Calah (so in the Bible; Kalah in the Assyrian inscriptions), an ancient city situated in the angle formed by the Tigris and the upper Zab, 19 m. S. of Nineveh, and one of the capitals of Assyria. According to the inscriptions, it was built by Shalmaneser I. about 1300 B.C., as a residence city in place of the older Assur. After that it seems to have fallen into decay or been destroyed, but was restored by Assur-nasir-pal, about 880 B.C., and from that time to the overthrow of the Assyrian power it remained a residence city of the Assyrian kings. It shared the fate of Nineveh, was captured and destroyed by the Medes and Babylonians toward the close of the 7th century, and from that time has remained a ruin. The site was discovered by Sir A.H. Layard, in 1845, in the tel of Nimrud. Hebrew tradition (in the J narrative, Genesis x. 11, 12) mentions Calah as built by Nimrod. Modern Arabic tradition likewise ascribes the ruins, like those of Birs Nimrud, near Babylon, to Nimrod, because they are the most prominent ruins of that region.
Similarly the ancient dike in the river Tigris at this point is ascribed to Nimrod. The ruin mounds of Nimrud consist of an oblong enclosure, formed by the walls of the ancient city, of which fifty-eight towers have been traced on the N. and about fifty on the E. In the S.W. corner of this oblong is an elevated platform in the form of a rectangular parallelogram, some 600 yds. from N. to S. and 400 yds. from E. to W., raised on an average about 40 ft. above the plain, with a lofty cone 140 ft. high in the N.W. corner. This is the remains of the raised platform of unbaked brick, faced with baked bricks and stone, on which stood the principal palaces and temples of the city, the cone at the N.W. representing the ziggurat, or stage-tower, of the principal temple. Originally on the banks of the Tigris, this platform now stands some distance E. of the river. Here Layard conducted excavations from 1845 to 1847, and again from 1849 to 1851. The means at his disposal were inadequate, his excavations were incomplete and also unscientific in that his prime object was the discovery of inscriptions and museum objects; but he was wonderfully successful in achieving the results at which he aimed, and the numerous statues, monuments, inscribed stones, bronze objects and the like found by him in the ruins of Calah are among the most precious possessions of the British Museum. Excavations were also conducted by Hormuzd Rassan in 1852-1854, and again in 1878, and by George Smith in 1873. But while supplementing in some important respects Layard's excavations, this later work added relatively little to his discoveries whether of objects or of facts.
The principal buildings discovered at Calah are: - (a) the North-West palace, south of the ziggurat, one of the most complete and perfect Assyrian buildings known, about 350 ft. square, consisting of a central court, 129 ft. by 90 ft., surrounded by a number of halls and chambers. This palace was originally constructed by Assur-nasir-pal I. (885-860 B.C.), and restored and reoccupied by Sargon (722-705 B.C.). In it were found the winged lions, now in the British Museum, the fine series of sculptured bas-reliefs glorifying the deeds of Assur-nasir-pal in war and peace, and the large collection of bronze vessels and implements, numbering over 200 pieces; (b) the Central palace, in the interior of the mound, toward its southern end, erected by Shalmaneser II. (860-825 B.C.) and rebuilt by Tiglath-pileser III. (745-727 B.C.). Here were found the famous black obelisk of Shalmaneser, now in the British Museum, in the inscription on which the tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, is mentioned, the great winged bulls, and also a fine series of slabs representing the battles and sieges of Tiglath-pileser; (c) the South-West palace, in the S.W. corner of the platform, an uncompleted building of Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.), who robbed the North-West and Central palaces, effacing the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser, to obtain material for his construction; (d) the smaller West palace, between the South-West and the North-West palaces, a construction of Hadad-nirari or Adadnirari III. (812-783 B.C.); (e) the South-East palace, built by Assur-etil-ilani, after 626 B.C., for his harem, in the S.E. corner of the platform, above the remains of an older similar palace of Shalmaneser; (f) two small temples of Assur-nasir-pal, in connexion with the ziggurat in the N.W. corner; and (g) a temple called E-Zida, and dedicated to Nebo, near the South-East palace.
From the number of colossal figures of Nebo discovered here it would appear that the cult of Nebo was a favourite one, at least during the later period. The other buildings on the E. side of the platform had been ruined by the post-Assyrian use of the mound for a cemetery, and for tunnels for the storage and concealment of grain. While the ruins of Calah were remarkably rich in monumental material, enamelled bricks, bronze and ivory objects and the like, they yielded few of the inscribed clay tablets found in such great numbers at Nineveh and various Babylonian sites. Not a few of the astrological and omen tablets in the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum, however, although found at Nineveh, were executed, according to their own testimony, at Calah for the rab-dup-šarrē or principal librarian during the reigns of Sargon and Sennacherib (716-684 B.C.). From this it would appear that there was at that time at Calah a library or a collection of archives which was later removed to Nineveh. In the prestige of antiquity and religious renown, Calah was inferior to the older capital, Assur, while in population and general importance it was much inferior to the neighbouring Nineveh. There is no proper ground for regarding it, as some Biblical scholars of a former generation did, through a false interpretation of the book of Jonah, as a part or suburb of Nineveh.
See A.H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (London, 1849); George Smith, Assyrian Discoveries (London, 1883); Hormuzd Rassam, Ashur and the Land of Nimrod (London and New York, 1897).
(J. P. Pe.)