Canals and Aqueducts

Sennacherib spent a great deal of time and effort creating an extensive system of canals that brought water not only to his capital Nineveh, but also to other cities in the northern part of the Assyrian heartland.[72] Early in his reign (ca. 702–700), Sennacherib built a canal from the city Kisiru to the plain of Nineveh; the distance from Kisiru to the Ḫusur River (mod. Khosr) was one and a half leagues (ca. 13.4 km).[73] Sometime between 700 and 694, a more substantial irrigation system was needed in the area of Nineveh 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 that river, thus making it possible to irrigate fields upstream and downstream of Nineveh all year long.[74] Ca. 691–688, Sennacherib had numerous canals, all presumably part of two systems (the so-called Northern and Khinnis Systems), dug in order to bring water to Nineveh and other important Assyrian cities. In inscriptions carved at Bavian (the head of the Khinnis System), Sennacherib boasts that he had eighteen canals — including the three from Dūr-Ištar, Šibaniba, and Sulu — dug, taking their water to the Ḫusur River; he also dug another canal, the Patti-Sennacherib ("Sennacherib's Canal"), from Mount Tas on the border of Urartu.[75] The Khinnis System, whose construction is recorded in the Bavian Inscription (text no. 223) and in a few of the inscriptions from Jerwan (text nos. 226–227), stretched 90 km from the gorge just northeast of the village Khinnis to the city Kisiru, via the Jerwan aqueduct; the canal's initial 55 km needed to be excavated, but the final 34 km utilized the natural riverbed of the Ḫusur River.[76] The Northern System, whose construction is not described in extant inscriptions of Sennacherib, is a series of canals that may be part of a single system; the interconnectivity of the individual canals has yet to be established through archaeological surveys and fieldwork.[77] The so-called Northern System appears to have brought water from the northwest down the Wadi al-Milh to Tarbiṣu, and then Nineveh, via Bahanadawaya, Gir-e pan, Faida, and possibly Maltai.

Sennacherib also constructed a system of canals that brought water to Arbela, one of the main cult centers of the goddess Ištar (text no. 229).


72 Text no. 1 lines 89–90, text no. 2 lines 66–67, text no. 3 lines 59–60, text no. 4 lines 87–88, text no. 8 lines 2'–3', text no. 15 viii 12'–19', text no. 16 viii 15b–23, text no. 17 viii 22–30, text no. 18 viii 1'–5', text no. 42 lines 43'b–46'a, text no. 43 lines 94b–96a, text no. 46 lines 154b–156, text no. 138 rev. ii' 24–30, text no. 154 rev. 1'–6'a, text no. 155 rev. 1'–12', text no. 223 lines 5b–34a, text nos. 226–227, and text no. 229. See, for example, Bagg, Assyrische Wasserbauten pp. 169–229; Dalley, Hanging Garden pp. 83–105; Frahm, Sanherib pp. 275–276; Jacobsen and Lloyd, OIP 24; D. Oates, Northern Iraq pp. 49–52; Reade, RA 72 (1978) pp. 61–72 and 157–170; Reade, RLA 9/5–6 (2000) pp. 404–407 §11.7; and Ur, Iraq 67/1 (2005) pp. 317–345.

73 A "league" (Akk. bēru) is generally thought to be 10.8 km (Powell, RLA 7/5–6 [1989] p. 467), but the Neo-Assyrian bēru used by Sennacherib may have been 8.93 km (Ur, Iraq 67/1 [2005] p. 322 n. 8). T. Jacobsen identified Kisiru with Tell Inthat, but J. Reade has argued that it is the dam now known as al-Shallalat, which is located near the village Beybokh. J. Ur (Iraq 67/1 [2005] p. 322) notes that the Kisiru canal could have irrigated a maximum area of 11.8 km2.

74 J. Reade (RA 72 [1978] pp. 68–72; and RLA 9/5–6 [2000] p. 407 §11.7) has suggested that traces of one of the canal heads may be visible at Baʾzani, near Šibaniba, and that the project could have had its origins in canals dug by Sargon II for Dūr-Šarrukīn. As pointed out by several scholars, the logical point of confluence with the Ḫusur River would be via the Wadi Gamtar, which is in the vicinity of the village al-Ğīla; see Ur, Iraq 67/1 (2005) p. 323 (with references to earlier literature).

75 The cities listed in text no. 223 lines 8–10 are: Masitu, Banbakabna (Banbarina), Šapparišu, Kār-Šamaš-nāṣir, Kār-nūri, Talmusu, Ḫatâ, Dalāyin, Rēš-ēni, Sulu, Dūr-Ištar, Šibaniba, Isparirra, Gingiliniš, Nampagātu, Tīlu, Alumṣusi, and Ḫadabitu. Text no. 18 viii 6'–12' name canals dug from the cities Girmua and Ālum-labir, and text no. 226 states that canals were dug from the cities Ḫanusa and Gammagara. Despite Sennacherib's claims, not all of the canals were connected to the Ḫusur River; see Ur, Iraq 67/1 (2005) pp. 325–335.

76 Ur, Iraq 67/1 (2005) pp. 335–339. Sennacherib states that the Patti-Sennacherib was dug by only a small number of men and completed within fifteen months; see text no. 223 lines 23b–26. S. Lloyd (Jacobsen and Lloyd, OIP 24 p. 6) estimates that more than two million stones were used in the construction of the Jerwan aqueduct.

77 J. Ur (Iraq 67/1 [2005] p. 326) correctly notes that the current reconstruction of the Northern System is a "product of modern scholarship rather than a documented ancient entity." The canals making up this system may be among the eighteen canals named in text no. 223, assuming that these canals were constructed before the Khinnis System. The total length of the reconstructed Northern System is 46.4 km, with the longest segment being the Tarbiṣu Canal, which is 23.1 km long; see Ur, Iraq 67/1 (2005) pp. 325–335 and p. 340 Table 1.

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny

A. Kirk Grayson & Jamie Novotny, 'Canals and Aqueducts', RINAP 3: Sennacherib, The RINAP 3 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2019 []

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