alone our arms were our only protection a valise behind our saddles was our wardrobe, and we tended our own horses, except when relieved from the duty by the hospitable inhabitants of a Turcoman village or an Arab tent. Thus unembarrassed by needless luxuries, and uninfluenced by the opinions and prejudices of others, we mixed among the people, acquired without effort their manners, and enjoyed without alloy those emotions which (Page 2) scenes so novel, and spots so rich in varied association, can not fail to produce.
I look back with feelings of grateful delight to those happy days when, free and unheeded, we left at dawn the humble cottage or cheerful tent, and lingering as we listed, unconscious of distance and of the hour, found ourselves, as the sun went down, under some hoary ruin tenanted by the wandering Arab, or in some crumbling village still bearing a well known name. No experienced dragoman measured our distances, and appointed our stations. We were honored with no conversations by pashaws, nor did we seek any civilities from governors. We neither drew tears nor curses from villagers by seizing their horses, or searching their houses for provisions: their welcome was sincere their scanty fare was placed before us we ate, and came, and went in peace.
I had traversed Asia Minor and Syria, visiting the ancient seats of civilization, and the spots which religion has made holy. I now felt an irresistible desire to penetrate to the regions beyond the Euphrates, to which history and tradition point as the birth place of the wisdom of the West. Most travelers, after a journey through the usually frequented parts of the East, have the same longing to cross the great river, and to explore those lands which are separated on the map from the confines of Syria by a vast blank stretching from Aleppo to the banks of the Tigris. A deep mystery hangs over Assyria, Babylonia, and Chaldea. With these names are linked great nations and great cities dimly shadowed forth in history mighty ruins, in the midst of deserts, defying, by their very desolation and lack of definite form, the description of the traveler the remnants of mighty races still roving over the land the fulfilling and fulfillment of prophecies the plains to which the Jew and the Gentile alike look as the cradle of their race. After a journey in Syria, the thoughts naturally turn eastward and without treading on the remains of Nineveh and Babylon our pilgrimage is incomplete.
I left Aleppo, with my companion, on the 18th of March. (Page 3) We still traveled as we had been accustomed - without guide or servants. The road across the desert is at all times impracticable, except to a numerous and well-armed caravan, and offers no object of interest. We preferred that through Bir and Orfa. From the latter city we traversed the low country at the foot of the Kurdish hills, a country little known, and abounding in curious remains. The Egyptian frontier, at that time, extended to the east of Orfa, and the war between the sultan and Mohammed Ali Pasha being still unfinished, the tribes took advantage of the confusion, and were plundering on all sides. With our usual good fortune, we succeeded in reaching Nisibin unmolested, although we ran daily risks, and more than once found ourselves in the midst of foraging parties, and of tents, which, an hour before, had been pillaged by the wandering bands of Arabs. We entered Mosul on the 10th of April.
During a short stay in this town, we visited the great ruins on the east bank of the river, which have been generally believed to be the remains of Nineveh.[1.2] We rode also into the desert, and explored the mound of Kalah Sherghat, a vast ruin on the Tigris, about fifty miles below its junction with the Zab. As we journeyed thither, we rested for the night at the small Arab village of Hammum Ali, around which are still the vestiges of an ancient city. From the summit of an artificial eminence we looked down upon a broad plain, separated from us by the river. A line of lofty mounds bounded it to the east, and one of a pyramidical form rose high above the rest. Beyond it could be faintly traced the waters of the Zab. Its position rendered its identification easy. This was the pyramid which Xenophon had described, and near which the ten thousand had encamped: the ruins around it were those which the Greek general saw twenty-two centuries before, and which were even then the remains of an ancient city. Although Xenophon had confounded a name, spoken by a strange race, with one (Page 4) familiar to a Greek ear, and had called the place Larissa, tradition still points to the origin of the city, and, by attributing its foundation to Nimrod, whose name the ruins now bear, connect it with one of the first settlements of the human race.[1.3]
Kalah Sherghat, like Nimroud, was an Assyrian ruin: a vast, shapeless mass, now covered with grass, and showing scarcely any traces of the work of man except where the winter rains had formed ravines down its almost perpendicular sides, and had thus laid open its contents. A few fragments of pottery and inscribed bricks, discovered after a careful search among the rubbish which had accumulated around the base of the great mound, served to prove that it owed its construction to the people who had founded the city of which Nimroud is the remains. There was a tradition current among the Arabs, that strange figures, carved in black stone, still existed among the ruins but we searched for them in vain, during the greater part of a day in which we were engaged in exploring the heaps of earth and bricks, covering a considerable extent of country on the right bank of the Tigris. At the time of our visit, the country had been abandoned by the Bedouins, and was only occasionally visited by a few plunderers from the Shammar or Aneyza tents. We passed the night in the jungle which clothes the banks of the river, and wandered during the day undisturbed by the tribes of the desert. A cawass, who had been sent with us by the Pashaw of Mosul, alarmed at the solitude, and dreading the hostile Arabs, left us in the wilderness, and turned homeward. But he fell into the danger he sought to avoid. Less fortunate than ourselves, at a short distance from Kalah Sherghat, he was met by a party of horsemen, and fell a victim to his timidity.
Were the traveler to cross the Euphrates to seek for such ruins in Mesopotamia and Chaldea as he had left behind him in Asia Minor or Syria, his search would be vain. The (Page 5) graceful column rising above the thick foliage of the myrtle, ilex, and oleander the gradines of the amphitheater covering a gentle slope, and overlooking the dark blue waters of a lake-like bay the richly-carved cornice or capital half hidden by luxuriant herbage, - are replaced by the stern, shapeless mound rising like a hill from the scorched plain, the fragments of pottery, and the stupendous mass of brick-work occasionally laid bare by the winter rains. He has left the land where nature is still lovely, where, in his mind's eye, he can rebuild the temple or the theater, half doubting whether they would have made a more grateful impression upon the senses than the ruin before him. He is now at a loss to give any form to the rude heaps upon which he is gazing. Those of whose works they are the remains, unlike the Roman and the Greek, have left no visible traces of their civilization, or of their arts: their influence has long since passed away. The more he conjectures, the more vague the results appear. The scene around is worthy of the ruin he is contemplating desolation meets desolation: a feeling of awe succeeds to wonder for there is nothing to relieve the mind, to lead to hope, or to tell of what has gone by. These huge mounds of Assyria made a deeper impression upon me, gave rise to more serious thoughts, and more earnest reflection, than the temples of Balbec, and the theaters of Ionia.
In the middle of April I left Mosul for Baghdad. As I descended the Tigris on a raft, I again saw the ruins of Nimroud, and had a better opportunity of examining them. It was evening as we approached the spot. The spring rains had clothed the mound with the richest verdure, and the fertile meadows, which stretched around it, were covered with flowers of every hue. Amid this luxuriant vegetation were partly concealed a few fragments of bricks, pottery, and alabaster, upon which might be traced the well defined wedges of the cuneiform character. Did not these remains mark the nature of the ruin, it might have been confounded with a natural eminence. A long line of consecutive narrow mounds, still (Page 6) retaining the appearance of walls or ramparts, stretched from its base, and formed a vast quadrangle. The river flowed at some distance from them: its waters, swollen by the melting of the snows on the Armenian hills, were broken into a thousand foaming whirlpools by an artificial barrier, built across the stream. On the eastern bank, the soil had been washed away by the current but a solid mass of masonry still withstood its impetuosity. The Arab, who guided my small raft, gave himself up to religious ejaculations as we approached this formidable cataract, over which we were carried with some violence. Once safely through the danger, he explained to me that this unusual change in the quiet face of the river was caused by a great dam which had been built by Nimrod,[1.4] and that in the autumn, before the winter rains, the huge stones of which it was constructed, squared, and united by cramps of iron, were frequently visible above the surface of the stream.[1.5] It was, in fact, one of those monuments of a great people, to be found in all the rivers of Mesopotamia, which were undertaken to insure a constant supply of water to the innumerable canals, spreading like net-work over the surrounding country, and which, even in the days of Alexander, were looked upon as the works of an ancient nation.[1.6] No wonder that the traditions of the present inhabitants of the land should assign them to one of the founders of the human race! The Arab explained the connection between the dam and the city, built by Athur, (Page 7) the lieutenant of Nimrod, the vast ruins of which were then before us, and its purpose as a causeway for the mighty hunter to cross to the opposite palace, now represented by the mound of Hammum Ali. He was telling me of the histories and fate of the kings of a primitive race, still the favorite theme of the inhabitants of the plains of Shinar, when the last glow of twilight faded away, and I fell asleep as we glided onward to Baghdad.
My curiosity had been greatly excited, and from that time I formed the design of thoroughly examining, whenever it might be in my power, these singular remains.
It was not until the summer of 1842 that I again passed through Mosul on my way to Constantinople. I was then anxious to reach the Turkish capital, and had no time to explore ruins. I had not, however, forgotten Nimroud. I had frequently spoken to others on the subject of excavations in this and another mound, to which a peculiar interest also attached and at one time had reason to hope that some persons in England might have been induced to aid in the undertaking. I had even proposed an examination of the ruins to M. Coste, an architect who had been sent by the French government, with its embassy to Persia, to draw and describe the monuments of that country.
I found that M. Botta had, since my first visit, been named French consul at Mosul and had already commenced excavations on the opposite side of the river in the large mound of Kouyunjik. These excavations were on a very small scale, and, at the time of my passage, only fragments of brick and alabaster, upon which were engraved a few letters in the cuneiform character, had been discovered.
While detained by unexpected circumstances at Constantinople, I entered into correspondence with a gentleman in England on the subject of excavations but with this exception, no one seemed inclined to assist or take any interest in such an undertaking. I also wrote to M. Botta, encouraging him to proceed, notwithstanding the apparent paucity of results, and (Page 8) particularly calling his attention to the mound of Nimroud, which, however, he declined to explore on account of its distance from Mosul and its inconvenient position. I was soon called away from the Turkish capital to the provinces and for some months numerous occupations prevented me turning my attention to the ruins and antiquities of Assyria.
