The Assyrians built some of the first planned cities. The first Assyrian city was Ashur. Great Assyrian cities included of Nimrud (Biblical Calah), Khorsabad and Nineveh (See Below). Assyrian ships carried grain, wood, stone, leather and wine up and down the Tigris River and docked on the river’s massive quays. Some Assyrian cities had sewage systems but garbage appears to have been thrown in the streets anyway.

The Assyrians built the first aqueducts and paved roads. Aqueducts provided water for lavish gardens that covered the size of football fields. Parts of the most famous pre-Roman aqueducts, built by King Sennacherib for Nineveh around 700 B.C. are still visible in the north of Iraq.

Although multi-tiered, arched stone structures are what most of us visualize when we think of ancient aqueducts, most aqueduct routes consist of tunnels or pipelines at a very shallow downward slope that allow water to flow naturally from an elevated source downward to a city. The arched stone structures were placed where valleys intervened along the way, disrupting the general downward flow of the water.

Many major U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, still rely on similar technologies to supply water to their residents. Gravity is still the cheapest and most renewable source of energy, ninety-five percent of the water used in New York is still delivered by gravity.

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site; British Museum ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia ; Louvre ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago ; Iraq Museum Database ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory


Ashur (on the Tigris River in northern Iraq) was the first capital of Assyria. The source of the name of the main Assyrian God (Ashur) as well as the name “Assyrian,” it first appeared around 2500 B.C. and grew into trading town that prospered from trade with Turkey. For several centuries it was dominated foreign rulers.

Ashur, also known Assur, was built along the west bank of Tigris River and dominated by a ziggurat dedicated to Assur. Temples and palaces were built in a bluff above the Tigris. There were large homes behind walls and small houses crowding around the temples. After the capital of Assyria moved to Ninmrud and Nineveh, Ashur remained a sacred city. All the kings continued to be enthroned and buried there. Pilgrims visited its temples.

According to UNESCO: The ancient city of Ashur is located on the Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia in a specific geo-ecological zone, at the borderline between rain-fed and irrigation agriculture. The city dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. From the 14th to the 9th centuries BC it was the first capital of the Assyrian Empire, a city-state and trading platform of international importance. It also served as the religious capital of the Assyrians, associated with the god Ashur, and the place for crowning and burial of its kings. The city was destroyed by the Babylonians, but revived during the Parthian period in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The excavated remains of the public and residential buildings of Ashur provide an outstanding record of the evolution of building practice from the Sumerian and Akkadian period through the Assyrian empire, as well as including the short revival during the Parthian period.[Source: UNESCO]

By 700 B.C. Ashur was home to 34 major temples and three massive ziggurats, including ones for the goddess Inana and the god Ashur. Two and half miles of walls surrounded the city, most of which sat well-defended on the top the bluff. Today the great ziggurats look like eroded hills. The best preserved monument is the city’s Tabira Gate which features three arches one in front of the other.

Ashur was excavated at the turn of the 20th century by German archaeologists, who uncovered monuments and tablets that related to entire span of Assyrian history. Before the second Persian Gulf war there were plans to be build a huge dam here that would have submerged much of ancient Ashur and 60 other Assyrian sites in the valley that are for most part are unexcavated and unsurveyed.. If the dam is built as planned the bluff will become a waterlogged island and not doubt clay buildings, cuneiform tablets and statues will melt into mud.


Nimrud (23 miles southeast of Mosul, Iraq) was the second capital of the Assyrian empire. King Ashurnasirpal II (883 to 859 B.C.) moved the capital of Assyria there in 879 B.C. He built a vast walled city , with a citadel, temples, royal places and residences for thousands of people forcibly settled there. Among the extraordinary treasures unearthed in Nimrud are 169 pounds of gold treasures, mysterious ivory plaques and delightful sculptures and bas-reliefs.

