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Ancient Near Eastern Art in Context

Culture and History

of the
Ancient Near East
Founding Editor

M.H.E. Weippert

Thomas Schneider

Eckart Frahm, W. Randall Garr, B. Halpern,

Theo P.J. van den Hout, Irene J. Winter



table of contents

barley as a key symbol in early mesopotamia

Irene J. Winter

Ancient Near Eastern

Art in Context
Studies in Honor of Irene J. Winter by Her Students

Edited by

Jack Cheng
Marian H. Feldman


This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in Publication data
Ancient Near Eastern art in context : studies in honor of Irene J.
Winter / by her students ; edited by Jack Cheng, Marian H. Feldman.
p. cm. (Culture and history of the ancient Near East)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-90-04-15702-6 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Art, Ancient
Middle East. I. Winter, Irene. II. Feldman, Marian H. III. Cheng,
Jack. IV. Title. V. Series.
N5370.A53 2007

ISSN: 1566-2055
ISBN: 978 90 04 15702 6
Copyright 2007 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints BRILL, Hotei Publishing,
IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in
a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.
Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV
provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center,
222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA.
Fees are subject to change.
printed in the netherlands

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List of Contributors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Editors Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Jack Cheng and Marian H. Feldman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Personal Perspective on Irene Winters Scholarly Career
John M. Russell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Picturing the Past, Teaching the Future
Michelle I. Marcus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Bibliography for Irene J. Winter, 19672005 . . . . . . . . . . . . .



I. Seat of Kingship/A Wonder to Behold:

Architectural Contexts
A Note on the Nahal Mishmar Crowns
Irit Ziffer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Upright Stones and Building Narratives: Formation of a
Shared Architectural Practice in the Ancient Near East
mr Harmanah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blurring the Edges: A Reconsideration of the Treatment of
Enemies in Ashurbanipals Reliefs
Stephanie Reed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




II. Idols of the King: Ritual Contexts

Assyrian Royal Monuments on the Periphery: Ritual and the
Making of Imperial Space
Ann Shafer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



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The Godlike Semblance of a King: The Case of Sennacheribs Rock Reliefs

Tallay Ornan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ceremony and Kingship at Carchemish
Elif Denel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Temple and the King: Urartian Ritual Spaces and their
Role in Royal Ideology
Tuba Tanyeri-Erdemir . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



III. Legitimization of Authority: Ideological Contexts

Workmanship as Ideological Tool in the Monumental Hunt
Reliefs of Assurbanipal
Jlide Aker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Darius I and the Heroes of Akkad: Affect and Agency in the
Bisitun Relief
Marian H. Feldman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Melammu as Divine Epiphany and Usurped Entity
Mehmet-Ali Ata . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



IV. Sex, Rhetoric and the Public Monument:

Gendered Contexts
Between Human and Divine: High Priestesses in Images
from the Akkad to the Isin-Larsa Period
Claudia E. Suter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Shulgi-simti and the Representation of Women in Historical
T. M. Sharlach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Lead Inlays of Tukulti-Ninurta I: Pornography as
Imperial Strategy
Julia Assante . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .




V. Opening the Eyes and Opening the Mouth:

Interdisciplinary Contexts
Barley as a Key Symbol in Early Mesopotamia
Andrew C. Cohen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


table of contents
Biblical mllot, Akkadian millatum, and Eating Ones Fill
Abraham Winitzer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Self-Portraits of Objects
Jack Cheng . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From Mesopotamia to Modern Syria: Ethnoarchaeological
Perspectives on Female Adornment during Rites of Passage
Amy Rebecca Gansell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Ninety-Degree Rotation of the Cuneiform Script
Benjamin Studevent-Hickman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .





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list of contributors


Jlide Aker is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard Universitys Department
of History of Art and Architecture. Currently, shes finishing her
dissertation on the ideological effects of Assurbanipals monumental
lion hunt reliefs.
Julia Assante (Ph.D. 2000, Columbia University) has written on eroticism, sexuality and magic in the ancient Near East. A number of her
essays are targeted at the widespread distortions in scholarship that
impose over-sexualized interpretations (e.g. prostitution) on women
in Mesopotamian images and texts.
Mehmet-Ali Ata is assistant professor of Classical and Near Eastern
Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College.
Jack Cheng received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2001 for his thesis
Assyrian Music as Represented and Representations of Assyrian
Music. Based in Boston, he writes for academic and general audiences.
Andrew C. Cohen, Ph.D. (2001) in Near Eastern Archaeology, Bryn
Mawr College, is a Visiting Research Associate in Anthropology at
Brandeis University. He is the author of Death Rituals, Ideology, and the
Development of Early Mesopotamian Kingship: Toward a New Understanding
of Iraqs Royal Cemetery of Ur (Styx/Brill 2005).
Elif Denel received her Ph.D. in 2006 from the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College with a
dissertation entitled Development of Elite Cultures and Sociopolitical Complexity in Early Iron Age Kingdoms of Northern Syria and
Southeastern Anatolia.
Marian H. Feldman is associate professor of Near Eastern art at the
University of California at Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. in Fine
Arts from Harvard University in 1998 and is the author of Diplomacy
by Design: Luxury Arts and an International Style in the Ancient Near East,
1400-1200 BCE (2006).

list of contributors

Amy Rebecca Gansell is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art

and Architecture Department at Harvard University. As Andrew W.
Mellon Curatorial Intern at the Harvard University Art Museums in
2001-2002 she helped co-curate and write a gallery guide (Harvard
University Art Museums Gallery Series 36, 2002) with Irene Winter
for the University of Pennsylvania Museums traveling exhibition,
Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur. She holds a Whiting Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2006-2007.
mr Harmanah is an architectural historian who primarily works
on the ancient Near East. He is currently a visiting assistant professor of Near Eastern art and archaeology at the Joukowsky Institute
of Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University. He
received his Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania in 2005 with a
dissertation entitled, Spatial Narratives, Commemorative Practices
and the Building Project: New Urban Foundations in Upper SyroMesopotamia during the Early Iron Age.
Michelle I. Marcus received her M.A. from Columbia University and
her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her publications include Emblems of Identity and Prestige: The Seals and Sealings from Hasanlu,
Iran (1996), as well as many articles about Assyrian palace program,
body ornament and social identity, gender and sexuality, and seals
and administration. She has held post-doctoral fellowships from the
Getty Foundation, National Endowment from the Humanities, the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and others; teaching posts at Columbia
University and the Pierpont Morgan Library; and consulting work
at The Jewish Museum, The Childrens Museum of Manhattan, and
The Heschel School. She is currently Resident Art Historian and
Museum Liaison at The Dalton School in New York City.
Tallay Ornan (Ph.D. 1998, Tel Aviv University) is the Rodney E.
Soher Curator of Western Asiatic Antiquities at The Israel Museum,
Jerusalem, and a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology of
the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She is the author of The Triumph
of the Symbol, Pictorial Representation of Deities in Mesopotamia and the Biblical Image Ban (2005). Her scholarly work focuses on ancient Near
Eastern pictorial representations and their bearing on religious and
political issues.

list of contributors


Stephanie Reed is a Ph.D. candidate in Mesopotamian Art and Archaeology at the University of Chicago, Near Eastern Languages and
Civilizations Department. Since 2004, she has been a visiting scholar
in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University. She is writing her dissertation on hospitality and gift-exchange
in the court reliefs of Persepolis.
John Malcolm Russell received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985, working under the supervision of Irene Winter. He
teaches the art of the ancient Near East and Egypt at Massachusetts
College of Art in Boston. He has written four books and numerous
articles, primarily on the subject of Neo-Assyrian art.
Ann Shafer is assistant professor in the Performing and Visual Arts
Department and Director of the Art Program at the American University in Cairo. She holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in the
History of Art & Architecture, an M.A. in Ancient Near Eastern
Languages and Archaeology from the University of Chicago, and
an M.Arch. from the Rhode Island School of Design.
T. M. Sharlach is assistant professor in the History Department at
Oklahoma State University. Her 1999 dissertation was published by
Brill in 2003 as Provincial Taxation and the Ur III State.
Benjamin Studevent-Hickman is a Research Associate at the Oriental
Institute of the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. in Assyriology from Harvard in March 2006.
Claudia E. Suter received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995. Her revised dissertation was published by Styx in 2000 as
Gudeas Temple Building: The Representation of an Early Mesopotamian Ruler
in Text and Image. She served four years as coordinator of the Diyala
Project at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and is
currently working on a complete catalogue and study of the ivory
carvings from Samaria, Israel. Her main interest lies in ancient Near
Eastern images and texts as reflections and expressions of philosophy
of life, identity, ideology and power.


list of contributors

Tuba Tanyeri-Erdemir received her Ph.D. from Boston University in

Archaeology in 2005, with a dissertation titled Continuity, Change,
and Innovation: Considering the Agency of Rusa II in the Production
of the Imperial Art and Architecture of Urartu in the 7th Century
B.C. She currently teaches in the graduate programs of Middle
Eastern Studies and Eurasian Studies in the Middle East Technical
University, Ankara, and works at the Science and Technology Museum in the same university as a researcher.
Abraham Winitzer received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2006
with a dissertation entitled The Generative Paradigm in Old Babylonian Divination. He teaches Semitic languages at Notre Dame.
Irit Ziffer is curator of ceramics and metals at Eretz Israel Museum,
Tel Aviv. She received her Ph.D. in 1999 from Tel Aviv University.
From1976-1979 and 1982 she was a member of the Aphek-Antipatris
Expedition and from1999-2005 adjunct teacher in the Department of
Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Tel Aviv University.
Her publications include, At That Time the Canaanites Were in the Land
(1990), Islamic Metalwork (1996), Oh My Dove that Art in the Clefts of the
Rock: The Dove Allegory in Antiquity (1998), and The Corn Spirit (2002).

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The editors chose not to impose particular rules of transliteration,
spelling or dates, although contributors have been consistent within
their papers. Akkadian and foreign phrases are rendered in italics,
and Sumerian is set in Helvetica bold font. References are listed at
the end of each article, and abbreviations follow the standard forms
found in the Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of
Chicago (CAD), the American Journal of Archaeology (AJA), and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI, found on-line at http://cdli.


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This volume owes its existence to many people, just a few of whom
are singled out here.
Kathryn Slanski and John Russell contributed as editors in the
initial stages; although various commitments drew them away, both
of them helped shape the scope of the project, including the list of
Jlide Aker compiled Irenes bibliography for this volume, with
assistance from John Russell and Brian Brown.
All the contributors pitched in in numerous different wayscommenting on one anothers papers, fielding questions in their areas of
expertise and offering practical advice.
Michiel Klein Swormink at Brill has been extremely generous with
his time and patient with us throughout the editing process.
Over the course of this project, more than half a dozen babies were
welcomed by contributors, in addition to numerous other life-changing
events; we thank them and all the friends and families for letting their
parents, partners, etc. spend some time reading and writing.
Jack relied on the support, encouragement and good sense of his
wife, Julie M. Crosson. Likewise, Marian is deeply grateful to James
Berger for his constant support. Thank you.


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j. cheng and m.h. feldman


Jack Cheng and Marian H. Feldman
Irene Winter is widely recognized as the seminal scholar of ancient
Near Eastern art of her generation, in large part due to the limitless
imagination of her scholarship and her insistence on the materials
relevance in art historical and Mesopotamian studies. She began her
career with a magisterial dissertation on North Syrian ivories that
immediately established her commitment to an understanding of Near
Eastern art through a contextualizing lens. She subsequently turned
her attention to Neo-Assyrian arts and in particular the throneroom
of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. Building on the work of Julian Reade,
Mario Liverani and others, Irene broke fresh ground in proposing
the expression of a coherent Assyrian ideological system by means of
a programmatic architectural, visual and textual design. Similarly, in
her work on Gudea of Lagash, she brought text and image together
and forged them through her familiarity with ethnography to reframe
a study of statuary into a consideration of living idols that required
care and maintenance. Again and again, objects that seem to have exhausted their store of historical information become not deconstructed
but re-constructed under Irenes gaze, opening up new possibilities
for understanding them. Fully engaged in the Near Eastern sources
while drawing upon theoretical approaches from numerous disciplines
rarely brought together, Irene arrives at conclusions that had never
before been considered and that irrevocably alter the way we see
the artifacts under study. In addition, she has taken care to publish
her papers in a range of journals and essay collections so that the
material reaches the greatest audience and so that discussions of the
theories and ideas presented enter a diversity of fields and disciplines
where they may be further tested and applied.
At the same time, Irene has always taken her pedagogical responsibilities seriously and has shared her teaching across a wide spectrum of
eager acolytes. For that reason, when several of her students considered
what form of tribute would be fitting for her, they decided that a
volume of essays, written and edited by the younger generation that

j. cheng and m.h. feldman

has benefited so much from her intellectual generosity, was particularly

apt. Thus was born this collection of essays that is uniquely informed
by the perspective of our educational formation under her tutelage.
Toward the end of January 2006, Irene and Jack spoke about the
recent passing of Erica Reiner and Hayim Tadmor. Those were the
last two who had any connection to my dissertation, she told him.
Its a little like losing your last parent. And then, of course, Irene
told more stories of her mentors, never flinching from telling details
even if they were unflatteringto them or to herselfand always
conveying the mutual warmth and respect she felt for her friends.
Its a shame, Jack responded, that this rich history behind the
scenes in Near Eastern scholarship is never preserved. Oh, but it
is, Irene said. Ive heard so many stories from [Edith] Porada and
Leo [Oppenheim] and I tell them to you, and youll pass down those
stories, and maybe stories about me. They may not last more than
three generations, but theyre there.
We had considered writing down some of these stories, but upon
reflection the stories serve better in an oral tradition for a number of
reasons. Libel laws being the first. But also because in an oral tradition the stories take on the sheen of legend or fable, and become
more meaningful for that reason. One story we love to hear Irene
tell involves two of her mentors, Edith Porada and Leo Oppenheim.
The bare bones version: Edith, while studying in a Chicago library,
was coaxed out for a ride in Oppenheims red convertible and even
escaped the library from a second story window. Were sure weve
gotten more than one detail wrong in the retelling but it doesnt
matterits a great story because of the wonderful image and because
it reveals that the professor emeritus we knew at Columbia University
was once vivacious and impetuous; for all her dedication to her work,
even Porada knew there was more to life than the library.
Stories about Irene are not like that. They dont reveal a side of
her that you didnt know because those sides arent there. Her public
conduct is as warm, generous, open and principled as her private life.
And in turn, she socializes, follows horse racing and reads science fiction novels with the same enthusiasm and intensity that she brings to
her scholarship. One doesnt wonder what Irene really feels about
art collectors, or a particular museum curator, or her students. In her
teaching, her lectures and her writing she makes her positions clear.


So stories about Irene dont show another side of her, they tend to
reveal her depths, her strengths and her foibles.
As her students, Irenes scholarship impresses us, but it is her character that inspires us. Naturally, she is called upon by many people,
committees and groups for her advice and expertise, and it can sometimes be hard for individual students to find a moment with her. But
when they do, they know that theyll have her to themselves, that shell
have read in detail everything they have written and she will listen
intently to whatever they have to say and respond instantly from her
gut and give them a useful answer. And theyll know if their argument
or idea made an impression because Irene will reference it, always
giving credit, in a lecture or a footnote; Irene is never prouder than
when she can publicly cite the work of a student or young scholar.
She can be intense. She talks faster than most people can think.
A conversation with Irene sometimes feels like a tennis match: youd
do well to warm up first and then as things go along, you might find
that your skill level improves as you try to match her shot for volley.
It can be a surprise for new students to find out that her husband
BobRobert C. Huntcan be more intense than his wife; listening to
them talkabout research or computers or gardeningone sometimes
feels like one can see the ideas flying through the air, growing and
reforming and coming into sharper focus each minute. Bob and Irene
clearly belong together, always taking each other very seriously except
for the times when they dont take each other seriously at all.
Lest this introduction seem too cloying, we need to state that Irene
is hardly perfect. But what makes her example so worthy of emulation is that she recognizes her imperfections and is not afraid to share
her problems with you, to allow herself to be vulnerable. One of the
editors remembers talking with an art history graduate student who
had just decided to leave Harvard. This student did not specialize
in ancient Near Eastern art but had just had a talk with Irene in
Irenes capacity as graduate student advisor. We talked, the student
said, about how hard it is to live the life of a scholar while having a
family. Irene listened respectfully to the student and made the case
for staying in the program, but ultimately she simply let the student
speak her mind and then shared her own thoughts on the complex
balance of life and work. We cried, the student recalled, I think it
was the first time I had been to Irenes office to do anything but get
a signature and we talked and cried for an hour.

j. cheng and m.h. feldman

You are very lucky to have her as your advisor, she said.
All the contributors to this volume know that.

Indeed, it is Irenes generosityintellectual and otherwisethat

has provided all of us contributors with the wherewithal to pursue
our various studies into the ancient Near East.
This volume strives to honor Irene J. Winter in its content, but
also in its conception and production. Although Irene is loved and
respected by her peers, she clearly relishes and excels in her role as
a teacher, and so our contributors are drawn from the ranks of her
students, the next generation of scholars that she has done so much
to nurture. (We regret turning away her colleagues who offered to
contribute here but if we had dithered on this one principle, this
volume would have ballooned uncontrollably.) Contributors to the
volume were solicited from both Irenes formally enrolled students
and also from many younger scholars who, while not technically her
students, benefited from her mentorship. However, if we had solicited
all of the students who have felt her influence in their work, this book
would have been a rather diverse, not to say schizophrenic, offering
of modern art, anthropology, Chinese archaeology and Egyptology,
among other subjects. Our choice to limit our contributors to scholars
of ancient Near Eastern art, history and culture reflects our appreciation of Irenes mission to make Mesopotamia and its neighbors
legitimate and important components of the art historical curriculum,
and to include visual culture in the body of evidence that must be
considered by scholars of the ancient Near East.
Although two names are listed as editors of this book, all of the
authors could also be named contributing editors. Drafts of each paper
were distributed among the writers who then offered comments and
critiques of each others work. Although some participants have never
met, and some earned their degrees decades after others, we found
a common ground in the approaches and concerns that we learned
from Irene; we became a multigenerational cohort (to use a word
Irene often invoked in her exhortations to us as students to find a
like-minded and supportive community).
The idea for this volume was conceived in 2002, with the thought
that we could have it published within a few years. However, when
the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, other archaeological collections and
innumerable sites all over Iraq were vandalized and looted during the
invasion and occupation of that country, our work stalled. Among


those who planned to participate in this volume, some went to Iraq,

others created databases of looted material to aid authorities and most
wrote letters and opinion pieces to their local newspapers. As of this
writing, the situation in Iraq is still in flux. The project lay dormant
for several years, and when activity once more began, personal situations had shiftedsometimes in large, sometimes small ways that have
affected the final shape of the volume today, including the regretful
absence of some participants.
While Irenes contributions to the field of ancient Near Eastern art
are so numerous that it might seem impossible to make an accurate
accounting of them, arguably one of the most profound has been her
unfailing commitment to contextualization in the widest and richest
sense of the termfrom a careful consideration of the art within its
archaeological settings to the ideological, rhetorical, ritual and aesthetic
networks in which these arts existed and participated. It is this total
integration that has inspired the title of this volume and that we hope
to have emulated in the diverse array of articles gathered within it.
To begin, however, we have two articles of a more personal nature
from two of Irenes first graduate students that put Irene herself into
context. John Russell contributes a scholarly biography, assessing
Irenes contributions to the academy from his own perspective as a
scholar, teacher and activist. Michelle Marcus writes about Irenes
role as an educator and mentor as a model for pre-college education, and she makes the case for the importance of and potential for
studying visual culture even in kindergarten and elementary school
In the rest of the contributions, although we did not solicit specific
topics, we were pleased to find that common themes emerged as we
assembled the finished articles. And these themes, not surprisingly,
intersect with those that Irene has explored in her own work. Thus,
we have grouped the articles in five sections, the title of each having
been drawn from seminal articles in Irenes corpus.

I. Seat of Kingship/A Wonder to Behold: Architectural Contexts

Irenes work in the early 1980s on the Neo-Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II pioneered an approach to studying the relationship between
texts, images and architecture as an integrated and coherent program

j. cheng and m.h. feldman

designed to define or defend a royal ideology. Her students continue

to explore the use of architecture and architectural decoration as
symbol, especially as they convey messages about royal power. In
this section, Irit Ziffer examines a group of Chalcolithic Levantine
copper crowns and suggests they reflect palatial forms of an early,
emerging rulership. mr Harmanah explores the development of
the orthostat tradition in North Syria, which the Neo-Assyrian rulers
later drew upon for their palaces, and considers how the physical
and structural qualities of the orthostats convey as much meaning
as the images carved on them. Stephanie Reed problematizes the
interpretation of the Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs of Ashurbanipal,
finding traces of emotive affect in the depiction of prisoners of war
that may be indicative of a little-explored aspect of conflicting
Assyrian perceptions of the enemy.

II. Idols of the King: Ritual Contexts

In her work on the statues of Gudea in the late 1980s and early
1990s, Irene considered the ways in which ancient monuments operated within contexts of ritual and in particular how such ritualized
use reinforced royal needs. Monuments are not simply objects to
admire, but rather key participants in social action and thus represent
traces of physical acts and desires played out long ago. A number
of our contributors have taken a similar tack, reconstructing ritual
based on archaeological, representational or architectural evidence
and then contextualizing how those rituals may have served significant functions in maintaining hegemony. Ann Shafer considers the
peripheral monuments of Assyrian kingscarved stelae and rock
reliefsnot only as marking the borders of conquest, but also as
sites and residues of ritual performance critical to the maintenance
of royal ideology. Tallay Ornan proposes that the Neo-Assyrian king
Sennacherib may have appropriated aspects of the divine in his images, blurring the lines between god and king and moving toward
a kind of royal deification. Elif Denel demonstrates that areas of
the city of Carchemish, elaborately ornamented with carved reliefs
and exhibiting evidence of offerings, were designed as focal points of
rituals that reinforced the power of the North Syrian rulers. Tuba
Tanyeri-Erdemir traces the coevolution of temple architecture and
state ideology in the Urartian Empire, arguing that rituals conducted


outside and inside state sponsored sacred sites were critical to the
establishment and perpetuation of an Urartian royal ideology.

III. Legitimization of Authority: Ideological Contexts

In her work on the seemingly mundane sealings of Ur III bureaucrats,
as well as in her research on royal images, Irene has shown us that
ideological messages are pervasive in the visual culture, the two being
inextricably entwined with the larger socio-political landscape of the
Near East. The three papers in this section explore different ways
in which Near Eastern rulers derived political legitimization through
artistic production. Jlide Akers contribution focuses on Ashurbanipals lion hunt reliefs to find the hierarchies of the royal personnel
reflected and affirmed in the quality of the craftsmanship applied to
different subjects. Marian Feldman traces the Mesopotamian, and in
particular Akkadian Empire, lineage of Darius Is heroizing style
and proposes methods of transmission from Mesopotamia to Persia
and from the third millennium to the first. Mehmet-Ali Ata draws
upon parallels from Classical Greece to explore the description of
divine radiancemelammu in Akkadianas a heroic quality associated
with Mesopotamian kingship.

IV. Sex, Rhetoric and the Public Monument: Gendered Contexts

Given that questions of gender and sexuality must be considered in
any social history and Irenes commitment to a total understanding
of ancient Mesopotamia, it is not surprising that a part of her work
has focused in this area. In her 1996 study of the Stele of Naram-Sin,
Irene applied theories of gender and masculinity to demonstrate how
Naram-Sins physical allure functioned as a key quality in his royal
persona. Attempting to reconstruct the roles of women in Mesopotamian society, she has written on the Disk of Enheduanna, one of the
very few images of women in the corpus of ancient Near Eastern art.
The three contributions in this section follow suit, exploring diverse
cases of gendered contexts. Claudia Suter identifies representations of
priestesses in the Akkad through Isin-Larsa periods, and in so doing,
brings their socio-economic and ideological roles into focus. Using a


j. cheng and m.h. feldman

case study of an archive attributed to a wife of Shulgi, Tonia Sharlach

discusses the methodological considerations in studying a womans
archiveincluding how to define such a thing. Julia Assante studies
a group of presumably private monumentspornographic lead inlaysproposing that the aesthetic treatment of women and foreigners
seen on them, and the ways in which they would have been experienced by Assyrian courtiers, played a decisive role in bolstering the
royal ideology of Tukulti-Ninurta I.

V. Opening the Eyes and Opening the Mouth: Interdisciplinary Contexts

One of Irenes great talents is to look at familiar objects in a fresh
light and through new eyes in order to provide a different perspective on them. The title of this section is taken from an article from
2000 in which Irene drew upon living rituals observed in India to
gain insight into the ancient practices in which artworks once existed.
The articlelike so much of Irenes workemphasizes and capitalizes
on the benefits of crossing fields, disciplines, media, time and space.
The contributions in this final section exhibit a similar breaching
of traditional boundaries and in the process reveal new aspects of
the ancient Near East. Andrew Cohen discusses how and why barley
became a key symbolan important and pervasive touchstone
that helped define Mesopotamian culture on an economic as well as
ideological level. Abraham Winitzer combines his knowledge of both
Hebrew and Akkadian to parse the Deuteronomic laws regarding the
taking of a neighbors fruit and grain. Jack Cheng considers the phenomenon of objects depicted with representations of themselves as a
message from the past to the future. Amy Gansell, in a nod to Irenes
ethnoarchaeological explorations of Hindu ceremonies, researches a
modern tradition of Syrian bridal adornment as a way of furthering
our understanding of ancient jewelry. Benjamin Studevent-Hickman
takes a new look at the moment at which cuneiform writing turned
ninety degrees and discusses the variables involved, suggesting that
to insist on a single point in time is to miss the dynamic complexity
of language and writing.
A few additional editorial observations may serve as further testament
to the quality and breadth of Irenes scholarship. Our authors cited



29 different articles by Irene, dating from 1974 to her more recent

publications in 2004. It is certainly a tribute to her continuing relevance in the field that Irene has never had a fallow period in her
scholarship and continues to publish groundbreaking work on almost
every period of Mesopotamian art history.1 This is mirrored in the
wide range of dates and cultures explored by the contributors, from
Ziffer at the beginning of state formation in the fourth millennium
to Feldman at the end of the independent ancient Near East in the
Achaemenid period to Gansells ethnographic study of Syria in the
20th century CE. The Neo-Assyrian periodan area in which Irene
has produced such impressive scholarshipis the subject of papers
by Aker, Ornan, Reed and Shafer. Her interest in the first millennium kingdoms of northern Syria and southeastern Turkey surfaces
in papers by Denel, Harmanah and Tanyeri-Erdemir. Different aspects of the third millennium are addressed in the papers of Cohen,
Sharlach and Suter. In addition, Irenes continuing interest in the
relationship between text and image is explored by Studevent-Hickman and Cheng. Her recent work on aesthetics and affect threads
through many of these papers.
Despite the disruptions and lengthy time in the production of this
volume, we are delighted with the quality and breadth of the essays. In
pitching the idea of this book to our publisher, we made the argument
that Irenes influence is so broad and deep that her students represent
the next wave of scholarship of the visual culture of the ancient Near
East. For Irenes sake, we hope that promise has been fulfilled.

We had to limit the bibliography of Irenes scholarship provided at the end of
this introductory section to works through 2005; however, her corpus continues to
grow as we know of several works in press and others in progress.


j.m. russell

a personal perspective



John M. Russell
I dont know what might draw a student to specialize in the more
popular areas of art history. One can imagine that a great high
school art class, childhood trips to local art museums, or memorable
trips abroad might incline one to focus on the study of Classical,
Medieval, Renaissance, modern, or Asian art. For the art of these
periods, cultural reinforcements abound. I suspect this is rarely the
case, however, for the art of the ancient Near East, an area not well
represented in most museums and one often neglected in art history
survey classes. Students of ancient Near Eastern art, in other words,
are made, not born. All those I can think of discovered this art more
or less by chance, under the influence of a teacher who somehow
inspired them to see the attractions of the art of a period that they
otherwise wouldnt have considered.
This was certainly true for me. As a vaguely pre-med freshman at
Washington University in St. Louis, I stumbled into Prof. Sarantis
Symeonoglous Art of Ancient Mesopotamia, and was so taken with
the experience that I changed my major to Art and Archaeology, and
went on to take every ancient art course he taught. Graduating with
an interest in art history in general, and ancient art in particular, I
commenced graduate studies in the History of Art at the University of
Pennsylvania with no declared area of concentration but with strong
interests in ancient and northern Renaissance art. At the end of my
first semester at Penn, the ancient art professor left the department,
leaving me to explore a range of later periods the following year. Thirty
years ago, at the end of the Spring 1976 semester, it was looking very
much like my future was Flanders.
That all changed dramatically that fall with the arrival of Professor
Winter at Penn to teach ancient art, so young in manner and appearance that all her students except me called her Irene. Despite
the universitys strong tradition in ancient Near Eastern languages,
history, and archaeology, to my knowledge she was the first ancient


j.m. russell

Near Eastern specialist to be appointed in the History of Art department, and her appointment probably wouldnt have happened without
lobbying from outside the department. Even so, she was expected to
teach not only the Near East and Egypt, but Greece and Rome as
well. I believe she considered these latter areas to be distractions from
her main area of interest, but I wonder to what extent this obligatory
immersion in the art of Greece and, especially, Rome influenced her
later inquiries on narrative, portraiture, and empire? After years of
teaching all of ancient art, she was able to negotiate the addition of a
classical specialist, at which point the ancient Near Eastern art history
position came into its own and continued as one of Irenes enduring
legacies to the field, even after her departure to accept another position in Near Eastern art history created specially for her, this time at
Harvard University.
Looking through my notes from Ancient Mesopotamia, the first
course I took with Irene in Fall 1976, Im struck by the themes already there that she would develop in her research over the following
years: hierarchy in the Warka vase, landscape elements in the stele
of Naram-Sin, the strong arm of Gudea, the royal presentation scene
on Ur III seals, the relief program of Assurnasirpal IIs throne room.
Apart from the content of the lectures themselves, my notes from that
term remind me of two other remarkable aspects of Irenes teaching.
First, at the beginning of each lecture, she handed out a comprehensive bibliography for the period to be covered. These averaged three
typed pages in length (and in those days they were indeed typed), with
a full six pages devoted to the Neo-Assyrian period, and covered not
only artistic media, but also excavation reports and cultural/historical
studies. The first 2 pages were devoted to method and theory, including studies of style, narrative, semiotics, and reception, a foretaste of
the rich range of methodologies that Irene was drawing upon in her
investigations of ancient Near Eastern art.
Although I didnt think about it at the time, in retrospect I believe
these bibliographies were critical to bringing students into the study of
the field, serving as they did both to summarize the state of knowledge
and to highlight gaps where one might make a contribution. Gaps
there were aplenty. Its stunning to see how much has been added in
the past thirty years, due in no small measure to the work of Irene herselfthe 26 pages of bibliography that Irene distributed to us in 1976
contained exactly one entry by Irene J. Winter! These bibliographies,

a personal perspective


sporadically updated, live on in the bibliographies that I and Irenes

other students now distribute to our own students.
The other remarkable feature from my notes from Irenes first
semester at Penn is a notation on the last page that the class was invited to her house for an end-of-semester dinner, a tradition that she
continues to this day. This prompts me to expand a bit on something
that every contributor to this volume has experienced, namely Irenes
generosity as teacher, mentor, and friend. From my own graduate
student days, I recall Irene inviting me to exclusive events, such as
meetings of the Columbia University Seminar and the Marching and
Chowder Society, and once there, always making sure to introduce
me to everyone we met. Through her, I met Edith Porada, Haim
and Miriam Tadmor, Nadav Naaman, and many others who would
become treasured friends and colleagues. When I needed to visit Iraq
for dissertation research and couldnt get a visa, Irene arranged for me
to accompany Mac Gibsons Oriental Institute expedition to Nippur.
When my dissertation writing was getting bogged down because of
distractions, she allowed me to use her office at Penn for a year while
she was away on leave, and that proved to be just the environment I
needed to settle down to serious writing.
That many other students also felt she was an extraordinary teacher
is clear from her receipt of the Lindbach Award for Distinguished
Teaching from the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. I vividly recall
(though unfortunately I didnt write down her exact words) that during one class she observed that the key for the health of our field was
the love that we bear for those who till it. She has certainly been a
beacon of love and respect for a generation of students. This volume
is another testament to Irenes impact as a teacher. As teachers, there
is no more important legacy that we leave our field than the students
who will continue to nurture it. In this respect also, Irene has made
our field a much richer place than she found it.
In growing us as scholars, Irene never insisted that we do things her
way. She did, however, insist that we develop three critical scholarly
tools. First, was to learn to look closely at the object of our inquiry.
No matter how familiar we are with a piece, no matter how many
times weve looked at it, theres always more to see. She demonstrated
this lesson herself memorably in a class shortly after the publication
of After the Battle is Over (1985), her magnificent study of the Stele
of the Vultures. She first described to us the painstaking process of close


j.m. russell

observation and consultation between herself and the artist, Elizabeth

Simpson, that resulted in the beautiful drawings of the steles two
faces that were published in the article. Then she surprised us with
the news that despite all that looking, they both had missed one of
the steles most remarkable features: the hand and arm of a mystery
figure who originally stood behind the king in his chariot, and who
was later deliberately and selectively obliterated.
The second tool was to learn the languages of the people we were
studying. While this has long been standard scholarly practice in most
areas of art history, it had not generally been true for the ancient Near
East. There the prevailing view was that the study of Akkadian and
Sumerian was beyond the ability of all but philologists and historians,
and this may well have been true in an era when the dictionaries of
these languages consisted of individual scholars handwritten notes.
Irene must have been one of the first (if not the first) art historians to
learn Akkadian, while earning her Masters degree at the University
of Chicago, home of the editors and files of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project. By the time I started graduate school, however, the
Assyrian Dictionary and Akkadisches Handwrterbuch were well advanced
and Akkadian language classes were taught at every school with an
ancient Near Eastern art history program, so there was no excuse not
to learn the language.
Sumerian was less accessible at that time, and there again Irene
was the art-historical pioneer. I vividly remember when she won
the MacArthur Prize in 1983. The prize gave her five years of total
freedom to do whatever she chose, and she announced that she was
going to use the opportunity to learn Sumerian at Penn, the home of
the fledgling Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary. Not long thereafter, her
articles began to be peppered with bold-face lower-case Sumerian syllables, joining the italicized Akkadian words that had featured in her
work all along. As every student of Akkadian and Sumerian knows,
the study of these languages is not primarily an exercise in mastering
vocabulary and grammar, but rather an investigation of contexts,
contexts in which is embedded the culture we seek to recover. It seems
to mealthough she might dispute thisthat for Irene, the verbal
(when we have it) is the fundamental key to the visual in understanding ancient Near Eastern art, that their words are a more reliable
guide than our eyes to what they were seeing. This is not to say that

a personal perspective


she discounts the evidence of her eyes, only that she distrusts it, or at
least thats what this student learned from her.
The third tool that Irene urged her students to develop was a
hands-dirty familiarity with archaeological fieldwork practice. She gave
us two reasons for this. First, you cant critically read an excavation
report unless youve experienced the process that generates one, and
second, you can learn a lot about the way ancient people lived by
living in the same environment yourself. I resisted this expectation at
first, presumably imagining I had better things to do, but gradually
the idea caught on as I discovered what is, for me, the fundamental
difference between art history and archaeology: as an art historian,
you chose the data set for your research; as an archaeologist, you dig
and the data set chooses you. It strikes me that these three tools may
derive from her own scholarly upbringing in three different disciplines:
BA in Anthropology, MA in Oriental Languages and Literature, and
PhD in Art History.
Irenes scholarly career has been characterized by one landmark
study after another. In my ancient Near Eastern art classes, Ive always
assigned a large selection of required articles, and so many of them are
by Irene that students joke that I might as well call the course reading
Irene Winter. Nevertheless, a few points in her career stand out for
me as major watersheds. One such was her receipt of the MacArthur
Prize and ensuing study of Sumerian, which led to a series of startlingly
original articles on Sumerian monuments and culture.
Another was the publication of Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical Narrative in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs in 1981, which
at the time just overwhelmed me with its richness of new ideas and
methodologies. This was her first article to be written for a nonspecialist theory-sophisticated audience. It simultaneously reframed
a number of major issues for those who work in the field of ancient
Near Eastern art, while bringing the field and its issues to the attention of a new audience. The interdisciplinarity of her approach even
carried over to her unorthodox reference system, which used both
social-science-style author references in the text and lengthy humanities-style notes at the end.
This is the first time I recall her employing a motif that recurs
throughout her work, namely the structuring of her subject in triads of
related elements. Royal Rhetoric begins with a summary of received
opinion on the elements of narrative (contenttellingnarrative),


j.m. russell

and then goes on to formulate a new and very powerful theory of political expression (ideologyrhetoricpropaganda). A similar approach
figures in her various discussions of the concept of style (makerobjectperceiver) and aesthetics (makingappearanceaffect). All of
these formulations, it occurs to me, derive from the very human structure ideaexpressionreception, and the even more fundamental
selfcommunicationothers. For Irene, I think, the big question
isnt what is art about? but rather how does art communicate?
Other watersheds were the series of trips she took to India beginning in the mid-1980s, resulting in her development of a rigorous
ethnographic approach to investigating ancient Mesopotamian ritual
practice (Opening the Eyes and Opening the Mouth, 2000), and her
ongoing interest in Mesopotamian aesthetics, triggered by I dont know
what. In all of this work her research defined new areas of inquiry that
have enriched our understanding of the past, and of ourselves. I recall
a recent discussion of her Aesthetics in Ancient Mesopotamian Art
(1995) in one of my classes at Massachusetts College of Art. Irenes
article makes the point that since the Mesopotamians apparently lacked
an explicit concept of art, classical aesthetic approaches to appreciating their artifacts are anachronistic. She therefore proposes that we
consider their handiwork in terms of the categories of quality that they
themselves valued, namely making, appearance, and affect. Several
of my students, artists all, observed that this seemed to them to be a
superior way to evaluate any art, especially their own.
Finally, to conclude, Irenes influence on the field extends far beyond
her scholarship and teaching. Her professional activities by themselves
would seem to constitute a full-time job. Active on numerous committees of the Archaeological Institute of America and the College Art
Association (where for years she has represented ancient Near Eastern
art history pretty much singlehandedly), member of the editorial board
of half a dozen journals, and one of the founders of the International
Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, she represents
the ancient Near East to a wide range of professional audiences and
works tirelessly to promote causes for the well-being of the field.
Foremost among these causes is the issue of the illicit trade in
antiquities and its destructive consequences for us, as humans and
as students of antiquity. I have class lecture notes from 1978 where
Irene digressed from the topic (Achaemenid Art) to educate us on the
difference between provenanced and unprovenanced objects, and to

a personal perspective


warn us against scholarship that blurs the distinction. Whether it is

urging museums to adopt an ethical approach to collecting (Change
in the American Art Museum, 1992), promoting ethical standards for
scholars, or educating students on the issues, her voice on this matter
has been clear and singularly uncompromising. One of her greatest
legacies is a generation of students and peers who understand why
it is critical to protect heritage, and who, following her example, are
willing to step forward to do so.


m.i. marcus

picturing the past, teaching the future



Michelle I. Marcus
How to Calm a Classroom
An incantation by Katherine Pryor (fifth grader, 2002)2
A noisy classroom is like a drum,
A steady beat,
Never stopping,
The hoof beat of the one-horned bull.
O summoned Ishtar,
Bring down your love, your hate, your temper.
Teach the children a lesson,
A kind lesson, a dangerous lesson,
A lesson they will never forget.
Restore the quiet,
Bring back the peace,
The calmness,
We need you Ishtar,
O summoned one.
Thirty years ago, when I was recovering from a back injury in college, Irene Winter brought me an Old Babylonian clay plaque carved
with the head of the ancient Near Eastern demon Humbaba (ca.
1700 BCE), on loan from the collection of the Queens College Art
Library. Like other images of this guardian of the Cedar Forest,
beheaded by the mythological heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the
plaque shows the demon full face, with big eyes, huge mouth and
I am extremely grateful to Karen Rubinson, Stephanie Fins, Neil Goldberg,
Lynn LiDonnici, Jack Cheng and Marian Feldman for their comments on earlier
drafts of this article. Thanks also to the Dalton families who gave permission to
publish student work.
Based on Sumerian hymns and incantations in B. Foster 1996, 68-71. Sharon
Almog was the classroom teacher.


m.i. marcus

labyrinth-like markings framing the facial features. And, like the Greek
Gorgon after him, once disembodied, the head of Humbaba became
a protective amulet. Irene, of course, knew the affective power of visual things. Although open access to the precious cedar wood of the
Lebanon didnt mean to me what it did to the residents of southern
Mesopotamia, that artifact nevertheless carried with it an arsenal of
meaning that still stays with me: about one incredible teacher; about
hope, healing and heroism; and about the relationship between the
context of an object and its meaning.
To fully appreciate this incident one has to realize that it followed a
year of phone conversations about the Gilgamesh Epic between Irene
Winter and myself, a seventeen-year-old undergraduate, temporarily confined to bed. We talked for hours about big intellectual ideas,
about the creation of hybrid monsters in the ancient Near East and
the concomitant rise of the early state. She even had me call Professor
Gregory Johnson in the Anthropology Department at Hunter College
to talk about my notion that the popularity of hybrid human and
animal creatures in the art of the third millennium BCE was related
to new needs to harness the forces of nature for the purposes of city
life. This experience summarizes for me all the qualities that make
Irene Winter such a phenomenal teacher: her humanity, kindness
and spirit; her generosity; her respect for her students; her sense of
collaboration; her ability to see the big picture; her skill at pulling
compelling ideas out of even the most rudimentary visual materials;
her infectious excitement about the power of visual things; her interest in the relationship between texts and images; her insistence on
the importance of context; her ability to pull all the pieces together
in a cohesive, convincing way; and her evolving commitment to the
methods of art history.
Irene Winters approach to teaching the art history of the ancient
Near East is so extraordinary that it has provided her students with
a vast range of ideas to explore. As this volume indicates, her influence has encouraged generations of scholars to pursue broad issues
of gender, sexuality, narrative, aesthetics, power, program, ideology,
kingship, iconography and style, as well as particular and detailed
studies of cylinder seals, sculpture in the round, relief-sculpture, inscriptions and pedagogy. She has us all turning the visual evidence
upside down and inside out, always with an emphasis on the context
of the materialhistorical, social, cultural and archaeological.

picturing the past, teaching the future


She has us studying Baroque palace programs in order to get insights

into Assyrian relief sculpture. She has us studying Akkadian, so that
we can try to make sense of some of the metaphors we see in the art.
In other words, there is always an emphasis on interdisciplinary study
in her scholarship, as well as her pedagogy.
Thanks to a relationship with the Anthropology Department at
the University of Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of working on the
cylinder seals and sealings, and then the personal ornaments from the
Iron Age site at Hasanlu, Iran.3 With Irenes direction, these simple
objects brought me into contact with some of the larger theoretical
ideas in art historyabout cultural identity, gender and sexuality, and
body decoration (for example, Marcus 1988, 1993). Irene encourages
us all to work with excavated materials, for both ethical and intellectual reasons. She demonstrates in her teaching and writing that
insights always become richer when one can embed a work of art in
its original context. As a teacher, she is meticulous in her comments
on our papers, to be published or otherwise. She has taught many
of us how to pull slides for a presentation: to find the perfect pair
of images, to make the very best comparison, to make a particular
point in the most concise, visually convincing way. This is remarkable
training that could have taken any of us anywhere.
Irene teaches us how to tease original meaning out of works of art.
With Humbaba, however, she was teaching me about the secondary
life of things, how their meaning shifts once they are withdrawn from
their original social setting (Kopytoff 1986). In my own life, transformations and changes, including my experiences as a new mother,
presented a secondary life for my years of college and post-graduate study, teaching and scholarship: as the Resident Art Historian
at the Dalton School, a private, kindergarten through twelfth-grade
school in New York City. This position has given me the opportunity
to apply what I learned from Irene about pedagogy and content to
an audience of young learners and teachers. In the K-12 classroom,
as in more advanced studies, images have the remarkable power to
motivate beginning learners to care about the past.
What is wonderful about working with such a young audience is the
challenge it provides to teach the very basics of what I do as an art

With the generous permission and support of Robert H. Dyson, Jr., director
of the Hasanlu excavations.


m.i. marcus

historian: how to look; how to compare; how to contextualize; how to

see the big picture; in the end, how to use visual materials as primary
sources of evidence about the past, not simply as illustrations of a text;
and, best of all, to do these things with students that still have a sense
of fun in their approach to learning, unburdened by years of bias. In
the fifth grade, our students can immediately see connections between
art styles and political ideologies; for instance, that the third millennium
ruler Eannatum chose to stress his role as a military leader in a time
of competing city states in his Victory Stele, while the later ruler Gudea
drew on Early Dynastic temple figures in order to promote his proper
relationship to the gods in his statues in the round. Our third graders
can suggest that Mughal manuscript patrons incorporated elements of
landscape and perspective from contemporary European art in order
to show off their cosmopolitan relationships with the west. I have
learned that once youngsters are given a few well-selected images, a
sense of context and good directions in how to pull information out
of visual sources, their capacity for making sophisticated inferences is
remarkable. If our goal as educators is to encourage more sophisticated
visual thinking (Elkins 2003), to keep the field of history alive beyond
the graduate school arena or to create a generation of global critical
thinkers, then it makes sense to start the conversation about what is
worth learning as early as possible. And yet, at a time when students
need better tools to navigate an increasingly complex visual world,
public school education is stressing reading and math at the expense
of the humanities and visual history (Klein 2006).
My official mandate at Dalton is to integrate visual materials into the
K-12 academic curriculum. That means teaching students and teachers how to use works of art and artifacts as historical tools in order to
clarify the past. It means passing on Irenes excitement about the power
of visual things, about looking carefully and critically, always with an
eye towards context and meaning. And, it means adapting Irenes
extraordinary pedagogical skills to a much younger audience.
Irene herself has addressed the issue of teaching in an article about
the introductory syllabus at Harvard University, co-authored with
Henri Zerner (1995). It summarizes their collaborative, interdisciplinary, challenging and far-reaching approach to visual materials.
The field continues to attempt to redress the long-standing neglect of
education within our professional ranks. The College Art Association
has called for articles that discuss ways to engage beginning viewers,

picturing the past, teaching the future


by which they mean college undergraduates (Bersson 2005). Similarly,

James Elkin and others have written compellingly about how to connect our visual expertise with pedagogical strategies that artfully engage college students in visual learning (2003, see also Sandell 2005).
Some of the pedagogy sessions at the 2006 Annual Conference of the
College Art Association in Boston spoke to the value of interchanges
between the academy and learning work in different environments,
such as museums, rural colleges, community colleges, civic dialogues,
as well as K-12 schools. These efforts strive to bring higher education,
especially art history, long consigned to an outsider status, into the
mainstream (Bersson 2005).
In the K-12 arena as well, there is a vigorous discourse about
teaching with visual materials. This began with a series of publications
by the Getty Foundation and Harvards Project Zero, which called
for integrating art history into what Howard Gardner and others
then called a disciplinary-based (studio) arts education (Dobbs 1998;
Gardner and Perkins 1989; Alexander and Dey 1991). More recently,
educators have begun to discuss visual literacy (Yenawine 2003,
2005). This term has a range of meanings, but for me, primarily, it
emphasizes the skills of looking and thinking about visual media that,
like the skills of reading and math, need to be part of an integrated
curriculum at every grade level. Although this educational movement
is a positive development, more needs to be done to connect visual
literacy curricula with the study of history and with some of the most
interesting concepts of art history: for example, how art can be used
as evidence of cultural interaction, the concept of style, the concept of
influence, the idea of a visual program, and the relationship between
art and ideologies.
College level and K-12 educators have similar goals, such as finding
ways to foster respect for the cultural heritage of people other than
ourselves (Smith 2006) and reaching students with different learning
styles. This discussion of some of the curricula that my colleagues and
I have developed at Dalton may bridge the gap that exists between
these two groups engaged in separate conversations on similar subjects.
At the same time, it may redress the bias that exists in the academy
against having graduates work on the pre-college level, including
writing for a younger audience.
One of the many things I have learned at Dalton is that visual
literacy can be introduced immediately, when children are in


m.i. marcus

Kindergarten. At this point, the main goal is to start teaching children

how to look and describe what they see, especially in museum settings. Nevertheless, its not too early to sneak in larger concepts: about
personal identity when looking at self-portraits; cultural style when
looking at period rooms; and pictorial narrative when looking at nineteenth-century representations of Greek myths. When the classroom
curriculum directs the choice of images, it becomes relatively simple,
even at this level, to integrate larger concepts into the picture.
The third grade happens to have one of the richest visual literacy
curricula at the school, largely because it is wrapped around simulated archaeological excavations that the children dig up in specially
constructed plastic boxes in the back yard of the school (figure 1).
Our resident archaeologist, Neil Goldberg, creates a three-level site
for each class, packed with hundreds of artifacts that are directly tied
to the curriculum, which explores cultural exchange in different parts
of the world during the so-called Age of Exploration (ca. 1200-1500
CE). It takes the students about six to eight weeks to uncover their
finds using true scientific methods. The excavation gives the children
the motivation and sense of ownership they need to carry out very
sophisticated analyses of one or two artifacts of their choosing. For
the analysis, the students have access to a team of experts; in addition
to Neil Goldberg and myself, there are Stephanie Fins, our cultural
anthropologist affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History,
the classroom teachers, the science teachers, computer technicians and
outside specialists.4 This curriculum has become so fine-tuned over
the years, that, by now, no matter what artifact a student chooses to
analyze, there will be enough comparative information available for
them to do a sophisticated, satisfying job.5
We ended up creating on-line galleries of carefully chosen images
for each of the six sites the children excavate.6 Through these, when

Including, to date: Tracy Fedochnik, Margaret OConnor, Mary Smeltzer, Barbara Cramer, Jody Seifert, Karen Bass, Scott Lerner, Ben Lesch, Fred White and Laura Haddad.
This curriculum, including an archaeology component, has been adapted with a
small budget by Pamela Weinreich and Denise Jordan for a third-grade unit on China at PS 158 in New York City. The Dalton program has been discussed previously at
the annual conference of the New York Association of Independent Schools, New York,
2004, as well as at a conference on the AMICO Library K-12 pilot program at Asia
Society, New York, 2003.
This work was supported by grants from the AMICO Library (now CAMIO) and

picturing the past, teaching the future


one young girl found a blue and white porcelain vase in a simulated
excavation of Kashgar, she was able to find comparanda among our
gallery of fifteenth-century Chinese ceramics and suggest a similar
date and place of production for her own artifact. She then sorted
through our galleries of Islamic paintings and found similar vessels in
a courtly scene in a Timurid manuscript page. She made the intelligent suggestion that her vessel was imported from eastern China and
traveled along the Silk Road to Kashgar, where it was used in elite
courtly settings by individuals wearing decorated garments in highly
decorated palace settings.
Likewise, when a student uncovered a pearl earring in their simulated site at New Amsterdam, she used paintings by Vermeer to suggest that the earring once belonged to a Dutch woman who may have
worn a blue head scarf and sat at a table with a Chinese-style bowl in
a room with Delft tiles along the floor boards. The students are able
to go from here to quite sophisticated conversations about population movement, commercial exchange, inexpensive copies of Chinese
artifacts, wealth and status. The point is that the imagery allows the
students to reach a level of critical thinking that would not have been
possible from texts (especially third-grade texts) alone.
This past year, we tried organizing a third-grade Silk Road curriculum around the concept of style.7 We devoted one week each to
Renaissance Europe, Timurid Persia, Mughal India and Ming China,
in anticipation of the mix of goods the students would be finding in
their simulated excavations of Kashgar. Through a combination of
classroom work and museum trips, the children generated a list of
stylistic attributes for each cultural group. With that list in mind,
they were able to play a style game that the classroom teacher, Tracy
Fedochnik, and I developed. Each child was given a small laminated
card with a telling detail from a larger work of art. The children were
expected to identify the larger cultural group to which the detail belonged and then, with a partner, articulate their reasons: the bend of a
tree, the netted body of a dragon, the perspective in the background.
Ultimately, of course, the goal of the exercise was for the students to
see how elements of style were able to inform their understanding of
long-distance interaction 500 years ago. The notion that third graders

For other curricular ideas on the Silk Road, see UNESCO 1997; The Silk Road Student Activity Package 1997; Along the Silk Road: People, Interaction and Cultural Exchange nd.


m.i. marcus

could meet this goal came from two sources: the collaboration with a
wonderful classroom teacher and the legacy of Irene Winter.
By the time the children enter Middle School, we expect them to
be visually equipped to address some of the more theoretical concepts
that arise in the history curriculum, such as imperial program, art
and ideology, power and propaganda, and gender and other aspects
of social identity. In the sixth grade, the students study the Iron Age
in Assyria, Greece, and Rome, using a curriculum centered on a
compelling in-house computer program that simulates the excavations of an archaeological site, one based on the Assyrian outpost at
Til Barsip in northern Syria in the first half of the year, the other a
hypothetical Classical Greek site. This was created before my arrival
by the several other Near Eastern archaeologists that we are so lucky
to have on staff at Dalton.8 Obviously, this curriculum was already
heavily driven by visual culture.
Instead, what needed attention when I first joined the staff was a
unit on Bronze Age Mesopotamia, taught in the fifth grade by classroom teachers with little background in the Near East or in how to
use primary visual sources. The initial idea, conceived in collaboration
with the classroom teachers, 9 was to center the curriculum around
the available literature. We let the literature introduce the related
intellectual issues and material culture; for example, Enmerkar and
the Lord of Aratta (K. P. Foster 1999) to raise issues of geography, the
development of cities and long-distance exchange; The Gilgamesh Epic
(Zeman 1998) to talk about concepts of kingship, militarism, building
programs and cultural values; and The Descent of Ishtar (Moore and
This program, called Archaeotype, was written by Mary Kate Brown, Neil Goldberg
and William Waldman, with recent revisions by Craig Bolotin. John Russell helped provide the original architectural data from Til Barsip for the Assyrian simulation. See a
description of the program in Gordon 2000. The software has been shared with a school
in California, as well as with John Russell then at Columbia University and Rita Wright
at New York University. Dalton commissioned Donald Sanders (Institute for the Visualization of History) to create and add a virtual simulation of the palace at Til Barsip to
the Archaeotype software, available from Our Near Eastern and
archaeology staff includes Goldberg, Brown, myself, as well as Susan Springer and Paul
Especially Lisa Gross, in addition to Carole Brighton, Sharon Almog, Susan Jaxheimer, Sage Sevilla-Morillo, Lisa Larsen and, more recently, Maria Arellano and Amy
Terpening. As the fifth-grade teachers have become more comfortable with this material, it is a pleasure to see them revise the original curriculum to suit their own teaching
needs and styles.

picturing the past, teaching the future


Balit 1996) to bring in goods from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, as well
as issues of death, burial, social stratification and prestige.10 As part
of this curriculum, the students create their own texts, one of which
was the remarkable incantation with which this essay began.
The fifth grade also uses a set of modern impressions of cylinder
seals in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library, which Sidney Babcock created for us. These impressions provide a unique opportunity to practice focused looking, sketching and describing in a
classroom setting, as well as to introduce the function of cylinder seals
in the ancient Near East (figures 2, 3). Best of all, the students have
the rare privilege of handling the actual seals in the Morgan Library,
rolling them across wet clay and keeping their baked impressions.11
In the context of a curriculum about the development of cities and the
concomitant rise of craft specialization, long-distance trade, systems of
administration and emblems of prestige, this experience is a remarkable
one. Even in the fifth grade, the students feel the power of handling
3000-year-old objects, just as I did when Edith Porada allowed her
graduate students to handle these same seals in the Morgan Library
and when Irene let me borrow the clay amulet of Humbaba when I
was an undergraduate. The key at any level is providing the proper
contextual information.
The High School is a different animal in some ways, with too much
to cover in too little time and an agenda tied to college admissions.
Nevertheless, collaboration with some of the English teachers has created lovely opportunities to talk in small groups at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art about the relationship between text and image; for
instance, between the Odyssey and Greek male statuary; the Gospel of
Luke and Spanish Baroque paintings; and Willa Cather and contemporary American portraiture (see Johnson 1994). At this point,


For other curricular ideas for Mesopotamia, see Oriental Institute of Chicago
2006; Stix and Hrbek 2001; and Marcus and Gross 2000. See also Sumer and its City
State, issue of Calliope (Summer 2003), with articles by Richard L. Zettler and Elizabeth
E. Payne.
I am especially grateful to Sidney Babcock, Curator of Seals and Tablets at the
Morgan Library, for providing students at Dalton with this rare opportunity. In a time
when ancient Near Eastern objects are bought and sold on eBay, it is a pleasure to witness how certain collections can be marvelous tools for teaching purposes without the
notion of buying antiquities coming into the picture. Although this opportunity is not
available at most schools, many museums have study collections that are available for
teaching purposes.


m.i. marcus

the students are intellectually ready to talk about the affective properties of art, its ability to evoke an emotional response, as well as to
influence the way people think and behave; for example, the way
Baroque representations of the Passion would have made the intended
audience feel and believe the suffering of Christ on a level that the
text alone could not; or the way the perfect athletic male body in
Greek art would have served as a model of the well-fit citizen, ready
to act on behalf of his city state.
What is so compelling about this K-12 program is that it aims to
provide the students with the skills and content of a cultural history
curriculum in a sequential integrated fashion. It seamlessly incorporates
material culture into whatever the students are doing in the classroom,
rather than segregating the images in a class by themselves.12 Part
of what makes the program work and what makes it so much fun to
teach is that it is a team effort. The cultural anthropologist, archaeologist and myself, who have had similar training in different disciplines,
all speak the same intellectual language. We also make every effort
to bring in outside experts, for instance: a manuscript illuminator
to create Medieval or Aztec manuscripts with the third and seventh
graders; actors to recite Civil War poetry to the eighth grade; a costume designer from the High School to create seventeenth-century
British costume with the third graders; Stephen Murray of Columbia
University to talk to the seventh-grade teachers and students about
Amiens Cathedral; and various upper-school historians to talk to the
lower-school students. Most important, we work with extraordinary
classroom teachers and a great technology team, who are willing to
collaborate and share their ideas as well as their students.
Personally, the joy for me is seeing how visual materials can get
youngsters hooked on history; and how the skills I learned from Irene
can be adapted to younger students, who are just as eager as college students to make visual things talk. More important, there exists
an opportunity for collaboration between art historians and K-12
educators: the former can help classroom teachers integrate visual
materials into their history curriculum; and the latter can share their
strategies for active learning. The point is there is room for art historians (even those with a specialty in the ancient Near East) to join

An official art history class is offered by Robert Meredith for advanced highschool students.

picturing the past, teaching the future


the mainstream. Irene Winter has done so much more than produce
academic scholars. She has produced a generation of students who
knows the value of visual materials, inside and outside the Near East;
who knows that by keeping people in touch with the world and its
history, visual resources can promote a much-needed understanding
of cultural difference.

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Education Institute for the Arts.
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Foster, Benjamin. 1996. Before the Muses. Vol. 1. Bethesda: CDL Press.
Foster, Karen Polinger. 1999. The City of Rainbows: A Tale from Ancient Sumer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications.
Gardner, Howard, and David Perkins, eds. 1989. Art, Mind, and Education: Research
from Project Zero. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
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We Teach and Learn. Cambridge: Harvard Education Letter.
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Resource for Educators, an unpublished teachers guide to the exhibition American
Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, unpaginated.
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Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai, 64-91. Cambridge: Cambridge
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Lidner, Molly M. 2005. Problem-Based Learning in the Art-History Survey Course.
CAA News 30 (September): 7-9, 41-43.


m.i. marcus

Marcus, Michelle I. 1993. Incorporating the Body: Adornment, Gender, and Social
Identity in Ancient Iran. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 3: 157-178.
. 1988. Emblems of Status and Prestige: The Seals and Sealings from Hasanlu, Iran.
Philadelphia: University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.
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Zeman, Ludmila. 1998. Gilgamesh the King (The Gilgamesh Trilogy). Toronto: Tundra

picturing the past, teaching the future


Figure 1. View of the middle level of Daltons simulated excavation at Kashgar, third
grade. Photograph courtesy of Neil Goldberg.

Figure 2. Photograph of two fifth-grade students (2005) working together with a

modern impression of an Old Babylonian cylinder seal in the collection of the Pierpont
Morgan Library and an enlarged photograph of the impression. Impression courtesy
of the Morgan Library. Photograph courtesy of Susan Jaxheimer.


m.i. marcus

My seal design shows three people, two women and one man in a presentation scene. The first woman is a goddess with a flounced
skirt and a horned headdress. She has her hands up in front of her face. The second figure is a king, who is wearing a ski cap and
a short robe. He is holding a sword and he has very muscular legs. The third figure is Ishtar wearing a robe or dress. She has arrows
coming out of her shoulders and is holding a mace or something. There is also cuneiform on the side.

Figure 3. Sketch and description of the impressed design of an Old Babylonian

cylinder seal in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library (No. 371). By Celena
Kopinkski, fifth grader, 2003. Photograph courtesy of the Dalton School.

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Meister, 129-162. Jaipur and New Delhi: Rawat Publications.
2000. Le palais imaginaire: Scale and Meaning in the Iconography of
Neo-Assyrian Cylinder Seals. In Images as Media: Sources for the Cultural
History of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (1st Millennium BCE),
edited by Christoph Uehlinger, 51-87. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis
175. Fribourg: Fribourg University Press; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck
& Ruprecht.
2000. Thera Paintings and the Ancient Near East: The Private and
Public Domains of Wall Decoration. In The Wall Paintings of Thera.
Proceedings of the First International Symposium, Petros M. Nomikos Conference Centre, Thera, Hellas, 30 August-4 September 1997, edited by Susan
Sherratt, Vol. 2, 745-762. Athens: Thera Foundation.
2001. Introduction: Glyptic, History, and Historiography. In Seals and
Seal Impressions. Proceedings of the XLVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. Part 2, edited by William W. Hallo and Irene J. Winter, 1-13.
Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press.
2001. (editor, with William W. Hallo.) Seals and Seal Impressions, Proceedings
of the XLVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. Part 2. Bethesda, Md.:
CDL Press.
2002. Defining Aesthetics for Non-Western Studies: The Case of
Ancient Mesopotamia. In Art History, Aesthetics, Visual Studies, edited
by Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, 3-28. Williamstown, Mass.:
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; New Haven and London:
Yale University Press.
2002. How Tall was Naram-Sns Victory Stele? Speculation on the
Broken Bottom. In Leaving No Stones Unturned: Essays on the Ancient Near
East and Egypt in Honor of Donald P. Hansen, edited by Erica Ehrenberg,
301-311. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns.

