Iraq – Nimrud

Archaeological and topographical researh in Nimrud
Paolo Fiorina

Nimrud, the ancient Kalhu, was founded in the 9th century BC as the capital and royal residence by Assurnasirpal II, the first great sovereign of the Neo-Assyrian empire. The site was investigated by the Centro Scavi in years 1987, 1988 and 1989 through:

  • a topographical survey;
  • an archaeological survey;
  • the excavation of Fort Salmanassar.

The excavation in the latter site, however, was partial. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Gulf War did not allow the completion of the works planned at the start of the Italian mission.

Topographical survey

Surveying in the city area highlighted a series of large squares and courtyards around which houses were arranged. The layout of the roads is very unclear; it may be hypothesized that the urban layout of Nimrud was composed of a series of large squares or gardens connected to each other by wide passage ways such as the one that connected the wide area outside Fort Shalmaneser and the rest of the lower city. A large square (possibly used for parades) extended at the feet of the acropolis. The entire city was surrounded by walls. The location of the zoological and botanical gardens is uncertain: if historical texts tell us that the latter was located outside the city, the zoological garden was probably inside of the city; the most likely site is a tell situated at the centre of the west side of the city. This seems to be suggested by the extreme scarcity of ceramic fragments found on the surface.

Archaeological survey

The collection of pottery fragments on the surface is very partial, as it was carried out exclusively along the west side, along half of the north side and in the corner occupied by the outer wall of Fort Shalmaneser. It anyhow allowed us to establish that the settlement was extremely long-lived: from the Halaf period to the Sasanian and Early Islamic periods. The presence of painted Halaf pottery is attested by monochrome sherds, found during the excavation along the fort’s outer walls; the presence of Obeid 4 pottery is more evident, as fragments were found, along with painted Nineveh 5 sherds, in the central part of the city. While it is still difficult to define an overall chronological assessment of the Neo-Assyrian pottery scattered throughout the urban area, it is now easier to date the Neo-Babylonian ceramics found in a stratification during soundings carried out in Fort Shalmaneser, at the corner of its outer walls and at the entrance gate to the plateau around the fort. This type of pottery is sporadically present in some of the areas in which the survey was carried out. The Hellenistic period attests to a contraction of the urban area. A further contraction is attested by the concentration of Sasanian and Early Islamic fragments on the large tell at the eastern base of the acropolis.

The excavation of Fort Shalmaneser

TThe excavation concentrated on the area of Fort Shalmaneser, a vast building that was extensively studied by the British School of Archeology in Iraq, along the walls of the lower city and along the fort’s outer walls.

Level 0 most likely dates back to Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) and pertains to the construction of the city walls that were found in the four extensive soundings performed along the walls of the lower city.

Level 1 dates back to Shalmaneser III (859-824 BC). The fort was built during this period. In the Italian excavations, this is attested by the rooms’ main walls and by the stone slab floor of the courtyard in front of them. The outer wall and the gate present in soundings A1, A2, A3 and A4 were also built during Shalmaneser III’s reign.

Level 2 probably dates back to Adad-Narari III (810-783 BC), with minimum reconstructions inside the fort’s structures. This level’s chronology is hypothetical and is based on data provided by the British mission. The inner walls, running parallel to the fort’s outer walls, in areas A1 and A2, were also constructed during Adad-Narari III’s reign.

Level 3 dates back to Esarhaddon (680-669 BC), the period in which the fort became Ekal Masharti; in this period, the building underwent considerable reconstruction. The central courtyard was subdivided into six rooms and a corridor; three doors, belonging to Room A1, were closed off and the floors are all made of pressed mud. A similar floors’ elevation was observed in the other excavation areas, where additional walls were also built (1-2-3 in purple).

Level 4 does not display considerable variations in the site’s layout and displays only the elevation of all the rooms’ floors. It dates back to Sin-shar-ishkun (627-612 BC); most of the objects found in the fort probably belong to this level.

Il livello 5a-b-c dates back to the Neo-Babylonian period (post-612 BC): it is clearly visible in a new room built off axis, parallel to room A1 of the fort. The most extensive works performed on the corner of the outer walls and the entrance gate, which was closed and walled up, are also ascribable to this period. According to their finding place, The objects brought to light at Fort Shalmaneser date back to the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun. However, it is not certain that they are contemporary to the king. In fact, after the first Neo-Babylonian attack against the Assyrian empire, which inflicted considerable damage to Nimrud itself, the fort was rebuilt and a large quantity of objects present in Nimrud were rearranged. These objects include a considerable number of ivories, mostly in the Phoenician style, depicting winged genies, sphinxes, griffons and heads of humans and deities; in addition to the ivories, a countless number of glass paste objects depicting wings of sphinxes, lotus flowers, other floral and vegetable elements and human head profiles were brought to light. In addition to these objects, large seashells displaying varying degrees of workmanship (from rough to semi-complete) and whose function is uncertain were found. Close to these shells, an iron and bronze brazier depicting the walls and towers of a city was also found.


2010 “Nimrud/Kalhu: l’industria litica su pietra levigata dalla prospezione di superficie e dall’area di Forte Salmanassar”, Mesopotamia, XLV, 85-111.

2001, "Nimrud: les coquillages de Fort Salmanassar", in Etudes Mesopotamiennes, Recueil des textes offert à Jean-Louis Hout, Parigi, 163-175.
2004, "Forte Salmanassar - Gli scavi italiani", in Iraq prima e dopo la guerra. I siti archeologici, Roma, 77-80.
2004, voce "Namrud" in Atlas os preclassical upper Mesopotamia, Subartu XIII, 249.
2011 “La città bassa di Nimrud: testimonianze topografiche e cronologiche”, Mesopotamia, XLVI, 127-136.

1998, "Un braciere da Forte Salmanassar", Mesopotamia XXXIII, 167-188.

2013, “Una coppia di tori androcefali alati da Nimrud”, in Μνημειον. Scritti in memoria di Paolo Fiorina, raccolti da Antonio Invernizzi (Mnème, 9), 163-183.

2012 “Nimrud – Kalkhu. A re-examination of the topographical Studies conducted between 1987 and 1989”, Mesopotamia, XLVII, 117-120.

2012 “New inscribed bricks from Nimrud”, Mesopotamia, XLVII, 113-116.

2006 «Avori dagli scavi italiani a Forte Salmanassar (Nimrud). Figure umane - elementi vegetali – leoni», Mesopotamia, LXI, 57-156.

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