First mentioned in Genesis 10:11, which is rendered in the Revised Version, "He [i.e., Nimrod] went forth into Assyria and builded Nineveh." It is not again noticed till the days of Jonah, when it is described (Jonah 3:3; 4:11) as a great and populous city, the flourishing capital of the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 19:36; Isaiah 37:37). The book of the prophet Nahum is almost exclusively taken up with prophetic denunciations against this city. Its ruin and utter desolation are foretold (Nahum 1:14; 3:19, etc.). Zephaniah also (2:13-15) predicts its destruction along with the fall of the empire of which it was the capital. From this time there is no mention of it in Scripture till it is named in gospel history (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32).
This "exceeding great city" lay on the eastern or left bank of the river Tigris, along which it stretched for some 30 miles, having an average breadth of 10 miles or more from the river back toward the eastern hills. This whole extensive space is now one immense area of ruins. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, wealth flowed into it from many sources, so that it became the greatest of all ancient cities.
About B.C. 633 the Assyrian empire began to show signs of weakness, and Nineveh was attacked by the Medes, who subsequently, about B.C. 625, being joined by the Babylonians and Susianians, again attacked it, when it fell, and was razed to the ground. The Assyrian empire then came to an end, the Medes and Babylonians dividing its provinces between them. "After having ruled for more than six hundred years with hideous tyranny and violence, from the Caucasus and the Caspian to the Persian Gulf, and from beyond the Tigris to Asia Minor and Egypt, it vanished like a dream" (Nahum 2:6-11). Its end was strange, sudden, tragic. It was God's doing, his judgement on Assyria's pride (Isaiah 10:5-19).
Forty years ago our knowledge of the great Assyrian empire and of its magnificent capital was almost wholly a blank. Vague memories had indeed survived of its power and greatness, but very little was definitely known about it. Other cities which had perished, 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 was only matter of conjecture. In fulfilment of prophecy, God made "an utter end of the place." It became a "desolation."
In the days of the Greek historian Herodotus, B.C. 400, it 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, and no one knew its grave. It is never again to rise from its ruins.
At length, after being lost for more than two thousand years, the city was disentombed. A little more than forty years ago the French consul at Mosul began to search the vast mounds that lay along the opposite bank of the river. The Arabs whom he employed in these excavations, to their great surprise, came upon the ruins of a building at the mound of Khorsabad, which, on further exploration, turned out to be the royal palace of Sargon, one of the Assyrian kings. They found their way into its extensive courts and chambers, and brought forth form its hidded depths many wonderful sculptures and other relics of those ancient times.
The work of exploration has been carried on almost continuously by M. Botta, Sir Henry Layard, George Smith, and others, in the mounds of Nebi-Yunus, Nimrud, Koyunjik, and Khorsabad, and a vast treasury of specimens of old Assyrian art has been exhumed. Palace after palace has been discovered, with their decorations and their sculptured slabs, revealing the life and manners of this ancient people, their arts of war and peace, the forms of their religion, the style of their architecture, and the magnificence of their monarchs. The streets of the city have been explored, the inscriptions on the bricks and tablets and sculptured figures have been read, and now the secrets of their history have been brought to light.
One of the most remarkable of recent discoveries is that of the library of King Assur-bani-pal, or, as the Greek historians call him, Sardanapalos, the grandson of Sennacherib (q.v.). (See ASNAPPER.) This library consists of about ten thousand flat bricks or tablets, all written over with Assyrian characters. They contain a record of the history, the laws, and the religion of Assyria, of the greatest value. These strange clay leaves found in the royal library form the most valuable of all the treasuries of the literature of the old world. The library contains also old Accadian documents, which are the oldest extant documents in the world, dating as far back as probably about the time of Abraham. (See SARGON.)
"The Assyrian royalty is, perhaps, the most luxurious of our century [reign of Assur-bani-pa]...Its victories and conquests, uninterrupted for one hundred years, have enriched it with the spoil of twenty peoples. Sargon has taken what remained to the Hittites; Sennacherib overcame Chaldea, and the treasures of Babylon were transferred to his coffers; Esarhaddon and Assur-bani-pal himself have pillaged Egypt and her great cities, Sais, Memphis, and Thebes of the hundred gates...Now foreign merchants flock into Nineveh, bringing with them the most valuable productions from all countries, gold and perfume from South Arabia and the Chaldean Sea, Egyptian linen and glass-work, carved enamels, goldsmiths' work, tin, silver, Phoenician purple; cedar wood from Lebanon, unassailable by worms; furs and iron from Asia Minor and Armenia" (Ancient Egypt and Assyria, by G. Maspero, page 271).
The bas-reliefs, alabaster slabs, and sculptured monuments found in these recovered palaces serve in a remarkable manner to confirm the Old Testament history of the kings of Israel. The appearance of the ruins shows that the destruction of the city was due not only to the assailing foe but also to the flood and the fire, thus confirming the ancient prophecies concerning it. "The recent excavations," says Rawlinson, "have shown that fire was a great instrument in the destruction of the Nineveh palaces. Calcined alabaster, charred wood, and charcoal, colossal statues split through with heat, are met with in parts of the Nineveh mounds, and attest the veracity of prophecy."