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2002. (with Amy Rebecca Gansell.) Treasures from the Royal Tombs of
Ur. Harvard University Art Museums, Gallery Series 36. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums.
2003. Ornament and the Rhetoric of Abundance in Assyria. EretzIsrael 27 (Special issue in honour of Hayim and Miriam Tadmor,
edited by Peter Machinist et al.): 252-264.
2003. Review of The Ur-Nammu Stela, by Jeanny Vorys Canby.
Journal of the American Oriental Society 123: 402-406.
2003. Surpassing Work: Mastery of Materials and the Value of
Skilled Production in Ancient Sumer. In Culture through Objects: Ancient
Near Eastern Studies in Honour of P. R. S. Moorey, edited by Timothy Potts,
Michael Roaf and Diana Stein, 403-421. Oxford: Griffith Institute.
2004. The Conquest of Space in Time: Three Suns on the Victory
Stele of Naram-Sn. In Assyria and Beyond: Studies Presented to Mogens
Trolle Larsen, edited by J. G. Dercksen, Uitgaven van het Nederlands
Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten te Leiden 100. Leiden: Nederlands
Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.
2005. Establishing Group Boundaries: Toward Methodological Refinement in the Determination of Sets as a Prior Condition to the
Analysis of Cultural Contact and/or Innovation in First Millennium
BCE Ivory Carving. In? Crafts and Images in Contact: Studies on Eastern
Mediterranean Art of the First Millennium BCE, edited by Claudia E. Suter
and Christoph Uehlinger, 23-42. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 210.
Fribourg: Academic Press; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


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a note on the nahal mishmar crowns

Seat of Kingship/A Wonder to Behold:
Architectural Contexts



i. ziffer

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns



Irit Ziffer
Among the art objects of the Chalcolithic period in Palestine, the
hoard from Nahal Mishmar, dating from the second quarter of the
fourth millennium BCE, stands out.2 The hoard was discovered by
a team headed by Pessah Bar-Adon in 1961 in the cave to be known
as Cave of the Treasure on the western shores of the Dead Sea,
in a steep cliff-face of the Nahal (Wadi) Mishmar canyon, 50 meters
below the top and 250 meters above the gorge. Ussishkin (1977;
1980) proposed that the hoard of 429 objects, the majority of which
are made of arsenical copper, comprised the cultic equipment of the
En-Gedi temple which was hidden in the cave once the temple was
My attention focuses on one of the ten circular ring-like objects
from the treasure, which the excavator defined as crowns for want
of a better term (Bar Adon 1980, cat. nos. 7-16). Based on textual
and artistic evidence, I shall offer more insights into the iconography
of crown no. 7, thereby seeking a new interpretation for the function
of the crowns.

At a tutorial seminar Eclectic Art given by Pirhiya Beck in Israel, Irene Winters
wide-ranging work served as a textbook. Small wonder, therefore, that all the students
looked forward to a special class given jointly by Irene and Pirhiya. Her participation
was an eye-opener to all of us attending. The following discussion, triggered by her
article on Mesopotamian palaces (1993), is offered to Irene with respect and very best
For gold and copper objects discovered since, and previous literature within see:
Gopher et al. 1990; Gopher 1996, 114-213; Gal et al. 1997; Levy and Shalev 1989;
Shalev and Northover 1987; Namdar et al. 2004.
Tadmor (1989, 252; 2002, 142*) suggested that the treasure was the stock of traders
or smiths who handled the trade of such commodities and who acted as intermediaries
between production centers and the Negev sites. Gates (1992, 131) assumed that the
hoard was a store of metal goods whose piece-meal sale was intended to provide for the
families of nomadic pastoralists who wintered in the cave.


i. ziffer
The Crowns

The crowns measure 15 to 19 cm in diameter and 8 to 10 cm in

height. All are open-ended cylinders with concave walls. Three are
plain, two have simple linear decorations on the sides, three have a
linear ornament and additional decorative projections on the rim,
one has a human face with a prominent nose on the outer face, and
one plain-sided crown has two horned animal heads peeping from
the top. Crown no. 7 in Bar-Adons list is exceptional among the
crowns (figures 1 and 2). It has one rectangular opening in its herringbone-decorated wall, with studs flanking the upper part of the
opening. A pillar is placed on the rim above the right side of the
opening. Another pillar, now broken, was placed above the left side.
Two gate-like projections decorated with studs and topped by a pair
of caprid horns stand on opposite sides of the rim.4 Between these
gate-like projections, opposite the opening in the wall, two birds (of
prey or perhaps doves?)5 are set. Aside from the Nahal Mishmar crown
featuring an architectural faade, two more fragments of horned gate
posts from a copper crown retrieved from the underground cavities
at Givat ha-Oranim have recently been published (Scheftelowitz and
Oren 2004, 6; Namdar et al. 2004, cat. no. 16).
All agree that crown no. 7 represents a building, but what was the
nature of this building? Bar-Adon (1980, 132-133) and Epstein (1978,
26) suggest that crown no. 7 represents a horned temple facade. Beck
compared this crown with a two tiered horned building depicted on
a Late Uruk cylinder seal impression from Susa (figure 3), which depicts a war scene with a horned stepped building. She concludes that
because the horns emanating from this stepped building are those of
a bull, and since in Mesopotamia bulls horns were the hallmark of
the divine image, the horned building represents not a specific god,
but divine power in general. Beck finds an Egyptian parallel for the
horned building on a sealing from Abydos (1989, 44). According
to Moorey the crowns may be miniature models of animal byres,
others may represent open-air shrines, or perhaps enclosures where
the dead were exposed to birds of prey prior to burial (1988, 179;
Tadmor (1986, 75-76, cat. no. 21) compared the gates with the clay ossuary
faades, whose openings are flanked by studs and are surmounted by frontons, which
sometimes are decorated with ibex horns.
Griffin vultures (Tadmor 1986, 75); doves (Schroer and Keel 2005, 130).

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


see also Merhav 1993, 38). Although no round buildings are known
from the Chalcolithic period, Tadmor (1990, 257) also postulates that
the ornate crowns are architectural models, comparing the Nahal
Mishmar hoard crowns with the only so far known round model of a
house of the Chalcolithic period with a doorway and a hearth found
in Cyprus (Peltenburg 1988, 1989). Amiran proposes that these crowns
were too small and too heavy to be worn on the head and were instead
drums of composite stand-like objects, cult stands or altars. Amiran
(1985) reconstructs these cult objects as superimposed drums, the top
pieces being those with decorative motifs projecting vertically from
the rim (figure 2).

Comparative Material:
Horned Buildings in Ancient Near Eastern Art and Texts
The Nahal Mishmar crowns may well be architectural models of round
buildings, of which crown no. 7 with its horned gate-like projection is
the most articulate, therefore also the most telling. Evidence for horned
buildings seems to come from Iran. Amiet has discussed the subject
of ancient Iranian buildings decorated with horns extensively over
the years (Amiet 1953, 27-29; 1959, 41-42). In an article published in
1987, in view of two other Late Uruk impressions, one reportedly from
Syria (figure 4), the other from Choga Mish in Iran (figure 5), Amiet
dismisses his previous identification of the bovine-horned building on
the Susa impression (figure 3) as a ziggurat-temple on its platform.
The sealings from Syria6 and Choga Mish show a war scene near a
stepped building. However, the stepped building is without horns.7
He compares these Late Uruk representations of a horned building
on a platform with the Median stepped, multi-crenellated fortress of
Contrary to Amiets ascription of the sealing to northern Syria, Potts (1999, 67,
fig. 3.12:2) has published it as Susian.
Margueron (1986) points out that the Susa impression does not describe sacred
architecture of its time, such as the White Temple at Uruk, or the terrasse of Susa.
Attempting to solve the discrepancy between the depiction and the archaeological
reality, Margueron postulates that if the seal cutter indeed intended to depict an existing
sanctuary of his time, he must have depicted it from angles that would emphasize a
certain feature of the building, thus compatible with the impression. He does, however,
admit that his suggested interpretation of the cutters viewing angles of the real building
still requires a systematic study.


i. ziffer

Kiesim, besieged by Sargon II during his sixth campaign and

depicted in the palace at Khorsabad (figure 6). The Kiesim fortress
is topped by three pairs of antlers. Another Iranian horned building is
the Elamite edifice adorned with bull horns in a wall relief from Room
I of Assurbanipals palace at Nineveh (figure 7). The bull horns that
emanate from the sides of the building on the Assurbanipal relief and
those of the Susa impression building may be construed as signifying
the sacred character of these edifices. However, the Sargon relief of
the Iranian fortress of Kiesim has the antlers of a stag, which by no
means are a mark of divinity. Potts, following Amiet, rightly points
out that these antlers belong to another tradition than that of the
horn as a divine symbol and proposes Iran as the origin of the horned
building tradition. Furthermore, Potts emphasizes the longevity of
the horn motif in Iran, as exemplified by the later Luristan bronzes
with horned creatures, displaying conservatism in the representation
of animals (Potts 1990, 35). This tradition endured well into the twentieth century CE, where antlers were used to decorate the houses of
local khans in Luristan, as described by de Mecquenem.8
Potts carries the topic of the horned edifice one step further. He
collectes the textual evidence from the dictionaries (CAD and AHw s.v.
qarnu) that mention horns attached to buildingsto temples as well as
to the palace gate at Isin.9 The texts, however, are not specific about
what kind of horns were to decorate the various buildings.
I would like to add yet another piece of textual information pertaining to the embellishment of palaces, that is, non-religious edifices,
with horns, that has so far been overlooked in support of a new interpretation for the Nahal Mishmar crown no. 7. Kassite documents
from Dr-Kurigalzu of the thirteenth century BCE confirm that the
embellishment of public edifices with figures or protomes of stags,
deer and mountain sheep originates in the Iranian plateau.
The majority of Dr-Kurigalzu documents are vouchers concerning
the issue of gold, silver and precious stones to the craftsmen attached
De Mecquenem, cited by Potts (1990, 36, see also p. 40, fig. 4). Interestingly,
according to Islamic traditions compiled by Wsii, who read his work at the Al-Aqsa
Mosque in 1019 CE, there was on the dome of the Dome of the Rock a deer made of
gold, its eyes inlaid with precious stones, by the light of which the women of the Balqa
(in Transjordan) could spin their wool at night. These traditions go back to the eighth
century CE (Sharon 1992, 60-63).
Potts provides further examples of hunted gazelle and ibex horns attached to
religious as well as secular buildings from Arabia (1990, 37-39).

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


to temples (Gurney 1953). These vouchers mention the names of two

palaces at Dr-Kurigalzu: the Palace of the Stag (kal ayyali) and the
Palace of the Mountain Sheep (kal UDU.KUR.RA). Precious materials were used to embellish various parts of the palaces, especially the
doors and doorways, and also figures of stags, mountain sheep and
birds (Gurney 1953, 23, nos. 20-22)10 as well as lions (Gurney 1953,
24, no. 25). These documents prove that the Kassites, whose origin
was in the Zagros, cherished reminiscences of their original homeland; when building their palaces at Dr-Kurigalzu, they adorned
them with figures or protomes of the animals typical of the Kassites
mountainous origin (Sassmannhausen 1999, 415).11 These animal
protomes may have been symbolic of deities. I group the decorative
protomes with the variety of Iranian animal subjects that have to do
with wildlife and heroic huntsmanship (Porada 1990a, 75; 1990b,
50).12 The hunt was a royal activity that epitomized the power of the
rulerno one can control the powerful creatures but the ruler who
is thus represented as the maintainer of order against the forces of
chaos. Once tamed by the royal hunter, these ferocious beasts must
have been conceived as protective of him, thereby fit to decorate his
royal abode. The gate-like structures possibly further enhanced the
magic border between the wild, untamed nature and civilized life
(Mazzoni 1997, 315).
Furthermore, these documents mention that metals, stones and wood
were issued for the production of scepters, bows, swords and ceremonial
weapons made of bronze, some with a haft (or hilt) of gold and an
alabaster head (Gurney 1953, 24, no. 24). The variety of ceremonial
items mentioned in the Dr-Kurigalzu documents recalls the assemblage of copper artifacts of the Nahal Mishmar hoard, especially the
standards and scepters, whose early parallels found outside Israel are
the decorated mace heads from Iran and Mesopotamia (Beck 1989,
41; Merhav 1993, 24-26). Such scepters were carried in processions

Carnelian for birds beaks and stags bodies and lapis lazuli for stags hooves for
the Palace of the Stag. Assorted stones and glass for the Palace of the Stag.
Ehrenberg (2002, 66) proposes a similar transfer of a symbol for the Kassite cross.
Originally an early Iranian symbol of a supreme celestial power, the cross was assumed
by the chief Babylonian deity in the readily adopted Babylonian culture.
See also Kawami (2005, 120-122) regarding proliferation of deer antlers in the
architecture and imagery at Hasanlu BB II, perhaps related to the patron deity of the


i. ziffer

as symbols of status. I contend that the crowns too were symbols of

status and that they were used in public display.

Suggested Interpretation of Crown no. 7

In contrast to those who seek a temple interpretation, I propose
an alternative one: that it represents a palace or the residence of
a leader. The identification of exceptional edifices within village
architecture as temples was challenged some twenty-five years ago
by Aurenche (1982), who points out the clear resemblance between
ordinary houses and monumental buildings of the Ubaid period in
Mesopotamia. With similar canonical Ubaid plans, the monumental
buildings set in the center of a village, sometimes on a platform, were
differentiated from the rest of the houses only by their larger size
or special architectural features, such as buttressed walls. Instead of
qualifying such buildings as temples, Aurenche proposed to term
these buildings as btiments de prestige. This prestigious architecture,
conceived in the late fifth-early fourth millennium BCE, gave rise to
two different constructionsthe temple and the palace (Aurenche
1982, 256). Hence I suggest that the decoration of crown no. 7 with
its birds and gate like projections topped by caprid horns may be a
local expression of such a btiment de prestige, in which an Iranian
tradition of palace decoration was emulated. Indeed, most recently
the horns incorporated in the Susa impression building (figure 3) have
been said to recall the exaggerated ibex horns so prominent in the
pottery and seals of prehistoric Iran (Johnson 2005, 85).13 Contacts
with Iran in the Chalcolithic period are further confirmed by the
fact that the Nahal Mishmar ceremonial objects are made of antimony-arsenic-rich copper, a rare alloy which is not attested from any
contemporary site in the Near East. The only region rich in suitable
arsenic and antimony copper ores is in northwest and central Iran
and in Azerbaijan, whence ingots were brought to Palestine for the production of prestige articles (Tadmor, Begemann et al. 1995, 141-144;
For the predominance and symbolism of caprid horns in Iran, compare the goatman bronze statuette dated stylistically to the Late Uruk period and the goat-demon
(shaman) subduing wild beasts and snakes on stamp seals from western Iran of the
Chalcolithic period, see Barnett 1966; Amiet 1979; Porada 1995, 40-41; Pittman 2003;
Wilburn 2005, 68.

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


Tadmor 2002, *142).14 Imported prestigious materialsmetals from

Asia, obsidian from Anatolia, gold and tusks from Egypt, as well as
precious stone from the Sinaiwould have conferred power and status
on those who controlled their distribution within the local exchange
networks. This network of trade must have allowed for cultural contact and transfer of ideas and symbols of authority (Teissier 1987),15
of which the horned faade may be one.
Crown no. 7 may thus represent a palace, the seat of rulership
in miniature. So far no such palaces have been identified in Chalcolithic sites. But the differential status of individuals is increasingly
acceptedon the basis of funerary evidence (Levy 1986), as well as
on the evidence of far-reaching trade and unique craftsmanship of
the period, that must have been controlled by economic and political systems headed by a leader (Tadmor 2002, *138, *142-*143).16
These systems exercised their power through symbols of authority.
The Nahal Mishmar elaborately decorated standards or scepters17
may illustrate symbols of status carried by certain people on special
occasions to indicate their social ranking or a political or religious
role in society (Moorey 1988, 184; Beck 2002, 24-26). The Hennessy

This rare type of copper alloy is attested only in the artifacts from Nahal Mishmar
and from several other sites in Israel, but does not occur in any other contemporary site
in the Near East. The mining area of ores is not necessarily identical with the area where
the smelting of the ores took place, nor with the artifact production centers. Metal ingots
were imported into Palestine and the artifacts were produced in local workshops which
so far have not been unearthed. In some of the underground houses in the Beersheba
valley evidence exists for the smelting of copper ores mined in the Arabah (Shalev and
Northover 1987) or the re-smelting of scrap metal, including items manufactured of
composite metals originating in the east (Eldar and Baumgarten 1985).
One wonders whether the festive silver stands decorated with lion heads and
stag horns of Akur-Addu, king of Karana, on which silver goblets of many kinds were
placed (ARM XIII 22), also echo an Iranian tradition. Bearing in mind that some of
the animal head cups imported to Syria were made in the Iranian town of Tukri, the
decoration of the kings stand could reflect a Syrian borrowing of an Iranian motif
(ARM VII 239, 12, 18; ARM XXIV 91, 9; ARM XXV 347, 22-23; 449 rev. 5-6; Dalley
1984, 61-62, 93).
Imported materials include metals from the Caucasus and Iran, obsidian from
Anatolia, gold and hippopotamus and elephant tusks from Egypt, and semi-precious
stones from the Sinai.
The total number of mace heads and standards included: 240 mace heads and
116 standards, 12 elaborate triangular or disk-shaped mace heads, 5 copper scepters,
no two of which were equal in size or identical in decoration. Many standards represent
caprid heads or horns. Caprids horns are found on clay ossuaries and the portable
basalt altars from the Golan (Beck 1989).


i. ziffer

Fresco from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan, for example, may depict such
a procession of goat-masked participants headed by a boomerangshaped standard bearer, all portrayed frontally (Cameron 1981, 13
and cover). 18 Baines points out that in Egypt the standards and
attendants defined and circumscribed the kings presence and that
the standards proclaimed the kings power, probably by associating
him with protective deities (1995, 120; Moortgat 1966, pl. 6:33). The
single burial unearthed at Wadi el-Makkukh in the vicinity of Jericho,
which became known as the Warriors Tomb, may furnish the (so
far) only archaeological evidence of a leader in the period (Schick
1998). The deceased, who according to C-14 data lived in the early
fourth millennium BCE, was interred in an enormous linen fringed
wrapping sheet with decorative bands, along with a long stave, bow
and arrows, and other luxury objects. He may be the only surviving
chief of the period (Tadmor 2002, *138), whose likeness was immortalized in the figure wearing a tall headdress and carrying a longstemmed spear-like object, incised on a paving slab from the vicinity
of the earliest temples at Megiddo (figure 8), perhaps from the Late
Chalcolithic period (Beck 2002, 25).
It may well be that crown no. 7, representing a palace with a
decoration of horns, served a function similar to that of the mace
heads and the standardsa means of elite or royal display for society. Instead of visual representation (and writing), architecturea
palace or an enclosureis the chief form of more general display.
An architectural feature dominates the landscape in which it is set, its
location is significant as are its scale and quality. Visible and enduring,
architecture conveys its message to people through exclusion (Baines
1989, 477-478). As Irene Winter so aptly put it,
The palace is thus set up as a mirror of the king. It is a physical manifestation of the rulers power and ability to build; and at the same time,
by having built so impressively, the ruler has further demonstrated his
power and ability to command resources, induce astonishment, and
create a fitting seat of governmentin shortto rule. The rhetorical
function of the palace . . . is as essential as its residential, administrative,
productive, and ceremonial functions. (Winter 1993, 38-39)


Compare to goat-headed shaman wielding a boomerang on a Chalcolithic

container sealing from Tepe Gawra (Root 2005, cat. no. 38).

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


A miniature version of the seat of kingship, which in the ancient

Near East was conceived as incorporating various activities and functionsresidential, political, administrative, industrial, ritual and ceremonialcrown no. 7 may have been instrumental in conveying the
concepts of authority and rule. Similarly to the standards and maces
as symbols of martial values and prowess ascribed to the leader, the
crown, representing the seat of rulership, may have been carried in
processions, or laid out for public display. This assumed function of
the crown brings to mind town models of the second millennium BCE
and those of the first millennium BCE, which are depicted in palace
reliefs brought as tribute to the Assyrian king and placed for display
to symbolize the victory over a city (Mallowan 1966, 446-449; Porada
1967; Calmeyer 1992, 99-101, pls. 22:2, 23, 26:1; Winter 1993, 37,
fig. 16; Brker-Klhn 1997).19 These models are shaped as defensive
walls with battlements, implying the protective power and probably
often the sanctity of the buildings which they enclosed. A clay model
of a citadel (Calmeyer 1992, pl. 22:1) and the turreted iron brazier
found in storage magazine A2 at Fort Shalmaneser (Oates and Oates
2001, pl. 12c) may be a material form of the Assyrian models. 20
Crown no. 7 may be an early example of such an architectural
model which signified the majesty and success of the ruler. When thus
interpreted, each of the plastic elements represented may be ascribed
a symbolic significance: the gate-like structure possibly representing
the magic border between civilized life and nature, embodied in the
birds, while the pillar, so reminiscent of the mace standards of Nahal
Mishmar, perhaps signifying the rulers scepter. Crown no. 7 may have
served in royal rituals, such as investitures or renewal of kingship.

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i. ziffer

. 1959. Reprsentations antiques des constructions anciennes. RA 53: 40-44.

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307-337. Colloquien der Deutschen Orientgesellschaft. Saarbrckeen: Saarbrcker
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Moortgat, Anton. 1966. Vorderasiatische Rollesiegel. Berlin: Mann.


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Namdar, Dvori, I. Segal, Y. Goren and S. Shalev. 2004. Chalcolithic Copper Artefacts. In Givat ha-Oranim: A Chalcolithic Site, ed. N. Scheftelowitz and R. Oren,
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. 1980. The Ghassulian Shrine at En-Gedi. Tel Aviv 7: 1-44.
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i. ziffer

Figure 1. Copper crown with gate-like projections (Amiran 1985, fig. 1)

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


Figure 2. Cult stand/altar made of superimposed crowns, as reconstructed by Amiran

(Amiran 1985, fig. 1)


i. ziffer

Figure 3. Late Uruk cylinder seal impression from Susa depicting war scene with
horned building (Amiet 1987, fig. 1)

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns


Figure 4. Late Uruk cylinder seal impression showing war scene with stepped building (Amiet 1987, fig. 2)


i. ziffer

Figure 5. Late Uruk cylinder seal impression from Choga Mish showing war scene
near a stepped building (Amiet 1987, fig. 3)

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns

Figure 6. Siege of Kiesim, Khorsabad (Amiet 1987, fig. 4)



i. ziffer

Figure 7. Elamite edifice adorned with bull horns, Nineveh (Potts 1990, fig. 2)

a note on the nahal mishmar crowns

Figure 8. Figure of a ruler on a paving slab, Megiddo (Beck 2002, fig. 5a)



i. ziffer

upright stones and building narratives



mr Harmanah
The beginnings of the Modern, dating back at least two centuries, and
the much more recent advent of the Post-Modern are inextricably bound
up with the ambiguities introduced into Western architecture by the
primacy given to the scenographic in the evolution of the bourgeois
world. However, building remains essentially tectonic rather than scenographic in character and it may be argued that it is an act of construction first, rather than a discourse predicated on the surface, volume and
plan . . . Thus one may assert that building is ontological rather than
representational in character and that built form is a presence rather
than something standing for an absence. In Martin Heideggers terminology we may think of it as a thing rather than sign.
Kenneth Frampton, Rappel lordre, the case for the tectonic (1990).

Raising Orthostats as an Architectural Practice

The architectural practice of using orthostatssculpted wall slabs in
stonein monumental buildings is usually understood as an idiosyncratic phenomenon in the Upper Mesopotamian cities of the Iron Age.
Late Assyrian and Syro-Hittite rulers of this period are known for
sponsoring building projects that incorporated carved orthostats into
their architectural corpus, lining the monumental walls of ceremonial
and public spaces. These orthostat programs were commemorative in
nature and often took the form of pictorial narratives that structured
and animated the ceremonial spaces of the Iron Age cities. Irene J.
Winter was among the very first to address critically the problems of
representation in the narrative relief programs of Late Assyrian palaces,
while breaking new ground in developing a contextual approach to
study Syro-Hittite monuments within the artisanal networks of the


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early first millennium BC.1 In a number of articles, she eloquently

demonstrated that architectural technologies and material styles offer exceptional opportunities to study cultural interaction between
the Assyrian empire and the Syro-Hittite polities.2 As the following
discussion was sparked in part by Irene Winters work on networks of
cultural interaction, it seems appropriate on this occasion to present
this paper on the architectural significance of the orthostats.
Visual analyses of Assyrian palatial relief programs occupy a distinctive place within the art historical literature on the ancient Near
East. The extraordinary quality of the carving techniques applied to
the gypsum slabs at Assyrian sites, the historical-narrative character
of their programmatic display, and the sophistication that they exhibit
in their iconography receive well deserved attention in art historical
literature.3 Furthermore, several scholars have been investigating how
the relief sculpture contributed to the articulation of space in palatial
contexts (see esp., Reade 1979; Winter 1983; Russell 1991, 1999).
Rarely acknowledged, however, is the architectonic context of these
orthostats within the structure of monumental walls, in other words,
their architectural role as part of the material corpus of the buildings
in question. The term architectonics (or sometimes simply tectonics) is used
here in reference to aspects of building pertaining to construction and
materiality, in the way that it is currently employed in contemporary
architectural theory. The concept of tectonics not only indicates a
structural and material probity, but also a poetics of construction
(Frampton 1990, 20; also Hartoonian 1994). Frampton suggests that
the tectonic character refers to the ontological aspect of building construction in contrast to the representational or the scenographic.
Nonetheless, art historical discourse has principally treated sculpted
orthostats as representational surfaces, often reducing their materiality,

In two foundational articles, Winter (1981, 1983) explores royal rhetoric and narrativity in the sculptural program in Assurnasirpal (Ar-nsir-apli) IIs Northwest Palace at Kalhu (modern Nimrud). In a later article, Winter (1993, 38) explores this idea in
a broader historical scope and reflects on the entire layout of the Near Eastern palace,
concluding that the palaces had a rhetorical function . . . as embodiment of the state.
Especially Winter 1982. The issue was partially taken up again from another perspective in Winter 1998.
The bibliography of the art historical scholarship on the Assyrian programs is vast.
For the most up-to-date list of references, see Russell 1999; Winter 1997, 377 n. 1; Pittman 1996, 334-335 nos. 1-4. For an articulate discussion of the recent approaches to
Assyrian relief programs, see Winter 1997, 359f. and esp. 377 n. 2.

upright stones and building narratives


their ontological quality, to iconographic and literary content. This

iconographic and textual content as well as the stylistic form are conveniently studied by means of standard art historical and philological
methods of analysis, which assume that the cultural significance of
the orthostats is only dependant upon their pictoriality and textuality. This understanding has indeed been materially damaging to the
stone artifacts at the time of their excavation. Following the initial
discovery of the Assyrian orthostats at the site of Assurnasirpal IIs
Northwest Palace at Nimrud in 1845, Austen Henry Layard hired
some marble cutters from Mosul to slice the stone orthostats in order
to relieve them from their excessive weight for easy transport to
England. The parts bearing the standard inscription that occupied
the middle section of many orthostats were sawn into pieces and apparently sent to Layards friends across the world as souvenirs, while
the overall thickness of the slabs was reduced by cutting away their
back (Layard 1849, 1: 140). Max Mallowan (1966, 1: 98, 324 n. 10)
reports that approximately 15 centimeters of plinth was also cut
from the base of several slabs. For Layard, the only valuable aspect
of these artifacts was apparently their pictorial content, nothing less,
nothing more. Much valuable architectural evidence about the Assyrian wall construction techniques, such as dowel holes, tool marks and
slab thicknesses, was destroyed in this manner. But more significantly,
the ontological quality of the orthostats was altered: solid architectural
members were transformed into thin pictorial plaques. To this day,
the strategies of exhibiting Assyrian orthostats in Western museums
and their publication formats only continue to endorse this view of
orthostats as two-dimensional planar entities, a view that has largely
dominated the art historical and archaeological interpretations of
these artifacts accordingly.4 It seems therefore important to start to
address the material aspects of orthostats as architectonic members
in monumental contexts.
In this paper, I will refer to relevant archaeological and textual
evidence for the early development of orthostats as an architectural
practice, even prior to the incorporation of relief imagery on them,
See now Winter (2002, esp. 6ff.) on how European aesthetic judgment was applied
to Mesopotamian artifacts upon their arrival to Western museums. This cultural confrontation in the museum contexts was often painful, leading to surgical interventions
that made art out of the reliefs by cutting semi-human figures down to what would
correspond to good Western portrait bust formats (Winter 2002, 10).


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and reflect upon the subsequent formation of an architectural koine in

Upper Mesopotamia through the widespread use of carved orthostats.5
The early orthostats seem to have appeared in the form of finely
dressed plain slabs on a regional scale during the Middle and Late
Bronze Ages in Syria, which was then a prominent region of cultural
interaction between Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt and the Levant.
The curious transition in the cultural biography of this architectural
technology took place between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages,
when orthostats extensively began to receive pictorial representations
on them, not only offering a new visual medium for Near Eastern
craftsmen but also transforming urban contexts into commemorative and narrativized spaces. I argue that this transformation in fact
coincides with the formation of a cultural koine between the Assyrian
empire and the Syro-Hittite city states, suggesting that the source of
such widespread innovative practice may have to do with the historical circumstances of a cross-cultural encounter. Based on available
archaeological and literary evidence, it is possible to argue that the
symbolically charged technique of using upright stone slabs became
part of the royal rhetoric among the Assyrian and Syro-Hittite elites,
and this shared rhetoric involved perceptibly common ideological tools
(Harmanah 2005). Furthermore, I also maintain that the making of
the orthostat programs with symbolic technologies of architectural
production acted as powerful agents in the constitution of the urban
space, public sphere and social memory in Assyrian and the SyroHittite cities.

Orthostats: A Monumental Finish for Weathering Walls

The word orthostat is an architectural term borrowed from classical
Greek [rqostthj = orthostats] to refer to upright stone slabs in Near
Eastern wall construction.6 Practically, these stone slabs were used to
koine is used here to refer to a multi-regional dynamic phenomenon of shared/exchanged material culture, or the whole milieu of cultural, social and economic interchanges (Horden & Purcell 2000, 530). M. H. Feldman recently referred to the idea of
a visual koine in defining the international style in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age (Feldman 2002, 17-23, esp. 18 with n. 87).
Orthostats simply means in ancient Greek one who stands upright but also attested with the specific architectural meaning building stones laid with their longest edges
vertical in a number of Greek building inscriptions (Liddell and Scott 1940, 1249).

upright stones and building narratives


consolidate the lower courses of mudbrick walls against erosion and

weathering caused by rain, wind or other forms of everyday physical
damage. As a technique of wall cladding, orthostats were developed
primarily to alleviate the effects of such weathering on wall surfaces,
comparable to other finishing techniques such as plastering or painting. Mostafavi and Leatherbarrow (1993) suggest that the acquired
knowledge of the weathering process enabled the building craftsmen to
turn this problem into a design criterion and continuously improved the
tectonic qualities of building surfaces by means of a variety of innovations in architectural finishing. In other words, building practices are
reflexively adjusted in response to the continuous monitoring and the
anticipation of weathering processes, and this has been an important
component in the formation of architectural traditions. This is reminiscent of Pierre Bourdieus (1990, 53) concept of habitus, systems of
durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to
function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate
and organize practices and representations that can objectively be
adopted to their outcomes. Long-term architectural practices generate
certain objective structures (in Bourdieus sense) of tradition, through
continously producing new representations (architectural forms, in
our paradigm). Newly constructed buildings as representations or
architectural dispositions, then, present themselves to their makers as
being part of those objective structures, which appear to the society
as unchanging. However, conversely, as Bourdieu has shown, those
representations and practices continue to reproduce and transform
the objective structures, of which they are the products. Therefore,
as the weather phenomenon illustrates, architectural practices and
technologies effectively continue to regenerate and redefine the very
social processes of which they are believed to be the products. This
approach allows architectural historians to consider innovation and
change not as antithetical to tradition, but in fact, integral to it.
The materials and technologies employed in wall construction varied
considerably from region to region in the northern Syro-Mesopotamian settlements, but the most common technique was mudbrick
walls with timber framing.7 In certain regions that have abundant
sources of building stone (and a wetter climate) such as the Anatolian

For Mesopotamian building techniques in general, see Moorey 1994, 302-362

and Naumann 1971.


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plateau, the Levant or Cyprus, ashlar foundations were raised up to

the dado level, by means of a few finely dressed ashlar courses above
the ground, to serve as a protective wall socle (Naumann 1971,
75). A stone socle provides greater structural stability to the mudbrick superstructure and avoids surface dampness, water creepage
and erosion at the base of the load-bearing mudbrick walls (Gregori
1986, 91-92). Alternatively, builders of the Middle Bronze Age North
Syria introduced thinner rectangular slabs cut to cover the lower wall
faces of mudbrick walls as revetments, in an apparent architectural
economization and refinement of the socles (figure 1). Stimulated by
the tectonic surface quality and the sense of dignified monumentality
that the wall socle or the orthostat masonry offered, they eventually
transformed the stone surfaces into fields of pictorial representation,
either with isolated images or narrative programs in painting and
relief. One must consider this process in correlation to the development of other wall cladding techniques throughout the Late Bronze
Age, such as wall painting and glazed brick decoration, both of which
had already served as representational-narrative media. It is possible
to understand this phenomenon, then, as an incorporation or appropriation of representationality as symbolic value by the Iron Age
craftsmen, to be inscribed onto the tectonic surfaces of the finely
dressed walls. This appropriated representationality, no doubt, was an
essential constituent of the ceremonial, ritual and institutional spaces
in the Early Iron Age cities. However, the materiality of stone and
the building technologies it embodied remained in the foreground of
the significance of these urban spaces.
It is indispensable to turn then, to North Syria during the Middle
and Late Bronze Ages to trace the early history of the orthostat technique in monumental structures. The architectural and archaeological
evidence is vast and complex, and therefore it is beyond the limits of
this brief paper to survey comprehensively the manifestations of the
technique before the Early Iron Age. So I will limit myself to only some
new archaeological evidence to point out the socio-cultural and architectural context of this symbolically charged tectonic expression.8
The history of Syria in the Middle Bronze Age runs roughly from
the beginning of the second millennium BC to the military campaign
of the Hittite king Murili I into North Syria at the beginning of the

For a detailed overview of this material, see Harmanah 2005, chs. 2, 5.

upright stones and building narratives


sixteenth century BC, a period only now becoming better known

archaeologically (Klengel 1992, 39-49). Flourishing archaeological
work in Syria at sites like Tell Mardikh, Tell Mishrifeh, Aleppo and
others suggests that a new wave of urbanization and the formation
of regional states were in place during this time period (figure 2).
In the first half of the Middle Bronze Age, the kingdom of Mari on
the middle Euphrates, especially under Yahdun-Lim (ca. 1810 BC)
and the short-lived Assyrian territorial state under ami-Adad I
(ca. 1813-1781 BC) that expanded into the Habur and the middle
Euphrates, presumably influenced the political and cultural climate of
the northwestern Syrian kingdoms of Yamhad, Qatna and Karkami
and important urban centres like Ebla (Tell Mardikh) and Alalah (Tell
Atchana) (Kuhrt 1995, 1: 98-102). In the second half of the Middle
Bronze Age, however, textual sources especially from Mari, Alalah,
and Hattua suggest that the Great Kings of Yamhad represented
the strongest territorial power in Syria until the Hittite kings Hattuili
I (1650-1620 BC) and Murili I (1620-1590 BC) campaigned effectively
into North Syria (Bryce 1998, 75-89, 102-105). Excavations at the
sites of Tell Mardikh, the Aleppo citadel, Tell Atchana and Tilmen
Hyk provide the earliest evidence for the use of orthostats in urban
contexts and suggest the flourishing nature of architectural traditions
in northwestern Syria in the Middle Bronze Age often associated with
the construction of cities such as Ebla.
It has recently been argued that Ebla of the Middle Bronze I (Mardikh IIIA) was built in a relatively short period of time as a planned
monumental project (Pinnock 2001, 22), a new urban foundation
that sealed off the remains of the Early Bronze Age IVB (Mardikh
IIB) levels after a short hiatus.9 This involved the construction of two
sets of fortifications (one for the citadel and the other for the lower
town), palatial and temple complexes on the citadel, and a belt of
public buildings immediately around the citadel. Several architectural
See also Matthiae 1997, 380. A fragmentary basalt statue with a cuneiform
inscription in Akkadian on its torso was excavated at Tell Mardikh citadel out of stratigraphic context in 1968. The inscription is a dedicatory inscription of [Y]ibbit-Lim,
king of the Eblaite dynasty, to the goddess Itar (concerning a cult basin). Elaborately
carved basalt cult basins with cultic scenes are known among the finds in MB levels at
Ebla, especially Temples B1, N and D. They were probably an important aspect of the
temple furniture (see Matthiae 1997, 400-404, figs. 14.21, 22, 23). The inscription not
only confirmed the identification of the site with Ebla, but also was suggestive of the
nature of kingship in the earlier part of the Middle Bronze Age.


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innovations are identified in the construction of these buildings,

including the widespread use of finely dressed stone slabs. In the
Southwest (Damascus) Gate of the lower city in Area A, for instance,
finely dressed basalt and limestone orthostats of about 1.80 meters in
height lined the walls of the inner and outer gate structures, which
were then tightly connected with a trapezoidal hall.10 Basalt revetments consolidated the protruding 3-pier and 2-pier structures while
limestone was used in the facing of inner rooms/recesses. Orthostats
were raised on slightly protruding ashlar foundations. Such overall
architectural design and construction technology are attested in the
gate buildings of Syria and the Levant at this time and are understood
as a distinctive feature of Middle Bronze Age architectural practices
in the region.11 A headless, seated basalt statue wearing a thick cloak
was found near the inner gateway and dated by Matthiae possibly
to the twentieth century BC (Matthiae 1997, 399-400; also Ussishkin
1989, 485). Both the monumental design and tectonic quality of the
gate, as well as its association with a royal/cult statue, suggest that
the gate had a ceremonial character in the urban landscape of Ebla.
One must consider here the fact that similar ceremonial gate structures continued to be built in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages
in Anatolia and Syria, with comparable architectural planning and
full-fledged visual narrative programs. These gate structures, such
as the well-known Iron Age examples from Karkami, Malatya and
Zincirli, constituted fundamentally important threshold monuments
in the ceremonial-ritual structure of urban landscapes. It is therefore
probably no coincidence that the earliest plain orthostats of Ebla appear at its gates.12 Similarly massive orthostats were also used in the
contemporaneous monumental buildings from the rest of the site, such
as Temple D on the western edge of the Ebla citadel and the Western
Palace in Area Q to the west of the citadel (Matthiae 1997).
One of the most essential gaps in the archaeology of Syria has been
the lack of archaeological investigations in the city of Halab (Aleppo),
which has been identified with the capital city of Yamhad. Since 1996,
For a detailed architectural description of the gate, see Matthiae 1997, 382, fig.
14.2; 1981, 118-123.
They are often referred as three-entrance gates (Gregori 1986; Ussishkin 1989).
The significant component of the earthen rampart on the outer face of these fortifications is also a shared feature.
On the Syro-Hittite gates and their ceremonial function, see Mazzoni 1997.

upright stones and building narratives


excavations were carried out in a limited area of the citadel of Aleppo

by a joint Syrian-German archaeological team. The team located a
Middle Bronze Age temple on a massive scale and its early first millennium rebuilding (Khayatta and Kohlmeyer 2000).13 Based on the
prominent location of the structure in the topography of the citadel,
its massive size (its cult room possibly ca. 26.65 meters in width), and
the relief program on the early first millennium orthostats that have
been uncovered so far, the excavators identified the building as the
textually well-known temple of the Weather/Storm God Teub of
Halab (Khayyata and Kohlmeyer 1998, 94; Kohlmeyer 2000b, 116117). The northern and western walls of the early second millennium
temple are lined with finely dressed uncarved limestone orthostats, 1.2
meters in height and raised above an ashlar foundation, reminiscent
of the Southwest gate at Ebla in its workmanship (figures 3-5). The
orthostats consistently have small, circular dowel holes or mortises on
their top surfaces, presumably used to receive wooden tenons with
molten lead fixing and to attach it to the timber beams above and thus
to the rest of the wall structure (Hult 1983, 79). Preliminary reports
demonstrate convincingly that the earliest temple with uncarved orthostats must date somewhere to the beginning of the second millennium
BC, and reconstructions of the temple are continuous throughout the
Late Bronze and Iron Ages, with considerable amounts of spoliation
and recarving of the stone slabs in these later phases. Spoliation, the
re-use of architectural elements of former buildings in new constructions, becomes a symbolic practice in the early and middle Iron Ages
especially in the case of carved orthostats.
It is evident that uncarved orthostats and finely dressed ashlar
masonry were prestigious architectural technologies in Middle Bronze
Age North Syria, and they were used primarily in ceremonial and
public spaces including temples, city gates and the urban faades of
palaces. Relatively comparable evidence for the use of plain orthostat
slabs are attested at the sites of Tilmen Hyk and Alalakh. During
the Late Bronze Age, in contrast, as the eastern Mediterranean world
Preliminary report of the 1996-1997 season appears in Khayyata and Kohlmeyer
1998. Later, Kohlmeyer (2000a) published a small monograph on the temple, where he
(2000a, 5 n.1) indicates that the first volume of the excavations, Qalat Halab-I, is under
preparation and will report on the 1996-1998 campaigns. A detailed archaeological
report on the 1996-1999 seasons appears in Kohlmeyer 2000b. For a plan of the temple
see Kohlmeyer 2000a, Abb. 6; Khayyata and Kohlmeyer 1998, Abb. 3.


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became the hub of a remarkable geography of inter-regional contacts, the Near Eastern supra-regional powers had increasing material
interests in Syria. Only then, the koine of stone masonry gradually
encompassed the Anatolian plateau, the Levantine coast and Cyprus
in particular, but also reached the middle Tigris cities of Assyria. By
the end of the Late Bronze Age, the major entrepreneurial cities of
the eastern Mediterranean, like Ugarit (Ras Shamra) and Ras Ibn
Hani on the Syrian coast, Enkomi and Hala Sultan Tekke on the
eastern coast of Cyprus and the Hittite cities of the Anatolian plateau
like the capital Hattua, its regional centers like apinuwa (Ortaky)
and aria (Kuakl), participated in the inter-regional architectural
practice of using finely dressed ashlar and orthostatic masonry in
large quantities.14 This was carried out on such an extensive and
monumental scale in these urban environments that it is reminiscent
of what William MacDonald (1986, 5) has argued for the Roman
cities of the Mediterranean: an urban armature, in reference to
the complex material manifestation of building technologies forming
the framework for the unmistakable imagery of imperial urbanism. It can be argued that this was possible not only by means of an
operative circulation of architectural knowledge and other artisanal
technologies across these regions (through gift exchange, mobility of
craftsmen, etc.), but also in the form of material manifestoes of the
ruling elite to express royal prestige and cultural interest in the lingua
franca of building practices in stone.15 Andrew and Susan Sherratts
(2001, 20) recent argument that added value was created within
such urbanized technologically more advanced centres of manufacturing can perhaps be applied to the stone-working technologies of
North Syria, where cultural value of the monumental use of stone in
Near Eastern architecture is reconfigured with the introduction of
limestone and basalt orthostats.
The Hittite interest in the North Syrian region, especially directed
at the kingdom of Yamhad, dates back to the military campaigns of
Hattuili I and Murili I in the late seventeenth and early sixteenth
Ashlar masonry is most comprehensively studied in Hult 1983, with particular
emphasis on Late Bronze Cyprus and the Levant.
The historical problem of the Late Bronze Age political contact zones in the Near
East is addressed from a structuralist point of view by Liverani (1990). For the development of an international style in the craftsmanship of prestige goods, see most recently Feldman 2002, with literature.

upright stones and building narratives


centuries BC. Only two centuries later, uppuliliuma I (1344-1322

BC) was the one who consolidated the territorial power of the Hittite empire over this region, with his appointment of his own sons,
arri-kuuh (Piyaili) as a viceroy ruler at Karkami and Telipinu at
Aleppo, presumably as a priest of the Storm God Teub of Halab
(Bryce 1998, 75-102, 195). The prosperous city of Karkami then
became the main center of Hittite presence in North Syria and the
Hittite dynasty there survived the destruction of Hattua at the end
of the Bronze Age.
The fourteenth and thirteenth centuries in North Syria and Hittite
Anatolia provide abundant archaeological evidence for sculpted orthostat programs, mainly associated with temples and city-gates. The
impressive and characteristically unique citadel-gate at the imperial
Hittite city at Alacahyk, excavated by Theodore Macridy in 19061907, is perhaps the earliest narrative program in such scale, even
though the date of its construction is debated.16 The gates double
passageway is flanked by colossal guardian sculpture in the form of
andesite monolithic sphinxes, comparable to the gate sculpture at the
Upper City at Hattua and the unfinished basalt sphinxes of Yesemek
quarry near Tilmen Hyk. On either side of the entrance, however,
the outer and inner faades of the casemate walls have a series of andesite ashlar blocks carved with scenes depicting a particular sacrificial
festival and scenes of hunting.17 The sculpted architectural blocks are
fitted together in at least three courses in a finely bonded cyclopean
technique, which is mostly unknown from the North Syrian Late
Bronze or Iron Age sites .18 Apart from its well known monumental
gate sculpture, the thirteenth century Upper City temples of Hattua
exhibit an even more sophisticated version of cyclopean/coursed
ashlar masonry in combination with uncarved orthostats, featuring
not only megalithic wall socles with oblique or crotched and finely
fitted joints, but also well-cut orthostats (Hult 1983, 42-43). Hattuas
stone blocks were never worked to form flat and dull surfaces but
See Macridy 1908. Naumann (1971, 81-82) prefers a late 13th c. date, while Mellink (1970, 18) rejects this late date.
The narrative subject matter is also known from a number of Hittite relief vases,
especially from Bitik and Inandk (Mellink 1970, 18).
On the Alacahyk relief program, see Mellink 1970, 1974. Mellink (1974, 203)
has already pointed out the architectural character of the relief blocks; Naumann (1971,
79-81) briefly discusses the architectonic aspects of the construction.


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rather usually given a smooth three-dimensionality with bulging and

pillow like surfaces, creating a very distinctive tectonic aesthetic. For
instance, in Temple V, which was built at the time of Tudhaliya IV
(1235-1216 BC) within one of the major cult complexes of the Upper
City and connected with an ancestor cult, well dressed orthostats of
1.80 meters in height are raised on ashlar plinths and line the northern
and eastern faades of the temple as well as a cult-room (Neve 1993,
34-37, Abb. 93, 96; Naumann 1971, 76). According to Neves reconstruction (1993a, Abb. 100-103), a relief orthostat of Tudhaliya IV
was raised above this orthostat level on a column in House A, which
served as one of the ancestor-cult buildings in the same sanctuary.
It seems possible to argue that the flourishing of this masonry and
sculptural tradition under the patronage of Hittite kings especially in
the last two centuries of the Late Bronze Age should be associated in
general terms with the Hittite participation in the architectural koine of
the eastern Mediterranean, and in particular in relation to the intense
Hittite involvement with North Syria at the time.

Appropriation of Representationality: The Transition to Early Iron Age in

North Syria
Recent excavations in two North Syrian sites, namely Ain Dr and
the Aleppo citadel, have further illuminated not only the early formation of the sculpted orthostat programs in cultic contexts but also
thrown light on the problematic cultural transition between the Late
Bronze Age and the Iron Ages in the region. A monumental temple
(possibly to Itar-awuka), decorated with an impressive sculptural
program in basalt and limestone, was excavated between 1980 and
1985 at the Late Bronze-Iron Age settlement on Tell Ain Dr,
about 40 kilometers northwest of Aleppo, overlooking the Afrin valley (Ab Assaf 1990). The director of the excavations, Ab Assaf
(1990, 20-24, 39-41), identifies at least three building phases in the
history of the temple, mostly based on its program of architectural
sculpture, extending from 1300 to 740 BC. The earliest temple, presumably founded sometime in the Late Bronze Age, features a common North Syrian temple plan: it is raised on a limestone platform
with a monumental double-columnar entrance, an ante-cella and a
main cult-room. The architectonic features of the temple are better
understood for the slightly later second phase, when carved steles,

upright stones and building narratives


orthostats and decorated architectural members were introduced to

the corpus of the temple construction.19 The architectural sculpture
of the temple presents several innovations including cultic reliefs, orthostats and stairs inlaid or carved with guilloche patterns. The temple
combines limestone and basalt forming a striking overall material
contrast between the tectonic members in limestone and sculptural
elements in basalt. The last phase of the temple in the Early Iron
Age introduced a corridor-like processional platform all around the
cella and a series of basalt steles erected on limestone bases, as well
as lion and sphinx orthostats and protomes decorated all around the
faade of the temple.
The evidence from the monumental urban temples of Aleppo and
Ain Dr, and the ceremonial gate structures at Alacahyk, Karkami
and Malatya, suggests that the introduction of relief representational
sequences in the form of complex pictorial narratives was principally
associated with cultic performances and urban cult festivals, at least
during the Late Bronze Age. I argue that these festivals usually related to powerful supra-regional cults of Tarhunzas, Storm God of
the Syro-Hittite world, or Ninurta in Assyria, whose religious ideologies were always enmeshed with ideologies of the ruling elite and
state ceremonialism. This idea is strongly supported by the fact that
especially in Kalhu and Karkami, the orthostat programs eventually
became a domain of historical commemorations of the ruling elite
during the Early Iron Age as much as they maintained their cultic
and mytho-poetical significance. This intersection of ritual and stately
ceremonialism of official ideologies is common to both Syro-Hittite
and Assyrian relief programs.
Throughout the tenth and early ninth centuries BC, a new wave
of urban foundations and large scale building activities is attested in
Syro-Hittite realm, where novel architectural forms were introduced to

Ab Assaf dates the sculptural program of the temple based on stylistic criteria and concludes that the first stylistic group that includes the mountain-god relief-orthostats (E1-7) dates to 13th-12th c., while the second group, which covers the lion and
sphinx protomes (C 5-26 and 31-42) and the reliefs D 1-4 of the ante-cella (i.e. the relief
of the mountain-god with upward turned toes, orthostats with guilloche pattern false
window) dates to 10th c. BC. Problems for this art historical dating have been pointed
out already, particularly concerning the Itar-awuka relief (Orthmann 1993; Zimansky 2002). Ab Assaf himself has accepted that at least some of the reliefs found at Ain
Dr should be associated with the imperial Hittite realm, rather than Iron Age SyroHittite styles, and therefore should date to the 13th-12th c. BC.


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the urban landscapes. An outstanding aspect of these projects was the

construction of ceremonial urban ensembles that contained temples,
palaces and monumental gates. The tenth and ninth century programs
are especially well known from the sites Zincirli, Tell Halaf, Hama,
Tell Tayinat and Malatya. In the Early Iron Age urban landscapes,
the city or citadel gate was a ritually strategic, ceremonially significant part of the urban sacred and political landscape and construed
collectively as a liminal space to be protected for the well-being of the
city. Beyond the city gates, the archaeological evidence from Early
Iron Age Karkami offers an even more comprehensive picture of
how these orthostat programs transformed the entire city-scape into
a coherent spatial narrative. The urban renewal program carried out
by the Suhis-Katuwas dynasty at Karkami during the tenth century
and early ninth century BC is significant, owing to the complexity of
the building operations in this Early Iron Age city and the wealth of
epigraphic material that comes from the site. The monumentalized
public space of Karkami was exuberantly animated with several
programs of carved basalt and limestone orthostats and architectural
sculpture, punctuated with monumental inscriptions in hieroglyphic
Luwian, monuments to ancestor cults, as well as narrative scenes of
military and cultic subject matter. In one building inscription found
in the so-called Kings Gate, Katuwas, the early ninth century Karkamiean king, gives us an important understanding of the architectural
context and the cultural significance of orthostats.20
4.11 mu-pa-wa/i-pi-naLINGERE-sa-ti kar-ka-mi-si-za(URBS)
But I myself then constructed (?) the temple(s) with luxury for Karkamiean Tarhunzas
4.12 wa/i-t-ta- PANIS(-)ara/i-si-na PONERE-wa/i-ha
for him I established ARASI-bread.
4.13 |za-ia-ha-wa/i PORTA-la/i/u-na -ma |AVUS-ti-ia mu-|PRAEna CRUS.CRUS-ta
And these gates (of) my grandfathers passed down to me
4.14 a-wa/i PURUS-MI-ia DEUS.DOMUS-sa(?) ku-ma-na
Hawkins 2000, I.1: 95-96, Text II.9. Karkami A11a (A8). The orthostat is now
fragmentary, largely in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara (nos. 10900a-h),
with one fragment in the British Museum (BM 117916). It is a basalt orthostat in
the form of a rebated door jamb for right side of entrance bearing 7 line inscription
(Hawkins 2000, I.1: 94).

upright stones and building narratives


When I built the holies of the temple (OR: the Holy (one)s temple)
4.15 wa/i-mu-t-|za-zi (SCALPRUM)ku-ta-sa5+ra/i-zi |POST-n||
5.15 |PES-wa/i-ta
these orthostats came after me,
5.16 a-wa/i za-ia PORTA-na |SCALPRUM-sa5+ra/i-ha
these gates I orthostated
5.17 wa/i-t- |FRONS-la/i/u ARGENTUM.DARE-si-ia sa-t-
they were foremost in(?) cost(?) (very costly?)
5.18 wa/i-t- LIGNUM-wa/i-ia-ti AEDIFICARE+MI-ha
I built them (also) with wood
5.19|za-zi-pa-wa/i (DOMUS)ha + ra/i-s-t-ni-zi a-na-ia BONUS-sa-mi-i
FEMINA-ti-i DOMUS + SCALA(-)t-wa/i-ni-zi i-zi-i-ha
and these upper floors for Anas my beloved wife as TAWANI-apartments
I made...

Orthostats appear in this fascinating text not simply as components

of an outstanding architectural ensemble but as personified powerful agents who bolstered the kings socio-political power. Moreover,
their cultural power and their social significance are not at all tied
solely to the pictorial and textual narratives inscribed on them: their
efficacy derives precisely from their materiality, their architectonic
disposition in the form of a prestigious technology. The cumulative
evidence suggests that the transformation of such orthostatic surfaces
into surfaces of representation and surfaces of performativity coincides precisely with the production of urban spaces in the Early Iron
Age, the comprehensive program of new urban foundations. Complex narrative schemes of the Early Iron Age monumental projects
built their significance over the previously existing practice and the
tectonic culture of raising orthostats as a symbolic technology. Still,
the articulation of the relief representations in a complex mixture of
historical commemorations, state ceremonies and ritual spectacles that
continuously refer to a mytho-poetical past appears to be a striking
innovation of Early Iron Age artisans in Assyria and Syro-Hittite

Tiglath-pileser I: Middle Assyrian Orthostats and the Idea of

Analogous to the Syro-Hititte practices of raising commemorative
monuments, Middle and Late Assyrian kings also erected carved


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and inscribed public monuments in the medium of stone, however,

mainly in the form of symbol socles, steles, obelisks, and rock reliefs. These commemorative monuments delineated public spaces of
the Assyrian cities and marked the landscapes of contested frontiers
with a calculated (re)presentation of royal and religious imagery. As
mentioned earlier, other representational techniques of monumental
display, such as bronze architectural friezes, glazed brick paneling
and wall painting in architectural contexts, should be added to the
list of narrative media. These various architectural representations
were raised as commemorations following specific historical events,
such as a military campaign or a building project, and presented the
geography of the empire in the form of a narrativized map, a spatial
narrative. This was accomplished not only literally by means of the
pictorial narratives themselves, but also through the performative acts
of erecting these monuments at specific locations at specific historical
moments, which then weaved the landscapes into a narrative through
the establishment of sites of memory.
Tiglath-pileser (Tukulti-pil-earra) I (1114-1076 BC) is known to
have carved a series of rock reliefs during his campaigns to eastern
Anatolia, one at the so-called source of the Tigris, modern Birklinay source near Lice in the Diyarbakr province of Turkey, as well as
others in Yoncal on the Murat River, north of Lake Van near the
Malazgirt plain in eastern Turkey. The carving of display monuments
were culminating moments in the course of the kings expedition: they
marked strategic locations in the foreign/frontier landscapes, created
places of imperial ritual to be frequented and reaffirmed by future
generations and locals, and celebrated a significant political and economic accomplishment. The Birklinay (Tigris Tunnel) rock relief
of Tiglath-pileser I was later visited by Shalmaneser III, who not only
had his craftsmen carve his own image and inscriptions at the same
site, but also represented this commemorative event in the narrative
relief program of his Mamu temple gate bronze reliefs at Imgur-Enlil
(modern Balawat) and additionally mentioned it in his annals.21
Textual evidence for the use of orthostats and gate sculpture in late
Middle Assyrian architecture comes from the annals of Tiglath-pileser


For a survey of references to the Birklinay monument in Shalmaneser IIIs

annals, see Yamada 2000, 281-283, 291-92; Shafer 1998, 191-201.

upright stones and building narratives


I. Tiglath-pileser Is reign stands as an important period in the later

section of Middle Assyrian history, not only in terms of the political
expansion of Assyrian presence in Upper Mesopotamia, but also due
to a series of innovations in the cultural sphere. During his rule, the
writing of annals on clay cylinders and prisms took shape and, for
the first time, military expeditions were presented in a new narrative
format in chronological order, accompanied by the accounts of royal
hunts and building activities.22 His annals record that he campaigned
extensively to the west and north of Assyria. In his campaign to the
land of Amurru, during which he crossed the Euphrates, he defeated
the so-called Ahlamu-Aramaeans, ritually washed his weapons in
the Upper Sea (Mediterranean), felled logs of cedar from the Cedar
Mountain, and imposed tribute over Ini-Teub of Karkami, king of
Hatti (Hawkins 1982, 380). During his expeditions to the north and
west, Tiglath-pileser I went twice to the city of Melidia (Malatya), once
during his return from the land of Dayeni (fourth campaign) and the
second time during his return from the Mediterranean, and received
tribute from the king Allumari (Hawkins 2000, I.1: 283). His annals
provide solid evidence that the king had seen the Syro-Hittite cities
in existence in the early eleventh century BC, including Melidia and
Karkami with their flourishing orthostat programs.
In an interesting text restored from a number of clay and stone
tablets and a clay prism excavated from Aur, Tiglath-pileser I describes his reconstruction of the bt ahru and bt labbnu of a cultic
complex. Among the variety of details concerning their architectural
technology, he claims to have provided stone revetments for these
cult rooms and gate sculpture:23
61-62)... i-na si-te-et GI e-re-ni a-hu-ri a-tu-nu i-tu u-e-u a-di gabadib-be-u ar-ip
...with this (same) cedar wood, I constructed those bt ahru from foundations to crenellations
63) i-na a-gr-ri a NA4.AD.BAR a-na si-hr-ti-u al-mi la-bu-ni a puti-u
Tadmor (1997, 327) suggests that two literary genres of the time period were
blended together by the scribes of Tiglath-pileser Is court: the heroic epic and the
The text is translated most recently by Grayson 1991, 38-45, text A.0.87.4. I followed this translation mostly with some rewording. It was originally collated, translated
and published by Weidner (1958, 347-59)


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I surrounded it all around with slabs of basalt. Bt labbnu, opposite to
64) i-na GI bu-u-ni i-tu u-e-u a-di gaba-dib-be-u ar-ip i-na a-gr-ri a
I constructed of terebinth from foundations to crenellations. With slabs
of limestone
65) pa-e-e a-na si-hr-ti-u al-mi .GAL-la u-a-ti i-na GI e-re-ni
I surrounded it all around. This palace of cedar
66) GI bu-uni ar-sip -k-lil -r-rih -si-im
and terebinth I constructed, completed perfectly and made its appropriate decor splendid.
67) na-hi -ra a ANE.KUR.RA a A.AB.BA i-qa-bi-u--ni pa-ri-an-gi
ep-et qa-ti-ya
a nahiru, which means a sea-horse, with a pariangu (harpoon?) of my
own making
ME EN.ME-ya i-na A.AB.BA
which by the command of the gods Ninurta and Nergal, great gods,
my lords, in the [Great] Sea
69) [(rabte) a mt a]-mur-ri a-du-ku-ni bur-hi-i ba-al-a a i-tu KUR luma-
[of the land of A]murru, I killed; and a live burhi, which was transported
from the land of Luma
70) [...]-te am-mi-te a KUR hab-hi na-u--ni tam-i-li-u-nu a NA4.AD.BAR
[...] the other side of the land Habhu. I made their representations in
71) [ina nrib arr]-ti-ya im-na u-me-la -a-zi-iz
I stationed them on the right and left [at my ro]yal [entrance].

This is a rich text and it is hard to do justice to its historical significance within the limits of my discussion here. Later in the same
text, the king refers to another palace, of boxwood this time, which
he surrounds with slabs of ginugallu stone and deposits his royal inscriptions within. From the variety of stones that are being used
in these monumental buildings and from the implication that they
were conspicuously displayed, the agurru can be understood here as
orthostats.24 Even more interesting is the description of the apotro24
CAD s.v. agurru. Originally kiln-fired brick. When used with a stone determinative followed with a type of stone, it is attested as paving stone, tile (of stone), slab
in inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser I, Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. The alternative word

upright stones and building narratives


paic sculpture that is erected at a royal entrance: basalt replicas of

exotic monsters, a nahiru and a burhi, acquisitions from the kings
campaigns in foreign territories, are reproduced in basalt, a stone that
is not found easily around Aur and had to be imported (Moorey
1994, 345-346). A significant number of basalt fragments of animal
sculptures and inscribed slabs of Tiglath-pileser I were excavated
at Aur during Walter Andraes expedition at the site of the kings
palace in 1905 (Grayson 1991, 62).25 One of the now-lost inscriptions from this collection was edited by Grayson (1991, 62-63, text
A.0.87. 17) and reads:
(Property of) the palace of Tiglath-[pileser, king of] Assyria, conqueror
[from] Babylon [of the Land of Akkad] to Mount Lebanon [to the Great]
Sea [of the land Amurru and] the sea [of the land(s) Nairi, builder of]
the cedar [palace].

