site located in northern Iraq, on the east bank of the Tigris River, southeast of Mosul (36°06′ N, 43°19′ E). The site covers an area of about 360 hectares (889 acres) and consists of a walled enclosure with a Citadel in the southwest corner, on which there were many public buildings, and an arsenal, known as Fort Shalmaneser, in its southeast corner. There has been little excavation in the outer town. In Assyrian texts the city is known as Kalḫu (the biblical equivalent is Calah), first attested in the thirteenth century BCE. The modern name of Nimrud derives from an association with Nimrod, “the mighty hunter,” whose legend is described (rather differently) in both the Bible (Gn. 10:8–12) and the Qur'an (21:52–69). The site's first excavator, A. H. Layard, originally thought it was Nineveh. It was not until 1853 that H. C. Rawlinson demonstrated that it was in fact Kalḫu.

Although Nimrud is mainly known as a Neo-Assyrian capital, the site was occupied from prehistoric times, as attested by Ḥalaf- and Ubaid-period sherds found on the surface. Layard found pottery vessels of incised Ninevite V ware, and W. K. Loftus discovered a stone cist grave in the southeast part of the Citadel dating to the mid-second millennium BCE or slightly earlier. M. E. L. Mallowan found evidence of Middle Assyrian occupation in the so-called 1950 Building on the Citadel and in private houses built against the town wall on the east side of the Citadel (TW 53). It was this time that Shalmaneser I (1273–1244 BCE) did some building at Nimrud; however, it was not until the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BCE) that it became a royal capital. This king initiated a major construction program continued by some of his successors, including Shalmaneser III (858–824 BCE), Adad-Nirari III (810–783 BCE), and Tiglath-Pileser III (744–727 BCE). During the reign of Sargon (721–705 BCE) the royal capital was moved to Khorsabad, but Kalḫu remained an important provincial capital. Esarhaddon (680–669 BCE) undertook some further building work here. In 614–612 BCE, Nimrud, together with other Assyrian centers, was destroyed by the Medes; extensive traces of this destruction were found in the excavations. There is evidence for limited occupation in the post-Assyrian period, albeit of an impoverished kind. There are also slight traces of habitation in the Achaemenid period, supported by the observations of Xenophon, who passed the site (which he called Larissa) In 401 BCE. Remains of the Hellenistic period are more substantial, particularly in the southeast part of the Citadel, where a succession of settlements was excavated dating from about 240 to 140 BCE. This occupation may have continued into Parthian and Sasanian times. Thereafter, Nimrud remained for all intents and purposes, unoccupied.

The first recorded excavations at Nimrud were undertaken by G. P. Badger In 1844, but it was Layard who realized the site's true potential and whose name is firmly linked with it. He worked there from 1845 to 1847 and 1849 to 1851, supported first by Sir Stratford Canning and then by the trustees of the British Museum. He was helped by a young Chaldean Christian from Mosul, Hormuzd Rassam. The results were spectacular. In the Northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II he excavated mainly in the state apartments to the south of the main entrance. Lack of funds prevented him from completely excavating many of the rooms; he contented himself with trenching round the walls. Nevertheless, he uncovered many stone relief slabs and a number of colossal stone gateway figures, some of which are now in the British Museum. Elsewhere on the site, Layard excavated in the Ninurta and Ishtar Šarrat-niphi temples, and the Central, South-East and South-West palaces. In front of the so-called Central Building he found the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III that shows the biblical king Jehu submitting to the Assyrian king and tribute being brought from various parts of the Near East. He even worked briefly around the Ziggurat and Fort Shalmaneser. It is difficult to overestimate the enormity of Layard's contribution, not only to what is known about Nimrud, but to Mesopotamian archaeology in general.

