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Palaces and Temples in

Ancient Mesopotamia


THIS CHAPTER REVIEWS the architecture of an w

rials used and the techniques employed and
cient Mesopotamia, the lands watered by the then gives examples of the principal types of
Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries. buildings, houses, temples, palaces, tombs,
The evidence is both too extensive and too frag­ forts, hydraulic works, and gardens: the most
mentary to treat this subject in a comprehensive characteristic forms of each building type are
manner, therefore only the best-preserved and discussed in roughly chronological order.
most clearly delineated examples are discussed
The mud-brick architecture of ancient Meso­
potamia was constantly evolving: new building BUILDING MATERIALS
materials were developed, new building tech w

niques were adopted, and above all the designs The main material used in ancient near eastern
ofbuildings were modified to suit the changing buildings was mud. The walls were made of
requirements of the inhabitants. It is difficult mud, the floors were made of mud, even the
to know when and where such changes were roofs were made of mud. This is not surprising
introduced, because despite the large number for mud is readily available in the alluvial plains
of buildings which have been excavated, most ofMesopotamia: indeed, even the life-giving wa­
excavations have produced only fragmentary ters of the great rivers of Mesopotamia in some
ground plans and there are regions of Mesopota­ seasons consist of liquid mud. Without mud
mia and long periods for which there is little or there would have been no pottery, no clay tab­
no architectural information. Furthermore the lets, and no Mesopotamian civilization.
elevations of buildings are unknown except for Mud is a very versatile building material:
a very few exceptionally well preserved struc­ walls can be built up in lumps, a technique
tures and for a limited number ofexamples illus­ known in Arabic as tau!and normally called pise
trated on bas-reliefs or on seals (see fig. 2. and in English. The mud can be formed into bricks
figs. 12. and 15). Mesopotamia was not isolated either modeled by hand or shaped in a mold.
from the surrounding regions and its architec­ After they have dried in the sun and become
ture influenced, and, in tum, was influenced by, hard, it is easy to build with them. Mud-bricks
the traditions of its neighbors and cases of such were fired in a kiln to make baked bricks to
influence can sometimes be identified. be used in drains, in paths, and in other places
This chapter describes first the building mate­ where sun-dried mud-bricks would be eroded
Social Institutions

by running water. (Baked bricks are still the most which were made of palm fronds tied together
commonly used building material in the industri­ with cord also derived from the palm. Stone,
alized world.) Mud also made a strong mortar found in most areas except those covered by
and an effective plaster for walls, Boors, and alluvial silt, could be used for building. In the
roofs. In order to build effectively with mud, it marshes of southern Iraq abundant thickets of
is necessary to temper it so that it does not crack reeds (Phragmites australis) gave rise to an alter­
when it dries. The most common temper was native architectural tradition. Spectacular recep­
straw, but a variety of materials were used, in­ tion halls known as mudhifs are built (in the
c1uding other plant material, animal dung, ani­ twentieth century AD ) almost entirely from reeds
mal fibers, sand, or grit. (see fig. 1). Similarly constructed buildings ap­
The shapes and sizes of mud-bricks varied pear on cylinder seals of the Uruk period from
over the centuries. The earliest bricks were long more than five thousand years ago (see fig. 2).
and thin. In the fourth and third millennia, Mud was readily available and labor was
bricks were generally rectangular, often twice cheap. For prestige buildings more expensive
as long as they were wide. In the Early Dynastic materials were often used, such as baked brick
period, rectangular bricks with convex tops, so­ with bitumen mortar, timber imported from the
called plano-convex bricks, were often used. Lebanon and Amanus mountains, and stones of­
From the Akkadian period onward, bricks in ten transported a considerable distance, and the
Mesopotamia tended to be square, although rooms were decorated with expensive fittings,
other shapes could be used. Mathematical texts such as wall paintings, geometric mosaics,
recorded bricks of various shapes and dimen­ carved-stone orthostats, or paneling in rare or
sions and many of these have been found in aromatic wood or in ivory.
archaeological excavations: in particular bricks
of about thirty-five square centimeters (two­
thirds cubit) are common, but many other sizes BUILDING TECHNIQUES
are also found.
Baked bricks and sometimes sun-dried mud­ Even before plants and animals were domesti­
bricks used on royal buildings were often cated, humankind had established permanent
stamped with the titles of the royal builder and settlements. Indeed, one of the mlijor reasons
sometimes with the name of the building. Nor­ that farming was adopted so widely was that it
mally these inscriptions can be used to date or enabled people to stay in the same place and to
identify the building but there are cases when establish permanent homes in which the envi­
bricks intended for one building were actually ronment could be improved through building.
used on another. The earliest buildings were semi-sunken round
If mud-brick or baked-brick arches and vaults huts, but building methods developed rapidly
were used, no other structural materials were
needed, but more often than not the lintels and
roofs were made of timber or reed. In ancient
Mesopotamia, as in the Near East today, the
buildings usually were made of rectangular or
square mold-made mud-bricks laid with mud­
mortar and covered with mud-plaster. Wooden
beams supported a roof that consisted of layers
ofbrushwood or matting covered with a layer of
earth and capped with mud-plaster.
While mud was the most widely available
building material, the date palm ofsouthern Mes­
opotamia and poplar and other trees elsewhere
provided a source of timber that could be used Fig. 1. Sketch of a mudhif built by the Marsh

for roofing normal-sized rooms. Palms provided Arabs of southern Iraq. ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM,

