Last updated
Hatra ruins.jpg
The ruins of Hatra circa 1988
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Archaeological site icon (red).svg
Shown within Iraq
Location Hatra District, Ninawa Governorate, Iraq
Region Mesopotamia
Coordinates 35°35′17″N42°43′6″E / 35.58806°N 42.71833°E / 35.58806; 42.71833 Coordinates: 35°35′17″N42°43′6″E / 35.58806°N 42.71833°E / 35.58806; 42.71833
Type Iranian (Parthian and Sasanian)
Area300 ha (740 acres)
Founded3rd or 2nd century BC
Abandoned241 AD
Site notes
Public accessInaccessible (in a war zone)
Official nameHatra
Criteriaii, iii, iv, vi
Designated1985 (9th session)
Reference no. 277
Region Arab States

Hatra was an ancient city in the Ninawa Governorate of present-day Iraq. The city lies 290 km (180 mi) northwest of Baghdad and 110 km (68 mi) southwest of Mosul.

Iraq Republic in Western Asia

Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Baghdad Capital of Iraq

Baghdad is the capital of Iraq. The population of Baghdad, as of 2016, is approximately 8,765,000, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second largest city in the Arab world, and the second largest city in Western Asia.

Mosul City in Iraq

Mosul is a major city in northern Iraq. Located some 400 km (250 mi) north of Baghdad, Mosul stands on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank. The metropolitan area has grown to encompass substantial areas on both the "Left Bank" and the "Right Bank", as the two banks are described by the locals compared to the flow direction of Tigris.


Hatra was a strongly fortified caravan city and capital of the small Kingdom of Araba, located between the Roman and Parthian/Persian empires. Hatra flourished in the 2nd century, and was destroyed and deserted in the 3rd century. Its impressive ruins were discovered in the 19th century. [1]

Caravan city

A caravan city is a city located on and deriving its prosperity from its location on a major trans-desert trade route. The term is believed to have been coined by the great scholar of antiquity, Michael Rostovtzeff, for his work O Blijnem Vostoke, published in English for the first time by the Clarendon Press in 1932 as Caravan Cities. The English translation of the work dealt principally with Petra, Jerash, Palmyra and Dura in the "near east", after Rhodes, Cyprus and Mycenaean Greece were removed from the translation as not being caravan cities. Dura, too, has been later considered to be more than a caravan city.

Kingdom of Araba Wikimedia list article

The Kingdom of Araba was a 2nd-century CE Arab kingdom located between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire, mostly under Parthian influence, located in modern-day northern Iraq.


Hatra is known as al-Hadr (الحضرal-Ḥaḍr) in modern Arabic. Its is recorded as ḥṭrʾ (Ḥaṭrā) in Hatran Aramaic inscriptions, probably meaning "enclosure, hedge, fence". In Syriac it is usually recorded in plural form Ḥaṭrē. In Roman works it is recorded as Greek Átra and Latin: Hatra and Hatris. [1]

Arabic Central Semitic language

Arabic is usually classified as a Central Semitic language, and linguists widely agree that the language first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE. It is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in northwestern Arabia, and in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic.

Syriac language dialect of Middle Aramaic

Syriac, also known as Syrian/Syriac Aramaic, Syro-Aramaic or Classical Syriac, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic of the Northwest Semitic languages of the Afroasiatic family that is written in the Syriac alphabet, a derivation of the Aramaic alphabet. Having first appeared in the early first century CE in Edessa, classical Syriac became a major literary language throughout the Middle East from the 4th to the 8th centuries, preserved in a large body of Syriac literature. Indeed, Syriac literature comprises roughly 90% of the extant Aramaic literature. Syriac was once spoken across much of the Near East as well as Anatolia and Eastern Arabia. Syriac originated in Mesopotamia and eventually spread west of Iraq in which it was became the lingua franca of the region during the Mesopotamian Neo-Assyrian period. During the establishment of the Church of the East in central-southern Iraq, speakers of Syriac split into two; those who followed the Eastern Syriac Rite and those who followed Western Syriac Rite. Syriac was the lingua franca of the entire region of Mesopotamia and the native language of the peoples of Iraq and surrounding regions until it was spread further west of the country to the entire Fertile Crescent region, as well as in parts of Eastern Arabia, becoming the dominant language for centuries, before the spread and replacement with Arabic language as the lingua franca. For this reason, Mesopotamian Iraqi Arabic being an Aramaic Syriac substratum, is said to be the most Aramaic Syriac influenced dialect of Arabic, sharing significant similarities in language structure, as well as having evident and stark influences from other ancient Mesopotamian languages of Iraq, such as Akkadian, Sumerian and Babylonian. Mesopotamian Arabic dialects developed by Iraqi Muslims, Iraqi Jews, as well as dialects by Iraqi Christians, most of whom are native ethnic Syriac speakers. Today, Syriac is the native spoken language of millions of Iraqi-Chaldo-Assyrians living in Iraq and the diaspora, and other Syriac-speaking people from Mesopotamia, such as the Mandaean people of Iraq. The dialects of Syriac spoken today include Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Mandaic.

