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Ancient Hatra
by Thomas Twohey

Thomas Twohey kindly provided me with some great shots of Hatra which he made when he visited Iraq in 1984. With the pics he also enclosed some texts on the subject from the Directorate of Antiquities in Iraq as well as from books. A summary of the text is included here with the pictures.

The ruins of ancient Hatra lie about three kilometers west of Wadi Al-Tharthar and about 105 kilometers southwest of the city of Mosul, in Iraq.

The site of the city is a gentle depression in a semi desert land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates known as Al Jazirah. Due to it being in a isolated, near desert location little to no excavation work had been done on the site, until in 1951 the Iraqi government decided to begin examining the site. Prior archaeological expeditions had only measured and mapped the ruins. The excavations of the 1950's resulted in the discovery of at least twelve further temples and since 1960 restoration work has been underway to preserve the structures, as well as continued archaeological excavations.
Most structures are built in limestone an gypsum and are a mixture of Assyrian, Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman styles.

The fortress city of Hatra arose in Al Jazirah, where it guarded the two main caravan routes connecting Mesopotamia with Syria and Asia Minor. The date of its foundation is subject of some debate. Most likely it was the Assyrians, but by the first century BC it had undoubtedly grown into a fortified city.
The present day remains date back to between the first century BC and the second century AD.
Fortification was immense. The city is guarded by two city walls. Once any enemy had crossed the first wall, he'd still be faced with a moat and the second wall. In fact the heavily fortified gates of the second wall can only be reached by ascending up ramps which run parallel to the wall.

In the very centre of Hatra lies the temple complex dedicated to several Hatrene gods, the chief of which was the sun god Shamash. The temples may well have changed in their usage as time passed. Sculptures have been discovered to Apollo (Balmarin in Hatrene religion), Poseidon, Eros, Hermes, Tyche (the guardian goddess of Hatra) and Fortuna. One of the temples in this centre had not been specifically identified yet at the time, yet the discovery of some bulls' heads pointed toward it being a place of worship to the god Mithras.

Due to its fortifications, Hatra was a incredibly hard nut to crack for any would-be Roman invaders. Both Trajan and Severus besieged it to no avail. A reason why Hatra must be seen as holding a significant place in Roman history.
However, some architecture and some inscriptions seem to point to some sort of Roman occupation. If this was an occupation or the result of a Romano-Hatrene alliance is unclear, but it is assumed that it happened some when in the AD 230's and inscriptions point to the rule of emperor Gordian III. Hatra could therefore be seen as the furthest extent of the empire at that time.
However in about AD 240 the Sassanids under Sapor I (Shapur I) did capture the city and thereafter it never seems to have been retaken.

Later Hatra became a semi-independent Arab kinglet of Arbaya which dominated Upper Mesopotamia.
At some point it finally was deserted and fell into ruin.

Looking at the photographs, the ruins seem to have undergone extensive repair. However, the effects of this reconstruction work is stunning.

Note by the webmaster: A very big thank you to Thomas Twohey for letting us have a look at these images. This is merely a selection of the photography of Hatra which he sent to me. It is only due to the constraints of website traffic that I have to concentrate on what I deemed the most spectacular and intriguing shots.

By Thomas Twohey March '03