the building material for huts (sarifa or barasti), OXFORD

Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

ruins are covered by thick layers of mud mostly

derived from the decay of the buildings them­
selves. Only in exceptional circumstances can
the plans of buildings be observed on the sur­
face-for example, the temple and ziggurat at
Larsa (modem Tell Senkereh)-and even rarer
are opportunities for the examination of town
planning, such as in the surface survey of Tell
Taya or by scraping the surface at Abu Salabikh.
Fig. 2. Drawing of two reed huts shown on a The excavation of extensive areas of housing as
cylinder seal of the Uruk period. ASHMOLEAN was done at Ur (modem Tell al-Muqayyar) in
MUSEUM, OXFORD the 19zoS is beyond the resources ofmost recent
At different periods different types ofbuilding
and the use of rectangular rooms with walls of
were characteristic. The earliest structures have
sun-dried mud-brick and mud-plastered roofs been identified as dwellings, though some
supported by wooden beams appear in the Has­
Neolithic buildings may have served additional
sunan, Samarran, and Ubaid periods perhaps as
functions. From the Ubaid period on there are
early as 6000 BCE. Building techniques were nor­ recognizable temples, and by the Uruk period
mally quite simple. Mesopotamian builders these came to dominate the architecture of the
knew how to build arches and vaults and at times cities, along with public buildings that may have
used freestanding or attached columns, although been used for administration and as residences
flat roofs supported on timber beams were most for the religious rulers. In the middle ofthe third
common. millennium the first palaces appear. Temples
Several examples ofbuilding plans have been and palaces are the staple of the Mesopotamian
found on clay tablets, showing that Mesopota­ architectural tradition and predominate over
mian buildings were often carefully designed other building types. At the, end of the third
and that measured plans were often used in their millennium, a particular type oftemple-a high­
construction. A seated statue of Gudea, ruler of staged platform with a temple on top, known as
Lagash (circa ZlOO), is depicted with such a plan the ziggurat-became standard. Other, largely
together with a scale ruler on his knee. Evidence functional, buildings were constructed, but they
from Persepolis (circa 5(0) suggests that the pal­ are of no particular architectural interest.
aces were laid out using a fixed metrological
system. Such a system has not been demon­ Houses
strated with certainty for earlier periods but it
A fundamental architectural form ofthe Mesopo­
is very likely that this was the case. On the other
tamian world was the house (i in Sumerian, bitu
hand, it is less likely that either geometric or in Akkadian), which primarily meant the house
numerical theories exercised great influence on of a family but was also used to refer to palaces
Mesopotamian architects. and temples. These terms were sometimes quali­
fied as in i.GAL (ekallum).large house or palace,
or in i.MAR, exalted house. or i.WR, mountain
BUILDING TYPES house, both meaning temple.
Samarran houses had many rectangular rooms
The architecture of ancient Mesopotamia has with the internal walls matching the external
been revealed through archaeological excava­ buttresses. Those at Tell al-Sawwan were T­
tions. Although the eroded forms ofthe immense shaped and divided into two parts. At Songor
temple pyramids or ziggurats still dominate the and Choga Mami, houses were rectangular and
skylines ofthe ancient cities, none ofthe details the rooms formed a regular grid. In the Halaf
could be identified until they were excavated. period (circa 6ooo-s4oo BeE) the typical houses
No standing buildings survive in Mesopotamia were round structures often with a rectangular
from before the Parthian period and most ofthe annex (often incorrectly cal1ed tholoi).
Social Institutions

In the Ubaid period the houses were tripartite, yard house had an open central courtyard with
that is, they had a large central room (sometimes rooms on all sides. The main reception room
cruciform in plan) running the width ofthe build­ or living room was on one of the sides of the
ing with rows of smaller rooms on both sides. courtyard away from the main entrance. On occa­
Typical examples were found at Tepe Gawra sion both tripartite and courtyard houses were
and at Tell Madhhur (see fig. 3). More elaborate combined in a single building. Buildings with
versions with three interlocked cruciform halls courtyards were the basis for most ancient Meso­
were excavated at Tell Abada and Kheit Qasim. potamian architecture and also formed the basis
In the Uruk period the tripartite house contin­ for Islamic architecture. Courtyard houses are
ued but also a new form of domestic residence, commonly used in the Near East today.
the courtyard house, was introduced. The court- The courtyard house (see fig. 4) formed the
ideal and was adopted as the standard model for
both temples and palaces. There were, however,
occasions when other-types of houses were con­
structed. In cities, ifthere was insufficient space,
there might be rooms on only three or two sides
of the courtyard, and in the poorer areas there
might not be a courtyard at all. Furthermore the
Mesopotamian inheritance laws led to the subdi­
vision of properties, which often resulted in the
splitting of a single residence into a number of
a b smaller units. Since mud-brick is a versatile
building material, it was quite easy to block old
doorways and to cut new doorways where they

o c
were required.

Archaeologists have classified temples ac­
cording to the means of access and the shape of
the cella, where the god resided. These types are
not exclusive. For example, Babylonian temples
were typically courtyard temples with broad­
room cellas and a direct-axis approach, while
Late Assyrian temples were most commonly
courtyard temples with Long-room cellas with
Direct-axis approach. Temples were commonly
equipped with one or even two antecellas. Long
narrow rooms surrounding the shrines served to
insulate the shrine from the outside (fig. 5).
Another typical feature ofMesopotamian tem­
ples was the elaborate decoration ofthe facades,
which had complicated niches and recesses.
Sometimes these facades were ornamented with
o IS 10 m
I I I I I I I I I I I attached columns, occasionally spiral or imitat­
o 5.5 11 y<I
ing palm trunks. The principal doorways in tem­
Fig. 3. Prehistoric house plans. a-b. Samarran ples stepped in and out with multiple rabbets.
period (circa 6000 BCE): a. Tell a1-Sawwan, b. Tell These multiple rabbets are almost entirely re­
Songor A; c-d. Halaf period (circa 5500): c. Tepe stricted to religious buildings in Mesopotamia.
Gawra, d. Yarim Tepe III; e. Ubaid period (circa (See "Ancient Mesopotamian Religious Icono­
45(0): Tell Madhhur. COURTESY OF MICHAEL ROAF graphy" in Part 8, Vol. III.)
Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

the residence of the entu, the chief priestess

of the moon-god Nanna, contained a temple of
Ningal, the wife of Nanna. Temples were often
included in palaces as, for example, in the Palace
ofthe Governors at Eshnunna (Eshnunnak, mod­
em Tell Asmar) (fig. 6) and Sargon's palace at
DurSharrukin (modern Khorsabad). The temple
of Nabu at Kalkhu (modern Nimrud) included a
throne room; such rooms are normally only
found in palaces.