The alternating use of limestone and basalt as orthostats, the idea

of erecting gate sculpture as replicas of animals that were victims of
the kings royal hunt in the west, carved in basalt as they were in the
west, as well as the historical context of the inscription, all suggest that
Tiglath-pileser I is making reference to the architectural technologies
of the Syro-Hittite cities that he had visited in his campaigns. The
text should be read as an ideological statement of the king that expresses the incorporation of an architectural technique and material
of a particular foreign cultural domain into a building program that
he initiates at the Assyrian capital, and should be understood along
the same lines as later Assyrian kings who imported the bt hilni, an
architectural feature from an expressly North Syrian domain. It is
then possible to argue that Assyria was already participating in the
architectural koine of raising orthostats, as much as the royal rhetorics
that is shaped around its cultural significance in Upper Syro-Mesopotamia in the making, throughout those transitional decades from
the end of the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Iron Age.

askuppu was later adapted from the time of Tiglath-pileser III onwards, to be used for
upright slabs in architectural contexts (CAD s.v. askuppu).
For a brief description of the inscribed pieces, see Andrae 1905, 52-56. For pictures of these sculptural fragments, see Weidner 1958, 357-358, Abb. 1-5. See discussion on the nahiru and burhi statues in Weidners commentary (1958, 355-359) to his
edition of the text. On this topic, see now Briquel-Chatonnet and Bordreuil 2000.


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Concluding Remarks

This discussion aimed at bringing to the forefront the complexity of

archaeological and literary evidence regarding commemorative monuments in the Upper Mesopotamian Iron Age and their interpretation
in the relevant cross-cultural contexts. The practices of historical
commemoration in buildings make use of socially recognized systems
of representation, both textual and pictorial, and operate at a societal
level of historical consciousness and collective memory. The monuments themselves make the space speak, being laden with cultural
references and historical representations and creating topographies
of remembrance (Jonker 1995) and sites of memory (Nora 1989).
Repeated social practices that involve such public monuments maintain the mental maps of this historicized topography. Monuments
often commemorate particular historical events of major socio-political significance, and the narrative accounts of their representational
program negotiate the conceptual relationship between society and
history. However, as seen in several cases such as Assurnasirpal IIs
Northwest Palace or Katuwass temple to Tarhunzas at Karkami, the
erection of the monument becomes a historically conspicuous event
itself. Among other levels of meaning, they also commemorate their
own making through the celebratory building inscriptions inscribed
on them. The metaphorical language of monuments, therefore, is not
limited to the pictorial and textual narratives that the monuments
may offer. As it was argued throughout this discussion, construction
materials and techniquesthe tectonic qualities of buildingsbecome part and parcel of the metaphorical vocabulary of architectural
The study of commemorative practices comes with dichotomies of
its own: on the one hand, commemorative monuments are usually
considered as ideological statements of the ruling elite, thereby serving as vehicles of securing social prestige and political power, while
the historical narrativity in their pictorial and textual representations
aligns with the particular rhetorics of rulership. On the other hand,
if one considers that rhetorical acts of the ruling ideology effectively
constitute culture and confer meaning on the world (Holliday 2002,
xx-xxi), the production of monuments as a social practice can not be
disengaged from the cultural practices of the society. Therefore, a
balanced view of monumental buildings should be sought, between

upright stones and building narratives


imperial practices of commemoration as symbolically charged gestures

and artisanal practices that create their own corpus of skilled knowledge and operate in regional and supra-regional levels.
This question conveniently brings us to the problem regarding the
Assyrian orthostatic tradition, formulated elegantly by Irene Winter
(1993): the fine distinction between supra-regional sharing of artisanal
practices through the circulation of skilled knowledge and the conscious
borrowing of culturally significant foreign elements in a symbolically
charged rhetorical gesture of the ruling elite. My argument here is
that the Assyrian involvement in the architectural practice of raising
orthostats should be read in various levels of meaning, where both of
the above mentioned phenomena were operative. The survey of the
long-term development of orthostats in the context of Near Eastern
architecture demonstrated that this construction technique not only
changed in physical form and architectural context, but also in its
cultural meanings in different regions and time periods. Nevertheless,
it remained a component of prestigious architecture and commemorative monuments; therefore, the skilled knowledge of the making of
orthostats circulated cross-culturally and extra-regionally as a highly
esteemed architectural technique. Assyria was an important participant in this koine of stone masonry, especially after the administrative
center of the empire was shifted to the stone-rich environments of the
Ninuwa-Kalhu region. The Assyrian contribution to the representational use of orthostats was spectacular. Archaeological and textual
evidence demonstrate that Assurnasirpal IIs reign certainly involved
experimentations and innovations in building technology in the context
of his new foundation at Kalhu and his large-scale building projects.
Otherwise, not only the construction technique of raising orthostats
was known to Assyrian monarchs, at the latest from Tiglath-pileser I
onward, but also its symbolic significance was commented upon. In
the building accounts of Tiglath-pileser I, the accomplishment of raising orthostats was presented as symbolic capital, that is, the material
acquisition of a particularly prestigious material resource as well as
the craftsmanship associated with it. The innovative moments in Assyrian history such as the reigns of Tiglath-pileser I and Assurnasirpal
II should be considered in the context of long-term supra-regional
networks of cultural interaction and circulation of artisanal knowledge,
as well as with respect to the shared power rhetorics among the ruling
elites of regional polities.


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The initiation of orthostat relief programs functioned on multiple

levels of social signification and material practice in the earlier part
of the Iron Age. First and foremost, having started as a prestigious
architectural practice in the Middle Bronze Age, orthostats were transformed into a pervasive feature of the urban fabric in the refounded
cities of the Early Iron Age, coinciding with the significant shifts in
the ideological and socio-economic structures of the new Syro-Hittite cities. The innovative technological style of finely worked and
pictorially articulated stone surfaces brought in a renewed concept
of ceremonialized public spaces. Looking at this orthostat evidence,
I agree with David Summers (2003), who recently argued that social
spaces are explicitly bounded and distinguished by the technologies of
their production, which he calls facture. The imaginative handling
of distinct materials through skilful work therefore transforms the site
of a building project into a site of material elaboration, and assembles
a world of artisanal knowledge around it, that is, physically inscribed
in the social space and thus configures the collective imagination with
its material significations. Technology or facture dwells in social spaces
as one component of their multiple and complex meanings; it bounds
and marks them for long durations and continuously commemorates
their own making.
The making of orthostatic surfaces into surfaces of representation
and surfaces of performativity coincides precisely with the production
of urban spaces in the Early Iron Age, the comprehensive program
of new urban foundations. Complex narrative schemes of the Early
Iron Age projects built their significance over the previously existing
practice of raising orthostats as a symbolic technology. Or to put
it in another way, representationality and narrativity, as forms of
socio-symbolic value, were appropriated by the architectonic culture
of upright stones. The configuration of the relief representations on
upright stones, with a complex mixture of historical commemorations, ritual ceremonies and state spectacles that continuously refer
to a mytho-poetical past, constituted building narratives in the social
space and effectively shaped the collective imagination.

upright stones and building narratives


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upright stones and building narratives


Figure 1. Tilmen Hyk, Middle Bronze Age palace, system section through northwestern faade orthostats. (Drawing by author with the permission of Refik Duru).

Figure 2. North Syria with sites mentioned in the text. (Base map: MODIS Rapid Response Project, NASA/

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upright stones and building narratives


Figure 3. Yamhad (Aleppo), Middle Bronze Age temple orthostats, general view.
(Photo by author, summer 2002, courtesy of Kay Kohlmeyer)


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Figure 4. Yamhad (Aleppo), Middle Bronze Age temple orthostats, detail (Photo by
author, summer 2002, courtesy of Kay Kohlmeyer)

Figure 5. Yamhad (Aleppo), Middle Bronze Age temple orthostats, detail (Photo by author, summer
2002, courtesy of Kay Kohlmeyer)

upright stones and building narratives



. harmanah

blurring the edges



Stephanie Reed
The imperial art of Neo-Assyria is famously violentbattle narratives
lined the palace walls in order to awe the spectator with the power of
the king and the state. Like any good story, the Neo-Assyrian narratives contain overt and subtle elements that create thematic tension:
alongside glorified depictions of the conquering Assyrians are less
conspicuous, but intriguing portraits of the vanquished. These images
not only draw the viewer into the action, but can also evoke varied
and complex responses.2 In Nineveh, during the reigns of Sennacherib
(705-681 B.C.) and Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.), the palace sculptures
I am honored to contribute to this volume in honor of Irene Winter, my teacher
and surrogate advisor, who has gifted me with the boundless generosity and devotion
she bestows upon each of her students. The original version of this paper was developed
for her seminar on cross-cultural aesthetics (Harvard University, 2005). Irene continues
to inspire my deepest gratitude and admiration, and I can only hope that maturing versions of this study will complement her own pioneering approach to Neo-Assyrian art.
I am also grateful to Tuba Tanyeri-Erdemir, mr Harmanah, and Jack Cheng,
whose insights were indispensable to this paper, and to Peter Machinist, for the gift of
his personal bibliographical sources.
I refer to both the modern and ancient viewer, while recognizing the problematic nature of audience and the difficulties of evaluating aesthetic response. How do we
begin to compare modern encounters with the reliefs to those of the Assyrians themselves? Winter (2002, 18) summarizes that when approaching aesthetics, the cultural
and the social must be engaged as necessary variables between the subject and the species. For both audiences, reactions to particular stimuli would derive from the individuals socio-historical situation and personal experiences (see note 3 below). Though we
lack contemporary Assyrian accounts of the sculptures visual effectiveness, the palace
reliefs, not to mention the very nature of Mesopotamian art, provide insight into Assyrian aesthetic value. There is an emphasis upon ornament or auspicious objects, exotic
otherness (whether man or beast), in movement or action sequences, descriptive clarity and design symmetry. These attributes reflect cultural ideals of beauty, designed
to produce the desired affect in the intended audience. Given the variety of individuals who may have viewed the reliefs, we can surmise that even variations of fear and
awe would fail to capture the full range of responses (see Winter 1998, esp. 66-67 on
style and affective agency; 2002 on the language of Mesopotamian aesthetic


s. reed

reached new levels of novelty, complexity and sensitivity; aspects that

may go unobserved to those more accustomed to Western narrative
From a modern perspective, the artistic treatment of Assyrias opponents, especially in the reign of Ashurbanipal, suggests conflicting
perceptions of the enemy, which may indicate conflicting motivational
values at work within imperial propaganda. The violent sculptural
themes reflect the kings struggle to maintain as well as justify his
realm; and while the palace narratives give the impression of extreme
confidence in Assyrias invincibility, they nonetheless contain traces
of an existential uncertainty that pervades Mesopotamian thought
(see Bottero 2001; Frankfort 1971, 262-274; Jacobsen 1977, 202-219;
Oppenheim 1964). I will argue that the complexity of Assyrian royal
ideology is evident in depictions of foreign captives that are not purely
hostile and demeaning but suggest an element of good shepherd
protectiveness. These emotive images are found within scenarios of
human interaction or familial relationships. At the same time, they
are often juxtaposed with elements that imply imminent danger or
death, leaving authorial intent ambiguous, and allowing for multiple
The examples provided below are primarily excerpts from the battle
narratives of Ashurbanipal. Most are minor representations of Assyrian war victims within a relief sequence, or vignettes. The vignettes layer
various episodes within the narrative that enhance the larger story,
A useful source for the ancient Assyrian audience is Russells (1991) analysis of Sennacheribs palace sculptures, their intent, and how Assyrian elites and visitors to the palace might have received them.
The essential sources for Neo-Assyrian sculpture are listed in Iraq 34 (Reade 1972,
112). For the full corpus of sculptures from the Southwest and North Palaces, see Barnett (1976) and Barnett et al. (1998).
Winter (2002) outlines the problems of European aesthetic scholarship and its hindrances to reconstructing a non-Western aesthetic experience. The influence of this intellectual heritage is evident in cases where scholars found Assyrian art to be deficient
as true narrative: the standardized, lifeless human figures failed to meet a Western ideal of reality, where individual human features and emotions can be distinguished
(Bersani and Dutoit 1985, 7). Thus scholars concluded that Assyrian art lacked human
relations, and without a variety of expression, the reliefs could not produce a powerful emotional response in the viewer (e.g. Strommenger 1964, 10-11; Parrot 1961,
12-13). These individuals, accustomed to traditional Western hierarchies of art and
beauty, saw bland repetition in a style that adhered to an Assyrian aesthetic ideal,
expressed by symmetry and traditionalized human forms (see Albenda 1998, 30; Reade
1979, 331; Winter 1981, 10; 1995).

blurring the edges


and create subtle associations in the mind of the viewer. Due to the
stylistic conventions of Assyrian art, human faces and bodies were
generally standardized and rendered in traditional Mesopotamian
profiles. Due to the lack of individualized human features, some
scholars have found that Assyrian art lacked emotive expression (see
note 2); but the vignettes utilize postures and gestures, and perceptive,
true-to-life details that contribute to the emotional character of the
episode. The vignette seems to be a particularly appropriate viewing
methodology for our purposes, since one of its definitions is an
image with no definite border, but its edges are gradually faded into
the background (Websters New World Dictionary). I will address this
aspect in more detail in the next section, and suggest that blurred
edges in the vignettes create startling irregularities that add tension
to the narratives, keeping the viewer off-balance and in anticipation
(or perhaps apprehension) of the next act. In my view, the narrative
function of these images is nonetheless subservient to their larger
ideological implications, and within these vignettes lies the underlying
power of the palace reliefs.

Blurring the Edges

Beginning in the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), the Assyrian
kings developed a unique form of sculptural narrative in ancient Mesopotamia. The palace reliefs commonly document the kings activities,
selected battles, and episodes of Assyrian life, especially on campaign.
The ideology of the Assyrian kings lay in the stories they toldand
what is a more riveting vehicle than action sequences? Leo Bersani
and Ulysse Dutoit (1985, 64) observe that in Assyrian palace reliefs,
visual analogies are subverted by the obstacles we encounter. In other
words, to make connections between images, we must pass through
interesting space which diverts us from the connection...[T]hey touch,
ultimately, through the mediation of other forms. Incongruous images can be used to arrest our attention, and force awareness of the
overall context and subtle complexities of the narrative. Marcel Proust
(1924) observed that the cultivation of illusion required the artist to
obscure the edges of demarcation, so that passing between images
created a sense of constant movement. Only then would the viewer
grasp the essence of the work, or apprehend the commonalities
between objects, space and time that perhaps should not logically


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connect. Bersani and Dutoit (1985, 63) summarize Prousts argument

as follows:
The writer and painter should deliberately cultivate those illusions which
blur the distinctness of individual objects. For each such illusion may be
the sign of a hidden quality common to different objects (or to different moments of time) . . . The demarcations between past and present,
between land and sea, fade; juxtaposed objects are fused in a transcendental identity; and the heterogeneous space of human life would be
replaced by a unifying, homogenous space of essences.

Proust believed that the goal of art was to recapture the errors of
our original vision by the creation of this constant movement between
melded boundaries. In his psychic space between the terms of all
relations (or for example, between events in the narratives), Proust
found that there can also be a detemporalizing essence, or a past
sensation that invades the present, leaving the viewer somewhere in
These arguments point to the power of minor irregularities that
distort the frames of contrasting spaces, marking commonalties where
they might otherwise be obscured, and creating narrative depth. By
blurring the borders of multiple vignettes, the artist can move the
viewers gaze between elements in the narrative that are seemingly
contradictory, producing ambiguous readings and suggesting multiple
In the battle reliefs, the border of a vignette of foreign captives
often seems to be a suggestive marker between the captives and an
alternate fate. A recurring border for instance is the Assyrian solider,
who alternately watches over the civilian captivesexiles who will
be relocated to other Assyrian landsand/or the enemy soldiers
who are being roughly treated, even killed, in the space beyond. The
soldiers purpose then becomes open to question: to which scenario
does he truly belong; and is he guard, or could he be guardian?
In some cases, where we only have a portion of a relief sequence,
the borders of a scene are enforced; creating associations that may
or may not be true to the original narrative (see below, the Minor

blurring the edges


Assyria and Its Enemies

Neo-Assyrian kings were anxious to prove their own worthiness and
surpass the achievements of their predecessors. Thus each new palace
contained its own corpus of personal propaganda, with themes designed to emphasize a specific royal persona. The scenes are largely
commemorative, created with specific details that lend authenticity
to the historical moment (Russell 1991, 256).4 This propensity for
distinguishing details also extends to the rendering of foreign peoples.
Julian Reade (1979, 334-335) comments, in one respect...[foreigners]
are all treated alike: tremendous care is taken to represent them, their
cultural and sometimes physical characteristics, and the landscapes in
which they live...[A] receptive attitude is implicit in the sculptures.
Assyrias general interest in novelty or otherness appears in both
text and image; when viewing the reliefs, Reade (1979, n. 12) recalls
Leo Oppenheims commentary on the account of Sargons eighth
The text addresses itself at an audience really interested in learning about
foreign peoples, their way of life, their religion and customs...[T]he attitude just described indicates an audience sure of itself, deeply imbued
with a conscious tradition of native origin but, at the same time, aware
of the existence of other traditions without reacting to them so intensely
as to evolve patterns of either aggression or fossilizing self-isolation.

As Oppenheim observes, the figures of the defeated seem to be treated

with a rather detached scrutiny, but their prevalence, and the artists
attention to detail, suggests that the Assyrians were not indifferent to
the plight of the conquered. The reason for this is perhaps multivalent: an inherent interest in otherness, the potential contributions
of deportees to the Assyrian state, and an ideological component
manifest in royal hymns and inscriptions, in which one of the kings
roles is pious shepherd, or protector of the weak (see Livingstone
1997; Oded 1992; Saggs 1982). 5
There is nonetheless an ideological end to the historicity of the representations
(Winter 1981, 3). For instance, the Assyrians depict only successful battles, and only the
enemy can be shown wounded or killed. The narratives may contain elements of suspense, but the eventual Assyrian victory is a foregone conclusion.
On the scale of Assyrian deportations and the resettlement of foreigners, see B.
Oded (1979; 1992). Tiglath-Pileser III asserts that he added countless people to the
land of Assyria, and continuously herded them in safe pastures (Tadmor 1994, 105


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If we take the reliefs at face value, the various representations of

the defeated can be viewed as another element of royal propaganda,
a political tool used to contrast the misery and simplicity of these societies with the strength, sophistication and general superiority of the
Assyrians. Indeed, conquered peoples are often shown humbled and
subservient, their hands upraised and beseeching their captors, and
sometimes performing forced labor. 6 Artists illustrate the torture and
death of enemy soldiers and/or their leaders, while the Assyrian army
razes its weakened city (for example, figures 1, 2, 11). The Assyrian
narratives told a cautionary tale: in order to dissuade disloyalty and
rebellion by foreigners and courtiers alike (Russell 1991, 256), the
artists displayed the atrocities incurred by the enemy with a rather
macabre relish. Certain peoples were treated with greater or lesser
consideration and uncooperative nomadic peoples, for instance, seem
to have fallen in the latter category.7
In the aftermath of battle, Assyrias policy in dealing with the defeated was generally commensurate with the historical cooperation of
the foreign state and the category of allegiance to which it belonged
(see Reade 1979, 334). Severe punishment, meaning the public execution of local dignitaries, forced labor, or the elimination of an entire
people, was the exception rather than the rule, occurring in cases of
particularly recalcitrant tribes or rebellious tributary states (Reade
1979, 334; Saggs 1982). Sennacheribs destruction of Lachish, and the
consequences to its people, is a famous example of what happened
when tributary states rebelled against their Assyrian overlords.8
col. II B, 15-24; see also Oded 1992, 36-38). Correspondence between the king and his
officials also indicate the Assyrian governments concern for war prisoners, or hubtnu;
reports contain instructions to provide prisoners with footwear, cattle and sheep, and
even wives (Saggs 1982, 91-92). Saggs (1982, 92) remarks here,
Whilst this [the treatment of captives] certainly does not suggest any abstract
concern for human life, it does indicate a complete lack of racialism; senior Assyrian administrators and foreign war-prisoners were not thought of as beings in
different categories, and the life of the Assyrian administrator might be required
if any of the prisoners came to harm by his negligence...except for those guilty of
some specific offense against the state, the kings duty was to shepherd all peoples equally.
In the Southwest Palace, Sennacherib illustrates the quarrying and transport of a
human-headed winged bull by gangs of foreign prisoners (Reade 1998, fig. 51).
An image from Ashurbanipal shows Assyrian soldiers in their battle encampment,
assaulting the women of an unruly Arab tribe (Reade 1979, fig. 10).
After the battle of Lachish, processions of captives are shown marching along a
rocky landscape with the Assyrian army. A few soldiers carry looted items from the be-

blurring the edges


The battle narratives were primarily concerned, however, with

commemorating an Assyrian victory, and war victims, in their varied
states, were the proofs of that victory; civilian captives, in my opinion,
are not consistently, nor perhaps even intentionally, demeaned. There
are several instances in which an exceptional rendering by the artist
provides a figure with subtle dignity (for example, figure 4), indicating close observation of the subject, and moreover, that the ideology
behind portraits of Assyrian captives is not so straightforward. In the
reliefs, there seems to be a distinction made between pictures of the
actual enemymeaning the foreign king, his officials and soldiers, and
the civiliansforeign peoples subject to the fate of their city-state. In
Assyrian terms, war was morally and ethically justified as a crusade
against the foreign monarch whose rebellious acts made him unfit to
govern his peoples. Campaigns were launched in order to defend the
subjects of a foreign country against the unjust sovereign ... through
the agency of war he [the Assyrian king] sets right the injustice committed by the transgressors (Oded 1992, 37-38). Foreign subjects,
rid of their oppressors, came under the protection of the arru knu,
rim knti true king, lover of justice (Oded 1992, 38). As we will
see, the narratives often juxtapose two groups of Assyrian victims,
showing vignettes of relatively well-treated civilians next to harshly
treated prisoners. The borders of adjacent vignettes can be blurred
via artistic devices or irregular scenic elements, drawing attention to
two versions of imperial justice.
The Minor Images: Assyrian Captive Vignettes
Some of the most striking aspects of the Assyrian campaign sequences
are the realistic details, revealing the activities of the Assyrians and
their opponents within the midst of warfare. Many intricate reliefs
capture the climax of the battle, showing the Assyrian army besieging a fortified city with arrows and battering rams, while firebrands
sieged city (Reade 1998, fig. 68). Toward the front of the procession, male prisoners
stand before Assyrian officials, humbly bent forward from the waist, their hands upraised and signifying their distress. Families carrying their possessions follow, with small
children clinging to the skirts of their parents. In front of the exiles, two local dignitaries
are flayed while others are beheaded for their roles in the rebellion (Reade 1979, 334).
The artist shows the relatively well-treated families with the tortured rebels, and deftly
incorporates bodily postures and gestures to convey the captives fear and anxiety.


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rain down from above. An example from Sennacheribs assault of

Lachish depicts three enemy dead impaled on staves in the lower right
foreground, and in the center of the fighting, a small row of captives
file out of the walled fortress carrying their possessions (figure 1).9
A comparable scene from the reign of Ashurbanipal shows the Assyrian army toppling Egyptian soldiers from their defenses, collecting
enemy heads, and setting fire to the city (figure 2). In the center of
this image, a procession of enemy warriors emerges from a tower gate,
interrupting the battle scene by breaking the dividing line between
the upper and lower registers. The curving groundline beneath the
procession diverts the viewers eyes downward and toward the left,
where the warriors are bound and led away by Assyrian soldierstwo
of whom triumphantly hoist the decapitated heads of fallen Egyptians.
This procession is contrasted with a row of civilian exiles on the far
right. The individual leading the group carries a basket pole that
merges into the line of doomed warriors, fusing the two processions,
and blurring the lines between exile and (presumed) execution for the
soldiers. The innocents are facing the warriors: their focus, and ours,
is guided toward the harsher punishment of Egypts defenders. Yet
among the group of exiles is another vignette that distracts from the
spectacle of Assyrias revenge two small children are riding out on
a donkey, both of whom nervously turn back toward their father
(figure 3). This man guides the animal from behind with one hand,
and balances a bundle upon his head with the other.10 The little ones
are either looking toward their father for comfort, or alternatively, are
distracted by a child seen just beyond this group, riding on another
mans shoulders. The man is holding one of the little boys legs against
him, but with his other hand, he lifts the boys arm up in the direction
of the other children, perhaps in order to greet them.
In Assyrian narratives, the civilian peoples of a besieged city are
often shown in this manner, ostensibly in the process of relocation
to other parts of the empire. As they march with their families and
meager belongings, the artists depict mothers nursing their babies,
Sennacherib reports (perhaps with exaggeration) that he deported 200,150 people
for resettlement after this campaign (Reade 1998, 48).
Cf. Barnett et al. (1998, pl. 246), where a Chaldaean family is pictured in a similar manner: a woman sits upon a donkey with a naked male (?) child riding behind her,
his arms wrapped around her waist. The father walks behind, grasping the tail of the
donkey. This excerpt, like figure 4 of this article, is from the marsh battle sequence
from the Southwest Palace, but is attributed to Ashurbanipal. See below, note 13.

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and fathers carrying older children upon their shoulders.11 A wellknown, sensitively carved image from Ashurbanipal shows a Chaldaean woman on the march, stopping to give her child water from
an animal skin (figure 4). The vignette makes the procession of captives memorable, but its message is ambiguous: it alerts the audience
to the Chaldaeans misfortune and vulnerability, while at the same
time, its seeming empathy diverts attention from the source of their
plight (that is, Assyrian aggression). Are we to view the Assyrians as
their captors, or liberators?
Another remarkable sequence of vignettes, and one that poses a
similar question, comes from a relief commemorating Ashurbanipals
victory over the Elamites at Hamanu (figure 5). In a small register just
below the main battle scene, two groups of prisoners, or four sets of
couples, are seated in the Assyrian camp around cooking cauldrons.
Their gestures suggest lively conversations in progress: on the left, one
woman raises her arm, palm up, toward the woman sitting across from
her (figure 6). The woman on the right returns the same gesture with
her right hand, while holding a bowl in her left. The man seated next
to her is looking toward the figure opposite him, a man who is perhaps minding the cauldron: his right arm is shown stretched toward
it, with his fingers touching the top of the vessel. The artist may also
be using this gesture to convey directionality: the arm is lifted toward
the man facing him, alerting the viewer that these two individuals are
engaged in a separate conversation from the women.
On the right side of this register is another, similar group of captives
(figure 7). This time, however, the alternating positions of the men
and women enliven the scene. In order to show that the two men are
conversing with one another, the man on the right leans forward, his
right arm stretched across his body and down toward the man on the
opposite side. Another male stands next to the seated figures holding
what looks to be a drinking vessel, perhaps a wineskin, to his lips. The
man is inclined in the direction of a seated woman whose hands are
lifted toward him, as if she is requesting a taste. The two women in
this scene are not speaking with one another: one directs her attention
toward the man with the wineskin, while the woman on the opposite side is turned, gesturing toward an Assyrian guard behind her.
Her arm is held up, palm open, mimicking the same conversational

See also Barnett et al., 1998, pl. 213, fig. 285b; pl. 465, fig. 645b.


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gesture as the women on the left portion of the register. It is unclear

whether the scene ended with the guard, or was continued on another
relief panel; only the battle above and the first register below exist in
their entirety, but the panel is cropped evenly behind the Assyrian
guard, suggesting that he was in fact the border of this scene. 12 The
woman could have been gesturing toward someone behind the guard
in a missing panel, yet her fingers are touching his shield, suggesting
that the artist wants to draw our attention to the guards presence,
or to the groups imprisonment. It may also indicate that the woman
is in conversation with her captor.
A separate relief fragment from the Hamanu series also shows
Elamite and Chaldaean prisoners in the Assyrian camp, one of whom
is stoking the campfire (figure 8). To the far left is an Assyrian soldier,
his back to the group of prisoners. Two women behind him are just
entering the camp carrying their possessions and are welcomed by a
seated man who turns and waves to them. The first womans head is
turned back toward her friend who follows behind, but she has one arm
stretched toward the man who greets them, palm up, seemingly introducing him to her female companion. The relief stops just beyond
the image of an Assyrian solider to the left, and just behind a group of
two other male captives conversing on the right. The fragment seems
to have been roughly the same width as the camp register described
above, but nonetheless remains a snapshot of a scene: without the
remaining panel or panels, we cannot be certain if the Assyrian guard
was originally part of another episode, guarding another group of
prisoners, or whether he indeed guarded the perimeter of this space.
As it remains, his shield, turned toward a hypothetical threat to the
camp, implies to the viewer an element of protectiveness; moreover,
the women entering the scene convey no signs of agitationtheir
gestures and body postures indicate a happy reunion.
The tone of the camp vignettes is created by the actions of the
participants; human relations, even emotions, are conveyed without
individual facial expressions. The episodes may be viewed as a poised
threat within a convivial atmosphere; a subtle warning that creates
There are fragments of camp vignettes that most likely made up two more registers below this one. See Barnett (1976, pl. LXVI), which illustrates all the remaining images from this series. We have a small piece of the second camp register, showing similar
couples seated around a cauldron.

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tension. But while they raise awareness of the captives reduced circumstances, it also suggests that rather than being threatened, they
are being protected by the Assyrians. Both viewpoints serve to
emphasize Assyrian dominance, but the nuances of the scenes leave
the captives status open to interpretation, highlighting a problematic aspect of the vignette: without knowing if an extended scenario
existed, the images can become mentally parsed into vignettes with
ambiguous readings.
A series of illustrations from the Southwest palace of Sennacherib
(but usually attributed to his grandson Ashurbanipal, who occupied
the palace early in his reign) recreates the capture of Chaldaean refugees from southern Babylonia.13 Groups of Assyrian soldiers in reed
boats are systematically apprehending escapees hiding in the marshes
(figure 9). The particular vignette I would like to draw attention to
is a group of three figures huddled together within a bank of marsh
reeds: an older, bearded male in a short tunic, his hair bound by a
fillet, crouches on a reed boat facing two smaller, beardless individuals in long robes, either male or female, and presumably children
(figure 10). The male is presumably their father and is perched upon
the prow of the boat, his posture inclined protectively toward the
younger refugees. His right hand is placed on his lap, while his left
is lifted in a fist. The two children have their left hands fisted upon
their laps, but their right hands are raised, palms up. The gestures of
the Chaldaean family indicate that they are either in the midst of
an activityperhaps a prayer, or a game of distraction.
This small moment captures the Chaldaeans anxiety and the overall precariousness of their situation. Adding tension to the scene is
a headless, naked enemy body floating in the water nearby. Its legs
overlap with the upper portion of the reed bank that camouflages the
group, insinuating danger by blurring the space between their hiding place and the open water, or between safety and death. The
headless body and relentless progression of Assyrian soldiers imply the
ultimate capture of our group of refugees, but the viewer is, at least
momentarily, unsure of their fate.
For the full marsh battle sequence, see Barnett et al. (1998, pls. 233-265). The dating of the reliefs to Ashurbanipal seems very likely, according to E. Bleibtreau (Barnett
et al. 1998, 88). No inscriptions survive on these slabs, but the adjacent room, XXXIII,
was redecorated with reliefs after Sennacheribs reign. On stylistic grounds, they have
been attributed to the same period of Ashurbanipals sculptures in the North Palace.


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The Battle of Til Tuba series from the Southwest Palace (also
from the reign of Ashurbanipal), illustrates the merciless (and unambiguous) fate of one of Assyrias most worthy opponents and exemplifies the evolving complexity of Assyrian palace narrative (figure 11).
The horizontal groundlines, or registers, that traditionally divided
narrative sequences were distorted in the reign of Sennacherib, creating sweeping landscapes, and for Til Tuba, Ashurbanipals artists
take full advantage of this innovation: though the registers are not
entirely discarded, they are abbreviated and blurred by continuous
and overlapping action sequences. The directional gestures of the
soldiers, the strategic positioning of weapons, and finally, the head
of the Elamite king Teumman, act as guideposts, moving the viewer
through an intricate battle landscape and a grand chase (Bersani and
Dutoit 1985; Watanabe 2004; see also Bahrani 2004; Bonatz 2004):
the Assyrians capture and kill Teumman and his son, bringing the
head of the Elamite ruler home to hang as a prize in Ashurbanipals
garden (figures 12, 13).
The Battle of Til Tuba relief is a deliberate, ordered chaos: the
space is littered with seemingly jumbled yet carefully orchestrated
vignettes that provide a fuller picture of the action, but the head of
Teumman connects the scenarios to Ashurbanipals ultimate victory.
In the final act, it hangs if we look closely, we find the head hanging
in a tree on the edges of the kings celebratory banquetalmost as an
afterthought. Yet its subtle, almost nonchalant placement, extraneous
to the main event, makes its insertion all the more chilling, and thereby
more powerful. The small, grisly trophy contradicts the complacent
tranquility of Ashurbanipals garden, where the king lounges upon his
royal couch next to the queen. It symbolizes a humiliating defeat for
the Elamites, but this incongruous memento of victory also signals the
thematic tension of the narratives, where life and death are juxtaposed,
creating a pervasive anxiety. The banquet panel is comparatively small,
only about as large as the register of Elamites in the Assyrian camp,
yet like the headless body in the Chaldaean marsh, it encapsulates
the power of suggestion that propels the battle sequences.

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King as Conqueror, King as Shepherd

The overall character of Assyrian battle narratives does not suggest
to me that the vignettes of innocents are a conscious effort toward
humanitarianism. Rather, the artists documented highlights from
the battle and its aftermath that most efficiently, and effectively, conveyed the imperial message. The ambiguities are more likely a result
of the nature of that message: in text and image, we can observe
each rulers anxiety to fulfill the duties of royal office required by
the gods, and to justify the traditional titles of great Mesopotamian
rulers: not only king of the world, but also pious shepherd.14 In
Assyrian royal ideology, native and foreign peoples were to be cared
for as the flock of Aur. The Assyrians felt themselves bound to
the gods; taking the royal office required that the king meet divine
expectations, which were embedded in Assyrian cultural traditions
and the royal ideological code (Livingstone 1997, 165-166). Middle
Assyrian to Neo-Assyrian rituals and royal hymns express Aurs wish
that with his sword, the king expand his imperial borders and his
peoples (Tadmor 1999, 58; see also Weissert 1997, 240).
I would suggest that the humanity of the Assyrian sculptures is
not to be found in Western preconceptions of how human emotion is
expressed, but in the carefully wrought vignettes within each battle sequencethey contain narratives within narratives that provide a fuller
picture not only of the campaign but also its consequences. The fate
of the enemy was part of the historical moment represented, but also
intertwined with that of Assyria itself; and in the Assyrian worldview,
safety, even for themselves, was a relative term. Assyrias religious
ideology (and its particular form of imperial anxiety) was conditioned
by its geopolitical situation: the heartland lay on a crossroads between
Anatolia, Iran, Babylonia, Arabia and Syria-Palestine. With few natural barriers, Assyrias success as a trading nation in the late third and
early second millennium attracted foreign aggression and eventual
M. Liverani explains that Sennacheribs epithets evolved over time: from pious
shepherd, fearful of the great gods to expert shepherd, favorite of the great gods (after
697 B.C.) (Russell 1991, 242, citing Liverani). The late, more confident title suggests
to Liverani that Sennacherib earned the title only after several years of successful campaigningafter he had filled the role of heroic warrior. Sennacherib, following in
the wake of Sargons ominous and untimely death, believed that his future was uncertainthe gods did not automatically bestow a king with good fortune, and the right to
rule must be earned.


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domination; by the late second millennium, Assyria responded with

an offensive policy of conquest and expansion (Livingstone 1997, 165,
citing Oppenheim). By the Neo-Assyrian period, war was the natural
vocation of the king (Oded 1992, 38).
Irene Winter (2002, 66-67) remarks that in art, certain visual attributes derive from the special geographical and/or historical situation
of the producing culture...[T]hey represent not-necessarily-conscious
reflections of worldview and experiences held by some members of
that culture. I might propose that those instances of receptive,
even empathetic renderings of victims convey that, although the
kings role may have necessitated warfare and conquest (Livingstone
1997; Oded 1992; Tadmor 1999), it did not preclude (consciously
or otherwise) an understanding of the inherent vulnerability of man,
whether victor or vanquished. It is this underlying apprehension, or
anxiety, that may be reflected in the varied representations of Assyrias opponents. Royal rhetoric aside, Assyria recognized that there
were practical limits to its external control, and its relationships with
foreign states, whether equal, tributary or subject, were designed to
insure Assyrias own stability. The unquestioning loyalty of Assyrian citizens (particularly soldiers) to the crown is a common ancient
Near Eastern artistic idiom, but Assyrias attitude toward the world
outside the empire was necessarily more complicated, reflecting in
a practical fashion the realities of imperial power and responsibility
(Reade 1979, 332).
Whatever the authors or artists motivations, I would argue that
Assyrian narrative hinges upon human relationships and their emotive
affect, due to both the intense vitality of the vignettes and the small,
tension-creating details that capture the precarious circumstances of
life in the Neo-Assyrian period. The contradiction of the captive images lies in the fact that these peoples are ostensibly Assyrias enemies,
who have been robbed of their homelands and will be deported to
other parts of the Assyrian empire to become Assyrianized. They
may reflect, however, the desire of the kings desire to be depicted
not only as heroic warrior, expanding the empire and defeating
upstart rivals, but also as good shepherd, defender of the innocent
and protector of his own.
Embedded within the late palace reliefs are scenes that, perhaps
not altogether consciously, reveal the complex character of Assyrian
imperialism. The kings outward show of invincibility is colored by the

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realities of maintaining the four quarters and the demands of his

position as divine liaison. The vignettes suggest his attempt to balance
a dual role: conqueror and shepherd, or his practical and ideological
responsibilities. This struggle is underscored within violent propaganda
that signified a strong central authorityone that perceived warfare,
and its consequences, as a necessity. The enemy vignettes, however,
are full of ambiguities that convey the inherent tragedy of the situation; and therein lies their power to captivate. They transcend the
morbid recesses of the battleground, blurring triumph with tragedy,
and persecution with protection.

Albenda, Pauline. 1998. Monumental Art of the Assyrian Empire: Dynamics of Composition
Styles. Malibu: Undena Publications.
Bahrani, Zainab. 2004. The Kings Head. Iraq 66: 115-119.
Barnett, Richard David. 1976. Sculptures from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh
(668-627 BC). London: The British Museum.
Barnett, Richard David, Erica Bleibtreu, and Geoffrey Turner. 1998. Sculptures from
the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh. London: The British Museum.
Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. 1985. The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art
and Modern Culture. New York: Schocken Books.
Bonatz, Dominik. 2004. Ashurbanipals Headhunt: An Anthropological Perspective.
Iraq 66: 93-101.
Bottro, Jean. 2001. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago
Foster, Benjamin Read. 2005. Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature. 3rd
ed. Bethesda: Capital Decisions Ltd. Press.
Frankfort, Henri. 1971. Kingship and the Gods. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago
Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1977. Mesopotamia. In The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, ed.
H. Frankfort, H. A. Frankfort, J. A. Wilson, T. Jacobsen, and W. A. Irwin, 125-202.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Livingstone, Alasdair. 1997. New Dimensions in the Study of Assyrian Religion. In
Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus
Project Helsinki, September 711, 1995, Helsinki, ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting,
165-177. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.


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Oded, Bustenay. 1979. Mass Deportations and Deportees in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Wiesbaden: Reichert.
. 1992. War, Peace, and Empire: Justifications for War in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions.
Wiesbaden: Reichert.
Oppenheim, A. Leo. 1964. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Parrot, Andr. 1961. The Arts of Assyria. The Arts of Mankind. New York: Golden
Proust, Marcel. 1924. Remembrance of Things Past. 2 vols. New York: Thomas Seltzer.
Reade, Julian. 1972. The Neo-Assyrian Court and Army: Evidence from the Sculptures. Iraq 34: 87-112.
. 1979. Ideology and Propaganda in Assyrian Art. In Power and Propaganda:
A Symposium on Ancient Empires, ed. M. T. Larsen, 329-343. Mesopotamia 7. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.
. 1998. Assyrian Sculpture. 2nd ed. London: The British Museum.
Russell, John M. 1991. Sennacheribs Palace Without Rival at Nineveh. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Saggs, H. W. F. 1982. Assyrian Prisoners of War and the Right to Live. AfO19:
Strommenger, Eva. 1964. 5000 Years of the Art of Mesopotamia. New York: H. N.
Tadmor, Hayim. 1994. The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria. Jerusalem:
Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
. 1999. World Dominion: The Expanding Horizon of the Assyrian Empire.
In Landscapes: Territories, Frontiers and Horizons in the Ancient Near East: Papers Presented to
the 44e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Venezia, 711 July 1997, ed. L. Milano, S.
de Martino, F. M. Fales, and G. B. Lancranchi, 55-62. History of the Ancient Near
East 3/1. Padua: Sargon srl.
Watanabe, Chikako E. 2004. The Continuous Style in the Narrative Scheme of
Assurbanipals Reliefs. Iraq 66: 103-114.
Weissert, Elnathan. 1997. Royal Hunt and Royal Triumph in a Prism Fragment of
Ashurbanipal. In Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the NeoAssyrian Text Corpus Project Helsinki, September 711, 1995, Helsinki, ed. S. Parpola and
R. M. Whiting, 339-358. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
Winter, Irene. 1981. Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical Narrative
in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs. Studies in Visual Communications 7: 1-37.
. 1995. Aesthetics in Ancient Mesopotamian Art. In Civilizations of the Ancient
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. 1998. The Affective Properties of Styles: An Inquiry into Analytical Process

and the Inscription of Meaning in Art History. In Picturing Science, Producing Art, ed.
C. A. Jones and P. Galison, 55-77. London: Routledge.
. 2002. Defining Aesthetics for Non-Western Studies: The Case of Ancient
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Figure 1. The Assyrian assault on Lachish (British Museum, WA 124906; Copyright

the Trustees of The British Museum)

Figure 2. The Assyrian army attacking an Egyptian town (British Museum, WA 124928; Copyright the Trustees of The
British Museum)

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Figure 3. Egyptians departing the city with their belongings, detail of figure 2

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Figure 4. A Chaldaean group of exiles, featuring a mother giving her child a drink
from a pigskin (British Museum, WA 124954; Copyright the Trustees of The
British Museum)


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Figure 5. The Assyrian battle against Hamanu, Elam (British Museum, WA 124919;
Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum)

Figure 6. Elamite prisoners in an Assyrian camp, detail of figure 5, left side of bottom register

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Figure 7. Elamite prisoners in an Assyrian camp, detail of figure 5, right side of bottom register

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Figure 8. Elamite and Chaldaean prisoners in an Assyrian camp, relief fragment from the battle of
Hamanu series (British Museum, WA 124788; Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum)

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Figure 9. The Assyrian army capturing Chaldaeans in the southern marshes (British
Museum, WA 124774; Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum)

Figure 10. A group of Chaldaeans hiding in a reed bank, detail of figure 9

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Figure 11. A relief panel from the Assyrian battle at Til Tuba (British Museum, WA 124801; Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum)

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Figure 12. Ashurbanipal and his queen banqueting in the royal garden (British Museum, WA 124920; Copyright the Trustees
of The British Museum)

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Figure 13. The Elamite king Teummans head hanging in Ashurbanipals garden, detail of figure 12

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assyrian royal monuments on the periphery

Idols of the King: Ritual Contexts



a. shafer

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery



Ann Shafer
During the early first millennium BCE, the Neo-Assyrian state grew
to become the most far-reaching and militarily powerful entity in the
ancient Near East. In their quest for territory, Assyrian kings campaigned from the heartland of Assyria to outlying regions, creating a
unified realm that lasted for approximately three centuries. Much of
what we know of these conquests comes from texts and images from
the center of this realm, the Assyrian capital cities. Here, however,
I would like to discuss another group of Assyrian monuments not in
the center, but in the peripheries of the expanding empire.1 These
monuments were erected while on military campaign, and consisted
of freestanding stone stelae and rock reliefs (figures 1, 2). They were
produced by every major Neo-Assyrian king from Ashurnasirpal II
in the ninth century to Ashurbanipal in the seventh, were carved
in various types of locations, and were distributed over a wide geographical area. Approximately fifty of these monuments still survive
today, and nearly as many undiscovered monuments are mentioned
in royal texts.
Because these monuments were erected on military campaigns, it
might make sense to interpret them as political in aim. If one looks
more closely at their larger context, however, one begins to see another possible purpose and message. It is the goal of this paper to
begin to foreground the relationship of these monuments to ritual
activity. Many, if not all of these royal stelae and rock reliefs were
the recipient of ritual activity, including elaborate ceremony and
sacrifice. As such, they seem to have been sacred objects, or objects
commemorating sacred acts. Once we begin to view the monuments
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the foresight and generosity
of my mentor, Irene Winter, under whose tutelage this study was originally developed
as a Ph.D. dissertation (Shafer 1998). I shall always be indebted to and inspired by Irene
for her powerful wisdom and presence.


a. shafer

this way, the Assyrian campaigns themselves, as well as the making

of Assyrian art in general, takes on a new identity. The present study
outlines our evidence for these rituals and will show how, through
the simultaneous actions of image-making and ritual performance,
Assyrian kings not only marked territorial conquest in a literal way,
but also engaged a highly-charged symbolic field of space, tradition
and legitimacy.

Geographical Distribution
In order to understand fully the symbolic power of these royal monuments in Assyrias peripheral zones, it is first necessary to discern the
patterns in their spatial distribution and related function. Using both
the extant monuments as well as ancient textual references to others
that did not survive, we are able to plot their original locations, and
in so doing, are able to understand the deliberate ways in which they
were crafted and placed into the landscape.2
When we survey the monuments in chronological order, the nature
and evolution of their purpose becomes clear. In the ninth century,
during the early period of the Assyrian territorial consolidation, the
peripheral monuments assumed their paradigmatic function, steadily
marking outlying territories as they were added to Assyrias borders.
During the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), the monuments
mostly marked endpoints of campaigns or secure zones of political
transition, and as such, together marked the perimeters of the kings
realm as a whole. It is also during his reign that these monuments
began to engage an earlier, apparently established tradition of revisiting sites previously marked by earlier kings.3
Using the conquests of his father as a base, Shalmaneser III (858-824
BCE) effected a much more ambitious military program, extending
Assyrias borders and erecting a record number of monuments
far a field. In tandem with the speed of his territorial expansion,
Individual textual sourceswhich include palace historical inscriptions of both
the annalistic and display types as well as the inscriptions on the peripheral monuments
themselvesare far too numerous to list here (see Shafer 1998, Appendix A).
Ashurnasirpal II is said to have visited and marked the source of the Subnat River, where his predecessors Tiglath-Pileser I and Tukulti-Ninurta II also erected monuments (Grayson 1991, 200-201).

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


Shalmaneser IIIs monuments were erected more frequently, not only

marking important military victories, but also delineating entire geographical regions. Like his father, Shalmaneser III also adopted the
practice of revisiting and remarking sites containing monuments of his
predecessors. Finally in the ninth century, although Shamshi-Adad Vs
reign was relatively short and military victories few, he also appears
to have used royal monuments to mark his most notable territorial
expansions beyond those of his predecessors.
In contrast to the significant political gains of the ninth century,
the beginning of the eighth century marked a degree of political decentralization in Assyria. While Adad-nirari III (810-783 BCE) may
have intended to use the royal monument in the same fashion as his
predecessors, it was the increasingly powerful provincial administrators who began to use the monuments for their own purposes instead.
Nevertheless, the most fundamental characteristic of the Assyrian
monument typeterritorial delineationnow played itself out on a
much smaller scale, marking off administrative boundaries within the
Assyrian heartland.
Despite the political discontinuity of the early eighth century, the
successful reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (744-727 BCE) heralded an
upsurge in the production of royal monuments on the periphery.
His monuments reflect a clear knowledge of Assyrias previous territorial boundaries, thus marking only those victories that resulted in
significant territorial expansions beyond those of the ninth century.
During the reign of Sargon II (721-705 BCE), the monuments were
used in a similar fashion, marking further territorial expansions. In
addition, during Sargons reign the function of the monument began
to expand to include political diplomacy as well.
This trend toward broadening the function of the royal monuments
saw its fullest expression in the seventh century, especially during the
reign of Sennacherib (704-681 BCE), who, although using monuments
to mark military victories, also explored their potential to commemorate construction projects closer to home. As for Esarhaddon (680669 BCE), during his reign monuments seem to have become a tool
for political negotiations among Assyrias allies. Finally, in the time
of Ashurbanipal (668-631 BCE), peripheral monuments remained a
powerful royal symbol, but like the slowly-weakening empire, their
production appears to have eventually halted.


a. shafer

Thus, when we plot the locations of the monuments in relation

to historical events, clear patterns in geographical distribution and
political function emerge. First of all, we see that the monuments
consistently marked important culminating or transitional points in
the campaigns. In many cases, their locations corresponded to what
were viewed as the most important outlying regions or borders of the
Assyrian realm. Moreover, when we compare reigns, we see that each
king was aware of his predecessors monuments, and felt the desire or
political necessity to engage that tradition by placing monuments in
the very same locations. In addition, as the tradition matured, Assyrian
kings created increasingly subtle and sophisticated variations, not only
in their placement, but also in their intended message and political
function. Over the three centuries of their production, therefore, the
royal peripheral monuments acted as a consistent and effective tool
for creating a powerful Assyrian presence on the periphery.

The patterns in spatial distribution and dynastic continuity are further
reinforced by the singular, very consistent form of the Assyrian monuments themselves. The surviving monuments consist of both rock reliefs
and stelae, and all have several important features: a similar image
of the Assyrian king, divine emblems, and an Akkadian annalistic
inscription (figures 1, 2). For the purposes of this study, I will examine
the monument image that, even for the Assyrians, seems to have been
the monuments most salient characteristic. Long overlooked because
of its deceptively accessible iconography, the monuments standardized image can be shown to reflect a strong cultural investment and
self-consciousness about its message, namely, that the central agent
in Assyrias growth and power is the king himself.
One of the monuments most distinctive characteristics is its deliberate adherence, despite its location on the empires periphery, to the
central palace idiom of royal representation. As a result, we are able
to examine the image in relation to well-established domains of visual
elaboration and convention, which in turn allows us to arrive at a
more precise understanding of the image and its referents. Not just an
image of the Assyrian king, but of the complex notion of kingship,
as the Assyrian term alam arrtija (image of my kingship) implies,

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


the peripheral monument image intersects with multiple systems of

royal visual communication. What results is a multi-layered image of
the ideal aspects and attributes of Assyrian kingship.
One way in which the peripheral monument communicates the
notion of ideal Assyrian kingship is through its rendering of the kings
physical attributes. Adhering to well-established palace convention,
although relatively lifelike, the image is not a portrait in the modern
sense of representing individual likeness, but engages a highly-charged
set of codes for representing the multiple aspects of Assyrian kingship in the broadest sense of the term.4 Shown only in profile or
three-quarter view, the figure of the king never engages the viewer
directly, but instead occupies a separate plane, displaying at a respectful distance a full array of notable attributes. The kings physical fitness to rule and potential for action are indicated by his upright and
alert stance, detailed musculature, and grounded, yet forward-moving
feet. In addition, other details such as the kings robe, divine emblem
necklace, and conical polos crown are coded for specific action, locating him immediately in his cultic role as high priest.5
While these individual features locate the king in a general cultic
guise, his arm gesture is coded in a more specific way. Most distinct
is his raised right arm, wherein his hand-gesture shows the forefinger
extended as though pointing. This gesture has been shown to have
been made during prayer and seems to express the kings humility
before the gods.6 More important, in the visual realm, the gesture
usually appears in scenes of the king addressing one or more full-figured images of deities, as examples from seal impressions and palace
frescoes indicate.7 It is therefore probable that on the peripheral
monuments, the kings gesture is meant to reference such a scene. But
here, of course, the full-scale divine recipients of his gesture do not
The discussion of portraiture in the ancient world has largely been Greco-centric in nature, but in Irene Winters study of images of the Mesopotamian ruler Gudea
(1989), and of the Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin (1996), she has begun to decipher the
complex aspects of royal attributes in the ancient world. More recently, she elaborated
upon this discussion for the Neo-Assyrian period (1997).
For a fuller discussion of the royal robe and costume types see Magen 1986.
The nature and meaning of this gesture in the Neo-Assyrian period is not adequately documented in the ancient sources, but Magens reconstruction of the evidence
(1986, 45-54) strongly points to this interpretation. Whether the deity represents a cult
statue or simply an abstract idea, the kings gesture clearly indicates his capacity for piety.
For example, in the wall painting from Residence K at Khorsabad, which depicts
Sargon II and the crown prince before the god Ashur (Loud 1938, pl. 89).


a. shafer

appear. Instead, the peripheral monuments frame seems to isolate

the kings figure, and so what remains is not an image of the kings
action toward any particular deity, but an abstracted image of pious
action alone.
It is this kind of iconographical reconfiguration that characterizes
a second level of meaning in the peripheral monuments, namely, the
way in which they embody and affirm the royal prerogative to make
established iconographies into new images. In order to understand
this second layer of meaning, it is helpful to look further into the peripheral monument iconography. Let us return to the most active
iconographical element of the kings figure, his raised right hand. As
noted above, this gesture is usually used to show the kings reverence
or piety toward a divine figure, whose representation, in this case, is
missing. Instead, in the field above the kings head, are divine emblems. While for the casual viewer the king might seem to be pointing
toward the emblems, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that
the king focuses and points directly ahead, effectively unaware of the
emblems above. Although the exact origin of such representations
of divine emblems is unclear, they often appear in scenes of military
parade.8 More important than what this reveals about iconographic
sources, however, is the fact that our peripheral monument image is
a new one, comprising elements of several distinct visual traditions.
In the process of uniquely re-combining such traditions, the Assyrian
king himself, it seems, assumes the role of creator.
While this image on the peripheral monument is unique, comparing
it to a specific body of images from the Assyrian center does help us to
understand its symbolic message further. In many ways, the image on
slab B-23 of Ashurnasirpal IIs Northwest Palace throneroom (figure
3), provides the best parallel for our peripheral monument image.9
This scene is simple compositionally, depicting four figures symmetrically arranged around a central stylized tree, above which floats an
anthropomorphic winged disk, probably representing the state god of
Assyria, Ashur. Closest to the tree and deity stand two nearly mirrorimages of the Assyrian king wearing a fringed robe and gesturing in a
now-familiar manner with a pointed finger. Behind the figures of the

For example, on the so-called Broken Obelisk of Ashur-bel-kala, from Nineveh
(Brker-Klhn 1982, fig. 131).
This image also appears in the throneroom of the Northwest Palace on slab B-13.

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


king, and thus framing the entire scene, are two winged male deities
with horned crowns (apkallus) carrying in the left hand a pail, and in
the raised right hand an oval object similar to a pinecone. While the
exact purpose of their gestures cannot be certainly determined, it
seems that they are performing some kind of operation on the tree,
perhaps pollination.
Although placed prominently in Ashurnasirpal IIs throneroom,
since no direct mention of this scene is made in Assyrian texts, the
meaning of the tree scene remains the subject of debate. 10 Specific
interpretations vary, but it seems most likely that the image symbolically
characterizes the kings relationship with the divine world, and that the
stylized tree represents not only the concept of abundance, but more
specifically, the land of Assyria and its potential for territorial growth.11
That the growth of the tree, or Assyria, was thought to be divinely
generated is suggested in glyptic images, wherein the winged disks
long pendant tassels encircle the tree.12 That the king was thought to
be the primary earthly agent in this divine growth, however, is suggested in slab B-23, not only by Ashurs gestural acknowledgement of
the king, but also by the kings position in the composition, whereby
he too becomes the recipient of the apkallus actions.
With this direct relationship in mind, how can B-23 be used to
complement our understanding of the peripheral monument image?
One important parallel is the reduplication of the kings figure in
both right and left profile views. In B-23, the two royal figures alternate on either side of the central tree. Likewise, the royal figures on
peripheral monuments alternate too, from right to left profile. More
specifically, of those monuments still surviving, roughly half depict
the king facing right, and half facing left. That such alternation was
not simply coincidence, but was an integral feature of the monument
type in general, is graphically represented by the monuments of Sennacheribsuch as the rock reliefs at Cudi Dag and the stelae from
Ninevehwhere alternating royal figures were used at the same site
(Brker-Klhn 1982, figs. 180-184, figs. 203-204).


For a summary of theories identifying the figures and their actions, see Porter


Irene Winter (1983) makes this particularly compelling symbolic argument.

See for example, the ninth-century cylinder seal from Sherif Khan (Collon 1987,
fig. 341).


a. shafer

In order to understand the alternation and reduplication of the

kings image on peripheral monuments, however, it is necessary to
re-examine slab B-23. There, it is possible that one function of the
reduplication was to describe movement. This is suggested by the
abovementioned interpretation of the scene as depicting a pollination
ritual performed by the apkallus and the king upon the tree (Porter
1993). If so, the reduplicated figure of the king could represent his
successive movements to encircle the tree. If we agree that the tree
symbolically represents the collective Assyrian lands, the peripheral
monuments might be said to represent the kings movements around
the territories of his realm. With these readings of B-23 in mind, the
reduplicated peripheral monument images erected at various locations
in the Assyrian landscape appear to embody the literal meanings of
both movement within, as well as imposition of order upon the land
of Assyria itself.
To summarize, a comparison with images in the Assyrian center
reveals that peripheral monuments were directly linked with ideas
about the kings relationship to Assyrias territorial growth. The symbolic complexity of the Assyrian royal image is probably not unique
to monuments on the periphery, however, but may also play a role
in the larger body of images that make up Assyrian palace visual
culture as a whole.13 It is precisely because of their paradigmatic
nature, however, that monuments on the periphery becomes so valuable a tool for expanding our understanding of ancient Assyria. This
becomes especially apparent when we step away, for a moment, from
the monuments themselves, and look instead at the way they are
described in both inscriptions and visual representations. Here, the
monuments are shown to have been the focus of an elaborate set
of rituals performed, in part, by the king himself. On the basis of
this evidence, these images become much more than simply markers
of territorial conquest; instead, they now become a window onto a
complex Assyrian perceptual reality, where the symbolic and the real
become one.


For example, see individual studies by Marcus 1987; Russell 1991.

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


Assyrian Ritual Revealed

As a background to our discussion of ritual activity, it is first important
to clarify an important relationship between monument accessibility and function. Since the Assyrian process of military expansion
often involved the conquest of urban centers, a large portion of the
peripheral monuments were stelae erected in enemy cities, displayed
prominently in the city gate or outer defensive system.14 In addition
to the urban sites, however, many monuments were also carved into
the landscape itself, in more remote and often inaccessible regions.15
In contrast to the urban contexts where siting may reflect the desire
for political visibility, the rural locations may reflect a move to control
and protect the land and its resources.
While the remote rural monuments were probably hidden even
from enemy populations, it seems that in many cases, because of the
symbolic nature of their locations, the monuments were well-known
to the Assyrians, and furthermore, that they functioned as important
loci of Assyrian ceremony and ritual. The most vivid example of such
a site is what the Assyrians called the source of the Tigris River,
today called the Tigris Tunnel, located on the Birklincay, a tributary
of the Tigris River near the modern village of Lice in southeastern
Turkey.16 Shalmaneser III visited the site on two separate occasions,
and each time carved images and inscriptions marking two portions of
the site: a lower tunnel, through which the river flows, and an upper
cave. Neither of the locations is easily accessible, requiring the visitor to either wade through the river or to climb. More to the point,
neither the upper nor the lower monuments are visible to the naked
eye from a distance, indicating that only those with prior knowledge
of their locations would be likely to visit them.
Just as the Tigris Tunnel seems remote for the modern visitor, so too
did it seem for the Assyrians, as is captured in a visual representation
of the site on the upper and lower friezes of Band X of Shalmaneser
IIIs Balawat Gates (figure 4) (King 1915, 30-31, pls. LVIII-LIX).
For example, Sargon II erected a stele in the city gate of the city of Tikrakki,
which is depicted in Room 2 of his palace at Khorsabad (Albenda 1986, pl. 120).
The rock carving at Uzunoglantepe, attributed to Shalmaneser III, is a good
example of how remote and difficult to access such monuments can sometimes be
(Tasyrek 1975).
For a complete bibliography, see Brker-Klhn 1982, 187-188.


a. shafer

Here, we see the simultaneous carving of two royal monuments, one

at the upper cave and one at the lower tunnel. The upper frieze of
Band X focuses on the concealment of the monument in the upper
cave, depicting a semi-circular enclosure surrounded by the rocky
landscape of its remote setting. Framed by the curvature of the cave
walls, two solitary craftsmenshown to be deep in the cave by their
diminished scalecarve an almost imperceptible image and/or text
into the darkness. The only witness to the carving is a single Assyrian
official with his attendant, who both stand outside the cave on a small
footbridge, gesturing toward the cave interior. At the end of the frieze,
the vast and remote mountainous terrain fills the entire height of the
image, interrupted only by a solitary figure and the tiny outline of a
mountain fortress in the distance.
Just below this scene in the lower frieze of Band X is a similar scene,
which emphasizes both the difficulties of the mountainous terrain and
the raging force of the river. On a rocky wall outside the tunnel, two
Assyrian craftsmen carve an image of the Assyrian king. Water is
flowing profusely from the tunnel, and in order to gain enough height
above the river to carve the relief, the men must stand on a stone
block placed in midstream. Just like the craftsmen, those approaching
the site must also combat the river; behind them, a procession of Assyrian soldiers and officials crosses a swirling torrent, while in front,
Assyrian soldiers carefully wade through the dark.
While this image reveals much about the details of the making of
a monument, what is most striking about the Balawat images is their
depiction of an elaborate ritual procession, an activity identified not
only in the scenes caption, but also confirmed in Shalmaneser IIIs
annalistic texts (Grayson 1996, 27-32). In these texts, the king describes
his actions, saying, I washed the weapon of Ashur, made sacrifices to
my gods, and gave a joyful feast. In fact, the performance of ritual
seems to have been so important in the ninth century that even the
Assyrian palace texts, which in other periods rarely discuss such details,
make relatively frequent mention of these rituals.17
Although the text accounts are reticent in their description of details, this scene and others on the Balawat Gates reveal invaluable
information about the facts of Assyrian ritual activity on the periphery,

For example, in Shalmaneser IIIs text on the Black Obelisk (Grayson 1996,

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


including details on ritual paraphernalia and the participants. As is

shown in the Balawat image of the Tigris source, an important event
in the ritual procession was animal sacrifice, here specified as the
slaughter of cows and rams. In the upper and lower friezes we see
two ritual processions, one at the upper cave, and the other at the
lower tunnel. It is possible, based on comparisons with Assyrian images, that these two scenes represent sequential moments in the same
ritual. If so, in the lower scene we see the procession at an early stage
when the entire entouragewith the sacrificial animals in towmoves
toward the royal monument. In contrast, in the upper scene we see a
later moment, when the sacrifice itself is taking place. To carry this
thought even further, in the Balawat Band I scene of Shalmaneser
IIIs visit to the Nairi Sea (figure 5), we are shown yet another, even
later, moment in the activity, when the sacrifice has already taken
place and the remains are being thrown into the water. While these
scenes are graphic in their representation of the ritual killing, we know
little about the beliefs behind such activity in ancient Assyria.18 These
images do tell us, however, that animal sacrifice was just one step in
a ritual series, and that it may have occurred early in the procession
and in front of the monument image.
That proximity to the royal monument may have, in fact, been
important to these rituals is suggested in the scene at the Nairi Sea
(figure 5), where the arrangement of the ritual paraphernalia delineates a ritual precinct. Here, near the monumentpresumably in
front of itstands an array of cultic furniture: military standards with
tasseled disks, a three-legged tripod, a flaming incense burner, and
a libation stand with vessel.19 Placed at regular intervals to create a
visual rhythm, these unusual objects, when encountered in the larger
narrative reading of the band as a whole, slow the viewers gaze, and
in the process, recreate a sense of ritual distance and awe for the
royal monument itself. Further emphasizing the close relationship
between the monument and the ritual procession is the placement of
the monument on elevated ground, so that its height is equal to that
of the participants.


