I. Physical description
Calah (modern names: Tell Nimrud and Tulul el-'Azar) is an ancient Assyrian city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, just above its confluence with the Upper Zab River (36o 06' N, 43o 19' E). It lies approximately 30km southeast of Mosul, in the north of modern Iraq. The ancient ruins cover an area of approximately 360 ha and reputedly supported a population of over 60,000 people (Assur-Nasir-Pal II's Banquet Stela: Roaf, 1990). Calah was one of four major Assyrian royal cities in the region and can be considered to be in roughly the centre of the Assyrian homeland (Roaf, 1990).
II. Historical Context
The site consists of a roughly rectangular low mound surrounded by a city wall. Rising above the general level of the city are two major tells, the much taller of which is the acropolis (Tell Nimrud), where the ancient palaces and temples of the city have been uncovered through a series of major excavations. The second major tell is Tulul el-'Azar, otherwise known as Fort Shalmaneser. Tulul el-'Azar preserves the largest palace thus far excavated, a composite military and residential structure located in the southeast corner of the site.
The site was occupied from as early as the Halaf and Ubaid periods (5th Millennium B.C.). While evidence for continuous occupation of the site is apparent in the material remains, the site is only attested as a royal city beginning in the Middle Assyrian period (1300 B.C., +/-). Assur-Nasir-Pal II, a major ruler of the 9th Century described the former city of Calah (Kalhu) as a creation of Shalmaneser I (1271-1242 B.C.), noting that the city had fallen into decay and lay prostate when he became king (Mallowan, 1966: 74). The Middle Assyrian period was one of the rare times when the north of Iraq and the interior of Syria (Assyria in the classic sense) had been unified under one rule.
Assur-Nasir-Pal II again made Calah an important royal city, when he chose the city as the administrative capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (c. 883-612 BC). Under Assur-Nasir-Pal II (883-859 BC) and Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC), his son, the Assyrians exerted direct control to the west as far as the Euphrates. In 828 BC, the crown prince Assur-Danin-Apla, started a rebellion against the Shalmaneser III and attempted to wrest control of the city from Shalmaneser III. This rebellion pitted the royal court at Calah against the rest of Assyria. Eventually, the rebellion would be defeated by one of Shalmaneser III's younger sons, Shamsi-Adad V (823-811 BC), who used Calah as his base of operations. On the death of Shamshi-Adad V, his queen Sammuramat (Semiramis) would assume the regency and rule Assyria until her son Adad-Nirari III (810-783 BC) came of age. After Adad-Nirari III, there is no evidence of a strong monarch until Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727), who extended the empire from Assyria into Palestine and Damascus.
Thereafter the Neo-Assyrian Empire continued to grow. It would assume its greatest extent in the seventh century BC under Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) and his son Assur-Bani-Pal (669- c. 627 BC), when the empire controlled everything from Lower Egypt and the Levant in the southwest to the Northern and Central Zagros of Western Iran on the eastern frontier. In between, the Assyrian kings controlled southern Turkey, the Syrian Interior and all of Iraq including Babylonia and Chaldea. In 612 BC, the Assyrian Empire finally fell to the combined efforts of the Median and Babylonian armies and the acropolis was burnt to the ground.
After the fall of the Assyrian Empire and destruction of Calah., unknown Assyrians chose to try and re-establish the city by rebuilding some of its monuments. There is evidence for limited occupation in the post-Assyrian period. There may be some Achaemenid occupation, supported by the observations of Xenophon (401 BC). There are substantial Hellenistic remains in the southeast part of the citadel. A succession of settlements dating from 240-140 B.C. was excavated in this area. This smaller occupation may have continued into the Parthian and Sasanian periods but the evidence is unclear. Thereafter, the site remained unoccupied.