In the meanwhile M. Botta, not discouraged by the want of success which had attended his first essay, continued his excavations in the mound of Kouyunjik and to him is due the honor of having found the first Assyrian monument. This remarkable discovery owed its origin to the following circumstances. The small party employed by M. Botta were at work on Kouyunjik, when a peasant from a distant village chanced to visit the spot. Seeing that every fragment of brick and alabaster uncovered by the workmen was carefully preserved, he asked the reason of this, to him, strange proceeding. On being informed that they were in search of sculptured stones, he advised them to try the mound on which his village was built, and in which, he declared, many such things as they wanted had been exposed on digging the foundations of new houses. M. Botta, having been frequently deceived by similar stories, was not at first inclined to follow the peasant's advice, but subsequently sent an agent and one or two workmen to the place. After a little opposition from the inhabitants, they were permitted to sink a well in the mound and at a small distance from the surface they came to the top of a wall which, on digging deeper, they found to be lined with sculptured slabs of gypsum. M. Botta, on receiving information of this discovery, went at once to the village, which was called Khorsabad. Directing a wider trench to be formed, and to be carried in the direction of the wall, he soon found that he had entered a chamber, connected with others, and surrounded by slabs of gypsum covered with sculptured representations of battles, sieges, and similar events. His wonder may easily be imagined. A new history had been suddenly opened to him - the records of an unknown people were before him. He was (Page 9) equally at a loss to account for the age and the nature of the monument. The style of art of the sculptures, the dresses of the figures, the mythic forms on the walls, were all new to him, and afforded no clew to the epoch of the erection of the edifice, or to the people who were its founders. Numerous inscriptions, accompanying the bas-reliefs, evidently contained the explanation of the events thus recorded in sculpture, and being in the cuneiform, or arrow headed, character, proved that the building belonged to an age preceding the conquests of Alexander for it is generally admitted that after the subjugation of the west of Asia by the Macedonians, the cuneiform writing ceased to be employed. It was evident that the monument appertained to a very ancient and very civilized people and it was natural from its position to refer it to the inhabitants of Nineveh, a city, which, although it could not have occupied a site so distant from the Tigris, must have been in the vicinity of these ruins. M. Botta had discovered an Assyrian edifice, the first, probably, which had been exposed to the view of man since the fall of the Assyrian empire.
M. Botta was not long in perceiving that the building which had been thus partly excavated, unfortunately owed its destruction to fire and that the gypsum slabs, reduced to lime, were rapidly falling to pieces on exposure to the air. No precaution could arrest this rapid decay and it was to be feared that this wonderful monument had only been uncovered to complete its ruin. The records of victories and triumphs, which had long attested the power and swelled the pride of the Assyrian kings, and had resisted the ravages of ages, were now passing away forever. They could scarcely be held together until an inexperienced pencil could secure an imperfect evidence of their former existence. Almost all that was first discovered thus speedily disappeared and the same fate has befallen nearly every thing subsequently found at Khorsabad. A regret is almost felt that so precious a memorial of a great nation should have been exposed to destruction but as far as the object of the monument is concerned, the intention of its founders will (Page 10) be amply fulfilled, and the records of their might will be more widely spread, and more effectually preserved, by modern art, than the most exalted ambition could have contemplated.
This remarkable discovery having been communicated by M. Botta, through M. Mohl, to the French Academy of Fine Arts, that body lost no time in applying to the Minister of Public Instruction for means to carry on the researches. The recommendation was attended to with that readiness and munificence which almost invariably distinguish the French government in undertakings of this nature. Ample funds for excavations were at once assigned to M. Botta, and an artist of acknowledged skill was placed under his orders to draw such objects as could not be removed. The work was carried on with activity and success, and by the beginning of 1845, the monument had been completely uncovered. M. Botta did not extend his researches beyond Khorsabad but, having secured many fine specimens of Assyrian sculpture for his country, he returned to Europe with a rich collection of inscriptions, the most important result of his discovery.
The success of M. Botta had increased my anxiety to explore the ruins of Assyria. It was evident that Khorsabad could not stand alone. It did not represent ancient Nineveh, nor did it afford us any additional evidence as to the site of that city. If the edifice discovered had been one of its palaces, surely other buildings of a vaster and more magnificent character must exist nearer the seat of government, on the banks of the river Tigris. It was true that M. Botta had labored unsuccessfully for above three months in the great mound opposite Mosul, which was usually identified with the Assyrian capital but that mound much exceeded in extent any other known ruin and it was possible that in the part hitherto explored the traces of the buildings which it once contained were as completely lost as they were in many parts of the mound of Khorsabad. My thoughts still went back to Nimroud, and to the traditions which attached to it. I spoke to others, but received little encouragement. At last, in the autumn of 1845, Sir Stratford (Page 11) Canning offered to incur, for a limited period, the expense of excavations in Assyria, in the hope that, should success attend the attempt, means would be found to carry it out on an adequate scale.
It was now in my power to prosecute a work which I had so long desired to undertake and the reader will not, I trust, be disinclined to join with me in feelings of gratitude toward one who, while he has maintained so successfully the honor and interests of England by his high character and eminent abilities, has acquired for his country so many great monuments of ancient civilization and art.[1.7] It is to Sir Stratford Canning we are mainly indebted for the collection of Assyrian antiquities with which the British Museum has been enriched without his liberality and public spirit the treasures of Nimroud would have been reserved for the enterprise of those who have appreciated the value and importance of the discoveries at Khorsabad.
It was deemed prudent that I should leave Constantinople without acquainting any one with the object of my journey. I was furnished with the usual documents given to travelers when recommended by the Embassy, and with letters of introduction to the authorities at Mosul and in the neighborhood. My preparations were soon completed, and I started from Constantinople by steamer to Samsoun in the middle of October. Anxious to reach the end of my journey, I crossed the mountains of Pontus and the great steppes of the Usun Yilak as fast as post horses could carry me, descended the high lands into the valley of the Tigris, galloped over the vast plains of Assyria, and reached Mosul in twelve days.
[1.1] My traveling companion, during a long journey from England to Hamadan, was Edward Ledwich Mitford, Esq., now of her Majesty's civil service in the island of Ceylon.
[1.2] These ruins include the mounds of Kouyunjik and Nebbi Yunus.
[1.3] "He (Nimrod) went out into Assyria and builded Nineveh, the city Rehoboth and Calah, and Resen, between Nineveh and Calah the same is a great city." (Gen. 10:11, 12.)
[1.4] This dam is called by the Arabs, either Sukr el Nimroud, from the tradition, or El Awayee, from the noise caused by the breaking of the water over the stones. Large rafts are obliged to unload before crossing it, and accidents frequently happen to those who neglect this precaution.
[1.5] Diodorus Siculus, it will be remembered, states that the stones of the bridge built by Semiramis across the Euphrates were united by similar iron cramps, while the interstices were filled up with molten lead.
[1.6] These dams greatly impeded the fleets of the conqueror in their navigation of the rivers of Susiana and Mesopotamia, and he caused many of them to be removed. (Strabo, p. 1051. ed. Ox. 1807.) By Strabo they were believed to have been constructed to prevent the ascent of the rivers by hostile fleets but their use is evident. Tavernier mentions, in his Travels (vol. i. p. 226), this very dam. He says that his raft went over a cascade twenty-six feet high but he must have greatly exaggerated.
[1.7] I need scarcely remind the reader that it is to Sir S. Canning we owe the marbles of Halicarnassus now in the British Museum. The difficulties which stood in the way of the acquisition of these valuable relics, and the skill which was required to obtain them, are not generally known. I can testify to the efforts and labor which were necessary for nearly three years before the repugnance of the Ottoman government could be overcome, and permission obtained to extract the sculptures from the walls of a castle which was more jealously guarded than any similar edifice in the empire. Their removal, notwithstanding the almost insurmountable difficulties raised by the authorities and inhabitants of Budroon was most successfully effected by Mr. Alison. The Elgin marbles, and all other remains from Turkey or Greece now in Europe, were obtained with comparative ease.
Ancient World History
For all of the attention Nineveh receives in the Jewish Bible, it was not the capital of Assyria until the last few decades of the Assyrian Empire in the seventh century b.c.e.
The earliest biblical reference to the city is in the first few chapters of the book of Genesis, where it is said that Nimrod, "the mighty hunter", founded Nineveh, and also founded Babylon, the nemesis city-state of Nineveh. Nineveh’s ruins are in modern-day Mosul, Iraq.
There the Khosar River flows into the Tigris River, providing natural protection for ancient Nineveh. There are three reasons why the location was advantageous. First, the water of the Khosar could be diverted into the moats that surrounded the massive city walls.
Second, the land around Nineveh was agriculturally rich and productive, just south of the Kurdish foothills. Third, trading paths crossed this area, going north and south along the Tigris River and going east and west following the foothills.
The city was one of ancient Assyria’s four population centers (the others were Ashur, Calah, and Arbela), but before that the city was known for its connection with Ishtar, goddess of love and war. At its high point it was populated by more than 175,000 people, almost three times the size of Calah.
|From outside city wall|
The first archaeological records are Akkadian (2400 b.c.e.) and tell of a king named Manishtushu who restored Ishtar’s temple there. Writings tell of other kings who invaded for the glory of Ishtar, 400 years later.
It was not until 300 years later that the city-state of Ashur took the city from the Mittanis and began to forge the fearsome Assyrian Empire. Shalmaneser I (c. 1260 b.c.e.) and Tiglath-pileser I (c. 1100 b.c.e.) made Nineveh their royal residences.
The Assyrians continued Nineveh’s Ishtar traditions throughout all the periods of their hegemony. The city grew in prominence as an imperial center. One of the great Neo-Assyrian emperors, Sennacherib, who nearly conquered Jerusalem about 700 b.c.e., made Nineveh his capital.
He conducted a lavish building program: One of his famous projects was digging aqueducts and canals—one 32 miles long—for irrigating his city gardens and parks another was building the enormous city walls and gates, which still partially stand.
The emperors that followed him presided over the days of Assyrian glory. A vast cache of tablets from Nineveh’s libraries has been discovered, making Assyrian literature better known than that of any ancient Semitic peoples except the Hebrews.
|days of Assyrian glory|
In 612 b.c.e. the Babylonian Chronicle says that a coalition of Medes, Babylonians, and Scythians captured the city and defeated the Assyrian Empire, astonishing the peoples of the Fertile Crescent. Nineveh went into decline, and by the time of the Greek historian Xenophon (401 b.c.e.), the city was unrecognizable.
That Assyria was feared and hated can be seen in many books of the Jewish Bible where the destruction of Assyria is almost gleefully announced. This antipathy toward Assyria is also found most vividly in the book of Jonah, the biblical prophet ordered to preach salvation for Nineveh.
Only when a whale swallowed Jonah did the prophet relent and go. Today the area where Nineveh is buried, Tell Nebi Yunus, literally means "Hill of the Prophet Jonah", and Nestorian Christians first and then Muslims have erected a major shrine in his honor there.
Uniformly at Random
After the death of Prince Cyrus during the Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC, near Babylon), the Greek army of the Ten Thousand found themselves trapped on the eastern side of the Euphrates river (i.e., between the Euphrates and the Tigris). The Persian army was in the vicinity and its presence prevented the Greeks from re-crossing the Euphrates in order to make their way back towards Greece. The Greeks were therefore compelled to cross over to the eastern side of the Tigris and travel northward, following the Tigris backwards towards its sources in northern Mesopotamia, hoping to eventually pass through Armenia and make their way to the Black Sea. During the course of this northward travel along the Tigris, the Greeks passed through the ruins of some of the once great cities of the ancient Assyrians. Xenophon describes passing through the ruins of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh as follows (Anabasis III.4, Loeb Classical Library edition):
From this place they marched one stage, six parasangs, to a great stronghold, deserted and lying beside a city. The name of this city was Mespila, and it was once inhabited by the Medes. The foundation of its wall was made of polished stone full of shells, and was fifty feet in breadth and fifty in height. Upon this foundation was built a wall of brick, fifty feet in breadth and a hundred in height and the circuit of the wall was six parasangs. Here, as the story goes, Medea, the king’s wife, took refuge at the time when the Medes were deprived of their empire by the Persians. To this city also the king of the Persians laid siege, but he was unable to capture it either by length of siege or by storm Zeus, however, rendered the inhabitants thunderstruck, and thus the city was taken.
