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NINEVEH (Heb. נִינְוֶה; Akk. Ninua, Ninâ; in Mari Ninuwa; Ar. Ninawa), the capital of the Assyrian empire from Sennacherib's time on, situated about 1 mi. (about 1½ km.) E. of the Tigris, opposite modern Mosul. Since the cuneiform for Nineveh (Ninâ) is a fish within a house, it has been suggested that the name of the city was derived from that of a goddess associated with fish, but it seems that it is of Hurrian origin. From the Akkadian period on, the city was dedicated to the "Ishtar of Nineveh."

The ancient citadel of Nineveh was situated on a hill known today as Quyunjiq ("Little Lamb") and located near the center of the western region of the city. On the hill there were also the Assyrian royal palaces and the temples. South of this citadel is a smaller tell, called Nebi Yūnis ("the Prophet Jonah"), where, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Jonah is buried, and on which is a large mosque. The city, however, extended over a much larger area.

Archaeological excavations were conducted in the city for about a century, mainly by the British (beginning in 1842). The excavations of 1932 (by M.E.L. Mallowan) laid the foundations for the study of the prehistory of northern Mesopotamia, the city thus becoming a key site for a knowledge and understanding of the prehistoric period.


The investigation made during the 1932 excavations of Quyunjiq down to its virgin soil uncovered the tell's earliest stratum, which contains remnants of the Hassuna culture and has been assigned to about 5000–4500 b.c.e.

One of the earliest pieces of written evidence is an inscription of Narâm-Sin of the Akkadian dynasty (2291–2255 b.c.e.). Hammurapi king of Babylonia mentions the city in the introduction to his code of laws as the site of a temple of Ishtar. At the beginning of the 14th century b.c.e. Nineveh belonged to Mitanni. Tushratta king of Mitanni sent the image of "Ishtar of Nineveh" (identified with the Hurrian goddess Šauška) twice to Egypt to heal Amenophis iii, his ally and in-law. Subsequently, Nineveh reverted to Assyrian rule, since the Assyrian king Ashur-uballiṭ (1364–1329 b.c.e.) stated that he rebuilt the temple of Ishtar which, according to indications, was renovated a number of times between the 13th and ninth centuries b.c.e. Individual bricks, inscribed with the builders' names and with dedicatory inscriptions that have been brought to light, attest to the existence of several palaces built during these centuries. The earliest palace of which actual remains have been uncovered is that of Ashurnaṣirpal ii (883–859 b.c.e.).

The city reached its zenith toward the end of the eighth century b.c.e., when it was in effect reconstructed during the reign of Sennacherib (705–681 b.c.e.) and became the capital of the Assyrian empire. Near the city – and in fact within its limits – Sennacherib planted a botanical garden with trees from all parts of the empire, among them vines and fruit-bearing trees. Magnificent spacious palaces were erected in the city. In the southwestern corner of the site, Sennacherib built a new palace to replace the earlier smaller one that had been there, and called it "the palace which has no equal." Today it is known as "the southwestern palace." On most of the walls of the halls, reliefs have been found depicting scenes from the building of the palace as well as war scenes, including the siege of *Lachish (found in Hall xxxvi). In the disorders that broke out upon the death of Sennacherib, part of his palace was apparently burned down and left in ruins for about 40 years. On the smaller tell (Nebi Yūnis), Esarhaddon (681–669 b.c.e.) built himself a palace. Ashurbanipal (668–627 b.c.e.) reestablished his residence on the main tell (Quyunjiq). Not content with merely renovating and embellishing the palace of Sennacherib, his grandfather, he built his own palace at the extremity of the tell. It was explored in the course of the excavation of Quyunjik, 1853–54, and reliefs portraying scenes from various battles and representing Assyrian art at its zenith were uncovered. Ashurbanipal's greatest achievement was the establishment of a vast royal library in the city, containing several thousand cuneiform documents in the fields of literature and ritual, science and mythology, lexicography, astronomy, and history, as well as economic documents, letters, and state contracts.

