previous next


NINUS ( Νῖνος or Νίνος, Herod 1.193, 2.150; Ptol. 6.1.3; Νῖνος καὶ Νινευΐ, Ptol. 8.21.3; Νινεύη, Joseph. Ant. Jud. 9.10.2; Ninus, Tac. Ann. 12.13; Ninive, Amm. Marc. 18.7, 23.6: Eth. Νίνιος, Steph. B. sub voce a great city, and for many centuries the capital of ancient Assyria. It will be convenient to notice here such accounts as we have from the Bible and ancient historians, and then to state succinctly the curious results of the recent discoveries of Mr. Layard, Colonel Rawlinson, and other modern travellers.

I. Nineveh is first mentioned in the Bible among the eight primeval cities in Genesis (10.11), and is there stated to have been founded either by Nimrod himself, or, according to another reading, by his lieutenant, Assur, the 'ασσούρας of J. AJ 1.6.4, and the Eponynmus of Assyria. The latter view is the most agreeable to the construction of the Hebrew text. From this period we have no mention of it in Holy Scripture for more than a thousand years; and when it is noticed again, on Jonah being sent thither to preach repentance, it is described as a “city of three days' journey” (Jonah, 3.3), and as “that great city wherein are six score thousand persons, that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand.” (Jonah, 4.11.) Subsequently to this time, it is not referred to by name, except in 2 Kings, 19.37, and Isaiah, 36.37, as the residence of Sennacherib, after his return from the invasion of Judaea; in the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah, who predict its speedy downfal; and in the apocryphal books of Tobit and Judith, the former of whom long lived in the great city.

