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Median Wall / Sidd Nimrud / Wall of Nimrod

Nebuchadnezzar II [also Nebuchadrezzar II] (circa 630-562 B.C.) surpassed most of the Assyrian kings. He fortified the old double walls of Babylon, adding another triple wall outside the old wall. In addition, he erected another wall, the Median Wall, north of the city between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. According to Greek estimates, the Median Wall may have been about 100 feet high. South of Samarra between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Median Wall was barrier against barbarian hordes from the North. A little south of Samarra are found remains of the Median Wall, which stretched south-west towards the Euphrates near Sahlawych, marking the edge of the Babylonian alluvial plain.

The 1979 film "The Warriors" is based on the novel by Sol Yurick, a youth counselor for NYC street gang members, who based his book on Xenophon's "The Anabasis" ["The Persian Expedition"]. The movie is closer to The Anabasis than to Yurick's novel. Some of the names in the movie are linked to The Anabasis (Cyrus, Ajax, etc). Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful and respected gang in town, is killed. The Warriors, a Native American-themed gang from Coney Island, get blamed for assassinating Cyrus. The Warriors find themselves isolated in unfriendly territory, a hundred angry gangs between themselves and Coney Island. The Warriors aimed to create "tribal feeling of going into battle together, of loyalty, of support and shared goals" and to have "the audiences' sympathy as they fight off all the other gangs in the city". Perhaps a better analogy would be West Side Story meets Escape From New York.

In the year 403 BC the Athenian philosopher Xenophon was with an army that included "Ten Thousand" Greek mercenaries, marching to an area in modern Turkey to aid the Persian pretender Cyrus in his war against his brother Artaxerxes. At a great battle, Cyrus was killed and his army destroyed - except for the Greeks, who were stranded in the heart of the Persian Empire, outnumbered a hundred to one. Xenophon's "Anabasis", the "March of the Ten Thousand" is the story of Xenophon's march to escape the Persian noose.

At length, after marching three days, the "Ten Thousand" Greeks arrived at the Wall of Media, as it is called, and passed to the other side of it. This wall was built of burnt bricks, laid in bitumen ; it was twenty feet in thickness, and a hundred in height, and the length of it was said to be twenty parasangs; and it was not far distant from Babylon.

"Not the least remarkable of the discoveries," says the Rev. J. F. Macmichael in the Appendix to his Xenophon, "which of late years have marked the progress of geographical inquiry in this most interesting - but, till of late, unexplored region, is the actual existence at the present time of an ancient wall stretching across Mesopotamia at the head of the Babylonian plain. Mr. Ross, who first examined it at its eastern terminus, in 1836, described it under the name of Khalu or Sidd Nimrud, (wall or embankment of Nimrod,) and as a straight wall 25 long paces thick, and from 35 to 40 feet high, running S. W. :} N. as far as the eye could reach, to two mounds called Ramelah, (Sifairah, Ainswr. p. 81-2,) on the Euphrates, some hours above Felujah. The eastern extremity was built of the small pebbles of the country, cemented with lime of great tenacity; and farther inland, his Bedwin guides told him it was built of brick, and in some places worn down level with the desert, and was built by Nimrod to keep off the people of Nineveh, with whom he had an implacable feud. (Journal of R. Geog. S. ix. p. 446.)

It was further examined by Captain Lynch, and its eastern extremity determined to be in lat. 34 3' 30", and long. 21' 50" W. of Baghdad. (Ibid. p. 472.) "The identity of this wall with Xenophon's Wall of Media was assumed by the explorers tacitly, but with strong ground of probability. Of the great antiquity of the Sidd Nimrud there can be no question; record of its origin there is none, except local tradition assigning it to Nimrod. On the other hand, the continued existence of a wall (corresponding to the Median) from Xenophon's age down to comparatively recent times, is attested by a chain of scattered notices in later writers. Such a wall is mentioned by Eratosthenes, (in the third century B. C, quoted by Strabo ii. 1, and xi. 14,) as having its eastern terminus at or near Opis. Again, its western terminus was noticed (in a state of ruin) by Amm. Marcellinus (363 A. D.) at Macepracta on the Euphrates, near the head of a canal, which he distinguishes from the Naha Malcha, (Nahr Malik,) doubtless the Saklawiyeh, a few miles north of which is the S. W. extremity of the Sidd Nimrud."

