(abode of Ninus), the capital of the ancient kingdom and empire of Assyria. The name appears to be compounded from that of an Assyrian deity, “Nin,” corresponding, it is conjectured, with the Greek Hercules, and occurring in the names of several Assyrian kings, as in “Ninus,” the mythic founder, according to Greek tradition of the city. Nineveh is situated on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, 50 miles from its mouth and 250 miles north of Babylon. It is first mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with the primitive dispersement and migrations of the human race. Asshur or, according to the marginal reading, which is generally preferred, Nimrod is there described (Genesis 10:11) as extending his kingdom from the land of Shinar or Babylonia in the south, to Assyria in the north and founding four cities, of which the most famous was Nineveh. Hence Assyria was subsequently known to the Jews as “the land of Nimrod” (Micah 5:6), and was believed to have been first peopled by a colony from Babylon. The kingdom of Assyria and of the Assyrians is referred to in the Old Testament as connected with the Jews at a very early period, as in Numbers 24:22, 24 and Psalm 83:8. But after the notice of the foundation of Nineveh in Genesis no further mention is made of the city until the time of the book of Jonah, or the eighth century B.C. In this book no mention is made of Assyria or the Assyrians, the king to whom the prophet was sent being termed the “king of Nineveh,” and his subjects “the people of Nineveh.” Assyria is first called a kingdom in the time of Menahem, about B.C. 770. Nahum directs his prophecies against Nineveh, only once against the king of Assyria (Nahum 3:18). In 2 Kings 19:36 and Isaiah 37:37 the city is first distinctly mentioned as the residence of the monarch. Sennacherib was slain there when worshipping in the temple of Nisroch his god. Zephaniah couples the capital and the kingdom together (Zephaniah 2:13), and this is the last mention of Nineveh as an existing city. After the destruction of Nineveh the city was laid waste, its monuments destroyed and its inhabitants scattered or carried away into captivity. It never rose again from its ruins. This total disappearance of Nineveh is fully confirmed by the records of profane history. The political history of Nineveh is that of Assyria, of which a sketch has already been given. Previous to recent excavations and researches, the ruins which occupied the presumed site of Nineveh seemed to consist of mere shapeless heaps or mounds of earth and rubbish. Unlike the vast masses of brick masonry which mark the site of Babylon, they showed externally no signs of artificial construction, except perhaps here and there the traces of a rude wall of sun-dried bricks. Some of these mounds were of enormous dimensions, looking in the distance rather like natural elevations than the work of men’s hands. They differ greatly in form, size, and height. Some are mere conical heaps, varying from 50 to 150 feet high; others have a broad, flat summit, and very precipitous cliff-like sites furrowed by deep ravines worn by the winter rains. The principal ruins are: (1) The group immediately opposite Mosul, including the great mounds of Kouyunjik and Nebbi Yunus, (2) that near the junction of the Tigris and Zab comprising the mounds of Nimroud and Athur, (3) Khorsabad, about ten miles to the east of the former river, (4) Shereef Khan, about 5 1/2 miles to the north Kouyunjik, and (5) Selamiyah, three miles to the north of Nimroud.
Discoveries—The first traveller who carefully examined the supposed site of Nineveh was Mr. Rich, formerly political agent for the East India Company at Bagdad; but his investigations were almost entirely confined to Kouyunjik and the surrounding mounds of which he made a survey in 1820. In 1843 M. Botta, the French consul at Mosul, fully explored the ruins. M. Botta’s discoveries at Khorsabad were followed by those of Mr. Layard at Nimroud and Kouyunjik, made between the years 1846 and 1850. (Since then very many and important discoveries have been made at Nineveh, more especially those by George Smith, of the British Museum. He has discovered not only the buildings, but the remains of an ancient library written on stone tablets. These leaves or tablets were from an inch to 1 foot square, made of terra-cotta clay, on which when soft the inscriptions were written; the tablets were then hardened and placed upon the walls of the library rooms, so as to cover the walls. This royal library contained over 10,000 tablets. It was begun by Shalmaneser B.C. 860; his successors added to it, and Sardanapalus (B.C. 673) almost doubled it. Stories or subjects were begun on tablets, and continued on tablets of the same size sometimes to the number of one hundred. Some of the most interesting of these give accounts of the creation and of the deluge and all agree with or confirm the Bible.–ED.)