Table 1: An Overview of the Kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
IV. Relevant Historical Themes Present at Calah:
Each major Assyrian king from Assur-Nasir-Pal II (883-859 BC) to Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC) had built a monument on the acropolis (Tell Nimrud) and expanded the importance of the royal city. This trend was reversed by Sargon II (Sharru-kin, 722-705 BC). Like his predecessors, Sargon II initially restored several important monuments on the acropolis (Tell Nimrud) but in 717 BC he moved the centre of government to his new royal city (called Dur Sharrukin, "the Fort of Sargon"; Roaf, 1990). Even though Calah never again became the pre-eminent royal capital after Sargon II, the city remained the second largest city of Assyria, the royal residence for several important Assyrian queens, and an important military centre throughout the seventh century AD.
As one of the leading cities of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the monuments of Calah also boasted a tremendous range of exceptional art work. The stone relief carvings of Assur-Nasir-Pal II in the Northwest Palace would inspire a new palace aesthetic of stone relief carving that would last through the major part of the empire. Careved ivories were found all over the site, in the temples, elite houses, and palaces. Many of these pieces now have international recognition and are synonymous with the luxury of the empire. Finally, the gold jewelry and paraphernalia that was found in the queenss tomb is unparalleled in ancient Assyria. Collectively these objects are as important as the architectural legacy of the site and an essential part of Calah's heritage.
Beside commerce, the city was famous for agriculture and it appears that Assur-Nasir-Pal II's famous patti hegali canal would have turned the remaining floodplain and adjacent foothills into a prosperous agricultural zone for the ancient city (Assur-Nasir-Pal II's Banquet Stela: Roaf, 1990).
V. The History of Archaeological Research
The first limited excavations at Nimrud began in 1844 by G.P. Badger. A. H. Layard extensively excavated at the site, on behalf of the British Museum, from 1845-1847 and 1849-1851. He excavated the state apartments to the south of the main entrance to the Northwest palace of Ashurbanipal II. In these rooms, he uncovered, largely by trenching along the walls, stone slab reliefs and a number of colossal stone gateway figures. He also excavated in the Ninurta and Ishtar Sarrat-niphi temples, the central, south-east and southwest palaces. In front of the central building, Layard found the black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. He then worked briefly at the Ziqqurat and at Fort Shalmaneser.
A plan of the city was produced in 1852 by Felix Jones. In 1854, W.K.Loftus excavated in the central palace, the south-east and south-west palaces, and the Nabu temple. He uncovered a collection of ivories in the Burnt Palace. He also excavated a grave dating to the early-mid Second Millennium B.C.
In 1949, Max Mallowan began excavations on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. While early excavators focused their work on the acropolis, revealing stone relief and architectural fragments of the principle buildings of the city, Mallowan's work was much more extensive and systematic; it provided the basic ground plans for most of the Neo-Assyrian monuments on the acropolis. Of particular importance where his excavations at the Northwest Palace, the Nabu Temple (Ezida), the Ninurta Ziggurat, the Burnt Palace, the Governor's Palace, Palace AB, and the TW 53 Houses. In 1958, David Oates's began directing excavations which continued until 1963. He excavated the outline for the royal apartments and the military arsenal at Tulul el-'Azar (Fort Shalmaneser). From 1974-1976, a Polish expedition under the direction of Janusz Meuszynski investigated the Central Palace of Tiglath-Pileser III, documenting hints of its immense size and grandeur. Most of the building is still unexcavated. An Italian team from 1987-1989 focused their excavations on Fort Shalmaneser but also completed a contour plan of the entire site and undertook a surface survey.
Iraqi archaeologists began restorations and re-excavations at the site in 1956. In 1990, Iraqi archaeologists renewed excavations in the Northwest Palace and discovered some of the queens' tombs from the Neo-Assyrian period. These tombs provided an irreplaceable collection of royal jewelry from the period.
Table 2: Overview of the excavations at Calah (summary of Reade and Postgate, 1977-1980)
VI. Previous and Current Uses of the Site:
Many of the famous buildings from the acropolis (Tell Nimrud) still have significant archaeological potential. The most important of these buildings include the Northwest Palace, the Central Palace, and the Governor's Building.