The city was officially called Beit ʾElāhāʾ, literally "House of God", in Hatran Aramaic inscriptions [2] and once recorded as "Hatra of Shamash" (ḥtrʾ d-šmš) on a coin. [1]


Some believe Hatra may have been built by the Assyrians or possibly in the 3rd or 2nd century BC under the influence of the Seleucid Empire, but there is no reliable information on the city before the Parthian period. [3] Hatra flourished under the Parthians, during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, as a religious and trading center. [4] Later on, the city became the capital of possibly the first Arab Kingdom in the chain of Arab cities running from Hatra, in the northeast, via Palmyra, Baalbek and Petra, in the southwest. The region controlled from Hatra was the Kingdom of Araba, a semi-autonomous buffer kingdom on the western limits of the Parthian Empire, governed by Arabian princes.

Seleucid Empire former country

The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty which existed from 312 BC to 63 BC; Seleucus I Nicator founded it following the division of the Macedonian Empire vastly expanded by Alexander the Great. Seleucus received Babylonia and from there expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander's near-eastern territories. At the height of its power, the Empire included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Parthian Empire Iranian empire ruled by Arsacids

The Parthian Empire, also known as the Arsacid Empire, was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran. Its latter name comes from Arsaces I of Parthia who, as leader of the Parni tribe, founded it in the mid-3rd century BC when he conquered the region of Parthia in Iran's northeast, then a satrapy (province) under Andragoras, in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. Mithridates I of Parthia (r. c. 171–138 BC) greatly expanded the empire by seizing Media and Mesopotamia from the Seleucids. At its height, the Parthian Empire stretched from the northern reaches of the Euphrates, in what is now central-eastern Turkey, to eastern Iran. The empire, located on the Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin and the Han dynasty of China, became a center of trade and commerce.

Palmyra Ancient city in Homs Governorate, Syria

Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

bronze coin struck in Hatra circa 117-138 AD, obverse depicts radiate bust of Shamash Coin of Hatra.jpg
bronze coin struck in Hatra circa 117-138 AD, obverse depicts radiate bust of Shamash

Hatra became an important fortified frontier city and withstood repeated attacks by the Roman Empire, and played an important role in the Second Parthian War. It repulsed the sieges of both Trajan (116/117) and Septimius Severus (198/199). [5] Hatra defeated the Persians at the battle of Shahrazoor in 238, but fell to the Persia's Sassanid Empire of Shapur I in 241 and was destroyed. [5] The traditional stories of the fall of Hatra tell of al-Nadirah, daughter of the King of Araba, who betrayed the city into the hands of Shapur as she fell in love with him. The story tells of how Shapur killed the king and married al-Nadirah, but later had her killed also after realizing her ingratitude towards her father. [4] [6]

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–476 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. Ruled by emperors, it had large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from Italy, homeland of the Romans and metropole of the empire, with the city of Rome as capital. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided in a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus after capturing Ravenna and the Senate of Rome sent the imperial regalia to Constantinople. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to barbarian kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

The Roman–Parthian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Parthian Empire and the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. It was the first series of conflicts in what would be 719 years of Roman–Persian Wars.

Trajan Roman emperor from 98 to 117

Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Officially declared by the Senate optimus princeps, Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to attain its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He is also known for his philanthropic rule, overseeing extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him his enduring reputation as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.