Nimrud is just south of Mosul, Iraq’s largest city in the north and second largest city overall. The second capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria, it was built about 1250 B.C. and destroyed in 612 B.C. At its height, it was the center of one of the most powerful states at the time, reaching through modern-day Egypt, Turkey and Iran. Nimrud was known in the Bible as Calah,

Nimrud was known as Kalhu in Assyrian times. It is mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 10:8-12 discusses the “great city” of Calah---same as Kalhu---and how the “mighty hunter” Nimrod established the dynasty of the Assyrians. According to the Washington Post: “The discoveries at Nimrud have been described as among the most significant archaeological finds of ancient Mesopotamia. The area was known by Western experts for centuries, but extensive excavations began after World War II. Nimrud also showcases the region’s rich history as an important crossroads among pre-Islamic civilizations, including areas mentioned in the Bible and other texts. British archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, crime writer Agatha Christie, worked at Nimrud in the 1950s. [Source: Daniela Deane and Brian Murphy, Washington Post, March 6 2015]

Nimrud Buildings and Bas-Reliefs

Nimrud is one of the best preserved of Iraq’s ancient cities. Enriched by plunder and tribute, it was the home of huge buildings and monumental sculptures .The ruins of several buildings and sections of the 8-kilometer-long wall remain today. The most impressive structure is the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II built around 700 B.C. At two of the entrances are sculptures of human-headed lions with bird wings. Inside are some lovely bas-reliefs. At the entrance to the throne room is a human-headed winged bull called lamassu and four-winged deity called a apkallu .

According to UNESCO: Nimrud was founded during the 13th century B.C. It was considered as the second capital of the Assryian Empire, known as(kalhu or kalah ), flourished during the reign of the King Ashurnasirpal. It's circumference is nealy 8 km., surrounded by a huge defensive mudbrick wall covering an area square 13 Km of 3,8 . At the south-western and south- eastern corners there constructed a height named (Accropolis) built on a terrace of mudbrick of over 40 m. high above the river level Recently, in the 1980's excavations revealed three royal tombs with marvelous treasures . Also it was discovered a (Huge Stoney wall) called a Misenat still extant of 26 foot high above the old bottom of the river. It is frontiered from the south side by An-Nugoob channel dated back to the 8th century B.C. [Source: UNESCO]

Nimrud bas-relief

Unfortunately, many of the bas-reliefs and sculptures that remained have been damaged or removed by looters The wonderful collection of ivories displayed in the National Museum in Baghdad were found in a well of the Royal Palace. In the early 2000s, a gateway with mythical figures carved from Mosul marble was excavated at the city’s Temple of Ishtar.

According to UNESCO: Many of Nimrud’s most famous surviving monuments were removed years ago by archaeologists, including colossal Winged Bulls, now housed in London’s British Museum, which also possesses probably the finest collection of Nimrud friezes, thanks to the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard, who rediscovered the palace of Ashurnasirpal II in 1845. They show life at Ashurnasirpal II’s court, while inscriptions reveal his brutality. Hundreds of precious stones and pieces of gold were moved to Baghdad. However, several of the giant winged bulls were left in situ in Nimrud, and Nineveh too, while the Northwest Palace was specially reconstructed to house the friezes. It was the only place in the world where people could see this hallmark of the Assyrian civilisation as it would have originally looked.

Mosul and Nimrud were captured an occupied by Islamic State in 2014 and held until November 2016. See Nimrud ruined by Islamic State


Nineveh (on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq) was the third capital of the Assyrian Empire. It began as a trade center of a province of Babylonia. By 1400 B.C. it had developed into a strong independent state. The capital of Assyria moved from Nimrud to Nineveh by King Ashurnasirpal II (883 to 859 B.C.) in 863 B.C. Describing as the “exceeding great city,” it was at its peak from 883 to 612 B.C., when it was home to 100,000 people---twice the size of Babylon when it at its peak. In 612 B.C. Nineveh was destroyed by an alliance of Medes (former vassals of the Assyrians), Cimmerians (sometimes confused with Scythians) and Chaldeans, bringing the Assyrian Empire to an end.

20120208-ancient_Nineveh 1683.jpg
Nineveh was mentioned in The Bible several times. Jonah traveled there by whale. The Old Testament’s Book of Nahum described the months-long siege of Nineveh by Medes: “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims. The crack of the whips, and rumble of wheel, galloping horses, and jilting chariots. Charging cavalry, flashing swords, and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses---all because the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft,.”

