Building Activities at Nineveh, Part 2

The City Squares and Streets, and the Royal Road   The Moat   The Citadel Wall   The Citadel Temples   The Armory   A New Akītu-house   Other Projects at Nineveh  

Botanical Gardens, Swamps, and Related Waterworks

Sennacherib created a large botanical garden beside his palace, which he claims was a "replica of Mount Amanus," and he planted a large variety of trees in it.[44] In addition, he provided the citizens of Nineveh with numerous garden plots that were planted on newly tilled soil, and created a park and a game preserve beside the city.[45] Those gardens and parks required much water and the king devoted a great deal of time and effort to providing irrigation water for those areas and regulating the flow of that water.

Early in his reign (ca. 702–700), Sennacherib diverted water from the Ḫusur River (mod. Khosr), near the city Kisiru, for a distance of one and a half leagues to the plain of Nineveh.[46] To control the flow and to carry off excess water during the flood season, a large wet marsh was created east of the city wall (ca. 699).[47] The area was stocked with flora and fauna of the Babylonian marshes and populated with migratory birds (herons), wild pigs, roe deer, and other animals. Sometime between 700 and 694, a more substantial irrigation system was needed and the requisite water was found in mountain springs northeast of the city, near Mount Muṣri and the cities Dūr-Ištar, Šibaniba, and Sulu. Three new canals were dug to the Ḫusur River, where their waters supplemented those of the river, thus making it possible to irrigate fields upstream and downstream of Nineveh all year long.[48] Throughout the rest of his reign, Sennacherib continued his extensive waterworks program, creating at least sixteen canals that brought a constant supply of water to Nineveh.[49]

Bridges and Aqueducts

Sennacherib built a bridge paved with limestone opposite a gate of the citadel in order to facilitate access to the citadel from the lower town; the Ḫusur River flows between the royal road and the citadel, thus preventing direct access to the upper town from the southeast.[50] A second bridge was built downstream, but its precise location is not indicated in the texts. To control the flow of the waters of the Ḫusur River, Sennacherib had aqueducts built.[51] Work on one of the bridges and on the aqueducts is first attested in 700 and 699 respectively.

The City Squares and Streets, and the Royal Road

Throughout his reign, Sennacherib boasts that he broadened the squares, streets, and alleys of Nineveh, thus brightening the city.[52] As part of his transformation of the lower town, Sennacherib created a fifty-two-cubit-wide royal road that ran through the city. That road may have run north from the Aššur Gate in the south wall, east past the armory and the citadel, to the Sîn Gate (formerly the Gate of the Gardens) at the western end of the north wall.[53] To prevent future encroachment, he erected inscribed and sculpted steles on both sides of the roadway. Reports of that project are known from texts composed ca. 693–691.

The Moat

In inscriptions composed ca. 693–691, Sennacherib boasts of widening Nineveh's moat to a width of one hundred large cubits.[54]

The Citadel Wall

Very little is known about work on the citadel wall since few contemporary texts refer to its rebuilding; Ashurbanipal credits Sennacherib as a previous builder, but does not describe his grandfather's work.[55] Sennacherib claims to have raised its summit as high as a mountain and to have reinforced its base with limestone. As part of the renovations, its gates were presumably rebuilt; at least one gate is mentioned as being opposite a bridge that crossed over the Ḫusur River. Work on the citadel wall was in progress in 699.

The Citadel Temples

Early in his reign (ca. 702), Sennacherib sponsored the renovation of several temples in Nineveh's citadel. Among these were the temples of Sîn, Ningal, Šamaš, Aya, and the Lady of Nineveh (= Ištar/Mullissu).[56] Sennacherib also renovated a shrine of the god Ḫaya (the god of scribes), but it is uncertain whether this sanctuary was part of the Nabû temple Ezida ("True House") or was located elsewhere (possibly in Aššur).[57]

The Armory

After the completion of the "Palace Without a Rival," or shortly before work on that palace was finished, Sennacherib began rebuilding and enlarging the armory, a large building south of the citadel and next to the western city wall that he referred to as the "Rear Palace" (ekal kutalli) and occasionally as the "Review Palace" (ekal māšarti).[58] The work may have begun in 691, as suggested by the earliest known sources for that project, and probably continued for several years, at least until 688 or 687.[59] Sennacherib razed the former armory — which he complained was too small, poorly constructed, and dilapidated — made fallow land in its vicinity suitable for building, and constructed its replacement on a high brick terrace. The new "Rear Palace" comprised two wings and a large outer courtyard. One wing was built in the Syrian style, while another was built in the Assyrian style. Timber for its roof and doors was supplied by kings of Amurru (the West). Bull colossi, sculpted from white limestone hewn in the region of the city Balāṭāya, were stationed in its gateways. Statues of sphinxes bore cedar columns; other monumental bronze protective figures (including lamassus) and decorative elements adorned its rooms and gates. The outer courtyard was designed so that horses and other animals could be exercised there. In addition, Sennacherib had a structure with four copper pillars and a cedar roof constructed; this may have been the very spot where the king sat when reviewing troops and animals, tribute, and prisoners.

