Building Activities at Nineveh, Part 1

Walls of Nineveh and Their Gates  

Numerous texts describe Sennacherib's renovation and expansion of Nineveh, a city that he transformed into the leading metropolis of Assyria. He began projects there almost immediately after he became king; the labor was provided by prisoners of war, including Chaldeans, Arameans, Manneans, and the inhabitants of Que, Ḫilakku, Philistia, and Tyre. For general studies, see in particular Grayson, CAH2 3/2 pp. 113–116; Frahm, Sanherib pp. 265–276 and passim; Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) pp. 389–433, esp. §§11, 13.1, 13.5–6, 14.2–3, 15.2, 15.4, and 15.8; Frahm, PNA 3/1 pp. 1121–1122 sub Sīn-aḫḫē-erība II.3c-1'; and Frahm, RLA 12/1–2 (2009) p. 19 §6.1.1–8. For a detailed and comprehensive study of the "Palace Without a Rival," see J.M. Russell, Senn.'s Palace. Only the projects recorded in texts edited in this volume will be discussed here.

Egalzagdinutukua: The "Palace Without a Rival"

One of this king's most ambitious projects was the construction of his royal residence and progress on its construction can be followed in texts inscribed on clay cylinders, clay prisms, and stone bull colossi between 702 and 691.[39] This once-magnificent palace, which he gave the Sumerian ceremonial name Egalzagdinutukua (the "Palace Without a Rival"), has only been partially excavated. The royal residence, which is on the larger of the two Nineveh mounds, Kuyunjik, is also referred to as the South-West Palace, as it is located on the southwest part of the citadel.

Early in his reign, Sennacherib razed the former palace, diverted the Tebilti River (which is reported to have flooded the area around the palace and to have eroded the previous brickwork), made a large tract of land (including areas previously underwater) suitable for building, laid the foundations of a massive mud-brick terrace, and began construction of the terrace upon which his palace would be built. The site of the previous palace was enlarged by 340×288 cubits (ca. 187×158 m). A high terrace was constructed on water-proofed stone foundations. Originally the terrace was raised 160 courses of brick, but it was later raised to a final height of 190 courses of brick.

The palace, which grew in size every year, was sumptuously decorated with various types of wood, stone, and metal. Its palatial halls were roofed with beams of cedar and cypress from Mounts Lebanon and Sirāra. Tall metal-banded door leaves were hung in their gateways. Some of the rooms were decorated with glazed baked bricks. Like his predecessors, Sennacherib had numerous apotropaic colossi stationed in principal gateways and had the walls of many rooms and halls lined with sculpted limestone slabs, many of which were unearthed in the mid-nineteenth century. A.H. Layard described these orthostats as "two miles of bas-relief" and Sîn-šarra-iškun, Sennacherib's fourth successor, referred to this building as "the palace of alabaster."[40] Unlike his forefathers, Sennacherib had colossi cast from bronze and copper using a metalworking technique he claims to have perfected. In total, he claims to have set up in the palace's gateways twelve copper bulls, two alabaster bulls, and seventy-two bulls and sphinxes of white limestone, stone laboriously hauled from the city Balāṭāya.

A striking feature of the palace described in the texts was an elaborate pillared portico, a bīt-appāte (a bīt-ḫilāni in the "Amorite tongue") that was modeled on a feature of Hittite palaces. This section included twelve striding lion colossi of bronze, which served as bases for four cedar and two copper columns. Twenty-two copper sphinxes and ten alabaster sphinxes were also used as bases for wooden columns decorated with metal inlay, but it is not clear from reports of this project where in the palace these were set up.

