The step-topped, free-standing square monument called in modern literature the Broken Obelisk was found by Hormuzd Rassam at Nineveh, near the Ishtar temple on the mound of Kuyunjik. It is the earliest monument of this kind, and it differs in its pictorial rendering from the later, so-called Assyrian obelisks. Whereas the succeeding examples display reliefs on their four sides, creating consecutive narratives, the Broken Obelisk exhibits a single, motionless relief on its front, the subject of the present paper (Börker-Klähn 1982, Nos. 132, 138–45, 152; Bär 1996, 57-68, 88–99, 101–5, 148–65).
My aim here is to shed light on the motif of the king holding prisoners of war by means of lead ropes and to examine the bearing of this motif on the status of the royal image in pictorial renderings. According to different interpretations of the scene, the king holds a ring and rod (Börker-Klähn 1982, 178, No. 131 with earlier bibliography), or a ceremonial mace (Russell 2003, 4) as well as lead rope(s) with which he binds prisoners of war standing in front of him (e.g. Pritchard 1969, 300, No. 440; Strommenger 1964, 437, PI. 188, bottom; Börker-Klähn 1982, 178; Collon 1995, 117; Russell 2003, 4). My initial interest in the iconography of the Broken Obelisk was aroused by the fact that on it the so-called ring and rod symbols of kingship granted by the gods, are held by the king, whereas usually they are held by a deity in compositions conveying the very act of the divine giving (Hallo 2005, 150–1, 161; Suter 2000, 6–7; Ornan 2005, 12).