Nineveh in its glory was (nah 3:4) an "exceeding great city of three days' journey", i.e., probably in circuit. This would give a circumference of about 60 miles. At the four corners of an irregular quadrangle are the ruins of Kouyunjik, Nimrud, Karamless and Khorsabad. These four great masses of ruins, with the whole area included within the parallelogram they form by lines drawn from the one to the other, are generally regarded as composing the whole ruins of Nineveh.
Capital of the Assyrian empire
Contained a population of upwards of one hundred and twenty thousand when Jonah preached
Nahum prophesies against
Zephaniah foretells the desolation of
(abode of Ninus), the capital of the ancient kingdom and empire of Assyria. The name appears to be compounded from that of an Assyrian deity "Nin," corresponding, it is conjectured, with the Greek Hercules, and occurring in the names of several Assyrian kings, as in "Ninus," the mythic founder, according to Greek tradition of the city. Nineveh is situated on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, 50 miles from its mouth and 250 miles north of Babylon. It is first mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with the primitive dispersement and migrations of the human race. Asshur, or according to the marginal reading, which is generally preferred, Nimrod is there described, (Genesis 10:11) as extending his kingdom from the land of Shinar or Babylonia, in the south, to Assyria in the north and founding four cities, of which the most famous was Nineveh. Hence Assyria was subsequently known to the Jews as "the land of Nimrod," cf. (Micah 5:6) and was believed to have been first peopled by a colony from Babylon. The kingdom of Assyria and of the Assyrians is referred to in the Old Testament as connected with the Jews at a very early period, as in (Numbers 24:22,24) and Psalms 83:8 But after the notice of the foundation of Nineveh in Genesis no further mention is made of the city until the time of the book of Jonah, or the eighth century B.C. In this book no mention is made of Assyria or the Assyrians, the king to whom the prophet was sent being termed the "king of Nineveh," and his subjects "the people of Nineveh." Assyria is first called a kingdom in the time of Menahem, about B.C. 770. Nahum (? B.C. 645) directs his prophecies against Nineveh; only once against the king of Assyria. ch. (Nahum 3:18) In (2 Kings 19:36) and Isaiah 37:37 The city is first distinctly mentioned as the residence of the monarch. Sennacherib was slain there when worshipping in the temple of Nisroch his god. Zephaniah, about B.C. 630, couples the capital and the kingdom together, (Zephaniah 2:13) and this is the last mention of Nineveh as an existing city. The destruction of Nineveh occurred B.C. 606. The city was then laid waste, its monuments destroyed and its inhabitants scattered or carried away into captivity. It never rose again from its ruins. This total disappearance of Nineveh is fully confirmed by the records of profane history. The political history of Nineveh is that of Assyria, of which a sketch has already been given. [ASSYRIA, ASSHUR] Previous to recent excavations and researches, the ruins which occupied the presumed site of Nineveh seemed to consist of mere shapeless heaps or mounds of earth and rubbish. Unlike the vast masses of brick masonry which mark the site of Babylon, they showed externally no signs of artificial construction, except perhaps here and there the traces of a rude wall of sun-dried bricks. Some of these mounds were of enormous dimensions, looking in the distance rather like natural elevations than the work of men's hands. They differ greatly in form, size and height. Some are mere conical heaps, varying from 50 to 150 feet high; others have a broad flat summit, and very precipitous cliff-like sites furrowed by deep ravines worn by the winter rains. The principal ruins are
(1) The group immediately opposite Mosul, including the great mounds of Kouyunjik and Nebbi Yunus ; (2) that near the junction of the Tigris and Zab comprising the mounds of Nimroud and Athur ; (3) Khorsabad , about ten miles to the east of the former river; (4) Shereef Khan , about 5 1/2 miles to the north Kouyunjik; and (5) Selamiyah , three miles to the north of Nimroud. Discoveries.
The first traveller who carefully examined the supposed site of Nineveh was Mr. Rich formerly political agent for the East India Company at Bagdad; but his investigations were almost entirely confined to Kouyunjik and the surrounding mounds of which he made a survey in 1820. In 1843 M. Botta, the French consul at Mosul, fully explored the ruins. M. Botta's discoveries at Khorsabad were followed by those of Mr. Layard at Nimroud and Kouyunjik, made between the years 1846 and 1850. (Since then very many and important discoveries have been made at Nineveh, more especially those by George Smith, of the British Museum. He has discovered not only the buildings, but the remains of fin ancient library written on stone tablets. These leaves or tablets were from an inch to 1 foot square, made of terra-cotta clay, on which when soft the inscriptions were written; the tablets were then hardened and placed upon the walls of the library rooms, so as to cover the walls. This royal library contained over 10,000 tablets. It was begun by Shalmaneser B.C. 860; his successors added to it, and Sardanapalus (B.C. 673) almost doubled it. Stories or subjects were begun on tablets, and continued on tablets of the same size sometimes to the number of one hundred. Some of the most interesting of these give accounts of the creation and of the deluge and all agree with or confirm the Bible.