For various discussions on this subject, see Quaegebeur 1993.

For an analysis of the visual representation of ritual paraphernalia and ceremony, see Watanabe 1992.


a. shafer

In addition to the details of ritual paraphernalia, the Balawat scenes

are also important for what they reveal about the identities of the
ritual functionaries. While from both scenes it appears that Assyrian
soldiers were given charge of the animal slaughter, other figures were
part of the ritual procession as well. For example, in the depiction
of the monuments at the Tigris source (figure 4), the soldiers at the
front of the procession are followed by other figures, including several carrying bundles, one on horseback, and other members of the
Assyrian military and administration. While the Tigris source scene
depicts the ritual procession from a distance, however, the scene at
the Nairi Sea (figure 5) focuses its perspective, so that the ritual functionaries take center stage. Here we see that in addition to the military
personnel, the ritual procession also consisted of musicians, Assyrian
officials, members of the priesthood, and the king himself. As such,
the procession seems to have been a complex affair, involving several
waves of activity.
While a full procession is depicted in both Balawat scenes, the climax of the events is fully developed in the Nairi scene only (figure 5),
showing the moment when the Assyrian king himself reaches the head
of the procession and, facing his own image, performs libations. In the
process, it seems, the king sanctifies Assyrias new border, which, as is
emphasized by the careful rendering of the mountainous landscape,
is very literally carved from the land itself. In the process of ritually
acknowledging his own image-as-border, the king foregrounds the
role of his own divinely-sanctioned deeds and accomplishments. In
so choosing to highlight this moment, Shalmaneser III characterizes
what must have been, at least during the ninth century, the peripheral
monuments defining significance, translating territorial gains into
concrete form.
While the abovementioned texts and images are highly evocative of
the importance of Assyrian ritual activity, they appear to have been
limited to the ninth-century reigns of Ashurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser
III. In addition, ritual appears to have been restricted to particular
types of sites, especially those associated with mountains and waterways.
In fact, during these reigns in particular, a relatively large number of
monuments was erected in association with topographical features.
One of the most frequently mentioned types of locations is said to have
been a river source, much like the Tigris source mentioned above.
Whether these types of locations were considered to be more sacred

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


than othersas is suggested by the rituals associated with themis

uncertain. We do know, however, that frequently these locations were
mentioned in conquest summaries, and as such, seem to have defined
important cosmic extremities. In a related fashion, they may also
have symbolized the kings far-reaching control of important natural
resources and trade.
One imagines the water source to have been particularly symbolic
of the kings ability to rechannel, so to speak, the benefits of Assyrias
conquests, a theme also underlying accounts of booty and foreign tribute. In Shalmaneser IIIs account of his visit to the Tigris source, for
example, he describes the monument site in a vivid manner, as being
located where the waters rush forth. In creating such an image, not
only does the king evoke the great force and abundance of the waters,
but also his own perseverance and strength. As a powerful military
leader, the king places his image where the river begins, and in the
process, likens himself to the source of Assyrias abundance.
Much later than Shalmaneser III, we find this ninth-century tradition revived during the reign of Sennacherib, who, at the site of
Khinnis, created his own version of this same phenomenon (Jacobsen
and Lloyd 1935, 41-49). There he carved a total of at least eleven
rock reliefs along the cliffs of the Gomel River. More to the point,
however, these reliefs did more than simply mark the river; instead,
they commemorated Sennacheribs construction of a canal head,
whereby waters could be drawn to irrigate the fields. As such, the
reliefs mark a new kind of water source that is the very creation
of the king himself.
While the ninth-century examples emphasize the importance of
ritual activity in remote locations, other evidence exists for Assyrian
monuments in temples, where their exposure to ritual activity must
have been more regular. In contrast to what we might hope for, few of
the text accounts describe the actual erection of the monument in the
temple, and in no case does a text describe the temple itself. Instead,
those that do elaborate, simply emphasize the monuments proximity
to the abovementioned weapon of Ashur. These texts imply that in
addition to the monuments having a political message for the local
populations, in urban contexts they also served as an important cultic
focus for the visiting Assyrian populations as well.
Supplementing the texts, archaeological evidence addresses
more specific issues of monument placement and function in temple


a. shafer

settings, although all of our evidence comes from Assyrian rather than
foreign centers. This evidence reveals that, at least in some cases, the
monuments occupied a central position in the temple interior and
confirms that they were themselves important ritual objects. For example, our most securely contextualized monument is from the site of
Tell el-Rimah, where the royal stela stood in the temples inner cella,
right next to the cult platform (Oates 1968, pl. 32a). There, oriented
so that the kings gesture pointed directly toward the cult statue, the
stela may have functioned as a votive offering to the deity, to stand in
perpetual supplication for the king. An equally plausible interpretation
is that because the kings image was visible to the temple visitor, it
may have also received offerings itself.
Although not erected on Assyrias periphery, another example of a
monument that may have functioned in the same manner is the Great
Monolith of Ashurnasirpal II, discovered in the Ninurta Temple at
Nimrud. Two factors suggest that the monument may have served as
a cult object: its presumed original location in the temple, and the
discovery of an altar at its base (Layard 1853, 302-304; Mallowan
1966, I: 87). As its inscription suggests, the monument may have been
erected to be viewed and even read regularly by learned scholars,
temple personnel, or other Assyrian officials. Furthermore, placed
next to a doorway leading into the temple cella, the kings figure is
oriented so that it points toward the cella, and therefore, much like the
Rimah Stela, points toward the cult image itself. Perhaps in this case
the location and orientation of the royal monument reveals notions
of spatial movement and approach, so that the kings image would
receive ritual attention first, as a precursor to the activities inside.
Despite what we learn from the above examples, it is important
to remember that ritual activity associated with the monuments was
not usually performed in formalized settings. Moreover, evidence
suggests that some of the ritual activity was performed by subsequent
rulers who revisited the sites, generation after generation.20 We learn
this from the peripheral monument texts themselves, which contain
conclusions that directly address future visitors to the site, asking that
the monument be treated with care. Addressing an unnamed viewer,
See, for example, Ashurnasirpal IIs monument at the Subnat source (Grayson
1991, 200-201). The most dramatic example of royal Assyrian revisitation, however, is
without question the site at the Nahr el-Kelb, where a total of six Assyrian reliefs were
carved in the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (Weissbach 1922).

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


the text usually consists of two main parts: a blessing for those who
treat the monument properly, and a curse against those who might
wish to destroy it. Usually, the blessing asks that the monument be
heeded in some way, by reading it and preserving its inscription.
More striking, however, is its emphasis on the performance of ritual.
In several cases the viewer is asked to perform rituals on the monument, including washing the monument with water (m.ME liramik),
anointing it with oil (amna.ME lipu), and performing sacrifices (niq
liqqi). While the exact purpose of the rituals is never made explicit,
clearly they are meant to propitiate the deities in some way, since
the consequences of the proper ritual activity are said to be divine
recognition and favor.
Of course, in some important ways, the monument text conclusions
describe a ritual activity similar in form and function to that represented much earlier on the Balawat Gates (figures 4, 5). On the one
hand, they outline the specific activities such as ritual ablution and
sacrifice. Equally important, however, is what these texts reveal about
monument longevity. More specifically, as an analogue to the way the
Balawat images show the monuments creation, the monument texts
show the way that rituals effected a re-birth or renewal, when former
kings military accomplishments were both acknowledged and relived
by future generations. Ideally, the visitor to the sitethe agent for this
renewal of traditionwould be an immediate dynastic successor. In
this way, the monument would represent and effect communication
from one king to another, thus directly invoking Assyrian tradition
and legacy. In this process of continued communication, the Assyrian
empire, which the monument helped delineate, would be viewed as
perpetually reconstituted.

The Making of Imperial Space

In the same way that the monument inscriptions reveal intended connections between successive generations of rulers, they also embody
an important connection to the Assyrian palace center. More specifically, like the monument images, the monument textsespecially with
their references to ritual blessingshave an important parallel in the
Assyrian capitals. There, these same types of ritual prescriptions appear in building inscriptions or foundation documents, whose very


a. shafer

classification as such reveals their function as architectural markers.

Written on tablets, cylinders, prisms and other objects, these inscriptions were systematically buried in structural foundations as a means to
ensure a buildings perpetuity, not only through their communication
with future ruler-builders, but also through their very literal spatial
function as a record of the buildings form (Ellis 1968; Curtis and
Reade 1995, 94-96). In the process of translating this text idiom from
the center to the periphery, the Assyrians ensured a strong symbolic
association between the empires center and its borders. By extension,
the peripheral ritual activitiesincluding the making of the monument itselfmight be understood as the activities necessary for the
building of the Assyrian imperial space.
While the notion that these monuments were very literally delineating Assyrias spatial footprint is convincing, there is yet another layer
of discovery at hand. If we take a moment to examine the monument
iconography further, we are able to shift our focus from a description of the monuments in a physical sense to a deeper understanding
of how they were originally experienced. In general, because of the
great gulf of time and space that separates us from the ancient world,
we, as modern viewers, forget to envision the possible full range of a
monuments meaning, especially as it relates to its contextual presence.
In the case of the Assyrian monuments on the periphery, it appears
that it was not the physical object itself that held intrinsic value, but
rather, the power lay in its making and commemoration.
Further iconographical comparisons with several other Assyrian
images provide a window onto how the peripheral monumentsand
perhaps, by extension, Assyrian monuments in generalwere viewed
and experienced. First, as discussed above, the peripheral monument
image clearly had direct connections with the stylized tree scene on
orthostat B-23 (figure 3), not only in literal terms of its depiction of
the kings figure, but also in its symbolic reiterative associations with
abundance. With the B-23 connections in mind, another important
image from Nimrud is the glazed brick panel from Fort Shalmaneser
(figure 6) (Reade 1963; Mallowan 1966, II: fig. 373). Here, we see
an enlightening reworking of some of the same elements found on
orthostat B-23. For example, in the lower central part of the brickpanel image appear two mirror images of the Assyrian king dressed in
a long fringed robe and pointing with the familiar raised right hand.
Although this scene is highly reminiscent of that on B-23, there is a

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


significant difference. Here, there is no longer a stylized tree between

the royal figures; instead, the tree has grown in size and appears in
the area directly above. As such, the tree attains a new prominence in
the overall composition and assumes a new form, so that its branches
now envelope two symmetrical addorsed rampant bulls, emblems of
the faunal wealth of the land, and by extension, of royal prowess.21
In this process of iconographical transposition, what was in B-23 the
object of the kings gesturethe treenow in the brick panel transcends the royal scene as its framing member. Meanwhile, the kings
reduplicated and now object-less image remains below as an echo of
its former composition. Still making reference to its original location,
the tree, in the process of its transposition, incorporates the two bulls,
which, placed directly above the royal figures, occupy a parallel visual
and metaphorical position.
Perhaps more than the internal cross-references within the upper
and lower scenes themselves, the framing elements are what enrich
the overall message of this visual map, indicating that the Assyrian
kingnow the object of his own gestureis himself a manifestation
of Assyrias divinely-bestowed abundance. More specifically, around
the central tree scenes appear a series of five tree-shaped bands, which
contain, among other elements, pomegranates and buds, and palmettes
and caprids, and as such, represent the tree yet one additional step
removed, in a more fully abstracted form.22 Not only framing the
central scenes but enveloping them, the abstracted tree-bands convey
the notion that just like the rampant bulls, the tree also incorporates
the Assyrian king within its branches, now not as its guardian, but as
the very manifestation of the trees eternal abundance.
The brick-panel scene thus constitutes a variation on the elements
that comprise the orthostat B-23 scene, showing more explicitly that the
tree and king represent nearly interchangeable parts. These metaphorical associations are mapped not simply through one reconfiguration,
The stylized tree was usually flanked by either animal, human, or supernatural
figures. The animals, by definition, seem to have connoted reproductive potential and
perhaps instinct. The bull in particular, however, was associated directly with the king
(Parpola 1993).
Moreover, these abstracted bands contain elements that would never be seen on
one single stylized tree alone; instead, they seem to represent an array of types. Such a
combination of tree elements seems to be the result of the trees long history (Parpola
1993), and I would argue that the trees longevity serves as a metaphor for the kings desire to engage dynastic continuity and thus legitimacy.


a. shafer

but through two, until what was once the object of the kings gesture
becomes the divine canopy that frames and protects his rule. Now
our reading of the peripheral monument image (figures 1, 2) also becomes more complex. In particular, especially as we look to the Fort
Shalmaneser brick panel, we begin to understand the importance of
the peripheral monuments raised frame. It is the raised frame that
assumes perhaps the most important visual role in the entire image,
not just because it contains the image, but because it is the mechanism
by which the image is recast, taking elements from several different
monument types and recombining them. Therefore, the peripheral
monument frame acts much like the brick-panels abstracted outer
tree-bands, especially its outermost plain band. Not only is it a mechanism for image reconfiguration, but it also servesas a reference to
the treeto emphasize the king as a manifestation of Assyrias divine
When we return to orthostat B-23, we now notice a metaphorical
connection between the figure of the king and the figure of the sacred
tree. It is perhaps easy to overlook the implications of the fact that the
image on B-23 was located in Ashurnasirpal IIs throneroom directly
behind the Assyrian kings throne (Meuszynski 1981, pl. 1, plan 3).
There, when the king assumed his position to receive visitors, his person visually merged with the tree behind, revealing the metaphorical
parallels between king and tree, and thus the kings contribution to
the trees abundance. Moreover, with the king in this position, the
outer edges of the tree behind would have appeared to both emanate
from and envelope the king, functioning as a symbolically eloquent
canopy or frame for his royal person.
With this moment of visual sophistication in mind, it is helpful to
remember that palace iconography functioned on yet another, spatial
level as well. Irene Winter (1983) has discovered how the imagery of
orthostat B-23 served the crucial role of orienting the visitors approach
and movement through the throneroom. In her reconstruction and
analysis of the throneroom reliefs, Winter was able to suggest that
the throneroom stood as a microcosmic representation of the real
territorial state of Assyria. Moreover, she demonstrated how the tree
scene stood not only as the focal point of the room and culmination
of the surrounding narratives, but also that another version of the
scenelocated directly opposite the throneroom entranceoriented
and guided the palace visitors physically and psychologically toward

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


the king. In addition, other reduplicated stylized trees were carved in

the corners of throneroom, thus delineating and anchoring the four
corners of this microcosmic realm. As for the relationship between these
images and the real-time experience of the space, we unfortunately
have no evidence. What Winter has convincingly argued, however, is
that the images were arranged in a deliberate way to direct movement
and to affect the viewers experience.
With this visual organization in place, it must have been the moment
of the kings presence that forged the ultimate symbolic connection
between the microcosm of the palace and the macrocosm of the Assyrian territorial state. In other words, it must have been the real-life
occupancy of the space that made the monuments and their message
come alive. Indeed, it certainly was spectacular to witness the king in
direct relationship with his own image, for this was the moment the
king appeared simultaneously as the creator and the created. This
dual role is, once again, suggested by the Fort Shalmaneser brick
panel (figure 6). There, as the tree becomes abstracted and widens to
become the image frame, the two identical royal figures remain, now
standing in a mirror-image, reflexive-action stance, thus acknowledging
simultaneously the other and themselves. Returning to B-23 (figure
3), we can imagine that a similar transformation must have taken
place, but only when the king himself was present. Then, seated on
his throne in front of the tree, the king became the object of creation
as the two royal figures behind must have seemed to gesture toward
him. In taking his seat upon the throne, therefore, the king asserted
himself as both the creator of his own images, and also, as the ultimate
created object himself.
Likewise, the images on the Balawat gates reinforce this assertion
that originally, it was the ritual presence of the king that gave the
peripheral monument power. As Band I reveals (figure 5), it was
the kings gesture before his own image that must have been the
most spectacular moment of all. Here, at the slow culmination of an
elaborate procession, the king stands in a reflexive moment before his
own image. He acknowledges much more than simply an abstracted
version of the sacred tree; rather, he honors the very moment when
the tree and the king are both transformed and materialized. Most
important, this is the moment when the king is no longer oriented
toward something outside of himself, but is himself fully realized and
acknowledged as both leader and creator.


a. shafer

In this sense more than any other, this moment of royal ritual was
the moment when the Assyrian peripheral monument carried its fullest
meaning. It was the moment when the kings central role in Assyrias
growth and abundance very literally transformed a landscape into the
realm called Assyria. It was the moment, therefore, when the king and
the land, when the idea and its materialization, became one.

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sur les civilisations.
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am Rhein: Verlag P. von Zabern.
Collon, Dominique. 1987. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Curtis, John, and Julian Reade. 1995. Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British
Museum. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ellis, Richard. 1968. Foundation Deposits in Ancient Mesopotamia. New Haven: Yale
University Press.
Grayson, Kirk. 1991. Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC I (1114-859).
RIMA 2. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Grayson, Kirk. 1996. Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC II (858-745 BC).
RIMA 3. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, and Seton Lloyd. 1935. Sennacheribs Aqueduct at Jerwan. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
King, L. W. 1915. The Bronze Reliefs from the Gates of Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, B.C.
860-825. London: British Museum.
Layard, Austin Henry. 1853. Discoveries among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. New
York: Barnes.
Loud, Gordon. 1938. Khorsabad II. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Magen, Ursula. 1986. Assyrische KnigsdarstellungenAspekte der Herrschaft. Mainz am
Rhein: Verlag P. von Zabern.
Mallowan, Max. E. L. 1966. Nimrud and its Remains. 3 vols. London: Collins.
Marcus, Michelle. 1987. Geography as an Organizing Principle in the Imperial Art
of Shalmaneser III. Iraq 49: 77-90.
Meuszynski, Janus. 1981. Die Rekonstruktion der Reliefdarstellungen und ihrer Anordnung im
Nordwestpalast von Kalhu (Nimrud). Mainz am Rhein: Verlag P. von Zabern.

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


Oates, David. 1968. The Excavations at Tell al-Rimah, 1967. Iraq 30: 115-138.
Oates, Joan and David Oates. 2001. Nimrud: An Assyrian Imperial City Revealed. London:
British School of Archaeology in Iraq.
Parpola, Simo. 1993. The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy. JNES 52: 161-208.
Porter, Barbara. 1993. Sacred Trees, Date Palms, and the Royal Persona of Ashurnasirpal II. JNES 52: 129-139.
Quaegebeur, J., ed. 1993. Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. Leuven:
Reade, Julian. 1963. A Glazed-Brick Panel from Nimrud. Iraq 25: 38-47.
Russell, John. 1991. Sennacheribs Palace Without Rival at Nineveh. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Shafer, Ann. 1998. The Carving of an Empire: Neo-Assyrian Monuments on the
Periphery. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Tasyrek, Ozgn A. 1975. Some New Assyrian Rock-Reliefs in Turkey. Anatolian
Studies 25: 169-180.
Watanabe, C. 1992. A Problem in the Libation Scene of Ashurbanipal. In Cult and
Ritual in the Ancient Near East, ed. H. I. H. Mikasa, 91-104. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz.
Weissbach, F. H. 1922. Die Denkmler und Inschriften an der Mndung des Nahr-el-Kelb.
Berlin and Leipzig: Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger.
Winter, Irene. 1983. The Program of the Throneroom of Assurnasirpal II. In Essays
on Near Eastern Art and Archaeology in Honor of Charles Kyrle Wilkinson, ed. P. Harper and
H. Pittman. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
. 1989. The Body of the Able Ruler: Toward an Understanding of the Statues
of Gudea. In DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Ake W. Sjberg, ed. H. Behrens,
D. Loding, and M. Roth. Philadelphia: University Museum.
. 1996. Sex, Rhetoric, and the Public Monument: the Alluring Body of NaramSn of Agade. In Sexuality in Ancient Art, ed. N. B. Kampin. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
. 1997. Art in Empire: The Royal Image and the Visual Dimensions of Assyrian
Ideology. In Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian
Text Corpus Project Helsinki, September 711, 1995, Helsinki, ed. S. Parpola and R. M.
Whiting, 359-381. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.


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Figure 1. Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III (British Museum; Copyright The Trustees
of the British Museum)

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


Figure 2. Rock relief of Esarhaddon at Nahr el-Kelb, Lebanon (after Weissbach,

1922, pl. XI)

Figure 3. Slab B-23, Northwest Palace, Nimrud (British Museum; Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum)

a. shafer

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery

Figure 4. Line drawing of Balawat Gates, Band X


Figure 5. Line drawing of Balawat Gates, Band I

a. shafer

assyrian royal monuments on the periphery


Figure 6. Reconstruction drawing of glazed brick panel above the south doorway
of Fort Shalmaneser Room T3 (after Oates and Oates 2001, 183: fig. 112; courtesy
of Julian Reade)


a. shafer

the godlike semblance of a king



Tallay Ornan1
The deification of rulers in first-millennium Assyria is far less traceable
and clear than the short-lived royal deification during the late third and
early second millennium in Mesopotamia (Sallaberger 1999, 152-154;
J. G. Westenholz and A. Westenholz 2006): neither were the names
of the Neo-Assyrian kings prefixed with the dingir determinative nor
were temples built for them as was the case with their predecessors.
Nevertheless, indications of a process of the elevation of Neo-Assyrian kings and hints at the increased status of the Assyrian kings by
lending them divine-like properties are encountered in monumental
Neo-Assyrian art. As phrased by Irene Winter (1997, 376),
while in the Neo-Assyrian period the king does not claim to be a god,
he is not averse to claims of having been divinely shaped, . . . to being
seen as the very likeness of a god.

Focusing on the divine-like properties of the king as manifested in

art in a Festschrift in honor of Irene Winter is, of course, not a coincidence. This issue was examined by Winter in some of her various
contributions by which I was profoundly inspired. Among these are
her seminal papers on Ur III glyptics (1986, 1987), on the Gudea
statues (1992), and on the Neo-Assyrian royal image (1997) that initially motivated me to investigate the intricate subject of king and god
in Mesopotamian art. Although I never had the opportunity to be
Irenes formal student, I consider myself as one, and this contribution
is a small token presented to her with love and deep gratitude.
Indeed, we can detect several artistic devices that convey a tendency to promote the monarch in Neo-Assyrian imagery. Among
these pictorial means is, for example, the gradual removal of protective divinities from the proximity of the king on Assyrian wall reliefs,
leaving him as the sole elevated figure within the composition and

I am most grateful to Claudia Suter, Joan Westenholz and Irit Ziffer for reading
an earlier draft of this paper and for their comments and insightful remarks.


t. ornan

granting him roles previously carried out by these secondary divinities

(Ornan 2005a). Another manner in which the king was elevated and
was represented as if he were a god was by showing him enthroned
while facing to the lefta stance usually reserved for the representation
of major Mesopotamian deitiesas is shown, for example, in some
depictions of Sennacherib (Barnett et al. 1998, pls. 343, 412). Among
these visual means of elevation we may also include the contrast in
scale between the ruler and the divine presencecarved in very small
emblematic formon royal steles, where the huge gap in dimensions
no doubt emphasized the status of the king to the onlooker (Ornan
2005b, 135-136).
My aim here is to shed light on yet another pictorial device for
the upgrading of the royal image in official Assyrian art, namely the
depiction of the ruler alongside and close to a major god in anthropomorphic shape. I maintain that this manner of representation makes
use of the physical likeness between the earthly king and the heavenly
one in order to elevate the former. The physical semblance emerging
between king and god increased the royal image by conveying, perhaps
somewhat indirectly, that the king was like a god. As will be shown,
the visual similarity of god and king can be matched with some textual
occurrences where, indeed, physical similarity or likeness of king and
god are used in descriptions aimed at the elevation of the king.
The monuments to be examined here are Assyrian rock reliefs dated
to the reign of Sennacherib, located in northern Assyria and associated
with the irrigation systems built by this king, which carried water to
Nineveh and probably also fed its agricultural hinterland. Of the two
compositions rendered on these monumentsthe king gesturing before
divine symbols or venerating human-shaped deitiesI will focus on
the latter.2 Of the four hydraulic engineering systems attributed to
Sennacherib, sculpted rock reliefs were found only in association with
the later two archaeologically documented systems. These rock reliefs
accompanied the so-called Northern System, which carried water from
northwest of Nineveh, probably using the water of the Rubar Dohuk
and the Bandwai rivers, and the Khinis System situated to the north

A thorough discussion of Sennacheribs steles and rock reliefs depicting the king
worshipping divine symbols is given by Ann Shafer who, however, does not deal with
the reliefs treated here (Shafer 1998, 9, 44 n. 105, 88-89, 97-98, 284-289).

the godlike semblance of a king


east of Nineveh (Boehmer 1997; Bagg 2000, 207-215; Kreppner 2002,

371; Ur 2005, 325-339; Wilkinson et al. 2005, 28-30).
Associated with the Northern System are three groups of rock
reliefs. The most northern and the better preserved one consists of
four reliefs sculpted on cliffs on the bank of the river Rubar Dohuk
opposite Maltai (Bachmann 1927, 2327, pls. 2532; Boehmer 1975;
Brker-Klhn 1982, 210211, nos. 207210; Bagg 2000, 211; Ur
2005, 327-328). Three worn reliefs are located at Faida, situated
some fifty kilometers north of Mosul, on the main road to Zacho at
the northeastern side of Jebel el-Qosh, southeast of Girrepan (Reade
1978, 159-162; Brker-Klhn 1982, 208, nos. 200-201; Boehmer
1997; Bagg 2000, 210-211; Ur 2005, 328-330). A curved rock relief
was also found at iru Maliktha, situated some ten kilometers east of
Faida. The theme depicted on the latter monument does not adhere,
however, to the veneration of human-shaped deities discussed here as
it presents the more common Neo-Assyrian theme of a royal worship
before divine symbols (Reade 1978, 164-165; 2002, 309; Brker-Klhn
1982, 208-209, no. 202; Boehmer 1997; Shafer 1998, 327-329; Bagg
2000, 211; Ur 2005, 330-331).
While the reliefs of the Northern System are attributed to the reign
of Sennacherib only on stylistic grounds, the attribution of the Khinis
Systems single group of reliefs to Sennacherib is confirmed by the
so-called Bavian Inscription, which summarizes the accomplishments
of the four hydraulic systems of Sennacherib and, in particular, tells
about the construction of the Khinis System and the sculpted monuments that adorned it (Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935, 36-39; Frahm 1997,
151-154).3 The report about the hydraulic activities of Sennacherib is
followed in the Bavian Inscription by its main theme, which describes
in an unusual literary form the flooding of Babylon and its devastation
in 689 by Sennacherib (Hallo 2003, 305 and see below). The Bavian
Inscription is related to fourteen rock reliefs carved on a western
cliff within a gorge at Bavian; the three that illustrate Sennacherib

The detailed report of the Bavian Inscription accords well with other inscriptions
of Sennacherib, who expanded the literary scope of the Assyrian military exploits to include building and technological achievements in a way never previously recorded in
Assyrian royal propaganda (Tadmor 1999, 61). The importance of the building activities carried out during the reign of Sennacherib is also made clear by the construction
works depicted on wall reliefs in the Southwest Palace at Nineveh (Russell 1991, 94


t. ornan

with anthropomorphic deities are dealt with here.4 These well preserved reliefs are found on the bank of the Gomel River, some sixty
kilometers northeast of Mosul, opposite the village of Khinis located
on the western bank of the river (Brker-Klhn 1982, 206208, nos.
186188; Ur 2005, figs. 15, 16).
The interest in these particular monuments of Sennacherib lies in
their thematic deviation from other Assyrian rock reliefs and steles.
In contrast to the common pictorial theme depicting Assyrian rulers
worshipping divine symbols on Assyrian monuments, including those
of Sennacherib himself, the above-mentioned rock reliefs show the
king gesturing in front of human-shaped deities (Brker-Klhn 1982,
207; Ornan 2005b, 79-86). The question then is why Sennacherib
discarded the royal veneration of divine symbols more common in Neo
Assyrian art in favor of the adoration of anthropomorphic deities for
these monuments. The iconographic modification reflected on these
rock reliefs deserves a special examination since, as noted above, the
representation of (small) divine emblems with the king on Neo-Assyrian monuments is one of the pictorial means used for the exaltation of
the royal image, and it seems inconceivable that Sennacherib would
have abandoned this kind of propagandistic message.
Winter (1982, 367) offers some explanation for the unique presentations depicted on these works of art, in which she deals with the
impact of the western territories conquered by Assyria on some pictorial
and architectural Assyrian constructs. She suggests that the theme in
question, in particular the display of deities on animals and fantastic
quadrupeds, was one of the motifs the Assyrians borrowed from Syrian iconography. Indeed, it is not only the representation of deities on
animals, but also their very representation in anthropomorphic shape
that can be considered as an inspiration of Syrian imagery, since this
was the common manner prevalent in Syria during the late second
and early first millennium. The representation of deities on animals
reflects artistic traditions already encountered in Syria at least as early
as the Late Bronze Age and in particular in thirteenth century Hatti
(Winter 1982, 367; Ornan 2005b, 75-79; Collins 2005, 15-22,
A similar theme was also probably depicted on the so-called Great Rider relief
(Bachmann 1927, 16-21, pl. 20; Brker-Klhn 1982, 206, no. 186) where two large figures of an Assyrian king facing each other can be traced. Above these figures is a small
row of deities mounted on beasts. The positioning of the two probable royal figures recalls the compositions rendered on the other nearby rock reliefs discussed below.

the godlike semblance of a king


38-42). Western influence is not the only possible explanation for these
representations. The tradition of rendering deities in human form
was well rooted, of course, in Mesopotamia from the Old Akkadian
period until the mid-second millennium, and thus the appearance of
anthropomorphic deities on monuments dating to the reign of Sennacherib can be viewed as a reintroduction, in a sense a revival of old
themes generated by the encounter of Assyrian artists with western
models. However, the anthropomorphic form selected for the depiction of the divine on the discussed monuments of Sennacherib should
be regarded as a unique artistic expression when compared to other
monumental Assyrian works of art of the first millennium.
A reexamination of these rock reliefs of Sennacherib reveals that,
in spite of the fact that they diverge from other monumental displays
then current, they nevertheless fit the official Assyrian propaganda
that exalted the king. Moreover, it can be argued that the incentive
for the adoption of the anthropomorphic rendering of deities was to
bring together divine and royal images in order to increase the status
of the king by demonstrating his physical proximity to the gods and,
more importantly, his likeness to the divine. The depiction of a deity
and a ruler side by side was probably intended to evoke the idea
that god and king not only looked the same but also shared similar
characteristics. The intention to elevate the king by visually comparing him to a god is demonstrated by the nuances shown in the four
compositional layouts selected for the monuments in question.
In the first type the king is shown twice, on either side of a row of
deities. This type was selected for the two relief groups of the Northern
System: the reliefs at Faida and Maltai. Of the three ill-preserved reliefs
found at Faida, two depict a procession of six human-shaped deities
(Reade 1978, 161-162; Boehmer 1997, 248). Four almost identical
and much better preserved rock reliefs were found at Maltai (figure
1; Boehmer 1975; Brker-Klhn 1982, 210-211, nos. 207-210). They
present the small figure of Sennacherib as a worshipper facing right
towards a line of five large figures of gods and two goddesses mounted
on animals and fantastic beasts. An identical figure of the king, facing
left, is depicted at the end of the row of deities creating a composition
of divine figures flanked by two identical, antithetically-placed royal
figures; I refer to this format as an antithetical layout.
The message is rather clear here and conveys that the king is the
only human who is shown in the presence of the great gods of Assyria.


t. ornan

Although he does not stand on a beast as the crowd of deities, his

similarity to the gods is implied by the fact that he too carries an attribute in his right hand. This lofty rank of the king is further enhanced
through two rather subtle, yet sophisticated, pictorial devices. One is
the distinction between the seven deities and the single worshipper,
which emphasizes the latter. The second is by applying an element
of surprise that makes the royal figure even more noticeable. At first
glance the spectator may perceive the figure of the king shown on
the right as one of the deities since he turns to the same direction as
they do, and only then, it seems, does the onlooker realize that the
last figure of the divine row in fact depicts the king again.
The emphasis on the king is accentuated even more on the Maltai
rock reliefs in his reappearance, although in miniature dimensions,
in more than one recurrence of the theme. The worshipping ruler is
seen within the ring held by the three first deities: Aur, Ninlil and
Sin. This unique display of the king is also repeated on the Khinis
Great Relief (Boehmer 1975, 47-49, 51; Bachmann 1927, pls. 9-12).5
The manner in which the king is shown in these instancesas a
small figure decorating an object held by a deityis rather unique,
since customarily the situation is reversed. In Assyrian imagery it
is usually the king who is adorned with the emblems of the divine
presencediminutive godly symbols worn as protective jewels by the
king (Winter 1997, 372; Ornan 2005b, 142-143). By this rendering
the physical nexus of the king to the gods is strongly demonstrated.
Furthermore, it may be conjectured that by integrating the royal figure
within a divine attribute he could have been perceived as if he were
a secondary supernatural protective divinity. This suggestion seems
plausible since on the support of Ninlils throne at Maltai, the royal
figures reappear alongside benevolent demons (Bachmann 1927, pl.
29, relief II; Boehmer 1975, 49).
Whereas all the rock reliefs of the Northern System display a similar
layout, the reliefs of the Khinis System represent three different compositions. An abbreviated version recalling the antithetical layout of the
reliefs of the Northern System is rendered on the so called Great Relief
(figure 2; Bachmann 1927, 7-10, pls. 8-9; Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935,

According to Boehmer (1975, 47) a royal image was also depicted within the ring
held by the god on the heavily reconstructed mural from room 12 of Residence K at
Khorsabad (Loud and Altman 1938, 84-85, pls. 31, 88, 89).

the godlike semblance of a king


pl. 33; Brker-Klhn 1982, 206-207, no. 187). Here only the figures
of Aur and Ninlil mounted on beasts and facing each other are
shown and, similar to the longer version of Maltai, two identical
figures of Sennacherib flank the scene. Although the compositional
correspondence to the reliefs of the Northern System is apparent, the
reduced number of major deities here implies the added importance of
the king since his figure is one of only a select few to be represented
and, furthermore, displayed in the company of Aur and Ninlil, the
supreme divine pair.
Another type of the antithetical layout typified, in this case, by an
inverted positioning of the royal and divine figures within the composition, is represented on the side relief of the solid natural block found
partly sunk in the Gomel River, which formed part of the Gate
monument at the canal head of the Khinis System (figure 3; Bachmann
1927, 14-16, pl. 15; Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935, pl. 34A; Brker-Klhn
1982, 207, no. 188). Here it is the worshipping royal figure that occupies the central place whereas the two deities, Aur (on a muhuu
and a lion griffin) and Ninlil (on a lion) are shown flanking the king
on either side. Similar to the above noted compositions, the Gate
side relief also lacks total symmetry since the three participants are
shown in profile and a slight emphasis towards the figure of Aur is
insinuated by the king looking in that gods direction. This pictorial
encounter of Sennachrib with Aur and Ninlil is shown here in the
upper register of two scenes. The lower register shows a huge herolike frontal figure holding a sickle sword in his right hand and a small
lion in his left. At his two sides are two large aladlammus depicted in
profile and looking outward. The entire scene and in particular the
hero grabbing the lion brings a palatial entrance to mind such as
faade n of the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad (Albenda 1986, pls.
16-17). However, it seems that the combination of the two registers
here was not aimed at alluding to Sargons palace but rather, again, at
elevating the king. The scheme of (two) registers one above the other
is a known ancient Near Eastern pictorial means for describing three
dimensional architectural elements in a two-dimensional articulation:
the lower register presents the outer part of the building, at times,
the entrance, while the upper register stands for its inner and most
important architectural component (compare to the Mari wall painting, Barrelet 1950, 19-20). The godly presence in the upper register
of the side relief of the Khinis System Gate hints, then, at a shrine


t. ornan

in which the focus of attention is the king who occupies the central
place. This central positioning of the king almost directly above the
hero grabbing the lion on the lower register creates as yet another
visual simile, which grants the king a heroic supernatural quality.
A complete symmetrical layout of the theme of Sennacherib and
the gods is achieved on the front relief of the above-mentioned Gate
block of the Khinis System canal head. The lower right side of this
carved panel of the block Gate is sunk into the river. The head
and front legs of a frontal-looking aladlammu, whose body is engraved
on the lower right part of the Gate side relief, is shown on this
front panel. This protective hybrid is matched with another aladlammu
sculpted on the right side whose body is presumably found on a third
relief, now hardly traceable, carved on a third panel of the Gate
block (figure 4; Bachmann 1927, 16, pl. 17; Jacobsen and Lloyd 1935,
pl. 34B; Brker-Klhn 1982, 207, no.188 right). Similar to the compositions of the Northern System and the Khinis Great Relief, the
double figure of the king is also depicted on both sides of this front
panel of the Gate block. It is worth mentioning that this type of the
antithetical layout is echoed in seventh century Neo-Assyrian royal
correspondence where one finds several references to the positioning
of two royal figures on either side of the images of major deities such
as Bel in the cella at the city of Aur, Itar at Arabela, Sin at Harran
or Tametu at Borsippa (Cole and Machinist 1998, xiv). The siting
of the royal figure on either side of a god or group of gods reflected
through texts and pictures further accentuates the promotion of the
king since it reiterates a known Mesopotamian construct of placing
a pair of minor divinities on either side of a major deity; thus, the
possibility that the king could have been perceived as a minor divinity
is more than plausible (for example, the Well Relief from the city of
Aur; Orthmann 1975, pl. 194).
The layout of this relief of the Gates front panel, however, diverges from all the other compositions of Sennacheribs rock reliefs
of both the Northern and the Khinis Systems, as here only one deity,
most probably Aur, is flanked by two kings, and the three figures
are represented frontally, and thus a total symmetry is achieved. This
symmetrical display not only acts as a pictorial device bringing the
divine and royal figures closer to the spectator but also creates a
sense of balance, which enhances the message that god and king are
as if alike. Moreover, the similarity apparent between king and god

the godlike semblance of a king


is even increased here by the same type and height of the pedestal
selected for the divine and royal figures. While on the previous reliefs
the worshipping king appropriately stands on the ground and the
deities are mounted on beasts, on the front relief of the canal head
Gate the divine and earthly participants stand on similar rectangular shaped pedestals recalling the age-old Mesopotamian sockels on
which godly images were positioned (CAD s.v. n medu; CAD s.v. ubtu;
Seidl 1989, 110-115), and thus the divine-like nature of the king is
again suggested.
The more varied compositional repertoire representing Sennacherib and anthropomorphic deities apparent on the Khinis reliefs fits
the chronological sequence offered for the Northern and the Khinis
Systems. It may be postulated that the unified theme introduced during the construction of the Northern System, dated between 694-691,
was further developed during the later building of the Khinis System
around 688 (Bagg 2000, 208, 210) into three different pictorial layouts
of Sennacherib and his gods, in which the message that the king and
the god resemble one another was more forcefully suggested.
The iconographic manipulation of depictions of Sennacherib and
the god, in physical proximity or with similar gestures that stressed
their likeness, has some forerunners. Although divine human-shaped
deities are usually missing from Assyrian palatial sculpted decoration,
when occasionally they do appear, a conscious parallelism can be traced
between divine and royal representations. This is manifested on the
south wall of throne-room B in the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal
II, where the figures of Aur and the king are rendered with a great
deal of resemblance except for scalethe king is much larger than the
god. For example, on upper slabs 3 and 11 the two are shown in the
same position of shooting an arrow (Westenholz 2000, 116; Layard
1849, pl. 13). This kind of resemblance is also manifested on upper
slab 5 and lower slab 7 of the same room, though with minor differences. While both figures hold the bow in the triumphal gesture in
their left hand and extend their right arms, on slab 5 the king holds
arrows while the god salutes with an open palm. Similarly on slab 7,
where the king faces an official, the god wields a ring in his right arm
while the king carries a bow (Layard 1849, pl. 21). The parallelism
between god and king explicitly equates these two figures but at the
same time implicitly raises the king, as after all, he is the larger of the
two prominent figures in the scene.


t. ornan

It does not seem to be a coincidence that the resemblance between

king and god, manifest on some of the rock reliefs of Sennacherib,
was represented earlier, though in a different manner, on the reliefs
of Ashurnasirpal. As Westenholz (2000, 110-111 with n. 56) points
out, Ashurnasirpal was also the first king since Naram-Sin of Akkad
to reuse the term tamlu, meaning semblance, which implies shared
physical and possibly other properties between god and king, and the
appearance of this term belongs among the characteristics of imperialistic propaganda. The comparison between the physical likeness of god
and king is, for example, insinuated in Ashurnasirpals report about
the installation of the royal image in the Ninurta temple at Nimrud
in front of the image of Ninurta: I created my royal monument with
a likeness of my countenance of red gold (and) sparkling stones (and)
stationed (it) before the god Ninurta my lord (Grayson 1991, 291,
lines 76-78 and compare 295, lines 13-14). The red golden face of the
king highlights the resemblance between god and king since a red
face (zmu ruti) was considered an exclusively divine trait (CAD
s.v. zmu; Hurowitz 2003, 105; Woods 2004, 86-86, lines 18, 44).6
The unique and conscious choice of Sennacherib to represent himself
alongside human-shaped deities in order to demonstrate his tamluhis
divine likeness, can be corroborated, for example, by a textual reference
found in the royal inscription K 1356. In this inscription Sennacherib
tells of the pictorial heroic theme that he had commissioned for the
bronze bands decorating the doors of the aktu house at the city of
Aur. The passage in question reads: alam Aur (AN.R) a ana libbi
() Timat alti illiku (DU-ku) alam Sn-a-eriba (IdXXX-PAP.MESU) ar (MAN) mt (KUR) A+ur (line 26). According to Frahm (1997,
224) the passage describes two separate images, one of Aur and one
of Sennacherib, that were put side by side: The image of Aur who
goes into the midst of Tiamat for battle, the image of Sennacherib, king
of Assyria (English translation by Uehlinger 2003, 292; for a different
interpretation see Pongratz-Leisten 1994, 207-209). Although we do
not know whether the description in K 1356 was indeed represented
in an actual pictorial narrative showing Aur fighting Tiamat, the
text, nevertheless, transmits the notion of the equation between god
and king and thereby matches the compositional layouts rendered

For the physical likeness of the king and the gods in Middle and Neo-Assyrian
records see Parpola 1993, 168 n. 33 with bibliography.

the godlike semblance of a king


on the rock reliefs of Sennacheribs water systems (Uehlinger 2003,

291). That this kind of metaphorical royal propaganda was adopted
during Sennacheribs reign is reinforced by the account of the battle
of Halule in 691, where the poetic language turns the earthly clash
between Assyria and the Babylonian-Elamite alliance into a divine
combat between a supernatural hero and monstrous rivals (Weissert
1997, 197).
Although the theme of the veneration of anthropomorphic deities
also appears on some smaller works of art from the reign of Sennacherib, such as a stele and a model plaque from the city of Aur or on
the so-called Seal of Destinies of the god Aur, its main occurrences
are on the monuments accompanying the irrigation systems of Sennacherib (Brker-Klhn 1982, 209, no. 205; Andrae 1977, 230, 232,
fig. 210; Wiseman 1958, 14-17; George 1986; Ornan 2005b, 81-83,
figs. 98-102, 131). The fact that the veneration of anthropomorphic
deities was typical of the pictorial programs accompanying the remote
hydraulic systems north of Nineveh suggests that it was not widely
adopted into Neo-Assyrian imagery during the reign of Sennacherib
and that Sennacherib too, like other Assyrian monarchs, retained the
more common subject matter of venerating divine symbols. The consistency of the move away from the display of major human-shaped
deities on Sennacheribs monuments is proven by the absence of
such images from the carved decoration at the Southwest Palace at
Nineveh (Ornan, forthcoming).
However, that this theme played a significant ideological role within
the context of Sennacheribs hydraulic systems (compare to Ur 2005,
342; Wilkinson et al. 2005, 30-32) is indicated by the fact that the
Khinis monuments showing it are much larger than the accompanying
small rock reliefs depicting the adoration of divine symbols (BrkerKlhn 1982, 207, nos. 189-199; Shafer 1998, 284-289). It seems that
this type of subject matter, in which the elevation of the king reached
its climax by the explicit demonstration of his similarity to the divine,
was deliberately chosen for the representational program of the
hydraulic constructions.7
The purpose of the complex water systems created by Sennacherib
was not only to improve Ninevehs water supply, as is recorded in the

On the Assyrian control over natural water sources and its pictorial and textual
use in royal propaganda, especially under Shalmaneser III, see Shafer 1998, 91-98.


t. ornan

Bavian Inscription, but also to enhance the irrigation infrastructure

of the agricultural hinterland beyond Nineveh (Ur 2005). These engineering accomplishments of Sennacherib had, most probably, far
reaching consequences for the huge population living in Assyria in
the late eighth and early seventh century, as these intensive construction works improved the conditions of the population of Nineveh by
ensuring its livelihood (Ur 2005, 343; Wilkinson et al. 2005, 26-27).
I would suggest that the major change in the physical surroundings
caused by the modifications of the water coursesa divine-like intervention in the order of nature itselfmay have encouraged royal
ambitions to render the figure in charge of these systems as if, indeed,
he were a god. Moreover, the representation of a godlike Sennacherib fits very well the main theme of the Bavian Inscription, which as
mentioned, reports the flooding of Babylon and its devastation. Such
an unprecedented destructive action, whose terrible outcome haunted
Mesopotamian history for generations to come, is paralleled in this
inscription with the beneficial and resoration activities of Sennacherib
toward Nineveh (Van De Mieroop 2003). This grand scale of the
manipulations of watery sources causing life or death for hundreds of
thousands of people echoed mythic events and intensified the divine
aspiration of Sennacherib.
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Figure 1. Rock relief from Maltai, the northern hydraulic system (Thureau-Dangin 1924, 187)

t. ornan

the godlike semblance of a king


Figure 2. The Great Relief, the Khinis hydraulic system (after Bachmann 1927, fig.
8, redrawn by P. Arad)


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Figure 3. Side relief of the Gate head, the Khinis hydraulic system (after Bachmann
1927, fig. 13, middle, redrawn by P. Arad)

Figure 4. Front relief of the Gate head, the Khinis hydraulic system (after Bachmann 1927, fig. 13, left, redrawn by P. Arad)

ceremony and kingship at carchemish



Elif Denel
In a series of groundbreaking articles, Irene J. Winter (1981, 1982,
1983, 1989) addressed the relationship between monuments and portable luxury goods of northern Syria and southeastern Anatolia as
elements of kingship strategies in the Near East during the early first
millennium BC. In these investigations, Winter highlighted Carchemish
and its impact on the broader cross-cultural developments of the period.
By the ninth century BC, when the Assyrians systematically began to
report their increased military interactions with northern Syria and
southeastern Anatolia, expressions of sociopolitical differentiation and
kingly status had already emerged and developed at Carchemish and
had even become influential in the wider Near Eastern cultural scheme
(Winter 1982, 365; 1983). Following Winters lead in seeking connections between material culture and social structures in the region, I
focus here on the inner organization of the kingdom of Carchemish.
Using a combination of archaeological remains and textual sources,
I investigate the links between the monumental infrastructure of the
city of Carchemish and the political and social dimensions of the
system of kingship established in the kingdom of Carchemish. In
particular, I argue that the manipulation of the monumental urban
infrastructure at Carchemishthe creation and installation of monumental inscriptions and visual representations and the configuration
of public spacesconstituted an integral part of elaborate rituals or
ceremonies of kingship that were designed to legitimate individual
rule, maintain local and regional power, and diminish threats to the
office and status of kingship. To that end, I first argue that public
areas of Carchemish functioned as settings for ceremonies of kingship.
In this process, royal ancestor worship developed as a key element
in conceptual and ceremonial strategies of power. I then focus on
the reigns of three rulers, Suhis II, Katuwas, and Yariris, in order to
illustrate how each king developed distinct strategies and manipulated
the pre-existing monumental urban framework to establish his legitimacy in the changing conditions particular to his reign.


e. denel

After wider interregional mechanisms of political and economic

control disintegrated in the twelfth century BC (Liverani 1987), modes
of expressing power and status that had developed in the Bronze Age
continued to be used by ruling elites who survived the transformation of this historical phase at Carchemish to maintain substantial
regional authority.1 Nevertheless, changes that occurred throughout
the Early Iron Age in the political and ideological center of the settlement illustrate differences in strategies of power under the authority
of certain rulers. These differences reflect purposeful reconfigurations
of familiar expressions of power and status in response to existing
historical dynamics and political objectives. In this process, the orthostats and stelae carved in limestone and basalt monumentalize
kingship ceremonies. It was by means of such formal events that rulers configured and reconfigured social and political concepts, power
relations among members of the elite class, and their authority over
the sociopolitical order.
As a rare example of a relatively well-excavated and documented
Iron Age center in the wider region of northern Syria and southeastern
Anatolia, the ruins of Carchemish show that the ruling elites controlled
substantial wealth and manpower to complete large scale and complex public works. The strategic location of the settlement on a major
crossing of the Euphrates River must have contributed to the citys
emergence as a political and economic authority in the first millennium
BC. In fact, Winter (1983) has shown that at this time Carchemish
became a major participant in interregional exchange systems of
elite goods. According to Winter, the wealth that accumulated in the
hands of the highest elites through production and exchange became
manifest in the form of art, inscription and architecture defining the
public sphere of the city. Thus, a small and well-differentiated group
with substantial economic and social power controlled the generation
of an elaborate royal culture at Carchemish.
Archaeological remains show that a series of walls around and within
the city created a strong system of protection. This feature emphasizes
restriction of access to certain areas as a major architectural and social concern in Carchemish. Excavations conducted on behalf of the
This observation has emerged mainly on the grounds that the descendents of Hittite royalty who took control of Carchemish in the fourteenth century BC remained in
power into the first millennium BC. They also claimed the title of Great King, which
had originally and exclusively designated Hittite kings at Hattusha (Hawkins 1995).

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


British Museum during the first half of the twentieth century, first
by D. G. Hogarth and later by Leonard Woolley, uncovered a 120hectare area of the settlement (Hogarth 1914; Woolley 1921, 1952).
The inner fortification system, which Woolley (1921, 51) identified as
an earlier city wall, stands on an artificially built earthen mound and
gives access from the Outer Town to the Inner Town through two
entrances, the West Gate and the South Gate. A highly formalized
section of the site called the Lower Palace Area, located in the long
occupied Inner Town, forms the focus of this study (figure 1). A series
of decorated and inscribed buildings, walls and elaborate gateways
highlights the highly monumental and exclusive nature of this sector
of the settlement, which lies directly below the Citadel Mound.2 Although two buildings, the Temple of the Storm God and the Hilani,
were excavated in their entirety, very little evidence of the architectural
plans of other structures has been recovered in this area. As a result,
the excavators have distinguished the architectural units in this area
on the basis of their decorative schemes, identifying them with such
descriptive labels as the Processional Entry, Royal Buttress, Heralds
Wall and Long Wall of Sculpture. These designations suggest that
the excavators relied on artistic representations also to speculate on
the nature of formal events conducted in the architectural spaces of
the Lower Palace Area.
A series of decorated gates further emphasizes the exclusive character of this sector. The Water Gate controls entry into the Lower
Palace Area from the western bank of the Euphrates in the east. The
Kings Gate connects the Lower Palace Area with the Inner Town
in the south. This gate consists of a broad area to its north that
includes imagery of processions on a substantial wall known as the
Processional Entry.
The western extent of the broad area beyond the Temple of the
Storm God remains unexcavated, thus the gate system and its relationship to the surrounding buildings is only partially understood.
The Great Staircase in the north provides a monumental passage
between this area and the higher ground of the Citadel Mound, where
buildings are almost entirely destroyed by erosion and later building
activities (Woolley 1952, 210-214). Another smaller gate immediately
Woolley (1952, 158-159) recognized remains of the royal palace on the terraces
covering the slope of the Citadel Mound, where almost all buildings had been greatly
eroded and destroyed.


e. denel

to the south of the Royal Buttress within the Kings Gate and in line
with the eastern wall of the Processional Entry leads into what may
have been a wing of the palace or another official structure.3 These
gates set apart the Lower Palace Area as a highly exclusive location
reserved for a distinguished sector of the society during the formal
events of political ceremonies.
Consequently, the aspect of ceremony with which this paper is
concerned is mainly political. It involves the ability of societies to
establish power relations and sociopolitical order through symbolic
acts conducted in the formalized areas of built environments. These
acts operate in societies to construct, display and promote the power
of political institutions (such as king, state, the village elders) or the
political interests of distinct constituencies and subgroups (Bell 1997,
128). They further involve the reorganization of culturally embedded
meanings and values through rites and rituals to meet changing political circumstances (Kertzer 1988, 175). Inherent in the nature of a
ritual act that is relevant to this study is thus its power to transform
social attitudes, habits and beliefs (Bell 1992, 26) in an overarching
framework of tradition and continuity. As such, it is this transformative nature of ritual that enables it to function as an effective social
mechanism for establishing and maintaining political power relations.
Furthermore, ceremonies rely on shared values and goals to articulate
a community as coherent, ordered and legitimate through symbols
and symbolic actions that are embedded in the perceived order of the
cosmos (Bell 1997, 129). Ceremonies, therefore, provide a conventional
platform for powerful members of the elite class to maintain their social
differentiation. The archaeological evidence from the settlement of
Carchemish provides insight into the operation of such a mechanism
in the sociopolitical system of the kingdom of Carchemish.
With its monumental spaces lined with artistic representations and
monumental inscriptions, the Lower Palace Area of the settlement
provided a physical setting for rites and rituals in broad ceremonial
events. These contributed to the production of royal culture at
Carchemish; that is, how the ruling elite controlled this mechanism
Separated by the 15-meter wide path that leads west from the Water Gate, the
architectural relationship between the terraces of the Lower Palace and the structure
immediately to the east of the Kings Gate is unclear. See Woolleys description (1952,
192-193), which does not specify how this structure was linked with the Lower Palace
on the ascending ground to its north.

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


of social differentiation. Four types of evidence point to the performance of rituals for political purposes within monumental spaces of
the Lower Palace Area. These are indentations carved in stone that
functioned as receptacles for libations and other offerings, images
on orthostats that depict actual acts of offering, representations of
processions, and inscriptions that refer to the installation of offerings
and dedications.
Perhaps the most obvious archaeological markers of ritual acts at
and around Carchemish are what David Ussishkin (1975) calls hollows
or cup marks. These are a series of circular indentations cut into a
variety of stone objects including statue bases and dedication tables
(or altars). Such circular cuttings are found in a wide range of ritual
contexts in Late Bronze Age Anatolia. The cemetery of Osmankayas
near Boazky (Bittel, et al. 1958), a lion protome at the Lion Gate of
Boazky (Ussihkin 1975, 91-95), rock outcrops within the settlement
of Boazky (Neve 1996) and on the processional way that leads to
Yazlkaya (Neve 1977/1978), the open-air sanctuaries of Yazlkaya
(Ussishkin 1975, 91) and Fraktin (Ussishkin 1975, 85-86), and a relief
of Muwatalli on a rock cropping by the Ceyhan River near the village of Sirkeli (Ussishkin 1975, 86-89) contain a group of hollows or
cup marks that designate an area of libation and dedication in Hittite religious activity.4 Some altars from Carchemish and its vicinity
contain rectangular compartments alongside circular ones; such altars
were common in the nearby Yunus cemetery (Woolley 1939), as well
as in different areas of the settlement of Carchemish (Woolley 1921,
93-93, fig. 27; 1952, 181-182, fig. 69) (figure 2). Two such altars were
discovered in situ in the Lower Palace Area of Carchemish in front of
the images of the Sun and the Moon Gods (Woolley 1952, pls. 31a,
B33; Ussishkin 1975, 102, fig. 20)5 (figure 1). Representations of these
deities are carved on a large orthostat on the Great Staircase overlooking the wide space between the staircase, the Long Wall of Sculpture
and the Heralds Wall. Another stone block with carved indentations
was found disturbed near a lion protome outside the South Gate of
the Inner Town. This block may have been originally associated with
See Hoffner (1967) on the widespread utilization of dedication pits in the second
millennium BC as a particularly significant element of Hittite religion.
Ussishkin (1975, 101-102) recognized that what Woolley (1952, 159, 171) had
mistakenly called a basalt impost was in fact a second altar or table offering placed in
front of the images of the two gods.


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the lion protome or brought to its findspot at some point in time

from the vicinity of a destroyed statue in the northeast chamber of
the gate (Woolley 1921, pl. 12). Such indentations on stone blocks
mark areas of ritual activity and distinguish certain representations
as foci in rites and rituals.
Orthostats in the Water Gate decorated with scenes of feasting
(Woolley 1921, pl. B30b) and libation offering (pl. B30a) reflect certain
elements of actual rites and rituals. Initially dated to the Late Bronze
Age, current opinion agrees that the Water Gate orthostats belong
in the initial phase of the Early Iron Age (Hawkins 1976-1980, 436).
Scenes of libation and other forms of ritual activity are found at such
centers as Alaca Hyk and Malatya and resemble the representations
of Carchemish. These date to the end of the Bronze Age or the transition period from the Late Bronze into the Early Iron Age (Akurgal
1962, 118, 130; Mellink 1974). The survival of Bronze Age traditions
in the monumental configuration at Carchemish suggests that the
conduct of ritual activity within city gates was an existing tradition.
Thus, the decoration of gates must have emerged in the first millennium
BC as a kingship strategy that was founded on an existing tradition. It is
possible that gates did not necessarily function in antiquity as areas
where communal feasts were actually held; yet as areas of passage, they
provided built environments for artistic display of beliefs and views,
which feasts and libations also transmitted through their activities.
A seated figure and its base carved with a series of circular hollows
indentations show that the Kings Gate was also a likely setting for
such activities. Thus, images, statues and the carving of indentations
designate cultural significance of the gate in ritual activity. Numerous
studies have highlighted the material and conceptual aspects of the city
gate in many Near Eastern cultures (Mellink 1974; Ussishkin 1989;
Mazzoni 1997; Haettner Blomquist 1999) and have emphasized its
character as a physical and conceptual source of access between the
outside world and the inner realm of the community. In addition, the
evidence for ritual activity at gate structures associates the city gate
with the royal ancestor cult. Perhaps the conduct of such a culturally
significant action as ritual in such a conceptually meaningful area of
the settlement developed to emphasize the ownership of the royal
family and the long lasting authority that it exercised over the city.
Not all images at Carchemish acted as direct recipients of dedications or depicted the very act of dedication. Two types of representations surround open spaces in the Lower Palace Area: self-contained

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


images displaying the iconography of ritual and power, and representations of processions that extend on long stretches of adjoining
orthostats. Of these two, images of procession represent the act of
bringing dedications and thus complement the act of actual dedication in rites and rituals. Therefore, they highlight the overarching
ceremony that consists of several steps including the actual bringing
and display of the offerings. Representation of soldiers, chariots and
deities on the Long Wall of Sculpture (Woolley 1952, pls. B37-B46)
and soldiers, palace attendants, priestesses and animal bearers on the
Processional Entry (Hogarth 1914, pls. B1-B5; Woolley 1921, pls.
B17a, B19-B24) are ordered in a formalized progression typical of
processions (figure 3). Musicians and dancers on the gate next to the
Royal Buttress (Woolley 1921, pls. B17b, B18) refer to incantations
and performances that often form components of rites and rituals
and consequently emphasize the festive and ceremonial nature of the
processions. The self-contained images, on the other hand, highlight
the religious and mythological traditions of the society in which ritual
acts are by nature integral (Bell 1992, 1997). In some distinct cases, such
as the arrangement of the Heralds Wall (Hogarth 1914, pls. B9-B17;
Woolley 1952, pl. 42), images are removed from their original contexts
and reorganized on a new architectural construction (Orthmann 1971,
31-32). The mythological themes on the majority of these orthostats
convey traditional messages of strength that entrench kingly power
and authority in the past. Although they may not have originally
contributed to the formal events of ceremonies, the reuse of these
representations on the southern border of the wide space in the Lower
Palace Area indicates the operation of a pre-calculated procedure to
incorporate them into this area and into the formal events conducted
here. Consequently, emblematic images together with representations
of processions define ceremonial space and complement the formal
acts conducted in the political heart of the city.
The fourth type of evidence that points to ritual activities in monumental spaces of Carchemish consists of actual statements of dedication in monumental inscriptions. Written in Luwian hieroglyphs,
most inscriptions found at the site commemorate building activities,
celebrate military victories, and honor deities, kings and the royal family. Carved on stone stelae and architectural orthostats during the reigns
of different rulers, these inscriptions mention sacrifices and offerings
made during the inauguration of buildings and monuments and the
subsequent installation of regularized celebrations. In his inscription


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on the Long Wall of Sculpture, for instance, Suhis II celebrates the

city gods and his ability to reinstall them in their proper places after
an enemy disturbance by establishing regular sheep, bread and libation
offerings for the images of the gods and the newly erected statue of
himself (Hawkins 2000, 88-89 A1a). On an orthostat slab of the Kings
Gate his descendent, Katuwas, mentions ARASI-bread, annual
bread offerings (Hawkins 2000, 98), to honor his (re)building of the
Temple of the Storm God (Hawkins 2000, 95 A11a 11-12)6 and other
similar offerings in addition to oxen and sheep to other gods of the
city to commemorate his construction of womens quarters probably
in the royal palace (Hawkins 2000, 103-104 A11b+c). Katuwas also
declares instituting annual offerings of bread, ox and sheep for the
seated image by the Kings Gate (Hawkins 2000, 101 A4d). In addition
to conveying specific messages, the material display of inscription is
a powerful element in kingship strategies. The ritual inauguration of
monumental sculpture and architecture was often followed by regular
food offerings so as to integrate the beliefs and ideologies of the king
into a pretext of tradition.
The monumental and formal nature of the Lower Palace Area
suggests that this sector of the settlement was not available to all
segments of the society. A set of wooden doors restricted access into
this area from the outside through the Water Gate in the east (Woolley 1921, 104). Massive cedar doors (Woolley 1952, 198-199) and a
small guardroom on the southwest corner (Woolley 1952, 192) reveal
the operation of a highly secure control system in the more monumental Kings Gate. One would expect less security at this gate, which
regulates entrance from within the settlement, where the potential
for threat to the political sector would be relatively minimal. Therefore, this over-emphasis on the protective nature of the Kings Gate
suggests a purposeful display of power rather than a real necessity
for protection. The evidence for sloping and grooving of the pavement in the gate supports this suggestion as it reveals planning for
wheeled access into the Lower Palace Area (Woolley 1952, 199). The
While Katuwas, who reigned in the tenth or early ninth century BC, claims to
have built the temple himself, a stele found in the courtyard of the temple and dedicated
to Great King Ura-Tarhunzas, who may have ruled Carchemish in the late eleventh or
early tenth century BC, suggests a much earlier date for its construction (Hawkins 2000,
80 A4b). See Hawkins (2000, 98) on a discussion of what Katuwas calls building that
might in fact be a renovation of the temple.

