The lost Parthian royal city may have been found in Iraq

The team consisted of archaeologists from the Antiquities Authority of Sulaymaniyah, a city in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, and was led by Dr. Michael Brown, an archaeologist from the Institut Faures- und Frühgeschichte und Vorderasiatische Archäologie at the University of Heidelberg.

Archaeologists have examined the remains of the fortified city, and say their work has provided important new insights into the history and structure of Parthian settlements.

Surprisingly little is known about these people, Brown said, even though historical records record them as a great empire, from about 250 years before our era to about 225 years after. They inflicted one of the worst military defeats in their history on the Romans in 53 BC.

Marquli settlement (B) A building that may have served as a barracks for soldiers.

© Rabbana-Mirgoli Archaeological Project

Four kilometers long fortifications

Rabana-Merquly is located on the southwest side of Mount Peramagron in the Zagros Mountains. The stone fortifications include not only a circular fortified wall four kilometers long, but also two smaller colonies from which they take their name.

Due to the height of Rabana-Mercoli on the mountain, it was only possible to draw a map of the fortified city with drones. The international team studied the archaeological remains at the site during archaeological expeditions from 2009 and more recently between 2019 and 2022.

The structures surviving today indicate a military use of the site. These include the remains of several rectangular buildings that may have served as barracks.

The researchers also found a religious complex that may have been dedicated to the Iranian Zoroastrian goddess Anahita.


© Rabbana Al Marqouli Archaeological Project. Credit: Michael Brown, Kamal Rashid Rahim, Hashem Hama Abdullah, Antiquity Publications Ltd. , DOI: 10.15184 / aqy.2022.74

a) petroglyph in Merquoli, b) petroglyph in Rabbaneh.  c) Hatra statue of King Atulu/Atalus of the Adiabeans.

Illustrations by M. brown; © Rabbana Al Marqouli Archaeological Project. Credit: Michael Brown, Kamal Rashid Rahim, Hashem Hama Abdullah, Antiquity Publications Ltd. , DOI: 10.15184 / aqy.2022.74

The lost royal city of Netonia

Researchers say that the petroglyphs at the entrances to the settlements of Rabaneh and Margoli are of particular importance, as well as the fortification site in the Klein Zab river basin, known in antiquity by its Greek name Capros.

These two elements lead researchers to suspect that Rabbana-Mercoli may be the lost city of Netonia. Until now, the existence of the royal city “Natonia on the River Capros” or “Natounissarokerta” was known only from a few coins from the 1st century BC.

One of the seven coins bearing the name Natounia, at the top in Greek.

photo © Trustees of the British Museum. Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

According to one scholarly interpretation, the place name Natounissarokerta consists of the royal name Natounissar, founder of the royal Adiabene dynasty, and the Parthian word for moat or fortification. “This description could refer to Rabana-Merculi,” Brown said.

According to Brown, the bas-reliefs in the fortifications could depict the city’s founder, either Natan Nasr himself or a direct descendant. The inscriptions resemble a statue that was found about 230 kilometers away in Hatra, which is where many finds from the Parthian period were made.

The mountain fortress of Rabana-Mercoli was located on the eastern border of the kingdom of Adiabene, which was once ruled by the kings of a local dynasty dependent on the Parthians.

Reinforcements may have been used, among other things, to trade with pastoral tribes in the hinterland, to maintain diplomatic relations or to exert military pressure.

“The great effort that went into planning, building and maintaining a fortification of this size is indicative of the government’s activity,” Brown said.

a) Mount Peramagron, at the site of the settlements of Rabaneh and Merkouli, b) the Rabbana-Mergoli scheme.

map by M. Brown; © Rabbana Al Marqouli Archaeological Project

Both sides of the Iraqi-Iranian border

The current excavations at Rabana-Merquly are funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft under the research program “Das iranische Hochland: Resilienzen und Integration in vormodernen Gesellschaften”.

The objective of this program is to study Parthian settlements and Parthian society in the highlands of the Zagros Mountains on both sides of the Iraq-Iran border.

The results of the international team have been published in antique. This article is based on a press release issued by the University of Heidelberg.

    a) the entrance to Wadi al-Rabbana, b) a rock carving of al-Rabbana with part of the circular wall, c) a building showing traces of housing in the Islamic period.

© Rabbana-Mirgoli Archaeological Project

Part of the fortifications above the boat.

© Rabbana Al Marqouli Archaeological Project. From: Brown et al., Antiquity (2022), 10.15184/aqy.2022.74 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

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