modern village on the site of the ancient city of Dur Sharrukin (“fortress of Sargon”), is located in northern Iraq about 20 km (12 mi.) northeast of Nineveh (36°31′ N, 43°14′ E). The ancient city was founded by Sargon II, king of Assyria (721–705 BCE), who purchased the site from the inhabitants of a local village, Magganubba, and built a city there to be his new capital. The reasons for Sargon's decision to build a new capital are not clear. If he usurped the throne, as has often been thought, he may have wished to create a new administrative center away from hostile elements in the older Assyrian cities. He may, however, have simply wished to display his power and wealth by creating a splendid new capital for the expanding Assyrian Empire. With prisoners of war as laborers, work on the new city began in 717, and celebrations in honor of the king and the gods taking up residence were held in 707. Construction of the city remained unfinished at the time of Sargon's death in 705. Sennacherib, his son and successor, moved the capital to Nineveh, but Dur Sharrukin appears to have remained a provincial capital until its final abandonment when the empire fell in about 612 BCE. [See Nineveh.] The identity of the site did not disappear from memory, however; the medieval Arab geographer Yaqut referred to “a city called ruins of Ṣar῾on” located beside the contemporary village of Khorsabad.

Khorsabad was the first site in Mesopotamia to be extensively excavated, and it has produced a wealth of archaeological material. Excavation at the site began in the early 1840s, with the work of Paul Émile Botta, the French consul at Mosul. Disappointed at not finding anything of particular interest during earlier digging at Kuyunjik (the citadel of ancient Nineveh), Botta turned his attention to Khorsabad, where inscribed bricks were reported to have been found by the local inhabitants. His excavations were immediately successful. Between 1843 and 1844, numerous large stone slabs with pictorial reliefs were unearthed that had lined the walls of an immense palace. [See Palace.] Botta thought that he had uncovered the biblical city of Nineveh. Eugène Flandin, an artist sent by the French government to assist Botta, made drawings of the wall reliefs that were later published. When some of the discoveries were exhibited in Paris, they caused a sensation and spurred a European hunt for Mesopotamian antiquities.

Excavation at Khorsabad was resumed from 1852 to 1854 by Victor Place, Botta's successor as French consul at Mosul. Place cleared about two hundred rooms in the palace and he, too, found numerous stone wall reliefs and statues, most of which were lost in 1855: the boat and rafts conveying them down the Tigris River on the start of their journey to Paris sank near Qurna, after being attacked by rebellious tribesmen. Fortunately, drawings of many of the reliefs and architectural plans had been made by Félix Thomas, Place's draftsman, and these were later published. In addition, photographs (calotypes) of some of the archaeological work at Khorsabad, as well as of other places in Mesopotamia, were taken by Gabriel Tranchard, an engineer and friend of Place. Among the photographs, the most impressive are those showing the various stages in the excavation of a city gate: its arched entrance displays a border of glazed bricks along its upper facade and a flanking pair of stone colossi in the form of human-headed winged bulls.

Systematic excavations at Khorsabad were not resumed until 1929, when the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago sent an expedition under Edward Chiera. The institute carried out excavations at the site until 1935, with the most important seasons (1932–1935) under the direction of Gordon Loud. Their work centered on the main citadel area, a second smaller citadel (palace F), and one of the city gates (gate 7). In 1957, the Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities carried out excavations at the temple of the Sebittu (a group of seven beneficent deities) under the direction of Behnam Abu al-Soof.

The city wall surrounding Dur Sharrukin was constructed of mud brick on top of a stone base; it was about 14 m thick and 12 m high and enclosed an area roughly square in plan (approximately 1,800 × 1,700 m—about 300 ha, or 740 acres). Seven monumental gates (gates 1–7) provided entry into the city, and each gate was given a name honoring a Mesopotamian deity (e.g., “The Goddess Ishtar Is The One Who Makes Its People Flourish”). Two gates were located on each side of the city, except on the northwest, where there was only one (gate 7). At the time of excavation, this last gateway was blocked, suggesting that the doors had never been brought into position.

The area serving as the city's main citadel was located against the northwest city wall. The citadel was on the same level as the remainder of the city but was walled off from it and made accessible by two gates (A and B). Within the citadel, the palace complex and the temple to the god Nabu were placed on platforms, raising them above the level of the other structures uncovered there (buildings J, K, L, and M). The form and placement of several of the units within the citadel seem to be somewhat haphazard and irregular. This is surprising because the city was planned and built within a brief period of time.

