Subject: Ancient Near East

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SUBJECT: Ancient Near East

Survey Chapter: 2

Student discussion readings for this lecture:

  • Read McGregor #15 ("Early Writing Tablet")

  • See also Penguin Atlas of Ancient Civilizations for excellent and short background info on this region

Student discussion videos for this lecture:
Optional in-class video resources for this lecture:

Key question for the lecture: How do the sites and objects we will look today tell us about the shift from the mergence of culture (Prehistory) to the emergence of civilizations?
Timeline: c. 3200 BCE (ziggurats) to c. 6th century BCE (Ishtar Gate and Persepolis)

Historical outline: See lecture notes

Objects covered:

  1. Cunieform designs

  2. Cuniform tablet

  3. Ruins of the White Temple, Uruk, Unknown artist(s). Uruk, Mesopotamia. circa 3200-3000 BCE.

  4. Ziggurat at UR, 2100 – 2050 BCE, (present-day Muqaiyir, Iraq).

  5. Uruk Vase

  6. The cylinder seals c. 2600 BCE

  7. Votive figures

  8. The Great Lyre (kind of harp) with Bull’s Head, circa 2600 BCE

  9. Head of an Akkadian Ruler c. 2250-2200 BCE

  10. Stele of Naram-sin

  11. Stele of Hammurabi, Susa (present-day Iran), c. 1792-1750 BCE.

  12. Assurnasirpal II Killing Lions, c 875 BCE

  13. Assurbanipal and his Queen in the Garden, Nineveh, northern Iraq
    Neo-Assyrian, about 645 BC

  14. Human-headed Winged Lion (Met Museum)

  15. Ishtar Gate. C. 575 BCE.

  16. Persepolis

Lecture 2: Ancient Near East and Ancient Egypt

Last Lesson Recap (15 mins)

  • What does the term prehistory mean/what chronological period does it refer to?

  • Define Paleolithic and Neolithic

  • How might we define the term “culture”?

  • What did we learn about the Woman of Willendorf (context, but also date, size, area found etc)?

  • What was the function of cave art? Which cave did Werner Herzog go into, and how old is the art in it? What was painted on the walls? When was the cave art at this site discovered by modern man?

  • Stonehenge Graphic Organizer.

Ancient Near East

NOW we’re looking at the art of the Ancient Near East and the advent of civilization. With the advent of visual art, then writing, we’re looking at the arrival of the idea of culture – the ability by homo sapiens to enact creative or abstract thought.
We already described what we mean by “culture” -

Culture is

  • Learned behavior, not genetic or biological; includes languages, customs, beliefs, technology etc

  • Shared by a group – more than one person to constitute a culture

  • Is a primary means of adaptation to our environment; often a survival mechanism

  • A system of interrelated parts

  • “Culture may be defined as the ways of living built up by a group and passed on from one generation to another.  It may include behavior, material things, ideas, institutions, and religious truth.” 

So, culture is irrevocably intertwined with the idea of civilization, of settlement and the formation of rules and regulations, urban centers etc.
If the Paleolithic era = beginnings of culture, the Neolithic = beginnings of civilization and settlement, then the Neolithic civilization began in the ANE.

  • So this “Urban Revolution” begins first in Mesopotamia and Egypt about 3,500-3000 BC. 

  • It forms the symbolic boundary between pre-history and history and during it mankind invented “civilization.”

  • What is civilization? What are some of the defining characteristics of the term “civilization”?

  • the development of permanent systems of social regulation; the beginning of infighting for control of these regulated resources; social bonds, social welfare; law; transport; irrigation; agriculture; food surplus; settlement;

Let’s situate ourselves geograhpically:
Where is the Fertile Crescent? What does Mesopotamia mean?
LOOK AT MAP the domestication of grains (remember Neolithic communities turn to agriculture and settle, this is the “turn towards civilization”) first occurred in what we refer to as the “fertile crescent,” the boundaries of which stretch along the Lebanese mountain range on the Mediterranean and extends up through modern day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq
For a large part of today’s class, we’ll be discussing this area, which the Greeks called Mesopotamia (“land between the rivers”), which is in present-day Iraq.
Mesopotamia = Iraq

Asia Minor = Turkey

Persia = Iran

  • Agriculture was the basis for wealth.

