Mosul (Arabic: الموصل al-Mawṣil; North Mesopotamian Arabic: el-Mōṣul; Syriac: Nînwe; Kurdish: Mûsil/Nînewe; Turkish: Musul), is a city in northern Iraq and the capital of the Nineveh Province, some 400 km (250 mi) northwest of Baghdad. The original city stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank, but the metropolitan area has now grown to encompass substantial areas on both banks, with five bridges linking the two sides. The majority of its population is Arab (with Assyrians, Turcoman and Kurdish minorities). It is Iraq's third largest city after Baghdad and Basra.
In 1987, the city's population was 664,221 people; the 2002 population estimate was 1,740,000, and by 2008 was estimated to be 1,800,000. People from Mosul are called Maslawis.
The name of the city is first mentioned by Xenophon in 401 BC in his expeditionary logs. There, he notes a small town of "Mépsila" (Ancient Greek: Μέψιλα) on the Tigris at about where modern Mosul is today (Anabasis, III.iv.10). It may be safer to identify Xenophon's Mépsila with the site of Iski Mosul, or "Old Mosul", 20 miles north of modern Mosul, where six centuries after Xenophon's report, the Sasanian Persian center of Budh-Ardhashīr was built. Be as it may, the name Mepsila per se, however, is doubtlessly the root for the modern name, albeit, in its metathetic form of Mosul.
Nineveh gave its place to Mepsila after its violent fall to the Babylonians, Medes and Scythians in 612 BC. In fact, Xenophon makes no mention of it in his expedition of 401 BC (during the reign of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty in this region), although he does note Mepsila.
In its current Islamic form and spelling, the term Mosul, or rather "Mawsil" stands for the "linking point" – or loosely, the Junction City, in Arabic. Mosul should not be confused with the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh which is located across the Tigris from Mosul on the eastern banks, at the famed archaeological mound of Kuyunjik (Turkoman for "sheep's hill"). This area is better known today as the town of Nebi Yunus ("prophet Jonah"). The site contain the tomb of the Biblical Jonah as he lived and died in Nineveh, then the capital of ancient Assyria. Today, this entire area has been absorbed into Mosul metropolitan area. The surviving Assyrians, refer to entire city of Mosul as Nineveh (or rather, Ninweh).
It is also named al-Faiha ("the Paradise"), al-Khaḍrah ("the Green") and al-Hadbah ("the Humped"). It is sometimes described as "The Pearl of the North".
In approximately 850 BC, King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria chose the city of Nimrud as his capital, 30 kilometres from present day Mosul. In approximately 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. The mound of Kuyunjik in Mosul is the site of the palaces of King Sennacherib and his grandson Ashurbanipal, who established the Library of Ashurbanipal.
Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Syria and Anatolia with the Median Empire. In 612 BC, the Mede emperor Cyaxares the Great, together with the alliance of Nabopolassar king of Babylon and the Scythians, conquered Nineveh.
The city changed hands once again with the rise of Sassanid Persia in 225 AD. Christianity was present among the indigenous Assyrian people in Mosul as early as the 2nd century. It became an episcopal seat of the Nestorian faith in the 6th century. In 637 (other sources say 641), during the period of the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, the city was annexed to the Rashidun Caliphate by Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami.
Mosul was promoted to the status of capital of Mesopotamia under the Umayyads in the 8th century, during which it reached a peak of prosperity. During the Abbassid era it was an important trading centre because of its strategic location astride the trade routes to India, Persia, and the Mediterranean. The Muslim general and conqueror of Sindh, Muhammad bin Qasim, is said to have died here in the 8th century AD.
In the late 9th century control over the city was seized by the Turkish dynasts Ishaq ibn Kundajiq and his son Muhammad, but in 893 Mosul came once again under the direct control of the Abbasid Caliphate. In the early 10th century Mosul came under the control of the native Arab Hamdanid dynasty. From Mosul, the Hamdanids under Abdallah ibn Hamdan and his son Nasir al-Dawla expanded their control over the Jazira for several decades, first as governors of the Abbassids and later as de facto independent rulers. A century later they were supplanted by the Uqaylids.
Mosul was conquered by the Seljuks in the 11th century. After a period under semi-independent atabeg such as Mawdud, in 1127 it became the centre of power of the Zengid dynasty. Saladin besieged the city unsuccessfully in 1182 but finally gained control of it in 1186. In the 13th century it was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu, but was spared the usual destruction since its governor, Badr al-Din Luʾluʾ, helped the Khan in his following campaigns in Syria. After the Mongol defeat in the Battle of Ain Jalut against the Mamluks, Badr al-Din's son sided with the latter; this led to the destruction of the city, which later regained some importance but never recovered its original splendor. Mosul was thenceforth ruled by the Mongol Ilkhanid and Jalayrid dynasties, and escaped Tamerlan's destructions.
During 1165, Benjamin of Tudela passed in Mosul; in his papers, he wrote that he found a small Jewish community estimated in 7000 people in Mosul, the community was led by rebbi Zakhi (זכאי) presumably connected to the king David dynasty. In 1288–1289, the Exilarch was in Mosul and signed supporting paper for Maimonides.
