“Fuit et Ninus, imposita Tigri, ad solis occasum spectans, quondam clarissima.”—PLIN. H. N. vi. 13.
The site of the great capital of Assyria had generally been regarded as fixed with sufficient certainty to the tract immediately opposite Mosul, alike by local tradition and by the statements of ancient writers, when the discovery by modern travellers of architectural remains of great magnificence at some considerable distance from this position, threw a doubt upon the generally received belief, and made the true situation of the ancient Nineveh once more a matter of controversy. When the noble sculptures and vast palaces of Nimrud were first uncovered, it was natural to suppose that they marked the real site; for it seemed unlikely that any mere provincial city should have been adorned by a long series of monarchs with buildings at once on so grand a scale and so richly ornamented. A passage of Strabo, and another of Ptolemy, were thought to lend confirmation to this theory, which placed the Assyrian capital nearly at the junction of the Upper Zab with the Tigris; and for awhile the old opinion was displaced, and the name of Nineveh was attached very generally in this country to the ruins at Nimrud.
Shortly afterwards a rival claimant started up in the regions further to the north. Excavations carried on at the village of Khorsabad showed that a magnificent palace and a considerable town had existed in Assyrian times at that site. In spite of the obvious objection that the Khorsabad ruins lay at the distance of fifteen miles from the Tigris, which according to every writer of weight anciently washed the walls of Nineveh, it was assumed by the excavator that the discovery of the capital had been reserved for himself, and the splendid work representing the Khorsabad bas-reliefs and inscriptions, which was published in France under the title of “Monument de Ninive,” caused the reception of M. Botta’s theory in many parts of the Continent.
After awhile an attempt was made to reconcile the rival claims by a theory, the grandeur of which gained it acceptance, despite its improbability. It was suggested that the various ruins, which had hitherto disputed the name, were in fact all included within the circuit of the ancient Nineveh; which was described as a rectangle, or oblong square, eighteen miles long and twelve broad. The remains of Khorsabad, Koyunjik, Nimrud, and Keremles marked the four corners of this vast quadrangle, which contained an area of 216 square miles—about ten times that of London! In confirmation of this view was urged, first, the description in Diodorus, derived probably from Ctesias, which corresponded (it was said) both with the proportions and with the actual distances; and next, the statements contained in the book of Jonah, which (it was argued) implied a city of some such dimensions. The parallel of Babylon, according to the description given by Herodotus, might fairly have been cited as a further argument; since it might have seemed reasonable to suppose that there was no great difference of size between the chief cities of the two kindred empires.