The Siege of Lachish: History from Both the Victors and Defeated
The siege of Lachish was an event that happened in 701 BC. During this incident, the Israelite settlement of Lachish was besieged and conquered by the Assyrians. It is often said that “History is written by the victors,” but the siege of Lachish is different from many other ancient battles in that we have information about this event from the perspective of both the victors (the Assyrians) and the losers (the Israelites). For the former, there is a set of Assyrian stone panels known as the Lachish Reliefs, whilst for the latter, there is the Hebrew Bible.
Assyrian Relief - History
Skinning A Captive Alive
Illustration of an Assyrian Skinning a Prisoner
This sketch is from a wall relief depicting chief of the executioners flaying or skinning a captive alive. The wall relief was discovered among the ruins of the "Hall of Judgment" at an ancient Assyrian palace at Khorsabad.
The relief depicts a naked man with his limbs outstretched and his wrists and ankles fastened to the floor or wall. Standing above him is a large bearded man who is peeling his skin off. The bearded man is the "chief of the executioners" doing his horrible work.
There are many examples revealing Assyrian severity. A captured king was taken to the capital and compelled to pull the royal chariot of triumph.
Rings were put through their lips or noses and sometimes hands, feet, noses and ears were cut off, they were blinded and their tongues were torn from their mouths. Prisoners were skinned alive and set on fire.
Their skins were also hung near enemy city gates in order to collect tribute.
The Lord allowed the ruthless Assyrians to capture the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC because of Israel's rebellion against Him. They were never seen again.
The Bible mentions the "Assyrians"
Jeremiah 2:18 - And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?
2 Kings 16:10 - And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that [was] at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof.
2 Kings 19:4 - It may be the LORD thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that are left.
Isaiah 37:4 - It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left.
Jeremiah 2:36 - Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria.
2 Chronicles 32:9 - After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he [himself laid siege] against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that [were] at Jerusalem, saying,
2 Chronicles 30:6 - So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.
2 Kings 16:7 - So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I [am] thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me.
2 Kings 18:9 - And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which [was] the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, [that] Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.
2 Kings 18:17 - And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which [is] in the highway of the fuller's field.
2 Kings 17:26 - Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land.
2 Kings 17:24 - And the king of Assyria brought [men] from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed [them] in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.
2 Kings 20:6 - And I will add unto thy days fifteen years and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
2 Chronicles 28:21 - For Ahaz took away a portion [out] of the house of the LORD, and [out] of the house of the king, and of the princes, and gave [it] unto the king of Assyria: but he helped him not.
Zechariah 10:10 - I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon and [place] shall not be found for them.
Jeremiah 50:17 - Israel [is] a scattered sheep the lions have driven [him] away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.
2 Kings 18:16 - At that time did Hezekiah cut off [the gold from] the doors of the temple of the LORD, and [from] the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
Isaiah 36:8 - Now therefore give pledges, I pray thee, to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
Nehemiah 9:32 - Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.
Micah 5:6 - And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver [us] from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.
2 Kings 23:29 - In his days Pharaohnechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Isaiah 27:13 - And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Isaiah 36:2 - And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.
2 Kings 18:23 - Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
2 Kings 18:28 - Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria:
2 Kings 19:10 - Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Isaiah 36:13 - Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 15:19 - [And] Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand.
2 Kings 16:8 - And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent [it for] a present to the king of Assyria.
PODCAST: Assyrian Reliefs Tell the Story of an Empire
With a powerful empire centered on the Tigris River—today in northern Iraq—the Assyrians were one of the great and formative cultures of the ancient world. They used their military might to conquer and control an extensive territory, which at its peak in the seventh century BCE reached from Syria in the West into Turkey and Iran in the North. Today, much is known about Assyrian culture because of the sheer number of texts and narrative artworks they left behind. In particular, their shallow relief sculptures depict nuanced portrayals of battles, mythology, and court life. These stone reliefs decorated both public and private spaces in Assyrian palaces. Their detail and expressiveness make them among the most beautiful and important works of ancient art that exist today.
In this episode, Getty Museum director Timothy Potts discusses Assyrian culture and its masterful relief sculptures. A selection of these sculptures is on loan from the British Museum to the Getty Villa through September 2022 and will be on view when the Museum reopens to the public in 2021.
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JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, President of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
TIMOTHY POTTS: The reliefs show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and sometimes flayed alive. I mean it’s absolutely brutal, and it was intended to intimidate.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Tim Potts, Director of the Getty Museum, about the Getty exhibition Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq.
Between the ninth and the seventh centuries BCE, when the small kingdom of Assyria in northern Iraq expanded to dominate the area from Egypt to Iran, exquisite and extraordinary relief sculptures were commissioned to decorate the walls of palaces. These reliefs told stories of the power of kings, from Ashurnasirpal II to Ashurbanipal, the last and most powerful Assyrian king, who ruled when the reach and power of Assyria was at its height.
The Getty Villa has devoted a gallery to these sculptures, a selection of which are on loan from the British Museum. They have been conserved and presented to the public at the British Museum since their excavation in the middle of the 19th century.
I recently spoke with Tim Potts, director of the Getty Museum and a specialist in the art of the ancient Near East, to discuss these sculptures.
The Getty Villa has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we discussed them remotely, relying on the beautiful reproductions from the book Assyrian Palace Sculptures, published by Getty Publications in association with the British Museum. The exhibition will be on view through August 2022. I look forward to the time when the gallery will be reopened and the public can view these sculptures in person once again.
CUNO: Well, thanks for joining me on this podcast, Tim. Situate the Assyrian Empire for us, chronologically, geographically, and historically.
POTTS: Well, the Assyrians were one of the great cultures and great empires of the ancient world. The culture we’re going to be talking about, the Neo-Assyrian period, as it’s called, runs from about 900 BC to 600 BC. So around three centuries. But there had been, in previous periods, other Assyrian rulers and periods when Assyria was quite a major power, before the first millennium BC. Their heartland is in— on the Tigris River, in northern Iraq. And so the northern part of the twin cultures of Assyria and Babylonia. Babylon is more or less in the middle of modern Iraq, where the Tigris and the Euphrates come closest together. Babylon is on the Euphrates, though, and the Assyrian capitals, the oldest of them was Ashur itself. Then Nineveh, and then Khorsabad and Nimrud. These are all on the Tigris, and they’re some hundreds of kilometers to the north, into the foothills of the mountains, which then reach up into Turkey and to Armenia. So it borders on parts of Iran and Turkey to its north, and Syria to its west.
So it’s in the part of Iraq which is— does receive rainfall, and therefore, they can have rain-fed agriculture. So it is relatively fertile and they were able to grow crops, have animals, sheep and so on, in pastures. But really, it was the economy, driven by the empire, that sustained it. The army, based on the conquests they could make and the tribute they would draw then from the areas that they had conquered.
And they were, of course, feared and renowned throughout the ancient world, because their army was this extraordinarily effective military machine, which allowed them to conquer in pretty well all directions. Their neighbors to the south, the Babylonians the Elamites, and others in Iran north into the territories of the Urartians and others in Turkey and westwards right through Syria and down the Levant, through Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and so on, right down, at times, even to Egypt.
