The lost royal city of Natuniya may have been found in Iraqi Kurdistan

Using drone photography, archaeologists have unearthed and cataloged this site during a series of excavations between 2009 and 2022. Located in the Zagros Mountains, the stone fortress of Rabana Merculi includes almost 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of fortifications, two small settlements, carved rock reliefs and a religious complex.

The fortress was on the border of Adiabene, a small kingdom ruled by the kings of the local dynasty. According to a study led by Michael Brown, Research Fellow at the Institute for Prehistory, Protohistory and Near Eastern Archeology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, with the help of Iraqi colleagues.

According to Brown, the carvings at the entrance to the fortress depict King Adiabene, based on the figure’s clothing, specifically his hat. The carvings are reminiscent of other depictions of the kings of Adiabene, especially one found 143 miles (230 km) from an ancient city called Hatra.

Although this is a matter of conjecture, Brown believes that the fort was a royal city known as Natunia or alternatively Natunissarokerta which was part of the kingdom of Adiabene.

“Natunia is really known only for its rare coins, there is (no) any detailed historical references,” Brown said via email.

Details recovered from seven coins describe a city named after a king named Natunissar and a place on the lower reaches of the Zab River, known in antiquity as the Kapros River.

“Situation near (but admittedly not on) the Lower Zab/ancient river Kapros, short occupation and royal images all link the archaeological site to the description we can deduce from the coinage. There are also some unusual high-status tombs nearby.” Brown said.

“This is an indirect argument. … Rabana-Merculi is not the only possibility for Natunia, but perhaps the best candidate to date (for) the “lost” city, which must be somewhere in the region.”

The king on the carving could be the founder of Natunia, either Natunissar or his direct descendant.

The study also states that the toponym Natunissarokerta consists of the royal name Natunissar, the founder of the royal dynasty of Adiabene, and the Parthian word for a ditch or fortification.

“This description could refer to Rabana-Merculi,” Brown said. Being a large settlement located at the intersection of mountainous and lowland zones, it is likely that Rabana-Merkuli could be used, among other things, for trade with pastoral tribes, maintaining diplomatic relations or exerting military pressure.

“The significant effort that must have gone into planning, building and maintaining a fortress of this size is indicative of government action,” Brown said.

The study says the discovery adds to our knowledge of Parthian archeology and history, which remains markedly incomplete despite their apparent importance as a major power in the ancient Near East.

Antiquity magazine published the study on Tuesday.

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