Ancient Mediterranean + Europe
- Assyrian art, an introduction
- Assyrian Sculpture
- Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II
- Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II
- Ashurbanipal hunting lions
- Ashurbanipal hunting lions
- The palace decoration of Ashurbanipal
- Assyria vs Elam: The battle of Til Tuba
By Dr. Senta German
A military culture
The Assyrian empire dominated Mesopotamia and all of the Near East for the first half of the first millennium B.C.E., led by a series of highly ambitious and aggressive warrior kings. Assyrian society was entirely military, with men obliged to fight in the army at any time. State offices were also under the purview of the military.
Indeed, the culture of the Assyrians was brutal, the army seldom marching on the battlefield but rather terrorizing opponents into submission who, once conquered, were tortured, raped, beheaded, and flayed with their corpses publicly displayed. The Assyrians torched enemies' houses, salted their fields, and cut down their orchards.
As a result of these fierce and successful military campaigns, the Assyrians acquired massive resources from all over the Near East which made the Assyrian kings very rich. The palaces were on an entirely new scale of size and glamour; one contemporary text describes the inauguration of the palace of , built by , to which almost 70,000 people were invited to banquet.
Some of this wealth was spent on the construction of several gigantic and luxurious palaces spread throughout the region. The interior public reception rooms of Assyrian palaces were lined with large scale carved limestone reliefs which offer beautiful and terrifying images of the power and wealth of the Assyrian kings and some of the most beautiful and captivating images in all of ancient Near Eastern art.
Silent video reconstructs the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. Video from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This silent video reconstructs the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (near modern Mosul in northern Iraq) as it would have appeared during his reign in the ninth century B.C.E. The video moves from the outer courtyards of the palace into the throne room and beyond into more private spaces, perhaps used for rituals. (According to news sources, this important archaeological site was destroyed with bulldozers in March 2015 by the militants who occupy large portions of Syria and Iraq.)
Feats of bravery
Like all Assyrian kings, Ashurbanipal decorated the public walls of his palace with images of himself performing great feats of bravery, strength, and skill. Among these he included a lion hunt in which we see him coolly taking aim at a lion in front of his charging chariot, while his assistants fend off another lion attacking at the rear.
The destruction of Susa
One of the accomplishments Ashurbanipal was most proud of was the total destruction of the city of . In one relief, we see Ashurbanipal’s troops destroying the walls of Susa with picks and hammers while fire rages within the walls of the city.
Military victories & exploits
In the Central Palace at Nimrud, the Neo-Assyrian king illustrates his military victories and exploits, including the siege of a city in great detail. In one scene we see a soldier holding a large screen to protect two archers who are taking aim. The topography includes three different trees and a roaring river, most likely setting the scene in and around the Tigris or Euphrates rivers.
Read a chapter in our textbook, Reframing Art History, about new approaches to Ancient Near Eastern art.
Essay by Dr. Senta German
Want to join the conversation?
- Isn't it sad and ironic that "one of the accomplishments Ashurbanipal was most proud of was the total destruction of the city of Susa," an event shown on the wall of his palace, and just last month that palace was needlessly bulldozed into rubble.(22 votes)
- I think it shows the constant stream of violence that runs throughout human history. As you put it, one of the most cruel and violent kingdoms of Antiquity, had its palace destroyed by the most cruel and violent organization in action today. It's horrifying.(2 votes)
- Are there supposed to be images? I can't see any.(13 votes)
- While you are adding the images, you may also want to put the last few subtitles of this essay in a larger, bold type like the first ones just for the sake of consistency.(1 vote)
- just to clarify, are the militants ISIS?(4 votes)
- ISIS is a bunch if ignorant, uneducated rednecks. Attempting to wipe away all traces of history in order to supplant it with a different "fairy tale" of an invading force's creation has been the goal of religious leaders since the beginnings of religion. It is nothing but a move to eliminate culture. The elimination of culture, art and knowledge is otherwise known as the dark ages. This is the only time religious leaders can be powerful. It never lasts, but hey.. that is someone else's problem in like a few hundred years - right?(2 votes)
- Just to clarify...
"The palaces were on an entirely new scale of size and glamor; one contemporary text describes the inauguration of the palace of Kalhu, built by Assurnasirpal II (who reigned in the early 9th century),"
This was the 9th century BCE right? I mean, these were ancient civilizations that didn't last into the "common era", right?(5 votes)
- Where do they come up with the names of the countries and regions?(2 votes)
- For the purpose of making reference to this essay, when was it written?
Could I also request that Khan Academy add the dates that the articles are written?(3 votes)
- Honestly, I feel that it should be a world-wide rule that historical sites like this should never be distroyed except for reasons such as natural causes or that life would be unsafe around the area due to the wear of the building.(2 votes)
- Sadly, that also relies on the area not being taken over by one of the most shamelessly religious extremist groups known to the modern era that deem anything that isn't born of their ideology to be open season for death and destruction.
There is some irony in a way though, atleast for this particular palace.
Certainly, is unfortunate to lose such a valuable window into the past of humanity, but if we were alive in those days, we'd probably rejoice at the news of the palace belonging to such a bloodthirsty empire being reduced to rubble. But now, we weep.(2 votes)
- Who were the artists of these bas reliefs?(2 votes)
- they were not named in the article, so I venture that the works were unsigned productions by "studio hacks" paid by the royal purse to make the king look good(2 votes)
- I can't understand why people today would destroy such sites, they don't have anything to do with their conflicts. Any idea?(2 votes)