A remarkable series of temples was found at
o I 10 m Eridu (Abu Shahrain) dating to the Ubaid pe­
riod. The earliest example had a single room
• 1.1 11)'CI
while the later temples had the standard tripar­
tite house form, but they were more elaborate.
The outside facades were buttressed and re~
Fig. 4. Plan of Old Babylonian House D in area TB cessed where the outer walls ofdomestic houses
level II at Nippur. COURTESY OF MICHAEL ROAF normally were stepped in and out. Even more
intricate niche facades were found on the Ubaid
temples at Gawra, where the excavators discov­
ered small-scale model bricks that could have
been used in planning the b~ck lays for these
facades. These early temples had altars for the
The principal shrine in a temple was that of
cult statue or divine emblem and platforms for
the main deity, but often the deity's consort
the offerings to the gods.
would also have a shrine and other gods might
Uruk temples were derived from those of the
be worshiped in the same building as well.
preceding period and the tripartite plan was stan­
Sometimes temples and palaces were com­
dard. In the later part of the fourth millennium
bined in a single structure. The giparu at Ur,
the temples follow the Ubaid tripartite plan
more closely as, for example, those in the Uruk
"colonies" at Habuba al-Kabira and Jebel Aruda
in Syria, the Eye Temple at Tell Brak, the
Classiilcation of Temple Cellas painted temple at Tell al-Uqair, and the White
Temple at Uruk. The White Temple (see fig. 7),
Bent axis, in which the principal entrance to the cella so-called because the walls were covered with
was at right angles to the wall with the altar. This a thin layer of white gypsum plaster, was set
type was particularly characteristic of the Early Dy­ on a platform about 13 meters (43 feet) high,
nastic period, but is also found at later periods. considerably higher than the platforms on which
Direct axis, in which the principal entrance to the the Ubaid temples at Eridu were built. About
cella was in a direct line with the altar. 500 meters (1,600 feet) away from White Temple
Broad room (called in German Breitraum), in which
was Eanna, the religious complex that was dedi­
the altar lies in the middle of one of the long sides
of the cella. cated to the goddess Inanna. Here in the second
Long room (called in German Langraum), in which half of the fourth millennium an astonishing
the altar lies in the middle of one of the short sides array of buildings was constructed. Even when
of the cella. only a few courses of mud-brick remain, excava­
tors have painstakingly reconstructed the plans
Social Institutions

Another exceptional feature of some of the

buildings at Uruk was the use of columns. Spo­
radic examples of columns in Mesopotamia can
be found in almost every period but they did
not form part of the mainstream of architectural
practice as they -did in Egypt, Greece, and
Another innovation in the Late Uruk period
was the use ofcone mosaic to decorate the walls.
Cones of pottery or stone about 10 to 15 centime­
ters (4 to 6 inches) long with colored ends were
stuck into a thick layer ofmud-mortar arranged to
form geometrical patterns ofchevrons, lozenges,
triangles, and so on. This technique is not found
after the Uruk period.


Fig. 5. Reconstruction drawing of the Old
Throughoutthe period ofancient Mesopotamian
Babylonian Temple of Ishtar-Kititum at Nerebtum
(modem Ishchali). FROM JEREMY BLACK AND ANTHONY civilization there is continuity in religious archi­
tecture. The temple at Eridu continued to be
MESOPOTAMIA: AN ILLUS'l'ltATED DICTIONARY (1992) rebuilt until the first millennium BCE even
though the city itself had long been abandoned.
for such buildings and unraveled as far as possi­ The Kassite rebuilding of the Lower Temple
ble the order in which they were built. Some of at Nippur (modem Nuffar) followed exactly the
these buildings fit into the scheme we have seen plan of the Isin-Larsa temple despite a three­
elsewhere: most of them are tripartite and some hundred-year gap during which there is no evi­
have cruciform central halls ultimately based on dence for occupation at the site. Later rulers
the Ubaid house. The largest of these, Temple indeed recorded that they had searched in the
D, measured some 80 meters (260 feet) by 50 foundations and had copied the earlier plans.
meters (165 feet) and covered twice the area of Nevertheless there was some variety in the plans
the Parthenon at Athens built some three thou­ of Mesopotamian temples. The earlier type of
sand years later. The central cruciform hall was tripartite temple continued to be used in the
more than 10 meters (30 feet) wide and timber third millennium, often as part ofa larger temple
must have been imported to roof it. The excep­ complex. In the later Early Dynastic period,
tionally complicated niching is also reminiscent courtyard temples built around an internal
of the Ubaid temples at Tepe Gawra. open courtyard became the norm and remained
There are also buildings in the Eanna that do the most common type of temple. The most im­
not conform to the tripartite model. Most notable portant temples had several courtyards and the
is the Square Building, which had similar nich­ principal entrances leading to the temple cella
ing to Temple D but had a very symmetrical had doorways with stepped outlines (see fig.
plan consisting of an extensive courtyard more 8). Such multiple rabbets are characteristic of
than 30 meters (100 feet) square with large rooms Mesopotamian religious architecture. Often in
on the four sides of the courtyard. The function front of the cella was an antecella and on occa­
of the building is uncertain but because of its sion more than one.
location it must have been used for religious Three other special forms of temple may be
ceremonies. (See "Theologies, Priests, and Wor­ recognized on the basis of their architectural
ship in Ancient Mesopotamia" in Part 8, Vol. form. The first, which is restricted to the Early
III.) Dynastic period, is the Oval Temple (see fig. 10).

, Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia



o 10 20 30 ~ m
o 11 22 33 44 )'II

Fig. 6. Axonomebic drawing of the Temple of Shu-Sin and the Palace of the Governors at
Eshnunna. The Temple of Shu-Sin (a deified king of the Third Dynasty of Ur) is of typical
Babylonian form with a direct-axis broad room cella (circa 2035 BCE). The Palace of the
Governors (circa 2000) contains a temple of the same type. The space labeled Great Hall
was probably an open courtyard. ORIENTAL INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

The distinguishing feature ofthis type ofbuild­ built on platforms approached by stairs. For mil­
ing is a large curving wall surrounding the reli­ lennia temples continued to be built on raised
gious precinct. Examples have been found at podia.
Tell Khafaje, Tell al-Ubaid, and Tell al-Hiba (an­ The third type, the ziggurat (in Akkadian ziq­
cient Lagash). A temple at Barbar on the island qurratu). is a particular form of platform temple
ofBahrain has been claimed as a fourth example with several stages. The earliest ziggurats were
of this type of building. but the similarity may built by Ur-Nammu (:Ul~-2095). the first king of
be coincidentaL The arrangement within the pe­ the Third Dynasty ofUr. He constructed similar
rimeter wall of the Oval Temples is not certain buildings at Ur, Eridu. Uruk, and Nippur. These
but at least at Tell al-Ubaid and at Tell Khafaje had several stages and were equipped with three
there was a shrine on a platform reached by staircases meeting at right angles. The ziggurat
stairs. at Uris the best known of these early examples
The second type is the Platform Temple. Al­ (see fig. 9; see also fig. 1 in "Shulgi of Ur: King
ready in the Ubaid period (fifth millennium) tem­ of a Neo-Sumerian Empire" in Part 5, Vol. II).
ples were located in elevated areas and were The core ofthe structure was made of sun-dried
Social Institutions

N mud-brick, but the staircases were made of

baked brick and the whole had a facing ofbaked
brick about 2.4 meters (8 feet) thick set in bitu­
men mortar. Its rectangular lower stage mea­
sured about 60 by 45 meters (1gB by 149 feet) and
was 15 meters (50 feet) high. The outline of the
second stage was traced by the excavator and
the mud-brick core ofthe third stage was identi­
fied. It is assumed that the actual shrine was
situated on top ofthe third stage, though no trace
of a shrine has survived on any ziggurat.
Although it has been suggested that structures
concealed within later ziggurats were earlier zig­
gurats, and that the two structures of baked
plano-convex bricks of the Early Dynastic pe­
riod at Kish (Tell Ingharra) might have been
o 10 m ziggurats, these structures are not well known
I I and they may have been platfonn temples rather
o 11 yd than staged tower temples.
Fig. 7. The White Temple at Uruk, circa 3300 BeE.
In the Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian periods
that followed, ziggurats were built in most of





o S to m
o u " ~
Fig. 8. Temple of Abu at Eshnunna, with three bent-axis. long-room
sanctuaries, Early Dynastic IlIA, circa 2600 BCE. F80M P. DELOUGAZ AND

, Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

the major Mesopotamian cities: Larsa, Borsippa, the inspiration for the Tower of Babel in the
Babylon, Kish, Sippar, Asshur, Qatara (Tell al­ Bible. It is thought that the original structure
Rimah), Shubat-Enlil (Tell Leilan), and proba­ was built by Hammurabi (1792-1750). It was re­
bly other cities. Later ziggurats were built in the stored by Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) in
capital cities of AI-Untash-Napirisha (Chogha the sixth century BeE.
Zanbil in Elam), Dur-Kurigalzu (modem <Aqar Cuneiform texts give the name akitu to a partic­
QuO, Kalkhu, and Dur-Sharrukin. Particularly ular type of temple not so much because of the
under the Neo-Babylonian kings, many of the nature ofthe building but because ofthe associ­
ziggurats were restored or rather rebuilt (see the ated rituals. Akitu temples were built outside
photograph in the chapter on "Susa" in Part 5). the city walls-examples have been investi­
The most famous ofall ziggurats was the ziggu­ gated at Uruk, Babylon, and Asshur-and during
rat of Babylon, E.TEMEN.AN.K1 (..the temple the New Year a ritual procession was made to
which is the foundation of heaven and earth"), them.

Building Records
Most Mesopotamian royal inscriptions were depos­ I [1114-1078 BeE1, after A. K. Gmyson, Assyrian ROl/al
ited in the foundations or walls of buildings and in­ lmcrlptiom, vol. 2 [19761, p. 18)