Nimrud's Citadel is surrounded by a mud-brick wall with stone facing (Meyers: 143). The northwest palace, built by Ashurbanipal, is the larges building on the citadel. It was partly restored by later kings. It measures roughly 200m North-south but the southern limits are still unclear. The central portion of the building consisted of states of apartments that were decorated with sculptured stone slabs, painted plaster and glazed bricks. Colossal stone figures of human-headed lions or bulls adorned several gateways. The northern wing consisted of offices and storerooms. It was in this northern area that the banquet Stela of Ashurnasirpal II was discovered. This stela describes the building works and conquests of the King. It ends with a description of banquet celebration at the founding of the palace.In the southern wing, the Department of Antiquities excavated a series of queens' tombs under the residential portion of the Northwest Palace, uncovering a unique collection of thousands of pieces of golden jewelry and royal paraphernalia with an unsurpassed quality of workmanship for the period. The building may preserve more royal tombs that can be found and documented through a combination of excavation and sub-surface, geophysical survey.
There are two other temples in this area. They are the Ishtar Sarrat-niphi and Kidmurri temples. The Ishtar Sarrat-niphi temple had colossal lions flanking the doorways. A limestone statue of Ashurnasirpal II was set on a red stone base inside the temple. The Central Palace represents a unique building from the time of Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BC) and yet less than half of its plan has been uncovered. Given Tiglath-Pileser III's importance as a conqueror and reformer of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the building is an irreplaceable opportunity to learn more about this famous king and Assyrian society under his rule.
The Governor's Building has provided an important sample of artifacts and the only non-royal archive of administrative tablets from the ninth century BC, the earliest phase of the Neo-Assyrian administration at Calah. Only the rooms around the central courtyard have been excavated, leaving two significant sections undocumented: the private quarters and the entrance rooms. The presence of archives in the entrance rooms of the Northwest Palace suggest that the entrance rooms of the Governor's Palace may preserve more important archives and artifacts from this crucial period in Assyrian history. Thus, while the latest levels of the acropolis have been extensively excavated, there is more to be done, even in some of the best-known buildings from the Neo-Assyrian period.
Moreover, we know that below the Neo-Assyrian city is the royal city of Shalmaneser I and the Middle Assyrian kings. So far this city has only been scientifically excavated in the Burnt Palace and in the Nabu Temple sounding. Phases A-C of both the Burnt Palace and the Nabu Temple correspond to the pre-Neo-Assyrian levels. These phases contain royal inscriptions from Shalmaneser I and hints of a monumental construction of unknown quality but unfortunately no coherent plans or architecture from the period are available (Mallowan, 1966). Excavations of these levels would provide a rare perspective on the kings of the Middle Assyrian era. It would also allow archaeologists to collect a unique sample of architecture and artifacts from the first time that Calah was considered a royal city of international importance.
Calah is older than even the city of Shalmaneser I. The acropolis stands ten to twelve meters above the elevation of the Inner City and only the first three to six meters have been excavated and only in select sites (Mallowan, 1966: Part III, maps). The early second millennium BC tomb and the Ninevite V pottery from the eastern and southeastern portion of the acropolis suggest that an important early city of Assyria remains buried beneath the excavated remains of the Neo-Assyrian buildings and the unexcavated Middle Assyrian constructions (Reade and Postgate, 1977-1980). The combination of unique buildings from the early Neo-Assyrian period and the potential for excavating the Middle Assyrian city of Shalmaneser I and the earliest phases of the city, make the acropolis of exceptional significance for potential archaeological research.
At Tulul el-'Azar (Fort Shalmaneser), David Oates excavated the plan of the Neo-Assyrian military arsenal. His work provides an outline for the complete building except for in parts of Esarhaddon's southern extension for the royal residence in the south that were too badly preserved. The other portions of the arsenal were relatively well preserved and David Oates focused on documenting the form of the building without clearing down to the ancient floors. This strategy was particularly important in Royal Apartment T where most of the artifacts of the apartment are still unexcavated. The large throne room (T1) and the neighboring rooms T2, T7, T9, and T11 were the most important rooms left relatively intact. They represent an outstanding example of a preserved throne room apartment from the time of Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC), unique in the heartland of Assyria. The arsenal, therefore, remains a significant site of archaeological potential for learning about the military history of Iraq and one of its more famous monarchs.