The “palace without rival? of the Assyrian Ling Sennacherib boasted inner walls lined with two miles of stone sculptures depicting the king’s campaigns. Within the palace archeologists discovered thousands of cuneiform tablets, some of the earliest known collection of writing. Many sculptures and stone slabs with bas reliefs have been hacked away by looters.

Dur Sharrukin (near Nineveh) was the forth capital of Assyria. Also known as Khorsabad, it is the home of a palace of Sargon II (reigned 721-705 B.C.). Monumental sculptures found here were have been put on display in Baghdad and Paris. In the 1990s, a magnificent human-headed winged bull was found here. The ancient city was excavated by an archaeological team from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. See looters, Iraq

Nivenah Layout and Buildings

Ancient Nineveh covered 1,730 acres and boasted gardens, temples and a royal library.It was surrounded by a 12-kilometer-square wall with 15 gates, each named after an Assyrian god. Much of this wall was rebuilt in the early Saddam Hussein years. Several of the gates have been reconstructed.

According to UNESCO: Nineveh was one of the most important cultural centers inthe ancient world enjoying a prominent role in the field of developing human civilization, in that it was the greatest metropolis where various branchesofartsandlearning originated. It was adopted by the Assyrians as their political seat and comes next to their first religious capital city Ashur.Excavation on the principle mound in the city, Kuyunijk, has shown that it was occupied from c.6000 BC.-AD 600, Nineveh was oRen a royal residence and was finally established as the capital of theAssyrians about 700 BC. by Senacherib, whose successors lived there until its destruction in 612 BC. The city wall of Nineveh has a circumference of over 12 km. And six gates have been excavated. On the mound of Kuyunjik the throne-room suite of Senacherrib's palace has re-excavated with some of its relief slabs depicting the Kings conquest still in position, the mound of Nebi Yunusj the site ofthe imperial arsenal 1.6 km; South of Kuyunjik, has been covered with houses grouped around a mosque, containing the reputed tomb of Jonah. [Source: UNESCO]

Nineveh Mashki Gate

John Malcolm Russell wrote in Archaeology magazine: “In 1847 the young British adventurer Austen Henry Layard explored the ruins of Nineveh and rediscovered the lost palace of Sennacherib across the Tigris River from modern Mosul in northern Iraq. Inscribed in cuneiform on the colossal sculptures in the doorway of its throne room was Sennacherib's own account of his siege of Jerusalem. It differed in detail from the biblical one but confirmed that Sennacherib did not capture the city. This find generated an excitement that is difficult to imagine today, because amid the increasing religious doubt and scriptural revisionism of the mid-nineteenth century, it gave Christian fundamentalists an independent eyewitness corroboration of a biblical event, written in the doorway of the very room where Sennacherib may have issued his order to attack. The palace's interior walls were paneled with huge stone slabs, carved in relief with images of Sennacherib's victories. Here one could see the king and army, foreign landscapes, and conquered enemy cities, including a remarkably accurate depiction of the Judean city of Lachish, whose destruction by the Assyrians was recorded in II Kings 18:13-14. [Source: John Malcolm Russell Archaeology, December 30, 1996]

“Considering that the palace had been destroyed by an intense conflagration during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C., the massive walls and many of the relief sculptures of Sennacherib's throne-room suite were surprisingly well preserved. In the 1960s, because of the palace's historical importance and unique preservation, the Iraq Department of Antiquities consolidated the walls and sculptures and roofed the site over as the Sennacherib Palace Site Museum at Nineveh, where visitors could tour one of only two preserved Assyrian palaces in the world. (The other is the palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud, also restored as a site museum.) The four restored rooms of the throne-room suite, designated H, I, IV, and V by Layard, contained some 100 sculptured slabs in various states of preservation. In two of these rooms, IV and V parts of nearly every slab survived, making these the most completely preserved decorative cycles in the palace. Most of these reliefs have never been published. Some show unusual subjects and provide valuable information on visual narrative composition in Assyrian palace decoration. These reliefs needed to be documented in case the originals were lost or damaged and to guide future conservation efforts.”