Between 694 and late 691, Sennacherib appears to have put the finishing touches on the "Palace Without a Rival." In 694, the (final?) dimensions are reported to have been 914×440 cubits (ca. 503×242 m). In 691, Sennacherib boasted that Egalzagdinutukua had been completed.[41]

Walls of Nineveh and Their Gates

Inscriptions dating from 699 to 691 commemorate one of Sennacherib's most ambitious building enterprises: the construction of Nineveh's walls. Sennacherib states that the former circumference of the city was 9,300 cubits and that no previous ruler had built an inner or outer wall for the city. He boasts of expanding Nineveh's circumference by 12,515 cubits, expanding the length of the city walls to a total of 21,815 cubits, and of building the outer defenses in two parts: (1) the main (or great) inner wall, Badnigalbilukurašušu ("Wall Whose Brilliance Overwhelms Enemies"), constructed with limestone foundations and built to a height of 180 (later 200) courses of brick and to a width of 40 bricks; and (2) an outer stone wall, Badnigerimḫuluḫa ("Wall, Terrorizer of Enemies"), whose foundations were 45 nindanu deep.[42]

Sennacherib initially states that the city wall had fourteen gates (697–695), but later records that it had fifteen (694), and then eighteen (691) gates.[43] Clearly, the plan evolved over time. The gates are listed counterclockwise as follows:

Gate   Text nos. 15–16 (697–695)    Text no. 17 (694)    Text no. 18 (691)   
I   1. Ḫandūru Gate: "The God Šarur Is the One Who Cuts Down the King's Enemy"    15. Ḫandūru Gate: "The God Šarur Is the One Who Cuts Down the King's Enemy"    1. Ḫandūru Gate: "The God Šarur Is the One Who Cuts Down the King's Enemy"   
II   2. Aššur Gate: "May the Vice-Regent of the God Aššur Endure"    1. Aššur Gate: "May the Vice-Regent of the God Aššur Stay in Good Health"    2. Aššur Gate: "May the Vice-Regent of the God Aššur Endure"   
III   3. Sennacherib Gate: "The One Who Flattens All Enemies"    2. Sennacherib Gate: "The One Who Flattens All Enemies"    3. Sennacherib Gate: "The One Who Flattens All Enemies"   
IV   4. Šamaš Gate: "The God Enlil Is the One Who Makes My Reign Firm"    3. Šamaš Gate: "The God Enlil Is the One Who Makes My Reign Firm"    4. Šamaš Gate: "The God Enlil Is the One Who Makes My Reign Firm"   
V   5. Mullissu Gate: "O Ištar Bless the One Who Provides for You!"    4. Mullissu Gate: "Make Sennacherib's Dynasty as Firm as the Position of the Wagon Constellation!"    5. Mullissu Gate: "Make Sennacherib's Dynasty as Firm as the Position of the Wagon Constellation!"   
VI   6. Step Gate: "The One Who Exorcises the 'Flesh' of the Asakku-demon"    5. Step Gate: "The One Who Exorcises the 'Flesh' of the Asakku-demon"    6. Step Gate: "The One Who Exorcises the 'Flesh' of the Asakku-demon"   
VII   7. Šibaniba Gate: "The Choicest of Grain and Flocks Are Constantly Inside It"    6. Šibaniba Gate: "The Choicest of Grain and Flocks Are Constantly Inside It"    7. Šibaniba Gate: "The Choicest of Grain and Flocks Are Constantly Inside It"   
VIII   8. Ḫalaḫḫu Gate: "The Bearer of the Produce of the Mountains"    7. Ḫalaḫḫu Gate: "The Bearer of the Produce of the Mountains"    8. Ḫalaḫḫu Gate: "The Bearer of the Produce of the Mountains"   
   Eight gates facing the sunrise, towards the south and east   Seven gates facing the sunrise, towards the south and east   Eight gates facing the sunrise, towards the south and east  
IX   9. Adad Gate: "The God Adad Is the Provider of Prosperity to the Land"    8. Adad Gate: "The God Adad Is the Provider of Prosperity to the Land"    9. Adad Gate: "The God Adad Is the Provider of Prosperity to the Land"   
X   10. Nergal Gate: "The God Erra Is the One Who Cuts Down Enemies"    9. Nergal Gate: "The God Erra Is the One Who Slaughters Those Hostile to Me"    10. Nergal Gate: "The God Erra Is the One Who Cuts Down My Enemies"   
XI   11. Gate of the Garden: "The God Igisigsig Is the One Who Makes Orchards Flourish"    10. Sîn Gate: "The Divine Nannāru Is the One Who Protects My Lordly Crown"    11. Sîn Gate: "The Divine Nannāru Is the One Who Makes Firm My Lordly Crown"   
   Three gates facing north   Three gates facing north   —  
XII   12. Mašqû Gate: "The God Ea Is the One Who Properly Directs (Water Flow into) My Cisterns"    11. Mašqû Gate: "The God Ea Is the One Who Properly Directs (Water Flow into) My Cisterns"    12. Mašqû Gate: "The God Ea Is the One Who Properly Directs (Water Flow into) My Cisterns"   
XIII   —   —   13. Step Gate of the Palace: "May Its Builder Endure"   
XIV   —   —   14. Step Gate of the Gardens: "The God Igisigsig Is the One Who Makes Orchards Flourish"   
XV   13. Quay Gate: "The One Who Brings in Income from the Settlements"    12. Quay Gate: "The One Who Brings in Income from the Settlements"    15. Quay Gate: "The One Who Brings in Income from the Settlements"   
XVI  14. Armory Gate: "The One Who Regulates Everything"    14. Armory Gate: "The One Who Regulates Everything"    16. Step Gate of the Armory: "May Its Builder Live Forever"   
XVII   —   —   17. Barḫalzi Gate: "The God Anu Is the Protector of My Life"   
XVIII   —   13. Desert Gate: "The Presents of the People of Sumuʾel and Tēma Enter Through It"    18. Desert Gate: "The Presents of the People of Tēma and Sumuʾel Enter Through It"   
   Three gates facing west   Five gates facing west   Ten gates facing north and west  

