The Aqueduct at Jerwan - Assyrian Water Control in Ancient Iraq

A 2,700 Year Old Assyrian Water Control Project

The The Jerwan Aqueduct, built by King Sennacherib around 700 BC.
The The Jerwan Aqueduct, built by King Sennacherib around 700 BC. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The Jerwan Aqueduct is a part of a 2,700-year-old water control system in northern Assyria, near Nineveh in what is today Iraq. It was a highly advanced structure for its time, built to carry water above and across a ravine, and as part of an enormous system of canals which carried water from the foothills of the Zagros mountains to Nineveh, a distance of some 95 kilometers (~59 miles). The Jerwan Aqueduct and its massive water control system was engineered under the ​direction of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, who ruled 704-681 BC.

The Jerwan Aqueduct was 28 meters (~92 feet) long, and used a series of platforms and stone arches to cross the ravine. It rested on six piers about 7 m (23 ft) high above the stream bed, and was protected by breakwaters. At the aqueduct, the paved canal floor was 22 m (72 ft) wide and 2 m (6.5 ft) deep. Sennacherib's engineers constructed an automatic sluice gate, the first of its kind.

The canal water was intended for several purposes, including the gardens, orchards, parks and plantations at the capital city of Nineveh, but the floods generated by melting spring snows were enormous, so Sennacherib built a marsh for overflow, and a reed plantation in it. Sennacherib's various inscriptions boasting of this marsh are the earliest known written descriptions of the use of retaining ponds.

Construction

According to Jacobsen and Lloyd (1935), the foundations of the Jerwan aqueduct were a rectangular bed of rough boulders, on which was constructed a level pavement of cut stones set diagonally to the flow of the stream.

Atop this was a solid masonry, with a façade divided by projecting buttresses into 14 bays. Most of the aqueduct construction was made up of 50-60 centimeter (19-24 inches) square stones laid in courses. Beneath the arches, corbelling required the longest possible stones.

There were only two standing arches when Jacobsen and Lloyd visited in the 1930s.

These arches were approximately 8 m (26 ft) in height, 2.5 m (8 ft) wide and were pointed at the top. A breach of about 45 m (148 ft) of the masonry had been repaired along the west end of the south facade, probably either resulting from a severe flood or a hostile attack.

See the article on Sennacherib's Canal System  for additional information.

Archaeology

Austen Henry Layard visited Jerwan and the rock reliefs at Khinis in 1851; however, he interpreted Jerwan as a bridge rather than an aqueduct. In 1927, German archaeologist Walther Bachman described both the dam at Khinis and Jerwan; and although he gave the earliest and one of the most complete descriptions of Senacherib's canal network, like Layard, Bachman didn't understand Jerwan to be an aqueduct. The first identification of Jerwan as an aqueduct was in 1932-1934 by the Oriental Institute, led by Thorkild Jacobsen and Seton Lloyd.

The idea of the extensive and complex nature of the canal system was not recognized until the canal fragments were recognized by several scholars during the 1950s through 1970s (Oates, Reade and Boehmer); and beginning in 2005, much more was revealed by Jason Ur and colleagues, using 1950s aerial photographs and declassified intelligence photography.

Sources

This article is a part of the About.com guide to the Assyria (in progress), and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Cleveland CJ, and Morris C. 2014. Section 3 - Hydropower. In: Cleveland CJ, and Morris C, editors. Handbook of Energy. Boston: Elsevier. p 29-47. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-417013-1.00003-0

Eger AA. 2011. The Swamps of Home: Marsh Formation and Settlement in the Early Medieval Near East. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 70(1):55-79. doi: 10.1086/659093

Jacobsen T, and Lloyd S. 1935. Sennacherib's aqueduct at Jerwan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Free download

Radnor K. 2009. The Assyrian king and his scholars: the Syro-Anatolian and the Egyptian Schools. Studia Orientalia 106:221-238.

Tamburrino A. 2010. Water Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia. In: Mays L, editor. Ancient Water Technologies: Springer Netherlands.

p 29-51. doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-8632-7_2

Ur J. 2013. Spying on the past: Declassified intelligence satellite photographs and Near Eastern landscapes. Near Eastern Archaeology 76(1). 10.5615/neareastarch.76.1.0028

Wilkinson TJ, and Rayne L. 2010. Hydraulic landscapes and imperial power in the Near East. Water History 2(2):115-144. 10.1007/s12685-010-0024-1

Wilkinson TJ, Ur J, Barbanes Wilkinson E, and Altaweel M. 2005. Landscape and settlement in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 340:23-56.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "The Aqueduct at Jerwan - Assyrian Water Control in Ancient Iraq." ThoughtCo, Aug. 14, 2016, thoughtco.com/the-aqueduct-at-jerwan-169908. Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, August 14). The Aqueduct at Jerwan - Assyrian Water Control in Ancient Iraq. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-aqueduct-at-jerwan-169908 Hirst, K. Kris. "The Aqueduct at Jerwan - Assyrian Water Control in Ancient Iraq." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-aqueduct-at-jerwan-169908 (accessed November 25, 2017).