II. The earliest classical mention of Nineveh is by Herodotus, who places it on the Tigris (1.193, 2.150), but does not state on which bank it stood; in this he is confirmed by Arrian (Hist. Ind. 100.42) and Strabo, who in one place calls it the metropolis of Syria, i.e. Assyria (ii. p. 84), in another states it to have been a city more vast than even Babylon, lying in the plain of Aturia (a dialectical change of name for Assyria), beyond the Lycus (or Great Záb) with reference to Arbela (xvi. p. 737). Pliny places it on the east bank of the Tigris “ad solis occasum spectans” (6.13. s. 16); Ptolemy, along the Tigris, but without accurate definition of its position (6.1.3). The same may be said of the notice in Tacitus (Annal. 12.13), and in Ammianus, who calls it a vast city of Adiabene. On the other hand, Diodorus, professing to copy Ctesias, places it on the Euphrates (2.3, 7), which is the more remarkable, as a fragment of Nicolaus Damascenus, who has preserved a portion of Ctesias, is still extant, in which Nineveh occupies its correct position on the Tigris. (Fray. Hist. Graec. vol. iii. p. 858, ed. Müller.) It may be remarked that in much later times the name appears to have been applied to more than one town. Thus Ammianus in one passage seems to think that Hierapolis was the “vetus Ninus” (14.8). Philostratus (Vit. Apoll. Tyan. 1.19) speaks of a Ninus on this side of the Euphrates; and Eusebius, in his Chronicon, asserts, that in his time it was called Nisibis. No doubt much of the obscurity in the minds of ancient writers, both as to its position and the real history of the empire of which it was the capital, arose from the circumstance that its entire overthrow preceded the earliest of the Greek historians by nearly 200 years, and that it does not appear to have been rebuilt at any period of the classical ages. So complete was its destruction, that, though Xenophon marched within a few miles of it, lie was not aware of its existence, though, in his allusion to the “Median city of Mespila,” he doubtless is describing one of the great outworks of the Assyrian capital (Anab. 3.4.10); while, with the exception of Arrian, none of the historians of the campaigns of Alexander, who, like Xenophon, must have passed it on his way to fight the battle of Arbela, allude to it. That the ancients generally believed in its entire destruction, is clear from Pausanias, who classes it with Mycenae, Thebae, and other ruined cities (8.33.2); from Lucian (Charon. 100.23), and from Strabo (xvi. p.737). The last, indeed, has an argument that Homer, who mentions Thebes in Egypt, and the wealth of Phoenicia, could not have omitted Babylon, Nineveh, and Ecbatana, had he ever heard of them (xv. p. 735). But though so early a ruin, the ancients generally had a correct idea of the wonderful greatness of Nineveh, and many passages are scattered through the classical writers, giving a manifest proof of this belief of the people. Thus Strabo himself, as we have seen, considered Nineveh greater than Babylon (xvi. p. 737); while Diodorus has a long and exaggerated narrative of the vast extent of Ninus's capital (which, as we stated before, he places incorrectly on the Euphrates, ii. p. 7). Some curious incidental facts are preserved. Thus, the vast mound Semiramis erected as a tomb for her husband Ninus, by the river-side, is almost certainly the Pyramid at Nimrúd, though the results of Mr. Layard's last excavations have not proved that this structure was a tomb. (Diod. 2.7; comp. with Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, p. 128). Again, Amyrntas (as quoted by Athenaeus) states, that at the town of Ninus was a high mound, which was thrown down by Cyrus when he attacked the city, that this was traditionally the tomb of Sardanapalus, and had a stêle on it inscribed with Chaldaic (i. e. Assyrian), letters. (Amynt. Fragm. p. 136, ed. Müller; cf. also Polyaen. 7.25.) Nor must we omit the presence of what has been held by all numismatists to be a traditional representation of this celebrated tomb on the Tetradrachms of Antiochus VIII., king of Syria, which were struck at Tarsus, and on the imperial coins of Anchialus (both places connected with the name of Sardanapalus). Again we have the legend of Diodorus, that the Assyrians sent assistance to the Trojans against the Greeks (2.22; cf. Plat. Leg. p. 296, ed. Bekker),--the “busta Nini” of Ovid (Metam. 4.88),. though referred by him wrongly to Babylon,--and the occurrence, in several of the poets, of the name of Assaracus (now known through Colonel Rawlinson's interpretations to be a Graecized form of the genuine Assyrian Assarac, the Ἀσάραχ [p. 2.438]or Ἐσόραχ of the LXX., Rawlinson, As. Journ. 1850), as in Iliad, 20.232; Post. Homeric, 6.145; Verg. A. 5.127; Juven. Sat. 10.259, &c. It is therefore, perhaps, less remarkable, that though Nineveh had so early in history ceased to be a city of any importance, the tradition of its former existence should remain in its own country till a comparatively recent period. Thus, as we have seen, Tacitus and Ammianus allude to it, while coins exist (of the class termed by numismatists Greek Imperial) struck under the Roman emperors Claudius, Trajan, Maximinus, and Gordianus Pius, proving that, during that period, there was a Roman colony established in Assyria, bearing the name of Niniva Claudiopolis, and, in all probability, occupying its site. (Sestini, Mus. de Chaudoir, tab. ii. fig. 12, Clas. General, p. 159.) In later times the name is still extant. Thus, Ibn Athir (quoting from Beladheri, in the annals of those years) speaks of the forts of Ninawi to the east, and of Mosul to the west, of the Tigris, in the campaigns of Abd-allah Ibn Mo‘--etemer, A. H. 16 (A.D. 637), and of Otbeh Ibn Farkad, A. H. 20 (A.D. 641). (Rawlinson, As. Journ. 1850.) Again, Benjamin of Tudela, in the twelfth century, speaks of it as opposite to Mosul (Travels, p. 91, ed. Asher, 1840) ; and Abulfaraj notices it in his Hist. Dynast. (pp. 404--441) under the name of Ninue (cf. also his Chronicon, p. 464). Lastly, Assemani, in his account of the mission of Salukah, the patriarch of the Chaldaeans, to Rome, in A.D. 1552, when describing Mosul, says of it, “a qua ex altera ripae part abest Ninive bis mille passibus” (Bibl. Orient. i. p. 524). In the same work of Assemani are many notices of Nineveh, as a Christian bishoprick, first under the metropolitan of Mosul, and subsequently under the bishop of Assyria and Adiabene (Bibl. Orient. vol. ii. p. 459, vol. iii. pp. 104, 269, 344, &c.).

We have already noticed under ASSYRIA the chief points recorded in the Bible and in the classical historians relative to the history of Nineveh, and have stated that it is impossible entirely to reconcile the various conflicting statements of ancient authors. It only remains to mention here, as briefly as possible, the general results of the remarkable discoveries which, within the last few years, have thrown a flood of light upon this most obscure part of ancient history, and have, at the same time, afforded the most complete and satisfactory confirmation of those notices of Assyrian history which have been preserved in the Bible. The names of all the Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible, with the exception, perhaps, of Shalmaneser, who, however, occurs under his name in Isaiah, Sargon, are now clearly read upon the Assyrian records, besides a great many others whose titles have not as yet been identified with those in the lists preserved by the Greek and Roman chronologists.