So it became the greatest empire that had been known, by the seventh century BC, and was, because of this, known vaguely to the Greek historians writing some centuries later. It’s referenced occasionally also in the Old Testament, in the Bible. So there were glimmers of knowledge about it through the Classical and Biblical texts but it was only with the excavation that started in the middle of the nineteenth century by Layard and others that brought to light the actual physical remains of the great palaces of the Assyrian kings, in the late 1840s and fifties. That’s what really brought this culture alive and made it real to us in the modern period.
CUNO: Now, we talked about the agricultural wealth of the region. It’s also known and famous for being a city-state culture. Much is written about the development of cities in ancient Mesopotamia. Some of which, I gather, like Uruk, may have been populated by as many as 40- to 50,000 people, some 5,000 years ago. How do we know so much about these cities, and how did they grow to be so magnificent in scale or size?
POTTS: Basically, through archeology. Starting with the excavations in the middle of the nineteenth century, and they’ve continued ever since. And they have allowed us to trace, really, the origins of civilization as we know it. The very earliest cities that have been discovered anywhere in the world, with major architecture, with temples and other major public buildings, and forms of early writing and other bureaucratic controls and structured societies with administrations and so on. These things appear first in Mesopotamia, in the parts of Babylonia that were known as ancient Sumer. The peoples living there were these Sumerians. The most famous of these cities, and in some ways the earliest, was Uruk, which is even referred to in the Bible as Erech, as one of the great cities of antiquity, long before Biblical times.
But these have been excavated since the late nineteenth century, and many of the buildings exposed, and the early clay tablets on which the first writings were made. So we do know that this was, as far as we know, the earliest of these great early civilizations, followed soon after by the Egyptians. But it’s what gives the region of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent around it the sort of accolade of being the cradle of civilization.
CUNO: What was the basis of their economies and the character of their culture?
POTTS: Well, they were different geographically and economically. One of the key differences, is those regions which relied on rain-fed agriculture, like the Fertile Crescent itself which includes Assyria in the north. But further south, when you get to Babylonia, where it’s totally flat floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, all of the ability to live there depends crucially on irrigation agriculture. And indeed, that connects with the whole phenomenon of early urbanism and large settlements taking place, because the theory is that it’s only through having sophisticated enough administrative and organizational capabilities that canals that could bring the irrigation, the water to the fields through irrigation, was possible.
That in both cases, it was the developed economies and, if you like, political and military capabilities of these societies which allowed them to draw exports from beyond Mesopotamia—where most of the metals, stones, woods, and other raw materials that they needed were. So either they would, through their military capabilities, conquer these regions or, through negotiations, they would be able to trade with regions beyond Mesopotamia. That was how they supported the lavish artistic production, the architectural constructions they created, and so on.
CUNO: You mentioned earlier about the language that we have access to now that can tell us much about the history, and the characters of the cities of the ancient Mesopotamian area. Tell us about that language and how it was that it was discovered and how it was that we come to know so much from it.
POTTS: Sure. The earliest language we know of in Mesopotamia are written in what we know as Sumerian. It’s a language which seems not to be related to any other known language, in terms of its grammar and structure. But, of course, the Mesopotamians themselves often would do bilingual inscriptions, where they give the Sumerian version and then also the Akkadian version. We can now read Sumerian fairly well. That is the predominant language from about 3500, when we have the very earliest texts that we know of, down to about 2500 BC.
But thereafter, the predominant language is what’s known as Akkadian, meaning the language of the people of Akkad. And this is a Semitic language, and there were two major dialects of Akkadian. The northern dialect, which is known as Assyrian—so that’s the language that our Assyrians are taught, speaking—and the southern dialect is Babylonian. And it’s somewhat debated whether we should consider these separate languages or just different dialects of the same language. But certainly, if you knew Assyrian, you could make yourself understood in Babylonian and vice versa.
So these are the languages which predominated in Mesopotamia and much of the Near East for diplomatic purposes right from 3000 BC or so right up till the first century AD. So a period of over 3,000 years when the last cuneiform inscription in a Mesopotamian language was written. And the language is tied very much to the script of cuneiform. The two seem to go together. But during the Assyrian period, Aramaic comes on the scene as the major everyday competitor to Assyrian and Babylonian.
The cuneiform script developed in Mesopotamia by the Babylonians and Assyrians is not alphabetic. Because the cuneiform form script involves signs that are partly syllabic, partly alphabetic, for vowels, but many of the signs represent whole words, it’s quite a complicated system of writing, unlike the Aramaic script, which being alphabetic, could be learned by anyone. It was only around twenty or so signs altogether, whereas cuneiform involves over 600 different signs.
And from the eighth century BC, we know that scribes in Assyria were writing not only Assyrian inscriptions in the cuneiform script on clay tablets, but they were also, on parchment, writing in Aramaic, in the alphabetic script. And Aramaic by then, from the eighth century on, increasingly becomes the everyday language, not only in Mesopotamia, but right through Syria and down the Levant, down to Lebanon and Israel, Judah, and so on.
CUNO: How did modern people crack the code to come to understand the language?
POTTS: Ah. Very interesting story. The first breakthrough, and the key one really, was an inscription by the Persian King Darius, at the site of Bisitun, in western Persia. He’s recording, basically, how he became king. And he has the story inscribed in three different languages: in Elamite, which was the native language of the peoples living in southwestern Iran, and the one culture of the region which was literate. And that uses a version of the cuneiform script. Then he has it also written in Babylonian, and then thirdly, in Old Persian, the language of the Akkemid Persian kings themselves.
And through some very clever assumptions about what are the likely names to appear in these inscriptions by the early scholars, they were able to decipher first the Old Persian cuneiform script and then having that in hand, could then address the Akkadian script, figure out what the phonetic values of the signs in the Akkadian script were and from that, eventually they figured out that it was a Semitic language. This was all done within a couple of decades. And in the early 1850s, it was declared that the language of the Assyrian inscriptions had indeed been deciphered.
CUNO: And not only did we learn the language itself, but we learned about great figures who were documented in the language and texts that were left behind. And one of them is Hammurabi. Tell us about him.
POTTS: Yes. Hammurabi is one of the great figures in Mesopotamian history. He was King of Babylon in the eighteenth century BC. And he’s most famous today for the law code that he had issued, which is preserved in the Louvre Museum in Paris. It’s a dark stone obelisk with an image of a god and the king receiving the audience of the god at the top. But on the obelisk is inscribed this long law code. And it describes what are the regulations and what are the punishments for various misdemeanors and other punishable events. From his point of view, the promulgation of the law code probably was a relatively minor event. He was also, though, a great conqueror. It was during his reign and that of his successors for about 200 years that the southern kingdom of Babylonia really had one of its most prosperous and most important periods of influence over Mesopotamia as a whole.
CUNO: Tell us about the rise of Assyria as a political force, out of all this rich context of structure and literature and history.
