The City of Arbela

City of Arbela

Map: Mesopotamia Valley

Courtesy: Archaeology Magazine

Arbela’s (modern Erbil) strategic location between the great Assyrian cities to the west and south, and the Zagros Mountains to the east, placed it at the heart of the ancient Near East’s most important cities and empires.

Archaeology Magazine, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America has an interesting article on the city of Arbela in its September/October issue. The ancient city of Arbela was located in the northern Mesopotamian plain The mound in which the city was located was built up by its inhabitants about 6,000 years ago.

Below is an excerpt from the article published in Archaeology Magazine:

The first mention of Arbela is found on clay tablets dating to about 2300 B.C. They were discovered in the charred ruins of the palace at Ebla, a city some 500 miles to the west in today’s Syria that was destroyed by the emerging Akkadian Empire. These tablets, some of the thousands found at the site in the 1970s, mention messengers from Ebla being issued five shekels of silver to pay for a journey to Arbela.

A century later, the city became a coveted prize for the numerous ancient Near Eastern empires that followed. The Gutians, who came from southern Mesopotamia and helped dismantle the Akkadian Empire, left a royal inscription that boasts of a Gutian king’s successful campaign against Arbela, in which he conquered the city and captured its governor, Nirishuha. Nirishuha, and possibly other inhabitants of Arbela as well, was likely Hurrian. Little is known about the Hurrians, who were members of a group of either indigenous peoples or recent migrants from the distant Caucasus. This inscription provides our first glimpse into the identities of the multiethnic people of Arbela.

In the late third millennium B.C. the southern Mesopotamian city of Ur began to build its own empire, and sent soldiers 500 miles north to subdue a rebellious Arbela. Rulers of Ur claimed, in contemporary texts, that they had smashed the heads of Arbela’s leaders and destroyed the city during repeated and bloody campaigns. Other texts from Ur record beer rations given to messengers from Arbela and metals, sheep, and goats taken to Ur as booty. Three centuries later, in an inscription said to have come from western Iraq, Shamshi-Adad I, who established a brief but large empire in upper Mesopotamia, tells of encountering the king of Arbela, “whom I pitilessly caught with my powerful weapon and whom my feet trample.” Shamshi-Adad I had the monarch beheaded.

The article presents a fascinating effort of archaeologists to discover the rich history of Arbela. Recent archaeological work at the site revealed the remains of a renowned temple dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of love and war.

The article is available online and can be read by visiting Archaeology Magazine online.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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