III. It is well known that in the neighbourhood of Mosul travellers had long observed some remarkable mounds, resembling small hills; and that Mr. Rich had, thirty years ago, called attention to one called Koyunjik, in which fragments of sculpture and pottery had been frequently discovered. In the year 1843, M. Botta, the French consul at Mosul, at the suggestion of Mr. Layard, commenced his excavations,--first, with little success, at Koyunjik, and then, with much greater good fortune, in a mound called Khorsabád, a few miles NE. of Mosul. To M. Botta's success at Khorsabád the French owe all the Assyrian monuments in the collection of the Louvre. In 1845, Mr. Layard began to dig into the still greater mound of Nimnrúd, about 17 miles S. of Mosul; and was soon rewarded by the extensive and valuable collection now in the British Museum. These researches were continued by Mr. Layard during 1846 and part of 1847, and again during 1850 and 1851; together with a far more satisfactory examination of the remains at Koyunjik than had been made by M. Botta. Some other sites, too, in the neighbourhood were partially explored; but, though of undoubted Assyrian origin, they yielded little compared with the greater mounds at Nimrúd, Khorsabád, and Koyunjik. It would be foreign to the object of this work to enter into any details of the sculptured monuments which have been brought to light. A vast collection, however, of inscriptions have been disinterred during the same excavations; and from these we have been enabled by the labours of Colonel Rawlinson and Dr. Hincks to give names to many of the localities which have been explored, and to reconstruct the history of Assyria and Babylonia on a foundation more secure than the fragments of Ctesias or the history of Herodotus. It is also necessary to state that very extensive researches have been made during 1854 in Southern Babylonia by Messrs. Loftus and Taylor in mounds now called Warka and Muqueyer; and that from these and other excavations Colonel Rawlinson has received a great number of inscribed tablets, which have aided him materially in drawing up a precis of the earliest Babylonian and Assyrian history. Muqueyer he identifies as the site of the celebrated “Ur of the Chaldees.” From these various sources, Colonel Rawlinson has concluded that the true Nineveh is represented by the mounds opposite to Mosul, and probably by that one which bears the local name of the Nabi Yunas; that this city was built about the middle of the thirteenth century B.C.; and that, from it, the name of Nineveh was in after times transferred to several other sites in the neighbourhood. The great work of Nimrúd (the seat of Mr. Layard's chief labours), which it was natural, on the first extensive discoveries, to suppose was the real Nineveh, is proved beyond question by both Col. Rawlinson and Dr. Hincks to have been called by the Assyrians Calah, or Calach. We cannot doubt but that this is the Calah of Genesis (10.12), and the origin of the Calachene of Strabo (xi. p.529, xvi. p. 735), and of the Calacine of Ptolemy (6.1.2). From the inscriptions, it may be gathered that it was founded about the middle of the twelfth century B.C. The great ruin of Khorsabád (the scene of the French excavations), which has also been thought by some to have formed part of Nineveh, Colonel Rawlinson has ascertained to have been built by the Sargon of Isaiah (20.1),--the Shalmaneser of 2 Kings, 17.3,--about the year B.C. 720; and he has shown from Yacút that it retained the name of Sarghun down to the time of the Muhammedan conquest. Koyunjik, the principal ruin opposite to Mosul, and adjoining the Nabi Yunas, we know from the inscriptions to have been constructed by Sennacherib, the son of Shalmaneser, about B.C. 700. The whole of this district has been surveyed with great care and minuteness by Capt. Jones, within the last few years; and his account, with three elaborate maps, has been published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society for 1855. From this we learn that the whole enclosure of Koyunjik and the Nabi Yunas (which we may [p. 2.439]fairly presume to have been, in an especial sense, the city of Nineveh) comprehends about 1800 English acres, and is in form an irregular trapezium, about 7 1/2 miles round. The two mounds occupy respectively 100, and 40 acres of this space, and were doubtless the palaces and citadels of the place. Capt. Jones calculates that, allowing 50 square yards to each inhabitant, the population may have amounted to about 174,000 souls.

From an elaborate examination of the inscriptions preserved on slabs, on cylinders, and on tablets, Colonel Rawlinson has arrived at the following general conclusions and identifications in the history of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires.