cluded descriptions of the activities ofroyal building. At that time the temple ofthe goddess Ishtar of Nineveh,
They include interesting details of methods of con­ my mistress, in the grounds ofEmashmash-the old tem­
struction, such as mixing scented oils, resins, ghee, ple which Shamshi-Adad, king of Assyria, a prince who
and honey into the mortar, or making the doors of preceded me, had built-that temple had become dilapi­
cypress, cedar, juniper, or boxwood. The following dated and fallen into ruin. With the wisdom of the god
selection illustrates the royal interest in buUding and Nudimmud. the great lord. with the wide understanding
restoring the temples of the gods. which the god Ea had gmnted to me, for the adornment
of the heroic nature of the goddess Ishtar, my mistress:
(Yakhdun-Lim) erected the temple of his lord Shamash with regard to that temple, I delineated its area, dug
for his well-being; he made for him a temple of perfect out its foundation pit, rebuilt it from top to bottom, and
construction in every aspect of craftsmanship, befitting completed it. I made it larger than before. The excellent
his godhead. and installed him in this magnificent abode. [shrine11 built in a splendid fashion for the abode ofthe
He named this temple Egirza}anki meaning "The temple goddess Ishtar, my mistress. I properly settled [her great]
which is the pride of heaven and earth." (After A. Leo divinity in her shrine. (Assumasirpal II [883-859 BeE1,
Oppenheim in James B. Pritchard. ed., Ancient Near after A. K. Gmyson, Assf/rltJn ROl/allmcriptfons, vol. 2
Ea&tem Texts lard ed., IgGg], pp. 556-557) [1916], p. ISs)
In my accession year the gods Anu and Adad, the great Egigunu, the ziggumt of Nippur, the foundation ofwhich
gods my lords who love my priesthood, commanded me is placed in the breast of the ocean, the walls of which
to rebuild their shrine. I made bricks. I delineated its had grown old. and which had fallen into decay,-I built
area, dug down to the bottom of its foundation pit. and that house with baked bricks and bitumen, and com­
laid its foundation upon bedrock. I piled up that entire pJeted its construction. With the art of the god of bricks
area with bricks like an oven, making it fifty layers of I restored it and made it bright u the day. I raised its
brick deep. I laid thereon the stone foundation of the head like a mountain and caused its splendor to shine.
temple of the gods Anu and Adad. I rebuilt it from top (Assurbanipal [668-circa 627 BeE1. after D. D. Luckenbill,
to bottom and made it bigger than before. I constructed AncUmt Record.! ofAssf/rltJ and Babl/lonia, vol. 2 [1927],
two large ziggurats which were appropriate for their great p. 390)
divInity. I planned and laboriously rebuilt and completed
the pure temple, the holy shrine, their joyful abode, their I searched for its old foundation; I dug down 18 cubits
happy dwelling which stands out like the stars of heaven into the ground and Shamash, the lord of Ebabbara, the
and which represents the choicest skills of the building temple where his heart is pleased, revealed to me the
trade. Its interior I decomted like the interior of heaven. foundation of Naram-Sin, son of Sargon, which no king
I decomted its walls as splendidly as the brilliance of before me had seen for 3200 years. • . I laid its brickwork
rising stars. I mised its tower-gates and its ziggumts to on the foundation of Naram-Sin. son of Sargon. not pro­
the sky and made fast its pampets with baked brick. I truding or receding an inch. (Nabonidus [555-539 BCE1.
brought the gods Anu and Adad, the great gods, inside after Richard S. Ellis, Foundatwn Deposfts fn Ancient
and set them on their exalted thrones. (Tiglath-pileser Mesopotllmia hg681. p. 183>

43 1
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Fig. 9. Reconstruction drawing by Leonard Woolley of the ziggurat at Ur in the time of Ur­
Nammu (2112-2095 BCE), the first king of the Third Dynasty ofUr. c. L. WOOLLEY, UR

PALACES king" has been coined to describe the person in

authority in the fourth millennium at Uruk and
The Early Periods Susa. There is the possibility that sOqle of these
elaborate buildings at Uruk were used for both
The earliest monumental buildings of the Ubaid
an administrative and a ceremonial purpose. A
and Uruk periods have been identified as reli­
similar function has been ascribed to the large
gious structures, both because they were situ­
building at Jemdet Nasr, which contained ac­
ated within the area later occupied by religious
count tablets and bullae.
buildings and because of their plans and their
ornamentation with elaborate niches and re­
cesses. There are, however, a few buildings that Third and Second Millennia
are not typical of temple architecture. A partly Early secular monumental buildings, which are
investigated building at Tell-Uqair and a num­ dated to the middle ofthe Early Dynastic period,
ber of buildings in the Eanna complex at Uruk have been found at Kish (the Plano-Convex
do not show the typical tripartite plan ofcontem­ Building and Palace A) and at Eridu. Because
porary temples. The forms of these Uruk build­ these are clearly different from the contempo­
ings are not repeated in later perio.ds and it is rary temples and were not built on the site of
impossible to tell whether they were unusual earlier or later temples, it has been suggested
religious or secular buildings. In the early peri­ that they were palaces where the ruler resided.
ods (and also later) the rulers exercised religious Later palaces such as those at Ebla and Marl are
responsibilities and, indeed, the term "priest­ identified with more certainty, but doubt still

43 2
Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

Fig. 10. Khafaje Oval Temple, Early Dynastic III. ADAPTED FROM P. DELOUGAZ, THE TEMPLE

attaches to the precise function of the "Palace hundred years, contains the same element of
of Naram-Sin" at Tell Brak and the i.HUR.SAG of outer courtyards used for public administration,
Ur-Namma and Shulgi at Ur. ¥ but the palace itself was much more extensive
The classic example ofa Mesopotamian palace than the Palace of the Governors at Eshnunna:
is the Palace of the Governors at Eshnunna, it had more than 260 ground-Hoor rooms and
which is combined with two typical Babylonian covered more than 2 hectares (5 acres). Meso­
temple complexes (see fig. 6). The characteristic potamian palaces were not just residential,
feature of the palace, which is repeated in later ceremonial, and administrative centers but also
Mesopotamian palaces, is the division between might include temples, storerooms, and factories
an outer courtyard, or biibiinu, where public af­ for the manufacture of a wide range of goods.
fairs were conducted, and an inner, or bitiinu, The excavated palaces of the second millen­
courtyard, which was reserved for more private nium vary greatly in size and in preservation.
functions. Bridging the two courtyards was the The Kassite palace at Dur-Kurigalzu, for exam­
throne room, used as an audience hall by the ple, was unusual because instead of the normal
ruler. This configuration is the classic layout of arrangement oftwo rows ofrooms between court­
later Mesopotamian palaces. yards (so that all the rooms had an external wall
The plan of the palace at Mari (Tell Hariri), and direct access to a courtyard), there were
which was huilt over a period of some three three rows of rooms.


