City of Assyria. The form of its name is derived from the Masoretic text. It answers as nearly as possible to the native Assyrian form "Ninua." The origin of the name is obscure. Possibly it meant originally the seat of Ishtar, since Nina was one of the Babylonian names of that goddess. The ideogram means "house or place of fish," and was perhaps due to popular etymology (comp. Aramaic "nuna," denoting "fish"). Nineveh was the most famous of the cities which were in succession the residences of the kings of Assyria. It was also the latest capital of that kingdom, and as such was regarded by Greek writers as the permanent capital and as being virtually equivalent to the country itself.

Situation of the City.

Nineveh was the strongest of several fortress-cities which were built in the triangular territory between the Tigris and the upper Zab. The terrane of these cities was admirably adapted for defense, being protected on the northwest by the Khausar, a tributary of the Tigris, and on the northeast by the Gomel, a tributary of the Zab, as well as by a range of hills. Within these boundaries were contained Nineveh itself, at the confluence of the Choser and the Tigris, on the site of the mounds of Koyunjik and Nebi Yunus and opposite the modern city of Mosul; the fortress of Kalaḥ (Calah) twenty miles to the south, near the Tigris; and Khorsabad (Dur Sharrukin) fourteen miles to the north on the Choser; besides various smaller fortified towns.

Nineveh is mentioned as early as about 2900 B.C. in an inscription of Gudea (Nabu), King of Lagash in southern Babylonia, who there erected a temple in honor of Ishtar. This inscription is of great importance as showing that a Babylonian colony was planted in Assyria at a very early date. The city of Asshur, however, which gave its name to the kingdom of Assyria, must have been founded at a still earlier time, presumably also by colonists from Babylonia. It was also most frequently the capital of the kings of Assyria up to the middle of the eleventh century B.C., when it was finally abandoned as the seat of power, being less favorably situated for defense than the fortresses to the north of the upper Zab.

Later History.

Nineveh seems to have been made the capital of the whole of Assyria by Shalmaneser I. (c. 1300 B.C.) and to have retained the honor under several of the later kings. Then Tiglath-pileser I. and his immediate successors revived the glories of the city of Asshur. Thereafter Kalaḥ was made the seat of government, and it was not till the days of Sennacherib (705-681) that Nineveh attained to its historic greatness. The work which he performed in and for Nineveh is his chief title to lasting fame. He erected two magnificent palaces, each of them a fortress in itself: one in the style of Assyrian, and the other in the style of Syrian or Hittite, architecture. He also brought a splendid aqueduct into the city to furnish the inhabitants with wholesome water. From the date of these works to the fall of the empire, that is, for rather less than a century, Nineveh remained the royal residence. The next king, Esar-haddon (680-668), and above all the famous Assurbanipal (668-626), augmented the splendor of the city by new palaces and public works, until it eclipsed the fame of the contemporary Babylon. Among Oriental cities it has been surpassed only by the Babylon of Nebuchadrezzar.

Decline and Fall.

Less than twenty years elapsed between the death of the last great king and the destruction of the splendid city itself. This catastrophe has been made of late years the subject of considerable research; but much remains to be elucidated before a clear idea of the actual course of events can be obtained. The following statement summarizes the facts as far as known: With the decline of the Assyrian empire after the Scythian invasion of the regions west of the Tigris the capital itself became more open to attack. The Aryan Medes, who had attained to organized power east and northeast of Nineveh, repeatedly invaded Assyria proper, and in 607 succeeded in destroying the city. The other fortresses doubtless had been occupied some time previously. The capital was very strongly fortified. Its most vulnerable point was the River Khausar, which ran through the city, and which, while serving for defense, might be turned also to its destruction. In the time of flood its waters were stored up in reservoirs, and by breaking these a hostile army might undermine the city walls. An allusion to some such operation seems to be made in Nah. ii. 6. Such a rush of water could not of course inundate or greatly damage the city; it would be used mainly for the purpose of facilitating an entrance. The destruction was wrought by fire, and was made complete and final, so that soon the site of Nineveh proper was no longer distinguished by name from the other fortresses.

Modern Exploration.

Nineveh has been diligently excavated by modern explorers. Its site was first definitely fixed by Richin 1820. The work of exploration on the mound began with Layard in 1845, and was then continued by Rassam and George Smith. The city proper, Nineveh in the strict sense, was oblong in shape, running along the Tigris, and did not occupy more than about three square miles. In the prophetic allegory of Jonah the references to its extent and population apply to the several cities and villages included in the larger area from Khorsabad to Kalaḥ. The excavation of Koyunjik has yielded results of the greatest value. The library of Assurbanipal alone, which consisted largely of copies of precious Babylonian documents, must be counted as one of the most important of the literary collections of the world.

  • Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains, 1849;
  • idem, Monuments of Nineveh, 1849-53;
  • Botta and Flandin, Monuments de Ninive, 1847-50;
  • Place, Ninive et l'Assyrie, 1866-69;
  • George Smith, Assyrian Discoveries, 1875;
  • Billerbeck and Jeremias, Der Untergang Nineves, in Delitzsch and Haupt, Beiträge zur Assyriologie, iii. 1 (has valuable maps and plates);
  • Johns, Nineveh, in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.
E. C. J. F. McC.
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