  • Because of the increasingly complex social groups that were developing oral communication was not adequate and writing, or pictographs, were developed for communication. It is through these early forms of written communication that we are able to discern the function and imagery on the objects that survive.

  • Religion played a central role in government and daily life. Leaders strongly identified themselves with the gods. For what function were most of the objects made for during this period? - displays of power/wealth/military victory that tied rulers to gods. Back to our course theme!

  • Many societies rose and fell during the period we designate as the Ancient Near East. Stability was fleeting and this most of the objects pertained to religion and rule.

  • The earliest of these communities were the Sumerians. The Sumerians are credited with many firsts: the wheel, the plow, casting objects in copper and bronze and cuneiform writing.


  • Santa Sumerians – controlled the South

  • Anna Akkadians – their neighbors to the North

  • Never Neo Sumerians

  • Baked Babylonians – dominate the South

  • A Assyrian – in the North

  • Nutty Neo Babylonian – Medes and Babylonians

  • Pancake Persian

** The Sumerians

  • The area of the Fertile Crescent was sparsely populated before the arrival of the Sumerians. In the 4th millennium (3000 BCE), they established the first great urban community and the first writing system.

  • Between 3 and 4,000 BCE, agricultural villages evolved into cities in both northern and southern Mesopotamia

  • Cities joined with surrounding territories to form city-states, each with its own religion and political system

  • Stratification happened: social hierarchies developed with a ruling class controlling a working class

  • The earliest documents were records of administrative acts and commercial transactions. But the Sumerians also produced great literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh predates Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey by some 1,500 years.

  • **The story revolves around a relationship between Gilgamesh and his close companion, Enkidu.

  • Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods as Gilgamesh's equal to distract him from oppressing the citizens of Uruk. Together they undertake dangerous quests that incur the displeasure of the gods. The latter part of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh's distressed reaction to Enkidu's death, which takes the form of a quest for immortality. Gilgamesh attempts to learn the secret of eternal life by undertaking a long and perilous journey to meet the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim)

Slide: Cunieform designs

  • By 3,000 BCE, they had simplified their earlier pictograph signs by reducing them to a group of wedge-shaped (cuneiform) shapes read from right to left. This marked the origins of writing as historians define it. Thousands of cuneiform tablets testify to the far-flung networking of this group of people. Trade was essential, because the area lacked metal, stone and wood.

Slide: Cuniform tablet

  • cuneiform: wedge-shaped

  • stylus: pointed writing instrument

  • cuneiform symbols were pressed into clay tablets with a stylus to keep business records

  • like portable cave paintings

  • the highest concentration of inscribed clay tablets have been found in the ancient city of Uruk (largest city in Mesopotamia at the time; possibly the world), so writing may have originated there

  • Early writing was used primarily as a means of recording and storing economic information,

  • earliest writing was pictographs: pictures used as symbols that functioned in the way that road signs do today

  • soon phonograms developed: representations of syllable sounds- this is the mark of a true writing system

   Readings #15
“Writing is essential for the creation of what we think of as human civilization.”
The city-state

  • The city-state was one of the great Sumerian inventions. Activities that had once been individually initiated became institutionalized and the state took responsibility for the safety and welfare of its inhabitants.

  • The city plan reflected the god’s central role in the daily life of the residents. The temple served as the focus of a religious practice, but also as an administrative and economic center.

  • Builders and artists labored to construct large and complex temples and government buildings

  • Numerous gods and goddesses were worshipped

  • Each city had a special protective deity, and people believed that the fate of the city depended on the deity’s power

SLIDE: 2-2 Ruins of the White Temple, Uruk, Unknown artist(s). Uruk, Mesopotamia. circa 3200-3000 BCE.

  • By 3200 BCE, Uruk was a large, thriving settlement with a population of some 40,000 people.