Social Institutions

The Late Assyrian Period with the temples and ziggurat squeezed into one
comer. The palace had two outer courtyards,
The most quintessentially Mesopotamian of all where the more public functions of the palace
palaces are those ofthe Late Assyrian kings dis­ administration were conducted. The largest
covered at Kalkhu, Dur-Sharrukin, and Nineveh room in the palace was the throne room, which,
(Tell Kuyunjik). The royal Assyrian palaces fol­ as is typical in these buildings, separated the
low the architectural formula seen in the Palace outer courtyards from the inner. The throne
ofthe Governors at Eshnunna and the same for­ room had three large doors. At one end the
mula appears in large private houses. The most throne stood on a stone podium and at the other
extensive palace plan is that of the Palace of end an antechamber and a large spiral staircase
Sargon at Dur-Sharrukin (see fig. 11) built be­ led up to the roof. Assyrian palaces were nor­
tween 717 and 707, largely abandoned after Sar­ mally single-story buildings but there is some
gon"s death in battle in 70S. The citadel lies evidence that the king carried out religious cere­
astride the city wall: the royal palace and temple monies on the roof. In many cases two parallel
area were built on a platform while the resi­ rows ofstone were set into the floor ofthe throne
dences of the high officials were at a lower level. room. Along these "tramlines" a wheeled bra­
The palace occupied three quarters ofthe citadel zier was rolled providing a welcome source of


Fig. 11. Reconstruction drawing of the palace area at Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsahad), 717-707

Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

heat for the ruler. These throne rooms have a Neo-Babylonian Period
bent~ax:isapproach but in the seventh century, In the Neo-Babylonian period the main recep­
perhaps as a result of influence from Babylonia, tion room normally appeared on the south side
there seems to have been a change to a direct­ ofthe courtyard. Ifthe outer wall was not aligned
axis approach. east to west, the shapes and sizes of the rooms
The inner walls of the rooms of the royal pal­ were adjusted so that the main reception room
aces were covered with stone orthostats, nor­ faced north (see fig. 13). The most impressive of
mally carved with scenes of the court. religious the Babylonian palaces is the Southern Citadel
symbols, hunting scenes, and records ofmilitary in Babylon itself (see fig. 14). Constructed over
campaigns (see fig. 12). These reliefcarvings pro­ centuries and rebuilt by successive rulers, the
vide valuable evidence for the appearance of citadel was called by Nebuchadnezzar II "the
buildings since normally only the lower parts of marvel of mankind, the center of the land,
the walls have been recovered. the shining residence, the dwelling ofmajesty,"
The palace had a series of five different court­
yards, the inner four of which had reception
rooms on the south side. In the third courtyard
lay the principal throne room that measured
some 42 by 17 meters (140 by 55 feet). Its facade
was covered in glazed bricks depicting lions and
stylized trunks and palmettes. There were three
entrances to the throne room, the middle one
being about 6 meters (20 feet) wide. These door­
ways, like those of the Assyrian palaces, were
arched. How the throne room was roofed is not
certain. The throne room's width would pre­
clude unsupported beams and since no evidence
for columns was found within the throne room,
it may have been vaulted.
In the northeast comer of this building was
an unusual arrangement of rooms identified by
the excavator with the Hanging Gardens ofBaby­
Ion. While it is difficult to disprove this sugges­
tion the plan ofthis section ofthe palace is more
like a strongly constructed series of storerooms
rather than the foundations of the legendary
Hanging Gardens.
Achaemenid Period
When the Persian Achaemenid kings conquered
the ancient empires ofthe Near East they reoccu­
pied the palaces of the defeated rulers. The
palaces of Babylon remained in use until the
Seleucid period. The palaces built by the Per­
sian kings, however, while fulfilling the same
functions as the Mesopotamian palaces, were of
different design. The character ofthe palaces on
Fig. 12. Assyrian relief from the North Palace at
the Iranian plateau, first at Pasargadae and then
Nineveh dating to the reign of Assurbanipal at Persepolis, was determined by the extensive
(668-627 BCE), thought to show the walls of the use of columns both for halls and for porticoes.
Southwest Palace at Nineveh built by Sennacherib (See "Art and Archaeology of the Achaemenid
(704-681 BCE). BRITISH MUSUEM, LONDON Empire" in Part 10. VoL IV.)


Social Institutions

Bit hilom

In the inscriptions describing the construction of his trances. (D. D. Luckenbill, AncUmt Records of A88yrla
palace at Dur-Sharrukin. Sargon II of Assyria re­ and [19261. p. 53.)
Although some doubt still attaches to the interpreta­
tion of this term it seems that the bit h"iin' refers to
a type ofdoorway set with columns, a pillared portico
I built a portico patterned after a Hittite palace, which of a type found in Syria, which at this period was
they call a bJt [dUn. in the Amorite tongue, in front of
known to the Assyrians as the land of the Hittites.
the gates. Eight lions in pairs, weighing ..s10 !alents of
shining bronze, fashioned according to the workmanship Examples have been found in the excavated Palace
of (the god) Ninagal, and of dazzling brightness; four of Niqmepa in Alalakh (modem Tell Atchana), built
cedar columns, exceedingly high, each 1 GAll in thickness. in the second millennium, and the palace of Kapara
products of Mount Amanus. I placed on top of the lion at Guzana (Tell Halaf), built in the early 6rst mil­
colossi. and set them up as posts to support their en­ lennium.

