|Excavator Sir Henry Layard imagined Nineveh at its zenith|
Nineveh had been the capital of Assyria for about a hundred years, but it had existed since at least 5000-4000 BC (Genesis 10:11). It was the greatest of four cities established by Tower of Babel builder Nimrod (Genesis 8:8-12; 11).
By the time of Jonah and Nahum, the city was the not only the capital of the Assyrian Empire, (Genesis 10:11-12) it was one of the greatest world-class cities. Located on the east bank of the Tigris River, the Nineveh metroplex included 600,000-750,000 persons; the city proper ~120,000+ who did not know their left from their right hand, perhaps meaning children (Jonah 4:11).
The city was 30 miles long, 10 miles wide (about the size of Atlanta) with a defense system of three moats & five walls. The city walls were 80 miles in circumference, 100 feet high, and wide enough for four chariots abreast. They had fifteen gates guarded by colossal griffins and bulls. Nineveh was Assyria's financial, governmental, and military center with great palaces, and the finest gardens.
This gardened city in the desert of today’s Iraq had huge zoos with lions and other exotic animals. There were seventy convention halls decorated in alabaster & sculpture. The tourist would have been startled by the magnificent pagan temple of Ishtar (Queen of Heaven) was a great pyramid which glittered in the sun. Nineveh was filled with great intellectual institutions including a great library.
It was also a city of great wickedness. Witchcraft was founded here by Nimrod, and they boldly worshiped Ashur and Ishtar, brother-sister-husband-wife-twin gods. Nineveh was disgustingly cruel. A common ethnic cleansing practice of their military after plundering an area was to behead all the local inhabitants and pile their heads in a pyramid to show their cold brutality & power. Assyrians often boasted that there was never enough room in the ground for their enemies’ corpses. They wallpapered pillars of public buildings with the flayed skin of their defeated foes. They smashed babies against walls, wantonly raped and pillaged, and tortured people mercilessly. The Assyrians therefore had enemies everywhere, and a rebel coalition of Medes, Scythians, and Babylonians attacked the city in 612 BC. Their attack matched Nahum’s vision in incredible detail.
Nineveh fell when the great water reservoir floodgates were thrown open by their enemies after heavy rains along the Tigris. The resulting flood of the city collapsed the palace and city defenses (Nahum 2:6). Nineveh's drunk soldiers were no match for the Medes, Babylonians, and billions of gallons of water. The story is recorded prophetically in detail by Nahum fifty years ahead of time and as history in the Babylonian Chronicle.
Thus ironically, the capital city of the nation which had rolled like a violent flood over the entire Middle East was destroyed itself in one day by a flood. One good rainstorm and the world’s mightiest nation fell.
So complete was Nineveh’s destruction that when Alexander the Great marched by, he didn’t even know what city lay beneath his feet. Lucian wrote, “Nineveh is perished and there is no trace left where once it was.” The great generals Xenophon and Napoleon were unaware of the city when they camped there. Many scholars believed Nineveh to have been a mythical city until in 1845 archaeologist Layard discovered the ruins of the greatest world-class city of its day – ruins under the sands next to the Tigris River.