  • Freed by agricultural bounty to expend energy on non-essential activities, the civilization at Uruk established specialized fields of labor and introduced major cultural innovations, including writing and monumental architecture

  • Like other early cities, Uruk was associated with a particular deity, in its case Anu, the chief deity of the Sumerians and god of the sky.

  • Although access to the temples was generally restricted, mountainous, stepped platforms called ziggurats (winding terrace structure) made them available for all to see.

  • Uruk’s White Temple would have risen approx..forty feet above ground level, above the city’s fortification wall.

  • The grandeur of monuments like this one, as well as their ubiquity and centrality, suggests the profound role that religion played in the earliest urban experiences.

  • The Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places for public worship or ceremonies. They were believed to be dwelling places for the gods and each city had its own patron god. Only priests were permitted on the ziggurat or in the rooms at its base, and it was their responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs.

Slide: Ziggurat at UR, 2100 – 2050 BCE, (present-day Muqaiyir, Iraq).

  • These structures towered over the flat plains.

  • The Sumerians did not have access to stone, and built their temples from mud-brick.

  • The structure was built during the Early Bronze Age (21st century BC, Neo-Sumerian), but had crumbled to ruins by the 6th century BC of the Neo-Babylonian period when it was restored by the king.

  • Its remains were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s and under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, they were encased by a partial reconstruction of the façade and the monumental staircase. You can see the old building protruding from the top.

  • dedicated the great ziggurat of Ur in honour of the moon god Nanna/Sîn

  • The massive step pyramid measured 210 feet (64m) in length, 150 feet (46m) in width and over 100 feet (30m) in height. The height is speculative, as only the foundations of the Sumerian ziggurat have survived.

  • Slide - U.S. Soldiers climb the steps of the ziggurat in 2010


Slide: Uruk Vase

  • Alabaster, found near the temple complex of Innanna (Sumerian goddess of love and war)

  • The vase was discovered as a collection of fragments by German Assyriologists in their sixth excavation season at Uruk in 1933/1934

  • 3 feet, ¼ inches (1 m) tal

  • pictorial space is organized into registers

  • The figure on the vase is the goddess Inanna and may depict a ritual marriage between her and a human man. This ritual wedding may have been to ensure the fertility of crops, animals and people and the survival of the town of Uruk. Images of pomegranates said to be discernable on the vase, which is a fruit long associated with fertility.

  • narrative is condensed much in the way that we might see in a modern day comic strip- continuous narrative

  • head and legs in profile, torsos in three-quarters view

  • lower register of the vase shows the natural world, beginning with water and plants (palm, barley, or silphium, a now extinct plant used to control fertility)

  • bottom - the plants, rams and ewes

  • middle register: men carry baskets of food

  • top: Inanna stands in front of her shrine and storehouse accepting an offering from the priest-king. Inanna, one of the chief goddesses of Mesopotamia and later becomes known as Ishtar in the Akkadian pantheon.

  • ritual marriage between the goddess and a human priest-king during the New Year’s festival, a ritual meant to ensure the fertility of crops, animals, and people

  • discuss the hierarchy of the registers – earthly human associating himself with goddess – becomes a pattern in visual representation

  • The Warka Vase was one of the thousands of artifacts which were looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In April 2003[4] it was forcibly wrenched from the case where it was mounted, snapping at the base (the foot of the vase remaining attached to the base of the smashed display case.[5]

  • The vase was later returned during an amnesty to the Iraq Museum on June 12, 2003 by three unidentified men in their early twenties, driving a red Toyota vehicle.

Slide: The cylinder seals c. 2600 BCE
As these temples were also administrative centers, other object types were also found in or near them by later archaeologists.
The narrative works in a similar way to the continuous narrative and registers of the vases.

  • They were made out of such diverse materials as carnelian, jasper, lapis, agate, ivory and glass (materials is expensive).

  • They represented a person’s social station on the society and were often buried with them. Seals identified documents and protected storage jars and doors against unauthorized openings.

