It was situated on both sides of the Shatt-en-Nil canal, one of the earliest courses of the Euphrates, between the present bed of that river and the Tigris, almost 160 km southeast of Bagdad, 32° 7' N. 45° 10' E. It is represented by the great complex of ruin mounds known to the Arabs as Nuffar, written by the earlier explorers Niffer, divided into two main parts by the dry bed of the old Shatt-en-Nil (Arakhat). The highest point of these ruins, a conical hill rising about 30 m above the level of the surrounding plain, northeast of the canal bed, is called by the Arabs Bint el-Amiror "prince's daughter."
Originally a village of reed huts in the marshes, similar to many of those which can be seen in that region today, Nippur underwent the usual vicissitudes of such villages -- floods and conflagrations. For some reason habitation persisted at the same spot,and gradually the site rose above the marshes, partly as a result of the mere accumulation of debris, consequent on continuous habitation, partly through the efforts of the inhabitants. As these began to develop in civilization, they substituted, at least so far as their shrine was concerned, buildings of mud-brick for reed huts. The earliest age of civilization, which we may designate as the clay age, is marked by rude, hand-made pottery and thumb-marked bricks, flat on one side, concave on the other, gradually developing through several fairly marked stages. The exact form of the sanctuary at that period cannot be determined, but it seems to have been in some way connected with the burning of the dead, and extensive remains of such cremation are found in all the earlier, pre-Sargonicic strata. There is evidence of the succession on this site of different peoples, varying somewhat in their degrees of civilization. One stratum is marked by painted pottery of good make, similar to that found in a corresponding stratum in Susa, and resembling the early pottery of the Aegean region more closely than any later pottery found in Babylonia.
This people gave way in time to another, markedly inferior in the manufacture of pottery, but superior, apparently, as builders. In one of these earlier strata, of very great antiquity, there was discovered, in connection with the shrine, a conduit built of bricks, in the form of an arch. Somewhere, apparently, in the 4th millennium BC, we begin to find inscriptions written on clay, in an almost linear script, in the Sumerian tongue. The shrine at this time stood on a raised platform and apparently contained, as a characteristic feature, an artificial mountain or peak, a so-called ziggurat, the precise shape and size of which we are, however, unable to determine. So far as we can judge from the inscriptions, Nippur did not enjoy at this time, or at any later period for that matter, political hegemony, but was distinctively a sacred city, important from the possession of the famous shrine of Enlil. Inscriptions of Lugal-zaggisi and Lugal-kigub-nidudu kings of Erech and Ur respectively, and of other early pre-Semitic rulers, on door-sockets and stone vases, show the veneration in which the ancient shrine was then held and the importance attached to its possession, as giving a certain stamp of legitimacy. So on their votive offerings some of these rulers designate themselves as patesis, or over-priests, of En-h.
Early in the 3rd millennium BC the city was conquered and occupied by the Semitic rulers of Akkad, or Agade, and numerous votive objects of Alu-usharsid (Urumush or Rimush), Sargon and Naram-S intestify to the veneration in which they also held this sanctuary. Enlil was in fact adopted as the Bel or great lord of the Semitic pantheon. The last monarch of this dynasty, Naram-Sin, rebuilt both the temple and the city walls, and in the accumulation of debris now marking the ancient site his remains are found about half way from the top to the bottom. To this Akkadian occupation succeeded an occupation by the first Semitic dynasty of Ur, and the constructions of Ur-Gur or Ur-Engur, the great builder of Babylonian temples, are superimposed immediately upon the constructions of Naram-Sin.
Ur-Gur gave to the temple its final characteristic form. Partly razing the constructions of his predecessors, he erected a terrace of unbaked bricks, some 12 m high, covering a space of about 32,000 m², near the northwestern edge of which, towards the western corner, he built a ziggurat, or stage-tower, of three stages of unburned brick, faced with kiln-burned bricks laid in bitumen. On the summit of this artificial mountain stood, apparently, as at Ur and Eridu, a small chamber, the special shrine or abode of the god. Access to the stages of the ziggurat, from the court beneath, was had by an inclined plane on the south-east side. To the north-east of the ziggurat stood, apparently, the House of Bel, and in the courts below the ziggurat stood various other buildings, shrines, treasure chambers and the like. The whole structure was roughly orientated, with the corners towards the cardinal points of the compass.
Ur-Gur also rebuilt the walls of the city in general on the line of Naram-Sin's walls.The restoration of the general features of the temple of this and the immediately succeeding periods has been greatlyfacilitated by the discovery of a sketch map on a fragment of a clay tablet. This sketch map represents a quarter of the city to the eastward of the Shatt-en-Nil canal, which was enclosed within its own walls, a city within a city, forming an irregular square, with sides roughly 820 m long, separated from the other quarters of the city, as from the surrounding country to the northand east, by canals on all sides, with broad quays along the walls. A smaller canal divided this quarter of the city itself into twoparts, in the south-eastern part of which, in the middle of its southeast side, stood the temple, while in the northwest part, along the Shatt-en-Nil, two great storehouses are indicated. The temple proper, according to this plan, consisted of an outer and innercourt (each covering approximately 8 acres), surrounded by double walls, with ziggurat on the north-western edge of the latter. The temple continued to be built upon or rebuilt by kings of various succeeding dynasties, as shown by bricks and votive objects bearing the inscriptions of the kings of various dynasties of Ur and Isin. It seems to have suffered severely in some manner at or about the time the Elamites invaded, as shown by broken fragments of statuary, votive vases and the like, from that period, but at the same time to have won recognition from the Elamite conquerors, so that Eriaku (Sem. Rim-Sin, biblical Arioci), the Elamite king of Larsa, styles himself "shepherd of the land of Nippur." With the establishment of the Babylonian empire, under Hammurabi, early in the 2nd millennium BCE, the religious as well as the political centre of influence was transferred to Babylon, Marduk became the Bel or lord of the pantheon, many of Enlil's attributes and myths were transferred to him, and E-kur was to some extent neglected.