Description of remains — The Assyrian edifices were so nearly alike in general plan, construction and decoration that one description will suffice for all. They were built upon artificial mounds or platforms, varying in height, but generally from 30 to 50 feet above the level of the surrounding country, and solidly constructed of regular layers of sun-dried bricks, as at Nimroud, or consisting merely of earth and rubbish heaped up, as at Kouyunjik. This platform was probably faced with stone masonry, remains probable which were discovered at Nimroud, and broad flights of steps or inclined ways led up to its summit. Although only the general plan of the ground floor can now be traced, it is evident that the palaces had several stories built of wood and sun-dried bricks, which, when the building was deserted and allowed to fall to decay, gradually buried the lower chambers with their ruins and protected the sculptured slabs from the effects of the weather. The depth of soil and rubbish above the alabaster slabs varied from a few inches to about 20 feet. It is to this accumulation of rubbish above them that the bas-reliefs owe their extraordinary preservation. The portions of the edifices still remaining consist of halls, chambers and galleries, opening for the most part into large uncovered courts. The wall above the wainscoting of alabaster was plastered and painted with figures and ornaments. The sculptured, with the exception of the human headed lions and bulls, were for the most part in low relief. The colossal figures usually represent the king, his attendants and the gods; the smaller sculptures, which either cover the whole face of the slab or are divided into two compartments by bands of inscriptions, represent battles, sieges, the chase, single combats with wild beasts, religious ceremonies, etc., etc. All refer to public or national events, the hunting-scenes evidently recording the prowess and personal valor of the king as the head of the people—”the mighty hunter before the Lord.” The sculptures appear to have been painted, remains of color having been found on most of them. Thus decorated without and within, the Assyrian palaces must have displayed a barbaric magnificence, not, however, devoid of a certain grandeur and beauty which probably no ancient or modern edifice has exceeded. These great edifices, the depositories of the national records, appear to have been at the same time the abode of the king and the temple of the gods. Prophecies relating to Nineveh, and illustrations of the Old Testament. These are exclusively contained in the books of Nahum and Zephaniah. Nahum threatens the entire destruction of the city, so that it shall not rise again from its ruins. The city was to be partly destroyed by fire (Nahum 3:13, 16). The gateway in the northern wall of the Kouyunjik enclosure had been destroyed by fire as well as the palaces. The population was to be surprised when unprepared: “while they are drunk as drunkards they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry ” (Nahum 1:10). Diodorus states that the last and fatal assault was made when they were overcome with wine. The captivity of the inhabitants and their removal to distant provinces are predicted (Nahum 3:18). The fullest and the most vivid and poetical picture of Nineveh’s ruined and deserted condition is that given by Zephaniah, who probably lived to see its fall (Zephaniah 2:13-15).
Site of the city — Much diversity of opinion exists as to the identification of the ruins which may be properly included within the site of ancient Nineveh. According to Sir H. Rawlinson and those who concur in his interpretation of the cuneiform characters, each group of mounds already mentioned represents a separate and distinct city. On the other hand it has been conjectured, with much probability, that these groups of mounds are not ruins of separate cities, but of fortified royal residences, each combining palaces, temples, propylaea, gardens, and parks, and having its peculiar name; and that they all formed part of one great city built and added to at different periods, sad consisting of distinct quarters scattered over a very large and frequently very distant one from the other. Thus the city would be, as Layard says, in the form of a parallelogram 18 to 20 miles long by 12 to 14 wide; or, as Diodorus Siculus says, 55 miles in circumference.
Writing and language—The ruins of Nineveh have furnished a vast collection of inscriptions partly carved on marble or stone slabs and partly impressed upon bricks and upon clay cylinders, or six-sided and eight-sided prisms, barrels and tablets, which, used for the purpose when still moist, were afterward baked in a furnace or kilo (comp. Ezekiel 4:4). The character employed was the arrow-headed or cuneiform—so called from each letter being formed by marks or elements resembling an arrow-head or a wedge. These inscribed bricks are of the greatest value in restoring the royal dynasties. The most important inscription hitherto discovered in connection with biblical history is that upon a pair of colossal human-headed bulls from Kouyunjik, now in the British Museum, containing the records of Sennacherib, and describing, among other events, his wars with Hezekiah. It is accompanied by a series of bas-reliefs believed to represent the siege and capture of Lachish. A list of nineteen or twenty kings can already be compiled, and the annals of the greater number of them will probably be restored to the lost history of one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world, and of one which appears to have exercised perhaps greater influence than any other upon the subsequent condition and development of civilized man. The people of Nineveh spoke a Shemitic dialect, connected with the Hebrew and with the so called Chaldee of the books of Daniel and Ezra. This agrees with the testimony of the Old Testament.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866)