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The palace decoration of Ashurbanipal

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Hello I'm Carine Harmand I'm the project curator for the BP exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria. Today we're going to talk about how Ashurbanipal's palaces in Nineveh were a real representation of kingship. So Ashurbanipal ruled the Assyrian Empire in the seventh century before Christ from his capital city of Nineveh. This city was probably the biggest city in the world at this time and the city and the palaces in it represent the vastness of the Assyrian Empire and the power of the king. It all starts with Ashurbanipal's grandfather Sennacherib who transformed the city of Nineveh into a vast metropolis. He built two massive walls around the city and he built his royal residence that he called "the palace without rival" which we now know as the southwest palace because it's in the southwestern part of the royal citadel. Ashurbanipal spends most of his life in the southwest palace before rebuilding another palace which we know as the north palace so we can call that palace Ashurbanipal's palace. In a relief from the north palace of Ashurbanipal we see a depiction of a city which is believed to be an Assyrian city and is perhaps Nineveh. So we see first a moat and then three successive walls and at the back so at the top of the relief we see a palace with lion shaped column bases and sculptures of lamassus lamassus are human-headed, winged bulls. So these palaces were real display of kingship. They were there to show the mightiness and the power of the king. And the most important rooms in the palace were decorated with stone reliefs. These reliefs depict the strength of the king through three main topics. We first have lion hunts. Lion hunt show the king as a protector of his people and a representative of the gods because he is killing the lion. Lion was the embodiment of chaos was the embodiment of anything that could disturb the order that the gods had created. The other topic that we see represented on the reliefs are military campaigns always Assyrian victories. They depict the superiority and ferocity of the Assyrian army. In another video, my colleague Gareth Brereton will be talking about one of the most impressive set of reliefs from the times of Ashurbanipal which depicts the Battle of Til Tuba the defeat of the Elamites by the Assyrian army. So as a representative of the gods the king ought to be protected by them and what we find in these reliefs are also gods and genies who are there to protect the palace and to protect the king So genies are just protective supernatural figures in general. They're below the divine level of a god but they're still a super natural protective figure. So among those, two reliefs that were placed on both sides of a door represent two genies and one god. So here what we see first is a lahmu: 'the hairy one' He has big locks of hair and he's in a very tranquil position he's guarding everything that is good inside the palace. Then in the middle we see an ugallu. This is a 'Great Lion'. He's holding a dagger going towards the person who is entering the palace and in front of him we have a god because he's wearing this tiara with three pairs of horns and this shows his divinity. And he's there in the same aggressive position as the ugallu. The lahmu - 'the hairy one' - he's there to keep all the good things in the palace whereas the two other ones the ugallu and the house god are there to keep everything bad or any bad influences or malevolent intentions outside of the palace. The location of these reliefs was very carefully studied and it was decided by experts in the palace so the best protection could be provided and each palace had its own scheme of protective figures and where they were placed. We also know through the reliefs that Assyrian kings planted gardens alongside their palaces. They collected rare plants and animals as well from across the empire kind of in a way to reproduce the empire at a smaller scale near their palace. So in the gardens you would find gazelles, deers you would find lions as well. And the representations of these gardens always give an idea of paradise on earth and it was showing that the king was able to bring abundance to his palace. We can see some ideally garden scenes in Ashurbanipal palace a scene of a lion and a lioness calmly and peacefully resting in a garden but we also have a relief that shows two musicians in a garden and a lion who is just walking past them. So seeing all of these reliefs in the palaces really showed that the king was absolutely indisputable he could subdue all or any of his opponents and he was a direct representative of the gods he was protected by them but he was also able to bring abundance to his realm he was able to protect his people and he was able to tame the chaos he was able to kill the lions he was even able to just domesticize them in his gardens.