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029. Birs Nimrud (ancient: Borsippa)

Western Babil Governorate. About 17.7 kilometers (11 miles) southwest of Babylon, on the east bank of the Euphrates.

Dates of Site:  Ur III period (2112-2004 BC);
                      through the Seleucid period (320-141 BC);
                      through early Islamic early (9th century AD)

Borsippa was an important ancient city of Sumer, the principal feature today being a ruined ziggurat that rises high above the surrounding plain and is easily visible from satellite photographs. The site name today, Birs Nimrud, probably seeks to identify the site with the more famous ziggurat ruin at Nimrud.

Dependent upon Babylon, never the seat of autonomous power, Borsippa was repeatedly mentioned, usually in connection with Babylon, in texts from the Ur III period through the Seleucid period and even in early Islamic texts.

Rebuilt under Nebuchadnezzar, the Borsippa ziggurat was laid out in seven terraces and reached a height of more than 230 feet in ancient times; even as a ruin today, it stands more than 172 feet above the flat plain, easily visible in satellite photos.

The local god at Borsippa was Nabu, called the "son" of Babylon's local god Marduk, as would be appropriate for Babylon's lesser sister-city. This fact explains the inscription from the Nebuchadrezzar II period, the "Borsippa inscription," which tells how Nabu restored the temple of Nabu at Borsippa, "the temple of the seven spheres," with "bricks of noble lapis lazuli," which probably refers to blue glazed bricks, surely a memorable sight.

The Borsippa ziggurat has been excavated by an Austrian team of archaeoelogists since 1980; yet since Operation Desert Storm (2001-   ) the site has also been looted; as a result, many legal administrative and astronomical texts on cuneiform tablets that originated at Borsippa and have turned up on the black market.

Some tablets have been recovered, but archeologists still hope to uncover a temple archive of cuneiform tablets, of which there were some copies in ancient Assyrian libraries. An inscribed foundation stone has been recovered, which details Nebuchadnezzar's plan to have the Borsippa ziggurat built on the same design as that at Babylon, of which only the foundation survives. Nebuchadnezzar declared that Nabu's tower would reach the skies, another inscription states.

If the Borsippa temple survives looting and can later be excavated, archaeologist hopes to find  an archive of cuneiform tablets, some of which are known from copies in Assyrian libraries.

Fieldwork. Investigated by explorer/archaeologists Layard, Rassam and Rawlinson in the 19tth century. Excavated by Austrian team from University of Innsbruck since the 1980’s.

Site Assessment. Evidence of looting - Legal administrative and astronomical tablets have turned up on the black market. According to the Iraqi Press Monitor (UK), on January 21, 2004, under the headline "Foreigners Steal Ancient Artefacts": "Foreign visitors to archaeological sites in Babylon, exploiting the site’s lack of surveillance and security, have stolen valuable artefacts," the paper says. "Local residents reported seeing foreigners abscond with relics from the city of Borseeba(sic)." The site mentioned is Birs Nimrud, ancient Borsippa.

  32° 23′ 31.19″
  44° 20′ 30.08″

GoogleEarth Satellite image
of Birs Nimrud (external resource)