Nisibis - Encyclopedia

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NISIBIS (Nasibina in the Assyrian inscriptions), an ancient city and fortress in the north of Mesopotamia, near the point where the Mygdonius (mod. Jaghjagha) leaves the mountains by a narrow defile. The modern Nezib or Nasibin consists of some 4000 inhabitants, largely Jews, who pay tribute to the Shammar Bedouins., The neighbourhood, we are informed by Arab writers, was at one time richly wooded, but is now somewhat marshy and unhealthy. According to the Arabian geographer, Yaqut, Persian scorpions were thrown into the place when it was besieged by Anushirwan; hence their numbex to-day. The church of St James, belonging to a small community of Jacobite Christians, and a few pillars and blocks of masonry are the only remains of the former greatness of the town.

The site of Nisibis, on the great road between the Tigris and the Mediterranean, and commanding alike the mountain country to the north and the then fertile plain to the south, gave it an importance which began during the Assyrian period and continued under the Seleucid empire. From 149 B.C. to A.D. 14 Nisibis was the residence of the kings of Armenia, and there Tigranes had his treasure-houses. The place figured frequently as a frontier fortress in the wars of the Romans and the Parthians, its brick walls being unusually thick and its citadel very strong. Ceded to the Parthians by Hadrian, it became a Roman colony (Septimia Colonia Nisibis) under Septimius Severus. It was heroically defended against Shapur (Sapor) II., who unsuccessfully besieged it thrice. In the peace made by Jovian, however, it passed into the hands of the Persians, who established a strong colony there (A.D. 364). Nisibis early became the seat of a Jacobite bishop and of a Nestorian metropolitan, and under the Arabs (when it continued to flourish and became the centre of the district of Diya`r Rebi`a) the population of the town and neighbourhood was still mostly Christian, and included numerous monasteries. Arab geographers and travellers of the middle ages speak in high terms of the gardens of Nisibis, and the magnificent returns obtained by the agriculturist. According to Mokaddasi (ob. 1024), acorns, preserved fruits and manufactured articles such as carriages and inkstands were exported. The town was so heavily taxed by the Hamdanid princes at Mosul that the Arab tribe of the Banu Habib, although blood relations of the Hamdanids, migrated into Byzantine territory, where they were well received, accepted Christianity, attracted other emigrants from Nisibis, and at last began to avenge themselves by yearly raids upon their old home. Ibn Haukal goes on to say that finally the Hamdanids took possession of the town, confiscated the estates of those who had emigrated, and compelled those who remained to substitute corn for their profitable fruit crops. This destroyed the prosperity of Nisibis, and the district, no longer protected against nomad tribes, became a wilderness. Nisibis (Nezib) appeared for the last time in history in 1839, when the Egyptians under Ibrahim Pasha defeated the Turkish army under Hafiz Pasha on the 24th of June in a battle at which von Moltke was present.

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