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Canals of Assyrian king Sennacherib

Shortly after 700 BC, Assyrian king Sennacherib built a vast network of canals across the Assyrian heartland, principally to bring water to his capital at Nineveh. The network, now ruined, still remains as inscriptions, reliefs, partially intact dams and aqueducts, and ancient courses detectably by satellite imagery. Its goal was principally to irrigate Nineveh so Sennacherib could adorn it with luxurious, aromatic gardens, parks, and orchards sown with plants sourced from all across the Near East. As the quote below indicates, Sennacherib used water elsewhere for destructive purposes, and his projects may have spurred technological advances.

Sennacherib the Assyrian destroyed Babylon in 689 BC by damming the Euphrates and then destroying the dam. Sennacherib became the agent of some extremely well-surveyed and constructed dams and irrigation schemes. It is suggested by some writers that the need for efficient irrigation prompted the development of geometric ground survey techniques. A tablet in the British Museum illustrates algebraic calculations for the design of dykes, dams and wells. Newson, 2008.



704 BC

Sennacherib ascends the throne, after a likely case of fratricide.

Sennacherib used the Khosr to irrigate Nineveh. He channelized the Khosr from Kisiri to Nineveh. A dam on the Khosr was built outside Nineveh.

Sennacherib expanded the gardens and watered fields. The Khosr alone would no longer have been sufficient.

694 BC

A document in 694 BC details the first major expansion to the Khosr. Sennacherib built a canal from Mount Musri to feed into the Khosr; this canal was fed by water sources at Sulu, Dur Ishtar, and Ibanina. Though the Mount Musri system no longer survives, it likely would have followed the topographically ideal route and connected with the Khosr at Ajilah. Indeed, at Ajilah are two dams and a swamp.

690 BC

The Bavian inscriptions are dated to 690 BC, and in just four years had made a second major expansion that was so significant it rendered the first system unrecognizable. First of all, he built fifteen new canals to feed into the Khosr. In addition to the three canals in the Mount Musri system, there were now eighteen canals feeding into the Khosr. The majority of the water in the second expansion came from a new system he built at Mount Tas that joined into the Khosr. Water from the Gomel River -- which starts in Mount Tas -- was dammed at Bavian. Then a canal brought it from Bavian to the Khosr; the Bavian-Khosr canal is famous for the Jerwan Aqueduct on its course.

681 BC

Sennacherib passes away.

1932ish CE

The ruins are excavated.

A legend about the canals' creation persisted to the modern era,

A king had a beautiful daughter whom two suitors wooed. The king declared that he would give his daughter to the one who first succeeded in supplying the village of Tell Kaif with water. On hearing this, one of the suitors set to work immediately on a great engineering project, to the magnitude of which the ruins at Jerwan still testify. The second suitor, on the other hand, was idle and sat all day in the coffeehouse until one day, when the work of the first suitor was well advanced, he went out and bought great quantities of white linen sheets. These he spread one beside another on the ground near Tell Kaif. Seen from afar they looked like water, and his plan succeeded. For when the first visitor saw the linen from far away, he believed that the other had already


There are some primary sites. There are also some secondary sites.

Mount Musri system

This was the first system of canals that Sennacherib built to bring water to Nineveh.


Identified topographically and matching what is expected.

Mount Tas system

Part of his second expansion to bring water to Nineveh, Mount Tas was the most accomplished system that Sennacherib built. Mount Tas' springs were directing into the Gomel, which was dammed to feed the Bavian-Khosr canal. There were three villages whose waters were directed into the Gomel. These waters seem to have been natural but were perhaps expanded. Then the waters were dammed at Bavian (near modern Khenis) in the Zagros foothills and brought via the Bavian-Khosr canal to the Khosr. The Bavian-Khosr canal was 95km long, 80m wide, and 20m deep, and was built to draw waters from the Gomel River to the Khosr River.




1,500 meters east of the village are blocks of white limestone like those at Jerwan.


There are more stones here, and a terrace cut into the hillside.


Above Mamrashan in the fields east of Piran was a terrace like at Baqasrah, cut into the hillside.

Bastora Valley system

Sennacherib built a canal from the Bastora Valley to Erbil. Near the village قه‌له‌مۆرتكه‌قلمورتكة Qalamurtka, Sennacherib built a dam to collect the rivers and springs. Then a 21km canal drew the water to the center of Erbil, where it emptied at the citadel and near Gardi Qalinj Agha. The canal bore a stone with eight cuneiform lines (quoted below). Today, there is an informational panel at a gas station along the road between Massif and Erbil to commemorate this canal. It is located at GPS 36.336241, 44.169860; however, it was said by a local at the gas station that the ruins are no longer extant.

I am Sennacherib, the King of the World and Assyria. I dug three rivers in the mountains of Khan, these mountains, which are located in the city highlands. I linked the springs of water to the right and left of the river. And I drew them by a straight canal to the center of the city of goddess Ishtar and home of Khatoo Nazdar.

Additional sites

Negub tunnel