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HomeArchaeologyIn search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia


The mountain fortress of Rabana-Merquly in trendy Iraqi Kurdistan was one of the main regional centres of the Parthian Empire, which prolonged over elements of Iran and Mesopotamia roughly 2,000 years in the past. This is a conclusion reached by a group of archaeologists led by Dr Michael Brown, a researcher at the Institute of Prehistory, Protohistory and Near-Eastern Archaeology of Heidelberg University. Together with Iraqi colleagues, Brown studied the stays of the fortress. Their work supplies necessary insights into the settlement constructions and historical past of the Parthians, about whom there may be surprisingly little data, emphasises Dr Brown, though the annals of historical past file them as a serious energy. Furthermore, Rabana-Merquly could also be the lost city of Natounia.

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia
Excavation of the perimeter wall at the entrance to Rabana valley
[Credit: © Rabana-Merquly Archaeological Project]

Situated on the southwest flanks of Mt. Piramagrun in the Zagros Mountains, the stone fortress of Rabana-Merquly includes not solely the practically four-kilometre-long fortifications but additionally two smaller settlements for which it’s named. Because of its excessive place on the mountain, mapping the website was attainable solely with drones. Within the framework of a number of excavation campaigns performed from 2009 and most just lately between 2019 and 2022, the worldwide group of researchers was capable of research the archaeological stays on website. 

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia
A) Rabana “sanctuary”; B) staircase; C) iron arrowheads;D) altar (scales = 1m)
(© Rabana-Merquly Archaeological Project) [Credit: M. Brown et al, 2022]

Structures which have survived to at the present time recommend a army use and embody the stays of a number of rectangular buildings that will have served as barracks. The researchers additionally discovered a non secular advanced presumably devoted to the Zoroastrian Iranian goddess Anahita. The rock reliefs at the entrance to the fortress are of particular significance, together with the geographic location of the fortification in the catchment space of the Lower Zab River, identified in antiquity by its Greek title of Kapros. 

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia
A) Merquly rock-relief; B) Rabana rock-relief; C) statue from Hatra of King ‘tlw/Attalos
of Adiabene (illustrations by M. Brown; © Rabana-Merquly Archaeological Project)
[Credit: M. Brown et al, 2022]

The researchers suspect that Rabana-Merquly could also be the lost city of Natounia. Until now, the existence of the royal city often called Natounia on the Kapros, or alternatively as Natounissarokerta, has been documented solely on just a few cash relationship from the first century BC.  According to at least one scientific interpretation, the place title Natounissarokerta consists of the royal title Natounissar, the founder of the Adiabene royal dynasty, and the Parthian phrase for moat or fortification. “This description may apply to Rabana-Merquly,” states Dr Brown.

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia
A) Mount Piramagrun, displaying the location of the most important Rabana and Merquly settlements;
B) basic plan of Rabana-Merquly (map by M. Brown; © Rabana-Merquly
Archaeological Project) [Credit: M. Brown et al, 2022]

According to the Heidelberg archaeologist, the wall reliefs at the entrance to the fortress may depict the city’s founder, both Natounissar or a direct descendant. The researcher explains that the aid resembles a likeness of a king that was discovered roughly 230 kilometres away in Hatra, a location wealthy in finds from the Parthian period. The Rabana-Merquly mountain fortress is situated on the japanese border of Adiabene, which was ruled by the kings of a neighborhood dynasty depending on the Parthians. It might have been used, amongst different issues, to conduct commerce with the pastoral tribes in the again nation, preserve diplomatic relations, or exert army strain. “The appreciable effort that should have gone into planning, constructing, and sustaining a fortress of this dimension factors to governmental actions,” stresses Dr Brown.

In search of the lost Parthian city of Natounia
Coin of Natounia, Reverse Inscription: NATOΥN / IEΩN T[ΩN] /
 ΠPOC TΩ /KAPΠΩ (Marciak 2013: 162–64)
[Credit: Trustees of the British Museum]

The present analysis in Rabana-Merquly is being funded by the German Research Foundation as half of precedence programme 2176, “The Iranian Highlands: Resilience and Integration of Premodern Societies.” The goal of the analysis undertaking is to research Parthian settlements and society in the Zagros highlands on each side of the Iran-Iraq border. During the newest excavations at Rabana-Merquly, Dr Brown collaborated with colleagues from the Directorate of Antiquities in Sulaymaniyah, a city in the autonomous area of Iraqi Kurdistan. The outcomes of the Heidelberg investigations had been printed in the journal Antiquity.

Source: Heidelberg University [July 20, 2022]

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