  • They were used as administrative tool, jewelry and as magical amulets, later versions would employ notations with Mesopotamian hieroglyphs. In later periods, they were used to notarize or attest to multiple impressions of clay documents. Graves and other sites housing precious items such as gold, silver, beads, and gemstones often included one or two cylinder seals, as honorific grave goods.

  • These miniature reliefs tell us about how ancient Mesopotamians dressed, ate, etc. The imagery plus where they were found also tell us about the administrative and organization of the city-states.

Slide: Votive figures

  • votive: image dedicated to the gods

  • placement of statues in a shrine depicting individual worshipers before a larger, more elaborate image of a god (individual statues but most stick to conventional attributes)

  • conventions of Sumerian art

  • simplified faces and bodies

  • clothing that emphasized the cylindrical shape

  • standing solemnly with hands clasped in respect

  • extant cuneiform text says the worshipper much approach the god with an attentive gaze- hence the wide open eyes

  • arched brows were once inlaid with dark shell or stone to emphasize the eyes

  • anyone who was a donor to the temple might commission a representation of him or herself and place it in the shrine- many figures are of women

  • discuss the term patron

  • inscriptions such as “one who offers prayers”

  • longer inscriptions might recount in detail the things that the donor had accomplished in the god’s honor

SLIDE: The Great Lyre (kind of harp) with Bull’s Head, circa 2600 BCE

  • The imagery used in the lyre represent significant parts of Early Mesopotamian funerary rituals.  The bearded bull on the front represents the sun god Shamash, depicted in cuneiform texts as the golden bull with lapis lazuli beard.  Shamash is the divine judge who shines light on all things.  Only Shamash can descend into the underworld and emerge again at sunrise.

  • The front panel of the lyre tells the story of the funeral ritual itself.  At the top, the nude hero grapples with two rampant human-headed bulls, representing royal control over nature.  Beneath are three scenes that show the ritual with otherworldly actors.  A hyena carries butchered meat on a table.

  • Behind his is a lion, holding a jar and a pouring vessel identical to ones found in the graves. 

  • The third register depicts music-making: an equid (hooved horse/donkey/zebra mammal) plays a lyre while a bear supports it, nearby a small animal shakes a rattle. 

  • The lyre depicted is similar to the very lyre to which it was attached. 

  • On the bottom is the last stage of the ritual, where the deceased meets the scorpion man, the guardian of the entrance to the underworld. 

  • Taken as a whole, the lyre imagery shows the human cycle of the kings’ control over nature, the funerary ritual and entry into the underworld. All of this is presided over by the god of judgment and destiny, the sun god Shamash.

  • When archaeologists found the Great Lyre, the wood of its sound box had completely disintegrated, leaving only an impression in the soil. They carefully recorded the size and shape of all the parts of the instrument.  The bull’s head and front plaque were conserved at the British Museum and then mounted on a new sound box constructed at the Penn Museum upon its arrival in Philadelphia in 1929.

  • Conservation gives us a better understanding of how objects were originally constructed. Many components of the bull’s head were made separately and then joined together. The head was formed of a wooden core covered by thin gold sheets. The eyes and beard were each made of three separate pieces. The components of the bull’s head were attached using nails, tacks, and bitumen, a tar-like substance that comes from crude oil. The detailed analysis undertaken during conservation provides insight into the techniques used to create the remarkable objects found at Ur.

** Akkadian, NeoSumerian, and Hittite

  • In 2334 BCE, the loosely linked group of cities known as Sumer (Southern Mesopotamia), came under the domination of a great rule, Sargon of Akkad who came from the North of Mesopotamia. (Remember, they form around 4000 BCE)

  • The Akkadians were Semitic in origin, that is, they were a Near Eastern people who spoke a language related to Hebrew and Arabic. Their language, Akkadian, was entirely different from the Sumerians, but they used the same cuneiform writing system.

  • Under Sargon (“true king”), the Akkadians introduced a new concept of royal power based on the unswerving loyalty to the king rather than the city-state. Sargon’s grandson, Naram-Sin, called himself “King of the Four Quarters.”

Head of an Akkadian Ruler c. 2250-2200 BCE

Why was this damaged?

