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Twelve Ashurnasirpal Reliefs

  • J. E. Reade


The palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud was the best preserved of all those discovered in the nineteenth century. The slabs along its walls had never been burnt, and most stood or survived to their full original height. But because the sculptures upon them were generally repetitive and so not necessarily required by the British Museum which paid for their excavation, while the subjects had a special appeal to missionaries and lovers of the picturesque, they became more widely dispersed and consequently misunderstood than those of any other building. The narrative reliefs have been frequently illustrated, but these were found only in the throneroom B and the eroded west wing; the remaining rooms were decorated with pictures either of genies and sacred trees or of the king flanked by genies and courtiers. These formal reliefs outnumber all those surviving complete from elsewhere; a study of them is essential for any understanding of the techniques and procedures used by Assyrian sculptors. A preliminary need, however, is to work out the positions in which the extant slabs stood before their removal. The following article is an attempt to point out, by reference to unpublished examples, some of the main characteristics which distinguish the reliefs from different rooms and on which the full list of provenances in the appendix is based.

Ashurnasirpal moved the capital of Assyria to Nimrud-Calah in his fifth year (879 B.C.), but vital public buildings were still being constructed long after his death. Presumably the palace was given priority, as the king was resident in Calah just before starting on his sixth campaign, but the standard inscriptions which are carved on every wall-relief in the palace as well as on the inaugural stela include a mention of his expedition to the Mediterranean; since this was not undertaken until some time between his eighth and nineteenth years, a reasonable date for the completion of the decoration may be a little before 870.



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1 L.A.R. I, p. 158.

2 L.A.R. I, p. 159.

3 L.A.R. I, p. 172, and Wiseman, D. J., Iraq XIV (1951), Pt. 1, p. 29 for references to the campaign which was described briefly on a colossus from the palace (L.A.R. I, pp. 188 f.) and fully, together with events down to 867, on the pavement of the Ninurta Temple (L.A.R. I, pp. 164 ff.).

4 Saggs, H. W. F., Iraq XVII (1954), Pt. 1, p. 21.

5 Mallowan, M. E. L., Iraq XII (1949), Pt. 2, p. 180.

6 L.A.R. II, pp. 71 ff. The inscription was by the door of room U: cf. plan Pl. XXXII.

7 Layard, A. H., Nineveh and its Remains II, p. 78. This book is henceforward primarily referred to by its author's name: so are E. A. W. Budge, Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum, Reign of Ashurnasirpal; C. J. Gadd, The Stones of Assyria; E. F. Weidner, Die Reliefs der assyrischen Könige; and J. B. Stearns, Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II.

8 There are no secure dates for the various phases of construction and repair in the Nabu Temple, though the limestone mermen at its gate may be best ascribed to Esarhaddon: cf. Oates, D., Iraq XIX (1956), Pt. 1, p. 27.

9 Layard, op. cit., I, pp. 381 ff., summarizes the descriptions of the various rooms which are scattered throughout his book; cf. C. J. Gadd op. cit. for all the early excavations.

10 Mallowan, M. E. L., Iraq XII–XVI.

11 Ainachi, M., Sumer XII (1956), pp. 127 ff. (in Arabic), and Soof, Abu, Sumer XIX (1963), pp. 66 ff.

12 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., p. 72 ff. for most of these.

13 Budge, pl. XI.

14 Compare Layard op. cit. I, plan III, with his remark in Nineveh and Babylon p. 654. Moortgat postulated a central door (Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen LI, p. 146), and my plan includes one.

15 E. A. W. Budge, op. cit., pls. XLI and XLII for the female genies.

16 E. F. Weidner, op. cit., figs. 35 and 82.

17 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pls. LXXV, LXXVII, and LXXX.

18 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pl. III.

19 Soof, Abu, Sumer XIX (1963), fig. 2.

20 Mallowan, M. E. L., ILN 2971950, fig. 17. This is slab 14.

21 Cf. the appendix for the identity both of these and of other groups of reliefs assigned en masse in the text to particular rooms.

22 Ravn, O., A.f.O. XVI (1953), fig. 14.

23 E. A. W. Budge, op. cit., pl. XLI.

24 E.g. A. Parrot, Nineveh and Babylon, figs. 112 f., and Oates, D., Iraq XXI (1959), p. 118; these are eighth and seventh century respectively. The colouring on the genies described by Oates, D., Iraq XXV (1963), p. 29, is also mainly restricted to the sandals, but the background was blue as in all other ninth-century figured wall-paintings excavated to date. For the colouring on the sculptures, cf. A. H. Layard, op. cit., II, p. 312.

25 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pls. LIX and LXII; E. F. Weidner, op. cit., p. 117.

26 E. A. W. Budge, op. cit., pl. XXXIX and XLVII; E. F. Weidner, op. cit., fig. 100; J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pls. IV and XXXVII: cf. the appendix for the only way in which the slabs from room G can have been arranged.

27 A. H. Layard, op. cit., II, p. 6.

28 A. H. Layard, op. cit., II, p. 78.

29 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pl. XLV.

30 J. B. Stearns, op. cit., pl. VIII.

31 J. B. Steams, op. cit., pp. 86 f.; E. A. W. Budge, op. cit., pl. XXXVIII.

32 A. Pottier, Les Antiquitées Assyriennes, pl. II.

33 E.g. H. R. Hall, Assyrian Sculptures, pl. XXXVI.

34 Hogarth, D. G., Carchemish I, pls. B 4–8, and Woolley, C. L., Carchemish III, pls. A 21 and B 62a at the very least; compare Barnett, R. D. and Falkner, M, Sculptures of Tiglath-Pileser III, pls. XCVII–CVII.


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