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


monumental nature of this sector also indicates that wheeled traffic

must have been restricted. Images of chariots and foot soldiers carved
on the surrounding walls also raise the possibility of a military presence here. Since the Lower Palace Area is inappropriate by nature
to house the military power of the kingdom, the presence of chariots
and soldiers here must be symbolic; if physically present, then only
in limited numbers and during the formal events of political ceremonies. When the royal family, members of other elite families, palace
and temple attendants, foot soldiers and charioteers are collectively
considered as the main participants of ceremonial events, the Lower
Palace Area with irregular dimensions does not seem broad enough to
contain extremely large masses of participants. Thus, not all members
of the society could collectively enter the ceremonial sector of the settlement during rituals. Ceremonial participation would probably have
been restricted to those who contributed to instituting sociopolitical
order and who could potentially generate a real threat from within
the community to the operation of societal systems.
Elites rarely possess undisputed authority. Although Hittite authority
had disappeared, high elites of Carchemish based their legitimacy on
descent from the Hittite royalty as they reconfigured power relations
and established political offices appropriate for their new political
structure. The material evidence for the Late Bronze Age is limited
at the archaeological site (Hawkins 1976-1980, 435); yet historical
sources transmit a long history for the city as the main center of Hittite
control over northern Syria in the Late Bronze Age (Hawkins 2000,
73-74). In such a volatile historical setting, the ruling class especially
needed to appeal to tradition and ritual, as Bell (1992, 194) has pointed
out, to redefine and legitimize its newly acquired status every time
a new generation replaced the previous one. Winter (1992, 2) has
noted that ritual and monumental art are particularly effective in assisting controlling factions in such processes, by means of which they
could secure their privileges and convey their authority to the masses.
Conceptual, conceptual elements and performative aspects of rituals
sustain a certain degree of flexibility in order that they may effectively
respond to social, political and economic variables in the framework
of societal unity and continuity. When Suhis I appropriated the seat
of kingship probably in the eleventh century BC, a calculated sense of
historicity and tradition in kingship strategies replaced the preexisting


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close association between the royal family of Carchemish and their

Hittite predecessors. The evidence of cup marks, depictions of actual
rites in ritual performance, representations of processions, and contents
of monumental inscriptions mark distinguished spaces of Carchemish as settings for elaborate rituals that connect the current political
order with the distant past and redefine tradition during the reign of
each king. In this respect, the formalization and re-formalization of
ceremonial space illustrates developments in ritual performance as
kingly strategies to maintain authority over the sociopolitical order of
Carchemish. To investigate the relationship between ceremonial space
and changing concerns of the Carchemishean kings, I now concentrate
on three rulers, Suhis II, Katuwas, and Yariris, who ruled between
roughly the tenth and the beginning of the eighth century BC.
An inscribed orthostat among the artistic representations of the
Long Wall of Sculpture designates Suhis II as the creator of this
installation on the exterior of the wall surrounding the Storm God
Temple. The decorative program of the king emphasizes the stretch
of the wall that adjoins the Great Staircase, the monumental entrance
leading to the top of the citadel from the Lower Palace Area. The
Long Wall of Sculpture not only defines the ceremonial function of its
surrounding area, but also places particular emphasis on Suhis II as
its creator.7 This inscription commemorates this kings reconstruction
of sanctuaries and reinstallment of the city gods to their proper places
after an enemy hacked down and overturned their images during
an incursion into the city in the tenth century BC (Hawkins 2000, 88
A1a 3-4). Representations of the Long Wall of Sculpture consist of
an array of deities followed by a series of chariots and foot soldiers
facing the direction of the Great Staircase. Military figures include
archers in chariots over the naked bodies of the fallen enemy (Woolley
1952, pls. B41, B42) and a procession of soldiers holding spears in
one hand and decapitated heads of the enemy in the other (Woolley
1952, pl. B46). A clear reflection of the kingly power and unusual skill
to conserve social, political and cosmic order, such representations

The king may have carried out additional constructions; yet this decorated and inscribed wall forms the sole surviving archaeological evidence with such elaborate decoration that is securely associated with his building activities.

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


also ensure the continuation of divine protection after a potentially

fatal threat to the existing order of the city and the kingdom at large.
As constant reminders of his achievements, artistic images actively
memorialize the kings exceptional abilities to carry out this endeavor
and to restore order to Carchemish. As such, these images were also
engaged in the ritual activity of ceremonies conducted in the open
space in front of the Long Wall. These ceremonies celebrated, among
other things, the kings vital position in restoring order to the city and
preserving the social and political systems of the kingdom.
The clearest evidence for ritual in ceremonial activity consists of
two altars on the platform supporting the images of the Sun and the
Moon God (Woolley 1952, pl. B33) (figure 1). These figures signify
the entrance of the Great Staircase as a location across from the Long
Wall of Sculpture where libations were poured into the receptacles
of the altars probably in the presence of an audience gathered in the
open space of the Lower Palace Area. The two images are carved
on a large orthostat in standing position on a crouching lion facing
away from the opening of the Great Staircase. The orthostat lines the
exterior of a room where a statue base flanked on either side with
bull protomes had once supported a statue (Woolley 1952, pl. B53).
A deep indentation on the base that is carved in the manner of what
Ussishkin (1975) calls a cup mark or a hollow designates the statue
also as a recipient of libation offerings. The statue is currently lost
and thus its identity is not clear. Whomever the statue represents,
the room in which it stood forms a unit with the Long Wall, Great
Staircase and the large ceremonial space expanding in front of these
structures.8 Consequently, through his building activities, Suhis II not
only memorialized his conservation of religious and political order in
his realm, but also defined the ceremonial nature of the area in which
rites and rituals to maintain order were carried out.
As a result, the monumental scheme of the Long Wall of Sculpture
highlights Suhis II as a successful king, even though material remains
of the kings own image are yet to be found in the archaeological
record. The inscription on the Long Wall declares that the king in

Orthmann (1971, 501) dates the base and the orthostat on stylistic grounds to a
phase slightly before the execution of the Long Wall of Sculpture. It is therefore possible that Suhis II constructed the Long Wall of Sculpture in order to complement these
preexisting structures.


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fact installed his own representation and intended it to be included in

rites and rituals honoring this assemblage of the gods (Hawkins 2000,
88-89 A1a 25-27). This statement suggests that an image of the king
may have been carved in relief on a damaged segment of the Long
Wall.9 It is also possible that a freestanding statue stood in the vicinity the Long Wall and the Great Staircase. The king, furthermore,
mentions instituting rites for his own statue to be carried out along
with those carried out for the deities: (He) who (is a man) of sheep,
let him offer a sheep to this statue. But (he) who (is a man) of bread,
let him . . . bread and libation to it (Hawkins 2000, 89 A1a 30-33).
Although the statue is now lost, this inscription shows that Suhis II
attempted to combine the cultic activities of the gods with those of
the king in order to promote and elevate further the distinguished
status of kingship. Images on the Long Wall of Sculpture, therefore,
did not originally stand alone, but functioned in combination with
other elements in its surrounding area.
An innovation in kingship strategies, the king introduced ancestor
worship into the ceremonial scheme of Carchemish when he created
the decorative program of the Long Wall of Sculpture. Among the
deities depicted here, Suhis II included a seated figure of his wife,
BONUS-tis (figure 4). Although there is no evidence for a burial
in the area of the Long Wall, the inscription shows that the image
was funerary in nature: I (am) BONUS-tis the Country-Lord Suhiss
dear wife. Wheresoever my husband honours his (own) name, he shall
honour my own with goodness (Hawkins 2000, 92 A1b). Ancestor
cult was already an important element of ruling elite cultures of north
Syria in the second millennium BC (Tsukimoto 1985). Nevertheless,
the attempt of Suhis II to incorporate his wife among the deities reflects a new attempt to formalize ancestor cult in order to introduce
the royal family into the realm of the deities. This act, which the
king instituted during his lifetime, also prepared the grounds for his
entry into the realm of the supernatural after his death. The ancestor

Upon the kings claim that he made and erected a statue of himself (2000, 89 A1a
28-33), Hawkins (1972, 107, fig. 4) has suggested that an image of the king must have
been included on the Long Wall of Sculpture, either as a discrete representation, like
those of the deities, or as a smaller figure introducing the hieroglyphic figures of the inscription carved in the style of the image from the inscriptions of Katuwas (Woolley
1921, A13d) or Yariris (Hogarth 1914, pls. A6, B6).

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


cult of the queen, therefore, stands as a pretense for the kings own
dynastic aspirations to elevate the state of kingship onto the even
higher plane of the gods.
In addition to this strategy to secure the kings power in the social,
political and cosmic order of Carchemish, the emphasis Suhis II placed
on the ancestor cult possibly relates to his ancestors seizure of control
from the previous ruling family. Several sources suggest that Suhis I,
the grandfather of Suhis II, usurped the throne from the Great Kings,
who descended from the Hittite royal family (Hawkins 1995). A major
source on the change of power at Carchemish is an eleventh or tenth
century BC stele with an inscription honoring Ura-Tarhunzas, the
Great King, Hero, King of the land of Karkami (Hawkins 2000,
80 A4b). Another piece of evidence that complements this information is a later reference made by Katuwas, the son of Suhis II, to his
suppression of a rebellion lead by the 20-TATI, the kinsmen of
Ura-Tarhunzas (Hawkins 2000, 95 A11a 5, 103 A11b 4). Located
in the courtyard of the Temple of the Storm God, the stele of UraTarhunzas identifies the dedicator as the priest of the goddess Kubaba
and the son of a ruler, who is named Suhis. On the basis of the
genealogical references made in monumental inscriptions, Hawkins
links this individual with Suhis I, the father of king Atuwatamanzas
and the grandfather of Suhis II (Hawkins 1995, 78). Later references
made by Katuwas to the trouble caused by the grandsons of UraTarhunzas suggests a significant social and political resistance to the
order and authority of his kingship. This probably emerged in response
to a fundamental power transformation that occurred at Carchemish
with the deposition of Ura-Tarhunzas. The family of Ura-Tarhunzas
seems not to have lost all its influence, but retained substantial social
and economic ability to contest the authority of the descendents of the
usurper. Inscriptions further show that the royal title changed at the
same time as when political power was fundamentally altered in the
kingdom. The descendents of Suhis I took the titles of Ruler and
Country Lord instead of continuing the earlier tradition of Great
King (Hawkins 1995). This is an act that reflects a deliberate attempt
to break away from the Hittite roots of kingship. Consequently, the
formalization of the ceremonial space at the settlement of Carchemish
and the elevation of royal status into the realm of the gods are elements of the kingship strategy that Suhis II developed to establish his
legitimacy and maintain his authority as the grandson of a usurper.
Such a calculated act suggests that threats to the legitimacy of the


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kings authority did not entirely disappear after Suhis I appropriated

the seat of kingship.
The son of Suhis II, Katuwas, also undertook major building projects
into the late tenth or early ninth century BC and complemented the
artistic and architectural rearrangements of his father. In addition to
renovating the Temple of the Storm God, the Kings Gate, and the
royal palace, he created a substantial portion of the citys surviving
decorative program. Of these, the Processional Entry stands out as
it further elaborates on the emphasis Suhis II had placed on military
leadership and protection of the sociopolitical and religious order
as chief elements of kingship at Carchemish. Images of marching
soldiers, priestesses and bearers of sacrificial animals line the western
wall of a massive public complex that is known mainly through its
decorative scheme. Yet, these images highlight, like the Long Wall of
Sculpture, the ceremonial function of the open space they surround.
Images of soldiers from the north and priestesses and sacrificial animal
bearers from the south converge toward one another. These processions culminate with a scene that was centrally positioned on the
Royal Buttress. Later inscriptions and images of Yariris have replaced
what once covered the surface of the walls here; thus the scene that
formed the apex of these processions in Katuwas reign is no longer
available. Nevertheless, it must have had substantial significance, since
Yariris chose this place in the early eighth century BC to display the
composition that describes the nature of his kingship (Hogarth 1914,
pl. A6). An inscription that was reused as a ramp in the Kings Gate
might have once lined the doorjamb of the gate next to the Royal
Buttress (Woolley 1952, 203). This inscription, along with others, depicts Katuwas as a powerful military leader, builder and worshipper of
the gods (Hawkins 2000, 103-104 A11b+c). Like his father, Katuwas
placed particular emphasis on installing a ceremonial procession, by
which means he claimed to have (re)instituted or renewed the cults
of certain deities: I myself beheld my lord Karhuhass and Kubabas
procession, and I myself seated them on this podium (Hawkins 2000,
103 A11b 16-17). The statue base (Woolley 1952, pl. B53a) in front
of the soldier figures (figure 3) may have once supported the image of
Katuwas, which he claims in a monumental text to have erected in
the city (Hawkins 2000, 122 A25a). Whether the statue of this base
actually depicted Katuwas is not certain,10 but the strategic position

Hawkins (2000, 77) considers Suhis II for the identity of the statue next to the

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


of the base in front of the marching soldiers suggests an emphasis on

the kings leadership in the procession honoring the gods.
Katuwas also elaborated on Suhis notion of ancestor worship as
a strategy in establishing his royal power. He renovated the Kings
Gate and installed a colossal image next to it, which he identified
as Atrisuhas (figure 5). The figure is seated on a throne holding a
double axe and a mace in his hands. Erected on a lion base, it faces
the Storm God Temple and the Great Staircase in the north. A horned
helmet in the style of the gods also crowns the head of the statue. On
the basis of the Luwian inscription on the skirt of the statue, Hawkins
(2000, 101 A4d) recognized that the term atri- designates (image)
soul and the image represents the image or soul of the deceased father or grandfather of Katuwas: For this god Atrisuhas with the gods
(he) who does not [offer] annual bread, an ox and two sheep, against
him may Atrisuhas come fatally! The inscription further shows that
Katuwas established an ancestor cult by the Kings Gate and took
the attempt of Suhis II to include the royal family in the realm of
the gods a step further by representing his father or grandfather as
an actual god.
As such, Katuwas complemented the emphasis Suhis II placed on
the preservation of the religious order in the kingdom by describing in
art and text his kingly image as an installer of ceremonies and leader
in processions. He thus continued his fathers enterprises to manipulate
preexisting public spaces to formalize the ceremonial nature of the
Lower Palace Area. With an increased emphasis on the royal ancestor
cult, Katuwas at least conceptually intensified the power of the living
king by portraying him as a future deity. Both his and his fathers
strategies brought the tradition of ancestor cult into the political sphere
of Carchemish, perhaps in order to present the royal ancestor cult
to the society as an established convention so that he lays emphasis
on the historicity of kingship and ensures the continuity of its social
Royal Buttress, while Orthmann (1971, 41) points out that the base shows distinct stylistic similarities with the base of the seated figure of Atrisuhas that securely dates to the
reign of Katuwas. Unfinished lower body parts of the soldiers behind the base show that
the base was already in its current position by the Royal Buttress when the orthostat
behind it was decorated; thus, both bases might have been reused during the reign of
Katuwas. This does not preclude the possibility that the incomplete soldier figures depict a progression in the execution of a single decorative scheme. Whether or not these
bases predate Katuwas, the reconfiguration of the decorative scheme in the Lower Palace Area of Carchemish emphasizes the kings role in kingship strategies as an organizer
and leader of ceremonies.


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significance. The rearrangement of early orthostats on the Heralds

Wall reflects this aspect of antiquity and permanence of kingship.11
By means of incorporating traditional and religious artistic representations into the monumental urban framework of the city, Katuwas
ensured their display in ceremonies and indirectly emphasized his
kingly image as the protector of preexisting religious values.
Such highly calculated schemes indicate an emergence at that time
of a particularly strong need in kingship strategies to emphasize the
distinguished status of the king, possibly in response to a strong and
pervasive threat to the office of kingship and the order it represents.
Katuwas claim of exiling the descendents of Ura-Tarhunzas provides evidence for internal competition for power. Even after UraTarhunzas was deposed from the throne, his descendents were still
socially, economically and politically effective enough to plot rebellion
in Carchemish (Hawkins 2000, 95 A11a 5-6, 103-104 A11b+c 4,
30). Perhaps the deification of the king emerged as a reaction to
this ubiquitous threat in the community, in order to show the king as
both physically and conceptually superior to all living members of the
society. In this process, Katuwas relied on ceremony like his father.
He modified ceremonial spaces of Carchemish in which Early Iron
Age rulers modified the notion of their kingship during the course
of their reigns. This process primarily addressed the members of the
elite class, who posed the greatest potential to challenge the authority
of the ruling family. Thus, ceremonies were designed to demonstrate
the ultimate power and authority of the king by stressing his ability to
maintain the sociopolitical and religious order in life, and ultimately
to reach state deification upon his death.
When Yariris ruled Carchemish as a regent several generations
later, he also relied on the preexisting organization of ceremonial
space and the ancestral aspect of kingship to legitimate his unusual
background. Yariris, who controlled Carchemish early in the eighth
century BC, probably did not come from royal descent. He was a
eunuch and a high attendant in the court of king Astiruwas. He was
also probably the founder of a new dynasty (Hawkins 1986, 263-265;
2002, 229-232). He managed the court for a while probably due to

A fragmented stele in the vicinity the Heralds Wall supports the association of
this wall with Katuwas construction (Woolley 1952, 176, 187, 273; Hawkins 2000, 113114 A12).

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


the untimely death of Astiruwas until the kings son, Kamanis, came of
age to take possession of kingship. Accordingly, his status was unique
and potentially open to appropriation of power. Yet he remained in
control, as he proclaimed in his monumental inscription, only until
Kamanis was ready to take the seat of kingship. During his reign, he
preserved the ceremonial space of Carchemish and inserted several
monuments to commemorate his own power and to establish his legitimacy. The most significant of these is the composition he placed
on the Royal Buttress to incorporate a row of attendants into the
processional scheme of the Processional Entry (Hogarth 1914, 28,
pls. A6, B6, A7; Woolley 1921, viii, pl. A15b, b*; 1952, 266, 275, pl.
A24; Hawkins 2000, 124-125 A6, 129 A7, 130-131 A15B, 134-135
A24a). All of these figures depict beardless adults, probably intending to represent a group of eunuchs.12 Although eunuchs played an
important role in the administration of numerous Near Eastern societies, the reign of Yariris reflects a period of increased power in the
administration of Carchemish. The archaeological evidence for rites
and rituals at this time is not so prolific; yet visual and textual sources
suggest a continued emphasis on the rites and rituals of important
city gods. Thus, Yariris adopted a strategy to legitimize his status and
authority that emphasized his close association with the deities and
protection of the religious order.
On the Royal Buttress, Yariris presents the principles of his authority at Carchemish; he depicts himself as a proper guardian for
the royal children, a builder, and a protector of the religious and
political orders at Carchemish. Previous rulers, Suhis II and Katuwas,
had established ceremonies to communicate their superior status as
a source of legitimacy. Yariris emphasized his subservient position to
the royal family. Although he clearly occupied the seat of kingship,
the Royal Buttress emphasizes his protective and educational role
in raising the children of the king as a main aspect of his authority.
Because he was not a son of the king, his acquisition of power implies

On the basis of artistic representation, Reade (1972) has shown a distinction between bearded and beardless officials in the Assyrian royal court, where the beardless
males constitute almost a formulaic representation of eunuchs. The peculiar appearance
of Yariris that bears a close resemblance to Assyrian eunuchs and the interpretation of
the term wasinasi- in monumental texts as eunuch have lead to the conjecture that
the royal court of Carchemish comprised a substantial group of eunuchs at least in the
8th century BC (Hawkins 1986, 263-265; 2000, 128, 135; 2002, 231-232).


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the occurrence of unconventional circumstances. As a justification

of his unusually acquired status, he claimed that it was the deities of
the city who granted him the duty to control Carchemish (Hawkins
2000, 124 A6 2, 130 A15b 2). At the same time, he asserted the
intellectual skills that provided him a unique disposition to maintain
leadership; he boasted about his outstanding ability to speak twelve
languages and to write in the scripts of Carchemish, Sura, Assryia and
Taimani (Hawkins 2000, 131 A15 131) and claimed the widespread
fame of his name (Hawkins 2000, 124 A6 4-8). The nature of kingship strategies, therefore, seems to have changed during the period
of Yariris from an emphasis on the divine power and authority of
kingship to an emphasis on divine protection over the political order
and preservation of the kingdom. Yariris insertion of a procession
of eunuchs into the preexisting images on the Processional Entry
(Hogarth 1914, pls. B4-B5) illustrates an attempt to raise the significance of the eunuch class in the political order of the city. It seems
that Yariris maintained the ceremonial function of the Lower Palace
Area and placed particular importance on the ceremonial participation of the eunuchs among royal attendants. In other words, Yariris
elevated the social and political status of the eunuchs. He conveyed
this development in the monumental sphere of the kingdom in the
form of both visual and verbal representation as demonstrated by
the curse formula of the inscription on the Royal Buttress: . . . or
who shall erase my name, or who shall take away on the one side
(a child) from the children, or on the other side (a eunuch) from the
eunuchs, (for) him may Nikarawas dogs eat up his head! (Hawkins
2000, 125 A6 29-32).
When Yariris took to the task of controlling Carchemish, he faced
the challenge of justifying his unusual background as a ruler and
legitimizing his authority in an environment of a well-developed and
prominent ideology of kingship. As a non-descendent of the royal
family, he could not rely on royal ancestor worship to promote his
authority, even if it was not gained by force. Furthermore, as a eunuch,
he could not produce a direct descendent to carry on his legacy. He
promoted the eunuch class, from where he had originated, in order
to elevate his own status. He also stressed his stance to protect the
royal family so as to emphasize that he had no intentions to appropriate power. The pose of Yariris holding on to young Kamaniss
arm carved on the orthostat B7a of the Royal Buttress highlights his

ceremony and kingship at carchemish


proclamation of the protective position he undertook in the political

order of the kingdom until he was ready to give power back to an
appropriate heir to the throne. Thus, Yariris incorporated himself into
the preexisting political system at Carchemish not as an intruder, but
as a protector. He also inserted himself into the ceremonial structure
of kingship, but stressed the consent of divine authority as the source
of his power rather than descent from royal ancestors.
In conclusion, archaeological remains draw attention to the ceremonial aspect of kingship strategies at Carchemish. During the course
of ceremonial events, religious rites and rituals enabled messages of
power, authority and legitimacy of the ruling elites to be conveyed
within a framework of tradition. Strategies of specific kings involved
the modification of ceremonies and ceremonial space consistent with
social dynamics specific to their reigns. Ancestor worship emerged as a
powerful constituent of such strategies. The royal family legitimized its
high social status through incorporating the worship of royal ancestors
into such ceremonies honoring the city gods. Suhis II and Katuwas,
who reigned during the tenth and ninth centuries BC, placed particular
emphasis on the ancestor cult, in response to lasting threats to the
office of kingship generated from within the elite class. The deification of deceased ancestors further elevated the distinguished status of
the living king. The ultimate deification of the king may have been
intentional to generate discouragement among the likely challengers
of authority and the sociopolitical order of Carchemish. When Yariris,
a eunuch, came to power, he emphasized his protection of the royal
family and preservation of the sociopolitical order of kingship. He
further asserted the temporary nature of his rule. In contrast to the
increasingly formalized ceremonial space at Carchemish, such attempts
in kingship strategies to augment the power of the king reveal that this
period was politically and socially unstable and the seat of kingship
formed a source for constant internal competition.
Akurgal, Ekrem. 1962. The Art of the Hittites. New York: H.N. Abrams.
Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University


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. 1997. Ritual, Perspectives and Dimensions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bittel, K., W. Herre, H. Otten, M. Rhrs, and J. Schaeuble. 1958. Das Hethitischen
Grabfunde von Osmankayas. Berlin: Verlag Gebr, Mann.
Haettner Blomquist, Tina. 1999. Gates and Gods: Cults in the City Gates of Iron Age
Palestine, An Investigation of the Archaeological and Biblical Sources. Stockholm: Almqvist
and Wiksell International.
Hawkins, J. David. 1976-1980. Karkami. RlA 5: 426-446.
. 1986. Rulers of Karkamis: The House of Astiruwas. In IX. Trk Tarih Kongresi, Ankara 21-25 Eyll 1981, Kongreye Sunulan Bildiriler, Cilt I, 259-271. Ankara: Trk
Tarih Kurumu.
. 1995. Great Kings and Country Lords at Malatya and Karkami. In Studio
Historiae Ardens. Ancient Near Eastern Sudies Presented to Philo H. J. Houwnik ten Cate on the
Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. T. P. J. van den Hout and J. Roos, 73-85. Leiden:
Nederlands Historish-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul.
. 2000. Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions. Vol. I, pt.1. Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter.
. 2002. Eunuchs among the Hittites. In Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East,
Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2-6, 2001, part
1, ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting, 217-233. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text
Corpus Project.
Hoffner, Harry A. J. 1967. The Second Millennium Antecedents to the Hebrew
B. Journal of Biblical Literature 86: 385-401.
Hogarth, David G. 1914. Carchemish: Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on Behalf of the
British Museum, Part I, Introductory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kertzer, David I. 1988. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven: Yale University
Liverani, Mario. 1987. The Collapse of the Near Eastern Regional System at the
End of the Bronze Age: The Case of Syria. Centre and Periphery in the Ancient World,
edited by M. Rowlands, M. Larsen, and K. Kristiansen, 66-73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mazzoni, Stephanie. 1997. The Gate and the City: Change and Continuity in SyroHittite Urban Ideology. In Die orientalische Stadt. Kontinuitt, Wandel, Bruch, 1. Internationales Colloquium der Deutschen Orient-Geschellschaft von 9.-10. Mai 1996, ed. G. Wilhelm,
307-338. Saarbrcken: Saarbrcker Druckerei und Verlag.
Mellink, Machteld J. 1974. Hittite Friezes and Gate Sculptures. In Anatolian Studies
Presented to Hans Gustav Gterbock on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. K. Bittel, Ph.
H. J. Houwink ten Cate, and E. Reiner, 201-214. Istanbul: Nederlands HistorischArchaeologisch Instituut in het Nabije Oosten.
Neve, Peter. 1977/1978. Schalensteine und Schalenfelsen in Boazky-]attua.
Istanbuler Mitteliungen 27/28: 61-72.

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. 1996. Schalensteine und Schalenfelsen in Boazky-]attua. Istanbuler Mitteilungen 46: 41-56.

Orthmann, Winfried. 1971. Untersuchungen zur spthethitischen Kunst. Saarbcker Beitrge
zur Altertumskunde 8. Bonn: R. Habelt.
Reade, Julian. 1972. Neo-Assyrian Court and Army: Evidence from the Sculptures.
Iraq 34: 87-112.
Tsukimoto, Akio. 1985. Untersuchungen zur Totenflege (kispum) im alten Mesoptoamien.
Kevelaer: Butzon and Bercker.
Ussishkin, David. 1975. Hollows, Cupmarks, and Hittite Stone Monuments. Anatolian Studies 25: 85-103.
. 1989. The Erection of Royal Monuments in City-Gates. In Anatolia and the
Ancient Near East. Studies in Honor of Tahsin zg, edited by K. Emre, et al., 485-496.
Ankara: Trk Tarih Kurumu.
Winter, Irene. J. 1981. Is there a South Syrian Style of Ivory Carving in the Early
First Millennium BC? Iraq 43: 101-130.
. 1982. Art as Evidence for Interaction: Relations between the Assyrian Empire
and North Syria. In Mesopotamien und seine Nachbarn. Politische und kulturelle Wechselbesienungen im Alten Vorderasien vom 4. bis 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. XXV. Rencontre Assyriologque
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. 1983. Carchemish a kiad puratti. Anatolian Studies 33: 177-197.
. 1989. North Syrian Ivories and Tell Halaf Reliefs: The Impact of Luxury
Goods upon Major Arts. In Essays in Ancient Civilization Presented to Helen J. Kantor,
ed. J. A. Leonard and B. B. Williams, 321-332. Chicago: Oriental Institute.
. 1992. Idols of the King: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in
Ancient Mesopotamia. Journal of Ritual Studies 6: 13-42.
Woolley, C. Leonard. 1921. Carchemish: Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on Behalf of
the British Museum, Part II, The Town Defenses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
. 1939 The Iron-Age Graves of Carchemish. Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 26: 11-37.
. 1952. Carchemish: Report on the Excavations at Jerablus on Behalf of the British
Museum, Part III, The Excavations in the Inner Town and the Hittite Inscriptions. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Figure 1. Sketch plan of the Lower Palace Area with the statue bases B25, B53a and B34 (reprinted and adapted, by permission of the
Trustees of the British Museum, from Woolley 1952, pl. 41a)

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ceremony and kingship at carchemish


Figure 2. Drawings of altars or dedication tables collected from different areas of

Carchemish (reprinted and adapted, by permission of the Trustees of the British
Museum, from Woolley 1921, 94 figure 27)

Figure 3. Processions of soldiers and eunuchs next to the Royal Buttress and the statue base B53a (reprinted, by permission of the Trustees of the British Museum, from Hogarth 1914, pl. B1b)

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Figure 4. Relief of wife of Suhis II, BONUS-tis, on the Long Wall of Sculpture (reprinted and adapted, by
permission of the Trustees of the British Museum, from Woolley 1952, pl. B40b)

ceremony and kingship at carchemish



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Figure 5. Statue of Atrisuhas next to the Kings Gate (reprinted by permission of

the Trustees of the British Museum, from Woolley 1921, pl. B25)

the temple and the king



Tuba Tanyeri-Erdemir
The Urartian kings, who ruled a large territory covering presentday eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and Armenia between the
ninth and seventh centuries B.C., were among the most dynamic
builders of the ancient world. We know from numerous inscriptions
that they were actively involved in the erection of a large number
of massive fortresses adorned with palatial structures, temples, and
gigantic storage facilities. Among the edifices built by Urartian kings,
temples and open-air shrines appear to have played an important
role for the establishment and perpetuation of royal ideology and
dynastic continuity.
Various aspects of Urartian temples, such as their origin (Ussishkin
1994), possible architectural reconstructions (Kleiss 1963/64; Kleiss
1976, 40; Kleiss 1989; Naumann 1968; Akurgal 1968, 14 [for Toprakkale]; zg 1966, 41 [for Altntepe]), whether or not they were tall
tower temples, and whether they were the ancestors of Achaemenid
fire-temples (Stronach 1967), have been previously investigated extensively. What has been assumed most of the time, and never really
explored, is the role that these temples played in Urartian governance
and the ways in which they secured the governing dynastys power
and legitimacy over the populace. In this paper, I investigate Urartian sacred building tradition with a particular focus on the possible
role of open-air shrines and temples in the governance strategies of
Urartian kings.
It is a pleasure to dedicate this article to Prof. Irene Winter. She has been, and will
always be, an inspiration, in all aspects of my life. I have always admired her ability to
train the brains and hearts of the next generation of scholars with patience, respect, and
much needed understanding. I will try, as best as I can, to emulate her brilliance as a
teacher, her apt criticisms as an advisor and her caring heart as a human. I would like
to thank Oscar White Muscarella, Paul Zimansky, Elif Denel, mr Harmanah, Jack
Cheng, Aykan Erdemir and Irene Winter for critically reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. I would also like to thank Altan ilingirolu for allowing me to
participate in the Ayanis excavations.


t. tanyeri-erdemir

Pierre Bourdieu ([1991] 1994, 166) defines symbolic power as a

power of constructing reality. It is a,
power of constituting the given through utterances, of making people see
and believe, of confirming or transforming the vision of the world, and
thereby, action on the world and thus the world itself, an almost magical
power which enables one to obtain the equivalent of what is obtained
through force (whether physical or economic). ([1991] 1994, 170)

Thus, symbolic power is a very important part of ruling mechanisms,

in terms of creating and establishing a world-view amongst subjects
of an empire, which would in return ensure the might of the king
Bourdieu suggests that symbolic power would be implemented
through the symbolic systems of religion, language, and art ([1991]
1994, 164-166). Therefore, in the Urartian case, we could suggest that
open-air shrines displaying royal inscriptions and the lavishly decorated
temples would constitute likely locales for the production of symbolic
power. Consequently, we could assume that the choices pertaining to
the architectural layout and the decoration of these buildings must
have been very important. It is highly likely that the architecture of
these symbolically charged spaces was carefully planned to highlight
the role of the royal elite in the imperial religion. Likewise, the artifacts
and features used in their embellishment must have been intentionally
selected and deliberately placed. Therefore, the changes over time in
architectural layout or decorative schemes of temple contexts, if we
can detect them, would carry important clues regarding the changing
ideological concerns and policies of the ruling elite.
Among sacred architecture constructed by the Urartian kings, two
types of ritual spaces2 seem to be particularly favored: 1) open-air
In addition to these two major categories, there are also shrines of the stelae
such as the example in Karahan (Salvini 1992). One could also suggest that the royal
tombs cut into the rock outcrop of the Tupa citadel (the citadel of Van) (Tarhan 1994)
and other such places that house rock-cut tombs scattered in the Urartian landscape
could have been locales of important religious rituals, perhaps reinforcing the dynastic
continuity of the ruling elite. However, there is little archaeological and epigraphic evidence to illustrate what sorts of rituals, if any, were enacted in these places. This is why
they have been left out of the present study. Oktay Belli also includes rock-marks in
sacred spaces of the Urartian kingdom (Belli 2000). These are grooves cut into the living rock that are found in the vicinity of several Urartian citadels in the Lake Van basin.
There are several problems with his suggestion. First, these rock-marks cannot be securely dated given the lack of archaeological or epigraphic finds associated with them.

the temple and the king


shrines of the ninth century B.C. that were built in the form of threetiered niches cut into rock outcrops, with an inscription carved into
the flattened surface of the rock3 and commonly located at the foot of
massive outcrops in the countryside; and 2) Urartian standard temples4
that are characterized by a square plan with reinforced corners, thick
walls, and a very small square cella.5 The massive stone walls were
topped with mudbrick walls. The extensive mudbrick wash encountered around all the excavated Urartian temples suggests that they
were significantly tall buildings, although it is hard to guess exactly
how high they were. Standard temples were, without exception, always
located within the walls of the citadels. Their locations were carefully
chosen with a deliberate consideration of the sites topography and
the temples architectural relation to the rest of the edifices in the
citadel. The vantage point from the temple grounds, as well as the
Second, even if one assumes that they are Urartian, we do not have any evidence to
suggest a ritual activity associated with them. They could have fulfilled a different, possibly utilitarian function.
Three rock-cut niche monuments have been attested: Meherkaps (Salvini 1994),
Yeilal (Sevin and Belli 1976/77) and Hazinepiri Kaps (Belli and Dinol 1980).
Nine standard temples have been excavated to date. These are the temples at the
sites of Yukar Anzaf (Belli 1992a, 1993), Patnos/Anzavurtepe (Balkan 1960), Kayaldere (Burney 1966), Arin-Berd (Forbes 1983, 71), avutepe main citadel, avutepe upper citadel (Erzen 1976/77, 1978b), Altntepe (zg 1966), Toprakkale (Erzen
1967), and Ayanis (ilingirolu 2001). Two others are known from inscriptions at
Krzt (Dinol 1976) and Karmir-Blur (Salvini 1967, 1979a).
This temple type is also called a tower temple, a tall temple, a square temple, or a susi in the literature. The standard temple, however, is not the sole temple
form attested in Urartu. Three buildings with significantly different constructions have
been identified as temples in Armavir by the excavator, mainly based on the finds.
There is, however, significant dispute over this identification. Forbes (1983, 74) holds
the position that there is not enough evidence to suggest that these buildings were temples, whereas Smith (1996, 247-248) states that there can be different temple forms other than the standard temple. There is one building excavated in Erebuni that shows a
plan similar to a Mesopotamian bent-axis temple plan. We cannot dismiss the idea that
there might be also other buildings or spaces of cultic significance that cannot be yet
architecturally identified as temples. Nevertheless, the dominant temple type in Urartu is the standard temple. Susi is the Urartian word attested in the dedicatory inscriptions of several standard temples. After the excavation and publication of the temple
inscription from Karmir-Blur, Salvini (1979a) made a convincing argument stating that
the word susi should refer to the Urartian standard temple. This interpretation of the
term is widely accepted and used in literature. While I agree with the identification of
the term, I prefer to use standard temple instead of susi, because susi is not exclusively used for standard temples in the 9th century B.C., as can be seen in the Yeilal inscription. Yeilal is a rock-cut niche monument, the inscription on which refers to it as
a susi (Sevin and Belli 1976/77, 383).


t. tanyeri-erdemir

visibility of the temple from major habitation areas of lower towns

also appear to have played a role in choosing an appropriate locale
for the temple. Archaeological evidence collected from excavated
sites strongly suggests that Urartian temples were perhaps the most
lavishly decorated buildings in any given Urartian citadel; hence they
constitute the most important loci of imperial arts.
At the outset, we need to consider the nature of the Urartian state
and Urartian imperial religion. From its first emergence in the ninth
century onwards, Urartian religion appears to have been an imperial
religion aimed at serving the interest of the royal elites. As previously
noted by several scholars the introduction of a unified cult of Haldi,
the head of the Urartian pantheon, and a ritual practice organized
around the Urartian pantheon throughout the diverse geographic and
cultural lands under the control of the empire are highly unlikely to
be the outcome of a cultural unity of the subject peoples under the
rule of the state, but rather a synthetic and a conscious production
of the Urartian governing authorities (Taffet and Yakar 1998; Zimansky 1995). Haldi dominates royal inscriptions both on stone and
on dedicatory objects, and is the deity to whom an overwhelming
number of temples and ritual spaces are dedicated. He is also the
only deity attested in all provinces of the empire and seems to have
been intimately connected with the Urartian king. The cult of Haldi,
as has been suggested by Mirjo Salvini (1987), appears to have been
implemented during the reign of Ipuini, the third king of Urartian
dynasty (ca. 825-810 B.C.). Haldis name does not appear in any
Urartian inscriptions before Ipuinis reign, and the cult disappears
abruptly with the collapse of the Urartian Empire.
There is some evidence in the epigraphic and archaeological record
to suggest that Urartian authorities employed an accommodating
religious policy to incorporate the already existing cults and deities
under the control of the empire. The Meherkaps inscription lists a
large number of deities, presumably of different origins, and some
from geographically diverse regions of the empire (Salvini 1994). Additionally, a number of standard temples, like the temple of Irmuini
at avutepe (Erzen et al. 1963; Dinol 1978/80), are dedicated to
regional deities. This could indicate an effort on behalf of the empire to
accommodate local religions, to incorporate them into the state religion,
and to unify them in a single pantheon under the divine leadership of
Haldi. It can also be seen as a conscious attempt to secure the loyalty

the temple and the king


of the subject peoples by articulating the substrata of already existing

belief systems as part of an official, organized state religion.
Hazinepiri Kaps, an inscribed rock-niche monument built during
the reign of Ipuini, is the earliest version of such shrines (Belli and
Dinol 1980). It is cut into the living rock at the foot of a rock outcrop, a few meters higher than the surrounding ground level. It has
a shallow rectangular niche, with an inscription on the flattened rock
faade, and a flat platform again cut out of bedrock. This flattened
platform could have acted as a stage for various activities, presumably cultic rituals, to be performed in front of the inscribed niche,
and would have provided visual access for any audience standing at
the foot of the rock outcrop.
Hazinepiri Kaps appears to have been the model for two subsequent monuments, namely the Yeilal and Meherkaps monuments,
which were both built during the co-regency of Ipuini and his son
Menua in late ninth century B.C. Similar to Hazinepiri Kaps, both
of these monuments are built at commanding positions at the foot of
prominent rock spurs. Again, both shrines are located in the extraurban landscape and are not located at the base or immediate vicinity
to any major citadels. Instead of a simple sunken niche like the
Hazinepiri Kaps, the inscriptions are framed by three-tiered rectangular niches. The content of the inscriptions as well as the features
around them show some variation.
Yeilal shrine has stairs cut into the bedrock leading up to the
platform in front of the rock-cut niche. There are six slots for standing
stone inscriptions (Sevin and Belli 1976/77). The inscription records
that some reforms were made in order to regulate the sacrifices to
various gods and states that several animals should be sacrificed for
Haldi and his consort Uarubani (Sevin and Belli 1976/77, 371). Meherkaps is perhaps the most renowned monument for the study of
Urartian religion. Its inscription lists 80 deities of the Urartian pantheon and provides explicit information on the number of animals to
be sacrificed for each deity (Salvini 1994; Knig 1953; 1955, 51-56,
no. 10). The deities appear to be arranged hierarchically, and the
number of sacrifices a deity is allotted decreases with the rank of the
deity in the list.
All three rock-cut inscribed niche shrines are situated in prominent locations that have the potential to accommodate considerable
audiences. Meherkaps and Yeilal also feature rock cut channels


t. tanyeri-erdemir

on the platform that suggest that ritual activities requiring drainage,

such as animal sacrifices or libations, could have been performed in
front of these niches and would have been highly visually accessible
to the audience standing below. The platforms, by contrast, are fairly
small, which suggests that performative participation in the rituals was
restricted to only a few individuals. These aspects of the architecture
of the monuments suggest that the kings performance could have
been enacted as a spectacle of the state, defining his role as the arbiter
between the divinities and his subjects.
The kings performance in these rituals in front of these open-air
shrines might have been particularly important especially if we consider
that this indeed coincided with the first few decades that the Urartian
religion was constructed and introduced. If we agree with Salvinis
suggestion that the cult of Haldi and the state religion of Urartu were
introduced towards the end of the ninth century B.C., we can imagine that this period would have been vital in the establishment and
popularization of the newly launched imperial religion. The concept
of kingship could have been re-defined through a display of the kings
role in religion. The visual display of ceremonies in front of a large
group of spectators might have been one way of popularizing and
introducing the cultic rituals and worship. Additionally, the kings
performance in these rituals would have helped to define his kingship
and strengthen his legitimacy.
At the end of the ninth century B.C., there was a remarkable
shift in Urartian sacred architecture. The earliest identified standard
temple was built during the co-regency of Ipuini and his son Menua
at Patnos (Balkan 1960, 1964). This was soon followed by the erection of standard temples at Anzaf (Belli 1992a, 1992b) and Krzt
(Dinol 1976) built by Menua, and possibly the building of Kayaldere
temple (Burney 1966) around the turn of the century. After the end
of the ninth century B.C., no new open-air shrines in the shape of
three-tiered inscribed niches were built (table 1). The emergence of
this new form of sacred architecture and the abandonment of the
older form of open-air niches more or less contemporaneously suggest
that there might have been a significant change in the performance
of rituals. It is possible that the older open-air shrines of Hazinepiri
Kaps, Meher Kaps, and Yeilal may have been in continuous
use for the enactment of ritual performances till the fall of Urartu;
however, the conspicuous absence of such monuments around the

the temple and the king


newly built fortresses of the eighth and seventh centuries suggests that
this sort of ritual architecture might have fallen out of fashion after
the emergence of the first standard temples. With the emergence of
these standard temples, royal rituals appear to have moved inside the
massive fortifications.
The similarity between the open-air shrines of Meherkaps and
Yeilal and the faades of standard square temples is striking and
has been investigated previously by Taner Tarhan and Veli Sevin
(1975). The gates of standard square temples display the same threetiered frames.6 The proportions of threshold widths and depths are
also comparable (Tarhan and Sevin 1975, 408). Additionally I would
like to stress that in both, there seems to be a marked preference for
frontality. Moreover, linguistically, in the Urartian language the words
K (gate) and susi are used interchangeably for the standard temples
and three-tiered rock niches, which further suggests that they might
have represented similar if not identical concepts, and perhaps to
a level that was indistinguishable to the ancient audience.7
This being the case, we need to point out significant differences
between the rock-cut shrines and the temples. The most prominent
difference is that the rock-cut shrines are located in the landscape and
could have accommodated a relatively larger audience for the enactment of rituals, whereas only a limited audience could be hosted in
the courtyards of the temples. Although it is impossible to know who
watched and participated in these rituals, we can assume that access
to them was significantly restricted following the relocation of sacred
spaces inside the fortification walls.
Let us consider possible ceremonial and ritual activities that might
have taken place in the Urartian standard temples. The cellas of the
Urartian temples are relatively small (table 2).8 The cella walls have
However, one should also note that the shape of the upper parts of the temple
gates is still unknown. Based on the representations of Urartian citadels in art, some
scholars prefer to reconstruct it as an arched gate. Similar three-tiered door frames have
also been attested in civil architecture and tombs (Tarhan and Sevin 1975, 408).
The inscription on Yeilal niche identifies that monument as a susi (Sevin and
Belli 1976/77, 383), while the temple inscription of Krzt states it to be a K (Dinol
1976, 24-25).
The cellas of Urartian temples are square rooms usually measuring around 5 x 5
m. The temples at Patnos and Kayaldere are 5 x 5 m (Burney 1966); the upper citadel
temple and the Irmuini temple at avutepe are both 4.5 x 4.5 m (Erzen 1976/77); Altntepe temple is 5.20 x 5.20 m (zg 1966); and the Ayanis temple is 4.58 x 4.62 m
(ilingirolu 2001).


t. tanyeri-erdemir

generally survived to a considerable height but none of the excavated

temples offer us any clues for understanding the structure of the roof.9
There is, however, indirect evidence to support the presence of some
form of roof.10 We should imagine the cellas to be fairly small and
very dark spaces. This being the case, we could suggest that the interiors of the Urartian temples would not be suitable for performing
ceremonial functions involving more than a few people.
The lavish exteriors of the standard temples, by contrast, could
act as a powerful backdrop for ritual acts (figure 1). The emphasis
on frontality in religious architecture and consequently practice appears to have started as early as the ninth century B.C. As discussed
previously, the rock-cut niches of Meherkaps and Yeilal, dated to
the ninth century B.C., display significant similarities to the faades
of standard Urartian temples. They both have similar three-tiered
frames. Hence, it is probably safe to assume that there might have
been some continuity in the performative acts of rituals enacted in
front of the three-tiered open-air shrines and the faades of the standard temples.
There is sufficient archaeological evidence to suggest that the exteriors of the temples in general, and the frontal axis in particular,
were significant for ceremonial activities. Features identified as altars,
possibly for sacrifice or presenting dedications, are found in front of
the temples at the sites of Ayanis, Altntepe, Kayaldere, and Toprakkale.11 With the exception of Toprakkale, for which the archaeological
Some scholars, building on the image of the temple at Muair from Sargon IIs
relief, envisage a pyramidal roof (Kleiss 1963/64), whereas others have opted for a flat
roof (Akurgal 1968, 13-17, pl. 1). zg opted for a flat roof in the reconstruction of the
temple at the site of Altntepe, but he stated that a small window could have been placed
on the roof (zg 1966, 4-5).
Without a solid roof it would be hard, if not impossible, to maintain the massive
mudbrick walls. The contents and decorations of the cella would suffer significant damage from the elements. This might have been particularly important in a harsh climate
with a significant amount of snowfall. If we presume that the ancient climate was similar
to what is experienced in eastern Turkey, Armenia, and western Iran today, we should
account for environmental factors affecting architectural decisions.
For Ayanis, see ilingirolu 2001, 45. This is a large circular feature (3.50 m in
diameter) constructed of small and medium-sized stones. The center of the circle is in
alignment with the gate of the temple. There is evidence of red and white paint around
this structure. For Altntepe, see zg 1966, pl. VI; pl.IX/2. Please note that the plan
in pl. VI shows this feature as a rectangular structure, but it is clear from the photograph
in pl. IX/2 that this is a circular construction made of stones, very much like the example at Ayanis. For Kayaldere, see Burney 1966, 71. This is a rectangular feature, mea-

the temple and the king


evidence related to the find-spot of the altar is unclear, all others are
placed in alignment with the front door of the temple. The presence
of these features in the temple courtyards strongly suggests that the
ritual activities were performed in front of the temples. The temple
courtyards vary in size but they are significantly larger than the temple
cellas and could have hosted several tens of individuals if they were to
be included in the ceremonies, as participants or as audience.
Through time, we can also observe that the temples became more
and more spatially secluded and self-contained (table 1). The temples
at Yukar Anzaf and Kayaldere built in the late ninth and early eighth
centuries B.C. were abutting the fortification walls, and the temple
courtyards could be reached directly by a ramp leading from the city
gates (Belli 1992a, 1993; Burney 1966). The temples built by Argiti
I (786-764 B.C.) and Sarduri II (764-734 B.C.) in the eighth century
are located farther away from the city walls, towards the center of the
citadels. The temples at Arin-Berd and avutepe, built by Argiti
I and Sarduri II respectively, have some indication that they might
have had colonnaded courtyards. The avutepe upper citadel temple
was enclosed in a temenos wall, and three round column bases were
excavated to its west (Erzen 1978b, 3). The Altntepe temple, which
is dated to the late eighth or early seventh century B.C., was located
in a compound with high walls and a colonnaded courtyard (zg
1966). The seventh-century temple of Haldi built by Rusa II recently
excavated at Ayanis, illustrates that the temple was enclosed in a wall
and was surrounded by massive pillars, instead of columns (ilingirolu 2001). The Ayanis temple courtyard had two entrances one of
which was blocked sometime during the lifetime of the temple. Both
of the entrances were fairly small and neither had direct access to the
faade of the temple.
The temple grounds were always located at the highest spot of
the citadels and at secure locations. In the absence of epigraphic
data informing us about the details of possible ceremonial activities,
suring 2.00 x 1.35 m. It is the same size as the temple gate and is in perfect alignment
with it. The excavator called this feature a stele base but in Urartu, stele bases usually have a slot for erecting the inscribed stone. Thus, I believe this feature could best be
identified as an altar. For Toprakkale, see the photo published in Rassam (1897, 377),
which shows a stone-basin in the shape of a key-hole. In the photograph, the feature is
seen to the right of the entrance to the temple, however, there is no indication whether
it had been moved by the excavators. As opposed to the ones discussed above, this altar
is a heavy, but potentially moveable object.


t. tanyeri-erdemir

it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine who was allowed and to what

degree into the courtyards and in the cellas of the temples. However,
the architectural layout indicates that access was restricted. It could
further be suggested that permission to enter the temple grounds would
have been highly prestigious, perhaps only granted to the priestly class,
high aristocracy, or otherwise important individuals in the society.
Therefore access to the sacred temple context would be a marker of
We can, however, argue with certainty that at least one individual
was granted access to all temples in the lands of Urartu: the king
himself. From epigraphic evidence, we understand that the king was
actively involved in making sacrifices and dedicating armor and other
objects to Haldi in the temple grounds.12 Whatever role he might
have played in the Urartian religion, it was highlighted and promoted
in the symbolically charged temple grounds.
The dedicated objects displayed in such sacred contexts are inherently related to the construction of meaning of that space. Examples
of imperial armor and weapons were displayed in great numbers on
the exterior walls and on the pillars of the Urartian temple courtyards
(figure 1). These include shields, quivers, helmets, arrows, spears,
daggers, swords, and armbands. Some of these artifacts are decorated
and/or inscribed. The formula frequently employed in these inscriptions states the name of the king, his patronymic, and a dedication,
which is always to the god Haldi.13 We know from epigraphic sources
that the Urartian pantheon was fairly large and included a myriad
of male and female deities. The fact that armor and weapons were
exclusively dedicated to Haldi suggests that this deity must have had
a strong military association. The overwhelming numbers of dedicatory armor in sacred contexts not only create an effective display
of military power of the ruling dynasty and their Urartian armies,
but also underline the military aspect of Haldi. In any case, such a
For sacrifices, see the display inscriptions of the temples at the sites of KarmirBlur and Ayanis (Diakonoff 1991; Salvini 2001a, 253-261). In both of these inscriptions
an extensive list of sacrifices for gods and goddesses is listed. For an example of an active act of dedication, see the inscription on the imperial shield dedicated at Ayanis: To
Haldi, (his) lord, Rusa, the son of Argiti, made and dedicated this shield for his life; he
put it in Rusahinili Eidurukai (Salvini 2001b, 272, inscription inv. no. AyBr 1, Van
Museum inv. no. 11.1.97, cat. no. 58).
See for example, the inscriptions on bronze armor excavated from the temple
grounds at Ayanis (Salvini 2001b).

the temple and the king


spectacular display of military power might have been very important

for an imperial structure in which a majority of the lands was gained
through military conquest and annexation.
In a related manner, the temple grounds appear to have been important in establishing and maintaining the legitimacy of the ruling
dynasty. The written record indicates that the Urartian kings claim
to the throne was through patrilineal succession. In this respect, the
governing system in Urartu would best fit Max Webers definition
of patriarchialism, in which a particular individual governs who is
designated by a definite rule of inheritance (1978, 231). An unbroken
dynastic lineage spanning two centuries and including eight kings can
be traced in the inscriptions through the use of patronymics with each
kings name.14 How then, did the temple grounds help establish this
dynastic continuity?
Language is a powerful tool in the construction of symbolic power.
Hence, we should suspect that the inscriptions, both monumental
and dedicatory, must have played a vital role, as they would have
been carefully and deliberately constructed by the ruling authority.
For instance, in the beginning of the monumental inscription on the
faade of the temple at the site of Ayanis, Rusa II states that: When
Haldi gave me the kingship, I set myself on the fathers place of the
kingship (= the throne).15 Two things are highlighted in this powerful sentence: first, that kingship is granted by a divine source; and
second, at the same time, it is an institution passing from father to
son. The intimacy between the god Haldi and the king, as well as
his patriarchial bloodline, is further emphasized by the conspicuous
use of objects bearing such formulaic statements: To Haldi, his lord,
Rusa, the son of Argiti, dedicated.16

The kings are Sarduri I, Ipuini, Menua, Argiti I, Sarduri II, Rusa I, Argiti II,
and Rusa II. The dynasty started in the mid-9th century B.C. and continued up to the
end of the reign of Rusa II in the late 7th century B.C. The dynastic succession is not
clear after the termination of Rusa IIs reign.
i-da--ri i- Dhal-di-i-me LUGL-T-hi a-ru-ni na-ha-di LAD-si-ni e-si
LUGL-T-hi-i-ni, here translated by Salvini (2001a, 259: sect. I, l. 4). An almost
identical phrase is attested in a similar susi inscription from Karmir-Blur LUGL-Thi a-ru-ni na-ha-[di LAD-si-ni?] e-si LUGL-T-hi-ni (ll. 3-4, Karmir-Blur inscription, UKN 448, as published in Artunjan 2001, 348: text no. 424, ll. 3-4).
Dhal-di-e EN- mru-sa-a-e mar-gi-te-hi-ni-e u-t-ni (as translated by Salvini
2001b, 275). This is the most basic version of the dedicatory inscription, which is found
on a spearhead (AyBr 13), on two bronze foundation discs (AyBr 14 a-b), four bronze
and one iron sikkatu type nails (AyBr 15a-d; AyBr 16). More elaborate versions are


t. tanyeri-erdemir

The use of the patronymic is a common formula that frequently

appears on display inscriptions and displayed objects. We should
also note that there are instances in which the king does not identify
himself with his fathers name. One such artifact is the candelabrum
excavated from Toprakkale (Lehmann-Haupt 1907, 29-31, fig. 63;
Friedrich 1961). Furthermore, patronymics of the kings are not used
on the 97 inscribed bronze bowls found at the site of Karmir-Blur.17
Both the candelabrum and the bronze bowls bear the word rihusini
on them, which is usually translated as inventory of a king.18 In
either case, the objects were excavated from storage contexts. We cannot fully eliminate the possibility that these objects were stored there
for safekeeping; however, such objects (candelabra and bronze bowls)
have never been attested in excavated temple contexts up to now. It
is possible that inscriptions of ownership were inherently different
from dedicatory inscriptions. We might perhaps suggest that the use
of the patronymic was not as imperative on objects not intended to
be displayed in sacred contexts. Moreover, the patronymic appears
to have been used only for the members of the royal family. All other
individuals attested on tablets and seals are identified either through
the place they are from or their occupations.19 While the number of
individuals that appear in the textual record is very small, the stark

attested on imperial shields (such as AyBr 1, which is followed by a lengthy curse formula) (Salvini 2001b).
These bronze bowls were found stacked in a pithos (Piotrovsky 1952, 49-63).
They are inscribed with the names of Urartian kings, Menua, Argiti, Sarduri, and
Rusa. The bowls also have incised decorations on them. A tower with a tree on top is
depicted on almost all of them. Some additionally have a small lions head, bulls head,
or an eagles head. Barnett included these images in his study of Urartian hieroglyphics (1974). For the time being, in light of available evidence, it is hard to argue whether
they are indeed hieroglyphics.
The inscription on the candelabrum became visible after conservation. See Friedrich (1961) for the inscription on candelabrum. For the Karmir-Blur bowls, see Piotrovsky 1952, 49-63.
The tablets and bullae excavated from Toprakkale, Karmir-Blur, Bastam, Ayanis, and Yukar Anzaf contain names of various individuals. In the tablets from Ayanis
individuals are commonly identified with their town or region of origin. For example,
in CB AY-4, Nulagi is identified as a person from the city of Karmir-Blur, in CB AY5, Zanprina is identified as a person from the city of Qul (Salvini 2001c, 282). In a tablet recently excavated from Yukar Anzaf (YAK 2002 5.C.332), Gulili is identified as a
porter (Belli and Salvini 2003, 147). For more examples see Salvini 1979b, 1979c, 1988,
2001c; Belli and Salvini 2003.

the temple and the king


difference in the identification of the members of the royal family and

others is significant to note.20
This abundant use of the patronymic in association with the name
of the most powerful deity in terms of granting kingship in the temple
grounds might be interpreted as an attempt to secure the legitimacy of
Rusa IIs rule. Dynastic continuity has a fragile balance that needs to be
reinforced. In history, there are examples of drastic measures taken to
ensure the continuity of patriarchial succession. For instance, fratricide
was practiced in the Ottoman Empire to secure dynastic succession
and minimize possible fragmentation of power (`nalck [1973] 2002,
59-64). We do not know whether the Urartian rulers were involved in
such practices, but the success of the dynasty indicates that there must
have been effective ways of ensuring the continuity. The frequent and
abundant use of the patronymic of the king in association with the
god Haldis name in the temple grounds might have been an effective
act, reminding the subjects of the legitimacy of the king, both as his
divine right and as his inheritance. In practice, this might have been
akin to the European royal family portraits of the sixteenth through
nineteenth centuries A.D., which were instrumental in displaying the
royal bloodline, underlining the legitimacy of the dynasty, and hence
helping establish its continuity (Schama 1988).
Along the same lines, the display of memorabilia from earlier kings
might have also been important. We know that inscribed weapons of
Rusa IIs forefathers were brought to the site of Karmir-Blur.21 Furthermore, in Ayanis, a new foundation of Rusa II, a helmet inscribed
with the name of the earlier king Argiti II and a shield possibly
inscribed with the same kings name were excavated (Salvini 2001d,
279, 280). In either case, we do not know whether the artifacts were
displayed or kept in the storehouses permanently. However, in the
case of Karmir-Blur, it is highly probable that at least some of these
objects were on display in the temple grounds, and they were taken
down and stored in the basement for safekeeping during the siege of
the site. I would like to suggest that the selection of artifacts to be
Only the members of the royal family are included in the display inscriptions
carved in stone. Names of individuals have only been attested in clay tablets, bullae, and
seals. The number of clay tablets excavated to date is fairly limited, and consequently
the number of individuals mentioned is fairly small as well.
These include a large number of shields, quivers, and helmets belonging to Menua, Argiti I, Sarduri II, and Rusa I (Piotrovsky 1969).


t. tanyeri-erdemir

displayed on the temple grounds, as well as the excessive use of the

patronymic both on objects and on stone inscriptions, can be seen as
an attempt to secure dynastic continuity.
What then, can we say about the production of symbolic power in
Urartian sacred spaces? In the formative period of Urartian state
religion, in the ninth century B.C., the open-air shrines served as
places to help introduce and popularize the state religion and define
the kings role in the religious realm. From the eighth century B.C.
onward, the most prominent form of sacred space was moved into the
citadels and took the form of a standard temple. The moving of the
temple grounds, as well as the ritual ceremonies associated with them,
must have marked an important juncture pointing to a change in the
ideological realm in terms of the hierarchical position and perhaps the
role of the ruling elite in the society. The seclusion and inaccessibility
of the temple grounds suggest that the access to the rituals must have
been more restricted than before. And the gradual increase in this
inaccessibility throughout the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. might
consequently signify that there was a continuing increase in the social
hierarchy, making the kings and the ruling elites status distinct.
As Irene Winter noted in reference to the Assyrian kings active
involvement in the selection of their imagery for sculptures,
like official art in any political system, the overall output functions to
represent the state as its governors would wish it to be seen. When the
system is highly hierarchical, it must, whether by direct reference or by
allusion, reinforce those aspects of the hierarchy that keep subordinate
social tiers in place; and that means, in one way or another, reinforcing
the role(s) at the top of the hierarchy. (Winter 1997, 376, emphasis

I would suggest, as it is the case with official art in Winters formulation, imperial sacred architecture in Urartu was highly instrumental in
the production and reinforcement of social hierarchy. The increased
inaccessibility and seclusion of standard temples, coupled with their
visual grandeur, could have been an effective way of marking the
distinction of the king from the rest of the populace while, at the
same time, dazzling the common folk living in the outer town with
the glorious but unreachable, towering image of the temple.