Arbela (Erbil)

Arbela (Erbil) is a 6000-year-old settlement-city in modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan that grew into a major city under the Assyrians: Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The Assyrian Empire reached its height in the seventh century B.C., when the kings Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal ruled the region, including Arbela [Erbil]. Contemporary Assyrian texts describe the Egasankalamma as a richly decorated and elaborate complex where royals regularly came to seek the goddess’ guidance. Esarhaddon claimed that he made the temple “shine like the day,” likely a reference to a coating of a silver-and-gold alloy called electrum that gleamed in the Mesopotamian sun. A fragment of a relief from the Assyrian city of Nineveh shows the structure rising above the citadel walls. Some Assyrian royals may have lived there in their youth, perhaps to keep them safe from court intrigues at the capitals of Nineveh, Nimrud, and Assur in the empire’s heartland. On one tablet Ashurbanipal says, “I knew no father or mother. I grew up in the lap of the goddess”—Ishtar of Arbela. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, September-October 2014 <|>]

“An inscribed clay cylinder found at Nimrud details how the Assyrian King Esarhaddon made Arbela’s temple to Ishtar “shine like the sun.” Under the Assyrians, Arbela was a cosmopolitan gathering place for foreign ambassadors coming from the east. “Tribute enters it from all the world!” says Ashurbanipal in one text. A governor oversaw the city’s administration from a sumptuous citadel palace where taxpayers brought copper and cattle, pomegranates, pistachios, grain, and grapes. Arbela’s own inhabitants were a diverse mix that likely included those forcibly resettled by the Assyrian state, as well as immigrants, merchants, and others seeking opportunity in a city that rivaled the Assyrian capitals in stature. “Arbela at this time was a multiethnic state,” says Dishad Marf, a scholar at the Netherlands’ Leiden University. Names of its citizens found in Assyrian texts are Babylonian, Assyrian, Hurrian, Aramain, Shubrian, Scythian, and Palestinian. <|>

“Assyrian royalty also lavished gifts and praise on Arbela and its patron deity. “Heaven without equal, Arbela!” proclaims one court poem found in Nineveh’s state archives. The poem also describes Arbela as a place where merry-making, festivals, and jubilation echoed in its streets, and Ishtar’s shrine as a “lofty hostel, broad temple, a sanctuary of delights” resounding with the music of drums, lyres, and harps. “Those who leave Arbela and those who enter it are happy,” the hymn concludes. Not all, however. The Nineveh relief depicting Arbela includes a king, likely Ashurbanipal, pouring a libation over the severed head of a rebel from Arbela. According to ancient records, the king had the surviving agitators chained to the city gates, flayed, and their tongues ripped out. <|>

Nineveh Adad gate and north exterior

“Arbela’s formidable walls and arched gate are depicted in a seventh-century B.C. stone relief found at Nineveh.After so many centuries of regional domination, the Assyrians’ fall was sudden and swift—and Arbela proved to be the sole surviving major settlement. A coalition of Babylonians and Medes, a nomadic people who lived on the Iranian plateau, destroyed the Assyrian capitals in 612 B.C. and scattered their once-feared armies. Arbela was spared, perhaps because its population was in large part non-Assyrian and sympathetic to the new conquerors. The Medes, who may be the ancestors of today’s Kurds, likely took control of the city, which was still intact a century later when the Persian king Darius I, third king of the Achaemenid Empire, impaled a rebel on Arbela’s ramparts—a scene recorded in an inscription carved on a western Iranian cliff around 500 B.C. <|>

“By the fourth century B.C., the Achaemenid Empire stretched from Egypt to India. In the fall of 331 B.C., on the plain of Gaugamela to the west of Arbela, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great fought the Achaemenid ruler Darius III, routing the Persian army as its king fled. Classical sources say that Alexander pursued Darius across the Greater Zab River to Arbela’s citadel, where historians believe the Persian king had his campaign headquarters. Darius escaped east into the Zagros Mountains and was eventually killed by his own soldiers, after which Alexander assumed the leadership of the Persian Empire, possibly in a ceremony held in Arbela’s temple of Ishtar, whom he may have equated with the Greek warrior-goddess Athena.” <|>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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