In a footnote to this passage in the LCL edition, the translator points out that
The Slow Fall of Nineveh
Nineveh’s fortunes did not last for long, however, as the empire suffered a great defeat at the hands of a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians, and Medes in 612 BC. The Assyrians never recovered from this, and came to an end a few years later, whilst their capital was sacked by the enemy. The city, however, was not abandoned, and people continued to reside there all the way until at least the 16th century. Moreover, during the 13th century, the city even prospered somewhat under the Atabegs of Mosul.
John Martin, ‘The Fall of Nineveh.’ ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
How is it known that Xenophon saw the ruins of Nineveh? - History
Last week’s post looked at the evidence for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and ended with archaeologists excavating Babylon in the late 19th/early 20thc unable to find any real sign of them.
Today’s is going to continue the story and end by suggesting that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon probably ought to be renamed following a complete re-examination of the sources and finds by Stephanie Dalley, formerly of the Oriental Institute in Oxford, whose book The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced published in 2013 I finally read over the Christmas holidays and which inspired me to write about – and reassess -the fabled gardens.
Robert Koldewey and his team from the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft) must have been very disappointed they didn’t locate the site of the gardens. However they did find a series of baked brick arches in one of the palaces where there was also evidence of bitumen. These they decided could be the foundations, and suggested the gardens were on the roof over this area. There was, however, no evidence of tree roots, and the site was well away from any source of water. You’ll also have noticed the suggestion of a roof-top garden did not match the descriptions of any of the classical authors I discussed last week. Later a series of clay tablets which contained inventories of goods were found and clearly implied the area around the arches was simply for storage, so was unlikely to be underneath a well-watered garden.
There have been other alternative suggestions for sites within the palace complex and grounds, including the idea that the gardens were in a part of the city now under the Euphrates or rendered inaccessible because of a raised water-table. None seem that convincing. One more initially plausible alternative came from the great archaeologist Leonard Woolley [1880-1960] who in 1922, just as Howard Carter was discovering the tomb of Tutankhamen, started to excavate the ancient city of Ur in what is now southern Iraq.
The ziggurat at Ur and a suggested reconstruction from Ur of the Chaldees,
At Ur there was a large ziggurat or stepped pyramid constructed of mud-bricks covered with a surface layer of baked brick. Each of the stepped levels had a series of regular holes across it. Although Wooley originally ascribed these as being ‘weeper holes’ to help the mass of solid mud brickwork dry out properly, he later changed his mind. Helped by the discovery of a later inscription that mentioned clearing fallen branches from a lower level adjacent building he decided the branches must have come from trees in the Hanging Gardens and that the holes were for drainage.
Woolley suggested in Ur of the Chaldees, which became a best selling Pelican book in the 1950s that we had to “imagine trees clothing every terrace with greenery, hanging gardens which bought more vividly to mind the original conception of the Ziggurat as the Mountain of God.”
There was a similar ziggurat at Babylon and Woolley’s ideas of it being covered with trees immediately seized the popular imagination and allowed artists licence to create lush exotic images. Woolley’s ziggurat gardens would, according to Stephanie Dalley have looked like “a fancifully decorated wedding cake made of superimposed squares that decrease in size the higher they go, [with] the foliage hung over from each terrace on the side of the building, rather like gigantic hanging baskets.”
Unfortunately Woolley’s idea doesn’t hold water – literally – since the ziggurat’s underlying structure of dried mud bricks would quickly have turned to mud if much water had penetrated. Nor as you probably spotted straightaway does the idea of gardens on a ziggurat bear any relationship to the surviving descriptions. These are clear that the gardens were on terraces over vaults and would presumably have seemed to be suspended.
Given all that what else might help us understand and locate the gardens?
Babylon was a highly organized bureaucratic state. There are large numbers of contemporary inscriptions and an almost innumerable number of clay tablets and cylinders which record not just major events but everyday details of life. Nebuchadnezzar, who was named as the builder by Josephus was, like all powerful monarchs, a great recorder of his own achievements but you might be surprised to learn that there are no mentions anywhere of any garden, or any structure that might have housed one. Nor incidentally are there any references to them in the writings of other classical writers including Xenophon or Pliny who all describes Babylon in some detail, or Herodotus who is known to have visited Babylon with Alexander the Great.
So with no archaeological or documentary evidence what are we to assume? Were the gardens mythical? Have they been utterly destroyed? Or is there perhaps another explanation? That’s certainly the view of Stephanie Dalley, who in 1994 published an article “Nineveh, Babylon and the Hanging Gardens: Cuneiform and Classical Sources Reconciled” which posited the idea that the gardens weren’t actually in Babylon at all, but 300km north west of the city at Nineveh where the great Assyrian King Sennacherib who ruled between 704 – 681 BC, laid out magnificent and, crucially, well-recorded gardens in the grounds of his palace. [ The article is available free on JSTOR although you do have to register for an account]
Dalley returned to the many inscriptions and, in the light of recent advances in linguistic understandings of cuneiform and/or Akkadian scripts, rethought the way they had been translated and understood. As a result she was able to show there were examples where the two cities were confused, partly because “Babylon”, can be translated as “Gate of the Gods” and it is known that Sennacherib renamed Nineveh’s gates after various gods implying perhaps that the city was a “Babylon”. The two cities were often rivals but following the Assyrian conquest of Babylon in 689BC its importance continued to be recognised and Nineveh was sometimes referred to as the “New Babylon.”
This is backed up by another passage in Diodorus Siculus, one of the classical writers cited last week, who wrote that Nineveh “lay on a plain along the Euphrates” which it doesn’t. However Babylon does. Diodorus goes on to describe the building work of Semiramis, the widowed queen of Assyria, at “Babylon” which in fact matches the archeological discoveries found at Nineveh the capital of her late husband’s kingdom. Both Diodorus and another classical source, Curtius, say the gardens were built by a Syrian king. By their time Assyria and Syria were if not interchangeable terms then at least easily confusable.
So linguistic and documentary evidence, which Dalley goes into in much greater detail than we have space for here, might point to Nineveh as at least a plausible alternative site for the Hanging Gardens.
Does the archaeology give any further clues?
Mesopotamia was the object of many archaeological missions in the mid-19thc, including one to Nineveh, where exploration began in 1845 under the direction of Austen Layard, and was later continued by Henry Rawlinson the so-called Father of Assyriology. Rawlinson was in large part responsible for the decipherment of cuneiform text and in particular that discovery that each individual sign could be read with multiple meanings dependent on their context. It was that understanding that Dalley used to reassess previous interpretation of inscriptions. She convincingly explains several of these at length.
Formal terraces of trees on what appears to be a mountain, with water below and a stream on one side
It was in 1854 while working on the palace of Sennacherib’s grandson Ashurbanipal that a carved relief panel showing a garden was discovered. Rawlinson immediately recognised the mountainous features described by the classical sources, which are supposed to have resembled the mountains of the queen’s homeland in modern Iran. He suggested it represented the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, although he later decided the relief was merely a forerunner of the Babylon gardens.
Men in boats and swimming /using lilos [probably inflated animal hides]
As it turns out this panel was not exceptional. At least 3 other palaces had garden scenes as part of the decoration of state rooms and they are complemented by cuneiform descriptions. What is interesting however is that this panel came from a room which showed off the various peacetime achievements of Sennacherib.
If you were lucky enough to see the recent British Museum exhibition about Assyria you would have seen the relief below cleverly lit to show these stone panels as they were originally colourfully painted.
Dalley spends several pages analysing the surviving panels comparing the details with the classical descriptions before concluding that they are an extremely good match. Further she argues that Layard’s now historic plans and descriptions show “contours which would be consistent with Sennacherib’s gardens”.
Like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon Sennacherib left plenty of other inscriptions recording his work but unlike Nebuchadnezzar he does claim the creation of gardens. This clay prism records how he “raised the height of the surroundings of the palace, to be a Wonder for All Peoples. I gave it the name ‘Incomparable Palace’. A high garden imitating the Amanus mountains I laid out next to it, with all kinds of aromatic plants, orchard fruit trees, trees that enrich not only mountain country but also Chaldaea (Babylonia), as well as trees that bear wool, [almost certainly cotton] planted within it.”
There was precedent for such large scale projects in Assyria. Sennacherib’s father Sarghon had carried out landscape engineering at his own citadel at Khorsabad, and in collecting exotic plants Sennacherib was following in the footsteps of other earlier Assyrian kings going back to the time of Tiglath-Pileser I. [See this earlier post for more about that]
from Dalley’s article showing how a series of linked screws and cisterns could have been used to raise water to the height of the gardens.
Crucially too Sennacherib’s inscriptions record the use of screws to raise water – a technique traditionally associated with Archimedes – and explains at length how he had them cast out of bronze using new techniques. Dalley tested the likelihood of this claim since it was several hundred years before the earliest known bronze casting of this kind, as part of a BBC television programme in 1999. The Secrets of the Ancients, set out to verify Sennacherib’s claim that he “created clay moulds as if by divine intelligence for ‘cylinders’ and ‘screws’ …In order to draw water up all day long.” Working with a practicing bronze caster, and using unsophisticated technology they proved Sennacherib’s ideas were perfectly feasible even on the scale implied and this was supported by fitted with the written descriptions.
Diodorus had said ‘There were machines raising the water in great abundance … although no-one outside could see it being done”. Strabo said there were stairs up the slopes of the garden and alongside them “screws through which the water was continually conducted up into the garden’. Finally Philo described how water was forced up ” running backwards, by means of a screw through mechanical pressure they force it round and round the spiral of the machines.”
This bronze casting was a first, and would have meant that water could be raised up, almost invisibly, to a high level as the screw was housed inside bronze tubing. Had there been a system of water wheels, paternosters or even shad’ufs and cisterns then it would seem likely that one of the classical sources might have mentioned them. This making water run uphill must have been an extraordinary sight and one of the reasons the gardens were considered a world wonder.
To ensure a constant water supply Sennacherib, also records the ordering of the construction of an extensive system of aqueducts, canals and dams which stretches about 50km to bring water down from the mountains. It bears the inscription : “Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh, joining together the waters…. Over steep-sided valleys I spanned an aqueduct of white limestone blocks, I made those waters flow over it.” These waterworks, the remains of which still exist, were well known to the Greeks because Alexander the Great spent time near them while he was conquering the area in 331BC. The aqueduct appears on the stone relief above and they fit the account of Philo of Byzantium who, as we saw last week, was the last of the classical writers to describe the Hanging Gardens.
There has been little excavation since the 1920s since the area was in a military zone and both Saddam’s regime and the problems in Iraq since have prevented further investigations. However the slow process of the transcription of more of the cuneiform texts from the Assyrian and Babylonian libraries has started. Who knows what will turned up? Until then my money is on Dalley being right and this one of the Wonders of the Ancient World should be known as the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh.
How is it known that Xenophon saw the ruins of Nineveh? - History
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This article was first published in the Fall 2003 issue of Bible and Spade.