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. 1995. Urartian Material Culture as State Assemblage: An Anomaly in the
Archaeology of Empire. BASOR 299: 103-115.
. 1998. Ancient Ararat: A Handbook of Urartian Studies. New York: Caravan

Figure 1. Suggested reconstruction of a 7th century B.C. Urartian standard temple based on the architectural and
archaeological data from Ayanis, showing a possible decorative scheme of the temple grounds

the temple and the king



t. tanyeri-erdemir

Table 1. Three tiered rock-cut niche shrines and standard temples built by Urartian kings
(temple plans not drawn to scale)

the temple and the king

Table 2. Comparative dimensions of Urartian standard temples (measurements
given in meters)



t. tanyeri-erdemir

workmanship as ideological tool

Legitimization of Authority: Ideological Contexts



j. aker

workmanship as ideological tool



Jlide Aker
The animal hunts of Assurbanipal, especially the large scale lion hunts
in Room C of his North Palace, are celebrated for several reasons as
the highpoint of Assyrian visual production (for example, Groenewegen-Frankfort 1951, 180-181; Moortgat 1969, 157; Frankfort 1977,
189-190).1 The expression of action, the animation of the figures, makes
earlier hunt scenes look stiff and lifeless, as if they were assembled
from cardboard cutouts. Furthermore, the naturalistic rendering of
the animals, the increasing correspondence of the anatomy of the
horses, dogs and lions, to animals observed in nature, together with
greater variation in their facial expressions and poses, endows them
with an inner life lacking in the animals featured in earlier works. And,
of course, the reliefs are celebrated also for their workmanship, the
consummate carving that has given rise to forms that express movement, dramatic tension and emotional range thought to be lacking
in most other Assyrian visual production. Here, I concentrate on this
latter aspect of the lion hunt reliefs in Room C, in particular on the
quality of the carving, the degree of embellishment given to forms,
and the competence of their execution. I intend first to show that
there are clearly discernible differences of quality and competence
in the carving of forms across the reliefs in Room C. Additionally,
the degree of detail given to forms seems to vary; some forms are
articulated from their grossest aspect to their smallest and shallowest
surface details, while in others only those aspects that would have
been necessary for their identification and differentiation from others are articulated. I then argue that the way these areas of differing
workmanship are distributed across this particular cycle of reliefs
resulted from an intentional deployment of variously skilled craftsmen.
Indeed, the specific pattern of deployment evident in variations in

I am indebted to Jack Cheng, Edward H. Cohen and Marian Feldman for their
careful reading of this paper, which has greatly benefited from their comments.


j. aker

the quality of the carving, I suggest, was meant to enhance some of

the ideological effects intended by the planners of the room.
Two sections of reliefs from Room C serve to illustrate the consummate level of workmanship observed in these reliefs, as well as the
resulting impact upon the viewer for which the reliefs are celebrated.
These sections show the king spearing a lion from his chariot and the
famous dying lioness paralyzed by arrows and dragging her hindquarters (figures 1, 2). In this article, I concentrate on three aspects of
workmanship: carving, embellishment of forms and competence.2
Carving articulates forms by separating them from the background
and other forms in order to represent their distinctive identities. In
other words, carving encompasses the way in which the surface of
the relief is physically worked to suggest form. The quality of this
articulation can be judged in part by the variety in the manipulation
of the surface to shape or suggest form, the selection of forms, and
their combination. In the lion hunt reliefs, forms are articulated so as
to present a clear crisp outline. This is achieved by carving the edge
deeply and narrowly into other forms or the background. Within these
crisp outlines, forms, such as human and animal bodies, are carved
to stand out in shallow and uniform relief for the most part, while
only a few select details are further articulated, as for example the
muscles and bone of the forearm and the ears and nostrils of the king
and his attendants, the shoulder and thigh muscles and the ears, eyes,
and paws of the lioness. These anatomical details are represented by
combinations of rounded, high-relief projections, shallow undulations,
flat and curved planes with sharp edges, crisp ridges, and incised lines.
These various treatments can be found, for example, in the volumetric
The visual impact of aspects of workmanship, in particular, carving and embellishment of forms, would have been greatly affected by the presence of paint on the reliefs. Paint may have added some details, emphasized others or obscured some of the
delicacy of the surface treatment of the reliefs (for paint as a signifying element, see Marcus 1981, 64, 77-78). Thus, if painted, the hunt reliefs may have communicated to the
ancient viewer different meanings from what is proposed below. From the surviving evidence, it is unclear whether color was used sparingly on Assyrian reliefs to emphasize or
add some details or liberally to produce an effect closer to glazed bricks and wall paintings (Reade 1979, 18; Paley 1976, 10). Furthermore, traces of paint were found on some
of Assurbanipals reliefs (North Palace, Room B; Curtis and Reade 1995, 90) but evidence for its existence is much rarer than on reliefs from earlier reigns. In the absence
of any trace of paint from Room C reliefs, it is hard to determine if paint was used on
the reliefs and to gauge its impact on the surface qualities of the reliefs. Accordingly,
I am proceeding as if none existed.

workmanship as ideological tool


treatment of the brow and deeply recessed eye of the lioness, in the
nearby softer waves of the planes of her ear and its sharply delineated
edge, and in the incised line that represents the powerful muscles of
the upper foreleg (figure 3). Emphasis on isolated anatomical details
triggers the imagination of the viewer to conjure the rest of the form
in a convincing and emotionally resonant anatomical likeness. For
example, the volumetric treatment of a few forms in contrast to the
flatter carving of the rest of the body draws the viewers eye to the
lioness face, forepaws, and the extremity of her hindquarters. The
combination of these three areas in her body highlights the tense
muscles of her face, the grip of the claws of her forepaws, and the
anatomically nearly incoherent huddle of her lower extremity, thus
expressing the strain of the lioness as she drags her paralyzed hindquarters. The articulation of this strain elevates the passage from the
visual notation of a fact to an expression of pain and suffering.
The second aspect of workmanship for which the Room C reliefs
are celebrated is the way forms are embellished to show a range
of details from their gross mass to their shallowest surface features.
The passage that shows the king spearing a lion from his chariot illustrates the extreme degree to which detail is given to forms while
maintaining their visual coherence as distinct entities. For example,
the tunic of the charioteer is decorated all over with geometric and
floral patterns and figurative scenes executed in light incision (figure
4). The decoration is organized into panels that cover different zones
of the body: the upper arms, the shoulders and the torso. From afar,
the lightly incised patterns organized into distinct panels coalesce
into an impression of texture that helps to identify the tunic as a
decorated garment, while up close the impression of texture resolves
into individual rosettes, leaves, squares and cross-hatches, beads, and
the like. That these visual effects do not interfere with the viewers
perception of the charioteers body in profile is remarkable, because
the underlying forms of the forward mass of the right shoulder, the
hollow of the underarm, and the curve of the chest are indicated
solely by the outline of the right shoulder and the right arm and a
slight concavity along the bottom edge of the arm where its outline
ends across the torso. Such embellishments, the details of forms, are
effected in high relief as well as shallow incision, and it is the strategic
alternation of these techniques that helps maintain the legibility of
such intensely worked passages. For example, the high rounded form


j. aker

of the plain arm bands worn by the charioteer calls attention to these
jewels against the shallow relief of the arm and the flat surface of
the garment decoration. A much more complicated passage is the
representation of the kings face and body in profile, where high and
shallow relief alternate to describe an extreme wealth of detail that
ranges from the kings ear to the silky fringe that decorates the ends
of the streamers that hang from his headgear (figures 5, 6). Here the
viewer can see the arm and wrist band of the king in nearly threedimensional form rendered to the smallest detail of the central vein
of each petal of their rosettes. One can examine the decoration of
the kings tunic and his belt, and discern even the ornamentation of
his one-piece armguard and glove. The passage where the king draws
back his bow shows such tiny details as the cuticle of his thumb and
the shallow grooves (or the ridges of wound thread) that provide a
handle grip at the riser of the bow.
The third aspect of workmanship upon which I focus is competence. Here I mean not the mastery of techniques of carving discussed
above but mastery in the rendering of forms and their relationship
to one another, the degree to which forms are represented correctly
and the reliefs are free of various kinds of mistakes. Again, the passage that shows the king spearing a lion from his chariot illustrates
the extraordinary competence of the carvers. Here, four figures, the
charioteer, the king, and his two bodyguardsa beardless man holding the kings bow and a bearded man readying his spear to defend
the king if necessaryare overlapped and tightly compressed into
the cab of the chariot to a degree unprecedented in Neo-Assyrian
monumental reliefs. Until Assurbanipal, figures were hardly overlapped, and when they were they were few and engaged in simpler
activities. In this case, the overlap causes a severe fragmentation of
the body parts of the two bodyguards who stand next to the king.
The skill of the carvers is revealed in the way they manage to keep
the overlapping parts and the gear of all four figures in their correct
anatomical position and within the correct spatial plane in relation
to one another. On a smaller scale, though no less impressive, is the
passage that shows the charioteer holding the reins of the horses. He
holds three straps in each hand and distributes each strap between
the first four digits. In addition, he holds a whip with the thumb and
index finger of his right hand. Here, the carver not only managed
to show correctly the way a charioteer would hold multiple straps of

workmanship as ideological tool


reins in each hand, but also, by representing both hands in profile

and slightly apart, he grants the viewer two different perspectives of
the charioteers grip.
Such is the workmanship and impact of passages like that of the
dying lioness and the king spearing lions from his chariot that the
reliefs are generally and deservedly praised as consummate examples
of the high point of Assyrian relief carving in monumental format.
Frequently accompanying this praise is the assumption that the entire
relief cycle was brought to the same exquisite finish and executed
with the same skill and competence of workmanship. Such, in fact,
is not the case. There are a number of passages in this relief cycle
that contain mistakes and that show neither the same complexity of
detail and embellishment of forms nor the same skill in carving as
those discussed above and usually selected as representative of the
workmanship and power of the entire work. Assumptions regarding
the quality of workmanship in the carving of the hunt reliefs arise from
the fact that a monumental program of decoration which survives in
over 30 meters of length and consists of several different episodes of
action is often considered in and represented by a few select scenes.
Such selectivity not only prevents understanding the full scale and
impact of the reliefs in their actual physical configuration within a
specific architectural space, but also causes us to overlook many of
the critical junctures in the visual and discursive content of the cycle,
thereby limiting our interpretation of the work.3
It was Irene Winters pioneering article on Assurnasirpal IIs throne
room reliefs (1981) that demonstrated the importance of considering
Assyrian relief cycles in their entirety and within their physical as
well as cultural and historical contexts. In this respect, my study here
follows the lead of those who have since attempted to understand
Assyrian reliefs as deliberate, concerted programs of ideologically
motivated visual statements which encompass rooms, palaces, and
even the production of an entire reign (for example, Russell 1987,
1998; Marcus 1987). To date, most of this work has concentrated on
the discursive content of the reliefs, such as narrative structure, or
their formal aspects, such as compositional strategies (for example,
For an example of the impact of this method of study upon interpretation, see Bersani and Dutoit (1985) whose work could have benefited from a greater awareness of
the physical and visual context of the excerpted details of forms and actions upon which
they concentrated and the larger whole to which such details belonged.


j. aker

Russell 1993; Albenda 1997). Here, I am examining an aspect of

visual production, workmanship, that has long fallen out of favor
with the majority of art historians as an aspect of connoisseurship,
a field of visual study that is acknowledged as necessary for its value
in determining such issues as authenticity, chronology, or authorship
but has nevertheless been dismissed of late as leading the scholar to
little else in understanding the cultural and social context of image
production. In this limited study, I hope to show otherwise. A careful examination of all aspects of visual production, including quality
of workmanship, has the potential to yield information and to lead
to interpretations with cultural, social and historical implications. I
also hope that in this way I might make up for my neglect of issues
and methods of connoisseurship in the early stages of my training, a
neglect for which I was soundly and rightly criticized at the time by
my advisor, Irene Winter. I am grateful to her reminder and example
that the foundations of our own work rest on the achievements of
earlier scholars and that much can be gained from the application of
a sound method of study even if it is out of general favor.4
Returning to the level of workmanship displayed in the lion hunt reliefs of Room C in Assurbanipals palace, it should be noted that the
entirety of the relief cycle does not display the same level of exquisite
carving as the two areas discussed above. For one, there is considerable surface damage to the reliefs. Some of this damage was caused
by the looters of the palace who gouged out the eyes of some of the
figures in the reliefs, and much of it was caused by the corrosive effect
of damp earth against the limestone of the reliefs as the palace lay
buried for over a couple of millennia. Perversely, though, this later
damage acts as a veil over the work such that the visual impact of
less skillfully carved areas is obscured and the modern viewer is led
into imagining a surface uniformly brought to the same high level of
finish as the areas that display a high quality of carving. This damage
distracts the modern viewer from noticing the differences that exist
among different areas of the reliefs in the quality of carving, the finish
of surfaces and the competence in the rendering of forms.
Winters respect for earlier work and methods is evident in, for example, her
review of the 1972 reprint of Henrietta Groenewegen-Frankforts Arrest and Movement
(1951) and her use of insights gained from Groenewegen-Frankforts formalist analysis
as a springboard for her own work (Winter 1999).

workmanship as ideological tool


Looking beyond the distracting effect of this later damage, a careful examination reveals differences in the embellishment of forms as
well as differences in the quality and competence of their carving.
A number of passages can be identified where the carving can be
described as indifferent if not downright incompetent. Problems in
workmanship fall into three categories: there are mistakes, both of
omission and commission, in the representation of forms; in some
areas the quality of the carving itself appears shockingly poor; and
some passages appear unfinished.
Some of the mistakes are more obvious than others. Mistakes of
omission, such as missing details and irregularities, are barely noticeable, perhaps because they occur primarily in regularly repeated forms.
For example, one of the attendants holding a temporary screen around
the chariot of the king is missing his belt (Barnett 1976, pl. 5, slab
5, 3rd figure from left), the uppermost pair of the three stacked pairs
of attendants performing the same duty is missing the sticks tucked
under their arms (Barnett 1976, pl. 5, slab 6), two of the helmeted
spear bearers standing to attention on either side of the horses brought
to the chariot are missing their swords (Barnett 1976, pl. 6, slab 7,
lower register, 1st figure from left; slab 8, upper register, 4th figure from
left), and three of the archers from the pairs of soldiers who line the
boundary of the arena are also missing their swords (Barnett 1976, pl.
6, slab 9, 5th, 7th and 9th figures from the top). Equally hard to detect
are the occasional lapses in correspondence between sections that were
meant to mirror each other. For example, among soldiers who stand
to attention as the kings horses are brought, the rosettes that decorate
the inner band of the round shields depicted on the upper register are
missing from their counterparts on the lower register (Barnett 1976,
pl. 6, slab 7). In those same paired lines of soldiers, the number of
helmeted spear bearers depicted on each register does not match;
there are seven of them on the top register and only six of them on
the bottom register (Barnett 1976, pl. 6, slabs 7, 8). Likewise, framing
the beginning of one of the hunt scenes, only nine pairs of archers and
spear bearers are shown to form the boundary of the arena, whereas
there are 10 such pairs to mark the end of the scene (Barnett 1976,
pls. 6, 9, slabs 9, 17). Sections of such repeated forms, especially the
rows of soldiers, seem additionally beset with irregularities in spacing;
some are farther apart and others much closer. The repetition of forms


j. aker

executed in large scale over a wide expanse of space, however, tends

to fool the viewers eye and mask these problems.
Poor handling of spatial relationships is harder to overlook. While
mistakes of omission can be ascribed to haste or carelessness rather
than to lack of skill, mistakes in the representation of spatial relationships denote a certain lack of competence on the part of carvers who
executed these parts of the reliefs.5 Mistakes of this kind can be found
in the four vignettes of dog handlers who control the hounds used to
drive the lions (Barnett 1976, pl. 7, slab 10). Each handler is shown
holding a spear in his right hand, on the side of his body closest to
the picture plane, and the leash of the dog in his left hand, on the side
that lies further away in the depth of the picture space (figure 7).6 The
carvers attempted to introduce liveliness to this section by varying the
poses of the handlers and the dogs, and in the process they seem also
to have introduced some problems in the spatial relationship of the
forms. In their proper order in depth, the spear should appear closest
to the viewer with the dog the farthest away and the handler situated
in between. Yet, in almost each case, the overlap of forms describes
an impossibility in which the body of the dog appears in front of its
handler and an awkward if not equally improbable accommodation is
made for the spear. In the uppermost vignette, the spear is positioned
between the dog and the man; as a result the figures appear somewhat
tangled, for the mans left arm seems to reach diagonally across his
body to the dog placed on his right, and the spear in his right hand
seems caught in between. The lowermost vignette shows the spear in
its correct spatial plane, overlapping the dog, but then the man who
seems to have been positioned behind the dog has his foot in front
of the spear in a configuration that would have been impossible to
maintain. The two middle vignettes appear to have resolved these issues
more successfully: the upper one positions the spear to lie horizontally
in the correct spatial plane by showing it overlapping the leash of the
dog and the body of the handler, while the lower one stretches out the
forms horizontally so that the man and the dog are overlapped only
Mistakes in the spatial representation of overlapping forms is to be distinguished
from passages where forms are correctly but ambiguously distributed in depth. The latter are not mistakes but deliberate optical plays, the resulting ambiguities of which were
intended to be meaningful. The representation of the bodies in the chariot cab, discussed below, is one example of this kind of play.
Surface abrasion obscures this arrangement for the lowest of the vignettes.

workmanship as ideological tool


minimally. Neither, however, is wholly free of problems. The upper

one places the man behind the dog, while in the lower one the mans
foot and the dogs hind paw are brought close enough together to
introduce some uncertainty into their spatial relationship, while the
spear is unambiguously and awkwardly placed behind the mans foot.
To these larger displays of ineptitude can be added the smaller lapses
that betray the lack of some carvers understanding of the structure
of forms and anatomy of the body parts they depicted. Anatomical
details of the arms and calves of many of the smaller-scale figures
seem to become patterns abstracted from the actual form they are
supposed to describe. This is especially evident in the figures of the
screen bearers and soldiers who line the edges of the arena and stand
at attention near the preparation area.
There are other areas in the lion hunt reliefs that betray a combination of incompetence and indifference. These areas are marked by the
absence of the multi-layered, finely executed detail and embellishment
found in the passages depicting the king and his closest companions in
the chariot and of the sensitive modeling exemplified by the carving
of the lions and horses. For example, in the line of soldiers who form
the human boundary of the arena, the carvers have represented only
the bare minimum of gear and features (bows, spears, swords, belts,
headbands, hairstyle) necessary to identify the regimental association
of the figures (figure 8). These forms are minimally described and lack
the elaboration and ornamentation employed in other areas. That
the scale of the figures is too small to depict forms with any degree
of elaboration cannot be advanced as the sole reason for this lack of
detail, for the figures of the king and his companions demonstrate the
degree to which skilled workmanship could represent fine details in
a small area. That the gear of some of these figures might have been
much humbler or cruder in naturefoot soldiers possessing plain
shoulder straps as opposed to decorated ones, for exampleis another
possible explanation, but it does not account for the crudeness with
which these forms have been articulated. The curls at the nape and
beards of some of these same figures, for example, are represented
by cross-hatchings of incised lines and not modeled into little round
three-dimensional mounds as on other figures nearby. The same cursory representation of curls can be found among the spectators and
the soldiers who stand at attention. Elsewhere, unskilled carving
reveals itself in forms that are coarsely and unnaturally robust in their


j. aker

articulation. For example, the headbands and shoulder straps of the

archers who stand behind the shield and the spear-bearing soldiers at
the edge of the arena appear puffy, not flat (figure 8). Likewise, the
details of the boots of the soldiers standing at attention by the kings
chariot, especially details of those on the lower register, are so crudely
carved that the tongue, straps and heels have become three-dimensional
forms independent of and unrelated to one another, and the boots
appear to be a collection of these forms rather than a continuous and
supple surface that covers the foot and the calf. In the worst cases,
such poor carving manages barely to denote the identity of the form
it described but cannot connote its character or nature.
Along with such poorly carved areas are others that are left unfinished. Unfinished sections of the reliefs are localized in the area
that shows the spectators climbing a hill covered with trees and surmounted by a monument. Here the outlines of the crown, trunk and
branches of some of the trees are blocked out, but the finer details in
the form of needles and leaves are missing (Barnett 1976, pl. 6, slabs
8, 9). Likewise, at least one human figure, a bearded, unarmed man
wearing a short tunic, is unfinished (hillside, uppermost row, 1st figure
from left). His belt, the waves of hair on the crown of his head, the
laces of his boots, the weave of his stockings and the strands of the
tassel that dangles between his legs are left unarticulated (figure 9).
The North Palace is assumed to have been unfinished at the time of
Assurbanipals death and therefore it can be argued that the carvers
may have run out of time; but this seems unlikely given that the rest
of the room is completed and that time sufficed to bring some areas
to an extremely high level of finish. So much so, that the reliefs seem
to have been inspected and that some corrections (most noticeable in
the shortening of some of the lions tails) were made. Incomplete areas
of the North Palace are marked not by partially carved reliefs but by
blank stretches of limestone facing. It is more likely that a combination of carelessness on the part of the carvers and indifference on the
part of their supervisors was responsible for the way these areas look.
Below I argue that such carelessness and indifference may not have
been accidental or random.
The problems of workmanship identified thus far suggest that a
number of sculptors possessing different levels of skills were employed
to carve the reliefs in Room C. In the remainder of this paper, I pursue

workmanship as ideological tool


the implications of the pattern that emerges from a consideration of

the distribution of these variations in the quality of workmanship .
In two areas of the reliefs, where the same subject is depicted on the
upper and lower sections, the upper half seems predominantly better
carved than the lower half even when mistakes such as omitted gear
or improbable distribution of forms in depth are taken into account.
In these upper zones, best evident in a comparison of the boots and
legs of the soldiers standing at attention by the chariot and the bodies of the mastiffs used to drive the lions, the modeling is subtler and
shows greater technical variety. Moreover, the sculptors seem to have
better understood and represented the forms they were carving. Two
explanations come to mind. The upper half of the reliefs fall within
a zone that is at the eye level of the average adult viewer, about five
feet tall, and therefore they are more visible and more likely to be
examined by individuals walking across the room. Accordingly, better
sculptors might have been deployed to carve these upper zones. An
additional reason for delegating the upper zones to more accomplished
sculptors may have to do with the hierarchic structure of a workshop
in which senior members would have been granted the double privilege of visibility of their handiwork and easier working conditions,
while the lower zones may have been relegated to apprentices and
lower skilled carvers whose inferior workmanship was less likely to
be noticed by viewers and who would have had to put up with the
discomforts of working close to the floor. However, this difference
in quality between upper and lower zones can be observed in only
two areas of the reliefs, and the impact of possible workshop conditions and procedures upon the carving of the reliefs seems minimal.7

Michael Roaf (1983) was able to identify different groups of sculptors who carved
the Persepolis reliefs. However, the Persepolis reliefs, in particular the processions that
he examined, consisted of repetitive forms deployed across a fairly wide expanse. By
contrast, the reliefs under study cover a much smaller area and are localized in a single
room. The sculptors working in the North Palace may have belonged to more than one
workshop but when the focus is limited to the material in Room C, there is not enough
comparative data to distinguish the work of hands that belong to different workshop
traditions. Roaf (1983, 27) also demonstrated that in some cases a master carver had
carved the heads of the figures while his assistants executed the rest of the bodies. The
Persepolis reliefs with their uniform ceremonial processions seem particularly suited to
this kind of labour division, but it seems not have been practiced in Room C, where one
craftsman seems to have been responsible for carving the entirety of a figure or groups
of figures.


j. aker

Instead, the carving of the reliefs seems to have been governed by a

much different consideration.
It is clear that the best carved areas depicted the king, while the
poorly carved areas include primarily lower-ranked individuals. A closer
look at the entire relief program shows that the quality of workmanship
in the carving of forms reveals greater gradation than simply good or
bad and was directly correlated to physical and social distance from
the king. That is, various degrees of quality of carving, elaboration
of detail, and level of attention and skill (together with other formal
devices) combine to articulate a precise hierarchy of status among the
forms and figures represented.
Most exquisitely carved and at the top of this ranked order is, not
surprisingly, the king. Equally beautifully carved as the king and shown
at almost the same scale but with slightly less elaborate ornamentation of their gear and clothing are the members of the chariot crew.
The crew consists of the charioteer and two others, possibly tal,
third men who act here as bodyguards to the king. They wear rings
on their arms and wrists and fillets on their heads, but lack the earrings shown dangling so prominently from the kings ears. The crews
garments are decorated but with simpler, predominantly geometric
patterns, and fewer floral and figurative panels. At the same scale as
the chariot crew are the three men who are backing the horses into
the harness of the chariot. The quality of workmanshipevidenced
by the tour de force carving of boots and stockingsseems as good as
that lavished on the chariot crew. They wear similar jewelry and fillets, and their sword belts and shoulder straps are finely decorated.
However, in contrast to the chariot crew, they wear plain undecorated
tunics and thus appear somewhat lower in rank.
A wide gulf in quality of carving and level of ornamentation separates
these figures from the rest who lack jewelry, fillets, and decorated garments, and who are represented at a noticeably smaller scale and with
less skill. Nevertheless these figures do separate themselves into a well
differentiated rank order. Stationed hierarchically below the chariot
crew and the horse handlers are the attendants who are preparing,
testing and bringing gear to the king (Barnett 1976, pl. 5, slabs 3, 4).
These figures are divided into three registers (therefore executed at a
relatively large size) and spread out so that the unique and necessary
contribution of each to the preparation of the king for the lion hunt
can be clearly articulated (figure 10). While the figures are plainly

workmanship as ideological tool


dressed and devoid of jewelry, the competent, high quality carving

evident in the fineness of their face, hair, arms, hands, legs and feet
further elevates these figures above others who, based on dress and
accessories alone, may appear to be of similar rank. Executed at about
the same quality of competent carving and level of detail, and also
largely devoid of ornamentation, are the five outlying riders who are
carrying spare equipment and spurring and driving the lions with whips
in the hunt scenes (Barnett 1976, pls. 9, 10, 13, slabs 15-17, 26, 27).
The man who releases the lions from their cages is hardly remarkable
in any aspect of workmanship, good or bad, but like the riders he is
distinguished by the obvious dangers of the service he performs for
the king and like them is isolated and prominently placed (Barnett
1976, pl. 10, slab 16).
The soldiers who are standing at attention in two files by the chariot
in the preparation scene, the grooms who are leading additional horses
in between these two files, and the attendants who hold screens to
enclose the chariot compositionally act as counterparts to the attendants fetching gear on the other side, and at first glance they seem to
be placed at the same rank (Barnett 1976, pls. 5, 6, slabs 6-8). They
are represented at the same scale and they too wear plain tunics and
lack jewelry, and they have undecorated gear. However, this initial
impression of parity is undermined by the uneven and generally poorer
quality of carving most evident in a comparison of their limbs, hair
and beard, where anatomical details veer into abstract patterns and
hair and beard are rendered frequently by sketchy cross-hatchings.
These figures are additionally marred by carelessness that resulted
in missing gear. In comparison, the quality of workmanship evident
in the carving of the dog handlers ranks somewhere between that of
the attendants fetching gear and of the soldiers standing at attention.
The figures are ambitiously varied in their posing. They are few and
isolated in the picture field and therefore prominently displayed perhaps in acknowledgement of their role in facing and driving lions on
foot with nothing but spears and mastiffs.
The most cursorily and coarsely carved figures are those of the archers and shield bearers who form the human boundary of the arena.
They are executed at a small size that precludes much elaboration of
details, let alone ornamentation of dress and gear. The low quality
of carving and the inexperience of the carvers are evident from the
accidental omissions and the modeling that gives a three-dimensional


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appearance to flat surfaces. One area of the reliefs stands out for the
extraordinary indifference with which it seems to have been carved.
This section shows a number of unarmed, bearded and beardless
individuals variously converging upon the hill, climbing it or nearing
its summit. They are executed at the same small scale as the soldiers
who form the boundary of the arena. While not as poorly carved as
the soldiers, the rendering of the spectators beards and hair curls,
some of which are on the verge of devolving into cross-hatching,
shows that the quality of the carving is also not particularly good. But
it is the fact that the carving of this section was left unfinished that
distinguishes it from all others. Here forms were blocked out but, as
noted above, finer details of some of themthe leaves and needles
of the trees, the beard, hair, belt, boot laces and stockings of at least
one figure prominently positioned near the top of the hillwere left
This careful differentiation of groups by regulating the amount of skill
and care devoted to their carving suggests that aspects of workmanship were used by the planners of the reliefs as a visual tool for communicating meaning above and beyond that of representing forms.
More specifically, I would argue that, in the monumental lion hunts
of Assurbanipal, quality of workmanship functioned as a deliberate
ideological tool that articulated and enforced rank and social status
in the same way other formal and iconographic means (such as size,
placement, relative position, gesture, hair, beard, dress, jewelry, weapons, headgear and footwear) were used in Assyrian reliefs to express
hierarchy (for example, Marcus 1981). The ideological nature of the
deployment of workmanship across these reliefs is perhaps best evident in the way some figures were slighted by this means while others
were honored beyond their apparent rank. In particular, the exquisite carving and intricate embellishment of the chariot crew elevated
these middle ranking officers above all others nearly to the level of
the king. Conversely, high ranking officials and officers identifiable
by their long tunics with tasseled hems and fringed shawls (Marcus
1981, 53-57) were marginalized by being placed among the passive
spectators and depicted in a size smaller than the dog handlers and
the nearby foot soldiers standing at attention. This marginalization is
emphasized by the mediocre workmanship given to their forms and
their placement in a section of the reliefs so undervalued as to be
left unfinished. Without the distracting effect of surface erosion, the

workmanship as ideological tool


deliberate neglect of the area would have been all the more glaring
during Assurbanipals times. The denigration of these high ranking
figures was further underscored by their lack of jewelry and weapons
of rank, the paucity of their numbers, and their considerable physical
distance from the king and his activities.8
An explanation for the attention lavished on the chariot crew in
particular may be found in the efforts of late Sargonid kings to deal
with the political instabilities of their times. Following the upheavals of
the deaths of Sargon II and Sennacherib and the assassination attempts
on Esarhaddon, a number of surviving records such as queries to gods
and loyalty oaths document the growing concern of the Sargonid kings
for the safety of their persons and the longevity of their reigns. From
administrative records it appears that the kings employed a number of
strategies designed to foster loyalty. These consisted of incentives in the
form of gifts of tax exemptions, land grants (and sources of income),
and status items such as bracelets and decorated garments, as well as
deterrents such as the withdrawal of royal favor and the attendant loss
of wealth and position in court. These same records suggest that the
kings, Assurbanipal among them, directed a considerable portion of
their patronage toward some of the middle ranking officers in the
kings immediate service, in particular, charioteers and third men,
bodyguards who were physically the closest to the king and charged
with ensuring his safety. These officers are documented to have held
their posts for long periods, amassed immense wealth, and, judging
by their appearance in witness lists, gained considerable status within
the court, possibly at the expense of other, higher ranking officers and
officials and family members who were incidentally likely to pose the
greatest threat to the continuity of the kings reign.9
I have argued elsewhere that the lion hunt reliefs in Room C constituted one of the strategies of patronage by which Assurbanipal
tried to enlist and ensure the loyalty of the middle and low ranking
members of his court and army upon whom he was most dependent.
The expansion of the hunt narrative, to include the kings preparations and multiple scenes from the course of the hunt itself, allowed
By contrast, see procession scenes of Assurnasirpal II and Sargon II where such
figures, bejeweled and embellished with gear and weapons, were placed in positions of
prominence across from the king (Marcus 1981).
This process is explained and documented in detail in my forthcoming dissertation
on the monumental lion hunt reliefs of Room C in Assurbanipals North Palace.


j. aker

the reliefs to show a great range of auxiliary figures as participating

actively in the event. The reliefs would suggest to viewers that the
role of these individuals, to the extent that they support and protect
the king, is found worthy of acknowledgement and celebration in this
monumental form of representation. The inclusion of images of spectators and the specification of a physical context would have further
concretized the specificity of people and actions represented in the
domain of the actual rather than the ideal. And at a time when the
Assyrian king no longer personally led his army into battle, the lion
hunt, or more properly speaking, its representation, provided a worthy venue for displaying the heroic exploits and invaluable service of
the middle and lower ranking palace and army personnel, especially
that of the chariot crew.10 For example, scale and quality of carving work together in the representation of the charioteer so that his
status is clearly indicated by his jewelry and decorated garments and
gear, while his service and his skill are articulated and emphasized
in the nearly three-dimensional treatment of his hands that hold the
reins (figure 11). Here the reliefs allow the viewer to observe the
precise way in which the charioteer holds the six straps that control
and direct the horses, and the nearly three-dimensional treatment of
the hands and fingers communicates the immense power and skill
possessed by the charioteer to perform that task. In this tiny passage,
the reliefs articulate, underscore, and justify the kings patronage of
his charioteer.
I argue that deployment of workmanship across the reliefs was
one tool used together with other formal and iconographic tools to
ideological ends. In part, quality of carving allowed the reliefs to
document the kings favor and efforts to secure the loyalty of his
subjects by articulating such items of status as arm and wrist bands
and decorated garments that were given to charioteers, bodyguards
and others directly responsible for the safety of the king in one way or
another (such as those harnessing the horses to the chariot). In part,
it also functioned as a means by which an additional form of patronage, in this case the gift of commemoration in monumental format,
could be regulated and used to greatest ideological effect. Variations
The location of the reliefs, their placement in a corridor within a section of the
palace open to most members of the court, and the psychological processes by which
the reliefs were meant to act upon their viewers, including the middle and lower ranking palace and army personnel, are discussed in my dissertation.

workmanship as ideological tool


in the quality of carving enabled those who planned Room C, where

agency would ultimately rest with the king, to articulate and bestow
precise and minute differences of status among a wide range of functionaries and place all individuals into a hierarchic order of rank.
Thus, I would argue that variation in the deployment of skill and
competence, which translates into quality and detail of carving, appears as a deliberately wielded ideological tool in the monumental
hunt reliefs of Room C. Accompanying the kings patronage, but
hardly documented in the written record, might be changes in court
protocol, which would have accommodated the elevation of the charioteers and bodyguards and other middle ranking officers in the kings
personal service to higher positions of status and honor. I suggest that
these hunt reliefs may have constituted an expression of such changes
in court protocol, and, in the very act of placing the charioteers and
bodyguards immediately next to the king and honoring them with
a representational treatment nearly equal to that of the king, may
have also functioned as active mechanisms for effecting these very
changes. By extension, the reliefs would have functioned partly as a
form of flattery to those shown participating in the hunt and partly as
an incentive for others (spectators in the reliefs or the viewers before
them) by articulating the point that acceptable avenues of advancement and glory lay only in the service of the king.
In this analysis of workmanship as an ideological tool for achieving
social stratification, the extraordinarily high quality of workmanship
lavished upon the horses and the lions would appear to put these
animals at the level of the king and his closest companions. In fact,
these animals are distinguished from each other by other qualities
of workmanship, that is, by the amount of detail and embellishment
given to each animal; differing amounts of detail both distance the
lions from the humans and bring the status of the horses within the
human domain into proper focus. First, to address the matter of the
lions, high quality of carving has been used to make the faces and
bodies of the animals emotionally expressive, an aspect that is not
relevant to the topic at hand and that is treated in greater detail in
my forthcoming dissertation. The detail given to lions is sparse. The
reliefs show extended claws, a few veins in the legs, the flow of blood
from wounds, and the individual strands of the triangular clumps of
fur of the manes. By contrast, a great amount of detail and embellishment is given to the horses (figure 12). Most obviously, the horses


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are equipped with highly complicated tack for harnessing them to the
chariot. The tack consists of a bridle, bits, frontlet, blinkers, headstall, poll crest, nape strap with bells, thong, neck strap, breast and
girth bands. This tack, in itself thoroughly decorated with floral and
geometric patterns, functions both as ornamentation and as a sign of
the rank for the horses much like the dress and gear of the human
beings shown on the reliefs. An indication of domestication, the tack
transforms the horse from a mere animal into a being that shares the
human realm. Furthermore, the fineness of the tacks ornamentation,
rendered with some relief to make it stand out, indicates that the kings
chariot horses occupy a fairly high rank in the network of animate and
inanimate tools of kingship that extend from the king and serve him.
That the condition of domestication is not just a matter of donning
gear but one that permeates the subjectivity of the horses is indicated
by their precise grooming: the mane is combed and clipped to present
an unbroken sweeping outline against the neck, a shock of hair over
the brows is given a blunt cut, and the tail is combed, crimped into
waves, and plaited at the end into a small loop. Furthermore, each
strand of hair on the horses is indicated in shallow relief precisely to
articulate the artificial patterning that the grooming imposes on the
animals body (figure 13). By contrast, the mane of the lionsunruly,
uneven in length, and therefore ungroomedcurl into small, triangular tufts.
The horses, harnessed to the kings chariot, are embellished to the
same degree and for the same reason that any other gear and accessory
of the king is embellished. Thus, their status is clarified with the use of
ornamentation and embellishment. And like everything that extends
from the king and becomes part of his representation, the horses are
carved to show a considerable range in depth of relief, from high to
shallow. This variation in depth of relief reveals ever finer levels of
detailing as the viewer comes closer to the reliefs. Whatever is part
of the civilized domain and of high status has this kind of elaborate
embellishment that accrues on its form in multiple layers of increasing
complexity. In the lion hunt reliefs of Room C, such embellishment,
the representation of which is only possible with high quality carving, increases as one goes up the chain of hierarchy in the human
domain, and, I would argue, is an aesthetic quality that hints at the
increasing wholesomeness of those occupying upper echelons where

workmanship as ideological tool


perfection appears in the extreme complexity of the embellishment

of the kings form.
The reliefs also placed some limits upon the prestige bestowed upon
those represented. The middle ranking officers, for example, while
prominently displayed, elaborately embellished, placed next to the
king, and exquisitely carved, are featured only as tools of the king.
Their role in the hunt is passive. The bodyguards protect the king
by deterring and deflecting the lions that attack the chariot, but they
never kill the lions. The scale of representation, combined with skill
of carving, allowed the sculptors to represent clearly the tips of the
spears, which touch but do not penetrate the bodies of the lions (figure
13). In clear contrast, all the weapons used by the king plunge into
the bodies of the lions. Furthermore, the guards bodies are not only
situated behind the king but do not achieve the physical unity and
therefore the conceptual clarity given to the king. They are so closely
overlapped by the king that parts of their bodies become chopped up,
and their arms appear as extensions of the king. And, notwithstanding the skillful resolution of all these body parts in different planes of
representation, the abilities of the bodyguards appear subsumed into
the person of the king. Likewise, the charioteer, even when placed
in front of the king in some scenes, appears as an extension of the
kings body, so that his work is partially claimed under the agency of
the king. Indeed, a variety of formal and discursive means are used
to ascribe some agency and power to the middle and lower ranking
members of the kings personnel, while, at the same time, they contain
and limit that agency within precisely defined bounds.
In conclusion, I suggest that the obvious gradation of quality of
workmanship functioned as a double-edged ideological tool that, on
the one hand, conferred prestige upon those represented and, on the
other, circumscribed them into a precise rank order that would have
underscored their place within a hierarchy. Ultimately, the reliefs
assert that the agency of the kings dependents, for all its glory and
for all that it enables, is a function of occupying a position within a
hierarchic power structure controlled by the king. The dependency of
the king upon the performance of his followers is mirrored by these
individuals greater dependency upon the king for their status and
power. The hierarchy of power and the supremacy of the king are
maintained in the reliefs by articulating, through various meansdress,
scale and proximity to the person of the king, as well as quality of


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workmanship lavished on the representational forma specific status

that locks each individual within a particular place in this network.
Most Assyrian ideological productions identify kingship exclusively
with the king, in whom the person and the office are united.11 In
the monumental hunt reliefs of Room C, kingship appears as an
institution that extends beyond the person and the office of the king
to encompass his loyal followers, even though the king is nevertheless the dominant element. I do not think that the reliefs in Room
C represent the emergence of a radical change in our understanding
of Assyrian kingship. The inflection given to the nature of kingship
in Room C is a minor variation that seems to have been presented
through the visual domain alone and addressed to a specific segment
of the palace and army personnel who might have been more sensitive and receptive to a vision of kingship that raised the profile of
their role and status within the core of the empire. Furthermore, the
Assyrian ideology of kingship, like all ideologies, could hardly have
been so monolithic that it would have manifested no variations or
even occasional contradictions in all its formulations and strategies
in the course of the empire.

Aker, Jlide. Forthcoming. Rhetoric of Transgression: Assurbanipals Babylonian Policy
and Transformations in the Visual Domain. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Albenda, Pauline. 1997. Assyrian Wall Reliefs: A Study of Compositional Styles.
In Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten. XXXIXe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Heidelberg
6.-10. Juli 1992, ed. H. Waetzoldt and H. Hauptmann, 223-226. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.
Barnett, Richard David. 1976. Sculptures from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh
(668-627 B.C.). London: The British Museum.
Bersani, Leo, and Ulysse Dutoit. 1985. The Forms of Violence: Narrative in Assyrian Art
and Modern Culture. New York: Schocken Books.
Curtis, John E., and Julian E. Reade, eds. 1995. Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in
the British Museum. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Frankfort, Henri. 1977. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. 4th rev. ed. London: Penguin Books.


See for example, Irene Winters analysis of statues of Assyrian kings (1997).

workmanship as ideological tool


Groenewegen-Frankfort, Henrietta A. 1951. Arrest and Movement: An Essay on Space and

Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
Marcus, Michelle I. 1981. A Study of the Types of Officials in Neo-Assyrian Reliefs: Their Identifying Attributes and Their Possible Relationship to a Bureaucratic
Hierarchy. M.A. thesis, Columbia University.
. 1987. Geography as an Organizing Principle in the Imperial Art of Shalmaneser III. Iraq 49: 77-90.
Moortgat, Anton. 1969. The Art of Ancient Mesopotamia: The Classical Art of the Near East.
Translated by M. DuMont Schauberg [orig. pub. 1967]. London: Phaidon.
Paley, Samuel Michael. 1976. King of the World: Ashur-nasir-pal II of Assyria 883-859
B.C. New York: Brooklyn Museum.
Reade, Julian E. 1979. Assyrian Architectural Decoration: Techniques and Subject
Matter. Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 17-49.
Roaf, Michael. 1983. Sculptures and Sculptors at Persepolis. London: British Institute of
Persian Studies.
Russell, John Malcolm. 1987. Bulls for the Palace and Order in the Empire: The Sculptural Program of Sennacheribs Court VI at Nineveh. Art Bulletin 69: 520-539.
. 1993. Sennacheribs Lachish Narratives. In Narrative and Event in Ancient Art,
ed. P. J. Holliday, 55-73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
. 1998. The Program of the Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud: Issues in
the Research and Presentation of Assyrian Art. AJA 102: 655-715.
Winter, Irene J. 1974. Review of Arrest and Movement: An Essay on Space and Time in
the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East, by Henrietta Groenewegen-Frankfort.
JAOS 94: 505-506.
. 1981. Royal Rhetoric and the Development of Historical Narrative in NeoAssyrian Reliefs. Studies in Visual Communication 7/2: 2-38.
. 1997. Art in Empire: The Royal Image and the Visual Dimensions of Assyrian
Ideology. In Assyria 1995, Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian
Text Corpus Project, Helsinki, September 7-11, 1995, ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting,
359-381. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
. 1999. Tree(s) on the Mountain: Landscape and Territory on the Victory
Stele of Naram-Sn of Agade. In Landscapes: Territories, Frontiers and Horizons in the Ancient Near East. Papers Presented to the XLIVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Venezia,
7-11 July 1997, ed. S. Milano, S. de Martino, F. M. Fales and G. B. Lanfranchi,
64-72. Padua: Sargon srl.


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Figure 1. Assurbanipal in his chariot, spearing lions, Room C, slabs 23, 24, British
Museum (WAA 124853-4) author photo

Figure 2. Dying lioness, Room C, slab 26, British Museum (WAA 124856) author photo

workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 3. Detail of dying lioness, Room C, slab 26, British Museum (WAA 124856) author photo

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workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 4. Charioteer, Room C, slabs 23, 24, British Museum (WAA 124853-4) author photo

Figure 5. Assurbanipals face, Room C, slab 24, British Museum (WAA 124854) author photo

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workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 6. Assurbanipal in his chariot, Room C, slab 24, British Museum (WAA
1248854) author photo


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Figure 7. Dog handlers, Room C, slab 10, British Museum (WAA 124863) author

workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 8. Detail of the line of soldiers edging the arena, Room C, slabs 9, 10, British
Museum (WAA 124862-3) author photo


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Figure 9. Unfinished trees and figure on spectators hill, Room C, slabs 8, 9, British
Museum (WAA 124861-2) author photo

workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 10. Detail of attendants fetching gear, Room C, slab 4, British Museum
(WAA 124884) author photo

Figure 11. Charioteers hands, Room C, slabs 23, 24, British Museum (WAA 124853) author photo

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Figure 12. Chariot horse, Room C, slab 5, British Museum (WAA 124858) author photo

workmanship as ideological tool



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Figure 13. Assurbanipal and bodyguards with weapons, Room C, slab 20, British
Museum (WAA 124850) author photo

workmanship as ideological tool


Figure 14. Tips of weapons, Room C, slab 20, British Museum (WAA 124850)
author photo


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darius i and the heroes of akkad



Marian H. Feldman
Irene Winters innovative thinking on so many aspects of Near Eastern
art has inspired all fortunate to have studied with her. For me, her
expansion of the concept of style to embrace affect and agency
has provided particularly fertile grounds. Because style must exist
in order to give content visible form and thus no discrete boundary
can separate style from subject matter, style can encompass more
than an unconscious reflection of cultural or personal ethos. Style
can also be intentionally deployed for purposes of meaning and response. Winter has addressed this connotative and rhetorical aspect
of style, what she characterizes as affective in its ability to generate emotional responses, in relation to one of Mesopotamias most
famous monuments: the victory stele of Naram-Sin (c. 2250 BCE). In
a reconsideration of this monument, Winter (1996) has pursued the
affective qualities conveyed in the overwhelmingly physical rendering
of Naram-Sins body, suggesting that the newly divinized ruler strategically deployed stylistic forms associated with a heroic ideal, which
was literally embodied in Naram-Sins perfectly formed and alluring
figure. As a tribute to Irene, I would like to explore the concept of
style-as-meaning in the case of a much later work, the relief of
Darius I (522-486 BCE) at Bisitun in western Iran, which will lead
me back, ultimately, to Naram-Sins alluring body.
The Bisitun relief, executed at a critical juncture during Darius
consolidation of power, stands apart from other large-scale, royal
Achaemenid monuments in its representation of military triumph
and its extensive textual recounting of historical events. Despite its
unusual content, the monument has been taken to signal the beginning
As is fitting for a tribute from a student to her teacher, this paper owes much to
my own students at the University of California, Berkeley. In particular, I would like to
thank Shane Black, Catherine Demos, Sabrina Maras, Meliza Orantes, Jennifer Wister
and my research assistant Jean Li. In addition, colleagues David Stronach, Ann Shafer
and Stephanie Reed have contributed critical feedback.


m.h. feldman

of the classical Achaemenid style that finds its fullest expression at

Persepolis. Indeed, most scholarship on the Bisitun relief divorces the
content from the style. And because Achaemenid art seems to appear
abruptly, fully formed with few indigenous precedents, scholars tend
to concentrate on disentangling the diverse influences that led to its
genesis. Thus, the reliefs subject matter of victorious triumph has
been associated with a Mesopotamian iconographic tradition, traceable from Assyria and a series of western Iranian rock reliefs back to
Naram-Sins stele. Many of the stylistic elements of Darius anatomy
and clothing, however, have been attributed instead to Greek influences (Boardman 2000, 104-11; Curtis 2005, 117; Farkas 1974, 2937; Frankfort 1946, 6-14; Luschey 1968, 63-94; Richter 1946, 15-30;
contra: Nylander 1970, 121-38; Root 1979, 182-226). In such studies,
style has been understood solely as an aspect of form, useful primarily for comparative ends in order to trace the mixed ingredients
that comprised Achaemenid art. Meaning, on the other hand, has
been derived from a narrowly defined concept of iconography that
focuses only on motif. In this way, it has been easy to identify Greek
style existing in an otherwise Near Eastern iconography without
worrying about the implications of this coexistence. If, however, we
consider style as a carrier of meaning, then this dichotomy should be
reexamined, asking not only whence does the style derive, but what
associative connotations might it have held for Darius, his court and
his subjects. As Winter (1998, 72) has pointed out, the key to styleas-meaning lies. . .in cultural context and in the emotional response
invoked/provoked by the work. Considered in this light, I would
like to propose that the style of the Akkadian empire, exemplified by
Naram-Sins stele and connoting a semi-divine heroic, might have
been deployed by Darius in his Bisitun relief as a way to link himself
to the great Mesopotamian empire of the past.
The Bisitun (or Behistun) relief, carved into the living rock of the
Zagros mountains, rises approximately 100 meters above a highway
leading from central Mesopotamia (Babylon) to the Iranian plateau
and the Median capital of Ecbatana (Hamadan) (figure 1).2 Carved
early in the reign of Darius I, probably before 519/518 BCE, it is

The monument measures approximately 7 m high by 18 m wide (sculpted area:
approx. 3 m high by 5.5 m wide); Stronach and Zournatzi (1997, 330-31) for general

darius i and the heroes of akkad


unique among Achaemenid monumental works of art. The monument

consists of a trilingual inscription in Elamite, Babylonian Akkadian,
and Old Persian that frames a roughly rectangular-shaped sculpted
representation depicting Darius triumphant. Both text and image
work together to express Darius legitimacy and divine favor. The
text recounts the complicated story of Darius succession to Cambyses as king of Persia (Schmitt 1991). According to the inscription,
before leaving to campaign in Egypt, Cambyses secretly murdered his
brother, Bardiya, whereupon another character, Gaumata, stepped
in and impersonated Bardiya. After Cambyses died far from Persia,
Darius claims that he killed the imposter and assumed the throne. A
series of revolts ensued, which Darius put down over the course of
the first few years of his rule. General consensus now interprets this
narrative as justification for what appears to be Darius murder of the
legitimate successor to the throne (Kuhrt 1995, 655). The image at
Bisitun presents an encapsulation of Darius dispatch of Gaumata and
quelling the revolts, and reaffirms the divine sanction of his actions.
Slightly off center to the left, Darius with a bow in one hand stands
with his left foot planted squarely on the prone body of Gaumata
who raises his hands in supplication and kicks up one foot as if in
anguish. Before Darius stand nine rebels, connected to one another
by shackles and with their hands tied behind them. Each is identified
by a trilingual label and distinguished by clothing and hairstyle. Two
armed attendants follow Darius, one holding an upright spear, the
other a bow and quiver. In the center of the relief, over the bound
rebels, hovers the torso of a male figure rising out of a winged disc.
Wearing a horned headdress that in Mesopotamia signals divinity,
the entity faces Darius, raising its right hand while holding a ring in
its left hand.3
As an illegitimate ruler, Darius, following in the tradition of great
usurpers of the past, took pains to stress his divine selection, ascribing
his rule to the favor of Ahuramazda. He also carefully controlled his
royal persona both through texts, such as the Bisitun inscription, and
images. In the Bisitun text, Darius claims to have sent copies of it
throughout his empire, and preserved examples survive from Elephantine (Aramaic text) and Babylonia (both text and image) (Greenfield

The relief was carved in several stages that included later additions of the rightmost captive, the Akkadian text and the Old Persian text (Hyuse 1999, 45-66).


m.h. feldman

and Porten 1982; Seidl 1976, 1999a, 1999b). The homogeneity of

royal representations during the reign of Darius attests to the strict
control over their production, while the persistence of the canonical
repertoire through his successors reigns provides a good measure of
their effectiveness.
The Bisitun relief supplies one of the only historical accounts from
the Achaemenid empire and is the only monumental rendering of
domination.4 Nowhere else is such a blatant image of royal physical
triumph put forth at such large scale in the public sphere. The extensive
narrative of court intrigue and rebel insurrections represents the only
such document, monumental or otherwise, known from Achaemenid
sources. While the impetus for such a monumentthat is, Darius
desire to legitimize his ruleseems reasonably settled, a quest for its
artistic precedents has dominated scholarly inquiries.
Since the early twentieth century, scholars have traced the inspiration for Bisitun to a series of carved rock reliefs in the vicinity that
date to the end of the third and beginning of the second millennium
and that display both thematic and compositional similarities with
Bisitun (Hrouda 1976; Brker-Klhn 1982, nos. 29-34).5 The best
preserved example, found at Zohab near Sar-i Pul approximately
100 kilometers to the west of Bisitun, retains an inscription of a local
Lullubi ruler, Annubanini (Brker-Klhn 1982, no. 31) (figure 2). It
depicts the armed ruler stepping upon the fallen body of his enemy,
while to his right, Ishtar extends a ring in her right hand and secures
in her left the bonds of two naked kneeling captives. A star or sun
symbol occupies the space between Annubanini and Ishtar. Below the
main scene, to the left of the inscription, six more bound and naked
captives move to the right.
The geographical proximity to Bisitun of these rock reliefs strengthens the argument that Darius adopted from them the concept of a
victory monument carved in the living rock. Moreover, the rock reliefs
form a discrete local tradition, which suggests that Darius intentionally drew upon the form and content of the earlier reliefs in their
indigenous setting. He may have considered them Elamite or perhaps
Median, and thus sought to ally himself to these earlier Iranian

For such scenes on seals, see Boardman 2000, 158-59.

In particular, six reliefs (four at Sar-i Pul, one near Darband-i Sheikan and one at
Darband-i Gawr) show much the same scene, though with variations.

darius i and the heroes of akkad


kingdoms through the use of a peculiarly western Iranian tradition

(Root 1979, 195). The Bisitun monument, however, is by no means
a copy of these reliefs. Certain details may be associated with one or
another, for example the bound captives or the poses of the defeated
enemy. Nonetheless, variations occur at Bisitun that indicate that no
one rock relief, nor even the group as a whole, supplied the entirety
of either formal or stylistic elements.
The early rock reliefs have, in turn, been associated with the stele
of Naram-Sin, the best known example of the motif of a victorious
ruler stepping upon his vanquished enemy. The triumphant pose and
overall conception of the rock reliefs are closely related to the stele,
which commemorates the Akkadian rulers victory over mountain
peoples of this very region, including the Lullubi. The stele has been
studied and described so often that only a cursory overview is given
here (figure 3).6 At the apex stands Naram-Sin, wearing a horned
headdress and holding a bow and axe in one hand and a mace or
arrow in his other. With his left foot he steps upon two apparently
dead enemies. At least three rows of soldiers scale the mountain below
him to the left, while pleading or dead enemy occupy the space to
the right. Three celestial symbols fill the uppermost part of the relief.
In an intriguing turnabout, the very people debased by Naram-Sin
in his stelethe Lullubilater appropriated his visual formula for
their own purposes in the Zagros rock reliefs, hinting at the range of
affect such a scene could carry.7 However, Margaret Cool Root
is certainly correct to treat with caution any strictly linear developmental sequence beginning with Naram-Sin, through the Zagros
rock reliefs to Bisitun (Root 1979, 199). As none are direct copies of
any preceding ones, it is more fruitful to consider multiple interacting trends within the Mesopotamian and western Iranian traditions
as contributors to Darius relief, and under the rubric of trends I
would include style.
Specific motival details at Bisitun have been associated with NeoAssyrian and, less frequently, Neo-Babylonian precedents (Sarre and
Herzfeld 1910, 189-98; Luschey 1968, 84-90; Farkas 1974, 32; Root
1979, 202-18). For example, the squared beard and hairstyle of Darius,

See below for further discussion and references.

The dates of the rock reliefs are debated, but they almost certainly post-date
Naram-Sin (Brker-Klhn 1982, 137).


m.h. feldman

which are quite different from later renderings at Persepolis, have been
compared to those of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. The torso extending
from the winged disc has often been linked to the ninth century reliefs
of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, although examples in Neo-Assyrian
cylinder seals that continue into the seventh century offer perhaps better comparisons (Luschey 1968, 85; Collon 2001, 79-82). Herzfeld is
one of the few to draw on Neo-Babylonian comparisons, for example
the boundary stone of Marduk-apla-iddina II (c. 715 BCE), which he
uses as comparanda for the rounded curls at the back of Darius neck
(Sarre and Herzfeld 1910, 195) (figure 4). As with the rock reliefs and
Naram-Sins stele, no one Assyrian or Neo-Babylonian extant work
provides a precise model; Ashurbanipals hair forms a square bunch
at the nape of his neck that looks altogether different from Darius
softly rounded clump of curls, as noted by Herzfeld.
Probably the most debated and discussed issue regarding precedents,
however, relates to the style of the Bisitun relief, especially the rendering of Darius figure and clothing, and the extent to which Greek
arts of the late sixth century contributed to Achaemenid sculpture.
Two features in particular have occupied the center of this discussion: the execution of the drapery of Darius robe and the profile
shoulder (figure 5). It is important to note that the discussion has been
complicated by issues surrounding the chronology of art production
from Cyrus to Darius, the resulting stylistic development derived from
this chronology, and considerations regarding the role of the Bisitun
relief within the development of Achaemenid sculpture as a whole.
The crux of the problem lies in the dating of the reliefs of Palace P
at Pasargadae, which originally were considered part of Cyrus oeuvre, but now have been placed convincingly well into the reign of
Darius, after the Bisitun relief and just prior to Persepolis (Stronach
1978, 95-99). This chronological sequence rests partly on the redating
of the Cyrus inscription from Pasargardae to the reign of Darius
(Stronach 1978, 100-101; 1997a, 48-49 with n. 11), but principally on
an accepted evolutionary development of the rendering of pleats and
folds in the drapery of the Achaemenid court robe. Attributing the
Palace P reliefs to Darius and consequently assigning the introduction
of the Achaemenid robe to his reign, places the Bisitun rendering at
the very beginning of the sequence. Within this debate is a related
issue, that of comparing Bisitun to Greek examples in contrast to
comparing the Pasargadae Palace P reliefs or Persepolis reliefs to Greek

darius i and the heroes of akkad


examples. The drapery and plasticity evident at Bisitun is markedly

different from that at Palace P and Persepolis in a way that does not
seem due to differences in scale or location, as a number of scholars
have remarked (Luschey 1968, 88; Farkas 1974, 32-33). Most notable
is the lightness in rendering the drapery of the Achaemenid robe at
Bisitun in such a way that the material stretches thinly across the
back leg and buttocks, revealing the well defined musculature swelling beneath it, especially evident in the figure of Darius whose stance
accentuates the tautness of his skirt. This is in contrast to the sharply
edged geometric stylizations of the zig-zagging pleats and deeply cut
precision of the symmetrically arranged folds seen in the later robes
(compare to Farkas 1974, 84).
Several scholars maintain that the drapery and true profile stance
can only be explained through Greek influences, best illustrated on
the reliefs of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi dated to around 525
BCE (figure 6). For Luschey (1968, 86-90) and Farkas (1974, 32-37,
83-115), this translates into the presence of Greek sculptors who executed the Bisitun relief. Boardman (2000, 110, 125), however, sees
clear Greek precedence but little to convince him of actual Greek
sculptors. This opinion echoes Nylander (1970, 138), who in his discussion of the Palace P reliefs from Pasargadae states that the form
and style of the draped figures are profoundly un-Greek, and thus
he considers it unlikely that any Greeks actually performed sculptural
tasks. One can in fact make arguments against many of the purportedly Greek elementsthe plasticity of the bodies and the use of a true
profile shoulderwhich find precedents in Near Eastern arts of the
Late and Neo-Babylonian periods, such as the steles of Nabonidus
(555-539 BCE) or the boundary stone of Marduk-apla-iddina II (c.
715 BCE; Nylander 1970, 128-32; Root 1979, 215-16; Brker-Klhn
1982, nos. 263, 264, 266; Calmeyer 1994, 137) (figure 4). However,
there is no need to deny Greek models for the omega-shaped pleats
and zig-zagging sleeve edges seen in the Achaemenid robes of the
canonical imperial style established by Darius. Rather, I maintain
that they are not the sole prototype for the particular rendering of
drapery seen at Bisitun.
In all these discussions, with the notable exception of Margaret Cool
Root, the investigation of the style of drapery and plasticity has unfolded apart from any consideration of meaning. Yet, following Winter
(1998, 56 with n. 3), style is both complementary to and generative


m.h. feldman

of messages provided by content. In addition, we must acknowledge

the element of agency in the manipulation and organization of form,
form being the materialization of content. We can turn to Roots
scholarship on Achaemenid art for an initial exploration into affect
and agency at Bisitun. In her discussion, Root (1979, 191) argues that
the idea of the relief guided the selection of images with an interest
in creating a series of calculated allusions to antique traditions.
With regard to the use of Assyrian elements, for example the divine
winged disc, she claims that this was not due simply to the fortuitous
survival of Assyrian sculptors or to any peculiarly tenacious nature
of the Assyrian art tradition, but rather to Darius strategic attempt
to imbue the monument with associations with archetypal power
(Root 1979, 213). In a radical departure from traditional scholarship,
she includes style among those aspects of conscious selection, noting
that style can impose nuances of feeling or meaning, which in turn
can be manipulated to produce desired effects (Root 1979, 214). In
other words, Root is getting at the affective properties of style and
their potential to serve as a vehicle of meaning, effectively restoring
agency to the person of Darius. I might add that this scenario of strategic stylistic deployment does not exclude the possibility that Greek
sculptural skills were tapped in order to achieve it, either directly
through Ionian sculptors brought from western Anatolia or by Persian
sculptors who were sent there in order to learn these techniques. And
in fact, it fits well with the notion that Darius not only conveyed his
message of conquest and incorporation through the depiction of elements from the various cultural units of his empire, but also through
the actual process of production and labor similar to that detailed
in the Foundation Charter that describes the building of Darius
palace at Susa with manpower and materials from throughout the
Persian realm.8
Yet if we see meaning in style, what exactly was the specific style of
Darius figure at Bisitun trying to say? Though she focuses primarily
on Assyria, Roots argument (1979, 213-24) that specific traditions
were meaningful to the Achaemenids encourages us to examine more
DSf exists in several versions in Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian and dates to
early in the reign of Darius. For brief discussion with references, see Harper, Aruz, and
Tallon 1992, no. 190. At Persepolis, the reality of employing diverse peoples is confirmed by thousands of administrative texts from the reign of Darius (see Kuhrt 1995,
650 with references).

darius i and the heroes of akkad


closely the stylistic associations evident in the figure of Darius. Rather

than seeking meaningful expression through connections with Greek
style, I believe we can more profitably look back in time to the stele
of Naram-Sin and the artistic style of the Akkadian period, which
carried through Old, Middle and Neo-Assyrian traditions. Despite
the long temporal span between the creation of the stele and the
Bisitun relief, some scholars have commented on the stylistic, in addition to the motival and compositional, similarities between them.9
When we focus on the figure of the ruler in the two monuments, the
visual connections are especially striking (figures 5 and 7). While their
different attires locate Darius and Naram-Sin within their respective
cultural and temporal spheres, the rendering of the drapery and the
articulation of the back leg and buttocks display remarkable affinity.
In the case of Naram-Sin, the definition of his legs appears so forcefully that the tightly wrapped skirt practically recedes from view. His
garment is tied in a loose knot on his hip, from which radiate softly
undulating folds analogous to those on either side of the lower part
of Darius robe.
The stele of Naram-Sin has been the subject of numerous studies, including several by Irene Winter (1996, 1999, 2002, 2004; also,
Brker-Klhn 1982, no. 26; Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, no. 109).
For the most part, these studies have examined the monument within
what could be considered its original and intended context, that is, as
a victory stele made under the patronage of Naram-Sin as the king of
Akkad during the twenty-third century BCE. Situating Naram-Sins
voluptuously sculpted body in the context of the language of legendary heroes such as Gilgamesh, the early ruler of Uruk, Winter (1996)
argues that the style of sexuality and allure serves as a potent vehicle
for identifying Naram-Sin with a heroic ideal. The adoption of this
ideal at the time of Naram-Sins rule, and perhaps also its lack of
success in the periods immediately following, may be partly ascribed
to his unprecedented act of self-divinization, which is signaled on the
stele both visually by the horned headdress and linguistically by the
divine determinative before his name.

