The Ezida temple in Kalhu

Ezida, the temple of Nabu god of scribes, was situated in the south-east of the city acropolis of Nimrud, ancient Kalhu. It was east of the so-called 'Burnt Palace' and immediately west of the citadel wall, separated from it by a narrow alley. The entrance, the Fish Gate flanked by headless limestone 'mermen', was on the northern end of 'Shalmaneser Street'. It was essentially excavated by Max Mallowan over three seasons from 1955 to 1957. It had already been discovered in the nineteenth century, but neither Loftus nor Hormuzd Rassam had done much work inside, perhaps because the building was protected by considerable post-Assyrian material. In 1985-1986, Muzahim Mahmud found tablets, prisms and a barrel cylinder in the temple during excavations for the Iraqi State Organization for Antiquities and Heritage.

Excavations and finds

The monumental gate opened onto a long room (NTS 13) and then onto the first of the two courtyards in the east part of the temple. The southern one opened onto the two main shrines NT 5 and NT 4. NT 4, the bigger, was identified as Nabu's shrine and NT 5 as Tašmetu's. Opposite Nabu's shrine, in room NT 12, the scholarly library was found. The southern, inner courtyard (which contained the shrines, libraries, archives and scribal offices), may have been accessible only by authorized personnel. Aššurnasirpal (883-859) claimed to have built this temple with nine others, of which four have been discovered. The rooms ringing the south courtyard of the temple complex, where archaeologists found most of the epigraphic remains, were built by Adad-nerari III (810-783).

The library

The greatest concentration of scholarly tablets was in room NT 12. This was a long chamber with a large doorway opposite the entrance of the main shrine of the temple (NT 4). The library was probably in use from ca. 800 B.C. until the destruction of Kalhu in 612.

This large door is unusual and may have been used to provide light to the scribes working inside. The courtyard was probably also used by the scribes when possible. In the rear wall of NT 12 was a well used to store water for keeping the tablet clay in good condition. This room contained a large part of the temple library. The tablets were disturbed when the city was destroyed, and then by the later occupants. Presumably, rooms NT 13, NT 14, NT 16 and NT 17 constituted the scribal area. Indeed, a considerable number of contract tablets dated between 699 and 661 B.C. were discovered here, especially in the fill of later pits. In addition, rooms NTS 9 and NTS 10, in the north courtyard front of the throne room, may also have been scribal offices. They were situated on the east side of this courtyard. Cylinders seals, ivory fragments and remains of wooden and ivory writing boards were found in a cache at the south-east corner of NT 13. Some ivory fragments also seem to have been found in NT 14. This last room showed extensive traces of fire and contained remains of burnt ivory and wood. The building, from room NT 13 to NT 17, was occupied by post-Assyrian squatters who greatly disturbed all this area. They dug a trench across at least NT 14, 16 and 17 to remove paving bricks. The same thing occurred in NT 13. Those events probably occurred around 500 B.C., during Achaemenid times. All these activities shovelled the tablets out from where they lay scattered on the original floors of the rooms.

The tablets today

Originally, the library contained getting on for 300 tablets. About 259 tablets were found but more may probably remain in the site itself, perhaps in the well of the corner of NT 12 which was not excavated. Most of the tablets are published in CTN 4. Tablets from the Ezida library are kept in the British Museum and in the National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad.


Philippe Clancier

Philippe Clancier, 'The Ezida temple in Kalhu', The Geography of Knowledge, The GKAB Project, 2019 []

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