POTTS: The Assyrians first become [a] major political military force around the same time as Hammurabi, in the twentieth and nineteenth and down to the eighteenth century BC. In the centuries following then, both north and south of Mesopotamia somewhat go into decline. There may have been some climatic changes and perhaps a drought in the latter years of the second millennium BC. And it’s only around 900 BC that Assyria rises and becomes again a very major power.
In the meantime, there’d been a very dramatic dislocation culturally and historically throughout much of the Near East. Around 1200 BC, what we call the end of the Bronze Age, a series of important, powerful empires had been destroyed or very severely weakened. And there had been battles right through from the Aegean Sea, with the Greeks and the Philistines being pushed westwards, and migrants then flooding into other regions, causing the collapses of the kingdoms in Turkey, in Syria, in Lebanon, and right down to the borders of Egypt, where these Peoples of the Sea, as they were called, were eventually repulsed.
So there’d been a lot of disruption throughout the Near East, and in that vacuum, the Assyrians emerge, as I say, shortly after 900. The principle founding figure of the revival is King Ashurnasirpal II. And it’s him and his successors down to about 600 BC who are able to, through a combination of shrewd leadership and, basically, it’s all dependent on the strength and effectiveness of the Assyrian war machine, which is built up. And of course, once you’ve conquered a few territories, it’s the horses, it’s the manpower, the prisoners, slaves, if you like, but also the goods that they have—the metals, the stones, and the other commodities that they depend on for arms and armor and so on. And of course, once they’ve conquered them, they conscript all of their soldiers and war machinery and so on, into the Assyrian Army, and it became this extraordinary fighting machine, which was absolutely brutal and ruthless in its effectiveness.
CUNO: So it was an incredibly martial culture, and it’s said that every spring, the Assyrian king would go out and muster his troops and go out onto a military campaign, from which he would return with, in one case: forty chariots equipped with the trappings of men and horses 460 horses, broken to the yoke two talents of silver two talents of gold 100 talents of lead 100 talents of copper 300 talents of iron 1,000 vessels of copper 2,000 pans of copper bowls and cauldrons of copper 1,000 brightly colored garments of wool and linen tables of shahwood and couches made of ivory and overlaid with gold, from the ruler’s palace 2,000 heads of cattle 5,000 sheep and on and on and on.
So let’s turn attention to the great palace relief sculptures, the subject of the exhibition. Get that sense of this military might that’s documented in the reliefs, sculpture reliefs, that we’re going to talk about.
POTTS: And they’re unique, in a way, in the extent to which they visually recreate, through the reliefs in their own palaces, their conquests. And they show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and sometimes flayed alive. I mean, it’s absolutely brutal. And it was intended to intimidate and cause, you know, people to be— shake and quiver at the thought that this could be what happens to them, if they don’t toe the line. So it was this extremely, as it were, brutal society.
Among the Assyrians, particularly at the level of the court and some of the kings themselves—like Ashurbanipal, who we’ll talk about later—were extremely educated, multilingual, highly literate individuals, who had vast libraries of literature and scientific, mathematical, medical, and other texts as part of their private libraries. So we do have to qualify our image of the Assyrians with the knowledge that the court life was a very culturally rich and sophisticated experience.
CUNO: In the catalogue for the exhibition there are great images of the battles being waged. In one case, of course, there’s a campaign or a battle being waged between men with weapons of arrows, and they’re shooting back and forth from a set of towers around a fortress-like structure and then another one from a siege tower, which is a great big wheeled vehicle with a big iron, I suppose, device in front that would knock down buildings. So they were quite sophisticated in their military equipment.
POTTS: Yes. They had siege machines that they’d ram. Basically, rams to— They would run up to the walls, trying to dislodge stones, so that the walls would begin to collapse, or on the wooden gates that the cities had. So they had sophisticated military equipment, that’s for sure. And it was very effective.
And the consequences of rebelling were very drastic. This is when, if you were conquered you would pay tribute, but the people would not be punished. But if you rebelled from Assyrian control once you’d become a province or once you’d become a subject of a king who had been, as it were, authorized by the Assyrians as a client kingdom, if you rebelled at that point, you know, it was the wrath of, if not God, the Assyrians that came down on you. And it was brutal.
CUNO: Now, these images that we have of the battles being waged all decorated these great big palaces on the inside and on the outside? And if on both the inside and the outside, were they meant to be seen by different kinds of people? That one was meant to be seen inside, by the court, that would sort of pay tribute to the value of the court and the outside by those who were meant to be sort of disciplined by the images to behave in certain kinds of ways?
POTTS: The stone reliefs are essentially on the insides of rooms and galleries, both public spaces, sort of court audience halls, and also the private quarters of the king and his family. There were, however, on the outside of the walls of the palaces and of the interior courtyards, there were sometimes painted decorations on plaster. Of course, they don’t survive as well as the stone reliefs. And also, higher up, there were decorated glazed tile decorations in the walls, which again, don’t survive nearly as well and are rather fragmentary.
So most of what we know about Assyrian art, and certainly the most dramatic and impressive and sophisticated, are the stone reliefs which were on the interiors of the spaces. We see them today, of course, as stone reliefs. And they’re made out of gypsum and, less often, limestone. For sure, they were partly painted. The beards are usually painted black, for instance. The hair is black. Sometimes areas of the garments and even the flesh is red. And there’s evidence of blue and yellow and green on the trees and things. It rarely survives.
But the few panels on which we do get clear evidence of the painting have allowed us to reconstruct what these reliefs would’ve looked like when they were freshly painted. It is odd because to our eyes, the painting of them, as it were, detracts from, in a sense, the antique quality of them as ancient objects. They look too fresh and too colorful. But that was the way they were seen in ancient times.
CUNO: So we mentioned Ashurnasirpal already. And he was, I gather, the first Assyrian king to use this great relief decoration so extensively in his architecture. It’s said he probably resided in Nineveh, an ancient city on the outskirts of Mosul, but that he then took up residence in the site of Kalhu, in modern Nimrud?
POTTS: Well, yes. Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city. And it goes right back to the third millennium BC, and there were Assyrian kings who had used it. It was one of the major Assyrian cities, and so there’d been temples and palaces and so on in Nineveh. So when he came to the throne, that was— together with Ashur, Nineveh was the other major Assyrian center.
But quickly, once he’d become king, he decided to build a major new city a bit to the south, at Nimrud. It’s about thirty kilometers, 30, 35 kilometers south, so not that far away. And also on the Tigris River, near the— where it joins the Zab.
It’s not entirely clear why he moved his capital there. Probably largely because he wanted, as the great new king who had been hugely successful, had begun to build this very powerful empire, I think probably that he wanted, as it were, his own city, which he could take full credit for and build on a scale that he thought was befitting his magnificence.
He tells us how he celebrated its opening with a guest list of nearly 70,000 people, over a number of days. And lined the walls with literally many, many hundreds of meters of these stone reliefs, which en masse, would have, of course, been this hugely impressive, not to say intimidating and horrifying, experience. But the intimidation was a large part of their purpose. As well as keeping evil forces at bay, because a lot of the scenes are also magical figures, hybrids of human and animal forces, which were manifestations of demons and spirits that, as I said, would guard the king and keep evil forces and malign, you know, diseases and so on at bay.
