Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

ISIS targets 2,000-year-old ancient Nineveh walls in Iraq

Posted by Fredsvenn on January 4, 2015

The Great City of Nineveh.

Adad Gate outside of Nineveh, Iraq.


ISIS targets 2,000-year-old ancient Nineveh walls in Iraq

The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) set their eyes on another historical site to demolish as they continue to establish their caliphate across Iraq. Residents near Mosul told Assyrian website Ankawa the militants’ plan to blow up the walls of Nineveh,  an ancient Mesopotamian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which date back to almost 700 BC.

Unnamed sources said the Islamic State leaders told members to set booby traps along the walls. If the Iraqi army attempts to liberate the area, the militants must “complete the bombing of the historic walls.”

Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and, by 3000 BC, had become an important religious center for worship of the Akkadian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) were constructed on a fault line and, consequently, suffered damage from a number of earthquakes. One such event destroyed the first temple of Ishtar, which was then rebuilt in 2260 BC by the Akkadian king Manishtusu.

The origin of the name Nineveh is obscure. Possibly it meant originally the seat of Ishtar, since Nina was one of the Babylonian names of that goddess. The ideogram means “house or place of fish,” and was perhaps due to popular etymology (comp. Aramaic “nuna,” denoting “fish”).

It was Sennacherib who made Nineveh a truly magnificent city (c. 700 BC). It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria itself, it was sacked by an unusual coalition of former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians and Cimmerians in 612 BC. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq.

Following the defeat in 612 BC, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries with only a scattering of Assyrians living amid the ruins until the Sassanian period, although Assyrians continue to live in the surrounding area to this day.

The city is mentioned again in the Battle of Nineveh in 627 AD, which was fought between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire of Persia near the ancient city. From the Arab conquest 637 AD until modern time, the city of Mosul on the opposite bank of the river Tigris became the successor of ancient Nineveh.

The site of Nineveh have been exposed to decay of its reliefs by a lack of proper protective roofing, vandalism and looting holes dug into chamber floors. Future preservation is further compromised by the site’s proximity to constantly expanding suburbs.

In an October 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund named Nineveh one of 12 sites most “on the verge” of irreparable destruction and loss, citing insufficient management, development pressures and looting as primary causes.

The Islamic State moved to the Nineveh Plain in early August, “the last stronghold of Assyrians in Iraq.” Over 200,000 Assyrians fled to the Dohuk and Arbel areas.

When militants captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, they proceeded to destroy shrines and tombs important to Christians and Muslims because they allegedly “distort Islam” and encourage “worship of others besides God.”

They destroyed a shrine to Jonah, the biblical prophet, and Yunus in the Koran. The shrine was built in the eighth century BC. Worshippers believe that the prophet Jonah, most famous for surviving being swallowed by a whale in the Biblical legend, is buried there. Saddam Hussein renovated the shrine, and it remained a popular site for pilgrims.

Jonah and Nineveh are connected in the Book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible. God tells Jonah to walk to Nineveh to tell the Ninevites about their destruction. The people fasted and repented and God allowed them to live, which upset Jonah. God provided Jonah a plant, but proceeded to destroy the plant.

This also upset Jonah, but God turned it into a lesson to help Jonah understand why he saved the Ninevites: But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. ¹¹And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The story is so important that the Assyrian Christians started The Fast of Nineveh, later also adopted by other Oriental Orthodox religions. The three-day fast commemorates the three days it took Jonah to travel to Nineveh and the three days he spent in the belly of the whale when he did not go to Nineveh as God asked him.

It is also connected to a plague leashed upon northern Iraq in the 9th century. The bishop used the Book of Jonah and “ordered a 3-day fast to ask for God’s forgiveness.” The plague went away after three days.

Islamic State jihadists have targeted a number of ancient structures in the region. The group attempted to destroy the Crooked Minaret, an 840-year old tower, but residents immediately protected it and told the terrorists they would have to kill the people as well.

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