  • Life-size bronze- earliest work of hollow-cast copper sculpture known in the ANE

  • Generalized male ideal rather than portrait likeness, although it’s been suggested that this is Sargon

  • Beard and braided hair indicate royalty

  • Damage to the left side of the face is deliberate, suggesting that the head was symbolically mutilated to destroy its power

  • Iconoclasm

  • Ears and inlaid eyes have been removed

  • Visual art is powerful – needs to be destroyed!

Slide: Stele of Naram-sin (6.5 feet high)

à Class Q: What do we notice about this work?

Stele: upright stone slab

Q: what is the term for this type of carving? (low relief)

  • Naram-sin was Sargon’s grandson

  • Memorializes Naram-Sin’s military victory over the invading Iranians

  • One of the first works of art created in order to celebrate the specific achievement of an individual ruler

  • Made himself divine during his lifetime

  • Discussion: which figure is Naram-sin?

  • Hieratic scale: size associated with importance; a common convention in ancient art (also discuss his position and how the natural shape of the stele echoes the form of the mountain and increases the drama of the scene)

  • Rayed suns symbolize solar deities

  • Horned helmet is associated with deities, which Naram-sin is entitled to wear as he ascends the mountain

  • Soldiers follow Naram-sin; conquered enemy forces beg for mercy

  • Naram-sin and warriors are identifiable by upright weapons

Slide: Votive Statue of Gudea, Girsu (present day Telloh, Iraq), c. 2090 BCE. 29” high.

  • throughout this period of conflict, one Sumerian city-state remained independent: Lagash (capital Girsu is present-day Telloh, Iraq), on the Tigris river

  • Ruler Gudea built and restored many temples, in which he placed votive statues representing himself as governor and embodiment of just rule

  • Diorite: very hard, imported stone

  • Compact, simplified forms may be dictated by the difficulty of working with the stone

à Compare and contrast: Naram-sin vs Gudea. How are these rulers presented in different ways? What kinds of values do these representation convey?

  • The statue of Gudea was placed all over to remind his subjects of his leadership. (This happens with Augustus too, and then with religious images in many different belief systems).

  • à Life giver vs military victor; Narrative vs. one image;

  • Gudea (2.5 feet tall)

  • Long garment provides space for cuneiform inscription

  • Barefooted

  • Cap with wide brim; pattern represents fleece

  • Vessel from which life-giving water flows (note leaping fish)

  • Power centers of the body: eyes, head, muscled chest and arms

  • Youthful and serene face

  • Wide-open eyes (recalls earlier votive figures; denotes connection with the gods.

Slide: Bush, Obama
Let’s remember that in all government bldgs we place photos of the president...and how he is he presented to the public? Then we look at an image of George Bush getting off of the aircraft carrier (the "Mission accomplished") photo after a year in Iraq and we look at several other instances of ancient and contemporary photo ops.
Slide: Stele of Hammurabi, Susa (present-day Iran), c. 1792-1750 BCE. Approx. 7 Ft tall.

  • So, Naramsin’s stele celebrated a victory over potential invaders (Lullubli, from Iran) and Gudea’s statue celebrates his city-state’s independence.

  • After 300 years of political turmoil in Mesopotamia, finally the Amorites (Semitic-speaking people from Syrian desert) reunite the region under Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE). King Hammurabi established a centralized government that ruled southern Mesopotamia. He is known for his conquests, but also for his law code.

  • capital city of Babylon; subjects are called Babylonians

  • written legal code that listed the laws and the penalties for breaking them

  • this is the first systematic codification of his people’s rights, duties, penalties for infringements

  • Is this a work of art or an historical document, or both?: the laws are (similar to the later 10 commandments) set out as a conversation between Hammurabi and Shamash, god of the sun and justice

  • three flat tiers underneath Shamash evoke the form of a mountain, as well as the stele itself

  • Hamurabi’s prayer stance indicates respect

  • Rays rise from the god’s shoulders

  • He gives the laws to Hammurabi, and then the laws flow downward in horizontal bands

  • (note laws on a stone tablet; parallels with Moses receiving two stone tablets on top of Mount Sinai)

  • the code also lists the temples that Hammurabi has restored, and an epilogue on the back glorifies him as a peacemaker

  • the middle guarantees uniform treatment of people throughout the kingdom

  • intends to “cause justice to prevail in the land and to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak nor the weak the strong.”