ED.) Description of remains .
The Assyrian edifices were so nearly alike in general plan, construction an decoration that one description will suffice for all, They were built upon artificial mounds or platforms, varying in height, but generally from 30 to 50 feet above the level of the surrounding country, and solidly constructed of regular layers of sun-dried bricks, as at Nimroud, or consisting merely of earth and rubbish heaped up, as at Kouyunjik. This platform was probably faced with stone masonry, remains probable which were discovered at Nimroud, and broad flights of steps or inclined ways led up to its summit. Although only the general plan of the ground-floor can now be traced, it is evident that the palaces had several stories built of wood and sun-dried bricks, which, when the building was deserted and allowed to fall to decay, gradually buried the lower chambers with their ruins, and protected the sculptured slabs from the effects of the weather. The depth of soil and rubbish above the alabaster slabs varied from a few inches to about 20 feet. It is to this accumulation of rubbish above them that the bas-reliefs owe their extraordinary preservation. The portions of the edifices still remaining consist of halls, chambers and galleries, opening for the most part into large uncovered courts. The wall above the wainscoting of alabaster was plastered, and painted with figures and ornaments. The sculptured, with the exception of the human headed lions and bulls, were for the most part in low relief, The colossal figures usually represent the king, his attendants and the gods; the smaller sculptures, which either cover the whole face of the slab or are divided into two compartments by bands of inscriptions, represent battles sieges, the chase single combats with wild beasts, religious ceremonies, etc., etc. All refer to public or national events; the hunting-scenes evidently recording the prowess and personal valor of the king as the head of the people
"the mighty hunter before the Lord." The sculptures appear to have been painted, remains of color having been found on most of them. Thus decorated without and within, the Assyrian palaces must have displayed a barbaric magnificence, not, however, devoid of a certain grandeur and beauty which probably no ancient or modern edifice has exceeded. These great edifices, the depositories of the national records, appear to have been at the same time the abode of the king and the temple of the gods. Prophecies relating to Nineveh, and illustrations of the Old Testament . These are exclusively contained in the books of Nahum and Zephaniah. Nahum threatens the entire destruction of the city, so that it shall not rise again from its ruins. The city was to be partly destroyed by fire. (Nahum 3:13,16) The gateway in the northern wall of the Kouyunjik enclosure had been destroyed by fire as well as the palaces. The population was to be surprised when unprepared- "while they are drunk as drunkards they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry " (Nahum 1:10) Diodorus states that the last and fatal assault was made when they were overcome with wine. The captivity of the inhabitants and their removal to distant provinces are predicted. (Nahum 3:18) The fullest and the most vivid and poetical picture of Nineveh's ruined and deserted condition is that given by Zephaniah, who probably lived to see its fall. (Zephaniah 2:13-15) Site of the city .
much diversity of opinion exists as to the identification of the ruins which may be properly included within the site of ancient Nineveh. According to Sir H. Rawlinson and those who concur in his interpretation of the cuneiform characters, each group of mounds already mentioned represents a separate and distinct city. On the other hand it has been conjectured, with much probability, that these groups of mounds are not ruins of separate cities, but of fortified royal residences, each combining palaces, temples, propyl'a, gardens and parks, and having its peculiar name; and that they all formed part of one great city built and added to at different periods, sad consisting of distinct quarters scattered over a very large and frequently very distant one from the other. Thus the city would be, as Layard says, in the form of a parallelogram 18 to 20 miles long by 12 to 14 wide; or, as Diodorus Siculus says, 55 miles in circumference. Writing and language .
The ruins of Nineveh have furnished a vast collection of inscriptions partly carved on marble or stone slabs and partly impressed upon bricks anti upon clay cylinders, or sixsided and eight-sided prisms, barrels and tablets, which, used for the purpose when still moist, were afterward baked in a furnace or kilo. Comp. (Ezekiel 4:4) The character employed was the arrow-headed or cuneiform
so called from each letter being formed by marks or elements resembling an arrow-head or a wedge. These inscribed bricks are of the greatest value in restoring the royal dynasties. The most important inscription hitherto discovered in connection with biblical history is that upon a pair of colossal human-headed bulls from Kouyunjik, now in the British Museum, containing the records of Sennacherib, and describing, among other events, his wars with Hezekiah. It is accompanied by a series of bas-reliefs believed to represent the siege and capture of Lachish. A list of nineteen or twenty kings can already be compiled, and the annals of the greater number of them will probably be restored to the lost history of one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world. and of one which appears to have exercised perhaps greater influence than any other upon the subsequent condition and development of civilized man. The people of Nineveh spoke a Shemitic dialect, connected with the Hebrew and with the so called Chaldee of the books of Daniel and Ezra. This agrees with the testimony of the Old Testament.