Khorsabad

KHORSABAD. Figure 1. Winged bull with a human head, guardian figure from the gate of the palace of Sargon II. Dated to the second half of the eighth century BCE. Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Alinari/Art Resource, NY)

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The royal palace (é-gal-gaba-ri-nu-tuku-a, “palace without rival”), with its residential, administrative, ceremonial, and religious sections, was made up of approximately 240 rooms, courtyards, and corridors, and covered about 10 ha (25 acres). The palace complex was placed on a raised terrace about 12 m high that partly jutted beyond the main line of the city wall; its inhabitants thus received the prevailing wind and also obtained a view of the nearby mountains. Access to the terrace was by means of a broad ramp that led from an open square or plaza up to the main entrance of the palace. The palace of Sargon II is perhaps the best known of all the Neo-Assyrian palaces. It was planned around three large courtyards, with the throne-room suite located between the second and third courtyards. The main entrance, on the southeast, had three monumental gateways, each of which was guarded by pairs of colossal winged bulls (see figure 1). This entrance led into the first and largest courtyard, XV (103 × 91 m). Administrative offices were probably located around this courtyard; to its northeast was the palace service area, with kitchens, storerooms, and possibly workshops. The walls of the second major courtyard (VIII), reached by passing through two chambers, were lined with stone reliefs. The ceremonial and official sections of the palace were probably located around this courtyard. On the southwest side of this courtyard, three monumental entrances led into a typical Neo-Assyrian throne-room suite. The large rectangular throne room (about 10 × 47 m) had a stone throne dais against its narrow southeastern end and was embellished with stone wall reliefs and painted decoration. Beyond the suite of rooms adjacent to the throne room was the third and innermost courtyard, around which the palace's residential quarters were probably located.

A somewhat isolated complex of rooms was discovered in the southwest corner of the palace. It was first uncovered by Place, who thought it was the palace harem (Place, 1867–1870). Subsequent work by the Oriental Institute, however, showed that this area contains six sanctuaries, and their subsidiary rooms, grouped around three courtyards (Loud, 1936). The three largest sanctuaries were dedicated to the deities Sin, Shamash, and Ningal, and the three smaller ones to Ea, Adad, and Ninurta. Nearby was a ziggurat that, according to Place, was about 43 × 43 m and could be ascended by means of a stairway that spiraled around it. [See Ziggurat.] Place also reported that each level of the ziggurat was about 6 m high and painted a different color; the four preserved levels are white, black, reddish, and bluish (Place, 1867–1870).

Khorsabad

KHORSABAD. Figure 2. Relief of an offering scene. (Alinari/Art Resource, NY)

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Sargon claimed (e.g. Fuchs, 1994, p. 294, l. 64) that he built a structure for his palace in the image of a Syrian bitḫilani, which is generally thought to have included a pillared portico. Although various locations have been suggested for this structure, including an unusual building at the north-west corner of the palace terrace, no firm identification can be made at present. Great care was taken with the construction and decoration of the palace, and Sargon boasted (Fuchs, 1994, p. 294, l. 63) that various woods and precious materials had been employed for those purposes. Important doorways were guarded by colossal statues of winged bulls with human heads and figures of protective deities. The walls of numerous public rooms were faced with stone slabs carved with scenes depicting the king's military accomplishments, ceremonial activities, and religious scenes (see figure 2).

The only independent temple in the citadel at Khorsabad was dedicated to Nabu, the god of writing and wisdom, as was the most important temple discovered on the citadel at Nimrud (ancient Kalḫu). [See Nimrud.] South of the palace terrace, and connected to it by a corbeled stone bridge, was a lower, separate platform on which a large and imposing temple of Nabu (building H) was found. The temple contained about forty- five rooms and corridors arranged around five courtyards. The two major cellae were placed next to one another, the larger one dedicated to Nabu and the slightly smaller one probably dedicated to his spouse, Tashmetu. Two important facades inside the temple were embellished with glazed-brick decoration in bright colors, depicting lions, eagles, bulls, fig trees, and ploughs. Similar decoration was also found on the courtyard facades leading into the palace's Sin, Shamash, and Ningal sanctuaries.

