ancient capital of the first dynasty of Isin, situated about 200 km (124 mi.) south–southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, about 20 km (12 mi.) south of Nippur (31° 51′ N, 45° 17′ E). The ruins of Isin cover about 1.5 sq km and are 8 m high. The site's modern name is Išān al-Baḥrīyāt. (J. N. Postgate  has proposed that during the third millennium the site was known as INki.) The identification with the ancient city was made by K. Stevenson in 1923. The first brief excavation was carried out in 1924 by the excavators of Kish, A. T. Clay and Stephen Langdon (see P. R. S. Moorey, Kish Excavations, 1923–1933, Oxford, 1978). Their trench north of the highest point was rediscovered by a German expedition in 1986, working on behalf of the University of Munich and the Bavarian Academy of Science and supported financially by the German Research Council. From 1973 to 1989, before the Gulf War, eleven seasons of excavation had taken place.
The first king of the first dynasty of Isin, Ishbi-Erra (2017–1985/1953–1921 BCE; middle, or short, chronology) may also have been the founder of the city of Isin. During the first season of excavations by the German team, however, traces of an older occupation were found, especially from the Akkadian period, and quality objects recovered, the oldest of which belong to the Ubaid period (fourth millennium). Ishbi-Erra was a general during the reign of the last ruler of the Ur III dynasty, Ibbi-Sin, prior to becoming king of Isin. According to the Bible, he belonged to the tribe of the so-called Amorites. [See Amorites.] These people spoke a West-Semitic dialect as did the later Arameans, Hebrews, and Arabs. Nomads, they invaded southern Mesopotamia from Northern Syria at the end of the third millennium. King Shu-Sin of Ur III built a wall against the Amorites between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers north of Baghdad, where the distance between the rivers is narrowest. [See Ur.] The ruins of this wall, constructed of earth and clay, can still be seen. One of the best-known subtribes of the Amorites (which means “west” in West-Semitic languages), or MAR.TU. (Sum., “west”), were the Benjaminites (“the sons of the south”), mentioned in the Bible with Abraham from Ur in Chaldea. [See Chaldeans.] From the Bible, and now also from cuneiform inscriptions, it is known that the home of the Benjaminites was both in the south near Ur and in the north near Harran (Gn. 35:18, 24; 42:4, 36; 43:14–16, 29; 34; 44:12; 45:12, 14, 22; 46:27; Dt. 33:12; Jos. 18:20, 28; Jgs. 2:21). West-Semitic tribes may have migrated from there into Canaan at the same time the Amorites invaded Mesopotamia. As a result of the biblical name Canaan, West-Semitic people in this area were called Canaanites. [See Canaanites.]
The best-known of the Amorite kings in Mesopotamia was Hammurabi of the first dynasty of Babylon (1792–1750/ 1728–1686 BCE). Unfortunately, that level in the city of Babylon has not yet been excavated because the level of ground-water is still too high. [See Babylon.] In the sixteenth century BCE, Babylon was conquered by the Hittites under King Muršili I. [See Hittites.] The real winners, however, were the Kassites, who may have come from the east (the names of some of their gods resemble those in India in the second millennium BCE), although in Mesopotamia cuneiform letters were used for the Babylonian/Akkadian as well as the Sumerian languages. [See Kassites; Cuneiform; Akkadian; Sumerian.] Just before 1000 BCE another West-Semitic people came to Mesopotamia, the so-called Arameans, who established the second dynasty of Isin and whose principal capital was Babylon, rather than Isin. [See Arameans.] The Arameans ruled over Babylonia for a long period, until the invasion of the Achaemenids under King Cyrus the Great in 538 BCE.