If I mentioned the city Nineveh, what would come to your mind? Most likely you would say Jonah. We have all heard the story about Jonah being swallowed by the great fish and then going to Nineveh to preach against the city. His message was short and to the point, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon 3:4, all Scripture quotes are from the NKJV). The city, from the king to the dogcatcher, repented. Have you ever wondered what happened to Nineveh after that? The short prophetic book of Nahum tells us “the rest of the story.”
The Date of the Book of Nahum
Scholars have long debated the date of the book of Nahum. A wide range of dates has been suggested, from the eighth century BC (Feinberg 1951:126, 148) to the Maccabean period, early second century BC (Haupt 1907). Yet, the book gives us internal chronological parameters to date the book. Nahum describes the conquest of Thebes (No-Amon) by Ashurbanipal II in 663 BC as a past event, thus the book could not have been written before that date. The entire book is a prediction of the fall of the city of Nineveh in 612 BC. Thus, the book was written somewhere between 663 and 612 BC.
A case can be made for the proclamation of the message, and writing of the book, about 650 BC. If this is the correct date, the Spirit of God used this book to put King Manasseh into a position where he could come to faith and bring Judah back to the LORD. Up until this point in the reign of King Manasseh, the kingdom, led by the king, was “more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Chr 33:9). The LORD sent seers (prophets) to speak to the nation, but the nation would not listen to the Word of God (33:10, 18). While not named, one of the seers was probably Nahum. His vision concerning the total destruction of Nineveh would be seen by the Assyrian overlords as fomenting rebellion and insurrection, and possibly seen as support for Shamash-shum-ukin, the king of Babylon, in his current civil war with his brother Ashurbanipal II. If a copy of the book of Nahum fell into the hands of the Assyrian intelligence community stationed at the Assyrian administrative centers of Samaria, Dor, Megiddo or Hazor, King Manasseh would have had to give account for this book. The Biblical record states,
Relief of Elamites being tortured during the time of Ashurbanipal. From the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, now in the British Museum. The two Elamites shown on this portion of the relief are being skinned alive.
This event would have transpired in 648 BC, the year that Ashurbanipal II temporarily ruled Babylon after he eliminated his brother as a result of the four-year civil war (Rainey 1993:160).
Dragging someone off with hooks in their nose would be in keeping with Ashurbanipal’s character. In the excavations of Sam’al (Zincirli, in southern Turkey) a stela was found depicting Esarhaddon holding two leashes attached to the nose-rings of Baal of Tyre and Usanahuru, a crown prince of Egypt (see front cover). Flanking the stela, watching intently, is Esarhaddon’s son Ashurbanipal on the left and his brother Samas-sumu-ukin on the right. Ashurbanipal observed his father’s brutality and followed his example (Parpola and Watanabe 1988:20, 21).
During Manasseh’s interrogation by Ashurbanipal II (and it must have been a brutal one—the text used the word “afflicted”).
Upon his return to Jerusalem, Manasseh began building projects in the city as well as elsewhere in Judah and removed the idols and altars he had placed in the Temple (2 Chr 33:14–15).
This activity was in accord with what Nahum had challenged the people to do.
The challenge was for Judeans to renew their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the thrice-yearly feasts of Pesach (Passover), Shav’uot (Pentecost) and Succoth (Tabernacles) (Ex 23:14–17 34:22–24 Dt 16:16, 17). There was also a command for the remnant that faithfully prayed to the LORD desiring to bring the nation back to Biblical worship and to bring the king to the LORD. They were to perform the vow they had made to the LORD. The Bible records a half-hearted attempt to return to Biblical worship, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the LORD their God” (2 Chr 33:17). The only true place of worship was the Temple in Jerusalem, not the high places.
Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the sole superpower, at the zenith of Assyria’s power and glory. He boldly proclaimed a message that was not popular, nor “politically correct.” In fact, most Judeans would think his prediction of the downfall of Nineveh impossible.
The Reliefs From Ashurbanipal’s Palace
Ashurbanipal II reigned in Nineveh 668–631 BC. At the beginning of his reign he lived in Sennacherib’s “palace without rival.” Ashurbanipal refurbished the palace about 650 BC. In Room 33, he placed his own wall reliefs. Ashurbanipal’s other major construction project was the North Palace for the crown prince (Russell 1999:154).
Nahum was from Elkosh (Na 1:1). Some scholars have suggested Elkosk was located at the village of Al-Qush, 25 mi north of modern day Mosul, a city that is across the Tigris River from Nineveh. These scholars take this position because: (1) the names are similar, (2) the local Christian tradition holds that Nahum was from there and his tomb was there, and (3) Nahum’s writings show his familiarity with the city of Nineveh. Some speculate that Nahum was an Israelite captive who lived in the area and was an eyewitness to the city.
There is, however, the possibility that Elkosh was in southern Judah and Nahum was part of the Judean emissary that brought the yearly tribute from King Manasseh to Nineveh. While in Nineveh, he would have observed the broad roads (Na 2:4), walls (2:5), gates (2:6), temples and idols (1:14), and its vast wealth (2:9). I’m sure the minister of propaganda would have shown him the wall reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s residence! These reliefs were intended “as propaganda to impress, intimidate and instigate by representing the might of Assyrian power and the harsh punishment of rebels” (Comelius 1989:56). Or, as Esarhaddon would say, “For the gaze of all my foes, to the end of days, I set it [stela] up” (Luckenbill 1989:2:227).
Let us examine the reliefs from the British Museum that were found on the walls of Ashurbanipal’s palace and see how they illustrate the word-pictures used by Nahum in his book.
Blasphemy against Assur (Na 1:14)
In 650 BC, Nahum would have seen the newly opened Room 33 in the Southwest Palace of Nineveh (Sennacherib’s “palace without rival”) with the reliefs depicting the campaign against Teumman of Elam and Dunanu of Gambula in 633 BC. One Particular relief would have caught his attention. On it, Elamite captives are shown being tortured. The caption above stated, “Mr. (blank) and Mr. (blank) spoke great insults against Assur, the god, my creator. Their tongues I tore out, their skins I flayed” (Russell 1999:180 Gerardi 1988:31). These two individuals are identified in Ashurbanipal’s annals as Mannu-ki-ahhe and Nabuusalli (Russell 1999:163).
Two Assyrian scribes (right) recording booty (center) taken during a campaign in southern Iraq. Relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
It was with great boldness that Nahum proclaimed,
These words were a direct attack on Assur and the rest of the Assyrian deities, as well as the king. Yet Nahum boldly proclaimed the message God gave him, in spite of the potential threat to his life!
Chariots, Not Volkswagens! (Na 2:3, 4)
The second chapter of Nahum describes the fall of the city of Nineveh to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. He describes in detail the shields, chariots and spears of the Assyrian foes. While we do not have any contemporary Babylonian reliefs of their chariots, there are Assyrian reliefs of Assyrian chariots riding furiously. These chariots are depicted on the reliefs of the Assyrians attacking the Arabs.
Nahum mentions the broad roads of Nineveh. Ashurbanipal’s grandfather, Sennacherib, was the one who improved the streets of Nineveh. In the “Bellino cylinder” he boasts,
In the context of the book, Nahum sees a vision of chariots in the streets of Nineveh, not Volkswagens, as some prophecy teachers have speculated!
Take the Booty and Run! (Na 2:9, 10)
Nineveh was the Fort Knox of mid-seventh century BC Mesopotamia. On every Assyrian campaign they removed the silver, gold and precious stones and other items from the cities they sacked. When they bragged about the booty that was taken, silver and gold always topped the list. As an example, after the fall of No-Amon (Thebes), Ashurbanipal bragged that he took:
There are also reliefs of Assyrian scribes writing down the booty that was taken from other cities.
In Nahum’s vision he heard someone say,
The Babylonian Chronicles described the spoils taken from Nineveh by the Babylonians and the Medes in these terms: “Great quantities of spoil from the city, beyond counting, they carried off” (Luckenbill 1989, 2:420, ¶ 1178).
One of the excavators of Nineveh has commented that very little gold and silver has been found in the ruins of the city. The Medes and Babylonians, “cleaned house” after they conquered the city, just as Nahum predicted.
Diodorus, a Greek historian from Sicily, writing in the first century BC, described the final hours of the king of Nineveh, Sardanapallus, in these words:
Unfortunately, the Babylonian account is broken at this point. It says, “On that day Sin-shar-ishkun, king of Assyria, fled from the city (?). ” (Luckenbill 1989, 2:420 ¶ 1178).
If Diodorus is correct, the king of Assyria tried to take his wealth with him. At best, the gold and silver melted and were collected later. The Bible is clear that people cannot take their wealth with them to the afterlife—but it can be sent on ahead! The Lord Jesus admonished His disciples to, “lay up for themselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:19–21).
The Lion Hunt (Na 2:11–13)
David Dorsey, in his outstanding book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (1999:301–305), places the lion’s den verses (2:11–13) at the center of the book’s chiastic structure. In commenting on the pattern of the structure he says,
Nahum used the lion and lion hunt motifs that both the Judeans and Assyrians would have been well familiar with. The Assyrians had a long history of depicting their king and warriors as mighty lions or great lion hunters (Johnston 2001:296–301). The Bible also depicts the Assyrian warriors as roaring lions (Is 5:29) and Yahweh as a lion who will tear up His prey and carry it off to His lair (Hos 5:14, 15 13:7, 8 Johnston 2001:294, 295).
Ashurbanipal pouring out a libation on the lions (left) and Ashurbanipal holding a lion by the tail during a lion hunt. Note the defacement of the tail on the right. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
According to Ashurbanipal’s annals, at the beginning of his reign, two deities, Adad and Ea, blessed the land of Assyria with plenty of rain. This rain caused the forests to thrive and the reeds in the marshes to flourish. This blessing resulted in a population explosion among the lions. They exerted their influence in the hills and on the plain by attacking herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and people. Many were killed (Luckenbill 1989, 2:363, ¶ 935). Ashurbanipal II, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, took charge of the lion hunts in order to control the lion population (Luckenbill 1989, 2:392, ¶ 1025).
Ashurbanipal also engaged in lion hunting as a sport. Apparently lions were captured alive and put in cages in the king’s garden in Nineveh and used for staged lion hunts (Weissert 1997:339–58). One relief that was found in Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh, apparently from a second floor, had three panels depicting a lion hunt. On the top panel, a lion is released from a cage and Ashurbanipal is shooting him with arrows. The central panel is interesting because it shows the bravery of the king. On the right side of the panel, soldiers are distracting a lion. On the left side, Ashurbanipal sneaks up and grabs the lion by the tail as he rears to his hind legs. The inscription above says,
The king attributes his bravery to the deities. Dr. J. E. Reade, one of the keepers of the Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum, has observed,
On the lower panel, Ashurbanipal is pouring out a wine libation over the carcasses of four lions. In the inscription above, the king boasts of his power by saying,
Once again the king attributes his mighty power to the gods, in this case Assur and Ninlil.
In contrast, Ashurbanipal boasts that kings and lions are powerless before him. At the beginning of one of his annals (Cylinder F) he states,
Dead bodies of the Assyrian enemies (left). The top body has its eyes being plucked out by a vulture, while the bottom body is beheaded. Assyrians forcing their enemies to grind the bones of their dead ancestors (right).