In addition to the palace complex and the Temple of Nabu, at least four large residences were situated in the citadel (buildings J, K, L, and M). These resembled the palace in general layout but were less complex. An inscription found on three stone threshold slabs in the largest residence (building L) indicates that it belonged to Sargon's brother, the vizier Sin-aḫa-uṣur. Although not completely excavated, the structure may have had about two hundred rooms, courtyards, and corridors. No stone wall reliefs were found in these residences, but remains of impressive painted wall decoration were found in the main reception room of building K. [See Wall Paintings.]

A second, smaller citadel (palace F) was discovered against the southwest city wall, near one of the city gates. Similar to the palace complex, it was raised above the level of the city and extended beyond the normal line of the city wall. This area has been only partially excavated and was originally thought to be the palace of the crown prince. However, a comparison with Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud makes it likely that it served as the city's arsenal and military barrack.

Limited excavation has been carried out in the city itself (as distinct from the two citadels), but one large residence located near gate B (building Z; Loud and Altman, 1938), a structure near the center of the city (building G; Place, 1867–1870), and a temple situated between gate 7 and gate A (Safar, 1957) have been uncovered. The temple was dedicated to the Sebittu (see above), and in it were found approximately fifteen stone altars of offering tables, each with the same shape: a round top and tripod base, with the bottom corners of the base carved in the form of a lion's paw.

Inscriptions of Sargon II describing his military campaigns and building activities were discovered throughout the royal palace, placed on the front and back of stone wall reliefs, on stone thresholds, on winged-bull colossi, on numerous clay barrel cylinders, and on small metal tablets, among other items. Among the other important inscriptions found at the site was the Khorsabad king list: it lists the rulers of Assyria from earliest times down to 748 BCE and was discovered in the Nabu temple by the Oriental Institute excavations.

The American excavators found few small objects in proportion to the scale of the site, a lack they attributed to the short life of the city and its orderly abandonment following Sargon's death, when most of the inhabitants moved to the new capital of Nineveh (Loud and Altman, 1938). Nevertheless, the site has produced a variety of miscellaneous objects, including carved ivories (similar to ones found at Nimrud, Arslan Tash, and Samaria), fragments of embossed bronze door bands (comparable to the ones found at Balawat), small bronze bells, and weights in the shape of ducks.

[See also Assyrians; Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia; Nineveh; and the biography of Botta.]

Bibliography

  • Albenda, Pauline. The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria. Paris, 1986.
    Brief history of the excavations at Khorsabad, followed by a detailed presentation and study of the wall reliefs found by Botta
    .
  • Amiet, Pierre. Art of the Ancient Near East. Translated by John Shepley and Claude Choquet. New York, 1980.
  • Botta, P. E., and Eugène Flandin. Monument de Ninive. 5 vols. Paris, 1846–1850. Description of Botta's work and discoveries (vol. 5) and copies of the reliefs and inscriptions found (vols. 1–4).
  • Fontan, Elisabeth, ed. De Khorsabad à Paris: La découverte des Assyriens. Notes et Documents des Musées de France, vol. 26. Paris, 1994.
    Series of popular essays treating various aspects of the French and American discoveries, published in connection with the reopening of the Assyrian galleries in the Louvre
    .
  • Frankfort, Henri. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. 4th ed. Harmondsworth, 1970.
    Dated but still useful synthesis of information on Mesopotamian art and architecture (see esp. pp. 143–152)
    .
  • Fuchs, Andreas. Die Inschriften Sargons II. aus Khorsabad. Göttingen, 1994.
  • Loud, Gordon. Khorsabad, part 1, Excavations in the Palace and at a City Gate. Oriental Institute Publications, 38. Chicago, 1936. Includes chapters by Henri Frankfort and Thorkild Jacobsen.
  • Loud, Gordon, and Charles B. Altman. Khorsabad, part 2, The Citadel and the Town. Oriental Institute Publications, 40. Chicago, 1938.
  • Place, Victor. Ninive et l'Assyrie. 3 vols. Paris, 1867–1870.
    Description of Place's work, with drawings of the major finds; lavishly produced but almost impossible to find except in the best libraries
    .
  • Safar, Fuad. “The Temple of the Sibitti at Khorsabad.” Sumer 13 (1957): 219–221,
    figs. 1–4
    .

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