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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Nineveh (ancient Ninu(w)a; near modern Mosul on the site Kouyunjik) was located on the Tigris' east bank (36°24' N 43°08' E).

Nineveh was settled from the 3rd millennium onwards and a crucial node in Assyria's heartland since the Middle Assyrian Period, Nineveh was a major riverine trade port. Nineveh began to overshadow Ashur as Assyria expanded northward and westward. Shalmaneser I restored a temple ate Nineveh, and business tablets from his reign were found 30 miles to the west at Tell el-Rimah (attesting to trade activity). Nineveh continued to grow in importance under Tiglath-Pileser I and Nineveh was regarded as Assyria's second capital.

However, it was only after Sargon II’s (721-705) death in battle that Sennacherib (704-681) declared Nineveh as Assyria's official capital and secured its place in history.

The city was bisected by Hosr, a minor tributary of the Tigris. The western part of Nineveh has the principal mound, Kuyunjik (alt Kouyunjik), a steep-sided mound with a ~45 ha flat top ~25-30 m above the ground. Within the mound are notable prehistoric finds and the Neo-Assyrian South-West and North Palaces.

When Sennacherib had fully developed Nineveh, it was the largest city of the era with a whopping 750 hectares of urban land (Dur Sharrukin was 320 ha).

After diverting the river Tebiltu (modern Khosr) around the city, Sennacherib hydrated Nineveh with the Jerwan Aqueduct. He also installed a new city wall and a canal system. Also, Sennacherib had found a new source for building stone in Mt. Nipur to the north (modern Judi Mountain) -- it is possible he used this stone to fashion his massive lamassu. Nineveh was surrounded by a 12km long and 25m wide city wall riddled with as many as 18 gates.

Sennacherib's inscriptions describe vast open spaces within the city walls, allowing for plazas, gardens, fields, a zoo and possibly military camps. There were two residential areas: one with flimsy buildings was found to the west, near the Maski gate; and nearby were larger and better-constructed houses.

Structures of Nineveh


Jerwan Aqueduct

Brought water for his new city building an aqueduct from a good source at Jerwan.


Sennacherib's citadel was located at the Small Sheep mound at the northwest edge of the city, between the city wall's Quay gate and the Maski gates.

Istar Temple

The earliest building at Nineveh was the Istar Temple, which dated to the 3rd millennium BC. It was rebuilt multiple times during the Old, Middle and Neo-Assyrian Periods, revealing that Istar was a long-lasting cult.

Nabu Temple

In the middle of the citadel was the Nabu Temple. It had a central courtyard encircled with very thick walls. This temple was built before Sennacherib.

Southwest Palace

Sennacherib built his Palace Without Rival (aka Royal Palace of Sennacherib) on the southern edge of the citadel, at the southwest of the Kuyuncuk mound. It was completed in 694 BC. The palace had a new architectural feature: bronze lions in a striding (yet weight-bearing) pose served as column bases. The palace had: a throne room (Court H) to the northeast; a colossal throneroom suite (Rooms I-IV); an inner court (Court VI) surrounded by additional reception suites decorated with elaborate relief orthostats; a second inner court (Court XIX) with even more grandiose thronerooms; and residential quarters behind it. Palace walls in all 38 rooms (except 3) were decorated with military reliefs. The palace was expanded piecemeal: early inscriptions give dimensions of 60x34 cubits; the last inscriptions state 914x440 cubits. The palace grew to fill the space bound by the Istar Temple and the Ziggurat.

Bit Nakkapti

To the northeast of the palace was Bit Nakkapti (aka Sennacherib’s Eastern Building). An inscription on its enormous lamassu indicate that it was a ~ 683 BC addition to the palace complex. Its main gateway: was paved with three large, wheel-rutted stone threshold slabs; bore apotropaic orthostats similar to the Southwest Palace.

North Palace

Little is known of Assurbanipal’s North Palace (aka Crown Prince Palace) at Nineveh. Assurbanipal had restored Sennacherib's palace, and also built the North Palace on the northern part of the Small Sheep citadel, just north of the Nabu Temple. Oddly enough, the North Palace lacked lamassu in all excavated parts; the double columns marking some passageways are reminiscent of the bit hilani style. Within the North Palace were two rooms that formed a library of Assyro-Babylonian literature and official Assyrian archives (Jastrow 1915, p 21). The corpus consisted of divinations, incantations, legends and lexical lists. The divinations were copies of Babylonian priestly texts that described how to interpret phenomena of rivers and occurrences in houses, streets and cities (Jastrow 1915, p 21). Incantation texts detailed how expel demons of disease from victims and how to fight evil spells (Jastrow 1915, p 22). Legends included creation stories and the Epic of Gilgamesh.


Saggs, 1985. The Might That Was Assyria.

Class Notes, Carter 2009. Assyrians.