  • 300 or so entries, all dealing with commercial/property matters

  • 68 deal with domestic problems

  • 20 deal with physical assault

  • punishments are based on wealth, gender, and class of the parties- rights of wealthy are favored over the poor, men over women

  • death penalty is frequently incited (for stealing from a temple, helping a slave escape)

  • trial by water and fire for adultery (if the gods saved you and you didn’t drown, you were innocent)

  • harsh, but Hammurabi was still revolutionary in setting out laws rather than allowing society to be controlled by his own whims

Later Mesopotamian art


  • after centuries of struggle in Southern Mesopotamia among Sumer, Akkad, and Lagash, the Assyrians rise to dominance in Northern Mesopotamia

  • come to power in 1400 BCE, and they’re conquering neighbors around 1000 BCE. By the 9th C BC, they controlled most of Mesopotamia

  • succumbed to internal weakness and external enemies, and by 600 BCE they had collapsed

  • known for building palaces atop high platforms inside fortified cities which served as capitals at various times.

  • Palaces were decorated with scenes of battles, Assyrian victories with presentations of tribute to the king, combat between men and beasts, and religious imagery

Slides: The palace reliefs

1) Assurnasirpal II Killing Lions, c 875 BCE (Iraq)
-walls covered in relief sculpture

-The Assyrian kings expected their greatness to be recorded. They commissioned sculptors to create a series of narrative reliefs exalting royal power and piety.

-These narratives recorded battles but also conquests of wild animals. This is one of the earliest and most extensive forms of narrative relief found before the Roman Empire.
Class Activity:

What do we see? What are our very first observations?

What elements of form can we discern (line, color, material, technique, composition)

What elements of context can we discern (narrative, characters involved, does this compare to other works we know in similar or different ways?, historical context)

Look at the palace relief. Try to analyze it using formal description. Write in bullet points.
1 - Assurnasirpal II Killing Lions c. 875-850 BCE

What were some of the observations you wrote?

- Strong central figure

- Use of the bow

- central figure is higher than everyone else

- Beast master of the lions
-King stands in a chariot pulled by galloping horses and draws bow against attacking lion with 4 arrows sticking out of his body

-another lion already felled is on the ground

-ceremonial hunt: king, protected by men with swords and shields killed animals from his chariot as they were released into an enclosed area

-sense of action and immediacy instead of timelessness (think of the Law Code or the stele of Naram-sin

continuous visual narrative, like the vases

So, it might be stating the obvious, but visual narrative is an important memorializing aspect of this ruler’s reign.

SLIDE: Assurbanipal and his Queen in the Garden, Nineveh, northern Iraq
Neo-Assyrian, about 645 BC

  • This panel was the focal point of a decorative scheme incorporating all the triumphs in war and sport of which King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BC) was most proud. The panel probably decorated one of the King's private apartments, as the carving of the scene is exceptionally fine.

  • The queen sits facing Ashurbanipal. Queens, like women in general, were seldom represented in Assyrian sculpture. However, women did sometimes hold power at the Assyrian court, though usually behind the scenes. Documents suggest that Ashurbanipal's grandmother, Naqia-Zakutu, was extremely influential in promoting her son Esarhaddon and then Ashurbanipal to the throne.

  • The scene also shows a harpist. Images of musicians are among the most important sources for understanding ancient musical instruments. The details in the carving appear to be very accurate.

  • On the tree in front of the harpist is a human head, that once belonged to Teumman, king of Elam, who had fought against Assyria. Consequently Ashurbanipal's army invaded Elam. The campaign was illustrated as redecoration in one of the rooms of the palace of his grandfather Sennacherib (reigned 704-681 BC).

  • The mutilation of the faces of the king and queen was probably done by an enemy soldier when the Median and Babylonian armies ransacked Nineveh in 612 BC.