Darius built a palace at Susa in which a series funerary Qfferings were placed. Because tQmbs
Qf courtyards in the BabylQnian style were com­ were buried, they often have been well pre­
bined with a hypostyle, or columned, hall with served. Thus, tQmbs with intact vaults were dis­
three PQrticoes in the PersepQlitan style. cQvered at Tepe Gawra dating to a period when
Achaemenid architecture incorporated features vaults have nQt survived from buildings standing
taken frQm the artistic and architectural tradi­ abQve ground.
tiQns Qf thQse conquered by the Persian army. The tQmbs Qf royalty were nQt spectacular ar­
Thus the columned hall had its fQrerunner in chitectural mQnuments even thQugh the wealth
seventh-century Media; the cQlumn shafts and buried within them was staggering. The main
vQlute capitals are Greek; the palmifQrm capitals exceptiQn is the rQyal mausQleum at Ur, where
are Qf Egyptian inspiratiQn; and the IQW reliefs the tQmbs Qf the rulers Qf the Third Dynasty Qf
decQrating the platfQrms Qn which the palaces Ur were excavated. These tQmbs were located
were built are based Qn earlier MesQpotamian in vaulted rQQms beneath a building that may
prQtQtypes. The conquest Qf the Near East by have been used fQr religiQus ceremQnies, per­
Alexander brQught an end to the ancient MesQpo­ haps fQr ministering to. the spirits Qf the de­
tamian architectural traditiQns; even thQugh ceased.
SQme buildings remained in use, the later build­ The tQmbs Qf the Late Assyrian kings were in
ing incorporated new designs and techniques underground chambers in the palace at Asshur
either taken frQm the Hellenistic WQrld Qrdevel­ and tQmbs Qf Assyrian queens have been fQund
Qped in the Near East. in the sQuthern part Qfthe NQrth-West Palace at
Kalkhu. The graves were vaulted with baked
brick and SQme had stQne doors. Despite the
TOMBS fabulQus wealth in gQld vessels and jewelry de­
posited in the graves, the chambers themselves
The MesQPQtamians made prQvisiQn fQr the after­ were small and Qnly furnished with a few niches.
life. In general, undergrQund structures were
constructed fQr burial and fQr burial gifts. These
structures were SQmetimes intramural-be­ FORTS AND FORTIFICATIONS
neath the HQQrs QfhQuses Qr palaces-and SQme­
times were IQcated in separate cemeteries. The MesQpotamian fQrtificatiQns nQrmally consisted
superstructures are Qften nQt knQwn, but in the Qf mud-brick thQugh SQmetimes the IQwer parts
early-third-millennium cemetery at (modern) Qf the walls were reinfQrced with stone. The
Kheit Qasim, there is evidence fQr vaulted roofs lines Qfthe city walls are Qften easily visible and
and fQr external benches Qr platfQrms Qn which can be traced fQr miles, thQugh seldQm have the
Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

Fig. 13. Plan of house from Ur of the Neo-Babylonian period. The shaded areas are

upper parts of the forti6cations been preserved. where it seems to have had more of a symbolic
A good idea of the appearance of such forti6ca­ value than a defensive function.
tions is given in the Late Assyrian reliefs. (See Along the Euphratesanumberofwalled settle­
also "Forti6cation of Cities" in Part 7, Vol. Ill.) ments-as well as walled islands-were investi­
The walls provided defense against attack and gated in the course of the Haditha Dam Salvage
in southern Mesopotamia protection from flood­ Project (1978-1984). These settlements could be
ing. They also de6ned the area ofthe settlement dated to the 6rst half of the 6rst millennium
or precinct and served as a visible reminder of when Sukhu was an independent state nomi­
the presence of authority. One of the earliest nally owing allegiance to Assyria. The forti6ca­
forti6cation walls (circa 7000 BeE) was found at lions of Sur Jaea were extensive. The central
the village of Maghzalia, near modem Telafar, citadel, about 300 meters (1,000 feet) square, was


Social Institutions



10 4l1li III

Fig. 14. Plan of the Southern Citadel at Babylon. FROM A. MOORTGAT, THE A.RT OF A.NCIENT

defended by an inner mud-brick wall, a high Media. The course of this wall was in doubt for
bank surmounted by a wall, and a deep moat. a long time, but in 1983 part of it was excavated
There was also an outer wall and moat some 750 and it proved to have been faced with baked
meters (2.>475 feet) long. bricks stamped with an inscription ofNebuchad­
Only a few smaller fortresses have been exca­ nezzar set in bitumen mortar.
vated in Mesopotamia; indeed, few small sites
ofthe historical period have been excavated be­
cause archaeologists have concentrated on the
larger cities. A small hilltop settlement at Yemni­
yeh on the Euphrates has been interpreted as a BRIDGES AND OTHER
ninth-century military guardpost of the Sukhu. HYDRAULIC WORKS
A square, compact mud-brick fortress on the top
of Tell Gubba may have marked the border be­ The canals that provided the lifeblood of south­
tween Media and Babylonia in the early sixth ern Mesopotamia rank among the most impres­
century. sive feats of ancient construction. These canals
Mesopotamian rulers often recorded the con­ required a heavy investment both in construc­
struction of cross-country walls as a protection tion and in maintenance; as did the dams, weirs,
either from nomads or from flooding. These quay walls, and other hydraulic works associated
walls often extended for dozens of miles. Per­ with them. One of these, identified as a water
haps the most famous was that built by Nebu­ regulator, was excavated at Tello (ancient
chadnezzar between the Euphrates and the Girsu). In northern Mesopotamia an extensive
Tigris, which was later known as the Wall of network ofcanals was created by the Late Assyr­
Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

ian kings. At Jerwan, near Nineveh, the water as houses, temples, palaces, fortifications, or hy­
was carried across a valley on a stone aqueduct. draulic installations. One such example at Tell
Bridges have seldom been found. At Khorsa­ Gubba dating to about 2800 consisted ofa series
bad a corbelled stone bridge was constructed of concentric walls. Suggestions of its function
between the citadel and the Temple ofNabu. In have varied from a temple or fortress to a vast
Babylon, the boat-shaped stone piers ofa bridge storeroom. Grain was often stored in subterra­
that crossed the Euphrates and connected the nean pits but at certain periods, particularly in
two sides of the city have been discovered. It the fourth and third millennia, mud-brick stor­
seems probable that floating bridges of boats age chambers on parallel sleeper walls were
were more common than fixed bridges. constructed.