CUNO: Well, the sculptures are exquisitely carved in this shallow relief in which figures are distinguished one from another within just about an inch or so of depth. It’s extraordinary that they were able to document, as it were, the kind of life of the court or the ambitions of the court so exquisitely. What do we know about the culture of the court of Ashurnasirpal, and about the importance, for example, of the lion hunt that features so prominently in the sculptures?
POTTS: Yes, the lion hunt recurs throughout Assyria, and, indeed, in many other cultures of the period. The lion was seen as the, as it were, the equivalent of the king in the animal kingdom. And so, in a way, a symbol of kingship. But the actual king, by hunting the lion, is showing his superior kingly power and prowess.
So from Ashurnasirpal on, you find, in Assyrian art, these images of the king doing battle with the lion. Either more safely, if you could say so, from the platform of a chariot, where he has someone driving the chariot, and there’s the king with his bow and arrow, shooting arrows into the lion. At other times, he’s actually just standing, grasping the lion by one of its front paws, as he stabs him with the dagger, into the body of the lion.
But the hunting of the lions, both in a natural setting, in the real landscape, and also in parks that were created as, as it were, hunting grounds within the city—and we know that there was one of these in Nineveh—this was also something that the Assyrians did. They would perhaps even breed the lions, if not capturing them from the wild, and then release them in these parks, where the king would then be able to dispatch them.
CUNO: We see these soldiers and fighters crossing great rolling rivers. And I suppose the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are quite like that, because they’re quite substantial in size and in force or power. They’ve got animal skins that are inflated with air to help keep them buoyant as they swim through the water. We’ve got fish going through the water, we’ve got boats in the water, we have horses running through the water.
POTTS: I think this is actually more likely to be part of a description of a stage in the battle. You do get these figures, as you say. They need to get across the river. And it is interesting. What I think you’re also alluding to is how the Assyrians are so observant, in terms of these details of behavior—what people are doing, the dress they have, their hairdos, their facial characteristics. Even though they don’t rise to the level of what we would think of as portraits, they’re very alert to the differences which distinguish peoples of, you know, different backgrounds, cultures, or regions. And we see equally with the animals—and this goes back to the lion hunts—the extraordinary, it does seem like sympathy they have for these poor lions. You know, in the representations, they have five or six arrows sticking into them. So they’re collapsing on the ground or on their backs, and some of them sort of roaring in pain. The attention to, or the sense of pathos in their representations of the animals that the king and his entourage are killing is extraordinary. I think it’s the aspect of Assyrian art that does, in a way, balance the rather brutal battle scenes.
CUNO: So in subsequent rulers like Sargon II and his son Sennacherib, we see depictions of hunting on a kind of domestic scale. Not just kind of a kind of royal or dramatic scale, but hunting animals for food to eat, but we also see them building structures. We see them mounting walls and great fortresses and things. This sense of being able to both document the ambitious activities of a ruler and the daily activities of just hunting and eating and building the walls that everyone’s going to have to use for protection, there’s a kind of documentary approach to it, I guess I’m trying to say. Is that common throughout the relief sculptures, or this unique to Sargon II?
POTTS: You’re absolutely right, it’s a part of the representation of the king’s great works: conquering foreign nations, bringing the tribute that comes and flows back to Assyria from there, then creating these great palaces and aqueducts and gardens and so on. But I think the other part of it that is so extraordinary is the attention to these details of the daily life of not just what the king’s doing or, you know, his generals and the army, but what the people normally behind the scenes are doing. Someone’s, you know, captured a rabbit and is carrying it back to cook for dinner.
There are these everyday details that you, in a way, wouldn’t expect. They don’t have, as it were, an ideological reason to be including them. But they do very much add to the sense of reality of what these images are depicting. So who knows if it was the king instructed that he wanted these things to be in the images or whether that was something that the vizier or someone else might’ve decided would have a certain effect. We don’t really know, of course. We’re guessing. But it is remarkable that as well as these hugely ideologically-driven representations of conquests and victory and superiority over the animal kingdom, there are these vignettes of everyday life that absolutely bring it to life for us, in ways that very few ancient cultures have ever done.
CUNO: So now we get to Ashurbanipal, who’s the last great king of Assyria. There’s an extraordinary scene in one of the great palace reliefs, which show these figures who’ve been killed, mutilated, their bodies floating in the water accompanied by the fish that are swimming through their legs and arms and so forth accompanied onshore by a group of musicians, who are playing harps as they’re walking along. You get the sense that there’s kind of an accompaniment of this kind of military loss of life in the water, with this performance of music on land. Tell us about Ashurbanipal and the greatness of his reign.
POTTS: Yeah. Ashurbanipal’s the last of the great kings of Assyria, in the seventh century BC. He rules till about 630, and then it’s only another twenty years before the empire comes crashing down. And the reliefs you’re referring to are from the representation of his conquest of Elam.
The Elamites are the nation to the southeast of Assyria, in what is now southwestern Iran. And they had been adversaries of the Mesopotamians right throughout history. Sometimes the Babylonians would ally with them against the Assyrians, or the Assyrians would ally with the Babylonians against the Medes or whatever. So there’s this triangle of shifting alliances. But at this point, Ashurbanipal is ruling an empire which is all the way from Egypt and up through the Levant and Lebanon, Syria, and then through Assyria and down into Babylon.
They have had a number of recent encounters with the Elamites and, at this point, Ashurbanipal decides, this is enough. And he invades Elam, with the intention of destroying the capital city of Susa, which he does, effectively. And this is the great Battle of Til-Tuba, a site on the Ulai River just on the border between modern Iran and Iraq. And it’s absolutely graphic detail.
These reliefs are large. There are no, as it were, ground lines in them, the way some of the earlier reliefs are split into two, or even three, registers on a more or less horizontal ground line. These images are all over with figures. The chaos of battle is represented in a very vivid way, with people stumbling, being beheaded or being helped along or whatever.
And it is an extraordinary achievement in conceiving how you represent in, you know, essentially linear visual terms, the chaos of battle and the progression of events from moment to moment. You actually can follow the narrative of the Elamite kings being pursued by the Assyrians. They try to escape on a chariot. They then get thrown out of the chariot. The Assyrians run after them and are able to decapitate both the king and his son. And then the heads get carried back to the King Ashurbanipal and so on. There are cuneiform inscriptions which actually tell us, in captions, what’s happening at the various points in it. So they’re fascinatingly complex, but wonderfully rich descriptions of these battles, which normally we only ever have in written annals in other cultures.
CUNO: The reliefs create a sense of movement across the surface, almost as if they’re a kind of filmstrip, in a way, the sense of dynamics, of structures you described so well. But there also was a library Ashurbanipal had. And the contents of the library are known, I think. Tell us about that library and its— what role it played, what role literature played in the culture.
POTTS: Yeah. The library of Ashurbanipal is one of the marvels of the ancient world. The British Museum has some 30,000 tablets and fragments of tablets that were recovered by Layard in the 1840s and fifties, and a few after then. So it’s the great repository of the library of Ashurbanipal, which he assembled in the period of his reign, in the middle of the seventh century BC. It was a massive undertaking.