At the end of Ashurbanipal's reign, the royal residence was apparently transferred from Nineveh and established, according to one view, in Harran. Nineveh was captured, plundered, and destroyed in the summer of 612 b.c.e. by the forces of the Median and Babylonian empires, and became a desolate heap. The site itself was later occupied again until the Mongol invasion of the 14th century.

In the Bible

According to the Table of the Nations, Nineveh was established – together with other principal centers in Mesopotamia – in the days of *Nimrod (Gen. 10:10–12). In the Book of Jonah (3:3) it is referred to as "an exceedingly great city, three days' journey" (from one end to the other). A subsequent verse (4:11) tells that its infant population alone numbered "more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons." Even if this is somewhat exaggerated, it is probable that the number of Nineveh's inhabitants at the pinnacle of its greatness in the seventh century b c.e. was indeed extremely large (see *Jonah).

In ii Kings 19:36–37 (and in the parallel passage in Isa. 37:37–38), Nineveh is mentioned as the city to which Sennacherib returned after his failure to capture Jerusalem, and in which he was murdered by his sons.

Two contemporary prophets, *Zephaniah (2:13ff.) and *Nahum, prophesied the destruction of Nineveh.

[Yuval Kamrat]

In the Aggadah

Nineveh was a huge city, covering 40 square parasangs and containing a million and a half persons. The "six score thousand persons" alluded to in Jonah 4:11 refer to the population of only one of the 12 districts into which the city was divided. The voice of the prophet Jonah was so stentorian that it reached every corner of the city and all who heard his words resolved to turn aside from their ungodly ways (Mid. Jonah, 99–100, in A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1 (19382)). Under the leadership of their king, the people of Nineveh justly compelled God's mercy to descend upon them. The king of Nineveh was the pharaoh of the Exodus, who had been installed by the angel Gabriel. Seized with fear and terror he covered himself with sackcloth and ashes and with his own mouth made proclamation and published this decree through Nineveh: "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste anything, let them not feed nor drink water, for know that there is no God beside Him in all the world; all His words are truth, and all His judgments are true and faithful" (Yal. Ex. 176). The repentance of the people of Nineveh was sincere. They held their infants heavenward, crying, "For the sake of these innocent babes hear our prayers." They separated the young of their cattle from their dams and both began to bellow. Then the Ninevites cried, "If Thou wilt not have mercy on us, we will not have mercy upon these beasts" (Ta'an. 16a; Mid. Jonah 100–2). The penitence of the people of Nineveh manifested itself not only in fasting and praying, but also in deeds. If a man had usurped another's property, he would return it, even at the cost of leveling his castle in order to restore a stolen beam to its owner (Ta'an. 16a). Others publicly confessed their secret sins and declared themselves willing to submit to their punishment. According to the Palestinian amoraim, however, the repentance of the Ninevites was not sincere (tj, Ta'an. 2:1, 65b). After 40 days they departed again from the path of piety and became more sinful than ever. Then the punishment foretold by Jonah overtook them and they were swallowed by the earth (pdre 43). The attitude of the Palestinian aggadists in their evaluation of the repentance of the Ninevites may have been a reaction to Christian criticism of the Jews for their stubbornness in not following the example set by the people of Nineveh.


A.H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (1849); idem, Nineveh and Babylon (1967); H. Rassam, Ashur and the Land of Nimrod (1897); R. Buka, Die Topographie Nínewes (1915); Luckenbill, Records, 2 (1926), 417–22; R.C. Thompson and R.W. Hutchinson, A Century of Excavation at Nineveh (1929); R. Dhorme, in: rhr, 110 (1934), 140–56; C.J. Gadd, The Stones of Assyria (1936); A. Parrot, Nineveh et l'Ancien Testament (1955); R.W. Ehrich, Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (1965), index. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 250–3;6 (1928), 350–2; E. Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1950), 118–22.


views updated May 11 2018


Ancient city of Assyria and its capital under the last kings of the Assyrian Empire. Its position on the eastern bank of the Tigris (opposite modern Mosul) where this river is joined by the Khosar River made the site a natural fortress, for water from the latter stream, which ran through the center of the city, could be diverted to fill the moats on the north, east, and south sides of the city. The massive walls that were erected in the last period of the city's existence (seventh century b.c.) enclosed an irregular-shaped area of c. 1,800 acres; the wall on the north was c. 7,000 feet long, on the east c. 3 miles long, on the south c. 1,000 feet long, and on the west (along the Tigris) c. 2 1/2 miles long. Two large mounds on the western side now stand out over the ruins of the rest of the city: that of Nebi Yūnus (the Prophet Jonah), on which is the reputed tomb of Jonah, formerly a Nestorian shrine, but now Muslim, and that of Quyunjik (little lamb).