A complete plan of the city, which is still useful today, was produced by Captain Felix Jones of the Indian Navy In 1852. In 1854–1855 W. K. Loftus, working on behalf of the Assyrian Excavation Fund, excavated mainly in the Central Palace area, the South-East and South-West palaces, and the Nabu Temple. His most interesting results, however, were obtained in the Burnt Palace, where he found an important collection of ivories. He also discovered a grave dating from the early–mid-second millennium BCE. For the next eighteen years no serious archaeological work was done at Nimrud, but two large collections of sculptures were removed during this time and sent to Zurich and Paris. In 1873 the cuneiform scholar George Smith of the British Museum worked briefly at Nimrud, investigating various buildings on the Acropolis, but without achieving any significant results. Then, from 1877 to 1879, Hormuzd Rassam returned to Nimrud, also sent by the trustees of the British Museum. In addition to working in the Nabu Temple and the South-East and Central Palace areas, he discovered the Kidmuri Temple northeast of the North-West Palace.


NIMRUD. Relief from Nimrud depicting a battle scene. Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Alinari/Art Resource, NY)

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After Rassam's departure, there was a lull in archaeological work at Nimrud until 1949 when M. E. L. (Sir Max) Mallowan resumed work on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. This expedition worked at Nimrud until 1963—after 1958 under the direction of David Oates and In 1963 of Jeffrey Orchard. In the North-West Palace, the British School team excavated the domestic quarters to the south of passage P and cleared part of the Administrative Wing (ZT) on the north side. They also cleared out the wells in rooms AB and NN. Elsewhere on the Acropolis the British School expedition worked mainly in the Ninurta Temple, the 1950 Building, the Governor's Palace, the Nabu Temple, the Burnt Palace, and the South-East Palace. They also investigated houses abutting the town wall (TW53) and cleared a stretch of stone wall on the west side of the Acropolis. From 1958 onward, the building in the southeast corner of the city (Fort Shalmaneser) was the main focus of attention. This vast building's ground plan was established, and many of its chambers were cleared, producing extensive and varied collections of carved ivories.

From 1974 to 1976, a Polish team led by Janusz Meuszyński worked in the central part of the Nimrud Acropolis on what he termed the Central Building, probably a temple built by Ashurnasirpal II, and on the Central Palace of Tiglath-Pileser III. The Poles were followed, from 1987 to 1989, by an Italian team from the Centro Scavi, Turin, led by Paolo Fiorina. They completed a contour plan of the entire city and undertook a surface-sherd survey. Otherwise, their attention was focused on Fort Shalmaneser. They investigated the wall separating the fort compound from the rest of the city and its junction with the main city wall; they also excavated or reexcavated a number of storerooms in the southwest sector, particularly SW36 and SW37. They recovered a number of ivories, but outstanding among the finds from this area was a bronze and iron model of a turreted fortress on wheels. In 1989, a British Museum team, directed by John Curtis and Dominique Collon, returned to Nimrud and also worked in Fort Shalmaneser. They partially excavated room T20, finding a bronze horse harness and glazed bricks of Shalmaneser III with Aramaic signs and pictographic symbols on their unglazed surfaces. They also found clear evidence of rebuilding activities, probably in the reign of Esarhaddon.


NIMRUD. Assyrian relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II. Detail from Ashurnasirpal's siege of a city showing King Ashurnasirpal in royal progress. Dated to the seventh century BCE. Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY)

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Meanwhile, the Iraq Department of Antiquities had begun restoration work at Nimrud In 1956; they continued the project In 1959–1960. Since 1969 the work has been carried out annually. The emphasis is on reexcavation and restoration, principally in the North-West Palace and the Nabu Temple. In 1975, the clearance of the well in room AJ, directed by Muyasser Sa'id, produced another spectacular collection of ivories. Even more remarkable discoveries were made in a series of four tombs excavated between spring 1988 and November 1990 by Muzahim Mahmud in the southern part of the North-West Palace. These tombs contained vessels in precious metal and an astonishing array of gold jewelry; the tombs seem to have been the graves of the consorts of a number of Assyrian kings.