And he tells us himself, in his inscriptions, how he was trained in the scribal arts, how he could read the most obscure Sumerian and other inscriptions. And he’s being taught the wisdom of Adapa—one of the great wise people of the Mesopotamian past. And that he can decipher these very obscure omens and mathematical texts, and none of this is beyond him, and he knows all of these languages. His father and perhaps his grandfather, Sennacherib, also, had had a certain number of texts. And so he didn’t start from scratch.
But he made an effort and sent his scholars to Babylonia, and basically pillaged all of the libraries of Babylonia for all of their literary texts, their omen texts, their wisdom literature, their medical texts, their mathematical and astronomical—basically all of the learning. All of the university research centers of Babylonia were pillaged by Ashurbanipal. And after he’d conquered Babylonia, rather than just requesting copies of these inscriptions, which he’d previously done, he’d just sent the troops in and they took a lot of these documents and brought them back to Nineveh.
So like the library of Alexandria in Egypt, this was, you know, 600 years earlier, the great library of the cuneiform world. So it’s been a huge insight into one of the great cultures of antiquity.
CUNO: Well, this exhibition of the great palace reliefs from Assyria that you’ve put together for us here at the Getty is quite extraordinary. It makes you wonder what brought down the empire so dramatically. It was at the height of its power and then it just collapsed, it seems.
POTTS: Yeah. That is, of course, as usual, it’s a little bit of a conundrum, and the various theories have been proposed. I think there are a number of factors.
One is that the traditional sort of elders and, if you like, noble families that had been the basis of the Assyrian administration— There’d been a series of purges in the time of Ashurbanipal’s father and grandfather, which was Esarhaddon and Sennacherib. And the eunuchs, you know, the castrated males who are, you know, safe. They couldn’t have children, so they couldn’t want to usurp the king and put their child on the throne and so on. The administration at the highest levels around the court was increasingly managed by these eunuchs. So the administration and the bureaucracy of the court was certainly different than it had been in previous regimes. And in some ways, perhaps less stable and less able. Some of the most able people had been marginalized, and others that— who they thought they could rely on their loyalty, had been brought in. So that may be one factor.
The other was this problem that empires often have of overreach. This was the time when Ashurbanipal was controlling all the way from Egypt, right up the Levant, Syria, through Mesopotamia. And now he’s just conquered and destroyed Elam. And there were the other peoples in the mountains north of Elam, including the Medes. So to defend his empire, he would’ve had to defend a really huge amount of territory. So that was already going to be, obviously, a stretch.
There seems also to be some evidence that there might’ve been a drought in the latter seventh century BC. And since so much of the imperial control depended on forcibly relocating peoples to different regions of the empire, including to Assyria, it seems that there might have been a large increase in the population of Assyria, which of course, required feeding and infrastructure and so on. So that was putting a strain on the system.
But the final straw, and the one that really broke the camel’s back, was that, as usual, Ashurbanipal was in conflict with the kings in Babylonia to the south. But then a new king comes along, Nebabulassa, who is very dynamic and very successful militarily. So Babylon is resurgent. And they start flexing their muscle against the Assyrians, and importantly, enter an alliance with the Medes. And the Medes are the first great power of ancient Iran, other than the Elamites, to have appeared. And they’re an Iranian people, as were the Persians. They seem to be close cousins of the Persians, who come later, a few centuries later, into prominence, of course.
So the Babylonians, they see an opportunity to ally with the Medes. And the Medes had been conquered, also, by the Assyrians, so they had every reason not to want the Assyrians to survive. So the Babylonians and the Medes get together. They invade in concert in 614 BC. They’re able to conquer the original capital of Ashur. And then in 612, they besiege Nineveh itself, where the king reigning at that point is the son of Ashurbanipal. And after a few months, they’re able to take Nineveh, the greatest and grandest of the Assyrian capitals that’s left standing. And they do take it.
The king of Assyria is killed. Many of the reliefs are mutilated. They loot the place, loot and pillage. This is their moment to get back for all that they have suffered under Assyrian control over many centuries now. And so the Assyrian Empire basically dies. A princeling does maintain an outpost in a site called Haram, in the border with Turkey. But that, too, is the Medes and the Babylonians together defeat him in 609 BC. So the kingdom is gone and basically Assyria as a living culture disappears. The Babylonians continue the tradition in the south but Assyria essentially comes to an end at the end of the seventh century BC.
CUNO: Well, Tim, it’s a powerful and beautiful exhibition. It’s closed now because of COVID-19, but it was open before the pandemic hit. And it will be with us for another two years, at least, so we know we’ll see it again when the pandemic passes. What is the commitment from the British Museum?
POTTS: Well, the material will, of course, go back. We’ll have it for what will be three years. It may be possible to extend it a little bit. But these are some of the most important reliefs of any that the British Museum has, and it is the great collection of this material anywhere in the world. They are, you know, amongst the greatest masterpieces of ancient art that have survived. So they will go back to the British Museum, but we are incredibly privileged to have them for these few years at the Getty Villa. And I hope many more of our visitors, as you say, will be able to come and enjoy them, once we’re through the COVID period.
CUNO: Well, we thank you for bringing them to Los Angeles and to the Getty, and we look forward to seeing them again, as you say, once the pandemic allows us to gain access to the galleries. So thank you again, very much.
This episode was produced by Zoe Goldman, with audio production by Gideon Brower and mixing by Mike Dodge Weiskopf. Our theme music comes from the “The Dharma at Big Sur” composed by John Adams, for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003, and is licensed with permission from Hendon Music. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms. For photos, transcripts, and more resources, visit getty.edu/podcasts/ or if you have a question, or an idea for an upcoming episode, write to us at [email protected] Thanks for listening.
JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, President of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
TIMOTHY POTTS: The reliefs show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and .
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824
Fall Arts Preview - Times 100
How to wade through the crush of culture coming your way this season? Here’s a guide to 100 events that have us especially excited, in order of appearance.
In a smaller, separate related panel nearby, the chaos has passed. A post-skirmish banquet is in progress, with the Assyrian king and his queen decorously toasting each other in a garden. The equanimity produced by just rule appears to prevail. But if you look carefully up to the left, you’ll see a severed head — of the vanquished Elamite king — hanging in a tree.
You’ll also notice something odd about the faces of the royal couple: In an otherwise pristine carving, their eyes have been gouged and their noses and mouths chiseled away. They may have been vandalized by soldiers in the Babylonian armies that brought Assyria down in the early seventh century. No power lasts forever. And as much as the Met show is a display of imperial might, it is also a roll call of states and kingdoms gone — Elamite, Philistine, Hittite — leaving their DNA embedded in art that itself has only barely survived.
In one case, the disaster was modern. In the early 20th century, the German archaeologist Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946) shipped a cache of monumental stone Syro-Hittite sculptures from northeastern Syria to Berlin, where he kept them stored in a former iron foundry. During an Allied air attack in 1943, the foundry was bombed and went up in flames. When hoses were trained on the smoldering ruins, many of the still-hot basalt sculptures exploded.
