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نهر الخوصر/ Nahr al-Khosr

Verlauf des Khosr, die Lage alter Städte und Sanheribs Wasserbauten

Course of the Khosr, the location of ancient cities and Sanherib’s water constructions

Location Ninawa Province, Iraq
River system Shatt al-Arab
Drainage via Tigris → Shatt al-Arab → Persian Gulf
Named start Confluence of two wadis
36° 36′ 13″ N, 43° 11′ 47″ O
Source Height approx. 318m
Mouth Near Mosul into the TigrisCoordinates 36° 20′ 43″ N, 43° 8′ 27″ O
36° 20′ 43″ N, 43° 8′ 27″ O
Mouth height approx. 211m
Height difference approx. 107 m
Bottom slope approx. 2.3 ‰
Length approx. 47 km

The Chosr is a 47-kilometer-long wadi in the Ninawa governorate in northwestern Iraq. Of the non-permanent tributaries of the Tigris, to which it flows orographically on the right, it is one of the largest.[1]


The full name in Arabic is (نهر الخوصر/ Nahr al-Khosr). Both the article “ال/ al-” and the expression “نهر/ Nahr” for river, channel, however, do not necessarily have to be prefixed. The Arabic-German dictionary by Langenscheidt translates the term with horn in the meaning of the brass instrument.[2] In addition, many different variants of the name circulate, which are explained by transcriptions into different languages according to different rules. Recent German sources have the following spellings: Chosr, Ḫosr, Hausr, Khosr, Khoser, in older ones also Choser, Chusur, Khauser. As a French rendering one finds Koussour and Khosar, Khausser or Hosrow in English transliterations. Other forms of the name in other languages are: Khosar, Khasar, Khawsar, Kawarsar, sometimes together with the introductory term Wadi, such as “Wadi al Khawşar”.


The river originates in the hilly foothills at the southern foot of the Jabal al-Qosh mountain range near the Sunni Kurdish village of Xorekor from the confluence of two wadis with multiple branches. The western tributary bears the name Nahr ‘Ayn Zawah (نهر عين زاوة) , the eastern one is known as Rubar Kitak روبار كتك known.
After the union of the two headwater streams, the Khosr flows in many meanders through the northeastern part of the Nineveh Plain and after about 15 kilometers in a southerly direction passes the ancient fortifications of Dur Šarrukin lying on its eastern bank. A little further downstream are the remains of a dam that formed the head of the Kisiri Canal, first mentioned in 702 BC and about 16 kilometres long, which ran parallel to the river to the city walls of Nineveh.

After a further eight kilometres, the river dams up at the village of Mintaqat ash Shalalat (منطقة الشلالات) in front of a weir which is said to date back to an Assyrian dam.[3] From here it is another 17 kilometers to reach the excavations of Nineveh. It has been suggested by some archaeologists that the river, which rages when it rains or when the snow melts, was channelled around the city in the wide fortification ditch in King Sanherib’s time.[4] After more than two and a half millennia, however, this can no longer be proved, and the situation is as follows: The water has broken through the eastern wall and destroyed part of the former fortifications, but one can still clearly see that the lower part of the wall was made of large blocks of stone. The course of the river takes its way in a southwesterly direction, drawing a pronounced loop in front of the settlement mound of Tell Kujundjik, and after a little more than three kilometers it leaves the ruined city to join the Tigris after the last two kilometers.


Within the urban area of Mosul, the following bridges span the Khosr in the order downstream.
During the battle for Mosul, several of them were destroyed. Since the end of the fighting in July 2017, there have been efforts to rebuild them.[5]

  • The Sugar Bridge (جسر السكر) is a part of the Mosul – Lalish expressway.[Note 1]
  • The approximately 238-meter-long Al-Muthanna Bridge ( جسر المثنى) connects the Al-Muthanna and Al-Zuhour neighborhoods.
  • Across the Great Muthanna Bridge ( جسر المثنى الكبير) leads one of the busiest roads between the Al-Muthanna and Al-Noor neighborhoods.[Note 1]
  • The Bridge of Flowers (جسر الزهور) is about 124 meters long and connects the neighborhoods of Al-Muthanna and Al-Zuhour.[Note 1]
  • The Al-Suez Bridge ( جسر السويس), with a length of 269 meters, connects the Al-Faisaliah district with the agricultural areas in the northwest of the city.
  • The 180-meter-long Sanherib Bridge ( جسر سنحاريب) runs slightly further downstream parallel to the Al Suez Bridge.[6]


6. Century BC

In the time of the Assyrian king Sanherib, the waters of the Tigris were probably not fit for human consumption. The so-called Bavian inscription states that “the inhabitants did not know drinking water and their eyes were fixed on the rain falling from the sky”.[7] In order to ensure the water supply of his capital Nineveh even during the dry season, the king realized an epoch-making water construction project between 702 and 688 BC. The canalization of the Chosr played the most important role. He had the connection to the aqueduct of Jerwan built through its eastern source stream. This 275-meter-long viaduct, which some researchers consider to be the oldest of its kind, carried water from the Atrush River in the eastern Al-Qosh Mountains into the Khosr.[8]

From the northwestern direction, water was received from the upper reaches of the wadis Al-Milah (وادي المالح) and Bandwai (بهنداوة) was channeled into the Chosr through the Wadi al Abrah (وادي الابرة) was directed into the Chosr.

At the king’s instigation, artificial lakes were created at the springs at the foot of Mount Musri (Jabal Bashiqa), about 20 kilometers from Nineveh near the present-day city of Bashiqa. With the help of sluices, water could be diverted into the Musri Canal as needed. This waterway led to the Wadi al-Qamtar, which flows into the Chosr close above the barrier of Aj’ilah.