A New Akītu-house

Sennacherib had a new akītu-house built to the north of the Nergal Gate (ca. 690).[60] Ešaḫulezenzagmukam ("House of Joy and Gladness for the Festival of the Beginning of the Year") was intended to replace the existing akītu-house, which after the completion of the new city wall was now situated inside Nineveh. The new temple was probably constructed in connection with his religious reforms. It is possible that this project was abandoned before its completion.[61] Sometime after the destruction of Babylon in 689, Sennacherib may have decided to construct another akītu-house for the god Aššur in the outskirts of Aššur; this may explain why Ashurbanipal rebuilt the former, original akītu-house, and not Ešaḫulezenzagmukam.

Other Projects at Nineveh

Prism fragments (text no. 33) discovered in a palatial building excavated about 600 m northeast of Nebi Yunus attest to another project of Sennacherib at Nineveh. Since those inscriptions have not yet been published, we do not know the function of that building.


44 Text no. 1 line 87, text no. 2 line 64, text no. 3 line 57, text no. 4 line 85, text no. 15 vii 10–13, text no. 16 vii 17–21, and text no. 17 vii 53–57. See Frahm, Sanherib p. 276 for references in texts not included in this volume. For a discussion on the location of the parks, gardens, and orchards, see Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) pp. 403–405 §11.6 with figs. 6–8. For the opinion that Sennacherib's "replica of Mount Amanus" was the origin of the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" story, see Dalley, Iraq 56 (1994) pp. 45–58; and Dalley, HSAO 6 pp. 19–24. See also Dalley, Studies D. Oates pp. 67–73; and K.P. Foster, Iraq 66 (2004) pp. 207–220. For some critical reviews of Dalley's proposal, see Reade, Iraq 62 (2000) pp. 195–217; and Bichler and Rollinger, Studies Schretter pp. 153–218.

45 Text no. 1 line 88, text no. 2 line 65, text no. 3 line 58, text no. 4 line 86, text no. 8 line 1', text no. 15 viii 2'–11', text no. 16 viii 3–15, and text no. 17 viii 16–21. For additional references, see Frahm, Sanherib p. 276.

46 Text no. 1 lines 89–90, text no. 2 lines 66–67, text no. 3 lines 58–60, text no. 4 lines 87–88, text no. 8 lines 2'–3', text no. 15 viii 12'–19', text no. 16 viii 15–23, text no. 17 viii 22–30, and text no. 18 viii 1'–5'. See Frahm, Sanherib p. 276 for references in texts not included in this volume. For a detailed study of Sennacherib's waterworks program at Nineveh, see Bagg, Assyrische Wasserbauten pp. 169–224.

47 Text no. 8 lines 5'–6', text no. 15 viii 1''–3'', text no. 16 viii 29–44, text no. 17 viii 46–49 and 56–59, and text no. 18 viii 7''–17''a. For additional references, see Frahm, Sanherib p. 276. Reade (RLA 9/5–6 [2000] p. 406 §11.7) proposes that the Ḫusur valley east of the city wall, where there were massive dams, was an appropriate location for the creation of a marsh, noting that the river was controlled by one well-preserved dam just below al-Ǧīla, at least two more upstream of Nineveh's wall, and another dam at the city wall.

48 Text no. 17 viii 31–42.

49 Text no. 18 viii 6'–12' records the digging of several new canals near/from the cities Girmua and Ālum-labir. Work at Ḫinnis-Bavian and on the Jerwan aqueduct will be discussed in the introduction of Part 2.

50 Text no. 4 line 90, text no. 7 line 4', text no. 8 line 16', text no. 15 viii 1', and text no. 16 vii 85–viii 3a. Stonework located at two places on the Ḫusur River may derive from bridges: one is a little upstream of Kuyunjik and the other is just inside the east city wall. The former stonework is probably the ruins of the bridge opposite a gate of the citadel, while the latter stonework is likely the ruins of the bridge just inside the city wall, by the Mullissu Gate. For further details, see Scott and MacGinnis, Iraq 52 (1990) p. 67 and p. 73 fig. 4.