Most notably, Nylander (1970, 129), who vis--vis the Achaemenid sculptures
writes, . . . it is enough to consider the stele of Naramsin, which shows a fairly high relief with a careful modelling of volumes and even an interest in the relation between
body and clothes.


m.h. feldman

The physical realization of Naram-Sins body can also be understood as a culmination or an extreme example of a trend in Akkadian
art towards concreteness and actuality. Throughout the period, both
large- and small-scale arts display a strongly plastic style of rendering
bodies, particularly musculature, in a very concrete and volumetric
manner. This includes an interest in certain kinds of materiality, most
notably, that of the drapery of textiles in monumental royal statuary,
and an occasional depiction of the anatomy lying beneath. The depiction of materiality is in no way comprehensive, nor does it present a
realistic or illusionistic representation of the whole. Yet, it can be
exquisite in its translation of an exceptionally tactile aspect. On two
statues of Manishtushu, one of diorite the other of limestone and both
excavated at Susa, the conical surface of the royal robe is broken by
soft folds of drapery falling diagonally across the front of the skirt
(Moortgat 1969, pls. 141, 142).10 The statue of an unidentified man,
perhaps a ruler, found at Assur depicts the rounded musculature of
the arm and stylized shoulder blade through a tautly stretched wrap
(Harper, et al. 1995, no. 22). This concrete physicality also occurs
on the small scale, best seen in cylinder seals, such as one belonging
to a scribe of Shar-kali-sharri, the successor of Naram-Sin (Moortgat
1969, pl. F: 1). What this actualization of physical forms means on a
widespread level during the Akkadian period is somewhat difficult to
assess and would require an extensive discussion not possible in this
study. I believe, however, that this visual development may be linked
to what Nissen (1988, 165-97) has described as the establishment of an
ideology of centralized kingship that sought to emphasize the material
world in order to downplay the power of local, city-affiliated temple
institutions. By concretizing the body of the ruler, the Akkadian kings
sought to establish their physical presence and dominance.11
But how then can I argue for a stylistic connection between two
works of art made nearly two thousand years apart? Could Darius
have had first-hand experience of Naram-Sins stele? And might it
(or the Akkadian style in general) have especially resonated with him
because of a long-standing collective memory of the Akkadian empire?
I hope to provide a qualified yes to these questions by following the
The limestone statue retains its base, which is decorated with the naked, dead
bodies of defeated peoples, suggesting that this sculpture should be considered, at least
in part, a victory monument similar to Naram-Sins stele.
A suggestion also made by Michalowski (1993, 87).

darius i and the heroes of akkad


perambulations of Naram-Sins stele and by tracing the revival of the

Akkadian tradition in later Mesopotamian history, in particular its
distinctive style of physical concreteness, and the attendant associations with its legendary empire.
We can track, to some extent, the geographic travels of the stele by
means of the texts inscribed upon it and its archaeological context.
The stele preserves a fragmentary three-column inscription of NaramSins, located to the left of the mountain peak.12 It reads,

Naram-Sin, the powerful, [. . .about 10 lines missing or untranslatable. . .] in the mountains of the Lullubi assembled and a battle. . .[. . .
about 15 lines missing or untranslatable. . .] dedicated to the deity . . .
[about 10 lines missing]. (Gelb and Kienast 1990, 90-92; also Frayne
1993, 144)

On the empty space of the rising mountain peak, as if extending

from the contorted form of a pleading enemy, flows an Elamite inscription,
I (am) Shutruk-Nahhunte, son of Hallutush-Inshushinak, beloved servant of Inshushinak, king of Anshan (and) Susa, enlarger of my realm,
protector of Elam, prince of Elam. At the command of Inshushinak, I
struck down Sippar. I took the stele of Naram-Sin in my hand, and I
carried it off and brought it back to Elam. I set it up in dedication to
my lord, Inshushinak. (Knig 1965, 76, no. 22)

It seems likely that the stele was originally erected in the Ebabbar
temple of the sun god Shamash at Sippar. The monument apparently
remained on display at Sippar, probably in the temple courtyard,
for over a thousand years until the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte
carried it off around 1158 BCE.13
Reconstructing what happened to the stele once at Susa is somewhat
problematic. Shutruk-Nahhuntes inscription states that he set it up in
the temple of the chief Elamite god, Inshushinak. How long it remained
on view after that is less clear. Unfortunately, we know little about
the final deposition of Naram-Sins stele at Susa, a situation that has
led to general assumptions and inferences. The stele was discovered,
The inscription has suffered damage due to the flaking properties inherent in the
stone (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 285-86).
We know from texts of the Old Babylonian period that Akkadian monuments
and their inscriptions, accessible in temple courtyards, retained a powerful hold on later
Mesopotamian imagination (Buccellati 1993, 58-71; Michalowski 1980, 236, 239).


m.h. feldman

along with several other Mesopotamian monuments, on the Acropole

during the first two seasons of the French excavation led by Jacques
de Morgan (1898 and 1899), when stratigraphic considerations were
fairly rudimentary.14 Jquier (1905, 9, 28-29), discussing the Code
of Hammurabi, which was also excavated in this locale a few years
later, claims the levels were too confused to be worth even attempting a stratigraphy. Another of the early archaeologists, Lampre, also
acknowledged the notoriously imprecise method of recording (de
Morgan 1900, 108). He notes that levels associated with Hellenistic
remains ranged from one to four meters below the surface, while the
Naram-Sin stele is recorded at three meters below the surface; thus,
it might well have been excavated from a Hellenistic period level.
Yet, it is Ashurbanipals sixth-century destruction of Susa, vividly portrayed in his annals, that is usually blamed for the seemingly
haphazard and scattered manner in which the Mesopotamian monuments were discovered (Streck 1916, 51-61; Aynard 1957; Harper,
Aruz, and Tallon 1992, cat. no. 189; Kuhrt 1995, 500). In these
accounts, the Assyrian king claims to have destroyed the ziggurat
of Susa, smashing its shining copper horns, appropriating its divine
statues and treasuries, and burning secret groves. Complete devastation is said to have ravaged the city and province. The hyperbole of
Assyrian military annals is well known,15 and Elamite texts found
at Susa, which date to the time following Ashurbanipals destruction
and before the coming of Darius, attest to ongoing administrative
and legal functions at the site (de Miroschedji 1985, 266; Potts 1999,
288-302, esp. 297). While Ashurbanipals annals make reference to
the treasures of Sumer, Akkad, and Babylonia that the ancient kings
of Elam had looted and brought to Elam, which appears to refer to
those very monuments excavated on the Acropole, it seems unlikely
that, had Ashurbanipal come upon such important monuments as
the stele of Naram-Sin or the Code of Hammurabi, he would have
left them to suffer his violent wrath, and indeed the text continues by
Mesopotamian monuments were found in trenches Morgan 7 through 15 (de
Morgan 1900, 100-23, fig. 167; de Morgan 1905, 5-8; Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992,
22, 24 n. 6, 123-27, fig. 41; also see plan in de Mecquenem 1911a; reprinted in de Mecquenem 1911b).
See, for example, Sennacheribs recounting of the purportedly total destruction
of Babylon, though we know that soon thereafter, Sennacheribs successor, Esarhaddon, began renovations in the city, and the Babylonian Chronicle states simply that the
city was captured (Kuhrt 1995, 585).

darius i and the heroes of akkad


recounting that he carried the treasures back to Assyria (Streck 1916,

51-52; Luckenbill 1927, 309).
Textual sources tell of other violence at Susa in the centuries after
Shutruk-Nahhunte brought the stele to the site, including the celebrated
triumph of Nebuchadnezzar I (1125-1104 BCE) and the upheavals of
the early Hellenistic period (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 162; Potts
1999, 252-55). Lampre reports that a Kassite period boundary stone,
found in the same area as the stele, had been effaced by Hellenistic
period use of the stone to polish weapons or tools, and fragments of
such boundary stones turned up as fill in Hellenistic constructions
(de Morgan 1900, 108). In short, given the poor state of the early
excavations at Susa, the date and cause of the final deposition of
Naram-Sins stele must remain an open question.
A recently published tablet from an archive at Sippar, however, may
provide circumstantial evidence supporting the continued accessibility
of Naram-Sins stele into the Achaemenid period. This tablet contains
a copy of the prologue of the Code of Hammurabi and specifically
notes that the copy was according to the ancient stele (nar) erected in
Susa (Fadhil 1998; Charpin 2003). The Sippar archive contains tablets
dating as late as the reign of Cambyses, and Charpin suggests that
the Hammurabi stele copy, which is undated, should be placed within
a chronological framework of the Achaemenid period (Frame 1984;
al Jadir 1998; Charpin 2003). Given the proximity of Hammurabis
stele to that of Naram-Sins, it seems quite possible that both of these
monuments remained on view at Susa in the period immediately
prior to Darius accession, if not later. The remains of the temple of
Inshushinak lay to the east of the Mesopotamian finds, in the southeastern part of the Acropole, and evidence exists for the reuse of its
bricks during the Achaemenid period, suggesting that the building was
also preserved in some form during the time of Darius (Harper, Aruz,
and Tallon 1992, 126; Caubet 2003, 330). In this regard, it is worth
remembering that Susa played an important role early in Darius creation of an imperial identity, perhaps in part because of its association
with Elam. Darius built a large palace there, the architectural form
of which signals his creative adoption of the Mesopotamian past as
well as the invention of a new Achaemenid expression (Perrot 1981,
81; Boucharlat 1997, 57 with n. 1; 2001, 113-23).
Yet, even if Darius could have seen Naram-Sins stele (presumably
along with Hammurabis), would it (and its style) have resonated with


m.h. feldman

him? Certainly within Mesopotamia the Akkadian period provided a

potent mytho-historical past based on the expansionist exploits of its
great rulers, in particular Sargon of Akkad (c. 2330 BCE). Central
for the subsequent historical imagining of Akkad is the firstness of
the Akkadian imperial accomplishment, in particular the unification
of Sumer and Akkad and the establishment of charismatic kingship
(Michalowski 1980, 70; Westenholz 1985, 1997, 1-3).16 While the stele
of Naram-Sin is the best preserved and most forceful rendering of the
motif of a victor stepping upon a prone enemy, other examples exist
from the Akkadian period. A fragmentary stele from Tello carved on
both sides in several registers, probably to be attributed to the reign of
Naram-Sins predecessor Rimush, depicts several vignettes of military
combat (Foster 1985). In contrast to the Naram-Sin stele, the prone
enemies are still alive, with knees bent and arms raised in various
positions of pleading, a variation seen at Bisitun in the raised right leg
of the pleading Gaumata, whose foot protrudes from behind Darius.
Such variations indicate that a chance encounter with Naram-Sins
stele on the part of Darius cannot fully account for the similarities
found in the Bisitun relief. Indeed, they suggest instead that Darius
was actively drawing upon a long-standing tradition in which the
Akkadian rulers were associated with imperial conquest itself. This
tradition included Naram-Sins stele, but significantly, also embraced
a wider field of representational and stylistic meaning.
We have already seen how the visual potency of victory created
by the Akkadians found resonance among the small tribal kingdoms
of the Zagros at the end of the third and beginning of the second
millennium. Mesopotamian works also continued to quote both the
motif and, importantly, the style of the Akkadian conquest imagery.
These include the fragmentary Mardin stele, which probably dates
to the reign of Shamshi-Adad I in the early part of the second millennium and depicts on one side an axe-wielding figure stepping upon
a collapsing man (Orthmann 1975, 301, no. 182). A similar scene on
a fragmentary fourteenth-century black marble lid from Assur employs a quite forceful rendering of sculptural physicality reminiscent
of the bodies on Naram-Sins stele (Moortgat 1969, pl. 244). Both
of these examples derive from the northern, Assyrian tradition,

In later traditions, Sargon is the glorified ruler, while Naram-Sin is seen as the
cause of the empires demise.

darius i and the heroes of akkad


which early on established mytho-historical links to the Akkadian

dynasty. For example, we know that Shamshi-Adad, who controlled
a large territorial state in northern Mesopotamia and Syria at the
end of the nineteenth century BCE, derived his own legitimation, at
least in part, from the memory of Akkad (Michalowski 1980, 86).17
Claiming a direct line of kingship from Akkad, Shamshi-Adad rebuilt
a temple to Ishtar at Nineveh that had been erected originally by the
Akkadian ruler Manishtushu.
Several of the kings of Assyria took the names of Sargon and NaramSin, beginning in the Old Assyrian period, but the best known is
Sargon II of the Neo-Assyrian period (721-705 BCE) (Walker 1995,
231). Particularly relevant for this study is Sargon IIs implementation
in his palace decoration at Khorsabad of both thematic and stylistic
quotations of the Akkadian period (Stronach 1997, 310).18 The most
visible of these are two colossal heroic figures grappling with diminutive lions. The two sculptures, which stood along the courtyard faade
of the throneroom, are executed in such high relief that they appear
almost fully three-dimensional. Both human and lion forms exhibit
extreme physicality in the plastic modeling of their musculature and
the projecting planes of their various body parts. The play between the
Neo-Assyrian and Akkadian periods is further invoked in the differing
hairstyles of the two heroes; one wears the long spiral curls of the nude
belted hero well known from Akkadian glyptic, the other sports the
standard Assyrian court fashion. A similar convergence of imperial
ideology and an artistic style of physicality arose during the Middle
Assyrian period, seen in the new annalistic glorification of territorial
expansion and the exquisite glyptic of the period often described by
scholars as astonishingly vital in its sculptural modeling. Frankfort
goes so far as to say, the affinities of these [Middle Assyrian] seals
with those of the Akkadian Period are unmistakable, but this may
well be due to a similar outlook rather than to tradition (Frankfort
1996, 142). The fascination with the early Akkadian rulers also
appears in Babylonia. Offerings to a statue of Sargon were instituted
See also Michalowskis discussion (1980, 87) of offerings to Sargon and NaramSin instituted at Mari under Shamshi-Adads rule.
This section also draws upon work completed in a seminar and later an unpublished 2002 senior honors thesis on Sargon IIs use of the Akkadian past by Shane Black
at the University of California, Berkeley.


m.h. feldman

at the Ebabbar in Sippar during Neo-Babylonian times and continued

even into the early Achaemenid period.19
In addition, it seems that Elamite kings sought to legitimize their
rule by drawing upon the traditions of Mesopotamia. The Middle
Elamite Shutrukid dynasty achieved this through the acquisition and
display of significant royal monuments like Naram-Sins stele (Harper,
Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 122). That the name of Naram-Sin held power
even in twelfth-century Elam is evident in its inclusion in ShutrukNahhuntes inscription and in the rededication of the monument to
the chief Elamite god. The appeal of the Mesopotamian royal tradition is also apparent in the reworking of an appropriated Babylonian
stele, in which the recarved figure of an Elamite king replaces the
preexisting Mesopotamian figure receiving the rod and ring of kingship from a seated deity (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 122 n. 4,
cat. no. 117). Elizabeth Carter suggests the responsible Elamite king
was Shutruk-Nahhunte I, while Prudence Harper argues for a later
date in the eighth century (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 122 n.
4, 182). Should the later date be accepted, then an argument can be
made for the continuation of both interaction by and resonance for
the Neo-Elamites with Mesopotamian royal imagery. This Elamite
connection with Mesopotamia might have served as a critical bridge
for the Achaemenids, since it is now becoming clearer that, however
we define the early Achaemenid state, its identity drew in some profound way on Elamite traditions (Alvarez-Mon 2006).
A Mesopotamian presence at Susa itself during the Akkadian period
is evident in Old Akkadian tablets with Akkadian personal names found
at the site, linking the city, to which nearly a thousand years later
the stele of Naram-Sin would be taken, directly with the great empire
(Michalowski 1993, 75-76). Regardless of whether Darius might have
had access at Susa to the stele of Naram-Sin, which remains at least a
strong possibility, there is indirect evidence through the appropriation
of earlier Mesopotamian imperial arts and architecture for a similar
incorporation of stylistic associations that ultimately goes back to the
concrete materiality of the Akkadian kings. That the physicality of the
body, especially the back leg and buttocks, straining through the fabric
of the robe is a stylistic feature found in Achaemenid monumental art

CT 55: 469; CT 56: 442, 451; CT 57: 59, 117, 242, 256, 307, 312, 617 (Frame
1984, 750-51; Joanns 1992, 162; Bongenaar 1997, 209, 230 with n. 205).

darius i and the heroes of akkad


only at Bisitun may be due to the uniqueness of Bisitun as the only

victory monument in the tradition of Naram-Sins stele.
Given the potency of the Akkadian rulers heroic myth in the historical imagination of later Mesopotamia and Elam and the possibility of
Naram-Sins stele being accessible to Darius while at Susa, we might
rethink the stylistic aspects of the Bisitun relief in light of Winters
argument for the affective properties of style. Moreover, given the
care with which Darius crafted his imperial image for political and
propagandistic purposes, we need to ask what purpose would be served
(what affective associations sought) by the insertion of Greek stylistic
elements into a highly charged statement of imperial control. Since the
elements traditionally assigned to Greek influences (fluid drapery revealing anatomy underneath and true profile shoulders) have precedents
in the arts of Mesopotamia, it seems unnecessary to look to Greece or
western Anatolia, aside from the possible procurement of sculptors with
the technical knowledge to execute such traits. If style can generate
affectand we know how strategic Darius was in the manipulation of
his art and architecture for affective purposesit seems that the style
of the Bisitun relief, probably the most critical public monument of
Darius early years, must also have held significance and would not
have been left to the vagaries of captive Greek artists surreptitiously
inserting their native experience and imagination (Boardman 2000,
110). With regard to possible Greek or Greek-trained artists working
in Persia, perhaps what we have is a happy confluence of an ancient
Mesopotamian style, which appealed to Darius because of its imperial references, with the ability to execute such a style drawn from a
distant part of the empire, namely western Anatolia.
Acknowledging style as an important ingredient in meaning, we
should accept that these elements would have been consciously deployed as part of Darius creation of an imperial image. And what
would be more to the point than referencing the first great empire of
the Near East, that of Akkad, through both content and style, while
reconstituting both to be uniquely Achaemenid? Of course, the stylistic
similarities between the body of Darius and the body of Naram-Sin
could be only a coincidence, though a striking one, as would also be
the fact that the stele of Naram-Sin lay at Susa, a critical locale for
Darius in the early years of his reign. Yet, given the more blatant
references to the Assyrian imperial tradition in hair style, beard and
winged disc, it seems hardly surprising that the style of rendering


m.h. feldman

the body and clothing of the ruler would also tap into an older and
prestigious tradition of conquest and expansion, befitting the overall
subject of the Bisitun relief. Indeed, one might understand the Bisitun
relief as providing both spatial and temporal resonance for Darius.
Spatially, it drew upon the wide diversity of the conquered territories
that were incorporated into his empire, a strategy used with yet more
finesse at Persepolis. Temporally, the relief plumbed the great Mesopotamian tradition of empire from Neo-Babylonian times, through
Assyria, back to the legendary and alluring heroes of Akkad.
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Figure 1. Bisitun Relief (after H. Luschey 1968, pl. 26; courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute)

darius i and the heroes of akkad



m.h. feldman

Figure 2. Drawing of Sar-i Pul relief of Annubanini (after Potts 1999, fig. 9.3; courtesy of D. T. Potts)

darius i and the heroes of akkad


Figure 3. Stele of Naram-Sin, Muse du Louvre, Paris (Runion des Muses Nationaux/ Art Resource, NY)


m.h. feldman

Figure 4. Boundary stone of Marduk-apla-iddina II, Vorderasiatisches Museum,

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Bildarchiv Presussischer Kulturbesitz/ Art Resource,

darius i and the heroes of akkad


Figure 5. Bisitun Relief, detail of Darius (after H. Luschey 1968, pl. 28; courtesy of
the German Archaeological Institute)


m.h. feldman

Figure 6. Siphnian Treasury, detail of Apollo and Artemis from the Gigantomachy,
Archaeological Museum, Delphi (Nimatallah/ Art Resource, NY)

darius i and the heroes of akkad


Figure 7. Stele of Naram-Sin, detail of Naram-Sin, Muse du Louvre, Paris (Runion

des Muses Nationaux/ Art Resource, NY)


m.-a. ata

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity



Mehmet-Ali Ata*
Elna Cassins La splendeur divine: Introduction ltude de la mentalit
msopotamienne (1968) is one of Irene Winters favorite essays on ancient Mesopotamian thought. As a student of ancient Mesopotamian
art, I came to know this work through her exhortations. Winters
fondness for this book is particularly apparent in her own work on
Mesopotamian aesthetics, where radiance is often seen among the
principal aesthetic qualities of artistic, architectural, and sacral phenomena (Winter 1994, 124; 1995, 2573). As a tribute to Winters
teaching, I shall discuss in this essay the notion of divine radiance,
Sumerian me-lm, Akkadian melammu, as it relates to aspects of
ancient Mesopotamian cosmology and metaphysics. These aspects
of radiance are meant to expand on some of the points already put
forward in Cassins essay and revisited in Winters studies. While
my essay is inspired by Cassins observations and Winters emphasis
on her work, it is also an attempt to focus more closely on the cosmology and mysticism of divine radiance and epiphany in ancient
Mesopotamian religion, which have not been fully dealt with so far
in Assyriological scholarship.
The melammu is essentially a dazzling radiance of a fearful sort associated with certain divine beings and objects. In deities, it manifests
itself as an aureole or nimbus which surrounds the divinity. 1 This
radiance extends to everything endowed with divine power or sanctified by divine presence: the holy weapons and symbols of the gods
I would like to thank Paul-Alain Beaulieu, Andrew Cohen, Alice Donohue, Benjamin Studevent-Hickman, and Pamela Webb for valuable suggestions on earlier drafts
of this essay.
A. L. Oppenheim (1943, 31) refers to the word melammu as an interesting and difficult term, defining it basically as a characteristic attribute of the gods consisting in
a dazzling aureole or nimbus which surrounds the divinity depicted in art for the first
time in the Neo-Assyrian period. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (s.v. melammu) defines the
term on the most basic level as radiance, supernatural awe-inspiring sheen (inherent
in things divine and royal).


m.-a. ata

as well as their chapels and temples have all such a melammu (Oppenheim 1943, 31). The melammu can also be thought of as an almost
independent magical object, an accessory that imparts tremendous
cosmic power to its possessor (Cassin 1968, 64). It can sometimes be
manipulated by the principal divinities who may bestow it on someone or something, and/or cause its loss or withdrawal (Oppenheim
1943, 31). Associated with melammu is another concept, pulutu, which
can be literally translated as fear or terror, but should again be
understood as a manifestation of superhuman power (Cassin 1968,
4; Oppenheim 1943, 31). In fact, neither melammu nor pulutu should
be taken in the malevolent sense.
In this essay, I shall argue that in ancient Mesopotamian literature,
there are certain instances in which the one exposed to the sight of
such an awe-inspiring radiance or dazzling manifestation of divine
power undergoes a challenging religious experience that results in a
transformation of ordinary human faculties. I shall further argue that
the mythical instances that entail one divine agents usurping anothers
melammu all allude in one form or another to shifts in cosmic power
structure. While developing my arguments, in order to enrich the
domain of inquiry, I shall appeal to parallels from the mythology and
literature of ancient Greece, whose intellectual and historical connection to the Near East has long been acknowledged (West 1971, 1997;
Burkert 1992, 2004; Penglase 1994; Dalley 1998; Lanfranchi 2000). I
shall hence use these Greek parallels in order to enhance my attempt
to probe the semantics of certain episodes from ancient Mesopotamian
literature and myths relevant to the phenomenon of the melammu.

The Melammu as Divine Epiphany

In Tablet IX of the Standard Babylonian Version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgameshs encounter with the Scorpion Beings at the twin
mountains Mashu, the entrance to the netherworld and the beginning
of the sun gods nocturnal path, perhaps marks the beginning of a
religious experience of the kind introduced above, though expressed
in the poem in rather cryptic terms. The Scorpion Beings cynical
and questioning attitude toward Gilgamesh sets a seemingly negative
tone in this particular episode of the Epic, creating the impression that
they are actually hostile to the hero. In fact, the formulaic portrayal

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


of these beings in the poem does nothing but cast an unsympathetic

shadow on them:
There were scorpion-men guarding its gate,
whose terror (pulutu) was dread, whose glance was death,
whose radiance (melammu) was fearful, overwhelming the mountains
at sunrise and sunset they guarded the sun. (IX 42-45; George 1999,

One can take all of this seemingly negative rhetoric, however, as a

veneer for a deeper level of reading in which the Scorpion Beings
act as examiners who receive the adept at the ends of the earth, at
the gateway to the path that ultimately discloses to him the secrets
of the gods.2
The fact that the Scorpion Beings recognize Gilgamesh as flesh of
the Gods who is one-third human and two-thirds divine is an indication not only that Gilgamesh is of a nature capable of enduring this
challenging ordeal (Cassin 1968, 60), but also that the Scorpion Beings
themselves are after all special divine beings who have the capacity to
recognize the adept and guide him on the path. As Cassin (1968, 60)
also observes, it is on account of Gilgameshs two-thirds divine nature
Said Uta-napishti to him, to Gilgamesh:/ Let me disclose, O Gilgamesh, a matter most secret,/ to you I will tell a mystery of gods (XI 8-10; George 1999, 88). The
same examining attitude can also be seen in the disposition of the barmaid Siduri toward Gilgamesh after his nocturnal journey as described in X 13-16 (George 1999, 76):
For sure this man is a hunter of wild bulls,/ but where does he come from, making
straight for my gate?/ Thus the tavern-keeper saw him, and barred the gate,/ barred
her gate and went up to the roof. This initial hostile and unadmitting attitude of Siduri
later changes, and the barmaid then disburses advice to Gilgamesh on his quest to find
Utnapishtim: Gilgamesh, there is Ur-shanabi, the boatman of Uta-napishti,/ and the
Stone Ones are with him,. . ./ Go then, let him see your face!/ If [it may be] done, go
across with him,/ if it may not be done, turn around and go back! (X 88-91; George
1999, 79). Like the Scorpion Beings, Siduri can also be considered as one of the agents
on the path of examination, initially barring the gate of admission into a restricted
realm that ultimately leads to the Mysteries, but later on acting as an advisor on that
path. In this regard, just as there are gates and compartments in both the Egyptian and
Mesopotamian netherworlds, the gate that Siduri initially locks to bar Gilgameshs passing can be seen as marking a new compartment or phase in Gilgameshs journey in the
greater netherworld that starts with Mount Mashu. On the Epic as an account of initiation, see also Prvot 1986. On an ancient Greek visual configuration that implies a
similar relation between the entrance to the netherworld, where Day and Night share
the same house, but are never there at the same time, since one leaves as the other returns, to wait indoors her turn to circle the earth, and the initiate, in this case Heracles, about to descend into the netherworld to become immortal, see Pinney and
Ridgway 1981, 141-144.


m.-a. ata

that he is able to approach the Scorpion Beings notwithstanding the

fearful aura they emanate:
Gilgamesh saw them, in fear (pulutu) and dread he covered his face,
then he collected his wits, and drew nearer their presence.
The scorpion-man called to his mate:
He who has come to us, flesh of the gods is his body.
The scorpion-mans mate answered him
Two-thirds of him is god, and one third human. (IX 46-52; George
1999, 71)

One can compare this episode with one in the Iliad in which Achilles
is the only one who can withstand the awesome elaborateness of his
new shield commissioned by his mother, the goddess Thetis, from
Hephaistos, the ancient Greek god of fire and the forge:
The goddess spoke so, and set down the armor on the ground
before Achilleus, and all its elaboration clashed loudly.
Trembling took hold of the Myrmidons. None had the courage
to look straight at it. They were afraid of it. Only Achilleus
looked, and as he looked the anger came harder upon him
and his eyes glittered terribly under his lids, like sunflare. (XIX 12-17;
Lattimore 1961, 392)3

Indeed, one could think that Gilgameshs encounter with the Scorpion
Beings is already an initial state of epiphany. The hero has already
come a long way by reaching the entrance to the netherworld, and
the Scorpion Beings themselves allude to the fact that his having made
it to their presence is already a remarkable accomplishment:
The scorpion-man called out,
saying a word [to King Gilgamesh,] flesh of the gods:
[How did you come here,] such a far road?
[How did you get here,] to be in my presence?

The extraordinarily radiant nature of the armor of Achilles is clear from passages
that describe its production by Hephaistos: First of all he forged a shield that was huge
and heavy,/ elaborating it about and threw around it a shining/ triple rim that glittered,
and the shield strap was cast of silver (XVIII 478-480; Lattimore 1961, 388; and XVIII
616, where the armor is referred to as shining [marmaironta]). A comparable description
of a weapon can also be found in a bilingual incantation from the ms p series, 4R 1818* (K 4624), no. 3., 29ff, tentatively translated by Kinnier Wilson (1979, 50-51): (This
is the story of) the Weapon which was cast(?) out/ of brilliant light, suited only for (divine) kingship,/ of the lofty Mace worthy only for a Kings hand,/ Which was so surrounded by fiery radiance that no one could come near it.

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


[How did you cross the seas,] whose passage is perilous? (IX 52-59, George
1999: 71-72)

Even though the Standard Babylonian text is fragmentary at this

point, we do gather that not only do the Scorpion Beings allow Gilgamesh to pass, but they also wish him well on his journey. Clearly,
their initial cynical and examining attitude has given way to a more
sympathetic and supportive one, perhaps owing to the candidates
now proven qualifications through his withstanding the fearful radiance of these solar creatures:4
Go, Gilgamesh!.........
May the mountains of Mashu [allow you to pass!]
[May] the mountains and hills [watch over your going!]
Let [them help you] in safety [to continue your journey!]
[May] the gate of the mountains [open before you!]
Gilgamesh [heard these words,]
what [the scorpion-man] told him [he took to heart,]
he [took] the path of the Sun God. . . (IX 131-138; George 1999, 73)

An even more powerful instance of divine epiphany in ancient Mesopotamian literature can be found in the Neo-Assyrian poem known
as the Underworld Vision of an Assyrian Prince (VAT 10057; Livingstone
1989, 68-76). It describes the night vision of one Kumma, who may
be Ashurbanipal, though this is not certain (Livingstone 1989, xxviii).5 In the vision, the prince comes face to face with the netherworld god Nergal, an episode that should be understood as a unique
instance of divine epiphany in Neo-Assyrian literature.6 It is again

The solar nature of the Scorpion Beings is also noted by Wiggermann (1992, 148149), who indicates that the scorpion(-man) is in origin a simple mythological scorpion
fulfilling, like the Egyptian prr, beetle, a cosmic task (watching over the rising and setting of the sun) with its pincers.
For a more focused analysis of this text, see Ata 2004, which has certain overlaps in content and approach with the present essay. The text is therefore dealt with
here rather synoptically in order to avoid repeating the analyses carried out in the other publication.
Epopteia, seeing, was the highest level of initiation in the ancient Greek Eleusinian
Mysteries as well (Foley 1994, 39). The term visio beatifica (beatific vision) was coined
to designate the supreme goal (telos), of Christian existence. In medieval usage it signifies the immediate sight of God, videre Deum; those who obtain this vision are transported into a state of eternal beatitude. In this case the word vision, visio, must be taken as a
real seeing, not as a subjective illusion (Kernyi 1991, 95).


m.-a. ata

noteworthy that this epiphany is of a fearful sort and takes place in

the netherworld:
When I raised my eyes, (I saw) the valiant Nergal seated on a regal
throne, apparelled with the royal tiara; with both hands he grasped two
grim maces, each with two . . . heads.
I looked at him and my bones shivered! His grimly luminescent splendor
(melammuu ezzuti) overwhelmed me, I kissed the feet of his great divinity
and knelt down. (Livingstone 1989, 72)

In fact, the entire poem is almost a celebration of the netherworld

and its monarchy, as after the experience is over and the prince survives the ordeal, he goes among Assyrian people praising the mighty
deeds of the Lord of the netherworld Nergal and his queen, Ereshkigal: He cried Why have you decreed this for me? and in his pain
he praised before the peoples of Assyria the mighty deeds of Nergal
and Erekigal, who had come to the aid of the prince (Livingstone
1989, 76).
The idea of a dark and fearful stage that precedes or accompanies
mystical illumination is not at all foreign to some other, much later,
religious traditions either. In fact, the latter might even be thought
to shed light on our understanding of ancient texts that involve divine manifestation and epiphany such as those dealt with here. For
example, the Islamicist Henry Corbin (1978, 100), writing on Iranian
Sufism and its sources, talks about a black light which constitutes
the highest spiritual stage and marks the most perilous step in the
enlightenment process, the stage immediately preceding the ultimate
theophany. This black light is an attribute of Majesty which sets
the mystics being on fire; it is not contemplated, it attacks, invades,
annihilates, then annihilates annihilation (Corbin 1978, 108). This
darkness, the black light or the divine Night is the Essence that
causes the light to be revealed, not to be confused with the darkness further below, the demonic darkness which withholds the light.7
Similarly, the Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591
Likewise, there are regions in the Egyptian netherworld where only the damned
must dwell, which the sun god does not even approach during his nocturnal journey,
and which are never illuminated by a ray of light nor penetrated even by the voice of
the creator god (Hornung 1971, 168). Overall, one can postulate that there is after all
an affinity, or some kind of proximity, between these two kinds of darkness, in addition to a distinct separation.

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


CE) formulates this crucial phase in the development of the adept in

what he calls the Dark Night of the Soul, a phenomenon that first
purges and ultimately illuminates the candidate seeking admission to
the highest Mysteries.8 Admittedly, the Mesopotamian rhetoric is far
too aloof and clinically neutral in tone regarding such philosophical
speculation, and yet this quality might rather be a matter of choice
of presentation on the part of an intellectual tradition that kept such
discussion behind the scenes.
Perhaps of an analogous chthonic or netherworldly source is
Demeters epiphany in the Hymn to Demeter, the poem often thought
to contain the theological background and etiology of the Eleusinian
Mysteries (Foley 1994, 84).9 When one reads the poem as a story or
John of the Crosss doctrine of the Dark Night is expressed in a poem, The Dark
Night, consisting of eight stanzas on which the saint also wrote a commentary preserving in its style something of the poems lyricism and symbolic language (Kavanaugh
1987, 43, 46). A few quotations from this commentary in the translation of Kavanaugh
might help make clearer the parallel that I draw between this work and the ancient literary incidents, especially Gilgameshs encounter with the Scorpion Beings and the Underworld Vision:
Souls begin to enter this dark night when God, gradually drawing them out of the
state of beginners (those who practice meditation on the spiritual road), begins to place
them in the state of proficients (those who are already contemplatives) so that by passing through this state they might reach that of the perfect, which is the divine union of
the soul with God (Bk 1, ch. 1: 1; Kavanaugh 1987, 163).
This night, which as we say is contemplation, causes two kinds of darkness or purgation in spiritual persons according to the two parts of the soul, the sensory, by which
the senses are purged and accommodated to the spirit; and the other night or purgation will be spiritual, by which the spirit is purged and denuded as well as accommodated and prepared for union with God through love (Bk 1, ch. 8: 1; Kavanaugh 1987,
The first purgation or night is bitter and terrible to the senses. But nothing can be
compared to the second, for it is horrible and frightful to the spirit (Bk 1, ch. 8: 2; Kavanaugh 1987, 179).
Yet a doubt arises: Why, if it is a divine light (for it illuminates souls and purges
them of their ignorances), does one call it a dark night? In answer to this, there are two
reasons why this divine wisdom is not only night and darkness for the soul, but also affliction and torment. First, because of the height of the divine wisdom, which exceeds
the capacity of the soul. Second, because of the souls baseness and impurity; and on
this account the wisdom is painful, afflictive, and also dark for the soul (Bk 2, ch. 5: 2;
Kavanaugh 1987, 201).
Hence when the divine light of contemplation strikes souls not yet entirely illumined, it causes spiritual darkness, for it not only surpasses them but also deprives and
darkens their act of understanding. . . For this great supernatural light overwhelms the
intellect and deprives it of its vigor (Bk 2, ch. 5: 3; Kavanaugh 1987, 201).
Kevin Clinton (1992, 14), however, posits that we should not look first to the Homeric Hymn for an accurate account of the cult myth of the Eleusinian Mysteries, for
this is a poem whose accuracy concerning the mysteries is in doubt.


m.-a. ata

plot on the literal level, Demeter, disguised as an old woman, is taking

care of the child of the household in which she has taken refuge. While
she is in the process of making the child immortal by means of placing
it in fire every night, she gets caught by the childs mother Metaneira,
and the process is irremediably interrupted. On account of her anger
at being interrupted, Demeter discards her disguise and manifests
herself in full divine splendor to Metaneira and her sisters:
Thus speaking, the goddess changed her size and appearance
thrusting off old age. Beauty breathed about her and
from her sweet robes a delicious fragrance spread;
a light beamed far out from the goddesss immortal skin,
and her golden hair flowed over her shoulders.
The well-built house flooded with radiance like lightning.
She left the halls. At once Metaneiras knees buckled.
For a long time she remained voiceless, forgetting
to pick up her dear only son from the floor. (Hymn to Demeter 275-283;
Foley 1994, 16).10

On another level, however, this episode can be understood as standing for the epopteia, the sight of the divine, which only a relatively
small group of initiates was thought to have experienced at a later
stage of the Eleusinian Mysteries.11 Indeed, Metaneiras reaction to
the epiphany of Demeter, consisting of speechlessness, fear, and awe,
is precisely symptomatic of this experience (Foley 1994, 52)12 that
ultimately transforms and illuminates: Blessed (olbios) is the mortal
on earth who has seen these rites,/ but the uninitiated who has no
share in them never/ has the same lot once dead in the dreary darkness (Hymn to Demeter 480-482; Foley 1994, 26).
In the Hymn to Demeter, the goddesss epiphany per se is put forward
in very pleasant terms. However, we should keep in mind the fact

This ultimate epiphany of Demeter before Metaneira is prefigured earlier in the

poem by the goddesss initial entrance into the latters house: But the goddess walked
to the threshold: and her head reached the roof and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance. Then awe and reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneria, and she
rose up from her couch before Demeter, and bade her be seated (188-190).
According to Kernyi (1991, 14), the Homeric Hymn refers to the secret of the
Mysteries in circumlocutions that must have been perfectly clear to the initiate.
The radiance of the Greek gods is a well-known and long-recognized phenomenon, especially in relation to epiphany. See, for instance, Donohue 1997, 44. Whether netherworldly or not, the full splendor of the Greek gods is physically destructive for
those who are not of the same divine nature. An example of a mythical human being
who is destroyed by the intense radiance of the gods in classical mythology is Semele,
mother of Heracles (Ovid, Metamorpohoses, III 250-315).

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


that its effect on Metaneira is utterly frightening, and further that

Demeter is angry during her epiphany as well as still in mourning for
her daughter who is held in the netherworld (302-304). These factors
might be considered to hint at a splendor surrounding the goddess
of the same fearful and awe-inspiring type that characterizes some of
the mythical incidents from both the ancient Near Eastern and Greek
sources introduced above. After all, Demeter is the goddess of grain and
agriculture, mainly earthbound phenomena. Moreover, Persephones
integral association with the netherworld places Demeter in contact
with that realm as well. Again, if one transcended the literal plot of
the myth and the poem, one would see that rather than a merely
unfortunate disaster, Persephones abduction to and residence in the
netherworld are what constitute one of the kernels of the Eleusinian
Mysteries, which themselves take place at night in a dark and solemn
setting (Mylonas 1974, 258),13 with their ultimate promise of illumination and salvation. Finally, there even exists a venerable notion
of the lord of the netherworld in his role as the ravisher of Persephone
in Greek mythology as well.14 Hades was further associated with the
concept ploutos, wealth, which was the abundance that comes from
barley and wheat (Clinton 1992, 53).
I would hence venture to suggest that it is again the special rare
light of the netherworld that shines on the initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the kind of light that especially Demeter emits in her
epiphany. Perhaps, another example of this sort of transcendental light
that belongs in origin to the netherworld is the light of Hephaistos.
The smith-gods forge is not on Mount Olympos but thought to be
inside the earth, located beneath active volcanoes, especially Aetna,
where the Cyclopes were assigned to him as his workmen (Graf 2003).
Hence, not only is Hephaistoss main resource subterranean fire, but
also the artifacts he fashions, such as the thunderbolt of Zeus and
the shield of Achilles, have a potent radiance that challenges or even

The rites were said to take place in darkness until a great light shone at their culmination (Plutarch, Moralia 81e; Inscriptiones Graecae II2 3811; Hippolytos, Refutatio omnium haeresium 5.8.40; Foley 1994, 68).
For instance, Foley (1994, 35) sees lines 15-32 of the Hymn to Demeter as emphasizing the august importance of the bridegroom Hades, whose description is augmented with elaborate compound adjectives: And the girl was amazed and reached out with
both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain
of Nysa, and the lord, Host of Many, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her
the Son of Cronos, He who has many names.


m.-a. ata

destroys the unprepared and can only be handled by the expert. In

ancient Mesopotamia as well, it is again the netherworld god Nergals
privilege to bestow divine radiance on the Assyrian king Esarhaddon
(680-669 BCE). In one of his inscriptions the king declares that when
he was crowned king, he was given the crown (ag) by Anu, the throne
(kuss) by Enlil, the weapons (kakk) by Ninurta, and last but not least
the splendor (alummatu) by the very lord of the netherworld, Nergal
(Borger 1956, 81, reverse I, l. 52; Cassin 1968, 7).15 It is noteworthy
that while the most tangible regalia are bestowed on the king by
gods by whom kingship is usually defined in royal inscriptions, such
as Enlil, Ashur, or Ninurta,16 the splendor is the gift of Nergal,
another possible indication that this special kind of divine radiance
might have a degree of affinity with the netherworld.
Further evidence for the association of divine or transcendental
light with the netherworld can be found in the sun gods descent
to this realm at night in both ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian
religion (Heimpel 1987; Goebs 1998; Hornung 1997). In Babylonian
cosmology, not only does the sun traverse the netherworld at night
but also the stars travel across this realm during the day. According
to certain Old Babylonian texts such as the Prayer to the Gods of the
Night and the Sunset Prayer, this cosmic region is also conceived of as
heavens interior, or the lap of heaven, utul am, an interior
that remains invisible to human eyes, being located as it is beneath
the horizons, (Heimpel 1987, 130-131; Steinkeller 2005, 18-22) as
well as a solar cella in an unseen portion of heaven above the sky
(Horowitz 1998, 251). By the same token, the word for the Egyptian
netherworld, duat, is written with a star-symbol determinative, later
Further, in ll. 36-37 of the same text, Esarhaddon states that Nergal, the most
powerful of the gods, bestowed on him dazzling brightness and a luminous halo (Cassin 1968, 7 n. 32). The connection between luminescence and the netherworld can
also be seen in the image of the netherworld gods, the Anunnaki, bearing torches in
the Flood Story contained in the Standard Babylonian Version of The Epic of Gilgamesh
(XI 102-105): the god Errakal was uprooting the mooring poles,/ Ninurta, passing by,
made their weirs overflow./ The Anunnaki gods carried torches of fire,/ scorching the
country with brilliant flashes (George 1999, 91; Cassin 1968, 76). It is noteworthy that
in later texts Nergal is also described as the god of light and fire (Kvanvig 1988, 423).
In this regard see also von Weiher 1971, 73-76.
Note, for instance the royal titulary in the version of the Standard Inscription
translated in Paley (1976, 125): Ashur-nasir-pal, chief-priest of Ashur, the chosen one
of Enlil and Ninurta, the favorite of Anu and Dagan, the divine weapon of the Great
Gods, the potent king, the king of the world, the king of Assyria.

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


the ideogram. The oldest Egyptian texts understood the duat as the
original realm of stars, which, in Egyptian cosmology, was thought to
be placed in the netherworld (Hornung 1977; Wilkinson 1992, 131).
In short, in both of these ancient traditions of cosmology, there is a
co-extensiveness between a heaven that is under the earth and one
that is beyond the sky, either way invisible.17
Peter Kingsley has also drawn attention to the presence of similar
notions in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, which again has an acknowledged indebtedness to Near Eastern antiquity (Kingsley 1995,
54; West 1971; Burkert 2004, 50). Empedocles, for instance, stated
that the fire that eventually rose up to become the sun had its origins
in the earth, implying that the sources of daylight and illumination are
ultimately derived from the dark depths of the netherworld (Emp. B62;
Kingsley 1995, 51). Kingsley (1995, 55-56) further notes the emphasis
on the same concepts in the Alchemical tradition that preserved and
maintained the basic associations between the sun, earth, and netherworld. Alchemists from the end of antiquity through the Middle Ages
and the Renaissance were so concerned with the paradoxical discovery
of light in the depths of darkness that they abolished all the distinctions between upper and lower, celestial and terrestrial (Kingsley 1995,
55). For them fire was only secondarily a celestial phenomenon, in
origin it came from the center of the earth. They called it the sun in
Traces of an idea of an inner heaven beyond the visible sky can be found in
Platos Phaedo (109 B-D) as well, in Socrates speech before his death: For I believe
there are in all directions on the earth many hollows of very various forms and sizes,
into which the water and mist and air have run together; but the earth itself is pure and
is situated in the pure heaven in which the stars are, the heaven which those who discourse about such matters call the other; the water, mist and air are the sediment of this
and flow together into the hollows of the earth. Now we do not perceive that we live in
the hollows, but think we live on the upper surface of the sea, and, seeing the sun and
the stars through the water, should think the sea was the sky, and should, by reason of
sluggishness or feebleness, never have reached the surface of the sea, and should never
have seen, by rising and lifting his head out of the sea into our upper world, and should
never have heard from anyone who had seen, how much purer and fairer it is than the
world he lived in (Fowler [1914] 1995, 374-377). What Plato refers to as this purer
and fairer region may be considered as the equivalent of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian netherworld and inner heaven in their transcendental capacity, as no paradisiacal heaven exists in these ancient Near Eastern religions. What seems to be a paradox,
namely that the netherworld can be co-extensive with Heavens interior, might then
be more easily resolved. Along similar lines, when the Mesopotamian archetypal sage
Adapa ascends to the sky, he encounters there Dumuzi and Ningizida, both in essence gods of the netherworld in Mesopotamian religion, as the keepers of the Gate of
Heaven (Parpola 1993, xix; James 1966, 10; Izreel 2001, 4).


m.-a. ata

the earth, the subterranean sun. This earthly or invisible sun was
on the one hand the fire of hell, the black sun, the darkness of
purgatory, and on the other it was the origin not only of the visible
sun but also of the light of the stars (Kingsley 1995, 56).
The Melammu as Usurped Entity
It is perhaps within the foregoing framework that one should also
understand the presence of the melammu in the netherworld, as well as
its attachment to divine beings of a monstrous or demonic character such as Huwawa/Humbaba,18 Imdugud/Anz, Asag/Asakku,
and the Mischwesen generated by Tiamat in her cosmic struggle against
Marduk in the Babylonian poem of creation Enma Eli (I 140-142;
Labat 1935; Heidel 1951; Dalley 2000). All these beings are in essence antagonistic to heroes and hero-gods, Bilgames/Gilgamesh,
Ningirsu/Ninurta, and Marduk respectively.
In each case during these heroic struggles, however, the adversarial
being is in possession of melammu, and in the case of Tiamats army,
both melammu and pulutu.19 For example, when Anz is in possession of
the Tablet of Destinies, he also has melammu.20 Similarly, when Ninurta
defeats the monster Asag, he also deprives him of his melammu (Lugal-e
289-293). In the Sumerian poem Bilgames and Huwawa, the monster
Huwawa has seven radiances that protect him. In the poem, these
radiances are conceptualized as cedar trees that Bilgames and Enkidu
fell one by one and cut into logs in order to conquer the monster
(George 1999, 156-158). When deprived of all of his seven auras,
Huwawa pleads for his life. Even though Bilgames is inclined to spare
him, Enkidu kills the monster lest he might prove too dangerous for
them should he remain alive. The two heroes present the decapitated
The work that relates Gilgameshs stripping Huwawa/Humbabas radiances
or auras to defeat him is one of the episodic Sumerian poems that ultimately formed
the plot of the Standard Babylonian Version. This poem is known today as Bilgames
and Huwawa, a favorite copy-text in Old Babylonian scribal schools (George 1999, 149166).
Elle vtit dhorreur (pulutu) des dragons terrifiants,/ Quelle chargea dclat surnaturel (melammu) et fit semblables des dieux (Enuma Elish I 136-137; Labat 1935, 9091).
Standard Babylonian Anz, Tablet II: 37; Old Babylonian Version, Tablet II: reverse 82, obverse 2.

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


head of Huwawa to the god Enlil who in return reproaches them for
not treating the monster with courtesy (George 1999, 160).
In Enma Eli (I 67-68), Enki/Ea decides to kill Aps on account
of the latters intention to annihilate the young gods owing to their
noisiness. Before Enki/Ea slays Aps, he first unfastens the latters
belt, takes off his crown, and then takes away his radiance, melammu,
and puts it on himself, hence usurping it.21 As already mentioned,
in Enma Eli (I 136-137, II 23-24, III 85-86), upon creating her children, Tiamat dresses them with pulutu and imparts melammu on them,
rendering these beings like gods.22 Perhaps it is precisely on account
of this particular quality that the sight of the Scorpion Beings poses a
primordial challenge to the uninitiated beholder, the Scorpion-Man
being among the very creatures generated by Tiamat in her struggle
against Marduk (Enma Eli II 32).
There are significant clues in the poems centered on these myths
regarding the implicit venerability of all of these monster-like beings, adversarial on the surface, but also enigmatically cognate with
the heroes or gods against whom they struggle. The fact that they
embody this special kind of divine radiance may be taken as further
indication that these are, after all, archaic divinities that perhaps
contain the melammu in its pristine capacity. In all of the myths cited,
the god or the hero in a way usurps a potent cosmic entity, be it
the Tablet of Destinies or the melammu itself, from these adversarial
monsters, depriving the latter of this tremendous cosmic potency
and making it his own whence he derives his new invincible sovereignty. Further, as we have seen, in Enma Eli, one way for Enki/Ea
to depose a god more archaic than he, is to rob him of his melammu.
From this standpoint, both the Tablet of Destinies and the melammu,
as both Cassin and Winter note, are almost accessory-like magical
objects conceptualized as the embodiment of power over the cosmos
(Cassin 1968, 64; Winter 1994, 126). What one sees in these myths
is perhaps a representation of the shift in cosmic power structure
from older numinous entities to later heroes and gods, a theme of
which the ancients were never tired expressing and re-expressing in
different forms and guises. In the case of the Tablet of Destinies, it
is Imdugud/Anz who steals it from Enlil; however, this act can be

Labat 1935, 84-85.

Labat 1935, 90-91, 98-99, 116-117.


m.-a. ata

understood as a revolt on the part of an archaic divine being against

a new coercive cosmo-political order.23
The fact that the melammu is an inherent quality of both Huwawa
and Asag leads one to think that this kind of radiance is primordial and
initially at home where these beings reside, the ends of the earth, the
limits of the cosmos, the kur, or the netherworld.24 Given the cosmic
potency of this radiance, its presence in these lands can be thought
to point toward the now deteriorated superiority of these regions and
their agents, the old cosmos, to the new system which is now about
to overcome the former in conquest. The attack is successful, and the
lands of former radiance are now grim outlandish places associated
with chaos, whereas the heroes and gods of the new system are now
in possession of these lands vanished glory. The usurpation of the
melammus of Huwawa and Asag by Bilgames and Ninurta respectively
can in this light be understood as the coming to an end of one cosmic
era and the beginning of another, as Lugal-e (70-95) signals very clearly
by marking this juncture by a flood (van Dijk 1983, 31-35).
The melammu is also an attribute of the king in his conceptualization
as the representative and likeness of the gods (Oppenheim 1943, 31).
From the Akkadian period onwards the radiance, which essentially
belonged to the divine realm, was also assumed by the ruler (Cassin
1968, 66). The tradition continues through the Old Babylonian, Kassite
and the Assyrian periods. For instance, the Assyrian king Adad-nirari
II (911-891 BCE) in describing his accession to the throne indicates
that he has received not only the scepter and kingship from the gods,
There seem to be two versions of this myth. In the Sumerian poem Ninurtas
Pride and Punishment, the possessor of the Tablet of Destinies seems to have been
Enki, from whom Anz steals it. As for the Akkadian Myth of Anz, the me has
been stolen by Anz from Enlil. As a result, Enlils kingship is lost and chaos takes over
(Kramer 1984, 231-234; Kramer and Maier 1989, 120, 140; Black and Green 1997,
s.vv. tablet of destinies, Imdugud). What the Sumerian text makes very clear, however, is the fact that the me, the gi-hur, as well as the Tablet of Destinies are all
dropped into the netherworld by Anz when Ninurta attacks the bird (Kramer 1984,
231). Later on, a struggle seems to take place between Ninurta and Enki, and not between Anz and Enki. One can again postulate that these three aforementioned entities, mysterious and obscure as they are, can be considered as the magical powers of a
lost mythical age that eventually become encrypted in the netherworld.
On a discussion of kur as a Sumerian word meaning netherworld as well as
mountain and foreign country, see Katz 2003, 63-112. On the relation between
kur and ki-bala, the mountainland and the Rebel Land(s) respectively, see Kinnier Wilson (1979), which is an attempt to interpret in a consistent way the numerous
stories of the gods and heroes who did battle there in the legendary twilight of mans
early beginning in Mesopotamia.

the melammu as divine epiphany and usurped entity


but also the melammu of royalty (Cassin 1968, 71).25 One can see here
how this special kind of radiance is also a quality bestowed on the
king by the gods who hold it in their possession, which in turn places
the king in a privileged position analogous to that of these very gods
who have accomplished victories against monstrous rebel gods.
From this standpoint, the melammu, so long as it is in kings possession,
is also a most potent weapon against the enemy, causing the latters
paralysis even upon the approach of the king toward rebel cities (Cassin 1968, 73-74).26 The fact that Esarhaddons radiance is given to
him by the netherworld god Nergal, however, could not be more
significant in demonstrating that ultimately the origin of this primitive divine radiance might be the netherworld. This fearful radiance
is what characterizes not only the Scorpion Beings at the entrance
of this realm, but also Huwawa and Asag in their lands of Edenic
wilderness penetrated by the hero or the hero-god.27 It is also the
same primordial radiance that shines on the Assyrian crown prince
when he descends to the netherworld and illuminates him with
new knowledge of a fearful sort. This very light is not only the light
of divine epiphany that, when displayed, overwhelms and transforms

On the conferral of the melammu on kings, see also Winter 1994, 126.
Yet, the king could also lose this divine support; when his melammu disappears it
becomes known that he is no longer king by the grace of God (Oppenheim 1943, 31).
By the same token, Kinnier Wilson (1979, 5) concludes that all the divine weapons that
were used by many of the hero-gods against their rebellious adversaries were ultimately
given to the kings, who might then go forth against the Rebel Lands of other days and
use them again. Kinnier Wilson (102) further mentions Cassins remark (1968, 74) on
how in texts the royal weapons were sometimes described in the same way as those of
the gods, again concluding that the weapons were in fact the same.
A similar defiance of authority can also be seen in the Sumerian poem Inanna and
Ebih. For a recent translation of this poem see Meador 2000, 91-102. Meador (2000, 90)
views the meaning of the poem as the fundamental struggle in the psyche between the
backward pull of the idealized world of paradisiacal bliss and the forward impetus toward states of competence, autonomy, and independence. Furthermore, she thinks of
Ebih as an embodiment of Edenic notions of purity and harmony. Along similar lines,
Wim van Binsbergen and Frans Wiggermann (1999) argue that the structure of the universe prior to the coercive divine rule of deities such as Marduk and Enlil and the realm
outside divine rule, the demonic, share a tendency to rise against the prerogatives
of the gods of order. Although in each case the rebellion is suppressed, its very occurrence shows that such an order is not beyond question, and that order in this sense is
not completely secured. In other words, the way in which the un-captured elements
appear in the symbolic system reveals their continuing existence as a feared anti-social
force and a threat to the hegemonic order (van Binsbergen and Frans Wiggermann
1999, 22). Van Binsbergen and Wiggermann (1999, 21) also distinguish between a later governmental order, which they refer to as theistic, and the previous primordial
phase, which they refer to as holistic.


m.-a. ata

the candidate who is seeking admission to the Mysteries, but also a

potent magical entity that imparts tremendous cosmic power on the
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m.-a. ata

between human and divine

Sex, Rhetoric and the Public Monument:
Gendered Contexts



c.e. suter

between human and divine



Claudia E. Suter
In tribute to Irene Winters contribution on women (1987), in which
she traced back the office of Nannas high priestess to Early Dynastic
(ED) times based on visual evidence, it is my pleasure to offer her
a study on images of high priestesses from the Akkad (Akk) to the
Isin-Larsa (IL) period (c. 2334-1763 BCE). During this time, high
priestesses are well attested in texts. So far, however, little attention
has been paid to their images. In part, this may be due to controversial identifications and the lack of a basic classification of female
figures in these periods. The best criterion for identifying human
figures in Mesopotamian imagery is an associated text. Dedicatory
inscriptions on statues or figurative images carved in relief identify
the donor whom the statue represents or who figures in the carved
image, while seal inscriptions identify the seal owner and sometimes
also his or her superior, both of whom may be depicted on the seal.
By tracing similarities of attire and scene context between textually
identified figures and those that are not, anonymous figures begin to
take on identity, as Winter demonstrated.
Despite some confusion in previous scholarship, high priestesses
can be distinguished from other women by their attire and hairstyle.
They wear unique headdresses, flounced robes, and their long hair
loose, while other women wear fringed or pleated robes and their
hair tied up. The latter are identified in associated texts as royals
or their servants.1 Having made the distinction between high priest1
These observations are based on a survey of female figures in sculpture and glyptic
from the Akk to IL period. Terracotta objects were not considered because the figures
they depict remain anonymous and represent more types than concrete individuals.
Due to space limitations, I shall present the evidence on court ladies in another contribution, in which I show that Frances Pinnocks hypothesis (1998) does not hold up to the
evidence. I thank Julia Asher for letting me use her file on statues, and Markus Hilgert
for sharing with me the manuscript of his paper Aspects of en-ship: Revisiting Paraphernalia, Royal Politics, and the Sacred Marriage given at the Oriental Institute of


c.e. suter

esses and court ladies, one can begin to analyze their images. While
texts provide a vital basis for iconographic interpretation, images can
inform us of common knowledge about which texts remain mute.
In the following, I will first outline my understanding of the role
and activities of high priestesses, then scrutinize textually identified
images, discuss their attire and regalia, consider anonymous images
comparable to the identified ones, and finally assess what the images
add to our knowledge.