He considers that the historical dates preserved by Berosus, and substantiated by Callisthenes (who sent to Aristotle the astronomical observations he had found at Babylon, extending as far back as 1903 years before the time of Alexander, i. e. to B.C. 2233), are, in the main, correct; and hence that authentic Babylonian chronology ascends to the twenty-third century B.C. The Chaldaean monarchy which followed was established in B.C. 1976, and continued to B.C. 1518; and to this interval of 458 years we must assign the building of all the great cities of Babylonia, in the ruins of which we now find bricks stamped with the names of the Chaldaean founders. At the present time, the names of about twenty monarchs have been recovered from the bricks found at Sippara, Niffer, Warka, Senkereh, and Muqueyer (Ur), belonging to the one genuine Chaldaean dynasty of Berosus, which reigned from B.C. 1976--1518. Among the Scriptural or historical names in this series, may be noticed those of Amraphel and Arioch, Belus and Horus, and possibly the Thilgamus of Aelian. An Arab family succeeded from B.C. 1518 to B.C. 1273, of whom, at present, no certain remains have been found. The independence of Assyria, or what is usually called the Ninus dynasty, commenced, Colonel Rawlinson believes, in B.C. 1273, 245 years after the extinction of the first Chaldaean line, and 526 years before the aera of Nabonassar in B.C. 747. Of the kings of this series, we have now nearly a complete list; and, though there is some difference in the reading of parts of some of the names, we may state that the identifications of Dr. Hincks and Colonel Rawlinson agree in all important particulars. To the kings of this race is attributable the foundation of the principal palaces at Nimrúd. The series comprehends the names of Ashurbanipal, probably the warlike Sardanapalus of the Greeks, the founder of Tarsus and Anchiale (Schol. ad Aristoph. Aves, 1021), and the contemporary of Ahab, about B.C. 930; and Phal-ukha, the Φάλωχ of the LXX., and the Pul of 2 Kings (15.19), who received a tribute from Menahem, king of Israel; and Semiramis, the wife of Phal-ukha, whose name with her husband's has been lately found on a statue of the god Nebo, excavated from the SE. palace at Nimrúd.

Colonel Rawlinson considers the line of the family of Ninus to have terminated with Phal-ukha or Pul in B.C. 747, and that the celebrated aera of Nabonassar, which dates from this year, was established by Semiramis, either as a refugee or as a conqueror, in that year, at Babylon. The last or Scriptural dynasty, according to this system, commences with Tiglath Pileser in B.C. 747. It is probable that he represents the Baletar of Polyhistor and Ptolemy's Canon, and possibly the Belesis of Ctesias, who is said, (Diod. 2.27) to have been the actual taker of Nineveh. From this period the names on the Assyrian inscriptions are coincident with those in the Bible, though, naturally, many additional particulars are noticed on them, which are not recorded in Sacred History. Some of the individual facts the inscriptions describe are worthy of notice: thus, the campaigns with the king of Samaria (Hoshea) and with a son of Rezin, king of Syria, are mentioned in those published by the British Museum (pp. 66--72); the names of Jehu and of Hazael have been read (independently) by Colonel Rawlinson and Dr. Hincks on the black obelisk from Nimrúd, the date of which, therefore, must be early in the ninth century B.C.; and the latter scholar has detected on other monuments the names of Menahem and Manasseh, kings respectively of Israel and Judah. Lastly, the same students have discovered in the Annals of Sennacherib (which are preserved partly on slabs and partly on cylinders) an account of the celebrated campaign against Hezekiah (described in 2 Kings 18.14), in which Sennacherib states that he took from the Jewish king “30 talents of gold,” the precise amount mentioned in Scripture, besides much other treasure and spoil.

There is still considerable doubt as to the exact year of the final destruction of Nineveh, and as to the name of the monarch then on the throne. From the narratives in Tobit and Judith (if indeed these can be allowed to have any historical value), compared with a prophecy in Jeremiah written in the first year of the Jewish captivity, B.C. 605 (Jerem. 25.18--26), it might be inferred that Nineveh was still standing in B.C. 609, but had fallen in B.C. 605. Colonel Rawlinson, however, now thinks (and his view is confirmed by the opinion of many of the elder chronologists) that it was overthrown B.C. 625, the Assyrian sovereignty being from that time merged in the empire of Babylon, and the Canon of Ptolemy giving the exact dates of the various succeeding Babylonian kings down to its capture by Cyrus in B.C. 536, in conformity with what we now know from the inscriptions. We may add, in conclusion, that among the latest of the discoveries of Colonel Rawlinson is the undoubted identification of the name of Belshazzar as the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon; and the finding the names of the Greek kings Seleucus and Antiochus written in the cuneiform character on tablets procured by Mr. Loftus from Warka. (Rawlinson, As. Journ. 1850, 1852, 1855; Athenaeum, Nos. 1377, 1381, 1383, 1388; Hincks,Roy. Soc. of Liter. vol. iv.; Trans. Roy. Irish Acad. 1850, 1852, 1855; Layard, Nineveh and Babylon; and, for an entirely new view of the Assyrian chronology, Bosanquet, Sacred and Profane Chronology, Lond. 8vo. 1853.)


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: