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Mesopotamia / Cities /
Sumerian: Nibru
Akkadian: Nibbur


Nippur, Babylonia

Nippur, Babylonia

14th century BCE town plan for Nippur
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Excavations at Nippur
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Ancient religious centre and city of Sumer, Mesopotamia on both sides of the Shatt an-Nil canal (off the Euphrates river). Its location corresponds to modern Nuffar, southeastern Iraq, 40 km northeast of Diwaniyah, 160 km southeast of Baghdad.
The temple area rested on the eastern bank, a structure of more than 30,000 m², divided by two courts. The temple housed many administrative and economic functions, in addition to those purely religious. The holiest place in the temple structure was the ziggurat with the shrine of Enlil, the god of storm and of force. The temple was called E-kur. Its location was neither in the centre or along any axis, but merely in the northwestern section, with no immediate indicator to why this site had been chose. The ziggurat was three stages high and built from dry brick. Alterations and additions to the ziggurat were undertaken by various rulers over the centuries.
Nippur was according to Sumerian mythology, the home of the god Enlil, and at Nippur he assembled the other Sumerian gods. According to one of the more important myths, man was created at Nippur by the Enlil.
According to Sumerian theology it was only Enlil who could bestow the legitimacy of kingship. Nippur would be adorned with many monuments and its priests were known to receive great gifts. Nippur's power was at times great enough to give directions what role a new king should play. This applied to hereditary monarchs as well as foreign kings gaining power through conquest.
Nippur, a cultural centre of its days, has been our main source on the literary writing of Sumer, and one of the main sources to understanding the whole history of ancient Mesopotamia. More than 40,000 tablets have been unearthed here, interestingly outside the temple precinct, the oldest dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE. The highest point of the ruins at Nippur is a conical hill rising about 30 metres.
Nippur has been inhabited until modern times, and the remains of a large Jewish town has been found, the oldest sections dating back to the 7th or 8th century CE.

Around 2100 BCE: King Ur-Nammu lays out the shrine of Enlil, E-kur. In addition a ziggurat and a temple was built inside walls.
1792: Hammurabi becomes king of Babylonia, and Babylon becomes the new religious centre of Mesopotamia. This results in great loss of importance for Nippur.
16th century: Kassites move much of the national cults back to Nippur, restoring the significant position of E-kur.
12th century: Fall of the Kassites, and national cults at Nippur become largely neglected.
7th century: E-kur is restored by Assyrian rulers, rebuilt on a grander scale than before.
Around 300: The temple is rebuilt to a Seleucid fortress.
3rd century CE: Nippur falls into decay.
13th century: Nippur is finally abandoned.

Modern times
1889: Excavations at Nippur begin. This stage would last for about 12 years.
1948: The second round of excavations begins.
1990: An Akkadian tomb and a temple to Bau, the goddess of healing, are discovered by archaeologists.

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By Tore Kjeilen