Table 3: The Principal Management Zones at Calah
However, the importance of Calah extends well-beyond the known monuments. The Inner City would have preserved the Neo-Assyrian city of Calah, arguably the leading city of the early Neo-Assyrian Empire. The nearby foothills were a favorable site for ancient settlement and their significance needs to be independently considered. The floodplain below the ancient site is unlikely to have many relevant archaeological sites as at least part of the Tigris River used to flow directly adjacent to the acropolis (Mallowan, 1966).
VII. Cultural Significance of Calah:
From the time of Assur-Nasir-Pal II's re-founding of Calah as a royal capital, the ancient city can be considered as the leading city of Assyria and by extension, one of the great cities of its era. At that time, the city was the centre of administration for the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Calah was to remain a leading centre of the Neo-Assyrian Empire until Sargon II moved the capital to Khorsabad (Dur Sharru-kin) in the late eighth century BC. During the time of its political pre-eminence, several kings built their monuments on the acropolis (Tell Nimrud) and at Tulul el-'Azar. Today, the site has unique or exceptional preservation of royal and religious monuments from many of these early kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The Ninurta Ziggurat is the most significant religious monument of Calah. It was started by Assur-Nasir-Pal II as part of the city's foundation. Shalmaneser III completed the monument by adding a facade of baked brick. The Ninurta Ziggurat is easily the tallest monument on the acropolis, standing 20 meters higher than the ruins of the acropolis and some thirty meters above the modern plain. Its prominence made it a symbol of the city through the ages. Even long after the Neo-Assyrian Empire had collapsed; Xenophon identified the ziggurat as an important refuge for local people. Today, it has become an iconic part of Calah's landscape.
The Northwest Palace is the largest and best preserved monument of Assur-Nasir-Pal II. Architecturally, the Northwest Palace is the earliest exemplar of the b_banu - b_tanu style of Neo-Assyrian palace (Turner, 1970; Russell, 1991). This style consisted of a series of courtyards that became progressively more private as one entered further into the palace. The royal throne room was seen as the dividing space between the b_banu (public space) and the b_tanu (private space) of the building. Aesthetically, the Northwest Palace also inspired later Neo-Assyrian monumental buildings by installing the earliest stone relief work on the walls. The most famous relief works from Calah are in the British Museum's collection. These relief works were acquired through the museum's early excavations of Assur-Nasir-Pal II's throne room. They show the king at war and at court. The Polish expedition found a set of Tiglath-Pileser III relief scenes that remained on-site.
In the seventh century BC, the Northwest Palace was reassigned to the royal queens of Assyria and so it also includes the tombs of several Assyrian royal queens. These tombs are the only example of their type from Assyria. Their collective grave goods are known as the Nimrud Treasure and include 613 pieces of royal jewelry and paraphernalia, including a royal crown of the era. In the aftermath of the Second Gulf War, the Iraqi National Museum of Baghdad selected the Nimrud Treasure as emblematic of the rich cultural history of Iraq and displayed it as part of a special exhibit on the country's cultural past.
Shalmaneser III unified Assyria as far as the Syrian Euphrates before beginning an ambitious building campaign at Calah. Fort Shalmaneser is the best preserved exemplar of a military arsenal from the Neo-Assyrian Empire and the starting point for many of the annual military campaigns of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It can be favorably compared to the fragmentary remains of Esarhaddon's arsenal at Nineveh. Within the arsenal, Shalmaneser III's Royal Apartment T is a well preserved example of a Neo-Assyrian royal apartment.