"Their identity is further attested by their occupying the same general position as a partition-line between the rocky desert of Arabia and the fertile alluvial plain of Babylonia : the Sidd Nimrud, for all practical purposes, distinguishes the Babylonian plain from the hilly and rocky country. (Ainsw. p. 82, note 2.) that a like position must be assigned to the Median Wall is strongly indicated by the name it bears, To Mediae Tuxoq. For the Medes under Cyaxares had conquered all Assyria up to Babyloniat a tract which, in Herodotus, includes the entire canal distinct, (i. 193,) and in Xenophon commences where the desert of Arabia terminates - at or near a place called Pylae, (i. 5. 5,) where, accordingly, we should look for the western terminus of the Median Wall."

The natives of Mesopotamia call this stupendous structure Sidd Nimrood (Wall of Nimrod). The mammoth bulwark of ancient Chaldea, which may have been beheld by Abraham (Genesis xi. 28), either already completed or in the course of construction, extended from the Euphrates, at a place seventy-five miles above the site of ancient Babylon, to a locality on the banks of the Tigris (sixty miles above Bagdad), right across the entire p'ain intervening between these two rivers, a distance of fully sixty miles. Tho wall describes somewhat the figure of a horseshoe, with tho apex thereof in the middle of the plain, and nearest to the ruins of Akr Koof.

Viewed from afar, the remains of "Sidd Nimrood" strikingly resemble a long chain of high, steep, and flat-topped hills, intersected at irregular distances. To judge from the remains still visible, the wall must have measured originally considerably over one hundred feet iu height by about eighty or ninety feet iu thickness. It in merely an earth wall, composed, evidently, of pounded eartli; as in many places it is still almost perpendicular, and nearly as hard as brick.

Tho average dimensions of the remains still visible aro about eighty feet in height, and about the same in thickness. According to tradition, the wall was lined and surmounted with huge towers or forts, built of brick, stationed at regular distances from each other, and garrisoned all the year round by Babylonian warriors. It is not improbable that Akr Koof was originally one of these forts, and is the only representative of them left.

Historians and archseologians differ in their opinions as to the origin of Sidd Nimrood. Some of them asterite it to Nimrod, one of the supposed rulers of Chaldea, or Babylonia, who, according to biblical tradition (Gen x. 8, 9), ruled over that country about 22OO BC; others date its origin to about the year 1000 BC, and its completion to about the seventh century BC. The former supposition is probably more correct. However this may be, so much is certain, that this mammoth bulwark must have been the work of hundreds of thousands of human beings - work lasting, perha] s for centuries. Even the fastidious Greeks considered it oue of the architectural wonders of the world. It was undoubtedly a formidable barrier, the assault and capture of which, in times when gunpowder and artillery were not yet dreamed of, defended as it was by an army of desperate warriors, must have been a very difficult task indeed for any invader.

The tooth of time, however, left sad marks on this relic of ancient history; not satisfied with reducing it perhaps to scarcely one-half its original size, it has entirely swept away miles of this mammoth work.

From a consideration of the different circumstances detailed by Xenophon of the first retrograde steps taken after the battle of Cunaxa, some were induced to believe that Tissaphernes, having arrived with his army and the guides, marched, as Xenophon expresses it, as if he designed to return home; that he led the Greeks three days' march, or about thirty-six miles, towards Sifairah, at which point he turned round, and conducted them through the Wall into Sitacene, thus leaving them in perplexity with regard to the relations of that rich and fertile province to the city of Babvlon. (Trav. in the Track, &c, p. 108-9.)

The following is the account given by Colonel Chesney of this the first portion of the Katabasis, and which is so difficult to understand. "In taking a northerly direction from the presumed position of the camp, it would be necessary to cross the Nahr Malka; and on account of this obstruction, as well as the presence of an enemy, the distance made would scarcely exceed ten miles. Fatigued by the march, and without, sustenance, a slight circumstance was sufficient to cause a tumult, and almost a panic, among the Greeks. The panic was, however, speedily calmed by the ingenuity of Clearchus, and at day-break he marched with the intention of becoming the assailant. This bold manoeuvre led to a negotiation with the king on equal terms, and guides were in consequence appointed to conduct the Greeks across the Nahr Sersar, and its affluents, which intersect this part of the country. These cuts appear to have been filled with water, but the difficulties were overcome by cutting down the palm-trees to make bridges, in which operation Clearchus set the example; and the army reached the intended halting-place in some villages probably not more than ten miles from the preceding station. These were abundantly provided with corn, vinegar, and wine made from datesAfter spending about twenty-three days in negotiations, having made engagements to be faithfully conducted homeward, and obtained supplies, the Greeks, the troops of Ariaeus, and those of the king under Tissaphernes, commenced what seemed a peaceable march, although certain circumstances attending it gave rise to suspicion, and some precautions were adopted in consequence by the Greeks. In three days, probably, taking, as in the preceding march, a westerly direction, in order to round the marshes and inundations near Akar Kuf, the armies came up to and departed from the Median Wall into the interior. This wall, whose remains are described in Xenophon, was of bricks, and once 100 feet high and 20 feet thick : it is still to be traced, with its towers and ditch, running south-westward from the Tigris, nearly opposite Kadisiyeh, to the Euphrates, near Felujah, a distance of forty two or forty-three miles."