External image
Searchtool.svg Plan of Hatra, whc.unesco.org

Hatra was the best preserved and most informative example of a Parthian city. Its plan was circular, [7] and was encircled by inner and outer walls nearly 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) in diameter [8] and supported by more than 160 towers. A temenos (τέμενος) surrounded the principal sacred buildings in the city's centre. The temples covered some 1.2 hectares and were dominated by the Great Temple, an enormous structure with vaults and columns that once rose to 30 metres. The city was famed for its fusion of Greek, Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Aramean and Arabian pantheons, known in Aramaic as Beiṯ Ĕlāhā ("House of God"). The city had temples to Nergal (Assyrian-Babylonian and Akkadian), Hermes (Greek), Atargatis (Syro-Aramaean), Allat, Shamiyyah (Arabian), and Shamash (the Mesopotamian sun god). [4] Other deities mentioned in the Hatran Aramaic inscriptions were the Aramaean Ba'al Shamayn, and the female deity known as Ashurbel, which was perhaps the assimilation of the two deities the Assyrian god Ashur and the Babylonian Bel despite their being individually masculine.


Hatra has a hot semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSh). Most rain falls in the winter. The average annual temperature in Hatra is 20.7 °C (69.3 °F). About 257 mm (10.12 in) of precipitation falls annually.

Climate data for Hatra (Al Hadar)
Average high °C (°F)12.8
Average low °C (°F)3.2
Average precipitation mm (inches)43
Source: climate-data.org

List of rulers

In inscriptions found at Hatra, several rulers are mentioned. Other rulers are sporadically mentioned by classical authors. They appear with two titles. The earlier rulers are titled mrjʾ (māryā, "lord"), the later ones mlkʾ (malkā, "king"). [1]

Rulers of Hatra
NameTitleYears attestedComments
Worod mry´
Ma'nu mry´
Elkud mry´AD 155/156
Nashrihab mrj´AD 128/29 - 137/38
Naṣru mry´128/29 - 176/77
Wolgash I mry´ and mlk - King
Sanatruq I mry´ and mlk - KingAD 176/177ruled together with Wolgash I
Wolgash (II?), son of Wolgash (I.)
Abdsamiya mlk - KingAD 192/93 - 201/202Supported the Roman emperor Pescennius Niger
Sanatruq II mlk - KingAD 207/08 - 229/230Became a vassal of the Romans under Gordian III during Roman-Persian Wars

Modern Hatra

Archaeological site of Hatra before destruction, 0:59, UNESCO video

Hatra was used as the setting for the opening scene in the 1973 film The Exorcist , [9] and since 1985 has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [10]

Saddam Hussein saw the site's Mesopotamian history as reflecting glory on himself, and sought to restore the site, and others in Ninevah, Nimrud, Ashur and Babylon, as a symbol of Arab achievement, [11] spending more than US $80 million in the first phase of restoration of Babylon. Saddam Hussein demanded that new bricks in the restoration use his name (in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar) and parts of one restored Hatra temple have Saddam's name. [12]

From 1987 the Italian Archaeological Expedition, [13] directed by R. Ricciardi Venco (University of Turin), has worked at Hatra. The excavations were focused on an important house ("Building A" [14] ), located close to the Temenos, and on deep soundings in the Temenos central area. [15] Now the Expedition is active in different projects regarding the preservation and development of the archaeological site. [16]

In 2004, The Daily Telegraph stated "Hatra's finely preserved columns and statues make it one of the most impressive of Iraq's archaeological sites" [17]

Destruction by ISIL

Actions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which occupied the area in mid-2014, have been a major threat to Hatra. In early 2015 they announced their intention to destroy many artifacts, claiming that such "graven images" were un-Islamic, encouraged shirk (or polytheism), and could not be permitted to exist, despite the preservation of the site for 1,400 years by various Islamic regimes. ISIL militants pledged to destroy the remaining artifacts. Shortly thereafter, they released a video showing the destruction of some artifacts from Hatra. [18] [19] After the bulldozing of Nimrud on March 5, 2015, "Hatra of course will be next" said Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University. [20] On March 7, Kurdish and Iraqi official sources reported ISIS had begun the demolishing the ruins of Hatra. [21] [22] A video released by ISIL during the next month showed the destruction of the monuments. [23]

UNESCO and ISESCO issued a joint statement saying "With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, (the IS group) shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people." [24]