The primary god of Isin was the goddess Gula, the main goddess of medicine in the Near East and specially favored by the Kassites in the second millennium BCE. [See Medicine.] Her temple (60 × 90 m) was discovered at the highest point on the tell. The temple contained two chapels, one of Gula and the other of her husband, Ninurta. The main period of use was during the Kassite period. One of the temple's courtyards was covered with burned clay slabs and had stamp inscriptions of a Kurigalzu of the fourteenth century BCE. The walls were built mainly of sun-dried bricks. This temple was probably founded in the Early Dynastic period (c. 2700 BCE) because at some places below the walls of the Kassite and the Old Babylonian levels burnt and sun-dried bricks, whose shape is plano-convex, were discovered. Clay and St. Langdon had found them in their trench in 1924, as well. The building's most important feature, however, was a large (4 × 3 m) staircase in front of the temple leading to the main entrance. Excavated in the last two seasons (1986, 1989), the staircase is composed of nineteen steps of sun-dried bricks paved with clay. Curiously, the steps showed no traces of use. In front of the staircase an altar or pedestal was built up with reused bricks inscribed with the names of kings of the first dynasty of Isin, such as Bur-Sin (1895–1874/1831–1810 BCE). This staircase was in place from the beginning of the second millennium BCE until the sixth century BCE, when Nebuchadrezzar II (604–562 BCE) restored the Temple of Gula for the last time.
The staircase suggested the existence of a temple tower, the so-called ziggurat, but according to cuneiform texts there was no ziggurat at Isin. [See Ziggurat.] The sacred building was also surrounded by a great wall, a temenos, founded by Ishme-Dagan of Isin (1953–1935/1889–1871 BCE) and rebuilt in the Kassite period. The 1986 expedition searched for the second-millennium BCE palace at several locations in the ruins. In the southeast an official building was found from that period with very well made and plastered walls. The buildings ground plan could be compared to that of one of the southern buildings at Tell Asmar, also a structure with official features and significance. At Isin an archive of about eighty tablets was found, mentioning some deliveries to King Enlil-bani (1860–1837/1796–1773 BCE). [See Libraries and Archives; Tablet.]
West of the Temple of Gula two larger buildings were excavated during the last two seasons, also with some hints of being a palace. Two inscriptions on seal-impressions mention the king's scribe and brewer. South of the temple, occupation levels from the beginning of the third millennium BCE were discovered just below the surface, with circular offering tables like those at Uruk and Ur from the same period. [See Uruk-Warka.]
Outside the city of Isin were several Early Islamic buildings that were in use until the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century. One of the buildings seems to have been a caravanserai.
The site's small finds were numerous, and some are of very fine quality, especially the cylinder seal from the Akkadian period. [See Seals.] In the Temple of Gula a mace head of the Akkadian king Šar-kali-šarri (2223–2198 BCE) was found, dedicated to Gula, the Lady of Isin, an indication of the importance of Isin/INki then. The terra-cotta reliefs of the Old Babylonian period found at Isin show new motifs (e.g., representations of ostriches). A curious find from the temple area is a figurine of a kneeling man with his left hand on his back, perhaps either pointing to where he has pain or to where he was healed. The excavation's anthropologist discovered some traces of arteriosclerosis in examining skeletons at Isin. Other corpses showed a blow to the head or stroke injuries. One skull had small artificial openings in the area of the right parietal bone, indicating that a Babylonian doctor had performed a trepanation, but probably only in a postmortem, for cult purposes.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the ruins at Isin were surrounded by water, like a marsh (ḥōr), as the modern name shows: Išān al-Baḥrīyāt “monument (išān), which was nearly covered by the sea (baḥrīyāt).” The bones of deer and razorback hogs found at Isin suggest that the region was also a swamp in the past, with brushwood and trees, as those animals could only have existed in such a biotope. Among the animal bones was also a whale bone, an intimation of the legend of the prophet Jonah, who was spewn out of the mouth of such an animal, although farther north, near the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. [See Nineveh.] A mosque bearing his name, Nebi Yunus, is a reminder of the event.
- Cassin, Elena, et al., eds. Die Altorientalischen Reiche. 3 vols. Fischer Weltgeschichte, vols. 2–4. Frankfurt, 1965–1967.
- Edzard, Dietz O. Die “zweite Zwischenzeit” Babyloniens. Wiesbaden, 1957.
- Hrouda, Barthel, ed. Isin-Išān Baḥrīyāt I–IV. 4 vols. Munich, 1977–1992.
- Postgate, J. N. Sumer 30 (1974): 207ff.