Notes

39 Text no. 1 lines 63–86, text no. 2 lines 34–63, text no. 3 lines 34–56, text no. 4 lines 61–84, text no. 15 v 18–vii 9, text no. 16 v 41–vii 16, text no. 17 v 23–vii 52, text no. 18 vi 1''–vii 11a, and text no. 22 vi 36–38. See Frahm, Sanherib pp. 267–269 for references in texts not included in this volume.

40 For a detailed study and for images of the numerous reliefs decorating the palace, see Barnett et al., Sculptures from the Southwest Palace.

41 As early as ca. 702, Sennacherib claims to have completed the palace, invited Aššur and the gods and goddesses of Assyria inside, and to have celebrated the palace's dedication. Of course, this is just royal rhetoric as it would have been impossible for Sennacherib to have completed such a large-scale project in such a short time. See, for example, text no. 1 lines 91–92.

42 Text no. 8 lines 9'–13', text no. 15 vii 14–24 and 24'–29'a, text no. 16 vii 22–33 and 70–76a, text no. 17 vii 58–69 and viii 6–12, text no. 18 vii 1'–9' and 41'–48', and text no. 38 lines 16–18. Bricks, stone slabs, and stone blocks attest to this project; see Frahm, Sanherib pp. 141–142 T 75–80a. Nearly the entire city wall is still visible today, as a high mound or as a modern reconstruction. Excavations near the Šamaš Gate and the Ea Gate reveal that the inner wall was ca. 15–16 m wide, a figure consistent with the thickness of forty bricks; Reade (RLA 9/5–6 [2000] pp. 399–400 §11.3) suggests that the inner wall was approximately 25 m high. The outer, stone wall was ca. 11 m thick and ca. 4.5 m high. BM 124938, a relief depicting Nineveh, shows the city walls Badnigalbilukurašušu and Badnigerimḫuluḫa. See Frahm, Sanherib p. 99 and Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) p. 398 fig. 3.

43 Text no. 15 vii 25–23', text no. 16 vii 34–69, text no. 17 vii 70–viii 5, and text no. 18 vii 10'–40'. Gurney, STT 2 no. 372, a text from the reign of Ashurbanipal, lists Gates II–XI, in a garbled form. On the location of the gates, see in particular King, Cat. pp. xix–xxiv; Thompson, Arch. 79 (1929) pp. 111–113; Thompson, Iraq 7 (1940) pp. 91–93; Reade, RA 72 (1978) pp. 50–54; and Scott and MacGinnis, Iraq 52 (1990) pp. 63–68.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Building Activities at Nineveh, Part 1', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 [http://oracc.org/rinap31introduction/buildingactivitiesatnineveh/]

 
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