Nimrud Was Burned to the Ground Thousands of Years Before It Was Destroyed by ISIS

March 6, 2015 Updated: March 8, 2015

The ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud was essentially bulldozed and destroyed by ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, this week. But it’s not the first time the city was razed to the ground.

Nimrud is located north of Mosul, Iraq, on the mouth of the Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia. The city, founded 3,000 years ago, is known as the Biblical city of Kalah.

It became the capital of the Assyrian Empire under Ashurnasirpal II, who reigned from 884 to 859 B.C., and the city remained intact for a few hundred more years before it was burned to the ground in 612 B.C. along with Ashur and Nineveh by a coalition of Persians, Babylonians, and Medes. After the city was destroyed, its ruins essentially remained buried for 2,000 years until officials with the British East India Company visited the site and gave a description of it. Later, it was excavated in 1845 by archaeologist Austen Henry Layard.

The city covers only about 890 acres. Under King Ashurnasirpal II, thousands of men worked to create a 5-mile-long wall around the city. They also built his palace. 

When the city’s palace and gardens were fully constructed and adorned, Ashurnasirpal II had a festival that lasted 10 days, which included a banquet of 69,574 people.

“The menu from this celebration included, but was not limited to, 1,000 oxen, 1,000 domestic cattle and sheep, 14,000 imported and fattened sheep, 1,000 lambs, 500 game birds, 500 gazelles, 10,000 fish, 10,000 eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 measures of beer, and 10,000 containers of wine,” according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

An inscription was carved into limestone, which gave some insight into the king’s personality. 

It reads: “I am Ashurnasirpal, the celebrated prince, who reveres the great gods, the fierce dragon, conqueror of the cities and mountains to their furthest extent, king of rulers who have tamed the stiff-necked peoples, who is crowned with splendour, who is not afraid of battle, the merciless champion who shakes resistance, the glorious king, the shepherd, the protection of the whole world, the king, the word of whose mouth destroys mountains and seas, who by his lordly attack has forced fierce and merciless kings from the rising to the setting sun to acknowledge one rule,” according to one translation of it.

The location of Nimrud in Iraq (Google Maps)
The location of Nimrud in Iraq (Google Maps)

Items that were excavated from Nimrud have been sent to museums around the world, including the famed “winged bull” lamassu statues.

To add insult to injury, ISIS destroyed some of the lamassu statues in the ancient city. Early reports say the terrorist group may have sold some of the statues off.

Lamassu have been described as ancient Assyrian protective deities. They were depicted usually as winged bulls or lions with the head of a human male and appear frequently in Mesopotamian art.

Speaking about the city’s destruction, a farmer from a nearby village told The Associated Press on Friday that extremists began carrying tablets and artifacts away from the site two days before the attack, which began Thursday afternoon. They told the villagers that the artifacts are idols forbidden by Islam and must be destroyed, the farmer said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals.

But the group also is known to have sold off looted antiquities as a source of revenue.

Some statues were “put on big trucks, and we don’t know where they are, possibly for illicit trafficking,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said.

U.N. officials have seen images of destroyed Assyrian symbols including statues with the head of a man, the torso of a lion, and wings of an eagle. These symbols were referred to in the Bible and other sacred texts, she said.

“All of this is an appalling and tragic act of human destruction,” she said.

U.N. officials were studying satellite imagery of the destruction, since it remains too dangerous to approach the site, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.