51 Text no. 8 line 15' and text no. 16 vii 81–84.

52 Text no. 1 line 91, text no. 2 line 68, text no. 3 line 61, text no. 4 line 89, text no. 7 line 3', text no. 8 line 14', text no. 15 viii 29'b–31', text no. 16 vii 76b–80, text no. 17 viii 13–14, text no. 18 vii 49'–52', and text no. 38 lines 13–16.

53 Text no. 18 vii 50'–52' and text no. 38 lines 15–16 and 19b–23. The discovery of paving stones midway between the Nergal Gate and the northern end of the citadel may be evidence for the royal road north of the citadel mound. S. Lumsden (ICAANE Proceedings 1 pp. 817–818 and p. 825 fig. 1), based on his work in the lower town in 1989–90 (Lumsden, Mar Šipri 4 [1991] pp. 1–3; and Stronach and Lumsden, BiAr 55 [1992] p. 229), proposes that the royal road ran north to the Nergal Gate, and not northwest to the Sîn Gate. He also proposes that such a road would have entered the city from the east, through the Šamaš Gate, Nineveh's largest city gate.

54 Text no. 18 vii 19b–22 and text no. 38 lines 18–19a. The moat is clearly visible only on the northern and eastern sides of Nineveh, about 80 m outside of the city wall. It is 70 m wide and 10 m deep (after erosion). A relief from the South-West Palace (Layard, Discoveries p. 231) may show the southwestern corner of the wall with the moat. See Frahm, Sanherib p. 99 and Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) p. 390 fig. 1 and p. 400 fig. 5.

55 The concluding formulae of text no. 7 and K 2662+ (Frahm, Sanherib p. 198) mention the citadel wall. Text no. 18 vii 11b–19a may describe its rebuilding. For the Ashurbanipal inscriptions, see Borger, BIWA p. 118 Prism D viii 64–75 and p. 183 Prism E Stück 18 lines 4–8. BM 124938, a relief depicting Nineveh, shows the city walls of Nineveh, including the citadel wall. See Frahm, Sanherib p. 99 and Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) p. 398 fig. 3.

56 Text no. 36 rev. 3'–14'. Because the building report of this inscription is badly damaged, it is not possible to determine with certainty how many temples Sennacherib claims to have rebuilt in this text. It is possible that this inscription recorded the renovation of four, five, or even six different temples, all of which are said to have been built/renovated by Ashurnasirpal II (883–859). E. Frahm (Sanherib pp. 107 and 273) raises the possibility that Sennacherib may have worked on the Sebetti temple ca. 688, but this is not certain. For further information, see the commentary to text no. 24 and the on-page note to vi 17'–18' of that inscription.

57 Text no. 10 lines 11–19.

58 Text no. 22 vi 36–73a, text no. 23 vi 31–53a, text no. 25 ii' 1'–12', text no. 34 lines 55b–90, and probably text no. 35 lines 10''–15''. The building, which is buried within the small mound now called Nebi Yunus ("Prophet Jonah"), has an important Muslim shrine on top of it and therefore has not been fully explored or excavated. According to tradition, as the name of the mound suggests, Jonah was buried there; when the tomb of Ḥnanīšō was opened in 1349, the body inside was identified as that prophet. Parts of the site, mostly along the edges of the mound, however, have been exposed and explored. For finds in this area (with references to previous literature), see Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) pp. 419–420 §15.2. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal continued work on the armory. For descriptions of their work, see Leichty, RINAP 4 pp. 22–25 Esarhaddon 1 v 40–vi 43 and pp. 33–34 Esarhaddon 2 iv 32–vi 9; and Borger, BIWA p. 117 Prism B viii 64–72 and p. 163 Prism C x 88–97.

59 We are unable to accurately estimate the length of time it took to rebuild the armory since there is a general lack of extant inscriptions from Nineveh after Sennacherib's 17th regnal year (688). This project may have been completed ca. 688/687, finished several years after that (ca. 686–684), or may have been unfinished at the time of his death in 681.

60 Text no. 37. For evidence that there were two akītu-houses at Nineveh, see Frahm, NABU 2000 pp. 75–79 no. 66.

61 Frahm, JCSMS 3 (2008) p. 17.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Building Activities at Nineveh, Part 2', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

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