The pro-Iraqi government Popular Mobilization Forces captured the city on 26 April 2017. [25] A spokeswoman for the militias stated that ISIL had destroyed the sculptures and engraved images of the site, but its walls and towers were still standing though contained holes and scratches received from ISIL bullets. PMF units also stated that the group had mined the site's eastern gates, thus temporarily preventing any assessment of damage by archaeologists. [26] It was reported on 1 May that the site had suffered less damage than feared earlier. A journalist of EFE had earlier reported finding many destroyed statues, burnt buildings as well as signs of looting. Layla Salih, head of antiquities for Nineveh Governorate, stated that most of the buildings were intact and the destruction didn't compare with that of other archaeological sites of Iraq. A PMF commander also stated that the damage was relatively minor. [27]

See also

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Hatran alphabet

The Hatran alphabet is the script used to write Aramaic of Hatra, a dialect that was spoken from approximately 98/97 BC to 240 AD by early inhabitants of present-day northern Iraq. Many inscriptions of this alphabet could be found at Hatra, an ancient city in northern Iraq built by the Seleucid Empire and also used by the Parthian Empire, but subsequently destroyed by the Sassanid Empire in 241 AD. Assur also has several inscriptions which came to an end following its destruction by the Sasanian in 257 AD while the rest of the inscriptions are spread sparsely throughout Dura-Europos, Gaddala, Tur Abdin, Tikrit, Sa'adiya and Qabr Abu Naif. Many of the contemporary ruins were destroyed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in early 2015. It was encoded in the Unicode Standard 8.0 with support from UC Berkeley's Script Encoding Initiative.

Ashurian is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once the dialect of the region encompassing the cities of Assur and Hatra and the Nineveh plains in the centre, up to Tur Abdin in the north, Dura-Europos in the west and Tikrit in the south. The majority of the evidence of the language comes from inscriptions within the cities dating between 100 BC and the mid-200s AD, coinciding with Shapur I's destruction of Hatra in 241 AD and Assur in 257 AD. As a result of Hatra being the site with the most attestation, it is often referred to as Hatran Aramaic. Having conquered the Aramaen city-states to the west, the Neo-Assyrian Empire adopted Old Aramaic as the official language alongside the Assyrian Akkadian language. With the Achaemenid Empire succeeding them and adopting Old Aramaic, it rose to become the lingua franca of Iran, Mesopotamia and the Levant.

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Nirgul tablet

The Nirgul tablet is an ancient Parthian relief carving of the deity Nergal found in the city of Hatra in Iraq, dating to the first or second century AD.

Fall of Hatra

The fall of Hatra, capital of the Kingdom of Araba under Sanatruq II, took place in the 3rd century after a lengthy siege by the Sasanian king Shapur I. Hatra was plundered and abandoned, and its kingdom dissolved.


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  9. Freeman, Colin s (25 June 2014). "Iraq's 'Exorcist' temple falls into Isis jihadist hand". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
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  12. "Ancient Hatra Ruins". Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System . 9 September 2006.
  13. Hatra - Italian Archaeological Expedition
  14. Building A
  15. deep soundings
  16. projects
  17. Freeman, Colin (4 January 2004). "American troops launch 'Exorcist' tour at ancient temple". The Telegraph.
  18. Cockburn, Patrick (27 February 2015). "Iraq: Isis militants pledged to destroy remaining archaeological treasures in Nimrud". The Independent. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  19. "ISIL video shows destruction of 7th century artifacts". aljazeera.com. 26 February 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  20. Karim Abou Merhi (5 March 2015). "IS 'bulldozed' ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, Iraq says". AFP. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  21. Yacoub, Sameer N. (7 March 2015). "IS destroying another ancient archaeological site in Iraq". ArmyTimes. United States. Associated Press. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  22. "Islamic state 'demolish' ancient Hatra site in Iraq". BBC. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  23. Vivian Salama (4 Apr 2015). "Video: Islamic State group shot, hammered away Iraq's Hatra". Associated Press.
  24. Yacoub, Sameer N.; Salam, Vivian (7 March 2015). "IS destroying another ancient site in Iraq". The Telegraph . Macon, Georgia. Archived from the original on 10 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  25. "Iraqi forces retake damaged Hatra heritage site from IS". Deutsche Welle . 26 April 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  26. Hussain, Rikar (27 April 2017). "Iraqi Militias Find Relics Destroyed by IS in Ancient Town". Voice of America . Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  27. "Hatra: IS damage to ancient Iraqi city less than feared". BBC . 1 May 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.