There are a number of structures which have Cuneiform texts describe gardens and orchards
been discovered that cannot be easily classified within the cities of Mesopotamia. A map of the

Fig. 15. The mountainous gardens of Nineveh illustrated on an Assyrian relief. The relief
shows an ac)ueduct, canals, a pavilion, a royal stela, an altar, and a path set in wooded
terrain. These gardens that imitated the mountains of Amanus may have been the source for
the story of the hanging gardens of Babylon. BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON

Social Institutions
city of Nippur dating to about 1300 shows that vincing, and it must be acknowledged that given
the southwestern comer of the city contained the lateness of the sources and the absence of
extensive gardens. In the hot, dry climate ofthe any description of such gardens in the inscrip­
Near East gardens provided a welcome respite tions ofthe Neo-Babylonian kings, their very ex­
from the harsh climate. istence must be subject to doubt. Stephanie
Royal inscriptions show the interest that the Dalley (1gg2.) has suggested that the Hanging
rulers of Mesopotamia had in improving their Gardens were a dimly remembered version of
environment by creating luxurious gardens. The the mountainous gardens of the Late Assyrian
Assyrian kings in particular boasted of creating kings, perhaps combined with the notion of the
parks that they compared to the mountains of tall-stepped ziggurats. The confusion in the clas­
Amanus and ofintroducing rare and exotic plants sical world of Babylonia and Assyria led to the
and animals into them. Sometimes these parks assumption that the Hanging Gardens were lo­
are illustrated on the Assyrian stone reliefs (see cated in Babylon rather than Nineveh.
fig. 15).
There is also evidence for more formal gar­
dens. The excavation ofthe akitu temple outside CONCLUSIONS
the city of Asshur revealed a regular arrange­
ment of pits that have been interpreted as pits The architectural tradition ofancient Mesopota­
in which trees or shrubs were planted. The most mia survived for more than three thousand years.
impressive of ancient gardens is that of Cyrus It was largely dependent on royal patronage and
excavated at Pasargadae, where stone channels was expressed chiefly in the construction oftem­
and small basins were discovered. Although the pIes and palaces. When political power fell into
excavations have not provided any evidence for the hands of foreign rulers, Greek and Iranian,
the types orarrangement ofplants in this garden, and as new religious beliefs usurped the place
classical authors recorded the interest among the of the age-old Mesopotamian religion and the
Persians in trees and in the regular arrangement cuneiform tradition faded, the Mesopotamian
of the planting. In the Pasargadae garden were building practices, founded on humble sun­
various pavilions, some small and some larger. dried mud-bricks, decayed. These ancient prac­
I. The design of these pavilions with open colon­ tices were replaced by an architecture based on
nades on four sides has not been found in low­ brick or stone held together with gypsum or lime
land Mesopotamia, but similar buildings are mortar, in which the dominant forms were the
shown on the Assyrian reliefs.
arches and domes that contributed to the cre­
The most famous of Mesopotamian gardens,
ation of Islamic architecture.
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, were, ac­
cording to one story (Josephus citing Berossus)
constructed by a Babylonian king who sought to
create a garden for his Median wife reminiscent BIBLIOGRAPHY
of her native mountains. (See also uNabonidus"
in Part 5, Vol. II.) The Hanging Gardens, along The primary publications about ancient Mesopota­
with the walls of Babylon, were later included mian buildings are part of the total reports of finds
among the Seven Wonders of the World. The at the excavation sites. ERNST HEINlUCH has gathered
five accounts that describe these gardens date the evidence relating to Mesopotamian palaces and
from the first century BeE or later, long after the temples in two very useful volumes, Die PaliJ8te 1m
alten Mesopotamien, DAI Denkmaler Antiker Archi·
period of the Neo-Babylonian kings. They de­
tektur 15 (1g82) and Die Tempel und HelUgtflmer 1m
scribe ascending terraces built of stone and ahen Mesopotamlen, DAI DenkmAler Antiker Archi·
baked brick with the use of bitumen mortar and tektur 14 (lg82).
lead sheathing for waterproofing. Furthermore, General works are HENRI FRAND'ORT, The Art atad
unusual devices such as bends and spirals were ArchUecture ofthe Ancient Orient (4th rev. ed., 1970);
used to raise water for the gardens. Various sites SETON LLOYD, The Archaeologll of Mesopotamia:
have been suggested as the location ofthe Hang­ From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest
ing Gardens. None of these suggestions is con­ (1978); and SETON LLOYD, HANS w. MUu..ER, and ROLAND
Palaces and Temples in Ancient Mesopotamia

MARTIN, Ancient Architecture: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Other volumes of interest are RICHARD s. ELLIS,
Crete, Greece (1974). Foundation Deposits in Ancient Mesopotamia, Yale
Reconstructions of Mesopotamian buildings are in­ Near Eastern Researches 2 (Ig68); ANDRE PARROT, The
cluded in HELEN LEACROFT and RICHARD LEACROFT, Tower of Babel (1955); and E. KLENGEL-BRANDT, Der
Buildings ofAncient Mesopotamia (1974). Other use~ Turm um Babylon: Legende und Geschichte eines
ful studies include SALLY SECREST nUNHAM, A Stud" Bauwerks (lgS2).
ofAncient Mesopotamian Foundations (Ph.D. diss., On Mesopotamian gardens, see M. CARROLL­
Columbia University, IgSo); JEAN-cLAUDE MARGUERON, SPIELLECKE, ed., Das Garten im Altertum (1992).
Recherches sur les palata mesopotamiens de l'dge du D. w. W. STEVENSON, "A Proposal for the Irrigation
bronze, Institut Franl;;aisd'Arch6ologie du Proche Ori­ of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon," Iraq 54 (1992),
ent, Bibliotheque arch6ologique et historique 107 summarizes the evidence ofancientauthors and previ­
(lgSZ);o. TUNCA, L'architecture religieus6 protodu­ ous theories about the Hanging Gardens. The sugges­
nastique en Mtsopotamie, Akkadica Supplementum tion that they are of Assyrian inspiration was made
z(I9B4); andl.J. WINTER, '''Seat of Kingship'I'A Won­ by STEPHANIE DALLEY at the Rencontre Assyriologique
der to Behold': The Palace as Construct in the Ancient International (I99Z).
Near East," Ars Orlentalis (1993).

SEE ALSO The Development of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia (Part 3.

Vol. 1); The Social and Economic Organization ofAncient Mesopotamian
Temples (Part 4> Vol. I); The History ofAncient Mesopotamia: An Over­
view (Part 5, Vol. II); and Excavating the Land Between the Two Rivers
(Part 11, Vol. IV).