SLIDE: 2-12 Human-headed Winged Lion (Met Museum)

  • The Assyrians were masters of the art of Impressing and intimidating visitors.Human

  • Headed Winged Lion
Lamassu – extraordinary guardian – protectors of the palaces and throne rooms.

  • Head of a man (bearded) Powerful Body of a Lion or bull Wings of an eagle
Horned headdress of a god

  • These figures appear to have 5 legs because they were meant to be viewed frontally and from the side. The size of them (often 2x a human) symbolizes the strength of the ruler they defend

  • From the ninth to the seventh century B.C., the kings of Assyria ruled over a vast empire centered in northern Iraq. The first great Assyrian king was Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.), who undertook a vast building program at Nimrud, ancient Kalhu. Until it became the capital city under Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud had been no more than a provincial town.

  • The new capital occupied an area of about 900 acres, around which Ashurnasirpal constructed a mud-brick wall 120 feet thick, 42 feet high, and 5 miles long. In the southwest corner of this enclosure was the acropolis, where the temples, palaces, and administrative offices of the empire were located. In 879 B.C. Ashurnasirpal held a festival for 69,574 people to celebrate the construction of the new capital, and the event was documented by an inscription that read: "the happy people of all the lands together with the people of Kalhu—for ten days I feasted, wined, bathed, and honored them and sent them back to their home in peace and joy."

  • Ashurnasirpal's palace is described in the so-called Standard Inscription that ran across the surface of most of the reliefs: "I built thereon [a palace with] halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk[?] as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship." The inscription continues: "Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it [the palace] fittingly imposing." Such limestone beasts are the human-headed, winged bull and lion pictured here. The horned cap attests to their divinity, and the belt signifies their power. The sculptor gave these guardian figures five legs so that they appear to be standing firmly when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. These lamassi protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces.


The visual history of the ANE is peppered with the rise and fall of rulers and city-states, one reason why such rulers were keen to immortalize themselves in architecture and art.

Our final ruler today is the one who continued the Neo-Babylonian empire, delivering it from the Assyrians in the north.

  • -The most renowned of the Babylonian kings was Nebuchadnezzar II, whose exploits the biblical book of Daniel recounts, he is notorious today for his suppression of the Jews.

    • reigned c. 605 BC – 562 BC. According to the Bible, he conquered Judah and Jerusalem, and sent the Jews into exile. He is credited with the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and also known for the destruction of the First Temple.

  • -He restored Babylon to its rank as one of the great cities of antiquity. It was a mud-brick city, but many of the most important bldgs were faced with blue-glazed brick.

Slide: Ishtar Gate. C. 575 BCE. Now at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

  • He made the city into a splendid cultural, political and economic hub.

  • He expanded the older, eastern sector across the river. The Processional Way that linked the two parts of the city began at the Euphrates bridge and ended at the Ishtar gate, the ceremonial entrance to the city.

  • The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II on the north side of the city.

  • Dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the gate was constructed using a rare blue stone called lapis lazuli with alternating rows of (dragons) and aurochs.

  • The roof and doors of the gate were of cedar, according to the dedication plaque.

  • Through the gate ran the Processional Way, which was lined with walls covered in lions on glazed bricks (about 120 of them).

  • Statues of the deities were paraded through the gate and down the Processional Way each year during the New Year's celebration.

  • A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way was built at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin out of material excavated in the 1930s. It includes the inscription plaque

  • The gate was in fact a double gate. The part that is shown in the Pergamon Museum today is only the smaller, frontal part, while the larger, back part was considered too large to fit into the constraints of the structure of the museum. It is in storage.

  • Parts of the gate and lions from the Processional Way are in various other museums around the world. Only three museums acquired dragons, while lions went to several museums.

  • the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut (among several other museums) each have lions.

  • A smaller reproduction of the gate was built in Iraq under Saddam Hussein as the entrance to a museum that has not been completed. Damage to this reproduction has occurred since the Iraq war.