Under the succeeding Cossaean dynasty, however, shortly after the middle of the 2nd millennium, E-kur was restored once more to its former splendour, several monarchs of that dynasty built upon and adorned it, and thousands of inscriptions, dating from the time of those rulers, have been discovered in its archives. After the middle of the 12th century BC follows another long period of comparative neglect, but with the conquest of Babylonia by the Assyrian Sargon, at the close of the 8th century BC, we meet again with building inscriptions, and under Assur-bani-pal, about the middle of the 7th century, we find E-kur restored with a splendour greater than ever before, the ziggurat of that period being 58 by 39 m. After that E-kur appears to have gradually fallen into decay, until finally, in the Seleucid period, the ancient temple was turned into a fortress. Huge walls were erected at the edges of the ancient terrace, the Courts of the temple were filled with houses and streets, and the ziggurat itself was curiously built over in a cruciform shape, and converted into an acropolis for the fortress. This fortress was occupied and further built upon until the close of the Parthian period, about AD 250; but under the succeeding rule of the Sassanidss it in its turn fell into decay, and the ancient sanctuary became, to a considerable extent, a mere place of sepulture, only a little village of mud huts huddled about the ancient ziggurat continuing to be inhabited.
As at Tello, so at Nippur, the clay archives of the temple were found not in the temple proper, but on an outlying mound. South-eastward of the temple quarter, without the walls above described, and separated from it by a large basin connected with the Shatt-en-Nil, lay a triangular mound, about 7.5 m in average height and 52.000 m² in extent. In this were found large numbers of inscribed clay tablets (it is estimated that upward of 40,000 tablets and fragments have been excavated in this mound alone), dating from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC onward into the Persian period, partly temple archives, partly school exercises and text-books, partly mathematical tables, with a considerable number of documents of a more distinctly literary character. For an account of one of the most interesting fragments of a literary or religious character, found at Nippur, see below.
Almost directly opposite the temple, a large palace was excavated, apparently of the Cossaean period, and in this neighbourhood and further southward on these mounds large numbers of inscribed tablets of vavious periods, including temple archives of the Cossaean and commercial archives of the Persian period, were excavated. The latter, the "books and papers" of the house of Murashu, commercial agents of the government, throw light on the condition of the city and the administration of the country in the Persian period, the 5th century BC. The former give us a very good idea of the administration of an ancient temple. The whole city of Nippur appears to have been at that time merely an appanage of the temple. The temple itself was a great landowner, possessed of both farms and pasture land. Its tenants were obliged to render careful accounts of their administration of the property entrusted to their care, which were preserved in the archives of the temple. We have also from these archives lists of goods contained in the temple treasuries and salary lists of temple officials, on tablet forms specially prepared and marked off for periods of a year or less.
On the upper surface of these mounds was found a considerable Jewish town, dating from about the beginning of the Arabic period onward to the 20th century AD, in the houses of which were large numbers of incantation bowls. Jewish names, appearing in the Persian documents discovered at Nippur, show, however, that Jewish settlement at that city dates in fact from a much earlier period, and the discovery on some of the tablets found there of the name of the canal Kabari suggests that the Jewish settlement of the exile, on the canal Chebar, to which Ezekiel belonged, may have been somewhere in this neighborhood, if not at Nippur itself. Hilprecht indeed believes that the Kabari was the Shatt-en-Nil. Of the history and conditions of Nippur in the Arabic period we learn little from the excavations, but from outside sources it appears that the city was the seat of a Christian bishopric as late as the 12th century AD.
The excavations at Nippur were the first to reveal to us the, extreme antiquity of Babylonian civilization, and, as already stated, they give us the best consecutive record of the development of that civilization, with a continuous occupancy from a period of unknown antiquity, long antedating 5000 BC, onward to the middle ages. But while Nippur has been more fully explored than any other old Babylonian city, except Babylon and Lagash, still only a small part of the great ruins of the ancient site had been examined in 1909. These ruins have been particularly fruitful in inscribed material, especially clay tablets, many of them from the very earliest periods; but little of artistic or architectural importance has been discovered. Excavation at Nippur is particularly difficult and costly by reason of the inaccessibility of the site, and the dangerous and unsettled condition of the surrounding country, and still more by reason of the immense mass of later debris under which the earlier and more important Babylonian remains are buried.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. It should be compared and corrected with reference to