Ashurbanipal has tied his lion hunting and military conquests together in one statement.
In the vision of Nahum concerning Nineveh, Nahum asks a rhetorical question,
He sees Nineveh as a lions’ den that has been destroyed and the lions are gone. The “prey” in verse 12 is apparently the booty that the Assyrians have taken from all the cities they conquered in recent memory.
In verse 13, the LORD states directly,
The phrase “the sword shall devour your young lions” draws our attention to another relief showing Ashurbanipal thrusting a sword through a lion. The inscription associated with this relief says,
The book of Nahum sets forth an ironic reversal of the Assyrian usage of the lion motif. Gordon Johnston has observed.
The extended lion metaphor in Nahum 2:11–13 includes the two major varieties of the Neo-Assyrian lion motif: the depiction of the Assyrian king and his warriors as mighty lions, and the royal lion hunt theme. While the Assyrians kept these two motifs separate, Nahum dovetailed the two, but in doing so he also reversed their original significance. While the Assyrian warriors loved to depict themselves as mighty lions hunting their prey, Nahum pictured them as lions that would be hunted down. The Assyrian kings also boasted that they were mighty hunters in royal lion hunts Nahum pictured them as the lions being hunted in the lion hunt. By these reversals Nahum created an unexpected twist on Assyrian usage. According to Nahum the Assyrians were like lions, to be sure however, not in the way that they depicted themselves rather than being like lions on the prowl for prey, the hunters would become the hunted! (2001:304). Ashurbanipal stabbing a lion with his sword
Nahum was keenly aware of the culture that he was writing to and was able to effectively use it to convey a powerful message from the LORD.
Nineveh, a Bloody City (Na 3:1)
Nahum pronounces: “woe to the bloody city (of Nineveh)” (3:1). The city and the Assyrian Empire had a well-earned reputation for being bloody. Just a casual glance at the reliefs from the palaces of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal shows the “gory and bloodcurdling history as we know it” (Bleibtreu. 1991:52). There are reliefs with people being impaled, decapitated, flayed, and tongues pulled out. Other reliefs show the Assyrians making people grind the bones of their dead ancestors, and even vultures plucking out the eyes of the dead!
One panel graphically shows their disrespect for human life. On it, a commander is presenting a bracelet to an Assyrian soldier who had decapitated the five or six heads at his feet. There are two scribes behind him recording the event. This bracelet, perhaps a medal of valor, is worth five or six lives! In Assyrian thinking, life was cheap.
There is an old adage that says, “What goes around, comes around.” The Bible would use an agricultural metaphor, “You reap what you sow” (cf. Gal 6:7). This is true in the geo-political realm as well as the personal realm. The Assyrians, over their long history, were brutal and barbaric people. Yet there came a point in history where God said, “Enough is enough,” and He removed the offending party (Na 2:13 3:4).
Nineveh fell in 612 BC, yet it wasn’t until the 1989 and 1990 seasons of the University of California, Berkeley excavations in the Halzi Gate that graphic evidence of the final battle of Nineveh was revealed. Upwards of 16 bodies were excavated in the gate, all slain (Stronach and Lumsden 1992:227–33 Stronach 1997:315–19). Archaeological excavations have vividly confirmed the words of the Biblical text.
The fortifications of the walls of Nineveh. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
The Fall of No-Amon (Na 3:8–11)
Nahum taunts the Assyrians for trusting in their fortifications for protection and security. Nineveh was a heavily fortified city, yet the LORD had decreed its demise. He asked rhetorically,
No-Amon is the Egyptian word for “city of (the deity) Amon” commonly known today by its Greek name, Thebes.
Esarhaddon had taken Egypt on his second invasion in 671 BC. When he died, the Egyptians revolted and Ashurbanipal went to Egypt to put down this revolt. He cleared the Delta of the Cushites (Ethiopians) in 667/666 BC and the Cushite ruler, Taharqa, fled to No-Amon. On Ashurbanipal’s first campaign against Egypt he took 22 kings from the seacoast, with their armies, to help fight the Egyptians. Ashurbanipal claims that he “made those kings with their forces (and) their ships accompany me by sea and by land” (Rainey 1993:157). One of those kings was Manasseh, king of Judah, with his army.
On his second campaign in 663 BC, Ashurbanipal went to No-Amon and defeated the city and razed it. There were Judeans in the Assyrian army that saw this event. When they heard or read the words of Nahum they would have been encouraged. The Assyrians were able to defeat a strong and impregnable Thebes, and God would now fulfill His Word and Nineveh would fall.
Ashurbanipal commissioned a relief depicting the fall of No-Amon. It is labeled “an Egyptian fortress” in the British Museum. Yadin cautiously states,
If this is the case, we have a very graphic illustration of the Biblical text. The top of the relief has the Assyrians besieging the city the ladders, soldiers undermining the walls and a soldier torching the gate. A close examination of the defenders reveals that there are two ethnic groups defending the city. One group with the Negroid features is from Ethiopia (Cush) and the other are the Egyptians. Nahum said, “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength. And it was boundless.” (3:9a). Relief of the fall of Thebes. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
On the left of the relief, above the Nile River, are Ethiopian captives being taken out of No-Amon. A careful examination of these captives reveals chains on their ankles. Nahum recounts the event.
Another remarkable illustration of the Biblical text is the group of 12 Egyptians to the right side of the relief awaiting their fate on the banks of the Nile River. As I stared at the group I noticed three children. Two were seated on the donkey and one was on the shoulder of his father. I could not help but wonder if these children knew the fate that awaited them. The words of the prophet were, “Her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street” (3:10). Thankfully, the Assyrian artist did not carve this scene on the relief!
Children being led away from Thebes, two on the back of a donkey and one carried on his father’s back. From the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
An interesting side note should be mentioned. Manasseh was with Ashurbanipal II when he conquered No-Amon, the city of the deity Amun, in 663 BC. That was the year that a son was born to him, the future king of Judah, Amon. Apparently Manasseh named his son after the Egyptian deity Amun. This is consistent with Manasseh’s character of following after other gods. But why an Egyptian god and not an Assyrian one, I do not know.
The Fig Trees and the Forts (Na 3:12)
After asking Nineveh, “Are you better than No-Amon?” Nahum proceeds to describe the rapid fall of the cities and fortresses surrounding Nineveh. He says,
When the figs are ripe, they drop easily from the tree when shaken. This is a word-picture that the Ninevites knew from personal experience. Figs were common in Nineveh, as attested to by their appearance on reliefs.
A Locust at the Banquet (Na 3:15b–17)
One of the most sordid reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s palace is one of a royal banquet that commemorated the defeat of the king’s most hated foe, Teumman, the king of Elam. On this relief, Ashurbanipal is reclining on a couch under a grape vine in his garden sipping wine with his consort. There are servants around them with fans, while other servants are bringing food and playing musical instruments. From Ashurbanipal’s vantage point on the couch he could gaze on the trophy head of the Elamite king hanging from a ring in the fir tree.
Ashurbanipal's garden banquet.
A bird swooping down on a lone locust sitting on the branch of a palm tree: the head of an Elamite king hangs in an adjacent fir tree (right). From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
In a warped perversion of a Biblical description of peace, that of every man sitting under his vine and fig tree (Mi 4:1–4), this relief commemorated the cessation of war with the Elamites after nine years of hostilities. Ashurbanipal attributes his victory to,
Yet Micah says that real peace will come when the nations go to the LORD’S House in Jerusalem and worship Him. Then,
There is one detail in this relief that should not be missed. In the upper left corner is a locust sitting on top of a palm tree. To its right is a bird swooping down as if to catch it. One art historian described the scene this way:
At the end of the book of Nahum we have another reversal of fortune. Instead of the Elamites being the locusts, the Assyrians are, and they are about to be eliminated! But Nahum does not describe the destructive aspects of the locust plague, but rather, the flight of the locusts after they have done their damage. In Nahum 3:17 he states,
One of the pioneer Israeli biologists, Prof. F. S, Bodenheimer, puts this aspect of Nahum’s mention of locusts in scientific terms. He describes his observations of the body temperature of the Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in the fifth hopper stage thus,
He attributes the first mention of heliothermy to Nahum (1959:201).
The Fall of Nineveh
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, commentators discussed the date for the fall of Nineveh. The possibilities for this event ranged from 716 to 709 BC. In 1923, C. J. Gadd published a tablet from Babylon in the possession of the British Museum. The tablet was called the “Babylonian Chronicles” and it covered the years 616–609 BC, or the tenth to the 17th years of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon. The annals place the fall of Nineveh in the 14th year of his reign, the year 612 BC. This event provides the student of history with an absolute chronological peg for Biblical and Assyrian history.
We have journeyed through the halls of the British Museum in this article pointing out the reliefs and objects that help to illustrate the text of the small, yet important, book of Nahum. My hope is that this discussion had helped make the Biblical text “come alive” and has given the student of the Scriptures a more accurate visual aid to the Bible.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
Albenda, Pauline, 1977 Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bit Hilani of Ashurbanipal. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 225:29–48.
Bleibtreu, Erika S., 1991 Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death. Biblical Archacology Review 17.1:51–61, 75.
Bodenheimer, Friedrich S., 1959 A Biologist in Israel. Jerusalem: Biological Studies.
Comelius, 1989, 1989 The Image of Assyria: An Iconographic Approach by Way of a study of Selected Material on the Theme of “Power and Propaganda” in the Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs. Old Testament Essays 2:55–74.
Curtis, John E., and Reade, Julian, 1995 Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum. London: British Museum.”
Dorsey, David A., 1999 The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grant Rapids. Baker, Feinberg. C.
Feinberg C., 1951 Jonah, Micah and Nahum. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews.
Gerardi: Pamela D., 1988 Epigraphs and Assyrian Palace Reliefs: The Development of the Epigraphic text. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40:1–35)
Haupt, P., 1907 Eine alttestamentliche Fesliturgic fur den Nikanortag. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (61:257–97.)
Johnston, Gordon, 2001 Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to the Neo-Assyrian Motif. Bibliotheca Sacra 158:287–307.
Luckenbill, Daniel D., 1989 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 2 vols, reprint of 1926–1927 ed. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man.
Oldfather, Charles H., translate, 1998 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History I, Book I-II.34. The Lock Classical Library. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Parpola, Simo, and Watanabe, Kazuko, 1988 Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria 2. Helsinki: Helsinki University.
Rainey, Anson F., 1993 Manasseh, king of Judah, in the whirlpool of the Seventh Century B.C.E. Ph 147–64 in kinattutu so darati. Raphael Kutscher Memorial Volume, ed. Anson Rainey. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.
Russell, John M., 1999 The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.
Stronach, David, 1997 Notes on the Fall of Nineveh. Pp. 307–24 in Assyria 1995, eds. Simo Parpola and R. M.. Whiting, Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
Stronach, David, and Lumsden, Stephen, 1992 UC Berkeley’s Excavations at Nineveh. Biblical Archaeologist 55:227–33.