Nearly 30,000 fragments were preserved, and, in 2001, painstaking restoration began. One example of it, a six-foot-long statue of a creature with a human head, a bird’s body and a scorpion’s tail, is in the show. In its original palace setting, it served as a fearsome gatekeeper. In its present blown-apart, patched-together state, it looks unsightly and almost illegible, an irreversibly maimed casualty of war.
For obvious reasons, less conspicuous, packable objects have always had a better a chance of staying out of harm’s way, and the show, organized by Joan Aruz, curator in charge of the museum’s Near Eastern art department, is rich in them. Assyria certainly produced its share: A smartphone-size ivory relief of a lioness attacking — or is it embracing? — a young man is one of the outstanding things and, on loan from the British Museum, one of the great sculptures in New York at present. (A matching version, even better preserved, was looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003.)
But when it came to moving precious portables around, the Phoenicians — merchants by trade, explorers by nature, whose city-state lined the Levantine coast — commanded the field. In a sense, they are, with Assyrians, the show’s other great Iron Age power, though in a recessive, businesslike way. Assyria’s might was strictly land based Phoenicians plied the sea, coming and going from ports in Lebanon and Syria to Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, dropping off and picking up as they went.
Through objects they created, or copied or transported, their presence is everywhere: It’s there in a gleaming gilded silver bowl with Assyrian and Egyptian divinities in a clinch at its center in cosmetic boxes made from giant seashells, a luxury item in vogue from Greece to Mesopotamia and in statuettes of gods and demons so widely and commonly traveled that they were unlikely to be considered entirely foreign anywhere. Thanks in part to Phoenician mobility, Etruscans in central Italy, citizens of Cyprus, and Babylonians in southern Iraq were, at least in their art, on a cosmopolitan par.
At the end of the seventh century, more change. Babylonia became the new Assyria, as ruthless as its predecessor in erasing resistance, and as ingenious in visually asserting its own imperial brand, most noticeably in glazed brick mosaic images of lions and dragons that covered its palaces. Ahead lay the fluorescence of Classical Greece and the rise of Persia, marching in from the east, sweeping all before it like dust.
Looked at one way, the Met show is basically a story of multiple destructions, a fatalistic narrative sugarcoated with fabulous art. Seen from another angle — and neither view is true without the other — it’s primarily a tale of absolutely stunning human invention, invention inspired by reasons good and bad, but stunning either way. And for certain it’s a story — a reminder — of what museums are for. By telling us what, almost despite ourselves, we’ve managed to keep from the past, it suggests the scope of what we’ve lost and are still in danger of losing, and compels us to make every possible effort to lose no more.
Assyrian Relief - History
( Professor Ibrahim Baz/University of Sirnak) A team of archaeologists is searching Turkey's Mount Cudi (also called Judi Dagh) for the resting place of Noah's Ark. While their investigations have not turned up any new evidence of the fabled ship, they have discovered an ancient Assyrian relief, carved into the stone of the mountain.
The figure shows an aged, bearded man standing tall and holding his right hand up in a gesture of reverence, while holding a staff of office in his left. Bible History Daily reports that Alan Millard, Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Liverpool, believes this is the image of Shamshi-ilu.
Millard explains that since the figure is not wearing any headdress, as might be expected of an Assyrian king, it is more likely that he represents a powerful prefect, such as Shamshi-ilu, who held sway over much of Northern Syria from c. 780 to 745 B.C. Shamshi-ilu left inscriptions in his own name at Til Barsip (modern Tell Akhmar) on the Euphrates, in which he tells of his victorious campaign against places in southeastern Turkey and the kingdom of Urartu, which would have taken him into the vicinity of Judi Dagh.
Noah's Ark has long been believed to be in one of three mountain ranges: Mt. Ararat, Mt. Cudi, and Mt. Nisir. Mt. Ararat is most commonly believed to hold the remains of the ark, as it was described in Genesis as landing in "the mountains of Ararat." However, Mt. Ararat only received this name in the 2nd century, during the Christianization of Syria.
In 1985 former United States Merchant Marine officer David Fasold teamed with self-proclaimed adventurer Ron Wyatt to investigate The Durupınar Site, a boat-shaped mound located south of Mt. Ararat among several unnamed peaks, one of which the Turkish locals refer to as Cudi Dağı.
There were several indicators that this might be the remains of the Ark. According to Wikipedia:
Fasold's team also found what he believed to be drogue stones in the surrounding area, large rocks which would have been tied behind the boat to stabilize it. They also believed that they found the fossilized remains of the upper deck, while the original reed substructure had decomposed.
( Professor Ibrahim Baz/University of Sirnak)
During the 1990s Fasold's views of the site began to change. After several expeditions to the site that included drilling and excavation, he said in an interview, "I believe this may be the oldest running hoax in history. I think we have found what the ancients said was the Ark, but this structure is not Noah's Ark." In a 1997 Australian court hearing he repudiated his belief that this was the site of the Ark, commenting that he regarded the claim as "absolute BS."
However, his close friend and biographer June Dawes reported that before his death in 1998, Fasold returned to his belief that the Durupınar Site is most likely authentic:
We may never discover the final resting place of the Ark, but as long as there are people searching, then we can look forward to more interesting discoveries, such as this Assyrian relief.
Assyria vs Elam: The battle of Til Tuba
August 7th ASSYRIAN MARTYRS DAY
They lived and died so that their Assyrian Nation shall Live.
In memory of our Assyrian Martyrs' a commemoration event was held by
the Assyrian American Association L.A.
Click to see photos
The Assyrian American Association of America, in collaboration with the Assyrian Genocide (Seyfo) Research Center, hosted a memorial event at its community center on August 7, 2017 to commemorate Assyrian Martyrs&rsquo Day. Speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California State Senator Scott Wilk, California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian,, LAUSD Board Member Scott Schmerelson and ANCA-WR Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, among others. The ANCA-WR Board of Directors, staff and interns were present to show solidarity with the Assyrian community.
Click to see photos ----- Click To Read Article
ASSYRIAN MARTYRS' DAY
In Memory of our Assyrian Martyrs Holy Eucharist (Qurbana Qadeesha) will be given 5 PM at
St. Mary's Parish, Assyrian Church of the East, Los Angeles.
At 7 PM there will be a gathering at the
Assyrian American Association of Southern California
5901 Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood CA
Click for more info.
A Message from Congressman Brad Sherman on
Assyrian Martyrs' Day
A Message from Congressman Adam Schiff on
Assyrian Martyrs' Day
My Dear brothers and sisters it is time for us Assyrians to support one another and UNITE.
Let us all stand Firm & United under the Assyrian Flag, for which it represents,
THE ASSYRIAN NATION,
and all good things will come to us.
Spread the word.
Khaya Ator, Khayeetoon Ashurayeh Gabareh.
THE ASSYRIAN NATION
Babylonians neighbors brought the knowledge and techniques applied to artistic creation. The Assyrian people maintained contact points through trade and exchange with many other people around them. This contacts allow them to learn new techniques and even copy some styles besides the one from Babylonia although, they further personalized and make them their own. Among those techniques, the drafting of beautifully decorated polychromatic glazed bricks is the most distinctive and the one the Assyrians used plenty to decorate palaces and temples.
