Nineveh was an ancient Mesopotamian city located in modern day Iraq; it is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria itself, it was sacked by an unusual coalition of former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians in 612 BC. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq. …
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and, by 3000 BC, had become an important religious center for worship of the Akkadian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) were constructed on a fault line and, consequently, suffered damage from a number of earthquakes. One such event destroyed the first temple of Ishtar, which was then rebuilt in 2260 BC by the Akkadian king Manishtusu. …
It was Sennacherib who made Nineveh a truly magnificent city (c. 700 BC). He laid out new streets and squares and built within it the famous “palace without a rival”, the plan of which has been mostly recovered and has overall dimensions of about 503 by 242 metres (1,650 ft × 794 ft). It comprised at least 80 rooms, many of which were lined with sculpture. A large number of cuneiform tablets were found in the palace. The solid foundation was made out of limestone blocks and mud bricks; it was 22 metres (72 ft) tall. In total, the foundation is made of roughly 2,680,000 cubic metres (3,505,308 cu yd) of brick (approximately 160 million bricks). The walls on top, made out of mud brick, were an additional 20 metres (66 ft) tall. Some of the principal doorways were flanked by colossal stone door figures weighing up to 30,000 kilograms (30 t); they included many winged lions or bulls with a man’s head. These were transported 50 kilometres (31 mi) from quarries at Balatai and they had to be lifted up 20 metres (66 ft) once they arrived at the site, presumably by a ramp. There are also 3,000 metres (9,843 ft) of stone panels carved in bas-relief, that include pictorial records documenting every construction step including carving the statues and transporting them on a barge. One picture shows 44 men towing a colossal statue. The carving shows three men directing the operation while standing on the Colossus. Once the statues arrived at their destination, the final carving was done. Most of the statues weigh between 9,000 and 27,000 kilograms (19,842 and 59,525 lb).
The stone carvings in the walls include many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib’s men parading the spoils of war before him. He also bragged about his conquests: he wrote of Babylon: “Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city.” He later wrote about a battle in Lachish: “And Hezekiah of Judah who had not submitted to my yoke…him I shut up in Jerusalem his royal city like a caged bird. Earthworks I threw up against him, and anyone coming out of his city gate I made pay for his crime. His cities which I had plundered I had cut off from his land.”
Some scholars believe that the Garden which Sennacherib built next to his palace, with its associated irrigation works, comprised the original Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Nineveh’s greatness was short-lived. In around 627 BC, after the death of its last great king Ashurbanipal, the Neo-Assyrian empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars, and in 616 BC Assyria was attacked by its former vassals, the Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians. In about 616 BC Kalhu was sacked, the allied forces eventually reached Nineveh, besieging and sacking the city in 612 BC, following bitter house-to-house fighting, after which it was razed to the ground. Most of the people in the city who could not escape to the last Assyrian strongholds in the north and west were either massacred or deported out of the city and into the countryside. Many unburied skeletons were found by the archaeologists at the site. The Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC; the Medes and Babylonians dividing its colonies between them. …
Before the great archaeological excavations in the 19th century, there was almost no historical knowledge of the great Assyrian empire and of its magnificent capital. Other cities that had perished, such as Palmyra, Persepolis, and Thebes, had left ruins to mark their sites and tell of their former greatness; but of this city, imperial Nineveh, not a single vestige seemed to remain, and the very place on which it had stood became only a matter of conjecture.
In the days of the Greek historians Ctesias and Herodotus, 400 BC, Nineveh had become a thing of the past; and when Xenophon the historian passed the place in the Retreat of the Ten Thousand the very memory of its name had been lost. It was buried out of sight.