About 88 km S-SW of Mosul,
in the westernmost part of ancient Assyria, somewhat
W of the right bank of the Tigris. Hatra was the capital
of a semi-independent frontier principality chiefly of
Semitic, Aramaic-speaking population. It flourished as a
caravan city on the route between the Persian Gulf and
N Syria during the first two and a half centuries A.D.
and was normally in the orbit of the rulers of Persia.
Hatra's considerable archaeological importance derives
from its position on the border between the Classical and
the Iranian worlds: Hatran art and architecture (the
sculpture is particularly significant) show the influence of
both. Trajan and Septimius Severus both besieged the
town without success (Dio Cass. 68.31; Amm. Marc.
25.8.5); later, after a brief period as an ally of Rome,
it fell to the Sassanians under Shapur I (ca. A.D. 245).
The site was deserted when Ammianus saw it in 363.
What can be seen is chiefly later Parthian in date (1st
and 2d c. A.D.). A defensive ditch and towered wall (of
circular plan, probably in imitation of Ctesiphon) enclose ca. 320 ha. There is no regular street plan. The
houses, built around courtyards, are of crude brick; each
has an iwan
(a vaulted chamber or hall with one side
open to a court). At the center of the city was a walled
rectangular enclosure (ca. 300 x 450 m), pierced by
seven gates and divided into two unequal parts by a
transverse wall. Within this precinct were a number of
sanctuaries, each of one or more iwans, and perhaps the
city administrative center as well.
The chief monument in the enclosure is a great Temple
to Shamash, the god of the sun (formerly called the
palace, but inscriptions found in it would seem to guarantee its religious function). One inscription records that
it was under construction in A.D. 77. The plan is Parthian,
the structure Romano-Syrian. Major and minor iwans,
the largest spanning ca. 21 m, were vaulted with stone
voussoirs, and the walls are of dressed stone facing
mortared rubble cores; it is the only known building of
this period in Mesopotamia to be constructed in this
manner. Molding forms appear that are common to
Hatra and Baalbek. Capitals specifically Ionic and Corinthian were used, and there is a garlanded frieze featuring
the forequarters of bulls and lions that is unmistakably
of Achaemenid origin. Next to the Shamash iwans is a
fire temple or platform of square plan with vaulted galleries around it.
The synthetic nature, however creative, of Hatran art
is seen also in the sculpture (relief, freestanding, and
items of personal adornment). Greek, Neo-Iranian, and
Roman Imperial elements mingle here, though the eastern
mode predominates (frontality, stylization, patterning).
This sculpture can be seen chiefly in the Iraqi Museum
at Baghdad and in the Mosul Museum.
W. Andrae, Hatra
, 2 vols. (1908-12)MPI
VII (1912) 2516-23; H. Ingholt, Parthian Sculptures
; J. Bradford, Ancient Landscapes
3 (1960) 1116-22I
; R. Ghirshman,
Iran: Parthians and Sassanians
Homès-Fredericq, Hatra et les sculptures Parthes
J. B. Ward Perkins, “The Roman West and the Parthian
51 (1965) 175-99I
. See also the journals Sumer
W. L. MACDONALD