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After the fall of Babylon: A new look at the presentation scene on Assurbanipal relief BM ME 124945–6

  • J. Novotny and C. E. Watanabe

Extract

BM ME 124945–6, a relief of Assurbanipal, was discovered in the ruins of Room M (the so-called ‘Throne Room’) of the North Palace in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and is now on display in the British Museum (Fig. 1). The slabs are divided into two registers: an upper register and a lower register, which are separated by a broad wavy band, each side of which forms the bank of a river. Two rivers flow horizontally in parallel in the centre of the slabs. The presentation scene appears in the lower register, which shows the Assyrian king Assurbanipal (668–631 BC) reviewing war spoils taken from Babylon after the city was captured by the Assyrian army in late 648 BC. The aim of this paper is to examine the spoils represented on the relief and, by carefully analysing Assurbanipal's inscriptions, to clarify how textual accounts of the event or events are reflected in the narrative scheme of the composition.

The presentation scene is further divided into three rows by simple horizontal lines, each forming a ground line that normally indicates the recession of space based on the principle of “vertical perspective” in which distant figures are placed higher than nearer ones. The king is represented on the right of the scene, occupying the upper and middle rows (Fig. 2). He is mounted on a chariot and is accompanied by courtiers and soldiers who all face to the left of the scene. An epigraph is engraved above the horses of the king's chariot. On the far side of the scene, Assyrian soldiers, in the upper row, proceed towards the king. The first person is a eunuch raising his right hand; he is followed by a bearded man (Fig. 3). Then there are three soldiers, each holding a particular item of booty (Fig. 4). These men are followed by two wheeled vehicles: one is carried on the shoulders of several men (Fig. 5) and the other pulled by a group of soldiers (Fig. 6). To the far left of the scene, prisoners are led away by soldiers. In the middle row, four foreigners face right (Fig. 7), and behind them stand two scribes making a record in front of one pile of bows and quivers and another of severed heads (Fig. 8). More soldiers follow from the left with a team of horses. The lower row shows a procession of prisoners; all of them move from left to right (Fig. 9). To the far left, there are two sets of chariots, the horses of which are being led by soldiers (Figs. 10 and 11). The overall composition, except for the lower row, is arranged symmetrically facing to the centre, with special emphasis on the king.

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References

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After the fall of Babylon: A new look at the presentation scene on Assurbanipal relief BM ME 124945–6

  • J. Novotny and C. E. Watanabe

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