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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.
Yet despite its place as one of the ancient Near East’s most significant cities, Erbil’s past has been largely hidden.Ground-penetrating radar recently detected two large stone structures below the citadel’s center that may be the remains of a renowned temple dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of love and war.There, according to ancient texts, Assyrian kings sought divine guidance, and Alexander the Great assumed the title of King of Asia in 331 B. Other new work includes the search for a massive fortification wall surrounding the ancient lower town and citadel, excavation of an impressive tomb just north of the citadel likely dating to the seventh century B.A textile museum opened in a restored, grand, century-old mansion in early 2014, and work rebuilding the adjacent nineteenth-century Ottoman gate, which sits on much more ancient foundations, is nearing completion.The conservation work is also giving archaeologists the chance to dig into the mound—which has just been declared a World Heritage Site—once so wholly inaccessible.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. the southern Mesopotamian city of Ur began to build its own empire, and sent soldiers 500 miles north to subdue a rebellious Arbela.
The first mention of Arbela is found on clay tablets dating to about 2300 B. 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.
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. C., Arbela was a prosperous town on the eastern frontier of Assyria, which covered much of northern Mesopotamia.
Over the next centuries, the Assyrians, a tight-knit trading people who built an independent kingdom just to the west and south of Arbela, became the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful empire the world had seen.
Nevertheless, Novacek, Mac Ginnis, their Iraqi colleagues, and archaeologists from Italy, France, Greece, Germany, and the United States, are using old aerial photographs, Cold War satellite imagery, and archives of ancient cuneiform tablets to pinpoint the best spots to dig in order to take advantage of this first real opportunity to examine Erbil’s past.