In the early 16th century Mosul was under the Turkmen federation of the Ak Koyunlu, but in 1508 it was conquered by the Persian Safawids. Finally, in 1535, Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent added it to his empire. Thenceforth Mosul was governed by a pasha. Mosul was celebrated for its line of walls, comprising seven gates with large towers, a renowned hospital (maristan) and a covered market (qaysariyya), and was also famous for its fabrics and flourishing trades.
Although Mesopotamia had technically been integrated within the Ottoman Empire since 1533, until the reconquest of Baghdad in 1638 the city of Mosul was considered “still a mere fortress, important for its strategic position as an offensive platform for Ottoman campaigns into Iraq, as well as a defensive stronghold and plaque tournante guarding the approaches to Anatolia and to the Syrian coast. Then with the Ottoman reconquest of Baghdad, the liwa’ of Mosul became an independent wilaya.”
Despite being a part of the Ottoman Empire, during the four centuries of Ottoman rule Mosul was considered “the most independent district” within the Middle East, following the Roman model of indirect rule through local notables. “Mosuli culture developed less along Ottoman-Turkish likes than along Iraqi-Arab lines; and Turkish, the official language of the State, was certainly not the dominant language in the province.”
In line with its status as a politically stable trade route between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf the city developed considerably during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Similar to the development of the Mamluk dynasty in Baghdad, during this time “the Jalili family was establishing itself as the undisputed master of Mosul”, and “helping to connect Mosul with a pre-Ottoman, pre-Turcoman, pre-Mongol, Arab cultural heritage which was to put the town on its way to recapturing some of the prestige and prominence it had enjoyed under the golden reign of Badr ad-Din Lu’lu’.”
Along with the al-Umari and Tasin al-Mufti families, the Jalilis formed an “urban-based small and medium gentry and a new landed elite”, which proceeded to displace the control of previous rural tribes. Such families proceed to establish themselves through private enterprise, solidifying their influence and assets through rents on land and taxes on urban and rural manufacturing.
As well as elected officials, the social architecture of Mosul was highly influenced by the Dominican fathers arrived in Mosul in 1750, sent by Pope Benedict XIV (Mosul had a large Christian population, predominantly Assyrians). They were followed by the Dominican nuns in 1873. They established a number of schools, health clinics, a printing press and an orphanage. The nuns also established workshops to teach girls sewing and embroidery. A congregation of Dominican sisters, founded in the 19th century, still has its motherhouse in Mosul. Over 120 Assyrian Iraqi Sisters belong to this congregation.
In the nineteenth century the Ottoman government started to reclaim central control over its outlying provinces. Their aim was to “restore Ottoman law, and rejuvenate the military” as well as reviving “a secure tax base for the government”. In order to reestablish rule in 1834 the Sultan abolished public elections for the position of governor, and began “neutraliz[ing] local families such as the Jalilis and their class.” and appointing new, non-Maslawi governors directly. In line with its reintegration within central government rule, Mosul was required to conform to new Ottoman reform legislation, including the standardization of tariff rates, the consolidation of internal taxes and the integration of the administrative apparatus with the central government.
This process started in 1834 with the appointment of Bayraktar Mehmet Pasha, who was to rule Mosul for the next four years. After the reign of Bayraktar Mehmet Pasha, the Ottoman government (wishing still to restrain the influence of powerful local families) appointed a series of governors in rapid succession, ruling “for only a brief period before being sent somewhere else to govern, making it impossible for any of them to achieve a substantial local power base.”
Mosul remained under Ottoman control until 1918 when it was taken by the British, with a brief break in 1623 when Persia seized the city, and was the capital of Mosul Vilayet one of the three vilayets (provinces) of Ottoman Iraq.
The majority of people in Mosul are Sunni Muslims, though Mosul had a proportion of Assyrian Christians who also have a presence in the villages around of Mosul in ancient Nineveh since the foundation of the city (majority follow the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, and a minority follow the Assyrian Church of the East). There is also a number of Arab Christians who belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, and have a number of Protestant churches. Other religions, such as Yazidi, Yarsan and Mandean religions also call Mosul home.
Long before the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, the old city Nineveh was Christianized when the Assyrians converted to Christianity during the 1st and 2nd centuries.
Despite institutional ethnic persecution by various political powers, including the Ba'ath Party regime, Mosul has maintained a multicultural and multi-religious mosaic. The difficult history of Mosul, however, still contributes to tensions among its modern inhabitants.
Mosul had a Jewish population. Like most Iraqi Jews, most left in 1950–51. A larger number may have converted to Islam in the past century but some traditions have been retained. It is very difficult to give a reliable estimate of the Jewish population in Iraq. Most Iraqi Jews have moved to Israel, while some to the United States. A rabbi in the American army found an abandoned, dilapidated synagogue in Mosul dating back to the 13th century.
The Arabic of Mosul is considered to be much softer in its pronunciation than that of Baghdad, bearing considerable resemblance to Levantine dialects, particularly Aleppan Arabic. Iraqis sometimes describe it as the 'feminine version' of Iraqi Arabic.
Mosul Arabic is influenced largely by the languages of every ethnic minority group co-existing in the city: Kurds, Turkmen, Armenians, Assyrians, as well as others – thus infusing Kurmanji Kurdish, Turkmen, Armenian, and Neo-Aramaic. Each minority language is respectively spoken alongside Arabic.