ASSUR, ASHUR, ASUR, name of the ancient capital of Assyria, the modern ruins, Kalat Sherghat, built on a rocky headland on the west bank of the Tigris, 4o miles above the mouth of the Lower Zab. It is first mentioned in the 46th year of Dungi of Ur, 2376 B.C., where the name is written with the Sumerian ideogram A-USAR, of unknown meaning. At this time the governor of the city was Zariku, who bears a Semitic name. The city then belonged to the kingdom of Ur, and the same Zariku governed the city for Bur-Sin, Dungi's successor. In his own inscription Zariku writes the name of the city A-Shir, and this is the usual writing of the name of the city god in the early inscriptions of the city. It is certain, however, that the Sumerian goddess Innini, i.e., Accadian Ishtar, was the oldest important deity of Assur, and that the site was occupied by the Sumerians many centuries before the rise of this city-State to a place of great political importance in the time of the first Babylonian dynasty (2169-1870). There can be little doubt concerning the racial character of the people of Assur from the period of Zariku onward. They were Semites and possibly from Amurru, who, like the Semitic colony in Cappadocia of the same period, obtained their culture from Babylonia. Inscriptions of later Assyrian kings mention two early rulers, Ushpia, who built the temple of the god Ashur, in the north-east corner of the city and Kikia, who built the city walls. There is also an Accadian inscription of a certain Ititi, son of Yakulaba. All of these local rulers bear non Semitic and non-Sumerian names, and they indicate a period of Gutean or Mitanni occupation of the city, in the interval be tween the decline of the old Sumerian period and the occupation by Semites in the time of Dungi. It is, therefore, probable that the city-god Ashir, Ashur, is of Sumerian origin.
The old city was bounded on the east by quay walls, extending for 700 metres, along the west bank of the Tigris. An ancient branch of the Tigris flowed past the north side of the city, which was protected by a buttressed wall and a huge building known as the Mushlalu, just north of the great stage tower of the temple of the god Ashur. The north side measured about 800 metres, and on this side of the city stood the temple and stage tower of Ashur (north-east corner), the ancient palace, the double temple of the gods Adad and Anu, and a vast new palace of Tukul Ninurta (13th century B.c.) . The western and southern sides were originally defended by a double wall, whose line sweeps in a return curve to the Tigris, over 1,500 metres long. In the early part of the second millennium the outer wall on the south was extended southward and eastward to enclose a large new pre cinct of the city. Outside the city, 150 metres from the north west corner, stood the house of the New Year's festival on the bank of the ancient rivulet, which ran past the northern side of the city. The temple of Ishtar, where excavations revealed the oldest (Sumerian) culture at Assur, lay in the west central part of the city, and a later temple to the god Nebo stood just east of it. The city was occupied continuously down to Parthian times, and a great palace of that period was built over the ruins of the inner southern wall.
The most important city gates are on the western side, the most famous being the Tabara or "gate of the metal workers," on the extreme western curve of the wall. A second great gate pierced the double wall of this side 400 metres south of Tabara. Two more gates pierced the west wall between Tabara and the north-west corner of the city, and there was another gate on the south side near the Tigris.
The antiquities recovered in the excavation of the temple of Ishtar indicate a very advanced Sumerian civilization at Assur, whose origins appear to be almost as ancient as any yet found in Sumer of the south. They prove that the Sumerians were settled here before 3500 B.C., but the city clearly had no inde pendent line of kings either in the Sumerian period down to c. 2600 B.C., or in the long period of Semitic governors, when this city-State was a dependency first of Ur and then of Babylon. It is clear that an interval of Gutean domination intervened be tween the Sumerian period and the Semitic occupation. Assur re mained a dependency of Babylon until the end of the first Baby lonian dynasty, and Nineveh did not become the capital of As syria until the end of the reign of Ashurnasirpal II. In a triangular space enclosed between the southern inner city wall and the southern extension outer wall, stood the inscribed stelas of the kings of Assyria from Adadnirari I. to Ashurbanipal, including one of Semiramis, and a parallel row of stelas of many provincial governors. It formed a kind of memorial ground for the great rulers and officials of Assyria from the 14th century to the end of the Assyrian kingdom, and proves that Assur re mained the holy city of that mighty empire long of ter it ceased to be the capital. As seat of the cult of Adad, the thunder god, the ideogram IM-(ki) is also employed to write the name of the city.