Weissert, E., 1997 Royal Hunt and Royal Triumph in a Prism Fragment of Ashurbanipal (82–5-22.2). Pp. 339–58 in Assyria 1995, eds. Simo Parpola and R. Whiting. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
Yadin, Yigael, 1963 The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands 2. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Many cities have risen and fallen throughout the course of world history, but few have had such a dramatic history as the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. At its height, Nineveh was arguably the most cultured and sophisticated city in the ancient Near East, but a combination of factors led to its quick demise. Dynastic quarrels within the Assyrian royal house precipitated the city’s decline, allowing Assyria’s many enemies to ally and eventually siege and sack the once great capital city of Nineveh.
Enough Wounded To Require Eight Surgeons
To solve the problem, a flexible hollow-square formation was adopted, necessity truly being the mother of invention. Six companies of a hundred men were formed three companies marched in the middle of the front of the square, three in the rear. When the road narrowed, the six companies would drop back in order, allowing the square to contract without difficulty. When the road widened again, they would plug the gaps that were created and complete the square. This expanding and contracting “accordion” formation helped combat efficiency.
The Greeks now came upon a series of low hills whose natural undulations ended at a mountain in the distance. When the Hellenes ascended the first hill there was no opposition, but when they clambered down, Persians from a second hill pelted them with arrows and sling bullets. When the hoplites tried to climb the second hill, their assailants were gone before they could reach its crest. Even the nimblest Greek was helpless when encumbered by helmets and heavy hoplon shields. Greek peltasts were dispatched to climb the mountain slopes and outflank the Persians in the hills. The maneuver proved a success.
For a time one Greek division marched up and down the range of hills while another division of peltasts guarded their flanks by adopting a parallel course along the mountain slopes. These operations, while successful, were not without cost. There were so many wounded, eight surgeons were appointed to care for them.
The Greeks finally reached the headwaters of the Tigris, but found to their dismay the swift, bone-chilling waters were too deep to cross. A Rhodian came forward and announced he knew how to get across the river—for a price. He suggested a line of inflated animal skin floats fastened together like buoys, the ends firmly anchored on each bank with stones. There were plenty of goats, sheep, cattle, and asses to provide the skins, and the Rhodian insisted that once sewn and inflated each float could support the weight of two men.
The Greek leaders agreed the plan had merit mercenaries themselves, they didn’t seem to mind the Rhodian’s “profit motive.” In the end, the plan was rejected because horsemen could be seen on the opposite bank. The Greeks would be hard put to establish the bridge of floats, much less cross by them. It was decided they would keep to this side of the river at present, continuing north into the country of the Carduchians (today’s Kurdistan). Fiercely independent, the Carduchians were a tough and savage people who had never been fully incorporated into the Persian Empire.
But just because they didn’t like the Persians didn’t mean they would ally themselves with the Greeks. On the contrary, the Carduchians would fight any outsider foolish enough to “invade” the mountain fastness of their rugged domain. But if the Greeks could successfully cross Carduchian territory, they would find themselves in Armenia, where the going would hopefully be easier. The ultimate goal would be the Euxinus (Black Sea), where a number of Greek cities managed to maintain a fragile toehold of Hellenic civilization. Once they arrived in those Greek cities they would be “home,” able to book passage on ships returning to mainland Greece or Ionia.
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(Heb. Nineveh', נַינְוֵה :) Sept. &Nu&iota&nu&epsilon&upsilonή or &Nu&iota&nu&epsilon&upsilonῆ , v. r. &Nu&iota&nu&epsilon&upsilonϊ v Vulg. Ninive ) , the capital of the ancient kingdom and empire of Assyria a city of great power, size, and renown, usually included among the most ancient cities of the world of which there is any historic record. In the following account we bring together the ancient and the modern notices, especially the Scripture relations.
I. Name . &mdash This, if Shemitic, signifies dwelling of Ninus but it is probably of foreign etymology. In cuneiform (q.v.) it is written or Josephus Graecizes it &Nu&epsilon&nu&epsilonύ&eta , &lsquo ( Ant. 9:10, 2), Ptolemy &Nuῖ&nu&omicron&sigmaf ἡ &kappa&alphaὶ &Nu&iota&nu&epsilon&upsilonϊ v (8:21, § 3), Herodotus ἡ &Nuί&nu&omicron&sigmaf or &Nuῖ&nu&omicron&sigmaf (1:193 2:150) while the Romans wrote it Ninus (Tacit. Ann. 12:13) or Nineve (Amm. Marcianus, 18:7). The name appears to be derived from that of an Assyrian deity, "Nin," corresponding, it is conjectured, with the Greek Hercules, and occurring in the names of several Assyrian kings, as in "Ninus," the mythic founder, according to Greek tradition, of. the city. In the Assyrian inscriptions Nineveh is also supposed to be called "the city of Bel." Fletcher, rather fancifully, taking Nin as meaning "a floating substance or fish," and neveh "a resting-place," supposes the city to have been built nigh to the spot where the ark of Noah rested, and in memory of the deliverance provided by that wondrous vessel (Notes from Nineveh, 2:90). The connection of the name of.the city with Ninus, its mythical founder, is not opposed to the statement in Genesis 10:11 for the city might be named, not from Nimrod, its originator, but from a successor who gave it conquest and renown. In the Assyrian mythology Ninus is the son of Nimrod.
1. From Biblical and Later Accounts. The first reference to Nineveh in Scripture is in Genesis 10:11 , "Out of that land went forth Asshur and builded Nineveh," as it is rendered in our version. The other and better version is, "Out of that land (the land of Shinar) went he (Nimrod) to Assyria, and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah the same is a great city." The translation which we have adopted is that of the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and is defended by Hyde, Bochart, Le Clerc, Tuch, Baumgarten, Keil, Delitzsch, Knobel, Kalisch, and Murphy. The other exegesis, which makes Asshur the subject of the verb, has support from the Septuagint, the Syrian version, and the Vulgate, and has been adopted by Luther, Calvin, Grotius. Michaelis, Schumann, Von Bohlen, Pye Smith, and is apparently preferred by Rawlinson. The arguments in its favor are not strong yet it contains or implies the reason why the country was named Assyria after its first settler. It is also a plausible theory of Jacob Bryant, that Nimrod by his conquests forced Asshur to leave the territory of Shinar, so that, thus expelled and overpowered by the mighty hunter, he went out of that land and built Nineveh ( Ancient Mythology, 6:192). Hence Assyria was subsequently known to the Jews as "the land of, Nimrod" (comp. Micah 5:6 ), and was believed to have been first peopled by a colony from Babylon.
The kingdom of Assyria and of the Assyrians is referred to in the O.T. as connected with the Jews at a very early period as in Numbers 24:22 Numbers 24:24 , and Psalms 83:8 : but after the notice of the foundation of Nineveh in Genesis no further mention is made of the city until the time of the book of Jonah, or the 8th century B.C., supposing we accept the earliest date for that narrative, (See JONAH, BOOK OF), which, however, according to some critics, must be brought down 300 years later, or to the 5th century B.C. In this book neither Assyria nor the Assyrians are mentioned, the king to whom the prophet .was sent being termed the "king of Nineveh." Assyria is first called a kingdom ill the time of Menahem, about B.C. 770. Nahum (? B.C. 645) directs his prophecies against Nineveh only once against the king of Assyria ( Nahum 3:18 ). In 2 Kings ( 2 Kings 19:36 ) was Isaiah ( Isaiah 37:37 ) the city is first distinctly mentioned as the residence of the monarch. Sennacherib was slain there when worshipping in the temple of Nisroch his god. In 2 Chronicles, ( 2 Chronicles 32:21 ), where the same event is described, the name of the place where it occurred is omitted. Zephaniah, about B.C. 630, couples the capital and the kingdom together ( Zephaniah 2:13 ) and this is the last mention of Nineveh as an existing city. He probably lived to witness its destruction, an event impending at the time of his prophecies. Although Assyria and the Assyrians are alluded to by Ezekiel and Jeremiah, by the former as a nation in whose miserable ruin prophecy had been fulfilled (ch. 31), yet they do not refer by name to the capital. Jeremiah, when enumerating "all the kingdoms of the world which are upon the face of the earth" (ch. 25), omits all mention of the nation and the city. Habakkuk only speaks of the Chaldaeans, which may lead to the inference that the date of his prophecies is somewhat later than that usually assigned to them. (See HABAKKUK, BOOK OF).
The fall of Nineveh, like its rise and history, is very much enveloped in obscurity. But the account of Ctesias, preserved in Diodorus Siculus (2:27, 28), has been thought to be substantially correct. It may, however, be observed that Mr. Rawlinson, in his latest work (The Ancient Monarchies, 1:52i), says that it "seems undeserving of a place in history." According to that account, Cyaxares, the Median monarch, aided by the Babylonians, under Nabopolassar, laid siege to the city. His first efforts were in vain. He was more than once repulsed and obliged to take refuge in the mountains of the Zagros range but, receiving reinforcements, he succeeded in routing the Assyrian army, and driving them to shut themselves up within the walls. He then attempted to reduce the city by blockade, but was unsuccessful for two years, till his efforts were unexpectedly assisted by an extraordinary rise of the Tigris, which swept away a part of the walls, and rendered it possible for the Medes to enter. The Assyrian monarch, Saracus, in despair, burned himself in his palace. With the ruthless barbarity of the times, the conquerors gave the whole city over to the flames, and razed its former magnificence to the ground. The cities dependent on Nineveh, and in its neighborhood, appear to have incurred a like fate, and the excavations show that the principal agent in their destruction was fire. Calcined sculptured alabaster, charcoal and charred wood buried in masses of brick and earth, slabs and statues split with heat, were objects continually encountered by Mr. Layard and his fellow-laborers at Khorsabad, Nimrud, and Kuyunjik.
From a comparison of these data, it has generally been assumed that the destruction of Nineveh and the extinction of the empire took place between the time of Zephaniah and that of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. The exact period of these events has consequently been fixed, with a certain amount of concurrent evidence derived from classical history, at B.C. 606 (Clinton, Fasti Hellen. 1:269). It has been shown that it may have occurred twenty years earlier. (See ASSYRIA).
The city was then laid waste, its monuments destroyed, and its inhabitants scattered or carried away into captivity. It never rose again from its ruins. This total disappearance of Nineveh is fully confirmed by the records of profane history. There is no mention of it in the Persian cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenid dynasty. Herodotus (1:193) speaks of the Tigris as "the river upon which the town of Nineveh formerly stood." He must have passed, in his journey to Babylon, very near the site of the city &mdash perhaps actually over it. So accurate a recorder of what he saw would scarcely have omitted to mention, if not to describe, any ruins of importance that might have existed there. Not two centuries had then elapsed since the fall of the city. Equally conclusive proof of its condition is afforded by Xenophon, who with the ten thousand Greeks encamped during his retreat on, or very near, its site (B.C. 401). The very name had then been forgotten, or at least he does not appear to have been acquainted with it, for he calls one group of ruins "Larissa," and merely states that a second group was near the deserted town of Mespila (Anab. iii, iv, § 7). The ruins, as he describes them, correspond in many respects with those which exist at the present day, except that he assigns to the walls near Mespila a circuit of six parasangs, or nearly three times their actual dimensions. Ctesias placed the city on the Euphrates (Frag. 1:2), a proof either of his ignorance or of the entire disappearance of the place. He appears to have led Diodorus Siculus into the same error (2:27, 28). The historians of Alexander, with the exception of Arrian (Ind. 42, 3), do not even allude to the city, over the ruins of which the conqueror must have actually marched. His great victory of Arbela was won almost in sight of them. It is evident that the later Greek and Roman writers, such as Strabo, Ptolemy, and Pliny, could only have derived any independent knowledge they possessed of Nineveh from traditions of no authority. They concur, however, in placing it on the eastern bank of the Tigris.
