By the Editors of the Madain Project

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Assur (Aššur), literally meaning the "City of God Aššur", was the capital of the Old Assyrian city-state (2025–1364 BCE), the Middle Assyrian Empire (1363–912 BCE), and for a brief time, of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE). The archaeological site of Assur lies 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of the site of Nimrud and 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Nineveh.


Occupation of the city itself continued for approximately 3,000 years, from the Early Dynastic Period to the mid-third century CE, when the city was sacked by the Sasanian Empire.

Archaeology reveals the site of the city was occupied by the middle of the third millennium BCE.

The oldest remains of the city were discovered in the foundations of the Ishtar temple, as well as at the Old Palace.

In the subsequent period, the city was ruled by kings from the Akkadian Empire. During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the city was ruled by Assyrian governors subject to the Sumerians.

Notable Structures

circa 1400 BCE

Tabira Gate
The Tabira Gate, also spelled as Tabera Gate, structure is thought to date to the fourteenth century BCE. It is the best preserved structure at the archaeological site of ancient Assur.

It sustained heavy damage in 2015 when ISIS militants, having conquered the area, blew a hole in the structure. In 2020, three years after the area’s liberation, a joint project between the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani and the Aliph Foundation, a group that works to protect cultural heritage in war zones, carried out reconstruction work on the gate.

circa 1250-614 BCE

Assur Ziggurat
From the first half of the second millennium BCE until 614 BCE, there was a ziggurat, a temple-tower, at Assur dedicated to the god Aššur (and his manifestation as the god Enlil). This sacred building, which went by the Sumerian name Earattakišarra ("House, Mountain/Noblest of the Universe") in the first millennium BCE and referred to as the "great ziggurat" in Middle Assyrian royal inscriptions, was likely founded by the Old Assyrian ruler Šamšī-Adad I (circa 1808–1776 BCE). In this era, the Great Royal Palace was built, and the temple of Assur was expanded and enlarged with a ziggurat. Today the remains of the Assur or Ashur Ziggurat measure some eighty five feet in height, in its heyday it would have stood at least twice that height. More than 4,000 years old, it was part of a temple complex dedicated to the god Assur. In antiquity its six million mud bricks (الطوب) were covered with sheets of iron and lead and inlaid with crystals.

circa 1074-811 BCE

Royal Assyrian Tomb Complex
The royal tomb-complex was discovered under the Neo-Assyrian palace complex by Walter Andre in 1912 CE. Initially thought to be from the Parthian period, the tombs actually belonged to Assyrian Kings, as indicated in the accompanying inscriptions. The tomb-complex seems to have been established by either AsurbelKala or his father Tiglath-Pileser I in the eleventh century BCE. No references to the royal or kings' tombs are known before this discovery.

The layout of the tomb-complex is simple, comprising of six chambers connected a corridor, with a seventh grave of an unidentified individual separated from the main complex. The tomb chambers belong to AshurNasirPal II (burial chamber V), AsurbelKala (burial chamber III), and Shamshi Adad V (burial chamber II) on the basis of the inscriptions found at the site. The burial chamber has been speculated to belong to either Esarhaddon or his son, Ashurbanipal. The bricks found at the site indicate that Sennachrib, the second king of the Sargonid dynasty, was most likely also buried in the vicinity.

In terms of remains, not much survived, as most of the burial structures, sarcophagi were destroyed during the invasions of Medes and Babylonians and other valuable graves goods were systematically looted. Though the discovery and subsequent identification of some of the tombs provides valuable insight in to the cultural, religious and funerary practices of ancient Assyrians it raises a question for the location of other royal tombs, since there were many Assyrian kings in addition to these.

Notable Artefacts

circa 1305-1274 BCE

Foundation Document of Adad-nirari I
The rectangular stone foundation (measuring 8.25 inches in height and 5.25 inches in width) document of Adad-nirari I recounts the King's victories over the Mitannians, who had failed to gain Hittite support, and the extension of Assyrian rule west to the Euphrates; the stone appears to have been intended for a palace which Adad-nirari planned to rebuild in a Mitannian city, but if so it never reached its destination.

circa 700 BCE

Basalt Water Basin from Temple of Ishtar at Ashur
This Water Basin dating back to circa 700 BCE was carved from one monolithic block but was discovered completely fragmented (most likely destroyed during the Fall of Assur in 614 BCE) in one of the courtyards of the Temple of ancient Assur. It was reconstructed using many of its original components and reliefs. It was a solid basalt tub from one of the gardens outside the Temple of Ishtar at Assur.

The Water Basin sculptures depict Enki, the Sumerian god of water, who can be seen at the center with water flowing from his chest just below his beard. The god Enki is surrounded by figures with fish heads and fish skin flowing down their backs. These figures are presumably priests wearing fish-shaped garments. The figures hold objects to perform their traditional acts of purification and blessing. The other relief sculptures portray the Gods and sages of Sumerian legend and religion. The inner surfaces of the basin, which served to perform cultic acts, remained unadorned and could hold about 7,000 liters of water. A repeated cuneiform inscription gives the name of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

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