(nihn' uh vuh) The greatest of the capitals of the ancient Assyrian Empire, which flourished from about 800 to 612 B.C. It was located on the left bank of the Tigris River in northeastern Mesopotamia (Iraq today). Its remains are represented by two mounds named Quyundjiq “Many Sheep” and Nebi Yunus “The Prophet Jonah.”
Biblical References Nineveh is first mentioned in the Old Testament as one of the cities established by Nimrod (Genesis 10:9-12). It was the enemy city to which God called the reluctant prophet Jonah in the 8th century B.C. The Book of Jonah calls it “that great city” (Genesis 1:2;
Genesis 4:11), and “an exceeding great city” (Genesis 3:3). The additional phrase “of three days' journey” (Genesis 3:3) has been rendered by the NIV: “a visit required three days.” The phrase could be an idiom which would refer to the first day for travel to, the second for visiting, and the third day for the return from a site. The phrase “more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left” (Genesis 4:11) has sometimes been taken to refer to children, which would yield a population of 600,000. The area within the city walls, however, would not have contained more than 175,000.
The final biblical references are from Nahum, who prophesied the overthrow of the “bloody city” by the attack of the allied Medes and Chaldeans in 612 B.C. By 500 B.C. the prophet's words (Nahum 3:7) “Nineveh is laid waste” were echoed by the Greek historian Herodotus who spoke of the Tigris as “the river on which the town of Nineveh formerly stood.”
Excavations A Muslim village and cemetery have occupied the site of Nebi Yunus, preventing excavations there. The tell of Quyundjiq which rises 90 feet above the plain has attracted excavators after it was first accurately sketched by C. J. Rich in 1820.
In 1842 Paul Emile Botta, the French consul at the nearby city of Mosul, became the first excavator of the Near East, when he began digging at Quyundjiq. In 1845 the Englishman, A. H. Layard, dug briefly at Quyundjiq for a month. Both moved to other sites they mistakenly believed to be Nineveh. Layard later returned in 1849 to Quyundjiq and discovered Sennacherib's palace there.
Hormuz Rassam, a native of Mosul assisted Layard and then worked at the site of Quyundjiq 1852-54 and 1878-82. He found Ashurbanipal's palace and library in 1853. George Smith, who had deciphered the Babylonian flood story in the Gilgamesh Epic in 1872, was sent to the site by The Daily Telegraph. In 1873 he found a tablet which contained 17 further lines of the flood story. Iraqi scholars made some soundings in 1954 at Nebi Yunus which confirmed Layard's guess that Esarhaddon's palace lay here.
Palaces Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) who built the enormous southwest palace at Quyundjiq. We observe on his reliefs captive Philistines, Tyrians, Aramaeans, and others working under the supervision of the king himself. His “palace which has no equals” covered five acres and had 71 rooms, including two large halls 180 feet long and 40 feet wide. He boasted that the materials for the palace included “fragrant cedars, cypresses, doors banded with silver and copper… painted brick,. . . curtain pegs of silver and copper, alabaster, breccia, marble, ivory.” The rooms were embellished with 9,880 feet of sculptured reliefs, depicting Assyrian victories over enemy cities, including the Judean city of Lachish, captured in 701 B.C. Sennacherib's city was enclosed by eight miles of walls with fifteen gates. It had gardens and parks, watered by a thirty-mile long aqueduct.
Ashurbanipal (669-28 B.C.), the last great Assyrian king, built the northern palace with its magnificent reliefs of royal lion hunts. He amassed a library of 20,000 tablets, which contained important literary epics, magical and omen collections, royal archives and letters. See Assyria.