Nimrud's Citadel was surrounded by its own mud-brick wall, which, on the west side, overlooking the Tigris floodplain, was faced with stone blocks (sometimes called the quay wall). The largest and most important building on the Citadel in the North-West Palace, built by Ashurnasirpal II and partly restored by several later kings. It measures about 200 m north-south, although its southern limit has not been established. In the center were state apartments lavishly decorated with sculptured stone slabs as well as painted plaster and glazed bricks. In several of the more important gateways were colossal stone figures of human-headed lions or bulls. The northern wing of the palace (ZT) held offices and storerooms, while the southern wing held private apartments and what may have been the harem. The more important finds from the palace include the so-called banquet stela of Ashurnasirpal II describing his conquests and building works at Nimrud and ending with a description of the banquet to celebrate the building of the palace. This was found in a recess near gate E. The excavation of room AB recovered a large collection of bronzes, including furniture ornaments and bowls decorated in Syrian and Phoenician style, and several interesting glass vessels, including a vase inscribed with the name of Sargon. Important finds also came from a number of the wells. In the well in room NN a collection of ivories was discovered that includes the two well-known heads of women popularly known as the Mona Lisa and the Ugly Sister and two ivory plaques with traces of gold overlay, each showing a lioness mauling an African. In the well in room AB were ivory and wood writing boards with waxcoated surfaces. More ivories were recovered from the well in room AJ, including pyxides, bowls, small human heads, and carved tusks.

The palace's south wing is notable for the discovery there of a series of rich graves, all apparently of high-ranking women. Beneath the floor of room DD, Mallowan had found a terra-cotta coffin with a female skeleton and the so-called Nimrud jewel, but Mahmud's recent discoveries overshadow this grave. He found four subterranean chambers with barrel-vaulted roofs, three of which held astonishing collections of jewelry. The first tomb, in room MM, contained a pottery sarcophagus and jewelry that included a gold fibula and chain attached to a stamp seal in a gold mount. The second tomb, in room 49, had various inscriptions mentioning Yabâ, Banîti, and Atalia, “queens” or “palace women” of Tiglath-Pileser III, Shalmaneser V (726–722 BCE), and Sargon, respectively. A stone coffin held at least two bodies and a vast array of grave goods, including gold bowls, earrings, and necklaces. A Phoenician-style gold bowl has embossed decoration showing boats in a papyrus thicket. The third tomb, in room 57, was originally the grave of Mulissu-mukannišat-Ninua, a queen of Ashurnasirpal II, but it had been reused. The original stone sarcophagus was empty, but badly preserved bones and an stunning variety of grave goods were found in three bronze coffins in the antechamber. The large number of gold objects included an intricate crown or headdress. The fourth tomb contained large numbers of glazed pottery and alabaster vessels.


NIMRUD. Head of “Madonna” in ivory from Nimrud. Dated to 720 BCE. Iraq Museum, Baghdad. (Scala/Art Resource, NY)

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At the extreme northwest corner of the Citadel was the Ziggurat, and sandwiched between it and the North-West Palace was the Ninurta Temple, built by Ashurnasirpal II. At one entrance a pair of human-headed lions stood watch, while outside a second entrance a massive, round-topped stela of Ashurnasirpal II showed the king with symbols of the gods. Stone reliefs at these entrances show protective genies; one remarkable example shows a god battling with a monster that is a mixture of an eagle and a lion.

There were two other temples in this area, one dedicated to Ishtar Šarrat-nipḫi and the other to the Kidmurri. The former had colossal lions flanking the doorway; a magnificent limestone statue of Ashurnasirpal II standing on a red stone base was set up inside.

In the middle of the Citadel, among other important buildings, was the so-called Central Building and the Central Palace of Tiglath-Pileser III. Painted decoration and winged bulls were found here, as well as sculptured slabs, stacked and ready for reuse in the South-West Palace.

To the east of the Central Palace was the Governor's Palace, the residence of the governor of Kalḫu in the eighth century BCE. An important Archive of administrative tablets was found there. South of this building were the Burnt Palace and the Nabu Temple. The Burnt Palace was a ninth-century building that was subsequently rebuilt twice—the second time by Sargon, who may have used it as a royal residence. An important collection of ivories come from this palace (see above).