During the Roman period, a small castle or fortified town appears to have stood on some part of the site of the ancient city. It was probably built by the Persians (Amm. Marceli. 23:22) and subsequently occupied by the Romans, and erected by the emperor Claudius into a colony. It appears to have borne the ancient traditional name of Nineve, as well as its corrupted form of Ninos and Ninus, and also at one time that of Hierapolis. Tacitus (Anan. 12:13), mentioning its capture by Meherdates, calls it "Ninos" on coins of Trajan it is "Ninus," on those of Maximinus "Niniva," in both instances the epithet Claudiopolis being added. Many Roman remains, such as sepulchral vases, bronze and other ornaments, sculptured figures in marble, terra-cottas, and coins, have been discovered in the rubbish covering the Assyrian ruins besides wells and tombs, constructed long after the destruction of the Assyrian edifices. The Roman settlement appears to have been in its turn abandoned, for there is no mention of it when Heraclius gained the great victory over the Persians in the battle of Nineveh, fought on the very site of the ancient city, A.D. 627. After the Arab conquest, a fort on the east bank of the Tigris bore the name of "Ninawi" (Rawlinson, Assoc. Journal, 12:418). Benjamin of Tudela, in the. 12th century, mentions the site of Nineveh as occupied by numerous inhabited villages and small townships (ed. Asher, 1:91). The name remained attached to the ruins during the Middle Ages and from them a bishop of the Chaldaean Church derived his title (Assemani, 4:459) but it is doubtful whether any town or fort was so called. Early English travelers merely allude to the site (Purchas, 2:1387). Niebuhr is the first modern traveler who speaks of "Nuniyah" as a village standing on one of the ruins which he describes as "a considerable hill" (2:353). This may be a corruption of "Nebbi Yunus," the Prophet Jonah, a name still given to a village containing his apocryphal tomb. Mr. Rich, who surveyed the site in 1820, does not mention Nuniyah, and no such place now exists. Tribes of Turcomans and sedentary Arabs, and Chaldaean and Syrian Christians, dwell in small mudbuilt villages, and cultivate the soil in the country around the ruins and occasionally a tribe of wandering Kurds, or of Bedouins driven by hunger from the desert, will pitch their tents among them. After the Arab conquest of the west of Asia, Mosul, at one time the flourishing capital of an independent kingdom, rose on the opposite or western bank of the Tigris. Some similarity in the names has suggested its identification with the Mespila of Xenophon but its first actual mention only occurs after the Arab conquest (A.H. 16, or A.D. 637). It was sometimes known as Athur, and was united with Nineveh as an episcopal see of the Chaldaean Church (Assemani, 3:269). It has lost all its ancient prosperity, and the greater part of the town is now in ruins.
Traditions of the unrivaled size and magnificence of Nineveh were equally familiar to the Greek and Roman writers, and to the Arab geographers. But the city had fallen so completely into decay before the period of authentic history that new description of it, or even of any of its monuments, is to be found in any ancient author of trust. Diodorus Siculus asserts (2:3) that the city formed a quadrangle of 150 stadia by 90, or altogether of 480 stadia (no less than 60 miles), and was surrounded by walls 100 feet high, broad enough for three chariots to drive abreast upon them, and defended by 1500 towers, each 200 feet in height. According. to Strabo (16:737) it was larger than Babylon, which was 385 stadia in circuit. In the O.T. we find only vague allusions to the splendor and wealth of the city, and the very indefinite statement in the book of Jonah that it was "an exceeding great city," or "a great city to God," or "for God" (i.e. in the sight of God), "of three days' journey" and that it contained "six score thousand persons who could not discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle" (4:11). It is obvious that the accounts of Diodorus are for the most part absurd exaggerations, founded upon fabulous traditions, for which existing remains afford no warrant. It may, however, be remarked that the dimensions he assigns to the area of the city would correspond to the three days' journey of Jonah &mdash the Jewish day's journey being 20 miles &mdash if that expression be applied to the circuit of the walls. "Persons not discerning between their right hand and their left" may either allude to children or to the ignorance of the whole population. If the first be intended, the number of inhabitants, according to the usual calculation, would have amounted to about 600,000. But such expressions are probably mere Eastern figures of speech to denote vastness, and far too vague to admit of exact interpretation.
The political history of Nineveh is that of Assyria (q.v.). It has been observed that the territory included within the boundaries of the kingdom of Assyria proper was comparatively limited in extent, and that almost within the immediate neighborhood of the capital petty kings appear to have ruled over semi-independent states, owning allegiance and paying tribute to the great lord of the empire, "the King of Kings," according to his Oriental title, who dwelt at Nineveh. (Comp. Isaiah 10:8 : "Are not my princes altogether kings?") These petty kings were in a. constant state of rebellion, which usually showed itself by their refusal to pay the apportioned tribute -the principal link between the sovereign and the dependent states-and repeated expeditions were undertaken against them to enforce this act of obedience. (Comp. 2 Kings 16:7 2 Kings 17:4 , where it is stated that the war made by the Assyrians upon the Jews was for the purpose of enforcing the payment of tribute.) There was, consequently, no bond of sympathy arising out of common interests between the various populations which made up the empire. Its political condition was essentially weak. When an independent monarch was sufficiently powerful to carry on a successful war against the great king, or a dependent prince sufficiently strong to throw off his allegiance, the empire soon came to an end. The fall of the capital was the signal for universal disruption. Each petty state asserted its independence, until reconquered by some warlike chief who could found a new dynasty and a new empire to replace those which had fallen. Thus on the borders of the great rivers of Mesopotamia arose in turn the first Babylonian, the Assyrian, the Median, the second Babylonian, the Persian, and the Seleucid empires. The capital was, however, invariably changed, and generally transferred to the principal seat of the conquering race. In the East men have rarely rebuilt great cities which have once fallen into decay &mdash never perhaps on exactly the same site. If the position of the old capital was deemed, from political or commercial reasons, more advantageous than any other, the population was settled in its neighborhood, as at Delhi, and not amid its ruins. But Nineveh, having fallen with the empire, never rose again. It was abandoned at once, and suffered to perish utterly. It is probable that, in conformity with an Eastern custom, of which we find such remarkable illustrations in the history of the Jews, the entire population was removed by the conquerors, and settled as colonists in some distant province.
2. Monumental Records . &mdash From the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I we learn that a temple had been founded at Asshur, or Kalah Sherghat, as early as the nineteenth century B.C., by Shamasiva, a son of Ismi-dagon, who was one of the early kings in the series answering to the great Chaldaean dynasty of Berosus, and from this circumstance may be inferred to have ruled over Assyria. In fact, as long as this dynasty lasted, Assyria probably occupied the position of an unimportant dependency of Babylonia, not being mentioned in one single, legend, and not furnishing the Chaldaean monarchs with one of their royal titles. At what period Assyria was enabled to achieve her independence, or under what circumstances she achieved it, we have no means of knowing, but the date at which, for several reasons, we may suppose it to have been accomplished is approximately B.C. 1273. Probably an Arabian conquest of Babylonia, which caused the overthrow of this Chaldaean dynasty in the sixteenth century, furnished the Assyrians with an opportunity of shaking off the Babylonian yoke, but it was not till three centuries later that they appear to have gained a position of importance.
During the period of Assyrian subjection to Chaldaea, and long after she became an independent empire, the vice-regal, or the royal city, was probably Asshur, on the west bank of the Tigris, sixty miles south of Nineveh, the name of which is still preserved in the designation given by the Arabs to the neighboring district. It may perhaps be as well to observe that the four kings in Genesis 14, according to Josephus, were only commanders in the army of the Assyrian king, who had then, he says, dominion over Asia. But this is very improbable, and is really contradicted by recent discoveries, which show, at least negatively, that Assyria was not then an independent power. Sir H. Rawlinson thinks that he has found the name of a king (Kudur-Mapula or Kudur-Mabuk) stamped upon bricks in Babylonia which corresponds to that of Chedorlaomer, and supposes that this king was the Elamitic founder of the great Chaldaean empire of Berosus. Mr. Stuart Poole thinks it not improbable that the expedition of Chedorlaomer was directed against the power of the Egyptian kings of the fifteenth dynasty and their Phoenician allies or subjects. Josephus also calls Chushan Rishathaim &mdash who in Judges 3 is said to have been king of Mesopotamia &mdash king of the Assyrians but this again demands an earlier rise of the Assyrian power than the monuments warrant us in assuming. The first known king of Assyria is Bel-lush or Belukh, who, with three others in succession, viz. Pudil, Iva-lush, Shalmabar or Shalmarish, is reputed to have reigned shortly after its dependence on Babylon had been shaken off. The period from 1273 to 1200 may be assigned to the reign of these kings. They have left no other record but their names upon bricks, etc., which are found only at Kalah Sherghat and the character in which these are inscribed is so ancient and so mixed with babylonian forms that they are assigned to this period, though the same effects might possibly have been produced at a later period of Babylonian ascendency. After these names, we are enabled to trace a continuous line of six hereditary monarchs, who, with the exception of the last, are enumerated on the oldest historic relic yet discovered in Assyria. This is the octagonal prism of Kalah Sherghalt, on which Tiglath-Pileser I records the events of the first five years of his reign, and traces back his pedigree to the fourth generation.
He calls himself the son of Asshur-rish-ili the grandson of Mutaggil Nebu the great grandson of Asshur-dapal-il, whose father was Nin-pala-kura, the supposed successor of Shalmabar or Shalmarish. Of his great-grandfather he relates that, sixty years previously, he had taken down the temple of Ann and Iva before alluded to, which had stood for 641 years, but was then in a ruined condition. His father seems to have been a great conqueror, and perhaps was the first to raise the character of the Assyrian arms, and to gain a foreign reputation. But whatever fame he acquired in this way was eclipsed by that of his son, who says that he won victories in Cappadocia, Syria, and in the Median and Armenian mountains. Particularly a people called Nairi, who probably dwelt at the north-west of Assyria proper, are conspicuous among his conquests. Now it so happens that the date of this king can be fixed in a remarkable way, by a rock inscription of Sennacherib at Bavian, which states that a Tiglath-Pileser occupied the throne of Assyria 418 years before the tenth year of his own reign, and as Sennacherib was reigning towards the end of the eighth, or the beginning of the seventh century, this would throw back the time of Tiglath-Pileser's reign to the latter part of the twelfth century B.C. We also learn from this same rock inscription that Tiglath-Pileser was himself defeated by Merodach-adan-akhi, the king of Babylon, who carried away with him images of certain Assyrian gods, showing that Babylon at this period was independent of Assyria, and a formidable rival to her power. Of Asshurbani-pal I, the son and successor of Tiglath-Pileser nothing is known. Only one record of him has been hitherto discovered, and this was found at Kuyunjik. This name was softened or corrupted by the Greeks into Sardanapalus. After this king a break occurs in the line of succession which cannot be supplied. It is thought, however, not to have been long, as Asshuradan-akhi is supposed to have begun to reign about 1050, and therefore to have been contemporary with David. This monarch, and the three kings who succeeded him, are obscure and unimportant, not being known for anything else than repairing and adding to the palaces at Kalah Sherghat. Their names are Asshur-danin-il, Iva-lush II, and Tiglathi-Nin.