  • Vocab – crenellated towers

Slide: the reconstructed Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and the city of Babylon by Saddam Husain

  • The king had left instructions in cuneiform scrip on tablets of clay. He urged his successors to repair his royal edifices, which for identification purposes, had bricks inserted in the walls, with an inscription announcing that they were the work of “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon from far sea to far sea.” The new inscribed bricks relay that the New Babylon was “rebuilt in the era of the leader Saddam Hussein.”

  • To understand why this reconstruction occurred in the first place one must first understand the political ambitions of Saddam Hussein who, for the purposes of discussing “architecture and power” works well as a contemporary example. This is not just specific to Iraq.

  • During the Iran/Iraq War (1980-88) Saddam Hussein used the city of Babylon as a visual aid to remind the Iraqi people of the history of conflict between Iraq and Iran and of the territorial ambitions of the Iranians. Began rebuilding it in 1983.

  • So, Hussein's decision to rebuild Nebuchadnezzar's Palace at the height of a war he almost lost was the centerpiece of a campaign to strengthen Iraqi nationalism by appealing to history .... it justified Iraq's costly war with Iran as the continuation of Mesopotamia's ancient feud with Persia. And it portrayed Saddam Hussein as successor to Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon's mightiest ruler.

  • His decision to rebuild Babylon forced the people to focus on a grand era in Iraq's history.

  • Building Babylon also became synonymous with rising to the threat of the Iran and asserting Iraq's "manifest destiny" to lead the Arab nations to glory.

** Achaemenid Persia

  • Although N. had boasted that “I had caused a mighty wall to circumscribe Babylon…so that the enemy who would do evil would not threaten,” Cyrus of Persia captured the city in the 6th c. BCE. Babylon was but one of the Persian conquests. Egypt fell to them in 525 BCE and by 480 BCE the Persian Empire was the largest the world had yet known extending from the Indus River in southeastern Asia to the Danube in northeastern Europe.

Slides: Persepolis

  • The most important source of Persian architecture is the palace of Persepolis. It was built by Darius I, successors of Cyrus. SPIVEY

  • It was situated on a high plateau and was a heavily fortified city overlooking the plain. It was destroyed by Alexander in a gesture of total dominance. Reliefs still decorate the walls of the terrace and the staircases.

  • Persepolis is a transliteration of the Greek Πέρσης πόλις (Persēs polis: "Persian city").

  • was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE). Persepolis is situated 70 km northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran

  • Ruins of a number of colossal buildings exist on the terrace. All are constructed of dark-grey marble. Fifteen of their pillars stand intact.

  • Reliefs depict processions of royal guards, Persian nobles, dignitaries and representatives form over 23 subject nations bringing the king tributes. Every one of them wears his national costume. Traces of polychrome suggest that the reliefs were painted. But the absence of color enables us to appreciate the highly refined sculptural style.

  • Only the successful Greek resistance prevented Persia from controlling southeastern Europe. The Achaemenid line ended with the death of Darius III in 330 BCE at the hands of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia and the subsequent conquest of Persepolis. (Saw in film)

Darius and Xerxes
Darius (521-486 BCE) (Father) Xerxes I (485-465 BCE) (Son) built a huge palace at Persepolis where sculptures extolled their wealth and power

Recap from Chapter ANE

  • Looked at Fertile Crescent/Mesopotamia – corresponds to roughly modern day Iraq, although there’s some bleed of boundaries

  • Sumerians (4000 – 2334BC) – cuneiform, cultural centers for religion and administration of daily life in the ziggurat (Uruk vase, city state, cylinder seal, votive figures)

  • Akkadian invasion in 2334 BC – Stele of Naram-sin, Sargon’s son

  • Votive statue of Gudea (2090 BC) – comparison will come up on exam

  • Amorites rise to power – Babylonians under Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BC)

  • Assyrians rise to power in 1400 BC – 600BC

  • Babylonians regain power with Nebuchadnezzar (605 – 562 BC).

  • In the same way all these leaders used art and architecture to demonstrate their dominance, so too did Saddam Hussein in the 1980s during border wars with Iran.

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