Hatra – The Caravan City of the Desert

Hatra was the ancient capital of the small Kingdom of Hatra, located in the present-day eastern Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq.

The Kingdom of Hatra was a semi-autonomous buffer state between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire that emerged in the 2nd century BC.

The kingdom was one of the first Arab states established outside of Arabia that was ruled by a dynasty of Arab princes called the mrjʾ (meaning “lord”), and the later entitled mlkʾ d-ʿrb (meaning “king of the Arabs”).

The capital of Hatra was probably founded during the Seleucid period (312 BC to 63 BC), developing into a major trading centre for caravans on the trans-desert trade routes across Upper Mesopotamia.

- Advertisement -
Image Credit : Staff Sgt. JoAnn Makinano – Public Domain

At its peak, the city covered an area of 740 acres and consisted of a central temenos containing temples dedicated to Nergal, Hermes, Atargatis, Allat, Ba’al Shamayn, Ashurbel, and Shamash. The cultural diversity made Hatra famous in the classical world for its fusion of Greek, Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Aramean, and Arabian religious practices.

Surrounding the city was two concentric layers of defensive walls supported by 160 guard towers that withstood several sieges by the Roman emperors Trajan and Septimius Severus during the Second Parthian War.

Roman incursions and the “wall mentality” leading to the construction of Roman limes and Persian border defensives led to a decline of Hatra and the caravan cities of the Near East as they were gradually absorbed by both Empires.

Image Credit : Spc. Leigh Campbell – Public Domain

Hatra would eventually fall during a lengthy siege by the Sasanian king Shapur I in AD 240-241, resulting in the sacking and abandonment of the city and the disintegration of the Kingdom of Hatra.

In the following century, the Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus passed by Hatra together with the Roman army and described it as an “old city situated in an uninhabited area and deserted for a long time past”.

Header Image Credit : Multi-National Corps Iraq Public Affairs – Public Domain

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is an award winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education and the BCA Medal of Honour.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2023

The field of archaeology has been continuously evolving in 2023, making significant strides in uncovering new historical findings, preserving cultural heritage, and employing innovative technologies to study the past.

War in Ukraine sees destruction of cultural heritage not witnessed since WW2

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has resulted in a significant loss of human lives and the national and international displacement of many Ukrainian people.

Archaeologists find five Bronze Age axes in the forests of Kociewie

According to an announcement by the Pomeranian Provincial Conservator of Monuments, archaeologists have discovered five Bronze Age axes in Starogard Forest District, located in Kociewie, Poland.

Origins of English Christmas traditions

Christmas embodies a tapestry of ritual traditions and customs shared by many countries and cultures. Some hearken back to ancient times, while others represent more recent innovations.

Mosaic depicting lions found at ancient Prusias ad Hypium

Archaeologists have uncovered a mosaic depicting lions during excavations at ancient Prusias ad Hypium, located in modern-day Konuralp, Turkey.

Survey finds 18 km Maya sacbé using LiDAR

An archaeological survey conducted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has identified an 18 km sacbé linking the Maya cities of Uxmal and Kabah in the Puuc region of western Yucatan, Mexico.

Clusters of ancient qanats discovered in Diyala

An archaeological survey has identified three clusters of ancient qanats in the Diyala Province of Iraq.

16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling found in La Garma cave

Archaeologists have discovered a 16,800-year-old Palaeolithic dwelling in the La Garma cave complex, located in the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte in Spain’s Cantabria province.