Table 4: The most significant Monuments of each Neo-Assyrian Monarch at Calah
Adad-Nirari III was the next significant builder on the acropolis at Calah. His monumental twin shrines to Nabu and Tashmetum are the only major architectural monument from his reign. Tiglath-Pileser III expanded the empire to include Palestine and Damascus. He concomitantly re-organized the Neo-Assyrian Empire into a series of administrative provinces. Recognizing the importance of Calah, Tiglath-Pileser III built the Central Palace on the acropolis. This palace was potentially the largest palace of its day and forms the major monument of this historically important monarch. Under Sargon II, the empire was to continue expanding. Before the Neo-Assyrian Empire literally outgrew Calah, Sargon II ordered the restorations of many significant monuments on the acropolis. This restoration program is best seen at the Nabu Temple and the Burnt Palace. Even after the capital had moved, Esarhaddon saw Calah as an important city and restored Shalmaneser II's arsenal as part of maintaining the military infrastructure of the empire. Today, this arsenal remains arguably the best preserved and most significant military installation of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Finally, Palace AB is a unique example of Post-Canonical architecture from the heartland of Assyria. In Palace AB's royal apartment, the mud brick throne base of Assur-Etil-Ilani is a unique, well preserved exemplar of an original construction from the late Assyrian period.
Aside from the architectural achievements of the early Neo-Assyrian kings, Calah is famous for its collection of ivories. Ivory was an essential craft industry in ancient Assyria, such that Mallowan argued that "every reputable king of Assyria from the ninth century BC onwards was an ivory collector" (1966: 134). The Nimrud Ivories were found in the private houses of high officials, in the royal palaces, and in the arsenal at Fort Shalmaneser; a testament to its special importance to the ancient Assyrians. The excavations at Calah revealed several iconic pieces of ancient ivory, such as the Mona Lisa of Nimrud and the Lion and the Nubian, that are now internationally-recognized masterpieces of ancient art (Mallowan, 1978). For this reason, the Nimrud Ivories should be considered as a significant part of Calah's heritage.
In essence, Calah preserves many unique or rare monuments of the early kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire as well as from the final stages of the empire. It also preserves several major religious monuments, including the Ninurta Ziggurat and the Nabu Temple. Aside from the architecture, it is clear that Calah provided irreplaceable collections of stone-carved relief scenes, delicate ivories, and unparalleled gold jewelry from the time of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Calah is exceptionally significant for the heritage of Iraq because of this architectural corpus and its contribution to world art. It has been a major tourist destination since the 1920s, and has been well managed by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities for years.
VIII. An Assessment of the integrity and any damage to the monuments of Calah:
Today, many of Calah's monuments stand only to their foundations. The major exception is the Northwest Palace, which underwent a program of restoration. Assur-Nasir-Pal II's throne room has been restored to its basic form with a new roof installed and the lamassu guardian bulls returned to their places by the doorways. However, in the mid-nineteenth century AD, British excavators removed many of the original stone relief scenes from the royal throne room to the British Museum. This removal has undermined the aesthetic integrity of room as the earliest exemplar of its type and strategies to copy or replace these monuments should be considered.
Tiglath-Pileser III's Central Palace is potentially one of the most important buildings on the acropolis. Unfortunately, as early as 1997, stone relief works of Tiglath-Pileser III started to appear for sale on the art market. It appears that at least two fragments of relief were cut from their context and prepared for sale. A further assessment of damage and/or theft of material from the store house at Calah should be made.
The acropolis also preserves a range of royal and official temples. Particularly important is the Ezida, Adad-Nirari III's temple for the god Nabu and Tashmetum, his consort. This building represents one of the early Babylonian-inspired temples in Assyria, a by-product of the long history of relations between these two regions. The twin shrines preserve the essential form of an early Assyrian Nabu sanctuary, including the twin stairway podia that hosted the cult statue, the entryway statues, and the architectural remains of the associated library. Sargon II restored the entryway and front half of the building, making it one of the last monuments built on the acropolis at Calah before the royal capital moved to Khorsabad (Dur Sharru-kin). At each of these monuments, the foundations remain essentially intact because they were built of baked brick and so can withstand adverse weather conditions relatively well.
At Tulul el-'Azar, Shalmaneser III built his arsenal (ekal masharti) along the same lines as a royal palace. The overall architectural plan is preserved as well as the stone foundations of Esarhaddon's fortification wall for the military arsenal. The main royal apartment (T) is virtually intact up to the roof line but very little of the apartment has yet been excavated. Even though the arsenal was originally destroyed by fire, the building remains in good preservation because of its durable construction and the archaeological sediment that still remains in the original rooms.
