Mesopotamian archaeological sites
This page shows the location of the major cities of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. These are located in the modern nations of Iraq and Iran.
For each location, there is a brief description of the city and its place in history. For each location there are a number of links. The first is to the Wikipedia page. There are two links to Google maps, one showing the general geographical location, and the other showing an aerial view of the archaeological site, if it has been excavated. Many of these sites are UNESCO World Heritage sites, so the link to these is included.
The following locations are described. The name of each location is a link to information about the site further down the page.
Calah or Nimrud (Assyria)
Assur was the capital of the Old Assyrian Empire during the second millennium BC, until it was conquered by the Babylonians under Hammurabi. During the neo-Assyrian Empire the capital was moved to other cities, first of all to Calah, then to Nineveh. The ruins of Assur are on the west bank of the River Tigris about 30km (20 miles) south of Mosul in Iraq, and are now a UNESCO World Heritage site, but have been damaged during the recent conflicts.
This was the site of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883 - 859 BC), originally discovered in 1845 by Henry Austin Layard, who is known as the father of Assyriology. It is situated approximately 30km (20 miles) south of the Iraqi city of Mosul. Many of the wall panels are now displayed in the British Museum in London.
Khorsabad is about 15km (10 miles) north-east of Mosul, Iraq. The palace was built by Sargon II to commemorate his military conquests. The old capital of Calah, or Nimrud, remained a military centre.
Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. It lies within the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Sennacherib restored the capital back to Nineveh, and built himself a palace here.
Balawat was a smaller town north-east of Nimrud (Calah). It is the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Imgur-Enlil, meaning 'Enlil agreed'. The city was founded by Ashurnasirpal II, with construction continuing under Shalmaneser III.
The reconstructed gates from a royal building built by Shalmaneser III in 845 BC in Balawat are displayed in the British Museum. The bronze bands are decorated with scenes of battle, including the Battle of Qarqar.
Carchemish was the location of a significant battle in 605 BC, which is mentioned several times in the OT. It marked a change in the dominant world power from Egypt to Babylon, when Neco of Egypt was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Following this battle Judah came under the control of Babylon.
Jeremiah used this battle to date his prophetic word to Egypt, "Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah" (Jer 46:2). King Josiah confronted the Egyptian army on its way to Carchemish, and was killed at the Battle of Megiddo, even though Neco stated that he was not at war with Judah (2 Chr 35:20-24).
In the 13th century BC Carchemish had been an important Hittite centre, and continued to be occupied by the Hittites until the final remnant of that empire was wiped out in 605 BC. The gold decorations of the last king of the Hittites is displayed in the British Museum.
The site of Carchemish is on the west bank of the River Euphrates on the Turkish side of the border between the modern nations of Turkey and Syria, near the Turkish town of Karkamis.
The ancient city of Babylon was built on both sides of the River Euphrates.
It became the capital of the neo-Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, and the location of the exile of the Jews from Judah (2 Kg 25, 2 Chr 36). The prophet Daniel became prominent in the court of Babylon.
The ruins of Babylon are near the Iraqi town of Hillah, about 85 km (53 miles) south of Baghdad.
Ur was a major city of the Sumerian empire. The ruins of Ur are near the town of Nassriya in Iraq, west of the River Euphrates. Originally situated at the top of the Persian Gulf and an important port, because of silting, it is now well inland. Ur gradually declined in importance and was replaced by Babylon as the major Sumerian city. Ur was the birthplace of Abraham (Gen 11:31).
The ancient city of Ur was excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in 1923. There are many artifacts from Ur displayed in the British Museum which show the advanced civilisation that existed at that time.
Ecbatana was the capital of Media located in the modern Iranian town of Hamedan.
King Darius looked in the archives of Ecbatana to find the decree of Cyrus, as described by Ezra, "Then King Darius made a decree, and they searched the archives where the documents were stored in Babylon. But it was in Ecbatana, the capital of the province of Media, that a scroll was found on which this was written: 'A record. In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt ...'" (Ezra 6:1-3).
Susa is an ancient city in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km (160 miles) east of the Tigris, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers in Iran. Susa was the capital of Elam and the Achaemenid Empire, and remained a strategic centre during the Parthian periods.
The site currently consists of three archaeological mounds, covering an area of around one square kilometre. The modern Iranian town of Shush is located on the site of ancient Susa.
Susa was the site of the palace of Ahasuerus, the Persian king who married Esther. "This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his officials and ministers." (Esther 1:1-3).
Pasargadae was the first capital city of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire under Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC), who ordered its construction near the site of his victory over King Astyages of Media in 550 BC.
The city remained the Achaemenid capital until Darius moved it to Persepolis. It is situated about 90 km (56 miles) north-east of the modern city of Shiraz. One of the most important monuments remaining is the tomb of Cyrus, which is inscribed, "Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument."
The city of Persepolis was built by King Darius I of Persia (522 – 486 BC) as a new capital city to replace Pasargadae, which had been built by Cyrus the Great. It remained the capital of the Persian empire until it was captured and burned by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. It is situated about 60 km (37 miles) north-east of the city of Shiraz, and about 30 km (19 miles) south-west of the ruins of Pasargadae.