The history of ancient Nisibis, modern Nusaybin in southeast Turkey, is almost a summary of everything there’s to be said about Antiquity. The town is mentioned in Assyrian and Babylonian sources, the Achaemenids waged battle near Nisibis, Alexander and Antiochus III passed through the city, the Parthians, Adiabenes, Armenians, and Romans tried to capture it. Once it had become Roman, it was defended by two legions, and one of the greatest Latin historians, Ammianus Marcellinus, was an eyewitness when the city was finally ceded to the Sasanian Persians. Pagans, Zoroastrians, Jews, Manichaeans, and Christians of almost every type – they’ve all been there.
There’s not much that reminds the modern visitor of the past glory. In fact, it shockingly resembles another city that summarizes a substantial part of world history: Berlin, which is a miniature of the twentieth century and was, like Nisibis today, a divided city. The northern part is Turkish, the southern part is Syrian, and there’s a lot of barbed wire in between (satellite photo). And right there, in the no man’s land, are the remains of an ancient Roman gate – inaccessible.
I wrote a new page about Nisibis, with some photos we made in September 2007; it’s here.