The Inner City, which served as the core of the ancient city, is today under threat because local farmers continue to grow crops and plow the land. An assessment of the damage that has resulted so far should be made and a plan for the future conservation of this area drawn up.
IX Potential for future work
The site of Calah has enormous significance for the cultural and architectural heritage of Iraq. Its role as the pre-eminent city of the early Neo-Assyrian Empire means that its monuments inspired much of the Neo-Assyrian architectural and aesthetic style, including the babanu - bitanu palace design and the use of stone relief as the centerpiece of the royal decorative program. Neo-Assyrian Calah was internationally important for its era and so created or acquired many of the leading artworks of the day including immaculate royal gold jewelry and the masterful Nimrud Ivories.
Besides these artifacts and monuments, there is still a lot to be discovered at Calah. Perhaps most important is the remainder of Tiglath-Pileser III's palace, which would become an icon of the little known eighth century BC in Assyria. The earlier royal city of Shalmaneser I and the Middle Assyrian kings is also waiting for the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, the Middle Assyrian city lies directly below the Neo-Assyrian monuments which effectively preserve the earlier building levels but makes them difficult to access. The earliest stages of the city at the base of the acropolis are still relatively unknown. Excavators looking to learn more about Neo-Assyrian cities, as opposed to Neo-Assyrian monuments, could work in the lower ccity but the impact of local farming on the monuments is yet to be assessed.
Hussein, Muzahim Mahmud, 2002, Excavations of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage at Nimrud, 1988-1993, In Of Pots and Plans: Papers on the Archaeology and History of Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David Oates in Honour of his 75th Birthday, eds. Al-Gailani Werr, John Curtis, Harriet Martin, Augusta McMahon, Joan Oates, Julian Reade, Nabu Publications, London, pp. 143-157.
Layard, A. H., Sir, 1852, Nineveh and its remains: with an account of a visit to the Chaldaean Christians of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or devil worshippers; and an inquiry into the manners and arts of the ancient Assyrians, G. P. Putnam, New York, 2 volumes.
Loud, Gordon, 1936, Khorsabad, Oriental Institute Publications, Vols. 38 and 42, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. This series of final publications documents the remains at Dur Sharru-kin, the royal city of Sargon II.
Mallowan, M. E. L., 1966, Nimrud and its remains, Collins, London, 3 volumes. The Nimrud Ivories are published in Mallowan's The Nimrud Ivories (1978) and in an edited series, Ivories from Nimrud.
Mierzewski, M. and Sobolweski, R., 1980, Polish Excavations at Nimrud/Kalhu 1974-76, Sumer, 36, pp. 151-163.
Meuszynski, J., 1981 - 1992, Rekonstruktion der Reliefdarstellungen und ihrer Anordnung im Nordwestpalast von Kalhu (Nimr_d), Baghdader Forschungen (Series), P.v. Zabern, Mainz am Rhein, 3 volumes.
Oates, J. and David Oates, 2001, Nimrud: An Assyrian Imperial City Revealed, British School of Archaeology in Iraq, London.
Roaf, M., 1990, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, Facts on File, New York.
Reade, J. and J. N. Postgate, 1980, Kalhu, Reallexikon der Assyriologie, Band 5, pp. 303-23.
Russell, John Malcolm, 1991, Sennacherib's Palace Without Rival at Nineveh, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. This book provides comparative examples for the Northwest Palace at Calah.
Turner, Geoffrey, 1970, The State Apartments of Late Assyrian Palaces, Iraq, Vol. 32, pp. 177-213. This article provides comparative examples for the royal architecture of Calah.
Xenophon, Anabasis, translated in 1921 by William Rainey Harper and James Wallace, American Book Company, New York.
See the Kalhu article of Julian Reade and J. N. Postgate for a complete listing of all excavations and works related to the ancient site up to 1980.
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