The site of Nineveh (Akkadian Ninua and Ninâ; Heb. nîn ewēh ) was occupied from at least 3800 b.c. until the time of its utter destruction by the Medes and Babylonians in 612 b.c. Although earlier Assyrian kings, who regularly resided at Assur (Asshur) or Calah (modern Khorsabad), had often used Nineveh as a secondary capital, it was only during the most glorious period of Assyrian history under the last three rulers of the Assyrian EmpireSennacherib (705682), Asarhaddon (681670), and Assurbanipal (669c. 633)that Nineveh became the sole capital.

Although the native Arabic-speaking people still call this immense field of ruins Ninawa, as they have apparently done for centuries, the Western world, even in Greco-Roman times, did not know where the famous city lay. The site was first clearly identified and made known to the Western world by C. J. Rich in 1821. The sacred nature of the mound of Nebi Yūnus, which covers the palace of Sennacherib, has prevented extensive excavation from being made there; but the mound of Quyunjik, with its palaces of Asarhaddon and Assurbanipal, has been subjected to repeated excavations. The earlier excavations were merely treasure hunts, which were extremely successful in sensational finds of sculptures and inscriptions; it is only in the 20th century that the site has been scientifically excavated, with careful regard for the archeological strata and the pottery so useful for chronology. Almost all of the inscriptions (especially cuneiform tablets), as well as most of the sculptures found at Nineveh, are now in the British Museum. The excavations were made here by P. E. Botta (1842), A. H. Layard (184547, 184951), H. Rawlinson (185355), H. Rassam (1854 and 187783, when he discovered Assurbanipal's great library of cuneiform tablets), G. A. Smith (187374), E. A. Wallis Budge (188889), L. W. King (1902). R. Campbell Thomson (192728), and the latter with M. Mallowan (192932).

In the Bible, Nineveh is said to have been built by Nimrod (Gn 10.11). Sennacherib returned home there after his failure to capture Jerusalem (2 Kgs 19.36; Is 37.37). zephaniah foretold the destruction of Nineveh (Zep 2.1215), and the whole Book of nahum is a vivid description of its capture by the Medes and Babylonians. Jonah is said to have preached to the people of Nineveh, "the great city" (Jon 1.2; 3.110; 4.11), and Jesus referred to their repentance as a model for the men of His own time (Mt 12.41; Lk 11.32). tobit is portrayed as living in this city with his fellow exiles (Tb 1.3; 7.3; 11.1;14.4, 15).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 164445. m. rutten et al., Dictionnaire de la Bible,, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 6:480506, r. c. thompson and r. w. hutchinson, A Century of Exploration at Nineveh (London 1929). a. parrot, Nineveh and the Old Testament, tr. b. e. hooke (Studies in Biblical Archaeology 3; New York 1955; London 1956). s. a. pallis, The Antiquity of Iraq (Copenhagen 1956).

[l. a. bushinski]


views updated May 14 2018

Nineveh Capital of ancient Assyria, on the River Tigris (opposite modern Mosul, Iraq). First occupied in the 6th millennium bc, Nineveh became the Assyrian capital under Sennacherib (r.704–681 bc). The city walls were more than 12km (7.5mi) long, and contained gardens irrigated by canals. Nineveh was sacked by the Medes in 612 bc, but continued to be occupied until the Middle Ages.


views updated May 23 2018

Nineveh an ancient city located on the east bank of the Tigris, opposite the modern city of Mosul, to which Jonah was sent to preach. It was the oldest city of the ancient Assyrian empire and its capital during the reign of Sennacherib until it was destroyed by a coalition of Babylonians and Medes in 612 bc.

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