Role and Activities

High priestesses stood at the head of major temples and were among
the highest dignitaries in the realm.2 Their office was exclusive to
one holder at a time and their tenure was lifelong. They were chosen
by extispicy and then ceremonially enthroned, events deemed important enough to be commemorated for eternity by naming years after
them. Many high priestesses were daughters of a ruler. Like rulers,
they could receive ceremonial names, rich funerals, regular offerings
thereafter, and they shared regalia with them.
There are several titles that designate high priestesses: the most
important is en = num, others include ere-dingir = ntum and gizi. Although differently titled high priestesses have similar functions,
there are also differences determined by local traditions and changes
over time. Our knowledge comes from diverse sources (administrative
texts, seal inscriptions, dedicatory inscriptions, year names, lexical and
literary texts) and is too complex to expound in the scope of this study.
I will only point out some differences between en and ere-dingir,
since both appear in images. While en were introduced in the Akk
period and ceased to exist after the IL dynasties, ere-dingir are
attested from ED into the Middle Babylonian (MB) period. Although
most en were female, the office was not exclusive to women. En were
assigned only to the highest-ranking deities, who were often, but not
the University of Chicago in May 2000. I also thank them as well as Miguel Civil, Eva
A. Braun-Holzinger, Joan G. Westenholz, Marian Feldman, and Julia Assante for commenting on earlier drafts of both these contributions, and Yannick F. Hill for improving my English.
For an excellent new overview with up-to-date bibliography, see now Sallaberger
and Huber Vulliet 2003-2005, 626-640.

between human and divine


always, of the opposite sex,3 while ere-dingir served both gods and
goddesses of somewhat less importance.4 En had a residence at their
deitys temple called Gipar.5 In contrast to en and gi-zi, ere-dingir
do not seem to have taken on ceremonial names or regalia. Despite
these differences, some ere-dingir were apparently assimilated with
en (Steinkeller 1999, 128-129).6
When looking at daily activities of high priestesses, one must bear
in mind that Mesopotamian temples were not only places of worship,
but also economic enterprises. Not all temple personnel were engaged
in the cult, while rites were also performed by non-clerics such as
king and queen. In fact, there is no general Sumerian or Akkadian
term for priest and the demarcation of clerics is tricky (Sallaberger
and Vulliet 2003-2005, 618-619). Conversely, the term high priestess cannot adequately encompass or do justice to the ancient concept that underlay the differently named offices. This considered, it
may not come as a surprise that the textually attested activities of
high priestesses do not differ much from those of royal wives:
Although this principle has generally been accepted, it is hard to ascertain, since
the sources rarely indicate the ens gender (Renger 1967, 133). Aside from the possibility
that the en of Inana was a woman (Sallaberger 1999, 150 with n. 95), there is at least one
case in which the en of a god was definitely male: KA-kugani, en of Enlil, who is mentioned in the inscription of his wifes seal: KA-kug-ga-ni, en-den-ll-l, dinana-ka,
dam-ni (RIME 3/2: 1.2.2025). In contrast to all other translations, Steinkeller (1999,
127 n. 83) inverted gender. However, Inanaka must be a woman, since the seal image
depicts the presentation of a court lady to a goddess (Haines 1956, 269 fig. 18; Richard Zettler personal communication). KA-kuganis tenure may have been unusual (J. G.
Westenholz 1992, 305-306), yet it demonstrates the danger of generalizing.
See Steinkeller 1999, 126-127 nn. 79-83 (en-priestesses), 120-121 nn. 54-58, 128
n. 91 (ere-dingir).
Only the Gipar of Nannas en at Ur was excavated. Royal inscriptions and the Lament for Sumer and Ur further attest to Gipars of Nannas en at Gae, of Ningublagas en
at Ur, of Inanas en at Uruk, of Nanes en at Ningin, and of Enkis en at Eridu. For
bibliographical references and sources, see Steinkeller 1999, 106-107. The interpretation of a building in Uruk as Gipar rests on a misinterpretation of the title lukur (Sallaberger 1999, 182-183).
Although Steinkeller assumed this probably for the wrong reasons (see note 16),
such a general trend seems to have existed. The alleged interchange of nat dEn-ll with
ere-dingir dEn-ll for Tuta-napum does not hold because ntum is the Akkadian
equivalent of ere-dingir and not attested as female form of en (Cooper 1993, 87 with
n. 42). However, while Tuta-napum refers to herself as ere-dingir of Enlil, other
sources document an en of Enlil for this and later times (J. G. Westenholz 1992, 302),
and I find it unlikely that the year names ia and ib of Naramsinone mentioning an
en of Enlil, the other an ere-dingir of Enlilshould refer to different high priestesses (cf. Cooper 1993).


c.e. suter

both directed a remarkable staff in charge of their household, which

in the case of high priestesses was that of a temple.7 In the Ur III period, they were select beneficiaries of royal donations, and their estates
may have depended on the crown.8 They participated in regular cult
festivals9 and engaged in various rituals, including some in honor of
the king.10 Royal wives, too, could receive rich funerals and regular
offerings thereafter. The main difference between these elite women
appears to be that high priestesses held an office with its accompanying paraphernalia while royal wives held only status.
As dignitaries at the top of the hierarchy, high priestesses had more
in common with kings. In order to understand their role, one has to
scrutinize en in its historical context. En, or lord, designated the
earliest form of sovereign leadership. It is plausible that the ruler figure
in Uruk period imagery represents EN, the highest official in archaic
administration and most frequently attested word in the Uruk IV-III
texts.11 Based mainly on later reflections in literary texts, Heimpel
(1992, 8-17) suggested that en-ship was characterized by divine election, that is, the ruler was elected by clergy in the guise of the citys
patron deity, and that this form of leadership was gradually superseded
by hereditary kingship (nam-lugal).12 The change must have taken
place sometime during the ED period in which en still figures as

For staff and estate management of high priestesses in general, see Renger 1967,
130; for particular cases, see also Foster 1982, 38 (Akk pd. ere-dingir of Ilaba at Girsu); Charpin 1986, 214-215 (IL pd. en -priestesses of Nanna at Ur). For economic activities of royal wives, see Foster 1987, 53; Van de Mieroop 1989; Sallaberger 1999, 185.
For example, m-da-ri-a (Sallaberger 1993, 160-170). Hilgert (see note 1 of this
article) was tempted to postulate a pronounced or even complete economic dependence
of Ur III en-ship on the resources of the royal household.
For example, at the major festivals in Ur during the Ur III period (Sallaberger
1993, 176).
High priestesses prayed to the gods for the well being and long life of the king
(RIME 4: 1.5.6 ll. 20-22; RIME 4: 2.14.20 ll. 15-25). Royal wives took care of the laments for deceased husbands. In general, the cultic duties of high priestesses centered
on the god to whom they were assigned while those of royal wives centered predominantly on goddesses and womens cult feasts (Sallaberger 1999, 184-185). There was,
however, overlapping: Ur III royal wives also worshipped Nanna, while high priestesses also worshipped Inana.
Most images are illustrated in Schmandt-Besserat 1993; for additional seals, see
Rova 1994, nos. 53, 82, 387, 560, 566, 603-607, 782, 786. For EN in texts, see Englund 1998, 70.
The claim to divine election of kings from the ED period on can then be explained as an endeavor to legitimize the new form of leadership by integrating the old

between human and divine


royal title but is already contrasted with lugal (Steible 1982, Lukin.
2, 4, Enak. 1, 5). En of Uruk is then a secondary title of Urnamma,
who was from Uruk (Sallaberger 1999, 132), and of Isin kings, who
mimicked Ur III royal ideology.13 In literary texts, en is frequently
used also in reference to gods and heroes.
Under whose reign en was introduced as a clerical title depends
on when Sargons daughter Enheduana took on her ceremonial name
(Steinkeller 1999, 125 n. 77). Her tenure lasted into Naramsins reign.
If Sargon installed her as zirru, traditional title of Nannas high priestess, which Enheduana uses in the one inscription that has survived
from her time (RIME 2: 1.1.16), it may well have been Naramsin who
introduced en for Nannas high priestess and extended this title to high
priestesses of other gods. This would accord with the general picture
showing Sargon still indebted to late ED tradition while Naramsin
created a new image of kingship. A second wave of new en occurred
in the Ur III period, probably under the reign of ulgi, who revived
several features of Naramsins royal ideology. The choice of the title
en may have been intended to revive the earliest form of leadership
based on the principle of divine election, albeit in a new form. It
is indeed intriguing that the standard headdress of high priestesses
looks identical to that worn by the Uruk ruler figure (see section on
attire below).
The rulers who installed high priestesses had hegemonical claims,
or else followed in the footsteps of a powerful predecessor. It has been
suggested that the political agenda of the office was to establish loyal
power bases in the major centers of the realm in order to counterbalance the influence of the local elite (Steinkeller 1999, 124). Perhaps
the underlying reasons were of a pragmatic nature. The temples in
these major centers controlled large parts of the local economy. By
putting them in the hands of high priestesses who were royal children,
their production came de facto under the control of the crown. The
dissemination of high priestesses would then have formed part of
other well known endeavors of Akk and Ur III kings to attain power
by controlling the economy in their realm. Such an agenda would
explain not only the dependence of high priestesses estates on the royal
household, but also the harsh treatment Enheduana experienced when


The sources are given in Steinkeller 1999, 105 n. 4.


c.e. suter

the local ruler liberated himself from Akk rule (ETCSL14 4.07.2), as
well as the abduction of other en by conquering enemies.15
There is an undeniable connection between en and human spouses
of deities. Both kings and en-priests/esses can be called the spouse
(dam) of a deity. The only texts that explicitly describe a sexual union
between a human and a deity are the royal hymns ulgi X and IddinDagan A. In both cases, the king unites with Inana in the guise of
her husband Dumuzi. Based on these texts, a number of references
in other royal hymns and in love lyrics, as well as the royal epithet
beloved spouse of Inana, can be understood as allusions to the kings
union with Inana (Cooper 1993, 85). Had we only these poetic texts,
we could argue that this union was an invention of the Ur III kings
in their endeavor to sanction divine kingship, as the epics around
the mythical kings of Uruk probably were to a large extent (Michalowski 1988, 21). However, there are also royal inscriptions attesting
to ED rulers and Naramsin of Akkad as husbands of Inana (Cooper
1993, 83-84), as well as to high priests/esses as spouses of their deity,
namely an ED priest of Nane at Ningin (Steible 1982, Urnane 24
iii 3-6), and three en-priestesses of Nanna at Ur: Enheduana (RIME
2: 1.1.16), Naramsins daughter Enmenana (RIME 2: 1.4.33), and
Urbabas daughter Enanepada (RIME 3/1: 1.6.12-13).
Marriage entails mutual obligations. That of a human to a deity
established close ties between human and divine spheres. As head of
the human society, kings shared with priests the role of mediating
between these spheres. Cooper (1993, 90) suggests that the main purpose of the kings marriage to Inana was regulations between people
and gods. The marriage of high priestesses to their gods extended this
network of social ties between royal family and pantheon, not unlike
diplomatic marriages of princesses to foreign rulers cemented mutual
obligations with other states (Cooper 1993, 91). The marriage of a
king or high priest/ess to a deity must be understood in symbolic
terms, since sacred marriage rites appear to be a scholarly construct
(Assante 2003, 27-31).


Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (

In The Lament for Sumer and Ur (ETCSL 2.2.3 ll. 151-153; 183-184; 191-192; 204205; 249-250; 345); compare The Lament for Urim (ETCSL 2.2.2 ll. 348-358). ETCSL
translates en in these texts with en-priest, although the office holders serving the
mentioned deities were usually female in all but one case (en of Nane).

between human and divine


To sum up, I believe that the primary task of high priestesses was
running their gods estate, at least in representation, not unlike Uruk
period EN were the highest officials in archaic administration, and
Ur III kings chief of state administration. This does not exclude the
performance of cultic duties. Because clerical en were not exclusively assigned to deities of the opposite sex and ere-dingir also
served goddesses, the spousal function vis--vis a deity cannot have
been their main characteristic,16 as little as it was that of kings. The
marriage of some high priestesses to their god is better understood
as an effort in sanctioning the political agenda of their office on an
ideological level. The symbolic elevation of a royalbe it king or
high priestessto the level of a deitys spouse was to convey the close
ties between royals and deities, that is, the divine favor granted to
the ruling power. In essence then, clerical en-ship was an offshoot
of kingship on the local level.17

Identified Images
The first textually attested Mesopotamian high priestess is also the most
famous today, Enheduana. Her image has survived on a fragmentary

Douglas Fraynes attempt to link the installation of en and ere-dingir with a
sacred marriage rite of kings was conclusively disproved by Cooper (1993, 87-88) and
Sallaberger (1995, 20-21). Steinkellers hypothesis (1999) that clerical en-ship evolved
out of a convergence of Sumerian and Semitic traditions of male and female priestly consorts is problematic. The evidence is perhaps better explained in terms of particular local traditions. That for Sumerian male priestly consorts consists only of the
mentioned dam of Nane, who seems to live on as ennu and en in the Ur III period
(Steinkeller 1999, 119 n. 48). I am not convinced that Uruk rulers were priest-kings
and that their political and cultic duties were later divided among ruler and en-priests/
esses, respectively. There is textual and visual evidence that kings continued to perform
cultic duties after the Uruk period and the evidence for Ur III kings marriage to Inana
is much more explicit than that of Uruk period rulers which solely rests on the Uruk
Vase. The Semitic origin of female priestly consorts is equally difficult to support.
DAM.DINGIR of Ebla seems more comparable to OB nadtu since there were several holding the same office at the same time (Archi 1998, 52-53). On the other hand, archaeological and textual evidence speak in favor of a continuity of the office of Nannas
high-priestess at Ur from the ED to the IL period (Winter 1987; Zgoll 1997, 99-100)
and this high-priestess is precisely the one who is wife of her god. Her original title,
zirru, continued to be used side by side with en up to the Isin dynasty (RIME 2: 1.1.16;
2: 1.4.33; 3/1: 1.6.12-13; 4: 1.4.3; 4: 2.5.2).
This is what Hilgert (see note 1 in this article) suggests.


c.e. suter

stone relief from Urs Gipar (figure 1), now heavily restored.18 The
object, which appears to have been vertically pierced, remains enigmatic, whether it was disk-shaped or not. The inscription on its back,
restored with the help of an OB copy, commemorates Enheduanas
construction of a throne-room in Inana-Zazas temple.19 Enheduana
wears a flounced robe that covered both shoulders. Her hair falls loose
down her back with a tress in front of her ear and is crowned by a
circlet.20 She follows a bald-headed, shaven male figure who pours a
libation before what has been restored as a four-stepped ziqqurat but
may equally well have been a deity enthroned on a platform.21 The
libator probably represents lagar/l, the male assistant of en-priestesses (Sallaberger and Huber Vulliet 2005, 628). Behind Enheduana
follow two poorly preserved figures who may have represented the
local ruler and his wife, as seems to be the case in the lower register
of the ED door plaque that depicts a comparable scene (Winter 1987,
fig. 2). If Nannas high priestess was in charge of installing the local
ruler in his office (Zgoll 1997, 102), then this is what the scene on
these reliefs may represent.
An image of Tuta-napum, high priestess of Enlil and daughter of
Naramsin, is preserved on the seal, now lost, of her servant AmanAtar (figure 2).22 Its inscription reads: Tuta-napum, ntum of Enlil:
Aman-Atar, daughter of Uhub of the Zabirum clan (?), (is) her maidservant.23 The image depicts the maidservant in audience before
her superior much like the estate manager Dada stands before his
CBS 16665 (Woolley 1955, pl. 41d). For a close-up photo of the unrestored fragment with Enheduana, see Legrain 1927, 240. A good reproduction of the restored
relief is in Orthmann 1975, pl. 101. For descriptions, see Winter 1987, 190-193; BraunHolzinger 1991, varia 5. For its inscription, see RIME 2: 1.1.16.
According to Miguel Civils talk at the 51st Rencontre in Chicago in 2005, bra
was not a dais, but designated royal quarters, the place where the throne stood.
On reproductions of the unrestored relief, Enheduanas headdress looks more
like a polos, similar to that worn by ED women from Mari, who are generally interpreted as priestesses (Asher-Greve 1985, 81). A polos would fit with the fact that this reliefs
inscription presents the only mention of Inana-Zaza outside of Mari (J. G. Westenholz
1989, 540 n. 6). Her head and the bubble above it are, however, not related.
Compare Winter 1987, figs. 3-4. This may have been Nanna or Inana-Zaza.
Whereabouts unknown. A. Westenholz and Oelsner 1983, 214-215; Collon 1987,
no. 530; RIME 2: 1.4.2017; Steinkeller 1993; A. Westenholz 1999, 73, 88. On Tutanapum, see also J. Westenholz and A. Westenholz 1983.
The interpretation of Aman-Atars characterization in lines 3-4 is controversial.
The most sensible solution to me seemed to emend a DUMU in front of MUNUS and
understand it in terms of her origin.

between human and divine


queen Tuta-ar-libbi (Boehmer 1965, fig. 657). She wears a fringed

robe and her hair tied up, like court ladies, and holds an enigmatic
object.24 Tuta-napum sits on a throne in the shape of a recessed
temple gate. It is placed on a platform in front of a tree, which may
indicate an outside setting, perhaps the temple courtyard. She wears
the same flounced robe and the same hairstyle as Enheduana (figure
1), but a unique crown.25
The seal of a scribe of Enmenana, another daughter of Naramsin
who succeeded Enheduana in her office, is preserved in ancient impressions (figure 3).26 The formulation of its inscription, Naramsin,
god of Akkad: Enmenana, en of Nanna, his child: Lu-[...], scribe, (is)
her servant, indicates that the seal was a custom-made gift of the
king to his daughters servant (Zettler 1977, 33). The image shows a
seated couple, both in flounced robes and horned crowns, extending
drinking cups to one another. Behind each stands a minor goddess.
The seated position combined with cups and attendants signifies a
banquet. The crescent on his crown identifies the seated male as
Nanna. His throne is stylized as a mountain. Because of the unusually
well identified Nanna on a custom-made seal of his high priestess
servant, Richard Zettler (1977, 35) suggests that his partner represents
Enmenana, while other scholars identify her with Ningal (Selz 1983,
525; Braun-Holzinger 1998-2001b).
Perhaps both interpretations are correct, since both are Nannas
spouses: Ningal in the divine sphere, Enmenana on earth (RIME 2:
1.4.33). The flounced robe is as characteristic for high priestesses as
for goddesses, while loose hair is more typical of high priestesses (see
section on attire below). The only detail that denotes a goddess is the
multiple horned crown. The headdress of high priestesses, however,
was not yet standardized in the Akk period and Naramsin broke up the
dichotomy between divine and human spheres (Hansen 2002, 104-106).

Although female musicians entertaining an enthroned audience are depicted in
ED and Akk imagery, I hesitate to interpret this object as a musical instrument (cf. Collon 1987; RIME 2; A. Westenholz 1999, 88), because its shape does not correspond to
any known instrument. Even if it resembles a rope hanging from a hook, the evidence
for an ordination rope (J. G. Westenholz 1992, 303) is not convincing either.
It cannot be a prototype of the 1st millennium BCE mural crown (Brker-Klhn
1997, 229) because the latter was invented for neo-Assyrian queens (Ornan 2002, 474477).
EEM L.1094 (Boehmer 1965, fig. 725; RIME 2: 1.4.2020).


c.e. suter

In view of the way he represented himself,27 it seems a small step

toward showing his daughter on a par with the god whose spouse she
was, especially since the seal dates to the time when he had adopted
the title god of Akkad. The blurring of divine and human spheres
was probably intentional: the ancients may have seen Enmenana as
much as Ningal in Nannas partner.
A banquet of a high priestess and her god may also be depicted on
an Akk seal from the Royal Cemetery at Ur that belonged to an en
of Utu.28 It depicts two seated figures facing each other and probably
an attendant behind one of them. Unfortunately, the small size and
low quality of the seal carving do not permit us to identify with any
certainty gender, garments, and hairstyles of the figures.29
Another banquet of a high priestess and her god is depicted on
the door plaque of Nigdupae, archivist of arrakum, a city north of
Adab that flourished in ED and Akk times (figure 4).30 It is dedicated
to Ningublaga and can be dated to the time when arrakum gained
independence from Akkad (RIME 2, 249). The horned crown and
raised right hand holding a cup must have belonged to Ningublaga.
The woman facing him represents Geme-Mugsagana, Nigdupaes
wife, whose name and affiliation are written between her face and
her cup. She wears a flounced robe and a large shawl over her head,
partly covering her dress. Although no title is given, the fact that she


Naramsin was not only the first Mesopotamian king who deified himself but he
went further in the representation of his deification than his successors for which posterity branded him as the calamitous king of Mesopotamian history. He is depicted not
only with a horned helmet, but also with a heroized body (Winter 1996, figs. 1-3), and
enthroned on a par with Itar (Hansen 2002, fig. 1-4).
Woolley 1934, pl. 214 no. 338; Steinkeller 1999, 126 n. 81. Neither findspot, laconic inscription, nor iconography and style indicate a date later than the Akk period,
as Steinkeller would have it. For similar banquets in Akk glyptic, see Boehmer 1965,
Another low quality seal from Ur (Legrain 1951, no. 353), which Joan Westenholz brought to my attention, bears the inscription: SAL.EN topped by what could be
interpreted as two squarish moon crescents. The seal depicts a figure in a fringed robe
and with a single horned crown petitioning before a seated female wearing a flounced
robe and probably a horned crown. Between them is a water bird. One could identify
either the petitioner or the seated female as the mentioned en of Nanna (?). In the first
case, the seated female might represent Ningal, in the second, the petitioner would represent a servant. Neither scenario is satisfactory and it seems inappropriate to draw conclusions from such a low quality seal.
AO 4799 (Selz 1983, no. 487; Braun-Holzinger 1991, W 23; RIME 2:

between human and divine


is banqueting one-on-one with a god suggests that she was his priestess. En-priestesses of Ningublaga existed,31 and her marital status
does not contradict this.32 Her attire further supports this interpretationthe only women who wear flounced robes are high priestesses.
Large shawls are combined with tufted robes, the antecedent of the
flounced robe, on late ED sculptures that in all probability represent
The last Akk item to consider is the seal of Ninessa, en of Pisangunu, daughter of Lugal-TAR (figure 5).34 It exhibits an unusual
composition and mentions a mysterious king.35 Pisangunu was a minor
god of the Uruk pantheon, and no other high priestesses are attested
for him. Lugal-TAR may have adapted the custom of appointing a
daughter as en to the cult of this local god when Akkads hegemony
over the south disintegrated. The image shows two seated goddesses
facing one another. The inscription added after the image was carved
obscures their hand gestures. Behind the left throne stands a god with
his hands on his waist. Behind the other throne, a human couple
dressed in fringed robes approaches. The man holds his hands to the
waist, while the woman gestures petition.36 This woman, however,
cannot be Ninessa (cf. Selz 1983, 525), because she is dressed and
coiffured like a court lady. Moreover, the doubling of the goddess
would remain obscure. The human presentees are better explained as
a local ruler and his wife, like in the libation scenes described above.
If so, and if the god and the goddess seated before him represented
They are first attested under ulgi, but may well have existed before, since Ningublaga was worshipped at Ur since ED times; for the evidence see Richter 2004, 441443, and the Lament for Sumer and Ur (ETCSL 2.2.3 ll. 204-205).
The old thesis that high priestesses were submitted to celibacy cannot be sustained: according to Hilgert (see note 1 of this article), children are attested in all periods.
Namely statues from Mari: Asher-Greve 1985, nos. 400, 401, 445. While these
women wear their shawl over a polos, Abda, daughter of Urnane of Laga, wears a
shawl directly on her head over a tufted robe (Strommenger and Hirmer 1962, pl. 73).
Because she is taller than her brothers and leading them, Asher-Greve (1985, 90-92)
identified her with the priestess of the god for whom her father built the temple in which
this plaque was installed.
AO 22309 (Boehmer 1965, fig. 670; Selz 1983, no. 583; RIME 2: 13.3.1001).
Frayne (RIME 2: 13.3.1001) considered reading TAR as ku5 and identifying
lugal ku5 with king Kuda from Uruk mentioned in the Sumerian King List. However,
Lugal-TAR is the name of an ED ensi of Uruk (Steible 1982, Lugal-TAR 1), and one
cannot exclude that a namesake ruled Uruk at the end of the Akk period.
For this gesture, see Suter 2000, 260-261.


c.e. suter

Pisangunu and his divine wife, then it is tempting to see Ninessa in

the goddess seated before the human couple. The left side may
then represent Pisangunu and his divine wife. In this conjectural
interpretation, the en-priestess would mirror the divine spouse she
personified and the scene could capture the installation of Ninessa or
that of local ruler through her intercession.
Although high priestesses are abundantly attested in Ur III texts,
I am aware of only three images with associated text for this period,
all from recut seals.37 An envelope in the British Museum preserves
an ancient impression of the seal of Geme-Lama, a well known eredingir of Baba in Laga (figure 6).38 The seal was of high quality and thoroughly recut. Followed by a Lama, Geme-Lama faces
a seated goddess, presumably Baba, who offers her an overflowing
vase, a symbol of prosperity. She wears a common fringed robe and
her hair is tied up, like court ladies. Moreover, she is the only high
priestess standing in audience before the deity whom she served. Her
atypical representation can be explained by the likelihood that Ur III
ere-dingir of Baba were governors wives, standing in a tradition
of local rulers wives in charge of Babas temple estate that goes back
to the ED period (Sallaberger and Huber Vulliet 2003-2005, 636).
K. Maekawa (1996, 172) suggested that they were essentially secular
women, not professional priestesses.39
The seal of the brewer Lillum probably depicts an en of Inana
(figure 7).40 If the first line of its inscription were an obscure title, the
name of the office holder would be missing. If, however, we emend
it to: en-M-ZA-zi <en> dinana, then Lillum was the servant of
Several seals of high priestesses subordinates show either a combat scene (Fischer
1997, fig. 6, p. 126 n. 162) or the seal owner before a deity (Legrain 1951, no. 408 =
RIME 3/2: 1.2.87; Fischer 1997, nos. 3, 10, 11, 24, p. 125 nn. 160-161, p. 127 nn. 166167). Other images of high priestesses and their subordinates seals preserved in ancient impressions remain unpublished (RIME 3/2: 1.2.92-93; UET 3 1155; Steinkeller
1999, 120 n. 54).
BM 18207A (Fischer 1997, no. 4). For the activities of this ere-dingir, see the
references in Fischer 1997, 125 n. 159.
A two-registered post-Akk seal from the Diqdiqqeh cemetery (Legrain 1951, no.
249) may already have belonged to such an ere-dingir: it also depicts a presentation
scene of a female to a goddess, and its inscription reads ere-dingir, wife of Lugaluumgal. A ruler of Laga under Naramsin and arkaliarri bore this name (RIME 2:
1.4.2004; 2: 1.5.2004; 2: 12.3.2001). Unfortunately, the seal neither gives its owners
name nor Lugal-uumgals title, and the figures are rather crudely carved.
BM 89225 (Collon 1982, no. 448).

between human and divine


an en of Inana called En-M-ZA-zi.41 The original image rendered Lamas introduction of a male petitioner to an enthroned king
with cup. While Dominique Collon (1982, no. 448) assumed that the
king was transformed into Inana, I see him transformed into a high
priestess. Not only was his beard erased and long hair added onto
the shoulder, but also the brimmed cap was made into a circlet. Like
Aman-Atars seal (figure 2), this seal then depicts the servant of a
high priestess before his superior.42 If my interpretation of text and
image is correct, it lends support to Sallabergers insinuation that en
of Inana were female in the Ur III period (note 3 of this article), and
shows that this en of a goddess wore the same attire and hairstyle
as those of gods.
A similar image is depicted on the seal of Qiptiya, found in level
III of the Kititum Temple at Ichali and dating to the early IL period
(figure 8).43 According to the inscription, Qiptiya was the daughter
of an ere-dingir. Unfortunately, the priestess name and that of
her deity remain obscure. Image and inscription were recut. The left
edge of the inscriptions case is still visible next to the new one. The
original image depicted a subordinate before an Ur III king. The
enthroned figure still sits on the typical stool and holds the cup. The
original neckline of the flounced robe leaving one shoulder bare can
be seen below the newly cut neckline of a flounced robe covering
both shoulders. Face and area of the original beard are damaged. The
brimmed cap was changed to a circlet and a bun was added at the
nape. Again, the king was transformed into a high priestess. In front
of her stands her daughter, the seal owner, dressed in a fringed robe
with her hair tied up and held by a hairband. She exhibits a gesture
characterisic of consorts before Ur III kings.
The only presently known representation of an IL en-priestess
is the restored statue of Enanatuma, en of Nanna and daughter of
Ime-Dagan (figure 9).44 It was found in the Gipar at Ur and is
As Markus Hilgert pointed out to me, in administrative texts it was common to
omit the title between name and deity of an en as, for example, in the year name AmarSuen 5: mu En-unu6-gal dInana ba-hug (Hilgert 2003: 491ff.).
If I understand the footnote by Fischer (1997, 140 n. 259) correctly, she came to
the same conclusion.
IM 27351 (Frankfort 1955, no. 913; see also Fischer 1997, 140).
CBS 16229 (Legrain 1927, 223-229; Woolley 1976, 223 (U.6352), pl. 55a; Spycket 1981, 252 n. 135, pl. 176; Braun-Holzinger 1991, st. 170; RIME 4: 1.4.13). The
seal images of a child of Enanatuma (RIME 4: 1.4.14) and of Enanedu, en-priestess of


c.e. suter

dedicated to Ningal. Enanatuma sits on an inscribed cubic stool set

on a platform with two holes on its bottom and copper nails around
its edges. She wears a flounced robe covering both arms and holds her
hands clasped in front of her body. The head was sculpted separately
to fit into a hole in the shoulders. Enough of it survived to allow a
restoration with a circlet on long loose hair. Several copper nails just
above the circlet indicate that something was once attached to it.
Face, necklace, and a lock on each side falling on the shoulder were
restored after the femme lcharpe (Spycket 1981, pl. 136).

Attire and Regalia

Except for the atypical Geme-Lama, all high priestesses wear a
flounced robe. This robe was introduced in the Akk period. We
can distinguish two types: the common one that leaves one shoulder
bare, and another that covers both. The former is the standard garment of deities (Collon 1982, 27), which is occasionally also worn by
kings.45 The rare type occurs with goddesses whose entire upper body
is rendered frontally,46 perhaps because a single covered shoulder
would look unbalanced from that angle. Although high priestesses
are always rendered in profile in relief, most of them wear this rare
variant (figures 1-2, 8-9); only those apparently visualized as spouse
of their god (figures 3-5), and one recut from a royal figure (figure
7) wear the other.47 The choice of a primarily divine garment for
Nanna (RIME 2: 2.13.32), remain unpublished, while the seal of a servant of Enanedu
(Moortgat 1966, no. 322; RIME 4: 2.14.2021) represents Lama confronting Udug, like
seals of court ladies of this period (RIME 4: 2.14.22; 4: 6.8.6?; 4: 6.12.7; 4: 27.2.2001;
4: 28.4.2002; 4: 32.1.1; 4: 32.1.2001).
Namely Naramsin on the stela from Pir Hssein (Orthmann 1975, pl. 105) and
Ur III kings on seal images (Winter 1986, 255; Fischer 1997, 131). While other scholars
have not questioned the identification of the figure on the Pir Hssein stela with Naramsin, Braun-Holzinger (1991, st. 14) interpreted it as a god because of the combination of
flounced robe and divine weapons. Naramsin, however, did not follow established traditions, as his images show (see note 27 of this article). Moreover, the conical cap he wears
on this stela is not a divine headgear, but probably the military headdress of Eblaite
kings, which Naramsin adopted after his victory over this region (Matthiae 1980).
See Asher-Greve 2006, figs. 6, 10, 11, 17-20, 22. These images date to the periods under discussion and depict high-ranking goddesses. The situation changed in the
OB period, in which Lama usually wears this type.
The two types of flounced robes can be traced back to ED garments, based on the
premise that flounces descended from tufts (Strommenger 1971, 52-53). The tufted robe

between human and divine


high priestesses and some kings must have been intended to express
their proximity to the gods.
High priestesses usually wear long loose hair (figures 1-3, 5, 7).
Only two ere-dingir wear it tied up (figures 6, 8). Goddesses may
also wear their hair loose but, as with the flounced robe covering
both shoulders, this is a rare hairstyle for them, especially if they are
rendered in profile.48 It seems, therefore, that a rare dress variant
and hairstyle of goddesses was chosen for high priestesses to distinguish them not only from court ladies, but also from most goddesses.
By Ur III times, long loose hair may have come to mark en, since
Urningirsu, en-priest of Nane, is portrayed with the same long loose
hair (Braun-Holzinger 1991, st. 157-158).
In the Ur III and IL periods, the headdress of high priestesses was
a circlet (figures 7-9). This was exclusive to them, and thus the only
part of their attire that set them unambiguously apart from goddesses.
In the Akk period, we encounter various headdresses: while Enheduana (figure 1) wears a circlet, Tuta-napum wears an unique crown
(figure 2), and Geme-Mugsagana a large shawl over her head (figure
4). In the aftermath of Naramsins elevation to divine status, high
priestesses may even have adopted the horned crown when depicted
with their divine spouse (figures 3, 5). This variety is not surprising,
considering that the attire of many figures was not standardized until
the neo-Sumerian period. ED priestesses seem to have worn various
headdresses too, which probably reflected local traditions: the polos,
for example, is found only in the region of Mari (Asher-Greve 1985,
79-82), while the circlet was the headdress of Nannas high priestess
at Ur (Winter 1987, figs. 2, 4).49
leaving one shoulder bare is worn by male and female figures (Strommenger 1971, figs.
23 and 27), while the tufted robe covering both shoulders was reserved for women who
are generally interpreted as priestesses (Strommenger 1971, fig. 20). If this interpretation is correct, our high priestesses inherited their standard garment in a further developed form from ED predecessors.
See Collon 1982, 30; Haussperger 1991, 88-89. Itars hairstyle, for example, depended on the view: in profile she is usually rendered with a bun, frontally with loose
hair (Colbow 1991, 117). The explanation must be that a bun at the nape cannot be
seen in frontal view and a female face without hair would look odd.
On the door plaque (Winter 1987, fig. 2; see also Asher-Greve 1985, 88-90),
I would make a distinction between the headdress of the frontally seen woman in the
lower register and that of the three women in the upper register. The former is a circlet,
like that of later high priestesses, while the latter is a flat hairband identical to that of the
woman at the left of the lower register, and of later court ladies.


c.e. suter

Although there is no Sumerian or Akkadian term for regalia, several

items are regularly associated with leadership, whether of gods, kings,
or high priests. They include paraphernalia such as crown, scepter,
and throne, as well as parts of the attire such as garment, headdress,
and jewelry (Krecher 1976-80). When insignia of en are mentioned
in literary texts, they often leave open whether a god, a king (as en
of Uruk), or a high priest/ess is meant. At least two paraphernalia are
unambiguously attested for high priestesses, the aga-crown and the
throne,50 and administrative texts attest to many differently named
robes for them.51
The textual evidence is difficult to correlate with the images. The
term aga designates function rather than form (Waetzoldt 1980-83b,
203). It is used in reference to crowns of deities, kings, and high priests.
Images reveal that these crowns differed in shape: deities wear horned
crowns; kings and high priestesses wear brimmed caps and circlets,
respectively, from the neo-Sumerian period on, and various other
headdresses before that.52 If we understand aga as a term for any
headdress that served as regalia, the differently shaped headdresses
of deities, kings, and high priestesses can all be seen as their respective regalia, but we cannot expect to recognize an aga by its form
(cf. Asher-Greve 1995/96, 186). The same holds true for the throne:
one term (gigu-za) refers to thrones of deities, kings, and high priests,
and the images show that their thrones differed in shape. Crown and
throne accord with the visual evidence in so far as all high priestesses
wear a headdress and most of them are depicted enthroned.
With regard to garments, the situation is reversed: there are many
terms in texts and only one type of robe in images. The flounced robe
in which high priestesses are depicted was doubtless their ceremonial

The throne is documented for several en-priestesses and an gi-zi in Ur III and
IL administrative texts (Renger 1967, 128 nn. 110-111; Sallaberger 1993, 147 n. 696;
Sallaberger 1995, 20). The aga is the legitimate headdress of Enheduanas en-ship in
Exaltation of Inana (ETCSL 4.07.2 l. 107; one variant replaces aga with tg, garment)
and also occurs, made of gold, in an Ur III text listing objects to be interred with an enpriestess (Sallaberger 1995, 15).
Hilgert (see note 1 in this article) observed that en of Nanna could choose from
an array of nearly twenty different robes, including tgn-lm, and several types of tggu-za (UET 3 1256 and 1717).
Several scholars described Enheduanas headdress on the restored relief from Ur
as a brimmed cap by analogy with the headdress of kings (Renger 1967, 126-127; Winter 1987, 192; Sallaberger 1995, 16). Sculptures, however, clearly show that high priestesses wear a circlet on their hair rather than a cap (figures 9-11, 14-15).

between human and divine


garment and this coincided with that of deities and some kings. Several robes attested for high priestesses in texts are also attested for
deities and kings.53 There may have been several terms for what
we identify as a flounced robe, referring to variations in cut, fabric
or color.54 Images certainly rendered a simplified or idealized version of the variety of robes that existed in reality, as is the case of
footware: high priestesses are always depicted barefoot, whereas an
administrative text documents red leather boots for an en of Enlil
(Hilgert 2003, no. 497).

Anonymous Images
Thirteen anonymous statues qualify as representations of high priestesses by comparison with the identified images (table 1). They come
from Ur, Uruk, Tello, Nippur, and Adab. Unfortunately, the contexts
of the properly excavated ones were either not accurately recorded
or not original. Only two finds help to date this group: IM 56505
was found in an Ur III context at Nippur with many tablets dating
to the reign of Amarsin, while IM 18659 was found in the IL quarter
of Ur. With the exception of the latter, Agns Spycket (1981, 171)
described them in her chapter on the Akk period, admitting that they
could equally well date to the subsequent period. Based on stylistic
considerations,55 I would attribute them largely to the neo-Sumerian
period without excluding that one or another may date to the Akk
or IL period.


So tgpal, tgn-lm, tgguz-za; see Waetzoldt 1980-83a, 21-22, 26-30.

The problem is that many terms for garments are not sufficiently understood,
while stone images cannot adequately render fabrics and colors. Renger (1967, 127)
wanted to identify tgpal, the garment that typically occurs in the context of regalia in
literary texts, with the flounced robe of high priestesses in images. There is, however,
another good candidate for the flounced robe according to Waetzoldt (1980-83a, 2122): tgguz-za, which measured ca. 3.5 by 3.5 m and weighed between 1.5 and 4 kg.
Their static, block-like appearance lacks any dynamic elements characteristic of
Akk statuary. Frontal hair, eyebrows, and face of two well preserved heads (figs. 10-11)
are comparable to the femme lcharpe (Spycket 1981, pl. 136). Four statues have an attribute on their lap, which is otherwise attested only for Gudea of Laga (Suter 2000,


c.e. suter

Table 1. Anonymous Statues of High Priestesses

Museum No
& Fig


Material &



AO 40

Tello: palace:
under pavement of court

chlorite 6.1

tablet on lap

de Sarzec 1884, pl. 25:3;

van Buren 1931, 72 n. 2;
Spycket 1981, 171 n. 130

Head, alabaster 6.7 cm

AO 13211

1908 or

vessels on

AO 23995
= Fig. 10

1862 in

alabaster 15.5
cm; illegible
inscription on
alabaster 20

Cros et al. 1910, pl. 83:1,

3, C; Spycket 1981, 202
n. 92
van Buren 1931, 72 n.
3; Spycket 1981, 172 n.
133, pl. 117

CBS 16228

Ur: Tomb
Tello: tell V

Head, marble
9.5 cm
alabaster? 13

Ur: Ninubur
shrine in IL
Nippur: scribal quarter

limestone 48
white stone
15.3 cm
Lower body,
13.3 cm


vessels on

vessels on

AO 12844

EEM 2381

IM 18659

IM 56505


Uruk: nB
houses on
SW edge of
UM L-29-214 Nippur (4th
= Fig. 12



VA 4854
= Fig. 11

1915 or

8.5 cm
alabaster 11.3


1931 or

limestone 15

vessel in

tablet on lap

tablet on lap

tablet on lap

van Buren 1931, 73 n.

2; Strommenger and
Hirmer 1962, pl. 142;
Spycket 1981, 171 n. 128
Spycket 1981, 202 n. 93,
pl. 138
Cros et al. 1910, 235
(drawing); van Buren
1931, 72 n. 131; Spycket
1981, 172 n. 131

Woolley 1976, pl. 58a;

Spycket 1981, 254 n.
143, fig. 66
McCown and Haines
1967, pl. 145:2; Spycket
1981, 172 n. 132
Lenzen 1966, 38 no. W
21293, pl. 18a

Legrain 1927, 232-234;

van Buren 1931, pl. XV;
Spycket 1981, 172 n.
134, fig. 55
Banks 1912, 258 (photo)
van Buren 1931, 71 n. 5;
Jakob-Rost et al. 1992,
no. 41; Spycket 1981,
171 n. 127
van Buren 1931, pl.
XIV; Spycket 1981, 173
n. 135, fig. 56

between human and divine


Elizabeth van Burens article from 1931 is the only previous study of
this group of statues. She identifies them as goddesses mainly because
they wear flounced robes. Although Henri Frankfort countered this
interpretation long ago (1939, 53 n. 20), many are still listed as goddesses (for example, Braun-Holzinger 1991, 226 n. 672). By comparison with the images of Enheduana (figure 1) and Enanatuma (figure
9), both Spycket (1981, 174) and Collon (1998, 21) have wondered
whether they represent priestesses. For several reasons, I believe that
indeed they do: their attire and hairstyle conform with identified high
priestesses; those whose head is preserved wear a circlet not a horned
crown; they hold their hands clasped like other statues representing
their donor; together with Enanatuma they are the only statues depicted enthroned from the Akk to the IL period, aside from rulers
(Braun-Holzinger 1991, 234). Moreover, their attributes can be linked
to a high priestess office.
The tablets some have on their lap exhibit several vertical lines
intersected by one or two horizontal lines, apparently representing
the cases or columns in which text was written. Because writing was
invented and most frequently used for book-keeping, the tablet probably implies an administrative function56 and can be associated with
the prime task of high priestesses as head of their deitys estate. The
containers carved on the throne of others are vessels for dairy use
(van Buren 1931, 65-70) and can be expected to represent products
of this estate or utensils used in production. The globular vessel held
by one has the same shape as the so-called overflowing vase (van
Buren 1931, 73). In neo-Sumerian times, deities present this symbol
of prosperity to rulers for their services (Suter 2000, 63, 67, 203-204),
and it is bestowed also on Geme-Lama (figure 6). The globular vessel
must thus signify blessings of prosperity that this high priestess received
from her deity for running his or her estate.
Four more images can be added to the repertory of anonymous
high priestesses: two statues, slightly different from the above,

If the tablets were to evoke temple construction, they would exhibit ruler, stylus,
and possibly a plan (Suter 2000, 58). A tablet with propitious stars would probably have
looked different, toothat of Nisaba explicitly had a stylus on it (ETCSL 2.1.7 ll. 134140)and divination was not a prime task of Mesopotamian priests (Sallaberger and
Huber Vulliet 2003-2005, 617). I also doubt that the tablet referred to the composition
of poetry since most literary works were not written down until the OB period and
Enheduanas authorship is disputable (Suter 2000, 151-152).


c.e. suter

and two reliefs. The statues are from Ur, date to the IL period, and
have generally been identified as goddesses, although they lack horned
crowns. Both are dressed in flounced robes covering both arms. One
is from the Gipar (figure 13).57 The top of her head is flat, and a
groove around it with two holes above the ears indicates that a headdress, probably in metal, was attached. Shape and location of this
groove indicate a circlet, not a horned crown. An aga made of gold
is attested for an en-priestess in an Ur III administrative text (Sallaberger 1995, 15). Geese flank the females throne and her foot-stool is
supported by two more water birds. Such a goose-throne is otherwise
attested only for a goddess with the multiple horned crown.58 This
goddess has, at different times, been identified with Baba, Nane,
and Ningal. Because her image was widespread from the Akk to the
IL period, Braun-Holzinger (1998-2001a, 162) argued that she cannot be one and the same in all places and proposed that the images
from Girsu represented Nane.59 I suggest that similar images from
Ur represented Ningal, with whom texts also associate water birds.60
Interestingly, zirru, the traditional title of Nannas en still used in
IL times (see note 16 in this article), was adopted from Ningal, and
can be translated as hen bird (J. G. Westenholz 1989, 541-544).
The statue from Urs Gipar is then best identified with Nannas en
who adopted the goose-throne from Ningal, whom she personified
as Nannas wife.
IM 18663 (Legrain 1927, 229-232; Woolley 1976, 225 (U.6779), pl. 54; Orthmann 1975, pl. 164c; Spycket 1981, 234 n. 49, pl. 160).
On a door plaque from Nippur and on seals and terracotta plaques from Ur,
Girsu, Uruk, and Nippur (Braun-Holzinger 1998-2001a, 161). Geese or other water
birdsthe representations do not always allow for a precise zoological classification
are associated also with a goddess on post-Akk seals that depict a presentation to a
goddess in the upper register, and a row of water birds in the lower register and on neoSumerian seals that depict a water bird in front of an enthroned goddess (Braun-Holzinger 1998-2001a, 161). These birds, however, need not necessarily characterize the
For her connection with birds in texts, see Heimpel 1998-2001, 153. Two seals
from Laga depicting a goddess on the goose-throne belonged to priests of Nane
(Fischer 1997, no. 12, p. 122 n. 141 [ITT 5 pl. V: 10075 described]). A bird is also associated with an enthroned goddess on seals from Laga that belonged to servants of an
ere-dingir of Baba (Fischer 1997, 126-127); this goddess, however, is never depicted on the goose-throne.
See especially Nanna B (ETCSL 4.13.02). In the Lament for Urim, Ningal cannot be
the bird of her city anymore because her city is being destroyed (ETCSL 2.2.2 l. 339).
See also Steinkeller cited in Zgoll 1998-2001, 353.

between human and divine


The other statue is a standing female from the Hendursag Shrine

with long hair down her back and two tresses on her chest.61 Since
the shrine was dedicated to a god, this female cannot have been its
cult statue. Yellow criss-cross bands were painted on the indented,
disk-shaped top of her head, which exhibits three holes on the back.
Leonard Woolley (1976, 239) suggested that the bands represent a
hair-ornament while the holes held another upright ornament. This
does not explain the notch created by the indented top. Because of
the hair-ornament, it is unlikely that a horned crown was mounted on
it (cf. Spycket 1981, 253). Instead, the holes may have held a golden
circlet sitting on the notch.
A fragmentary door plaque depicts a seated female wearing the
flounced robe covering both arms and a circlet on her long hair
(figure 14).62 All that remains of the inscription is the name of the
goddess Ninsun, mother of Gilgame, and symbolically also of Ur III
kings. Stylistic considerations (Boese 1971, 136) and the mention of
Ninsun indicate an Ur III date, as does the fact that door plaques are
not known from later periods. Several scholars identified the female
as Ninsun. Deities, however, are not labeled in Early Mesopotamian
imagery. Ninsun must be the beginning of a dedicatory inscription,
that is, the deity to whom the plaque was dedicated. Boese (1971,
136), followed by Brker-Klhn (in Orthmann 1975, pl. 117b), have
observed the females similarity with Enanatuma (figure 9) and identified her as a priestess who may have participated in a banquet.63
Her partner would then have been the deity to whom she was assigned.
If this was Ninsun or her husband Lugalbanda, she would represent
an ere-dingir.64 However, high priestess could dedicate plaques
to deities other than their own (or their deitys spouse) as when

IM 18658 (Woolley 1976, 239, pl. 55b (U.16425); Spycket 1981, 253 n. 138).
AO 2761. For a good photo, see Strommenger and Hirmer 1962, pl. 129 rechts;
for more bibliography, see Braun-Holzinger 1991, W 30.
Since the hand of her right arm is missing, it remains uncertain whether she was
holding a drinking vessel. That she received a subordinate in audience, like royals and
high priestesses on seal images, however, is unlikely on a door plaque, since presentation scenes in sculpture always depict the ruler before a deity.
Only ere-dingir are attested for these deities. Visual tradition would speak for
Lugalbanda as the participants of two-person banquets are more often of the opposite
sex than of the same and there would be a precedent in the door plaque of Nigdupae
(figure 4). Textual evidence, on the other hand, would speak for Ninsun: ere-dingir of Ninsun are attested in Ur III and Isin times (Steinkeller 1999, 128 n. 91), whereas an ere-dingir of Lugalbanda occurs only once in an OB inscription (RIME 4:


c.e. suter

Enheduana dedicated a relief to Inana-Zaza. She may, therefore,

represent an en-priestess.65
The other relief is a fragmentary frieze of figures carved around a
stone vessel (figure 15).66 On stylistic grounds, it can be dated to the
late Ur III or early IL period. Two bald-headed, beardless men on
the right and a woman on the left turn their backs on two percussionists playing a large drum. They are directed toward the focal point
of the scene, now lost. The men wear fringed robes. One gestures
petition, the other carries a cloth. The woman wears a plain robe
and a necklace. Her long hair falls loose on her back and is crowned
by a circlet. Except for the missing flounces, which may have been
painted on, her attire, hairstyle, and jewelry are identical to those of
the woman on the door plaque just described. She holds both arms
raised, like a Lama. Although I know of no other human exhibiting this gesture,67 she cannot represent a Lama, since she does not
wear a horned crown. When high priestesses prayed to the gods for
the well being and long life of the king (see note 10 in this article),
they interceded on his behalf, not unlike Lamas do on behalf of their
protg (Foxvog et al. 1980-83). Lamas gesture is thus suitable for
a high priestess. This one may have followed a king to a deity. The
scene may then have captured a cult ceremony in which king, high
priestess, and other members of the royal entourage participated.

Based on images identified by an associated text, I hope to have
established that one can identify high priestesses in imagery. They
were marked by a garment and a headdress that were insignia of
their office and they wore their hair loose down the back rather than
4.1.9); the OB ere-dingir of Lugalbanda apparently replaced that of Ninsun (Richter 2004, 323).
As Joan Westenholz pointed out to me, the offerings for the installation of an
en of Nanna of Karzida under Amarsin conclude with sacrifices for the house of the
mother of all en, Ninsun (PDT II 767 ii 15).
AO 5682+6160 (Heuzey in Cros et al. 1910, 287-90 (without fragment of woman); Strommenger and Hirmer 1962, pl. 128; for a detailed description, see Suter 2000,
A possible exception is the female on a terracotta plaque from Tello (Barrelet
1968, no. 482) who wears a circlet, too.

between human and divine


tied up in a bun. While the various shapes of their headdresses probably reflected local traditions in Akk times, the circlet of Nannas en
became standard from neo-Sumerian times on.
Differences between differently titled high priestesses have been
noted. Significantly, neither ceremonial names nor insignia are attested for ere-dingir. Geme-Lama (figure 6) is probably dressed and
coiffured like court ladies and appears in a context typical for them
because she stood in a tradition of local rulers wives heading Babas
estate. This ere-dingir was neither a kings daughter nor a gods
wife and her tasks apparently coincided with those of a rulers wife.
Other ere-dingir were assimilated with en: Tuta-napum (figure 2)
refers to herself as ere-dingir, whereas other texts document an en
of Enlil in her time (see note 6 in this article), and she is depicted like
an en. There is only one more identified image of an ere-dingir
from the periphery (figure 8): she occurs in a context attested for en
and is distinguished from them only by her bun. Should the woman
on Ninsuns plaque (figure 14) represent an ere-dingir, this one
would be assimilated to en in appearance and occur in a context fit
for high priestesses married to their god. The only possible en of a
goddess (figure 7) looks like en of gods. Although meagre, the evidence suggests that, while all female en were entitled to the attire of
a high priestess, this was not necessarily the case for all ere-dingir.
Perhaps only those of gods were assimilated with en, while those of
goddesses had a similar status as court ladies. In any case, the title
was not consistently used: local traditions and changes over time apparently played a factor in its definition.
High priestesses adopted their garment and hairstyle from goddesses.
Nevertheless, they looked different from most of them, since goddesses
are much more often depicted with a flounced robe differently draped
than that adopted by high priestesses, and with their hair tied up rather
than loose. What distinguished high priestesses unambiguously from
goddesses was their headdress. Even if some may have had a pair of
horns attached (figures 9, 11), it would still have been distinct, not
unlike Naramsins horned helmet differing from horned crowns.68 If
an en of Nanna adopted the goose-throne from Ningal (figure 13),
Another possible representation of a deified king with horns on his cap is found
on an IL seal (Collon 1986, no. 68). Whether the Mari governor Puzur-Etar wore
horns or not remains problematic; Blocher (2003, 269) proposed that his cap was remodeled between 750 and 652 BCE.


c.e. suter

her headdress set her apart from the goddess. Similarly, the woman on
the vessel (figure 15) exhibits a gesture otherwise reserved for Lama,
yet her circlet set her apart from the goddess. Only in exceptional
cases may the depiction of a high priestess have coincided with that
of the goddess whom she personified: in the case of Enmenana, the
image remains ambiguous (figure 3), while Ninessa might be depicted
in a mirror-image with the divine wife of her god (figure 5).
What do the images of high priestesses tell us about them? Most
of their attributestablet, dairy vessels, and small pot symbolizing
prosperityevoked their aspect as head of their deitys estate, while
the goose-throne evoked this ens aspect as her gods wife. The former
reflect the realist political plane of their office, the latter the ideological
one. In contrast to other humans, high priestesses do not figure in the
role of the presentee. They only chair presentation scenes, receiving
subordinates in audience (figures 2, 7, 8). They share this function
not only with deities, who predominantly preside over presentation
scenes from the late ED through the IL period, but also with an Akk
queen and with Ur III kings, who are frequently depicted as the head
of state bureaucracy. Although high priestesses participate in cult
ceremonies, they do not perform the rite. While other royals, such
as Akk court ladies and Ur III kings, pour libations, Enheduana only
presides over this act performed by her assistant (figure 1). Similarly,
a late Ur III/early IL high priestess intercedes presumably on behalf
of a king in a cult ceremony whose focal act is lost (figure 15). Then
again, high priestesses banquet with their god (figures 3-5, 14).69 The
most likely occasion for this event was their installation in office, so
frequently commemorated in official state records, and publicly celebrated in grand feasts.70 Installation ceremonies of OB priestesses
show analogies with marriage rites (Sallaberger and Huber Vulliet
I have not described anonymous high priestesses in glyptic, because I could not
find clear examples of figures whose attire corresponds to that of identified high priestesses in this medium. Banquets of women with gods may qualify, but the seals depicting banquets of a human with a deity (Selz 1983, 526-527) tend to be of low quality,
making it difficult to recognize the figures gender and attire. If, however, a high priestess could appear in the guise of her gods divine spouse when banqueting with him (figs.
3, 5), she may be alluded to in banquets of divine couples (Selz 1983, 523-526) that remain anonymous because the seals lack an inscription and the figures are not given idiosyncratic attributes.
Based on administrative texts, Hilgert (see note 1 in this article) showed that this
event could last at least seven days, during which large amounts of food and drink were

between human and divine


2003-2005, 622-623). Although the latter differed considerably from

the high priestesses under discussion, some aspects lived on, including
the spousal function vis--vis a god. We can expect, therefore, that this
banquet implied the high priestess marriage to her god.
Attire, attributes, and the context in which high priestesses are
depicted, underscore their high rank in state hierarchy and support
the claim that they were offshoots of kingship. They were the only
humans aside from kings who were entitled not only to regalia, but
also to attributes in images and to the enthroned posture in statuary.
Kings and high priestesses shared these privileges with deities. The use
of the same terms for regalia of kings, high priestesses, and deities in
texts, and the use of attributes, the same robe, and the same posture
for them in images, must have been intended to blur boundaries between the human and divine spheres. Kings and high priestesses mediated between these spheres, and both could symbolically be married
to a deity. Although kings rarely transgressed borders and adorned
themselves with horns of divinity, heroized bodies, and other divine
attributes, it did occasionally happen in the aftermath of Naramsins
elevation to divine status and the revival of royal deification under
the Ur III kings (Suter forthcoming). Similarly, a few high priestesses
may have attached a pair of horns to their headdress, adopted divine
attributes, banqueted with their deity, and perhaps even completely
slipped into the guise of their divine husbands wife on that occasion.
Presumably, they were neither introduced to a deity nor personally
performed rites because they maintained a relationship on a higher
level with their deity. They are indeed the only humans depicted in
banquet with a deity: although ulgi is eulogized banqueting with Utu
and Inana in poetry (ETCSL ll. 79-83), no such banquet has
survived in images.

To the catalogue of anonymous statues of high priestesses can now
be added the high quality, 14 centimeter-high limestone head that
was recently confiscated in Jordan. Vito Messina presented it at the
ICAANE in Madrid, 2006, and its publication just appeared in
Menegazzi (2005, 5, pls. 1, A, and cover).


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between human and divine


Figure 1. Stone relief dedicated by Enheduana, h. 25.6 cm (courtesy University of

Pennsylvania Museum)

Figure 2. Seal of Aman-Atar (after Collon 1987: no. 530)

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Figure 3. Seal of Lu-[. . .], h. 2.9 cm (after Boehmer 1965: Figure 725)

between human and divine



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Figure 4. Door plaque dedicated by Nigdupae, h. 25 cm (courtesy Louvre)

Figure 5. Seal of Ninessa, h. 3.1 cm (courtesy Louvre)

between human and divine


Figure 6. Seal of Geme-Lama, h. 2.9 (after Fischer 1997: no. 4)

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Figure 7. Seal of Lillum, h. 2.9 cm (courtesy British Museum)

between human and divine


Figure 8. Seal of Qiptiya, h. 2.2 cm (courtesy Diyala Project, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

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between human and divine


Figure 9. Statue of Enanatuma, h. 24 cm (courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum)


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Figure 10. Statue of enthroned woman holding vessel, h. 20 cm (courtesy Louvre)

between human and divine


Figure 11. Statue of enthroned woman with tablet on lap, h. 11.3 cm (courtesy
Vorderasiatisches Museum)

Figure 12. Statue of enthroned woman with vessels on throne, h. 15 cm (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of

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between human and divine


Figure 13. Statue of woman on goose-throne, h. 29 cm (courtesy University of Pennsylvania Museum)


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Figure 14. Door plaque dedicated to Ninsun, h. 14 cm (courtesy Louvre)

Figure 15. Carved stone vessel, h. 12 cm (courtesy Louvre)

between human and divine



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shulgi-simti and the representation of women



T. M. Sharlach
Obviously, a central concern of art history is the question of representation, the translation of an idea into a visual medium. Irene
Winters varied and always thought-provoking work as a scholar and
as a teacher has encouraged the field to consider both Mesopotamian
ideas and their representations in new ways. Although my own work
on economic documents is in many aspects quite distant from her
field of study, the lessons she taught me about academic rigor, the
need for clear definition and, not least, negotiating academia as a
female scholar, remain central. I have chosen, therefore, to present
in the current venue not a traditional economic historians analysis of
the technical aspects of an archive, or even an attempt to synthesize
such an archive, but rather a presentation of what I see to be a set
of problems we face when trying to represent women in the history
of late third millennium Mesopotamia. I do not claim to have solutions to the problems raised here, but perhaps by identifying them in
the open, we may be encouraged to consider the issues in new ways,
which, I hope, might please the honoree.
The issue of the representation of women, which Irene Winter
discussed most notably in her article, Women in Public: The Disk
of Enheduanna, the Beginning of the Office of En-Priestess and the
Weight of Visual Evidence (1987), became an issue for me recently
in my work on the archive of the royal wife Shulgi-simti, who died
around 2050 B.C. This woman was one of the wives of Shulgi, the
second king of the Third Dynasty of Ur and the architect of its most
characteristic policies. The origins of this queen and most of the details
of her life history are unknown (general introductions to the archive
can be found in Sallaberger 1993, 18-25; 1999, 253-260; Sigrist 1992,
222-246; van de Mieroop 1999, 157-159).
An archive associated with her, consisting of approximately 500
tablets written in the Sumerian language, spans a period of a little
less than two decades. The texts largely consist of records of income


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and expenditure, as a rule dealing with livestock. The archive, though

not excavated, probably came from the ancient site of Puzrish-Dagan
(also known by its modern name, Drehem) on the basis of the date at
which the tablets appeared on the market as well as clues in the texts
such as month names and place names (Sallaberger 1993, 21).
The tablets allow us a glimpse into the operation of Shulgi-simtis
organization (sometimes referred to by Assyriologists as a foundation, or institution run under her aegis though not necessarily by her
personally). Income consisted of livestock of various sortsmainly
sheep, goats and various types of fowlgathered from male and female
courtiers and crown employees; it was handed over to male officials
who worked for the foundation. The livestock is described as mu-DU
Shulgi-simti, delivery (to) Shulgi-simti, as the three sample texts
translated below demonstrate.
Text One
1 ox, 9 grass fed sheep, 1 goat from Hubaya, general.
1 goat from Allas wife.
1 goat from Ur-nigin-gars wife,
delivery (to) Shulgi-simti, Beli-tab received (the above.)
(CST 42, Shulgi 33, month 5)1

Text Two
1 tu-bird, (from) Lu-urub,
58 tugur-birds (from the woman) Tezen-Mama,
2 kaskal-birds (from) Barbaria,
the 6th day having passed from the month,
delivery (to) Shulgi-simti.
(AUCT 1.952, Shulgi 39, month 4)

Text Three
6 ducks (from) Bagum, fowler, the 28th day having passed from the
delivery (to) Shulgi-simti, Shulgi-ili received (the above).
(PDT 1.139, Shulgi 47, month 10)

Texts like these show male and female courtiers providing small quantities of livestocka squab here, a goat there. Occasionally, larger

Abbreviations follow the guidelines outlined by the CDLI project, to be found online at http//

shulgi-simti and the representation of women


quantities are recorded and occasionally the provisioners were not

courtiers but professional livestock managers, such as the bird-keeper
Bagum in the last text. The foundation then used the livestock and
the fowl for royal dining or, more usually in the case of the larger
animals, for sacrifices at various shrines and at various times of the
cultic calendar. A few examples may be helpful in illustrating the
nature of these transactions.
Text Four
2 tugur-birds, for my queens consumption2
7 tugur-birds, slaughtered, entered into the palace,
the 7th day having passed from the month, expenditure of Shulgi-ili.
(OIP 115.119, Shulgi 47, month 6)

Text Five
1 grass fed sheep(the god) An,
2 grass fed sheepthat of the place of disappearance,
2 grass fed oxen, 2 fattened sheep, 2 sheep that followed oxen, 2 goatsfor
the festival of Nabrium, (for the goddesses) Belet-shuhnir and Belet-terraban.
1 fattened sheep, 1 lamb(the goddess) Allatum,
1 grass fed sheep, 1 goat(the goddess) Ishara and (the goddess) BeletNagar,
1 lamb(the goddess) Annunitum,
1 goat(the goddess) Nannaya,
the 6th day having passed from the month,
expenditure of (the official) Ur-lugal-eden-ka in Ur.
(TRU 282, Shulgi year 46, month 9)

In the first document, fowl were used for consumption by the palace
or royal family; in the second, larger animals were sacrificed. The
sacrificed animals went mainly to goddesses, many of whom were
not the usual high-ranking goddesses of the Sumero-Akkadian pantheon (that is to say, we more usually find here sacrifices to goddesses
like Belet-shuhnir and Belet-terraban or Nannaya than to Ninlil or
Ishtar). Documents like text five record the provisioning of cults under
Shulgi-simtis auspices. It should be noted that, despite her status as
royal wife, the foundation she ran was on a much smaller scale than

In Sumerian, ng-k NIN-g-.


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the types of provisioning we see reflected in other royal archives of

Ur III date.
An archive like