Located around 290 km northwest of Bagdad and about 110 km southwest of Mosul, Hatra was an ancient caravan city between the Roman and Parthian empires. It was the capital of the small Kingdom of Araba and flourished in the 2nd century and eventually destroyed and deserted in the 3rd century.
Although there is no reliable information about the city of Hatra before the Parthian period, it is believed by many scholars that probably it was built by the Assyrians or in the 3rd or 2nd century BC under the influence of the Seleucid Empire that existed from 312 BC to 63 BC. However, it is generally agreed that Hatra flourished under the Parthians and due to its strategic position along caravan trade routes, the Hatra prospered and became an important religious centre. Subsequently, the city of Hatra became the capital of the Kingdom of Araba, a semi-autonomous buffer kingdom on the western limits of the Parthian Empire, governed by Arabian princes.
Their written language was Aramaic and it came to be known as the House of God or Beit Elāhā, as it had numerous temples covering a huge area of around 1`2 hectares and dedicated to the Assyrian-Babylonian and Akkadian god Nergal, Syro-Aramaean god Atargatis, Greek Hermes, pre-Islamic Arabian goddess Al-Lat and Shamiyah, known as a man of God, along with the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash. The temples were dominated by the Great Temple, an enormous structure with vaults and columns that once rose to around 98 feet (30 m).
Hatra was built in a circular plan, encircled by inner and outer walls nearly 6`4 km in circumference and supported by more than 160 towers. A temenos, a piece of land dedicated to the god, surrounded the principal sacred buildings in the city's centre. As an important fortified frontier city, Hatra successfully defended the repeated attacks by the Roman Empire, which included the sieges under the leadership of the emperor Trajan in 116/117 and under emperor Septimius Severus in 198/199. The troops of Hatra also defeated the Sassanid Persians in 238 at the battle of Shahrazoor.
However, around 240 AD, the city of Hatra fell to the Sassanid army of Shapur I, the ruler of the Persian Sasanian dynasty and was destroyed. According to the traditional stories of al-Naḍīrah about the fall of Hatra, the daughter of the king of Hatra, betrayed the city, as she fell in love with Shapur and helped him to conquer the city, slay the king and later married her. However, within a few days, Shāpūr killed his wife, as he felt that her action of betrayal and the breach of trust of her father was an unpardonable offence.
The impressive ruins of Hatra were first surveyed from 1906 to 1911, by a German excavation team working in Assur, under the leadership of Walter Andrae and systematic excavations have been undertaken only from 1951 by the Iraqi archaeologists.
The archaeological site of Hatra is the best-preserved and most-informative example of a Parthian city, which was enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Unfortunately, during a major restoration project supported by the Iraqi government in the 1990s, the site was looted and numbers of important artefacts were lost forever. Although it did not suffer any damage during the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of excavated artefacts were again found to be missing, when the National Museum of Iraq was plundered following the invasion.
Despite the preservation of the site for around 1400 years by various Islamic regimes, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which occupied the area in mid-2014, announced their intention to destroy many artefacts, claiming those were un-Islamic and could not be permitted to exist. They bulldozed Nimrud on 05 March 2015, smashed statues and other decorations around the site and also released a video that showed the destruction of the monuments. UNESCO and ICESCO (Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) jointly protested and expressed contempt against the barbaric activities of the extremist group. When the Popular Mobilization Forces of the pro-Iraqi government captured the city on 26 April 2027, it was found that ISIL destroyed many sculptures and engraved images of the site, but the walls and towers, with the holes from the gunshot by the ISIL, were still standing. As a result of the deliberate destruction of heritage as acts of war, Hatra is now under the protection of UNESCO.