Ancient Assur – Yup! It’s a Real-Life Village

I promised y’all I’d start consolidating some of my research into my website, so here we go. This isn’t meant to be anything scholarly, just me sharing some ‘where the heck did she get that crazy idea’ kind of stuff where I tell you about my arcane research gleaned from watching too much History Channel. I’ve got to put that hobby  to use somewhere! It might as well be one of my stories so I can entertain people with it.

Husband: [*stumbles downstairs at 2:00 a.m.*]   Honey? When are you coming to bed?

Anna: [*eyes glued to television*]   I can’t … I’m doing research!

Husband: [*shuffles back upstairs, grumbling about imaginary friends*]

Sword of the Gods: The Chosen OneIn Sword of the Gods, my spacefaring Angelic is forced to integrate into a Neolithic village after his ship crash-lands on Earth. They visit this village again (briefly) in Angel of Death, only by then it’s nothing but ruins a bit downriver from one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Surprise! Assur is a real place and you can visit its ruins today (if you’re not scared of ISIS cutting off your head live on YouTube). So for this month’s blog post I’ll tell you a little about my inspiration, and then I’ll give you the link to Google Earth so you can look down on its ruins from outer space.

Assur (Ashur) started out as a village which later grew into a city-state and eventually one of the seats of the Assyrian Empire. In 3,500 B.C., it was little more than a tiny settlement by the Hiddekel (Tigris) River in what is now modern-day Iraq.

Assur river fieldsGrain growing was the staff of life in this region, so Assur always planned everything else around the growing and harvest of their fields. See the archeologists rendition below, recreated from the footprint of the actual ruins? In the background you can see the neatly levied fields I describe that Mikhail goes down the hill to plant when the floodwaters recede (above and below):


I wanted to set my story close to the oldest known myths of angels, around 11,000 B.C., but before the first recorded myths of ‘fallen’ angels which date around 2,700 BC.  I originally set the story in 10,000 BC, but people didn’t really live in permanent settlements back then, cultivate crops, keep livestock, or have weapons made of metal. I just couldn’t picture Mikhail living in a tent and following a herd of goats around, so I moved the story up to 3,500 BC Assur.


Because my earliest draft of Sword of the Gods involved Mikhail living in a semi-nomadic, moveable village, I initially described it as more of a medieval setup, where people lived in cottages surrounded by their land and gardens. Oops! That’s not how people lived in Assur in 3,500 B.C. Because people were always under attack, so they built their houses close together so they could defend them.

Below-left is an artist’s rendition of the recreated ruins of Catal Huyok, a Mesopotamian village which existed around the same time as Ninsianna’s Assur. If you compare the layout of the foundations in the picture above to the layout of the houses in the picture below-left, you can see the layout is very similar. The picture to the right is a Pueblo native village in the USA. Notice the similarities? Both were built so the people could close up the lower floors and throw weapons down upon their enemy’s heads from the roofs.

Catal Huyuk-pueblo compared

These houses were a lot smaller than they are today. I used THIS picture when I described the dimensions of Ninsianna’s parent’s house. This is the ruins of a real-life house in Assur from around 2,000 B.C. Mud-brick ruins tend to crumble after that because they disintegrate back into mostly soil after a while (below):


The inside of the houses had two or sometimes even three stories. The lower floor was for gathering together to do chores and cooking, while the upper floors were for sleeping. Because it’s so hot there, but large windows make you vulnerable to attack, most houses had ladders all the way up to the rooftop to act as a kind of chimney to carrycatalhyk_house4568 away the heat. Below are the ruins I used to describe the layout of Ninsianna’s parent’s house. It’s really not sized for a 7.5 foot tall Angelic with a 30-foot wingspan. Mikhail would bump his head a lot in such a house and not have any place to comfortably stretch his wings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee the beehive oven? That’s where Needa would burn the bread. It’s hot in Iraq, so people usually had a second oven outside their house. This is the oven and style of baking bread I described when Mikhail went to Yalda and Zhila’s house . See how close the houses are together with the tiny courtyards?

Ancient Assur was built in a series of stages. At its center are the ruins to a ziggurat, a temple to the gods. The Ziggarat of Assur is in pretty bad shape. Erosion has eaten a lot of it away. But it is built at the apex of a natural, sloping hill which rises above the banks of the Tigrashuris (Hiddekel) River. Hiddekel is just the ancient name of the Tigris. No, really, I didn’t make it up. Because I perceived the ruins as having been built outwards from the center, I describe my version of Assur as being built in a series of concentric rings, but in real-life it was more a bunch of lumpy squares, kinda-sorta gathered around in a roundish outgrowth pattern.

Want to know something cool? When I had to come up with a sci-fi cover quick when The Chosen One was invited to be in a box set with one of my favorite legacy sci-fi authors, I slapped some character cutouts I’d made for a promo onto three piiraq05-064-03ctures of the real-life village. I used GIMP to cut out the ziggurat above (incidentally, some people believe that ziggurat is the origin of the story of the Tower of Babel):

This is a picture of the oldest excavated part of Assur which dates from around 3,000 B.C., the closest in age to my story (above):

MPW-12495 300dpi scaledAnd here’s a view of the Hiddekel (Tigris) River taken from Assur which I used the foreground bit, minus the river in the background (above). Add a picture of the Milky Way, a crashed spaceship, a bit of free GIMP image manipulation software, add a purple filter, and you have:

[*yeah … I know there’s a gap … but Mikhail stands there in the Sci-Fi version of the cover so you don’t see it*]Picture1

That’s what’s cool about being an indie author. You can do cool stuff like that which would make a ‘real’ publisher have conniption fits. I’ve sent the temp-cover off to a REAL cover artist to turn my fun-with-GIMP experiment into a permanent cover that looks all pro, but for now, I kinda like that mine is the only epic fantasy book cover that I know of which features the actual real-life archeological ruins as part of the background image.

And now [*drum roll*] … here’s the promised link to the satellite image looking down from a sky canoe towards the real-life village of Assur (Ashur):,43.266697,1778m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x1553a979c7f6a995:0xa08d3d7eff4bdb4e

So that’s the end of my not-a-blog ramblings about the real-life setting of one of my book series. Really, it’s just an excuse to share some really cool pictures. If you have any questions, or suggestions about what else you’d like me to post information/answer questions about, drop a COMMENT into the thread below and I’ll see if I can’t grant your wish?

Be epic!
Anna Erishkigal