With the last of these, however, Asshur ceased to be the royal residence. The seat of government was transferred by his son Asshur-bani-pal to Calah, now supposed to be represented by Nimrud, forty miles to the north, near the confluence of the upper Zab and the Tigris, and on the east bank of the latter river. The reason of this change is not known but it is thought that it was connected with the extension of the empire in the direction of Armenia, which would therefore demand greater vigilance in that quarter. This king, Sardanapalus II, pushed his conquests to the shores of the Mediterranean, levied tribute of the kings of Tyre and Sidon, and therefore perhaps of Ethbaal, the father of Jezebel. He was also the founder of the north-west palace at Nimrod, which is second only to that of Sennacherib, at Kuyunjik, in magnificence and extent. The next monarch who sat on the Assyrian throne was Shalmanu-bar, the son of Sardanapalus. He reigned thirty-one years, spread his conquests farther than any of his predecessors, and recorded them on the black obelisk now in the British Museum. In his reign the power of the first Assyrian empire seems to have culminated. He carried his victorious army over all the neighboring countries, imposing tribute upon all Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Media, Armenia, and the scriptural kingdoms of Hamath and Damascus. The latter under Benhadad and Hazael are alike conspicuous among his vanquished enemies. But what is of paramount interest in the records of this king is the identification in the second epigraph in the above-named obelisk of the name of Jehu the king of Israel, who there appears as Yahua the son of Khumri, and is said to have given the Assyrian monarch tribute of gold and silver. This name was discovered independently, but almost on the self-same day, both by Dr. Hincks and colonel Rawlinson, the latter being at Bagdad and the former in the north of Ireland. It is supposed that Jehu is called the son of Khumri or Omri, either as being king of Samaria, the city which Omri built. or as claiming descent from the founder of that city to strengthen his right to the throne, and possibly even as being descended from him on the mother's side.
Shalmanu-bar was the founder of the central palace at Nimrud, and probably reigned from about 900 to 850 or 860. He was succeeded by his second son Shamasiva, his eldest having made a revolt during the lifetime of his father, which probably lost him the succession, and was with difficulty quelled by his younger brother. The annals of Shamas-iva extend only over a period of four years. At this time the history is enveloped in much obscurity but it is probable that the reign of Shamas-iva-lasted much longer, as it is with his son and successor, Iva-lush III, that the first Assyrian dynasty comes to a close, and the reigns of these two princes are all we have to fill up the interval from 850 to 747, which is about the time it is supposed to have ended. Iva-lush is perhaps the Pul of Scripture. Among those from whom he received tribute are mentioned the people of Khinuri. i.e. Samaria and Menahem gave Pul 1000 talents of silver to confirm the kingdom in his hand.
There is a statue of the god Neboin the British Museum which is dedicated by the artist "to his lord Iva-lush and his lady Sammuramit." This personage is in all probability the Semiramis of the Greeks, and her age remarkably agrees with that which Herodotus assigns her. viz. five generations prior to Nitocris, who seems with him to represent Nebuchadnezzar. He also speaks of her as, a Babylonian princess and since Iva-lush asserts that Asshur had "granted him the kingdom of Babylon," he may very likely have acquired it in right of his wife, or reigned conjointly with her. But we cannot here replace conjecture by certainty. As we are altogether ignorant of the causes which terminated the first Assyrian dynasty or established the second, the interval between both may have been considerable, and may account for the difficulty above mentioned with respect to the period from the death of Shalmanu-bar and the end of the first empire. Tiglath-Pileser II, who founded the second empire, appears before us "without father, without mother." Unlike the kings before him, he makes no parade of his ancestry in his inscriptions, from which circumstance we may fairly assume that he was a usurper. Much uncertainty has arisen about the date of his accession, because he states that he took tribute from Menahem in his eighth year, which would make it B.C. 667 or 768 (received chronology), whereas it is more likely that it was connected in some way with the change of events in Babylon that gave rise to the sera of Nabonassar, or 747. However, as the Sept. gives the reign of Manasseh thirty-five years instead of fifty-five, this diminution of twenty years would exactly rectify the discrepancy, or else it is possible that in the said inscription Menahem may be by mistake for Pekah, since he is joined with Rezin, whom Scripture always couples with Pekah.
The annals of Tiglath-Pileser II extend over a period of seventeen years, and record his wars against Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Medaa he also invaded Babylon, took the city of Sepharvaim or Sippara, and slew Rezin, the king of Syria. It was this king whom Ahaz met at Damascus when he saw the altar of which he sent the pattern to Urijah the priest at Jerusalem. Of Shalmaneser, his probable successor, little is known but what has come down to us in the sacred narrative. His name has not been found on the monuments. Shalmaneser twice invaded Israel upon the first occasion it seems that Hoshea the king bought him off by tribute, but subsequently revolted upon having made an alliance with Sabaco or So, king of Egypt. Upon this Shalmaneser again invaded Israel, and besieged Samaria for the space of three years. He is supposed to have died or to have been deposed before the city surrendered, and to have left the final subjugation of it to his successor. This was Sargon or Sargina, who came to the throne in B.C. 721, was the founder of a dynasty, and is therefore suspected of being a usurper. He reigned nineteen years after the captives of Samaria had been brought to Assyria he made war against Babylon, and perhaps placed Merodach-Baladan upon the throne. After this he marched in the direction of southern Syria and Egypt. At this time the latter country was under the dominion of the twenty-fifth or Ethiopian dynasty, and would seem to have recently gained possession of the five Philistine cities, according to the prediction of Isaiah 19:18 . It is remarkable that Sargon speaks of Gaza as belonging to Egypt, and its king is said to have been defeated at Raphia by the Assyrian monarch. Upon this the Egyptian "Pharaoh" paid Sargon tribute of gold, horses, camels, etc. Afterwards he made war in Hamath, Cappadocia, and Armenia, turning his arms also against Mount Zagros and the Medes, whose cities he colonized with his Israelitish captives. Later he made a second expedition into Syria, and took Ashdod by his Tattan, or general ( Isaiah 20:1 ), the king of that place flying to Egypt, which is said to be under the dominion of Mirukha or Meroe. At this time, also, Tyre fell under his power. Subsequently he made a second war upon Babylonia, and drove Merodach-Baladan, who seems to have offended him, into banishment.
Finally, the Greeks of Cyprus, who are called "the Yaha Nagd tribes of Yunau" or lonia. are named among those who paid him tribute. He appears to have removed the seat of government from Calah to Khorsabad, called from him Dur-Sargina. At this time the influence of Egyptian taste is manifest in Assyrian works of art. Sargon was succeeded in the year B.C. 702 by his son Sennacherib. He fixed his government at Nineveh, which, being now greatly decayed, he completely restored, and there he built the magnificent structure discovered and excavated by Layard. In the repairs of the great palace alone he is said to have employed no less than 360,000 men among his captives from Chaldaea, Armenia, and elsewhere. Sennacherib immediately after his accession proceeded to Babylon, where Merodach-Baladan had contrived to place himself again upon the throne with the aid of the Susianians. He fought a bloody battle with him, in which the Babylonian was entirely defeated, and then appointed Belibus, or Elibus, viceroy of Babylon. In his second year he marched on the north and east of Assyria,- and penetrated to certain Median tribes whom he asserts to have been quite unknown to his predecessors. The Philistines also were subdued by him, and the kings of Egypt who fought with him near Lachish were worsted. Lachish and Libnah fell before his arms, and Hezekiah, at Jerusalem, had to purchase peace by a tribute of 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold (2 Kings 18:13, 14).
This, however, is not recorded in his annals, which extend only to his eighth year, and therefore may have occurred subsequently to the period at which they close. In the year 699 he again marched against Babylon, defeated the party of Merodach-Baladan, deposed the viceroy Belibus, whom he had himself appointed three years before, and placed his own eldest son, Asshur-nadin, upon the throne. We know that Sennacherib reigned twenty-two years, because we have his twenty-second year stamped on a clay tablet, but it is uncertain when his second expedition to Syria was undertaken some, however, consider his two Syrian expeditions to have been identical. The object of the second was to recover the cities of Lachish and Libnah, which had again fallen .under the power of Egypt. While he was warring against Lachish he heard of the agreement that Hezekiah had entered into with the king of Egypt, and sent a detachment of his host against Jerusalem, under Rab-Saris and Rab-Shakeh. For some reason which we are not told, these generals found it expedient to retire from Jerusalem and join their master, who had raised the siege of Lachish, at Libnah. Meanwhile Tirhakah, the Ethiopian, perhaps not yet king of Egypt, advanced from the south to meet Sennhcherib, and reinforce the Egyptian party against whom he was contending but before the decisive battle could he fought, the Angel of the Lord had smitten in the camp of the Assyrians 185,000 men. Sennacherib, with the rest of his army, fled in dismay, and the Egyptians perhaps commemorated his disaster in the manner related by Herodotus (2:141). It is not a matter of surprise that this event is unnoticed on the Assyrian monuments. In all probability the murder of Sennacherib by his sons did not immediately follow his defeat at Libnah, but this also we have no means of knowing from the Assyrian records. He was succeeded by one of his younger sons (not his eldest, who had been regent in Babylon, and was probably dead), Esarhaddon, or Asshur-akh-iddina. He was celebrated for his victories and his magnificent buildings. He carried on his father's war with Egypt, Which county, as well as Ethiopia, he seems to have subdued.
He is also thought to have reigned in his own person at Babylon, and perhaps to have held his court indifferently either at Nineveh or Babylon, which would account for Manasseh being carried by the captains of the king of Assyria to Babylon ( 2 Chronicles 33:11 ) but in B.C 667, thirteen years after his accession, he was succeeded on the throne of Babylon by Saosduchinus, who was either a rebel or a viceroy appointed by Esarhaddon. About the year 660 his son Asshur-bani-pal, or Sardanapalus III, succeeded to "the throne of Assyria, and with him began the fall of the empire. He may have reigned till 640 but he feebly imitated the conquests of his predecessors, and appears to have contented himself with hunting. He was succeeded by his son Asshuremit-ili, the last king of whom any records have been discovered. Under him Assyria was hastening its downfall, and- Cyaxares, with his victorious Medes, was preparing for the final attack. If he was not the last king, he was the last but one, and the Saracus of Berosus, perhaps his brother, may have succeeded him, or else we must consider Saracus to be identical with Asshur-emitiii, who corresponded in fate with the warlike Sardanapalus of the Greeks.