One of the various themes used include, the representation of injured Lions majestically and dramatically represented on low relief decorating their bulidings. These Lions capture the expressions of pain, anguish, pride or ferocity according to which scene the artist represents in the image, doing so with amazing realism.
They also produced stone carving sculptures and paintings in which the theme of the Lions was present with human figures fighting them. Other animals such as the noble horse and ox were also represented.
Assirian relief representing the drama of lion confrontation
Have come to ours days stunning examples of decoration applied to architecture as it is the case of winged protective figures by combining the human image and animal placed in the entries of important buildings Those figures shows a level of detail and care in the termination that always astonishing viewers more if is taking into account they were made at so remote time in the history of humanity is like some how they inherited some previous wisdom.
At Nimrud or Jursabad doors have few huge sculptures acting like guardian, (winged sculptures with human head and five bull leg)
The narrative frieze, which comes from the sequences scenes representation in prints and stamps, will be the most important artistic element of Assyrian art.
The construction of Ziggurat, from Sumer constructive pattern element stays in Assyrian culture as well and reach higher altitude (up to seven platforms), also with the techniques of constructive reinforcement applied.
This monumental proportions produce a grandiloquent imposing effect very well serving the religious adoration and propaganda purposes, as well as the militar and political power who commission them to anonimous artisans.
On its walls are placed reliefs with the story telling of gods and Kings heroic encounters and battles. The incorporation of decorated elements with marble and alabaster highlighted further the splendor of these buildings.The Assyrians Ziggurat had no external stairs, it is amounted to the top by a staircase from the lobby inside the bulilding they also built smaller temples to worship secondary deities.
The exact purpouse of this altitude in Ziggurats could have been as well to achieve some other funtion as well not yet clear, by high magnetisms in those locations make schorlars think that important funtional activities related to worshiping the gods took place in them.
The four most important ancient Assyrian cities were:
– Ashur (by the God Ashur) also named the entire Assyrian region.
– Nimrud (or Calah)
– Nineveh . (For Nina, Goddess of the Assyrians)
The Assyrian palaces
Assyrian palaces were not behind in regard to the diversity of new construction techniques employed.
– They hastens the construction of walls, widening them.
– The semicircular arch system and the elliptical for doors is used with preference.
– Numerous steps give access to the upper levels using some of Sumerian and Babylonian technique’s bud adding their own contribution emphasizing the majestic of palaces and temples.
– Huge doors made in wood and metal has often also carved relieves completing the decoration.
– Large hallways or corridors, communicated the rooms of these palaces with the more important rooms.
– Their Windows shows an innovative technique allowing the entrance of light and more visibility to the outside, but would be effective for the purposes of security.
– These palaces have large court yards that were accessed from galleries with columns made in wood on stone plinth.
The construction of their City-palaces sets new representative elements that directly respond to their idiosyncrasies and particular ways to see life since Assyrians more of the time were inmerse in militar confrontations.
As an example of these city-palaces was the one built by order of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244 BC and 1207 BC) in the city of Ashur, which shows a tendency to the stylization of images that represent the gods, related mainly to their decorative appearance. In them can be appreciate better the representation of normal size human beings figures, which the one who symbolize the gods in huge size in comparison to the humans.
The Assyrians also tried mundane secular subjects in their decorations recounting stories of the daily events of Kings and subjects, trades, farming and elaboration of utensils.
First Assyrian Empire
Towards 1810 BC Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad I managed to extend the territory of Assyria, from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea. He may have been the first ruler to establish a centralized Empire organized in the ancient Middle East. His Kingdom was divided into districts.
This first Assyrian Empire with Shamshi-Adad did not last long, as neither last his son mandate Ishme-Dagan I (from 1780 who was defeated near 1760 BC by the Babylonian King Hammurabi. Assyria became that way part of the Babylonian Empire until the Babylonian defeat at the hands of the Kassites in the 16 century BC.
About 1500 BC Assyria became a dependency of Mitanni, a Kingdom that controlled all the North of Mesopotamia. The Assyrian king Ashur-uballit I around 1364 BC freed Assyria from Mitanni and even annexed some of its territories. This King was followed by others who spread the borders and kept away to neighbors coming to dominate a large area of Mesopotamia.
The ancient Assyrian culture is very well documented in numerous reliefs and tablets that were found by archaeologists, as well as are their works of art discovered in diverse places such as storages, building ruins and tumbs, that were cover trough time by sand and debris. From one of this royal tumbs had been recovered invaluable treasures that show they amazing workmanship skills of the Assyrian civilization. This magnificient artifacts dating from 800 B.C conform the famous “Treasure of Nimrud”.
Their way of looking at life the struggle for survival, achievements and the everyday mundane things, also had an important role in its formation as a culture. They represented those traditions by all means trough artistic creation using whatever they had at its disposal in terms of materials and techniques. There some wonderful relief depicting scenes of royal huntings in the British Museum.
Of the topics addressed by the Assyrian Art the most abundant are the representation of animals including lions and horses as well as images were the bodies parts of animals are fusion with the human figure. Their sculptures and reliefs both tells us about whow they looks like, their clothes, weapons, rituals, farming customs, and their everyday life events. The technique of the relief executed in stone, diorite, metal and clay was an effective means of expression of their beliefs, their culture and their conception of life. These reliefs were made on walls, utility vessels and also those made for the purpose of worship and burial. They combine the decorative purpose with the utilitarian.
Assyrian relief depicting archers shooting at war.
Artistic works were usually performed using the natural elements they have available like stone, alabaster, shells, lapis lazuli, diorite, marble and ivory. They were as well masters in the elaboration of gold and silver objects with practical and decorative use but, exxels as well making bronze objects that mainly used for weapons, shields, spears, sword and knifes.
Hundreds of gods in Mesopotamia were adored who charged importance based on the strength of each ethnic group, region or city. In general there was a great religious tolerance. Marduk and Ashur were two deities that were imposed to the rest, due to the growing influence of Babylonia and Assyria. The strength of the conquerors nevertheless influence on the conquered “tolerance apart”.
They beliefs gods often took human form and visited them depending on their desire to behave like humans. The King considered the Ashur representative on Earth was also the high priest. All these faiths required the maintenance of large temples, priesthoods and offerings to the gods and the files found inscribed on clay tablets showed the need of large quantities in the actual budget for the performance of such activities.
Those writing information as well as the relief found give us an idea of the importance the Assyrian state conceded to the religious matters, although it was not as in the case of Egypt the number one priority, was nevertheless also important.
The Assyrian religion had the following gods which were widely represented in art.
– Ashur (God of the gods) that dwelt in the city of Ashur.
– Ishtar (the battle and love).
– Ninurta (God of hunting and war).
– Samash and Adad (Baal), God of storms, presided over the divination.
– Harran (God of the moon took great importance towards the end of the Assyrian Empire).
– Nin (was also the Moon Goddess), gave its name to Nineveh among the Assyrian cities.