Previous to this discovery by Lieut. Bewsher of the remains of the wall in question, which may bo considered as completely corresponding with what is required by the narrative of Xenophon, it was supposed by many writers that the Median Wall must have been a barrier across from the Euphrates to the Tigris, such as are found certainly existing at a later period.

But this wall or rampart, the remains of which are still visible, and are known to the Arabs as Khalu Nirarud, or Sidd Nimrud (the Wall of Nimrud), leaves the Tigris more than 50 miles above Baghdad, extending in a S.W. direction towards the Euphrates, and would, if prolonged to that river, strike it about 3 miles above the Saklawiyeh canal, and at least 8 above Felujah. It was evidently this wall, of which the remains, already in a half-ruined state ("semiruta murorum vestigia ") are noticed during the advance of the Emperor Julian down the valley of the Tigris (Ammian. Marcell. xxiv. 2, 6).

The objections to such a theory were insuperable; for it was utterly unintelligible that the Greeks should have returned so far northward, after the battle; and if they had passed through this wall, instead of bringing them towards the Tigris, they would have emerged into the barren stony plains of Mesopotamia, the Sidd Nimrud marking exactly the limit between these and the rich alluvial tract of Babylonia. Moreover Xenophon describes the army as passing, on the third day before the battle, a vast trench dug by order of Artaxerxes in order to impede the advance of Cyrus, but which after all he left undefended: and this trench, he relates, was carried through the plain for a distance of 12 parasangs to the Median wall (i. 7, 15). Such a line of defence is unintelligible, if the wall was a rampart extending across from the one river to the other: but would be an obvious expedient, if the wall had a direction obliquely through the center of Babylonia, like the rampart of which the ruined remains were discovered by Lieut. Bewsher.

On the other hand Strabo mentions a wall, which he calls "the Wall of Semiramis", which appears to have extended from the Euphrates to the Tigris at the point where they approached the most closely to one another (Strabo, ii. p. 80, xi. p. 529); and this has been supposed by Major Bennell and Mr. Grote to be tho Median Wall of Xenophon. But in the first place no trace remains of such a bulwark, which, if it really existed at the narrowest part between the two rivers, must have been situited near the modern city of Baghdad, between Cunaxa and Babylon: and moreover the account given by Strabo (from Eratosthenes) is by no means clear, but seems to place this narrowest point at Opis on the Tigris, which must, certainly have been situated considerably farther to the north than the real neck of the isthmus.

It may well be doubted therefore whether there is not a misconception on the subject, and whether the Wall of Semiramis (of Strabo and Eratosthenes) was not in reality the same of which the remains are still called Sidd Nimrud. But even if there ever really existed such a line of wall as that mentioned by Strabo, at the point where the two rivers approach within less than 20 miles of each other, it would not have corresponded near so well with the narrative of Xenophon as the wall discovered by Lieut. Bewsher, which must have lain directly across the route of an army proceeding from the Euphrates near Cunaxa to Sittace on the Tigris, whether we place that city below or above Baghdad.

It may be added that the remains of the Hubl es Sukhr show that wall to have been built of bricks cemented with bitumen, in accordance with the description of the Median Wall in Xenophon (ii. 4, 12), while the Sidd Nimrud is built of "the small pebbles of the country imbedded in cement of lime." (Journal of Geogr. Soc. vol. ix. p. 446.)

It would be obviously idle to attempt to identify the great ditch dug by order of Artaxerxes, any more than the two canals that were crossed by the Greeks on their way from the Median Wall to the Tigris. Such canals have been in all ages cut for the purposes either of irrigation or internal communication : and when neglected readily assume in the course of time the aspect of natural rivers. Such is at the present time the Saklawiyeh, which is still navigable for a small steamer, and such was in the middle ages the Nahr Malcha, or Royal River, which is now dry in the main part of its course. A glance at the map given by Lieut. Bewsher (Journal of Geogr. Soc. vol. xxvii.) will sufficiently show by what a complicated network of canals and artificial streams all this part of Babylonia is intersected: the greater part of which date from the period of the Caliphs of Baghdad - and have consequently tended to destroy all possibility of tracing its condition in ancient times.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:49:29 ZULU