Mosul is a major city in northern Iraq. Located approximately north of Baghdad, Mosul stands on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh on the east bank. The metropolitan area has grown to encompass substantial areas on both the "Left Bank" and the "Right Bank", as the two banks are described by the locals compared to the flow direction of Tigris.
At the start of the 21st century, Mosul and its surroundings had an ethnically and religiously diverse population; the majority of Mosul's population were Arabs, with Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmens, Kurds, Yazidis, Shabakis, Mandaeans, Kawliya, Circassians in addition to other, smaller ethnic minorities. In religious terms, mainstream Sunni Islam was the largest religion, but with a significant number of followers of the Salafi movement and Christianity, as well as Shia Islam, Sufism, Yazidism, Shabakism, Yarsanism and Mandaeism.
Mosul's population grew rapidly around the turn of the millennium and by 2004, the city's population was estimated to be 1,846,500. In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized control of the city. The Iraqi government recaptured it in the Battle of Mosul three years later, during which the city sustained heavy damage.
Historically, important products of the area include Mosul marble and oil. The city of Mosul is home to the University of Mosul and its renowned Medical College, which together was one of the largest educational and research centers in Iraq and the Middle East.
Mosul, together with the nearby Nineveh plains, is one of the historic centers for the Assyrian people and their churches; the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Assyrian Church of the East, containing the tombs of several Old Testament prophets such as Jonah, some of which were destroyed by ISIL in July 2014.
The name of the city is first mentioned by Xenophon in his expeditionary logs in Achaemenid Assyria of 401 BC, during the reign of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. There, he notes a small Assyrian town of "Mépsila" on the Tigris somewhere about where modern Mosul is today. It may be safer to identify Xenophon's Mépsila with the site of Iski Mosul, or "Old Mosul", about north of modern Mosul, where six centuries after Xenophon's report, the Sasanian Empire's center of Budh-Ardhashir was built. Be that as it may, the name Mepsila is doubtless the root for the modern name.
In its current Arabic 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 the Old City of Mosul, on the eastern bank, at the famed archaeological mound of Kuyunjik. This area is known today as the town of Nebi Yunus and is now populated largely by Kurds. It is the only fully Kurdish neighborhood in Mosul. The site contains the tomb of the Biblical Jonah, as he lived and died in the then capital of ancient Assyria. Today, this entire area has been absorbed into the Mosul metropolitan area. The indigenous Assyrians still refer to the entire city of Mosul as Nineveh.
The ancient Nineveh was succeeded by Mepsila after the fall of Assyria between 612–599 BC at the hands of a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Cimmerians and Sagartians. The Assyrians largely abandoned the city, building new smaller settlements such as Mepsila nearby.
Mosul is also named al-Faiha, al-Khaḍrah, and al-Hadbah. It is sometimes described as "The Pearl of the North" and "the city of a million soldiers".
south of Mosul, Iraq's oldest monastery of the Assyrian Church of the East, dating from the 6th century. It was destroyed by ISIS in 2014.
The area in which Mosul lies was an integral part of Assyria from as early as the 25th century BC. After the Akkadian Empire, which united all of the peoples of Mesopotamia under one rule, Mosul again became a continuous part of Assyria proper from circa 2050 BC through to the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire between 612–599 BC. Mosul remained within the geopolitical province of Assyria for a further thirteen centuries until the early Muslim conquests of the mid-7th century. After the Muslim conquests, the region saw a gradual influx of Muslim Arab, Kurdish and Turkic peoples, although the indigenous Assyrians continue to use the name Athura for the ecclesiastical province.
Nineveh was one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity, and was settled as early as 6000 BC. The city is mentioned in the Old Assyrian Empire, and during the reign of Shamshi-Adad I it is listed as a centre of worship of the goddess Ishtar, and it remained as such during the Middle Assyrian Empire. During the Neo-Assyrian Empire Nineveh grew in size and importance, particularly from the reigns of Tukulti-Ninurta II and Ashurnasirpal II onward; he chose the city of Kalhu as his capital in place of the ancient traditional capital of Aššur, from present day Mosul.
Thereafter successive Assyrian emperor-monarchs such as Shalmaneser III, Adad-nirari III, Tiglath-Pileser III, Shalmaneser V and Sargon II continued to expand the city. In approximately 700 BC, King Sennacherib made Nineveh the new capital of Assyria. Immense building work was undertaken, and Nineveh eclipsed Babylon, Kalhu and Aššur in both size and importance, making it the largest city in the world. A number of scholars believe the true location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were in fact at Nineveh.
The mound of Kuyunjik in Mosul is the site of the palaces of King Sennacherib, and his successors Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal,, Ashur-etil-ilani, Sin-shumu-lishir and Sin-shar-ishkun. The Assyrian Empire began to unravel from 626 BC onwards, being consumed by a decade of brutal internal civil wars, greatly weakening it. A war-ravaged Assyria was subsequently attacked in 616 BC by a vast coalition of its former subjects, most notably their Babylonian relations from southern Mesopotamia, together with the Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Scythians, Cimmerians, and Sagartians. Nineveh fell after a siege and bitter house to house fighting in 612 BC during the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun who was killed defending his capital. His successor, Ashur-uballit II, fought his way out of Nineveh and formed a new Assyrian capital at Harran.
Mosul later succeeded Nineveh as the Tigris bridgehead of the road that linked Assyria and Anatolia with the short lived Median Empire and succeeding Achaemenid Empire where it was a part of the geopolitical province of Athura, where the region, and Assyria in general, saw a significant economic revival.
Mosul became part of the Seleucid Empire after Alexander's conquests in 332 BC. While little is known of the city from the Hellenistic period, Mosul likely belonged to the Seleucid satrapy of Syria, the Greek term for Assyria, Syria originally meaning Assyria rather than the modern nation of Syria, which was conquered by the Parthian Empire circa 150 BC.
Mosul changed hands once again with the rise of the Sasanian Empire in 225 and became a part of the Sasanian province of Asōristān. Christianity was present among the indigenous Assyrian people in Mosul as early as the 1st century, although the ancient Mesopotamian religion remained strong until the 4th century. It became an episcopal seat of the Assyrian Church of the East in the 6th century.
In 637, during the period of the Caliph Umar, Mosul was annexed to the Rashidun Caliphate by Utba bin Farqad Al-Salami, during the early Arab Muslim invasions and conquests, after which Assyria was dissolved as a geopolitical entity.