The “epic of Gilgamesh”, was still very popular all over Mesopotamia and Assyria was not the exception. He was a popular heroe who battle evil but as other mystic characters display ambiguous behavior, sometimes was confuse by the imagination of people as a King and cruel demigod who performed great feats, located in the year 2600 BC, whose legend comes from Sumer, therefore also represented in Assyrian art.
Their lust for conquest brought them to seize Babylon and Armenia. About 884 BC it began a long string of victories that put Assyria at the head of the power in a vast region. When Ashur-Nassir-Pal assumes the power his military campaigns and invasions conquered neighboring towns and caused numerous villages’ great devastation. Death and destruction was left behind their stormy pace.
The same great Egypt succumbed to the rise of a fierce but organized army which used clever military strategies that caused heavy casualties to his enemies.
Assyrians civilization main achivements.
As it is typical of such extensive invasions ocurrence a retroinfluence between different cultures both the invaders and the subject peoples receive mutual cultural influences that span to different manifestations. From constructive techniques, architectural design, building materials and artistic creation. Also count musical, language and writing influences. Are not exempt from this list aspects in which the Assyrians were also skilled such as those related to the Organization of States, policy, the creation and specialization of trades, the techniques used in agriculture, the development of branches of knowledge as mathematics, astronomy and medicine.
Cuneiform writing is still used in the clay tablets, seals and even the correspondence. Thanks to it are known so many aspects of the economic system and how they functioned for the Assyrian State. Among the techniques developed by the Assyrian culture in the production of many military armament are: carriages, swords, spears, bows and arrows. The horse-driven two-wheel carts was a very important element who allow their military campaign gain so many battles .
The Assyrians were the first to recognize the advantages of the iron and the bronze as early as 1000 BC their army had been equipped with arms and armor made of iron. These weapons were systematically improved and they were not only strong and effective in combat but they also were often beautifully decorated.
In the year 609 BC the Assyrians troops capitulate after a series of events that weaken the power of the Empire both internally and under the pressure of Babylon and Medes. The great empire Assyrian disappears from history after hundreds of years in control of the region of Mesopotamia and adjacent land and after have been imposed through violence and terror carried out by an army very disciplined and trained to conquer and overwhelm its passage without mercy.
The great empire that succeeded with Tiglath-Pileser III at the head of the power acquire however important knowledge, legacy from the Assyrians in the art and organization of financial administration affairs of the States. This knowledge was put into practice with an effectiveness that the world had not seen up to that point.
Assyrian Relief - History
Prior to World War I, Assyrians dwelled largely among Kurds, Turks, Azeris, and Arabs in what is now southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran. Bearers of the ancient Syriac Christian heritage, they speak Modern Syriac (“Modern Assyrian”), a form of Aramaic. Since World War I, they have scattered, yet their nationalistic consciousness has deepened. The tight-knit Chicago community, numbering 15,683 according to the 2000 census (community estimates report several times that many), has long been one of the largest and most active in the Assyrian diaspora.
Exposure to American Presbyterian missionaries in Iran first prompted Assyrians to come to America. Early arrivals, from 1889 on, were young men who had attended missionary schools and came to continue their studies or, later, to seek work. A number of key missionaries in Iran were Chicagoans, including several members of the prominent Shedd family. The young men settled around Clark and Huron, near religious institutions familiar to them. By 1920, the majority were employed as hotel and restaurant workers or as janitors.
World War I had calamitous consequences, as approximately one-third of the 310,000 Assyrians remaining in their homeland perished. Assyrians in Chicago saw their numbers swell with refugees: from 1,422 in 1920 to 2,327 in 1924, according to community estimates.
These events hastened organizational development. To save and rebuild the lives of the refugees, Assyrians cooperated with Armenians in the Armenian Syrian Relief Committee and established village aid societies and ladies&apos sewing bees. Several nationalistic social clubs emerged, including the still-existing Assyrian American Association, or Šôtāputa (founded 1916).
From the 1910s through the 1930s, Chicago&aposs Assyrian community cultivated a rich social and cultural life, as its members advanced economically and moved northward into such neighborhoods as Lincoln Park and Lake View. Integrating themselves into the life of Chicago through the assertion of their ethnicity, Assyrians established a persisting pattern. During World War I, they assiduously sold Liberty Bonds, and in 1918 they organized the 100-member-strong Assyrian American Illinois Volunteer Training Corps, or Pôj Surêta (“Assyrian Battalion”). In 1947, Assyrian veterans established the American Assyrian Amvet Post, which has remained active into the twenty-first century.
Assyrians also organized their own congregations, conducting services in Syriac, within the fold of established denominations. The Carter Presbyterian Church—until the 1970s, the largest Assyrian congregation—was spawned by the Fourth Presbyterian Church. Smaller congregations also flourished: Chaldean (Roman) Catholic, Congregational, Pentecostal, Lutheran, and Brethren, in addition to the Assyrians&apos ancestral Church of the East, which has had strong ecumenical ties with the Episcopal Church.
From the 1920s through the 1950s, the inflow of Assyrians to Chicago seldom exceeded a trickle. Since the 1960s the pace of immigration has quickened, from Syria, Lebanon, and above all Iraq. Assyrians in Iraq tended to work for the British military or foreign contractors. Nationalization of enterprises destabilized their economic position and spurred emigration, which the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), the Persian Gulf War (1991), and pervasive government oppression accelerated.
This new migration coincided with the waning of the “old” community. As the mostly Iranian Assyrians migrated out of Chicago (especially to California) or assimilated into American society, the mostly Iraqi Assyrians replenished and augmented the existing American Assyrian institutions. Since 1992, they have held an annual Assyrian New Year&aposs Parade on honorary “King Sargon Boulevard” (a stretch of Western Avenue).
Internally diverse, these later immigrants typically have found employment as workers in midsize factories and as store clerks, bank tellers, and mechanics. More and more have become professionals such as doctors, engineers, and accountants, or retailers. By 1990, Assyrians owned as many as four hundred North Side video rental shops. Recently, operating dollar store franchises has become an attraction.
Chicago&aposs Assyrian families have toiled to support or rescue relatives facing dire circumstances in the Middle East. By activating their extensive family support networks, such efforts have kept alive a strong sense of Assyrian identity.
Carved relief from Nineveh
At the end of the 8th century BC the Assyrian King Sennacherib chose Nineveh as his capital and built what he called the 'Palace without Rival', decorating it with finely carved reliefs. At this time the Assyrians had carved an empire that stretched from Egypt to the Persian Gulf but this empire was difficult to control. Sennacherib's successor Esarhaddon died in 669 BC while on an expedition to crush rebellion in Egypt. He was succeeded by Ashurbanipal.
Ashurbanipal built a new palace, now known as the Northern Palace, and decorated it with finely carved stone reliefs, including the famous carvings now in the British Museum. This section, now in the Oriental Museum in Durham, depicts the results of civil war between Assyria and Bablyon in which Ashurbanipal was victorious over this brother Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylon.
Three Babylonian men on the left are followed by an Assyrian soldier, recognisable by this crested helmet, who is using a stick to beat the captive in front of him. Behind them are female prisoners carrying waterskins. On the far right is the figure of a boy turning around to a person now lost, perhaps asking for a drink.
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