The construction of tunnels, aqueducts, dams and weirs took a total of fifteen years and resulted in a 150-kilometre-long canal system that allowed the regulation of the Chosr and thus enabled the steady supply of drinking water to the city and the irrigation of farmland.

The geographer Carl Ritter describes the river in his work “Die Erdkunde” as the benefactor of Nineveh.[9] However, the Chosr could also be a danger, especially during floods, which the far-sighted ruler must have been well aware of. The Chosr is more or less directly associated with the destruction of the city by the Medes and Babylonians in 612 BC. This event was foretold by the prophet Nahum of Elkosch and found its way into the prophetic books of the Torah and thus into the Bible in the Book of Nahum.

The prophecy describes that the walls of the palace shall be destroyed by great masses of water.

“With rushing flood he makes an end of his adversaries, and his enemies he pursues with darkness.”

Nahum1,8 LUT

The water could perhaps also have entered the city at the sluice gates to the Khosr, as Nahum’s text suggests. Who could have opened them, however, remains in the dark.

“Already the gates are opened at the waters, it staggers the palace.”

Nahum2:7 LUT

Some scholars interpret the biblical text to mean that a devastating flood washed out the fortifications, while others believe that the besiegers dammed up the water in the canals until the city walls collapsed. In trying to explain the biblical flood, another possibility would be that the city was flooded only after the Babylonians had won. For this purpose, the reservoirs could have been opened and their contents drained uncontrollably into the Khosr.[10] At least this is suggested by the text in the Book of Nahum (chapter 2, verse 9), where it states:

“Nineveh is like a full pond, but its waters must trickle away. “Stand, stand!” they cry, but no one turns back.”

Nahum2:9 LUT

In 1898, Friedrich, a professor from Innsbruck, questioned the conquest of the city by the Medes. According to his thesis, Nineveh’s end could have been the result of a devastating natural disaster. During a storm, heavy rainfall, not uncommon in the area, could have caused a dam to break on the Chosr, causing the eastern wall to collapse. A lightning strike may have ignited a fire, which would have been further fanned by the storm, explaining burn marks in the ruins.[4] Biblical scholar Aron Pinker, on the other hand, argues that Nineveh’s topography precludes the possibility of flooding by the Khosr.[11]

From Babylonian Chronicle No. 3 the date and duration of the siege are known, but not a description of the fighting. The role of Chosr also remains unmentioned in this source. It states:

“The king of Akkad gathered his army and united it with the army of Kyaxares, king of the Medes. They besieged Nineveh from the month of Sivan to the month of Ab-for three months. They pitched their camp in front of Nineveh and subjected the city to a severe siege. On … Day of the month Ab they inflicted a great defeat on the mighty [people of Nineveh]. At that time the king of Assyria was Sîn-šarru-iškun [, who] died. They carried off rich spoils from the city and the temple and laid the city in ruins.”[12]

19. Century

After the rediscovery of Nineveh in 1842 by Paul-Émile Botta, it became clear that the former capital had not been rebuilt after the fall of the Assyrian Empire and that Sanherib’s hydraulic structures had crumbled. This had resulted in the Khosr reverting to a normal dry valley in terms of flow rate. As with other wadis, the water flow has since been subject to seasonal fluctuations.

21. Century

The lower river near Mosul carries very little water seasonally and is abused as a cesspool. An analysis of the river water near the mouth in 2006 revealed a high concentration of heavy metals such as cadmium and copper and contamination with bacteria.[1]

Web links

  • Austen Henry Layard: “Discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon”. John Murray, London, 1853, ISBN 1-4021-7444-6(
  • Ariel M. Bagg, “By the Waters of Nineveh.” Philipp von Zabern, 2012( Article in the journal ANTIKE WELT)

References and notes

  1. a b Dr. Mazin N. Fadhel: “Adverse impact of Al-Khoser river upon Tigris river at outfall area”. 2008( [PDF]).
  2. وصر in Langenscheidt: Arabic-German dictionary. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  3. Restored Assyrian dam at Khosr
  4. a b Dr. Thomas Friedrich: “Nineve’s Ende” in “Festgaben zu Ehren Max Bdinger’s”. Verlag der Wagner’schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, Innsbruck, 1898, ISBN 1-148-36331-9(
  5. Reconstruction of the Sugar and Flower Bridge (English)
  6. Bridges in Ninawa Province (Arabic)
  7. Jason Ur, “Sennacherib’s Northern Assyrian Canals.” British Institute for the Study of Iraq, 2005, p. 1 ( English, harvard .edu [ PDF]).
  8. Thorkild Jacobsen, Seton Lloyd: “Sennacherib’s Aqueduct at Jerwan.” The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1935, ISBN 0-226-62120-0( [PDF]).
  9. Carl Ritter: “Die Erdkunde von Asien”. Verlag der Wagner’schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, Innsbruck, 1844, ISBN 0-365-17001-1(
  10. Dahlia Shehata: “Babylonians, Hittites and Co. for Dummies”. Wiley-VCH, 2015, ISBN 978-3-527-70499-6(
  11. Aron Pinker: “Nahum and the Greek Tradition on Nineveh’s Fall” (English)
  12. Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Eisenbrauns, 2000, ISBN 1-57506-049-3( Babylonian Chronicle No. 3 from line 38, English)
  1. a b c Destroyed in the fighting for the city between 2016 and 2017.