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 The following article is an attempt to point out, by reference to unpublished examples, some of the main characteristics which distinguish the reliefs from different rooms and on which the full list of provenances in the appendix is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.