The Nabu Temple included shrines dedicated to Nabu and his consort Tashmetum and a reception suite. Ashurnasirpal claimed to have founded the building, but much of the construction work was done in the reign of Adad-Nirari III. A number of tablets were found here, including the “vassal treaties” of Esarhaddon. The temple held two pairs of statues of attendant gods, one colossal and one life-sized; inscriptions on the latter mention Adad-Nirari III. There was also a round-topped stela of Shamshi-Adad V (823–811 BCE), showing the king with symbols of gods. A number of incised ivory plaques in Assyrian style were found in this building.

The excavation of the two buildings at the extreme south end of the Citadel is incomplete. The South-West Palace was built by Esarhaddon and was decorated with reliefs of Ashurnasirpal II and Tiglath-Pileser III in secondary use. The so-called South-East Palace was apparently built by Shalmaneser III and later restored.

The building known as Fort Shalmaneser in the southeast corner of the city was a palace for reviewing troops (ekal māšarti) built by Shalmaneser III and restored by Esarhaddon. It is within a walled enclosure that covers about 30 hectares (74 acres). Later, stone walls with a postern gate in the south part were built by Esarhaddon. The building includes a block of state apartments (T) as well as storerooms and barracks grouped around courtyards. Outstanding finds include the throne-base of Shalmaneser III from throne room (T1). The sides are carved with scenes of tribute being brought to the king. A panel of painted and glazed bricks set above a doorway in courtyard T, which shows Shalmaneser III standing beneath a winged disk, within a framework of goats and floral motifs. In addition, important collections of smaller items have come from many of the rooms: ivories from rooms SW7, SW12, SW37, NW15, and NW21 and bronze furniture from room NE26. Tablets, including wine-ration lists, were found at various locations.

[See also the biographies of Layard, Mallowan, and Rawlinson.]


  • Curtis, J. E., Dominique Collon, and A. R. Green. “British Museum Excavations at Nimrud and Balawat in 1989.” Iraq 55 (1993): 1–37.
  • Dalley, Stephanie, and J. N. Postgate. The Tablets from Fort Shalmaneser. Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud, 3. London, 1984.
  • Herrmann, Georgina. Ivories from Room SW37, Fort Shalmaneser. Ivories from Nimrud, 4. London, 1986.
  • Herrmann, Georgina. The Small Collections from Fort Shalmaneser. Ivories from Nimrud, 5. London, 1992.
  • Layard, Austen H. Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. London, 1853.
  • Layard, Austen H. Nineveh and Its Remains (1849). New York, 1970.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L. Nimrud and Its Remains. 3 vols. London, 1966.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L., and L. G. Davies. Ivories in Assyrian Style. Ivories from Nimrud, 2. London, 1970.
  • Mallowan, M. E. L., and Georgina Herrmann. Furniture from SW7, Fort Shalmaneser. Ivories from Nimrud, 3. London, 1974.
  • Orchard, J. J. Equestrian Bridle-harness Ornaments. Ivories from Nimrud, 1.2. London, 1967.
  • Postgate, J. N., and J. E. Reade. “Kalḫu.” In Reallexikon der Assyriologie, vol. 5, pp. 303–323. Berlin, 1977–1980.
  • Postgate, J. N., ed. and trans. The Governor's Palace and Archive. Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud, 2. London, 1973.
  • Reade, J. E. “Nimrud.” In Fifty Years of Mesopotamian Discovery, edited by J. E. Curtis, pp. 99–112. London, 1982.
  • Wilson, J. V. Kinnier. The Nimrud Wine Lists. Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud, 1. London, 1972.

In addition to the works listed below, readers may wish to consult various articles related to the topic, too numerous to list here, that appeared in the journal Iraq between vol. 12 (1950) and vol. 25 (1963).

John Curtis